This review was cut from a newspaper. A handwritten note reads “AJN – 1.1.1965”.
DR. JACOBS’ SEARCH FOR A “MIDDLE WAY”
Controversial English rabbi and scholar, Dr. Louis Jacobs has recently published a book “Principles of the Jewish Faith – An Analytical Study”.
This review is by Rabbi Dr. S. Coleman, of Sydney.
In recent years serious Jewish thinkers have been grappling with the term “Jew”. The set of circumstances which has prompted new definitions to embrace the term within the framework of the Israeli Jewish community, has found that it cannot be divorced from Jewry throughout the rest of the world on whom the discussion has made a profound impact.
Another set of circumstances has come into being which is now extending the discussion to redefine orthodox Judaism with equal attendant I repercussions.
In the normal course of events, a reorientation of the theories underlying Jewish doctrine is always acceptable as part of the natural progress of a living faith.
Unfortunately, in the search for new definitions, Jewish religious thinkers are not always readily aware that what they happen to consider genuinely to be reasonable as a basis for discussion, becomes reduced to a new series of dogma treated by the masses as a_ reassessment of Judaism designed for them and desired most by them.
Jewish secular thinkers furthermore take the opportunity of plucking the discussion from its religious setting and emerge with an oversimplified consideration familiar to anyone acquainted with recent styles of philosophical argument.
Judaism now is reduced to an ideology much the same as any other which stems from man’s intellectual attainments. It becomes entrenched in the intellect, but is devoid of the heart. It becomes dependent upon micro-cosmic man instead of the Cosmos.
It is in this general background that we must perceive Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs’ “Principles of the Jewish Faith—An Analytical Study” (publ. Vallentine-Mitchell), in which the author attempts to find an answer to the baffling problems which come face-to-face with Judaism in the light of “new” knowledge.
By this he means scientific investigation providing facts about the universe which contradict some of the old formulations, and which refers also to the body of internal and external evidence provided by comparative religion, historical studies and archaeology.
Dr. Jacobs starts “with the premise that fundamental principles of the Jewish faith have—always received fresh interpretations. He gives expression to an ambition which is to formulate his own personal faith as a basis for debate and discussion (ix).
There is no question as to the fulfilment of this ambition.
There is hardly any other enunciation of Judaism which has received as wide a publicity and debate as Dr. Jacobs’ enunciations, and in the non-Jewish as well as the Jewish press.
In his analysis, however, he appears to be uncertain of his stand. He rejects modernism, he tells his readers, because it deals with the inspiration of the Bible much the same as Shakespeare or Beethoven inspire through their works (458).
Yet, neither is he orthodox in the accepted sense of the word. He prefers to call himself “non-fundamentalist” and his Judaism”a modernism within traditional Judaism (x).
By this he stresses a Biblical theology which can be studied in the light of Jewish teaching and also in accordance with textual criticism. In other words, Dr. Jacobs advocates an orthodoxy which cannot deny that the Pentateuch is in fact a composite work. This is his conclusion after a genuine search for a middle way in Jewish religious thinking.
The book is a revaluation of the Thirteen Principles of Maimonides and the most comprehensive to appear in recent times. The various works that have appeared in the past have always been influenced by the dominant ideas of the age in which they were written, or by dint of the trends they were intended to combat. Scholars of many shades of opinion have argued with substance both for and against such a crystallised creed as that of the great mediaeval Jewish thinker.
Dr. Jacobs has traced this development with extraordinary skill. He displays an encyclopaedic knowledge of the sources in ancient, mediaeval, and modern times.
He quotes with fluency and familiarity from Jewish and non-Jewish scholars embracing all periods, though, if one comment is permitted here, it is that the mediaeval type excursi throwing many of – these sources heavily together in one paragraph, sometimes cloud the issue under discussion for the reader.
Obviously quite unintentionally, and it is a pity, the reader detects a certain dogmatism, strange in a work of this kind, whether it is to be treated strictly as a critical appraisal of orthodox Judaism or as a religious one, since he tells his readers that whatever the theory of the scholar concerning the composition of the Pentateuch, he has arrived at it by scientific, not dogmatic, grounds (240).
Yet he appears to drive home his views with a conviction when Semitic scholars themselves tread with caution.
The most significant statements the author makes, and the first time by an orthodox rabbi, are contained in his consideration of the Eighth Principle. “. . . that God dictated the whole of the Pentateuch to Moses”, he writes, “is a belief which has become increasingly difficult to maintain because it appears to be in flat contradiction to the facts (240).
