Communings of the Spirit, Volume III: The Journals of Mordecai M. Kaplan, 1942-1951
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of the Spirit The Journals of Mordecai M. Kaplan Volume III 1942-1951

Edited by Mel Scult

Praise for Communings of the Spirit “It is axiomatic that the publication of the third volume of Mordecai M. Kaplan’s journals is among the most significant contributions a press can make to the advancement of American Jewish scholarship. Kudos to the press and to Scult for their efforts.” —­Jeffrey Gurock, Libby M. Klaperman Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University “Mel Scult continues to reveal himself as a master editor and commentator who has done scholar and layperson alike a great service by allowing Kaplan and the events and issues of a decade to come alive through the writings in this book. This latest volume of Kaplan’s diaries is simply a treasure that will captivate and command the attention of a wide swath of readers who are interested in American Jewish history, thought, and religion.” —­David Ellenson, Chancellor Emeritus, Hebrew Union College–­Jewish Institute of Religion “Another great gift from the world’s foremost expert on Kaplan and his work. This volume of the Kaplan diaries covers critical decades in his life and reveals his response to the Holocaust, the establishment of the State of Israel, and to his own excommunication. An invaluable source on one of America’s greatest Jewish thinkers and on American Judaism during a pivotal period of the twentieth century.” —­Jonathan D. Sarna, University Professor and Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University, and author of American Judaism: A History “Covering ten tumultuous years, these excerpts reveal Kaplan championing democracy and battling authoritarianism in geo-­politics and religious affairs. We see Kaplan forthrightly accept the opportunities and obligations of America’s sudden emergence as the world’s largest Jewish community and gain further insight into the ways his work was both embraced and attacked. Scult has helped illuminate not only Kaplan but also essential events and personalities from a critical period in Jewish life.” —­Deborah Waxman, Aaron and Marjorie Ziegelman Presidential Professor at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and president of Reconstructing Judaism

“Aside from being one of the most influential Jews in twentieth-­century America, Kaplan kept an exhaustive diary from about 1904 until the late 1970s. Scult has been expertly excavating Kaplan’s voluminous writings for almost half a century. This third volume comprises diary entries during the war years and the founding of the State of Israel. Scult’s deep knowledge of Kaplan, his felicitous introduction, and his helpful annotations and notes make this a superb study of a tumultuous time in mid-­century American Judaism.” —­Shaul Magid, professor of Jewish studies, Dartmouth College “Among Kaplan’s many innovative contributions to American Judaism that we learn about from this eagerly awaited third volume of his diaries, masterfully edited by Scult, are the prayer-­poems Kaplan composed using the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and other modern authors. These liturgical experiments foreshadowed the flourishing of new literary creations that enrich Jewish worship today. I am grateful to Scult for bringing to light these little-­known and inspiring compositions, along with the many other fascinating passages contained in this volume.” —­Marcia Falk, author of The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival and The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season


of the Spirit

Sixtieth-­birthday celebration of Mordecai Kaplan. (Courtesy Society for the Advancement of Judaism)


of the Spirit The Journals of Mordecai M. Kaplan Volume III 1942–­1951

E d i t e d b y M e l S c u lt

Wayne State University Press Detroit Published in cooperation with the Reconstructionist Press

© 2020 by Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Published by Wayne State University Press, Detroit, Michigan 48201 and the Reconstructionist Press. Introduction and all editorial and annotative material and selections copyright 2020 by Mel Scult. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without formal permission. Manufactured in the United States of America. Library of Congress Control Number: 2020939951 ISBN 978-­0-­8143-­4767-­6 (printed case); ISBN 978-­0-­8143-­4825-­3 (paperback); ISBN 978-­0-­8143-­4768-­3 (ebook) Permission to reprint material from Mordecai Kaplan’s diary has been granted by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, which owns volumes 1–­25 of the diary. Volumes 26 and 27 are owned by Reconstructionist College. Permission has also been granted by the Kaplan family. Wayne State University Press Leonard N. Simons Building 4809 Woodward Avenue Detroit, Michigan 48201-­1309 Visit us online at wsupress​.wayne​.edu

With gratitude for the generous support of Miriam Eisenstein and Carol Stern Daniel and Karol Musher David and Ruth Musher Susan Beckerman Donald and Arlene Shapiro Jane Weprin-­Menzi Jack and Kaye Wolofsky Herb and Marcia Weller Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood

To my brother Allen Scult, who helps me be my best philosophical self


Foreword . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xi Preface. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xiii Introduction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Chapter 1. January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Chapter 2. April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59 Chapter 3. August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942 . . . . . . . . . . . . 97 Chapter 4. October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943. . . . . . . . . . . 129 Chapter 5. March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943 . . . . . . . . . . . 162 Chapter 6. August 23, 1943–­August 7, 1944 . . . . . . . . . . . . 195 Chapter 7. September 14, 1944–­April 17, 1945. . . . . . . . . . 226 Chapter 8. April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946. . . . . . . . . . . 258 Chapter 9. October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948. . . . . . . . . . . 297 Chapter 10. March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950. . . . . . . . . . . . 329 Chapter 11. May 19, 1950–­June 10, 1951. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 364 Time Line of Kaplan’s Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 393 Glossary. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 397 Index. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 419



To be really free means to be honest with oneself and with one’s peers. For Mordecai M. Kaplan, it was only through the free, unfettered search for oneself that people were able to be religious, to explore their identity, and to orient themselves to their community and to the world. His diary is a moving, authentic record of his own religious quest. Many people think that Kaplan’s approach to religion was much more of the head than of the heart and that he tended toward a scientism that today seems quaint at best. And yet in the prime of his life and three years before nuclear weapons became known, Kaplan wrote that “science has not made for a better and a happier world.”1 And many people think that Kaplan’s Reconstructionism was intended as a radical venture on the fringes of mainstream Judaism. And yet as the diary makes clear, Kaplan is in an important way a centrist looking to establish a middle path between the rigid legalism of Orthodoxy and a then near–­Orthodox Conservative movement on the one hand and, on the other, classical Reform’s rejection of much of the core of Jewish tradition. Some assert that Kaplan’s Reconstructionism entails belief in a God as different from the God of our ancestors as was Spinoza’s God. And yet note that here, as so often in his published and unpublished writings, Kaplan speaks not of “God” but of a “conception of God.” At the same time, one might say that Kaplan is the sociologist-­become-­theologian (a meta-­theologian), even though his theology is complex, multilayered, personal, and surprisingly philosophical. As Dr. Mel Scult suggests in his preface, Kaplan’s journals reveal the author’s obsessive tendencies. Kaplan was obsessed with trying to solve the fundamental problems of the Jewish people in the modern world. He was devoted to documenting, in detailed diary form, the central events in his own long and productive life as well as his reactions to the momentous events that befell the Jewish people in that period. As a result, we have a virtual concordance to the history of the Jewish people through most of the twentieth century. Read in conjunction with Kaplan’s published writings, as they should be, the journals complete our picture of Kaplan’s life and work.

1. Interview with Mordecai Kaplan, 1972.


xii Foreword

As volume 3 of Kaplan’s journals takes its place alongside volumes 1 and 2 as required reading for everyone interested in the past, present, and future of American Judaism, all of us at the Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood salute our colleague Dr. Scult for his magnificent work. We think that Kaplan would have been as grateful as we are. Daniel G. Cedarbaum President and Executive Director of the Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood www​.kaplancenter​.org


Mordecai Kaplan was a compulsive diary keeper who started the process in 1904 and was still writing in the late seventies.2 His journal may be one of the longest diaries in existence. (Twenty-­seven large, accountant-­type volumes of three hundred pages apiece is perhaps greater than Pepys or Emerson.) If Kaplan is the compulsive diarist, I suppose one might say I am the compulsive reader. I discovered the diary in my initial meetings with Kaplan in 1972. That was forty-­six years ago. The diary has engaged me for so long a period because it is the authentic witness to his continuous search to make sense of the world, of religion, and of Judaism with only a minimal verification from the tradition. (“Tradition has a vote but not a veto,” he famously stated.3) Even more than that, the diary seems, in a sense, to be the virtual “repository” of his self. It is as if we are inside his mind. At one point, he writes of himself and the diary, “On the other hand, I do not possess the ability to externalize my personality [my self] by means of song, story, poem or painting. . . . In my frustration, I turn to writing in this journal as the only means left me to externalize and render transferable that aspect of my being I experience as my soul, self or reason.”4 I have been working with Kathryn Wildfong of Wayne State for many years, and I want to thank her deeply for her consistent support and her very valuable advice. I want to acknowledge the support of the Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood for this and many other Kaplan projects. I am also deeply indebted to those individuals who have contributed toward the publication of this volume. My brother Allen Scult, professor emeritus of Drake

1. I recently discovered another early diary of Kaplan’s entitled “Communings with the Spirit.” This series is entitled Communings of the Spirit. In order to be consistent, we have retained the earlier title. The earlier title is, of course, theologically significant. 2. The original of the diary may be found in the archives of the Jewish Theological Seminary. It is also online at www​.kaplancenter​.org. The last two volumes of the diary are at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. 3. Many have asked me about the origin of this famous statement. In its original form, one may find it in Not So Random Thoughts (New York: Reconstructionist Press, 1966). There Kaplan gives us “The ancient authorities are entitled to a vote, not a veto” (263). 4. See the introduction to volume 1 of this series for more on Kaplan and the diary. Communings of the Spirit: The Journals of Mordecai M. Kaplan, vol. 1, 1913–­1934, ed. Mel Scult (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2001), 31–­55. For the particular quotation here, see Communings of the Spirit, 1:439.


xiv Preface

University, has been and continues to be my most important intellectual other and a constant friend and faithful supporter of this and other Kaplan projects. A few matters of style—­some significant others minor. Where there are isolated numbers in bold curling brackets in the text itself, they refer to pages in the original diary. The diary is not a finished product and was not prepared for publication. Some sentences are awkward. In many cases, I leave them that way. Charles Silberman said that he could never quote a complete Kaplan statement. There were simply too many subordinate clauses. Kaplan did not “fix up” the diary for publication. It was essentially private, although it is clear that he certainly expected it would be published.5 There is a very positive aspect to the casual, private aspect of the diary. The Kaplan of the diary is much more readable and engaging than the published Kaplan, which is more familiar. We are very fortunate that he never “fixed up the diary.” It has the attraction of the deeply felt and the spontaneous. On a more mundane level, readers should be aware that Kaplan did not write in the diary every day. Often he wrote long entries covering a number of days, and thus the date of an entry does not necessarily indicate when the event being discussed happened. When different subjects are treated on the same day, I have entered them separately. Kaplan frequently introduced Hebrew expressions in the text. These are written out in transliteration followed by “Heb.” and a translation. Kaplan did not look up the source when he quoted from a traditional work. There are times when he misremembered and misquoted a source. I have noted where he misremembered. Kaplan rarely gives the exact source of Hebrew expressions, and wherever possible I supplied these. I am very much indebted to Ittai Hirschman for the identification of many Hebrew expressions. In some cases, my son, Rabbi Joshua Scult, supplied the source. I am of course also indebted to Sharon Polsky, who typed much of the material in this volume. Individuals are identified fully the first time they are mentioned. After that, a full identification can be found in the glossary. Glossary identifications are much fuller than the text notes. Because individuals are identified in the notes only the first time they are mentioned, as the diary proceeds, the attentive reader might want to consult the glossary to identify a particular individual. I have taken the liberty of repeating certain identifications of other items, since I do not expect readers to remember other entries where the item might be mentioned. Kaplan does not hesitate to write negatively about people, but he did not want these negative comments known. In deference to that conviction, where there is a strong negative comment, I will put in only the person’s initials. Anyone

5. For more evidence on this issue, see the introduction to volume 1 of Communings of the Spirit.



desiring to find out the full name may consult the diary itself online or at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). It should be remembered that Kaplan is not a great writer, and some of his expressions are jarring and not felicitous. I have only corrected his spelling. In cases where a word is obviously incorrect—­“of” instead of “to” and so on—­I have corrected the original text without any indication. If he misspelled the name of a person, I have silently corrected the spelling. Minor figures are not always identified. Individuals with very common names (e.g., Michael Cohen) are often not identified unless they are well known. Though I have attempted to be precise about when Kaplan is “speaking” and when he is quoting, this is not always clear in the original text. A question mark after a word means it is not clear in the original text. Sometimes I have written the words “not clear.” Three dots ( . . . ) refer to a break in the middle of a sentence. Four dots mean skipped material. A line in the text indicates skipped material. Square brackets indicate an insertion by the editor. Parentheses indicate Kaplan’s insertion. I sometimes supply first names in square brackets.

Introduction The fundamental question about diary keeping is, Does it reveal or does it conceal? The answer is that it does both of these at the same time. On the one hand, we hear from Thoreau, who did not start keeping a diary until Emerson suggested it. My diary is “says I to myself,” Thoreau tells us. On the other side is Oscar Wilde, who in The Importance of Being Earnest gives us the following: Algernon: Do you really keep a diary? I’d give anything to look at it. May I? Cecily: Oh, no. You see, It is simply a very young girl’s record of her own thoughts and impressions, and consequently meant for publication. (act 2, part 1) It was an open secret at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) that Mordecai Kaplan kept a diary; his very scholarly colleagues on the faculty all wondered what he was saying about them. The seminary where Kaplan worked for over fifty years controlled the Conservative movement to an astonishing degree. At the center of Conservative Judaism throughout our period was Louis Finkelstein, who would rule with an iron fist if he were allowed. Kaplan represented a countervailing force both politically and religiously. The diary contains much material on the seminary that will not be found anywhere else. Because of Kaplan’s position, we are allowed an unparalleled vantage point from the inside. For those who have an interest in the seminary, there is a large trove of material in this volume dealing with Finkelstein and colleagues. Diaries are wonderful because they contain the keys to unlock the real reactions to a particular moment in time. As a consequence, we are continuously surprised by the difference between the way we perceive an event of long ago and the way we find it in a diary. Take, for example, Kaplan and the bat mitzvah of his daughter Judith in 1922—­a world-­class event, we would say, and yet Kaplan hardly mentions it. He felt it was obviously needed, and yet on some level, it was taken for granted. No rhapsody here about the rights of women and the need for their liberation. Just the deed.1

1. See the March 28, 1922, entry in Communings of the Spirit: The Journals of Mordecai M. Kaplan, vol. 1, 1913–­1934, ed. Mel Scult (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2001), 159.


2 Introduction

Or on a more public level, take the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima. We are obsessed with the horror, but Kaplan experiences primarily the joy that it will mean to end all the killing. Or take the whole war and the Nazis and the killing of the Jews. We are preoccupied by the horror of the Holocaust, and though Kaplan has a strong sense that Hitler is in the process of trying to eliminate the Jews, he does not really dwell on the awfulness of what is happening. What concerns him is how to defeat Nazism and how to make sure it will never happen again. His response is that we, the Jewish people, and all of humanity will only be saved from fascism through the spread and strengthening of democracy. There is much in this volume about the virtues of democracy and the way it will fit into the lives of the Jewish people and all peoples. Before I detail some of the amazing entries during these very eventful years, I will outline the life of Mordecai Kaplan that frames his diary.2 Mordecai Menahem Kaplan (June 11, 1881–­November 8, 1983) was born in Sventzian, Lithuania. He was the son of Rabbi Israel Kaplan, a prominent Talmudic scholar, and Anna Nehama Kaplan. At the age of eight, Kaplan immigrated to America with his family. They lived in New York City, and later Kaplan attended the City College of New York (graduated 1900) and Columbia University. In 1902, Kaplan received rabbinical ordination from the JTS. In 1909, he was invited by Solomon Schechter, the head of the JTS, to become principal of its newly created Teachers Institute. He enthusiastically accepted the position, having suffered a number of years as the rabbi at Kehilath Jeshurun, an Orthodox congregation in New York City where he had been serving since 1903. Kaplan remained at the JTS, the center of the Conservative movement, training rabbis and teachers until he retired in 1963. As the first director of the Teachers Institute, he laid the foundations for Jewish education in America. Working closely with Samson Benderly, the director of the Board of Jewish Education in New York City, he helped train all the educational leaders of the next generation.3 Kaplan and Benderly were good friends, although Kaplan was critical of Benderly’s secularism. Kaplan suffered from a feeling of isolation, but we might say that Benderly was his best friend. When the Teachers Institute was situated in what is now called the East Village, Benderly and Kaplan frequently met for lunch.4

2. For a full account of the life of Mordecai Kaplan, see my Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century: A Biography of Mordecai M. Kaplan (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993). 3. See the fine work on Benderly by Jonathan B. Krasner, The Benderly Boys and American Jewish Education (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2011). 4. For Kaplan during this early period, see the excellent work by Jeffrey S. Gurock and Jacob J. Schacter, A Modern Heretic and a Traditional Community: Mordecai M. Kaplan, Orthodoxy, and

Rabbi Israel Kaplan, Mordecai Kaplan’s father. (Courtesy Hadassah Musher)

4 Introduction

Kaplan’s emphasis on community led to the founding of the first Jewish Center, the “pool with a shul and a school.” It was truly the embodiment of “Judaism as a civilization.” As a consequence of the conflicts between Kaplan and the Orthodox leaders of the center, Kaplan left in 1921, moved down the street, and established the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (SAJ). Kaplan was a strong personality and a demanding teacher. For many years, including the period covered in this volume, he taught homiletics and Midrash (classical rabbinic homilies) to rabbinical students at the seminary in addition to a course in the philosophies5 of Judaism. Critical of his colleagues who seemed to be concerned only with scholarly issues, Kaplan dealt with the central religious questions that troubled his students. His own graduate studies, in which he had concentrated on sociology, led him to formulate a religious ideology that emphasized the link between religion and experience. The primacy of experience remained a central concept for Kaplan in his analysis of religion and Judaism (see diary entries for November 14, 1936, and July 9, 1940, in Communings of the Spirit, vol. 2). Because experience changes, religion changes; therefore it is important, Kaplan believed, to find ways in which beliefs and rituals could function in the modern era as they did in the past. To do this, one might need to change a ritual, dropping it completely, or reconstruct it by substituting something new. Kaplan’s major work Judaism as a Civilization,6 published in 1934, has become justly famous. This seminal volume was the crowning achievement of Kaplan’s career, and within its pages, he addressed many of the serious challenges facing Judaism at that time and in ours. By redefining Judaism as a civilization rather than a religion, Kaplan radically shifted the whole discussion about what it means to be a Jew. If Judaism is a living civilization, then it is obviously constantly evolving, and no one belief or dogma is necessarily permanent. Being the pragmatist that he was, Kaplan understood that “change is the iron law of life,” as he would say, and traditions require continual “reconstruction” if they are to remain vital. One might regard this epoch-­making work of 1934 as without rivals at that time. Abraham Joshua Heschel had not yet arrived on the scene, and Martin Buber was not known in America. For the liberal non-­Orthodox, there was only Kaplan. Throughout the thirties, Kaplan continued to teach at the seminary and to lead his congregation, the SAJ. In 1935, with the help of his son-­in-­law Rabbi

American Judaism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), as well as my biography of Kaplan, Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century. 5. Kaplan insisted that the course, which was instituted in the early forties, be called “Philosophies of Judaism” in the plural, indicating that he did not simply intend to use the course as a platform for Reconstructionism. 6. See the latest edition of this work, Judaism as a Civilization: Toward a Reconstruction of American Jewish Life, with a new introduction by Mel Scult (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2010).



Ira Eisenstein, he also established the Reconstructionist, a biweekly that became a major intellectual organ within the Jewish community at midcentury. Kaplan once said that he had four reasons for the bat mitzvah—­referring, of course, to his four daughters. Young women continued to become bat mitzvah, but quite surprisingly they never came up for honors after that. Kaplan himself was ready for the full equality of women in the synagogue and to have them regularly called up to the Torah, but in the twenties, the congregation was not ready. He apparently did not want to pressure his congregants on this issue. (Though he had no trouble with other issues.) The members of the SAJ were subject to the culture of their time, and it took many years for women to acquire equality in the non-­Orthodox denominations. Regarding the bat mitzvah, after 1922, it depended on the family. If the family wanted a bat mitzvah, they would have it, but it was not automatic for every girl of twelve and a half. Kaplan strongly favored the general equality of women, as one sees through his support of the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the vote. He spoke about this issue when he was a rabbi at the Jewish Center, which was Orthodox and hence had congregants who were against the equality of women. There may have been many who were unhappy with his support for the equality of women at the center. In 1950, the SAJ began calling up women to the Torah, giving them equality in the Sabbath rituals. Kaplan fully realized the importance of the occasion. In the diary, he notes, This morning the SAJ inaugurated in its religious services the practice of calling up women to the Torah. I had all the time been in favor of this innovation, but it has taken all these years of effort on Ira [Eisenstein]’s part finally to have the congregation pass on it. . . . Of those called up this morning—­to the reading of the last third of the Torah portion—­four were women. Judith was called and Lena [Kaplan’s wife]. Lena was in a state of nerves last night for fear that she would forget the benediction or not chant it properly. Ira introduced the reading of the Torah with a few remarks about the innovation and Rabbi Harold Weisberg delivered the sermon. His subject was the meaning of femininity and masculinity from a historical point of view in general and in Jewish life. It was a brilliant talk. . . . The main point he made was that the innovation of calling up women to the Torah should be seen in the context of the changes which have taken place in the status of women and that the status of the Jewish woman reflects the status of the non-­Jewish woman. He touched upon the varying conceptions of the function of the woman in relation to family life and careerism and their effect on sex relations. We had an unusually large attendance at the services. The introduction of the innovation must have brought the people. The music

6 Introduction

and the prayers were in keeping with the spirit of the service, which many found to be inspiring. I have no doubt that if we Jews did not have our hands tied by tradition and were free to bring together the best in music and poetry and prose recitals to be found on recordings, interspersed with a talk of the kind we heard this morning, that religious services would be able to compete with the thousand and one moronizing attractions of the radio and television. (December 2, 1950) One would expect a diary to be very personal, but Kaplan’s is not. The diary is more a record of his philosophical and religious thinking rather than about himself. And yet sometimes we do get insight into Kaplan the private man. He tells us, for example, that he is very emotional and cries a lot (see diary entry for May 26, 1947), or he reflects on his “splendid mediocrity” (see diary entry for August 19, 1948), or the way he experiences his everyday life (he works hard and enjoys it but is lonely; see diary entry for August 28, 1948). Although Kaplan was a loving husband and father, the family does not often enter the diary, though at times we sense his deep familial devotion. On the occasion of his sixty-­eighth birthday, he writes the following: “I thank God for my darling daughters, my sterling sons-­in-­law, and my sweet grandchildren. My prayer is that Lena’s health improve and that all apprehension concerning it be dispelled.” (Kaplan’s wife was in the hospital at this point.) We do not often see him relaxing, but once in a while, he did, as when he and his grandson went to the ball game (see diary entry for June 29, 1950). He noted with great joy the bar mitzvah of his grandson Daniel Musher: “This has been one of the happiest days of my life. All the circumstances pertaining to the celebration of Daniel’s Bar Mitzvah occasion combined to make it thrilling” (February 24, 1951). On granddaughter Miriam’s bat mitzvah, he was equally joyous and proud: “Last Sabbath we celebrated Miriam’s becoming Bat Mitzvah. She read the entire Pentateuchal portion (the first section of Kedoshim) and the Haftarah. Her reading was masterful in voice, expression, and poise. The synagogue was packed” (May 16, 1951). Though it does not appear in this volume, readers may be interested in the whole controversy regarding Kaplan’s New Haggadah, published in 1941 with its many changes (see the diary entry for March 24, 1941, Communings of the Spirit, vol. 2).7

7. See also Deborah Dash Moore, “The Democracy and the New Haggadah,” American Jewish History 94, no. 4 (December 2009): 323–­48. See also Jack Wertheimer, “The Great Do-­Nothings: The Inconclusive Battle over the New Haggadah,” Conservative Judaism 45, no. 4 (1993): 20–­38.



Heavily influenced by the Utilitarians and William James, Kaplan called himself a functionalist. He was ready to pursue the path most likely to make religion and particularly Judaism functional in the American setting.8 Kaplan’s New Haggadah was quite radical for its time. In an effort to modernize, Kaplan omitted the plagues (because they were miracles), inserted Moses as a prominent part of the Passover liturgy (he is not found in the traditional Haggadah), and omitted the chosenness formula completely (Kaplan rejected chosenness for ideological reasons).9 Most importantly, Kaplan’s New Haggadah shifted the emphasis of Passover from a celebration of God’s power in redeeming the Israelites to a celebration of freedom. This emphasis was certainly much needed in 1941 and has come to dominate the contemporary understanding of the holiday. It may very well be that Kaplan’s excommunication was due as much to his 1941 Haggadah as to the 1945 prayer book. The period covered by this volume is dominated by World War II and the establishment of the State of Israel. Kaplan, of course, commented on these events, but for him personally, the most challenging event was his excommunication by the ultra-­Orthodox in June 1945. Those who know Kaplan’s life even minimally know that in 1945 he was excommunicated by the ultra-­Orthodox and that his newly published prayer book was publicly burned at the excommunication ceremony, which took place in the Hotel McAlpin, situated opposite Macy’s department store in Herald Square.10 It is quite ironic that this hotel at the time of the excommunication was owned by Joe Levy, the owner of Crawford Clothes, a strong Kaplan supporter and a member of the SAJ (see diary entry for November 24, 1948). The bizarre episode of the excommunication is fully reflected in this volume. The ultra-­Orthodox—­today we would call them Haredim—­were deeply disturbed on a number of accounts. First of all, and most importantly, in the 1945 prayer book, Kaplan replaced the chosenness formula (asher bakhar banu—­who has chosen us), which he rejected, with another formula less well known but nonetheless taken from the traditional liturgy (asher kervanu le’avodato—­who has drawn us near to his service). In addition, the language affirming that the Torah was given to Moses on Mount Sinai was omitted, as was the formula that

8. For an early statement by Kaplan on functionalism, see Communings of the Spirit, 1:62 (January 13, 1914). 9. For an extended discussion of chosenness and a complete analysis of Kaplan’s ideology, see Mel Scult, The Radical American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013). 10. For an extended discussion of the excommunication, see my Radical American Judaism, chapter 1, “Excommunications: Kaplan and Spinoza.” See also Zachary Silver, “The Excommunication of Mordecai Kaplan,” American Jewish Archives 62, no. 1 (2010): 21–­48.

8 Introduction

expressed the hope of a personal messiah. All references to the resurrection of the body and to the sacrificial cult were likewise omitted. Nonetheless, it should be emphasized that the Kaplan prayer book appeared in April 1945 and the excommunication was enacted in June. From the records of the event and from these facts, it seems clear that the Haredim were harboring hateful feelings toward Kaplan’s work from the time his New Haggadah appeared. Kaplan, of course, was stunned by the excommunication. Although this ritual was commonly used in the Middle Ages by Jewish communities to deal with dissidents, it has rarely been used in recent times. It is a well-­known tale in the Conservative community that on the day that Kaplan heard about the herem (excommunication), his most famous colleague, Professor Saul Lieberman, would not greet him when they entered the elevator at the JTS, where both of them were on the faculty (see diary entry for June 16, 1945). Kaplan in all naïveté thought that he had offended Lieberman in some way but found out later that it was because of the excommunication. Kaplan later wondered whether to give copies of the prayer book to his colleagues at the seminary, many of whom strongly opposed changes he made. When he asked Chancellor Louis Finkelstein what he should do, Finkelstein said he need not bother to distribute his prayer book. That summer saw a flurry of activity, including an interview by the New York Times, a request to Einstein that he issue a statement of support for Kaplan (he refused), and perhaps even more importantly, a letter from the three senior members of the seminary faculty (Saul Lieberman, Alexander Marx, and Louis Ginzberg) published in the Hebrew periodical Ha’doar (September 24, 1945) severely criticizing Kaplan but stopping short of supporting the excommunication. Our heart goes out to Kaplan, whose reaction to the whole episode is indicated by the following statement: What a shattering effect this exhibition of moral degeneracy on the part of men who call themselves rabbis has upon me I can hardly express. All my efforts depend upon faith in the Jewish people. With so much corruption wherever I turn, I find it exceedingly hard to carry on the struggle for Jewish survival. Truth to tell, I experience neither the sufferings nor the consolations of a martyr. (June 16, 1945)

Public Events and the War Kaplan’s thinking about the war and his reaction to Nazism centered on the issue of democracy. It is well to remember that though Jewish leaders were aware of Hitler’s program of genocide, they did not know the details as we do now. They were concerned about the war, but the Holocaust was not yet an obsession as it is with us. In thinking about the war, Kaplan concerned himself



with the ways in which Nazism differs from democracy. The war led him to be a fierce supporter of democracy; he even thought it should be turned into a religion. One might say that we have here an early advocacy of civic religion. What America needs, or any country [needs] that expects to live by the democratic order, is to do for the democratic order what Germany has done for Nazism. There is no hope for the democratic order unless it can be made into a religion. (Saturday, July 25, 1942) Summing up his thought about the religion of democracy, Kaplan often referred to his favorite verse in the scriptures, which he felt was the best indication of what the Torah was about: The contribution which Judaism has made and should continue to make to democracy and the American way of life is best summarized in the motto enunciated by the prophet Zachariah. “Not by might nor by power but by my Spirit saith the Lord of Hosts,” and to add the supplement of Hillel’s famous summary of Judaism, “the rest is commentary, go and learn.” (Thursday, December 24, 1942) Kaplan often pondered how it could be that Germany, the most advanced country in the West, could descend into a vicious barbarism. It is almost as if it has two souls, he tells us—­the rational and the irrational living together. He notes, Both individuals and groups must reckon with this dual or polar aspect of mentality—­rational and irrational, kind and cruel, selfish and cooperative, etc. Unless we are constantly on the watch to keep the evil phases of our nature within necessity to control, it is liable to undo all the good it may have taken generations to achieve. (August 12, 1942) Not only democracy but the necessity to work together at all levels become abundantly clear, and Kaplan waxes eloquent in thinking about it: The main effect of the present crisis is to shift the goal of all our efforts from the individual to the collective, from the “I” to the “we.” We hardly need to be reminded that no man is alone now, that our safety lies in cooperation and in the pooling of all our resources. This applies not only to the individual, the family, the organization, but also to the state or the nation. No matter how strong a nation, it cannot hope to find safety in isolation. “One thought at the fore—­/ That in the Divine Ship, the World, / Breasting time and Space, / All Peoples of the globe

10 Introduction

together sail, / sail the same voyage, are bound to / the same destination” (Walt Whitman, “Old Age Echoes”). (August 18, 1942)11 Kaplan’s belief in democracy was so strong and so deep that at times his attitude toward economic issues became clearly socialist (see diary entry for March 22, 1943). In addition, as a religious corollary, he quotes the moving and very contemporary statement from Horace Kallen that “democratic freedom is the right to be different” (June 1, 1943). Kaplan’s loyalty to America ran deep, and like most Jews, he was devoted to Roosevelt. He was staggered by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death: I was stunned. It was as though the whole order of things was reversed; as though a “blitz” struck us. So much did this one man become part of the sense of security which the American people has of late come to experience. (April 12, 1945) Kaplan thought much about the purpose of the war and believed that it was not just about defeating the Nazis. It must also be about establishing a system of international law so that the peace would be permanent. In his words, “This war must be fought with the purpose of finally establishing a durable peace based on a better and a warless world. That purpose calls for the political reconstruction of international relations and for the economic reconstruction of wealth” (April 17, 1943). On the strengthening of international law, Kaplan states the following: By the same token will it be necessary to translate the right of each nation as a unit to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness into the machinery of law. This implies the establishment of a world government.12 Though each nation will retain a measure of independence and equality corresponding with those to be accorded to the individual

11. It is very interesting to see Kaplan quoting Whitman. For the idea that a religion should be made out of the democratic faith, where Kaplan cites Whitman, who also “supported” this idea, see in this volume, chapter 2, July 25, 1942. For “Old Age Echoes,” see the many editions of Leaves of Grass. In the Barnes and Noble edition, this fragment is listed as “Posthumous Additions.” See Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1993). Kaplan might be considered an advocate of what has been called the personalist tradition—­the concept of putting the fully realized individual at the center of the religious quest. Whitman is a key figure in the personalist tradition. For more on this topic, see my “Kaplan and Personality,” in Reappraisals and New Studies of the Modern Jewish Experience: Essays in Honor of Robert M. Seltzer, ed. Brian M. Smollett and Christian Wiese (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 162–­80. 12. The idea of a world government may seem completely fanciful, yet it was taken seriously by two Harvard legal scholars who took the charter of the United Nations and showed how it could be



citizen, it will have to surrender that part of its sovereignty which has to do with foreign affairs to a higher authority to be vested in a super-­ national body. Only international law backed by international sanctions will render the coming peace permanent. (November 25, 1943) Kaplan reminds us that it was through the reporting of Ernie Pyle that we became fully aware of the realities of the war: There is the war of maps and logistics, of campaigns, of ballistics, armies, divisions, and regiments—­and that is General Marshall’s war. Then there is the war of homesick, weary, funny, violent, common men who wash their socks in their helmets, complain about the food, whistle at Arab girls, or any girls for that matter, and lug themselves through as dirty a business as the world has ever seen and do it with humor dignity and courage—­and that is “Ernie Pyle’s war.”13 (January 25, 1945)

Zionism and Israel Kaplan followed the events in the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine) closely, and as one might expect, he strongly opposed the terrorist activities against the British (see diary entry for September 27, 1947), especially regarding the assassination of the Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte. Regarding the assassination, Ira Eisenstein preached that “while we do not condone, we do not condemn.” Kaplan was unhappy with the sermon and thought it unfortunate in not condemning the violence. He was, of course, overjoyed when the UN passed the partition plan in November 1947. S aturday , N ovember  29, 1947 It is a long time, indeed, since we Jews have had occasion as we do tonight to sing: la’yehudim ha’yitah orah ve’sasson ve’simcha ve’kar14 [Heb., For the Jews it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and

amended to lead toward complete disarmament. See Granville Clark and Louis Sohn, World Peace through World Law: Two Alternative Plans (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967). 13. Ernie Pyle was a reporter who became justly famous during the war. 14. Kaplan often quoted verses from the Scriptures from memory. In this case, he misquoted the verse in that he reversed the words of the original. We have kept his Hebrew text but corrected it in the English. This verse is used in the Havdalah service at the end of Shabbat, and so Kaplan’s misquote is all the more surprising.

12 Introduction

honor (Esther 8:16)]. At 5:25 this evening the U.N. finally adopted the partition plan by a vote of 33 to 13. Baruch atah adonai she’heheyanu ve’keyamanu, ve’higianu la’zman ha’zeh [Heb., Blessed art Thou oh Lord Our God who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this time]. Considering the dreadful finality that an adverse vote might have had in that it would have put an end to all our hopes of resuming life as a nation in our homeland and would have rendered futile all efforts to keep Judaism alive in the diaspora, we should thank God in the benediction of the gomel prayer [prayer for deliverance]. Kaplan’s reaction to the founding of the Jewish state was complex. Of course, he was thrilled, and yet he worried. M ay  14, 1948 In fifteen minutes from now a new Jewish state will officially come into being. The mental and physical agonies of birth are beyond those suffered by any people known to history. May God grant that it will not be stillborn . . . No words of my own could possibly express any better the feelings that storm in my heart at this moment. . . . The new state has been parented by the U.N. with the U.S. as its father, and the Soviet Republic as its mother is sent forth by them into the world as a castaway, but God will say to this state as he said to the one of old, be’dameych hayi [Heb., Live despite your blood]. This is 5:30 pm. Judith and Ira just phoned telling me Truman issued a statement at 6:01 p.m. (New York time) recognizing the Jewish state. It is simply impossible for me to describe how I feel at this moment. Again and again. Baruch she’heheyanu ve’keyemanu la’ zman ha’zeh [Heb., Blessed (are you o Lord) who has kept us alive and sustained us to this time]. Kaplan, the dedicated Zionist, was of course very happy when Israel was admitted to the UN, but he was not uncritical of the new Jewish state: “While we Jews have every reason in the world to rejoice over this culmination of the Zionist movement, we should not forget that Israel can never become the Zion restored that our forefathers for the last two-­thousand years yearned after. Sooner or later the truth that ‘you can’t go home again’ must be borne in on us. Let us not wait till it is too late to do anything about it” (May 11, 1949). Kaplan’s difficulty with the concept of nationalism is perhaps indicated by his proposal that the Reconstructionist platform change its policy from the support of nationalism to the support of peoplehood. Kaplan did not use this



term in Judaism as a Civilization. It was certainly due to the exaggerated nationalism of the war period and Kaplan’s desire to differentiate Jewish nationalism from Nazism with its strong racial content that he adopted the term peoplehood (see diary entry for March 25, 1949). Kaplan was much concerned with the proper balance between the particular and the universal. Though he had strong universal impulses, we must remember that universalism in the political sense has its limits. Kaplan believed in the universalism of the moral code, but he was concerned with one people imposing its religion on another. For example, insofar as the church was concerned, Kaplan believed that its “universality” was a kind of imperialism: Instead of claiming to be universal, it [each religion] should recognize its limitations and be satisfied to remain the religion of the particular people or peoples that have grown up in it. A religion should represent the highest aspirations of a particular area of the world population, an area created by common events and associations and outstanding personalities. It should not seek to impose itself on other areas of the world population. As a pre-­condition to such a change in the conception of the way a religion should function is either to recognize that other religions besides one’s own may have been supernaturally revealed or that all religions are the outgrowth of man’s urge to make the most out of his life. (December 29, 1942) Sometimes Kaplan is absolutely brilliant in his insights and in their formulation. Witness the following: “The particular without the universal is blind. The universal without the particular is empty” (September 11, 1943). Though Kaplan is the father of Reconstructionism, during most of his life he lived in Conservative institutions. Thus he was much involved with setting up the University of Judaism in Los Angeles (see diary entry for March 19, 1947).15 He was also a key person in the founding of Camp Ramah, though he had his doubts that it would succeed (March 25, 1945). He lectured around the country throughout his adult life, and he often records his experiences, noting details about the congregations on his itinerary (April 18, 1946). We often learn much about Conservative congregations of that era. At the same time, we continue to learn about the seminary from the inside (March 7, 1946). There are many entries in this volume concerning Louis Finkelstein, the president of the JTS. Kaplan’s relationship with Finkelstein was complex; indeed, in the

15. Kaplan conceived the concept of a University of Judaism and was involved in setting it up. See many entries in the index to this volume.

14 Introduction

early thirties, Kaplan tells us that he suffered from “Finkitus.” Yet during the forties, the two men managed to come to a mutual understanding and to work together in forging the shape of Conservative Judaism (January 23, 1945). But religiously and philosophically, they were always far apart. Though Kaplan lived his life at the seminary, he was never happy with the Conservative version of Judaism. His language at times highlights the radicalism when he advocated, for example, “doing away with acceptance of rabbinism as normative in Jewish life” (January 8, 1942). Thus, as Neil Gillman puts it, “If Finkelstein had a serious rival for setting the religious tone of the Seminary, it was Kaplan.”16 Generations of rabbinical students at the JTS lived in the Brush dormitory building, but few if any knew the whole story behind the Brush endowment and its origin. Kaplan puts the record straight and gives due credit for the endowment of the dormitory building to Mathilde Schechter,17 the wife of Solomon, who convinced Brush to leave his money to the seminary (see diary entry for April 6, 1949). In the course of this volume, we find Kaplan meeting many interesting and prominent people. For example, Kaplan had early contact with Joshua Loth Liebman, the Reform rabbi who later became a famous author. Liebman gave Kaplan a pamphlet to read that “thrilled” him. “It was more truly reconstructionist than anything our own group has put out,” Kaplan wrote (May 28, 1942). Liebman and Kaplan kept in touch, and later Liebman gave Kaplan proofs of his book Peace of Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1946). Liebman’s work made the New York Times bestseller lists for over a year and sold more than a million copies. He considered Kaplan his mentor and mentions him in the body of the book. The book generally reflects a Kaplanian approach to religion, and thus Kaplan was very happy with it, although not uncritical on some minor points. But Liebman was the effective popularizer; Kaplan was not (see also the diary entry for August 31, 1942). Kaplan’s relationship to Abraham Joshua Heschel illustrates his appreciation of the young philosopher. It is well to remember that Kaplan was twenty-­six years older than Heschel. Kaplan was the creative liturgist. He suggested that in order to write new liturgy we take an essay or even a book and turn it into a poem-­ prayer. He does this a number of times. One of the most fascinating examples reflects a Heschel essay. Heschel was brought to the United States by Hebrew

16. See Neil Gillman, Conservative Judaism: The New Century (West Orange, NJ: Behrman House, 1993), 73. 17. For those interested in Mathilde Schechter, see my article “The Baale Boste Reconsidered: The Life of Mathilde Roth Schechter (M.R.S.),” Modern Judaism 7, no. 1 (1987): 1–­27. I discovered Mathilde Schechter completely by accident because her papers were classified under “miscellaneous” in Solomon Schechter’s papers at the JTS. This situation has since been remedied.



Union College, where he taught in the early forties. In 1942, he published an article in the Journal of Religion entitled “An Analysis of Piety.” Kaplan saw it, liked it, and reached out to the young Heschel. Kaplan immediately set to work and created a poem-­prayer based on the essay that he hoped to use for his new prayer book. The poem-­prayer is in the diary. He calls it “The Pious Man.” The Heschel poem-­prayer is also found in the 1945 Reconstructionist prayer book (see diary entry for September 19, 1942).18 Kaplan was instrumental in bringing Heschel to the seminary in 1945, and when he came, Kaplan turned over his classes to the young scholar. Their relationship was warm and appreciative on both sides until Heschel came to the seminary, and then things fell apart. Kaplan attended Heschel’s classes and was disappointed. Heschel, though a profound thinker, was an indifferent pedagogue (see diary entry for November 9, 1945). The Kaplans and the Heschels also socialized from time to time (March 14, 1949). One does not find many public occasions when Heschel criticized Kaplan, but there was at least one. At one point, Kaplan gave a lecture before the seminary faculty that was roundly criticized by Heschel during the question period (November 23, 1949). Sometimes we learn of Kaplan’s feelings toward a major figure when that person passes away. Such is the case with Judah Magnes, whom Kaplan felt was a saintly figure. He states, There is no question that he was a rare person. I have never met anyone with as beautiful a soul as his, neither in life nor in literature. As I think of it, he comes very close to what a humanist Christian pictures Jesus to have been. I doubt whether there ever was such a Jesus, but I am sure there was a Magnes. (October 29, 1948) Kaplan also comments very positively when the biography of Magnes appears some years later: Presented in all the reach of his influence and the depth of his soul, Magnes looms as a person of gigantic moral and spiritual stature. [Norman] Bentwich’s biography will place him where he properly belongs in the roster of modern Jewish heroes and prophets. (March 25, 1951)

18. See Sabbath Prayer Book (New York: Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation, 1945), 424, and also 571, where the poem is ascribed to Heschel. We have no evidence of Heschel’s feelings about being included in this prayer book for which Kaplan was excommunicated. The document of excommunication asserts that anyone connected to the prayer book is to be excommunicated.

16 Introduction

Kaplan, in preparing the siddur, wrote prayer-­poems not only on Leo Baeck and Heschel but also on Ralph Waldo Emerson.19 The reader will find the two Emerson poems that are based on Emerson’s essays in the entry for August 23, 1942. Although these poems did not find their way into the 1945 prayer book, we do find them in a loose-­leaf prayer book used at the SAJ in the years before 1945. In that prayer book, the Emerson and the Heschel poems face each other (see diary entry for September 19, 1942).20 We also find some fine Emerson quotations in the diary: “Consider that the perpetual admonition of Nature to us is, ‘the world is new, untried.’ Do not believe the past. I give you the universe new and unhandled every hour. . . .” (September 6, 1943) In addition to Emerson, Kaplan from time to time comments on the great philosopher Spinoza, whom he appreciated but was also critical of: Too bad that the Jews excommunicated him. He had revenged himself on our people by poisoning with hatred our religious tradition. He makes us out to be an anachronism and Christ a superior personality to any of our prophets, neither of which idea follows necessarily from his rational assumptions about the Bible. (March 14, 1949) Kaplan also mentions many other prominent persons, including Chaim Weizmann (who came to the SAJ every time he was in New York), Leo Baeck (Kaplan composed a poem based on his major work), Will Herberg (Kaplan realized his significance but had trouble relating to him), and Milton Steinberg (“He had the mind of a philosopher, the soul of a poet, and the vision of a prophet”; March 20, 1950). Despite Kaplan’s radicalism, he is always helpful when he discusses traditional beliefs. A very fine example is his discussion of the difference in detail between the “world to come” and the “time of the Messiah” (see diary entry for October 24, 1942). At the same time, he finds the long-­established notion of revelation intolerable. In that vein, he states his opposition to traditional revelation in the following terms: “The problem of Judaism would not be so acute if

19. The interested reader may find a more detailed discussion of Kaplan and Emerson in my The Radical American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013). 20. A copy of the loose-­leaf prayer book may be found among the Eisenstein papers at the RRC. Finding the Emerson and the Heschel poems facing each other was one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my research life.



the traditional doctrine of revelation were merely obsolete. The trouble is that to cherish that doctrine is as unethical as being guilty of bigamy” (July 11, 1943). Withal his rebellion against tradition, we recall that Kaplan was brought up in an Orthodox home, loved his Haredi father very much, and carried deeply within an appreciation for the tradition and its value: The great value which the religious tradition had for mankind lay not so much in the specific beliefs and practices that it prescribed as in the general orientation that it provided. As a result of such orientation, human beings felt at home in the world. Men struggled and suffered, but they had, so to speak, a roof over their heads. Nowadays, they no longer have that feeling of being at home in the world. The sense of homelessness, of forlornness, dampens all our joys and adds torment to our sorrows. (February 8, 1950; see also June 5, 1950) Kaplan was forever attempting to reduce the religious life to its constituent elements, as we find here: “In my talk I pointed out that the problem of having Jews accept themselves was a problem of believing, belonging, and creating” (March 2, 1947). Kaplan was the sociologist-­become-­theologian who thinks about God all the time. Of particular interest are statements about God’s presence that hint of the relationship between our inner life and the divine. Speaking about the presence of God, he states, I refer to the will to make the most of life, the will to exploit to the utmost all its possibilities for growth and happiness. I cannot help regarding it as though it were a single beam of light radiating from some inexhaustible source. That beam of light is the best in each of us. It is our personality. It is what we term “I.” The inexhaustible source of my will to make the most of life is God. It is the “Thou” we hail and glorify each time we say “Blessed be Thou O Lord our God King of the Universe.” (October 3, 1942) Integration or wholeness is one of Kaplan’s most cherished values. At his finest, Kaplan attempts to keep everything in balance. Our analytical mind breaks things up in order to understand them, but the religious or spiritual mind attempts to see the whole. Kaplan states that the function of prayer is to keep the whole in full view. God becomes a kind of cosmic organizer, holding our strivings in a creative balance (see diary entry for April 24, 1942). A closely related idea connects Kaplan’s own emotional state to his theology: “I simply recognize the continual mental turmoil in me as part of a universal process which I identify as God” (July 20, 1942). It’s as if God puts him through this turmoil and he trusts

18 Introduction

in it to guide him to action. The expression of this emotional state is what constitutes prayer. Prayer also connects present to future. It is what carries him from the conflicts of the present to the full potentiality of one’s being in the future. In reading the diary for this period, one can see the importance of Josiah Royce (1855–­1916), Harvard philosopher from the turn of the century, who may have been majorly responsible for Kaplan’s concept of salvation. Kaplan had been reading Royce since 1914 and was particularly excited when he found a passage where Royce sounds very much as if he was commenting on the Shema: Be as rich and full and strong a self as you can, and then with all your heart and your soul and your mind and your strength, devote yourself to this cause, to this spiritual unity in which individuals may be, and (when they are loyal) actually are, united in a life whose meaning is above the separate meanings of any or of all natural human beings.21 (Sources of Religious Thought, NY 1914, pp. 199–­201). (quoted in the diary September 15, 1945) The readers of this volume will experience Kaplan in all his depth and universal relevance. They will experience the many-­sidedness of his mind and his concern for the Jewish people. At the same time, he never lost sight of the larger issue of the welfare of humanity in general.

21. Kaplan gives the source of the quotation, but I have chosen to list it here so as to limit confusion. Josiah Royce, Sources of Religious Thought (Lake Forest University, IL: Lake Forest Trustees, 1914), 199–­201.

1 January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942

The Will to Salvation as Proof of God’s Existence S unday , J anuary  4, 1942 . . . The quintessence of all sin is pride, whether it manifest itself as pride of power, of knowledge, of self-­righteousness. Pride consists in the human tendency to deny any limits to what one can do or should do, can attain or should attain. The denial of such limits is due to the denial of one’s subordination to a higher law and power than one’s self. The failure to recognize that the urge to make the most of one’s life, the opportunities and the ability to fulfill that urge, or to approximate such fulfillment emanate from a source that transcends one’s self is at the bottom of human pride. Hence instead of defining God as was done in the Middle Ages by means of negative attributes which merely stated what God was not, we should define God in terms which negate man, or which state what man is not. Man is not the center of his own being; a Power that transcends man is the center of his being. Man is not self-­sufficient, because only God is self-­ sufficient. Man cannot possess absolute knowledge. Man cannot be absolutely righteous, because his righteousness is conditioned or vitiated by self-­interest. This knowledge which man must have about himself is essential to his salvation. Insofar as that is true, this very knowledge implies that the source of his salvation, as of his life in general, is a power not [of] himself, or God. This is, indeed, the most fundamental proof for the existence of God, a proof based upon man’s incontestable need to make the most of his life. It is because man strives for salvation that we can be sure there is a God.



January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942

Teaching Judaism to Young People—­a Conversation with Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn T uesday , J anuary  6, 1942 Some time ago I received a mimeographed copy of a book by Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn1 called Modern Jewish Problems. It is to be published in book form by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and is intended for young people’s discussion groups. In a separate letter, Gittelsohn asked me to give him my opinion of the book. When I read it I realized that I could not very well convey to him in writing what was wrong with its entire getup and to make any adequate constructive suggestions. I therefore replied that he should come to see me. We finally got together this afternoon. I pointed out to him that the book was weakest in that which it should be its main function—­namely, to get the young people to think in an integrated fashion. This involves getting them to realize the implications of the terms they think with. The Socratic method consists not merely in the insistence on definitions of the terms used in speech but on such definitions as lead to reckoning with correct and important implications. In fact, it would be well for a course on Jewish problems to be utilized for the purpose of getting young people to think in straight and organic fashion and for them to realize that it is being so utilized. The art of integrated thinking is something they don’t teach either in the elementary or in the higher institutions of learning. Not being a Talmudist or near Talmudist, Gittelsohn saw the point at once and did not try to vindicate his own treatment of Jewish problems. In fact, he admitted that I articulated clearly for him what he himself had vaguely felt. In the course of the conversation, he told me of a curious incident in connection with his book. At one of the sessions of the recent annual convention of the CCAR [Central Conference of American Rabbis],2 he read excerpts of his book. In the course of his reading, he happened to mention my name and some of the things I had to say about Judaism. At once a number of the “old guard” objected to the inclusion of anything I said in a book intended for Reform congregations. He met their objections by quoting passages from Judaism as a

1. Roland Gittelsohn (1910–­1995), ordained Hebrew Union College, was a writer and scholar on religious and civil rights issues. He was a Marine Corps chaplain during the battle of Iwo Jima and gave a famous sermon after the battle. The book discussed here is Modern Jewish Problems: A Textbook for High School Classes and Jewish Youth Groups (Cincinnati: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1964). 2. The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) is the rabbinical arm of the Reform movement.

January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942


Civilization.3 Although the objectors were silenced, he felt that it would be wiser not to make too many references to me or to Reconstructionism in his forthcoming book. Gittelsohn is a rabbi in Rockville Centre, Long Island. His congregation consists mostly of young people, but they are much younger in Judaism than they are in age. Their interest in Judaism dates from about 1936. *****

The Function of Prayer4 J anuary  8, 1942 The place of prayer in the soterical approach to life is, of course, like everything else connected with that approach, determined by the way we conceive salvation. Since we must needs conceive salvation in such a way as to relate it to the impersonal working of the forces in nature, we have to dissociate from the conception of prayer anything that borders on theurgy, or magic. To do that we have to realize that prayer belongs neither to the domain of functional values, nor to that of the rational values, but to that of the spiritual values. There its function is to bring the soul or personality into rapport with God, i.e., to effect the state of mind known as godliness or holiness. The recital of a religious benediction or of grace after meals is intended to awaken an attitude of godliness in reference to some particular situation or enjoyment and to remind us of the need of utilizing that situation or enjoyment as a means of salvation.

The Distinction between Conservatism and Reconstructionism J anuary  8, 1942 I discussed with Ira [Eisenstein]5 this afternoon the conference which [Louis] Finkelstein6 has called for next Wednesday afternoon and in which both

3. See Kaplan’s classical work Judaism as a Civilization: Toward the Reconstruction of American Jewish Life (New York: Macmillan, 1934), latest edition with a new introduction by Mel Scult (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2010). 4. This title is from Kaplan. Unless otherwise noted, the titles are by the editor. 5. Ira Eisenstein (1906–­2001), ordained JTS, was a leader of the Reconstructionist movement, president of the Reconstructionist Foundation, founder of Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Kaplan’s most important disciple, and Kaplan’s son-­in-­law. Eisenstein served at the SAJ for many years. 6. Louis Finkelstein (1895–­1991) was a Conservative rabbi, Talmudist, author, and president of JTS from 1940 to 1972. Finkelstein respected Kaplan, but they differed on a whole host of issues and had a difficult time with each other from the start. Eventually they reconciled, but at an early point, Kaplan wrote in his diary that he had “Finkitus.” In the diary, Kaplan refers to him often as “Finky.”


January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942

of us are to take part. The question I raised was: What are the specific objections which the Conservatives raise against us Reconstructionists? We arrived at the following: They object to (1) our conception of God as [?] because we negate the element of personality as traditionally understood; (2) our conception of Judaism as an evolving civilization, thus doing away with the acceptance of rabbinism as normative; (3) our attitude toward ritual practices as no longer coming under the category of law; and (4) our refusal to accept the present organization of the synagogue as justifying it to occupy the position of centrality in communal life and our insistence that the community be the main social unit of Jewish life. *****

Happiness, Gratitude, Beatitude S aturday , J anuary  10, 1942 We might identify the actual attainment of salvation by certain states of mind which correspond to the three groups of spiritual values. Happiness corresponds to the fulfillment of selfhood or personality, gratitude to human brotherhood, and beatitude to godhood.

Unions—­a Jewish Value?7 J anuary  20, 1942 Finkelstein is having his hands full with his office workers. They have decided to unionize and to demand of the Seminary both union recognition and a collective contract. The particular union to which they want to belong is an affiliate of the CIO and is said to be dominated by communist influence. F. [Finkelstein] is torn between the Seminary Board, which consists of some of the worst reactionaries, and this group of office workers who insist on having their union recognized. He is trying to tell those people that the Seminary as a religious organization cannot treat with a communist-­dominated union. Moreover, as an institution of that kind, it is ready to submit all questions of salaries and conditions of work to an arbitration board on which all the parties concerned as well as impartial arbitrators should be represented. The office workers simply refuse to understand why they should be expected to rely on the goodwill or sense of

7. In general, Kaplan’s attitude toward unions was very positive. Some of the very wealthy members of his congregation were unhappy with him when he spoke about unions from the SAJ pulpit. On Kaplan and economics, see Rebecca Trachtenberg Alpert, “The Quest for Economic Justice: Kaplan’s Response to the Challenge of Communism 1929–­1940,” in The American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan, ed. Emanuel S. Goldsmith, Mel Scult, and Robert Seltzer (New York: New York University Press, 1990), 385–­401.

January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942


justice of such a board now that the right of labor to organize is a sacred principle for which they are willing to make the greatest sacrifices. F. talks to them about Jewish ethics and fair treatment of the worker as an integral part of the Jewish religion, and his words fall on deaf ears, even though most of these office workers come from intensely “religious” homes. This incident is illustrative [of] how totally blind a man of F.’s type is to the revolutionary change that has taken place in people’s lives, and especially in the lives of our Jewish youth. He is completely obtuse to the significance of their regarding the union as representative of a principle for which they are prepared to go to any lengths, whereas they expect nothing from Judaism except a system of taboos dealing with the Sabbath and Kashrut. Had Jews possessed some form of communal organization and had that organization concerned itself with the vital interests of the individual Jew, they might have had something analogous to the Catholic provisions for the organization of labor. Jewish affiliation would then have been in a position to come to his assistance in matters that touch him vitally. Judaism would then have had a claim on his loyalty. But as it is it only interferes with other affiliations which do the very thing that Jewish affiliation fails in most. Is it a wonder Jews see no reason for maintaining a loyalty that does nothing for them?

Seminary Students Consider Ritual J anuary  23, 1942 The Seminary students have been discussing excitedly the four articles on the “Guide for Jewish Ritual Practice”8 and finally decided to hold a sympo-

8. See “Toward a Guide for Ritual Usage,” Reconstructionist 7 (November 14, 1941): 7–­14; Reconstructionist 7 (December 12, 1941): 10–­17; and Reconstructionist 8 (January 9, 1942): 4–­6. For a later version, see the pamphlet A Guide to Jewish Ritual (New York: Reconstructionist Press, 1962). Ira Eisenstein wrote the introduction. It is not clear who actually wrote this pamphlet, though of course Kaplan would have had final approval. In Kaplan’s The Future of the American Jew (New York: Macmillan, 1948), there is a chapter entitled “Toward a Guide for Ritual Usage” that deals with ritual in a general way but does not outline specific recommendations. Kaplan outlines specific guidelines for observing the central mitzvot of the Sabbath and holidays and the practices of eating (i.e., kashrut). Kaplan’s personal observance is not reflected in the strictures he outlines in the pamphlet; for example, while the Guide states that one could be less strict about kashrut when eating away from home, Kaplan himself did not eat meat outside of his home. The Guide states that, in any case, even outside the home, “foods consisting wholly, or in the main of biblically forbidden meat or sea food should not be eaten. . . . Communal institutions must adhere to the strictest traditional standards.” For more up-­to-­date recommendations, see the series by David Teutsch, A Guide to Jewish Practice: Everyday Living, Volume 1 (Wyncote, PA: Reconstructionist College Press, 2011), and subsequent volumes.


January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942

sium on that subject next Wednesday with [Louis] Finkelstein, [Robert] Gordis,9 and [Milton] Steinberg10 as speakers. The students gave me a copy of the questions which they want to have both Gordis and Steinberg answer. The following are the questions they want Gordis to answer:

1. Wherein does your rationale for Jewish law differ from that of the Orthodox? 2. Who constitutes Catholic11 Israel? How does the concept function in Jewish law? 3. Where are we to find the norm for Conservative Judaism? (a) In the Seminary faculty? (b) In the Rabbinical Assembly? (c) In the practices of those who make up the Conservative congregations? 4. What authority does the Shulhan Arukh12 have in determining religious observance today? 5. Wherein do you depart from the Shulhan Arukh and what are the criteria for such departures? 6. Would you accept the dicta of the Rabbinical Assembly as binding on American Jewry? 7. What do the words divine, revelation, divine revelation, and revealed religion mean to you? 8. How does Conservative Judaism propose to deal with the tremendous disparity between belief and practice? 9. What importance do you give self-­fulfillment as a criterion of change in Jewish law? The following are the questions they want Steinberg to answer:

1. How can Reconstructionism hope to prevent [?] a loosening (a reduction) of all observances to the absolute minimum? 2. To what extent is Reconstructionism a “philosophy of convenience”?

9. Robert Gordis (1908–­1992) was a leading Conservative rabbi, an important Bible scholar, and a faculty member of JTS. See my biography Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century: A Biography of Mordecai M. Kaplan (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2001), 226, 234. See also earlier volumes in this series, Communings of the Spirit, 1:378–­79 and vol. 2. See the index, and see the glossary for a more complete note. 10. Milton Steinberg (1903–­1950), ordained JTS, was a Zionist instructor at CCNY and JTS and a disciple and favorite of Kaplan, but he was critical of Kaplan in his later years. He is the author of the novel As a Driven Leaf and was schooled in Jewish philosophy See my biography of Kaplan, Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century, 234–­35, and also Communings of the Spirit 1:267 and 2:43, 220–­21. 11. The expression “Catholic Israel” comes from Solomon Schechter, the first president of the seminary. It refers to the generality of the Jewish people. 12. Shulhan Arukh is a sixteenth-­century law code edited by Joseph Caro (1488–­1575) that has become the norm in traditional Jewish communities.

January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942


3. Can Reconstructionism be properly called the “Left Wing of the Conservative Movement”? 4. How can Reconstructionism hope to avoid (prevent) a separate and distinct Judaism from evolving in each cultural area and in each generation? 5. To what ends can Reconstructionism properly evoke the sacrifices which traditional Judaism received for its ritual? 6. What function (part) does the concept of “unity of purpose” play in integrating world Judaism? 7. How may ritual observance be maintained once it loses the status of law, notwithstanding the lack of coercive power which enforces Jewish law today? The third question of those which Steinberg has to answer has been troubling me for some time. I have been holding out against Reconstructionism becoming a fourth movement parallel with and competitive to Orthodox, Reform, and Conservatism. Perhaps that danger might best be guarded against by identifying Reconstructionism as a left-­wing movement of Conservatism with which it certainly has more in common than with Orthodoxy and Reform. A few days ago Golub,13 of his own accord, suggested that relationship as one to be accepted, on the ground that it would enable Reconstructionism to capitalize on the natural tendency of people to compromise and on the goodwill which the Conservative movement enjoys by reason of that fact. However, when I repeated this argument of Golub’s to Ira [Eisenstein] and Eugene Kohn,14 they rightly pointed out that we would, on the other hand, be losing the opportunity of influencing the Reform and nationalist groups if we were to become fully identified with and limited to the Conservative movement. I called up Steinberg and suggested to him that he answer the third question in the negative, for the reason stated above.

Kaplan Speaks to an Orthodox Congregation in Indiana F riday , J anuary  30, 1942 This has been a very active and fruitful week for me. I left Saturday night at 6:40 for Gary with the NY Central and came back from Chicago yesterday at 11:30 with the Pennsylvania.

13. Jacob Golub (1895–­1959), PhD, ordained JTS, LLB, was a communal education administrator, author, and educational director of ZOA. 14. Eugene Kohn (1887–­1977), ordained JTS, was a Reconstructionist and close disciple of Mordecai Kaplan who edited Reconstructionist prayer books with Kaplan and Rabbi Ira Eisenstein. Kohn was a rabbi in Baltimore and brother of Jacob Kohn, also a seminary graduate.


January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942

I arrived at Gary on Sunday at 11:35 a.m. and was met at the station by Dr. [?] Julius L. Siegel, the rabbi of Temple Beth El, and the president of his congregation, David Bain. {405}15 ***** While on the train, I spent a couple of hours at least in trying to formulate a way of making Reconstructionism palatable to them. The following is the way I presented it: The reason most Jews are giving up Judaism is that they have given up the old ideas about religion and have not found any new ideas to take their place. The old ideas on which people based their religion were (a) that God dictated the Torah, (b) that the miracles recorded in the Torah actually happened, (c) that miracles will happen again when the time comes for the Messiah to appear. The new ideas on which to base religion is that it is a system of principles and practices which are intended to get people to make the best use of the civilization or group life by which they live, i.e., to enable them to use their common needs, interests, hopes, and ideals as a means of making the most of their lives. The relation of a religion to a civilization is like that of a Bracha [Heb., blessing] to the thing over which it is recited. We American Jews in trying to have Jewish religion without Jewish life are in the position of one who recites a “benediction in vain.” (I was going to add that Reform Judaism, which assumes that it is possible to have Jewish religion abstracted from Jewish life as the sanction of American civilization, is like a person who recites the benediction boreh pree ha-­ gofen [Heb., who creates the fruit of the vine]16 over cake.) If we want to have Jewish religion, we must have Jewish life or civilization. That was easy in the past when Jews had to live in their own civilization only. Nowadays we have to live in two civilizations. But if we want to continue living in the Jewish civilization, we must fit it into a pattern that would not clash with the pattern of American life. To illustrate what is involved in living in two civilizations, I gave an analogy [of] the task of having to change a one-­family house into a two-­family house. From that point on I developed the four elements in the program: (1) cultivating Jewish consciousness; (1) fostering Jewish unity; (3) adopting a Jewish ethic; (4) practicing Jewish piety.

15. These numbers in the text refer to pages in the original diary. 16. This is the blessing for wine, not for cake.

January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942


When I came to the synagogue at 3:30, there were a few stragglers, middle-­aged men and women, and almost no young people. Siegel tried to explain that Rabbi Morton Berman was in town scheduled to speak in a local church. That might keep away a number from my lecture. After about 15 minutes, some 60 or 70 people came. I spoke as directly and plainly as I could. The people were very attentive, though I doubt whether they understood what I was driving at. After I was through, one or two people put questions, which I answered briefly. Siegel had to officiate at a wedding. He therefore turned me over to Bain and one other person, I think the vice president of the congregation, to see me off to the train for Ft. Wayne, where I arrived at 7:50 p.m. that Sunday. S aturday , J anuary  31, 1942 During the fifteen or twenty minutes that we sat at the station waiting for the train to arrive, we conversed about the failure of the congregation to respond to Rabbi Siegel’s efforts. I tried to intimate that we must make some concessions to the demands of the younger people who had a right to have their questions and doubts respected. Before I knew it, this man Bain, who was supposed to be adamant against all changes and whose remarks at first seemed to bear out this reputation, suddenly began confessing that he himself was troubled by many religious questions. Every time he recites the prayer “Alenu,” he said, he finds it hard to reconcile himself to the statement in which we thank God for not having made us like the other nations. When I told him of the formula I have substituted for that statement, viz. that God has given us the Torah of truth, etc., he was delighted. At Fort Wayne I was met at the station by J. H. Finkelstein, the director of the Fort Wayne Jewish Federation, which sponsored the lecture I was to give there. I learned from him that there were about 1,000 Jews in that town, about equally divided between the Reform and the Conservative congregation. The Conservative congregation is headed by Rabbi I. A. Weingart, who is a graduate of the Chicago Yeshiva. When he took hold of the congregation, about ten years ago, he found that it was dominated by a few old timers who were in the way of any adjustments to conditions. But unlike Siegel of Gary, he was able to rally the younger people around him and to get his congregation to identify itself as Conservative. ***** I left Fort Wayne Thursday morning, Jan. 26 and traveled by Greyhound Bus to Indianapolis, where I arrived at 12:30. There I was met by Rabbi Elias Charry17 and a Mr. Weiss, the chairman of the Men’s Club. Charry has

17. Rabbi Elias Charry (1906–­1983) was a leading Conservative rabbi responsible for making Germantown Jewish Center in Philadelphia a major synagogue.


January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942

been the rabbi of Cong. Beth El-­Zedeck for the last eight years. He was preceded by Milton Steinberg. That congregation is a combination of what was formerly an Orthodox congregation of the old type and of a Hungarian congregation that was known as Shaaray Zedeck. A Hungarian congregation used to model itself on the lines of the large Hungarian congregation in New York, which a generation ago was headed by Rabbi Philip Klein,18 who was assisted by Dr. Drachman.19 Its cantor was the famous Joseph Rosenblatt.20 It was characteristic of Hungarian congregations to be not only strictly Orthodox but also highly conscious of its Hungarian precedents. Some of those congregations like the one in Indianapolis would not admit a non-Hungarian as a member. The composite character of Charry’s congregation shows itself in its name and in the existence of two elements: one the Hungarian, intransigent in character, the other somewhat yielding. Rabbi Charry and Weiss took me to a hotel for lunch. There we discussed for two hours a problem which is agitating the congregation, whether the congregation should sponsor the communal Talmud Torah21 and should allow the Welfare Fund to do that. The congregation is willing to have the Talmud Torah retain its communal character, in that it would retain the name of some former patron who had supported it financially. (That sounds like a Hungarian-­ Jewish trait.) Both Charry and Weiss argued that while in principle we should favor communal sponsorship for a Hebrew school, in practice it cannot work because those who direct community policies are negativists or escapists from the standpoint of Judaism. They therefore wanted me to lend my moral support to their policy of having the congregation sponsor the Talmud. ***** I left Indianapolis Tuesday morning and got to Chicago at 12:30. I was met at the Illinois Central Station by Solomon Goldman,22 who took me to the Covenant Club, where about 30 people met me at luncheon. That luncheon had been arranged by the friends of the Seminary. In my talk to them I mentioned the fact that the one thing that impressed me most about the Jews I addressed in

18. Rabbi Philip Klein (1848–­1926) was a rabbi, scholar, and community worker in New York City and honorary president of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis. 19. Rabbi Bernard Drachman (1861–­1945) was a leading Orthodox rabbi at the turn of the century and a professor at JTS and teacher of Kaplan. 20. Joseph (Yossele) Rosenblatt (1882–1933) is regarded as the most famous cantor of his time. You can hear him on YouTube—­a real treat. 21. Talmud Torah was a local religious elementary school. 22. Solomon Goldman (1893–­1953) was a Conservative rabbi, Zionist leader, and key disciple of Mordecai Kaplan.

January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942


the various communities was that from the standpoint of their crudity, lack of culture, traditions, and standards, they resembled very much a frontier population. Their ignorance of Judaism was not only abysmal but dynamic. Of the various groups in that population, those which were identified with the Conservative synagogue were most creative and held out most promise of a Jewish future. S unday , F ebruary  1, 1942 In the evening I lectured on “The Place of Religion in National Life.” I made the point that the function of organized religion is to act as a bond of national, church, or imperial unity and that it carries out this function in two ways: (a) it endorses the nation’s aims and (b) it formulates the duties essential to the attainment of those aims. . . . There was an attendance of about 400 people. I do not think that most of them are members of the congregation. I doubt whether out of 3,000 people actually identified with Anshe Emet there were more than 200. The audience would not have been of very high caliber, if I may judge from the very few questions that were handed in after the lecture, nor were those questions any too profound. After the lecture I went in with Goldman and his wife to his study, a most magnificently furnished room in his synagogue. We were joined by Judah Nadich,23 Goldman’s assistant rabbi, and by Rabbis Green and Pekarsky.24 The argument turned on the question [of] whether the scientific approach to religion, which I employed in my lecture, was calculated to give the people a true understanding of religion and respect for it. Green and Pekarsky doubted the basic assumption of my talk. They could not reconcile themselves to the idea that the main function of religion was to endorse rather than to initiate ideals and aims. They failed to note that I had not spoken of religion in general but of organized religion. The religious genius, such as the prophet or saint, does not belong to that category. Secondly, they underestimated the significance of endorsement. The President of the U.S. exercises leadership through his power of endorsement. The best part of my trip was the luncheon meeting at the Standard Club on Wednesday, Jan. 28. I stated as the basic principles of Reconstructionism, first, the need for the sake of being understood, of equating religion with religious civilization. The

23. Rabbi Judah Nadich (1912–­2007), ordained JTS, served congregations in Buffalo and Chicago, was the U.S. Army’s senior Jewish chaplain in Europe while Allied forces were liberating Nazi concentration camps, and later was the president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the association of Conservative rabbis. 24. Rabbi Maurice Pekarsky (1905–­1962), ordained JIR, was Hillel director at University of Chicago.


January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942

reason for that is that religion is a kind of vitamin that cannot be separated from the kind of food substance, so to speak, in which it inheres. Secondly, if we are to live in two civilizations, the American and the Jewish, we have to reconstruct the Jewish civilization so as to make [it] compatible with American civilization. This calls for cultural budgeting. I then enumerated the four items which must constitute for us Jewish civilization. (1) Jewish consciousness to be cultivated by means of Jewish history, Hebrew, Jewish atmosphere, and art; (2) Jewish cohesion to be fostered by means of (a) Palestine, (b) fellowship in the synagogue, (c) community; (3) Jewish ethics; (4) Jewish piety. The formulation in detail of these purposes and their translation into activity are to be achieved through (1) a school of thought to consist of rabbis, educators, social workers, artists, and writers; (2) the organization of a social framework consisting of congregations; (3) devotee groups; (4) the use and spread of Reconstructionist literature and periodicals. After having given this general statement of the philosophy and program of Reconstructionism, I appealed to those present to rally around Goldman as the one best qualified to lead them in the movement for an integrated and creative Jewish life. Goldman pointed out two things as in need of being carried out as the projects of a Reconstructionist group: (1) To think through and formulate a rationale for Judaism that would make the significance and relevance of Judaism clear to the non-­Jewish world; (2) To give thought to and formulate standards of Jewish behavior that did not fall within the category of ritual observance. This second project has been occupying Goldman’s mind for a long time. He has been revolted by the complete absence of all standards in Jewish life and has therefore been insisting now for some time on the importance of concentrating attention on them. In his remarks he described himself as retreating from Jewish life because he could not bear to see the complete disregard of standards in Jewish organizations and professions that were dedicated to the conservation of Jewish values. He then instanced a number of cases: At the Rabbinical Association, he had urged the rabbis to pass a resolution insisting that the confirmation exercises be held on Shevuot25 even if Shevuot fell on a weekday and that they be not held on the Sunday preceding to meet the convenience of the Jews who did not observe Shevuot. Despite such resolution some rabbis held the confirmation exercises on Sunday. Goldman remonstrated with them and asked them how they expected to influence their people socially and spiritually if they could

25. Jewish holiday. The Feast of Weeks. The Pentecost. The celebration of the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.

January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942


not get them to make a slight sacrifice once in a lifetime for an important principle in Jewish observance. The same rabbinical association had tried in vain to get one of its members to stop a theater party that was to be given by the congregation on a Friday night. And when he refused to pay attention to them, nothing was done or said in reprimand of him. Recently four authors of Jewish books were honored. One of them was Waxman,26 who had completed a monumental four-­volume work on the history of Jewish literature to which he had given 30 years of his life. Another was one who had written a series of sermonettes for a bar mitzvah boy. On the program of the dinner at which these four were guests of honor, the names were listed alphabetically to make sure that the four authors were treated equally. That same book of sermonettes written by a strictly Orthodox rabbi had an introduction written by a man who had never been made bar mitzvah himself nor had ever worshipped in a synagogue. These and other instances were adduced by him in proof of the importance of establishing some kind of discipline in Jewish life, an importance greater even than that of an acceptable ideology. The discussion was participated in by Honor27 and one or two others. The outcome of the meeting was that a Reconstructionist group was organized right there with Goldman as chairman and Green as secretary.

Another Reconstructionist Group S aturday N ight , F ebruary  7, 1942 Tonight Moshe Davis,28 Herman Kieval,29 Louis Gerstein,30 Max 31 Vorspan, and Jack Cohen32 met at my house for the purpose of organizing

26. Meyer Waxman (1887–­1969), ordained JTS, served in rabbinical posts in Chicago and is most well known for his monumental A History of Jewish Literature (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1960). 27. Leo Honor (1894–­1956), PhD, was a communal educator in New York City and then Chicago, a leader in Jewish education, an author, president of the Bureau of Jewish Education, New York City; College of Jewish Studies, Chicago. He was trained by Samson Benderly and Kaplan. 28. Moshe Davis (1916–­1996), ordained JTS, was the registrar of the TI and a very strong Kaplan supporter. He immigrated to Israel, founded the Institute for Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University, was a scholar of American Jewish History, and helped reconcile Kaplan and Finkelstein. 29. Herman Kieval (1920–­1991), ordained JTS, served as a chaplain in World War II, held various pulpits, and was a rabbi in Albany for thirty-­one years. He taught liturgy at JTS. 30. Louis Gerstein (1918–­1996), ordained JTS, was rabbi of Shearith Yisrael, one of New York City’s oldest congregations. 31. Max Vorspan (1916–­2002), ordained JTS, was an author and official at University of Judaism in Los Angeles. 32. Jack Cohen (1919–­2012), ordained JTS, was educational director and rabbi at SAJ, made Aliyah in 1961, was Hillel Director at HU and founder of Mevakshe Derech, a lifelong Kaplan disciple,


January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942

themselves into an activist Reconstructionist coup of the kind I had in mind when I suggested the formation of a Jewish Religious Fellowship. There were to have been four more people present, but this being the first meeting they could not change their previous plans in time. I presented the four-­point program as the frame of reference for the activities of the group: (1) fostering of Jewish consciousness; (2) Jewish unity; (3) Jewish ethics; and (4) Jewish piety. It was decided that each man was to bring to the meetings the specific problems of whatever Jewish activity he was conducting and in that way formulate detailed applications of Reconstructionism to the various phases of that activity. Vorspan will bring next time his problems pertaining to the Zionist Youth Organization which is in process of formation. The rest will take up each his own activities at subsequent meetings. It was also decided to devote 15 minutes daily to Bible study with commentary and to noting articles and books bearing on the four-­point program and pooling our information and reactions to them when we get together. The men wanted to have the group designated as {285} B’nai Mordecai (Heb., The Children of Mordecai). I consented to their using my name but suggested that they use my second name and call themselves B’nai Menachem (Heb., The Children of Menachem).33 After the meeting Lena served sandwiches, cake, and coffee and the men sang Hebrew songs. Harold and Florence Garfunkel34 asked to be allowed to be present. I was only too glad to have them come. ve’haya reyshitkha m’tzar ve’aharitkha yisgeh me-­od (Heb., Though your beginning be small, In the end you will grow great [Job 8:7]).

