Judaism and Christianity
Rabbi Petuchowski’s review of The Bridge
in your May issue is another in the long line
of valuable clarifications you have published.
While no one except the bigot craves disruptive religious controversy, clarification of theological
positions is necessary if we are not to be sub- merged in a generalized pseudo-religion of the
melting pot…. For this reason I should like to point out two basic differences between Ju- daism and Christianity which bedevil even the
best of theological discussions and which Rabbi Petuchowski’s review did not specify suffi-
Basic to Christianity is an elaborate structure of testimony to prove “fulfilments” of Old
Testament prophecies. The Church’s gravest charge against Judaism is that it has failed to accept these fulfilments. Unlike the Christian,
the Jewish concept of prophecy touches only tangentially upon prognostication of future
events…. “Inspiration” is a much better
translation of N’vuah than “prophecy,” and the Hebrew prophet is “an inspired one,” not a prognosticator. His concern is with right and
wrong in a world ruled by a just God, not with tomorrow’s events per se. Christian insistence on the role of the prophet as a prognosticator
whose divine truth stands or falls by the accu- racy of his specific predictions has caused end-
less misunderstanding.
No less troublesome -than the misunderstand-
ings about prophecy are the disparate ways in
which the two religions present what I should
like to term legitimatio dei, the identification’ of the revealed deity…. Christianity’s original group of witnesses, the Apostles, became aware of the change in Jesus’s role from teacher to
savior upon the occurrence of a unique event, the resurrection, which is considered miracu- lous and worthy of credence because it contra- dicts all experience. It is on this miraculous occasion that Christianity hinges. Whatever doctrinal differences may divide them, all Chris- tians must profess Jesus crucified and arisen, or else not be Christians.
No such central miracle lies at the heart of Judaism. God’s power and omnipotence are, as it were, presupposed. Miracles serve not to
“prove” God’s power, but, at most, demon-
strate it (pedagogically, as it were) to an un- believing multitude. . . . The authentic legiti-
matio dei is given in the “preamble” to the Ten
Commandments: “I am the Lord thy God who has taken thee out of Egypt, the house of bondage.” Presumably, anyone not believing that the Exodus from Egypt took place, or that
it was a desirable event, cannot subscribe to the
God of Israel nor the demands presented in his name. That is the only test posed by Ju- daism’s identification of God.
In our day a laudable desire to do away
with the doctrinal bigotry of the past leads
many people to focus upon the similarities of
our several heritages. This aim cannot validly be
achieved by overlooking essential differences.
“Bridges” between Christianity and Judaism
must rest on dependable, truthful definitions if
they are to serve their function. Dialogue pros-
pers not on the slurring of differences but on
their being clearly defined and mutually re- spected.
W. ZEv BAIREY Houston, Texas
Yiddish Literature
As a regular reader of COMMENTARY, I have
always been impressed by its high standards
of writing and accuracy. I regret to say, how-
ever, that these high standards, of accuracy in particular, seem to go by the board in your
rare articles on Yiddish literature. I refer specifi-
cally to Judd L. Teller’s efforts on this subject.
In his latest article (“Secular Hebrew and
Esoteric Yiddish”) in the June issue, Mr. Teller not only misrepresents the case of Yiddish versus Hebrew, but he makes the kind of
serious factual error that one does not expect from a serious journal like yours. Permit me to list a few of the errors:
1. Mr. Teller writes that “I. M. Weisen-
berg’s work spawned a whole school of natural- ists and masters of the argot like Oizer War- shavsky, Chayim Leib Fuks, and Fishl Bimko.” Chayim Leib Fuks is a poet. Mr. Teller prob- ably refers to the prose writer M. A. Fuks, a leading short story writer today. 2. In discussing “all the significant litera-
> H~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~rLETTERS FROM READERS
ture of Jewish nationalism and its important
Zionist-socialist sub-section,” Mr. Teller writes
that the only significant work on this subject
was done by Ber Borochov. The fact is that Ber Borochov was the founder and theoretician
of Labor Zionism and his major writing on the subject was in Russian. His contribution to Yiddish was mainly as a philologist and literary historian. A more serious error is Mr. Teller’s failure to mention the gigantic role of Chayim Zhitlowsky, whose collected works (thirty vol- umes) and other writing (about twenty vol- umes) constitute a major contribution to the literature of nationalism, Zionism, and Social- ism. Mr. Teller also omits the names of numer-
ous other writers who did significant work in that field. Besides Dr. Zhitlowsky, I will men- tion only Ben Adir and Nachman Syrkin. 3. Among the Hebrew writers on the subject of Jewish nationalism, Zionism and Socialism, Mr. Teller mentions Yehudah Kaufman. Mr.
