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Scular Judaism Melkin;Jewish Atheism: From Medieval Origins to Its Dominant Position Among the World’s Jews Today. Polish Cardinal Hlond Was Righ

jan peczkis|Friday, February 16, 2018

In the Foreword, Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine identifies author Yaakov Malkin, of Tel Aviv University, as “one of the significant intellectual leaders of this [secular Judaism] movement.” (p. vii). Agree with him or not, but realize that he knows what he is talking about.


THE HISTORIC "OTHERNESS" AND “OTHERIZATION” OF THE JEW—A TWO-WAY STREET

What does it mean to be Jewish? What, if anything, does it have to do with Jewish religion? Rabbi Sherwin Wine thus answers these questions, “Since their beginnings the Jews had functioned as a nation. Even when their government became a theocracy and religious conformity was enforced, they still saw themselves primarily a nation. Even when they became a world people in the Diaspora [read: cosmopolitanism], they still saw themselves as a nation. In the Middle Ages the Jews were never regarded as members of the nations among whom they lived. They SAW THEMSELVES and were viewed by others as aliens.” (p. vii; Emphasis added).

ENDEKS DIDN’T GENERALLY RECOGNIZE POLAND’S JEWS AS POLES…AND NEITHER DID THE JEWS!

Rabbi Wine’s comments are pointed, and they are generally applicable to Jews from this entire part of Europe, “When Eastern European Jews arrived in North America, the Reformers were appalled by the image they projected. It was not only their poverty and immigrant crudeness that bothered them. It was a fact that they were a distinct nationality, with a language and culture all their own. Russian Jews did not think that they were Russian. They saw themselves as ethnically Jewish. Yiddish, not Russian, was their mother tongue.” (p. viii).

[So much for the myth, promulgated by some, that, just because Jews had lived for centuries in Poland, they thereby validly “own” a part of Poland.]

“OTHERIZATION” VS. JEWISH ASSIMILATION—NOT BLACK AND WHITE

Valid considerations about Jewish separatism persisted even in the post-Enlightenment assimilationist-friendly ostensibly-progressive western European nations. For example, even though Alfred Dreyfus was found innocent, the question of dual loyalty, which had animated suspicions about him, had not arisen out of thin air. Sherwin tacitly acknowledges as much as he quips, “National identity for Jews as French, German and English was, therefore, problematic. Can a person be a member of two nations simultaneously? If you join a new nation must you repudiate the nation from which you came? Or, if you are pious and loyal to your ancestral past, do you repudiate the offer of citizenship that is extended?” (p. vii).

Rabbi Sherwin Wine (pp. vii-viii) contends that Reform Judaism arose as a means of resolving this very-real “dual loyalty” dilemma: From now on Jews would be only a religion, devoid of ethnic or national content. Otherwise, they would be Germans, Americans, etc., in every sense of the word. In the USA, Jews became just another denomination—one of America’s three great religions: “Protestants, Catholics, and Jews”.

Reform Judaism, in Rabbi Wine’s opinion, inhibited the development of secular Judaism. By reducing Jewishness to a religious-centered identity, it implied that an irreligious or anti-religious Jew was a peripheral or second-class Jew. (p. ix).

THE JEWISH RETREAT FROM GOD BEGAN IN THE MIDDLE AGES

It is easy to see that Judaism was fertile ground for atheism. To begin with, according to Malkin, “Jewish religious tradition does not recognize any obligatory credo.” (p. 3). As elaborated in the next paragraphs, God was incrementally reduced to an abstract, remote, and uninvolved Entity before He was commonly pushed out of existence entirely.

Let us examine the gradual dismantling of God and His authority. Malkin comments, “A ‘freethinking’ trend that may be traced back to Maimonides…” (p. 3). Furthermore, “We have no obligation to obey the commandments. Even religiously believing Jews agree with that and take their authority from none other than Maimonides’ GUIDE FOR THE PERPLEXED. As early as the thirteenth century, some Jews decided they were free of the duty of MITZVA observance. Their authority for this audacious conclusion was Maimonides’ conceptualization of God as perfectly abstract…” (p. 79).