Shocking People T uesday , F ebruary  10, 1942 Years ago (I believe it was when I had sent in my resignation to the Seminary and I had decided to withdraw)35 Adler36 in one of the few heart-­to-­heart

and author of Judaism in a Post-­Halakhic Age (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2000) and Guides for an Age of Confusion: Studies in the Thinking of Avraham I. Kook and Mordecai M. Kaplan (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010). 33. “Children of . . .” is certainly meant here in the sense of “followers of.” Although it is not clear why Kaplan wanted his second name used, perhaps it was a bit of modesty. 34. These people were probably lay members of the SAJ and supporters of Kaplan. 35. Kaplan is referring here to a series of events in the 1920s. He was unhappy at the seminary and a number of times entered into negotiation with Stephen Wise to move to the Jewish Institute of Religion. The details may be found in my biography of Kaplan, Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century, chapter 10. 36. Cyrus Adler (1863–­1940) was a national communal leader, the president of Dropsie, president of United Synagogue, of JTS, president of American Jewish Historical Society, and editor of

January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942


conversations he had with me remarked: “The trouble with your writing is that you want to shock people.” I wish I knew then what Shaw thought about saying things in a way that shocks people out of their torpor or stupidity. I would have quoted it to Adler. “In this world,” said Shaw, “if you do not say a thing in an irritating way, you may just as well not say it at all, since nobody will trouble themselves about anything which does not trouble them.”37

A Sermon on Saadia Gaon38 “the Reconstructionist” M onday , F ebruary  16, 1942 Last Saturday I preached at the SAJ [Society for the Advancement of Judaism] synagogue on “Saadia Gaon: A Reconstructionist of a Thousand Years Ago.” That Sabbath happened to be “Sabbath Sh’kalem,”39 which commemorates the ancient victory of the Pharisees in the controversy over the question: who should defray the cost of the daily sacrifice? Saadia, the millenary of whose death is observed this year, may be accounted as one of the outstanding leaders of traditional Judaism and therefore as having enabled that ancient victory of the Pharisees to continue bearing fruit. Hence the propriety of dilating on this Sabbath on Saadia’s significance for Judaism. After giving the historic background of Saadia’s life, a summary of the highlights in his career, and a brief description of his works, I pointed out Saadia’s contribution to Judaism as having been the following: He enabled Judaism to meet the challenge of a competing civilization not by withdrawing into its shell, by segregating itself as it had done during the entire Talmudic period, but by so reconstructing itself as to live with that civilization on an equal footing in a spirit of harmony. He thereby helped Judaism to exercise its universal traits. As compared with Christianity and Mohammedanism, traditional Judaism is oft represented as a purely national, even if religious, civilization, without any meaning or implications of a universal character. That is because we are in the habit of associating the universality of a civilization or religion by the variety of peoples by whom it is accepted or imposed. The truth, however, is that either may prove itself

American Jewish Yearbook. Adler became president of JTS in 1915. He was traditional in his outlook, and he and Kaplan had their problems. 37. George Bernard Shaw in Independent 71: 1073. 38. Saadia Gaon (882–­942 CE) was a medieval Jewish philosopher, theologian, political figure, and author of The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, which attempts to integrate Jewish belief with Greek philosophy. 39. Shabbat shekalim (Sabbath [of] shekels) requests each adult male Jew contribute half of a biblical shekel for the upkeep of the Tabernacle, or mishkan. The Torah portion Exodus 30:11–­16 (the beginning of Parasha Ki Tisa) is read. This Shabbat occurs on the first before the Hebrew month of Adar, which is in the spring.


January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942

universal in character by absorbing or assimilating elements of other cultures or religions without losing its own individuality. This capacity which Judaism displays whenever it reconstructs itself for the purpose of surviving and creating in a new environment is proof of its universal character. Hence the significance of its Hellenization, Arabization, Germanization, Europeanization, and contemporaneously its democratization or Americanization. Each stage singularly enough is signalized by an authorized or significant new translation of the Bible. The non-­Jewish element, which in each of the transformations of Judaism became part of it, has consisted of both form and content. (a) The aspect of form: abstract thought, logical order and systematization, division of a problem into various phases, classification of the subject matter of knowledge, the formulation of general principles and their application; attention to exactitude of expression, to unity of composition and logical sequences; individual authorship instead of collective and anonymous. (b) The aspect of content: acceptance of empirical experience and rational interpretation, the appreciation of humanistic culture, the recognition of earthly happiness as legitimate aim and criterion of desirable conduct. It took me an hour and ten minutes to deliver the talk, but I managed to hold the attention of the audience; an unusually large number of seminary men were present. Fortunately the sermon was acceptable both from the standpoint of substance and delivery, otherwise I should have felt very badly.

The Problem of Evil W ednesday , M arch  4, 1942 From the standpoint of our striving for salvation, nothing in the conception of God is as important as that which would help us to regard life as worthwhile despite the waste, suffering, and cruelty that attend it. This is what all theodicies have attempted to do, but so far not a single one of them has succeeded. They are based for the most part upon the following assumptions: (1) God must be conceived as timeless, or if we are to ascribe time to Him, He must be conceived as unchanging in time and therefore eternally perfect. (2) As absolutely good as well as absolutely omnipotent. On that basis, all evil had to be explained away either as illusion or as a necessary means to good. It is evident that neither explanation really accounts for the existence of evil, since a God who is both omnipotent and good should be able to achieve His purpose without even the illusion of evil. Insofar as these two assumptions do not help to render life intelligible, they may be regarded as standing in the way of rendering life worthwhile, for only as life or reality appears intelligible can it be worthwhile. . . . . . . We may adopt as a general principle that for any aspect of reality, be it event, process or thing to contribute to salvation it must meet the following requirement of intelligibility: wherever two or more assumptions concerning any

January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942


aspect of reality are possible, adopt that one which calls for least resort to the unknowable, in the sense of the prerational, the superrational or the irrational. What then are the alternative assumptions which might remove the incompatibility of the existence of evil with the worthwhileness of life or with faith in the spiritual, values—­God, humanity and personality? . . . When we refer to a man’s personality we may refer only to the culmination of everything that goes into the making of him as a person, or we may refer to the sum of all those things that enter into his being, such as his body with all its needs and traits, his relations to his environment, etc. insofar as they culminate in his becoming a person. Applying the foregoing distinction to our idea of God, we have to distinguish between (1) God as only that aspect of reality which constitutes its self-­ fulfillment and (2) God as the very ground of reality viewed from the standpoint of its consummation. We might call the first the consummatory idea of God and the second the existential idea of God. Either idea of God is an idea of Him as a power that makes for salvation. But the difference between them is in the place to be given to the existence of evil. In the consummatory conception of God, there is no place for evil, for the consummation of reality as such implies the elimination of evil. Of that conception of God only is it proper to say that God is the absolute negation of all evil. But that conception of God is not a conception of actuality but of potentiality to be actualized ultimately at some point in time infinitely removed. The consummatory conception of God is thus a conception of reality viewed statically, or as Spinoza put it, sub specie aeternitatis. There is no need of a theodicy when we have in mind this static or consummatory conception of God for the simple reason that that very conception implies that all evil has been eliminated. In Jewish traditional literature there occurs an expression which has in it something of the connotations here associated with the consummatory conception of God. That expression is used in connection with Amalek, who figures as anti-­God, and reads thus: “So long as Amalek exists the Tetragrammaton is defective; when Amalek is no more the Tetragrammaton will be complete.” On the other hand, in the existential idea of God, evil is an integral part of the very idea, and all theodicies which attempt to explain away evil by proving its function as an element of good are uncalled for. God as the ground of reality is from a metaphysical standpoint described accurately in the statement of the unknown prophet who speaks of God as forming light and creating darkness, making peace and creating evil, and who alone is the maker of the universe, far more accurately than in the Zoroastrian religion which the prophet apparently controverts. Likewise in Kabbalah, where Satan is spoken of as the “Other Side,” the “Left side” of the Godhead. The problem of finding a place for evil in the soterical view of life could, of course, exist only in monotheistic religions like the Jewish, the Christian, and the Moslem religions. In every one of them, it is only the introduction of the philosophic approach that led to


January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942

the kind of theodicy which sought to represent evil as an element of good. But in their pristine form, all three religions see nothing objectionable in regarding evil as an integral part of reality and nothing incompatible in conceiving God as the creator of the whole of reality. It is a mistake to interpret “Job” as an attempt to grapple with the problem of evil as such. We read into it entirely too much when we interpret it in that way. All that the author or authors of Job tried to solve was the problem raised by the fact that experience contradicted the old standing assumption that a person’s lot in life corresponded with his obedience of God’s will. This is far from being the same as the problem of evil. That problem would exist just the same even if there were a correspondence between one’s lot and one’s deserts. Moreover, it does not begin to touch the vast areas of cruelty and suffering in the world that are uninvaded by human actions. A far closer approach to posing the problem of evil is found in Habakkuk I where the Prophet addressed God thus: “Thine eyes are too pure to rest on evil, thou canst not look on at oppression. Why then look on at ruthless men. Why then be silent when the impious are swallowing up the good? Thou hast made men like fishes in the sea, like swarms without a chief” [Hab. 1:13]. But Habakkuk rests his case at that. He is no theologian and does not attempt any theodicy. He merely voices his perplexity and goes on asserting his faith that ultimately everything will come out right. “But the righteous shall live by his faith.”

The Consummatory Concept of God T hursday , M arch  5, 1942 It is this faith which has given birth to the consummatory conception of God. This in fact may be said to be the principal contribution of the Prophets to the conception of God. We may not want to associate with the great Prophets the rather vulgar function of prognosticating the future, a function performed by a whole guild of foretellers, including wizards, magicians, etc. But they undoubtedly took into their purview much more than their contemporary situation. So real and inevitable did the culmination of the chain of events often seem to them that it appeared to them as already realized (cf. Jeremiah 14, 19 sq. et al.). That was a fundamental trait of their mentality. It is understandable, therefore, that in their conception of God they would tend to contemplate not the confused scene of contemporaneous events in which His power and goodness are obscured but the scene of the future they envisaged in which His power and goodness stood out with great clarity. But that vision of God was for them not a thing of the future but a realized present. That is to say, they permitted their consummatory conception of God to dominate their minds completely, to the exclusion of the existential conception.

January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942


The Consummatory Concept Continued M arch  5, 1942 As for Plato’ s use of the term “God,” we may accept Etienne Gilson’s statement, in which he says, “A Platonic god is a living individual endowed with all the fundamental attributes of an Idea (viz. intelligible, immutable, necessary and eternal). This is the reason why a Platonic Idea (e.g. the Good) can be more divine than a god, and yet not be a god” (God and Philosophy, 27–­28; the parts in brackets are mine). Gilson’s phrase “more divine than a god” seems to make no sense. But what it means is that whereas a god, as a fragment of reality, necessarily contains elements which we, with our idea of godhood, refuse to regard as divine, a Platonic Idea is free of all such elements. A Platonic Idea is therefore a consummatory conception of a god. Hence the “God” which is the highest Idea of all is actually God conceived in consummatory terms. This phase of Plato’s philosophy, i.e., the tendency inherent in the very notion of Ideas to think in consummatory terms, influenced the Stoics in their conception of God and man. The Stoics identified “Nature” not with actuality in its manifold of good and evil, rational and irrational, but only Reason, as it manifests itself on a universal scale in the world and on a small scale in man. The World-­Reason was for them God and human reason was for them man’s soul, which is consubstantial with God. It is evident that what they did was to stress not the existential but the consummatory aspect of reality as a whole and of man in particular. To them as to Aristotle, a thing is essentially not whence it springs or even what it is at the time it is observed but what it ultimately attains. Upon this consummatory view of reality and of man, the Stoics succeeded in building a remarkable structure of ethical and juridical teaching which mankind has done lip worship to but never really attempted to live up to. Yet the influence of Stoic thinking is largely responsible for having enabled the consummatory conception of God to become deeply embedded in the consciousness of the adherents of the three monotheistic religions. Philo, the Alexandrian Epigenes,40 the Syro-­Greek church, Islam, the Jewish theologians, [and] Christian scholasticism are the links in the chain of thinking by means of which the synthesis of prophetism with stoicism was effected. That is the synthesis which has given the world its noblest conception of God and man and which has given rise to what is known as the Judeo-­Christian tradition. Thus the basic assumption in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal is part of that tradition. But it is also that synthesis which, neglecting completely

40. Epigenes was a well-­known scholar of the first century BC.


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the existential conception of God, has left man entirely disoriented with regard to the problem of evil.41

Kaplan Speaks to the New York Board of Rabbis about Preaching in War Time T uesday , M arch  10, 1942 I took part in a special session arranged by the Jewish Board of Ministers of this city. The session took place at the Seminary and was devoted to problems which arose out of the present war. My paper was on “Preaching in War Time.” There were about 60 present at the time I read my paper. It was followed by discussion. The Board includes rabbis of all shades of belief and practice. Heterogeneity has the advantage of teaching people of different views to get along with one another, but the getting along remains on a very superficial level. There is no likelihood that any attempt would be made to go to the bottom of problems and difficulties. This is why I have never attended any of the meetings of the Board. I accepted this invitation—­shall I say out of vanity? Bienenfeld,42 a Seminary graduate, was the chairman of arrangements, and he turned to me for a paper on the subject of preaching for these days. As a professor of homiletics and with the session taking place at the Seminary, I could not refuse without “loss of face.” The paper which I read dealt with the following points: Jewish preaching these days should concern itself with (1) enabling the Jewish tradition to function as vigorously as possible; (2) interpreting the Jewish tradition so that it may yield the purposes necessary to give meaning to the war against tyranny and ruthlessness—­those purposes which we identify with genuine democracy; (3) interpreting the Jewish tradition so that it may yield the vision necessary for a proper perspective in the present crisis—­the vision which enables us to see God in history; (4) interpreting the Jewish tradition so that it may inspire us with the morale needed to turn the scales in favor of victory. The paper was well received. I am glad I had to write it, mainly, however, because it led me to realize more clearly than ever why the Psalms had such a hold on people in the past. I discovered that its context is such as to inspire courage and confidence when attacked by enemies. Since people have always

41. For more on Kaplan and the problem of evil, see my The Radical American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013), primarily chapter 12. For a primary statement of Kaplan’s attitude toward evil, see chapter 11, March 25, 1951. In part he states, “As for the evil in the world, I recognize it entirely for what it is, not as something to be reconciled with God, but as something God and man or God through man ever strives to overcome, as does the light that penetrates ever further into the darkness and overcomes it.” 42. Jesse Bienenfeld (1891–­1945), ordained JTS, was a rabbi in Syracuse and Brooklyn who was active in United Synagogue.

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enemies either actual or imaginary, they are bound to welcome whatever affords them morale. The Psalms did that to an extraordinary degree. *****

The Chosen People Idea: An Emotional Rejection M arch  10, 1942 At the recent session of the Seminar which I hold at the Seminary every other Thursday night, the discussion veered away from the text of Hocking’s Living Religions and a World Faith43 and turned upon a statement made by Dr. Simon Greenberg,44 who this year has become assistant professor of Jewish education, to the effect that as Jews we must believe that our religion and our ethics are truer and better than those of any other people. Anyone who refuses to accept this belief, he said, had no right to be a rabbi or to preach or teach Judaism. The students wanted me to tell them what I thought of that statement. Of course I pooh-­poohed it. By the time we were through, the men were grateful for my having thrown light on the question of our right as a people to feel superior. That is a question which troubles every Seminary student, because during the first twenty years of his life he has the notion of the “chosen people” drummed into him on every possible occasion. My colleagues on the Faculty not only do nothing to eradicate that notion but, on the contrary, try expressly and by implication to confirm it in the minds of the students. I am the only one who tries to have them unlearn that notion. I have the advantage of having truth and common sense on my side. Subconsciously the students revolt at the belief that we have the best of what man needs for his salvation. The more earnest and intellectual among them welcome the emancipation which I help them achieve by telling them they can not only be good Jews but also rabbis on the sole ground that we want to make the most of our lives as Jews. For that purpose we should accept moral and religious truth from anyone who has it to offer.

43. William E. Hocking (1873–­1966), professor of philosophy at Harvard University, was a favorite of Kaplan’s. Kaplan studied Hocking’s major work The Meaning of God in Human Experience and assigned it to his students at the JTS. This work by Hocking certainly influenced Kaplan in the title of his own work The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1994). It is no accident that the discussion of the chosen people concept arises when Kaplan is teaching a Christian work. For more on Kaplan’s reading of Christian thinkers, see my essay in festschrift for Professor Robert Seltzer, “Kaplan and Personality,” in Reappraisals and New Studies of the Modern Jewish Experience: Essays in Honor of Robert M. Seltzer, ed. Brian M. Smollett and Christian Wiese (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 162–­179. 44. Simon Greenberg (1901–­1993), ordained JTS, was a Conservative leader, executive director of the United Synagogue of America, and president of the Rabbinical Assembly. He admired Kaplan but was critical of him.


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Making Changes in the Service: The Problem of Nostalgia W ednesday , M arch  18, 1942 Last Saturday I preached at the SAJ services on “Why We Need a Sixth Sense.” The point was that we cannot understand anything unless we envisage the totality of which it is a part. I called “The Sixth Sense” the sense whereby we envisage that totality of which gives us perspective. The test on which I hung that idea was largely a pretext, though it did serve to suggest the idea. (A genuine pretext is where one has the idea first and waits upon discovering some text to hang it on.) It was the statement in Berakhot 55a that Bezalel guessed that the instructions given him by Moses did not coincide with those God had given to Moses. Instead of making the equipment of the tabernacle before building the tabernacle itself, Bezalel reasoned that it is more natural to have a tabernacle before equipping it. (Suggested revision of SAJ service) That Saturday morning the rain at times came down in torrents. There would hardly have been anybody to talk to if it were not for the bar-­mitzvah celebration of Justice Perlman, the son of an SAJ member who had invited many friends and acquaintances. The Torah reading of the day was Vayakhel-­Pekudei and the special section for Shabbat Ha-­hodesh. In all, the reading took about an hour and a quarter. Despite our having rushed the service, I started speaking exactly at 12:00. If the contents of the Torah reading had at least warranted spending so much time on it, I would not complain. But it happens to be as dry as the wilderness through which the Israelites journeyed. I felt that this fact offered an excellent opportunity to point out to the people the folly of wasting much precious time without taking advantage of it to have them come away from the synagogue strengthened and edified. I therefore devoted my opening remarks to the need of revising one entire mode of service with that purpose in view. This statement came on top of a sermon delivered some weeks ago by Ira [Eisenstein], in which he gave a résumé of the achievements and failures of the SAJ during the twenty years of its existence. That sermon was multigraphed and a copy of it sent to all the members of the Board of Trustees preparatory to this meeting, which took place last night at the home of Bernard Bernstein of Park Ave. and at which the question of introducing needed changes into the service was to come up. I do not as a rule attend Board of Trustees meetings. But I had been announced as intending to be present. Virtually all those present are themselves in favor of changing the services in accordance with Ira’s and my suggestions, but some of them are apprehensive of the resistance on the part of a few old timers who unfortunately did not come to the meeting. I refer to Albert Rosenblatt, Harry and Abe Leibovitz, Joseph Levy, and Bernard Sewel. Ira and I used up a good deal of ammunition on those present. The only one of the old guard who argued against our suggestion was [Simon] Osserman.

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There are two lines of attack that I have found it necessary to take. The first is that we should not be motivated in making changes by the desire or the hope of attracting larger numbers. We are likely to be disappointed, since we cannot possibly expect that improved services would make people give up their work for their sake. The only justifiable motive is the desire to render worship and prayer indirectly worthwhile. We Jews have forgotten how to pray, and it is highly essential that we recover that ability. The second line of attack dealt with the point raised by Poser. He wanted me to answer the argument of those who resist change not on national grounds but on the ground that it would destroy for them the feeling of reliving the religious experience of the past gone, nations with whom they want to feel at one. Incidentally, this basis for resisting changes in the traditional forms comes from the least expected quarters—­namely, from those who have only recently come back to Jewish religious life. [Simon] Solomon, who is a Yiddish writer and who is a member of the Editorial Board of the Reconstructionist, told me recently that his radical confreres who have a yen for religious observance insist on having those observances in their original traditional form. They object strongly to our new Haggadah because it omits the recital of the Egyptian plagues. Poser, who raised the question at the meeting, is himself one who had gotten far away from religious life and the synagogue. It is significant therefore that it should have been just he who raised that point. (Nostalgia—­like desire for strong drink) The answer that I gave offhand was this: Nostalgia for traditional forms regardless of consequences in terms of permanent effect on religious life in general and on one’s children in particular is a costly feeling to give into. It is like the desire for strong drink. At the time it is indulged in, it is highly satisfying, but the aftereffects are worse than the mental state which it tried to overcome. The hour was getting late and it was decided to continue the discussion a week from next Saturday, at which it is hoped that those who were absent would show up.

Personal and Philosophical Difficulties T hursday , M arch  19, 1942 (M rs . S arah E pstein ’ s 75 th A nniversary ) The West Side Hadassah45 gave Mrs. Sarah Epstein a birthday party in honor of her 75th anniversary. Mrs. Epstein probably wanted it—­and why shouldn’t she—­and Hadassah was glad she wanted it, because they could then be instrumental in getting people to donate dunams of land in her honor. She

45. Women’s Zionist organization founded by Henrietta Szold. Miss Szold and Kaplan had great respect for each other. For details on their relationship, see my biography of Kaplan, Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century, in the index under Szold.


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certainly deserved that honor, from every point of view. She has been serving Hadassah very faithfully and has been a loyal devotee of the synagogue. Being accounted her rabbi for the last 39 years, I was asked to say a few words of tribute to her. An easier subject for such tribute there could not be. And yet I had to prime myself for hours, maybe five or six, to have something to say, and when I did say it, it fell far short of what I wanted to express. There is something about me that inhibits me when I have to fall back upon the laudatory phrases that come so glibly from the mouths of professional speakers. There was Roth Miller of Mt. Rockaway, e.g., who acted as chairman in place of Dr. Pool.46 The ease, the glibness with which he made the few introductory remarks are qualities I cannot firmly attain once I know beforehand that I shall be called on. I doubt whether I would ever do as well even if not forewarned, because I am beyond my depth the moment I have to speak in personal terms and have to resort to the conventional laudatives. The inhibition which constricts my tongue on these occasions is due, I believe, to two factors (1) poor memory for details and (2) being a very poor mixer in society. (Eulogy—­social instruction of) In a tribute or eulogy, we do not give an authentic description of a person. We actually idealize. There is a point beyond which such idealization is mere bunk. But within limits, it is not only legitimate but an indispensable part of life’s amenities. It is to idealization within those limits that the following remark refers. When we pay tribute or deliver a eulogy, we do two things: (1) We give the consummatory view of a person, i.e., the ideal of himself as we envisage it for him. (2) We select from the existential facts of the person those which may be fitted into the ideal we thus envisage. The social function of a tribute or eulogy is to define the ideal in the light of which we want people to mold their personalities. (Consummatory vs. Existential) The distinction between consummatory and existential is one of those key thoughts that is “open sesame.” It opens doors to the understanding of numerous situations. In general, the existential approach corresponds with the one employed in strictly scientific study of reality or any phase of it. It yields a purely descriptive account of our findings. On the other hand, the consummatory approach is interpretive. The findings are seen in the light of some ultimate attainment. In the last analysis, we shall find that the conception of an ultimate attainment arises from a soterical will. The yearning for finality or absolute truth, at least in religion, is basically the desire to identify the consummatory element in the spiritual values, to make sure that we have at last gotten hold of an unchangeable fact or truth about reality

46. Rabbi David de Sola Pool (1885–­1970) was born in London to a family of distinguished rabbis. He served as rabbi of Congregation Shearet Yisrael (the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue) for sixty-­three years.

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that is a guide or incentive to salvation. Hocking47 rightly regards this yearning as mainly responsible for “the recurrent appeal to Revelation and to its attribute, Authority” (Living Religions and a World Faith, p. 197 note). How shall we reconcile this yearning with the changes that take place in our understandings of things and in our world outlook? Hocking supplies the answer. “Something is final in what I have; but not all that I have is final” (ibid.). This answer states kindly at the same time the true relation of the consummatory to the existential in all experiences where we want to discover God, man, or the soul. “The ideas of others, like all living entities, must be given the benefit of their direction” (Hocking, o.c. [page?] 200) is an additional application of the consummatory approach. F riday , M arch  20, 1942 Is the distinction between the existential and the consummatory the same as the distinction between the empirical or actual and the potential or ideal? If they are the same, what is gained by introducing the terms “existential” and “consummatory?” The answer is that they are not the same. The distinction between empirical and potential or actual and ideal is not necessarily one in which the question of good and evil is at all involved. The difference between empirical and potential simply means a difference in state of being: one is “being,” attained, the other is “being,” to be attained. Likewise, the difference between actual and ideal. This difference may be applied to the being of anything, good, bad, or indifferent. The difference between the existential and the consummatory, however, refers to a difference in the kind of being, to the “being,” viewed in forms of values. The existential and the consummatory are in a sense both actual and potential. The existential is evaluated from the standpoint of the direction in which it is moving. That direction is actual and present in the existential. This means that the consummatory is to an extent realized in the existential. In God, humanity, and personality, the consummatory is both actual and potential. But in God, humanity, and personality there is much that is not in line with their consummation. That is the evil which inheres in them and against which they are forever waging war. The existential, too, has its potential elements, i.e., the evils as yet unrealized, the evils which arise after some new good has emerged. It is thus evident that we cannot use actual and existential as interchangeable nor potential and consummatory.

47. See note above on Hocking, a favorite of Kaplan’s who was Christian. William E. Hocking, Living Religions and a World Faith (New York: Macmillan, 1940).


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Democracy and Fascism M onday , M arch  23, 1942 The present world upheaval makes clear that the one fundamental issue on which mankind is at war with itself is: Shall human beings accept the law of the jungle as the principle of human survival and allow force and cunning to determine what constitutes fitness for survival, or shall human beings refuse to accept the law of the jungle and in its place live by the principle that to be truly human they must render as many of their fellow-­beings as possible fit to survive? Fascism is the frank acceptance of the law of survival of the fittest as it obtains outside the world of man. It need have no definite idea of its kind of individual or of society it should strive for, since it is satisfied to depend upon the spontaneous working of natural forces to determine what constitutes fitness. Mussolini was entirely consistent with his general philosophy when, in his famous article on Fascism in the Italian Encyclopedia, he stated frankly that fascism is not interested in detailing aims and methods but depends upon action to determine what is desirable. Democracy, however, is definitely based on the assumption that the human differentia consists in changing the law of the jungle into the principle of having as many human beings as possible fit to survive. This fact places upon democracy the responsibility of determining what constitutes fitness. Democracy cannot content itself with the moral and religious traditions handed down from the past, because that tradition grew up haphazardly over a long period of years without periodic revisions of a systematic character and in its present form is far from having assimilated the knowledge concerning human and nonhuman value. The Judeo-­Christian tradition is therefore out of focus with life as it is lived nowadays, especially in certain civilizations, and has nothing to say but Amen to what happens to suit the taste of its protagonists. In its present form, it is a broken reed for democracy to lean on. What democracy needs is not to reject the Judeo-­Christian tradition but to revise it in the light of our newer knowledge and more accurate thinking. With that end in view, the tradition should be set in the frame of a normative science of human life—­Soterics, the purpose of which should be to see human life steadily and whole. Only then will democracy be in a position to confront fascism with all the resources of the body, mind, and spirit and win through.

More on the Chosen People M arch  27, 1942 To me it is not the ancestry of a thing that determines its value but what we make of it. Nevertheless, so long as our people show no burning zeal

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to transform their tradition into spiritual energy of a high order, the awareness of its unattractive if not repellent character in the past cannot be very heartening. What is worse is that the spokesmen of that tradition, instead of recognizing its defects and deliberately repudiating them, make matters worse by intentionally daubing them over with modern whitewash. I refer particularly to the way they handle the traditional doctrine of the chosen people. However we may apologize for it, we certainly cannot claim for it high ethical justification. Whatever we may say in defense of it, it is not a doctrine to be proud of as illustrative of the ethical genius of Judaism. If there were the least modicum of such genius present in our leaders, they should have had the courage to repudiate the doctrine of the chosen people as soon as they came in contact with modern biblical thought. Instead of which, what do we find? Evasive falsifications of the meaning of that doctrine whenever referred to in the ritual. There has just come out an edition of the Passover Haggadah sponsored by Finky, who has written an introduction to it, and translated by Maurice Samuel. In the Kiddush [blessing over the wine], the phrase which occurs after mi’ kol ha’leshonot (Heb., the tongues [languages]) as well as the phrase ve’romamtanu (Heb., exalted us) after mi’kol ha’amim (Heb., above all nations) where the ve’kidashtanu (Heb., and sanctified us) is unmistakably used in the phrase and “thou hast sanctified us among all peoples,” which is of course nonsense as well as bad English. And all for the purpose of evading the issue. Even the Orthodox Rev. M. Pool48 cannot quite swallow the statement “sanctified us above all peoples.” He perverts the translation to read, “From all peoples thou hast chosen and sanctified us.” Friend Morris Silverman,49 who has made a successful business of taking over bodily the Adler mahzor, which he says in his preface he “found helpful,” and of garnishing it up with some selections which he borrows from other sources, delightfully skips in his translation these ticklish passages which are based on the doctrine of the divine election of Israel. Is it possible to absolve altogether a tradition of the responsibility of breeding such arrant falsifiers of the truth?

48. See the glossary on David de Sola Pool, who edited a well-­known prayer book, Siddur: The Traditional Prayer Book for Sabbath and Festivals (New York: Behrman House, 1960). 49. Morris Silverman (1894–­1972) was a Conservative rabbi and Kaplan supporter who edited daily and High Holiday prayer books. Kaplan maintains here that Silverman took material from the High Holiday prayer book edited by Rev. S. Singer and Dr. N. Adler, Mahzor Abodat Israel Prayers for the New Year and Day of Atonement (New York: Hebrew Publishing, 1931).


January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942

The Good Life T uesday , M arch  31, 1942 The three criteria of salvation corresponding to the three dimensions of human life are (1) health of body and mind, (2) inner peace—­“We should be at peace with ourselves, for civil war is not a happy state,” (3) self-­transcendence—­ “Our life should be anchored in some object that takes us beyond ourselves, be that object another person, or our work, or the life of the community or the God of our belief” (L. T. Hobhouse, The Elements of Social Justice, 9).50

Reconstructionism as a School of Thought T uesday , A pril  7, 1942 (Reconstructionism) Yesterday afternoon Ira [Eisenstein], Eugene T. Kohn, and I discussed at length the direction which the Reconstructionist movement ought to take in the future. We definitely rejected the idea of its giving rise to an additional denomination—­an idea which Ira had favored for some time. The alternative plan is to have our group devote itself to the production of all sorts of literary material which would deal with ideology, programs, guidance, prayers, etc. In order however to have the stimulus for the production of such material, we should have in mind the organization of Jewish religious fellowships—­or group of Reconstructionist devotees—­that would utilize that material and translate it into action.

The Bible as an Arsenal of Democracy—­a Sermon by Ira Eisenstein T hursday , A pril  9, 1942 (Reconstructionism: Its task of reinterpreting the past.) This morning Ira preached a splendid sermon on the place of the Bible in history, with special reference to the story of the Exodus. He made the point that the Bible has served as the arsenal of democracy. So long as the Church succeeded in preventing the Bible from being read, the people submitted to the tyranny of bishop and feudal lord. But as soon as it was translated into the vernacular, it aroused the people to revolt against their oppressors. He sustained this fact with a number of examples

50. Leonard T. Hobhouse (1864–­1929) was a British Liberal political theorist and sociologist who played a key role in the development of sociology as a discipline. He wrote Elements of Social Justice (New York: Henry Holt, 1922)

January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942


Ira Eisenstein and Mordecai Kaplan. (Courtesy Reconstructionist Rabbinical College) from history, beginning with Wycliffe,51 whose translation of the Bible into English was followed by a peasant rebellion, as did Luther’s two centuries later. The King James version prepared the way for the Puritan revolt. He also quoted two striking passages from [Pierre Paul] Leroy-­Beaulieu and Thomas Huxley on that point. After the services, among the people that came up to congratulate Ira was Judith Epstein. With her usually alert mind, she raised a very pertinent question. She wanted to know why it was that the most reactionary elements among our people were those who knew the Bible almost by heart, who never missed a service, and who celebrated the Pesah with great ado. I gave her what I considered the only possible answer, and that is that the Bible which our people study is not the bare text known by that name but that text as interpreted by the sages

51. The reference here is to the Bible translations of John Wycliffe, which appeared from 1382 to 1395. Readers may also be interested in the more recent work by Michael Walzer, Exodus and Revolution (New York: Basic Books, 1985). Walzer connects the biblical Exodus to the English revolutions of the seventeenth century and to the American Revolution.


January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942

of the Talmud. These sages transformed its inner meaning with a view to making of the Bible an instrument for conserving the unity and uniformity of Jewish life. In doing so they reinterpreted it to bring it into conformity with the otherworldly outlook which had taken possession of Western mankind. In the course of this process, the Bible lost its original character as a record of revolt against oppression and as a gospel of freedom. On the other hand, among the non-­Jews to whom it first came in their own vernacular, it presented itself in its original character and therefore acted as dynamite in uprooting long-­established tyrannies. This indicates the truth that devolves as Reconstructionism. Without treating the Talmudic tradition disrespectfully, or implying that it was an unfortunate development and that it should be abrogated, Reconstructionism must evolve a type of interpretation of both the original text and rabbinic lore, which will discover in both the values relevant to our present-­day needs.

Reconstructionism as a School of Thought: What It Can Accomplish A pril  3, 1942 Reconstructionism is not in a position to urge radical changes in the social and political milieu in which Jews live. There are enough powerful movements in the world fully implemented to achieve that. The most that Reconstructionism can do is to act as a leaven to transform Jewish life from within. The less institutionalized it can remain, the more effective it is bound to prove. As a school of thought, or of reconstructive thought, which would be communicated and applied through the medium of Jewish religious fellowships, Reconstructionism might transform the mentality of our people and help it achieve that creative adjustment to the world in the making which would give it a new lease in life.

Spiritual Values Not Subjective—­Abraham J. Heschel52 M onday , A pril  6, 1942 (Spiritual values not derivable from vital nor from rational values) Another example of the need of viewing experience or reality as three dimensional is the tendency to confuse psychological process with the ideas which appear in it, or to deny any reality to the conceptual or relational aspect of

52. Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–­1972) was a major Jewish philosopher of the twentieth century and a colleague of Kaplan’s at the Jewish Theological Seminary. For an extended discussion of their respective philosophies and their relationship, see my Radical American Judaism, chapter 10, “Mordecai the Pious—­Kaplan and Heschel.” The present entry is the first mention of Heschel in the diary.

January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942


experience. This tendency is fully analyzed and its fallacy exposed in Morris R. Cohen’s Reason and Nature.53 To correct it, he emphasizes the polar character of reality. In other words, he reduces everything outside sensation to reason. This, while an improvement on the monistic conceptions of reality, also falls short of seeing reality as it should be seen. It is as important to separate the spiritual dimension from the rational as the latter from mere sensation. The following from Abraham Heschel’s “An Analysis of Piety” (The Review of Religion, March 1942) is in line with the need of viewing the spiritual dimension apart from the other two dimensions of experience: “The spiritual content is not identical with the act itself, nor are concepts tantamount to functions of the mind. The spiritual objective content is universal, and should be distinguished from subjective psychical function. Piety is an objective spiritual entity.”54

Freedom—­the Message of the Haggadah A pril  9, 1942 A striking illustration of what Reconstructionism should do is what it has done with the Haggadah. The traditional Haggadah fails entirely to accentuate the theme of freedom. Its motif is specifically that of recapturing the spirit of the sacrificial rite in Jerusalem with the purpose of having the seder as a substitute for the pilgrimage offering that was brought to the Temple. That motif is definitely theurgic [i.e., magical]. It falls in line with what the average person expects from religion, namely, guidance in the performance of mystic rites to appease the invisible superhuman powers. This is why the unthinking Jew hankers after the ritual of pouring off some wine from his cup for each of the plagues. In the Reconstructionist version, the original motif gives way to the motif of freedom. Whereas Moses was out of place in a sacrificial motif, he is indispensable in the freedom motif.55

53. Morris Raphael Cohen, Reason and Nature: An Essay on the Meaning of the Scientific Method (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1931). Cohen (1880–­1947) was an American philosopher, a Harvard PhD, and a legal scholar who taught at City College of New York. He and Kaplan grew up together on the Lower East Side. 54. Kaplan here appreciates Heschel’s point that the value of piety is not identical with the inner state connected with it but is an objective quality. This is one of the many places where Kaplan moves beyond a purely naturalist philosophy. Kaplan’s sense of the independence of primary ethical values reminds us of the philosophy of Plato. Santayana on essence is helpful here. 55. For more information on the publication and reaction to Kaplan’s Haggadah, see diary entries for March 24, 1941; April 21, 1941; and May 12, 1941, in Communings of the Spirit, vol. 2.


January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942

The Ethics of the Fathers—­Its True Meaning56 A pril  12, 1942 Reexamining the test of Avot [i.e., Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of the Fathers] for the purpose of determining its underlying motif reveals that it was not at all intended to be a collection of disparate ethical teachings. The motif is unmistakably the study of Torah as a means to the attainment of a share in the world to come. A rereading of the text in the light of that motif will at once retrieve its basic significance of each statement. The few dicta which do not have a bearing on the study of Torah happen to have been introduced because they belong to the author of some dictum which does have a bearing in the study of Torah. The next step in the Reconstructionist approach is to find a modern equivalent for the motif: the study of Torah as a means to a share in the world to come. That equivalent might well be the following: The education of the whole man as a means of rendering him a builder of a better world order. That kind of education is anything but an academic pursuit. Its function is not to fill the mind with new knowledge but to move the will to do what man needs most for his salvation,57 with salvation understood as the building of a better world order. Thus understood, the Jewish ideal of Torah study may turn out to be a far greater contribution to the enhancement of human life than its monotheism or its high ethical teachings. That it is necessary for man to make the business of his bringing into being a better world order (or to put it more simply, to leave the world the better for having lived in it), a matter of daily study and concern is just the gospel that men need more than any thus far heralded.

More on the Ethics of the Fathers A pril  13, 1942 Having thus found the equivalent for the motif of Avot [The Ethics of the Fathers] to be that all knowledge must be utilized as a means of world improvement, Reconstructionism proceeds to draw from that equivalent the two practical inferences: In the first place, we should enlarge the scope of Torah to include not only the ancient texts but also all material that has a decent bearing on world improvement, no matter wherever it is drawn. In discussing, e.g., the concept of

56. Pirkei Avot, known in English as “The Ethics of the Fathers,” is an early rabbinic treatise that contains ethical sayings of the rabbis. 57. Kaplan’s concept of salvation may be understood as wholeness or perfectibility. Kaplan at times used the Hebrew expression Sheleymut, which means “completeness.” For further discussion of salvation, see the index of my Radical American Judaism.

January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942


freedom which is the central theme of the Passover celebration, I had occasion to touch upon the problem of making it compatible with social cooperation and security and to suggest that the solution called for a change in our conception of government and public law from that of being merely the guardian of social order to start guaranteeing freedom with security. To achieve that function, government and public law would have to provide safeguards for the following: equality, accountability, compromise, and periodic revisions. Of what good is it to hear these ideas referred to once a year in the pulpit? There should be opportunities for following them up by means of what has been written on the subject. There is the book called Brandeis’ Way58 which develops those or similar ideas in detail. The study of such material should be regarded as Torah in the heart and deepest sense of the term. A second practical inference to be drawn is that we should learn to view all human knowledge not merely as power but as power to make the world a better place to live in. That means having the Torah ideal extended beyond even the general information which has a direct bearing on world improvement. All human culture should be permeated with its purpose of world improvement. It should be more than “getting to know the best that has been thought and said.” It should aim to translate that best into a way of life. Knowledge of any art or skill or profession that is acquired without instruction as to how it should be put to social uses is all likely to become a menace to society. In former times no knowledge was entrusted to a person who had not given proof of being trustworthy and capable of withstanding temptation. Equally important is it nowadays to teach those who are entrusted with knowledge how to utilize it in the interests of society. To carry out these practical inferences from the equivalent of the motif of Avot [The Ethics of the Fathers], the acquisition of the knowledge of how to improve the world must become with modern man as the study of Torah was with the ancient man: a lifelong pursuit.

Human Beings Not a Means A pril  15, 1942 (Means and words in spiritual values) A great deal of nonsense is being spoken these days in the interests of democracy versus totalitarianism. One such cliché is that democracy stands for the principle: Every man is an end in himself; no man is a means to be used by another. The question, where democracy got that principle from, is answered according to what happens to be the prejudice

58. Kaplan may have had in mind such books as The Brandeis Way: A Case Study in the Workings of Democracy, by Alpheus Thomas Mason (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1938).


January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942

of the one who invokes that principle. If he happens to be [word not clear] up the goods of religion he ascribes that principle to the biblical teaching that God made man in his image or to the rabbinic dictum that the Israelite must be no man’s slave but only that of God. Incidentally, the rabbinic dictum does imply that means is a means to God’s will and glory. If the person happens to be a modern ethicist, he ascribes the principle to Kant, although he does not take the trouble to find out whether Kant actually formulated it as stated above. The truth is that Kant could not possibly have said that man is never to be used as means. What he did say was that men must not use each other merely as means. How could social life exist if every individual was never to be used as a means to the general good? Every time a people is in danger and the individual either volunteers or is drafted for the defense of the people, he is being used as a means. Whenever a person sacrifices himself for any ideal whatever, he uses himself as a means. The fact that those who represent that ideal feel they have the right to demand such sacrifices implies that man must on occasion function as a means. Some principle, however, is needed to indicate when a person may be used as a means and when he may not. Such a principle may be derived from the soterical analysis. With the three categories of spiritual values in mind, those of personality, society, and God, we may formulate the principle that within each category, every embodiment of it must be an end in itself and never a means to any other embodiment. But any embodiment of one category should always be a means to some embodiments of the other two categories; otherwise its very nature is certain to be stunted or vitiated. An individual person dare not be a means to any other individual person, but he should be a means to society and to God. No individual people should be a means to any other people, but it should be a means to the life and growth of every one of its citizens, or to God as the power that makes for salvation. No particular manifestation of Godhood should be a means to any other but should be a means to the life and growth of personality and/or society.

Nationalism a Disaster—­Society as the Whole of Humanity S unday N ight , A pril  18, 1942 (Society as a spiritual value) Society as a final cause or factor in man’s endeavor to achieve salvation or to make the most of his life is like God and personality,59 a spiritual goal, with the sense that it is a plan of the unmoved mover

59. Kaplan uses the term personality not in the sense of the appeal that a person might have but rather as referring to the self or the whole person. On this topic, see the Kaplan Center website (www​.kaplancenter​.org) under Mel’s Blog “Personality and the Whole Self,” and under Mel’s Desk,

January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942


in the soterical60 process. Society is here understood as that organically interrelated and interacting group of human beings which represents for the individual the human species as a whole with its human differential. Where the individual draws the circumference within which all human beings who are integral to what society or humanity means to him varies with the era, the prevailing conditions, and the cultural level of the individual and the particular social unit which has dominant influence in his life. In the last hundred or hundred-­and-­fifty years, the nation has served as society and as representatives of what humanity has meant to the individual. This limited conception of society is responsible for our present world disaster. Here and there voices are being raised for a conception of society which will make it coextensive with the whole of humanity. Each lesser group, according to this conception of society, will be entitled to speak in the name of society only insofar as reckons with the good of mankind as a whole.

The Values of Hindu Theology A pril  18, 1942 Objective truth belongs to the dimension of rationality, while religion belongs to the dimension of spirituality. We should therefore expect religions to yield us mythologies, for mythologies are syntheses of the values of personality and godhead for the purposes of helping us identify the society essential to our salvation and to utilize it effectively for that purpose. Each religion therefore reflects the individual character, vicissitudes, and ideals of the particular group which serves the individual as humanity itself or its true representative. S unday , A pril  19, 1942 A striking example outside the monotheistic religion is to be found in Hindu mythology. A characteristic sample of that mythology is the cycle of stories dealing with the highest Hindu triad, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. The Puranes contain a number of myths which have as their theme the recurring rise to power of the demons that overthrow the gods . . . In all that the Hindu religion wants to teach its adherents that so long as even the highest beings are involved in the strife for plunder and power and so long as they cling to their mighty personalities, they are prevented from attaining

see “Peoplehood and Personhood.” See also Mel Scult, “Kaplan and Personality,” in Reappraisals and New Studies, 162–­179. 60. Soterics was the name that Kaplan gave to his system, based on the Greek word soter, meaning “to save.” He desired to create a scientific system of salvation similar to physics. For an early account of Soterics, see Harold Schulweis, “Theory of Soterics,” in Mordecai M. Kaplan: An Evaluation, ed. Ira Eisenstein and Eugene Kohn (New York: Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation, 1952), 263–­283.


January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942

the boon of eternal peace. That boon cannot be enjoyed by those who are enmeshed in illusion of their individuality and have a craving for personal and power without end. “The cycle of events and epochs (as portrayed by the above myths), sparing none, should be faced, full of faith, not in the ultimate triumph of the righteous cause, but in the renewed conquest of the forces of evil. Perhaps it is to the tragic pattern of India’s history that we must look for an explanation of this fundamentally skeptical attitude toward social progress . . . The mythical series of demonic tyrants causing havoc with this chaotic ‘new order’ is, of course, full of political significance.” (The foregoing quotations are from Henry R. Zimmer’s “Hindu View of World Theology” in Review of Religion, March 1942.)

Hitler Speaks in the Name of God? A pril  22, 1942 Dr. H. Frank, the Nazi Minister of Justice, made the following statement in October 1935: “We are under the great obligation of recognizing, as the holy work of the spirit of our folk, the laws signed with Hitler’s name. Hitler has received his authority from God. Therefore he is a champion, sent by God, of German Right in the world.” That there is something fundamentally wrong with the whole attitude of mind as expressed in this statement is quite evident. But just what is it? Is it not characteristic of piety to identify concrete experiences as a manifestation of God! Certainly Frank may be credited with being sincere in what he said, and if sincere, he was certainly pious when he made that statement. The reply, of course, shall be that piety without rationality is just as dangerous as rationality without piety. In other words, we have no right to view anything as a manifestation of God, which does not conform to the requirements implied in its rational values. Any phase of human life or activity that is on the whole wrought with what we regard as evil consequences cannot be divine (in the consummating sense) and must be oppressed.

“The Society of Nations” A pril  22, 1942 (Society as represented by the Nation) The “Nation” as the product of Western Civilization is defined by Koluai61 as “a comparatively small ‘collective personality,’ intensely aware of itself, with its emphatic (if controversial) membership of a ‘society of nations,’ a supra-­ national cosmos of civilization, a

61. Aurel Kaluai, The War against the West (New York: Viking Press, 1938).

January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942


universal mankind transcending closely defined political units and sovereignties of power” (26). “Humanity is not merely a larger nation or a state made up of states, it is the community of all who are endowed with a human soul and transcends the limits of any closed organized body; on the other hand, the rights and freedom of man in any such collective group in relation to its ruler by no means pertains simply to any ‘part’ within any ‘whole’ but depend as the fact that man in some way represents humanity itself as opposed to the organized social body, which always fails fully to comprehend the spiritual substance of its members” (Koluai 30).

Changes in the Service at the SAJ A pril  23, 1942 (Proposed changes to SAJ services adopted)—­Last Tuesday night the SAJ Board of Trustees met at Thomson’s home [at] 180 E. 79th Street to continue the discussions of the changes to the service proposed by Ira [Eisenstein] and me. The meeting, which was the third devoted to that subject, was very well attended. The fact that Rosenblatt had conceded that we may eliminate the Musaf [additional service] helped matters. I in turn compromised on having the entire Sidrah [portion of the week from the Torah] only part read in the Sabbath morning’s service. Ira and I presented the following plan: The service should begin at 10:30. Shaharit [first part of morning service] is to last to 11:00. Reading of the Torah including comments to 11:50; sermon to 12:15; the special occasion service at 12:30. The musical renditions to be in charge of a professional choirmaster aided by a small choir. Emphasis is to be placed on having the service begin with a full attendance and its being rendered as intelligible and significant as possible. To get the consent of the Board to so radical a change was one easy task, especially after their having become used to the present type of service which they have come to regard as meeting all possible requirements of both tradition and modernism. The three meetings spent in discussing the proposed changes were much like those carried on during the first year or two of the SAJ’s existence and should prove to be, I believe, quite educational in character.


January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942

Social Discussion with Shalom Spiegel62 and Israel Efros63 on the Chosen People A pril  23, 1942 Last night Lena and I entertained, something we very seldom do. The guests were Prof. and Mrs. Shalom Spiegel and Dr. and Mrs. Israel Efros. Judith and Ira helped us entertain. After dinner, Spiegel started the conversation by stating his objection to my eliminating the doctrine of the Jews as the Chosen People from Jewish theology and ritual. The discussion lasted to 12:00 midnight. I found the discussion very fruitful and stimulating, and it helped to convince me more than ever that our career as a people validated the idea of Chosen People as formulated by Amos.64 That idea (he said in answer to the quotation from Deuteronomy I mentioned as reflecting an objectionable aspect of its doctrine) is not to be confused with the imperialistic conception developed by the Deuteronomic writers during the reign of Josiah. I countered by pointing out that the main significance of the doctrine is the one given it during the last 20 centuries and that it is intended to stress the exclusive eligibility of the Jewish people to salvation. His other arguments were that we must retain those classic practices and formularies which have come to function as symbols of Jewish historic continuity and contemporary unity. If the early interpretation becomes unacceptable, a more acceptable interpretation should be given to it. Efros agreed with him and supplemented his arguments with additional ones of his own. In effect they amounted to the contention that the function of Jewish prayer is not to voice any personal thanksgiving or aspirations but to fuse one into a mystic unity with the K’lal Yisrael [whole of the Jewish people] past and present. On the other hand, it is of the Bible that we should expect relevance to our own needs. Hence it would be more logical to omit all those portions from the Torah which are opposed to reason. According to him, rationality is the last thing we should consider in worship. Worship should be based in mysticism and art. The most telling point, I believe, I made in the discussion was this: Their approach was based on the assumption that the only way in which the Jews can

62. Shalom Spiegel (1899–­1984), PhD, was a scholar of Hebrew literature and faculty member at JTS who lectured at the SAJ. He was much admired by Kaplan and by students at JTS and spoke a very elegant Hebrew. 63. Israel Efros (1905–­1995) was a poet and philosopher who was the coauthor of a definitive Hebrew-­English dictionary. 64. Kaplan is referring here to the famous verses in Amos 3:1–­2: “Here this word, O people of Israel, That the Lord has spoken concerning you, Concerning the whole family that I brought up from the land of Egypt: You alone have I singled out of all the families of the earth—­That is why I will call you to account for all your iniquities.”

January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942


Judith Kaplan Eisenstein and Ira Eisenstein. (Courtesy Ira Eisenstein) continue to function is by having a uniform ritual and way of life. That is the very assumption which is refuted by the actual conditions under which Judaism must find a way of surviving. Reconstructionism attempts to find a way of maintaining Jewish unity despite a considerable diversity in belief and practice. It does not ask those who find the traditional formularies satisfying that they should adopt others in their place. But it does maintain that those who are discontented with the traditional formularies should be permitted to adopt such as appeal to them. Ira made a good point when he dwelt on the difference in background between that of people who have been brought up in the traditional environment and that of most people who lack such background. The latter refuse to go through all the mental gymnastics of reinterpretation. They usually take the position that if there is anything you want to express, why not express it instead of using words that express on the face of it something different.

The Importance of Seeing Things Whole F riday , A pril  24, 1942 The remarkable fact about the human mind is its power of analysis of breaking up wholes into their constituent elements, phases, etc. But that same


January 4, 1942–­April 24, 1942

Mordecai Kaplan and Lena Rubin Kaplan, mid-­1940s. (Courtesy Hadassah Kaplan Musher) fact has proved to be its nemesis. Most of the controllable ills of human life stem from the inability of the human mind to reintegrate what it has once broken up. From then on it cannot hold more than some of the fragments—­but what is more, it thinks itself into believing that they are the whole. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again. An outstanding illustration of this tendency is what has happened with the three concepts, God, humanity, and individuality (or personality). In differentiating them out of the life context of human beings, man has been able to enlarge the range and depth of his experience. But unfortunately he has seldom been able to reintegrate them and to restore life to its inherent wholeness. Either it was God who eclipsed the two other values, or it was humanity, or individuality. History has been a tragic and sterile dialectic of the three final values with which man has analyzed or broken up the unity of his life. It will continue to be such a dialectic unless it moves into the more hopeful and creative dialectic of integration, analysis, and reintegration.

2 April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942

The Self or Personality in Action A pril  30, 1942 The will to salvation is the “reflexive” self, the higher self or personality in action. The fact that salvation is in a sense never achieved but is a flying goal in no way detracts from its significance as the differentiation of the human nor from the reality of the self of which it is the distinctive trait. “The continued craving for that which is not, that restless anxiety and pain, which lies at the core of our being,” says Hocking1 (Thoughts on Death and Life, 96)2—­“that deep-­buried burning concern which the pessimist misinterprets as the defeat of our happiness—­that is in reality the soul’s loyalty to its own goal, its underlying faithfulness to its destiny.” The kind of life which can be regarded as worthwhile, as having meaning, or as constituting salvation is one in which the following polarities exist: “stability with change, reachableness with eternal elusiveness; immediacy with thought-­filled purpose; the care-­free enjoyment of the child at play with the anxious concern of the groping self in the service of an undeciphered destiny” (Hocking, ibid., 141). These polarities are in need of being realized in all the three dimensions of human life.

1. William E. Hocking (1873–­1966) was a Christian philosopher at Harvard. Kaplan was much influenced by his theological works. For more on Kaplan’s reading of Christian thinkers, see my essay in festschrift for Professor Robert Seltzer entitled “Kaplan and Personality,” in Reappraisals and New Studies of the Modern Jewish Experience: Essays in Honor of Robert M. Seltzer, ed. Brian M. Smollett and Christian Wiese (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 162–­80. Kaplan discovered Hocking when he (Kaplan) was still a young man and read him throughout his life. Kaplan read Christian thinkers with his rabbinical students at JTS. 2. William E. Hocking, Thoughts on Death and Life (New York: Macmillan, 1937)



April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942

100th Birthday of Alexander Kohut3 M ay  1, 1942 Wednesday night the members of the Seminary and JIR [Jewish Institute of Religion] Faculties and of the Academy of Jewish Research and a few outsiders observed the 100th anniversary of the late Alexander Kohut. A dinner was served in the dining hall of the Seminary and was followed by two addresses, one by Stephen B. Wise4 and the other by Ismar Elbogen. For once I found an affair held at the Seminary was genuinely delightful. Both Wise and Elbogen spoke most interestingly. (Alexander Kohut—­his inability to cope with problem of Judaism) Both speakers referred to the fact that when Kohut came to this country, he was expected to stem the rising tide of irreligion and radical reform among the Jews, and both of them characterized him as having been completely incapable of dealing with the philosophical and theological issues of the controversy. Wise ascribed this inability to Kohut’s absorption in his Arukh,5 Elbogen6 ascribed it to his training at the Jewish Theological Seminary at Breslau,7 where Frankel8 saw to it that no one but himself should attempt to give any theology for our day and thus interfere with his own version, which he called historical Judaism. Elbogen mentioned his having dared to speak up to Israel Levi, asking that the students be given a philosophy or theology of Judaism that was relevant to the problems of modern days. In reply he was advised by Israel Levi to read Maimonides’s Guide for the Perplexed.

A Philosophy of History S unday , M ay  3, 1942 All human history is the history of salvation. It is the account of how man struggles with the problem of making the most out of his life. For that reason

3. Alexander Kohut (1842–­1894) was a Hungarian-­born American rabbi and scholar who worked on a monumental Talmudic lexicon and helped found the Jewish Theological Seminary. 4. Stephen Wise (1872–­1949) was an outstanding liberal rabbi, Zionist, and founder of the Free Synagogue and the Jewish Institute of Religion. He admired Kaplan and hoped he would be associated with the JIR. 5. Arukh Hashalem, Kohut’s Talmudic lexicon. 6. Ismar Elbogen (1874–­1943) was a German Jewish rabbi, author, and historian who taught at JIR and JTS. He is most well known for his writings on Jewish liturgy. 7. The Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau, founded in 1854, trained rabbis and teachers and was dedicated to the philosophy of “positive historical Judaism,” a forerunner of the Conservative Movement in America. 8. Zacharias Frankel (1801–­1875) was a German rabbi and author who directed the Jewish Theological Seminary at Breslau. He was a primary figure in positive historical Judaism.

April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942


it is essentially three dimensional. (1) It is a story of men’s struggle for what will satisfy their basic needs; (2) it is the story of the various cultural efforts whereby men sought to maintain a proper balance among their conflicting needs and interests; (3) it is the story of the efforts to give reality to the purposes which alone give meaning and worth to human life, the values of personality,9 society, and God. Traditional religion has read history mainly in terms of the third dimension. Nineteenth-­century philosophers led by Hegel have sought to interpret it in terms of the second dimension. Marx tried to interpret history in terms of the first dimension. The mistake of pantheism, monism, and humanism is that they identify the third with the second and first dimensions. The third dimension is present in all human experience, rarely as realization, and generally as the ingredient of inner conflict, tension, strain, and ferment. The traditional way of stating this fact is to refer to the devastation of war and social conflict as divine punishment. Hocking raises an important question with regard to personality. Is personality to be identified with doing or with being? “Do we exist in order to act? Or do we act in order to exist? Our deepest instinct would suggest that what a man has not yet attained may be vastly more important than what he has performed; and that what he is is more important than either. His true achievement is the degree of reality embodied as his character” (Thoughts on Death and Life, 214). It seems to me that the distinction between doing and being as Hocking conceives it is an artificial one. Hocking himself seems to realize [this]. “In point of fact,” he goes on to say, “is there anything which more positively acts than what a man is? The reflective self makes felt its continuous, inevitable unuttered comment on the insufficiencies of the self of achievement . . . It is the ‘being’ which attends and sustains all ‘doing’ that assigns to it whatever depth of meaning it may have” (ibid.). That there is a distinction between “being” and “doing” is undoubtedly true. But it is a distinction of dimension. “Doing” is in the dimension of motion, while “being” is in the dimension of essence. The meaning which “being” gives to “doing” belongs to a third dimension. “Why should one who can no longer do insist on being?” asks Hocking. “We care for being more than for achievement. Because being is an enduring potentiality; and this can only signify potentiality for further life.” This is his main argument for personal immortality. The weakness of the argument is best revealed when we realize that doing and being not only belong to different dimensions but that as dimensions they are inconceivable without each other.

9. When Kaplan uses the word personality, he means the whole self.


April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942

A Contemporary Torah M ay  6, 1942 It should be the purpose of the Torah to formulate a number of modes of behavior that would lead at least to the kind of relationship among Jews that is suffered to exist among the members of a fraternal order like the Masons. The new Torah should not be esoteric but on the contrary should be published far and wide. It should contain rules and principles pertaining to the Jews’ relations to non-­Jews and even to anti-­Semites, which would comply with the highest standards of justice and human decency. Part of the regimen should be the requirement to pledge oneself to study it frequently and the pledge to live up to its precepts and teachings. This modern Torah might follow the pattern of the four-­point Reconstructionist program. It would be divided into four parts, viz.: (1) Jewish consciousness—­(a) cultural heritage of history, language and literature, and nature, (b) home and center, (c) art; (2) Jewish unity—­(a) Palestine, (b) fellowship, (c) community; (3) Jewish ethics in all human relationships; (4) Jewish piety, the conception of God, and its translation into prayer and cult.

Is Judaism a Lost Cause? A Pessimistic Moment T hursday , M ay  7, 1942 Despite all the details into which I would have any plan for the future of American Judaism worked out, my objective judgment keeps on reminding me that there can be no future to American Judaism. All the social and economic forces are against it. No cultural or spiritual forces by themselves can possibly keep American Judaism alive. So why do I keep on fighting and trying to bolster the courage of the small group of people with whom I am in contact to remain loyal to what seems to be a hopelessly lost cause? Perhaps I am doing the wrong thing. Who knows? (Is American Judaism a lost cause?) For a moment I tried to compare the situation of us few faithfuls to the heroic stand made by the defenders of Corregidor under Lt. Gen. Jonathan N. Wainwright. For 27 days, since the fall of Bataan, they fought against overwhelming odds despite the certainty of ultimate surrender. Apparently those men were giving their lives to no good purpose. Yet they regarded it as a matter of honor to resist to the last. Why should we who are fighting for the survival of Judaism act less honorably and complain because we see nothing but defeat ahead? The case, however, is far more desperate than that of those who fought off the Japanese at Corregidor. Though they were sure they would be defeated, they were equally sure that every added hour and day that they held on in the face of “isolation, lack of

April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942


food and ammunition,”10 they were storing up courage and determination in the hearts of the rest of the American people to retrieve their losses and to come out victorious in the end. But where is there a Jewish people to take heart from the persistence and heartbreaking effort on the part of our few faithfuls to save the cause of Judaism from utter defeat? We American Jews are fighting not only a losing battle but a losing war, and by refusing to share my doubts with those whom I am goading on to work for a Jewish future, I seem to be only laying up more frustration and spiritual misery for our people. “We are born into this time. There is no other way. Our duty is to hold on to the lost portion, without hope, without rescue, like that Roman soldier whose bones were found in front of a door in Pompeii who during the eruption of Vesuvius died at his post because they forgot to relieve him. That is greatness. The honorable end is the one thing that can not be taken from a man.” [O. Spengler, Man and Technics, 100–­104.]11

Reconstructionism Too Cerebral? Kaplan’s Answer M ay  7, 1942 I had hoped that A.E.M. [?] might develop into a staunch Reconstructionist. I had him write up the discussions on the Ritual Changes last June, as a basis of the articles which appeared over his name in our magazine. He is a clean-­cut, honest chap. But I also thought he could think straight. I have since learned otherwise. I got from him an article which he wants us to publish in the Reconstructionist. In that article he discusses the crisis in Judaism. Speaking of Reconstructionism, he says the following: “In spite of all this (a realistic conception of the nature of Judaism and a logical program for the Jewish future) it has thus far failed completely as all of the other Jewish philosophies to create anything like a real revival among the masses of the American Jews. The weakness of Reconstructionism lies in the fact that its analysis is coldly rational, its critique objective, its conception of Judaism cerebral, and its program neatly academic. R[econstructionism] is a philosophy of Judaism which leaves untouched and removed the Jewish heart and the Jewish will to live.” This kind of criticism coming from one of our own group completely unnerved me. The charge against R[econstruction] that it does not “move the Jewish heart” indicates that the man doesn’t begin to understand what

10. Bill Sloan, “Corregidor: The Last Battle in the Fall of the Philippines,” World War II, April 23, 2012. 11. Oswald Spengler, Man and Technology: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1932).


April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942

R[econstruction] is. When you see that the fire in the hearth is going out, and you point out that it is due to the lack of fuel and that it is necessary to lay up new fuel, and then someone comes along and tells you you are doing nothing to add any heat in the room and that all you talk about is the need of coal, you would realize you are dealing with an idiot. But when you hear similar arguments advanced in reference to R[econstruction], you have to control yourself and act the gentleman because some of my best-­intentioned friends keep on repeating these stereotypes about R[econstruction]’s failure to appeal to the emotions.

Milton Steinberg to Lecture at Jewish Theological Seminary on Theology M ay  21, 1942 I just heard from Milton Steinberg. He called me up to ask my consent to his accepting the invitation extended to him by [Louis] Finkelstein to be one of three lecturers in a symposium on Jewish theology to be given to the students of the Seminary next year. I told him that I was happy to learn that such a symposium would be given and that he was to take part in it. But what I was troubled about was the fact that the Seminary chose to ignore the necessity under which I find myself of teaching theology as part of my course in homiletics. The students naturally sensed that fact. The result is that they are afraid to accept what I am giving them for fear that there must be something wrong with it, since it is not recognized by the Seminary. I therefore asked Milton that, in accepting the invitation, he point out that for the sake of having the students obtaining the most good out of the symposium, the lecturers should confer with me and all of us at the individual courses to prevent overlapping and to avoid giving the impression of conflict where there really is none.

Self-­Examination—­Kaplan Asks Himself, “Am I a Hypocrite?” F riday , M ay  22, 1942 Before I proceed to record the experience of this morning, I feel I must make note that something in me still resists against my writing tonight, which is both Sabbath and festival. That resistance derives from two considerations. One is that by permitting myself to break the traditional prohibition of writing on the Sabbath, I am breaking down a Jewish way of life and thereby emptying the concept [of] Jewish living of any meaning. By the same token that I write on the Sabbath, Lena lights the gas stove and prepares tea or coffee. To be sure, we do not have the regular weekday cooking. But is that enough of a distinction? The second consideration is that I am doing that which I would by no means announce from the housetops. Now the question is this. Am I acting

April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942


hypocritically or am I availing myself of the legal distinction between harmony be’ tzina u’befarhesya [Heb., privately and publicly], a distinction which Jewish ritual law recognizes as legitimate?12 This morning at the SAJ [Society for the Advancement of Judaism] services, we had for the first time confirmation exercises. About two and a half years ago, when I saw that our Shabbat services were thinning out due mainly to the fact that most of our people attended confirmation exercises of their friends’ children at the various temples and that our own young people were getting away ever further from Jewish life, I proposed to the Board that they should introduce confirmation exercises. Ira organized a group which he taught himself without following a conventional curriculum. This morning there were 16 confirmants, 13 girls and 3 boys. The two-­year course given twice a week no doubt did much to deepen their attachment to Judaism. The forthrightness of Ira’s presentation of Judaism places his confirmation group in a class entirely apart from the general run of confirmation courses, which are seldom more than mechanical courses in Jewish history and a few chapters in the Bible. No attempt is made to grapple with the actual facts that militate against Jewish survival. Ira, however, emphasized just such problems. I could hardly believe my ears when he told me that the three talks given by three of the confirmants were written by themselves, so rich in ideas were those talks. The most remarkable part of the exercise consisted of a “Ballad on the Torah,” with the words by Ira and the music by Judith.13 When the youngsters gave it, with Judith at the piano conducting them, I could not restrain my tears. The same was true of most of the people in the audience. It was a most stirring resume of what the Torah has meant in the life of our people for the last 3,000 years. I do not know what in that resume made such a profound impression on those who were at the services. In my case, it touched off the stored-­up sorrow over the tragedy of a people’s great potentialities gone to waste, the tragedy of a people’s failure to convert its unparalleled sufferings into a reservoir of spiritual values. The Ballad was so striking and beautiful that I was very much concerned that what I would say to the confirmants should not be an anticlimax. Fortunately, I hit upon a compelling idea which I enjoyed expressing. This eliminated all possibility of self-­consciousness while I was speaking. The idea was the following:

12. For more on Kaplan and writing on the Sabbath, see Communings of the Spirit: The Journals of Mordecai M. Kaplan, ed. Mel Scult (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2001), vol. 2, April 18, 1936. 13. Judith Kaplan Eisenstein (1909–­1996), PhD, was the eldest of Kaplan’s four daughters. She was an author, expert on Jewish music, and Kaplan’s favorite philosophical companion. A list of Judith Eisenstein’s publications may be found at the website of the Jewish Women’s Archive (www​.jwa​.org).


April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942

S aturday N ight , M ay  23, 1942 Shavuot14 is a festival of firstfruits in a literal and figurative sense. The Mishnah (Bikkurim)15 describes the way in which the owner of an orchard would visit it and note a cluster of grapes, figs, or pomegranates beginning to ripen ahead of the rest of the fruit in the orchard. He would then take a reed-­grass and tie it around the ripening fruit and say, “Lo, these are first fruits.” This world is God’s orchard. Beholding Israel as the first people to show signs of ripening morally and spiritually sooner than the rest, God gave it the Torah, which has served as a token of such ripening. The distinctive trait of the human being is his capability to grow and to keep on maturing. That involves growth in knowledge (intellectually), in sympathy (emotionally), and in self-­control (volitionally). Training and education have generally meant only the first, the assumption being that the growth in the other two would result from the growth in knowledge or that it would somehow take place of its own accord. The result is that most people are emotionally and volitionally immature. This fact shows itself on a collective level [?] when whole nations which may have made tremendous progress in culture have remained immature emotionally by lacking the power of sympathy with the life of other peoples and the power of self-­government. For the lack of these powers, they are a menace to civilization, since civilization is essentially the organization of human life with a view to all-­around growth of every human being. It is natural for Germany to have singled out for destruction the Jewish people which were the first to evince signs of maturity in that it declared the ideal of peace and international justice and keeping of the faith (self-­control) the criterion of the worth of human life. For a long time I held out against confirmation exercises because they are a definite borrowing from Christianity. On the other hand, what we know of the origins of most of our religious rites should have taught me not to take that attitude. I was merely repeating the futile efforts of the prophets who tried to prevent their people from transferring the Baal rites to Yahweh. In the end the priests, who instead of resisting the introduction of those rites Judaized them, seemed to have acted more wisely, i.e., more in keeping with the laws of human nature. The objection to confirmation should therefore be on the ground that nothing of a significantly Jewish character is added to them by taking them over.

14. The Feast of Weeks occurs some seven weeks after Passover and celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai as well as the first fruits of the harvest. 15. The tractate Bikkurim is within the order of Zera’im (Seeds) that deals with agricultural matters.

April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942


But if we can enrich it with Jewish content, we should not resist the tendency of one people to adopt it. Besides the religious aspect to the confirmation, there is the social aspect. If we want to develop Jewish life in a non-­Jewish environment, we should take advantage of every possible opportunity to give social character to Jewish events and celebrations. From that standpoint, the great social ado in connection with confirmation is important. But here again we are faced with the danger of having that social ado completely devoid of any Jewish value. Confirmation has become in many instances merely a competition in display, gifts, and cocktail parties. The problem is how to develop standards of decency and propriety in the social aspect of confirmation.

Kaplan’s Birthday—­a Year Late M onday , M ay  25, 1942 Last night I was given a great dinner in honor of my sixtieth birthday anniversary at the Commodore Hotel. How did it come about that my 60th birthday should be celebrated now when only a few weeks more and I shall be 61? The answer is that I allowed myself to be exploited by the Reconstructionist Foundation, which seemed to be at a loss [as to] how to raise funds. . . . Withal that the dinner was a gala affair. About 900 people are said to have been present. Milton Steinberg was toastmaster. . . . [Thursday, May 28, 1942] I confess to having remained inwardly most thrilled by the Testimonial dinner. The knowledge of the bitter truth about Jewish life, that there are at present hardly any signs which give the least assurance of a future to Judaism in America, has been gnawing at my heart all the while I was being showered with laudations.

Early Contact with Joshua Loth Liebman16 M ay  28, 1942 Another straw in the wind is a pamphlet I received this afternoon subtitled “A New Approach to the Education of American Jewish Children” by Joshua Liebman. It is the first forthright statement about the educational situation and needs of American Jewish life that I am aware of and is at the same time constructive in character. As a matter of fact, it is more truly reconstructionist than anything our own group has put out. I only hope they will not stop at this point

16. Joshua Loth Liebman (1907–­1954), ordained at HUC, was an American rabbi and best-­ selling author most remembered for his book Peace of Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1946), which reached the top of the best-­seller list of the New York Times and held that position for a year. He mentions Kaplan in the body of the text.


April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942

but proceed to implement the plan described in the pamphlet. I was so thrilled at the prospect it opens to me of a better future for American Judaism that I immediately acknowledged the receipt of the pamphlet and expressed my deep satisfaction with its contents.

An Experiment in Studying Talmud F riday , M ay  29, 1942 In contrast with the Reconstructionist approach to Jewish education is the Conservative approach, one illustrated by the effort to interest adults in the study of the Talmud in English. Frank Bennet, a member of the graduating class of the Seminary this year and the ranking student of his class, conducted a course in Talmud in English in Isaac Landman’s School for Adult Jewish Study.17 I told him in the beginning of the year that I would be very much interested to know about his procedures and experience with his Talmud class. Recently he handed in to me a report of his work. The following is an excerpt of his report: The group consisted of nine students (originally there were 11), belonging to the various Reform congregations in the neighborhood. They were of high intelligence, mature age (average was 35) and very serious about the course. They had no knowledge of Hebrew and only a slight acquaintance with Jewish customs and ceremonies and the traditional Jewish concepts and patterns of thought. Most of them had received a fine secular education and had assimilated completely the American point of view. (I emphasize this because their background rendered the Talmud even more foreign to them than it would be to most members in Conservative congregations.) The group met every Monday night for two hours. During the course of the year 20 sessions were held. The first four sessions (8 hours) consisted of lectures which dealt with the origin and development of the Oral Law, the Mishna, the Talmud, what needs the Talmud fills, its contents (with examples which showed their great variety in substance, spirit and levels of ethical sensitivity), a sketchy outline of the Rabbinic universe of discourse, what the Talmud meant to the Jew of the Middle Ages, and finally what it might mean to the Jew of today.

17. Isaac Landman (1880–­ 1946) was a Reform rabbi who served Congregation Beth Elohim—­Garfield Temple in Brooklyn, New York. The congregation, founded in 1861, is now the largest Reform congregation in Brooklyn, with some one thousand families.

April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942


After these introductory lectures the study of English text began. The greater part of the year was devoted to the study of Aggadic18 material in order to give the students a chance to become adjusted to the Talmudic style. I tried however to correct the impression that Aggadah was of more importance than or even equal to Halakhah (and to point out that [a] major part of the Talmud is legal in nature rather than Haggadic). The following material was covered: Taanit (all students possessed copies of Malter’s edition) Ch. III pp. 133–­197; Ch. IV [pp.] 198–­203, 220–­240.19 Baba Batra 14b ff.20 Abodah Zaroh 2a ff. Baba Kama 83b (Ch. VIII) ff. The material from Baba Batra &c was mimeographed (from [the] Soncino translation) and distributed in advance. Each pupil was required to prepare in advance the subject matter to be studied at the next session and was called upon to read one or more paragraphs and to explain content, background, etc. At first the students were unable to do much on their own with the material. I had to give a running commentary to the text and supply them with the meaning of the passage, its historical setting, the personalities involved, its connection with the preceding, etc. As they became more accustomed to the Talmudic style (even in its English translation the Talmudic style is very obscure), they were able to handle the text with greater ease. This was particularly true of the Aggadah. Much greater difficulty, however, was experienced with the Halakhah.21 These difficulties which the group experienced stemmed from a number of causes, the most important of which are: (a) The lack of coherence in the arrangement of the Talmudic text, i.e., the fact that the Talmud invariably digresses and comments on many irrelevant matters before returning to the subject under discussion. This wandering from topic to topic by a process of free association was extremely strange to a group that had been trained in the close logical sequence of Western thought, and it required some time before it was assimilated by them. (b) The strangeness of many hermeneutic principles. The most difficult to comprehend was gezerah shavah (Heb., argument by

18. This is the nonlegal homiletic and philosophic part of the Talmud and Midrash. 19. Henry Malter, The Treatise Ta’anit of the Babylonian Talmud: Critically Edited on the Basis of Manuscripts and Old Editions and Provided with a Translation and Notes (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1928). 20. Those wishing specific information on these Talmudic treatises may search on the internet. 21. Halakhah, or Jewish law. The Talmud deals primarily with laws and the Midrash with Aggadah.


April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942

analogy)22 both because of its inherent illogicality23 as well as because it loses its meanings in translation (since the identity of words often disappears). The latter difficulty is present not only in [the] case of the gezerah shavah but also in the case of many of the inferences that are drawn from the peculiar wording of the biblical text. (c) The strangeness of the Rabbinic universe of discourse. This made it difficult for the group to understand the implications and overtones of many rabbinic remarks. (d) The obsolete conditions reflected in much of the legal material (e.g., an ox that gores a man) made it hard for many of the students to understand why it should be the subject of such careful study and consideration. Despite all the foregoing difficulties, Bennet finds the course to have been worthwhile in that it did the following for the students: (1) It gave them a true picture of the different levels of the Talmud; (2) it taught them to appreciate the intellectual acumen of the Rabbis; (3) it gave them a fuller picture of the rabbinic outlook—­e.g., the attitude to other nations and conceptions of [the] Day of Judgment (Avodah Zarah);24 (4) most important of all, they were given an insight into the machinery by which Judaism adjusted itself to the challenges of each new age. He qualifies these results by adding, “The Talmud, especially its Halakhah, remains as difficult as ever to them. Not one of the group could read a page (in English) of Baba Kama and grasp its full meaning.” The reason I quoted quite at length from Bennet’s report is that it is the first of its kind. There has never been any readable translation of the Talmud, and no such experiment as described in the report could even have been tried. Now that it was tried, what can we learn from it? I for one can learn only the very thing that I had known all along—­namely, that it is absolutely futile to expect that the Talmud, no matter how well translated, arranged, and interpreted, can ever become again a formative influence of the general Jewish consciousness. From the standpoint of this purpose, every statement I quote above from Bennet’s report is highly significant.

22. The gezerah shavah (Similar laws, similar verdicts) is the second rule of Hillel and Rabbi Ishmael and the seventh of Eliezer ben Jose HaGelili. This may be described as argument by analogy, which infers from the similarity of two cases that the legal decision given for the one holds good for the other also. 23. The illogicality of gezerah shavah refers to the fact that the supposed similarity of two laws may be based on the presence in biblical verses of completely incidental terms. 24. Avodah Zarah is a tractate of the Talmud. The words mean “strange worship,” which refers to idolatry. The content of this book deals mostly with property issues of Jews who live among gentiles and “idolaters.”

April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942


The problem of salvation should be viewed as a problem not of how to make the most out of our lives but of how to make the best of life, insofar as we happen to play a part in it. The good actor in a play is not the one who is concerned merely in doing his part of the play as well as possible. Such an actor usually destroys the organic unity of the play. The good actor is he who asks himself how he can best cooperate with the other players in giving the play a unitary effect. The same is true of the musician in an orchestra.

Kaplan Reads Scholem’s Major Trends . . .25 S aturday , J une  6, 1942 When I saw Solomon Schocken26 at the Testimonial Dinner, he told me he had a copy of Gershom Scholem’s book on Jewish mysticism. I have been very anxious to read it. I therefore borrowed it yesterday from Schocken and am finding it extremely worthwhile. Having given considerable thought to the problem of mysticism in general and Jewish mysticism in particular, I find Scholem saying things with which I am for the most part in accord but which I have to restate in my own way to be fully satisfied with. What he says in pp. 7–­9 I would restate in my own way as follows: (When I got through I found I went way beyond the point made in that passage.) A religion—­i.e., the God-­conscious aspect of any group life or culture— ­begins with the apprehension of the God or gods as direct participants in the life of the group. This is the mythical stage of religion. In time, the God or gods become remote figures and memories. The awareness of them continues not as [an] immediate experience but through the medium of institutions. This is the institutional stage of religion. These institutions are none other than the traditional practices, laws, mores, beliefs, &c. which are related to the gods either as their commands or as means of worshipping them with due propriety. In itself this stage of religion is far from being creative. It lies for the most part on the momentum of the past. It is generally described as the classic age of religion by most historians for no other reason than that they associate institutionalism with classicism. It is considered classic because it is considered authoritative. But man cannot live only on memories. He needs immediate experience. Alongside, therefore, the institutionalized religion there functions the need for present awareness of religion to and interaction with superindividual reality.

25. Gershom Scholem (1897–­1982) was a scholar of Jewish mysticism and a professor at the Hebrew University who was preeminent among Jewish scholars. The work referred to here is Scholem’s Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York: Schocken, 1941). 26. Solomon Schocken (1877–­1959) was a businessman, publisher, philanthropist, patron of S. Y. Agnon, and Zionist. See the absorbing biography by Anthony David, The Patron: A Life of Salman Schocken, 1877–­1959 (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2003).


