H. M. J. (Herbert Martin James) Loewe.

The orthodox position online

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(St. Catharine's College).




Price Fourpencc net.

It is felt by various members of Cambridge University that
there is a need for a series of pamphlets dealing with problems
in Orthodox Judaism from an Orthodox standpoint. Such a
series should avoid comparisons and polemics. The purpose of
each writer should be constructive, that is to say, to vindicate
Orthodox Judaism on its own merits, by demonstrating the
compatibility of tradition and modern thought. With these
limitations, each author will give free expression to his personal
views, for which he will accept the entire responsibility.

The following pamphlets are in preparation :

The Orthodox Position. By H. LOEWE, M.A. (S*.
Catharine's). Now Ready.

The Place of the Individual in Judaism. By E. MILLER,
B.A. (S*. John's).

Miracles. By E. M. MACCOBY, B.A. (St. John's).
Intermarriage. By R. N. SALAMAN, M.D. (Trinity Hall).
Piyyutim versus Hymns. By Mrs. SALAMAN.

The Synagogue in History. By the Rev. A. COHEN, M.A.

The Spirit of Joy in Judaism. By H. M. ADLER, M.A.
(St. John's).

Does the Liturgy Satisfy our Spiritual Needs? By
L. L. LOEWE, B.A. (Jesus).

Judaism and the Rights of Nations. By P. QUASS, B.A.
(S*. John's).

And others by the Rev. E. LEVINE, M.A. (Jesus), W.
GOLDSTEIN (Emmanuel), S. BRODETSKY, M.A. (Trinity),
I. LEVY, B.A. (St. Catharine's), A. ZAIMAN (King's),
H. M. SPIERS, B.A. (Caius), S. M. GREEN, B.A. (St.
John's), L. H. STERN, B.A. (Magdalene).

Among the subjects to be treated will be : " Woman and
the Synagogue," " The Higher Criticism," " Orthodoxy as a
Missionary Movement," "The Second Days of Festivals," and
" Hebrew in the Service."

CU1GW 111 111G vJCl V 1V_,G.

The price of each pamphlet will be 4d.









(St. Catharine's College)




Le-horai toda, ki hidrikhuni binethibh mifwoth.

(To my parents, who set my feet on the path of the


IN the fateful three years of academic life, most of us subject
our religious beliefs and experiences to the same stringent
investigation that we apply to other phases of human existence.
We seek to discover what relation religious truths bear to the
general body of truth, some branch of which our secular studies
are striving to elucidate. Confronted with difficulties, we turn to
our ecclesiastical authorities and look for guidance. Like Elihu
we expect that " Days should speak, and multitude of years
should teach wisdom." But hitherto our Rabbis and teachers
in England generally have refrained from issuing any pronounce-
ments. " Behold, we waited for their words, they spake not."
To take one striking illustration : the only orthodox contributions
to Higher Critical study have been Mr. Wiener's works, and
Mr. Wiener is neither a Rabbi nor a teacher at a Jewish
seminary, he is a layman. We wait in vain for some "official''
guidance. We cannot nor do we wish to ignore modern
difficulties, and we venture to hope that our efforts to arrive at
conclusions compatible with our faith, to reconcile our orthodox
position with facts and truths that seem to controvert that
position, may perhaps be of use to others. Hence, like Elihu,
we speak amid the silence of our elders, and we trust that,
also like Elihu, we shall escape the blame which was reserved
for the other three friends. We speak in no presumption, but
in the hope that our errors will provoke replies and promote
instruction. We speak, each one for himself, giving each one
his own personal views. If these are obsolete or incorrect, we
plead that they represent stages in the growth of our outlook
and, even so, may be of some service, for others will have to
pass these same stages. To any friends who have already
passed them, we shall look gratefully for inspiration.

There is another reason, besides humility, that prompts us
to write, and that is pride. In Cambridge we are far removed
from strife. Questions of orthodoxy and reform that agitate
Jewry elsewhere, have aroused our keen interest and discussion,
but have stirred no bitterness among us. We number Jews


of every shade of religious conformity, Jews who come not only
from England but from most Jewries of the world. Our pride
lies in the fact that we have managed to sink our differences
without sacrificing our principles. We may fairly claim to have
achieved union without uniformity, and to have built up Jewish
tradition without persecution. For this our thanks are due to
Mr. Abrahams, who has taught us Judaism in its widest,
noblest sense ; to him we dedicate this series.