Enter the 16th century and the Lurian (Rabbi Yitzhak Luria) system of KABBALAH. Malkin remarks, “A new conceptualization of God was winning adherents: he was no longer a personal God to be prayed to and whose ‘will’ had to be done, but an abstract being with no capacity for speech and certainly no need for petitions and sacrifice.” (p. 46).

Let us avoid falling into semantics (e. g, agnostic, ignostic, or whatever). In practical terms, redefining God as an abstraction, or doing away with Him entirely (relegating Him to ‘Humanity’s greatest invention’), makes no difference. Malkin recognizes as much, “Whether one believes in a God of a kind beyond the conceptual powers of humankind to conceive, or believes that Yahweh has been manufactured by the human imagination, the MITZVOT lose their power to command obedience.” (p. 81). No kidding.

Of course, the author is not suggesting that Jews disregard MITZVOT. Rather, these deeds can variously and freely be practiced, abandoned, or added-to, solely in accordance with personal preference, Jewish culture, humanistic considerations, etc., but not in accordance with any God. (pp. 80-81).

THE SELF-ATHEIZATION OF JEWRY TAKES HOLD, AND SPREADS GLOBALLY

In 1936, Polish Cardinal August Hlond, deeply concerned about inimical influences affecting Poland’s Catholics, wrote a pastoral letter calling Jews freethinkers, vanguards of Bolshevism, and a bad influence on morals [of course, not all Jews, as he made crystal-clear]. For daring to criticize Jews, many recent Jewish authors (and not a few Judeo-conformist Christians) have demonized him, effectively calling him a “hater” and (what else?) anti-Semite merely for specifying unwelcome facts—moreover ones which religious Jews had voiced themselves.

As it turns out, not only was Cardinal Hlond correct, but he had actually understated the significance of Jewish self-atheization, moreover which by then (1936) had been already at least a few decades old. Malkin tacitly affirms this fact, “In the second half of the nineteenth century, Judaism adopted the process of secularization. The HASKALAH movement and other nationalist secular movements began to influence increasingly wider circles through new journalism and literature that broke the bonds of religious culture. A growing number of Jews released themselves from traditional community organizations and from their obligation to obey its leaders and the MITZVOT of the HALAKHA.” (p. 29).

In summary, “In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, secularization gained speed among the majority Jewish population of Eastern Europe, then under Russian, Austrian, and Prussian rule.” (p. 30). Note that this overlapped the lands of Partitioned Poland.

Furthermore, this process soon became global. Malkin writes, “From the nineteenth century on, secular Jewish culture spread to every corner of the Diaspora and into every Jewish and non-Jewish language in which Jews wrote—Hebrew, Ladino, Yiddish, English, French, Russian, Arabic, German and others.” (p. 78).

SOME FORM OF JEWISH ATHEISM IS NOW THE NORM, NOT THE EXCEPTION

Malkin makes it clear, “Over the course of the twentieth century, the population of Jews who do not observe MITZVOT became the majority of the Jewish population in Israel and throughout the world.” (p. 29). As if having a fear of making an understatement, the author repeats this fact again (e. g, p. 79)

SECULARIZED JEWISH MESSIANISM LED TO JEWS IN COMMUNISM

Unlike those who pooh-pooh the magnitude and significance of the Jewish leadership of Communism, author Malkin does not. He writes, “The most important contribution of messianism to Jewish culture was the development of a faith in a better future, an ideal world, which became a driving force for new social and revolutionary movements in which Jews played MAJOR ROLES.” (p. 120; Emphasis added).

However, the author does not explain how Jewish involvement in a movement based on systematic violence and scapegoating fits-in with the professed humanitarianism and ethics of Judaism. Does the end justify the means? And, if mass murder under Communism was no big deal, then why not the same under Nazism?

HOLOCAUST SUPREMACISM HURTS JEWS THEMSELVES

Author Yaakov Malkin joins some other Jews who warn that the customary emphasis on the Holocaust obscures the rich heritage of Judaism. He objects to the fact that, “European Jewry is depicted as moving straight from the decaying hovels of the nineteenth-century SHTETL to Auschwitz.” (p. 89).
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