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The original mythical impulse which conceived of gods continues to operate. In the average untutored mind, it finds expression in all manner of superstitions and theurgy.27 In the trained mind which insists on retraining belief in the personal aspect of superindividual reality, it gives rise to mysticism and theosophy. Mysticism or theosophy, insofar as it is historically a survival within a group religion, is not regarded by the group religion, when it takes an institutionalized form, with suspicion. The same applies to the group superstition or theurgy. On the other hand, both types of survival contribute to this ironic attitude by availing themselves of the institutions of the group as a means of satisfying the need for reckoning with superindividual reality in personal or semipersonal fashion. One of the numerous illustrations of this principle is the mitzvah of putting a “mezuzah” on the doorpost. In the institutionalized religion, it represents a literal fulfillment of the words “And thou shalt write them on the doorposts of thy house” [Deut. 6:9]. But in the actual practice of that mitzvah, it has been associated throughout the “classic” age of Jewish religion with the keeping out of evil spirits from the house. This association which makes the practice a form of theurgy is a hangover from the mystical stage of the Jewish religion. In Jewish mysticism, the mezuzah figures as a subject for theosophic speculation on the basis of the divine names contained in the sections inscribed in the scroll and the additional mystic terms inscribed on the back of that scroll. Thus both theurgy and theosophy give to the “mezuzah” a highly emotional and practical significance which it could never possess merely by virtue of its being a recognized institution.

Ein Sof 28—­Kaplan on the Infinite J une  6, 1942 Beginning with 13th-­century Arabic Spain, where modern science first made its appearance, the conception of reality which dominated the most active intellects was a new dualism come to the fore, the dualism of the impersonal as the ultimate reality and the personal as the manifestation of the ultimate reality to man. The emphasis upon the impersonal is basic in the scientific approach to reality. Jewish mysticism was merely trying to introduce into Jewish life the new

27. Theurgy is an older word for magic. 28. Ein Sof is the term in the Kabbalah for God viewed under the aspect of the infinite. In this selection, it is obvious that Kaplan was quite interested in the possibility of a nonpersonal aspect of God in the Kabbalah, since this would parallel his own belief in process as ultimate. Thus Kaplan feels there is precedent for his dismissal of God as person. Kaplan is quoting from Scholem here, and his additions to the Scholem text are in square brackets, which I have supplied. Kaplan mistakenly notes in the original that the page he is quoting from Scholem is page 10, but it is really page 12 of Major Trends.

April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942


intuition of a controllable environment, as Christian and Arabic mysticism tried to do the same for their respective peoples. It is in this setting that the following statement by Scholem (Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism) takes on new meaning: “The favorite formulae of the early Spanish Kabbalists are speculative paraphrases like ‘Root of all Roots,’ ‘Great Reality,’ ‘Indifferent Unity,’ and above all Ein Sof [are to be found in particular in the writings of these thirteenth-­century Kabbalists in Spain who show an outspoken tendency toward Neoplatonism]. The latter designation reveals the impersonal character of this aspect of the hidden God from the standpoint of Man, as clearly as, and perhaps even more clearly than, the others. It signifies ‘the infinite’ as such; not, as has been frequently suggested, ‘He who is infinite’ but ‘that which is infinite.’ Isaac the Blind (one of the first Kabbalists of distinguished personality) calls the deus absconditus ‘that which is not conceivable by thinking,’ not ‘He who is not etc.’ [Which sounds like a paraphrase of a Neoplatonic. . . .29 It is to be found in place of the term Ein Sof in Isaac’s commentary on the Book of Creation and in the writings of his disciples.] It is clear that with this postulate of an impersonal basic reality in God, which becomes a person—­or appears as a person—­only in the process of Creation and Revelation, Kabbalism abandons the personalistic basis of the Biblical conception of God.”

The Material and the Spiritual J une  6, 1942 For their own individual and collective good, Jews should cultivate deliberately the habit of mind which will put an end once and for all to the spurious dichotomy between spiritual and material, between sacred and secular. They must realize more than anyone else—­because their status and security depend first on their own understanding of what they are—­that the spiritual or the sacred without the material or the secular is empty of context and devoid of reference and that the material and secular without the sacred or spiritual is blind and aimless. Jews must therefore give truth and clarity to the concept of religion, which has become a most confusing and misleading one as a result of the struggles between church and state during the last thousand years. They must not make the mistake of treating their efforts in behalf of Palestine or their struggles to achieve civic rights and to combat anti-­Semitism as purely secular in character and outside the province of their religion. Of course, if those efforts are pursued with the aim of having the Jewish people become absorbed by the rest of the world and disappear as a people, there can be no Jewish religious significance to them. But if they are prompted by a desire to keep the Jewish

29. The Greek term in the original diary text is illegible.


April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942

people alive, they should be formally and emphatically stressed as an integral part of the Jewish religious life. Jewish religion would then be taken seriously by Jews and non-­Jews. It would then be fulfilling the fundamental principle of vital religion, the principle that it must be a quality of vital interests which are shared by the members of a society.

The Value of Mysticism F riday , J une  12, 1942 (The more I read about) Practical mysticism (the more I am convinced that it) is an attempt to identify God with the visible universe for the purpose not merely of achieving an orientation to it but a measure of control over those elements in it upon which man depends. While the scientists were forging ahead with their researches which gave promise of achieving the very purpose after which the mystics were straining, the latter kept on as frantically—­or, if you will, ecstatically—­revolving in a circle. Their method was the very reverse of that of the scientists. The scientists tried as far as possible to analyze or break the universe apart into as many elements as possible in order to discover how each element operates when it is free from all complications with other elements. The mystics pursued the very opposite method. They tried to achieve control over the particular elements of the universe which affected human life by dealing with the universe as a whole and dealing with it not only as a living but as a personal organism. There was of course as much chance of their gaining the desired control over their environment by that approach as that poets who rhapsodize about nature should succeed in warding off lightning. This approach is nothing more than the survival of the primitive or mystical stage in man’s thinking about the world and God. It will continue to be fostered so long as the scientific approach to reality will be fostered regardless of its relation to or effect upon human conduct in the individual and in the group. For so long as science is fostered in that impersonal fashion, man’s personal life is permitted to run riot. In despair man falls back upon his primitive ways of dealing with the universe. But such survival or revival of mythical religion is bound to end in disillusionment like all false messiahs. Nevertheless, it should not be treated with the contempt which the rationalists have meted out to it. For it does voice an urgent need of human life that neither institutional religion nor rationalist philosophies have even begun to understand.

April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942


A Talk on Pirkei Avot30 and Education J une  17, 1942 What I said in my talk31 was based largely on the sermon I had delivered at the SAJ services on the first Sabbath after Pesah [Passover]. That was supplemented by my remarks to the confirmants last Shabbat. The point of my address was that we Jews should contribute to struggling democracy the conception of education implied in Pirkei Avot. Pirkei Avot is not an ethical but an educational tractate. Its purpose is to develop the thesis that the way to achieve a share in the world to come is to study Torah. Transposed into the key of the modern universe of discourse, that thesis states that the way to help build a better world is to make the education of the whole man the main business of one’s life.

Ritual Observance and Social Responsibility J une  21, 1942 Authoritative Judaism is represented by the Torah and not by the Prophetic writings. In the Torah, ritual observance and social responsibility occupy a coordinate position. The reflective attitude in Jewish tradition as expressed in the Psalms and in later philosophic and mystic writings is a sort of compromise between the position of the Torah and that of the Prophets: social responsibility is the indispensable foundation, but ritual observance is the house we live in. Worship brings us into communion with God, but unless we live up properly to our social responsibilities, we are unqualified to commune with God. The foregoing account merely skims the surface of the issues involved. To know what was really at stake in the question of the relative importance of worship and social responsibility, we have to realize first the implications which ritual or worship had for the ancients and secondly the implications of the difference between being humanly and divinely ordained. For the ancients, worship was not just a spontaneous offering of the soul in thanksgiving or confession or petition to God in the same way as a child sometimes comes to his parent to open up his heart and to tell him all his troubles. Neither was ritual a kind of ceremony or etiquette to be observed in one’s relation to a Higher Being. To the ancients, ritual practices were a means of obtaining control over the invisible superhuman beings with which the universe was regarded as being peopled. Jewish religion brought all these practices into

30. Pirkei Avot [The Ethics of the Fathers] is an early rabbinic treatise with ethical and philosophical maxims. 31. Kaplan is referring to a speech he gave in Chicago.


April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942

a single system which related them to the God of Israel, the one and only true God. But even then the fundamental function of those practices, that of rendering the uncontrollable forces of nature in rapport with the needs of those who observed those practices, was retained. It was expected that the rains would come in due season, the cattle would multiply, and the enemy would be thwarted. The attention paid to the cult was expected to result in such added power as made for individual well-­being and success. The assumed correlation between observing religious rites and material prosperity was so deeply ingrained that no one, not even the Prophets, ever questioned it. Later, when too many exceptions to the correlation between observance and well-­being were noted to permit it to remain tenable, a new correlation was evolved: that between observance and spiritual reward in terms of bliss in the hereafter. The new correlation made it easier for the relation between cult and social responsibility to be formulated as stated above: the cult led directly to man’s unity with God, whereas the fulfillment of social responsibility was a sine qua non to the proper performance of the cult. It is against this kind of mental background that we must view the Prophetic protest against the then prevailing evaluation of the relative worth of ritual and social righteousness. They countered the material and popular inference that practices intended to bring man into proper relation with God for the purpose of meeting elemental needs must have been commanded by God. They had the genius to affirm that these very practices were humanly ordained, whereas those which had to do with enabling human beings to live in peace and cooperation with one another were the ones which emanated from God. But in stressing the difference between being humanly and being divinely ordained, they must have sensed some significant distinction which they felt rather than expressed. We ought to be able to articulate that distinction. In the first place, it is evident that they meant to imply that social righteousness was infinitely more important than ritual, however necessary ritual might be. But wherein did that greater importance consist? Let us remember that God represented for the ancients the Being who enabled them to make the most of their lives or to achieve the abundant life or salvation. In saying therefore that God did not command the practices of the cult but the practices of justice, mercy, and humility, the Prophets quite clearly tried to emphasize the fact that the meaning of life and its fulfillment lay not in the attainment of power which brought a person well-­being and success but in the extent to which his conduct contributed to the Kingdom of God or the establishment of a social order based on equity and goodwill. This understanding of the Prophetic religion and of the difference between religious practices being divinely ordained and being humanely ordained should make clear wherein Reconstructionism differs from Reform. Reform has caught the meaning of the Prophets’ designation of ritual practice as of human

April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942


origin. But it has failed to grasp the significance of the Prophets’ emphasis upon the divine origin of justice, mercy, and humility. If it did, it would not have asked the Jewish people to renounce its nationhood. For what else is Jewish nationhood meant to be if not an opportunity as a people to translate these principles of social responsibility into laws and institutions instead of merely having each Jew profess a sort of Platonic love for them? The opportunity to maintain Judaism as a civilization—­in Palestine as a primary one, in the diaspora as an ancillary one—­is the opportunity to put into effect what is truly God’s law. M onday , J une  22, 1942 It is only through such opportunity that Jews can contribute their share toward the achievement of that democracy which can save civilization from being overwhelmed by the onset of barbarism. For what else is democracy if not the translation into legal, political, and economic institutions of the three principles laid down by Micah? To do justice presupposes the recognition of equality and dignity. All men must be free from the fear of want, for without such freedom they are always subject to exploitation and can never enjoy the sense of being ends in themselves and achieve happiness or salvation. “To love mercy” implies that sympathy and insight into the life of others which results in a community of interests and aspirations. Without the spirit of mercy, no society however efficient and even just can be anything but a glorified concentration camp dominated by fear and brutality. And finally “to walk humbly with God” is that humility which comes from a genuine realization of man’s dependence upon the cooperation and goodwill of his fellows and upon the spiritual forces that make for the attainment of a worthwhile life. In the light of this truth, no individual or notion would dare to assert absolute sovereignty and self-­sufficiency.

The Relative Value of Social Responsibility and Ritual J une  22, 1942 We need ritual and worship as a means of spiritual self-­expression, but in fostering them, we should exercise spontaneity and creativity. There should be no definite binding laws to regulate the forms they are to take, since in the last analysis, they are man’s grasping attempts to articulate his yearning for communion with God. But it is otherwise with the principles of justice, mercy, and humility. They are themselves the operation of the divine within us. They call for clear formulation and effective elaboration into codes of conduct governing the manifold human relations in all their intricacies and contingencies. These principles should dominate the very matter and substance of human living and make it into a means of human self-­fulfillment. This prophetic revaluation of the importance of social responsibility as compared with that of religious ritual observance is what Judaism needs most if it is to have a new lease on life.


April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942

A Reconstructionist Conference S aturday N ight , J une  27, 1942 Yesterday afternoon the first session of the Summer Reconstructionist Conference took place at the Social Hall of the SAJ. It was attended by about 75 people . . . This afternoon the “Oneg Shabbat”32 was part of the Conference. We had the following four men describe in what way Reconstructionism helped them with their work in their respective communities, all of them rather small: (1) Rabbi Evan Green, a graduate of the JIR of Aurora, Illinois. He made the point after giving the facts and figures about his community that Reconstructionism meant for him using the experimental approach in dealing with a heterogeneous group of Jews. (2) Rabbi Joshua Trachtenberg of Easton, Pennsylvania,33 a graduate of HUC [Hebrew Union College], described his congregation as an old Reform group which had started out as an Orthodox cong. in 1839 and in the ’80s became radical Reform. With the influx of Eastern European Jews, Reconstructionism proved the bond of unity between the old group which was dying out and the new people who were coming in. He urged that Reconstructionism should take care not to identify itself as a phase of Conservative Judaism but as a Jewish movement and look to the Reform rabbinate for sympathizers and co-­workers. (3) Rabbi Max J. Routtenberg of Reading, Pennsylvania,34 a Seminary graduate, pointed out that though he had started out with the intention of functioning as a Kaplanite, he was diverted from his intention. But the developments in the community both from the standpoint of organization and education forced him to work along Reconstructionist lines. (4) Rabbi Judah Goldin,35 who works on the college campus of Michigan University as chaplain, Hillel director, described his approach to his work with the young people as being communal in character, an approach which Reconstructionism has given him. Moreover, he found that with a group of about 40, the intellectual approach based on a sound philosophy of Judaism was essential. In this, too, he took his cue from Reconstructionism.

32. Oneg Shabbat is literally the joy of the Sabbath and refers generally to a time of socializing after the service. 33. Joshua Trachtenberg (1904–­1959), Zionist, ordained at HUC, was the author of The Devil and the Jews: The Medieval Conception of the Jew and Its Relationship to Modern Anti-­Semitism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1943). 34. Max Routtenberg (1909–­1987) was a Conservative rabbi and author who served in Reading, Pennsylvania, and Rockville Center, Long Island. He was the president of the Rabbinical Assembly and an officer at the JTS. 35. Judah Goldin (1914–­1998) was a scholar of Midrash, an author, and a much admired teacher who taught at Swarthmore, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Yale University. He was a Kaplan admirer.

April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942


Today’s sessions of the Reconstructionist conference were very well attended. There was quite a number of rabbis, mostly of [the] Conservative and semi-­Orthodox wing, and a still larger number of the laity, both men and women, in all about 200 people. The morning’s session lasted from 11:00 to 1:00 and this afternoon’s from 2:00 to 5:30. The topic of discussion was the pamphlet “Toward a Guide to Jewish Usage.” Ben Zion Bokser36 argued against the suggestions in the pamphlet and Ira for. Their presentations took up the morning session. In the afternoon there was discussion from the floor. There were many eager participants. Bokser’s presentation was very poor, yet it drew quite an applause, apparently from a number of the semi-­Orthodox. More than once he tore passages out of their context. The burden of his remarks did not touch upon the fundamental problem underlying the Guide [to Ritual] but upon incidentals, chiefly mode of expression, which according to him might be misinterpreted. He stressed again and again irreverence in our attitude toward tradition. I think there he struck an honest note. What troubles him most is the position I take that tradition has nothing to teach us with regard to the present, because it is so different from anything the ancients could have envisaged. This reverence of his for the past is probably the main reason for his insistence upon our finding in tradition a precedent for whatever changes we want to introduce. He gives the impression that there is no desirable change for which we cannot find some justification in tradition. In my talk this afternoon I had occasion to stress (1) the differences between the legalistic approach of the Orthodox and Conservative on the one hand and the negative approach of the Reformists, due to their antinationalist attitude toward Judaism; (2) the modern conception of God as distinct from the traditional from the standpoint of the modern attitude toward nature; (3) the need of trusting to conscience as we have learned to trust to reason.

Kaplan Critical of Robert Gordis M onday , J une  29, 1942 Dr. Robert Gordis is scheduled to speak this evening on “Authority in Jewish Law—­Toward a Viewpoint in Conservative Judaism.” I cannot imagine what he can say on the subject that is worthwhile. If he is anything but tongue-­ tied, he is certainly soul-­tied. He labors too much under the momentum of the confused thinking he inherited from his Yeshiva training to have anything to say that is generally constructive. But the subject of authority intrigues me. It occurred to me this morning that we ought to distinguish three kinds of authority:

36. Ben Zion Bokser (1907–­1984) was a leading Conservative rabbi, author, and disciple of Abraham Isaac Kook.


April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942

(1) Coercive authority. That is based either on divinity as its source, which gives us a theological type of authority, or on sovereignty vested in a King, or a people, which gives us a political type. (2) Expert authority. This is based on recognition of greater expertness in knowing and doing things. (3) Moral authority. This is autonomous in character and is based on what is generally termed conscience. The imperative which such authority carries with it derives from one’s awareness of one’s own personality and of the compulsion to make the most out of it. It is apparent that with Jewish life based as it is in the diaspora on voluntarism that the only kind of authority which can obtain in that life is moral authority. Hence all procedures intended to foster Jewish life must be directed with a view to making that kind of authority function.

Kaplan on Finkelstein J une  29, 1942 [At the meeting of the Rabbinical Assembly (RA)] . . . Finkelstein made sure that no one but RA members were in the room before he began to speak. He opened with a general statement about the present status of the Seminary, which he described “in superlative terms,” because according to him, those were the only terms in which it was possible to speak of the Seminary. His oral statement was radically different in spirit and content from a mimeographed statement he had prepared for the Board of Directors of the Seminary and which he had sent out recently to the members of the RA. In the latter, the main emphasis is placed on “the Institute on Religious Studies.” The Rabbinical School is a mere tail of the kite, and the Teachers Institute [TI], Seminary College, and Friedlander Classes aren’t even mentioned. In his oral report to the RA, he made not the slightest mention of “the Institute on Religious Studies” and alluded to the fact that the TI and Seminary College were treated as stepchildren. But all this was merely to serve as background for what was the main purpose of his presentation—­namely, to have the RA realize the treatment of the crusade he was conducting against the union of office workers that was communist dominated and trying to destroy all Jewish religious institutions by winning recognition and thus acquiring power over them. He dramatized himself very well and made out quite a strong case against the union. But he made it appear as though he was fighting singlehanded against Satan and his cohorts, and not a single rabbi except Lifes wrote to him in approval of his stand to the union in condemnation of its stand. Incidentally, in describing the things the Seminary needs, he made the statement that there is not a single magazine, not even excepting Menorah, which appeared at rare times, in which any matters of religion could be discussed in a manner that would appeal to the layman. He couldn’t bring himself to mention the Reconstructionist.

April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942


Kaplan on Robert Gordis J une  29, 1942 This evening Gordis spoke on the subject mentioned on the previous page. I was not aware until I heard his paper that it was to be entirely a discussion of “The Guide toward Ritual Usage.”37 I had thought he would treat it only in passing. W ednesday , J uly  1, 1942 With his usual rapid-­fire delivery, he read his paper which presented in concentrated form his main arguments against the Guide. Fortunately, having prepared beforehand the idea on the various meanings of “authority” (see preceding page), I was able to follow the winding of his argument and to organize my rebuttal. In addition to having been on the qua vive the last few days and having gotten into the swing of talking extempore, as soon as Gordis got through, I offered to speak. I was given the opportunity to do so despite the fact that Levitsky38 had been scheduled to present the matter of the Seminary needs. During the forty minutes I talked, I covered nearly every point Gordis had raised. The audience gave me quite an ovation when I was through.

Rabbis React to War News J uly  1, 1942 The only moment worthy of a rabbinical body was the one during the talk of acceptance [Louis] Levitsky gave as the president of the RA39 for the coming year. When he alluded to what might happen in the world before we meet again, he was choked up with emotion and was unable to proceed for a while. It was then that I was overcome and many beside me. The news from the warfront these days is very bad. Sebastopol is reported to have fallen. Rommel is only 70 miles from Alexandria. Yet those very calamities probably account for my lacking the stamina that might enable me to throw off the petty irritations provided by my opponents.

37. Regarding the “Guide,” see footnote 8 in chapter 1. 38. Louis Levitsky (1897–­1975), ordained JTS, DHL, was a rabbi in Wilkes-­Barre, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, and author. 39. RA refers to the Rabbinical Assembly, the organization of Conservative rabbis, which was meeting at this time.


April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942

A Bit of Nostalgia—­Kaplan Reads a Yiddish Newspaper T hursday , J uly  2, 1942 I took off some time today to read the Yiddish Jewish Morning Journal, which I get daily but of which I seldom find time to do more than glance over the headlines. What a world opened up to me! It teems with interest and activities that represent the momentum of the past and that are almost completely isolated against the problems of the present, except insofar as they touch upon immediate and personal needs. I felt as if I went slumming in the crowded sections of the Jewish ghetto and came in touch with some hardy survivals of premodern Jewish life.

Heroic History Jewish Style J uly  2, 1942 G. Scholem, in Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, p. 416, quotes the following from Shivhey ha’besht (Heb., In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov):40 mi she’mesaper be’shivhey tzadikim ke’eilu osek be’ma’asey merkava (1815) f28a (Heb., He who relates the deeds of the righteous, it is as if he occupied himself with the “Chariot”).41 He adds: “Rabbi Nahum of Brazlav goes so far as to say that by telling ma’asiyot shel tzadikim (Heb., the deeds of the righteous) he draws the light of the Messiah into the world and expels much of the darkness.” I have all along felt that there is something about the accounts of heroic and virtuous deeds of human beings that stimulates like deeds or at least the will to like deeds in those who hear them described.42 I would therefore make it a rule to have the recital of such accounts form an essential part of a Reconstructionist devotee’s daily regimen. It is more important than prayer in the same way as the study of Torah has traditionally been regarded more important than prayer. But I would include the heroic and the virtuous not only among Jews but in all the world.

40. Shivhei Ha-­Besht, or In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov, is an early work dealing with the life of the Besht, the founder of Hasidism. 41. “Chariot” here refers to an early mysticism. 42. Heroic history is also associated with the work of Thomas Carlyle (1795–­1881), the Scottish philosopher and close friend of Emerson who maintained that “history is nothing but the biography of the great man.” See Carlyle’s On Heroes, Hero Worship and the Heroic in History (London: Oxford University Press, 1968). Though Carlyle’s theory has long been out of favor with historians, his work on the French Revolution is sensitive and provocative. See also Sidney Hook, The Hero in History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957).

April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942


F riday , J uly  3, 1942 I no sooner made mention of heroic biography than the world was presented this morning with a typical instance of heroism enacted by Churchill. To be able to fire the United Nations after such overwhelming defeat the British suffered recently at Tobruk despite the superiority in manpower and equipment over the enemy and to admit that as a result Britain is in “moral peril” is to possess a will to survive that is impregnable. There was absolutely nothing he could say in defense of the numerous stupid mistakes that must have been made by the generals in command. The only plea he could put up was tantamount to saying that to vote against him now would offer no solution but only deepen the peril. This is the courage of those who fight in the forlorn hope. Apparently it is only that kind of hope that furnishes the occasion for the highest form of courage. Let us be made aware of such courage as often as possible. Perhaps the time might come when we would need it no longer.

Kaplan Critical of Finkelstein J uly  15, 1942 The most serious and disturbing element in this Institute was no doubt the personality of Finkelstein. Sol Goldman in speaking to me about him referred to him as “a personality problem” and “a pathological case.” I go further and do not hesitate to characterize him as laboring under a Hitler complex. So long as the figure of Napoleon dominated the Western mind, many persons of abnormal mentality were victims of the Napoleonic complex. Nowadays the Hitler complex is in the air, and those susceptible to it become obsessed with it. The fundamental difference between the Napoleonic and the Hitler complex is that the former is professedly this-­worldly and egotistic while the latter is messianic and ascetic. Napoleon never acted hysterically; Hitler does so often. Napoleon was a master of moderation; Hitler always talks in superlative terms. By all these stigmata, F. [Finkelstein] turns out to be a perfect example of what it is to be the victim of a Hitler complex. F. regards himself as entrusted with the task not only of saving Judaism by religion and democracy by bringing about a proper understanding between Jew and Gentile. He is convinced that in the term “Judeo-­Christian” tradition he has found the key formula to such a mutual understanding. Compared with that mission in the service of which he wants to impress the Seminary, its day-­to-­day motive of training a dozen rabbis and two dozen teachers a year is of trifling importance. His separation from his wife has led him to raise the frustration of his desires and enforced ascetism to a desirable norm. He is fond of stressing martyrdom as the principle which should govern our lives. He did so twice in the course of the discussions at the Institute. He holds himself up as a martyr in that he has sacrificed high position and scholarly fame for the good of the cause. For anyone to cross him or to fail to


April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942

cooperate with him he proclaims as hurting him to the quick. “I am thin-­skinned, I am without a skin,” he hysterically shouted yesterday. In the troubles he is having with his office workers who are demanding the recognition of their union, he represents himself as the messiah who is to save America from communism (the identical cry which Hitler raised for Germany). In the plea which he made at the Rabbinical Convention for support in his fight, he spoke of the responsibility that devolves upon him of watching the fibs day and night lest they be tampered with by the community spies. His having surrounded himself with a number of men whom he expects to act as yes-­men and stooges and when necessary to take the responsibility for any mistakes he may make is another of the unmistakable Hitlerian stigmata that characterize his behavior. He can be as little dismissed as Hitler was on the ground that he is a personality problem or abnormal. On the contrary, these very stigmata render him a menace to Jewish life. That a committee of the American Jewish Committee consisting of Judges Rosenman,43 Proskauer,44 and other influential persons should have seriously offered him the chairmanship of what is after all the most influential group of Jews in his country indicate[s] how we Jews are as likely to fall into the ways of dictatorship and totalitarianism as were the Germans. Unless F.’s Hitlerian complex is exposed, betimes he is likely to involve us Jews in internecine conflicts and prove to be a hampering influence to any genuinely creative effort in American Jewish life.

Kaplan Explains Why He Resumed Putting on Tefillin M onday , J uly  20, 1942 I resumed yesterday the practice of putting on the Tefillin.45 I did so not merely out of a nostalgia for Jewish atmosphere but out of an urge to act out what I experience as the presence of God. It is not anything mystic; it is not accompanied by a feeling of some ghostlike or august entity hovering above me or at my side. I simply identify the continual mental turmoil in me as part of a universal process which I identify as God. If the electric bulb were conscious, it would be aware of what goes on within it as part of the infinite sea of electric energy. Likewise, I cannot but think of the miracle that I identify my mind with its thousand-­and-­one currents of thought, emotion, and will as a tiny wavelet of the infinite ocean for which no name is more suitable than that of God. But

43. Judge Irving Rosenman (1896–­1973) was an American lawyer, Democratic Party activist, and presidential speech writer. 44. Judge Joseph Proskauer (1877–­1971) was a lawyer, political activist, and philanthropist active in the 92nd Street Y. 45. The Tefillin are phylacteries, composed of small black boxes and straps with biblical verses that one wears when praying in the morning.

April 30, 1942–­July 31, 1942


merely to be aware of God is not enough. If I were to try to communicate that awareness to anybody, he would think I have gone off my head. Is it not natural therefore to do something which satisfies the urge to give expression to that awareness without being suspected of mental abnormality? Hence to put on [the] Tefillin is the simplest thing to do under the circumstances. And what does one do when putting on the Tefillin? To go through with the routine order of the prayers would only dissipate my God awareness. I recite only a few of the most meaningful passages and then later to reading something in the Bible or in midrash. Today I read the 48th Psalm. The translation in the Singer Prayer Book in no way helps me get the inner meaning of the original. It is a word-­by-­word translation and nothing more. When I opened to Moffatt’s,46 I was amply rewarded. The Psalm not only made sense, but I ventured to ascribe it to some poet who celebrated the lifting of Sennacherib’s siege.47 It is good patriotic poetry of an ancient day. Its God has almost nothing in common with the God whom I have sought to salute by putting on the Tefillin. That is exactly the unfortunate element with the religion that is in the making. It has as yet very little that speaks its language or articulates its feelings. By making use of the language of ancient religion, it is likely to feel frustrated.

Some Thoughts on Prayer J uly  20, 1942 Sometime I should like to take time off and write about the tendency to read into rabbinic statements ideas of a later age. Ideological anachronisms of this kind are the affliction of R. Ishmel’s principle dibra torah b’lashon b’nai adam [Heb., The Torah speaks in the language of man] to anthropomorphic descriptions of God or of His actions and the reading into the rabbinic saying that God concentrated His Shekhinah [presence] between the staves of the Ark [and] the theosophic teaching known as tzimtzum [Heb., contraction] developed by R. Isaac Luria.48 It would not take much to convince anyone who can read Hebrew that these interpretations are incorrect. But it would be much more difficult to convince even most scholars of another such misinterpretation. I refer to

46. Kaplan favored the Bible translation of James Moffatt (1870–­1944), a theologian and professor of Greek and New Testament at Oxford University. His translation is available in many editions. See A New Translation of the Bible—­Containing the Old and New Testaments (New York: Harper, 1935). 47. Sennacherib was the king of Assyria who laid siege to Jerusalem in 701 BCE during the reign of King Hezekiah. These events are recorded in the Book of Kings. 48. Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534–­1572) was foremost among Jewish mystics in Safed. Known as “The Ari,” his view of creation included the notion that God contracted himself in making room for the universe. This contraction is known as tzimtzum. There is a run-­on sentence here, which I have not corrected.


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R. Akiba’s statement ha’kol tzafui ve’hareshut netunah [Heb., Everything is foreseen, but freedom is given],49 which has been rendered by Jewish philosophers ever since they have struggled with the contradiction between divine prescience [?] and human freedom of the will as a formulation of that paradox. I could even get myself to believe that R. Akiba, whose conception of God was decidedly anthropomorphic, could ever sense such a philosophical paradox. I am now convinced that he was totally innocent of any such philosophic problem. When he said hakol tzafui [Heb., Everything is foreseen], he did not mean “everything is foreseen” but “everything is observed, watched.” He was merely saying in his own words what Rashi50 said later in the words ayin ro’ah ve’ozen shomeya [Heb., The eye sees and the ear hears]. A more extensive misinterpretation which I had occasion recently to expose is the assumption that the Pirkei Avot [The Ethics of the Fathers] is an ethical treatise, whereas it is in reality a collection of sayings on the significance of Torah study and its relation to earning a share in the world to come. There is a marked change in the conception of the function of prayer when we pass from the Talmudic to the mystic writings. In the former, prayer is conceived chiefly as a means of obtaining from God what one needs to satisfy His earthly wants. This is implied in the rabbinic passage which contrasts prayer with study on the ground that prayer constitutes being occupied with this-­worldly or temporal life, while to study Torah is to occupy oneself with eternal life. Prayer is thus conceived by the Rabbis of the Talmud in the same fashion that was universal before men engaged in any deep reflection concerning the nature of God. In that stage, Jewish prayer consisted of three elements: (1) praise of God, (2) petition, and (3) thanksgiving. These elements are arranged to correspond with what a person would say if he were to come to his ruler with some petition. There could be no prescription in the Torah to pray, because in its earliest stage prayer is the expression of individual petition. There might be laws that all petitions should be addressed only to the true God, the God of Israel, but there could be no law that one should address petitions to God. But when prayer became communal, it became obligatory for every individual to join the community in prayer. In addition to fixing the text from which it was forbidden to depart, the Rabbis established numerous regulations to assure the necessary uniformity and propriety of the prayers which were recited as well as to exclude from the mind all interfering thoughts (i.e., having kavanah).51 Individual prayers were formulated, but they never became obligatory. Insofar as the recital of the ordained prayer

49. This famous statement is found in Pirkei Avot [The Ethics of the Fathers] 3:19. 50. Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040–­1105), known generally as Rashi, wrote famous commentary on Talmud and scriptures. 51. Kavanah means intention or concentration here.

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became obligatory, it was added on to the roster of mitzvot which as such were a means to a share in the world to come. The Jewish mystics availed themselves of the very obligatory or mitzvah character of prayer to assign to it a different function from that of mere joining in communal praise and petition with a view to obtaining this-­worldly necessities. Indeed, they went so far as to maintain that this latter function was unworthy of prayer. Prayer falls far short of its true purpose unless it becomes a means to cosmic improvement (cf. Zohar Ex 262a et al.). The words and the letters of which the ordained prayers consist are the same as those whereby the world came into being and which set the creative forces in motion. The state of imperfection in which the work of creation exists places upon man the responsibility of further agitating those forces so as to hasten the process making for perfection. This is expressed variously. The sparks of holiness which are encased in the divine substances have to be released, is one way of putting it. Another is to say that the first two letters of God’s ineffable name YHWH have to be united with the last two letters.

Divine Sparks and Jewish Nuns J uly  22, 1942 The doctrine of nitzotzot (Heb.), “divine sparks” or “sparks of divinity,” which came to occupy an important place in post-­Lurian Kabbalah, is nothing more than an animistic form of the common-­sense assumption that everything—­good, bad, and indifferent—­possesses creative potentialities. In the mystic as well as in the common-­sense form of this doctrine there is implied the imperative to redeem or elicit those creative potentialities. Like everything else in mysticism, this doctrine is part of the soterical approach to reality. A spark of divinity means a spark of the Power that makes for salvation. This is exactly what creative potentiality signifies. Some time ago, a maiden lady of about 45—­a Miss Urieli—­tried to interest Ira and me in the enterprise of establishing a Jewish nunnery for women of 45 and over who would devote themselves to the service of Judaism and the Jewish people. She is a highly educated person who seems to eke out a small livelihood by doing legal hack work. She comes from St. Petersburg, Russia, and having seen much of the world, she has a fine insight into human affairs. She must have been in close contact with the Catholic Church and seems to know much about its traits and institutions. Although she knows little about Judaism, she knows a great deal about what the world has done to the Jews. She is passionately eager to have the Jews develop both the inner and outer strength of the Catholic Church. When she wrote to me of her idea about a Jewish nunnery, I asked her to expand it into an article under the pseudonym of Miriam Tabor. After


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considerable editing, it finally appeared in the Reconstructionist. As I expected, it called forth amazement and ridicule on the part of most of my friends. I feel however that unless our people learn to react to such a suggestion with some degree of approval, they are beyond redemption.

Tisha b’Av:52 Fasting and Gandhi T hursday , J uly  23, 1942 Today is Tisha b’Av. In the spiritual vacuum in which I find myself, Tisha b’Av is entirely without meaning . . . This morning I have gone without my breakfast. Last year was the first time I did breakfast on Tisha b’Av. To practice any observance which means nothing to others is like talking to oneself. I suppose there are circumstances where one must not only talk to oneself but take care to talk sense. All this business of writing this journal belongs to this category of actions. From that standpoint, for me to fail to observe this day at least in part should be as incongruous as suddenly discontinuing this journal or writing nonsense in it. With all the world turned into a hell and with my own people being subjected to indescribable humiliation and torment, I would think myself a cad if I were to ignore this day’s summons to fasting and mourning. Even though the practice of fasting has lost its theurgic [magic] significance, it can still be employed as a potent means of social significance. Gandhi is a case in point. I believe that the great influence which he wields over the Hindu peoples is largely due to his resort to fasting as a means of having them carry through his program of passive resistance. It is sad to reflect that so spiritual an instrument is being employed these days in the service—­indirectly, of course—­of the most dreadful brutality that has ever threatened the human race. This, by the way, is another illustration [of] how power, even of the kind generally associated with the most spiritual of man’s strivings, can be used as an instrument of the most dastardly crimes. For fasting to become an instrument of social significance, Jews have to achieve a soterical53 universe of discourse. At present they find themselves in the no-­man’s land between the traditional orientation which is theurgic and the modern one which is secular. To Jews in this confused state of mind, fasting can

52. Tisha b’Av is the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, when according to tradition both Temples were destroyed. The memory is observed by a complete fast. Some modernists have advocated doing away with the ritual because we no longer really mourn the destruction of the Temple and its regimen of sacrifices. In many Reconstructionist congregations, the day is used to recall other disasters in Jewish history, as Kaplan does here. 53. From the Greek word soter, meaning “saving.” This is the name Kaplan gave to his system.

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have no appeal. They certainly can see no value to it on the ground that it sets in motion certain superhuman agencies or factors. On the other hand, from a so-­called practical standpoint, what good can come of depriving oneself of food temporarily, thereby only lessening one’s physical and mental energy? In an orientation like the soterical which gives due place to the imponderabilia known as rational and spiritual interests, fasting can be a source of values which pertain to those interests.

What Democracy Needs: To Become a Religion S aturday , J uly  25, 1942 What America needs, or any country that expects to live by the democratic order, is to do for the democratic order what Germany has done for Nazism. There is no hope for the democratic order unless it can be made into a religion. That involves directing the minds of creative thinkers and artists to the need of giving to the individual citizen a collective consciousness. The individual citizen must come to feel the reality of his entire people as an entity without which his own person is as incapable of existing as a cell of muscle or nerve tissue without the entire organism of which it is a part. This dependence of the individual upon the nation is no fiction, unless we deny the reality of both the individual and the nation and treat both of them as mere accidental conglomerates—­the one of cells, the other of humans. No doubt for certain scientific purposes it is necessary to treat them both in that fashion. But for the ordinary purposes of living, they must be dealt with as actual entities, as vital organic beings vitally and organically interdependent. But to be so dealt with they must become foci of thought and feeling patterns. As the human being grows in self-­awareness, all his thinking becomes progressively polar in character, with the individual and the group as the two poles around which his thoughts organize themselves. Before long the equilibrium is upset and there is periodic vacillation between emphasis on the individual and emphasis on the group. Democracy has for over a century and a half stressed the importance of the individual. The evils in the train of individualism have brought about the reaction of collectivism. Every such reaction takes on a passionate intensity and produces the kind of self-­intoxication which man requires and which he finds in religion. Communism and Nazism have succeeded in fostering in the individual that collective consciousness which has generated the tremendous psychic energies which came into being when large masses of humans act in unison. The Nazis have harnessed those energies to the perverted ideals of world conquest. If democracy is to survive, it dare not disregard the potency of the psychic energies evolved out of collective consciousness. To be sure, it is much more difficult to foster collective consciousness where we are


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eager to preserve the integrity of the individual than where there is no such consideration to inhibit us. Yet it should not be impossible, since both individual and collective consciousness grow in the same stem of organic human life. The democratic nations must call upon those endowed with creative ability to do for their countries what the creative minds in Germany have been engaged in doing for the last century and a half. German letters, art, law, and philosophy have dealt with the life of the nation as a whole and have sought to give it drive and direction. Why should not American letters, law, and philosophy do the same for the life of the American nation? It is amazing how little American writers, poets, artists, and thinkers have had anything to say about the significance of American collective life. Somehow the assumption has prevailed that the only way to avoid the kind of collective consciousness fostered in totalitarian civilization is to ignore altogether the totality of the nation’s life and to be concerned with its local and individual interests. This assumption is responsible for the present fragmented and atomized American consciousness. The only one in American literature I can recall having done for America what I urge above is Whitman. MacLeish’s54 “Ballad for America” is an illustration of what I have in mind. But alongside the overwhelming mass of German creativity, America has produced next to nothing. Why does not America have anything like Wagner’s “Ring des Nibelungen”? Why could not Beard have written an interpretation of American democracy that would have stirred the American heart in behalf of tolerance and peace as Treitschke55 has stirred the German heart in behalf of racialism and war? . . .  ***** On the contrary, the awareness that by fostering collective consciousness we come to share a plus element which is generated by the group might well serve as an incentive to national unity for a democratic order. The assumption is that this plus element survives the individual members of a people. By having a share in it, one also satisfies the longing for immortality. “Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach! in meiner Brust; Die eine will sich von der andern treunen.” Goethe, Faust I, lines 1112–­13. [German: In me there are two souls, alas, and their division tears my life in two.]

54. Archibald MacLeish (1892–­1982) was a poet, essayist, and dramatist who served as Librarian of Congress. His play on Job (J.B.) is justly famous. 55. Heinrich von Treitschke (1832–­1896) was a historian and political thinker.

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Both individuals and groups must reckon with this dual or polar aspect of mentality—­rational and irrational, kind and cruel, selfish and cooperative, etc. Unless we are constantly on the watch to keep the evil phases of our nature within control, it is liable to undo all the good it may have taken generations to achieve. A single war may destroy the civilization of centuries. Some wild impulse may wreck the reputation it has taken years to build up.56 What has happened in Germany, known formerly as “the land of thinkers and poets,” should serve as a warning to all men and nations of how dangerously near insanity or depravity the human being is once he lets down the barriers of convention, law, and reason. This act of removing the barrier goes by the fancy name of romanticism. No matter how stuffy the atmosphere of law and reason, how oppressive the ennui it begets, it should be preferred to the whirlwind of chaos and disaster that is let loose by the windy freedom of romanticism.

Hitler as a “Saint” J uly  26, 1942 What Nazism means, from the standpoint of the readjustment which is taking place in the religious readjustment of mankind, is illustrated by the following incident reported from the war front in France. “One of those very young German aviators was shot down in France and dying. A priest crept to him under a bombardment to offer the last Christian comforts. The dying boy replied: ‘The Fuhrer is my faith. I don’t want anything from your church. But if you want to be good to me, get me my Fuhrer’s picture out of my breast pocket.’ The priest got it. The boy kissed the picture, with the usual beatific expression attributed to Christian saints and martyrs, and murmured: ‘My Fuhrer, I am happy to die for you’” (Sonia Tamara dispatch in NY Tribune, July 15, 1940, p. 8). That many of the ideas associated with traditional Jewish nationhood will have to be solemnly repudiated is evidenced by the fact that many of the most noxious ideas associated with Nazism are replicas of what we find both in the Bible and in postbiblical writings. The idea of Chosen people has been dwelt on sufficiently. So has the parallel between the racism of the Nazis and the purge carried out by Ezra.57 There is even a closer parallel between the Nazi conception of hierarchy of races and Judah Ha-­Levi’s. But what is generally not known is

56. Kaplan generalizes Goethe’s statement here. Goethe goes on in Faust to indicate that the ambivalence in his soul is between the love of this world and this life and his desire to soar into the transcendent realm. 57. When he returned from the exile to Jerusalem in the middle of the fifth century, the prophet Ezra sent the foreign wives back to their original homes. See Ezra chapter 10.


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that even Karl Haushofer’s58 geopolitics, which is supposed to have inspired Ch. XIV of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, has as its analogue in Judah Ha-­Levi’s conception of Palestine as the center of the world . . .

An Analysis of Nazi Cruelty M onday , J uly  27, 1942 A most significant principle for Soterics, which attempts to answer the question: How to make the most out of life is the following: “Phenomenology has shown clearly that human beings primarily do not strive for satisfaction, but strive for the object which gives satisfaction. To be directed toward the goal, to have the tension of desire, already gives the experience of being alive, which is as important as the final satisfaction. It is erroneous to take satisfaction in isolation from the general attitude. It is furthermore erroneous to think that human beings (and organisms generally) want rest. The fact is that every organism immediately develops new interests and new attitudes after the goal has been reached. The striving toward satisfaction, the way to satisfaction, the hope of satisfaction itself form a unit which cannot be divided into its parts” (Paul Schelder, Goals and Desires of Man, 16–­17). On the basis of the foregoing fact, to achieve salvation should mean not the attainment of any or even all the goals or values in the three groups of interests but the experience of being most alive—­i.e., on the way toward those goals. Of Conservative Judaism it may be said with the Turnstile in Mother Goose Rhymes: “I am in everyone’s way, but no one I stop.” Evidence of the infantile and emotional immaturity of Fascist and Nazi psychology is the fact that the perpetrators of apparently the most sadistic crimes take delight in the aesthetic aspect of the havoc they cause. The well-­known example of that is the description Mussolini’s son gave of his bombardment from the air of a helpless mass of people when attacking one of the towns in Ethiopia. He described the fire and smoke of the explosion rising like a beautiful lily from the ground. The following from Paul Schelder’s Goals and Desires, p. 36, gives the correct interpretation of such mentality. Describing the aggressiveness characteristic of young children, he says: “It is difficult to believe that cruelty which is not directly intended should be completely unconscious. The aim to harm the other person remains in the background, while the process of testing, investigating and following one’s own aim without consideration for the other are in the foreground of consciousness. . . . Children like to tear and break. This curiosity is rather appalling.”

58. Karl Hausehofer (1869–­1946) was a German geographer, general, and geopolitician. Rudolf Hess was one of his students.

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A further fact which points to the immaturity of the Fascists and Nazis is that like young children, they have not discovered that other peoples and races have personality like themselves. “Their aggression toward human beings,” says Schelder, speaking of young children (ibid., 35), “will be more outspoken the less the attacker regards the other’s body as a unit like himself, and the less he is aware that the other person has a personality in connection with his body.”

The Fundamental Principles of a Program for Jewish Life J uly  30, 1942 Orientation 1. A Jewish orientation presupposes a general orientation. In making that point, the chief problem is to get the student to realize that a Jewish orientation is not “a truer form of truth” but merely seeing and dealing with life from the standpoint of one’s affiliation with the Jewish people, whose individuality consists in being other and not necessarily in being unlike. 2. The most helpful general orientation is one which, having departed from the theurgic [magic] one of tradition, refuses to accept the secularism and naturalism of any of the contemporary orientations; it can only be soterical and spiritual. The problem here is to accustom the mind to organic instead of normistic thinking. 3. Traditional Judaism viewed soterically. Why it could function in the past and why it cannot function any longer. The problem here will be to disentangle from the modern misrepresentation of traditional Judaism what is modern and what is traditional. Animism, otherworldliness, asceticism, exclusiveness. 4. The meaning of religion. The soteric function of the belief in God and the relation of sancta to that belief. (The problem is to accustom the mind to the notion that the essence of religion is not to be sought in general ideas about God as an entity and His relation to human life but in what men regard as making the most of life.) 5. The three past stages of the Jewish religion. Here the purpose is to dispel from the mind that the Jewish religion is a system of general truths about God, which were handed down from generation to generation. The continuity of the Jewish religion is to be sought in the continuity of the Jewish people and of the sancta which have always symbolized what was to be regarded as making the most of life. 6. The philosophic and mystic trends in Judaism. Historically they constituted two distinct approaches—­rational and irrational, respectively. The rational approach was viewed as extraneous to the tradition, the mystic as integral to


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it. The antithesis of rational and irrational is itself a false one and will have to be more correctly viewed in the higher synthesis which is indicated in Soterics. 7. The place of nationhood in general life. A historical survey of the development of nationhood. The purpose of this item is to give the historical background to the relation of church to state and to indicate where in the present structure mankind is anomalous and how the present world cataclysm is the inevitable consequence of that anomalous structure. 8. The place of nationhood in Jewish life. The purpose of this item should be to counter the prejudice among liberals against nationhood as such and Jewish nationhood in particular. The truth is that nationhood, though ultimately neutral, has been tainted by the use actually made of it. It is for the Jews to redeem it from that taint. 9. The doctrine of “the Chosen People.” As a token and guarantee of its entering a process of cultural and spiritual renascence, the Jewish people should solemnly repudiate the traditional doctrine of chosen people. It should stress the equality of all nations, in the sense that all groups which know themselves as nations are entitled to the rights and immunities of nations, though they must at the same time accept national responsibilities. Those responsibilities involve the acceptance of the same moral standards for themselves as totalities as for their members individually. 10. The meaning of democracy. Democracy as the best solution of the problems of power. The wide gulf between what is and what ought to be in human life is due to the unequal distribution of ability—­resulting in the tendency of those who have ability to lord it over those who have not. The special provisions which must be instituted to make democracy work. 11. A religion for America, one that is to be based on the soterical or spiritual conception of life. The particular sancta around which that religion should be centered and the interpretation to be given to them.

The Meaning of Love J uly  30, 1942 The place and meaning of love in human life can be best understood from the soterical point of view. In the soterical pattern, it represents the emotional aspect of the spiritual interests which center around the three values: personality, humanity (society), God. Like the emotional aspects of the other two groups of interests, it possesses the character and traits of hunger. What in personality, society, or the cosmos do we hunger for when we experience the emotion of love? The answer, it seems to me, is that we hunger for the emergence and realization of the possibilities for human life’s enhancement latent in the persons, groups, or the cosmos toward whom or which we react with a feeling of love. This may help us to understand how the Torah came to command us to love God—­with all our hearts,

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might, and soul. As human beings, in wanting to make the most out of life, we naturally turn to certain persons, societies, gods as possessing inexhaustible means of life’s enhancement. The command in the Torah merely directs our mind to the particular God who symbolizes the maximum of such creative possibilities. It is as if the Torah were to say: That love which you would naturally expend on a God or gods you should direct toward the God of Israel. Self-­love means that one sees only in oneself latent possibilities for life’s enhancement. The chauvinist sees such possibilities only in his own people. The normal person sees such possibilities in other individuals and in other peoples and races besides his own. Although love is motivated by one’s own functional interests, it is not selfish. Only self-­love is selfish. Self-­love as such necessarily implies a defective sense of reality or truth, for it implies a blind spot to one’s dependence upon others for making [the] most out of life. Love, on the other hand, in addition to being motivated by functional interests, is also motivated by rational interests. Thus its differentiation from self-­love is unmistakable and could therefore never be confused with it.

Rabbinic Judaism versus a Philosophical Understanding of Judaism J uly  31, 1942 1. According to rabbinic Judaism, salvation (or making the most of human life) can be achieved only through the study of Torah and the practice of mitzvot; according to Jewish theology, it can be achieved only through contemplation of the truths concerning the nature of reality. This is what Jewish theology understands by [the] study of Torah in its esoteric sense. The prophet is such because of the extraordinary development of his intellectual powers. 2. Rabbinic Judaism was not troubled by the anthropomorphic conception of God. Jewish theology’s principal task is to deprecate such [a] conception of God; it explains away the anthropomorphisms in the Bible on the principle of dibra torah b’lashon b’nai adam [Heb., The Torah speaks in the language of man]. 3. Rabbinic Judaism saw no contradiction between the conception of God’s infinite power and the many attributes ascribed to Him, which implied His being influenced by factors outside Him. Jewish theology found it necessary to negate the affirmative interpretations of the attributes ascribed to Him because they were inconsistent with the conception of His absolute unchangeable nature. It gave that negative interpretation to the attributes ascribed to God in the Bible and liturgy. 4. Rabbinic Judaism was unaware of any contradiction between God’s presence and man’s free will. The interpretation given to R. Akiba’s statement as


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implying an awareness of such a contradiction is incorrect. Jewish theology never wearied of finding a solution for this apparent contradiction. 5. Rabbinic Judaism saw no need for giving any but the literal meaning to stories in which God figured as the chief actor. Jewish theology either interpreted those stories allegorically or as visions or dreams and not as accounts of objective events. This applies especially to the story of the Garden of Eden, the three divine visitors which Abraham entertained, or Jacob’s strugglings with the angel. 6. Rabbinic Judaism objected to treating the mitzvot ethically and certainly as having a practical value. It insisted on their being observed as divine decrees or as means of teaching man obedience to God’s will. Jewish theology, on the contrary, took for granted that the chief significance to ritual practice was an ethical or practical one. 7. Rabbinic Judaism has a special category for duties of men toward one another. But it assumes that the Torah lays down in each case what is right or wrong. Jewish theology has a rational norm by which it determines what differentiates right from wrong. That norm is the one suggested by Aristotle—­the golden mean. 8. Rabbinic Judaism saw no difficulty in conceiving God as exercising individual providence over the life of every human being. Jewish theology sees that providence as being exercised in accordance with the intellectual development of the individual (cf. Moreh II 51). If the individual has failed to develop his individual personality, the divine providence knows him only as a member of the general species of man. If he wants to be an object of God’s special care, he must develop his intellectual powers. 9. Rabbinic Judaism accepts the principle of reward and punishment. Jewish theology finds it necessary to envisage reward and punishment and in doing so draws a sharp distinction between the body and the soul from the standpoint of their being objects of reward and punishment. 10. Rabbinic Judaism assumes that in the world to come, the human body will be so perfected as not to be subject to the hungers, ailments, and decoys which mark its present life. Jewish theology conceived the ultimate state of beatitude as one in which the human being will be bodiless and will achieve his complete realization by becoming integrated with the universal spirit of the world. This means that Jewish theology gave the Jew a radically different discourse from that of the rabbinic tradition. The former universe of discourse was based on individual reasoning; the latter was based on faith in the teachings of one’s ancestors. The Jewish theologians themselves were unaware of how radically different their own point of view was from that of tradition. Their understanding was due to the lack of all historical perspective.

3 August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942

Ahad Ha-­Am1 and Living in Two Civilizations A ugust  6, 1942 The great merit of Ahad Ha-­Amism is that it attempts to translate Jewish nationhood into terms of this-­worldly salvation. To put it more specifically, what Ahad Ha-­Am proposes is so to conceive and organize the social structure of Jewish life that it shall become an instrument of individual salvation in the modern sense of the term. Unfortunately, he does not always hold consistently to that purpose. There are moments when he seems to demand of the individual that complete surrender of his own individuality and self-­integration with the people as to want no good for himself other than the welfare of the group. But when he stresses the need for rethinking the ethical values of Jewish life, he does concern himself with the personal salvation of the individual, which he feels can best be achieved through the transformation of Jewish national life. But this purpose of Ahad Ha-­Am is only half the task. In the diaspora, where Jews must necessarily strive to identify themselves with the economic and cultural life of the majority even though such identification be resisted, they need a conception of this-­worldly salvation in which the salvation might be helped by two springs: the nationhood of the majority and of Jewish nationhood. The assumption, of course, is that we conceive salvation itself in such [a] way as to render the elements in the two civilizations which are calculated to enhance human life as inherently compatible. There is enough historical evidence for the existence both in Judaism and in democratic civilizations of such mutually compatible and fortifying elements. There are, no doubt, incompatible and

1. Ahad Ha-­Am (Asher Ginsberg, 1856–­1927) was an essayist and philosopher of cultural Zionism. A major figure in the development of Zionism, he opposed Herzl on many issues. Kaplan was critical but a devoted disciple.



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mutually hostile elements in the two types of civilizations. Jews should have the courage not only to recognize this fact but to reconstruct their own historic civilization and to urge the reconstruction of the civilization of the majority so that they both be purged of all mutually conflicting elements. This effort will require courage, because there will be enough anti-­Semites to point to it as evidence of the Judaization of the majority culture. Their very charge, however, implies that they regard as indispensable to the majority culture such elements of hate and aggression as are actually in need of being eliminated. And this not for the sake of the Jews but for the sake of the majority population as well as for the peace of mankind.

The Nature of Reality S unday , A ugust  9, 1942 The four categories in terms of which reality as a whole as well as any portion of reality must be conceived in order to be properly understood are (1) potentiality, (2) motion, (3) form, and (4) purpose. 1. Potentiality is the substance of substratum in which the other three categories inhere. It is indefinable and inconceivable by itself. It is therefore described in mysticism as “nothing.” That, of course, is only a paradoxical term to emphasize how inconceivable it is apart from the other three categories which give it actuality. In the human being, potentiality is the will to make the most of life. 2. Motion is a general term for activity which expresses itself in change. All change is change not only from one actuality to another but what is more important from potentiality to actuality. Motion is energy-­ in-­ action. In the human being, it expresses itself in the various drives and urges both inborn and acquired. 3. Form is the limitation to which substance or potentiality must submit in order to maintain the process of actualization. All individuated substances or potentialities imply the presence of other substances or potentialities with whose process of actualization they must reckon. To avoid conflict or contradiction, they must submit to limitations which constitute this form. The form inheres both in the substance and in the motion or activity of the substance. That is because every one of the categories is bound to inhere in the other categories every time it inheres in substance, since substance manifests itself only through the medium of the other three categories. The limitation of substance and motion, which contributes form, is due not only to the presence of other individuated substances but to the purpose of the individuated substance in which the form adheres. Why purpose needs the limitation which constitutes form becomes clear when we consider the meaning of the category purpose.

August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942


4. Purpose is the nature of the individuated substance or potentiality as it reveals itself in the course of its history from its origin to its fulfillment. This, of course, does not imply that every individuated substance is conscious of its nature and seeks to achieve it. The entire notion of categories is intended to make clear how any object must be known in order to be understood. The categories are therefore not conscious principles by which objects exist but principles by which they are known by the human mind. It may be that for any other than the human mind, other categories or different combinations of the same categories are a means of knowing objects. For the human mind constituted as it is, to understand anything whatever, it should study that thing not only from the angles of the three preceding categories but also from the standpoint of what makes that object a perfect one, or what constitutes for that object completion or fulfillment. In the light of the foregoing, we have a criterion by which to distinguish between the philosophic, metaphysical, or theosophical approach to the conception of God, on the one hand, and, on the other, the conception of God as it functioned historically in the various civilizations, including that of the Jews. The very conception of God as such is an attempt to grasp the nature of reality as a whole. The philosopher or metaphysician is concerned with the problem of what underlies that reality. He wants to answer the question [of] what is the substance, the permanent stuff, the ground of everything that exists. Only the mystics have come nearest to defining that substance correctly when they spoke of it as potentiality and of God as infinite potentiality. On the other hand, in the actual life of peoples, no such problem as that which philosophers or theosophists raised concerning the ground of reality had anything to do with their ideas of God. Their ideas were concerned with reality from the standpoint of the other three categories. They were concerned with theurgy—­i.e., with knowing what energies or motions kept reality going and how to influence those energies or motions. They were concerned with knowing what was right and what was wrong. And they were concerned with knowing what constituted an ideal person, an ideal society, and an ideal world. Insofar as reality answered these threefold needs, it was divine. Practical mysticism only developed further the principle of motion or energy for the sake of achieving control over conditions of environment and human life. It continued to operate with the assumption of personal causation as responsible for all motion or energy. Science in substituting mechanical causation for personal causation seemed to many people to be undermining the conception of God. But the fact is that for the metaphysician there still remained the problem of ground of reality and for the religionist the problem of form and purpose. Instead of assuming, as have all rationalist and theosophical thinkers, that they were dealing with the same God as the average religionist, only in a more profound fashion, we shall have to assume on the basis of the preceding analysis of the fourfold approach to reality that we are in need of a conception


August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942

of God which shall synthesize both the metaphysical (rational or theosophical) approach and the religious or cultural (empirical) approach. As far as Judaism is concerned, our conception of it is entirely determined by our approach to the conception of God. If our approach is a metaphysical one, we naturally conclude that the basis of Jewish religion is a metaphysical conception of God and therefore a universal one that is independent of the history or civilization of the Jewish people. This approach creates two difficulties: (1) It necessitates proving the identity of Jewish religion with the last word in metaphysical thinking, for only in that way can it be acceptable to all who exercise their rational or theosophical faculties. (2) The universality of Jewish religion renders the particularity of Jewish history and civilization a hindrance and superfluity. This approach was undoubtedly motivated by the desire to uphold the doctrine of the divine election of Israel and to prove the superiority of Jewish religion to the religions of other peoples. This desire in turn was prompted by the need for justifying the refusal of so small a minority to merge with the majority. It could never have occurred to the ancients that the claim to having a truer conception of God than their neighbors was merely a rationalization of an inexplicable will to survive as a distinct group. Even in our day, a thinker like Ezekiel Kaufmann2 regards the belief in the superior truth of the Jewish religion as the main factor for Jewish survival in the past. It is undoubtedly true that as a people struggling against overwhelming odds, Jews must find some rationale for their desire to persist as a distinct group. But that rationale must be more comprehensive than a true metaphysical conception of God. Jews need in addition a true religious conception of God—­i.e., such a system of forms and purposes or its organization, culture, law, customs, moral standards, and spiritual ideals as to make for a greater attainment of salvation than the civilizations of other peoples (i.e., than their systems of forms and purposes). To be sure, a true metaphysical conception of God that will find a place for the scientific interpretation of motion or energy is indispensable. But that by itself is either altogether insufficient or very undefendable as a rationale for Jewish survival. Once we are relieved of the necessity of demonstrating the universal truth of Jewish tradition, we can utilize it to give individuality to Jewish life. Within the frame of Jewish individuality—­which is to be fostered by various

2. Ezekiel Kaufmann (1889–­1963) was a teacher, scholar, and author in the Reali School in Haifa and at Hebrew University. He challenged theories of biblical criticism and wrote a sociology of Jewish history that Kaplan valued. His multivolume work on the scriptures appears in an English condensation edited and translated by Moshe Greenberg, The Religion of Israel: From Its Beginnings to the Babylonian Exile, by Yehezkel Kaufmann (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960). Kaufmann’s work on Jewish history and the Bible are extremely valuable and provocative.

August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942


means, of which tradition is only one—­we should by all means cultivate as much as possible the metaphysical aspect of the God-­idea, for no conception of reality and therefore no culture or educational system can be complete which disregards the need of reckoning with the category or aspect of substance or potentiality.

Nationalism—­Its Nature and the Dangers T hursday , A ugust  13, 1942 The course of human events has demonstrated more and more clearly that the fate of mankind depends upon what use it will make of nationhood. Nationhood constitutes the most potent instrument that man can wield either for the progress or the destruction of the human race. The reason for that is that in nationhood all the physical, mental, and spiritual capacities of human beings can be organized into an engine of inexhaustible and irresistible power. The vastly increased means of communication and transportation have augmented the possibilities of such power to an unlimited degree. When any one nation succeeds in achieving superiority in the organization of its latent resources and capacities to a greater extent than its neighbors, it is apt to do what Germany has done: to regard itself as destined to dominate and to utilize the nations it can bring under its control to supply it with the goods and services that can give it the means and the leisure to get for itself the most it can out of life. This does not mean to say that England, Holland, or France have not been free from this attitude toward weaker peoples. But whereas these nations have pursued an imperialistic policy without attempting to profess it openly as representing the highest ideal worthy of a nation, Germany has frankly and brutally declared that no national ideal can be worthier than that of conquest and subordination of weaker peoples. The very fact that the other imperialistic nations have pursued their aims in a somewhat shamefaced fashion and have been laboring under a sense of guilt which they have tried to cover up by pointing to the services that they have rendered the peoples which they exploit is sufficient to indicate that they could not go on indefinitely with such a policy. But when a nation convinces itself that the utilization of national power for purposes of conquest and subjugation is the most honorable and worthy ideal to which it can dedicate its life, we are indeed confronted with a situation which endangers the very future of the human race. Nor does it require much for such a consummation to be realized. If, God forbid, the United Nations lose this war and Germany and Japan divide the world between themselves, they must presently find themselves in conflict and wage a war in which both sides are bound to reach a state of exhaustion from which they would not normally be able to recover.


August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942

Ethical Nationhood3 A Comment on Hans Kohn4 A ugust  16, 1942 I am amazed to find [that] so fine a scholar and so clear a thinker like Hans Kohn fails to grasp completely the essential fact about religion and nationhood—­namely, that they are both organizations of power. Religion is an organization of power around the supposed ability of those who wield power to control realities and values which may be designated as spiritual. Throughout the past, those realities were conceived as superhuman entities. In more recent times, they have been conceived in other ways than entities and if not always superhuman, at least superindividual. Nationhood is an organization of power around human realities and values. The realities are usually visible in character, such as economic goods, military bodies, and their equipment. Failing to realize that when we deprive either religion or nationhood of the element of power around which they are organized, we leave an empty shell, he was led to make the following untenable statement: At a given time in history, religion, essentially a spiritual movement, had very fundamental and substantial political implications. Religion dominated politics. At the present time, the same is true of nationalism. When interminable and ferocious religious wars threatened to destroy human happiness and civilization, the movement of Enlightenment, the wave of nationalism which started about 1680 and dominated the eighteenth century, led to the depolitization of religion. In this process, religion did not lose its dignity; it remained one of the spiritual forces, comforting and exalting the human soul. It lost the element of coercion

3. In this selection, Kaplan maintains that the only way for the world to have a lasting peace is for nations to act ethically. This notion of “ethical nationhood” is fully explicated in Kaplan’s last book, The Religion of Ethical Nationhood: Judaism’s Contribution to World Peace (New York: Macmillan, 1970). Kaplan calls for the limitation of national sovereignty through international agreements of disarmament. He feels that in our nuclear age, this is a primary religious imperative and the only way for the human species to survive. While Kaplan’s thinking seems utopian here to say the least, the notion of disarmament has been taken seriously by many people. See especially a very specific proposal for disarmament that would work through the United Nations by two well-­known legal scholars: Grenville Clark and Louis Sohn, World Peace through World Law: Two Alternative Plans (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1958). 4. Hans Kohn (1891–­1971) was a Jewish American scholar and historian. Born in Prague, he lived in Paris, London, and the United States. He taught for many years at City College in New York and was a devoted Zionist and a prodigious scholar of nationalism. For an in-­depth study of his Zionist thought, see the chapter on Kohn in Noam Pianko, Zionism and the Roads Not Taken: Rawidowicz, Kaplan, Kohn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010).

August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942


which had been so “natural” to it for many centuries; its connection with the state, with political authority, was severed; religion retreated into the intimacy and spontaneity of the individual conscience. The process of depolitization of religion was slow. . . . A similar depolitization of nationality is conceivable. It may lose its connection with political organization and remain only as a moving and intimate sentiment. But if that day arrives, the age of nationalism, in the sense in which the term is employed, will be past. (World Order, 108–­10)5 The truth is that to depolitize religion or nationhood is to break up the organization of power which the one or the other represents. What is left is merely a “sentiment” which has very little if any practical effect on life.

Present Crisis Forces Us to Unity A ugust  18, 1942 The main effect of the present crisis is to shift the goal of all our efforts from the individual to the collective, from the “I” to the “we.” We hardly need to be reminded that no man is alone now, that our safety lies in cooperation and in the pooling of all our resources. This applies not only to the individual, the family, the organization, but also to the state or the nation. No matter how strong a nation, it cannot hope to find safety in isolation. “One thought at the fore—­/ That in the Divine Ship, the World, / Breasting time and Space, / All Peoples of the globe together sail, / sail the same voyage, are bound to / the same destination” (Walt Whitman, “Old Age Echoes”).6 It would be a fatal mistake, however, to permit the same shifting from the individual to the collective in the matter of moral responsibility. While effort should be collectivized, moral responsibility must be individualized. This is the practical significance of all emphasis on human dignity and freedom, which Nazism is out to destroy.

5. Kaplan is quoting here from Hans Kohn, World Order in Historical Perspective (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1942). 6. It is very interesting to see Kaplan quoting Whitman. For the idea that a religion should be made out of the democratic faith, where Kaplan cites Whitman, who also “supported” this idea, see in this volume, chapter 2, July 25, 1942. For “Old Age Echoes,” see many editions of Leaves of Grass. In the Barnes and Noble edition, this fragment is listed as “Posthumous Additions.” See Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1993).


August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942

On Not Being Defeated A ugust  19, 1942 “Pilsudski7 said that ‘to be vanquished and yet not surrender, that is the greatest victory.’ In the second world war the Poles and the Serbs, the Norwegians and the Dutch have been vanquished, yet they have not surrendered.” The foregoing facts, especially the decision of the English when the fateful hour came and its actual effect in snatching victory from the Nazis when it [defeat?] seemed inevitable, should hearten us [in] these dark days when the United Nations are meeting with one defeat after another.

A Reconstructed Prayer Book8 S unday , A ugust  23, 1942 The last few days, I have been working on the SAJ [Society for the Advancement of Judaism] service for the coming year. I have dictated to Ira [Eisenstein] the interpretation of the first six sidrahs, which is to form part of the Torah reading. I have laid out the general plan for the Shaharit [morning service] and prepared responsive readings for the morning.9 The following is the order of the service for Shaharit. One of the psalms in pesukey de-­zimra [Heb., verses of song]10 is to be sung by choir (and congregation if possible), then nishmat [Heb., The breath of all that lives . . .], and an abbreviated text of two of the berakhot [Heb., blessings] of the shema and of the part following. In the Amidah11 the reference to the resurrection12 is

7. Josef Pilsudski (1867–­1935) was a Polish statesman and leading political figure on the European scene who believed in a multicultural Poland. 8. Although Kaplan’s Siddur, for which he was excommunicated, did not appear until 1945, one can see the early stages of the process here. Note that Kaplan began making changes to the traditional language of prayer in the nineteen twenties. One of the earliest changes involved the language of chosenness, which Kaplan removed from the prayer book. On the prayer book and on chosenness, see the index of my The Radical American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013). 9. Kaplan is discussing the service for Shabbat here. It is not clear what he is referring to when he mentions the first six Torah readings. Kaplan, of course, did comment on the Torah in all his works. Sidrah is the portion of the week. In general, Kaplan felt you must “mean what you say when you pray,” and here he is proposing changes in the language of the prayers, which he felt would be more comfortable for the modern mind. 10. Pesukey de’zimrah consists of a group of Psalms that are read in the early part of the morning service both during the week and on the Sabbath. Here Kaplan proposes choosing one of those Psalms. 11. Kaplan is referring to different parts of the service here. 12. Though Kaplan rejected the traditional concept of resurrection, he did affirm his belief in the immortality of the soul. In his words, “This prayerbook . . . affirms the immortality of the soul,

August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942


either omitted or superseded by the phrase noteh betoheynu hayey olam [Heb., who plants within us eternal life]. The Kedushah [Heb., holiness] will be alternated, one Shabbath nekadesh [Heb., We proclaim your holiness] and the next one na’aretzkha [Heb., We revere and hallow you . . .]. Before taking out the Torah, one of the following texts will be read in Hebrew and English. Bereikh shemey [Heb., Praised be Your name].13 Of the benediction after the maftir, the one referring to the Davidic messiah will be omitted.14 The Musaf [additional] service will consist of the following text, which will be recited standing and alternately in Hebrew and English: adir adireynu . . . [Heb., Our Exalted one . . .].15 The Musaf should strike a universal note, in contrast with the Shaharit, which stressed the national note. This is to be followed by a hymn, after which one of the following selections should be read also in English and Hebrew.16 Then comes one of a number of responsive readings to be chosen for each Sabbath. Using the beginning of the chapter on faith in God by Baeck17 (a most unreadable book), I wrote out the following:18 Life Is What We Make It19 What are good and evil, truth and falsehood, love and hate, valor and cowardice?

in terms that are in keeping with what modern minded men can accept as true.” Introduction to the Sabbath Prayer Book (New York: Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation, 1945), 12. 13. Kaplan appends here other phrases from this prayer. 14. Kaplan rejected the belief in a personal messiah, but he believed that a better time was in the future. He would certainly accept the concept of incremental improvement. In his words, “Our prayer must hence forth be that Israel may contribute its share to the universal effort in behalf of a world of freedom, justice and peace.” Introduction to the Sabbath Prayer Book, 12. 15. See the original of the diary online (volume 11, page 180) at www​.kaplancenter​.org for the chrestomathy of verses in Hebrew, which Kaplan lists here. For other examples of this form, see additional readings in the 1945 prayer book, entitled Sabbath Prayer Book with a Supplement Containing Prayers, Readings and Hymns and with a New Translation (New York: Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation, 1945). 16. The Hebrew is not clear here. See the original diary online (volume 11, page 181) at www​.kaplancenter​.org. 17. The book that formed the basis of this poem is Leo Baeck’s The Essence of Judaism (New York: Macmillan, 1936). The chapter Kaplan mentioned is on pages 77–­151. Rabbi Leo Baeck (1872–­1956) was a twentieth-­century German rabbi, scholar, and theologian. He served as leader to German Jews in the thirties and after the war was a leader of Liberal Judaism. He later served as leader of the World Union of Progressive Judaism. 18. Very early on, Kaplan proposed taking an essay or even a whole book and turning it into a poem, which can then be used as a prayer. He does that in the following selections. Kaplan, of course, was no poet but seemed to have considerable ability in creating this form. The language in each of the following poems is from the original; the poem is Kaplan’s. 19. A somewhat altered version of this poem is found in the Kaplan 1945 prayer book, page 426.


August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942

What is human destiny, the purpose of man’s existence, the good and the full life? In vain do we seek life’s meaning in the chance event, or in the iron law of cause and effect, in our successes or our failures, in our possessions or our losses. Life’s secret resides in the freedom of the spirit. Which bends all vicissitudes to its purpose of creating souls, of striking sparks of divinity out of the flint of hard circumstance. Life’s truth is in the power of choice and decision, Entrusted to man to fashion a world of beauty and goodness. Good is that which enhances for all alike the worth of human life. Good is that which challenges whatever robs life of its meaning for the weakest and the humblest in God’s Kingdom. Such good is unchanging and valid at all times and in all places. Its source is in God, the source of all being. Its call and compulsion derive from the inexhaustible spring of all life. This faith in life’s goodness is not the complacency of the self-­contented, of him who finds the world good, because he prospers in all he does. True faith wears no blinkers to hide the want and the misery that mar man’s world. It does not stop its ears to shut out the lament of those whose bodies are twisted with pain, or the piercing cry of those whose minds are stricken with the terror of death. Faint is the voice that bears gladsome tidings, small the measure of happiness in the world. “The days of our years are threescore years and ten, or even by reason of strength, fourscore years, yet is their pride but travail and vanity.” Our sacred writings unfold a tale of sighs and tears, of sorrow and affliction, of unending life and anguish of soul. They vibrate with indignant wrath at men’s baseness and depravity. They denounce men’s lust for the power to enslave his fellow. They cover with contempt the mean and groveling ambitions of heartless self-­seekers. Despite that, Israel’s faith refuses to pronounce the human scene beyond the reach of hope and betterment. That faith gives us no rest. It ferrets us out of every refuge we escape to from this melancholy vale of tears. It bids us take part in the driving and striving of men in farm and factory, in the marketplace, and in the halls of government.

August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942

For true religion is the will to life abundant, the will to face the world and change it, the will to face men and transform them, the will to bring forth the best out of the worst. This is true religion’s call to repentance and redemption. “Prepare ye a way for the Lord, a path in the wilderness for our God.”

Sacrifice20 In days of old, the altar that stood on Moriah’s hill smoked with the sacramental offerings. Our fathers brought to their God in token of thanksgiving or penitence And solemn rites with priestly pomp. While the Levites intoned psalms of praise To the music of timbrel and pipe, of loud sounding cymbals and harp. Well-­nigh sixty generations have passed since Roman legions set fire to the House of God and razed its altar to the ground. Yet the remembrance of those ancient rites lived on until yesteryear in wistful yearning for their return. Dead is that yearning; but the remembrance still lives on. Beckoning us to bring to God offerings of greater worth Not as gifts to win His favor but as privations to achieve the godly life For naught that is great or good but sacrifice makes it such. The youth who will not renounce the sweet but forbidden pleasure cannot know the calm serenity of old age. He who cannot forego the allure of revenge for hurt or affront lives to regret his ungenerous mind. He who so esteems his own judgment is never to yield any of the ground he holds foments endless strife [text unclear] “God’s sacrifice is a soul with its evil crushed; a heart bowed with humility,” A heart that has renounced all dreams of grandeur, A heart that is a stranger to rebellion against fate. Yet must we take heed that the God to whom we bring our offerings be the true God And no mere idol fashioned of our brutish impulse. There are times when primeval Chaos in man breaks out over as the frenzied blood lust which maddens tribes and peoples.

20. Kaplan does not indicate the essay or book on which this poem is based.



August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942

In their insane career or carnage and devastation, they rush headlong over mountain heaps of their own dead and wounded. Then cruel devotees of Moloch feed unstintingly his ravenous jaws with human sacrifices. Shall the just and merciful God receive the easy prattle of life prayer? The God who chose our father Abraham Bade him sacrifice his son Isaac on the mount where later the Temple stood. As a sign to the generations to come That they who Him should serve must give their all in the cause of truth and peace—­ Comfort, safety, life itself, their own and that of their dearest. When a marauding nation assaults and threatens to black out the light of mankind, We cannot by love and mercy, Struggle and war become our portion, Blood, sweat, and tears our obligatory offering Until the earth be cleansed of the evil spirit of barbarism and cruelty And God’s kingdom be established on it as visioned by our ancient seers.

The following two readings are adaptations from Emerson’s “An Address,” delivered before the Senior Class in Divinity College, Cambridge, Sunday evening, July 15, 1938.21 The Laws of the Soul The laws of the soul execute themselves. They are not subject to circumstance. In the soul of man, there is a justice whose retributions are instant and entire. He who does a good deed is instantly ennobled. He who does a mean deed is by that action itself contracted. He who puts off impurity thereby puts on purity. If a man is at heart just, the safety and the majesty of God do enter into him.

21. My discovery many years ago of these two poems based on Emersonian essays led me to a ten-­ year study of the works of Emerson. The fruits of my labors are found in part in the chapter on Emerson and Kaplan in Radical American Judaism, 28–­45. These poems based on Emerson are not found in the Kaplan 1945 prayer book. However, in going through the papers of Ira Eisenstein, I discovered a loose-­leaf prayer book from the SAJ of the forties that had in it this Emerson poem facing a poem based on an essay by Abraham Joshua Heschel. For the Heschel poem, see my The Radical American Judaism (209) or the original of the Kaplan diary, volume 11, September 19, 1942.

August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942

If a man dissemble or deceive, he deceives himself and goes out of acquaintance with his own being. The man who reverences himself comes to himself. Character is always known. Thefts never enrich. Alms never impoverish. Murder will speak out of stone walls. The least admixture of a lie, the least taint of vanity, will instantly vitiate the effect. But speak the truth and all nature and all spirits help you with unexpected furtherance Speak the truth and all things alive or brute are vouchers. As we are, so we associate. The good by affinity seek the good. The vile by affinity, the vile. Thus of their own volition souls proceed to heaven or to hell. These truths point to the sublime creed that the world is the product of but one will, one mind. That one mind is everywhere active, in each ray of the star, in each wavelet of the pool. So much benevolence as a man hath, so much of life hath he. He who seeks good ends is strong by the whole strength of God. For all good proceeds out of the same spirit variously named love, justice, temperance, just as the ocean receives different names on the several shores which it washes.

Needed Prophets for Our Day He who makes me aware that I am an infinite soul heartens me. He who gives me to myself lifts me. He who shows God in me fortifies me. He who hides God from me destroys the reason for my being. The divine prophets, bards, and lawgivers are friends of my virtue, of my intellect, of my strength. Noble provocations go out from them, inviting me to resist evil. But let us not speak of revelations as something long ago given and done. Only by coming to the God in ourselves can we grow forevermore. Let us not say that the age of inspiration is past, that the Bible is closed. Let us learn to believe in the soul of man and not merely in men departed. The need was never greater of new revelations than now. The faith of man has suffered universal decay. The heart moans because it is bereaved of consolation and hope and grandeur.