Teller apparently does not know who Yehudah Kaufman is. He is known as a teacher and not as a writer. For a while he was director of the Jewish Teachers Seminary in New York and now lives in Israel. He has written a commen- tary on Maimonides and has edited some old manuscripts. Mr. Teller probably refers to Ezekiel Kaufman, author of Golah V’Neichar, a major work on Jewish problems. 4. Mr. Teller defines the shund-roman as “Popular novels about mistreated domestics.” Again, he errs. The shund-roman is a “popu- lar” novel which treats a variety of characters. The early novels of this genre dealt with the lives of kings and princes and “the higher aristocracy,” though they may have been ad- dressed to and read by “domestics.” At *the present time it deals mostly with contemporary Jewish life in terms comparable to the so- called American popular novel.
5. It is true, as Mr. Teller writes, that the Yiddish-speaking shtetl no longer exists. Aside from the fact that Yiddish literature did not deal exclusively with shtetl life, I might point out that we are not so far removed in time and feeling from the concentration camps and Vorld War II that the works of such younger writers as Chaim Grade, Mordecai Strigler and J. Spiegel, who deal with these subjects, can be considered “out of touch with large areas of Jewish experience….”
6. Mr. Teller lists a rather small number of Yiddish poets who, he admits, reflect “a varie- gated body of poetry such as Hebrew has only recently begun to match.” I do not wish to argue with his choice of names, only with his omission of others whose contributions are too significant to be ignored. In this connection, I might mention that Mr. Teller himself was at
one time a Yiddish reporter, journalist, book reviewer, and poet. As a poet, he was influ- enced by the “In Sich” or introspective school, and I wonder why in this article he seems to
have forgotten his own origins. 7. As a sign of the vitality of the present Hebrew literature, Mr. Teller points to Shamir’s historical novel and plays. If this is the measure, I can name the recently pub- lished historical novels in Yiddish by Pesach Marcus, S. Apter and M. Strigler, which are as important as Shamir’s. 8. A large group of Yiddish novelists, story tellers, and poets is concentrated now in Israel. These writers write about Israeli life with much more vigor than their Hebrew contem- poraries. May I add in conclusion the hope that in the future COMMENTARY will not select as its au- thority on Yiddish literature a former Yiddish writer who is now associated with an Israeli institution, and that it will show the same good judgment and acumen it exercises with respect to other subjects.
MR. TELLER writes:
I am not certain whether to feel depressed or entertained by a cast of mind that would deny me the right to discourse on Yiddish lit- erature for the strange reason that I am “a former Yiddish writer who is now associated with an Israeli institution”–the first statement, incidentally, is disputable and the second not quite accurate. As for the “factual errors” Mr. Schulman has found in my article: I am concerned with the quality, not the quantity, of Ber Borochov’s theoretical writings in Yiddish, and perhaps if Mr. Schulman would read them, he too might be impressed. Boro- chov has taken deep root in Israeli labor ideology, and still exercises the imagination of its intellectuals. Zhitlowsky’s thought, so often refuted (even, in parts, by himself), has failed to survive the vicissitudes of time, and hence he belongs to the unnamed “distin- guished minds” of my article who produced “ephemeral movements.” Nachman Syrkin was an elegant propagandist, and it is not his thought, but that of Borochov and Gordon which took root in the applied Zionist Socialism of Israel. Incidentally, his first important work on the subject was written in German, not Yiddish.