It will be our endeavour to keep these pamphlets free
from the acrimony and uselessness of polemics, and we shall
confine ourselves to the defence and justification of orthodoxy.
It is not our purpose to attack the opinions of our Reform
brothers. A statement of the orthodox attitude to various
topics will be our aim. How far we succeed or fail either to
convince or to remain faithful to these guiding principles, is a
strictly personal matter. To ensure complete freedom to the
various authors, it is necessary to state definitely that we take
no collective responsibility for one another's opinions. Hence
the same subject may be treated, from different standpoints,
by more than one of us, in separate pamphlets. In conclusion,
we repeat Elihu's plea of his sincerity, " Our words are of the
uprightness of our hearts," and of his eagerness to elicit
response, " If you have aught to say, answer us : speak, for we
desire to justify you."


When we examine the basis of our religious beliefs, we
find ourselves at the outset dividing the whole field of inquiry
into two parts. The former is of a general nature " Why do
we believe in God and revelation ? " ; the second, which follows
logically, is " Why, admitting our belief in God and revelation,
do we follow that particular form known as Orthodox Judaism ? "
The former naturally applies, no less emphatically to our liberal
brothers, to our Christian friends, and indeed to all Theists, for
we claim no monopoly, at this time, of the Monotheistic idea.
Yet there is this difference between Jewish and Christian believers.
The former question is much easier for us to answer than for
them. It is true that to the philosopher, the existence of a
Deity may be a matter of discussion, and even, ultimately, of
doubt. The rival claims of materialist and idealist solutions of
the universe, the difficulty in accounting for the toleration of evil
by an all-good Deity, and in reconciling human freewill with
divine prescience, all these are grave points which make the
philosopher and theologian hesitate. They may, indeed, decide
that the belief in God is proved, but they reach their conviction
only after much thought and research. On the other hand, to
the ordinary educated believer, whose thoughts are guided by
commonsense reasoning rather than by abstruse philosophical
speculation, the belief in the existence of one Creative Power is
simple and requires no demonstration. The argument from
Design suffices: there is nothing inherently impossible in the
belief in One God. Revelation is a natural corollary.

But to the Christian believer far more serious difficulties
present themselves. If it is hard to believe in a Unity, how
much harder must it be to believe in a Trinity ? Miracles are
not prominent in Jewish theology ; they are completely absent
from Jewish service and ritual. Christain belief is based on a
series of miracles ; Christian worship, in its most solemn sacra-
ment, rests on the daily recurrence of a miracle, with which the
whole body of the faith is indissolubly connected. Praestet fides
supplementum sensuum defectui !

Judaism, then, in its widest form, may be a problem to the
philosopher; to the layman its acceptation is easy. Christianity,
however, is a problem, and a much more serious one, not only
to the philosopher, but to the layman as well. The philosophic
basis of Judaism does not concern us now. We accept, ex
hypothesi, the belief in a God and revelation (this point will
be treated in a separate essay) ; we wish to consider our way
of life as Orthodox Jews. Here the case is reversed. We have
much more to establish than Christianity has. The latter merely
demands of its followers an ethical life. This life, common to
Judaism and Christianity, is above dispute there may be differ-
ences between Jewish and Christian conceptions of certain
qualities, but these for the moment need not detain us. But the
Jewish life demands something more than the love of justice
and righteousness and the practice of charity. We all, for the
present purposes, concede the belief in God, and what we may
for convenience call the moral life. What we are asking our-
selves is, why do we observe the Ceremonial Law ? No serious
inquirer will resurrect the old fallacious contrast of Mitzvoth
versus spirituality of love as opposed to ceremonial. We
start with the true premises that the moral life, with its love,
spirituality, and other elements, are common to the two religious
systems for no Jew would deny the reality of Christian teaching
on these points merely because so many Christians have neglected
and repudiated them or have persecuted us, as little would any
Englishman hold the system of Kant responsible for the horrors
of Louvain and we want to examine that extra element which
Judaism possesses, namely, the " practical " precepts of our

We have thus cleared the ground and come to one clear
issue. The question that presents itself is obvious. " If it is
conceded that Christianity and Theism have the same moral
teaching as Judaism, why should I be a Jew when it is so
much easier to be a Christian ? I do not merely mean easier
in the crude sense of the absence of the physical sacrifices
demanded by the Torah, but easier also because, from the point of
view of humanity, surely uniformity is preferable to diversity."