August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942

We feel defrauded and disconsolate. Our religion has become spectral. It has lost its grasp on the affection of the good and on the fear of the bad. What greater calamity can befall a nation than the loss of worship? Then all things go to decay. Genius leaves the Temple. Literature becomes frivolous. Science is cold. The eye of youth is not lighted by hope of a better world. Society lives for trifles. In the soul let redemption be sought. Let the keepers of religion show us that God is, not was. That He speaketh, not spoke. Wherever a man comes, there comes revolution. When a man comes, all books are legible, all things transparent. Such a one is a friend of all our aspirations. Having himself doubted, he can resolve over doubts. Trusting his own heart, he wins our confidence. Such men may God send us to rekindle the nigh quenched fires on the altars of God And cheer our fainting hearts with new hope and new revelation.

Some Live Heroically, but I Am Not One of Them A ugust  23, 1942 This summer I have occasion to note an analogous example of stoic behavior which evoked my deepest admiration. Louis Epstein, a Seminary graduate and a rabbi in Brookline, a man of about 55. His wife whom he married about 25 years ago has been afflicted with a progressive ailment the last few years. Her legs are virtually paralyzed, and she has to be wheeled about in a chair. Epstein has been acting as her nurse. Yet never a word of complaint from either. He goes about his work when he does not attend to her, as though he were on top of the world. And she does as much work as her condition permits her to do, such as conducting classes and meeting groups. They both know the fatal character of her disease. Yet they both manage to live and to help others live. The fact that they are in addition childless, far from having a depressing effect on them, seems to make life easier for them. I wish that people who live so heroically would realize how eager people are to know the secret of their heroism and [that] they were able to communicate that secret to others. It would be a far greater boon to mankind even than the discovery of vitamins. I need only think by contrast of the family into which I was born to appreciate what a blessing such heroism or stoicism is. My mother, whose

August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942


entire life, as far as I can recall, was one of worry, envy, strife, hysteria, fainting, and complaining—­despite her never missing a prayer or a benediction; likewise my sister, who unfortunately has not had a happy day in her entire life due to her hysterical environment and to her own weak will, which has made her Mother’s slave; both are typical of the lack of that courage and fearlessness without which life is a continual nightmare. I imagine that the number of people who do not know how to live heroically is by far in the majority. I may count myself as one of them.

Joshua Loth Liebman Seeks Kaplan’s Counsel M onday , A ugust  31, 1942 This morning Rabbi Joshua L. Liebman of Boston called. He said he had done considerable reading this summer in Hebrew literature. He had read the Bible, Bialik’s Sefer Ha-­Aggadah,22 medieval Jewish philosophy,23 and modern Hebrew poetry,24 thus covering the main periods of Hebraic culture. At the same time, he read in translation some of the ancient Greek writings and modern philosophy. The upshot of all this reading was that from Hebrew literature—­with the exception, of course, of the Bible—­he derived but little guidance and inspiration, whereas the non-­Jewish material stimulated him in his thinking. What he wanted to know was how in the face of such a fact we could go on maintaining the worthwhileness of Jewish life. It speaks well for him that he assumed none of the sanctimonious airs of most of my colleagues and that he frankly expressed what was on his mind concerning the content of our tradition. On the other hand, in what a stew we Jews must be if men in the active rabbinate—­and successful men at that—­find that upon which they base their appeals in behalf of Judaism very much of a hollow foundation. What he expressed is what all modern rabbis who are honest with themselves actually feel. But they dare not voice their feelings, even to one another. Yet if there is ever to come redemption to

22. The most accessible English edition is The Book of Legends—­Sefer Ha-­Aggadah: Legends from the Talmud and Midrash, ed. Hayyim N. Bialik and Yehoshua H. Ravnitzki (New York: Schocken, 1992). The first complete English translation of the Hebrew classic Sefer Ha-­Aggadah brings to the English-­speaking world the greatest and best-­loved anthology of classical Rabbinic literature ever compiled. First published in Odessa in 1908–­11, it was recognized immediately as a masterwork in its own right and reprinted numerous times in Israel. 23. The best short introduction to medieval Jewish thought are the relevant chapters in Kaplan’s The Greater Judaism in the Making: A Study of the Modern Evolution of Judaism (New York: Reconstructionist Press, 1960.) See especially chapter 4, “Trends in Medieval Judaism.” For a more scholarly introduction, see The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Jewish Philosophy, ed. Daniel H. Frank and Oliver Leaman (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001). 24. The interested reader might consult Ruth F. Mintz, Modern Hebrew Poetry: A Bi-­lingual Anthology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966).


August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942

Jewish life, it will be only when the rabbis come to have the courage to speak the truth about the sterility of the greater part of the contents of Jewish tradition and to dedicate themselves to the task of fructifying it and engaging in or stimulating others to engage in the creation of new Jewish content. My answer to Liebman was the following: I do not base my efforts to keep the Jewish people alive on any assumed superiority or even excellence of its ideology. To me, the purpose of being familiar with its ancient and present-­day writings is to identify in terms of thought-­content the actual life of the Jewish people. Such familiarity must be supplemented by participation in the social relationships and responsibilities of Jewish life in order that I get the sense of immediacy in the identification of the group reality known as the Jewish people. After having established this identity, I, being conditioned as I am, accept Jewish life as the particular landscape which, being mine, I must not permit to remain in the dilapidated condition in which it is at present. It is expected of me, and it is to the advantage of everybody concerned, for me to undertake to remove all the rocks and dead roots in it and to plow it up and plant it with the best seed I can secure and that can grow in it. Unlike the various ethical culture and humanist groups, which in their eclecticism resemble stores that sell seeds for planting which they have bought up from different places, my main concern is with a given landscape or wheated farmland. They have no such concern. That makes their task easier but far less creative.

Helping Local Rabbis with High Holiday Sermons25 S eptember  4, 1942 I met with a number of Seminary graduates and students twice this week to give them some ideas for sermons for the High Holidays. There were about 30 of each of the two groups. The graduates were from the metropolitan area. Though some came from farther out, from Elizabeth[, New Jersey], [or] Mortimer Cohen from Philadelphia. I followed a new procedure which I think was an improvement on the one of previous years. After lecturing for an hour, during which I gave them the outlines of three sermons, I divided the men into three groups. Each group took one of the subjects and discussed it for about 45 minutes, after which time all three groups reassembled and the chairman reported on the results of the discussion. I then spent with them about half an hour commenting on their criticism and suggestions. On the whole I came to the sessions with a great deal of zest, thanks to what I felt to be inherently worthwhile ideas

25. For many years, Kaplan met with local rabbis in the late summer to help them with their High Holiday sermons. In the rabbinical school of JTS, Kaplan taught homiletics to all students. We might see these annual summer sessions as a continuation of his homiletics course.

August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942


which I was about to present to the men. But after the sessions were over, a sense of vacuity settled over me. I ascribe that to the fact that the men did not make the slightest contribution to the thoughts I had developed. All that they seemed to be interested in was not how to convey some idea which they themselves felt to be true but how to make an impression, how to catch the ear, not the mind, of the people.

Heroism—­an Example S eptember  4, 1942 “‘The Death-­and-­Glory-­boys’ is an incredibly courageous group of youngsters, whose job it is to devitalize mines and bombs by removing the mechanism which sets off the explosive. Equipped only with skill and nerve, these experts whose average age is less than 26 have faced risks probably greater than any other in the war. The mortality rate tells the story. Of the first 500 deactivators forming the Royal Navy’s Rendering Mines Safe—­RMS—­Section during the first two years of the war only 38 are alive today. Rouson was methodically dismantling a mine, and through a microphone, telling a stenographer a mile away precisely what steps he was taking. This communications system eventually was put into effect to relieve the expert of the necessity of walking back to his assistant every so often to report on his operations and more effectively preserve information to be circulated among the RMS for guidance to prevent another from repeating a fatal move.” [Esquire, September 1942] The two foregoing instances illustrate (1) fearlessness in the face of death and (2) a concern for the life of the survivors to a degree far beyond the capacity of the ordinary man. It is only due to the immaturity of the prevailing sense of values that much less is made of such heroic exploits as evidences of man’s inexhaustible potentialities than of the extraordinary feats of sportsmen.

Concerning God—­Experience Comes First, Not Reason S eptember  7, 1942 The first thing we must realize is that we cannot experience the reality of God through the process of reasoning. God is not, as Heinberg [?] maintained, a necessary intellectual hypothesis any more than the existence of personality.26 God and self are in the same class of ideas as light and sound. If you haven’t experienced them, you can’t be reasoned into them. All reasoning about them is merely an attempt to clarify their nature and mode of operation after they have been experienced. The history of religion does not reveal a single case of any

26. Most times, when Kaplan uses the word personality he means the self.


August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942

thinker who arrived at the idea of God as a scientist arrives at a hypothesis. The same incidentally is true of the self. The reasoning of philosophers about God was intended to interpret the experience of God’s reality, to have it harmonize with other experiences, especially those of evil. But there first had to be an experience of the reality of God. The trouble with most theologians is that they are content to accept the religious experience as recorded in tradition and to proceed to philosophize from that point. Therein the mystics have known better. They struggled to achieve the experience of God’s reality for themselves . . .27 But believing in God and experiencing Him is no proof that the God we believe in is the true God, is the God that will enable us to live and to make the most of life. Experiencing the reality of God may be like experiencing the sight of an oasis in the desert. It may turn out to be a mirage, a delusion, a false God. The aggressor nations elicit from large numbers of their people the participation in the form of sacrifice, hope, and fearlessness. These people undoubtedly experience what to them is God. What then is gained by such experience? The answer is that experiencing the reality of God is not enough to give us the faith we can deeply believe in. It may be a mirage, an illusion that may give us for a time inner happiness but finally end in frustration. The Nazi soldier who died with a kiss of Hitler’s picture he carried in his pocket had a religious experience, but neither this type of personality nor the type of his god could long keep the world going. What we need is to be sure of that the God we experience is a life-­giving and not death-­dealing god. Such assurance can come only from the way of life to which our group is committed. Hence for any faith to be deeply believed in, it must proclaim a way of life which we are certain will enable human beings to get the most out of life. It is unfortunately in this regard that as Jews and as Americans we find ourselves in a predicament. Our enemies have no doubts or hesitations about their way of life being the right one. It is that which gives them their indefatigable strength. The foregoing is a tour [?] of the sermon I was trying to work out for the first day of Rosh Hashanah. As I developed the thought concerning the kind of faith men could deeply believe, I came to an impasse. There are some ideas in the above that should prove quite fruitful.

27. A number of paragraphs are omitted here. In terms of the primacy of experience with reference to religion, the interested reader might look into William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study of Human Nature (1902), or William E. Hocking, The Meaning of God in Human Experience (1912). Both works helped shape Kaplan’s sense of religious experience.

August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942


Democracy and the Struggle against Nazism S eptember  8, 1942 For the first time since the destruction of our second commonwealth have we Jews had war declared against us alongside other nations. The avowed aim in our case is total extermination. These facts should make us realize that we are fighting with our backs to the wall against the Nazi hordes and their way of life. We should be grateful that the very desperateness of our situation compels us to reformulate the democratic way of life so that its failures which have mainly been responsible for the Nazi counterrevolution shall be eliminated. But if that reformulation is not to remain merely a hollow slogan and to become a genuine faith and life pattern, we Jews should utilize our very needs as a people as a test for the nations to demonstrate the sincerity of their new democracy. If the new democracy is to be an effective faith or way of life, it must not tolerate any manifestation of anti-­Semitism. We Jews ought to have been infinitely more vocal and more insistent that an end be put to all discrimination against us. In the name of that new democracy which spells equality of individuals and groups regardless of race, creed, or nation, we ought to appeal to the American people to treat anti-­Semitism for what it is: a challenge to that way of life to which it has been dedicated from the beginnings of its career. What I am asking is not merely that we should be more insistent than ever that anti-­Semitism be stamped out. I am asking that we make our fight against anti-­Semitism integral to a faith, to a way of life for the good not only of the Jews but of all mankind.

A Religion Should Be Effective, True, and Worthwhile S eptember  8, 1942 According to tradition, a faith or way of life is effective in that it is assumed to act as a brake on man’s passions and desires and to reduce his needs to a minimum by disciplining them; the laws and moralities we expected to keep people under control and their prayers and observances to prevent the evil forces from doing harm. It was true in that it was believed to have been revealed by God. It was worthwhile in that it was regarded as bestowing immortality and bliss in the hereafter. Then came humanism and the enlightenment and proved that the traditional way of life was not effective from its own point of view and in addition that its claim to be divinely revealed could not be supported by fact and that its promise of bliss in the hereafter could not be substantiated. They therefore proposed a new way of life which they believed would prove effective, true, and worthwhile. This is the democratic faith or way of life, which interpreted effective as meaning that all citizens of a nation regardless of religious affiliation shall be permitted to exercise their natural rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness so long


August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942

as they do not trespass on one another’s right. The democratic faith was true insofar as it complied with the demands of reason. It was worthwhile since it was capable of bringing the greatest happiness to the greatest number. Unfortunately, the hopes of the democratic faith did not materialize. It permitted the growth of an economic system which created class distinctions, threatened the system itself with periodic attacks of paralysis or crises which increased in scope and fatality, and sharpened national rivalries. This could hardly be considered workable. Its compliance with reason means in most instances merely that the concepts of reason were used to rationalize and justify the status quo as inevitable. This could hardly make a faith true. And with the vast number of human beings living lives of desperation, that way of life could hardly be deemed worthwhile.28

On Discontinuing the Reconstructionist and Other Depressing Thoughts S eptember  18, 1942 After we were through discussing the editorials [for the Reconstructionist], I mentioned the fact that Ira had applied for an army chaplaincy and that in case he is accepted it might be advisable to discontinue the magazine for the duration. The members of the Board were shocked by my suggestion. [Milton] Steinberg intimated that there must be some deeper cause to have prompted me to suggest so lightly the suspension of the magazine than the fact of Ira’s enlistment as chaplain. I must admit that he sensed the truth, though of course I said nothing at the meeting to verify his suspicions. The fact is that I am very much disheartened by the rapid progress of the disintegrating forces in Jewish life and by the obduracy, blindness, or selfishness, as the case may be, of the so-­called leaders. In addition, I find myself in complete solitude stewing in my own mental misery day in and day out. I have not a single person I can study or work with. There is no place where I can use my energies to any effect. I feel daily I am getting older and less able to take criticism or to meet trouble. My poor sister, whose husband hasn’t been earning anything for the last five years and who has to put up with Mother’s tyrannical ways, is once more in dire straits because of her husband’s nervous breakdown for the third time these last 13 or 14 years. And in case Ira is accepted in the army, I shall have to preach every week and to fuss around with a group of people at the SAJ with whom I am pretty well fed up and whose imperviousness to any real Jewishness and idealism is more than I can cope with—­all this is not calculated to make one bubble over

28. Though a strong believer in democracy, Kaplan was also critical, as we see here.

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with energy and enthusiasm. These are some of the reasons, no doubt, behind my suggestion to suspend the Reconstructionist. I really do not see why I should have to continue to carry the responsibility for the movement—­if it is a movement—­and why some of the younger men should not take it over. The very fact or suspicion that Reconstructionism is still one man’s affair is what breaks my heart. I only hope to God that some changes for the better take place soon, either in me or in my coworkers and, best of all, in both.

Abraham J. Heschel’s “Analysis of Piety”—­and Kaplan’s Poem Based on It S eptember  19, 1942 Last Thursday I worked out the following adaptation from “Analysis of Piety” by Abraham Heschel:29 The Pious Man30 What is piety? Is it abandonment of the world? Is it scrupulous performance of rites or fanatic zeal? Let us observe the pious man and probe into his soul. We shall discover in it that which transcends man That which surmounts the visible and available, Steadily preventing him from immersing himself in sensation or ambition, From yielding to passion or slaving for a career. For him life takes place amid horizons beyond the span of years. He senses the significant in small things; He is alive to the sublime in common acts and simple thoughts. He feels the warmth of good beneath the thick crust of evil. In the rush of the passing, he notes the stillness of the eternal. He complies with destiny. He is at peace with life. Every experience opens to him the door into a temple of light, Though the vestibule be dark and dismal. His responsibility to God is the scaffold on which he stands,

29. Abraham J. Heschel. See the glossary for full identification. 30. This poem is based on an essay by Heschel published in the Review of Religion 6, no. 3 (March 1942): 293–­307. That essay is reprinted in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Abraham Joshua Heschel, ed. Susannah Heschel (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996), 305–­18. The language here is Heschel’s; the poem is Kaplan. The interested reader might read more on this poem and on the relationship between Heschel and Kaplan in my “Mordecai the Pious—­Kaplan and Heschel,” in Radical American Judaism, 206–­26.


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As daily he builds his life. He serves family, friend, community, and nation; These never become for him blind alleys. They ever remain thoroughfares to God. With sacrifice and singlemindedness he continues on the way. His conscience is attuned to listen to the voice of God. His concern is for the will of God. He turns his back on human vanity. He condemns the shabbiness of human service. And deplores the meagerness of human service. He abhors shining, a smiling countenance or miracles of art When they cover vice or blasphemy. He loathes great temples and monuments of worldly glory When built by sweat and tears of suffering slaves. The pious man lays no claim to reward. For him self-­exclusion, self-­forgetfulness, inner anonymity is the rule. Engrossed in the beauty of what he worships, he shuns self-­display. The wise man, master of himself, oft deems himself author of his mastery; Not so the pious who, no less master of himself, administers his life in God’s name. The wise man seeks to penetrate into the soul of the sacred; The pious man ever strives to be penetrated by it. Faith engages a man’s mind; Piety, his entire life. Faith precedes piety; Piety is faith’s achievement. Faith desires to meet God; Piety, to abide by Him; Faith, to know his will; Piety, to do it; Faith, to hear his voice; Piety, to respond to it. The pious man is never alone, For God is within reach of his heart. In affliction, though desolate for a moment, he need but turn his eyes To discover his grief outflanked by God’s compassion. Having achieved understanding, he believes. Having acquired, he gives away. Having lived, he knows how to die. He craves not vainly for the endless rotation of his own life’s wheel. He is content to merge his being into that of the God he loves.

Abraham Heschel happened to call on me today before returning to Cincinnati: He teaches at the Hebrew Union College. I showed him my adaptation

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of his essay, and he was very pleased with it. It was at his suggestion that I broke up what I first had as longer lines into shorter ones.

The Church and the War S eptember  25, 1942 A disturbing instance illustrating the failure to recognize the true source of religious experience is the effort of a large number of Christian clergy to demonstrate that “the Church, as such, is not at war.” On the principle that our experience of God derives from the way in which we encounter threat to our lives, a church that has nothing to say about this war except that it is a tragic calamity or divine judgment cannot expect to make much difference in people’s lives when the war is over.

Praying and the Prayer Service F riday , O ctober  2, 1942 A week from tomorrow we shall start the new order of religious service at the SAJ. I should like to utilize the occasion to explain what prompted us to depart from our customary form of service and the main purposes we want to achieve with our innovations. We have been carrying on for over twenty years with a type of service which virtually retained the whole of the traditional context. We merely eliminated the undue repetition of Kaddish, the repetition of the Amidah, and they have added some occasional prayers in English. Despite it being a vast improvement on the type of service conducted in other synagogues, according to the testimony of those who attend our service for the first time, the novelty would soon wear off, and for those who come frequently the main motive in attending is the interest in the sermon, as is the case with the other types of service. . . . The task therefore of those who are determined to keep the spiritual values alive and to have them make a difference in the affairs of men is to retrieve the inherent need for worship. Worship is sheer futility unless it arises from a need which has its roots in the best part of our nature and at the same time tries to meet that need. We must remember that in canvassing the best part of our own nature, we must realize that it is to be found in our second nature, in that part of us which we acquire from our social heritage into which we are born and to which we are committed by fate and not by choice. Hence the question we put to ourselves in reorganizing our service was: What need is it that the Jew should normally experience and that worship alone can meet? There can be only one answer to that: It is the need of experiencing the three elements of Jewish life—­the reality of the Jewish people, the inexhaustible significance of its way of life, and the consciousness of God—­in their unity and mutual relationship . . .


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. . . Each one is identified with some cultural and spiritual heritage which supplies him with that wholeness of spirit. By virtue of that heritage, a person is not merely a grocer, or physician, lawyer or chandler, but man once again. That heritage is his religion and therefore the medium of worship. As Jews our heritage gives us the means to rediscover our inherent unity with life and reality. But it does that only as we are engaged in experiencing its own unity and the organic relation of the three different aspects which it presents to us—­peoplehood, life pattern, godhood—­Israel, Torah, God. This kind of experience is something that each Jew needs if he is to see life steadily and whole, and only the kind of worship which affords him that experience can be genuine and satisfying. With that principle in mind, we planned the new order of service. . . . We also must consciously hold in mind the particular kavanot, goals or objectives, we wish to attain through worship, if we want worship to make a difference in our lives. What these kavanot or objectives should be, and how our new order of service is intended to attain them, is what I shall now try to set forth. We should come to these services first and foremost with the kavanah or objective of immersing ourselves in the living spirit of Israel . . . Judaism through its worship must give us a sense of belonging to the Jewish people, past, present, and future. But how is that objective to be achieved? The form must as far as possible be Hebraic. We must worship in Hebrew because it is only as we use the Hebrew and understand what we are saying that the very life spirit of our people begins to course through our souls. Far more important than a common bloodstream is a common language for making of many one, of families a community, of communities, however settled in time and space, a nation that is a living organism. Let us have the kavanah to make of these two hours of worship an actual experience of reunion with Israel. Let us grow accustomed to using more and more Hebrew as we proceed. Just as those of our members who want to qualify for singing train themselves for the music, so all participants in the service should train themselves in so mastering the Hebrew of the ritual that in time it will not be necessary to resort to translation. To cherish this kavanah, it is necessary to rid ourselves of the false assumption that worship is merely communion with God, and it should not matter which language we employ. Worship is before all else communion with that people which helps to make me holy or whole. For that very reason, we cannot be content with individual worship. We need at least a quorum, or minyan, to give us a visible token of that people we commune with. The larger the congregation, the more evident that people becomes to us. But the evidence of numbers is only outward. For evidence of inner communion with the Jewish people, we need only Hebrew as the medium of worship.

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S aturday , O ctober  3, 1942 A second element in our worship which we should approach with the intention or kavanah of experiencing the reality of Israel should be the reading of the Torah . . . Next to the kavanah or sensing the reality of Israel and immersing ourselves in it is the kavanah or purpose of experiencing the inexhaustible significance of the Jewish way of life. Judaism has taught mankind that the worship of God must center about and be inspired by the knowledge of how to live and how to make the most out of life’s opportunities. This is why the reading and interpretation of Torah have constituted the heart of Jewish worship. This time I refer to Torah not merely as a reflection of the Jewish spirit in the past but as the ever-­present mentor to be and do one’s best. This function the Torah has been able to fulfill through the process of interpretation, through preaching which was not merely exhortation but also teaching. The written tradition Torah shibectab [written Torah] became dynamic only as its meaning was made relevant to moral and spiritual needs of the day through Torah she’ba’al peh [oral Torah]. The Jewish way of life must henceforth be so enlarged in its scope as to throw light on and be made relevant to the problems which we daily confront as American citizens, even to a larger degree than those we confront as Jews. The Jewish way of life must be made to apply to the problems underlying the present world cataclysm. It must provide the rationale for democracy, which we have now come to realize is the issue that will have to be fought out to the limit if civilization is to survive and mankind is to be saved from answering the call of the wild. And besides providing the rationale, it must actually inculcate in our people the habits and attitudes of democracy, for immediate and daily use, habits {233} which they are at present as far from possessing as the generality of mankind. Nothing human may remain alien to a Torah or way of life, which means to be not merely an ancient relic but a present-­day generator of social energy. The third and crowning type of kavanah we should like our order of service to satisfy is that of achieving an awareness of God’s reality and presence . . . It is not enough, however, to know what God is not like. We must have some inkling of what God is like. It is to that end that we engage in worship. The mind may tell us that God is too transcendent to be known. But the heart says, in the words of the Psalmist, “Withal that seek God’s presence,” and with the Psalmist we must yield to the promptings of the heart, “Thy presence, O Lord, will I seek.” At this point, I venture to submit what I experience as the reality and presence of God, on the assumption that every normally constituted person is subject to the same experience. It is only a question of recognizing it for what it is and giving it its true name. I refer to the will to make the most of life, the will


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to exploit to the utmost all its possibilities for growth and happiness. I cannot help regarding it as though it were a single beam of light radiating from some inexhaustible source. That beam of light is the best in each of us. It is our personality. It is what we term “I.” The inexhaustible source of my will to make the most of life is God. It is the “Thou” we hail and glorify each time we say, “Blessed be Thou O Lord our God King of the Universe.” . . . If we are to have faith in man and man’s future, if we are to have the indomitable courage necessary to meet the onset of those who incarnate and organize the evil in human nature, if we are to be confident that the sacrifices made in behalf of a world order that is based on justice and loving-­kindness are not in vain, then we must be in active communion with God, of whom our best self, our selfless urge to make the most of life, is an infinitesimal but actual ray of energy. With this kavanah in mind, we should learn to recite our benedictions and utter our praises of God. Let us grasp the full significance of the keyword barukh used in worship. It means “to bless” and is a two-­way word, for we bless God and we ask God to bless us. In the former case it means that we glorify God, in the latter that God prospers. But there is in the very twofold use of the term the implication of mutuality, of God’s needing man and man’s needing God. In the words of a medieval poet, “His glory is upon me and mine upon him.” These then in brief are the three types of kavanot, purposes or objectives with which modern men and women should learn to worship as Jews. They represent three types of spiritual values to which we want worship to sensitize us. Let every prayer we recite, every song we sing, every teaching we listen to set the current of Israel’s life coursing through our whole being, challenge us to test the ever living truth of what Israel has learned concerning man’s task on earth, and reveal to us the God who always stands at the door of our heart, waiting as it were to be admitted. In this spirit let us pray: “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to Thee O God, my strength and my redeemer.”

Praise for Louis Finkelstein O ctober  9, 1942 I remember having made an entry in one of the previous journals, complaining of Adler’s stupidity in not availing himself of the opportunity offered by Seminary occasions to enhance the reputation of the Seminary and to enrich Jewish life with red-­letter days. I certainly have no reason to utter any such complaint now. Since Finkelstein has taken hold of the Seminary, things are humming. For that he deserves a great deal of credit. He did a wise thing in taking Moshe Davis31 as his secretary. Davis, having a [unreadable, vol. 11, p. 235,

31. Moshe Davis. See the glossary.

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bottom] for pageantry and the dramatic is putting notions into his head. The graduation exercises will at least be livened up by impressive ceremonies. On Wednesday F. [Finkelstein] met with Louis Ginzberg,32 [Saul] Lieberman,33 and me to work out specific suggestions for the ordination ceremony to be held early in November when graduating the students of the third-­year class. This advance graduation is taking place to meet the need for Jewish chaplains in the armed forces. The Seminary has so far made the poorest showing among the main rabbinical schools in the number of Jewish chaplains that have come from among its graduates.

The Nature of Judaism O ctober  9, 1942 To understand Judaism as it really functioned in the life of the Jews, it is necessary to identify it as Torah or with its equivalent—­a national pattern of life. With that as a basis, we can proceed to analyze Judaism into its two elements which seldom exist separately but which should be studied separately if we want to get their full significance. Those two elements are nationhood and personal salvation.

Some Thoughts on the Teachers Institute M onday , O ctober  12, 1942 I began teaching at the Teachers Institute yesterday and at the Seminary this morning. This is my thirty-­fourth year at the Teachers Institute. I cannot say I have altogether found myself with my work at the Teachers Institute. This is due to a number of factors. In the first place, the institution itself has been static for the last 10–­12 years as a result of Finkelstein’s influence. As soon as that influence made itself felt during Adler’s regime, the policy of retrenchment began. Finkelstein tried to undermine me by representing me and the Institute as secularist-­nationalist (Jewish) in spirit. It was he who brought Simon Greenberg into the Seminary Faculty to counteract the influence wielded (or supposed to be

32. Louis Ginzberg (1873–­1953) was a Talmud and midrashic scholar, faculty member at JTS, author, and one of the founders of the Conservative Movement. He was a primary faculty critic of Kaplan, and the two shared a complex relationship. See previous volumes of Communings of the Spirit and my biography of Kaplan, Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century: A Biography of Mordecai M. Kaplan (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993), for more on the Ginzberg-­Kaplan relationship. 33. Saul Lieberman (1898–­1983) was a rabbi and Talmud scholar who taught for many years at Jewish Theological Seminary. He was a cousin to the haredi leader “the Hazon Ish,” a highly influential faculty member, and very traditional in thought and practice. For more on Lieberman, see Marc Shapiro, Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox (Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press, 2006).


August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942

wielded) by the Institute in the same way as he himself had been appointed as the Seminary Theologian at Charles Hoffman’s34 urging to counteract my influence on the students. In addition to the Seminary attitude which has expressed itself in curtailing the teaching staff, the teaching staff itself has not been exerting a wholesome influence on the students. Well, those exercises took place yesterday. I had come prepared with a Hebrew address which I had worked on for days and which it took me 42 minutes to deliver. The Hebrew was such that probably only the members of the Faculty understood it. Of the students, not even 50 percent were present, and even these came straggling in groups of two and three. The basement—­for such it literally is—­where the exercises are conducted is calculated to freeze the soul out of any convocation which takes place there. The high platform which separates the speaker from the audience as though he were speaking to them from a high mountain destroys the last vestige of intimacy between him and the audience. Add to that the fact that this time the audience of about 40 students filled only one-­third of the auditorium and you get an idea of what a disintegrating effect the whole atmosphere is bound to have been even on the most sanguine and self-­ confident spirit with which one might come to address a meeting of that kind. On top of that, I bored a lot of tired and hungry students, after they had been taking classes for over three hours, with a speech packed close with ideas about the Institute’s being a kind of “Guide for the Perplexed.” Is it a wonder that the whole performance was a grand failure? I well knew the opening exercises were a flop. I felt it in my bones. But my feelings were frayed even worse when Judith, who had led in the singing and who, by the way, tried to teach the students a new and difficult song—­another cold douche on the exercises—­went home together with me and kept on emphasizing the inappropriateness of my address at an occasion of that kind. By the time she was through, I felt inside me like a washed-­out rag. But I did not betray the least sign of disgruntlement. This self-­suppression probably accounts for that horrible spell of inner despondency that got hold of me after she was through. It was one of those that come over me from time to time. It was in that state of mind that I tried to begin preparing what I had to teach today at the Seminary. I felt for a while as though I was going mentally to pieces. Fortunately I came upon an article in a recent number of “Moznayim”35 which made me forget my woes. That was an article by Buber36 in which he draws

34. Charles I. Hoffman (1864–­1945), ordained JTS, was a journalist, friend of Solomon Schechter, and Conservative leader. 35. This is a Hebrew periodical published by the Hebrew Writers Association in Israel, 1929–­. 36. Martin Buber (1878–­1965) was an Austrian-­born Jewish philosopher best known for his philosophy of dialogue. He came to Jerusalem and the Hebrew University in 1938. See the index of volume 2 of Communings of the Spirit for more diary entries on Kaplan and Buber.

August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942


an interesting parallel between Hitler and the false messiah [Jacob] Frank.37 The article fascinated me. But that time I was through with it. I was able to go on with preparing my work for today. Before I knew it, I wrote out the outline of what turned out to be an excellent introduction to the courses at the Seminary. These are now known, respectively, as Philosophy of Religion, Homiletics, and Midrash. I think I owe it to Moshe Davis, who is now Finkelstein’s secretary, that the material other than actual Homiletics, which I have been giving all these years, is being legitimized under the title of Philosophy of Religion. In fact, from that point on, I snapped out of my state of depression and proceeded to plan, without any inner hindrance, what I was to give the students this morning. I worked out in addition a series of pointed questions, the answers to which would give me an idea how they are minded in their religious beliefs. The questions were the following: 1. What are your conceptions of God and of the human soul, and to what influences do you trace those conceptions? 2. Have you ever entertained any doubts concerning the historicity of miracles and Revelation on Mount Sinai as recorded in Scripture, and if so, have you resolved them and how? 3. Do you subscribe to the following doctrines: (a) bodily resurrection; (b) the coming of a personal Messiah who is a descendent of David; (c) restoration of the sacrificial cult; (d) the diaspora as a punishment for sin; (e) divine partiality to Israel? 4. Do you regard the diaspora as a permanent condition? Explain your answer. I have not had a chance to look over the replies of all the men, of whom there were more than 50, but I did look over most of the replies and found that with very few exceptions the answers to question 3 were mostly negative. This indicates that they have definitely broken with Orthodoxy.

On Not Reading Fiction O ctober  20, 1942 I have never learned to devour books of the belles lettres type. I read slowly and little at a time. Every other while I pause to reflect on what I have read. I do not enjoy what I read unless I find in it implications for the meaning of life and its conduct. For that reason I prefer truth to fiction and always find it stranger and more challenging than fiction.

37. Jacob Frank (1726–­1791) was a Polish heretical “rabbi” who believed he was a reincarnation of the false messiah Shabbetai Zvi. Frank’s teachings had strong sexual content.


August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942

National Despair and National Redemption O ctober  23, 1942 There is no clearer statement of the cosmic significance of the national redemption of Israel than that ascribed to Rav,38 a contemporary of Samuel, and which has come to be recited at the end of every prayer service thrice daily throughout the entire year. “We therefore hope in thee, O Lord our God, that we may speedily behold the glory of thy might when thou wilt remove the abominations from the earth and idols will be utterly cut off, when the world will be perfected under the kingdom of the Almighty and all the children of flesh will call on thy name.” In the light of this cosmic significance, we can solve the riddle of how it was possible for the Jews to cherish the hope of national redemption at times when every circumstance pointed to what should ordinarily give rise to national despair. If that hope was not dimmed, if it never degenerated into a meaningless formula, it must have been because it was accompanied by some saving assumption whereby it managed to outlive the worst possible disasters that befell the Jews. F riday , O ctober  23, 1942 That formula was known as “hevlo shel mashiah,” the “travail of the Messiah.” It is based on the idea that labor pains are part of the birth of a new age and on biblical texts which represent mother Zion as a woman in travail as she is about to give birth to the Redeemer (Micah 5, 1ff.). Moreover, Daniel, which is one of the main sources of the traditional conceptions of the Messiah, states that prior to the redemption Jews will experience “a time of trouble such as never has been since there was a nation” (Daniel 12, 1; also ibid., 9, 24–26). This idea is further elaborated in the apocryphal books (cf. Moore II 361, Klausner, Ha-­razon ha-­mishihi [Heb., The Messianic Longing]39 p. 283ff.). In the Talmud (and Midrash) numerous passages detail all the woes and calamities that are destined to mark the period immediately preceding the advent of the Messiah (Sanhed. 97a, Yoma 10a, D. E. Zulta ch. 10, PesR. ch. 15, Cant. R. on 2, 13). One of these passages reads, “The son of David will not come until the redemption is despaired of, for it is written when he sees them powerless, dispeopled to a man” (Deut. 32, 36), as if to say—­“Israel had neither supporter nor helper” (San. 97a). All of the foregoing references indicate how deeply rooted was the faith in the

38. Rav was a famous rabbinic figure of the fourth century. 39. Klausner wrote extensively on the messianic idea. See his The Messianic Idea in Israel: From the Beginning to the Completion of the Mishnah (New York: Macmillan, 1955).

August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942


ultimate redemption of the Jewish people and how irrefutable it came to be in the face of the most challenging circumstances.

Honorary Degrees—­Chaim Weizmann and Henrietta Szold O ctober  23, 1942 At the Seminary faculty meeting, Finkelstein said that in addition to the three who are to be awarded honorary degrees at the special graduation exercises to be held on Nov. 9, two additional names have been suggested—­Dr. Chaim Weizmann40 and Mrs. Felix M. Warburg.41 The only one to raise any doubts about Weizmann’s qualifications was Simon Greenberg, who questioned whether the Seminary should award an honorary degree to a man who was a secularist. Someone defended Weizmann on the ground that he joined in a fast recently called for by the Orthodox rabbinical bodies and attended services that day. (What fun!) The difficulty of the case of Mrs. Warburg was that the first woman to be awarded the degree should have been Miss Szold. When her name was suggested some time ago, I understand Louis Ginzberg42 opposed granting her an honorary degree because of some grudge he has been bearing against her for years. He was not present at the meeting this time, and I am one of a committee to try to persuade him to consent to the two additional names which were passed on by the rest of us.

Changes in the Sabbath Services at SAJ O ctober  23, 1942 At present I preach once a week at the SAJ services in addition to the sermons I give in the holidays. I still feel as I have always felt that the effort put in is entirely incommensurate with the results. The main reason is that I am out of touch with the people of the SAJ, and I have no way of knowing what they would want me to talk about. It occurred to me that they ought to be made aware of

40. Chaim Weizmann (1894–­1952) was a Zionist leader and statesman who served as president of the Zionist Organization and later as president of Israel. He was instrumental in bringing about the Balfour Declaration and establishing the Hebrew University and the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. Weizmann attended services at the SAJ whenever he was in town. 41. Felix M. Warburg (Frieda Schiff; 1876–­1958) was the daughter of Jacob Schiff. Denied both education and career, she devoted herself to a life of philanthropy. She contributed large sums to Jewish organizations and held mostly honorary positions in many Jewish institutions. She donated the original gates at the Jewish Theological Seminary on 3080 Broadway in New York. 42. On the complex relationship between Louis Ginzberg and Henrietta Szold, see Baila Schargel, Lost Love: The Untold Story of Henrietta Szold—­Unpublished Diary and Letters (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1997).


August 6, 1942–­October 23, 1942

the doctrinal changes involved in the new order of service. To that end I ought to give a series of talks on “What We Can’t and What We Should Believe.” I would like to point out why we at the SAJ have rejected a number of what were hitherto regarded as essential doctrines of Jewish religion and at the same time indicate that we should not be content merely with repudiation but should try to save any element in each of these doctrines worth saving. These doctrines are (1) Torah as divinely revealed, (2) Israel as the chosen people, (3) Reward and Punishment, (4) Divine intervention into the order of nature (and its relation to prayer), (5) Personal Messiah, (6) Bodily resurrection, (7) the Priesthood and Sacrificial Cult.

4 October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943

World to Come and the Age of the Messiah—­the Difference O ctober  24, 1942 The concept of the world to come is never confused with the concept of the messianic age, even by those who regard the two ages as coinciding chronologically. That is because in the minds of the Talmudic sages, the two aspects of Judaism—­the national and the individual—­were accorded equal significance. R. Eleazar of Modi’in is quoted as saying: “If you will succeed in keeping the Sabbath, the Holy One, Blessed be He, will give you six good portions: The Land of Israel, the world to come, the new world, the kingdom of the house of David, the priesthood, and the Levite’s office” ({265} Kilta on Exod. 16, 24). “The world to come,” or the ha-­olam ha-­ba, is the one in which the individual is granted his due reward: “the new world” refers to the messianic age when the nation is destined to experience redemption. From what we know of the Sadducees and the Pharisees,1 we can appreciate the reason for the belief in the world to come having been one of the main issues on which they were divided. To the Sadducees the Torah was fundamentally an instrument of national life and not of individual salvation. They could therefore have but little sympathy with the Pharisaic interpretation of the Torah which regarded it as being also an instrument of individual salvation. This function of the Torah figures prominently in the Pirkei Avot [The Ethics of the Fathers]. That treatise in the Mishnah2 is not a random collection of ethical

1. The Sadducees and Pharisees were religious-­political parties in the period of the later Second Temple. The Sadducees were a priestly party that adhered strictly to the text of Torah, while the Pharisees accepted a more liberal interpretation. 2. An early rabbinic work edited by Rabbi Judah the Prince, the Mishnah became the basis for the Gemorah, which together with the Mishnah constitutes the Talmud.



October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943

teachings; it is a collection of statements by the greatest of the Tannaim on the place that the study of the Torah should occupy in the life of the Jew. The most important [Monday, October 26, 1942] consequence, however, of such study is that it enables the Jew to achieve a share in the world to come. This constitutes the primary motif of Avot. The custom of reciting the Mishna from the treatise Sanhedrin before reading on Sabbath afternoons a chapter of Avot emphasizes this motif. That Mishna states: “All Israel have a share in the world to come.” The reason for this special privilege accorded to Israel is that they have accepted the Torah which has been given them as a means of helping them attain life eternal or abundant. The facts with regard to “messianic age” and the “future world” seem to be as follows: The “messianic age” means that period of this world which is to begin with the advent of the Messiah. His advent marks an end to “this world” or the present age. The future world denotes the life which is to be lived by those who, having experienced resurrection, will thereafter live forever. (Note: Cf. the prayer ha-­kol [word not clear] adon [Heb., the Lord of all?], where we read as follows: “There is none to be compared to thee, O Lord our God in this world, neither is there any beside thee, O our King for the life of the world to come. There is none but thee, O our Redeemer, for the days of the Messiah; neither is there any like unto thee O our Savior for the resurrection of the dead.”) Each appellation for God corresponds to the part He plays in each age. Those who, having died before the advent of the Messiah, lived a righteous life will be resurrected when the Messiah begins his reign. Thus for them the future world begins during the messianic age. For the rest there is to be a Day of Judgment, when they are to be resurrected and judged. The wicked will, after having gone through the ordeal of purgation by fire, live thereafter forever. For the last group, “the future world” begins after the Day of Judgment. Now the question is: How did the Sages conceive the world during the messianic age and after the Day of Judgment? All of them, with the exception of Samuel, believed that with the advent of the Messiah, the world as well as man is to undergo regeneration. They conceived regeneration, for the most part, as tantamount to a return to the condition in which the world was when it came from the hands of God and when God had pronounced it as well as man “good.” In that regenerated world, the land of Israel will abound in such extraordinary blessings as are indicated by various tests in Isaiah and Ezekiel when interpreted not as metaphors but as literal speech. Samuel, who is alone in deigning this version of the messianic age, no doubt implied that the regeneration of the world would begin after the Day of Judgment. How then are we to understand the statement of Rav, who said, “In the future world there is to be neither eating nor drinking, no begetting of children, no business transactions, no envy, no hatred and no rivalry, but the righteous will

October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943


get with their cronies in their heads and enjoy the brightness of the Shekhinah”? This statement is, like Samuel’s, isolated from the general context of rabbinic thought concerning the future world. It does not negate the idea of the regeneration of the physical world and of man’s abiding in it. It merely differs in the conception of man’s nature in that regenerated world, held by the generality of the Sages. According to them, man will eat and drink and procreate, though he will perform these functions in the manner contemplated by God when He first created man—­that is, when man was free from the domination of the evil yetzer [urge]. Rav, on the other hand, goes one step further. He maintains that after the Day of Judgment, man will be even more perfect than he was when God created Adam, for then he will virtually be like the angels. In the light of the foregoing analysis, the expression “a share in the future world” means eligible to the eternal life which is to follow the resurrection and Day of Judgment. It is therefore the equivalent of the idea of immortality. As such, its specific connotation is individual in character in contrast with the expression “the messianic age,” which refers to the collection of national good. Rabbinic Judaism thus reveals itself as clearly conscious of two goals in its scheme of salvation: national redemption and individual immortality. Corresponding to these two goals are the two phases of the life pattern according to which it expects the Jew to live: (1) as a national regimen and (2) as an individual regimen (of beliefs and duties).

Religion and the Self O ctober  30, 1942 Let there be no mistake about the place of religion in Jewish life. Any attempt to build Jewish life without religion is like trying to have a building of bricks without mortar, or run a dynamo without power, or an engine without fuel. Let not the emphasis upon Judaism as a civilization blind us to the truth that it is only as a religious civilization that it can survive. Furthermore, religion involves belief in God. No belief in God has meaning unless we convene with God in worship. Worship must be public before it can be private, as language must be cultivated by society before it can be enjoyed by the individual. American life and civilization is substantial, dynamic, all enveloping. Yet the American Gentile feels that he needs God to enter that life and render it significant and worthwhile. He expresses that need through worship. We are told that 85% of the Catholics and 60% of the Protestants frequent their churches. Of Jews, only 10% frequent the synagogue. When we consider that outside worship, there is little else that affords the average Jew an opportunity to express himself as a Jew; this comparative godlessness of the Jew reveals a shocking mental and social situation. A colleague of mine (Sol Goldman) who heads one of the largest


October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943

congregations of the country stated recently that the 125 largest donors to the support of the synagogue never attend services except in the high holidays and even then simply as a formality. Undoubtedly there are various nonreligious factors responsible for the growing godlessness of Jewish life. The loss of the Sabbath is probably the most potent of these factors. But no less potent a factor is the failure to make worship function for the modern thinking Jew as a means of experiencing the reality of God. Worship should be rendered in such terms as to produce the following two results: one, it should send forth a person exhilarated and strengthened to do the best and to bear the worst; secondly, it should make clear to him that the source of this exhilaration and strength is God. The traditional service has failed to produce either result for the modern thinking Jew. We owe it to ourselves and to our community to stem the growing tide of godlessness by evolving a type of worship that will produce these two results. If the first or second time we fail to achieve the desired results, we must keep on trying until we succeed. There is a second requirement that worship must meet besides helping us to experience the reality of God. It must be conducive to being honest with ourselves. To understand the connection between the basic element in religious worship with the basic element of ethics—­being honest with ourselves. I must ask you to point your mental finger, so to speak, to that which you regard as your innermost, truest, and best self, that self which is you in your most luminous moments. Let us give it a name. Let us call it “soul,” for that in fact is what the soul actually is. Now, this soul is in all literatures a ray of the all-­pervading light we call “God.” In genuine worship we address directly not God but our best self, the soul within us, and ask it to communicate our thanks, our fears, our hopes, our deepest yearnings, to God of whom it is a part. Occasionally worship is cast in that full form of addressing the soul—­ho’el la’elohim borkhi nafshi [Heb., Oh that God would bless my soul]—­but even when it is not, that address to the soul is always implied. Now we can understand where the connection between worship and being honest with oneself comes in. Since in worship we address our truest self, nothing would seem more cynical and degrading than to abuse that sacred communion by uttering words which have no meaning to that self, or expressing wishes which we do not really entertain. I dare say that this is where all dishonesty begins. Once we are not honest with our best self, we find it easy to be dishonest with others. To pray without “kavanah” (without thinking of what one is saying) is the beginning of emotional dishonesty. (Take, e.g., people who greet you with a big hello but have no real concern in you.) The test of any teaching or practice, as to whether it is worthwhile, is whether it can be transmitted to the child. The liturgy in which parents or teachers do not believe cannot be transmitted. This has made of our liturgy a sort of jabberwocky of a people praying [like] automatons.

October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943


As a matter of fact, this is the reason the initial command to Abraham was “Be thou ‘tamim’” [Heb., perfect]. It is a word of many meanings, but basic to them all is this one of being true to oneself. “Above all to thine own self be true.” “Be thou ‘tamim’ with the Lord thy God” may therefore be interpreted as a command to be honest with ourselves when we pray or worship. Having disregarded this duty of being honest with our highest self, honesty in our dealings with our fellows has ceased to be a national Jewish virtue. The only way to recover it is by beginning to practice it every time we have occasion to converse with our highest self. That is the occasion provided for us by the act of prayer and worship. If we learn to say then what we mean and mean what we say, we shall acquire the habit of saying what we mean and meaning what we say at all times. There surely could be no more important task than reconstructing our inner life as Jews religiously and ethically. That can be best effected by making worship function (1) as a means of deepening our awareness of God and (2) as a means of getting us to be unsparingly honest with ourselves.

On Max Kadushin S unday , N ovember  1, 1942 Max Kadushin,3 who twenty years ago was my “white hope,” has gone off on a tangent. When I was at the Center, he became the “casus belli” of the struggle between the Board of Trustees led by Joseph H. Cohen4 on the one hand and myself on the other. He translated my “heresies” into educational terms in a young people’s group I had him teach. He had been one of my most understanding and loyal students at the Seminary. For that reason, I entrusted him with that very task which he managed to discharge effectively.5 Otherwise the issue

3. Max Kadushin (1895–­1980), ordained JTS, was a scholar of rabbinic Judaism, author, educator, faculty member at JTS, and an important disciple of Kaplan who was critical of him in later life. His notion of organic thinking mentioned here may be due to Kaplan’s influence even though Kaplan is critical. 4. Joseph H. Cohen (1877–­1961) was a businessman and philanthropist. Born in Russia, Cohen came to the U.S. at the age of four. His business firm manufactured men’s clothing, with stores throughout the northeast. He was the key figure in the founding of the Jewish Center and served on the Board of Beth Israel Hospital for many years. He had a rather complicated relationship with Kaplan, first as a supporter and then a critic. 5. Kaplan omits here the fact that Kadushin taught the Torah from a critical point of view and it was this, among other liberal beliefs Kaplan fostered, that eventually led to his leaving the center. On the relationship of Kaplan to the center, see my Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century: A Biography of Mordecai M. Kaplan (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993). When I interviewed Kadushin for my biography of Kaplan, he stated that he thought Kaplan overemphasized the notion of chosenness in the rabbinic tradition. Kadushin maintained that primary concepts for the rabbis are always nouns, not verbs, and chosenness in classical Hebrew is always given in its verb form.


October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943

between me and J. H. Cohen would never have been joined and I might have still been grinding blindly the spiritual will over at the Jewish Center. But Kadushin married a very clever and ambitious young woman, Evelyn.6 She did not like the idea of her husband’s being a satellite. She was determined that he was to shine in his own light. I would be the last person in the world to prevent anyone from giving forth light, provided it is genuine and not phosphorescent light. But Kadushin does not have any light of his own to give, so under his wife’s stimulus (I believe), he has been trying to generate a spurious light—­his “organic” approach to Jewish values. He has become so frightfully obsessed with his theory that it is impossible to talk five sentences with him without the fifth one being a phase of his theory. If it were at least true and seminal, there would be reason for being grateful for his being obsessed with it. But despite my most earnest efforts to find it such, it is still as sterile as a dry piece of wood. He recently gave up his job as a director of Hillel at Madison and has established himself here as a director of the Hebrew High School classes for the Jewish Education Committee. When Alex Durkheim asked me about a year and a half ago whether Kadushin was the right man for the position, I told him that there was none better. I still believe that, however much Kadushin and I have parted company ideologically. As soon as he arrived with his family sometime last June, I made it my business to call on him with Lena. He started attending the SAJ [Society for the Advancement of Judaism] services and never missed a Sabbath. But I no sooner introduced the new order of service that he failed to show up. I learned indirectly that he found the new order of service entirely unsatisfactory. I had surmised that that was the reason for his staying away. The way he expressed his dissatisfaction is interesting. “My Phineas (his 17-­year-­old lad) wants to participate in the services. He does not find enough to pray.” Each one to his tastes. If Kadushin doesn’t like the services, he is fully entitled to go wherever he chooses. But that does not exempt him from the ethics of friendship or from the duty of being a gentleman. When he and his wife called on us yesterday for the first time since they have come to New York, neither breathed a syllable about the services or about the reason for their staying away. I must say that such behavior on their part shocked me.

6. Evelyn Garfiel Kadushin (1900–­1987), PhD in psychology, was active in many women’s organizations and taught at JTS. She married Max Kadushin in 1923, and in 1958 she published The Service of the Heart, which dealt with the prayer book.

October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943


A Few Days Later S aturday N ight , N ovember  7, 1942 Evelyn Kadushin went to see Ira [Eisenstein] to explain to him her and Max’s predicament when they had called on me last Saturday. They did not want to broach the subject of the services for fear that I might feel hurt by anything they might say. Personally, I think that it was foolish on their part to refrain from discussing the subject because of any such apprehensions. But, I suppose, I am to blame if people are afraid of me. At least that was what Judith and Ira tried to convince me last night, when they spent the evening with us. In any event, I take back all the bitter remarks I made about the Kadushins in the above entry and want to be forgiven for having been harsh with them in my own mind.

In Praise of Orthodoxy N ovember  2, 1942 How little the sophisticated Jew understands the believer and how little qualified he is to appreciate the deep satisfaction that the believer derives from his faith in the supernatural origin of the Torah, and all that goes with that faith is proved by the following common experience. One meets every so often Jews who claim to be Orthodox and yet desecrate the Sabbath in public and eat trefot [unkosher foods]. They are usually most vociferous in attacking Conservative and Reform Jews for tampering with tradition. At once the sophisticated Jew jumps to the conclusion that they are nothing but hypocrites. Here and there a hypocrite might be found among them, but by and large they cannot all be hypocrites. The truth of the matter is that the average Jew whom the modern world outlook has not affected deeply prefers to keep on believing in the Orthodox view of tradition even at the price of thinking himself a sinner to giving up the Orthodox view. The reason for that is, as was said above, that once that view is accepted, it provides one with such deep satisfaction not only with life as a whole but also with one’s destiny as a Jew. So far not even Palestine and Yiddishism can compare with Orthodoxy in the power of providing the Jew with a raison d’être. As for the other modern movements within or outside the synagogue, they certainly cannot even hold up a candle to Orthodoxy in this respect.

On Chosenness N ovember  12, 1942 I have to speak next week in Boston on the subject “Shall We Continue to Call Ourselves a Divinely Chosen People?” I thought at first I would be able to make use of the address I worked out in May 1941 on that subject. On reading it over, I found it to be entirely out of focus. I cannot imagine how I managed to


October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943

put it across at the annual meeting of the Reconstructionist Foundation that year. The following is an outline [of] what I expect to say on that subject next week. Introd.: The question “Shall We Continue &c.” is part of the more inclusive and more urgent question: “What should we Jews call ourselves, as a group?” “A divinely chosen group” is, to be sure, one of the suggested answers. But before determining which answer is the correct one, we have to know how we arrived at this predicament of not knowing what we are. Not to know what we are or what we want to be is to be an enigma to ourselves. This must destroy our self-­respect. It prevents us from transmitting our Jewish heritage to our children, or from explaining ourselves and what we stand for to our neighbors. I. No such predicament was conceivable until 150 years ago. We knew ourselves and were known by our neighbors in a twofold capacity, as a nation and an ecclesia or church. 1. A nation is a historical group which is associated with a particular land and which possesses a characteristic pattern of life, a common goal, and a system of social coercion by natural means. The fact that the Jews were dispersed merely meant that they were a nation in exile. 2. A church is a purposive group for the achievement of salvation having a common pattern of life and system of social coercion by supernatural means. It is (1) centric, in that it regards itself as the center around which human history revolves; (2) supernatural, in that it ascribes its establishment to supernatural revelation and considers itself as constituting a higher order of society than any natural group; (3) and exclusive in that it lays claim to being the sole possessor of the means to salvation. To belong to a church meant belonging to a society of human beings for whom the world was created and who were destined to enjoy bliss of future toward which creation was the aim. II. 1. Emancipation has destroyed the status of the Jews as a nation. Enlightenment has destroyed the status of the Jews as an ecclesia. 2. But Jews have refused to give up their group life and therefore have been constrained to find an adequate formula for their status. Only the Reformists dealt with the problem. Their solution has been the following: Retain the church status, but so reinterpret it as to make it independent of the supernatural rationale. We should continue to call ourselves the divinely chosen people, which is to possess henceforth all or some of the following implications:

a. We Jews possess hereditary traits which qualify us to be superior to the rest of the world in the realm of the spiritual—­the religious and ethical.

October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943


b. We were the first to achieve those religious and ethical conceptions and ideals which will in the end become the common possession of mankind and help it achieve salvation. c. We possess the truest form of the religious and ethical ideals of mankind. d. We are entrusted with the task of communicating these to the rest of the world. III. Before discussing these implications of the new meaning given to the doctrine of Israel’s divine election, it is well to note that they have been tacitly adopted also by those who profess they are Conservative Jews, because they, too, no longer subscribe to the supernatural element in the tradition. What is wrong with these implications? a. The notion of hereditary traits other than physical is contrary to the most elementary conceptions of social heredity. Social traits depend upon environmental conditions rather than upon biological heredity. No people displays the same traits over a long period. The Germans were described only a century ago as a nation of poets and thinkers, as dwelling in the clouds. b. In the first place, it is not fair to take complete credit for having produced the conceptions and ideals by which mankind will come to live. The Greek philosophers, the stories in the Roman period, the Humanism of the Renaissance, and the rationalism of the 18th century will have contributed to the final attainment. But even if we were the first, it is immodest to brag about it and untrue to infer that we are better or superior spiritually, which is the connotation of the term “chosen.” The firstborn has no right to claim that he is better or more beloved than the other children. No special privileges any longer attach to primogeniture. c. To maintain that we possess the truest form of truth would be understandable, if we were to believe that the teachings of our religion were immutable and infallible. With a dynamic conception of Jewish belief and practice, the only meaning to that claim could be that we always manage to be a bit ahead of every new development of spiritual truth. Hardly anyone who knows how far behind the best thinkers of their day some of our greatest spiritual luminaries were, through no fault of their own, cannot admit this third reinterpretation. Spinoza, who truly did forge ahead of his contemporaries, was excommunicated. d. The rest of the world does not have to look to us Jews for light and leading. Among children, nothing is so certain to get one hated as to be held up as an example. It has enough teachers and prophets, sciences and sages of its own. In fact, most of our own leaders derive their greatest inspiration from non-­Jews. It is disingenuous to assert that we have to teach religion and ethics to the world at the very moment when we find ourselves in need of reinterpreting our entire heritage to bring it into line with the rest of non-­Jewish thought.


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IV. 1. Our ancestors were not guilty of being vain when they claimed they were a chosen people, because (a) they as well as their neighbors believed in the historicity of the supernatural revelations of God to Israel and its prophets and of the miracles performed for Israel’s sake and (b) they were convinced that it was God who told them they were chosen. Neither of these facts holds good of most Jews today. To try to reinterpret an ancient belief in superiority is self-­conscious vanity. 2. The alternative to calling ourselves a divinely chosen people must be based upon voluntarism instead of, as in the past, upon coercion. This means that we American Jews have to constitute a purposive group of a twofold character, first as: (a) A nationality—­i.e., a voluntaristic group for the purpose of establishing a Jewish nation in Palestine. Jews cannot henceforth constitute an international nation in the sense of being a political unit. (b) And as a religious nationality, not a church, for the purpose of utilizing our group history and experience as a source of our religious interpretation of life. Our group history and experience includes the traditional sancta. It is the sancta that give a religion its otherness (individuality). This assumes that normally every nation should draw on its own history and experience as the material of religion. This does not prevent a national religion from being universal, for it is surely possible to interpret the experiences and the needs of a people in the light of universal principles of justice and mercy. S unday , N ovember  13, 1942 V. 1. It is claimed in defense of retaining the doctrine of “chosen people” that it is needed to give the Jews a justification for Jewish survival in the face of overwhelming odds. The fact, however, is that any kind of justification which in the long run is likely to further Jewish survival must be convincing and inspiring. No theory of superiority of any group to the rest of mankind on any score whatever can longer be either. 2. It would be far wiser to content ourselves with being known as a people and to reconstitute ourselves as such. Part of our very effort to reconstitute ourselves [as] a people must be the rebuilding of our ancient land. But that is only part of what we must do. To become a religious people, we have to reeducate ourselves religiously and ethically. That involves mental and spiritual growth than which there can be no more thrilling experience of individual and group salvation. It is amazing to what extent my suggestion that we renounce the doctrine of Israel’s divine election is encountering resistance in quarters I would

October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943


least expect. Some weeks ago I had a long discussion concerning that doctrine with Israel Efros7 and Simon Ginzberg, both modern-­minded men of high culture and creative ability, and yesterday afternoon with Alex Dushkin,8 who is entrusted with the job of bringing some order into the Jewish educational situation in New York. And yet I am convinced not only of the truth of my contention but of the importance of pressing it home. When that doctrine is eliminated from the minds of those who want to live as Jews and to perpetuate Jewish life, they might find themselves compelled to find the justification for Jewish life in the future rather than in the past. There is nothing so conducive to mental laziness and inertia than reliance upon “sickly abstractions” and nothing so invigorating as to have on one’s hands a concrete, chaotic people like the Jews into whose life we are challenged to bring some light, order, and meaning. Those sickly abstractions are conducive not only to laziness but to mental dishonesty. Take, e.g., the case of the benediction to be recited in the morning, which reads sheh lo asani goi [Heb., (Blessed art Thou o’ Lord our God) who has not made me a non-­Jew]. In its original, it meant that the Jew was to thank God for not being a member of another nation than his ancestral one. Since the emancipation which conferred on the Jew citizenship in other nations, that benediction has become ridiculous. The Singer prayer book very quietly substituted nokhri [Heb., stranger] for goi [Heb., non-­Jew] and translated the former “heathen.” [Rabbi David de Sola] Pool9 retains the word goi and mistranslated it “heathen.” Since it is assumed there are no heathens any longer, what is the sense of thanking God for not having been made a heathen?

Good News about the War M onday , N ovember  16, 1942 Good news! The smashing of Rommel’s army last week and the smashing of the Japanese fleet in its desperate attempt to land a large army to recapture Guadalcanal reported just a few hours ago seems to mark the beginning of the end of the nightmare under which we have been living these last several years. In lecturing to the class at the Seminary this morning, I had occasion to develop a rather interesting idea with regard to the difference between the

7. Israel Efros (1891–­1981) was a Hebrew educator and poet. He founded Baltimore Hebrew College, taught at Hunter College, and was rector at University of Tel Aviv. 8. Alexander Dushkin (1890–­1976) was an educator and rabbi and a communal educator in New York City and Jerusalem. He became an important disciple of Kaplan and was responsible for bringing him to Hebrew University to teach in 1937 and 1938. His papers at Hebrew University contain many Kaplan letters. 9. David de Sola Pool (1885–­1970) was a prominent Sephardic rabbi who served at Shearith Israel in New York City. He edited the prayer book.


October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943

religious and the philosophic approaches to the belief in God. I am having the men read [George Foot] Moore’s Judaism. My purpose is to have them acquire as accurate and concrete a conception of traditional Judaism as possible so that they should realize fully how ridiculous it is for men of their type of training and thinking to maintain that they expect to teach and preach traditional Judaism.

Joshua Loth Liebman N ovember  24, 1942 Last week (Wednesday and Thursday) I lectured in Boston and in Troy. In Boston I spoke in Joshua Liebman’s Temple. He himself was away lecturing elsewhere. He is a nice fellow and very popular in Boston. He comes from a Reform background and received training at Hebrew Union College. He reads voraciously, goes into ecstasies when he comes across a new idea, but does not know what it means to brood over ideas and to generate syntheses of his own. I have a notion that he orates, somewhat à la [Stephen] Wise, but does not know how to write well. Some time ago he sent in for the Reconstructionist an address he had delivered on Yom Kippur night, and Eugene Kohn worked on it for hours, to set it into readable shape. He professes to be an ardent Reconstructionist, but he apparently keeps it a secret, because when I met some of his people, I did not come across the least evidence of his having said anything to them about Reconstructionism. Mrs. Pauline Essman, executive secretary of the Rec. Foundation, has written to him time and again to get subscribers for the magazine. I have pleaded with him to organize a Recons. group, and he had Ira come and speak to one of his synagogue groups, but so far nothing has come of all our efforts to translate his Reconstructionist interest into action.

Kaplan Speaks about God with Niebuhr and Maritain N ovember  27, 1942 I received yesterday a very interesting invitation from C. William Ruehl, the acting director of the Student Religious Association of the University of Michigan, to deliver the first of a series of four lectures on “The Evidence and Nature of God.” The other three lecturers are [Jacques] Maritain, [Reinhold] Niebuhr,10 and Prof. Charles Morris. It is the first time in my career that I have been asked to expound the idea of God. Every time I have lectured on the conception of God, it was at my own initiative, and always with the feeling that I was talking about something the hearers were not really interested in. I would actually apologize for attempting to discuss an idea which is generally assumed to be too remote

10. Reinhold Niebuhr and Jacques Maritain were leading theologians of the day.

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and abstract for the average person. It is noteworthy that this request should have come to me from a Gentile group and not from any of the Jewish groups like Hillel, the congregations, or the centers under whose auspices I have been lecturing all these years.

Always Some Good N ovember  27, 1942 At the Thanksgiving services which I attended yesterday at the Park Avenue Synagogue (which isn’t on Park Ave. but on a side street), Milton Steinberg used again the text which was the basis of his sermon at the Thanksgiving services last year at the SAJ synagogue. That text was keshem sh’mevarkhim al ha’tovah kakh me’varkhim al ha-­rah [Heb., Just as we bless the good so we must bless the evil]. He reinterpreted it to mean that we must learn to discern God in evil as well as in the good11 by assuming that there is no evil which does not possess or cannot be made to yield some good. By applying this principle to the war, he argued that it possesses a redeeming element in that it compels us to break the traditional patterns of life, thereby rendering human life capable of being molded afresh after our heart’s desire. Now it is evident that the original statement, the reinterpretation of it, and the application of it to the war have some very far-­reaching implications for the conception of God. What are some of them? In the original statement, God is conceived as the author of the suffering that befalls man. The duty of blessing God for it is based on the assumption that the suffering is an expiation for which we should be grateful. There is nothing of this in Steinberg’s reinterpretation. The suffering may be regarded either as accidental or as brought on by some malign influence outside God. To discern a potential good in it may mean, if we accept the later Kabbalistic view, that a fragment of divinity is actually present in the evil itself. On the other hand, if we accept the modern rational approach, we would have to say that there is no evil which we should not feel driven by the divine urge in us to redeem. In other words, the divine is in us and not in the suffering itself. The essence of the divine quality consists in not permitting any evil, whether of sin or suffering, to be exempt from the need to discover some potential from the standpoint of the good. How shall we view God’s relation to the war? If the idea of God is a personification of all factors, relationships, and conscious purposes that help man

11. As I write this footnote on February 14, 2017, Maureen Dowd in the New York Times mentions all the good that has come from Donald Trump. He has awakened a new moral activism that has spread far and wide from town hall meetings to $20,000,000 in one weekend to the ACLU. Steinberg seems naïve here, but he may have a point. It is quite moving to experience his optimism in 1942.


October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943

make the most of his life, it hardly makes sense to say that God caused the war. If anything, the war implies rather the evidence of an area of life which has been uninvaded by the divine in man. The divine is in man in the same sense as mathematical relations are present in music and in astronomy. The harmonious sounds as well as the movements of the heavenly bodies presuppose certain mathematical laws. By presupposing them, music and astronomy reckon with mathematical law as transcending them. The same may be said of human behavior. Insofar as it strives in the direction of human self-­fulfillment, it implies the existence of a power that makes for salvation and that, though manifesting itself in every instance of human endeavor after self-­realization, necessarily transcends every such instance.

Germany and World War I S aturday N ight , N ovember  28, 1942 “It is difficult to exaggerate the advantage ultimately derived by Germany from the destruction of her armaments and of her whole military machine in 1919—­a circumstance which obliged her not only to negation, while Britain and France remained embedded in the legacy of the past” (Conditions of Peace by E. H. Carr, XIII).12 If we could only transfer the lesson to which the foregoing points with regard to problems pertaining to the maintenance of peace! The only way to exorcise the curse of tradition is to learn as much as possible concerning its origin and growth.

Reconstruction: Relevant to All Denominations N ovember  28, 1942 I wish I could make up my mind to conduct a personal column in the Reconstructionist. Here, for example, is a pertinent theme: Reconstructionism or Conservatism: Which Shall It Be? Reconstructionism is a philosophy of Judaism which, it is hoped, will penetrate the various groupings of Jewish life, religion, nationalism and assimilationism and act as a ferment in every one of them, compelling them to reexamine their axioms and rethink their assumptions. However intransigent Orthodoxy may deem itself, it cannot permanently withstand the influence of Reconstruction. This is evident already from the extent to which it has taken over some of the vocabulary of Reconstructionism in the very process of polemnizing against

12. Kaplan said many times that we learn much from what a person quotes. I want to give him credit for the important insight here.

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it. It, too, speaks of Judaism as a religious civilization (cf. [Joseph] Hertz13). Even assimilationism finds it cannot discuss Reconstructionism as easily as it does the other interpretations of Judaism, because though it attacks Reconstructionism as a return to the Ghetto, it knows that it is confronting a movement which is progressive in its social outlook. This is apparent from the fact that in the same breath in which it accuses Reconstructionism of being a reactionary return to the Ghetto, it charges it with being radical and even bolshevist. The two extreme tendencies in Jewish life, in realizing that they cannot afford to ignore Reconstructionism, must of necessity undergo internal changes as a result of it. It goes without saying that the Reformist movement, which is the first deliberate attempt at the reconstruction of Judaism, is bound to be influenced by a movement which differs from it only in being more Jewish, more thoroughgoing, and more consistent. But fate has willed that Reconstructionism should have its birth in the frame of institutions and organizations that within the last two decades have come to be identified as Conservative. It is also a fact that the majority of the rabbis associated within that frame are more or less in sympathy with the philosophy and program of Reconstructionism. Shall these rabbis continue to be known as Conservative or Reconstructionist?

The Conservative Movement and Reconstructionism N ovember  29, 1942 Yesterday was observed as a fast day to signalize the tragedy of European Jewry whom Hitler is systematically exterminating. I was not happy about the auspices under which the fast was instituted, but I fasted anyhow. Immediately after I got through with [Solomon] Goldman, I went to the Seminary, where I attended a prayer service which had been organized by the students. The service was very impressive and showed that the students are more expert in lamentations than in merriment. Hillel Bavli14 delivered a ten-­minute eulogy in Hebrew that was masterly. He is another one of those gifted with an eloquent tongue. In addition, he is also a poet. Following the prayer service was a meeting of the Seminary Faculty. For the thousandth time, the problem of getting the students to live up to their promises and to take their studies at the Seminary seriously came up, and as on every previous occasion, the Faculty showed itself helpless and incapable of

13. Kaplan obviously intended to note a page here, perhaps from the commentary by Hertz on the Torah, but did not fill it in. 14. Hillel Bavli (1893–­1961) was a Hebrew poet, literary critic, and faculty member at TI who spoke as if he were reciting a poem.


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dealing effectively with these chronic evils. At the close of the meeting, [Louis] Finkelstein apprised us of his having chosen Simon Greenberg, at present associate professor of Jewish education, to function as provost [?]. Finkelstein said that he was still wrestling with the problem of getting support for the Seminary despite the fact that it has now a supporting membership of 8,500 as compared with the 4,300 which it had formerly. He has to travel places and cannot give enough personal attention to the administration of the Seminary. It seems to me that the administration is overstaffed. With [Max] Arzt, [Morris] Dembowitz, [Moshe] Davis, and now Greenberg to assist him, the expense of administration must be way out of proportion with the cost of the work for which the institution exists. On the one hand, we do not know how to get students to give all their time to Seminary studies. On the other hand, they are made to sit at the telephone switchboard so as to save a few dollars a week for the Seminary. At the special meeting called by [Louis] Levitsky,15 the only one that did not show up was [Robert] Gordis, though he was the one who had been most eager to have the RA [Rabbinical Assembly] adopt [Morris] Silverman’s prayer book. I had told him I would oppose him in that, and he must have sensed that he would not get much support from the others present. Before the meeting was far advanced, there was excitement, and I was the cause of it. Levitsky nonchalantly told of his having been asked by Finkelstein to write to Goldman that he should take over the chairmanship of the “Institute on the Future of Judaism.” That was the first time I heard about this. Neither Finkelstein nor Levitsky nor Goldman mentioned a word about it, though as a member of presidium, I should have been asked whether that met with my approval. I expressed my indignation at this unfriendly attitude, to say nothing of its illegality. Finkelstein and Levitsky offered some lame explanations. I was not going to make an issue of this underhanded behavior of theirs, and I tried to come to some understanding with them. From that point on, some constructive suggestions were made and adopted pertaining to the problem of the relation among the Seminary, the RA, and the United Synagogue. The proposal to have the RA adopt the Silverman prayer book was squelched. [Max] Drob16 stated that Silverman had come to the United Synagogue with the request that it adopt his prayer book, and he was turned down because the prayer book has made the one verbal change which appears in an edition of the United Synagogue Machzor, namely, in the musaf amidah [additional prayer], where in place of she’h sham na’she [Heb., there we will make

15. Louis Levitsky (1897–­1975), ordained JTS, was an author and president of the Rabbinical Assembly. 16. Max Drob (1887–­1959), ordained JTS, was the founder of United Synagogue and president of the Rabbinical Assembly.

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(sacrifices)] the text reads ve’sham asu [Heb., there we made (sacrifices)].17 This indicates how far apart theologically some of the men are at the RA and how hopeless it is to expect the RA to agree on a prayer book. When it came to the question [of] whether the RA should publish a periodical, I was amazed to hear Finkelstein say in substance the following: The kind of magazine which the RA published as a sample of what it would like to issue regularly was not adequate. To launch as an ambitious venture of putting out a quarterly like Christendom would mean to undertake something that would require from 20 to 25 thousand dollars a year. That is out of the question at the present time. If the members of the RA have anything to say, they have an available medium in the Reconstructionist, which most of them read. He himself reads it religiously, though he doesn’t always agree with what it has to say. Then turning to me, he said, “Let me ask you frankly. Would you permit articles which do not subscribe entirely to the Reconstructionist philosophy to appear in your magazine?” “Of course,” I said, “such articles would be entirely welcome, provided they would not be written in a polemical spirit.” I could hardly believe my ears. At the recent convention of the RA, Finkelstein talked at one of the executive sessions of the RA about the things the Seminary and the RA ought to do in the way of issuing a magazine. He mentioned some of the Anglo-­Jewish periodicals but could not get himself to utter the name of the Reconstructionist when he referred to the fact that various phases of Jewish life have their organs of expression. At one of the subsequent sessions, I had occasion to make reference to this deliberate omission of his. And today he virtually declared that the Reconstructionist might serve as the official organ of the RA or of the movement it represents. Could any somersault be more amazing? Is it that he is so indifferent to Jewish problems that he simply doesn’t care what happens to them? I can neither trust him nor make him out.

Kaplan and Finkelstein and Money W ednesday , D ecember  9, 1942 A few weeks ago I transmitted to Finkelstein a petition signed by all the members of the TI [Teachers Institute] faculty asking for a 15% increase in their salaries. Their salaries were slashed about ten years ago by about half. Since then, they have received an increase of about $200 each. This matter has been hanging fire for the longest time. Hardly a faculty meeting would pass

17. The change here refers to the language in connection with sacrifices and in place of the future hope for restoration of the sacrifices; the language recalls the sacrifices as a ritual of the past. This was the only change in the prayer book before Kaplan made his many changes in the 1945 Reconstructionist prayer book. See the introduction to the prayer book.


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without the question being raised, generally by [Paul] Chertoff,18 as to how to redress this injustice. I finally advised them to draw up the letter of complaint, and I promised to transmit it with my endorsement. In reply I received a note from Finkelstein expressing resentment at the tone of the letter. Recently he wrote to me that he had interviewed [Hillel] Bavli and [Zevi] Scharfstein,19 and he added that he wanted to see me now. I made it a point to find out from Scharfstein what Finkelstein had said to them. From what Scharfstein told me, I was afraid I was in for another one of those stormy interviews with F. [Finkelstein] In talking to them, F. adopted the war tactic that the best defense is an offense. He delivered himself of an onslaught on the language of the letter. By stating that they asked for elementary justice, according to him, those who signed the letter virtually charged him with theft. (This kind of extreme interpretation is typical of his approach to controversial issues.) Moreover, H. L. Ginsberg20 had no business signing the letter, since he was not a member of the faculty when their salaries were reduced and had himself expressed satisfaction with what he was getting. Furthermore, Scharfstein (this is what he told me, not Scharfstein) had been given a year off on account of his illness and has been giving fewer hours since. In addition to all this, he went off on a harangue about the failure of the TI to help maintain the Seminary. With the foregoing information in mind, I felt that it would be futile to attempt to argue with F. I therefore decided merely to listen to what he had to say and adopt an attitude of passive resistance or noncooperation—­à la Gandhi. It was in this mood that I entered his office. He began speaking [in] the vein described above, when he interrupted himself and asked me whether I knew what he had said to Scharfstein and Bavli. I answered that Scharfstein had told me. He then cut his remarks short and came to the main point. This was to ask me whether I approved of his appointing a committee that would make a careful study of all the facts and decide on the basis of their study what would be a fair remuneration for the members of the TI faculty. I assented to his suggestion. He then asked whether I approved as members of such committee the following:

18. Paul Chertoff (1880–­1966) was a rabbi, Talmudist, faculty member at TI, and supporter of Kaplan. 19. Zevi Scharfstein (1884–­1972) was a Hebrew editor, educator, textbook writer, and faculty member at TI who was active in the Bureau of Jewish Education. He was an active supporter of the Hebrew Camp Massad, which was founded in 1941 and closed in 1981. Massad had a profound influence on its campers in teaching them Hebrew. 20. H. L. Ginsberg (1903–­1990) was a renowned biblical and Ugaritic scholar who made emendations to biblical text freely when teaching. He was a slight, very gentle man with a pronounced stutter.

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L. Honor,21 Azriel Eisenberg, and Milton Steinberg. It seemed to me he could not have chosen any better men for that committee, and I expressed my approval.

Kaplan and the Absolute D ecember  9, 1942 The main thesis of Soterics is that human life cannot be conducted in such a way as to make for growth in scope and intensity and for survival of the maximum number of the maximally fit unless it is based on goals which are absolutes; furthermore, that though man has arrived at a point in his development when he realizes that whatever absolute goals he posits can be none other than the product of his own mind, he should nonetheless uphold the absolute character of those goals, for otherwise his noblest strivings are likely to be buried in the quicksands of skepticism and relativism. The soterical analysis of human values is the principal support for that thesis. In that analysis we distinguish values into three groups: functional, rational, and final or spiritual. There is room for relativism in the functional and in the rational values. Their very nature demands a relativistic approach. Hunger, satisfaction, satiety, and all the other states of mind and body are meaningless apart from specific conditions and situations. The polarity of rational values implies an equilibrium that is unstable and therefore variable with the addition or subtraction of some factor at one of the poles. On the other hand, the final goals of personality, society, and cosmos must be defined in terms that are not merely relative but that indicate growth, progress in a particular direction. That direction constitutes their absolute character. Traditional religion made the mistake of ascribing absoluteness to the functional and rational values, as well as to the final or spiritual values. When human needs expanded to such a degree as to break down the numerous absolutes in the functional and rational values, men went further and broke the absolutes of spiritual values as well. This has rendered the democracies “half-­ hearted and wavering, lacking in responsibility and cowardly tolerant of even recognized evils.” The tragic involvement of mankind in the present war is the outcome of the abandonment of all absolutes, on the one hand, and, on the other, of the attempt by the Axis nations to set up wrongly conceived absolutes—­so that the cure has proved worse than the disease.

21. Leo Honor (1894–­1956), PhD, was a communal educator in New York City and then Chicago, leader in Jewish education, author, member of the Bureau of Jewish Education in New York City, and faculty member at the College of Jewish Studies, Chicago. He was trained by Samson Benderly.