There were various types of shund-romanen (and they were not, incidentally, like the popular novels of our day, but more like the “dime novels” of an earlier period). I referred to a particular category to indicate some of
the sources of the latter-day “social content”
Yiddish fiction.
Mr. Schulman’s reference to Yiddish con-
centration camp literature is puzzling. I did
not imply that Yiddish literature was out of
touch with all, or even most, areas of Jewish
experience. I referred-and he quotes me cor-
rectly, thus contradicting himself-to “large
areas of Jewish experience.”
Mr. Schulman does not challenge the status
of the Yiddish writers I mentioned, but won-
ders why I did not add to the list. The fact
is that my purpose was to write an essay, not a
“Who’s Who,” or even a literary history.
I assume, from his remarks about Shamir,
that Mr. Schulman reads Hebrew and difficult
Hebrew, since Shamir has not yet been trans-
lated into Yiddish. In any case, I grant Mr.
Schulman’s right to challenge my evaluations
of writers, and I reserve my own right to sub-
mit his literary judgments to the gauge of that
I plead guilty on two counts of Mr. Schul-
man’s vehement indictment: I was indeed care-
less with the first names of Fuks and Kaufman.
The Future of American Jewry
Beine concerned for the future of American
Jewry, I found Herbert J. Gans’s articles in the
last two issues of COMMENTARY responding to
some of my deepest anxieties. I did, however,
derive some comfort from imagining what sim-
ilarly well-informed speculations about the fu-
ture of Judaism might have been like immedi-
ately prior to such history-shaping develop-
ments as the Revelation at Sinai, the endow-
ment of Talmudic authority, and the rise of
modern Zionism.
I somewhat resent a patronizing comment
on Jewish educators: “The teachers see the
problem largely as an educational one, and
disputing over methods, fail to realize that
they-are actually trying to reverse a powerful
trend toward cultural assimilation.”
On the contrary, the attempt to deal with
this trend is precisely what most of the agitated
educational activity Mr. Gans describes is all
about. It runs through all the efforts to har-
monize instruction with the social realities (as
in most published curricula of synagogal and
educational agencies); to stimulate forces for
resisting the environment to some extent (as
in the day school movement); and to prepare
children for removal to a socially integrated
Jewish country (as is done in Zionist in-
struction). Jewish educators are painfully aware of the
trend toward cultural assimilation, but cannot
afford the luxury of dispassion or the sin of
Vassar Temple
Poughkeepsie, New York
The “National Review”
I am astonished that “Letters from Readers”
in your June issue contains only one letter
about Dwight Macdonald’s “Scrambled Egg-
heads on the Right” (April) and that one
denunciatory! Surely you must have received
many letters lauding a critique which was,
in my opinion, one of his most brilliant and
penetrating pieces.
I do not always, nowadays, agree with Mr.
Macdonald’s views. But I have never been
more in agreement with him than when he
calls National Review dull, inept, crude, un-
principled, etc., etc.-unless it is when, in his
reply to Mr. Rothbard, he taxes him with con-
fusing the solemn with the profound.
I read National Review with fair regularity
for somewhat the same reason as one exacer-
bates an aching tooth with a probing tongue,
and, for the most part, it either bores me
(Mr. Clark on the New Yorker, for instance,
seemed to me boring to excruciation) or
shocks me by its materialism and lack of hu-
man compassion. I think Mr. Macdonald’s
points were extremely well taken. May COM-
MENTARY long continue to print such brilliant
barbs against the National Reviews in our
New York City
The Am Ha-aretz
Allow me to make some comment on the
exchange of views between Mr. Stanley M.