Elsewhere he writes:”Among the ‘assured results’ of modern criticism (in the sense that no Bible scholar of note denies any of them)” are: that Moses did not write the whole of the Pentateuch, that it is a composite not a homogeneous work, that some of the material contained in it is unhistorical” (264).
Dr. Jacobs draws a distinction between factual beliefs which are based upon investigating into the facts wherever they may lead, even if those facts contradict traditional beliefs, and interpretive beliefs which form the basis of creed.
Literary investigations, he contends to be among factual beliefs and forms the essence of his argument.
Most, if not all, of them, even when supported by archaeological discoveries, are likewise based on interpretive beliefs and suppositions, and as such always remain theories and seldom attain certainty nor indeed probability.
Dr. Jacobs, in all fairness, perceives this overlapping of both the factual and the interpretive beliefs (463), but he does not clearly designate the line of demarcation to prevent it, especially when he offers the interpretive belief as an encouragement to those who feel inhibited from engaging in these investigations (460).
It is not enough that Dr. Jacobs asserts “that God revealed Himself in the Torah. . . . and there can be no Judaism without revelation” (240), if he does not accept that the Torah wholly is God’s Revelation. Dr. Jacobs is in fact subjecting the Torah to the very same sort of literary analysis the scholars of English literature are doing with Shakespeare.
If, as he asserts, the revelation is perceived only in some part or parts of the Torah, then a distortion of the next must naturally follow, and this in turn will be subject to further scrutiny in the light of ‘new’ knowledge which makes today’s old. . .
Dr. Jacobs recognises that “the .identification of Judaism with the ‘purely rational’ can do little service for the ancient faith and is unlikely to be given a sympathetic hearing” (5).
He finds it futile to invoke the principle of faith where facts contradict old accepted formulations, or to contrast it with reason.
‘Jewish Orthodoxy’, complains Dr. Jacobs, “refuses to accept anything of modern criticism and stands firmly committed to the older view.” (297). If it refuses to accept anything from modern criticism, however, it is surely because modern criticism has nothing to offer it.”
Dr. Jacobs is of the opinion “that one can be perfectly free to investigate the origins of Jewish observances and come to conclusions concerning these which are at variance with tradition, without giving up the concept of the Mitzvoth as Divine commands” (292).
The Mitzvoth which are determined by reason only, will, by that same reason, question their validity altogether, while the very fabric of the Jewish faith depends upon the universal acceptance of the Mitzvoth as defined by the Oral Law.
It is this universal acceptance which make the Mitzvoth Divine Revelation (Halachah leMosheh MiSinai).
When they are subjected to individual interpretation the fabric crumbles and the community of the Jewish people disintegrates.
By the same token it is difficult for the orthodox Jew to recognise with Dr. Jacobs any distinction between traditional beliefs and traditional practices (459).
He tells his readers “It is becoming increasingly evident that Judaism is a religion and not only what is vaguely referred to as a ‘way of life’.” (viii).
The vehicle of the Torah is the halachah – the Oral Law. It defines the distinctive way of life of the Jew from birth to death – every minute of it, regulating his diet and other habits.
Dr. Jacobs is fully aware of this. When this way of life becomes vague, Judaism loses its sense of destiny and fulfilment.
As a religion alone, by which must be inferred the acceptance of the ‘yoke of the Kingdom of God and His Unity’, without an equal acceptance of the ‘yoke of the Mitzvoth’, Judaism will surely cease to maintain the cohesive strength it requires to bind the Jewish people everywhere into one great brotherhood.
Judaism cannot exist in abstract. It must have authoritative guiding principles to carry out its message. Belief in these principles is not sufficient. They must be translated into practice.
This was in fact the turning point of Jewish history when the Soferim, the disciples of Ezra, who taught the people of Israel to know the Torah, were substituted by the Talmidei Hachamim, the Rabbis, who taught them how to apply their knowledge by practice. The two became inseparable and knowledge is also belief.
Dr. Jacobs calls his work a “sketch. . . . to make the reading think about his Judaism” (29). To this end it has given ample service.
Yet, throughout the entire analysis, his process may way lead the uninitiated Jew into tortuous paths from which there is no escape, and some of the initiated into the ways of ‘Epiqorsin’ to which the author himself alludes (16).
A comprehensive introduction; clear summary and conclusions, an index of philosophers and thinkers, also a list of the most important theological concepts dealt with in the excursi, complete an exhaustive volume of scholarship but a highly controversial guide to the orthodox Jew searching for his “Principles of the Jewish Faith”.