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To state the matter concretely, the right of every person to the full development of his physical and mental capacities regardless of what group he belongs to, the solidarity of the entire human race so that we dare not disregard the effect of anything we do, no matter whom that affect reaches, and the duty of . . . thinking and acting [so] as to render reality more meaningful and life more worthwhile for every human being—­these are unmistakable goals which must be accepted as absolutes. On the other hand, when the domain of the absolute is made to extend to functional and rational (legal) interests and values, we are all too likely to forget the final goals and the genuine absolutes. This is the effect of an attitude like that of the Catholic Church, which describes divorce, birth prevention, and materialistic education as “suicidal social practices which have for twenty years been corrupting the character of the American people.”

A System of Values D ecember  15, 1942 1. By now we have come to know that human nature, in its effort to make the most of life, should operate simultaneously in three dimensions: welfare, reason, spirit. Each dimension represents a set of values or satisfactions which man must attain, if life is to be worthwhile.22 2. The welfare values are: safety, health, word recognition, play, beauty = the what of life. The rational values are: truth and justice = the how of life. The spiritual values are: selfhood, humanity, godhood = the wherefore of life. 3. The function of religion is to achieve the integration and coordination of all those values. It is to maintain a dynamic equilibrium among them by seeking the attainment of each value in such a way as to contribute to the attainment of the rest. ***** “Those who represent the spiritual interests a) must call upon the producers and distributors of the welfare values to decide on the specific measures to be adopted in order that no one shall lack the values essential to welfare; b) and upon the spokesmen of truth and justice to maintain the absolute character

22. See drawing in volume 12, page 12, of the original diary online at www​.kaplancenter​.org.

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of those values and not permit themselves to be used as tools for any other interest and that they themselves must learn to conceive personality [the self or the individual], humanity and godhood in such fashion as to permit every human being to attain the maximum of which he is capable. This is the program for the religion men need, the religion of democracy.”

Judaism and Democratic Values T hursday , D ecember  24, 1942 The contribution which Judaism has made and should continue to make to democracy and the American way of life is best summarized in the motto enunciated by the prophet Zachariah [4:6]. “Not by might nor by power but by my Spirit saith the Lord of Hosts” and to add the supplement of Hillel’s famous summary of Judaism, “The rest is commentary, go and learn.” The importance of Zachariah’s motto is that it furnishes the key to that inner freedom without which democracy is merely a hollow form. “Not by might nor by power but by my spirit” sets forth the mental attitude which is a prerequisite to the building of a world on the foundations of peace. Before we can have democracy in action, we must will it. That calls for a sense of values which are certain to direct our will toward democracy and impel us to live by it and give our all in defense of it[, which] is that implied in the prophet’s motto: Not by might nor by power &c. That motto means that the criterion of human good, of that which renders life worthwhile, should not be power, bigness, but the extent to which it expresses the spirit of God. Democracy begins with the refusal to bow before might, to glorify and worship mere force. The only thing that deserves respect, admiration, is that which has in it a spark of the divine spirit and to the extent that it has it. This sense of values has revolutionized human life and converted it from a more powerful and cunning pursuit of subhuman drives to the creation of a world in which other purposes and achievements than those of amassing wealth and wielding rule over others counts as all important. The sense of values summarized in Zachariah’s motto underlies the interpretation of history. According to that interpretation, man’s ambition to play the god is responsible for the avoidable evil and suffering in the world. Playing the god as prefigured in the story of how man lost paradise means being a law to oneself, refusing to submit to a higher law than what one’s own power makes is necessary for us to obey, be it the law of reason or of God. Playing the god means indulging one’s megalomania at the expense of those upon whose backs one has risen to heights of prosperity. Playing the god means glorifying fraud and violence as fit standards of human conduct. It is against this deification of power with its consequences in injustice, cruelty, and misery that the wrath of all the prophets and sages spends itself.


October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943

A world in which the spirit of God is the measure of all values is a world in which men strive for the embodiment of justice and loving-­kindness in all their institutions and social relationships. Justice is fidelity to covenants (Israel’s loyalty to her God), equality before the law, and the distribution of power (by preventing concentration of wealth) with a view to its maximum service. Mercy is defense of the weak, the helpless, and the stranger. Sensitiveness to suffering. But the acceptance of a sense of values, even one that makes the spirit of God its criterion, will not get us far, especially when we are challenged by the ordered might of the sense of values-­based power as the criterion. It is here that Judaism adds the significant supplement: the rest is commentary, go and learn. This means that the most exalted professions of the good life are bound to remain mere wishful thinking unless translated into Torah. The equivalent of Torah is law plus education. If democracy is to function as the soul of the American way of life, and if that way of life is to become a means to self-­fulfillment for every American, the sense of values which measure the highest good not by might or power but by justice and mercy must be incorporated in an American system of law and the process of education.

Religious Intolerance D ecember  29, 1942 1. What has been the basis of the claims on the part of the historical religions to being universal? And what did they mean to imply by that claim? Their claim to universality is based on their regarding themselves as divinely revealed and/or as being in exclusive possession of the knowledge necessary to salvation. They thus imply that they have a monopoly on the means to salvation and that no salvation is possible to those who subscribe to other faiths. To recognize this is to recognize the whole truth about the dominant conception of organized religion. 2. If, therefore, there is to be a true meeting of minds among the adherents of different faiths, and the basis of interfaith action for a just peace, it can come only as a result of a radical change in the conception of the way a religion ought to function. Instead of claiming to be universal, it should recognize its limitations and be satisfied to remain the religion of the particular people or peoples that have grown up in it. A religion should represent the highest aspirations of a particular area of the world population, an area created by common events and associations and outstanding personalities. It should not seek to impose itself on other areas of the world population. 3. As a precondition to such a change in the conception of the way a religion should function is either to recognize that other religions besides one’s own

October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943


may have been supernaturally revealed or that all religions are the outgrowth of man’s urge to make the most out of his life.

Reform Jews and Zionism23 D ecember  29, 1942 For the talk to be given at the SAJ synagogue on Sat., Jan. 2. Introd. It is comforting to know that the recent statement of purpose given by the minority group of anti-­Zionist rabbis has been offset by the Statement of the Institute of Judaism. This Institute was organized by the CCAR24 [Central Conference of American Rabbis] and met last week in Cincinnati. Its sessions lasted four days. The Statement which it issued contains an unreserved acceptance of the Balfour Declaration and of the Zionist aims based on it. Of special significance in that Statement are the following declarations: “Among the peoples who have been victims of the Axis’ tyranny and aggression that has been directed at the destruction of life and liberty of men, none has suffered more than Israel.” This stresses the peoplehood of Israel and recognizes its place as a people among peoples and not merely as a religious community. Secondly, “All Jews are bound by spiritual and historic ties to the Holy Land. Since the issuance of the Balfour Declaration a tremendous impetus has been given to successful Jewish settlement in Palestine . . . After the war conditions must be created to permit as large a Jewish immigration to Palestine as possible, in accordance with obligations assumed under the Balfour Declaration and the Palestine mandate. Now more than ever the nations of the world must give fullest recognition to the right of Jews to a homeland in Palestine, and they must help facilitate in every way the work of rebuilding that land.”

Believing in God and Discovering God T hursday , J anuary  7, 1943 Our conception of God (i.e., of His nature) depends upon what we regard as the source of man’s belief in God. Traditionalists assume that God has revealed himself to man. Positivists assume that man has made God in his own image. The truth is that man has discovered God. If we believe that God has revealed himself, we conceive of God as a supernatural entity. If we believe that

23. Historically, the Reform movement has been for the most part anti-­Zionist. See particularly the early statement of 1885 known as the Pittsburgh Platform. The movement began to change with the rise of Nazism. The change can be noted in the Columbus Platform of 1937. 24. CCAR, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, is the rabbinical wing of the Reform movement.


October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943

man makes God in his own image, we negate the existence of any reality independently of our idea. If we assume that man gradually discovers God, we regard God as an objective reality. The discovery that God is a process which goes on in the universe and which, insofar as it involves man, makes for the progressive realization of his creative potentialities. Man discovers the nature of God in the process of his quest for salvation (which is the progressive realization of his creative potentialities) as mathematical and logical laws are discovered in the process of inquiry. T uesday , J anuary  12, 1943 Salvation and Growth Salvation is related to growth as species to genus. It is the special form of growth which pertains to man. The differentia is both qualitative and quantitative. Self-­awareness accounts for that differentia. Accordingly, God is the power that makes for growth. If we divide growth into noumenal and phenomenal aspects (facade—­visible side of moon) we might say God is the noumenal aspect of growth and salvation, the phenomenal aspect. God is thus the noumenal aspect of the process of growth. Religion, sociologically speaking, functions as a cohesive and integrating influence in group life as well as a negative and destructive influence. “A new faith creates a new world in which old conceptions and institutions may lose their meaning and raison d’être.”25 Natural and historical data become abrogated, and a new order of things replaces the old. Philosophically speaking, what really happens to a group when it “gets religion” is that it undergoes growth. The excitement of the experience of growth is due to its experiencing that growth on its noumenal side. This is recounted as revelation. Having religious experience means having experience of growth, of becoming more than what one was before. Worship is such communion with God as to make one feel more in the possession of those things that make life worthwhile. Even on the highest level, worship must result in the feeling of having grown in inner light or strength if it is to be kept up. Otherwise it seems futile.

25. From Emile Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life.

October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943


Rabbi J. Prinz26 and the Reconstructionist Movement T uesday , J anuary  19, 1943 After this morning’s meeting of the Reconstructionist Editorial Board, which was poorly attended and quite uninspiring, Ira, Mrs. Grossman, and I had a session with Rabbi Joachim Prinz of Newark, New Jersey, at which we discussed possible methods of affiliating his congregation with the Reconstructionist movement. His congregation has 800 members and will, before long, probably have as many as 1,000. His synagogue seats 2,500. They have a budget of between 70 and 80 thousand dollars a year. Prinz, who is a German Jew, congratulates himself on the fact that his people are Russian Jews, because they are both well to do and respond to his plans and suggestions. Rabbi Levitsky, on the other hand, who is of Russian Jewish parentage, heads a congregation of Bohemian Jews with a membership of 300. Prinz is the first rabbi I have met who feels that what his congregation needs and, according to him, actually wants is a definite conception of Judaism or a platform on which to base all their activities. He finds such a platform only in Reconstructionism. Though his congregation is a member of the United Synagogue, the affiliation is completely meaningless. When he asked Israel Goldman to have his adult study course integrated into those being conducted by the Seminary, he was refused on the grounds that he wasn’t a Seminary graduate. [Jewish Theological Seminary in New York is meant here.] The fact that he is a graduate of the Breslau Seminary27 does not seem to count with the Seminary. Of course, I am only recording his side of the story. I suggested as a mode of affiliation with the Reconstructionist movement the following: (1) representation of his congregation on the Board of Trustees of the Recon. Foundation and (2) the subscription to the magazine by each member of the congregation. A special edition giving congregational news and accounts of activities would be printed for his congregation. The session was very satisfactory and it may mark the beginning of a new development in the R[econstruction] movement.

26. Rabbi Joachim Prinz (1902–­1988) was a German-­American rabbi, Zionist, and Reform leader who was popular in Germany before he arrived in the U.S. in 1937. See Joachim Prinz, Rebellious Rabbi: An Autobiography—­the German and American Years (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008). 27. Breslau Seminary is the Jewish theological seminary in Breslau, Germany, which was founded in the nineteenth century and served as a source of rabbis and teachers who followed “Conservative Judaism.” Rabbi Zacharias Frankel was a key figure in leading this institution during its early years.


October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943

Joshua L. Liebman—­Kaplan Critical J anuary  26, 1943 Yesterday Rabbi Liebman of Boston came to see me. He read to me part of a lecture he had given before various audiences. It is one of a number he has been working on and which he wants to publish as a book. They are based on his reading in depth psychology. If I could speak my mind freely to him, I would tell him that there was nothing to them. But he is so obsessed with the ambition to make a unique and original contribution to theology that it would come like a blow to him if I were to tell him my honest opinion of his stuff. Despite all my efforts to be as tactful as possible, he had sense enough to understand that I didn’t care much about the way he treated his subjects. He went away quite perturbed. This morning he asked to see me again. I could not very well refuse him. During the half hour between his telephoning and his arrival, I thought quickly and intensively about what he had read to me yesterday and tried to formulate into some kind of pattern the stuff he had presented. The following is what I made out of it: A human individual lives in three dimensions which give rise, respectively, to (1) self, (2) ego, (3) personality. (1) As self (in the functional dimension), he needs others. If he fails to get the attention or interest of others, he is frustrated. (2) As ego (in the rational dimension), he has to reckon with the rights and needs of others. If he fails to do so, he has a sense of guilt. (3) As a person (in the spiritual dimension), he has to love other persons, society, and God. Failure results in a sense of sin. We cannot fulfill the precept to love our neighbors as ourselves if we are frustrated or labor under a sense of guilt. Hence the importance of resorting to in-­depth psychology to help us avert frustration and to ethical consideration to help us avert a sense of guilt.

Believing in God—­an Analysis T hursday , J anuary  28, 1943 The basic reason for the desuetude of worship is the fact that people are no longer certain that they believe in God. Those who are in the habit of saying prayers are afraid that if they depart from the accustomed routine, they will stop praying altogether, because they will lose the momentum of habit, which is the main hold that the prayers have on them. Those who have lost the habit of praying see no reason for acquiring it, since they lack the belief in God. The prerequisite to a revival of worship is the revival of a belief in God.

October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943


To revive the belief in God implies three things: (1) that we cannot do without the belief in God as entertained by our forebears, (2) that we cannot do with it in the form in which it has come down to us, and (3) that we must reformulate it in keeping with our general perspective. The belief in God is the soul of our human heritage. Whatever our own ideas about God may be, we cannot regard ourselves as entering into possession of that heritage, much less as improving it, if we ignore the part played in it by the belief in God. That belief is integral to the entire context of the fundamental self-­controls and decencies of human life in the past. To understand their purpose and to appreciate their worth, we have to see them in relation to what our forebears believed about God. In our tradition, the belief in God is based on the assumption that God revealed himself on various occasions to the patriarchal founders of our people, to Moses, and on one occasion to all of Israel. These revelations are assumed to have been sensate experiences and not merely mental. Within the range of these assumptions, there was room both for a naïve and childlike conception of God and for a more reflective and mature conception. According to the naïve conception of God, God was an entity capable of being seen and present only where He revealed himself. As such an entity, He was supposed to have appeared to the Patriarchs, to Moses, and to Israel at Sinai. According to a more advanced conception, God was assumed as dwelling in heaven but as revealing His presence at specific places through some supernatural visible manifestation. This is the conception of God expressed in the dedication prayer ascribed to Solomon (I K 8, 27–­29; 35–­39). Even in Exodus there are two versions of the way God spoke to Israel (20, 22). We cannot accept this notion of God. Any phenomenon, however extraordinary, which is experienced by the senses must fall in with the rest of nature and cannot be regarded as constituting something sui generis or as outside the orbit of natural law. Neither can it be viewed as a special manifestation of a being who is master of all nature and is therefore God. All phenomena for which such claims have been made have turned out to be either legendary or misinterpreted. The first effect of the growing refusal to believe in the existence of God, on the assumption that He has revealed himself, is to conclude that God is the product of our imagination, that we create God in our image, in sensate fashion, has been to deny the existence of God. This effect will persist so long as people will labor under the notion that the only reliable basis for the belief in God can be the traditional view that God has actually revealed himself in sensate fashion. With the undermining of that basis, it is thought, the very validity of religion is undermined. I submit therefore that this inference is not justified. The truth is that our belief in God is not based upon God’s self-­revelation in sensate experience as


October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943

God but on our discovery of God. According to the modern way of thinking and speaking, it is more correct to say that man discovers God than to say that God reveals himself to man. In the course of his existence, man has been discovering more and more about the world he lives in and about himself, and he is only at the beginnings of his exploration. Each discovery not only supplements the preceding but generally corrects it, though each later discovery would not have been possible without the preceding one. As man progresses in knowledge, he realizes that he cannot rely on the mere testimony of the senses. It was a great step forward when Heraclitus ventured the discovery that the sun was about as large as the whole of Greece. Because the heart beats calmly when calm thoughts were entertained, and fast when exciting thoughts filled the mind, human beings were sure that the heart was the seat of thought. Even Aristotle was sure that the function of the brain was merely to cool the blood. Only until comparatively recent times [have] scientists regarded matter as consisting of four elements. Even Descartes tried to locate the soul in the pineal gland. The case which is most parallel to that of our belief in God, and which is in fact also identical with it, is that of human personality.28 Before there was such a thing as psychology, man was sure of the existence of personality [of the self]. Early in his career, he had discovered something about himself which he was sure transcended his body. Yet the most he was able to say about it was that it was a kind of ghost-­double of himself residing in his body while alive and passing out of it when he died. By now we know better. We have discovered that personality [the self] belongs to a different realm of being from sensate experience. Just what it is I shall leave at this point as a problem and proceed to the belief in God. Man sensed the existence of a power that transcended the visible world in that it created the world and kept it going. Just what that power was he tried to express in the most diverse and often most bizarre ways. The truth is that man knew so little about himself and the world that he was unaware of how he came to know the little that he did about either personality [the self] or God. At first he thought that they revealed themselves to him, his personality in dreams and God in visions. We are now beginning to realize that our discovery of both personality and God is due to the discovery that life is so constituted that if we meet certain requirements, we fulfill ourselves. Failing to meet those requirements, we are frustrated or bring the frustration to our fellow men.

28. Kaplan uses the term personality as we would refer to the whole self. Personality does not mean the appeal that we have but our whole individual being.

October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943


As we discover the potentialities in our environment for fulfillment, we discover God. The function of the different philosophies and religions has been to propose ways and means of discovering personality in ourselves and God in our environment. The philosopher suggests calm detachment, the mystic enthusiastic devotion, the Buddhist yogi. All the religions practice certain rites. But Jewish religion, while not negating the value of all such proposed ways of discovering personality and God, stresses above all the Ten Commandments as the most important methodology for discovering personality and God. The ancient way of stating that part was to say that God revealed the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments, properly understood in their implications and ramifications, provide an unfailing means of wise living. By helping man to achieve salvation they reveal the Power that makes for salvation. “The Torah of God is sound reviving life . . . The command of the Lord is clear, a light to the mind” [Ps. 19:7].29

An American Civil Religion M arch  3, 1943 I have been carrying around with me for many years—­in fact, for the last quarter of a century—­the possibility of developing an American religion based in American sancta, but one which would integrate the American citizen into a world fellowship and guard him against the poison of chauvinism. The only time I had a chance to promulgate it in half-­open fashion was about two years ago, when I took part in a session of the Religious Education Association. The paper I read at the time was to have appeared in the magazine Religious Education, but through some fluke, part of it was lost in transit. This morning it occurred to me that I ought to communicate the idea to John H. Holmes.30 Since I cannot hope to be in a position to carry it into effect, someone who could ought to be entrusted with it. I believe that Holmes is both fortunately situated and highly qualified to become an apostle of an American Religion. No sooner thought than done, this time. I phoned to him for an appointment. He expects to go out of town the end of the week and will not be back before the end of next week. We therefore agreed to meet at his study, 10 Park Avenue.

29. It might be easier for the reader if we were to understand Kaplan’s reference to the Ten Commandments as a reference to morality in general. 30. John Haynes Holmes (1879–­1964) was a prominent Unitarian minister who helped found the NAACP and the ACLU. A pacifist, he was a strong supporter of Zionism and a close friend of Stephen Wise.


October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943

T uesday , M arch  16, 1943 I went to see John H. Holmes yesterday at his office in the 10 Park Avenue Hotel. That hotel stands on the grounds formerly occupied by the Unitarian and later the Community Church with which Holmes became associated about 30 odd years ago. The pilgrims progress from Unitarian Church to a residential hotel does not offer a cheering promise to organized religion. Before going to see Holmes, I sent him a copy of the paper I had read at Ann Arbor on “The Existence and Nature of God.” I knew he was out of town, but I thought he might get back in time to read it. However, as soon as I came, I learned that he had not had an opportunity to read it. I got to his office at 3:30. He asked me to sit down in one of the big leather chairs in his room, and he sat down in the other, with the remark that sitting at the desk meant work; this was to be recreation. I stated the main points in the paper I had sent him and then told him that I came to suggest to him two much-­needed undertakings which he was the person best qualified to inaugurate, one a short-­range, the other a long-­range undertaking. The former was the mobilization of the liberal forces in social, economic, political, educational, and religious activities for the purpose of formulating an ideology for democracy. Such mobilization was especially urgent in view of the fact that the Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion31 has been captured by the reactionary forces. Its main urgency, however, is due to the fact that democracy must try to develop strength on the ideological front no less than the military and political front to a degree comparable in strength with the ideologies developed by Fascism and Communism. The second undertaking, of a long-­range character, was the one that had originally impelled me to go to see him (see above p. 54).32 I had no difficulty in presenting to him both needs, because he was completely responsive and sympathetic. But I cannot say he was a tower of strength, which was what I had hoped to find in him. That was why I went to see him. It seems that he, too, is quite a discouraged man. In fact, he almost said it. He said

31. The Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion was established in 1941 by Louis Finkelstein, then president of the Jewish Theological Seminary, to consider the relationship of these disciplines to one another and to the democratic way of life. A number of scholars both Jewish and Christian were invited as founding members, and a larger number of delegates were invited to attend and support the conference. The conference held meetings at which lectures on various subjects were given. The lectures were eventually published in several volumes. Kaplan participated and gave a number of the talks. This conference was part of Finkelstein’s efforts to reach out beyond the Jewish community to larger intellectual circles. 32. At times Kaplan refers to specific pages in the original text of the diary. The original diary is at JTS. It is also online and may be consulted at www​.kaplancenter​.org. The page here is in volume 12.

October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943


that the people he worked with were telling him that we must put everything aside and concentrate on the war effort. That sounded quite familiar to me. . . . In my presentation of the project to him, I took particular care to distinguish between fostering a national religion in a universal spirit and fostering such a religion in a chauvinistic spirit.

Can I Be a Rabbi without Believing in God? F riday , M arch  19, 1943 Last night four Seminary students, second-­year men, came to see me. They were Jack J. Cohen,33 [Sidney] Morgenbesser,34 [Milfred] Spiro, and [Moses] Gaynor. The first two had attended the Seminary College before they entered the Seminary. Spiro came from Minneapolis, where he studied with Dr. Gordon, and Gaynor had studied in Herzliah and the Yeshiva College. The purpose of their visit was to air their inner conflicts. They find it difficult to believe in God, and yet they want to serve the Jewish people. Can they conscientiously do so as rabbis? They had of course long ago given up the traditional basis for the belief in the existence of God—­namely, revelation. But they have so far found no substitute. What I have been teaching as the alternative to the traditional basis for the belief in God does not convince them. I evidently have not succeeded in communicating to them my own experience of a transcendent correlative to man’s will to salvation. They admit the existence of a will to salvation, but they see no need for positing a transcendent correlative of that will. Of course, my contention is not that I intellectually posit it but that I experience it with the same immediacy as I do my own self. Intellectually, I cannot posit the existence of a self, for the little I know of psychology tells me that self is an illusion. Yet if I were to deny the reality of the existence of self as [the] center of initiative, I would cut the ground from under the element of responsibility, without which human life is inconceivable. The same holds true of otherhood, with its element of loyalty, and of godhood, with its element of piety. These students intimated that they found Ame’s35 presentation of the conception of God more acceptable than mine. When I elicited that from them, I told them that I would by no means insist on their accepting what I regard as the

33. Jack Cohen (1919–­2012), ordained JTS, was an educational director and rabbi at SAJ, director of Hillel at HU, and founder of Mevakshe Derech. Cohen made Aliyah in 1961. A lifelong Kaplan disciple, he is the author of Judaism in a Post-­Halakhic Age and Guides for an Age of Confusion: Studies in the Thinking of Avraham I. Kook and Mordecai M. Kaplan. 34. Sidney Morgenbesser (1921–­2004), a popular and influential professor of philosophy, studied with Nelson Goodman, professor of philosophy at Columbia University. 35. The work Kaplan refers to here is most likely by Edward Ames (1870–­1958), a Christian theologian from the University of Chicago. The book was probably The Psychology of Religious Experience


October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943

basis for the belief in God to be justified in taking up the rabbinic calling. The main question which they must answer to themselves is this: Am I able to take the idea of God as found in Jewish tradition and transpose it into the key of modern religion? They have been told by Milton Steinberg in the series of lectures on theology which he is now giving that there are two kinds of religion, theistic and nontheistic religion. What they would like to be told is that they could be rabbis on the basis of nontheistic religion. This, I told them plainly, they could not do, since as rabbis their main function was to maintain the identity and continuity of the Jewish tradition. That tradition minus the God belief is like the play of Hamlet without Hamlet. Perhaps I would be more successful in conveying my meaning if I were to find anchorage in the spiritual values of responsibility, loyalty, and piety, concerning the reality of which, both as experiences and as indispensable elements in human life, there can be no question. As experiences they are the doors, respectively, to self, the other, and God. It is more important to study the conditions under which we experience the sense of responsibility, loyalty, and piety and the nature of the experience itself than to try to demonstrate [it?; diary not clear here]. Personality—­In Soterics, personality may be analyzed from the standpoint of the three dimensions into (1) adaptability (welfare values), (2) reason (rational values), and (3) spirit (spiritual values).

The Right to Be Other M arch  19, 1943 Since the First World War, nationalism has grown more intense . . . Fascism, which is national domination as an avowed political and economic policy, demanded the complete abrogation of the freedom which meant the right to be other. Mussolini’s fascist apothegm was: Everything for the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State. When nationalism reached its frenzied climax in Nazism, it needed an opportunity to symbolize its ruthlessness against the right to be other. It found that opportunity in the Jew, who, vis-­à-­vis the rest of the world, is the very embodiment of the right to be other. Allow him to live and you make some concessions to the right to be other. Hitler marks merely the climax of a process that began with [Johann G.] Fichte to destroy the right to be other by identifying the Jew as the living embodiment of that right. The Nuremberg Laws aiming at the extermination of the Jews therefore constituted

(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1940). This work presents a nontheistic view of God, which the students seemed to have preferred to that which Kaplan offered them in class.

October 24, 1942–­March 21, 1943


the first step in the unequivocal adoption of aggressive nationalism for the purpose of achieving world domination.

The Arts and Jewish Survival M arch  21, 1943 As for the arts, we are at the very beginning in the process of creating a modern Jewish art. We have highly talented Jews in all the fields of art, in music, drama, painting, sculpture, and architecture, but our people are as yet virtually lacking in the realization that unless all these arts begin to function in Jewish life, there can be no Jewish life in the diaspora. The main reason perhaps that the Hasidic movement revitalized Jewish life for the greater part of Eastern European Jewry during the century between 1750 and 1850 was that it introduced the element of joy by means of its songs, dances, and wonder-­t ales. It is infinitely more imperative to have Judaism spell deep joy for the harassed millions of our people in Western lands. That joy can be derived from nothing so much as from a flowering of the creative arts as a means of conveying the wide range of emotions that seethe in the heart of the Jew.

5 March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943

Judaism and Socialism M onday , M arch  22, 1943 There is an additional angle to the problem of enriching the ethical content of Judaism. A fatal defect in present-­day Judaism is that while there is room in it for individualistic and reactionary interpretations of democracy, there is none for socialistic and progressive interpretations, as there is in Christianity. The United Christian Council for Democracy (see Rev. Richard Newford, 457 W. 123rd St.) consists of bodies like the following: Church League for Industrial Democracy (Episcopal), Rauschenbusch Fellowship of Baptists, Evangelical and Reformed Council for Social Reconstruction, Methodist Federation for Social Service, Presbyterian Fellowship for Social Action, [and] Unitarian Fellowship for Social Justice. These organizations do not content themselves with glittering generalities like the one that the earth is the Lord’s nor with the broad terms of the proposals in the Malvern and Delaware and the Atlantic Charter. They are definitely committed to the principle that economic democracy should include a share by labor not only in the management of industry but also in the ownership of industry. They frankly advocate that not only our natural resources but also our capital resources “should be treated as the endowment of society alone, to be controlled democratically for social use.” There is not a single religious organization or denomination among Jews where Jews who are convinced of this interpretation of democracy as the only genuine and ethical one are permitted to give their views on corporate sanction or where they can even feel at home. I am not contending at the moment that those who hold such views have a monopoly on ethical principles. But the point is that the moral estate of Judaism must be mighty low if there cannot be room in it as there is room even in the Catholic Church for a socialistic doctrine. 162

March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943


Piety and God’s Existence F riday , A pril  2, 1943 I rejoice at the pragmatic implication of the idea that the only way man can ever experience the reality of God is by the twofold process of first experiencing the sentiments of piety in all its depth and then by becoming cognizant of the fact that so genuine and organic a sentiment must have some object toward which it is directed. That object is none other than the godhood, or the divine aspect of life, hypostatized as God.1 An excellent description of the kind of piety that thus points to God is given in what [Solomon] Schechter2 has to say about saintliness: “Saintliness defies analysis; but it may perhaps be described as the feminine element of religion, furnishing it with the components of delicacy and chasteness. It shudders at the touch of anything sensational and vulgar. It is impractical and self-­sacrificing and certainly not free from ascetic tendencies. It is called ‘friend, beloved, lover of God and lover of mankind.’ The Torah whose secrets are revealed to him ‘clothes him with meekness and reverence. He becomes modest, long-­suffering and forgiving and it makes him great and exalts him above all things’” (“The Seminary as a Witness” in Seminary Address).3

A New Denomination? A pril  2, 1943 Yesterday James Heller,4 the president of the CCAR [Central Conference of American Rabbis]5 and Solomon Goldman came to see me. Heller complained of the rift which had always existed in the CCAR between what I would call the survivalists and the euthanasians and which has widened recently

1. Hypostatize is an older word that means “to take an idea or a concept and make it into a separate reality.” It is an important concept in Kaplan’s theology. Today we might use the concept of reification. 2. Solomon Schechter (1847–­1915), the first president after 1902 of the reorganized Jewish Theological Seminary, was a well-­known rabbinics scholar who discovered the large cache of medieval Jewish documents in Cairo known as the Geniza. The primary force in creating Conservative Judaism in America, he liked Kaplan but was critical of him. See the glossary for full citation. 3. Solomon Schechter, “Seminary as Witness,” in Seminary Addresses, ed. Louis Finkelstein (New York: Burning Bush Press, 1959). Seminary president Louis Finkelstein put together this collection of Schechter’s speeches. 4. James Heller (1892–­1971) was a leading Reform rabbi, Zionist, author, musician, and president of the Labor Zionist Organization of America. 5. CCAR was the organization of Reform rabbis.


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as a result of the organization of the Council for American Judaism.6 Knowing that the Rabbinical Assembly was also divided between those who were virtually Orthodox and those who had broken with Orthodoxy, he suggested that a realignment of the forces in the rabbinate along ideological lines was long overdue. There was no need of laboring that point with me. I have been saying that for years on end. Heller himself mentioned the fact that he had attended a gathering which I called about 12 years ago to bring about a realignment in our religious forces. The only question now is how to proceed. I at once sprung my plan of the fellowship or order, with chapters to be formed in every congregation. Each chapter would act as a vitalizing unit to implement the philosophy of Judaism upon which we would agree. It did not take Heller long to see the point. The three of us then decided that we ask Felix Levy7 of Chicago to join us in signing a call to about 30 rabbis, half of whom are CCAR men and the other half RA [Rabbinical Assembly] men, to meet during the first week in May. At this meeting, which is to take place in NY, we shall formulate the statement of general principles, on the basis of which we shall proceed to organize the fellowship or order which I have been urging for the last two years.

Salvation = Shalom in Hebrew A pril  2, 1943 The biblical term that corresponds most accurately to the notion of salvation or life abundant is undoubtedly Shalom [Heb., peace8]. The equivalent of the conception of God as the Power that makes for salvation is atah shalom ve’shimkha shalom [Heb., You are peace and your name is peace].9

6. The American Council for Judaism was an anti-­Zionist organization founded in 1942 by a group of Reform rabbis that defined Judaism as purely a religious phenomenon with no national identity whatsoever. Elmer Berger was a key figure in this movement. 7. Felix Levy (1885–­1963) was a leading Reform rabbi, Zionist, and author who served as chaplain in World War I and chairman of the board of Judaism, a periodical of the American Jewish Congress. 8. Of course, there is a Hebrew equivalent for salvation, which is yeshua. It is not surprising at this point in history that Kaplan should have chosen the word shalom for salvation. But the choice has other long-­term implications. One might say that the Hebrew term sheleymut, from the same root as shalom, would refer to perfection or wholeness of the individual—­shalom for the community and sheleymut for the person. Sheleymut as a philosophical term referring to the goal of the individual life goes back to Maimonides, though of course the Rambam did not understand the term in the same way as Kaplan did. For a more complete discussion, see my “Salvation: The Goal of Religion,” in The Radical American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013), 157–­77. 9. This phrase that refers to God is taken from the traditional liturgy and is found in the Musaf service for the festivals. See Siddur Sim Shalom, 474.

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A Large Audience—­What Fun S aturday N ight , A pril  3, 1943 For the first time in a long while, I am rather pleased with myself and with the way things have been running. Last Monday night I lectured before a large gathering—­over 400 people—­in Philadelphia. Rabbi Maxwell Faber had invited me to speak before his congregation on the Reconstructionist movement. Four or five of the Seminary graduates of nearby congregations came with some of their own members. I do not recall so large and attentive an audience for any of the lectures I have been giving under the auspices of the JWB [Jewish Welfare Board]10 Lecture Bureau nor one that had so many questions to ask after I was through lecturing. It was to me an encouraging and refreshing experience to find that Jews are willing to come in such large numbers to listen to a discussion of Judaism at a time when, for so many people, there seems to be a blackout of all interests that do not have a direct bearing on the war.

Ten Talks on Reconstructionism A pril  3, 1943 The sheet which contained an outline of today’s talk11 gave also the topics of the entire series. I mention that fact here because those topics happened to fall into a logical scheme which is not only a help in remembering them but which also gives a remarkable synoptic view of the Reconstructionist philosophy and program. Of the following topics, the first five give the philosophy, and the second five give the program. 1. The Historical Background of Reconstructionism 2. The Attempt of Reform to Reconstruct Judaism 3. The Attempt of Neo-­Orthodoxy to Reconstruct Judaism 4. The Attempt of Secular Nationalism to Reconstruct Judaism 5. Judaism as an Evolving Civilization 6. Palestine as the Hub of Jewish Civilization 7. The Cultural Content of Judaism 8. Judaism as an Ethical Force 9. Revitalizing Jewish Religion for Our Day 10. The Democratic Organization of the Jewish Community

10. The Jewish Welfare Board was originally formed in 1917 to serve the needs of Jewish servicemen and women. In their words, “Our role, since 1917, has been to safeguard the rights, fulfill the spiritual needs, combat the loneliness and isolation and honor the service of Jews in the United States armed forces.” 11. Kaplan gave a talk at the SAJ that was the first of ten dealing with Reconstructionism.


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A War for Survival or a War for a Better World? A pril  14, 1943 The deeper we get into this war, the more must we strive to convert it from a war for survival into a war for a better world. Those who insist on keeping it as a war for survival are bound to favor policies which are sure to imperil our survival. For when all we think of is survival, then we are short sighted and never prepare sufficiently to ward off danger. This . . . rendered aid to our Allies in the beginning of the war too late and too little, and that has made it possible for our enemies to entrench themselves in positions from which it will take great effort and sacrifice on our part to dislodge them. In addition to jeopardizing the very purpose of survival, if all that we fight this war for is survival, we are certain to lose the peace even after we win the war and manage to survive. To the degree that the American people fail to fight this war for the cause of world betterment, to say nothing of internal betterment, it will be even less prepared to meet the problems of peace than it was prepared at Pearl Harbor to meet the surprise attack of Japan, concerning which it had ample warning. At the present time, unfortunately, it is still so dominated by the war-­for-­survival psychology that no amount of warning on the part of those who see beyond their noses seems to have the least effect. Among the symptoms of complete unconcern on the part of the American people in any such purpose as world betterment are the following: (1) the last national elections, which seated in Congress reactionaries and bitter-­enders; (2) the defeat of the bill to eliminate the poll tax, and of the antilynching bill; (3) the action of various unions in excluding the Negroes from membership; (4) the unashamed action of the New York Board of Education in refusing to appoint the highly recommended candidate for the position of director of adult education, on the ground that he had served in an educational capacity organized labor; (5) the refusal of the Bar Association to admit Negro lawyers; (6) the maneuvering of the President into a position where he was deprived of the right to put a ceiling on very high incomes, while he was permitted to use his war power to freeze the wages of labor.

The Meaning of the Seder A pril  15, 1943 What Pesah gave the Jews, it did so mainly through the ritual of the Seder. The Seder is essentially a lesson in education. It is a kind of model lesson to the Jewish people. It is intended to point to the spirit in which a people must learn to educate its young. If we study the Seder from that standpoint, we note that it is intended to serve as a token of three important principles. Those principles are (1) education can and should constitute a religious experience, (2) the

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parental responsibility for the education of the child should be prior to that of the state, and (3) the most important training which any education should afford should be a training in freedom. What Pesah brought the Jews American is in need of learning as a prerequisite. 1. The Seder has as its first purpose to inculcate in the child a belief in God. Having been instituted in ancient times when men resorted to the tradition which recounted God’s miraculous deeds, the Seder in its traditional form is centered around the miracles whereby God led the Israelites out of Egypt. To appreciate the full significance of the Seder ceremony, we must be capable of disengaging what it is after from the particular means it employs. It wants to have the child learn about God. And it wants much more than that. It wants that all efforts directed toward the education of the child should culminate in a belief in God. Unfortunately, the first thing that comes to mind when that kind of a purpose is suggested is that it means having the public schools go into religious education, the very thing which American democracy has been trying to avoid by keeping the church and state separate. But as a matter of fact, having educational efforts culminate in a belief in God has nothing whatever to do with church or any other kind of organized religion. Indeed, this business of expecting the child to get religion during the one hour when he is released from school attendance is a travesty on religion. I have reference to the kind of belief in God which means believing that there is a Power both within and beyond man that is gradually making human beings learn to live with one another. That Power very evidently aims at having humanity come to be included within the network of mutual influence and cooperation. That Power would have human beings stop exploiting one another individually and collectively. Man has been exploiting woman, the strong has been exploiting the week, the cunning has been exploiting the simple. This is true of tribes and states and nations as it is of individuals. To believe in God is to be convinced that this tendency to exploit or make use of someone else as a means to one’s own selfish ends is a challenge to God, the Power that makes for salvation through cooperation. In our day, this is the kind of God all education worthy of the name must strive to have us recognize and live for. In the light of this standard, we can easily understand why the American people is at present fighting merely a war for survival instead of for a better world. In our national education as Americans, the main consideration is personal success. To that end, we want the child and youth to acquire the power that inheres in knowledge. We seldom, if ever, trouble ourselves as to how he will use that power. We leave that to the home and the church. How are the parents to educate their child in that kind of knowledge of God when their own lives are cast in the conventional pattern in which the average person is partly exploiter and partly exploited? All that the church has to


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offer is either traditional beliefs which are irrelevant or pious platitudes which are meaningless. The fact is that the abysmal ignorance of history displayed by our young people hardly touches the fundamental weakness of our national education. It is only a symptom of a far deeper malady. The malady is that our education is lacking in the divine purpose which should motivate it as the educational system of our enemies is powerfully motivated by a diabolic purpose. What makes the purpose diabolic is that it utilizes divine means for evil ends. It utilizes cooperation, the self-­surrender of the individual to the group, as a means of exploiting other groups. Our enemies have raised to a religion the exploitation of other races and peoples than their own. We have not raised cooperation and peace to a religion. That is why individualism in our internal life and isolationism in our international policies still dominate the American mind.

More on the Seder F riday , A pril  16, 1943 2. A second implication of the Seder, which is relevant to American needs, is that the parental responsibility for the training of the child takes precedence over the responsibility of the state. In the Seder ceremony, the father is expected to communicate to the child what he wants the child to learn about his people. The instruction is, in a sense, child centered in that it is to be adapted to the mentality and interests of the child. This is the meaning of the rabbinic statement which we read in the Haggadah to the effect that the Torah calls attention to four different types of children as in need of being reckoned with in imparting the story and significance of the exodus from Egypt. But education must not only be child centered; it must also be home inspired. . . . 3. The third implication of the Seder ritual [that] has a bearing on the needs of American life is that the most important training which any education should afford should be a training in freedom. The minds of the participants in the Seder [are] focused on the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. The main theme of the Pesah festival is freedom. The alternative designation for the Pesah festival is “zeman herutenu,” the season of our freedom. All this should serve as [a] token of the principle that the ideal education is that in which the child is trained effectively to be free to cherish freedom and to know how to use it.

Summary Thoughts on the Passover and Freedom and the War A pril  17, 1943 To conclude, if the American people does not want the postwar years to be merely a truce to be followed by an even more violent cataclysm than the present one, it must dismiss from its mind the idea that it is merely in a war for

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survival. Such a cataclysm would spell the doom of mankind. To forestall such doom, this war must be fought with the purpose of finally establishing a durable peace based on a better and warless world. That purpose calls for the political reconstruction of international relations and for the economic reconstruction of methods of production and distribution of wealth. But neither reconstruction can be of any avail without a thoroughgoing educational reconstruction. Democracy, which has hitherto been thought of only in political terms, must henceforth be translated into economic values and educational practice. The underlying principles of such democratic educational practice are those which we have found implied in the Seder ritual. They are (1) Education must come to constitute a religious experience in the life of a people. (2) The parents’ responsibility and therefore the teachers’ or educators’ responsibility for the education of the child takes precedence over that of the state so that it is for parents, educators, and teachers and not for the state to dictate the policies of public education. (3) The most important element in the education of the child from the standpoint of democracy is the training in freedom. In that training, the essence is the ability to emancipate oneself from the impact and pressure of mob-­mindedness and to exercise the power of reason. May the words we recite at the Seder describing the better world into which we Jews emerged from Egyptian bondage be a forecast of the better world into which we Jews will emerge together with the rest of mankind after this war is over. Yotziyenu ma’avdut l’harut m’yagon l’simha, m’avel l’yom tov m’afela l’orah m’sheabud l’geula [Heb., Deliver us from slavery to freedom, from sadness to joy, from mourning to festivity, from darkness to light, from bondage to redemption]12 [from sorrow to joy, from mourning to festivity, from darkness to light, and from bondage to redemption].

Ancient Enslavement and the Present Crisis A pril  19, 1943 It is futile to discuss the Nazi brand of anti-­Semitism which is no longer content with reenslaving the Jews. It is determined to annihilate them.13 The only power to have halted this most ghastly crime resides in the United Nations now fighting the Axis nations. But the United nations themselves are not so free of anti-­Semitism as to feel in the least impelled to take special action in behalf of the Jews. When the war is ended and the representatives of the nations are

12. Kaplan himself translated the Hebrew here, but I have supplied an alternate, more complete translation in the brackets. 13. Kaplan’s comment here is noteworthy. By the end of 1942, Nazi policy toward the Jews was widely known and much discussed in Jewish periodicals.


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gathered around the peace table, we Jews will undoubtedly make an effort to provide for the Jews on the European continent who will survive the fury of the ravenous beast that is at present devouring them. But it seems to me that we American Jews should realize that though our lives are not in jeopardy, our human rights are in danger of being nullified and our peace of mind is in danger of being destroyed as the result of an intensified campaign of anti-­Semitism. In the face of this ominous prospect, we should have a definite policy outlined for us. What that policy should be is best described by the phrase which characterizes the manner in which the Israelites achieved their freedom when they left Egypt. They went forth, we are told, “with a high hand.” To go forth into freedom with a high hand means to achieve freedom on the basis of frank and open recognition of all that it involves. It is freedom without misunderstanding and mental reservations concerning the facts and principles on the basis of which it is obtained and without misunderstanding and mental reservations concerning its scope and application.

Organizing for a Postwar World A pril  23, 1943 American Jewry has finally taken the first step toward making itself heard at the peace conference which is to follow the victory of the United Nations. This did not come about so easily. Some months ago, the representatives of 32 national Jewish organizations decided to form an American Jewish Assembly consisting for the most of delegates to be elected by popular vote. The purpose of the Assembly was to formulate the Jewish postwar demands pertaining to the economic, political, and cultural status of the Jews in Europe and to the general future of Palestine. Two organizations refused for a long time to join in the formation of a Jewish Assembly. Those were the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Labor Committee. The Jewish Labor Committee is largely dominated by a Jewish ideology of the Eastern European socialist variety to which Zionism is taboo. It therefore follows the lead of the American Jewish Committee whenever the question of cooperating with other Jewish bodies arises. It is certain that if the American Jewish Committee is part of any scheme of collaboration among Jews, the brakes will be applied on any demand involving Palestine. The American Jewish Committee is obsessed by the fear of having the Jews do anything that might be interpreted by the anti-­Semites as achieving permanent organization among themselves. Its very naïve “Committee” is meant to symbolize its fundamental creed that Jews may come together only for some immediate and passing objective but dare not constitute themselves as any kind of permanent organism. This doctrine came to the fore in the objections which the Committee raised against the proposed Assembly. In a letter sent out by the Committee only as

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recently as three weeks ago and signed by Mr. Proskauer,14 its President, there appeared the following statement: “On principle the American Jewish Committee is opposed to any plan that would seek to set up the Jews as a separate political enclave, and your project with its local and regional delegates, its elaborate electoral machinery, and its very title ‘American Jewish Assembly,’ will certainly have this implication.” In conformity with its basic dogma, the AJC [American Jewish Committee] named two specific conditions which would have to be met before it would consent to collaborate with other national Jewish organizations. First, the overall organization should be known as “Conference,” and secondly, the majority decisions of the overall organization should not be binding on the constituted bodies. The American Jewish Committee won out. The representatives of the other national Jewish bodies, which by this time number forty-­three, apparently are so fearful of missing at the peace table the influence and prestige of the American Jewish Committee, which they themselves had built up in their own imagination, that they resorted to appeasement. All that this appeasement proves is that we ought to amend the text in our Pesah Haggadah which reads “We were slaves to Pharaoh” by adding the statement “and we are still slaves to Pharaoh.” The fear of anti-­Semitism has so destroyed our Jewish dignity and self-­respect that we do not even aspire to be free of it. We do not even dare to include our status as Jews as entitled to the very first of the Four Freedoms in the Atlantic Charter, the freedom from fear. The American Jewish Committee has succeeded in so intimidating the Jewish mind that Jews have become afraid of coming to the peace table with the demand that they be included in the promise of freedom from fear, from the nightmare fear to which they have been subjected by anti-­Semitism.

The Value of Speaking Extemporaneously M onday , A pril  26, 1943 I am glad I managed today to speak in my usual fashion instead of reading from a fully written-­out text. It was more of a mental strain than the other procedure, but I need the self-­assurance which extemporaneous speaking can give. It was one of the most powerful sermons I have given in a long time. To be sure, it hurt me to have to give it to a very heterogeneous audience of about 140 people, who could [understand?], {98} nothing about it. In general, this business of working myself up emotionally to a high pitch of excitement without any outlet in action is most devastating to my innards. But there is nothing I can do

14. Joseph M. Proskauer (1877–­1971) was a lawyer, state supreme court judge, civic and communal leader, and president of the American Jewish Committee. He managed Al Smith’s campaign.


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about that. I have been moaning about it all these years, and it hasn’t done a bit of good. This is my fate, and I simply must resign myself to it.

Kaplan Down on Himself M onday , M ay  3, 1943 Last Thursday I began giving the unit course in religious education I have been giving these last several years. My unfortunate habit of trying to crowd in too many ideas at one time—­too many angels on the point of a needle—­gets me balled up quite a bit during the first two-­hour period of that course. During the second hour, as I was talking about the Day of the Lord, I thought I would clinch the point by quoting the well-­known passage in Amos V. I had taken along Moffatt’s translation of the Bible, thinking that I might have occasion to quote from it. As a rule I always take along the small Hebrew Bible so that if I have to find a text I could refer first to the Hebrew Bible and by means of it locate the text in the English translation. Through an oversight, I forgot to take along the Hebrew Bible this time. When I tried to find the passage about the Day of the Lord, I was unable to do so because of the arbitrary way in which he redistributes that particular section in times where the passage occurs. I had to go on with the lecture without having located the passage. For almost two days, my mind kept on reverting to that incident as well as to my failure to put across the lecture as I should have liked, as though, God knows, I had suffered some humiliating defeat in the battlefield. I knew perfectly well how asinine of me it was to give the entire thing a second thought. I said to myself again that the students in the class had other things to think about besides my faux pas. I realized full well that it was only wounded egotism plus lack of a sense of humor that was responsible for my mental upset. But all to no avail. Equally stupid is an occasional fit of envy which sometimes gets hold of me and which I know to be completely unforgivable. In fact, that is the only time I have a direct experience of a sense of sin which they talk about so much in theological literature. I wonder what I can do about these fits of irrationality. If I knew of some prayers that would be a help against them, I would meditate on them day and night.

An Anglican Prayer M ay  3, 1943 From a soterical standpoint, the following curious prayer inscribed on the walls of the Chester Cathedral, England, should be interesting: Give me a good digestion, Lord / and something to digest / Give me a healthy body, Lord / and a sense to keep it at its best. / Give me a

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healthy mind, O Lord / To keep the good and pure in sight / Which seeing sin is not appalled / But finds a way to set it right. Give me a mind that is not bored / That does not whimper, whine or sigh; / Don’t let me worry over much / About that fussy thing called “I”; / Give me a sense of humour, Lord, / Give me the grace to see a joke, / To get some happiness in life, / And pass it on to other folk.

Hebrew as the Language of Instruction in the Jewish Theological Seminary Rabbinical School15 M ay  5, 1943 This afternoon the committee to consider the question of Hebrew as the medium of instruction at the Seminary met in my office. The committee consisted of [Hillel] Bavli, [Robert] Gordis, [Simon] Greenberg, and myself as chairman. This meeting grew out of a petition that the Seminary students sent to the Faculty about two months ago. Among other things, they asked that we use Hebrew as the language of instruction. When the matter came up at the Faculty meeting, Bavli agreed passionately in favor of granting the students’ request. Greenberg was opposed on the ground that the students are expected to preach and teach in English. [Saul] Lieberman argued against granting the request on the ground that the use of Hebrew would prevent the students from cultivating exactitude in grasping the subject matter. Gordis rather favored the introduction of Hebrew in subjects which lent themselves most easily. I kept silent, because I could not make up my mind on the merits of either side. For that very reason, I suppose, [Louis] Finkelstein asked me to be chairman of the committee to study the problem. Since then, I had been revolving it in my mind. After considerable thought, I came to the conclusion that this was too important an opportunity to translate into practice the principle of striving for maximum Jewishness compatible with the conditions that exist in this country. Introducing Hebrew into the Seminary as the language of instruction might turn out as significant for diaspora Judaism as introducing Hebrew into the Haifa Technion was a generation ago for the development of Jewish cultural and political life in Palestine. That was the basis upon which I put the question when I presented it to the committee this

15. The language of instruction, which is discussed here in the JTS Rabbinical School, continues to be English. When the Teachers Institute at JTS was established with Kaplan as principal in 1909, the language of instruction was English. Hebrew was introduced about six years later. In the Seminary College, which met at night, the language was also Hebrew. All lectures and texts were in Hebrew. List College has most classes in English and some in Hebrew. At times Kaplan expressed doubts about the value of teaching in Hebrew. See Communings of the Spirit: The Journals of Mordecai M. Kaplan, ed. Mel Scult (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2001), 1:210–­11 (September 11, 1925) and 1:283–­85 (December 3, 1928).


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afternoon. Having won complete agreement on that score, I found no difficulty in arriving at a solution for the practical aspect of the question. I had decided to conduct the meeting in Hebrew, because I felt it would be paradoxical for us to prejudice our very decision if we conducted the meeting in English. It would show that even for us who are supposed to have a command of Hebrew, it was not easy or natural to use that language in discussing the feasibility of its permanent use as a language of instruction.

On Being Happy in a Time of Crisis S aturday , M ay  8, 1943 In these days of unprecedented tragedy for our people who have fallen into the grasp of the Nazi beast, it is questionable whether one has a right to be happy, even if one is fortunate enough to be placed as I am, safe from all harm, and to have such joy as came to me the last few days. Wednesday night I attended a Hebrew evening given by the students of the Seminary and Teachers Institute, during which they presented a Hebrew version of Judith and Ira [Eisenstein]’s cantata, “What Is Torah.”16 Judith received a letter from Ben Aronin of Chicago thanking her for her “Music Notes” in the Reconstructionist and mentioned the fact that the cantata had been presented by Reznick’s choral group to a large and interested group who had come to attend some convocation (I believe it was the Jewish Congress Convention). Naomi,17 who is now completing her two years of hospital experience, first as intern and since January as resident at Queens General Hospital, has been appointed resident at the private ward of the Mt. Sinai Hospital. Not long ago she had accepted a position with my brother-­in-­law Isidor Rubin at a salary of $2,500 and to start working with him July 1. But she was not happy in the thought of foregoing hospital experience, five years of which is regarded as essential to high standing in a medical career. On her account, she tried to get some hospital connection and finally landed this position at Mt. Sinai. Rubin was extremely kind and helpful to her, both in releasing her from her promise to him and in helping her get the residentship at Mt. Sinai.

16. For more on the music of Ira and Judith Eisenstein, see Ira Eisenstein, Reconstructing Judaism: An Autobiography (New York: Reconstructionist Press, 1986). 17. Naomi Kaplan Wenner (1914–­1997), the third daughter of Mordecai Kaplan, was an MD psychiatrist who retired in 1982 and then became a full-­time sculptor. She married Seymour Wenner (1913–­1993), an administrative law judge at several U.S. government agencies.

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Selma’s18 little boy Jonny seems to be unusually bright. He is at present 2 years and 8 months. Yesterday Lena19 happened to come in to Selma’s house and found Saul eating breakfast with little Jonny sitting alongside him in the highchair. The following dialogue ensued. Jonny—­“What do you call grandpa?” Lena—­“I don’t know.” Jonny—­“Daddie calls my mamma ‘Honey.’” Lena—­“What does grandpa call grandma?” Jonny—­“Darling.” Lena, all excited, came back to report that dialogue. When she went back to Selma’s, Jonny said to her, “Grandma, I’ll call you ‘honey.’ Nobody calls you ‘honey.’” Lena had herself examined, and the physician gave her a clean bill of health. My own health is quite good. The inoculations against rose fever are effective, and I am spared the misery of those who are as allergic as I am to the tree pollens. I am also being inoculated against grass pollens, which begin to trouble me in June. All in all, I have much to be grateful for. The least I could do as an expression of my gratitude is to record the foregoing occasions which have given me so much joy these last few days.

The Inexorables of Life W ednesday , M ay  12, 1943 Soterics20 might be described as a normative science. It is an organic synthesis of whatever has a bearing in the way of knowledge, attitude, and action on the purpose of making the optimum use of life. Insofar as religion—­that is, each particular religion—­has that as its purpose, it should avail itself of Soterics. Soterics might help religion achieve that purpose efficiently and effectively. Analogue = science of education and each particular educational system.

18. Selma Kaplan Jaffe-­Goldman (1915–­2008), Kaplan’s fourth daughter, was a television production and syndication worker. She married Saul Jaffe (1913–­1977), an attorney and radio and TV producer; she later married Joseph L. Goldman (1904–­1991), a physician and chief of the Department of Otolaryngology at Mt. Sinai Hospital. 19. Lena Rubin Kaplan (1884–­1958), Kaplan’s wife, was born in Germany and was the mother of Kaplan’s four daughters. She was a communal leader, participant in the founding of Hadassah, and an active member of the SAJ. 20. Soterics is the name Kaplan gave to his ideology, derived from the Greek soter, which means “to save.”

Selma Kaplan Jaffe. (Courtesy Selma Kaplan Jaffe)

March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943


The optimum use of life involves living in three dimensions—­the items in each dimension. One of the basic reasons man needs God is that by virtue of his awareness of the inexorables in life, he is likely to get out of life and contribute to it far less than he is capable of doing. He must therefore have a counter to offset these inexorables. That he has in the awareness of a Power of which he is part but which at the same time far transcends him. In transcending man, that Power also transcends the inexorables, which tend to reduce his zest for life. By identifying himself with that Power through communion, on the one hand, and, on the other, by actually augmenting in himself and in others the chances for an optimum life, he is enabled to transcend those inexorables. The inexorables as such are not evils. They may be inevitable elements in life. Death as such is inexorable but not an evil, since it makes room for more life. Evil, on the other hand, calls for a different approach entirely. Evil is the element of chance in negation which life or the Power that makes for life is ever struggling to overcome. The function of Soterics is to point out that evils as such are not inexorable. Sickness and poverty, which have been regarded as inexorable, can be eliminated. But it is also the function of Soterics to point out, first, that the belief in the Power that makes for [an] optimum life is of vital moment by [the] very reason of the existence of evil and, secondly, that from a soterical point of view, that Power need by no means be conceived as so omnipotent that all evil is necessarily precluded. It is as self-­contradictory to assume such a power as to assume that an irresistible force can exist simultaneously with an immovable obstacle. Evil in the sense of negation and unintended, unforeseen event resulting in harm (see above p. 10121) is analogous to the assumed inexorable obstacle. Soterics is likewise capable of being used by ethics. It is just as indispensable to ethics as to religion. Both of them stress particular elements in the process of human living necessary to life abundant or making optimum use of life. Religion stresses the spiritual interest identified as godhood, while ethics stresses the spiritual interests identified as personality and society. It is the function of Soterics to indicate in what these interests are served but when all the other interests are adequately reckoned with on the ground that all interests are organically related as part of the three-­dimensional effort of man to achieve an optimum life.

21. This is Kaplan’s notation and refers to the pages in the original diary. See www​.kaplancenter​.org for the diary online and volume 12, page 101, for Kaplan’s intention here.


March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943

On Wendell Willkie22 and the Middle East M ay  12, 1943 Wendell L. Willkie, for example, in his recent book One World, emphasizes the importance of raising the standard of living of the peoples of the Middle East. He describes the Egyptians as a people dominated by a small class of wealthy landowners, while the great mass “are impoverished, own no property, are hideously ruled by the practices of ancient priestcraft and are living in conditions of squalor.” In Tehran, only one child out of five lives to the age of six. “Many Westerners whom I met and talked with in those countries told me,” says Willkie, “the several reasons, valid in their minds, for the extremely primitive backwardness in which most Arabs live. These reasons ranged from the charge that Arabs actually prefer to die young to the statement that their religion prevents them from accumulating the capital with which to make the improvements they need in their way of life.” Regarding these reasons as nonsense, he maintains that if the Arabs were given a chance to feel they were running their own show, they would readily enough change the world they live in. According to him, what they need is more education, more public health work, more modern industry, and more of the social dignity and self-­confidence which come from freedom and self-­rule. What is it that impels Willkie to urge this higher standard of living for those peoples? One might say, a sense of justice and fair play, a regard for the underdog. Basically, however, it is the urge to the optimum use of life. He realizes quite clearly that a low standard of living for any group of human beings is bound to make trouble for the rest. This is not merely the sentimentality of the happy man who wants everybody else to be happy. It is the realism of the hard-­ headed business man. “Undoubtedly such improvement in living standards will add to the markets of the world. For the Middle East is a vast, dry sponge, ready to soak up an infinite quality and variety of goods.” This realism is not to be contemned. It is part of that inner drive in man for more life and better life.

22. Wendell Willkie (born Lewis Wendell Willkie; 1892–­1944) was an American lawyer, corporate executive, and 1940 Republican nominee for president. Willkie believed in an interventionist foreign policy even before Pearl Harbor. He favored greater support of Britain and the Allies. Willkie’s book One World gives moving accounts of his meetings with world leaders about international cooperation.

March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943


Jewish Education and the Four Children of the Passover Haggadah M ay  16, 1943 When it comes to speech making, I utilize my walking time23 for the purpose of thinking out what to say.24 In my walk this morning, the following is what I hit upon for the greeting to the youngsters. The Jewish education system corresponds to the general educational system. It, too, has its elementary, high school, college, and postgraduate stages. These four stages in turn correspond to the four ages of the children encountered in the Haggadah. If the v’she-­ayno yodaya lishol [Heb., who does not know what to ask] represents the elementary schoolchild and the Khaham [Heb., wise child] the Seminary student who is studying for the rabbinate, the rasha [Heb., evil child] represents the college student. It is quite apparent that much can be said about the rebellious spirit of the student of college age, especially of the Jewish student. This rebelliousness against loyalties in general and Jewish loyalty in particular is alluded to in the statement u’lefi shehotzi et atzmo . . . [Heb., and because he has withdrawn from the community], etc., etc.

Religion in Nazi Germany M ay  24, 1943 Most people are somewhat familiar with what has happened to religion in Germany, though they seldom take the trouble to think through what is implied in those happenings. In order to intensify her national spirit, Germany has sought to redirect her native religion, which had been virtually extinct, and to suppress Christianity, which is her adopted religion. By substituting the religion of blood and soil for the religion of the spirit, she hopes to instill into her people a common will and a common purpose. She proclaims that she has at last found her true soul in returning to the gods of her ancestors, Thor and Woden and Freya, and to the mythical love of the Nibelungen. She has gradually but systematically been rendering Christianity impotent by compelling it to refrain from all social and political interests and to confine itself to the interests of the hereafter. This religious revolution is a concomitant of her determination to confer [a] blessing upon the world by ruling it politically and culturally.

23. Kaplan regularly walked around the reservoir in Central Park. He also walked down Central Park West. Kaplan was a vigorous walker all his life. In an earlier period, he walked around the reservoir with Judah Magnes, Louis Finkelstein, and Ira Eisenstein, among others. 24. Kaplan was preparing to speak to a group of high school students.


March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943

The Reconstructionist Fellowship M ay  27, 1943 For the organization of the Reconstructionist Fellowship, I have worked out the following qualifications for membership: (1) missionary zeal for Judaism among Jews; (2) maximum Judaism compatible with [the] American environment. The procedure to be followed by the rabbis who are to lead the chapters is to consist of the following steps: (1) Announce formation of action groups for Judaism. These groups are to be part of a national movement. (2) Accept all who respond. Before long, those who are not qualified will drop out. Invite personally others who qualify but fail to respond. (3) Inform those who join of the Reconstructionist principles and program.

Horace Kallen on Freedom and the Right to Be Different J une  1, 1943 The spiritual values under the category of personality are very much those which Kallen25 discusses in his recent book Freedom and Art. He identifies the uniqueness or “singularity” of the individual with Freedom. It expresses itself in “the initiation of changes” in events, ideas, materials, methods, and relations. “It is the spontaneity and fertility of the very life of us.” It is the artist in us that “subdues all discipline and diversifies all doctrine.” “To bring the different is his (the artist’s) freedom. To utter it, to nurture it, to defend it, is his fortitude, the wisdom and force whereby freedom does survive and not perish” (XIV). What, however, is the significance of the fact that Kallen finds it necessary to point out in the opening chapter that there are two freedoms: totalitarian freedom and democratic freedom? The answer is not hard to find. Totalitarian freedom minimizes the personality of the individual and exalts “the national {118} of the State,” which is a spiritual value under the category of society. Totalitarian freedom is the duty to conform libertas obedientiae; democratic freedom is the right to be different. In speaking of freedom as an unalienable right, we imply that it is a quality of human nature. That in turn means that it belongs to the very essence of man’s will to make the optimum use of his life. Deprive man of his will to salvation and you deprive him of that which makes him man.

25. Horace Kallen (1882–­1974), PhD from Harvard under G. Santayana, was an American Jewish philosopher and founding faculty member of the New School for Social Research. He is most well known for his concept of cultural pluralism, which was opposed to the melting pot idea. A devoted Zionist, his philosophy is close to Kaplan’s, but he was not interested in religion as such.

March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943


Thoughts on Karen Horney26 J une  1, 1943 According to Karen Horney, “Neuroses are generated not only by incidental individual experiences, but also by the specific cultural conditions under which we live. In fact, the cultural conditions not only lend weight and color to the individual experiences but in the last analysis determine their particular form. It is an individual fate, for example, to have a domineering or ‘self-­sacrificing’ mother, but it is only because of these existing conditions that such experience will have an influence on later life. “When we realize the great impact of cultural conditions on neuroses, the biological and physiological conditions, which are considered by Freud to be their root, recede into the background” (The Neurotic Personality of Our Time, VIII).27 . . . “If we know the cultural conditions under which we live we have a good chance of gaining a much deeper understanding of the special character of normal feelings and attitudes” (ch. 19). This means that if we know the rational and spiritual values which form the cultural content of our environment, we are in a position to formulate what should constitute the normal human behavior.

Salvation While Standing on One Foot J une  1, 1943 Salvation = life abundant = security and growth = living up to one’s potentialities and enjoying what life has to offer = vitality and expansiveness = enjoyment and achievement.28

A Prayer for the Sabbath Prayer Book T hursday , J une  3, 1943 Milton Steinberg, Eugene Kohn, Ira, and I are at work on a new prayer book for the Sabbath. Each one of us has to bring in to the session which we are to hold tomorrow morning a prayer to be recited before taking out the Torah. The following is the prayer which I have prepared:

26. Karen Horney (1885–1952) was a German psychoanalyst who practiced in the United States. Her theories questioned traditional Freudian views, and she traced the differences between men and women to society and culture rather than biology. 27. Karen Horney, The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (New York: W. W. Norton, 1937). 28. For full analysis of Kaplan’s concept of salvation, see my chapter “Salvation: The Goal of Religion,” in Radical American Judaism, 157–­77.


March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943

We are about to take from this ark the sacred scroll, wherein we shall read the words of Israel’s ancient Torah. Awaken in us, O God, a fervent desire to find those words charged for us, as they were for our fathers, with deep and vital significance. Help us bring to what we shall read in that scroll a heart filled with the yearning to become one with the spirit of Israel throughout the year. Give us the understanding to come to the Torah with a mind so informed and sensitive as to discern in it the growth of Israel’s spirit. May we learn to distinguish in it between what are merely the vague glimpses of thy truth and the moral certainties which are as the light of dawn that shineth more and more into a perfect day. Inspire us, O God, to behold in the Torah the tree of life which has sustained the will of our people to live and to utilize its powers in accordance with the laws of holiness, righteousness, and love. May we discover what in our Torah has given our people the strength and fortitude to remain unshaken in their faith in Thee, despite torment and degradation. May the study of the Torah resurrect each added hope and noble striving which it evoked with every new age and generation. And as we come to envision the hosts of our people through the centuries who pondered and rejoiced and wept over each word in the Torah, may our lives be bound up with theirs in the bond of life eternal. Amen.

Religion as Love: Thinking on Karen Horney J une  4, 1943 The tendency to hostility, which takes the forms of contempt and envy, seems to be an intrinsic part of biological heredity. It is that tendency which functions in all species to the extent that they are engaged in the struggle for existence. Man, however, has given unmistakable evidence of his desire to break away from this tendency. Something in him has awakened which draws him to the very opposite direction, the direction of love. That something is the Power that makes for that more abundant life which man expects to achieve. It is God. But if the main function of God is to replace hostility with love, is not the definition of God as love the one that comes nearest to the truth?

Large Public Dinner and the Issue of Kashrut M onday , J une  7, 1943 Last Wednesday night I attended a dinner given by the “Churchman” in honor of Madame Chiang Kai-­Shek at the Waldorf. Lena and I were the guests of Abraham Thomson, who is a member and a former president of the SAJ [Society for the Advancement of Judaism]. Ira and Judith were also his guests . . . Lena and I refrained from eating. The rest ate. Thomson had ordered in advance a fish meal for Lena and me, though he did not seem certain that we would not eat the regular meal that was to be served.

March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943


I was quite disturbed by the complete disregard of the dietary regulations on the part of people so closely associated with Reconstructionism, especially Ira and Judith. Last Friday morning I discussed the matter briefly with Ira and last night at considerable length with Judith. Thank God there was not the slightest trace of emotionalism or temper in the tone of the argument. I found myself completely unable to convince either of them of the value of the paragraph drawn up in the Guide for Jewish Usage29 which reads as follows: “This does not mean, however, that kashrut should be completely disregarded when one is away from home. To do so makes its perpetuation in the home difficult for psychological reasons &c.” When I argued that kashrut had the advantage of offering every Jew, whether learned or ignorant as a Jew, an opportunity to identify himself with Jewish life, Judith countered by saying that most Jews regarded their duty as Jews completely fulfilled when they observed kashrut. She quoted as an example Ira’s brother, Myron, whose only self-­expression as Jew consists in refraining from smoking on the Sabbath.

Getting Rid of the Old: Revelation and Shavuot and Nostalgia30 J une  8, 1943 At this meeting of the Editorial Board, Milton Steinberg took exception to the editorial in this week’s issue of the Reconstructionist on Shevuot as a festival in search of a meaning. He objected to the blunt and outspoken denial of the historicity of the Sinian theosophy. It seems that he and many others like him will never learn that you cannot build a livable Judaism until you clear away the debris of the shattered foundation. To try to build on the old foundation despite the realization that it is shattered is nothing less than criminal. To speak concretely, it is impossible for people to get the real meaning of the reinterpretation unless they have rid themselves definitely not only of the traditional assumptions but also of all the inhibitions against the abandonment of such assumptions. Any residue of either such assumptions or inhibitions is bound to vitiate the proper understanding of whatever ideas or values are suggested as the surrogate for those which are no longer valid or acceptable. Those who harbor a residue of the old in the form of nostalgia or reluctance to be forthright in the negation of the

29. Kaplan is referring here to “Toward a Guide for Ritual Usage,” Reconstructionist 7 (November 14, 1941): 7–­13. Some years later, there appeared A Guide to Jewish Ritual, with an introduction by Ira Eisenstein (New York: Reconstructionist Press, 1962). See my discussion of these guides in Radical American Judaism, 227–­29. 30. Despite the fact that Kaplan dismisses Sinai as an actual event, he continues to struggle with the concept of revelation and the covenant. See my Radical American Judaism. Also, see especially the chapter on Shavuot in The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion (New York: Behrman House, 1937).


March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943

old only delude themselves when they believe that they understand aright the reinterpretation of the traditional ideas and values. They actually don’t, and they are a source of confusion to themselves and to others.

Organizing Reconstructionism J une  17, 1943 Of over 100 rabbis who had been invited to the meeting I called for June 16 to discuss the organization of a Reconstructionist fellowship, 30 promised to come and 15 wrote that they could not come but were interested in the purpose of the meeting. Of the 30 who promised, 19 actually showed up. There is no telling, however, what the outcome may be. Patience and Persistence.

Function of the Jewish People J une  29, 1943 Our existence as a group does not have to be justified by any particular function, but its health, and therefore the health of all who compose it, demands that it adopt some function that grows out of the situation into which it has been maneuvered by history and out of its common memories and past interests. I say advisedly “grows out” and not “implies in.” This exempts us from the need of torturing traditions into means they never could sustain. In my opinion, that function should be (1) to create in our ancient homeland an environment where Jewish civilization can be lived out normally to the full and (2) in the diaspora to act as a catalytic agent that would precipitate in the nations to which we belong those intranational and international forces that make for universal salvation.

Finkelstein on Finkelstein, on the Seminary, and on Rabbi Akiba J uly  3, 1943 The session31 at which F[inkelstein] had occasion to play once again the role of crusader and holy warrior was the one which took place Wednesday morning and which centered on the problem of the mutual relations of the Seminary, the RA, and the United Synagogue. It opened with a paper by Dr. [Max] Arzt, the Seminary’s campaigner and go-­getter, in which he proposed that the Seminary

31. The session was at a meeting entitled “The Institute for the Future of Judaism,” which took place after the Rabbinical Assembly meeting and consisted of Conservative Rabbis.

March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943


play the same role in modern Jewish life as the Academy of Jabne32 did in ancient times. Sol Goldman punctured Arzt’s proposition by pointing out that the Academy of Jabne had no board of trustees. He then went on to develop the thought which had as its practical expression the conduct of a single campaign for the Seminary, the RA, and the United Synagogue. F. [Finkelstein] met Goldman’s challenge with one of those discourses that have become a regular feature with him. He begins by pointing out how unhappy he is as president of the Seminary, due mainly to his awareness that he is hated and that his motives are held suspect by all who ought to cooperate with him. Then he proceeds to point out how strong the Seminary and the RA and the congregations are as a result of all that he has accomplished since he has been in office. These accomplishments entitle him to be allowed to conduct the Seminary campaigns as he sees fit and not to be asked to include the RA and the United Synagogue as partners. I must admit that of all the versions I have heard him give of this crusading speech, this last one was to me the least offensive. But he would have occupied a much higher moral ground if, instead of all this pretense and bluster, he would have said that in principle the Seminary ought to work hand in hand with the RA and the United Synagogue. In order, however, for such cooperation to take place, the United Synagogue ought to be purged of its President Moss and its executive director Rabbi Samuel Cohen, both of whom have prevented it from functioning. Such direct and plain speaking could go together only with a clear notion of what he wanted Judaism to be. The truth is that in his heart and soul, he is a weathervane who turns with the particular winds of doctrine that happen to be blowing in influential circles. Take, for instance, his continual harping at present on the duty of Jews to divest themselves of their own immediate interests and problems and place themselves in the van of world reformers in the name of God and universal religion. It was not many years ago when he went around preaching the doctrine of “cultivating your own garden.” . . . In the course of one of his rantings at one of the sessions this week he turned to Goldman and said: “We are all responsible for the sins of the world. You and I. Here, e.g., is my book on the Pharisees33 on which is based my reputation as a scholar. I wish I could destroy it. I there expound an idea which is false. I was led into holding that idea by the general spirit of the times.” I had heard more than once from the students that F. deplores his having represented all the teachings of the rabbis as determined by their economic interests. The fact is that if a communist had written such a book, it would have been condemned as a derogation of Judaism and all that it represents. It is

32. Kaplan is referring here to Yavneh, which was the center of Jewish life following the destruction of the Second Temple. 33. Louis Finkelstein, The Pharisees: The Sociological Background of Their Faith (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1962).


March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943

only the abysmal ignorance of the masses and the venality of the scholars that have allowed that book not only to go by the board but to be published by the Jewish Publication Society. It all goes to show that basically F. lacks a philosophy of life that might give him a sense of inner security. That accounts for his self-­ cancelation as an influence for good in Jewish life.

The Synagogue versus the Community J uly  3, 1943 Suspecting that the participants in the rabbinical enclave would tire of the discussion of the ontological character of the Jewish people, I thought beforehand of a practical problem to which I would turn their attention and which also had to do with “Israel.” That was the problem suggested by Ira [Eisenstein]’s paper, which he had read at the joint session of the CCAR and the RA on the relation of the synagogue to the community. [Barnett] Brickner34 claimed that I was responsible for the subordinate position of the synagogue in American Jewish life because I had advocated the organization of Jewry along communal lines. The truth is that American Jewish life did not develop because of any theory. It developed along lines most natural sociologically. In advocating communal organization and the establishment of communal centers, I was merely saying that Jewish leaders should recognize and avail themselves of inevitable sociological trends. The unfortunate part is that the rabbis, in preferring the freedom and individualism of their congregations, are setting themselves in opposition to sociological trends for the sake of their own vested interests and are obstructing the integration along natural lines. Sol Goldman thinks, and in that he may be right, that before the synagogue can become a factor for communal integration, it should become a power and a tone giver in American Jewish life. To achieve that, it must become organized on a national scale. I tried to get Israel Goldstein,35 who is the president of the Synagogue Council, to throw light on the problem of vitalizing the synagogue, but he did not give a clear or helpful answer. I appointed a committee of four to explore the possibilities of raising the synagogue to an institution that

34. Barnett Brickner (1892–­1958) was a leading Reform rabbi and author involved in numerous national Jewish educational activities. He was the father of Balfour Brickner, who was also a leading Reform rabbi. Barnett was the husband of Rebecca Aaronson Brickner (1894–­1981), a leading figure in Jewish education. Rebecca Aaronson studied with Kaplan and Samson Benderly and was the only female member of the “Benderly Boys.” 35. Israel Goldstein (1896–­1986), ordained JTS, was a Jewish historian who was on the New York Board of Rabbis and served as an officer of the ZOA.

March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943


would become vocal in all matters of Jewish interest. The members of the committee are Sol Goldman, [James] Heller, Brickner, and Israel Goldstein.36

Kaplan on Revelation J uly  11, 1943 The problem of Judaism would not be so acute if the traditional doctrine of revelation were merely obsolete. The trouble is that to cherish that doctrine is as unethical as being guilty of bigamy. To believe that we are in possession of the authentically revealed will of God is incompatible with religious tolerance, to say nothing of religious equality. The very incompatibility is something that the early Jewish reformers could not quite admit. (Note the labored argument in Notes to Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem by M. Samuels, Vol. II, 229–­43, to prove that they are compatible.) This proves how fearful they were to part with the doctrine of revelation. I have come to feel about the traditional doctrine of revelation as the prophets felt about the baalized worship of YHWH and as Maimonides felt about the anthropomorphic conception of God. That doctrine must now be opposed as being a vestige of ancient idolatry. The case of the brazen serpent37 which Hezekiah destroyed is analogous. Even if it served a useful purpose in ancient times, for the simple reason that to the ancients revelation implied nothing more than an extraordinary event which expressed for them the active relation between godhood and human life, it is nothing more than superstition if accepted nowadays. Dirt is said to be matter out of place. By the same token, superstition is belief out of time.

36. Regarding the relative importance of the synagogue and the organized community, it is true that from time to time Kaplan advocated that the basic institution of the community ought to be the community federation and that the congregation ought to be an arm of the federation. See his discussion of this matter in The Future of the American Jew (New York: Reconstructionist Press, 1967). See index under “community.” 37. In the Temple, there was a serpent of bronze, which was ancient and venerated by Israelites. For the full story of the origin of the bronze serpent, which goes back to Moses, see the comment on Numbers 21:6–­9 in Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2001). Hezekiah considered it idolatrous and hence destroyed it. See also 2 Kings 18:4 for the account of Hezekiah’s reforms.


