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September 09, 1977 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1977-09-09

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2 Friday, September 9, 1977


Purely Commentary

Welcoming the New Year 5738 With Confidence in Emerging
Elevation of Standards for Israel, World Jewry and Mankind,
With Hopes for the Manifold Blessings of Peace in the Land

By Philip

All Roads Lead to the Synagogue... with Major Concern for School and Children

Once again the synagogue assumes the major role in Jewish life. Again, the syna-
gogues will be filled with worshipers. Rosh Hashana is the season for re-identification,
even by those who may feel estranged or isolated. The Days of Awe which commence
with the New Year inspire and hold the worshippers closely linked with their people.
Thus Rosh Hashana proves the point of inalienability. There is a force that holds the
people closely affiliated with the heritage, the spiritual values, the ethical codes.
Indeed, all roads lead to the synagogue, conquering distances. uniting the people into
a single folk striving for higher values in life, for the human elements that make man
rise above the jungle.
Is the One Day, or the doubled celebration, or the Day of Atonement that follows, with
a possible attention to the Feast of Tabernacles that ensues, sufficient to hold the people
together in •unity?
In this historic experience of the Jew the spiritual also means the cultural, and this is
what matters a great deal in the precedence given to all other thoughts during the Days
of Awe. Rosh Hashana also denotes another beginning—of the school year. In the con-
cerned realm of Jewish devotion, equality in thought, observance and dedication 'is giv-

en to the Beth Hamidrash, the House of Study. as much as to the Beth Haknesset, tL-
House of Worship.
It is an old cliche, yet it merits repetition. The synagogue needs retention of strength
the school needs power for continuity. The paths to either are often strewn with ob i
stacles. They need constant lifting. uninterrupted advancement.
Because the Jewish birth rate in this country now is among the lowest on recoid
some schools are declining. The reduction in strength also is ascribable to the increase(
difficulties in encouraging American young people to enter the teaching profession.
Therefore, the responsibility of giving high standards to the Jewish scr - Is are in'
creasing. It is a duty not to be shirked. It may well be viewed as the m goal fog
community builders.
Rosh Hashana beckons those who welcome a New Year to link the spiritual with th(
cultural, never to forget the duty to the children, to the youth of the People Israel. Whee l
the children are in the fold the future is secure. A weakened school system also dant
ages the very foundation of Judaism and study, therefore, gains equality with prayer
To retain this link is the chief objective of a New Year for which the worshippers ae
quire the blessings of the generations.

Baruch Spinoza in Good Graces After 300 Years...Zionist Philosophy of Excommunicated Philosopher

:Cop ■ right 1977.1F %. Inc.)

Benedict (Baruch ► Spinoza was the excommunicated phi-
losopher. He was placed in herem.bv his Jewish commu-
nity. He was rejected. in his lifetime. by the Christians.
Theologically the master, he confronted hostility and it
is only now. on the 300th year of his death. that there is
greater acceptance of him. Even in orthodoxy there is evi-
dence of a welcome of his being reinstated in Jewish think-
ing. to be recorded as Jewish in the history of the people
that excommunicated him
Spinoza was born in Amsterdam in 1632 and died at The
Hague in 1677. A descendant of the Marranos. he had deep
roots in Judaism. His philosophic mind led him to what
had been interpreted as heresy. Now. both among the
Dutch and the Jews. in Israel and in many other ranks.
there is a readiness to embrace his memory with kind-
David Ben-fit Trion. who had himself turned to philoso-
phic and religious studies although he was never an obser-
vant. Jew. advocated the erasing of the excommunicative
regulations against Spinoza.
Perhaps Ben-Gurion was especially influenced towards
Spinoza because the excommunicated philosopher at one
time expressed belief in a reconstructed Jewish state. He
had written in reference to the Jewish people:

"I would go so far as to believe that, if the founda-
tions of religion have not enfeebled their minds. they
may, if the occasion presents itself amid the changes
to which human affairs are liable, even raise their em-
pire anew, and that God may elect them a second