First, it must be observed that we cannot altogether concede
the same hypothesis here, as we have done above, in a slightly
different situation. Speaking generally, we certainly do not

maintain that Jewish " morality " allowing for the moment the
possibility of a special " Jewish " morality is superior to
" Christian " morality. But in various aspects of life we claim
for Judaism a different and, we believe, a better point of view.
Thus we do not share the Christian belief that this world is
evil ; we do not hold that . the family tie impedes a man's
approximation to God or vitiates his ability to serve his Maker
with all his heart, with all his soul and with all his might.
Similar differences will readily occur to everyone. Even if we
overlooked the miracles, still the fundamental nature of Christian
teaching, i.e. the necessity of a redeemer to reconcile man to
God, is an insuperable obstacle to a union of the two faiths.
Judaism, in refusing to abandon its separateness, and in keeping
open the path of direct access to God, can in this alone plead
an eternal justification.

Secondly, even if we were to ignore these differences, there
is another factor to be remembered. Christianity, no less than
Judaism, contains elements besides the teaching of Morality and
Ethics. Christianity contains the dogmas of the birth and
resurrection of its Founder, Judaism contains the Mitzvoth.
Consequently whether I am a Jew or a Christian I am bound
not simply to morality, but to morality plus something else.
Looking at it broadly, we may say that Christianity restrains
the mind, and Judaism the body. We Jews consider that it is
just the latter that requires discipline, while it is the former
that should be free. Judaism does not, of course, neglect the
mind, but imposes no trammels on it. Thus, as a Jew, I am
forbidden to eat oysters ; as a Christian, I am forced to believe
in transubstantiation. Quite apart from the mere question of
morality, each religion contains something additional, and the
difference between these two addenda is sufficient to justify
Jewish separation.

If then, it may be urged, I desire simple morality, I
can become a Theist, I need neither Christianity nor Judaism.
Judaism has been the teacher of the world, but by now its
pupils have learnt their lesson. This is quite true, but we are
not dealing with proselytizing, we are asking ourselves not
why we being unbelievers should choose Judaism rather
than Theism but why, being Jews, we should remain in
the Faith.


The reason why we remain Jews is because we believe
that pure Theism, without that additional matter which makes
it Judaism, is too colourless, too weak to influence men's lives
and actions, unequal to survive except perhaps among a few
supermen whose strength of character is capable of making
them impervious to their surroundings, who are self-sufficient,
and who are able to dispense with all the aids to morality that
the Mitzvoth provide. Theism teaches the transcendence,
Judaism supplies the immanence. Judaism can appeal to every
man, Theism only to the scholar and saint, for man cannot live
by dogma alone. Further, Theism overlooks the essential fact
that man is human. We cannot expect him to continue in the
path of virtue fortified merely by general principles and vague
rules of conduct. He needs the warmth of ceremonial.
Orthodox Judaism and Theism do not rest upon the emotions,
but upon reason. Seeing that the emotions and senses are part
of our human nature, Judaism does not omit to take cognizance
of them as Theism does but presses them into its service,
while never allowing them to usurp too great a share in the
religious scheme, as, for example, is the case with the Greek
and Latin Churches. We are, then, by a process of exclusion,
brought back to Orthodox Judaism. (The separate steps, thus
briefly considered, will be dealt with in separate pamphlets.)
Further, it will be agreed, much, if not all that has been said
up to now could apply equally to Liberal Judaism, with possible
reservations. We do not wish to base our faith on negative
foundations. We do not believe in Judaism because Christianity
is untrue. First, we are not out to proselytize ; secondly, we do
not deny the value of Christianity and Islam for their respective
adherents; thirdly, we do not wish to harm these faiths in any
way. By regarding their truth to be relative, as far as we are
concerned, we do not divest them of spiritual use. At any rate
it would be a poor compliment to our religion, if we were to
say that we are Jews simply because of the deficiencies of the
other Creeds. No, we are Jews because of positive not of purely
negative reasons; we, too, believe our Faith to be divinely
given, and the most perfect, but not the only, guide in life.