March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943

Nachman Krochmal38 and the Enlightenment39 J uly  25, 1943 For more directly informative influences in the making of the Jewish consciousness, we have to turn to the writings which attempted to reconstruct the past of the Jewish people or to reinterpret its theological conceptions. Haskalah [Enlightenment] gave rise to very little in the nature of theological reinterpretation—­ but that little happened to be extremely significant. The outstanding and perhaps only theologian whom the early Galician Haskalah produced was Nachman Krochmal (1785–­1840). He was the first to take full cognizance of the inner conflict which the Enlightenment caused in the mind of the Jew, and he labored hard and long to find a way of resolving it. It was not safe to express openly any idea that ran counter to the intransigent traditionalism of the Hasidic environment in which he lived and, in addition, had to reconcile two such apparently incompatible universes of thought as those of Jewish tradition and modernism. He realized that he confronted a task similar to that which had confronted Maimonides when he wrote his Guide for the Perplexed, and he hoped to formulate a conception of Judaism that would serve as a “Guide” for the Perplexed of his day. Many years passed before he succeeded in putting his ideas down into writing. Fortunately, however, his reputation as learned in rabbinic lore and as coping with the problem of Judaism reached many talented young scholars who were in need of such guidance as he could offer. To them he communicated the ideas that were taking shape in his mind, and some of them played an important role in helping the Jews to effect the transition between the ancient and modern outlook while remaining loyal to Judaism. Krochmal did not live to publish his own writings. Before he died, he willed them to Leopold Zunz,40 the founder of the scientific study of the history of Judaism, and he published them under the name of the Guide for the Perplexed of Our Time.

38. Nachman Krochmal (1785–­1840), born in Brody Galicia, was a philosopher, theologian, historian, and important Jewish thinker. 39. In the original diary, this entry is preceded by a long discussion of Moses Mendelssohn and his significance. 40. Leopold Zunz (1784–­1886) was the founder of the academic study of Jewish literature and history called Wissenschaft des Judentums. His influence was very great, especially on Conservative Judaism. See Ismar Schorsch, Leopold Zunz: Creativity in Adversity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).

March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943


God and Current Events A ugust  1, 1943 Living religion cannot afford to live only on past memories or present abstractions. God as the Power that makes for salvation must be identified with events which figure in one’s own life and with experiences in which the element of salvation is seen to be operating. This, however, does not mean that we must exempt whatever we so identify with God from the review and criticism of the sense of reality. But so long as any such identification is compatible with reason or its categories of truth and justice, we should not hesitate to affirm it. Applying this principle to the contemporary world scene, I do not hesitate to identify as divine the following: (1) Hitler’s decision not to follow up the rout of the Allies at Dunkirk by invading England at a time when England was militarily almost prostrate and Germany at the height of her power. (2) The game that Russia played before Germany invaded her territory that gave Russia a chance to arm herself more adequately and Hitler’s decision to attack Russia, which has immobilized the greater part of his war machine and has enabled England and America to build their war machines. (3) Japan’s aggression, which compelled the U.S. to join the Allies. As far as we Jews are concerned, the fact that the U.S. was attacked before she declared war and that the one to attack her was Japan instead of Germany has probably saved us American Jews from the fate of our brethren in Europe.

The Concept of Catholic Israel41 A ugust  1, 1943 The main, if not only, contribution of Conservative Judaism to modern Jewish thought is the concept of Catholic Israel, which is expected to serve as a guide in solving the problem of changes in Jewish law. That concept implies that the existing practice of the main body of the Jews determines the legitimacy of any innovation. In other words, we are not to consult reason or justice but the status quo of Jewish practice as a means of determining the rightness of a law. The rightness thus depends upon an existential fact and not upon its conformity with an absolute standard that is independent of fact. In that aspect, the criterion of Catholic Israel is far less rational than the Orthodox criterion of divine revelation.

41. Catholic Israel was a somewhat strange term used by Solomon Schechter to refer to the generality of the Jewish people, whom he thought should be primary in establishing religious norms. For Schechter’s understanding of Judaism, see his Aspects of Rabbinic Theology: Solomon Schechter, 1847–­1915, with a new introduction by Neil Gillman (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 1993).


March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943

In the concept of divine revelation, we have at least something independent of chance conditions and arbitrary actions of human beings.

Education and Oliver W. Holmes Jr. A ugust  3, 1943 The function of the educator, whether he be teacher, clergyman, or rabbi, is to fortify those who come under his care in the will to salvation and to guide them to the attainment of their objective by rendering [them] fully aware of what is involved in the process of working out one’s salvation. A very effective means of fortifying one in the will to salvation is reading the biographies or writings of men in whom the will to salvation pulsated mightily. Max Lerner, after having finished reading a book which gives the speeches, letters, and decisions of Justice Holmes, wrote: “I have come away from Holmes, as have many others, with a feeling of new strength.” This should be the criterion of the worth of anything or anybody that comes under the category of ethics or religion. If we do not come away from a service, or a sermon, or a book or a play, or the company of a person “with new strength,” we have wasted our time. “I am enough of a Puritan,” said Justice Holmes, “to conceive the exalted joy of those who look upon themselves as instruments in the hands of a higher power to work out designs.” “The higher power for Holmes,” adds Max Lerner, “the intellectual aristocrat has ceased to be God and had become, under the influence of Darwinism, the great natural forces of life, but there was still in him a sense of surrender to them.” This comment of Lerner’s can scarcely be deemed well-­considered. The very essence of Darwinism is the denial of designs in nature. To say, therefore, that Holmes himself came under the influence of Darwinism is to contradict the statement that Holmes himself made. It may well be that Holmes refused to accept the traditional idea of God. But he certainly could not consistently experience the joy of being the instrument of a higher power if that power was nothing more than nature as that term is understood in the Darwinian approach to the study of living beings. This is the unfortunate error of intellectuals. The only alternative to the traditional idea of God they can conceive is the Darwinian conception of nature. [Julian] Huxley’s famous Romanes42 lecture should have made them realize that the entire ethical striving of man is in antithesis to the Darwinian conception of nature. . . .

42. The Romanes lecture was a free public lecture given each year at Oxford University named after George Romanes, a noted biologist. Kaplan here is referring to Julian Huxley, who gave the lecture in 1943. The title of the lecture was “Evolutionary Ethics,” and it was just fifty years after his grandfather gave a Romanes lecture.

March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943


Elsewhere Holmes says (all these passages are quoted by Max Lerner in Ideas for the Ice Age, 108–­9):43 “I do not know what is true. I do know the meaning of the universe. But in the midst of doubt, in the collapse of creeds, there is one thing I do not doubt . . . and that is that the faith is true and adorable which leads a soldier to throw away his life in obedience to a blindly accepted duty, in a cause which he little understands, in a plan of campaign of which he has no notion, under tactics of which he sees no use.” This to be sure is an exaggerated emphasis on loyalty. But it proves that for Holmes the proposition “I believe in heroism and making sacrifices for a cause” is just as certain as the fact that he exists is for Descartes. This is actually the case with the will to life abundant. The very experience of it is unmistakable proof of its existence, and its existence implies that man’s cosmos is as constituted as to provide what is necessary to fulfill it. In Holmes’s pattern of salvation, the interests that figure prominently are the rational interest in reality and the spiritual interest of otherhood. It is his strong sense of reality that leads Holmes to insist that the life abundant cannot be secured by effortless wishing. Such life, according to him, calls not merely for effort in overcoming the hindrances within oneself; it also calls for effort in overcoming the tendency in others, to keep human life confined to the one dimension of the power interests. This is why heroism plays so important a role in his pattern of life.44 It would be absurd to argue that Holmes was describing only himself and that this description fits very few people. If what we learn about him were something so far above what the average man can attain that the latter does not even aspire to it, it is doubtful whether, as was said above, we would come away

43. Lerner wrote an essay on Oliver W. Holmes, which can be found in “The Mind and Faith of Justice Holmes,” in Ideas for the Ice Age: Studies in a Revolutionary Era (New York: Viking Press, 1941), part 2, pp. 100–­116. Holmes is known primarily for his legal opinions, but his pragmatic philosophy is no less important. See Max Lerner, ed., The Mind and Faith of Justice Holmes: His Speeches, Essays, Letters, and Judicial Opinions (New York: Random House, 1943). 44. Holmes had a decided influence on Kaplan that has not been recognized. Lerner sums up Holmes’s philosophy in the following terms: “[There are four themes in Holmes:] that life is a risk, that our fate depends often on the throw of the dice, that law must allow for this aleatory element; that life is a battle, and the best meaning of effort comes out under fire; that one must be a good soldier, with a sense of honor and a ‘splendid Carelessness of life in a cause’; and that a fighting faith is the ultimate in the meaning of life. Always, Holmes sets these values over against the values of comfort, of utility and materialism.” Lerner, Mind and Faith of Justice Holmes, 108. Holmes served as a soldier in the Civil War, and his philosophy was obviously molded by that experience. He was a minimalist philosophically, as one can see from his definition of truth. He once said, “When I say a thing is true I only mean that I can’t help believing it—­but I have no grounds for assuming that my can’t helps are cosmic can’t helps and some reason for thinking otherwise. I therefore define truth as the system of my intellectual limitations.” Richard Posner, ed., The Essential Holmes: Selections from the Letters, Speeches, Judicial Opinions, of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 107.


March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943

from Holmes with new strength. The fact undoubtedly is that while Holmes was placed in a position where he was able to bring to fruition his urge to the optimum use of life, all who are inspired by the story of Holmes’s life and activities possess at least some of the qualities which they honor in him. It therefore all comes to this: that Holmes reflects in his own personality a strong drive to life abundant which he possesses in common with other human beings. Insofar as this drive is a common human trait, it is embedded in the very nature not alone of the members of the present generation but of the entire chain of human society, in which each generation is a link. The power that thus holds humanity together through the drive to salvation is a power that transcends humanity. How far it transcends it we cannot now care to say right now. But it transcends humanity sufficiently to render the use of the germ “God” perfectly legitimate. It is certainly better than any so far suggested. . . . Holmes, in an eminent degree, and all in whom he strikes a responsive chord are incarnations, though on a limited level, of the Power that makes for righteousness or God. That even Holmes with all his skepticism recognized the transcendence of that which gave meaning to his life is borne out by a statement like the following: “Our only but wholly adequate significance is as parts of the unimaginable whole . . . Even while we think we are egotists we are living to ends outside ourselves.”

Kaplan on Kafka W ednesday , A ugust  4, 1943 If in the language of Max Lerner one comes away from Holmes with new strength, one comes away with a sense of new horizons after reading what Lerner has to say about Franz Kafka. I was thrilled to learn that there has been at least one great writer in our day who has made the problem of salvation, or as Lerner calls it, the problem of religion, the basic theme of his art and that that writer was a Jew of Hasidic origin. Lerner puts it expressively when he says: “For Kafka social constructions and even social reconstructions are not enough. His protagonists are seeking always not a compact with man but a compact with God . . . Compacts are legalistic affairs and Kafka’s characters want to get their precise bearings in the universal frame of things” (Ideas for the Ice Age, p. 150). . . .45 “It has often been pointed out that Kafka was influenced by the Chassidic movement, and there is throughout the books that feeling for the folk-­mind and its inherent symbolism which characterized the Chassidic revolt against theological hair-­splitting. And yet there is also an enormous amount of hair-­splitting in the

45. See Lerner, “Franz Kafka and the Human Voyage,” in Ideas for the Ice Age, part 2, chapter 4, pp.  143–­55.

March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943


unwearying discussions in Kafka of the ways of God to man. Kafka was God-­drunk; but in his intoxication his subtle and powerful intellect did not stop working.” If the thesis developed by Kafka is a correct one—­namely, that the essence of the human tragedy is the dilemma arising from the necessity to discover meaning in life and the inevitable failure of the quest—­it must be assigned a place in the soterical scheme of human life. So far as the necessity of discovering is concerned, that is the soterical urge itself. But what of the inevitable frustration? The answer is that the frustration is the part of the very evil and suffering which serves as the background of the urge to salvation. It is the other pole of the necessity of discovering meaning. It plays the same role in the scheme of salvation as does death, without which there would be no meaning to life. What Lerner says about Kafka’s religion applies as well to a thoroughgoing, consistent Soterics. “Kafka’s religion,” he says, “is far from the religion of consolation. He offers no cheap or easy endings, no safe harbor for the human voyage.” . . . Godhood or the meaning of life is not only what we seek but also what we seek with. The final solution of the dilemma is thus, in a sense, the one suggested by Kant’s critiques. It is because the very “form” of the mind is time, space, and the categories of cause and effect etc. that we try to rediscover them in our experience. The same is true of the spiritual categories, self, community, and God or the meaning of life.

Zion: The Cause That Will Save the Jewish People A ugust  5, 1943 The task of those who want the Jewish people to survive is to find some object of common allegiance for all Jews which would permit not only ideological diversities but even partisan quarrels and rage, at least within the fabric of Jewish unity, without destroying it. Such an object can henceforth be only Palestine [Zion].

On Spreading the Word about Reconstructionism A ugust  17, 1943 If I want Reconstructionism to make headway, I must be Mohammed coming to the mountain. If I will wait till the rabbis come to me to find out what they can do to improve Jewish life and how Reconstructionism can help them carry out that purpose, nothing will ever happen. At Camp Tabor,46 where I am

46. Camp Tabor, in Lake Como, Pennsylvania, was run by Rabbi Jacob Grossman for Jewish girls ages six to sixteen. This was the later location of Camp Ramah. For more on Camp Tabor, see the diary entry in volume 2 for August 20, 1939.


March 22, 1943–­August 17, 1943

spending my vacation, quite a number of Seminary rabbis, all of whom were my students, come and go, and never of their own accord do they approach me to discuss anything. Only as the High Holidays are approaching and they begin to worry about sermons do they begin to pester me. I feel, however, that time is of the essence and that I must tackle some of the more worthwhile men in reason and out of season and get them interested in the Religious Fellowship which I am trying to organize.

6 August 23, 1943–­August 7, 1944

The Laity and the Rabbis A ugust  23, 1943 One of the most disintegrating results of the fact that Jewish life has had to compete with the dominant influence of secularism is the ever-­widening gap between the laity and the rabbis. In contrast with the complete identity of Jewish interests, which in the past united the layman and the rabbis, the tendency under modern conditions is for each to live in a world of his own, and seldom do these worlds meet, to say nothing of coalescing. The progressive rabbis should have been the first to close the gap by bending every effort to educate the laity in the new Jewish synthesis which they, the rabbis, were evolving. But unfortunately, they have been so distracted by all kinds of calls on their time and energy that the education of the laity in the new Jewish synthesis has been entirely neglected. On the other hand, the rabbis who themselves engaged in scholarship could not afford the time for attending to this need. The result is that those laymen who possessed independence of mind and spirit have broken with religion altogether and have left the synagogue, and those who have remained within the synagogue are intellectually and spiritually not of the type to help in the creative adjustment of Judaism.



August 23, 1943–­August 7, 1944

Proposal for a Rabbinical Assembly Prayer Book and Kaplan’s Reaction S unday , A ugust  29, 1943 During the latter part of my stay at Camp Tabor, Robert Gordis1 came for a few days’ vacation. I learned from him, what I had heard mentioned casually before, that at the last convention of the Rabbinical Assembly, he got the Assembly to pass a resolution to go on with the negotiations with [Morris] Silverman concerning his prayer book. This means that Gordis is chairman of a committee, which he is now forming, to issue a prayer book which shall be known as the Rabbinical Assembly prayer book. The Hebrew text is to be the traditional one, without any modifications except perhaps of a slight character. There is to be no tampering with texts involving the traditional theology. Silverman’s contribution consists of the translation of the Hebrew and of readings which he collected from various sources. The translation of passages that offend the modern view or taste is generally a paraphrase or a reinterpretation. Gordis asked me to serve on the committee. He said he had intended to invite also [Milton] Steinberg and Mortimer Cohen. In order to have the committee represent all wings in the RA [Rabbinical Assembly], he expected to invite also Elias L. Solomon. I listened to what he had to say without refusing him outright. As he was speaking to me, I thought there might possibly be a way of my cooperating with the Conservative and Orthodox members of the RA without transgressing Recon. principles. I might, e.g., formally disavow my approval of the Hebrew text or in some other way indicate that I have in no way changed my theological views. I would still go on with the publication of the prayer book we of the Recon. group have been working on. When I discussed Gordis’s proposition with Steinberg and Ira [Eisenstein], I realized the full intent of Gordis’s proposition. I had taken for granted that at least the prayers for the restoration of the sacrificial cult would be changed. When I learned from Ira that Gordis insisted on retaining intact the traditional prayers for the restoration of the sacrificial cult,2 I felt very indignant that Gordis had the impudence to present me

1. On the rabbis in this selection, see the glossary. For more on Kaplan and Gordis, see my “The World as Classroom—­the Jewish Theological Seminary,” in Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century: A Biography of Mordecai M. Kaplan (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993), 203–­40. The RA prayer book came out in 1946. Although Morris Silverman is listed as editor, Gordis was chairman of the RA committee that produced the prayer book. Max Arzt, among others, is listed on the committee, but Gordis certainly did most of the work. Rabbi Morris Silverman of Hartford, Connecticut, was a Conservative rabbi and published a prayer book in the mid-­thirties that became the basis of the RA prayer book translation. The other members of the 1946 RA committee were Simon Greenberg, Kohn, Israel H. Levinthal, Louis Levitsky, Abraham A. Neuman, and Elias Solomon. 2. Kaplan is referring here to the language of the traditional additional (musaf) prayer for the Sabbath and holidays in which the desire for the restoration of the cult is expressed. See, for example,

August 23, 1943–­August 7, 1944


with a fait accompli in order to make me an accomplice to what was essentially a highly unethical act. For what could be more unethical than to use the name of God in vain by uttering prayers one does not believe in? Neither Gordis nor anyone else of the RA with possibly two or three exceptions could sincerely want to see the sacrificial cult restored. The main reason Gordis insists on making no changes whatever is to make sure that the book would be bought by most of the congregation to which the members of the RA minister. According to [Max] Arzt, they are counting on an annual income of $7,500 to the RA from the sale of the book. The next morning (I believe it was Friday, Aug. 20) I vented my indignation before Gordis, [Israel] Levinthal, Morris Adler, and Henry Fisher. Despite a long interview that Ira had with Gordis afterward to get him to yield on the matter of the prayers for the restoration of the sacrifices, Gordis remained adamant (cont. on p. 205) [see original, September 7].

Nationhood and Salvation T uesday , A ugust  31, 1943 The different trends in Judaism represent the different methods suggested and employed by Jews in smaller or larger groups to orient themselves as Jews in the modern world and to further the survival of the Jewish people and its way of life. The modern one differs from the one that preceded it in two important respects: the organization of society and the conception of salvation. The modern organization of society is based upon the territorial conception of nationhood and the growing power of the state over the citizens of each nation in terms of cultural unity and economic control. The modern conception of salvation is based upon the deepening assumption that human life must explore all the possibilities of human nature and its environment to elicit from them

the ArtScroll Siddur (Brooklyn: ArtScroll Studios, 1987), 466. The translation there reads, “And the mussaf of the Sabbath day there we will perform.” At the end of the day, the RA prayer book in both Hebrew and the translation put this phrase regarding the sacrifices in the past tense. See Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book, Rabbinical Assembly (New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 1946), 141. In the prayers, the Reconstructionist prayer book of 1945 leaves out the reference to the sacrifices completely. The language is as follows: “O Lord, Our God and the God of our fathers, in thy grace Thou didst teach us to cherish the Sabbath. To partake of its bliss is to savor the best that life can offer.” Sabbath Prayer Book (New York: Reconstructionist Foundation Press, 1946), 191. But see also an additional reading before this prayer entitled “In Remembrance of the Ancient Temple Service” (189). There we find the following explanation: “The Temple has long since been destroyed, yet remembrance of it lives on in the heart of our people. The form of worship practiced there belongs to a bygone age, yet it continues to awaken solemn thoughts. Today Israel is scattered in many lands. But when we remember the Temple, we feel that we are part of one people, dedicated to the service of God and His kingdom of righteousness.”


August 23, 1943–­August 7, 1944

the maximum good in the here and the now instead of regarding them merely as means of qualifying man for a life of bliss in the hereafter.

Interdependence: A Fact and a Goal S eptember  3, 1943 The interdependence of mankind must not be permitted to remain only a fact. It must be accepted as a directive principle of conduct in all our human relations. In a recent book, The Toughest Fighting in the World, George H. Johnston (Duell, Sloan & Pearce [1943]) describes the action he witnessed in New Guinea as it was invaded by the Japanese. He finished writing his book somewhere in Connecticut. “In the final analysis,” he concludes, “the sound of a laughing baby in Connecticut is dependent on the cry of a dying man in Papua or Tunisia or Attu. For only out of the blood and sacrifice and horror and stupidity of war can come the new world for the kids in Connecticut and for the millions of other children in the world today.” When the will to live hangs by a thread, the thread may be of the most unaccountable character. The Battle of France ended in defeat and capture, and French soldiers were subjected to forced hunger marches, for days on end without food, the ragged columns plodding thirty or forty miles a day. “Only a thin naked flame of hate still flickered in numbed brains along the dusty roads. Each man found himself muttering ‘They shall not have me’ (Ils ne’auront pas!). To die would make it easier for the Germans. That knowledge alone kept them going” (from review of They Shall Not Have Me by Jean Hélion, E. P. Dutton, 1943).

A Quotation from Emerson S eptember  6, 1943 A fine illustration of what life can mean to one of “vital spirit and eager mind” is the foll[owing] quotation from Emerson’s Journals, June 13, 1883 (Houghton Mifflin):3 “Consider that the perpetual admonition of Nature to us is,

3. Kaplan diaries, September 6, 1943, vol. 12. Kaplan gives the date of Emerson’s entry as 1883, which is obviously wrong, since Emerson died in 1882. See Emerson’s essay “Circles” for the classic exposition of the ideas contained in this passage. I have not been able to locate the exact source of this Emerson statement; however, Emerson frequently revised statements he first made in his journals, and it may be that Kaplan is quoting here from an original journal entry. Another version of this statement is found in a lecture Emerson gave at Dartmouth in 1838: “We assume that all thought is already long ago adequately set down in books,—­all imaginations in poems; and what we say, we only throw in as confirmatory of this supposed complete body of literature. A very shallow assumption. Say rather, all literature is yet to be written. Poetry has scarce chanted its first song. The perpetual admonition of nature to us is, ‘The world is new, untried.’ Do not believe the past. I give you the universe a virgin to-day.” “An Oration Delivered before the Literary Societies of Dartmouth, July 24, 1838,” in

August 23, 1943–­August 7, 1944


‘The world is new, untried.’ Do not believe the past. I give you the universe new and unhandled every hour. You think in your ideal hours that there is literature, history, science behind you so accumulated as to exhaust thought and to prescribe your own future and the future. In your sane hour you shall see that not a line has yet been written; that for all the poetry that is in the world your first sensation on entering a word or standing on the shore of a lake has not been chanted yet. It remains for you, so does all thought, all object, all life remains unwritten still.”

More on the Prayer Book T uesday , S eptember  7, 1943 ( cont . from p . 196) 4 This afternoon I attended a meeting of the Executive Council of the Rabbinical Assembly, at which final action was to be taken on the negotiations with Rabbi Morris Silverman of Hartford in reference to the prayer book. Gordis reported that he could not come to terms with Silverman, but he suggested that someone else carry on the negotiations, though he was to retain the chairmanship of the committee on the prayer book. I proposed that the negotiations be suspended and that the entire matter of issuing a prayer book be made a subject of discussion at one of the forthcoming Institutes on the Future of Judaism. I spoke quite at length on the importance of having the prayer book reflect our theology. The assumption that we have been concerned with the problem of the prayer book, as Gordis maintained, for a period of many years is an illusion. From time to time we have been talking about issuing a prayer book, but we have never as a body come to grips with the specific problems of the text and translation. Though we have undoubtedly dealt with questions of theology as such, we have never tackled them from the standpoint of how they should be dealt with in the liturgy, whether, for example, we should insist on literalness or allow for reinterpretation &c.

The Particular and the Universal S eptember  11, 1943 Reform has introduced two new categories into Judaism: the particular and the universal. It regards the legislative part of the Torah as particular in character and the hortatory or instructive parts of Scripture as universal. Actually, however, the two are inseparable and meaningless apart from each other. All life

The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Vol. 1, Nature, Addresses and Lectures, ed. Alfred R. Ferguson et al. (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971), 129–­113. 4. This entry continues the one for August 29, 1943.


August 23, 1943–­August 7, 1944

and action express themselves in the particular and take on meaning when that particular is subsumed under some universal principle. The particular without the universal is blind. The universal without the particular is empty.

Humility Is More Fundamental Than Reason O ctober  12, 1943 The events which have brought about the present world cataclysm have reinforced a truth often noted that all high principles are in themselves ambiguous or equivocal in that they may be given two contradictory interpretations, of which one must be right and the other wrong, and from the standpoint of the actual effect upon human life, one must be beneficent and divine and the other sinister and diabolic. Reason, love, conscience, religion, we now recognize may be employed in the service of destroying as well as building life. There is no way in which they can be directly appealed to in behalf of what we have come to regard as that which ought to be. As a matter of fact, the sinister use to which all these ideals have been put and can be put indicates that it holds out a far greater menace to humanity than the terrors of nature or the aberrations of the instincts which we share with the beast. The only way in which man is actually delivered from the sinister use of high principles is through the grace of God. Of that grace he is the beneficiary so long as he experiences humility or piety, an experience which means awareness of a transcendent power in the cosmos—­a universal consciousness or spirit—­that seeks to direct humanity into the path of salvation. It is not only in the rational interests that man needs God to direct him to such use as will lead to maximum life but also in the spiritual interests. The spiritual interests of personality can be synthesized with those of society only through the exercise of humility. That humility only the awareness of God can evoke from man. That humility is, in fact, itself the awareness of God, as pride is the denial of God.

Why People Believe in God F riday , O ctober  15, 1943 The problem which Soterics should formulate is the following: Given the various functional interests of human life (assuming that they have been properly classified and described), the question is: what must men do to elicit from themselves the best they can be and do and to endure the worst that may befall them? In addition to exercising creative intelligence in meeting the functional interests, human beings develop interests in two additional dimensions in the

August 23, 1943–­August 7, 1944


course of their striving to achieve salvation, the dimension of the rational and the dimension of the spiritual. S aturday N ight , O ctober  16, 1943 It seems to me that the logical procedure both in the study and practice of religion would be to follow the same method as that which religion has pursued throughout human life. At no time in the past did religion begin with a theory or conception of God. Whatever notion men had of God emerged from the process of living. If we ask what in the process of living led men to the belief in God, we shall find that it was the urge to grasp the totality of that process for the specific purpose of making the most out of life. The resort to magical practices, e.g., to secure rain for the crops, was only one step in the process that brought forth the notion of godhood. When the crop was harvested and a festival of thanksgiving was celebrated, a second important step took place. But the celebration of the festival could not take place without taking into account many social and aesthetic factors which in their totality carried the mind of the participants over a large segment of their lives. And so we might take up one cluster of experiences after another and find that when they reach a point where they begin to have reference to human life in its totality, the belief in higher powers or a Higher Power emerges. Then why not proceed in the same way with the various problems of life, as they confront us, and ask ourselves, what must we do in order to solve them in such a way as to assure our making the most of our lives or achieving salvation? The first thing we would then have to do would be to arrive at some conception of salvation. We have hitherto had a conception offered by tradition. If we cannot accept the traditional notion of salvation, we ought to formulate the reasons for rejecting it. That ought not to be difficult, since the main reason is not its incredibility as its meaninglessness. Otherworldly salvation is actually nothing more than a refusal to think through the meaning of salvation. This worldly salvation is, on the other hand, a challenge to think through the problem, a challenge that cannot be evaded. This worldly salvation, it is suggested, can mean only one thing: so to fulfill one’s functional interests as to satisfy the two other groups of interests, the rational and spiritual. In indicating how the spiritual interests emerge in the course of our meeting the functional interests, we inevitably come to a point where we have to reckon with life as a whole as significant from the standpoint of our urge to salvation. Whatever we then have to say about God and the belief in Him is then intended to be of actual help in orienting ourselves to reality and in furthering the attainment of our main goal.


August 23, 1943–­August 7, 1944

The Root of Evil O ctober  17, 1943 The present world crisis has demonstrated how precarious is the likelihood of man’s deciding to live by the divine and beneficent meaning of these principles5 instead of by the diabolic and sinister. Indeed, there is no intrinsically human factor that can be reliably depended upon to throw the scales in favor of the divine and beneficent. It is at this point in human experience that we become most dependent upon divine grace to guide and impel us to make the choice that spells salvation instead of damnation. Our religious tradition has forever stressed that the means whereby we become susceptible to such divine grace is humility. What’s wrong with man? He does what’s wrong in the name of what’s right.

Ecclesiastes and the Value of Doubt O ctober  17, 1943 In my talk on Koheleth [Ecclesiastes] at the synagogue yesterday,6 I said that a book like Koheleth proves that the genuinely religious person prefers honest doubt to shallow faith. The reason for that may be that in honest doubt, one comes to grips with reality. So purifying is contact with reality, or for that matter, so direct an experience of godhood is such contact, that when it results in doubt, it atones for the apparent irreverence which doubt harbors.

A New Course in “The Philosophies of Religion” O ctober  18, 1943 Another one of those unpleasant little episodes which punctuate my career at the Seminary. My courses at the Seminary are scheduled as Homiletics and Midrash. In all the years that I have been teaching, I have never confined myself in the course in Homiletics to the technique of preaching, but I have always devoted part of the course to the basic problem either of Judaism or of religion in general. In recent years, with my interest in Soterics, I have been giving what I might term my philosophy of religion. At the same time, both in the classroom and at Faculty meetings (more rarely, of course, in the latter), this extrahomiletic work of mine began to be referred to quite openly as “philosophy of religion.” If I am not mistaken, Moshe Davis, who is a graduate of the TI [Teachers Institute] and the Seminary and is [of] hearty sympathy with

5. Kaplan enumerates the principles he has in mind before the present entry. The principles are reason, love, peace, justice, religion, and patriotism. 6. Traditionally the book of Ecclesiastes is read during the holiday of Sukkot.

August 23, 1943–­August 7, 1944


Reconstructionism and who at present is registrar at the Seminary, may have had something to do with the recognition of the fact that I have been teaching the philosophy of religion. Recently, as a result of student agitation and the need of squeezing in the four-­year course into three years, the curriculum has had to be revised. At the last meeting of the Faculty, [Louis] Ginzberg and [Louis] Finkelstein recommended a curriculum on the basis of a four-­quarter plan. In the new curriculum, there was an item “philosophy of religion” to be given by me. A few days ago, Davis calls me up to tell me that after meeting, some members of the Faculty (I am quite certain that one of them was [Saul] Lieberman, and from what F. [Finkelstein] said, I gather that Gordis must also have been among them) objected to my giving the course under that name. To appease them, F. suggested that the course be known as “philosophy.” Davis wanted to get my consent to the change. I categorically refused. He preferred not to accept my answer as final but to let me think it over and promised to call me up today, which he did. I said I wanted to discuss the matter with F. When I saw F. this afternoon, I learned from him that the fact that I was scheduled as teaching the “philosophy of religion” was viewed by the objectors in the light of the controversy between the Faculty and me over the New Haggadah, and especially over my repudiation of the traditional doctrine of the divine election of Israel. They claimed that if the Seminary were to announce now that I gave a course on the philosophy of religion, it would be interpreted as approving the particular conception of Judaism which I have been promulgating. I made clear to F. that it was not my intention to give them this time only my own philosophy of Judaism or of religion in general. On the contrary, I had in mind using a text like [Henry N.] Wieman’s American Philosophies of Religion. In fact, I told him I could see the point of the objectors. It was furthest from my mind to indoctrinate the men with my own philosophy as the only tenable one. I wanted the students to become acquainted with such thought on religion as has been formulated by some of the outstanding religionists. I therefore suggested that the course be named “Philosophies of Religion.” He wanted to qualify it further by prefixing the adjective “Typical.” I saw no point to that, and F. let it go at that. I hope that the matter is settled and won’t be raked up again by the troublemakers on the Faculty.

Religion as a Natural Phenomenon—­Hard to Grasp S unday , O ctober  25, 1943 The class in Religion 5–­6 at the Teachers Institute consists this year of about 16 students, mostly girls, who are having a difficult time adjusting themselves to the conception of Jewish religion as a natural evolution instead of as supernatural revelation. Despite their having attended Hebrew schools,


August 23, 1943–­August 7, 1944

elementary and advanced, for about six to eight years, this is the first time in their Jewish educational experience that they are encouraged to discuss, ask questions, and ventilate their doubts concerning religious belief and practice. This approach is so new to them that most of them feel bewildered. Could there be any more severe indictment of the Jewish educational system as it is conducted in the Orthodox schools and even by some of the Faculty members of the Teachers Institute? P.C.,7 whom the Seminary forced on me years ago, does more to addle the brains of the students than I can hope to unaddle them in the two years they are with me.

Kaplan the Great Immanentist S unday , N ovember  7, 1943 To the unreflective believer, God is like the general of an army. To the humanist, God is like the esprit de corps of an army. Neither analogy conveys a correct idea of God. The most appropriate analogy is that of the relation of a nation to its army. God is analogous to the nation from which the army is drawn. This helps us to understand wherein God is both immanent and transcendent.

God as Love N ovember  18, 1943 What then is the place of the progressive sensitivity which is of the very essence of that which renders us human? In a sense, it may be made synonymous with the spiritual interest that expresses itself as the yearning for the Godhead (Godhood). It is the culmination of human development. It is in that sense that God is synonymous with love. When man achieves that high sensitivity or love, he experiences a certain identity with Godhood. He is then the image of God.8

The War and the Jews9 N ovember  20, 1943 The present international war is the first one in human history in which all Jews are either actively fighting on or have their sympathies and hopes directed

7. When Kaplan is critical of a person, I have chosen to include only his or her initials. 8. In his books, Kaplan frequently emphasized a particular text by putting it in italics. I have taken the liberty of rendering in bold a text that I feel is the essence of Kaplan’s statement. 9. Kaplan notes that this entry was part of a speech he delivered at the seminary on “The Jews and the War.”

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toward one side of the battle line, the side of the United Nations. This fact stands out in striking contrast with the situation during World War I. Then Jews were to be found both fighting and hoping for victory on both sides of the battle lines, both with the Allies and with the enemy nations of the Allies. This change is not of the Jews’ choosing. It has been forced on them by the Axis nations, which under the leadership of Germany had declared war against the Jews long before they declared war on the United Nations. Neither is the war against the Jews merely one of subjugation or enslavement but one without quarter and aimed toward complete annihilation. Parallel with this change in the position of the Jews is the change in the main issue for which the war is being fought. While Germany was then, as now, the aggressor and directly responsible for the outbreak of the war, the furthest the combatants got toward clarifying the issue at stake was when, toward the end of the war, Wilson injected the slogan of “making the world safe for democracy.” That slogan implied not that democracy itself was challenged but that it could not live together in the same world with autocracy. Today the enemy has openly proclaimed war against democracy itself, which it is his avowed purpose to destroy and to replace with a new order of his own.

The Spiritual and Inner Freedom N ovember  20, 1943 What is the nature of that inner or spiritual freedom, and wherein may Judaism claim to have discovered its significance for the life of man? The man who is inwardly free possesses what has been termed “the unreconciled heart,” the heart that refuses to make peace with sheer strength or to accept it as justified.

Be Independent, Be Free, Resist Evil N ovember  23, 1943 Far more overpowering, however, than the energy of the machine is the living social energy of human groups, whether it be that of the transient mob or of the permanent nation. The temptation to yield to group pressure is hard to withstand. Only that strength of character which stems from inner freedom can enable one to resist the tendency to escape personal responsibility and to bolster up one’s sense of personal inadequacy and impotence by merging oneself with the multitude and sharing its manifest power, when that multitude is bent on mischief. Without minimizing the spiritual adventure called for by the famous and oft-­repeated maxims of the Judeo-­Christian tradition, I often wonder whether the most significant challenge to the human being is not the behest, “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou bear


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witness in a cause to turn aside after a multitude to pervert justice” (Exod. 23:2). This is what it means to be a real person. Emerson caught the spirit of that behest more than a hundred years ago when he wrote: “Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every member.” Before a man can know to respect the personality in others, he must himself be a person by the grace of God, who redeems him from all bondage to his fellowmen. Inner freedom is only the nay of which the yea spells truth, justice, and peace. In saying nay to brute force in all of its manifestations, man qualifies himself for partnership with God to build the city of God, the kind of human world God has willed. Lacking the inner freedom, man tries to build his own city of Babel or confusion—­which he designates [the] new world order—­on the Satanic principles of falsehood, aggression, and war. Next therefore to Judaism emphasis on inner freedom is its interpretation of the history of man. It sees that history not as “a chain of accidents” but as a long struggle between God’s striving to have man build civilization based on peace and man’s ambition to build his empire based on domination, which is war by another name.

How to End War N ovember  23, 1943 How long will the nations keep on repeating, on an ever larger scale, this endless cycle of domination, war, and chaos? The answer is so long as they will continue to spurn in their relations to one another the divine principles of truth and justice and choose to live by falsehood and aggression. How are we to differentiate between truth and falsehood on the one hand and justice and aggression on the other? We are not asking what is the truth or what is just in this or that particular instance. Our interest in truth and justice is in the event to which they are indispensable to the establishment of the kind of peace in which each human being is permitted to experience his inner or divinely granted freedom. It is from that point of view that Judaism stresses the significance of truth and justice to the extent of identifying them as the very attributes of God. Truth in Hebrew is expressed by the word “emet,” the chief connotation of which is reliability. It is not a metaphysical but a social concept. Its connotation [of] reliability and honesty is its ethical imperative. Truth is honesty with others and honesty with ourselves. Honesty with others is living up to expressed and tacit agreements. The earliest glimmerings of Israel’s self-­awareness are associated with the making of covenants that had to be kept at all costs and that were paid for in disaster when violated. Ever since then, the assurance that God entered into a covenant with the founding fathers of the nation has bred in the Jewish people an imperturbable confidence in its indestructibility. Out of this experience it has elicited an invincible faith in the sacredness of covenants by which men and nations plight their word. With the bitter lesson which mankind

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is now learning as a result of national policies in which treaties are considered mere scraps of paper and promises are made only to be broken, the recognition of the sanctity of agreements as the foundation of civilized society might well be included among the essential requirements of the postwar world order. It will be impossible to avert a third and even more havoc-­wreaking war in the near future unless the sanctity of covenants or the principle of honesty with others is made the basis of international relations as well as in all personal relations. Honesty with ourselves is willingness to recognize and reckon with all the facts in the context of our lives. It is this honesty with oneself that eighteenth-­century rationalism sought to accentuate in order to overcome the inherent inertia of man to move into and orient himself among the newly discovered realities which formed the vastly enlarged context of his life. That was the rationalism to which we Americans owe the democracy for which we urge that this war be fought, the rationalism to which we owe our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution with its Bill of Rights.

The Essence of Justice N ovember  23, 1943 The justice in behalf of which prophet, lawgiver, and sage in Israel contended was the unalienable right of every human being and every people to make the most of themselves, to use the utmost of their capabilities, interests, and opportunities. This is what man means by salvation, which they conceive variously in accordance with their particular culture and world outlook. However differently endowed or circumstanced, all human beings are equal from the standpoint of achieving what they regard as salvation. When, therefore, the aggressor makes a philosophy of his aggression and misnames it justice, the main object of his attack is this principle of equality. Salvation is, according to him, the monopoly of those who, like himself, can use other human beings as chattels, tools, or beasts of burden. How to organize and administer man’s world politically, economically, socially, and culturally and religiously so that every individual and legitimate group, commonwealth, or people shall be able to achieve salvation is the essence of true justice. If with some modern thinkers we adopt the possibility of growth as man’s salvation or most authoritative need, then justice calls for the kind of world in which all persons and peoples are permitted to attain the maximum growth to which their capacities entitle them. In such a world, there can be no room for either falsehood or aggression.


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Torah as Education and Law N ovember  25, 1943 In the ordering of the postwar world, the whole process of education for children, youth, and adults will have to be planned anew. In that planning, the method of Torah will have to be resorted to. That is the method of combining the training for earning a livelihood with training in the art of living a life based on the prophetic ideals of inner freedom, truth, justice, and peace. The second means by which the process of Torah seeks to have the prophetic ideals translated into action is law. If the purpose of education is to create a keen yearning in the heart of the individual for truth and justice, it is the purpose of law to give effect to that yearning by socializing it and giving it social sanctions. The individual human being, however well meaning, requires the support of his fellows to live up to his own better intentions. That support he and his fellows fashion when they merge their wills into one that is articulated into law. The law, to be sure, cannot compel anyone to do his best, but it can prevent one from doing his worst.

Need for a Strengthened International Order N ovember  25, 1943 Applying, therefore, to the problem of democratic world order the method of Torah, with its insistence upon translating right and duty from ethical principle into legal ruling backed by sanctions, it would be necessary to interpret anew the meaning of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That right can no longer be regarded as a proclamation of laissez-­faire and rugged individualism limited by each man’s individual conscience and goodwill. That right entails the duty of society to make the necessary legal provisions for providing every human being with opportunities to make the most of his life or to achieve salvation. By the same token will it be necessary to translate the right of each nation as a unit to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness into the machinery of law. This implies the establishment of a world government. Though each nation will retain a measure of independence and equality corresponding with those to be accorded to the individual citizen, it will have to surrender that part of its sovereignty which has to do with foreign affairs to a higher authority to be vested in a supernational body. Only international law backed by international sanctions will render the coming peace permanent. Thus only by legal instrumentalities and not merely by goodwill resolutions will men attain freedom from fear and freedom from want. This truth is sufficiently well recognized to make laboring the point unnecessary.

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Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Religion N ovember  25, 1943 . . . The postwar world order will have to reckon with the following: (a) Freedom of worship should be interpreted not only as a right to continue one’s own form of worship but also as a duty, to be enforced by law, to refrain from interfering with all other forms of worship and to eliminate from educational texts all offensive or insulting reference to other religions and peoples than one’s own. (b) Freedom of speech and assembly should be interpreted not merely as the right to promulgate one’s own views, but it should be safeguarded by laws against propaganda subversive of such freedom and against incitement to violence and the spreading of class and race hatred. No doubt the formulation of such law is not easy, but more difficult problems have been solved, and this one is far from being insoluble. (c) The duty of permitting minority opinions and beliefs to be held and minority cultures to be fostered should be safeguarded by laws which, on the one hand, protect the minority against the force majeure of the majority and, on the other, prevent the minorities from carrying on activities looking to the suppression of freedom of speech or religion or to the discrimination against races or creeds.

Finkelstein, the TI, and the Seminary College D ecember  4, 1943 During the last few weeks, a change has been developing which augurs well for the future of the Teachers Institute and Seminary College. Ever since I came back from Palestine, I have been trying to get Finkelstein interested in those departments. But always his response was negative. Instead of increasing the faculty or giving them incentive to improve their work, he appeared to me to be sabotaging those departments. All of a sudden, as a result of what he claims to have been an increase in the income of the Seminary, he has turned his attention to those departments. The first improvement he suggested was to have Moshe Davis, who has been registrar of the Rabbinical School, take over the registrar’s work, till now carried on by Samuel Dinin. When F. [Finkelstein] mentioned that suggestion to me, he stated that Davis would serve in the capacity of assistant to the Dean. From that I wrongly inferred that [Samuel] Dinin was to retain his registrarship. When I mentioned F’s proposal to Dinin, Dinin balked. In the meantime, I realized that I had misunderstood F’s proposal. . . . The outcome of my going back and forth between F. to Dinin was that F., Dinin, Davis, and I met last Monday afternoon. At that meeting, I got F. to promise to exempt Dinin from teaching the six hours at what is now the Seminary School for Jewish Studies (formerly the Friedlander Classes) and to give him his present salary of $4,500 (which includes $1,000 for registrarship) for


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the ten periods of instruction at the TI and Seminary College. I urged Dinin to accept the offer. He did not act as impulsively as I would under those circumstances but asked time to consider. I learned this morning from Davis that he accepted the offer yesterday.

Kaplan on Ginzberg10 S unday , D ecember  13, 1943 Last night was the third “jamboree” of the Louis Ginzberg11 cult which Finkelstein, Arzt, and Gordis have been developing these last several months in honor of his 70th birthday anniversary. I have nothing against the idea of making a cult out of personality. I have no Ahad-­Haamist complex against icons. Neither do I find fault with the deliberate fashion in which the cult is built up. In fact, I am all for cult and icons and a deliberate fostering. But what I would insist on is that it all be centered around a personality that symbolizes a useful and creative life pattern or set of values. From that standpoint, I consider the Ginzberg cult a definitely unhealthy and obstructionist influence on Jewish life. He is, as Alexander Marx well said of him last night, “an unpublished manuscript of a Talmudic concordance,” but that’s all. He is very selfish and vain but sufficiently clever to hide it behind a guise of polite little attentions to people. His main object is to have them say about him that he is humble and friendly. Like the politician who courts popularity by kissing the babies, he makes it a point to appear to be interested in his children’s friends and young people generally. [Solomon] Schechter had a similar knack. He would give candy to distribute to children. If I am not mistaken, Ginzberg acquired this trick from Schechter. But in real issues of human relationship, I have seldom noted in him anything magnanimous. On the contrary, instance after instance of meanness, pettiness, vengefulness stand out all too clearly in my mind, not so much in his attitude toward me as in his attitude toward others. To me personally, Ginzberg has been not only unfriendly but militantly hostile. I suppose if I had fallen in with his scholarly interests and had worked on some little corner of ancient lore, he would probably have been helpful to me in that he would have won for himself an additional minion. But I have found the problems of present-­day Jewish life too important and his contribution to their solution to be that of a brake for me to move in the orbit of his influence. In

10. Kaplan made it clear to me that he did not want negative statements from the diary made public, but his feud with Ginzberg goes back to the early twenties and was well known to Conservative rabbis and seminary circles. Rabbis “enjoyed” Kaplan–­Ginzberg battles at meetings of the Rabbinical Assembly. See Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century, chapter 8. 11. On Kaplan’s relationships with the seminary faculty, see my “The World as Classroom,” chapter 8 in Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century.

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addition, I have succeeded in developing an independent line of thought which appeals to many Jews who are looking for some kind of guidance in their Jewish career. That has proved a thorn in his side, and whenever he has an opportunity, he cries out in bitter protest. This is the way he has been behaving for the last twenty-­five years toward me. By this time, his antagonism toward me has become an obsession with him. At every meeting of the Rabbinical Assembly he addressed, at every Seminary occasion of a festive character at which he spoke during the last decade or two, he has referred to me and to what I try to do with Judaism in the most derogatory fashion. At no occasion at which the students or my friends arranged in my honor was he ever present. At the sixtieth-­anniversary celebration he not only was absent but did not even send in a word of good wishes. He never acknowledged by a note the receipt of any of the inscribed copies of my own books, which I had sent him. The only time he deigned to say a word about what I had written was when I happened to meet him casually after I had sent him a copy of Judaism as a Civilization.

Judaism and Paganism and Universalism D ecember  20, 1943 1. The Jewish religion has one trait in common with paganism and one which separates it by whole worlds from paganism. Like paganism, it is identified with a particular land, and it draws on the experience of the Jewish people as the source of that support and reassurance which its adherents need in order to overcome the fear of living. The experience on which Jewish religion draws is indigenous to the Jews themselves. In this important respect, Jewish religion resembles the various pagan religions of the world. But it begins to differ from them in the kind of indigenous experience it uses as the means of morale. It is not the experience with the soil and the seasons, not the experience with the physical nature of the land. It is the experience of the historical events enacted in taking possession of the land, in holding it against the continual threat of invasion and war and finally losing it. For the first time in the development of the human race, a people’s history becomes the basis of its religion. 2. This fact itself is the consequence of the second trait which is unique among the religions of the ancient world—­namely, the conscious and thorough moralization of the conception of God. Jewish religion assumes that God manifested His very godhood in being the judge of all the earth and that He is therefore bound to conform to justice as an absolute. This assumption has revolutionized the life of man by revolutionizing the function of religion. It means that whatever morale the individual is to derive from the collective life of this group must satisfy the demands of justice. Those are demands that are as absolute in their way as the demand of reason that 2 and 2 make 4, or that a thing cannot be in two places at the same time. Thanks to the fact that the demands of justice


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are an integral part of human nature, this revolutionary assumption of Jewish religion has taken it out of its own national confines and given it universal scope. Thus while the Jewish religion is particularistic in that it draws on the native and indigenous experiences of the Jewish people for the moral with which it wants to involve in its adherents, it is universal in that it submits to the principles of reason and justice, which are universal human traits.

Religion and World Peace W ednesday , D ecember  22, 1943 It is becoming daily more evident that to avert the disaster of another world war that would dwarf the present one, the economic and political structure of the nations will have to undergo considerable reconstruction. But simultaneously with that reconstruction in their outward life there will have to take place a thoroughgoing reeducation in the values of the spirit, in the meaning of freedom, justice, and in the function of nationhood and religion. Our own future as Jews is bound up with the future of democracy. We would be serving both our own highest interests and those [of] the nations with which we have cast our lot if we were to become fully aware of the part we have played in the development of religion and what we might do to enable the nations to come out from their present state of religious confusion and bewilderment. This, of course, implies that we begin with ourselves and encourage religious thought and foster all forms of religious expression. Without minimizing the value of communal endeavors of most rabbis and scholastic efforts of a very limited few, we must have a rabbinate that is devoted to religion as such, to the problems of world-­outlook, of the meaning of life, of personality, of society, and of human destiny. In the final analysis, these spiritual factors have a greater share in determining the course of human events, the happiness or the misery of mankind than those which loom large in the affairs of man. God grant the fulfillment of that prophecy: Zech. 8, 23.12

Society and Social Responsibility S aturday N ight , J anuary  1, 1944 The spiritual category of “society” should be utilized to convey the responsibility of the individual not only for actions which he himself initiates or

12. The verses in Zechariah are the following: “The many peoples and multitude of nations shall come to seek the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus said the Lord of Hosts: In those days, ten men from nations of every tongue will take hold—­they will take hold of every Jew by a corner of his cloak and say, ‘Let us go with you for we have heard that God is with you’” (Zech. 8:22–­23).

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failures to act of which he is himself aware but also for such social evils as poverty and crime to which he in no way directly contributes.

The Essence of Kaplan’s Outlook W ednesday , F ebruary  9, 1944 Soterics is intended to effect a Copernican revolution in our traditional religious perspective. According to that perspective, all ideas and practices associated with religion are God-­centered. It assumes that in the beginning of those ideas and practices is the belief in gods or God resulting from revelation or reflection. This assumption is corrected by Soterics, which puts in its place the assumption that in the beginning of all ideas and practices, not only of religion but of everything that is intended to further human life, is the inner drive to make the most out of life. The conceptions of deity as well as all other beliefs connected with them and the practices with which those conceptions are associated are all the product of what man happens to regard as constituting making the most of life and as the means both affirmative and negative to the achievement of that end.

The Necessity of Hope S aturday , F ebruary  12, 1944 “However we may progress in our conquest of the powers of nature and the injustices of the social order an important part of the human problem will consist in (the discipline of our wayward desires and) the achievement of an attitude of resignation toward the inevitable limitations of finite existence.”13 But that attitude must be accompanied by one of hope, the hope of destroying or subduing wild powers, natural or social, of securing blessings here and hereafter. The kind of resignation which is compatible with hope does not mean not having any wants or being reconciled to ills. The courage needed is the courage of hope, not despair.

A Suggestion for Making the Most of Life F ebruary  21, 1944 The will to make the most out of life in contrast with the will to self-­ preservation is illustrated in the following: “I invented this rule for myself to be applied to every decision I might have to make in the future. I would sort out all the arguments and see which belonged to fear and which to creativeness, and

13. There is no indication where this quotation comes from.


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other things being equal, I would make the decision which had the larger number of creative reasons on its side. I think it must be a rule something like this that make jonquils and crocuses come pushing through cold mud” (The Little Locksmith by Kath. Butler Hathaway, p. 10).

All Religions Have the Same Goals F riday , F ebruary  25, 1944 In addition to the functions of Soterics mentioned above, there is also the following one. Soterics helps us to realize that all religions and philosophies of life are intent upon enabling man to achieve salvation and that they merely differ from one another in emphasizing different elements or factors in that striving and that they are determined by their respective cultural backgrounds in what they regard as the vehicles of salvation. In doing all this, Soterics is bound to lead to two results: (1) To lay the basis of mutual tolerance among the different religions and philosophies and (2) to indicate in what direction it is possible to arrive at objective truths with regard to man’s quest for salvation.

Imagining an Autonomous Jewish State in the Diaspora M arch  7, 1944 On Monday, Feb. 28, I took a poll among the students of the Seminary on how they envisaged Jewish life in an autonomous Jewish Commonwealth. (In less than a week after that, Armenia yielded to the threats of the Arabs.) Of the 53 students who answered the questions, six were anonymous. The following were the questions and the replies (v = yes, x = no, d = doubtful) 1. Would non-­Jews be admitted as citizens? v = 52; x = 0; d = 1 2. Would they be admitted into labor unions? v = 52; x = 0; d = 1 3. Would a woman have the right to divorce her husband? v = 36; x = 13; d=4 4. Would the traditional divorce procedure be a prerequisite to remarriage? v = 36; x = 17; d = 0 5. Would Halitzah be enforced? v = 8; x = 39; d = 614

14. Halitzah (or Chalitzah; Hebrew: ‫ )חליצה‬is, under the biblical system of levirate marriage, known as Yibbum, the process by which a childless widow and a brother of her deceased husband may avoid the duty to marry. The process involves the widow making a declaration, taking off a shoe of the brother (i.e., her brother-­in-­law), and spitting in his face. Through this ceremony, the brother and any other brothers are released from the obligation of marrying the woman for the purpose of

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6. Would a rabbi be permitted to officiate at a wedding of a Kohane [priest] and a divorcée? v = 31; x = 16; d = 6 7. Would a Reform rabbi be permitted to officiate at a wedding? v = 36; x = 6; d=9 8. Would public utilities be attended to on Sabbaths by Jews? v = 22; x = 19; d = 12 9. Would a Jew be permitted to smoke in public on the Sabbath? v = 25; x = 20; d = 8 10. Would a Gentile be permitted to drive his car on the Sabbath? v = 40; x = 7; d = 6 11. Would the labor organization be compelled to buy kosher meat? v = 22; x = 28; d = 3 12. Would the sacrificial system be restored? v = 1; x = 50; d = 1 13. Would the entire Shulhan Arukh become the basic law of the land? v = 9; x = 36; d = 8 14. Would some modern system of law replace the Shulhan Arukh? v = 25; x = 9; d = 19 15. Would only authorized rabbis be entitled to hold juridical positions? v = 16; x = 34; d = 3 16. Would the teaching of untraditional views about the Bible be permitted? v = 50; x = 1; d = 2 17. Would the teaching of evolution in biology be permitted? v = 53 18. Would autopsies in hospitals and dissections in medical schools be permitted? v = 46; x = 6; d = 1 19. Would the American system of separation of Church and State be adopted? v = 32; x = 12; d = 9 20. If any other plan, what would it be? Although an autonomous Jewish commonwealth is at present a remote possibility, the attempt to envisage it would help to crystallize our thinking about the diaspora. How to achieve a unified Jewish community despite differences in outlook and practice is the main problem which will have to be solved before we can entertain any hopes of a future for American Jewry. That, of course, is the basic problem for an autonomous Jewish commonwealth. Jews have always lived on the principle of universal conformity. Their social structure, like that of all other groups, was totalitarian and authoritative. Democracy, which allows

conceiving a child, which would be considered the progeny of the deceased man. The ceremony frees the widow to marry whomever she desires (Deut. 25:5–­10).


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for different parties involving religious differences, was unknown. Perhaps such democracy in the future is possible on the basis of the following principles:

1. The sense of continuity with the past, educationally and juridically, should be fostered. 2. The place of religion as a positive factor in human life and culture should be a required study in secondary and higher schools of learning. 3. The traditional Sabbaths and festivals should be observed as legal days of rest. 4. Facilities for public worship should be established, with local funds if possible [and] with central funds if necessary.

The Essence of Jewish Education M arch  9, 1944 The recent course in Religious Education, which I have been giving for a number of years at Teachers College, has been transferred to Union Theological Seminary, where it is attended by students of both institutions. From the remarks made at the lecture I gave there last December by Prof. Harriet of Union, I inferred that the material I had been giving in previous years does not deal with the question concerning Jewish education of most interest to the students. Accordingly, before starting the course this year, I made it a point to find out from the two institutions what questions they would like to have me discuss. The following are the questions I received from them: (1) Give a picture of the philosophy of education in Jewish education. (2) What is the philosophy of leadership development in Jewish education? (3) What is the most effective way of carrying on religious tradition? (4) What is the most effective way of developing character? (5) What does the Jewish group do in both these matters? In compliance with their request, I had my first lecture, which I gave today, deal with the philosophy of education as implied in the Jewish tradition. I was myself amazed to find what fruitful implications are latent in our tradition both for education and nationhood. Naturally, I had known them all along but had never brought them together in such forms as I did this time. A thought, for example, like the one that the Jewish tradition may well serve as a source of guidance in the functioning of nationhood, or that Gen. 18:18 sets forth the kind of educative process which a nation must foster, viz.: one that is ethical in content, national in form, and religious in purpose, made me feel that our so-­called spiritual leaders are recording tombstones when they might be building mansions.

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Shalom Spiegel15 Delivers a Speech on the Prayer Book A pril  1, 1944 Last Monday night, Shalom Spiegel was scheduled to deliver a lecture at the Seminary. Knowing that he always has something to say worth listening to, I made it my business to attend that lecture, although it came on the eve of my trip to Virginia. Louis Ginzberg16 presided and, in his usual manner, whined out a series of commonplaces as though they were great discoveries he was disclosing to people not quite capable of appreciating their true significance. With Spiegel having to speak about medieval poetry in the synagogue, I felt in my bones that Ginzberg would manage to pass some snide remarks about my tampering with the prayer book. Sure enough, at the conclusion of his talk, his phobia got the better of him, and he spluttered some statements about “tailoring” the prayer book. I had my revenge, however, when Spiegel came to that part of his lecture in which he dealt with the medieval resistance to the slightest changes in the liturgy. This attitude, he pointed out, was the antithesis of the one that obtained during the period of the earlier Tannaim,17 when the principle of not making the prayer kevah [Heb., fixed] was enunciated to offset the pagan tendency of regarding each word and letter in a liturgy as having magical potency. When Spiegel got through, Ginzberg, apparently ruffled, took occasion to say that he did not agree with him.

Soterics S unday , A pril  2, 1944 Soterics is a philosophy of life which is intended to help men know wherein their salvation lies and be shown the means of achieving it. M onday , A pril  3, 1944 Soterics assumes that it is only within the system of nature that man can attain salvation.

15. Shalom Spiegel (1899–­1984) was an author, scholar of Hebrew literature, and faculty member at JTS who lectured at the SAJ. Much admired by Kaplan and his colleagues, he reputedly spoke a beautiful Hebrew. See his Hebrew Reborn, which is available in many editions. 16. On the rather complex conflicts between Ginzberg and Kaplan, see “The World as Classroom,” chapter 8 in my Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century. 17. Tannaim refers to early rabbis of the first two centuries of the common era.


August 23, 1943–­August 7, 1944

The Goals of Soterics W ednesday , A pril  5, 1944 Soterics cannot be a methodical science. At best it can be an art, the art of human living. As such, it has to guide the individual in so living as to contribute his share toward the purification of politics, the health of the economic institutions, the wisdom of educational processes, the vitality of culture, the spirituality of religion, and the justice of law.

Stephen Wise18 at the Seminary A pril  5, 1944 At the Seminary yesterday the faculty gave a luncheon to Dr. Stephen S. Wise in honor of his 70th anniversary. He had the faculty of the JIR [Jewish Institute of Religion] with him. After making a few introductory remarks, Finkelstein called upon Louis Ginzberg to make the address of the occasion on behalf of the Seminary faculty. Out again came two stories which I heard him give on similar occasions a number of times. The main point of those stories is that there is nothing to be said about the guest of honor. Wise, in his talk, reminisced about the beginnings of the Seminary. I was particularly interested in what he had to say about his efforts in trying to interest Leonard Lewisohn19 to contribute a sufficiently large sum to the Seminary ($25,000) to make it possible for Schechter to come to America and assume the presidency. He described the incident of his inviting Lewisohn to attend the Minha [afternoon] services one Sabbath afternoon held by the students at the time the old Seminary was still housed in 736 Lexington Ave. David Levine gave the sermon that Sabbath. I was present at those services, and I recall as clearly as though it took place yesterday how he and Lewisohn addressed us then. I think that was in the spring of 1900. When Wise came to speak of the JIR, he referred to his reluctance to assume the presidency because of his awareness that he lacked the scholarly qualifications and to his having invited three people in particular at different

18. Stephen Wise (1872–­1949) was an outstanding liberal rabbi, Zionist, and founder of the Free Synagogue and the Jewish Institute of Religion. He admired Kaplan and hoped he would be associated with the JIR. See my Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century, 268–­69, for the story of Kaplan and Wise and the JIR. 19. Leonard Lewisohn (1847–­1902) was a merchant philanthropist, investor in the copper market, and contributor to JTS.

August 23, 1943–­August 7, 1944


times to accept that office. He mentioned Emil Hirsch20 and Israel Abraham, and he alluded to me. I thought he went entirely too far in self-­derogation. He then added that he did, however, on two occasions experience some compensation for what he lacked in learning and scholarship. One was when [Louis] Brandeis gave him the first draft of the Balfour Declaration and the part he played in its redrafting by seeing to it that the term “Jewish people” be included in it. The other was recently when he succeeded in getting F. D. Roosevelt to facilitate the rescue of some Jewish refugees from Nazi-­controlled countries. The outcome of that interview is the organization of Roosevelt’s Refugee Committee. In the recent number of Opinion, dedication to Wise, I had occasion to make a pointed reference to the type of institution the JIR is, from the standpoint of intellectual integrity. I wonder whether anyone as much as even read it. The sense of inferiority under which Wise has been laboring with regard to the JIR as compared with the JTS [Jewish Theological Seminary] played an important role in deterring me from accepting his invitation to go along with him. In fact, on one occasion when I happened to be seated near him and the late Judge Mack,21 who was chairman of the Board of Trustees, I remarked to both of them that there was no raison d’être for the JIR unless it struck out in a different direction from that of the JTS. I had in mind such courses as had a more direct bearing on the contemporary Jewish scene than the conventional ones which dealt with ancient texts.

Suffering in Pain or Fear of Death—­Which Is Worse? A pril  9, 1944 The worst we have to bear is not death but suffering. I question the universal assumption that man’s greatest fear is the fear of death, in the sense that the thought of extinction is attended by the greatest manifestation of fear. I think this is an illusion. What man is most afraid of is what might be called a living death—­that is, suffering either physical or mental pain which is excruciating.

20. Emil Hirsch (1851–­1923) was a prominent Reform rabbi in Chicago and a well-­known preacher on social causes. He was rabbi at Congregation Sinai for over forty years and edited the Reform Advocate from 1891 to 1923. 21. Judge Julian Mack (1866–­1943) was a U.S. federal judge and social reformer who was active in the Jewish community. He was a dedicated Zionist president of the Palestine Endowment Fund (now PEF Israel Endowment Fund), which was established to give material aid to the Jews in Palestine during the mandate period. It now aids charitable institutions in Israel. When Kaplan returned to JTS after having come to the JIR in 1927 for three months because he was unhappy at JTS, Wise wrote to Mack, “Maybe we made a mistake with Kaplan.” I read this in Wise’s correspondence but never published it.


August 23, 1943–­August 7, 1944

The dread of starvation, disease, contumely, or disgrace is what man, in his will to live, actually experiences.

God as Redeemer and the Four Freedoms A pril  18, 1944 The four freedoms proclaimed by Pres. Roosevelt as the objectives of the United States are in keeping with the Jewish conception of God as redeemer. Yet so deeply rooted is man’s tendency to exploit and oppress his fellow man that by themselves these very objectives can be employed by the sinister forces to enslave mankind. Fascism has been ahead of democracy in promising freedom from fear and from want. However, it is known as capable of using freedom of expression and of worship to suppress both expression and worship. It is therefore necessary to add two more objectives: the freedom for truth and freedom for goodness. God, who redeemed Israel from bondage, redeemed for a life lived in accordance with his law of righteousness, of honesty, decency, and loving-­kindness.

Kaplan’s Problems at JTS M ay  15, 1944 Finkelstein asked me to see him about an “important matter.” When I saw him last Thursday, he told me that in his desire to maintain peace among the members of the Faculty, he had asked Louis Ginzberg not to indulge in his outbreaks against me, which have become rather frequent of late. L. G. apparently promised to behave better on [the] condition that I take a stand that would exonerate him and the rest of the Faculty from any responsibility for my Reconstructionist activities. F. [Finkelstein] accordingly said that he had noted that we were going to press with the new Siddur. He would therefore ask me to make clear in the introduction to the prayer book that my colleagues of the Seminary had no connection with the new Siddur.22 I told F. I expected to have no names of those who worked on it appear either on the title page or in the introduction. The only name that would appear would be that of the donor who made possible the publication. The name [of] the Reconstructionist Foundation would

22. As a matter of fact, the prayer book published by the Reconstructionist Foundation in 1945 contains the following footnote to the introduction: “The views expressed here and reflected in this Prayer Book commit only the Reconstructionist Foundation, Inc. and no other institutions and organizations with which the editors are associated.” Introduction to Sabbath Prayer Book (New York: Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation, 1945), 3. The names of Mordecai Kaplan, Eugene Kohn, Ira Eisenstein, and Milton Steinberg appear in the preface.

August 23, 1943–­August 7, 1944


appear as that of the publisher. In case, however, I changed my mind and the names of the editors would appear, I would do what he suggested.

Reconstructionism as a Denomination—­Not Yet S unday , M ay  21, 1944 In preparation for the next annual conference of the Reconstructionist Foundation and Fellowship I am meeting with [Eugene] Kohn, Friedman, Ira, and Dinin to formulate statements on policy, Mitzvot Ma-­asiyot [Heb., practical commandments], and the status of Jewry. The statement on policy is intended to clarify once and for all our position vis-­à-­vis existing denominations and parties in Jewish life. The pros and cons for the Reconstructionists to form a distinct group or party were gone over quite carefully, and so far we seem to feel that it would be unwise to set up as a distinct group or party. What mainly decided us against such a policy was the consideration that it would involve us in the establishment of rabbinical schools, teacher training institutes, congregations, and congregational organizations. For this we are certainly not prepared. The only alternative, therefore, is to try to capture the existing machinery for our program. That can be effected through the fellowship.

Soterics—­Essence of the System M ay  21, 1944 Soterics in relation to ethics, politics, and education might parallel mathematics in relation to physics. According to Hugo Bergmann (in Hashiloach 1926, p. 1)23 mathematics functions as a questionnaire by means of which physics is made to yield the truth about nature. May not Soterics likewise be a science of human values by means of which ethics, politics, and education might be made to yield the truth as to what we must do to get the most out of life or to achieve salvation? As a mathematics of human values, Soterics should not be confused with Benthamite empirical hedonism based on the calculation of pains and pleasures consequent upon any action.

23. Samuel Hugo Bergmann (1883–­1975) was a German and Israeli Jewish philosopher, author, and close associate of Buber. He had been a classmate of Kafka in Prague. Kaplan made his acquaintance during his stay in Jerusalem from 1937 to 1939. See volume 2 of Communings of the Spirit for that period. Ha-­Shiloah was a Hebrew monthly published between 1896 and 1926. Ahad Ha-­Am was the founder and early editor.


August 23, 1943–­August 7, 1944

Revelation as an Awakening F riday , M ay  26, 1944 The permanent idea to be derived from the ancient Hebrew mythology of miracles and revelation might well be the fact that both nature and history suffer incursions from without that interrupt their respective continuities. Just as it requires the shock of interruption in our sensations to rouse us to consciousness, so have we to experience the shock of change due to catastrophe of some kind to be roused to an awareness of meaning in life. It is this intuitive realization of crisis or catastrophe as the indispensable awakener in man of the awareness of God that finds expression in the biblical stories of miracles and theophanies.

D-­Day F riday , J une  9, 1944 So much has happened these last several days both in the world at large and in my own little world that I have to make a special effort to recall the events I want to record. In the first place, last Sunday afternoon, Rome fell to the Allies, and the Tuesday-­morning newspapers carried the news that D-day had arrived and that the long-­awaited invasion of Western Europe had begun. As a consequence, the general atmosphere is very tense. People are in a prayerful mood which has been induced mainly by the President, whose prayer was delivered over the radio on Tuesday night at 10:00.

A New Rabbinical School—­Kaplan Supports and Then Rejects the Idea J une  10, 1944 Last Thursday, I went to Philadelphia to arrange for the printing of the new Siddur. . . . This gave me an opportunity to become acquainted with Maurice Jacobs, recently appointed executive vice-­president of the Jewish Publication Society, which is printing the Siddur for us. Maurice Jacobs is one of those rare Jewish laymen who inspires me with new confidence in the future of American Jewish life. He is an ardent believer in Reconstructionism because, as he put it, it has a clear-­cut and consistent philosophy of Jewish life. When he took me out to lunch, we continued our discussion of the prospects of Reconstructionism. He then made the point that to make headway, Reconstructionism should have its own rabbinical institution. On the

August 23, 1943–­August 7, 1944


other hand, the JIR24 would have to fold up as soon as Wise would pass out of the picture. He therefore thought that the most logical and natural thing for me to do would be to take over that institution where I would have a free hand to mold the minds of the graduates in accordance with their own highest interests as well as with those of Jewry as a whole. He wanted me to permit him to broach the matter to Abraham Sachar,25 who is very close to Wise. I give him my qualified consent. (I phoned to him yesterday withdrawing my consent.)

On the Study of Talmud—­Value and Problems J une  24, 1944 I have just concluded the 51 folios in Baba Batra26 I had pledged myself to study as part of the Rabbinical Assembly undertaking in honor of Louis Ginzberg’s 70th anniversary. I must have spent about 75 hours on the task. I got so little out of it that is of intrinsic value that I regard the time spent as sheer waste. Perhaps I can redeem some of that waste by recording some of the thoughts on the significance of the Talmud for Jewish life, thoughts I have always held and which have been confirmed by the reading of the 51 folios. Jewish life is so poor in values that give one a sense of the reality of the Jewish people that we necessarily depend upon those we have. The Talmud is unquestionably as essential as the Bible in identifying us as a people with a civilization of its own. Its very uniqueness and exclusive character make it even more of an identifying symbol of the Jewish people than the Bible. Not to know Talmud is to miss firsthand awareness of the inwardness of Jewish life during the 18 or 20 centuries prior to the modern era (circa 150 years). But unfortunately, we have to pay a heavy price for such awareness, because the time spent in acquiring it is in no way compensated by growth in ideas or ideals that can help us live or make the most of life. There are far too many things in the Talmud one has to apologize for by reason of the pettiness and narrowness of mind and spirit which they exhibit. If a way could be found whereby the awareness of those 1,800 years of Jewish life could be acquired by

24. The JIR was a Reform rabbinical seminary established by Stephen Wise, who wanted Kaplan as president. For the full story, see my Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century, 268–­75. It eventually united with Hebrew Union College. 25. Abram L. Sachar (1899–­1993), PhD, was the national director of Hillel from 1933 to 1947 and later founding president of Brandeis University. 26. Baba Batra is a Talmudic tractate.


August 23, 1943–­August 7, 1944

some kind of substitute for the Talmud, such as Maimonides thought he created in his Yad ha’hazakah,27 it would certainly be a boon to Judaism.

When the War Is Over F riday , J une  30, 1944 This week I attended the Rabbinical Assembly Convention, which took place at Camp Delawaxen at Lackawanna, Pennsylvania (?). I got there on Monday toward evening and was back home Wednesday at 8 p.m. Sunday night we listened to an address by Dr. Nahum Goldman on the Jews in the postwar world. He drew a very dark picture of what we may expect when hostilities end. The point of his talk was that Jewry is indivisible and that its survival can be furthered not by philanthropies but by political methods.

Death of Samson Benderly28 T uesday , J uly  14, 1944 Last Monday morning, I was informed that Samson Benderly died . . . Although far from being a great man, Benderly was unquestionably a very remarkable man. He was altogether unique both in his type of mentality and in his character. He was not a thinker, yet he had a creative imagination. He was not a saint, yet he had a keen sense of justice. He was not an organizer, nor was he able to work with others, yet he managed to develop executives and administrators in Jewish education. He had all the obstinacy of a self-­made man, yet he was no careerist. Although thoroughly involved with the Spencerian concept of survival through adjustment to environment, he was doctrinaire and inflexible in his methods of dealing with people. He did not see the trees for the forest. Conceptual entities were for him more real than those which met the eye, and he was so devoted to Israel as a living reality that he cared not a whit for what this Jew did or that Jew didn’t. His shortcomings led to his eclipse during the closing years of his life, though he seemed to carry on in his reduced state almost with the same aplomb as when he was in the zenith of his power.

27. Kaplan is referring here to the legal code written by Maimonides, also called the Mishna Torah. This fourteen-­volume work simplifies Talmudic discussions and gives only the final required laws. 28. Samson Benderly (1876–­1944) was a U.S. educator who was born in Palestine and served as director of the Bureau of Jewish Education of the New York Kehillah. A major figure in American-­ Jewish education, he is the only person in the 1920s and 1930s that Kaplan considered a close friend. His students all later became leaders in Jewish education and were called the “Benderly Boys.” See Jonathan Krasner, The Benderly Boys and American Jewish Education (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2011).

August 23, 1943–­August 7, 1944


Kaplan on His Mother at Her Death A ugust  7, 1944 If life has meaning, then death is only an episode; if it hasn’t, then death is no change. About an hour after I wrote the foregoing concerning death, I received the news from the Hospital Beth Moses in Brooklyn that Mother passed away. She belonged to an age and environment in which reference to birthdays, anniversaries, and to one’s age was still taboo. I believe, though, that the nearest guess would be that she was about 88. She certainly had a long life, but it was as miserable as it was long. I do not recall a single period in her life when she did not groan over something, generally her health and the rest of the time over her ill fortune. She never seemed to know what it meant to be happy or to make others happy. There were times when her quarrelsomeness, hysteria, and fainting spells would throw me into fits of despair and fear of tragic consequences. She did much to embitter Father’s life. She enslaved my poor sister Sophie. She possessed all the terrible strength of that weakness and helplessness which ethical convention requires that we should pamper. Combined with this sickly and domineering temper was a fierce religious superstitiousness which found expression in a meticulous ritualism that added to the burdens and anxieties of her own life and of the life of her family. I am perhaps as cruel in my way as she was in hers in writing this vein about my mother only the second day of her passing. After all, what does anyone know of the extent to which we are or have a right to be held responsible for our conduct or attitudes. My mother was probably cursed with a jangled nervous system which she could no more control than the final disease which afflicted her during the last four or five weeks of her life. The fatal skin disease that killed her was like the effect of being scorched by flames. The will to live which pulsated strongly within her to the very last must have rendered her suffering nothing less than hellish. All in all, a life like Mother’s would be enough to sadden my whole existence were I not able to remind myself of two such women as Ray Schwarz, the wife of Rabbi Schwarz, and Minnie Epstein, the wife of Rabbi Louis Epstein. The former in large measure, the latter in lesser measure, have proved to me that it is possible to radiate both goodness and joy even when living under the shadow of death. But, again, who knows how much of that goodness and joy is free-­willed and their own?

7 September 14, 1944–­April 17, 1945

Torah Makes Jews a Nation S eptember  14, 1944 When we analyze both the very idea of “Torah” and the nature of the content in the Torah—­i.e., the Pentateuch—­with its rabbinic interpretations, we first begin to realize the true nature of Judaism’s actual contribution to world ethics. As an idea, the “Torah” represents the principle which has made the Jews into a nation. R. Saadia1 uttered a most penetrating truth when he said in speaking of the Jews, “The only thing that makes us into a nation is the Torah.” By that he probably meant to negate the assumption that it was kinship, blood, or race that constituted the Jews into a nation and to affirm the fact that it was the particular pattern of living or way of life unfolded in the Torah that constitutes the bond of national unity. There is another possible negation involved in R. Saadia’s statement: that the constitutive principle of Jewish nationhood is not the power which the group has over its individual members, as in the case of all other nations, but the opportunity which Jewish nationhood affords the individual to share the way of life promulgated in the Torah. This amounts to saying that insofar as the Jews felt that the Torah was the constitutive principle of their nationhood, it precluded the machinery of the state from being that principle. The state is inherently the organization of the force inherent in a people. A state-­constituted nation is therefore the product of force, regardless of moral law as such. One need only read the famous work of Franz Oppenheim2 to be convinced that the nature of the state as it arose and as it has functioned is

1. Rav Saadia Gaon (882–­942) was a prominent rabbi, Jewish philosopher, and exegete of the Geonic period. 2. Kaplan may have meant Franz Oppenheimer, The State: Its History and Development Viewed Sociologically (New York: Macmillan, 1922).


September 14, 1944–­April 17, 1945


the antithesis of the moral law. Those who compiled the Torah and had it adopted as the basis of Jewish life and Jewish unity had no such sociological awareness of the true character of the state. Yet they must have sensed it, as did all the spiritual leaders of the Jewish people who brought it about that their people shall not be so completely identified with the state as to render the people’s existence entirely dependent upon the existence of the state. The early preference for divinely sent leaders, the reluctance ascribed to Samuel to grant the people’s request for a king, the Torah’s rather casual and limited reference to the setting up of a king as a matter of possible preference, the prophet Hosea’s allusion to the institution of kinghood as irritating to God, and above all the greater judicial and legislative authority Pharisaism conferred upon the spokesmen of the Torah than upon the representatives of the state—­all point to a conscious deprecation of organized force as a constitutive principle of nationhood. The ethical implications of this attitude to the state are indeed far reaching. F riday , S eptember  15, 1944 Since the claim which the nation as a whole has upon the individual does not stem from the collective force which it can bring to bear upon him when he is recalcitrant to its general will, that claim must stem from another source. That source is the will of God, which the nation mediates for the individual. Torah thus comes to be the setting forth of the will of God as it manifests itself (1) in the career of the nation and (2) in the particular way of life which the nation has come upon when it became aware of the difference between the usual type of nationhood and its own. The Jews thus evolved the principle that the basis of society as its main cohesive influence is not the power which the strong can wield over the weak but the common submission of both strong and weak to the will of God. That will of God is not the will of a naughty potentate who can intimidate human beings into obedience but the principle of righteousness conceived in cosmic terms and become articulate in the life story of the nation and in the precepts and commandments which constitute its way of life.