This excerpt from Spinoza's "Tractatus Theologico-Poli-
ticus" is of considerable interest in view of his reference
to Spinoza's Jewish attitudes by Heinrich Graetz in his
"History of the Jews":
"In spite of his condemnatory verdict on Judaism,
he was struck by two phenomena, which he did not
fully understand, and which, therefore, he judged only
superficially according to his system. These were the
moral greatness of the prophets, and the superiority
of the Israelite state. which in a measure depend on
each other. Without understanding the political organi-
zation, in which natural and moral laws. necessity and
freedom work together, Spinoza explains the origin of
the Jewish state, that is, of Judaism, in the following
"When the Israelites. after deliverance from slavery
in Egypt, were free from all political bondage, and re-
stored to their natural rights, they wilingly chose God
as their Lord, and transferred their rights to Him
along by formal contract and alliance. That there he
no appearance of fraud on the divine side. God permit-
ted them to recognize His marvelous power. by virtue
of which He had hitherto preserved, and promised in
future to preserve them, that is, He revealed Himself
to them in His glory on Sinai; thus God became King
of Israel and the state a theocracy.
"Religious opinions and truths. therefore, had a
legal character in this state, religion and civic right
coincided. 'Whoever revolted from religion forfeited
his rights as a, citizen, and whoever died for religion
was a patriot..."
Graetz, the pious historian and the dedicated Jew, pro-

vided thorough review of Spinoza- in his "History of the
Jews," and he defined the threats to the Jewish commu-
nity from Spinozaisrn-, thus:
"Spinoza might have brought Judaism into extreme
peril; for he had not only furnished its opponents with
the weapons of reason to combat Judaism more effec-
tually, but also conceded to every state and magis-
trate the right to suppress it and use force against its
followers, to which they ought meekly to submit.
"The funeral piles of the Inquisition for Marranos
were, according to Spinoza's system. doubly justified;
citizens have no right on national grounds to resist the
recognized religion of the state. and it is folly to pro-

- This was not because our creative power had atro-
phied — if it had. we could never have maintained
our identity under the terrible hardships we suffered
—but because we had been torn from the source of
our people's vitality, their independent homeland."

AnOther reference to Spinoza contained in Pearl-
man's veritable anthology of Ben-Gurionian views
was an answer to Pearlman's question "Do you be-

fess Judaism and to' sacrifice oneself for it. But a pe-
culiar trait of Spinoza's character stood Judaism in
good stead. He loved peace and quiet too well to be-
come a propagandist for his critical principles..."

For David Ben-Gurion. nevertheless, the tercente-
nary of the Herem was a time for forgiveness. Might
he have become a Spinozist? In the time of Moses
MendeLssohn his close friend Gotthold Ephraim Les-
sing was accused by the Christian theologian Frie-
drich Heinrich Jacobi of being a Spinozist. it was then
— 200 years ago — considered adherence to heresy.
Mendelssohn strongly defended his close associate
against the charge. Ben-Gurion needed no defense. He
affirmed belief in God. He wrote in March 1972:
"I have not the slightest shadow= of doubt that God
exists. He is not a body and He is free from all the
accidents of matter. We can neither see Him nor hear
Him. He has no likeness but He exists and without
Him nothing can exist in the universe. This is a pro-
found and correct belief and no science can speak a
greater truth than 1. This is conviction."
He was more expressive when he exchanged views
with one of his closest associates, Moshe Pearlman,
who compiled a most interesting book. "Ben-Gurion
Looks Back" (Schocken). In that collection of Ben-
Gurion's views on all conceivable subjects, Pearlman,
in his talks with Ben-Gurion, gathered his ideas on
God and religion.
In these talks Ben-Gurion spoke his interest in Spin-
oza. His regret at Spinoza's having been "cast out" as
Ben-Gurion phrased it, was expressed in this state-
ment quoted by Pearlman:
"The great Book, or rather the collection of great
Books. which has given us the honor to be known as
the People of the Book. was created at a time when
we lived and enjoyed sovereignty in our own land.
Though we were a small and poor people. small 'in
number and the size of our territory, we were second
to no nation in creativeness, giving to ourselves and
the world of these Books of the highest spiritual
values. of an enduring expression of poetry, thought.
morality and religion.
What happened when we went into exile? We con-
tinued to live in our hearts and our minds within the
bounds of this biblical heritage. But we did not contin-
ue our creative process, except for multiplying our in-
terpretations of interpretations and expenations of