Kessler and Rabbi Jakob J. Petuchowski (“Let-
ters from Readers,” May) on the denunciation
of the am ha-aretz in Pesachim 40…. In
my opinion, this passage explains a good deal
of the background of early Christianity in its
relations to Judaism.
Judaism-contrary to other religions-has
always held that a comprehensive study and
knowledge of the Law by everybody is of para-
mount individual and national importance;
this would account for the scorn, and even
the hatred, of the learned aristocracy for the
uneducated-feelings which, incidentally, were
returned “with interest” by the latter. Chris-
tianity, at its inception, seems to have utilized
the strained relations between “the Pharisees
well versed in Scripture,” and the “poor in
spirit,” rehabilitating the “poor in spirit” and
improving their social standing.
Something similar-but with less drastic
consequences-happened in the 18th century.
The antagonism between Mitnagdim (who
today in Israel actually call themselves
“P’rushim”-i.e. Pharisees!) and Hasidim
was based to a large extent on the Hasidic tendency to stress the emotional values in Juda- ism at the expense of the intellectual ones, and its attempt to give prestige to the simple and unlearned masses.
I venture to assume that the early Christian movement must be understood in part as a re- volt of the am ha-aretz against the rabbinic aristocracy of learning, which never did enough to raise the am ha-aretz to a higher status…. PEREZ TURA
Givataim, Israel
Conformity, Past and Present
I fully agree with Mr. Dennis H. Wrong in your April issue (“Riesman and the Age of Sociology”) that David Riesman’s work, while important, has been over-advertised.
In my opinion, there is still another weak- ness in Riesman’s work. The differences he tends to see between present-day society and that of former generations are partly imaginary. Like many young men, he has distorted ideas of the past. Actually, in former times neigh- bors, schoolmates, and colleagues were imitated just as much if not more than now. In addition, I wish Riesman would extend his research to explore whether other-directed-
ness is not partly caused by social mobility. There is a constant stream of families rising to higher social levels. Naturally they want to adopt the mores of their new colleagues and environment. Hence, for instance, the popu-
larity of Emily Post and similar books. This may be the price we have to pay for our “class-
less society.” But is this price really too much?
In this connection it would be interesting to find out whether conformity is not generally limited to comparatively harmless matters, like clothing and manners, with a little snobbery thrown in for good measure. I would be in- clined to argue that in Imperial Germany, for
instance, there was perhaps less conformity and other-directedness in unimportant things, but more conformity in important moral and political matters, resulting in hurrah-patriotism, religious hypocrisy, and moral cynicism. FREDERICK M. STERN
New Rochelle, New York
I found David Boroff’s biographical sketch, “Papa,” in the May issue of COMMENTARY extremely moving…. What impresses me most is the sympathy that controls his intelligence and his art. Mr. Boroffs papa is finally seen not only as a type, but also as an individual: suffer- ing, somewhat pathetic, somewhat comical-and
yet with integrity and stature. EUGENE GOODHEART
Brooklyn, New York
I should appreciate the space to make a correction of the Soviet population figures I took from Dr. Nahum Jasny’s article in Sotsialistichesky Vestnik for one of the points in my own article “Stalinism Versus Stalin,” in
your June issue. I have since learned that Dr. Jasny’s Vestnik article was a brief and overly simplified ver- sion of an article first done in English by him for the May 1954 Review of Economics and Statistics (Harvard). The longer article makes clear that the tables deal with net increase in the working force, a figure arrived at by de- ducting from those reaching the age of 16 the number of those not entering into gainful em- ployment, and those dropping out of the labor force because of old age, invalidism, etc., etc. This, of course, does not alter the conclusions I derived from his statistical tables, and makes it all the more shocking that an article avail- able for some time in English was not made use of by our statesmen in anticipating, interpret- ing, and clarifying the Soviet cuts, promises to cut, and inevitable further cuts in their armed forces.
BERTRAM D. WOLFE Brooklyn, New York

commentary magazine logo
+ A A -
Share via
Copy link