Josiah Royce: The Essence of Salvation S eptember  15, 1944 The nationhood which the Jewish people through its Torah held up as the only kind that may legitimately bind individuals into nations coincides perfectly with what Josiah Royce interpreted to be the true motivating influence in all ethical living, when he identified loyalty to a cause as the most potent factor for the moral life. He defines a “cause” as “some conceived, and yet also real, spiritual unity which links many individual lives into one, and which is therefore essentially superhuman, in exactly the same sense in which we found the realities


September 14, 1944–­April 17, 1945

of the world of reason to be superhuman” [emphasis in the original]. Yet the cause is not, on that account, any mere abstraction. It is a live something. “My home,” “my family,” “my country,” “my service,” “mankind,” “the church,” “my art,” “my science,” “the cause of humanity,” or, once more, “God’s will,” such are the names for the cause . . . This cause is not a mere heap or collection of human beings; it is a life of many brethren in unity . . . Such a principle does not mean “Lose yourself,” or “Abolish yourself,” or even simply “Sacrifice yourself.” It means: “Be as rich and full and strong a self as you can, and then with all your heart and your soul and your mind and your strength, devote yourself to this cause, to this spiritual unity in which individuals may be, and (when they are loyal) actually are, united in a life whose meaning is above the separate meanings of any or of all natural human beings” (Sources of Religious Thought, NY, 1914, pp.  199–­201).3 Every word in the foregoing passage brings out most sharply the implications of the section of the Torah which it has been the sacred duty of every Jew to read twice daily: Hear O Israel the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul and with all thy might. And these words &c. The point of Royce’s argument is all the sharper because that argument was not developed as an exposition of the text from the Torah, or as part of an apologia for the Judeo-­Christian tradition, but as an inherently rational presentation of human striving after salvation (ibid., p. 12).

Force versus the Spirit S eptember  15, 1944 The one unvarying theme in all of ancient Judaism’s teachings concerning Israel’s career is the deprecation of the possible claim that whatever success Israel achieves in its struggle for existence, freedom, or possession, it owes its own power and the ascription of such success to God. The power of God is always directed against peoples which in reliance on their own strength flout His will. That will was always identified as we have seen with the moral law. This stands out most conspicuously in the case of the redemption from Egypt. For that reason, that event has become one in Israel’s career. From it the Jew is expected to draw the principal inspiration for fulfilling God’s will (cf. Numbers 15:40–­41). The commemoration of it is given as a rationale for the Sabbath and for the Passover festival, which was transformed from a nature festival to a historical one with far greater emphasis and éclat than the two other pilgrimage festivals. That the main experience of God’s intervention in Israel’s career should thus be associated with an event in which God redresses the wrong done to the oppressed

3. See Josiah Royce, The Sources of Religious Insight (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912).

September 14, 1944–­April 17, 1945


and rescues them from the power of their oppressors inevitably contributed to the conception of God as the champion of the weak against the strong. That conception of God is a corollary of the intuition that the ethical or the distinction between right and wrong belongs to a different dimension of existence from that of the physical vitalities and powers. It is doubtful whether the comparative study of religion can yield a parallel instance in other civilizations and religions of so consistent and concentrated an insistence on treating force as something with which it is dangerous to entrust man. It is as though traditional Judaism approved of force in whatever form, whether exercised over things in the environment or over other humans, what the ancient Greeks said about fire, when they spoke of it as stolen from heaven by Prometheus. In common with the rest of the world, the Jews naturally identified force as the very essence of Godhood. On the other hand, whatever avoidable suffering marked human life was, for the most part, the result of the abuse of the power which some human beings possessed over others. That is the abuse which is described in Scripture as violence, a term for that which caused God to regret that He had created man. In the Middle Ages, when man conceived the ambition to manipulate the forces of nature, before he came to know its fundamental laws, he resorted to mystic means, by which he hoped to achieve control over that force which belonged to the domain of the supernatural or to God. In view, however, of the destructive use to which he might put that force, he was expected to rid himself of all selfish and unethical human traits before being permitted to learn the mystic science. In our own day, we have come to dread the possible consequences of entrusting the knowledge of modern science and invention to immoral society. We are even afraid to consent to the enforcement of international peace. This fear of the abuse of force led all those who had a hand in the shaping of the Jewish consciousness—­priests, prophets, and sages—­to set up a sharp antithesis between force and spirit, between power and moral law. That was the only way in which the ancients knew how to articulate the profound intuition that spirit and moral law constituted a different dimension of existence from and was entirely other than the considerations of utility or expediency which have to do with whatever force or power man has at his command. When Plato discovered the fact that the idea belonged to an entirely different order of existence from the things we know through the senses, he, too, was able to articulate that fact only by emphasizing the impassable gulf that divided idea from thing. But if he had not gone to that length in stressing the otherness of idea, philosophy would have made no progress. Likewise, if Judaism had not stressed how absolutely incommensurable force is with spirit or power with moral law, man would never have understood why all his achievements in the domain of power turn to dust and ashes unless they are based on the moral law and reckon with the demands of the spirit.


September 14, 1944–­April 17, 1945

The Nature of Prophecy S eptember  21, 1944 The integral relation of the spirit of Prophecy to the spirit of Torah reveals itself in the substance of the prophet’s principal message. That message is addressed to the people’s failure to live up to what they should have learned from the Torah: that all power which man wields is entrusted to him by God and that he must, therefore, employ it in accordance with God’s ethical traits, which find expression in His laws. This underlying principle of the Torah derives from or is itself the basis of the conception of God as combining in Himself in perfect Harmony the greatest amount of force with unlimited and unqualified righteousness. But in the conduct which the Prophets beheld in the people about them, and in the political intrigues carried on by the governments of Israel and Judah, this conception of God seemed to be consistently ignored. God was regarded in much the same light as the other nations on the whole regarded their respective deities. He was to the average person the source of power, to be petitioned and wheedled for such power as man needed to fulfill his personal wants, regardless of the moral issues involved. Hence the meticulous care amid the lavishness with which the sacrificial cult was performed in contrast with the neglect into which all those laws which sought to protest the [Friday, September 22, 1944] weak against the strong were permitted to fall. This is the refrain of so much of the prophetic writings. But one typical passage should suffice to illustrate the point. “Trust not in aging words, saying, The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord is this,” warns the prophet Jeremiah. “For only if you amend your ways and doings—­if you practice strict justice toward one another, if you keep from oppressing the resident alien, the orphan and the widow, from shedding innocent blood in this place, and from following other gods to your own hurt—­will I establish your home in this place, in the land which I gave to your fathers for all time. But as it is, you trust in lying words that are of no avail. “‘What: Steal, murder and commit adultery, swear falsely, offer sacrifices to Baal, and follow other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before me in this house which bears my name, and say “We are safe”—­in order, forsooth, that you may practice all these abominations. Has this house which bears my name become a robber’s cave in your eyes? I have my own thoughts about it,’ said the Lord” (Jer. 7:9–­11). This indictment presupposes the moral standard promulgated in the Ten Commandments.

September 14, 1944–­April 17, 1945


God and the Moral Law S eptember  22, 1944 Man’s distinction, accordingly, is not in the achievement neither of worldly wisdom, strength, or wealth but in the realization of the moral law as inherent in the very nature of God. “Thus says the Lord. Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, nor the strong man boast of his strength, nor the rich man boast of his riches. But if one must boast, let him boast of this, that he understands and knows me—­how I the Lord am he who practices kindness, patience and righteousness in the earth” (Jer. 9:23–­24).

Kaplan’s Essay on Ethics T hursday , S eptember  28, 1944 The foregoing essay on “Judaism’s Contribution to World Ethics” (pp.  33–­59)4 is in its first draft. I shall probably revise it several times before I hand it in. Now that the most difficult part of the task is done, I am glad I undertook to write the essay. It gave me an opportunity to organize my ideas about Judaism in a way I had no occasion to do before.

Religion and Current Problems S eptember  28, 1944 On the first day of Rosh Hashanah (Sept. 18), I preached a sermon on “What Is Total Peace?” It was not too long and was well delivered, though I am not sure that everybody liked it. Somehow many even in the SAJ [Society for the Advancement of Judaism] can’t get used to the idea that religion must concern itself with the same problems as those which are the subject matters of politics and economics. They expect religion to be other. They miss that otherness in my talks.

Preaching Is Kaplan’s Social Action O ctober  2, 1944 As I am about to send to the SAJ Board of Trustees a letter requesting them to retire me as emeritus and to have Ira [Eisenstein] assume full leadership

4. Kaplan’s thinking in the excerpts above on ethics were eventually published in the volumes edited by Louis Finkelstein, The Jews: Their History, Culture and Religion (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1949). The essay by Mordecai M. Kaplan, “The Philosophy of Jewish Ethics,” appears in 2:1010–­43.


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of the SAJ, I am wondering whether I should continue with my preaching as heretofore or not. Likewise, in the Seminary, I have recently made a bid for turning over to somebody else the work in sermon writing. There is something about preaching which places it, as far as I am concerned, in the category of action, in contrast with my thinking and writing (of which I do altogether too little), which belongs to the category of contemplation. Little as preaching brings me into touch with the realities of life, it does so at least to the extent of making me feel that I am not entirely on the side lines but, to some extent at least, in the heat and dust of the arena. This touch of reality, bought though it is at the expense of perhaps more time and energy than it warrants, is perhaps indispensable to the contemplative tasks in which I am engaged.

Soterics: Kaplan’s System W ednesday , N ovember  22, 1944 The principal facts in human life which make necessary the science of Soterics are the following:

1. The human being has, as his capital for living, biologically inherited capacities and tendencies and a socially inherited world consisting of artifacts and ideas. This socially inherited world stands, for better and for worse, between him and raw nature. It represents the limitations and the possibilities of his life as a human being. As human beings, we live in a world of our own making. 2. This socially inherited world cannot be taken over passively as one takes over the physical environment. It must enter one at the same time that one enters it. This is the normal process of growth in the life of the individual. 3. The human being, by virtue of his capacity to remember, abstract, associate, and imagine ideas, is aware of numerous alternative patterns of life and normally chooses that pattern which he believes will afford him the maximum of life or salvation. 4. There come times in the life of society—­and they come with accelerating frequency—­when the socially inherited world is all out of joint and gets to be uninhabitable. 5. This means that the socially inherited world is no longer regarded as permitting the average person to achieve salvation. The only alternative then left for the individual is to regard as his maximum salvation the exercise of his powers to reconstruct the socially inherited world so that it shall help those that inhabit it achieve salvation. 6. When enough persons set about reconstructing the socially inherited world so that it is actually transformed in line with the foregoing purpose, a new emergent appears on the horizon of human life.

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7. It is the purpose of Soterics to help bring about the next emergent human type by enabling us to see human life integrally and whole. 8. The socially inherited world may be divided into three spheres: economics, education, and politics. Each of these spheres functions properly to the extent that makes for the particular ideal which enables it to contribute to man’s salvation. For economics, the ideal is proportionate opportunity; for education (which includes the whole range of human culture), the ideal is freedom; and for politics, the ideal is fraternity.

Seminary Conflicts N ovember  22, 1944 I have apparently lost the taste for recording the trivia of my personal life, since I find it so hard to note down what I have been doing all these days and how I have been faring. Yet the only things that hold my interest when I read some of the back pages of the journal are just these trivia and not at all the solemn pieces which I write in the journal merely because it is the only way I can get myself to write them. By the time these pieces appear in print, they have undergone numerous revisions, whereas the things that happen to me are final. A couple of weeks ago, Solomon Goldman made a sudden appearance in these parts. He is a charming fellow and undoubtedly means well. But I wish I knew what he means to do. He is just now on the warpath against Louis Finkelstein, for whom he has always professed a real affection but whom I have heard him describe as a menace to Judaism. He has gotten Milton Steinberg worked up to refuse to make an appeal in his congregation for Seminary funds. I doubt whether he and Milton are really talking about the same thing when they speak of fighting Finkelstein. I hate to get myself mixed up with their quarrel, because I suspect it is not altogether leshem shamayim [Heb., literally for the sake of heaven, meaning for unselfish ends]. Yet when Goldman was at the house a couple of weeks ago and we discussed the letter which he had recently sent Finkelstein protesting against a number of things Finkelstein had said and done, I was so carried away by my fondness for Goldman that I blurted out: “If you organize a Reconstructionist Seminary in Chicago, I shall leave New York and accept a position on the Faculty.” I say “blurted out” not because I wouldn’t do it, if such a seminary were actually established, but because I am quite sure Goldman wouldn’t undertake to establish it. Yet who can tell? Maybe I have put a bug in his ear, and it will keep on buzzing until he does something about it. This afternoon, Moshe Davis, whose official title is “Assistant to the Dean of the TI [Teachers Institute]” as well as registrar of the Seminary, and Miss Cutler, his new and very efficient secretary, came to discuss with me a number of details pertaining to appointment of committees, curricula, &c. One thing led to another until I got involved in a lengthy monologue on the basic lack in


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the Seminary, a consistent and integrated ideology of Judaism. He and Miss Cutler5 agreed with me fully, but they and I were stumped as to what can be done to make good that lack. There is not a single member on any of the faculties who agrees with me ideologically. After we got through discussing TI and SCJS [Seminary College of Jewish Studies]6 business, Moshe Davis remained to talk over with me the problem of the Seminary as now precipitated by the Goldman-­Steinberg revolt. He would like to have F. [Finkelstein] consult me on how to meet the situation, and therefore, I presume, he wanted to get my view of it. All I could say was that what I objected to in F’s Seminary policy was not his expansionist program, which includes such activities as the Institute on Religious Studies and the Eternal Light, but his wrong conception of priority. The development of a strong TI and SCJS is, in my opinion, far more important for the future of Judaism than those other activities. The argument that our people cannot be appealed to for funds except through such means as those that are intended to combat anti-­Semitism is not a valid one, because it implies that it is proper to cater to the perverted sense of values of our people rather than to try to educate them to a higher and creative sense of values. Incidentally, when Finkelstein asked me about a month ago to give a talk on the radio program Eternal Light, I consented to do so and took part in the program two weeks ago yesterday. As many as ten people actually told me they enjoyed hearing me. My talk lasted all of 3 1/2 minutes; yesh koneh olamo be’sha-­ah ahat [Heb., A person gains his world in one hour, meaning his place in the world to come is gained in a very short time].

Role of the Jewish Theological Seminary in Jewish Life N ovember  22, 1944 An outstanding trait of the Seminary is its sensitiveness to the many-­ sided spiritual needs of American Jewish life and its effort to cope with them. In line with this trait, it was the first modern rabbinical institution to realize that

5. Sylvia Cutler Ettenberg (1917–­2012) was a Jewish educator at the forefront of many Conservative Jewish educational initiatives and one of the founders of the Camp Ramah movement. A graduate of Brooklyn College and the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), Ettenberg served as registrar and oversaw the development of the Teachers Institute and Seminary College of JTS. 6. SCJS was the evening division parallel to the TI. The curriculum was the same, except there were no courses in education in the evening. Like the TI, courses were conducted in Hebrew. Students who attended the Seminary College generally attended a regular college during the day. Classes were held Tuesday and Thursday nights from 6:30 to 10:00 p.m. and Sunday from 1:00 to 6:00 p.m. The full course lasted five years, with a Bachelor of Hebrew Letters at the end.

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the perpetuation of Jewish life under modern conditions called for much more than a properly trained rabbinate. Without a staff of adequately trained teachers, trained to understand and interpret Judaism in the same spirit as the rabbis and qualified to foster a knowledge of and love for it in the child and adolescent, the rabbi would be functioning in a vacuum. This led Dr. [Solomon] Schechter to urge the enlargement of the Seminary’s scope so that it included the training of teachers. This is how the Teachers Institute came to be established thirty-­five years ago. The Teachers Institute was a small and modest affair during the first few years. However, when for the first time in the history of American Jewry the responsibility for Jewish education began to be recognized as embracing entire communities instead of merely local congregations or societies and the demand for educators and teachers suddenly arose, the Teachers Institute developed into a full-­fledged teachers training school and [was] in a position to supply the men and women without whom the newly experienced sense of communal responsibility might have been frustrated. The establishment of communal bureaus of education in many cities and whatever growing interest in the problem of Jewish education is at present manifest may be traced directly to the impulse given by the Teachers Institute during the decade of 1915 to 1925. A further enlargement of the Seminary’s scope took place when, in addition to the training of teachers, it became evident that without the development of Jewish lay leadership and influence to keep alive the demand for what the rabbi might give to the congregation and the teacher to the rising generation, that demand would die down from inanition. Such lay leadership and influence presupposed a far more intensive and extensive understanding of appreciation of Judaism than can be acquired through an elementary training. Accordingly, as ambitious a curriculum as that for prospective teachers, except for the mission of the pedagogic courses, became the basis of the Seminary College of Jewish Studies. It corresponds both in years of training and level of studies to the general college and is authorized by the Regents of the State to confer the degree of bachelor of Hebrew letters. During the existence of both of these departments of the Seminary, over 500 young men and women have gone forth to assume various positions of professional and lay leadership, as directors of educational bureaus, as teachers of classes, as heads of Jewish centers, as executives of some of the most important social endeavors, and as lay leaders in Zionism, Hadassah, and similar organizations which spell a Jewish future. Of that number are included many who later entered the rabbinate. It is expected that, with the new support which the Seminary has of late been receiving from the general Jewish public, new impetus will be given to these departments. This will make it possible to enlarge their faculties and to


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enable many students from different parts of the country to take advantage of the training which will prepare them to serve their people and to contribute to the perpetuation of American Jewish life.

Not Common Memories but Common Hopes S unday , N ovember  26, 1944 The main point that should be brought out in dealing with the spiritual category of society is that its most natural and satisfying kind of loyalty is not that based upon common memories but that based on common hopes. But common hopes can arise only out of common economic and social purposes, out of common human needs or vitalities. This should throw light on the problem of church and state, which would come in as the main subject of discussion under the heading of society.

A University of Judaism: A Larger Goal for the Seminary D ecember  3, 1944 As a result of a recent conversation I have had with Moshe Davis pertaining to the growing discontent on the part of the Seminary alumnae with Finkelstein’s policies in the administration of the Seminary, Finkelstein came to see me last night. This is the first time he has been at my home since I left for Palestine, except for the condolence call he paid after Mother’s death. The outcome of his visit is that I am to utilize the opening of the series of four lectures in honor of the completion of 35 years of the existence of the TI as an occasion for unfolding a new conception of the kind of institution of higher learning needed in Jewish life at the present time. Instead of being a theological seminary fostering a specific denominational view of Judaism, that institution should be an American-­Jewish University which would do the organized thinking and planning for American-­Jewish life. An institution of such wide scope implies the conception of Judaism as a civilization. The fact that Finkelstein has accepted my suggestion that the Seminary be transformed into that kind of a university and that he has asked me to launch the idea, even going so far as to call a convocation for that very purpose, augurs well for Jewish life as a whole.

The War and a Sense of the Suffering D ecember  5, 1944 [A Quotation from Aldous Huxley] “All over the world, millions of men and women lying in pain; millions dying at this very moment; millions more grieving over them, their faces distorted . . . the tears running down their cheeks . . . The horror was always

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there, even when one happened to be feeling well and happy—­always there, just around the corner and behind almost every door” (Aldous Huxley, Time Must Have a Stop, p. 3).7

The Nature of Religion D ecember  19, 1944 The truth is that religion is not a distinctive element of a culture or universe of discourse but a way of viewing it. A culture or universe of discourse is normally three dimensional—­i.e., its elements fall into the dimensions of power, reason, and spirit. When that culture is viewed in its totality from the standpoint of salvation or making the most out of life and that view is acted on in some way, we have religion. Vowing and acting out a culture in its totality permits an indefinite variety of emphases and may take place at any stage in human development. This gives us the wide range of religious expression.

Cultural Integration W ednesday , D ecember  20, 1944 Now that F. [Finkelstein] is enlisting my aid in carrying out his expansionist program with the Seminary, he is showering invitations upon me. Today I received an invitation to write a paper for the sixth Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion, of which he is President.8 This is the first time that I have been asked to take part in any of these conferences. In addition to my wanting to play in with him, there is also the inducement of a possible chance to make my debut publicly with Soterics. The main theme of the sixth conference is “the necessity of building ‘cultural bridges’ among the various disciplines in any one culture.” It seems to me that Soterics offers a very much needed philosophy for that kind of “cultural bridge” building. In fact, Soterics might well be described as a philosophy of cultural integration.

7. Aldous Huxley (1894–­1965) was a British writer, the author of Brave New World, who later developed an interest in mysticism and Vedanta. See Time Must Have a Stop (London: Chatto and Windus, 1944). Kaplan often said a person should be known by what he quotes. 8. This paper was published in 1947 as “Toward a Philosophy of Cultural Integration,” in Approaches to Group Understanding, Sixth Symposium, ed. Lyman Bryson, Louis Finkelstein, and R. M. MacIver (New York: Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Distributed by Harper and Brothers, 1947), 589–­625. For other essays authored by Kaplan in this series, see the full Kaplan bibliography in The American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan, ed. Emanuel Goldsmith, Mel Scult, and Robert Seltzer (New York: New York University Press, 1990), 415–­53.


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***** The general outline of the paper would have to be something like the following: Culture exists as specific cultures. Each culture represents the ideational universe which a people evolves and in which all identified with it live and have their being. Until the rise of Christianity and Mohammedanism, each culture arose spontaneously and was integrated—­i.e., its various ideas and values and ideals were felt to be mutually consistent and as such gave no occasion for inner conflict. The same was true when Christianity and Mohammedanism achieved their respective syntheses. With the advent of modernity and the disintegration of the traditional cultures, man has been left without an ideational universe sufficiently integrated to feel at home in and to constitute the basis of like-­mindedness essential to social cooperation. Accordingly, a time has come when man must deliberately integrate his ideational universe. To do that, it is necessary for him to learn to do consciously what he had hitherto done spontaneously. That demands on his part a study of the main principle at work in the culture building of the past. That principle operates in three distinct dimensions. The fact that this modus operandi is common to all cultures provides a method not only of discovering the elements common to the various cultures but of translating values from one culture unto those of another. This would help to solve the problem presented by the diversity of cultures to which men living under one political regime are as a rule now heir, in addition to being a means of integrating the various elements in their ideational universes.

Celebrating the Founding of the TI and Looking Back—­a History S unday , D ecember  31, 1944 The practice of celebrating anniversaries is definitely on the increase. It has come to be a marked characteristic of modern life and a formidable addition to its complexities. As time goes on, the very occasions for celebration naturally multiply. But that is not the only reason for the numerous celebrations. A more fundamental reason is that as human life in general matures, it becomes more self-aware. Its routine evidence is frequently punctuated by moments of self-­ appraisal. Anniversaries constitute such moments, particularly those which mark multiples of ten or five. Having completed thirty-­five years since the establishment of the Teachers Institute, it would be unnatural to allow that fact to go unnoticed. To fail to signalize it would mean that we lack the faculty for self-­awareness and introspection so essential to the very purpose which the TI is intended to serve. That purpose is none other than the perpetuation of Judaism in America. Periodic taking

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stock of how far we have succeeded in attaining our goal or to what extent we have fallen short of what we had set out to achieve, as well as reviewing our very aims in the light of conditions which may have changed radically from what they were when we first began—­all this is indispensable to the normal life of an institution like the Teachers Institute and its affiliate, the Seminary College of Jewish Studies. But these institutions are themselves sectors of a larger academic entity, the Jewish Theol. Sem. Any survey of their accomplishments or consideration of their future must take into account the history and the destiny of the Seminary as a whole. That necessarily involves focusing the light of self-­awareness upon the Seminary as well as upon the Teachers Institute. To do that with the Seminary without appearing to do something untimely, the Seminary itself would have to provide a fitting occasion. I therefore feel deeply beholden to Pres. Finkelstein for having come to our aid and having given larger scope and perspective to the TI celebration by reminding us that the Seminary, too, has an important anniversary—­the semicentennial of its first graduation. Fifty years ago, the Seminary held its first graduation exercises on the occasion of awarding the rabbinical degree to its only graduate at the time—­Dr. Joseph H. Hertz,9 who has served as chief rabbi of the British Empire for more than a quarter of a century. In the light of the combined anniversaries of the mother and the daughter institutions, I shall venture to give a kind of review and evaluation [and] will deal less, if at all, with the progress and needs of the one or the other institution and more with the general trend of Jewish higher education as indicated by both of them. It takes two points to determine the direction of a line. The first Seminary graduation fifty years ago and the establishment of the Teachers Institute thirty-­five years ago are the two points which can help us identify the course which American Jewish life has been taking and should take in the development of its own spiritual leadership. But why should I be the one to indicate the line which runs throughout the two points in time and significance? The privilege to deal with the establishment of the TI is granted me by reason of my having headed it since its inception. But to what do I owe the privilege of also dealing with the implications of the first Seminary graduation? I hope I shall be pardoned if, in the course of answering that question, I interject one or two autobiographical facts. I must state that I happen to be the sole survivor of the Seminary which graduated Dr. Hertz, the Theological Seminary of New York, before it was reorganized in 1902 into the Theol. Seminary of America, whose life is also entirely interwoven with

9. Joseph Hertz (1872–­1946), ordained JTS, served in Johannesburg, South Africa, and was appointed chief rabbi of the British Empire in 1913. Kaplan knew him well and thought him pretentious. He is most well known in America for his commentary on the Pentateuch. He was a sometime suitor of Henrietta Szold.


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the reorganized Seminary.10 The span of over fifty years, with the exception of the five or six years between my attendance as a student and my serving as a member of the Faculty, bridges my first contact with the Seminary to the present day. Lest you infer from this that I cannot be far from having attained the age designated in the Bible as g’vurot, I have to inform you that in those days, it was possible to become a student of the Seminary not only without having a BA but even before his father said Boruch shepeta-­rani [Heb., Bless that I have been released].11 The Seminary at that time, small as it was, managed to have not only a graduate and an undergraduate department but even a preparatory department. Though it was into that preparatory department that I was admitted, very few of the goings on of the Seminary escaped me, of such small compass did it then consist. Together with my classmates, I sat in on the annual meetings and listened to Sobato Mornis hold forth, and with them I sized up each of the notables as they came to examine the first candidate for graduation. There was no accelerated course in those days. After having attended for eight years as a student of the old Seminary, one was expected to take a finishing course of an additional two years at the new Seminary. Such self-­identification over so long a period with an institution not only makes one bone of its bone and flesh of its flesh but enables one to see it from inside out. When therefore I yield to natural prompting on an occasion like this to reminisce, I have at least the excuse of being eager to communicate a sense of continuity of the inner life of the Seminary which is not only immediate but also unique. I wish, however, to point out that my purpose in reminiscing concerning the Seminary and the Teachers Institute has none of the sentimental and nostalgic implications which are part of the reminiscences a person indulges in when, advanced in years, he celebrates his birthdays. In the latter instance, as the retrospect lengthens, the prospect grows shorter, hence the concomitant note of sadness. But in the case of an institution, the longer the retrospect, the longer and surer the prospect. The individual who has risen from small beginnings to power or fame goes over in his mind the hard road he has traveled before he got to where he is, not to learn from his recollections how to proceed, but to draw

10. On the 1902 reorganization of the seminary and the conflicts involved, see my “Schechter’s Seminary,” in Tradition Renewed: A History of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, vol. 1 (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1997), 43–­103, wherein I maintain that the reorganization of the JTS in 1902 constituted a coup d’état of the old seminary. The new seminary tried to present the old seminary and the new as continuous, but they are not. The old seminary (1886–­1902) was run by local rabbis; the new seminary (1902–­) is run by wealthy laymen. The new rabbinical school is a graduate school. The old seminary was a combined high school and college. 11. This is the traditional blessing a father says at the bar mitzvah of his son: “Bless God that I have been released from my obligations to my son [as he is now an adult and responsible for himself].” Kaplan was admitted to the seminary at age twelve and a half and in short pants.

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out from his present attainment every possible drop of joy and satisfaction. It is otherwise with an institution which has a long career ahead of it. The urge to articulate the memories of an institution cannot have as its purpose the satisfaction which can compensate for declining powers. On the contrary, its purpose is likely to be that of discovering in the difficulties mastered in the past the secret of mastering greater difficulties in the future and in the achievements won in the past the guide and stimulus to greater achievements in the future. As I review in my mind’s eye the last fifty years of the Seminary’s career and the thirty-­five years of the TI’s career, the thought furthest from my mind is that we have at last arrived. We have succeeded in giving American Israel over 300 rabbis. Many of them have rendered distinguished service to Jewish life and made noteworthy contributions to Jewish scholarship. Almost one-­third of their number are now serving their country as well as the cause of Judaism. Through the Teachers Institute and Seminary College of Jewish Studies, the Seminary has sent forth over 500 young men and women who are bound to act as a wholesome leavening influence for an affirmative Jewishness. Of that number, at least 200 have made a sizable contribution to the development of the type of Jewish education which is bound to prove most capable of meeting the needs of American Jewish life. The rest are in positions of Jewish lay leadership or are satisfied to exemplify in their own homes the meaning of Jewish loyalty [and] radiate a wholesome and creative influence on the Jewish community. What with the numerous organizations and institutions that have arisen and are maintained in American Israel as a consequence of all those eight or nine hundred young people who have gone forth from the Seminary, which fifty years ago was able to graduate only one lone student, it may be asserted that about one-­quarter of a million Jews are having their Jewish consciousness found and directed by the Seminary. This gives only an inkling of what, judged objectively, is no mean achievement. Yet would it ever occur to anyone who realizes that a quarter of a million Jews is only 5 percent of American Jewry and that at best even that 5 percent can hardly be said to be definitely committed to a Jewish future to say that the Seminary can afford to freeze its status quo? Is it not all too evident that while the Seminary has been [word unclear] its centripetal and integrative influence on American Jewry in arithmetical rate, the environment has been [word unclear] its centrifugal and disintegrative influence in geometric ratio. Not only the non-­Jewish environment but the overwhelming majority of unaffiliated and disoriented Jews cannot but exert a demoralizing influence on the minority of affiliated and loyal Jews that is perhaps even harder to resist than the challenge of the non-­Jewish world. In fact, what the Seminary needs more than anything else, if it is to catch up with the [?] {98} that are undermining American Jewish life, is to develop the ambition to transcend the scope within which it has been operating all these years. This transcendence has to be of such proportions and depth in quality as to constitute nothing less than a metamorphosis.


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Those of us, therefore, who have the interest of the Seminary at heart should utilize the retrospect to which we are impelled by the double anniversary we are celebrating for the purpose of deriving from that retrospect whatever will lead us to think of the prospect in terms no less adventurous than those of metamorphosis. Having experienced the continuous inner life of the Seminary from within for over fifty years, I can testify that the Seminary has not only undergone [a] distinct metamorphosis at least twice in its career, but that without these metamorphoses, it would not have survived. To give such testimony is thus my main object in reminiscing about the past years of the Seminary. As I look back upon them, they group themselves in my mind into three more or less distinct stages. Each of the two later stages, though continuous with the preceding, developed such different structural and functional characteristics from those of the preceding stage as to constitute a radical transformation or metamorphosis. I shall try to describe each stage briefly as it appeared outwardly, organizationally, and functionally. During the first stage, which lasted from the establishment of the Seminary to its reorganization in 1902, the Seminary, except for the first one or two years, was housed in a twenty-­foot brownstone / one-­family five-­story building, including the basement. No structural changes were made in that building. The front room of the parlor floor served as assembly hall and synagogue and the back room as office. When there were large gatherings, they invaded the office. The room in the floor above facing the street contained the entire library, which consisted of about 2,000 volumes acquired from the heirs of David Israel. When all classes were in session, the library had also to be used as a classroom. The top story and some of the smaller rooms on the lower floors were used as a dormitory. The Faculty consisted of about four permanent and two or three visiting members, including the President, Dr. Morais. The resources were supplied by an association of some three or four hundred Jews whom Dr. Morais had succeeded in mobilizing for the purpose of counteracting what he regarded as the menace to Judaism inherent in the Reform movement as formulated in the Pittsburgh Platform and taught in the Hebrew Union College. Faculty, students, and supporting membership were all of one mind and activated by the one purpose of combating the growing Reform movement. The spirit which marked the institution, the preaching, and the occasional lectures was that which had been articulated in Frankfurt-­on-­the-­Main by Samson Raphael Hirsch. It was neo-­ Orthodox to the hilt. It differed from the Judaism of the bulk of Yiddish-­speaking Jewry on the Lower East Side at the time, merely in being uptownish—­that is, in being university bred and rendered in good English, but it fended off the methods and results of modern historical research. This first stage may be termed the neo-­Orthodox stage. Before many left-­wing Orthodox Jews could be found to maintain the Seminary, it was on the point of expiring.

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Only a complete metamorphosis saved the Seminary. A new Board of Trustees took charge. A new Faculty was organized with Schechter at the head, a new charter drawn up. Schechter brought with him the philosophy of Judaism promulgated in the Seminary of Breslau and known as Historical Judaism. The members of the Board were for the most part officially identified with the Reform movement, but their interest in the Seminary was actuated not by theological but by philanthropic motives. They were concerned that the growing mass of Jewish immigrants shall not remain spiritually leaderless. Having had confidence in the members of the new Faculty, the few generous supporters of the Seminary desisted from all matters of academic policy. The Seminary was moved to a new building, which was put up with a view to housing a large library and fire-­proof manuscript room and ample classroom space and offices. The location of the building on the fringe of Columbia University’s campus was definitely symbolic of the new modern academic spirit which was to be fostered in the Seminary, the spirit not merely of learning but of research. Before long, as a corollary of reckoning with the growing masses of Jewry and the conformity to the purposes outlined in the new charter, courses for teachers were organized at the new building. But 123rd Street was too inaccessible from the main center of the Jewish population. The courses petered out. A new attempt was made by going with the courses to where most of the Jews lived, either on the Upper or the Lower East Side. This is how the Teachers Institute came into being. During the second decade of this century, it looked for a while as though Jews might organize themselves communally for the conservation of affirmative Jewish life. This meant making Jewish education not only a congregational or a philanthropic affair but an object of public concern and responsibility of all Jews, as general education is of all citizens. At once the Teachers Institute was enlarged in scope, and a new department for the training of lay leaders was added to meet the new need which promised to assert itself. Unfortunately, that promise was not realized. The hoped for growth in Jewish educational activity and demand has not materialized. Other types of Jewish education—­some substandard and minimal, others replicas of the old heder—­have since sprung up. These new developments prevented the Seminary and Teachers Institute from reaching out to the large masses of Jewry whom the philanthropists had in mind when they reorganized the Seminary. J anuary  1, 1945 In the meantime, those philanthropists themselves were dying out. The Seminary seemed once again to be headed for a crisis. Thus ended the second stage in the evolution of the Seminary, the stage marked by an emphasis at times on Historical, at other times on Adjectiveless, Judaism. That the Seminary emerged safely from that crisis and was able to enter on a third stage was due to the fact that at the very time that its resources were


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running low, its own graduates were beginning to make a dent in the American Jewish community. Their importance by reason of their number and influence began to make itself felt. Their congregations became aware that the Seminary was the sole and indispensable source of all that gave life and direction to their efforts. Gradually, through the medium of the rabbis that headed them, they began to realize their responsibility for helping to maintain the Seminary. This gradual transfer from the highly generous sponsorship of a limited few to popular support paralleled the physical transfer of the Seminary from the south side of 123rd Street to the north side. This transfer was equally symbolic. From being outside the rim of the Columbia University area, the Seminary crossed the boundary line and now [was] admitted, as it were, into the magic circle of the area. It actually began to look more like a university. Instead of one building, it now numbers several. Instead of being walled on either side by tenement houses and fronted by a stone sidewalk, it has a gate and a quadrangle. Almost the first official act which grew out of the new status of the Seminary, when it achieved a place on the university map, was to work out an arrangement with Teachers College whereby the students of the Teachers Institute would have their courses at the Institute credited for Teachers College degrees and, vice versa, whereby Teachers College courses would be credited toward Teachers Institute degrees. The Seminary was authorized to award various degrees, including the doctorate to TI graduates. Simultaneously with the continual broadening of the base in popular support, which by this time has reached the figure of over 22,000 members, the scope of the Seminary activities has begun to broaden out academically. The Israel Friedlander extension classes have become the Seminary School for Jewish Studies, with a much more variegated course of students. Under the Seminary auspices has been formed the National Academy for Adult Jewish Studies. Venturing beyond specifically Jewish learning, the Seminary is conducting the Institute on Religious Studies, intended to afford a common meeting ground for representatives of the three main religious groups—­Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic—­to become better acquainted with one another’s views, thereby rubbing out the sharp edges of mutual prejudice and misunderstanding. What, it will be asked, has been the particular nuance of the Seminary’s religious trend during these recent years? It is evident that as the rabbinical graduates succeed in activating their congregations in behalf of the Seminary and the popular effort is extended, those who will have come to identify themselves as its friends will come to look upon themselves as constituting a distinct group in American Jewish life. As a distinct group, they have already come to expect of the Seminary and its rabbinical graduates a philosophy of Judaism that shall warrant their particular attachment and loyalty to the Seminary. Not being consistently Orthodox in their views and in their practice, they would not be satisfied with the neo-­Orthodoxy of the first Seminary stage. Being neither sufficiently steeped

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in the knowledge of Jewish sources, nor being able to ignore the differences in Jewish belief and observance, they cannot be satisfied with either the Historical or Adjectiveless Judaism of the second stage. To be sure, a brave attempt has been made among the rabbinical graduates to provide some kind of new synthesis which they term Conservative Judaism and to which they would want to commit the Seminary. The truth, however, is that this suggested synthesis happens to be so vague and inchoate that one of its chief proponents admitted at a recent public function of the Seminary that the very term “Conservative” is a misfit for what it is intended to represent. I am not ashamed to confess to a weakness for names and labels and even slogans, provided they say something and mean what they say. Our ancestors not only were not averse to slogans; they even gave up their lives for a slogan. What if not a great slogan is the “Shema Yisrael”? The very fact that the term “Conservative” is admitted to be inadequate, not misrepresentative, proves that Conservative Judaism is not a particular philosophy of Judaism but Judaism in search of a philosophy. This is not the kind of a Judaism that will in the long run satisfy the friends of the Seminary. They look to it for more specific and helpful guidance. Unless that is provided within a reasonable time, they will feel frustrated, and such frustration is likely to lead to an inner spiritual crisis. Why wait until the crisis is actually on us? Why should not the Seminary forestall the crisis? Why should it not achieve that inner metamorphosis which would enable it to meet the justifiable demand of its loyal devotees? In the light of the Seminary’s history, nothing would be more natural than for it to emerge out of what is bound to become a serious predicament all the more strengthened. Having been privileged to share that history from within, and to have experienced it as part of my own being for the last half-­century, I venture to intimate what may well become the next stage in the Seminary’s evolution. There can be no meaning to metamorphosis unless we identify the continuum or dynamic constant which may be counted on to connect the passing with the oncoming stage. Hence, before suggesting the shape of things to come in the Seminary’s career, I deem it necessary to identify the continuum or dynamic constant which is to bind the present with its future. That continuum or dynamic constant is a particular pattern of higher education for American Jewish life. Long association with the Seminary enables one to experience at firsthand the impact of a specific organic pattern of values and assumptions which more than any avowed theological creed has constituted the animating spirit of the Seminary since its reorganization in 1902. These values and assumptions group themselves around four main principles: The first principle is the primacy of scholarship. This is the principle that if the knowledge of Jews and Judaism is to be employed in the service of Jewish survival and growth, it must be the result of a modern scientific approach to the historical sources of Jewish life. Men over a century ago—­Zunz, Frankel,


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Geiger, and Graetz12—­laid down the foundations of Jewish scholarship, which they termed Judische Wissenschaft; they deliberately departed from the traditional assumption that the kind of knowledge Jews needed was to be obtained through learning. Learning consists in mastering the texts as they have come down, regardless of the living or historical context in which they arose. Scholarship is the relativity theory applied to ancient sources. It insists that the true meaning of any text cannot be derived from the contemplation of the text apart from the social, economic, psychological, and intellectual setting to which it belongs. That destroys its oracular character and renders untenable any assumptions with regard to its being of supernatural origin or absolutely authoritative. No wonder neo-­Orthodoxy has had its face set against the application of scholarship to Jewish tradition. But since the advent of Schechter, no one on the Seminary has questioned the legitimacy of Jewish scholarship. On the contrary, it has become the sine qua non of any claim to a true understanding of Judaism. A second principle is that Judaism must be Hebraic. When Schechter fulminated against what he called a Hebrewless Judaism, pointing to the disappearance of Alexandrian Judaism as a warning to what might happen to American Judaism, he had in mind essentially the use of the Hebrew in the synagogue as a medium of religious service. Since those days, as a result of the Hebraic renaissance in Palestine and of the consensus of the Faculties of the various departments in the Seminary that Palestine must be counted on to become the spiritual center of world Jewry, Hebrew has come to be regarded as indispensable to the achievement of a Jewish consciousness. Such a consciousness reaches far more deeply into one’s soul than mere ideas or symbols ever can. A Jewish consciousness is virtually the only affirmative basis of consciousness of kind left to Jews. In the Seminary, it has been the Teachers Institute and Seminary College which have fostered this attitude toward Hebrew by going so far as to make Hebrew the medium of instruction in all the courses. T uesday , J anuary  2, 1945 A third principle is that Jewish life must have plentitude. Before Jews were admitted into the body politic of the Western nations, they had only their own historic civilization to draw upon for everything that gave meaning and direction to their existence. They had no problem of how to prevent Judaism from being crowded out from their lives by the competing claims and interests of non-­Jewish civilization such as they now depend on for their health, security, and happiness. Not even in the so-­called Golden era of medieval Spain were Jews expected as they are now by virtue of their civic status to be mentally and spiritually integrated into the non-­Jewish culture of the majority. A Jew nowadays

12. These men are the primary founders of the “Science of Judaism.”

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must ration his very time, to say nothing of his energies and capacities, so that it will be possible for him to live as a Jew as well as an American or Englishman or Frenchman. In this matter of rationing, the principle implied in the Seminary pattern has always been “Be a Jew to the maximum compatible with the legitimate claims of the non-­Jewish civilization.” Being a Jew to the maximum means refraining from the tendency to reduce Judaism to a way of speaking without acting. It has been proposed to meet the danger of Judaism’s being crowded out by spiritualizing Judaism into abstract doctrines about God and man to a point where it no longer occupies any space. But that proposal ends up in spiriting Judaism away altogether. The position taken by the Seminary has always been that Judaism must be lived with all the senses and not only with our common sense. It must be audible, visible, and tangible. Hence the maximum of ritual observance is advocated not so much because of authoritative rule as because of the feeling that Jewish life, to have saving quality, must be abundant and not thin and ghostlike. W ednesday , J anuary  3, 1945 And finally, then, is the fourth principle that the American environment must not only be accepted but accepted graciously, as capable of permanently harboring Judaism. This is addressed to the maximalists among us who contend that civilizations, cultures, or religions cannot be rationed. These universes of thought are by their very nature mutually exclusive and jealous. They want the whole or nothing of one’s personality. Accordingly, some of our maximalists conclude that under the most favorable conditions, America can only be a way station for Judaism on its return to its homeland. This philosophy of Jewish life, known as the negation of Galut, though seldom aired publicly, exercises a distorting influence on more of Jewish activity than we suspect. In no less quiet but effective a way, the Seminary has exercised a corrective influence through its affirmative attitude toward American life. The undertaking to live in two civilizations simultaneously without being monopolized by either is, to be sure, a new experiment in human living. But for Jews to try out better ways of human living is nothing new. It may be that the Jews have in them the kind of human stuff which, having remained unconsumed in the iron furnace of Egypt, cannot be liquidated in any of the modern natural melting pots. A Jew sees no anomaly in being loyal to two civilizations. “The serving of two masters,” said Harry Wolfson,13 “is not

13. Harry A. Wolfson (1887–­1974) was a scholar, philosopher, and historian who studied and taught at Harvard University. He is best known for his seminal work on Philo and also authored major works on Maimonides, Spinoza, and the Church Fathers. Wolfson, born and educated in Europe, represented the fulfillment of the goals of the nineteenth-­century Wissenschaft des Judentums movement.


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a moral anomaly, unless as in the original adage one of the masters be satanic.” That assumption has been one of the four constants in the pattern of higher Jewish education evolved by the Seminary. With scholarship, Hebraism, plentitude, and diaspora survivalism as constants in its educational pattern, the Seminary has been paving the way for a conception of Judaism that is not only intrinsically continuous with the mainstream of Jewish life throughout the ages but also certain to extricate Judaism from the dangers of being fragmented into various denominations, on a par with the 250 others that have been populating in this country. I refer to the conception of Judaism as an evolving religious civilization. That is a conception which may well reduce to a minimum the danger of denominationalism within Jewish life by stressing those values in it which constitute the highest common denominator in each of the existing groups. The highest common denominator can be only that element in the Jewish group philosophies which looks to Jewish survival and growth. By fostering this highest common denominator, the Seminary is more likely to contribute to the future of Judaism than if it were to yield to the expectation of some of the most distinguished graduates and become narrowly sectarian by sharply articulating its position as distinct from either the Reform or the Orthodox.

The Tasks of American Jewry S aturday , J anuary  13, 1945 The cessation of hostilities, far from relieving American Jews of the burdens and responsibilities which they carry at present, will increase them beyond our capacity to estimate. American Jews are at present engaged in three great tasks: (1) the relief of misery at home and overseas, (2) combating anti-­Semitism here and abroad, and (3) the rehabilitation of Eretz Yisrael. Each of these tasks will attain a magnitude incomparable with anything achieved thus far. The reason for making this assumption can be easily surmised. Nevertheless, it is necessary to state them, in order that we be fully aware of the tremendous job ahead of us.

Kaplan Warms Up to Finkelstein J anuary  23, 1945 There is no question that F. [Finkelstein] has been showing himself far more friendly than I have ever known him to be, and much of that friendship is quite genuine. I believe14 I am certainly amenable to changing my own attitude

14. The relationship between Kaplan and Finkelstein during the thirties and early forties was quite strained. The entry here marks a significant change. For the earlier period, see my biography of

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toward him, and of late I have tried to be cooperative. Milton Steinberg and Solomon Goldman are quite definitely arrayed against him. Steinberg rightly objects to his policy of trying to have the Seminary dominate the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue and to the fact that such domination has kept the so-­called Conservative movement sterile. Goldman has now become a fanatic for the idea that the Seminary ought to come out boldly for a philosophy and program for Conservative Judaism, even if to do so it would have to ask certain members of the Board and of the Faculty to resign. After all the conversations I have had with him, I thought that I would be able to count upon him as an adherent to Reconstructionism. When I saw, however, the statement to be sent to F. which he had prepared and for which he asked the signatures of about a dozen alumni, I noted that he completely ignored Reconstructionism and was making a bold bid for inaugurating a Conservative movement. It seems to me that however well-­meaning he may be, he is so swayed by personal ambition that he cannot think straight or persist in any course of action which calls for self-­forgetfulness. Between him and F., I think F. is the lesser evil just now, and not being a perfectionist, I shall throw in my lot with F. until he lets me. For all I know, he may raise so many objections to the address which I have prepared for the convocation, a copy of which I left with him tonight, that I may be sorry for having tried to play in with him. On the other hand, it may be that I am doing the right thing.

The New Prayer Book J anuary  23, 1945 Yesterday I finished reading the second page proof on the prayer book with Eugene Kohn. The reading of proof has been a time-­consuming, even if not altogether tedious, job. Is it too much to hope that when the prayer book finally does appear, it will at least shock our people to attention?

Religion and the Emotions W ednesday , J anuary  25, 1945 From his place on a headquarters ship of the Armada that sailed for Sicily, Ernie Pyle15 described his feelings at the time he left the harbor of Bizerte: “We steamed out past the bomb-­shattered city, past scores of ships sunk in the

Kaplan, Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century: A Biography of Mordecai M. Kaplan (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993), and the index under Finkelstein. In 1930, Kaplan talked of having “Finkitus.” 15. Ernie Pyle (1900–­1945) was an American prize-­winning journalist who wrote of the ordinary soldier during World War II.


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earlier battle for North Africa, past soldiers and sailors on land who weren’t going along and who waved goodbye to us. We waved back with a feeling of superiority which we all felt inside without expressing it; we were part of something historic, practically men of destiny” (Brave Men). This is a concrete illustration of the dimension of the spiritual. In feeling that one is part of something historic, one experiences the significance as well as the reality of what it is to be a person sharing in the effort of society seeking permanence in a universe that is in support with such striving. When people make the point that although we want religion to be intelligible or amenable to reason, we want it, above all, to stir our emotions, what they really mean is that we want it to be an outlet for the values in the dimension of the spirit, values of which the executive here described is a good example of embodying.

The Two Wars—­Ernie Pyle’s and the Other J anuary  25, 1945 To the average person, the day-­to-­day existence and the struggle for it waged by the multitudes seems something apart from and unrelated to the moral and spiritual values which are invoked by poets, thinkers, and moralists. The truth, however, is that the two universes of discourse interact and determine each other for better or for worse. The following is illustrative both of the erroneous notion and of the truth in regard to this matter. There is the war of maps and logistics, of campaigns, of ballistics, armies, divisions, and regiments—­and that is General Marshall’s war. Then there is the war of homesick, weary, funny, violent, common men to wash their socks in their helmets, complain about the food, whistle at Arab girls—­or any girls, for that matter—­and lug themselves through as dirty a business as the world has ever seen and do it with humor, dignity, and courage—­and that is “Ernie Pyle’s war.” . . . The two wars are one, and the more they can be felt to be one in the mind of the common soldier, the better kind of a soldier he is sure to make. The same is true of life as a whole. The more integrally the world of everyday affairs is related to the world of moral and spiritual values, the more enthusiasm for living we are likely to experience.

Factors in Jewish Survival F riday , J anuary  26, 1945 The following are the factors for Jewish survival in the order of their potency: (1) the Jewish tradition, (2) the tradition in Christianity and Islam concerning the Jews, (3) fellow-­feeling with other Jews, (4) individual Jews—­both leading and rank and file—­possessed by the will for Jewish survival, and (5) social agencies making for cooperation among Jews.

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Ezekiel Kaufmann on God16 F ebruary  6, 1945 Ezekiel Kaufmann’s central idea in all his writings on Judaism is that the Jews gave the world a conception of a deity whose nature has nothing in common with the deities of the various polytheistic religions. The latter represent embodiments of natural forces or phenomena; the God of Israel represents a power that creates and uses those forces and phenomena but is not one of them, not even the foremost among them. The realization of this qualitative difference was taken over by Christianity and Islam, which went through the process of overthrowing all idolatry in a manner analogous to that in which Israel itself overcame idolatry in its own midst. I believe that there is much in common between K. [Kaufman]’s hypothesis and [Henri] Bergson’s in his Morality and Religion.17

Two Views of Humanity F ebruary  8, 1945 It is a mistake to set up as an antithesis: man as the creation of God vs. man as the creator of his own destiny. This is the false antithesis upon which atheistic humanism bases itself. The truth is that the two propositions merely define man from the standpoints of different groups of spiritual interests: that of the cosmos as making for man’s salvation (godhood) and that of selfhood with its self-­conscious sense of responsibility.

Seminary and the Conservative Movement M onday , F ebruary  12, 1945 Knowing that Sol Goldman and Ira were to meet at Milton Steinberg’s to discuss what they should ask of Finkelstein, when they would attend the conference at noon today, I absented myself from TI classes yesterday and joined them in the discussion. We arrived at a definite understanding that they were to ask for the emancipation of the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue from the Seminary and to avoid the discussion of ideologies. That emancipation was to take the following form: (a) the elimination of Seminary representation on the Placement Committee and (b) the reorganization of the Seminary Board of

16. Ezekiel Kaufmann (1889–­1963) was a teacher, scholar, and author in the Reali School in Haifa and at Hebrew University. He challenged theories of biblical criticism and wrote a sociology of Jewish history that Kaplan valued. His work on the Bible is extensive and highly valued. His multivolume history of the religion of ancient Israel was translated and excerpted by Moshe Greenberg in The Religion of Israel: From Its Beginnings to the Babylonian Exile (Jerusalem: Sefer ve Sefel, 2003). 17. Henri Bergson, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (New York: Doubleday, 1954).


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Directors so that the congregations and rabbis who now constitute its main source of support be represented on it. At the luncheon conference today, in addition to the four of us and Finkelstein, there were L. [Louis] Ginzberg, [Alexander] Marx, and [Robert] Gordis. All went well during the greater part of the time. F. [Finkelstein] was entirely agreeable and helped to work out a plan for reconstructing the Board of Directors. But just toward the end, saying that his parting shot would bear in a more fundamental matter than the mechanics of organization, Milton Steinberg voiced the yearning for the publication of supplementary prayers for occasions as are bound to arise these days almost from week to week. He felt that only the Seminary could satisfy that yearning. At the moment I was too much taken aback to realize what he was saying, but as I have been thinking since about his remarks, I can only say that he acted like a simpleton. I am certain there was something vicious in his repudiation of the Prayer Book to which his name is attached as an associate editor. I can only account for his having made that statement by assuming that there are areas of infantilism in his makeup. He, like so many other people, simply lacks the guts to rely on what their own better judgment tells them and must tag on to their mother’s apron strings all through life. They simply never grow up. Once the arrangement we agreed on yesterday was upset by Steinberg, Goldman, I suppose, felt that he was free to take up the question of ideology and to argue that the Seminary must insist upon serving specifically the cause of Conservatism. I argued against him. F. seemed to agree with me. Gordis sided with him. I consider all this talk just wasted breath and time. Everything will undoubtedly continue as of old.

On the Need for a Jewish Education M arch  8, 1945 Before we attempt to translate into specific terms the meaning of being educated to live simultaneously in two civilizations as integrated personalities, we must make sure that there actually are two civilizations and not merely one. No one can for a single moment question the reality of the American civilization, which is overwhelming. But when we speak of a Jewish civilization in this country, aren’t we indulging in wishful thinking? This touches upon the first crucial matter to be understood in framing a philosophy of Jewish education. We tend to think of Jewish education merely as a process of transmitting a cultural heritage in the hope that if we succeed in winning for it the interest of the children, they will in turn transmit it to their children. That is to think of education in a vacuum. We overlook the fact that if we are training the child not merely in skills which may help him personally to make a living and to acquire power but are educating him to fulfill his life as a human being, we must train him for membership in

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some specific society. That society will confer status on him, satisfy his need for belonging, and afford him [the] opportunity for self-­expression. It is evident that the society for which the child is educated must be one to be a member of which is regarded as in some way indispensable. Only insofar as education qualifies one for such membership does it possess the motivation necessary to get parents to provide it for their children and to get the children to take it seriously. But it is just this condition which at present is lacking in Jewish education in America. It is amazing how in the numerous discussions as to what’s wrong with our Jewish educational efforts, almost no attention is paid to the fact that the basic motivation for giving children a Jewish education is lacking: the existence of a society or community to belong to which the Jew can feel is indispensable to him and to achieve standing in which yields him deep personal satisfaction. Should not the first consideration be how to get parents to realize that it is necessary to provide their children with a Jewish education? When now and then we come upon the vast abyss of ignorance of all things Jewish that prevails among the overwhelming majority of our youth, we content ourselves with denunciations and jeremiads. It would be far wiser to diagnose the evil and arrive at an understanding of what has brought it about. Only by becoming fully aware of the factors in contemporary life which are responsible for the tendency to regard Jewish education as superfluous may we [be] in a position to counter that tendency. What contributed in the past to the unquestioned assumption that giving their children a Jewish education is as much the duty of parents as giving them the necessary food and shelter was the fact that Jewish education was the only means of giving children any kind of education. A Jewish education was indispensable to the child as a means of rendering him not only Jewish but human. It was the only medium through which we became literate and could learn the fundamental principles and ways of human intercourse. This is no longer the case. The highly developed public school system places at the disposal of the child all that knowledge and all those values of life which qualify him as a member of society. We certainly cannot want parents to give their child a Jewish education of the kind that was adequate in the past in place of the non-­Jewish education for which they pay in taxes and of which they are expected to avail themselves. Whether we expect them to establish an all-­day school system which would synthesize the Jewish with the non-­Jewish training or expect them to supplement the non-­Jewish training with a Jewish training, we cannot depend, as was possible in the past, on mere habit or inertia but must be in a position to furnish them with a lucid and effective rationale for Jewish education. That rationale must take into account the personal needs of the American Jewish child from the standpoint of his growth and self-­fulfillment as an American and as citizen of the world no less than as a member of the Jewish people. Included in this urgency for a rationale of Jewish education is the need of proving why the


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status which citizenship confers upon the Jewish child does not suffice to satisfy his yearning to belong. This, of course, is the main issue between the assimilationists and the survivalists among the Jews. There comes to mind at this point the contention of Ahad Ha-­Am that we do not have to prove, even if we could, why we want the Jewish people to live. Life is its own justification. At first glance, that idea of Ahad Ha-Am would seem to render superfluous any rationale for giving our children a Jewish education, since the principal way in which we can prove our belief in the need of Jewish survival is by transmitting the Jewish heritage to our child. But upon closer examination, what Ahad Ha-Am said on the subject of Jewish survival as incapable of being demonstrated logically has a bearing only vis-­à-­vis to the non-­Jewish world. To non-­Jews, we need feel under no obligation to justify our existence. But to our own children, upon whom we impose a tremendous responsibility and burden when we raise them as Jews, the argument that life is its own justification is nothing but an evasion. Again we need to be reminded that in the past, with the evidently utilitarian value that Jewish education possessed for the Jewish child, in that it gave him literacy and a sense of belonging to the Jewish people which conferred status upon him, great emphasis was laid upon a rationale for the Jewish people itself. That rationale as a basis of Jewish education may be said to be the theme of Pirkei Avot [The Ethics of the Fathers].18 Its purpose is to prove that to be a member of the Jewish [people] is to be assured of a share in the world to come, that is to be assured of salvation. The main requisite to actually acquiring that share is the study of Torah. In giving the child a Jewish education, the idea prominent in the mind of all concerned in the process was that the child was being inducted into the indispensable means to salvation. Certainly no more potent rationale could be supplied to any effort. Here then are the factors which operated in the past as powerfully motivating influences for Jewish education, and which no longer operate in our day: (1) the need for acquiring literacy, (2) the need of belonging to a society which confers status on its members, and (3) the need for achieving salvation. The assimilationists would undoubtedly maintain that citizenship provides the means of satisfying the first two needs, and as for the need of salvation, most people are so utterly confused concerning what they should consider salvation that it is useless to try to base any rationale upon it.

18. Pirkei Avot is a classical rabbinic work dealing with general matters related to the study of Torah.

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The Origin of Camp Ramah19 S unday , M arch  25, 1945 Last night a number of the older alumni of the Teachers Institute met at my house. . . . The meeting was called for the purpose of having the alumni undertake the project of establishing a camp which would attract students to the Institute from different parts of the country and to provide them with the opportunity to live in a Jewish atmosphere where they would get that feel of Jewish life which they could not possibly [get] through formal instruction. It developed that we would need at least $100,000 to start such a camp: $50,000 for the facilities and $50,000 for five years’ maintenance. I doubt whether the graduates of the Teachers Institute have the necessary strength to carry out such an undertaking.

Kaplan Quotes Emerson M arch  25, 1945 We need a new road to mutual understanding. “All round us are groups of people who are different. Difference inspires fear. Fear is dangerous.” We need something that will “take us inside men and women who may be our neighbors but who are kept alien by their words and ways, to see things from their point of view, to realize that inside they are not very different, to prod into sympathy and understanding.”20 “There is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet to the same and all of the same. [He that is once admitted to the right reason is made a freeman of the whole estate].21 What Plato has thought he may think; what a saint has felt he may feel; what at any time has befallen any man he can understand. Who hath access to this universal mind is a party to all that is or can be done, for this is the only sovereign” (R. W. Emerson in Essays).

The Death of FDR T hursday , A pril  12, 1945 About an hour ago, as I concluded writing a letter to Joseph Zeitlin commenting on his book Religious and Social Attitudes of American Rabbis and I was going to show the letter to her [presumably his wife, Lena], she rushed into the room with a scream that Roosevelt died. I was stunned. It was as though the

19. Kaplan notes that about thirty people attended the meeting. 20. Kaplan does not give the origin of the quotations in this paragraph, but it is in Emerson’s essay “History,” which appears in many editions. 21. The text inside the square brackets is not in the diary but is in the original Emerson essay.


September 14, 1944–­April 17, 1945

whole order of things was reversed; as though a “blitz” struck us. So much did this one man become part of the sense of security which the American people has of late come to experience. His death knocked the very bottom out of that security. There is a general feeling of apprehension as to what will happen next. T uesday , A pril  17, 1945 That feeling of apprehension has since subsided as a result of the calming effect which Truman’s address he gave yesterday before both Houses of Congress had on the country. But as far as the Jews are concerned, there is considerable anxiety over the fact that Truman is likely to drop a large number of presidential advisors who happen to be Jews. This they feel will furnish our enemies the excuse for inaugurating a general purge of Jews from public service. Sunday morning, memorial services were held for Roosevelt. I conducted the services and had occasion to make use of two readings from our new Shabbat prayer book: the interpretative version of Ps. 21 and the selection “That America Fulfil the Promise of Its Founders.” Ira delivered the address and based it on Roosevelt’s undelivered speech, which had been intended for Jefferson day that was to have been celebrated last Saturday. I conducted memorial services on Sunday afternoon between classes at the Teachers Institute, and I delivered a short address in Hebrew on which I had worked six hours, four on Saturday night and two on Sunday morning.

Kaplan’s Course in Homiletics to Steinberg? A pril  17, 1945 A week ago today I had a luncheon meeting with Finkelstein and Davis at F. [Finkelstein]’s office. The principal subject of discussion was the future of the courses in Homiletics given by me at the Seminary. I had voiced at different times my desire to be freed of those courses and to concentrate on the courses in the philosophy of religion. F. mentioned the fact that Gordis had approached him about taking over the courses in Homiletics when I would discontinue them. F. thought that it was not the right thing for Gordis to have done. Though he recognized Gordis’s abilities, he does not like Gordis’s ways. I quite agree with F. on this point. We agreed that the best man for those courses would be Milton Steinberg. He would be assisted by an instructor in English and by men like Israel Goldstein and [Israel] Levinthal in the conduct of the work. In fact, F. assented to the idea I had been urging for the longest time that Homiletics is important enough to be made the subject matter of a special department. F. then asked me to extend the invitation to Steinberg, with the understanding that if he accepts, the matter would then be taken up with the Faculty and the Board.

September 14, 1944–­April 17, 1945


I met Steinberg at his home last Friday and performed my mission. Two considerations prevented him from accepting forthwith: (1) the doctor’s advice and (2) the fact that he is in the midst of a controversy with F. and the Seminary after having criticized both of them in a series of three lectures he had recently delivered from his pulpit for their failure to rend the Conservative movement effective. I thought I might persuade Steinberg to give up his congregation and devote himself entirely to the department of Homiletics. The fact is that the training in preaching requires and deserves the full time of a man like S. But he wouldn’t hear of that suggestion. He seems to be motivated by the same desire as I was—­in fact, he said it—­to retain his independence of the Seminary for the sake of being effective in it. That independence he might lose if he would give up his congregation. F. expressed, in the course of our conversation, the wish to see the Seminary synagogue achieve a type of service that would be both dignified and inspiring. At present that service is dull and repellent. The professors who attend it bring along books, which they read during the service. Someone suggested that the synagogue be made into an extension of the library. This afternoon I met with [Zevi] Scharfstein and Davis, and we worked out a plan for the kindergarten teacher training department. He is to be assisted by three instructors—­his daughter Shulamit, Judith, and Temima Gazari. In addition, Hebrew poets are to be called to help prepare the Hebrew content.

8 April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946

A University of Judaism W ednesday , A pril  18, 1945 This afternoon I attended a press conference which [Louis] Finkelstein had arranged for me to present the idea of a university of Judaism. The conference was attended by some of the outstanding writers and journalists in the Jewish and Anglo-­Jewish press.

Dedicating the New Prayer Book S aturday N ight , M ay  5, 1945 This morning we dedicated the new Prayer Book at the SAJ [Society for the Advancement of Judaism] services. The Hillsons, who had made possible the publication of the prayer book, had sent out invitations to a number of their friends and had prepared a sumptuous luncheon at the social hall. The synagogue was almost as crowded as on Kol Nidre night. I extended greetings to all who had taken part in the preparation and publication of the book, and Ira [Eisenstein] dwelt on some of its virtues. When at a meeting last November or thereabouts I showed the people some of the galleys of the book, they asked me how soon they might have the finished product. I happened to say “Not before E day.” As it turned out, we are now at what seems to be [the] eve of V-E Day, and people were very much in the mood for the celebration we held today.

Some Thoughts on the End of the War: V-E Day M ay  8, 1945 I am entirely unequal to giving anything like adequate expression to the feelings that well up in my heart at the thought that the war in Europe is at an 258

April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946


end. If only it were like waking up from a terrible nightmare! But unfortunately the unspeakable atrocities committed by the insane murderers are too real to disappear with the break of the dawn, and the living victims of the war are too much part of our own lives to be forgotten. And worst of all, the chances that human beings have learned anything from the war that would render them more human are very slim, indeed.1

Celebrating Ten Years of the Reconstructionist: A Mixed Event W ednesday , M ay  16, 1945 The dinner last night at the Commodore in honor of the tenth anniversary of the Reconstructionist and in my honor was a success. There were about 670 guests. . . . My address came at the end. When I say that the dinner was a success, I refer to the general impression it left on those who were present. It went off without a hitch and without any faux pas. It would have been even more successful, however, if Eugene Kohn, who gave the invocation, had not kept everybody standing for about 15 minutes and if the speakers had spoken more briefly. The speaking started at 8:50, exactly two hours before I was introduced. By that time, a number of suburbanites had to make trains, and the audience was quite fagged out. It must have been an ordeal for them to listen as it was for me to give a 45-­minute concentrated talk, which I read from a prepared typescript. It had been a very unusual audience if during all that time there seemed to be no break in their attention.

Significant Seminary Changes M ay  16, 1945 At the dinner last Monday, F. [Finkelstein] told me that some of the Alumni are trying to have him disengage himself from the suggestion of transforming the Seminary into a University of Judaism. According to them, such a step would secularize the Seminary and would introduce into it Reconstructionism by the back door. When the new Prayer Book appeared, I told F. that I did not know whether to send copies of it to any colleagues on the Faculty or not. On the one hand, I didn’t want to slight them by not sending them copies of the prayer book. On the other hand, I didn’t want to irritate them by sending them copies, knowing how bitterly opposed most of them were to the changes in the new prayer book. I asked F. to sound my colleagues to find out how they felt. When I saw him last week, he told me I needn’t bother sending them.

1. Kaplan mentions that, among others, Finkelstein and R. Niebuhr spoke.


April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946

This afternoon I met with F. and Moshe Davis in reference to the course in Homiletics, which I have been wanting to give up for the longest time. It turns out that I may be relieved of having to teach at the TI [Teachers Institute]. A. Heschel is being favorably considered for both the TI and the Seminary. If he will come on the TI faculty, he will be able to take over my courses in religion. As for the course in Homiletics, F. tells me that [Robert] Gordis applied for it recently, [Israel] Levinthal and Abraham Neuman2 some time ago. Neither F. nor I am in favor of turning the Homiletics to any of these men. As an alternative, I suggested that the Seminary get an instructor in English to assist me (1) by teaching the students how to write good English and (2) by helping me to do research in illustrative material for preaching. In view, however, of the increased budget of the TI, the Seminary would not be in a position to engage a full-­time assistant for me.

Kaplan’s Excommunication S aturday , J une  16, 1945 Not making any entries in this journal has become a habit which has developed sufficient resistance to the resumption of that practice to render my reporting of the stormy events of the last few days rather difficult. Despite that difficulty, I feel that I must record this latest outbreak of bigotry against Reconstructionism. Last Saturday morning, after the services, Rabbi [Joel] Geffen3 called my attention to the fact that an advertisement had appeared in the Jewish Morning Journal of Friday, June 8, announcing a special conference of rabbis for the purpose of denouncing a so-­called prayer book issued by atheists and common heretics who call themselves rabbis. This convention was called by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis. That advertisement appeared again in the last Monday’s and Tuesday’s Morning Journal. The third ad was more strident than the preceding. Last Wednesday the Jewish Morning Journal and the Jewish Day carried reports of the conference. According to these reports, the rabbis present not only carried through the formal ceremony of Herem4 against me, which was concluded with the reading of the first Psalm, but also had a copy of the prayer book burned

2. Abraham Neuman (1890–­1970), ordained JTS, was an author, president of Dropsie College, and editor of the Jewish Quarterly Review. 3. Rabbi Joel S. Geffen (1902–­1988), ordained JTS, was a rabbi in Troy, a national officer of the Rabbinical Assembly, an officer of the Zionist Organization of America, and active in the United Synagogue. 4. Herem is the Jewish form of excommunication whereby an individual is excluded from the community. It was commonly used in the Middle Ages. For a full treatment, see “Excommunications: Kaplan and Spinoza,” chapter 1 of my The Radical American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan

April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946


on top of the table at which the presiding officers sat. The one who applied the match was a certain Rabbi Ralberg. On Wednesday morning at 10:30, I presided at a meeting of the special committee of the Rabbinical Assembly to deal with the problem of enlisting young people for Jewish professional leadership and service. At 1:00 I went to Prof. [Alexander] Marx’s room in the fourth floor to attend the special luncheon in honor of Finkelstein, whose fiftieth birthday anniversary had come around. As I entered the room I noticed that Prof. [Saul] Lieberman did not give the slightest sign of recognizing my presence. I was a bit flustered for a moment but soon adjusted myself to the situation, because I had always known him to be violently antagonistic to me and my works. At the table later, I noticed that he sat at the very end together with Davis instead of at a place near the head of the table, according to his status on the Faculty. When the luncheon was over and I was waiting for the elevator to take me downstairs, Lieberman was coming in my direction. As soon as he noticed me, he lowered his eyes and hastened his steps. “Why are you angry with me?” I said in all innocence. “I am not angry,” he replied and ran on. Later it occurred to me that possibly he regarded it his duty to obey the Herem of the rabbis. Sure enough, when I was at the Seminary on Friday, I learned that that was actually the case! A similar repercussion of the Herem took place in the office of the SAJ. Miriam Goldstein, who has been with the organization the last three years, stated that she will leave it because of the Herem decreed by the Orthodox rabbis. I understand that Herbert Goldstein, whom she asked whether the fact that her going now would upset the look at the office would be taken into consideration, replied that she may stay until the work at which she is urgently needed is attended to, but then she would have to leave. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency called me up on Wednesday to give them a statement, which I did. On Thursday I gave interviews to a reporter from the Jewish Day and the New York Times. I was reluctant to see the New York Times reporter, but when I was told that he had been invited by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis to get a statement from them, I was glad I had a chance to reply. The appearance of the news item in the New York Times yesterday created quite a sensation. I had always had nothing but profound contempt for the rabbis associated with the “Union &c.” I had had enough of a close-­up view of them to know their immoral dealings. I could not help seeing in them the unfailing

(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013). See also Zachary Silver, “The Excommunication of Mordecai Kaplan,” American Jewish Archives 62, no. 1 (2010): 21–­48.


April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946

demonstration of the low moral level of at least 50% of the Tannaim and Amoraim5 as reflected in the Talmud. This dastardly action of theirs at the present time, when even the greatest reactionaries are still lying low and dare not violate publicly the four freedoms for which the war against Germany was supposed to have been fought and won, is liable to render us Jews odious even to the more liberal elements of the general community. What a shattering effect this exhibition of moral degeneracy on the part of men who call themselves rabbis has upon me I can hardly express. All my efforts depend upon faith in the Jewish people. With so much corruption wherever I turn, I find it exceedingly hard to carry on the struggle for Jewish survival. Truth to tell, I experience neither the sufferings nor the consolations of a martyr. If I were asked what I regard as the most disheartening aspect in Jewish life as reflected in this tragicomedy of the Herem, I would say that it is the fact that, on the one hand, we have rabbinical gangsters who resort to Nazi methods in order to retain their authority, and on the other hand, our Jewish journalists are cynical about the whole business and treat the very attempt to articulate religious values in terms of a modern outlook on life as silly and superfluous.

More on Kaplan’s Reaction to the Excommunication J une  17, 1945 The behavior pattern of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis bears a remarkable resemblance to that of Nazis. The Nazis made the attack on the Jews the spearhead of their attack on democracy. They pointed to the Jews, who are the most conspicuous beneficiaries of the freedom which democracy avows as the main cause of democracy’s ills, hoping thereby to confuse and weaken the peoples of the democratic countries through inner strife. Likewise, the “Rabbinim” point to my “atheism,” which I am enabled to promulgate as a result of the liberal policy of the Seminary and the Conservative movement generally, in the hope that it would cause inner strife among our group and weaken its influence on American Jewry.

More on the Excommunication S aturday , J une  23, 1945 This is Saturday evening at 11:30. I should have been at services at the SAJ synagogue. This is the first time in my rabbinical career that I stayed away from Sabbath morning services without indisposition being the cause. Ira is speaking this morning on the excommunication. Advance notice of the sermon

5. Tannaim and Amoraim were rabbis of the early Talmudic era.

April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946


appeared in [an] ad in yesterday’s Times. There is likely to be a large crowd. Anticipating embarrassment at being the main subject of Ira’s talk, I thought it best to stay away . . . At the instigation of Joseph Levy, a dinner meeting6 was held last Monday at the Seymour Hotel, 45th St. between 5th and 6th Avenues. The following decisions were arrived at: (1) That a committee be formed to be known as “Jewish Citizens Committee for Freedom of Worship” and (2) that a committee go to see Finkelstein to ask him that the Seminary publish a protest against the action of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis.7 The Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly at its meeting last Monday passed a resolution condemning the outrage perpetuated by the Orthodox rabbinical union. They took advantage of the opportunity, however, to apprise the public of their being about to publish “an authorized” prayer book of their own. Last Thursday (June 21), I held a press conference luncheon with a number of Yiddish and Anglo-­Jewish journalists and writers at the Commodore Hotel. Taking as my cue the distinction between mahloket leshem shamayim [Heb., a struggle for ideals] and mahloket she’lo leshem shamayim [Heb., a struggle for power],8 I pointed out that in life the two kinds of struggle are interwoven and that to understand what is behind the “excommunication” it is necessary to view it as the result of a twofold struggle. From the standpoint of a struggle for power, we have to remember that those rabbis represent a vanished order. Their sense of insecurity is great. To achieve some degree of security, they have to depend on the Kashrut business. To make sure that people will demand Kashrut, they combat all tendencies that might weaken their authority. Their greatest apprehensions are that the Conservative group will win away their adherents. Here is where the Nazi pattern of struggle for power begins to emerge. The Nazis—­the spokesmen of a people trying to overcome its sense of insecurity by a violent struggle for power—­singled out the democracies as the object of attack. In order to bring about inner division among these democracies, the Nazis pointed to the Jews, who were the most conspicuous beneficiaries of democracy, as getting under their control the nations that had emancipated them. In like manner, the most conspicuous beneficiary of the liberal policy of the Conservative movement is Kaplan, whose atheistic philosophy is the dominant philosophy

6. The meeting included the leading members of the SAJ. 7. This committee wrote to Albert Einstein, asking him to publicly support Kaplan, which he declined, saying that such support does little. 8. The translation of the Hebrew phrases here is Kaplan’s.


April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946

of that movement. It is therefore urgent that we must stop him. Now that he has come out with a prayer book in which he openly airs his heresies is the most opportune time to launch an attack against the entire Conservative movement. These men are availing themselves of the power of the Yiddish press by becoming its biggest advertising customers. This fact is a menace not only to freedom of worship but also to freedom of expression. I had learned of several articles on the subject under discussion that the editors had refused to accept for the very frankly stated reason: “They are our best customers, and we dare not offend them.” The issue at stake is therefore one which involves not only rabbis but writers and journalists as well. If they want to retain their freedom and self-­ respect, they must protest vigorously against the action of the Orthodox rabbis. In passing, I illustrated what I said about the method used by the Orthodox rabbis in obtaining a favorable press for themselves at the expense of the Conservative group by the invidious distinction made in the Yiddish press in alluding to a Yeshiva graduate as a Rav [Heb., Rav] [and] to the graduate of the Seminary as a Rabbi [Heb., rabbi].9 From the standpoint of a struggle for ideals, the problem is even more serious and difficult. The truth is that the Orthodox rabbis acted entirely in keeping with the letter and spirit of the tradition. Excommunication and book burning are the logical consequences—­even if to us a reductio ad absurdum—­of a tradition which claims to be of divine origin. All this goes to show how essential it is for our people to be reeducated so that they might be emancipated from those elements in the tradition which have long been outgrown and cultivate those elements which deserve to live.

Seminary Board Reorganization J une  23, 1945 Proposal for the Organization of the Boards of the Seminary— ­transcription of Xerox copy of the original minutes. The following proposals comprise the consensus arrived at a meeting held Monday, June 11, 1945, at which the following were present. Professor Louis Ginzberg, Professor Alexander Marx, Professor M. M. Kaplan, Doctor Solomon Goldman, Doctor Robert Gordis, Doctor Ira Eisenstein, and Doctor Max Arzt, as well as Dr. Louis Finkelstein, ex officio. A telegram was received from

9. The point here is that the word Rav is the traditional way of referring to a rabbi. By using the English word rabbi when writing in Hebrew, the Orthodox intended to reduce seminary graduates to a lower level.

April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946


Rabbi Milton Steinberg, expressing his regret at his inability to be present since he was out of town.10

Celebrating Finkelstein’s Birthday: A Happy Occasion J une  30, 1945 Tuesday evening was devoted to a banquet in honor of F. [Finkelstein]’s 50th birthday. Besides Gordis, who was toastmaster, Ginzberg, Marx, and I delivered addresses. I praised F. for continuing [Solomon] Schechter’s policy, enunciated in the latter’s address on the Charter of the Seminary, for seeing Jewish life integrally and whole and for widening the horizon of Jewish spiritual life through the Institute of Religious Studies and the Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion. F. in his reply spoke with great humility about himself and avowed his indebtedness to each of the senior professors. All in all, everybody seemed to be very happy over the harmonious spirit which marked the evening. I received a most cordial letter of thanks from F. for my address.

Lieberman Stays Away from Seminary Functions J une  30, 1945 Last Thursday afternoon, the Seminary Faculty held its closing meeting for the academic year. Lieberman did not attend. Neither was he present at the dinner in honor of F. [Finkelstein], and all because he feels constrained to obey the Herem the Orthodox rabbis issued against me. How a person who possesses as much learning as he does, and who seems to have a good head on his shoulders, can take seriously the action of those rabbis is more than I can understand. We don’t have to go far in search of the un-­understandable. Virtually every human being one meets is a baffling mystery.

Kaplan Discouraged by Lack of Religious Observance in the Family T uesday , J uly  17, 1945 Lena and I spent the week between Friday July 6 to July 13 with Saul and Selma at Shippan Point. Needless to say I enjoyed my stay there . . . From

10. Kaplan inserted into the diary a copy of the minutes of the meeting, which proposed the reorganization of the seminary boards. Anyone wishing to see the details of that meeting should consult the diary online, which may be found at www​.kaplancenter​.org/​kaplan​-diaries in the JTS Digital Collection. It may also be found at the seminary website, www​.jtsa​.edu, under “Library.”