the explanations of our sacred writings. Our spiritual
lives. like our rr.zterial fives, were impoverished.
They were shrivelled. And if we dkl produce_some cre-

ative genius, we were quick to condemn him.

"In the 17th Century. at the beginning of the mod-
ern renaissance period, a great eagle, Baruch Spin-
oza. emerged from our midst and in his lofty thought
rose to the skies. What did we do? We casthim out.
He gave his wisdom to others. uttering his profound
words in 3 for •gn tongue. We lived in a political and
economic and also a spiritual ghetto.

lieve in God?" To which, as recorded by Pearlman in
his collected talks with the architect of the Jewish
state. Ben-Gut-ion replied:
- You are right. This is of concern only to the indi-
vidttal. But I do not mind answering you. I do believe
in the existence of a spiritual eternal. all-embracing
superior being, but I cannot say that I share the belief
of most of. my orthodox friends Is q not curious that
even institutionalized religion nowhere describes God
in any positive or recognizable way? We know what
God is NOT — He is not -a man. He has no ears no
eyes. For easier common comprehension and to make
Him familiar to people; He is often evoked in human
form, and we even use the personal pronoun, with a
capital H: but when it comes to scholarly definition
as for instance by Maimonides, He is defined more by
what Heqs 'tot than by what He is.
"Nevertheless, as I say. I do believe that there
riTiPsfbe a being. intangible, indefinable, even unimagi-
nable, but something infinitely superior to all we
know and are capable of conceiving. Without such a
being. there are certain phenomena which just cannot
be explained. What is it, for example, that enables
man to think? His brain is matter, just like a table.

But a table does_ not think. The brain is part of a liv-
ing organism. like my finger-nail, but my finger-nail
cannot think. Nor can the brain think when removed
from the body. But the whole of the living body taken
together becomes a thinking being.
..I once talked about this to Einstein. Even he, wilt
his great formula about energy and mass, agreed that
there must be something behind the energy. And
when I spoke of this to Niels Bohr. he too agreed. and
thought it was probably true of the entire cosmos,
that behind it there must be some superior being.
This is also what Spinoza may have meant.
"If. then, by 'God' is meant such a superior being,
which is neither material nor tangible. I say that I be-
lieve in God. From this it follows that, while I respect
the faith of those who believethat everything written
in the Bible is divinely inspired, my own approach is
that I accept what is written in the Bble extent the
passages where God Is given material form, for ex-
ample where He is represented as speak'
being spoken to; except for the textual of ontraft-
and except for the sections which run counter to the

laws of nature.

"If I believe that the world was created by the
Lord. I believe that He has more sense than all of us
put together, and He instituted specific laws in accord
ance with which nature exists. Flinging a staff and
turning it into a snake. as Moses is said to have done
in Pharaoh's court, is against the laws of nature:
therefore I cannot accept it as a true record of what
happened. for I cannot accept that God would deviate
from His carefully conceived laws governing nature.

But I respect those who do accept it, just - as I respect
their belief by a conception of God different from
These views are inerasable from the record of Ben-C.
Lion's attitudes which will retain an interest for future g
erations. The founding prime minister of the Jewish
a staunch labor leader, was always viewed as an ath
as an unbeliever. In his later years he emerged wi
firm belief, With a theological philosophy. It had been
ken of as (Albert) Einsteinian and as Spinozist. Perh4
is simply: Ben-Gurionian.

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