What, then, is the value of the whole body of practice that
belongs to Orthodox Judaism ? Why is it necessary to keep
these observances, many of which seem so trivial ? The answer


is twofold. We believe that these are divine ordinances, and
that they represent the will of God, for Rabbinic interpretation
also partakes, in a way, of the nature of " apostolic succession,"
being in strict spiritual and logical continuity with the past ;
and, further, that the observance of these ceremonies is essential
to build up the Jewish life. It has not been a discovery of
modern times that certain Mitzvoth seem to though in reality
they do not tax our faith ; our Rabbis call those commandments,
for which the reason is not patent, by the name of Chukkim.
We cannot explain the motive or object connected with this
class of commands, but we nevertheless observe them. (By the
way, the class is really small, and care must be taken not to
lay too much stress on them and thus gain a false perspective.)
To carry out these Chukkim is no great task. A child is
prepared to obey unquestioningly any wishes of a parent. The
child acts out of love, and does not pause to consider that the
parent is a human being like himself, and liable to error. Nor
is it possible for a parent to explain to a child of tender years
the reason for many things which he orders, and which are
necessary for the child's good. One cannot explain the properties
of heat to an infant crawling on the hearthrug, but one can
keep it away from the fire. The gap between our powers of
understanding and the intelligence of God is surely no less than
that between the brains of adults and children. Surely then the
same obedience may be reasonably expected by an infallible,
all-loving God.

" But," it will be said, " this is the same blind faith, to which
objection was taken previously, when speaking of Christianity."
A typical example will shew that this is not so. The Red
Heifer is one of these Chukkim. Now obsolete, it involved an
act however, not a belief as is the case, say, with regard to
transubstantiation. No Jew in the days of the Tabernacle, even
if we supposed him endowed with the latest scientific knowledge,
would see, in the observance of this Chok, an offence against
his reason. Similarly, no believer in any creed would, on
account of the inexplicable death of a beloved relative, abandon
his faith in Providence. To perform on trust, so to say, an
act of worship, the reason of which God has not vouchsafed, is
not a sacrifice of reason. We can only speak of such a sacrifice
if we are asked to believe that which science teaches us to be


inherently impossible. The performance of the act may be
blind obedience : the credo quia impossibile is blind faith and
has no place in Judaism.

As a matter of fact our whole basis of life is made up of
trust and by this we mean accepting the possible without
proof, not the impossible. We accept a piece of paper as the
equal in worth of five golden sovereigns ; we accept blindly the
doctor's dictum on our health, and the lawyer's advice about
our property. " Yes," it may be said, " this we do as a matter
of convenience. If we liked to take the trouble we could go
to the bank and change our note, we could by study acquire
as much knowledge as the medical and legal specialists in
whom we prefer to place complete confidence in order to save
ourselves the labour necessary to verify their pronouncements."
This objection might stand in these examples, yet usually it
will be found that the majority of those who have been
properly taught and trained in an orthodox home, and who are
really competent to form a judgment, remain devoted to
orthodoxy all their lives. Some, of course, there are, who,
after due consideration think differently : on the whole, an
orthodox child means an orthodox man. From the inadequacy
of superficial orthodoxy i.e. soi disant conformity, no true
conclusion can be deduced.

It is also necessary to draw a distinction between actual
knowledge and capacity for thought. Every educated person
may presumably be credited with the latter quality, but the
possession of this faculty does not eo ipso imply the other. A
specialist must keep to his own subject. The eminence of a
politician does not entitle him to speak with authority about
Art. Nor can the views of a geologist or a lawyer on the
Din claim any special privilege. As far as morals and con-
science are concerned, all men are equal, for the divine spark
is withheld from none ; but to criticize Jewish practices, to
which experts have devoted lives of study, is another matter.
For this, technical equipment is essential.

But reverting to " blind trust," there are cases when,
however much study we devote to the task, we are baffled, and
have to accept a phenomenon without explaining its nature.
No one in the world knows so Edison said recently what
electricity is, but everyone knows what it does, and uses it


everyone, layman and professor, takes it on trust. No scientist
can define heat, except as the absence of cold; or cold, save as
the absence of heat. Our knowledge of the essence of heat is
not increased by substituting the terms energy or motion, nor
is our use of it in any way affected. No one can visualize the
fourth dimension, yet it must be there : the existence of
x dimensions is shewn by a simple algebraical demonstration.
We have to be satisfied with our knowledge if it works ;
pragmatism applies to science no less than to faith.

The number of the Mosaic precepts for which we cannot
see the reason 1 is small : most of them were connected with
the Temple and Palestine and are no longer binding. Far more
" faith-disturbing," so to speak, to some of our brethren, are
certain of the Mitzvoth which ought, they consider, to be
superseded. It has been said that the Almighty does not take
pleasure in them, no longer commands their practice, that they
are at best, obsolete ; at worst, superstitions and impediments.
" What is the good of wearing Tsitzith ? What is the harm
in eating shrimps ? "

Well, Orthodox Judaism regards all these things as divinely
ordained, as necessary, and as irremovable. Now neither we,
nor those who differ from us, claim any monopoly either of
knowledge and critical faculties or of mental honesty. We and
they alike can think out problems, can see difficulties and face
them, can entertain doubts and struggle to faith. Honesty of
purpose is not confined to one sect. Nor had our teachers any
material interests for the sake of which they might have been
tempted to suppress the truth. For centuries our Rabbis earned
their living by duties in other professions their religious work
was unpaid. Consequently their thoughts were completely
independent. Every age has brought fresh questions for Judaism
to face, it has had to adjust itself to every new scientific
discovery. That our Rabbis men of learning and probity
should regularly have maintained that there is a moral value
in not eating shrimps and in wearing Tsitzith, is a convincing
argument that we are not acting blindly, nor without due
reflection. 2 There must be something in these things, or else

1 See Maimonides, Guide, Part III., ch. xxvi., xxxi., Friedlander, pp. 310, 321.

2 That the present, with all its inventions, has completely superseded the

past, we have no reason to assume.


thinking generations would not have agreed upon their retention.
When, then, we rely on the decision of the past, we need fear
neither interested bias nor obscurantism.

The next answer is that all these Mitzvoth are necessary
to establish and maintain Jewish life in its perfection. Every
secular act of the Orthodox Jew is invested with some reminder,
some association with religion in order to consecrate his whole
life. Every emotion, every phase of the soul and body, is
taken into account, " When we lie down, and when we rise up."
Daily Prayer, Sabbatical rest, festival joys, penitential solemnity,
mourning in Ab, merriment at Purim ; these are a few of the
characteristics. Who can know the Jewish life save the Jew ?
Every Sabbath is a family feast, a day of prayer, of rest, of
study, of good cheer. The year is a series of events, as
artistically perfect as a Wagnerian cycle. Take, for example,
the period from the first solemn call to repentance on the
Sabbath eve, when the penitential season opens, until, after
Sukkoth, the gaiety dies away peacefully on Sabbath Bereshith,
a sober prelude to the coming of winter. In this period how
wonderfully does each day fit into the general scheme, how the
note of penitence rises in intensity until the consciousness of full
pardon is reached in the grand diapason of Kippur, how the relief
from the burden of sin gives way to rejoicing, until Tabernacles
ends in the merry-making of Simchath Torah and the lengthening
evenings invite us to recommence our study of the Law. Just
as each sentiment, during these great days has its musical
" Leitmotif " its canonical colour, so to speak so is the whole
range of human feeling covered by the complex body of customs,
precepts, prayers and poems which make up what we call the
Jewish Life. The value of this life has never been questioned.
It has preserved Jewry and Judaism throughout the ages amid
the cramping walls of Ghettos and slums. It has created Jewish
family life with its virtues of chastity, charity, love and right-


Online LibraryH. M. J. (Herbert Martin James) LoeweThe orthodox position → online text (page 1 of 2)