April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946

there we went to spend the week-­end with Sidney and Hadassah.11 There, too, I felt perfectly happy. The children, Jeremy, Daniel, and David, are developing normally. . . . On the question of Sabbath observance, I don’t know what to say. There is not the slightest inhibition, it seems, as far as nonearning work is concerned, in any of our homes, including my own. I miss the Sabbath spirit that was generated in my parents’ home by the numerous restrictions against any kind of work. In leaving the matter of Sabbath observance to the individual conscience, I had hoped that at least in the homes of our families, which are presumably Reconstructionist in spirit, there would develop spontaneous and self-­imposed restrictions which would help to keep alive the Sabbath spirit. But nothing of the kind has happened. In fact, I see no signs whatever of any spontaneous effort at Jewish self-­expression in our own circle. Not a person in our entire circle ever going out of his way to read or study or do anything whatever that might indicate the presence of a desire not merely to hear Judaism talked about but to have it translated into life. How all this saps me of the strength to go on teaching and preaching Judaism is more than I can put into words. On top of this basic discouragement comes the realization that I have no real sympathizers in my approach to Judaism among those whose approval counts most. When I came back to the city, I discovered that there was hardly a person of any literary prominence who condemned the action of the “excommunicating” rabbis, who did not at the same time find it necessary to add that, of course, they do not altogether agree with what I stand for.

More on the Herem J uly  17, 1945 In connection with the Herem, I had occasion to publish three pieces: (1) a letter to the Yiddish and Anglo-­Jewish press, (2) a Hebrew letter in reply to the editorial by [Menachem] Ribalow12 in the Ha’doar, and (3) a statement on “The Implications of the Herem” for the pamphlet “Challenge to Religious Freedom” issued by the Reconstructionist Foundation. These, together with about 100 letters which I had Miss Hannah Goldberg write in acknowledgment of expressions of sympathy on the action of the Union of Orthodox rabbis, took up a considerable amount of time.

11. The members of the family are all identified in the glossary. 12. Menachem Ribalow (1899–­1953) was a Hebrew writer, editor of Ha’doar—­Hebrew Journal, and an officer of Histadruth Ivrith.

April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946


Hiroshima W ednesday , A ugust  8, 1945 The news has just come over the radio that Russia has declared war on Japan. Yesterday the airway was electric with the announcement of the atomic bomb which was let loose over Hiroshima. The significance of these tremendous events is too immense for the mind to grasp. All I know at the moment is that mankind as a whole has probably good reason to look forward to a brighter future.13

Reading Hocking A ugust  12, 1945 Since I have been out here, I have read Ernest Hocking’s little book Science and the Idea of God. (I found it rather interesting, though I cannot say offhand just what I got out of it. All I remember is the main idea that reality and human life would be unintelligible without the conception of God.)

VJ Day (Not the Official One) T uesday , A ugust  14, 1945 It is now 7:02 p.m. (wartime). Just a minute ago, I heard the official announcement of the end of the war, of Japan’s acceptance of the Potsdam terms of unconditional surrender and of MacArthur’s appointment as in command of the occupation of Japan.

Kaplan Aids Rabbis with High Holiday Sermon Ideas A ugust  29, 1945 Tuesday morning (Aug. 28, 1945) I held a sermon seminar14 for the Alumni and in the afternoon for the students. The attendance was about 45 and 40, respectively.

13. Kaplan was obviously thinking here that the bomb would end the war. 14. Kaplan taught homiletics to JTS rabbinical students for many years, beginning in 1910. In the late summer of every year, he would meet with local rabbis to give them ideas for High Holiday sermons.


April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946

Drawbacks of Keeping a Journal W ednesday , A ugust  22, 1945 It doesn’t look as though I shall be able to fill this volume of the journal as rapidly as I did the previous ones. I have shifted to another method of note-­ taking and recording ideas as they come to my mind. I find that entering ideas in the journal has prevented me from arranging them in systematic form, and they are virtually forgotten after they are recorded. I have therefore gone back to keeping a loose leaf notebook15 where I can record ideas under different headings. That renders them accessible and likely to be put to use.

Kaplan Helps Local Rabbis with High Holiday Sermons T hursday , A ugust  30, 1945 This morning I met the Seminary alumni a second time this week. This time I discussed with them two sermons for Yom Kippur. The first sermon [was] entitled “Post-­War Jewish Problems No. 1—­How can we Jews become again a self-­respecting people?” The answer is by becoming an ethical, creative, and religious people. We don’t have to wait until all Jews acquire these traits. If each of us individually would become ethical, creative, and religious by virtue of his being Jewish, he would at the same time become self-­respecting.

Religion and Democracy S eptember  2, 1945 I explained16 that democracy, properly understood, is a radical break with the entire pattern of traditional thinking. The latter was based on the ideal of obedience and authority, which had to be conceived as supernatural to be valid, whereas democracy is based on the conception of living society as being the source of authority. Once we Jews accept this interpretation of democracy, we must reconstruct our life as a people. This led to the second part of my talk, in which I made use of the sermon material I had developed for Yom Kippur. Indicating that the purpose of Jewish education must be to overcome the sense of inferiority, if that purpose is achieved in the spirit of a true understanding of democracy, then we must combat it not with a feeling of superiority but with one of normality.

15. Kaplan, of course, continued to keep the journals for many years. (The journal ends in late 1970s.) I have not found the notebook to which Kaplan refers here. 16. Kaplan was speaking at Camp Cejwin to a group of Jewish educators who had come at the invitation of the American Association for Jewish Education to attend a two-­day institute.

April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946


Student Papers at Jewish Theological Seminary and Kaplan’s Reaction to the Press T hursday , S eptember  6, 1945 I have been quite unhappy these last two days. Yesterday I had the occasion to read the papers submitted by the Seminary students who are candidates for graduation. The papers are either wishy-­washy, senseless, reactionary, or chauvinistic. The last two kinds are the best from the standpoint of style and logic. But nary a paper that, having both content and form, indicates that I have had any profound influence on the thinking of the students. Today I was shocked to find that the New York Times excerpted from the statement which I published in the pamphlet “Challenge to Religious Freedom,” just those phrases which might be used by the anti-­Zionists to attack Zionism. One reading the article about me in today’s Times is bound to conclude that I deliberately sent in a statement to the paper assailing the Union of Orthodox Rabbis. The truth is that I have been doing my utmost to keep the entire controversy out of the general press.

Revised Version of the Introduction to the Sabbath Prayer Book S eptember  9, 1945 17 My dear Dr. Kaplan:—­ Here is a draft of the alternative introduction—­with an insertion listing our departures from the traditional worship text. I have worked over it carefully, and believe it says Everything Essential. The other Introduction set forth, but with less bluntness. Would you let me know how you respond to this draft. Cordial good wishes As ever Milton

17. A bit of a mystery here. The introduction to the Sabbath Prayer Book, which is contained in the original printing of April 1945, is longer than the successive printings of the prayer book. The original introduction has a whole section about God that is left out of the successive introductions. We do not have the exact text of the introduction mentioned here; we only have what was published. My question is, Who edited the first introduction and left God out—­Steinberg or Kaplan? Perhaps we shall never know.


April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946

A Faculty Letter to Ha’doar18 S eptember  24, 1945 A few minutes ago, F. [Finkelstein] called me up to tell me that L. Ginzberg, Marx, and Lieberman had sent a letter to the Ha’doar. Before publishing it, however, Ribalow, the editor, thought it advisable to let him know about it. F. wanted to know whether I would meet with him and Ribalow. I set a time for tomorrow. F. called me back to tell me the time was suitable to Ribalow but that Ribalow did not, for some reason, want to meet us at the Seminary. We shall therefore meet at F’s home. . . . F. asked me whether I thought it necessary to reply to the letter in the Ha’doar. When I told him I would ignore it, he seemed to be quite relieved, because, as he remarked even before we read the letter, the sooner a quietus is put on the controversy, the better. After Ribalow left, F. discussed with me his troubles with L. Ginzberg. He thought that perhaps if the five of us—­he, Ginz[berg], Marx, Lieberman, and I—­were to spend several days together in some out-­of-­town hotel discussing our common problem, we might get somewhere. I advised him against trying such an experiment, because I didn’t think it was possible to change any one of them. At the close of our conversation, F. said that he was eager to work together with me on the University idea. I promised him my full collaboration.

Joshua Loth Liebman of Peace of Mind Consults Kaplan19 S eptember  25, 1945 Joshua Liebman of Boston sent me recently a typescript of a book called Peace of Mind which Simon & Schuster want to publish. He came to New York today for a conference with a representative of the publishers. Before going to the conference, Liebman insisted on seeing me and getting my opinion of the book. The only time I could give him was early in the morning. That didn’t faze him, and he invited himself to breakfast.

18. The letter mentioned here was printed in the American Hebrew publication Ha’doar in late summer of 1945. The article was cautious but extremely critical of Kaplan and his prayer book. It consists of a long diatribe against Kaplan and the prayer book but stops short of agreeing that Kaplan ought to be excommunicated. The contents of the article and Kaplan’s reaction are detailed in chapter 9 of my book Radical American Judaism. We should remember that these three faculty members served at JTS with Kaplan for many years. Ginzberg and Marx were appointed to JTS by Schechter in 1903–­4. 19. This book by Liebman, published in 1946, was enormously popular. It headed the best-­seller list for a whole year and sold over a million copies. Kaplan is discussed in the body of the text. Liebman (1907–­1954) was a Reform rabbi.

April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946


The reason I tried to put him off was that I was far from enthusiastic about the contents or the style of the book, and I did not want to say anything that might discourage him. But fortunately, I conceived of an idea which would give the theme of the book an intriguing setting. Since I indicated to him what would considerably raise the significance of his theme, I had the courage to point out to him characteristic weaknesses in his style and possible improvements in the thought content. His book is an attempt to effect a synthesis between psychoanalysis and religion. As it stands, that synthesis is a tour de force. To give it a more natural turn, I suggested the following approach: Religion as the effort of man to make the most of life avails itself of all available knowledge about the world and man. Placing its sanction upon that knowledge, it creates a religious tradition. When growing experience contradicts that tradition, the new knowledge is at first resisted. When it finally wins its way, it emancipates itself from the religious tradition. This has been the story with astronomy, biology, and the historical sciences. But human conduct was always regarded as the monopoly of religion, in that it was to religion that man is accustomed to look for final authority in all problems of human behavior. Psychoanalysis has upset this assumption. The tendency, therefore, is either to resist psychoanalysis because of its tendency to take conduct out of the field of religion or to abandon religion because it seems to serve no particular function. This dilemma, however, may be resolved. Religion, like the striving after physical health, is a striving, though of a far more inclusive character. Its concern is the self-­fulfillment not only of the whole man but of the whole human society. This striving avails itself of or gives rise to knowledge and belief which reflects the general intellectual and social development. Should psychoanalysis, e.g., turn out to be more correct in its advice concerning the suppression of lascivious thoughts than traditional religion, it would be necessary to transfer the sanction of religion to the advice given by modern psychoanalysis.

Shalom Spiegel Loses His Temper over Meeting with Paul Tillich S eptember  27, 1945 At the previous meeting, [Hillel] Bavli and Spiegel had lost their temper and were in a high rage when they spoke. That led F. [Finkelstein] in his opening remarks to ask that no one orate at him when taking part in the discussion. Spiegel felt it necessary to explain why he had been so vehement. He told the story of an invitation he had received from [Paul] Tillich20 to attend a home meeting,

20. Paul Tillich (1886–­1965) was a German-­American Christian existentialist philosopher and Lutheran Protestant theologian. See the controversial autobiography of Hannah Tillich, From Time


April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946

which took place at a home of a wealthy Jewish refugee family. Among others present were Mantaen and Fosdick (I am not sure of his name). The subject of a paper read by Tillich and the discussion that followed was why Christianity has not succeeded in winning the Jews. Tillich’s defense of missionary work was that Jews who believed in Jewish religion were not molested. Only those who had ceased believing in any religion and had become atheists had Christianity presented to them. I didn’t quite understand Spiegel’s answer to Tillich. He said that it was wrong for Tillich and his like to take away from the Jews what was their “cross”—­ namely, the burden of Jewish life. It sounds clever but it makes little sense.

Kaplan Concerned about the Atomic Threat O ctober  20, 1945 The brutality and cynicism displayed by the leaders of the nations these days and the ominous possibilities of the discovery of the secret of atomic energy give me the feeling that only a miracle can save mankind from the impending doom.

Complications Regarding the Conservative Prayer Book O ctober  30, 1945 At the Seminary Faculty meeting this afternoon, Louis Ginzberg threw once more a bomb, this time into the area of Seminary, Rabbinical Assembly, and United Synagogue relations. Referring to the fact that the RA [Rabbinical Assembly] was about to publish an authorized prayer book which would diverge from the traditional one, he found it necessary to point out that the RA was thereby creating a rift between itself and the Seminary, since under no circumstances would he permit the Seminary to use any but the traditional prayer book. As the discussion proceeded and Simon Greenberg and Max Arzt, who are among the important members on the RA Prayer Book Committee, tried to defend the action of the RA in not having consulted Ginzberg, the latter only became more irritated, being seconded by Lieberman and Bavli.

Heschel Helps Kaplan but Is a Problem F riday , N ovember  9, 1945 This is the first year that I am not teaching courses in religion I have been giving at the Teachers Inst. for the last thirty-­six years. That is entirely my own doing. What prompted me to take the step? Mainly the fact that the four

to Time (New York: Stein and Day, 1974).

April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946


periods I used to teach on Sundays would take much out of me. Not so much in the way of energy—­which was by no means little—­but in the way of faith and enthusiasm. With every year, the students prove to be more characteristically and traditionally conditioned and mentally more obdurate. The resistance to a modern evolutionary approach became each year more pronounced. On the other hand, the general spirit which my colleagues generated was not conducive to predisposing the students to my way of thinking. By the time I was through with class each Sunday, I was physically and spiritually quite spent. With the addition of Abraham Heschel to the Faculty, I was in a position to have him take over my courses—­which I did. I cannot say, however, I am altogether happy with the solution. He is all I would want him to be both as a teacher and as an inspirational influence for an affirmative Judaism. But he is not of the type to confront problems and difficulties. As a romantic-­mystic, he shies away from facts and tries to build his universe of discourse entirely with values. I visited one of his classes in religion. Despite my having asked him to preface his evaluational interpretation of Jewish religion with a factual description of its evolution and its different stages, he completely disregarded my advice. In the interview I had with him, he gave as an excuse that [Abraham] Halkin21 was teaching them the evolution of Jewish religion.

Kaplan Teaches Kabbalah N ovember  9, 1945 If it had not been for the present blackout of all decency in the world, I should have derived a great deal of fun and some joy from the courses I am giving this year in the “Philosophy of Religion.” Having two hours at my disposal—­the first time in my Seminary career for any course, since I have always had to use part of the two-­hour Homiletics course to smuggle in content—­I have drawn up a considerable list of books to be covered by the students. At present we are taking up [Gershom] Scholem’s Trends in Mysticism. Incidentally, I think he should have done a much better job than he did with the subject. He merely describes mysticism from the outside. One doesn’t have to be a mystic to describe it from within. His chapter on Medieval Hasidism doesn’t deal with its mysticism to any great extent. He pays entirely too much attention to Abraham Abulafia.22 But the

21. Abraham Halkin (1904–­1990) was a scholar, author, and inspirational teacher who taught Hebrew language, culture, and history at City College and JTS. He published in the area of medieval Jewish studies. He is the father of author Hillel Halkin. 22. Abraham Abulafia (1240–­1290) was an early Kabbalist who advocated what has been called “The Prophetic Kabbalah.” Abulafia’s thinking has recently engaged, among others, the interest of Moshe Idel, a great scholar of the Kabbalah. Abulafia believed that certain kinds of meditation might lift the individual to a prophetic type of consciousness.


April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946

main thing about my giving this part of the course is that I find very little that has any abiding or universal value in all that mass of cryptogrammic word puzzles saturated with the heavy oil of Israelo-­centrism. In the final analysis, all such mysticism is merely using the yearning for godhood—­the yearning to feel the world as being in rapport with one’s striving for salvation—­as a means of self-­ intoxication. It is nothing more than the infantilism which insists upon reaching out to the moon and grasping it. This explains how I can do such an incongruous thing as reading [Moshe] Cordovero’s Pardes Rimonim23 [Heb., A Grove of Pomegranates] and taking notes on it Friday night, despite the fact that its subject matter impels me to wear a skullcap while reading it. This is my way of registering the fact that I am by no means indifferent to the holiness of the subject matter and the sincerity with which it is dealt with.

The Rabbi–­Congregation Relationship D ecember  23, 1945 This24 leads me to conclude that there is something radically wrong with the rabbi-­congregation relationship which is fostered by the non-­Orthodox rabbis. Orthodox congregations know definitely what they want in the matter of beliefs and practices which are to be promulgated by the rabbi. Their loyalty is therefore basically to a program and only secondarily to the rabbi. The non-­ Orthodox congregation, however, do not know exactly what they want, and either they are too unprepared to accept a new program or the rabbi is too timid as to urge one. The result is that the only basis of attachment is not a program but the personality of the rabbi. The more liked he gets to be personally, the less need they come to feel for any program or philosophy of Judaism as essential to the life of the congregations. Consequently, before long, a congregation of that kind grows away entirely from any serious effort at either understanding Judaism or grappling with its problems. It deteriorates into a loose aggregate of friends held together by personal loyalty to the rabbi.

23. Moshe Cordovero (1522–­1570) was a central figure in the history of Kabbalah who attempted to bring a degree of systematicity and clarity to the Kabbalah. Pardes Rimonim is his most well-­known work. 24. This entry follows a discussion on the difficulties of a specific congregation.

April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946


Kaplan, Einstein, and Israel D ecember  24, 1945 As I was leaving for the Chicago trip, I received a letter from him [Sol A. Dann]25 in which he gave a summary of an interview he had succeeded in having with Albert Einstein after his visit with me. Einstein, according to this letter, would, if he were asked, be willing to get together with [Chaim] Weizmann, Felix Frankfurter, myself, Louis Finkelstein, etc. for the purpose of formulating a simple and clear statement about our claims and rights to Palestine on the basis of the Mandate. When Dann asked Einstein whether he thought such a statement would make an impression in England or the rest of the world, Einstein replied, “A state no larger than a Jewish State with knowledge of the formula for the atomic bomb could scare the British Fleet to the bottom of the ocean.” The letter then went on giving a number of suggestions as to what ought to be done to spread Zionism and to strengthen the Zionist organization and ended with a request that I see Weizmann personally and transmit a copy of the letter to him, because he preferred to have me do it instead of Weisgal, Weizmann’s personal secretary. Accordingly, I went to see Weizmann today at the Hotel Essex after having made an appointment with him through Weisgal. I found him in a rather gloomy state of mind. The death of his son has cast a deep shadow upon his whole being. It prevents the nightmarish effect of the war on his mind from wearing off. It appears that when Dann saw W. at the recent Zionist Convention in Atlantic City and spoke to him about getting together with Einstein, W. inferred from what Dann said to him that the latter had already seen Einstein. Immediately after the Convention, W. telephoned to E. and asked him whether anyone by the name of “Dann” had seen him. E. of course replied in the negative. W. then went to see E., whom he hadn’t seen for many years. He went to ask him to visit Palestine the coming spring and to meet with some of the important people there. Such a visit would raise the morale of the Jews there and elsewhere. Secondly, E. has been invited by the American-­British Commission on Palestine to express his views with regard to Zionism. W. said he was happy to find that E. still believed in Zionism, despite the fact that in matters of that kind he tends to vacillate. W. has therefore arranged to send E. through Dr. Alexander Sachs (the one who recently testified before a Congress Committee about his having

25. Sol A. Dann (1904–­1976) was a prominent attorney and activist for civil rights, freedom movements, and the protection of stockholders’ rights. A native Detroiter, Dann practiced law in Detroit from 1924 until his retirement in 1970. He represented Jack Ruby and managed to set aside his death sentence for murdering Lee Harvey Oswald.


April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946

transmitted to Roosevelt Einstein’s warning about the need for hastening the manufacture of the atomic bomb) a statement on Zionism, by which he would be guided in expressing his views before the Commission. W. was struck by the above quoted statement made by E. concerning the atomic bomb in reply to Dann’s question. He told me he had occasion to ask E. to what extent had there been “Jewish participation in the preparation of the bomb,” and E’s reply was “100%.” That seemed to tally in spirit with the statement in Dann’s letter. On the basis of that information, W. discussed with E. the need of having some four or five of the outstanding Jewish chemists and physicists join the staff of the Weizmann Scientific Institute now being set up, I believe, in Rehovot. To me all such talk sounds fantastic and is merely the wishful thinking in counsel of despair. It is apparent that W. misheard or misunderstood Dann. What Dann probably said to him was that he expects to see Einstein, not that he had actually seen him. When Dann came to see me, one of his purposes was to help him arrange an appointment with E. that I was unable to do, so he managed to make an appointment through someone else.

Letter from Albert Einstein regarding excommunication, 1945. (Courtesy Selma Kaplan Jaffe)

April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946


Kaplan Organizes Leaders Training Fellowship26 W ednesday , D ecember  26, 1945 This has been a hectic day. The Leadership Training Fellowship which I have been trying to organize is likely to come into being as a result of the two-­ day conference of young people who have come to the Seminary in response to the invitation sent to them in the name of the Rabbinical Assembly members who have been cooperating with us on the plan. The actual planning of the conference and the execution of the details connected with it have been carried through by Sylvia Cutler and B. Mandelbaum. Instead of the 60 youngsters we had counted on, there were about 150. A great deal of enthusiasm has been generated at the sessions so far. The conference opened with a luncheon today and with an address by me. In spite of my age, I think I managed to hold the interest of the boys and the girls.

Some Thoughts on Chosenness J anuary  1, 1946 Very little, if anything, is gained by the elimination of the chosen people idea, unless the educational implications of such [an] elimination are developed and translated into a radically different program of Jewish religious instruction. The abrogation of the doctrine of election means nothing unless it results in a thoroughgoing reeducation of the Jewish consciousness. It must lead to the realization of the folklore character of most of the narrative parts of the Bible before the book of Judges and to the reformulation of the early history of Israel in factual terms.

Emperor Hirohito Disclaims Divinity T uesday , J anuary  1, 1946 This morning’s New York Times carries the news that Hirohito disclaims divinity. In the rescript which he issued for the New Year, he says: “The ties between us and our people have always stood upon mutual trust and affection. They do not depend upon mere legends and myths. They are not predicated on the false conception that the Emperor is divine and that the Japanese people are superior to other races and fated to rule the world.”

26. The Leaders Training Fellowship was a teenage organization of the Conservative movement to encourage study and observance.


April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946

Kaplan Meets Leo Baeck W ednesday , J anuary  16, 1946 Last Sunday I went to see Dr. Leo Baeck at the Commodore Hotel. I was able to spend with him only three-­quarters of an hour. He seemed tired after a hard day during which he addressed a large UJA [United Jewish Appeal] gathering and probably had many callers. It was the first time we met. We had much that we wanted to say to each other, because we recognized in each other a kindred spirit. My admiration for him was matched by the warm friendship that shone out of his eyes for me. We had to be content, however, with the few commonplaces that passed between us. Just as I was about to begin explaining Reconstructionism, Dr. Heschel came and I had to leave. My parting word to him was a request to use his great prestige and influence to arouse some of our spiritual leaders to the need of concentrating on the inner problems of Jewish life.

Kaplan on Joseph Hertz, Chief Rabbi of the British Empire T hursday , J anuary  17, 1946 Judaism in Germany, according to what Baeck said to me, is dead, and in Poland it is dying. The only places where Judaism may be revived are Paris and Amsterdam. When I asked him about England, he did not hold out much hope. That Judaism there is in a low state is due to the Chief Rabbi. I am sorry that I did not get a chance to learn from him the specific nature of the Chief Rabbi’s failure to revitalize English Jewry. On the third day after this comment about Hertz, the papers carried the news of his death. What I know about Hertz personally is based upon the three or four times I had occasion to meet him. The first time was in 1912, when he was rabbi of the local congregation Orach Chayim on Lexington Ave. He then said that he envied me in that I was fortunate in my opportunity to teach in the Seminary instead of being in the rabbinate. The second time was when, in 1913, just after he was elected to the chief rabbinate, he spent a summer afternoon with me in Long Branch, where I had a cottage.27 It was then that I sounded him on his attitude toward the modern approach to the Bible and was rather taken aback by his rather cynical attitude toward what the average Jew ought to be told about all those problems that are upsetting to the serious student of the Bible. He

27. In 1972, when I interviewed Kaplan, he told me about the time that Hertz came to Long Branch in 1912. They were swimming, and Kaplan said to Hertz to come out. Hertz said he could not because he had to be careful because he was now chief rabbi. Kaplan thought this a reflection of Hertz’s egotism. In London, I happened to meet Hertz’s grandson and told him the story. He said Hertz was a great joker and certainly was not serious at all. Who knows what the truth is.

April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946


impressed me as heartily subscribing to the double standard of truth to Plato’s doctrine of the “noble lie.” I saw him once again when I stopped over at London on my way to Palestine in 1925. He received me very cordially. And in a few weeks after that in Jerusalem, where we scarcely had any chance to say much to each other.

On Being at Home in Jerusalem F ebruary  4, 1946 In the course of the conversation,28 I had occasion to describe the way I actually felt during the two years I was in Jerusalem. While outwardly I got along very well with those among whom I moved, inwardly I was ill at ease. The Jew in me had never felt so relaxed, due to the sense of being at home. If as a Jew I do not feel at home here in America, it is not because of anti-­Semitism but because I am aware of the secret desire of most Jews to run away from Jewish life. But the American in me, with all that that means in terms of freedom, a sense of reality, and a sense of proportion and of humor, was unhappy [in Jerusalem] at the authoritarianism, romanticism, and disproportionate emphasis upon abstract formulas and ideologies.

The Seminary from the Inside29 T hursday , M arch  7, 1946 Quietly but steadily the work of the TI and Seminary College is improving. This is due to the efforts of Moshe Davis and Sylvia Cutler (Trachtenberg). These efforts are made possible by the considerably enlarged budget placed at the disposal of these institutions by the Seminary administration, which means, of course, F[inkelstein]. At the present time I am negotiating with F. for a leave of absence for a year or two. Originally I asked to be retired. But he advised strongly against my making such a request. He claimed that for the Seminary to retire me now would be misinterpreted. Besides, he doubted whether such a request

28. Kaplan had been talking to some visitors from Jerusalem. 29. Sylvia Cutler Ettenberg (1917–­2012) was a Jewish educator at the forefront of many Conservative Jewish educational initiatives. A graduate of Brooklyn College and the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), she was invited by JTS chancellor Louis Finkelstein to join the JTS administration in 1946. Ettenberg served as registrar and oversaw the development of the Teachers Institute and Seminary College of JTS. Along with Rabbi Moshe Davis, a dean at JTS, she was responsible for establishing the Ramah camping movement as a program of JTS. She was also instrumental in founding JTS’s supplementary high school (Prozdor) program, its Melton Research Center, and later its William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education, and she played a key role in the development of List College’s joint program with Columbia University.


April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946

could be granted, since Ginzberg and Marx, who are older than I am, are still on the active list. But what is to be the nature of the leave of absence? At first I thought of being freed from all teaching and from administrative duties. The only thing F. wanted me to continue was attendance at Seminary Faculty meetings and cooperating with him on the Seminary campaign. On further thought, I felt that I would miss the stimulation that teaching at the Seminary affords me. The only subject I would not like to continue teaching is Homiletics, because I cannot do justice to it in the limited time of one session a week, though I spend on it—­I have two classes for one session each—­at least six to seven hours, including preparation and individual student appointments. As far, however, as the TI and Seminary College are concerned, I want to withdraw completely from the deanship and turn it over to Moshe Davis. I know he will do a far better job with them than I can. This has nothing [to do] with our comparative abilities in administration. The fact that he is certain to obtain far greater resources for those departments than I can ever hope to obtain qualifies him better for that post. At the conference I had with him last Tuesday, he told me what he had said to F. In substance it was this: “Before I am to take over the TI and Seminary College, I want to be sure that you no longer take the attitude to it you did when you suggested to him the turning over of those departments to the Jewish Education Committee.” F. assured him that he realized the importance of the work being done in those departments and that he would give them full-­hearted support. He accordingly would free Moshe from any duties on other Seminary projects. “Yet the very next day,” said Moshe to me, “F. asked me to be sure to give some time to the Eternal Light program.” Whether Moshe will be in a position to give his undivided attention to those departments depends upon whether Simon Greenberg will succeed in getting someone to take over his Philadelphia congregation. Only then will he be able to undertake the duties of provost at the Seminary and relieve Moshe of many of the tasks he is engaged in at present. After Moshe and I got through discussing the matters referred to in the preceding item, he happened to mention the name of Prof. Lieberman. I could not refrain from coming out with what it would perhaps have been wiser to leave missed. Last Friday night, Ira, in the course of our discussing the RA conference of a week ago last Monday, referred to what sounded like a very snide remark made by Lieberman when he said that he wanted to assure those present that “peace and harmony existed among the scholars of the Faculty.” Ira took that to imply that only among those whom Lieberman considered as scholars did harmony obtain. I, too, was a bit annoyed when I heard L. make that remark, but I forgot about it, especially when, after the meeting, L. came over to me and shook hands with me. But Ira brought back to my mind how I first reacted to what L. had said and confirmed my impression of it as intended as an offense to me. Accordingly, when Moshe mentioned L.’s name, I said, “Please ask Dr. F.

April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946


not to have me on the same program with L.,” and I proceeded to explain why. According to Moshe, however, the very opposite was intended by L. What he said was intended to silence the rumors that had been circulating in the Seminary and the RA that L. and I didn’t speak to each other.

What the Community Must Do F riday , M arch  22, 1946 What could an organic Jewish community do to help American Jews to achieve self-­fulfillment both as Americans and as Jews? The potentialities of such a community cannot be fully envisaged as long as it is merely a dream. They would become increasingly apparent with each step taken to translate the dream into a reality. In the meantime, certain important activities come to mind, which deserve to be set up as immediate objectives. They are the following:

1. Maintaining a complete register and vital statistics and establishing bureaus for gathering information concerning all matters of import to contemporary Jewish life 2. Fostering Jewish education and cultural and religious activities 3. Coordinating efforts in behalf of the health and social welfare of Jews and the relief of poverty and suffering among them {235} 4. Helping Jews to meet economic difficulties due to discrimination, both on the part of Gentiles and of Jews, and defending Jewish rights against encroachment and Jewish honor against defamation 5. Organizing the collaboration of the Jewish community with other groups in civic movements for the promotion of the common welfare of all 6. Advancing the cause of the upbuilding of Palestine and collaborating with world Jewry in all matters affecting the general welfare of Jews This list is not prescriptive and certainly not exhaustive. It is intended merely to suggest the principal functions which a modern Jewish community would have to perform in order to open for the individual Jew fresh energies for living as [a] Jew. If such organic community were in active operation, Jews would not feel themselves orphaned and bereft as they do now, neither would they experience that vacuousness which comes from being a mere amorphous and nameless aggregate. So to conceive the problem of Jewish communal life in America is to envisage it as parallel in magnitude and significance with the problem of reclaiming Palestine as a Jewish national home. As with Palestine so with Jewish communal unity: “If you will it, it is no mere legend.”


April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946

Kaplan Wonders, Does Reconstructionism Appeal to Rabbinical Students at JTS? T uesday , M arch  26, 1946 When David Lieber30 came to see me last Sat. night about the sermon which he is scheduled to write as part of his work in Homiletics, I had him stay for some time after we were through discussing the sermon in order to sound him out on the attitude of the Seminary students toward Reconstructionism. I had hoped to be able to use them for giving instruction to study groups wishing to become acquainted with the philosophy of the movement. With that purpose in mind, I had suggested to Jack Cohen31 to interview some of the students individually to learn how many of them would be willing to undertake such work. The R[econstruction] foundation would be willing to pay them at least as much as they get from teaching private lessons, and perhaps more. The report Jack Cohen brought me was discouraging. The men were not interested in or were opposed to Reconstructionism or were too busy with other things. Lieber, having received a scholarship for assisting me with the weekly tests, is in a better position to give me an idea about the attitude of the students toward various matters. In reply to my question about the students’ attitude toward R[econstruction], he said that the main reasons for their opposition to it are (a) their home background and previous Yeshiva training, (b) the prestige of the other members of the faculty who are opposed to R[econstruction], and (c) the absence of any outstanding scholar in sympathy with R[econstruction]. When I said that under those circumstances I was wasting my time by teaching at the Seminary, he answered that I was nevertheless exerting a much needed influence by my very presence on the faculty.

Classifying the Contents of the Bible S aturday , A pril  6, 1946 To determine more specifically the nature of the Bible, it is well to begin with a classification of its contents. It contains legends, history, laws, exhortations, reflections, and prayers. All of these categories of writing are motivated by three definite purposes, in varying degrees, in each category: (1) to arouse in the Jew

30. David L. Lieber (1925–­2008), rabbi, scholar, and president emeritus of the University of Judaism (now known as the American Jewish University), was senior editor of Etz Hayim Humash. He helped pioneer Ramah camps in Wisconsin and California. I was a staff member under Lieber in the first year of Ramah in Ojai, California. I have very fond memories of him. 31. Rabbi Jack Cohen (1919–­2012) worked for Kaplan at the SAJ and was a strong Kaplan supporter. See the glossary.

April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946


an awareness of God, (2) to fortify his national consciousness, and (3) to direct him to the proper way of life. Just how each legend, historical narrative, law, etc. achieves each of these purposes and to what degree it achieves it depends upon the spirit of the age, the intellectual climate, and the most urgent social and spiritual needs of those who study and interpret the contents of the Bible. What constituted awareness of God in the first stages of Jewish history became largely irrelevant to the later stages, and what was regarded in later stages as essential for the belief in God was not even suspected in the earlier stages. At the time that the legislation and the prophetic oracles were first framed, the national consciousness which they sought to fortify could not foresee the problems with which it had to come [to terms] in subsequent eras. The ethical principles and exhortations and reflections when first expressed referred to a way of life in which none of the complex issues of later times could possibly have been anticipated. How then has it been possible for the same legends, histories, laws, exhortations, etc. to arouse and keep alive the awareness of God, to fortify the national consciousness, and to serve as a guide to conduct over so many generations amid all possible lines and under so wide a range of varying circumstances? The answer is that the Bible is not a text or collection of texts. It is what the interpreter derives from or reads into these texts. The meaning of the legends, histories, laws, &c. is not what the surface reading of them seems to convey but what the interpreter finds them or makes them to mean. The interpreter himself is not a scientific scholar interested in objective fact. What the scholar finds may at best be the raw material out of which the Bible was formed, but it is not the Bible as we know it. The interpreter is a Jew who has in common with all Jews the threefold interest of having the Bible help him to a keen awareness of God, to a deepened consciousness of his people, and to a passionate devotion to the right way of life. This is what the interpreters have always done with the Bible. As a result of their efforts, we Jews are by this time in possession not of one version of the Bible but the main of four different versions of it and are on the eve of evolving a fifth version.

Modes of Biblical Interpretation—­Pardes,32 Peshat, and Drash A pril  6, 1946 The four versions of the Bible are none other than those which are the products, respectively, of the four different kinds of interpretation: Peshat, Remez, Drush, and Sod. A brief characterization of each type of interpretation will make clear wherein it gives rise to a different version of the Bible.

32. Pardes is an acronym that refers to the several modes of biblical interpretation: Peshat, remez, drash, and sod. These terms are explained in the following selection.


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“Peshat” means literal interpretation, yet it would be misleading to say that the literal interpretation of the biblical text is always followed in the “Peshat.” It is doubtful whether most of the statements which speak of God in human terms retained their literal significance once they were incorporated into the context of authoritative text, even long before that text was canonized. The verse in Genesis which speaks of God as having “smelled the sweet savor of Noah’s sacrifice” or the oft repeated phrase “A sweet smelling fire offering to the Lord” may be a desiccated remain of an ancient way of speaking. It may well be that the sentence elohim lo te’kalel [Heb., You shall not curse God (Exod. 22:28)] referred not to gods but to judges at the time the sentences of which they are a part was written into the text of a larger Torah than the one of which it may originally have been a part. A safe description of “Peshat” might be the following: That which constituted the functional meaning of the text at the time it came to be regarded as authoritative for the nation. With the exception of the Pentateuch, it is difficult to say when the other books became author notated. As a rule, the functional meaning then coincided with the literal meaning of the words. The story of creation, of Adam and Eve in Paradise, the story of Cain and Abel, and so on all the way through the narratives of the Torah and the Former Prophets were all regarded as historic fact. But the functional meaning of the text is the one that emerges from the units of the sacred writings. That unity is the result of the principal motifs which actuated the compilers of those writings. Among those motifs are those which are enunciated in the narrative psalms, viz.: the glorification of God (Ps. 105), the warning against disobeying God (Ps. 18), and those which derive from the context itself, as the selection of Israel from among the nations and the conditioned tenure of Eretz Yisrael. This first functional meaning of the Bible is the one referred to in the Talmud in the principle that no Scripture ever has its peshat (literal meaning) superseded. Rav Kahana, a famous Babylonian Amora, reported that he was eighteen years old before he became aware of that principle. He had wrongly assumed that the peshat had been superseded by “derash.” It is quite apparent that the Bible read in the light of its peshat would appear to be a different Bible from the one read in the light of its “derash.” This becomes even more evident when we consider what “derash” is. Derash is not just any kind of interpretation that departs from the literal meaning of the text. As one of the four types of biblical interpretation, derash refers only to the meanings which the Tannaim and Amoraim33 have read into the Bible and which constitute the content of the midrashim34 and the groundwork of the Talmud. The five years which, according to the instruction in Avot,

33. Tannaim and Amoraim were rabbis of the first centuries of the common era. 34. The midrashim are homiletical comments on the scriptures.

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should be devoted to the study of the Scriptures were to be spent in learning the derash of the Bible. The term de be’Rav appended to one of these collections of rabbinic interpretations betrays the early school environment in which the Bible was taught in the light of derash. Without attempting to characterize the variants from the peshat that render an interpretation derash, it will suffice to mention some of the main rabbinic doctrines and interests that change radically the meaning of the Bible text. The belief in the world to come as the world in which alone man achieves salvation transforms such simple statements as those which refer to life or to long life as a reward for obedience to God into promises of reward in the world to come. The dominant rabbinic interest was to give biblical sanction to accept norms in civil law and ritual law, and so we have the well-­known reinterpretation of [an] “eye for eye” as a money fine and the threefold repetition of the ordinance forbidding the seething of the kid in its mother’s milk as the basis of all those practices which forbid the mixing of milk and meat diets. When in former years the child would be taught “Humash with Rashi,”35 he was introduced at once into the Bible which is the product of the rabbinic method of interpretation known as derash. This was the Bible which bulked largest in the Jewish consciousness during the eighteen centuries of premodern times. The only exception to this was the Song of Songs—­which will be dealt with in the next category.

Remez—­the Third Mode of Interpretation M onday , A pril  7, 1946 A third version of the Bible, which is the one least popular, is the product of Remez. Remez refers to metaphorical or figurative rendering of a text. As a method of interpretation, it is used on a considerable scale in rabbinic writings which are generally characterized as derash. The interpretation of the Song of Songs, for example, as symbolic of the love that unites God and Israel, though part of Amoraic literature, properly belongs to Remez. But for the purpose of the point which is being stressed here, that the Bible as a whole is used as a window through which we are enabled to gain a particular perspective on life, Remez refers to that perspective in Judaism which resulted from the impact of philosophic thought, whether Aristotelian or Platonic, on the Jewish tradition. The whole of Philo’s36 exegesis has the effect of giving us an entirely different Bible from that which either Peshat or Derash yields us. It is the product of Remez in

35. Humash refers to the five books of Moses. Rashi is an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, a prominent biblical commentator. 36. Philo of Alexandria is a first-­century Jewish philosopher famous for using allegory for harmonizing Greek and Jewish thought.


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that it is made to symbolize teachings and values derived from Plato and the Stoics. [Abraham] Ibn Ezra’s37 commentary on Song of Songs is in the same genre as Philo’s. Saadia, Maimonides, and [Joseph] Albo,38 who read many philosophical ideas into the Bible, transformed those sections of the Bible into a different kind of scripture from what they were originally meant to be or from what the sages of the Talmud held them to be. T uesday , A pril  9, 1946 Some of the favorite themes with which Scriptures would be found to deal when read by the method of Remez would be the relation of philosophy to revelation, human reason and human passion, the good and the evil inclination, the spirit and the body, the intellect and the feelings, as well as ethical themes like prudence, courage, humility, temperateness. It is amazing with what facility biblical characters, places, and events are transformed dramatizations of philosophical problems that are the substance of the writings of Plato and Aristotle. One can understand why this transformation of the Scriptures should have infuriated the strict traditionalists who saw in it a danger to the authoritative or rabbinic searching of Abba Mari Don Astruc, the famous leader in the beginning of the 14th century of the opposition to the rationalism of the Maimonists [supporters of Maimonides], in his “Minhat Kenaot,” a letter addressed to the Talmudic scholars of France and Spain, [which] accuses the rationalists of reducing the entire section of the Torah from Genesis to Exodus XX to “nothing but allegory.” Finally, we have the version of the Bible elaborated by the mystics, which is the product of the method of interpretation known as Sod. What the Torah is to Jewish mysticism is summed up in a well-­known passage in the Zohar39 which reads as follows: “Woe to the man who says that the Torah intends to relate just ordinary stories and everyday affairs matters. If that were the case, it would be possible even nowadays to compose a Torah dealing with every-­day affairs and even of great excellence. Nay even the worldly princes possess books of greater worth, which we could use as a model and compose a secular torah. The truth is that all the matters dealt with in the Torah are supernal and sublime mysteries.” To the Jewish mystics, the Torah was in all literalness the very instrument wherewith God created the entire universe. Hence the author of Zohar reasoned that since the angels, in descending to the earth, put on earthly garments, as otherwise they

37. Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089–­1167) was a prominent philosopher, biblical exegete, and poet. 38. Rabbi Joseph Albo (1380–­1444) was a Jewish philosopher and author of Sefer Ha’ikarim [The Book of Principles], which spells out the fundamentals of Judaism. He was a favorite of Kaplan’s. 39. The Zohar is a foundational work of medieval Jewish mysticism composed in the thirteenth century but ascribed to a second-­century rabbi.

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could not stay in the world and the world endure them, “the Torah which created all the worlds and which sustain them” must certainly have to put on earthly garments. “The stories of the Torah are thus only her garments, and whoever looks upon that garment as being the Torah itself, woe to that man—­such a man will have no portion in the next world . . . The senseless people see only the garments, the mere veracious; [not clear] those who are wiser can envisage the body. But the really wise, can penetrate right through to the soul, the root, principle of all, namely, the Torah” (III 152a). With the divine or supernatural character of each letter and sign in the text of the Torah then taken for granted, the Torah becomes the window through which the Jewish mystics beheld either the theosophic kind of universe or one which was the product of their wishful thinking. We can perhaps best appreciate what kind of a perspective on life the Bible opened up to them if we recall that the Jewish mystics were, for the most part, not given to introvert contemplation but were of the extrovert type who believed that a knowledge of the various combinations and permutations of the words of sacred scripture would enable them to gain power over the forces of life. Moreover, as Jewish mystics, their chief interest in acquiring such power was to redeem Israel from exiles. To be worthy of wielding such power, they assumed it necessary for them to discipline themselves in all of the mitzvot, both ethical and ritualistic. When all of these purposes were to be realized through the study of the sacred writings, it is evident that the thought world opened up by such a study had little in common with that of any of the three other thought worlds described above.

Loving-­Kindness and Being a Jew A pril  15, 1946 The way of life to which we Jews are committed as a people and the only one that gives any meaning to our struggle for existence is summed up in the well-­known verse in Zechariah: “Not by strength nor by might but by my spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts” [Zech. 4:6], or in the less well-­known verse: “By strength shall no man prevail” [1 Sam. 2:9]. The history of human civilization, of man’s effort to bring his biological instincts under the control and guidance of purposes that transcend them, attests to the truth of that teaching. All peoples, insofar as they achieved aught of human worth, have reckoned with and contributed to the power wielded by the demands of justice and loving-­kindness in human relations. To that extent, justice and loving-­kindness play an important role in the civilizations of all peoples. But the Bible testifies to the fact that the Jewish people accorded justice and loving-­kindness as the arbiters of human destiny. So devout an homage as to deem them divine, to regard them as the root of all that God, the creator of the universe, demands of man. “What doth the Lord


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thy God ask of thee, but to practice righteousness and to love mercy?”40 By dint of this evaluation of the power of the spirit in human life as compared with that of brute force, Judaism saved Western mankind at a most critical point in its career from complete moral disintegration. Incorporated into Christianity, this faith in the power of the spirit, despite its having been overlaid with a mass of irrelevant doctrine and ritual, has exercised a highly civilizing influence on the barbarian hordes that evolved into the nations of Europe. In recent years, as a result of the inexhaustible sources of physical power opened up by modern technology, the struggle for access to that power has attained such unprecedented magnitude and bitterness as to eclipse all considerations of justice and loving-­kindness. They are ceasing to receive even the lip service which was rendered them formerly, and especially in human relations which involve whole classes of people, the tendency is for the contending interests to flaunt their selfish purposes in all their brutal nakedness. To give this tendency the show of reason which the human spirit cannot entirely repudiate, it is made to appear plausible with its air of naturalism. Having learned from Darwin that in the animal world, the process of natural selection favors the strong and the cunning, Nietzsche leaped to the conclusion, which he elaborated in flaming prose, that human beings too must permit that process to work itself out in the life of society. His transvaluation of values was a denunciation of the Judeo-­Christian tradition as hampering the process of natural selection. He urged men to live by the principle, “Not by spirit, but by strength and might, saith Zarathustra.” Simultaneously with Nietzsche, Karl Marx, likewise influenced by the naturalistic trends of thought, denied all intrinsic objectivity to ethical ideals and treated them merely as reflections of the struggle for economic advantage and power. Nietzsche’s interpretation of human life gave the initial impulse to the movement that culminated in Fascism and Nazism; Karl Marx’s gave the impulse to the movement that culminated in communism. Both of these movements are avowedly hostile to the Jewish way of life. That they are also hostile to the democratic way of life inevitably points to a certain fundamental element that is common to both Judaism and democracy. What else can it be if not the denial of brute force as the decisive factor in all relations between individuals and groups? Modern democracy arose with the recognition of justice as an ultimate imperative. It has yet a long way to go before it is able to translate that idea into detailed economic and political policy. In its struggling efforts to achieve its goal, it has emancipated the Jews from medieval bondage. Within the frame of democracy, we Jews are free to articulate with new clarity and vigor the very ideals most needed to strengthen it. This is our opportunity. The first and indispensable step

40. Kaplan seems to be paraphrasing Micah 6:8.

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in availing ourselves of that opportunity is to have the consciousness of our children imbued with the Jewish way of life as stressed in the Bible.

The Torah and Violence W ednesday , A pril  17, 1946 As background to the representation of Israel as committed to the way of life based on justice, righteousness, and loving-­kindness, the Torah gives a typological account of the condition of mankind before Israel came on the scene. In Cain’s murdering Abel, we have the translation into realistic terms what the story of Adam’s disobedience is intended to convey in the language of metaphor. Cain and his descendants are pictured as building up urban civilization with what time and again has proved to be its pattern of exploitation and bloodshed. Then the story of the Flood comes as a sequel on so universal a scale of corruption that God is said to have repented of having created man at all. Thus the outstanding fact in human life which, according to the Torah, renders the very worthwhileness of humanity questionable is its proneness to violence. “And the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth and behold it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth” [Gen. 6:11]. Violence is thus clearly indicated as a perversion of what should be man’s way of life. That the generations after the Flood reverted to the same tendency is pointed out by means of the typological myth concerning Babel, which had figured in the minds of the ancients as the symbol of tyranny and oppression. All this, from the standpoint of the ancient world outlook as developed in the Torah, made it necessary for God to select Abraham for the founding of a nation that would “keep the way of the Lord to do justice and righteousness” [Gen. 18:19]. Whether the prophetic writings antedated or followed the whole or part of the Torah of tradition, there can be no question that by that time, all Israel assumed that they were covenanted to God by means of Torah or a way of life based on justice and righteousness. Otherwise there would be no point to the bitter invective with which the prophets arraigned their people. They would have been talking in a vacuum. Hosea, Amos, and Isaiah, the three earliest prophets, refer to Israel’s either forgetting or rejecting God’s Torah (Hos. 4, 6 and Amos 2, 4, Is. 5, 24). The same is of course true of Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Jer. 9, 12; 16, 11; Eze. 22, 26). The covenant between God and Israel, which was taken for granted by prophets and people, consisted in Israel’s obligation to conform to the Torah of God and God’s binding Himself to maintain and protect Israel. When Israel does not live up to its obligation, it breaks its covenant. Thus Hosea upbraids Israel “because they have transgressed my covenant and rebelled against my Torah” (Hos. 8, 1). Only by interpreting the prophetic writings from the point of view of Israel’s commitment to the way of life in which all conflicts of interests and all


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problems that arise in human relations are to be determined by the principles of justice, righteousness, and loving-­kindness can we get their true import. We look in vain among those writings either for specific definitions of the main imperatives on which the Torah is based or for detailed applications of these imperatives to specific life situations. The prophetic writings should not be treated as expositions of ethics or morals, nor even as mere exhortatives to ethical living. They are the passionate outcries of far-­seeing, divinely inspired men who read their people’s fate in the light of a principle it had never occurred to anyone to apply to the vicissitudes of nations, viz.: the substitution of righteousness for force in all its internal and external affairs. So novel is that method of social prognosis that to this day, very few have come to grasp its great truth and far-­reaching implications. Yet so true a method is it that upon its final adoption by the generality of men depends the peace and progress of mankind. The interpretation of the prophetic writings is that which is intimated directly in two such allegories as that in Isaiah of the vineyard and in Hosea of the faithless wife borne out by the entire trend in their contents. What the Torah, or the Jewish way of life, meant to the individual Jew, apart from what it meant to him as a member of Israel, is the theme of the numerous passages in Psalms, especially that of the 118th chapter. There we get a foreshadowing of what the Torah came to mean later when its text began to be studied and explored as only writings believed to come directly from the hand of God could possibly be studied and explored. We get there descriptions of the ecstatic joy which the Torah evoked in the heart of the Jew, confident as he was that it set forth the only way whereby man could achieve the good and the full life and that it came from God, the author of all life and goodness. For that conception of the Torah to evolve into the one which forms the subject matter of the treatise Avot, where it is described as “a desirable instrument by which the world was created,” the Jews had to be reduced to a state in which they had little to look forward to in this world and had to center all their hopes on the world to come. In all that has been said above, no mention was made of pedagogic methods or devices. This is not because we can afford to disregard them but because we cannot discuss them intelligently before we know what it is we want to achieve with the children when we teach them the Bible and before we have made up our mind how we want to view the Bible itself. The principle underlying the purpose in teaching the Bible as set forth in this essay is that as part of Jewish education, the Bible should not be used primarily as a means of training in Hebrew language or literature. The only legitimate purpose can be the deepening and strengthening of the Jewish consciousness of the children. T hursday , A pril  18, 1946 With that end in view, it is necessary to realize that the Bible itself has been used and will continue to be used not as a static measure of ethical and

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spiritual values applicable under all circumstances but as a dynamic measure adoptable to different climates of belief and practice. Traditional Judaism will always be of profound interest and of vital relevance. But to render all of the Bible interesting and relevant for our day, we have to take into account, in the first place, the proto-­Bible which is being recovered by biblical scholarships. But what is infinitely more important, we must evolve a version of it which will reckon with the three main challenges to Jewish life and Judaism: the challenge of modern naturalism, of modern nationalism, and of the transvaluation of all moral and spiritual values. These very challenges should help us discover implied values and meanings in the Bible which in their sense [?] {256} would constitute a fifth version of it. There should be no passage in the Bible from beginning to end that would not be newly illumined in the light of the suggested principles concerning the people of Israel, the vivid reality of God’s presence, and the saving way of life. There is good reason to believe that this fifth version of the Bible would help to fulfill the main purpose of Jewish education—­that of deepening and strengthening the Jewish consciousness of the rising generation of Jews. The Bible has not been treated as a static measure of ethical and spiritual values applicable under all circumstances but as a dynamic measure adaptable to different climates of belief and practice. A foot rule or a yardstick measures distance which are true for all measurable objects and is not intended to indicate any norm. That is a static measure. A thermometer is a dynamic measure in which something in the instrument moves and indicates desired norms. We have different kinds of thermometers for measuring the temperature of a room, of the human body, and of an oven. A thermometer is thus a dynamic measure. What Jewish life has had to derive from the Bible in one age and one set of circumstances could not but differ from that which it has had to derive at a different age and under an entirely different set of circumstances. Since the function of the Bible is to provide norms and standards for achieving the best type of Jewish life, it could not but undergo such different interpretations for the sake of enabling it to discharge its function as to give rise to many different versions of what it has to teach.

Kaplan on the Lecture Circuit A pril  18, 1946 It has been so long since I have made any personal entries into this journal that I have lost track of myself. I did quite a bit of lecturing last month. On Monday, March 11, I lectured at Elizabeth[, New Jersey] ($150); on Wednesday, March 14, at Jamaica Jewish Center ($100); on Tuesday, March 19, at Syracuse ($250); on Thursday, March 28, at Beth Sholom, Philadelphia ($150); on Wednesday, April 3, at the Jewish Community Center of Jersey City ($100); and on Tuesday, April 9, at the Seminary under the auspices of the Seminary School


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of Jewish Studies. The last named lecture, which dealt with the idea of Organic Community, is the only one I worked very hard over and delivered gratis. All the other lectures dealt with Reconstructionism. Each time, however, I had to give the lecture, I was just as tense as if I gave that lecture the first time. In each instance I was in good form, and the lecture was well received. Period. Despite apparent interest shown by a few people in some instances, and my following them up, no continuing results developed. As a result, I have virtually decided to discontinue that kind of lecturing. The few dollars that it brings me only create in me a kind of guilt-­feeling for exploiting Reconstructionism.

Kaplan Resigns as Dean of TI41 M onday , J une  3, 1946 I can’t say that I am in a rollicking mood these days. While it is true that I resigned the deanship of my own free will, it is nevertheless also true that the position had been made untenable for me through F. [Finkelstein]’s depriving me of all power of initiative. He let me have no say whatever in the matter of the budget. Actually, Davis was my boss from the moment F. appointed him my assistant. Whatever additional expenditures Davis felt were needed, he would ask my OK for and obtain without demur from F. On the other hand, if I had at least one or two members of the Faculty in sympathy with my approach to Judaism, I would have insisted on my prerogatives as Dean and would have made an effort to change the spirit of the instruction given to the students. But finding myself out of step with each and every one of the men on the Faculty, there was nothing for me to do but to preside at the occasional meetings at which it would have been futile to try to discuss basic issues. Until last year, I at least gave four periods of the two classes in religion. With virtually no students in any of those classes in any way troubled by religious doubts, and with all of them blinded by a passionate chauvinism, I was unable to make any headway in my attempt to reorient them into an evolutionary conception of the Jewish religion. That it was which led me to turn my courses over to Abraham Heschel. It did not take me long to realize that he would only confirm the students in their obscurantist views. Consequently, I saw there was no sense to my pretending to be Dean, since there was nothing left for me to do. But after having served for 37 years as head of the department, I imagined that the Seminary should have made some gesture of recognition by making me “emeritus.” The factual way in which yesterday’s New York Times referred to my resignation and the big splurge made about Davis’s discovery of Lincoln’s

41. Though Kaplan resigned as dean of the TI in order to have more time to write, he continued to teach until 1963.

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letter in the course of his preparation on “the forthcoming book in Judaism” was something of a bitter pill to swallow. Yesterday afternoon Davis phoned to tell me that he was “embarrassed” at the omission of what the release had said about my devoting myself to the idea of the “University of Judaism.” If it had to be that I should resign from the deanship, I am glad at least that Davis was there to take over. At one time it might have been Simon Greenberg. That would have meant the complete annihilation of all I had stood for in the Teachers Institute.

Milton Steinberg Shares His Manuscript of Basic Judaism T uesday , J une  4, 1946 Milton Steinberg has just written another book, which he calls Basic Judaism.42 Yesterday he called me up about it. He told me he had shown it to Dr. Shalom Spiegel, and he wanted to get my opinion of it. I received the manuscript last night. I read it with great avidity and found it to be full of “color and sweep,” but I took exception to his “dynamism.” What he does is to give the traditional view of Jewish religion (which he misnames “Judaism,” in the usual fashion) and the modernist version of it. But in doing so, he gives the impression that they are really the same “basic” religion. Spiegel criticized his book on the ground that it recognizes a modernist version. “There is no such version,” said Spiegel. “There is only one authoritative Judaism. The modernist variations are mere ruffles on the surface of the sea. Nothing revolutionary has happened. All that people claim to be new, if true, has long been anticipated.” My criticism was the extreme opposite of Spiegel’s. I believe Steinberg slurs over what are irreconcilable differences in the two versions of Jewish religion. It would be more correct to represent them as two different religions whose common denominator consists of the sancta of the same civilization. Steinberg claims the essence of a religion is its metaphysics. All the more reason for recognizing the wide divergence metaphysically between tradition and modernism. That is a point which he and I have somehow never been able to come to terms on. Anyhow, he will consider my suggestion that he name his book The Spirit of Judaism instead of Basic Judaism. J une  28, 1946 The discussion,43 which lasted from 12:45 to 4:45 with about 20 minutes interruption, was very interesting. It started with my having remarked, while the luncheon was still on, that the main trouble with the ministry was that the challenge of naturalism to religion was not faced frankly by them. The people are given the impression that religion had its own particular area which lay outside

42. Basic Judaism is still in print and very much worth reading. 43. Kaplan met with a group of Reform rabbis while on a visit to California.


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the natural and practical concerns of human beings—­an area variously identified as either supernatural or mysterious. I stated that supernaturalism may mean either the acceptance of recorded miracles as historical or the identification of some actually experienced event as serving a specific moral or spiritual purpose in a divine plan. The latter kind of supernaturalism is characteristic of [Kaufmann] Kohler’s theology.44 On the other hand, the element of mystery as an object of religion is compatible with naturalism and is indispensable to man’s spiritual self-­realization.

What Does Conservative Judaism Stand For? J uly  2, 1946 Tuesday (June 25) I went to hear Gordis give his presidential address at the convention of the Rabbinical Assembly. When he was through at 3:30 p.m., Mandelbaum,45 assistant to Davis, told me that Finkelstein would like me to meet with him and Sol Goldman. The three of us discussed for about two hours. I started out by saying first that I had at last come to understand what Goldman was driving out in urging the nationalization of the synagogue. I had always been under the impression that his plan was intended as a substitute for the community idea which I had been advancing. I saw now that it concerned the congregations as such, without negating the need for communal organization. Thus understood, his plan has great merit. Secondly, with regard to the Seminary, I said that theoretically Goldman was right in expecting the Faculty to back up the movement in Judaism with which the graduates of the Seminary are identified. But practically, that cannot come about because the most authoritative members of the Faculty will under no circumstances commit themselves to any nontraditional version of Judaism. To this Goldman replied, “What I am interested in is that the Seminary in its public relations should support the men in the field. Instead, when either of you come to Chicago, e.g., you make my people feel that what I stand for—­Conservative Judaism—­is meaningless. One of you is reported to have said that Conservative rabbis don’t say what they mean and don’t mean what they say; and the other is reported to have answered the question—­what kind of Judaism does the Seminary [stand] for—­by saying: ‘I don’t believe in labels.’” It was apparent that I was charged with the first of the foregoing statements and F. [Finkelstein] with the second. I explained that I had [made]

44. Kaufmann Kohler (1843–­1926) was a preeminent Reform rabbi and theologian. 45. Bernard Mandelbaum (1922–­2001) was a Conservative leader who held various posts at the JTS, including the presidency in the 1960s. He lost the battle for the more powerful office of chancellor to Gerson Cohen.

April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946


reference not to the rabbis but to the Conservative ideology as such. I don’t remember what F. had to say for himself. I frankly admitted that Goldman was right in contending that the men have a right to expect the Seminary to give them moral support at least in its public relations. But I added that for the Seminary to be able to do that, it is essential that at least the three of us come to some understanding concerning the version of Judaism we should want the Seminary to promulgate. Both F. and G. saw the point, and we decided to meet again on the 15th for that very purpose.

Defining Conservative Judaism J uly  8, 1946 His [Finkelstein’s] visit with me yesterday was in anticipation of our meeting with Sol Goldman next Monday. That meeting is to be devoted to the formulation of a platform that would define the position of the Seminary and of the rabbinical and lay group associated with it in relation to both the Orthodox and Reformist groups. In making my suggestions, I followed the general line of thought I had developed in my address “From Strength to Strength” given at the Seminary Convocations of Feb. 1945. In the first place, I suggested that instead of the name “Conservative,” we adopt the name “The Jewish Center Group” or “Jewish Centrists.” Secondly, the following are to be the planks of the platform: (1) Adopting the status of the peoplehood of the Jews throughout the world, with Palestine as its national homeland; (2) Concerted effort on fostering the traditional regard for ethics and piety; (3) Maintaining the Hebraic character of worship and Jewish culture; (4) Following the principle of a maximum compatible with conditions of normal living in all questions of ritual observance; (5) Intellectual freedom in scholarly and scientific research and Jewish education. It occurred to me since that we might add the following: (a) nationalizing the synagogue; (b) developing community life as an instrument of Jewish peoplehood; (c) fostering cultural and art interests of a Jewish character. I had no difficulty whatever in getting F. [Finkelstein]’s assent to my suggestions. We also agreed that the three of us, as members of the presidium of the quiescent “Institute on the Future of Judaism,” send out a letter reviving that Institute, with the understanding that it is not to be officially identified with either the Seminary or the Rabbinical Assembly. To the group that would respond and that would thus be independent of any auspices, we would present what would amount—­in F.’s words—­“to a manifesto” for their approval and adoption.


April 18, 1945–­September 4, 1946

The Suffering in Palestine Weighs on Kaplan’s Mind S eptember  4, 1946 The strain of inner conflict and confusion under which I find myself, whenever I try to formulate the position of us Jews in the world, has been particularly difficult for me to endure these last few months. The main reason is, of course, the Palestinian tragedy. The scandalously hypocritical and vicious maneuverings of the British and the cruel sufferings they have been inflicting on thousands of Jews barely escaped from the Nazi Gehenna [hell], it is impossible to speak about with any degree of equanimity. Whatever writing or revising I have been doing has been attended by a feeling either of irrelevance or of futility. Why then do I write? Because, if I did nothing, I’d go insane or develop some pathological state of mind.

9 October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948

A Rabbi Shares His Unhappiness with the High Holiday Prayer Book S unday , O ctober  13, 1946 Today Eugene Kohn showed me the reply he had received from Rabbi Mortimer J. Cohen of Philadelphia. Eugene Kohn had asked him, one of the contributing editors, to favor us with one article. Cohen’s letter is highly significant. It shows what goes on in the minds of many of our type of rabbis who lead a kind of narrow existence. Someday it will be regarded as a historical document. That is why I am copying out the part that is of permanent interest. “When I recall the utter meaninglessness of the Machzor,1 the writhing anguish of the congregation—­poor dear souls, who really want some spiritual nutriment—­when I think how I am giving them a stone when I know they sincerely are hungry for bread of the spirit, I feel desolate, I feel myself an utter fraud and a misguider. “Merely to patch that Machzor up is of little or no use. The whole business is so out of time with our needs, our hungers. Merely to add interpretations to a text and then read the text reduces what ought to be a spiritual experience to an illustrated lecture. Merely to substitute mimeographed or printed prayers for the regular prayers is to make of prayer a complicated procedure which ought to be simple, direct, and easy. “So you see, my dear Eugene, here I am in my fifty-­second year of life, in my twenty-­seventh year of the rabbinate, a discontented, unhappy fellow who seethes with inner rebellion, feels like a ‘heel,’ albeit a religious one, and would sweep away with one annihilating gesture the whole mess on our hands. I am not

1. The Machzor is the High Holiday prayer book.



October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948

made happier when my people came to me with complaints about the services and the meaninglessness of most of what is said, sung, prayed. “Well, excuse my lengthy letter. I too would like to have peace of mind, but no book gives it to me, 27 years in the rabbinate and moving into old age with a feeling of wasteland in my heart! A Hell of a way to begin a new year in a world like this, at a time like this, and people, just plain, decent people wanting help—­and from me!”

The Future of the American Jew S unday , O ctober  20, 1946 I have been concentrating the last few months on the manuscript of what was originally to have been “The Reconstructionism of American-­Jewish Life.”2 Recently I thought of a new name for it, “The Next Step in Judaism.” I no sooner came upon that name than I became apprehensive of the size to which the book has grown, between 575 and 600 typewritten pages of over 400 words per page. When I called up Scribner’s and was put in touch with a Mr. Savage, the head of the department of religious works, he asked me how the book was. When I told him that it was a long book, he immediately replied that “that was discouraging.” This led me to think of dividing it into the three parts of which it consisted and publishing each part as a separate book. In fact, I think I have even found suitable names for the three books. They are (1) “Can These Bones Live?,” (2) The Next Step in Jewish Religion, (3) A New Pattern for Jewish Life. My state of mind with regard to the book oscillates between elation at having articulated the thrilling possibilities that inhere in Judaism and depression, when I become aware of the disillusioning realities of Jewish life here and in Palestine. Needless to say, the moments of elation are few and far between. The rest of the time, I want to get through with the work and the book as soon as possible, because it demands being in a utopian mood. To sustain that mood in the face of what is going on among us and about us requires greater strength than I possess. I should like to end this volume on a cheerful note, but that is very difficult these days. My son-­in-­law Seymour Wenner3 called my attention to a little book, The Dungeon Democracy by Christopher Burney. It is a description of life in the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. I do not remember any piece of writing

2. My sense is that the manuscript Kaplan is referring to here became The Future of the American Jew, which was published by Macmillan in 1948. This work was reprinted by the Reconstructionist Press in 1967 and 1981. 3. Seymour Wenner (1913–­1993) was an expert in federal administrative law and a former administrative judge for the Federal Power Commission and the Postal Rate Commission. He married Kaplan’s daughter Naomi Kaplan Wenner. See the glossary.

October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948


that has so shaken my faith in man. To go on living inwardly a “life of quiet desperation” and outwardly to put on a front of great hope might seem hypocrisy. But I have absolutely no sense of guilt, for without such hypocrisy I would cease to be human.

Reconciliation with Louis Finkelstein D ecember  20, 1946 The friendship between F. [Finkelstein] and myself has reached a point where I am almost embarrassed by it. We call each other by our first names. I do feel that both of us have gotten far away from our original mutual antipathy. But how genuine our bond of friendship is, and how free it is from all ulterior motives, I cannot tell.

Seminary Politics and H. E. Fosdick4 T hursday , D ecember  26, 1946 F. [Finkelstein] had called a meeting of the elders of the faculty to pass on the report which Saul Lieberman had brought back from Palestine, principally of his negotiations with the Hebrew University. L. [Louis] Ginzberg stayed away. Apparently to be in a position to upset whatever decisions would be arrived at. The report dealt with plans for the exchange of faculty members and students. In order not to make any invidious distinctions, F. suggested that each institution nominate three of the other institution, of whom one is to be chosen by the other institution. At the meeting we chose Scholem, Schwabe, and Buber. F. brought up the question whether we should give a dinner to Harry E. Fosdick, who recently retired from his pulpit and the Union Theol. Seminary. In the course of our discussing the advisability of giving Fosdick a dinner, F. told of a curious [word unclear] that Cyrus Adler pulled on Fosdick. In 1937, when the Seminary was celebrating its semicentennial, Finkelstein happened to meet Fosdick and to invite him to take part in the celebration. Fosdick immediately accepted the invitation. When Finkelstein told Adler about the invitation and Fosdick’s acceptance, Adler said he would under no circumstances attend the session at which Fosdick would speak. And so it was. Fosdick delivered the address for which he had been scheduled, but Adler stayed away from the session. This offended Fosdick, as Finkelstein had occasion to learn later from [Alan Strook]. According to Finkelstein, this offense to Fosdick cost the Seminary the

4. Harry E. Fosdick (1878–­1969) was a prominent liberal pastor of Riverside Church.


October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948

friendship of John D. Rockefeller Jr.5 That, of course, has meant the loss of a number of Jews whose criterion of the value of a Jewish institution is the extent of Gentile recognition, especially on the part of the aristocracy. In 1940, Finkelstein picked up courage to ask Adler why he had stubbornly refused to speak from the same platform with Fosdick. Adler’s reply was that he didn’t want to have anything to do with a man who chummed with Stephen Wise. “You mean John Haynes [Holmes],” said Finkelstein. “Yes,” replied Adler. That was the man whom President Roosevelt chose to represent American Jewry!6

The Future of the American Jew Will Be Published by Macmillan J anuary  15, 1947 I am just now in an exceedingly happy frame of mind, because I finally received this morning the long awaited letter from Macmillan saying that they are willing to publish the book7 which I have submitted to them. I had my doubts whether they would be interested in publishing so long a book—­about 650 pages—­which deals with a Jewish subject. At best, I thought they would ask me to advance a considerable sum of money, as they did when I gave them Judaism as a Civilization, especially with the high cost of paper and printing at the present time. Instead, they offer to advance to me $700 for the 4,000 copies which they expect to print. This is quite a new experience. I have good reason to be elated over the outcome. In the first place, the experience tells me that it is because I am mindful of what a sense of frustration I would no doubt have experienced if Macmillans had turned me down, even if their refusal would have been due entirely to business considerations. Secondly, I feel greatly encouraged to go on with the struggle for Jewish survival. I do hope that the book will win some worthwhile men and women for our cause.

5. John D. Rockefeller Jr. (1874–­1960) was a famous financier, son of the oil magnate, and major supporter of Union Theological Seminary and Riverside Church, among his other charities. 6. Kaplan’s entry here is confusing. 7. The book referred to here is The Future of the American Jew (New York: Macmillan, 1948).

October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948


Kaplan Speaks in Chicago to Large Audience M onday , F ebruary  17, 1947 I was in Chicago on Jan. 22 and delivered a lecture on Reconstructionism at the College for Jewish Studies. They had counted on an audience of about 25 to 100, and there actually were almost 600. The lecture was very well received.

Kaplan Travels West—­and Rooms with Simon Greenberg M onday , A pril  7, 1947 During the time which has elapsed since the previous entry and the present moment, I have lived more intensely and enjoyably than I have in years. I was away from home, met new people, attempted new undertakings with a measure of success, committed no blunders, made no faux pas.8 I don’t remember ever passing seven weeks which left me with such a good taste in the mouth as have these seven intervening weeks. I liked what I had to do and proved to myself that I can work with people with whom I don’t see eye to eye. If I had the skill, the time, and the patience to write up the experiences of the last seven weeks, I could have filled a book that would have made interesting reading.9 As it is, I shall have to content myself with a [clumsily] written record of the principal facts which I should not like to forget. The week or two before I left for Los Angeles on Sat. night, Feb. 22, I was in a state of tension. I am not fond of traveling. I like to stay put. The older I get, the more I naturally worry that something might go wrong with me physically—­especially with my teeth—­and I would be [incapacitated] for carrying out the mission for which I set out. This time that worry was augmented by the fact that a few days before I left New York, I discovered that I would have to take back my manuscript from Macmillans for the purpose of having somebody who specializes in editing books for print go over it again. This discovery came as a result of my having submitted the manuscript to Milton Steinberg. I did that at Lena’s [Kaplan’s wife] suggestion. The thought [was] that he would be offended if I did not have him see the manuscript before it went to press. I got in touch with him after he had it in his possession for a day, and I took his advice to submit it to a professional editor. He recommended to me a [Miss] Viola Irene Cooper, who

8. Kaplan is referring to his stay in Los Angeles in connection with the setting up of the University of Judaism. After his stay, he recounted the events of setting up the university. As a consequence, the dates of entries here are not consistent. 9. Those interested in the politics of the creation of the University of Judaism should consult this period in the original diary online at www​.kaplancenter​.org.


October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948

had helped him with his novel As a Driven Leaf.10 That very day I got in touch with her and arranged for her to do the editing. She asked only $2.00 per hour. I thought that was too little and told her she would get $2.50. With that out of the way, my mind was more at ease. I left Sat. night, Feb. 22, 1947, with the 11:40 on the Pennsylvania. The passage had been arranged for me by someone at the Seminary. The first night, I had a regular bedroom all to myself. Simon Greenberg, who was to accompany me on the mission, was to come in the train at Philadelphia. (I must confess that the thought of having to work with him—­to say nothing of possibly having to stay with him in one room—­filled me with considerable apprehension.) Although in 1925, when he spent the fourth year of his rabbinical course in Jerusalem, he seemed to be very sympathetic to my reinterpretation of Judaism, during the last fifteen years or so that he has been circulating in the Seminary, there was not much love lost between us. His very appointment as Associate Professor of education was apparently intended to offset the educational influence of the Teachers Institute, which was a favorite target of attack on the part of my opponents among the members of the Rabbinical Assembly. Their principal objection to it was that it was secular in its approach to Jewish education. In this attack they were led in the main by Greenberg. Although in recent years the violence of their attack subsided, I was none too happy about Greenberg’s becoming Provost. Louis Ginzberg and Alex. Marx protested quite openly about a year ago against his appointment. Marx said to me once: “When Adler appointed Finkelstein, he at least appointed a scholar. But Greenberg is an Am-­haartz [ignoramus].” Apparently Finkelstein is grooming Greenberg to succeed him in the presidency, when he makes his mind to retire. I was, accordingly, very much afraid that at one time or another, Greenberg and I would have a falling out over matters of belief or practice and possibly over some of the policies to be advocated by us. I tried more than once to have the Seminary arrange at least that we each have privacy both on the trains and the hotels. Instead of which the very contrary turned out to be the case. After the first night out of New York, we shared one bedroom all the time until our return trip. That involved for me a change of habit which I was afraid would irk me but which, on the contrary, I enjoyed very much. I refer to my reciting daily morning prayers in tallit [prayer shawl] and tefillin [phylacteries]. He never missed even the afternoon and evening prayers. There I drew the line. I told him I prayed only once a day. In fact, at one of the public meetings in LA, I illustrated

10. As a Driven Leaf (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1939) is a novel by Steinberg about the heterodox rabbi of the early second century Elisha Ben Abuyah and his struggles with Greek civilization.

October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948


the difference between G. and myself by saying that he prayed three times a day, while I prayed only once. ***** I had my first taste of spending the Sabbath together with G[reenberg], who is a strict observer. He would not think of handling money or signing a check for meals that would be brought to our room. We therefore had to have our breakfast and lunch that Sabbath provided for us by Mrs. Friedgut the day before. I told G. that I preferred having warm meals and paying for them on the Sabbath but that I would adapt myself to his ways. I did that, too, in the matter of turning on the lights. He had left a light in the bathroom burning all night. That had to do us till next morning.11

Kaplan Gives a Talk Emphasizing Believing, Belonging, and Creating M arch  2, 1947 12 [W ritten up A pril  7, 1947] In the evening, I had my first real workout. [In Los Angeles] Merian Travis had invited a number of distinguished writers, musicians, and artists to meet us and hear our story. There were about 40 people. In my talk I pointed out that the problem of having Jews accept themselves was a problem of believing, belonging, and creating. The University of Judaism would train and equip leaders for these three objectives. My talk was very well received. I was followed by Greenberg, who made the point that the Seminary had for some time been developing along those lines spontaneously but that I had given that development a name and a direction.

Seminary Authorizes Money for University of Judaism M arch  2, 1947 [W ritten up L ater ] That day [March 2] Finkelstein spoke long distance with Greenberg and told him that he had consulted the Executive Comm. of the Seminary Board

11. Many people ask me about Kaplan’s observance. This diary entry interested me because we see that Kaplan prayed daily with tallis and tefillin, that he wrote on the Sabbath when necessary, and that he turned on lights and handled money. I don’t remember the source, but Greenberg “rooming” with Kaplan on this trip increased his respect for Kaplan as a person and as a thinker, though they still disagreed. Greenberg may have voiced this thought when I interviewed him for the Kaplan biography. 12. The dates here are a bit out of order, since Kaplan recorded his experiences in Los Angeles after they happened, but he put in the date of the event.


October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948

and got them to authorize the advancement as a loan of $75,000 to the group that would make itself responsible for the Univer. of Judaism. This conversation was followed by a telegram to that effect.

Yiddish in the Curriculum of the University of Judaism A pril  13, 1947 Had luncheon meeting with Lalhed, which Friedgut had arranged. Lalhed was some time ago a Hebrew teacher. In recent years, he went into business and has grown quite wealthy. He offers prizes of several hundred dollars annually for the best Hebrew and Yiddish works—­a very cheap way of acquiring publicity, some say. In LA, he is active in the Jewish Community Board of Education. He is one of the secularist group from which we expected opposition. In my remarks to him, I pointed out that the Seminary deserved their cooperation, in that it approached the problem of Jewish life from the standpoint of “the people—­amkha [Heb., the people].” He wanted to know whether there would be [a] place for Yiddish in the curriculum. Both Greenberg and I answered in the affirmative.

Kaplan and Greenberg Explore Their Differences before Friends A pril  13, 1947 Saturday noon . . . Greenberg and I had quite a battle royal about tradition and theology. We both agreed after that never again to expose our differences before strangers to that extent.

Conversion and Intermarriage—­the Case of a Rabbi A pril  13, 1947 At 3:00, Leon Rosenberg called. He was graduated from the Seminary about five years ago and served as chaplain during the war. He was married and had a child before entering the chaplaincy. During his chaplaincy, he fell in love with a Catholic woman who had been married. She divorced her husband and he divorced his wife, and the two were married after she had been converted to Judaism. Greenberg is all for having him expelled from the Rabbinical Assembly. I wasn’t about to give much time to Rosenberg, because I had to see Julius Fligelman13 at 4:00 in his place of business. But what R[osenberg] wanted

13. Julius Fligelman (1895–­1980), based in Los Angeles, was a furniture maker, philanthropist, and Zionist; he also established the Julius Fligelman Chair in Life and Civilization at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. He was very active with the University of Judaism.

October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948


mainly was to find out from me whether I regarded him as unworthy of being in the rabbinate. Fortunately for me, he didn’t put the question quite that bluntly. This enabled me to be quite vague in my reply. As he actually put the question, it sounded as if all he wanted to know was whether he had a right to seek his happiness regardless of what people thought of him. To this all I could say was that he had a right to be governed by the dictates of his own conscience. There was no point to making an issue of his remaining in the rabbinate, since he volunteered the information that he had been training himself to enter the field of writing and that he was planning to move to Hawaii, where he would work on a novel. This meant that he was leaving the rabbinate of his own accord.

University of Judaism—­Nondenominational? M arch  10, 1947 [W ritten up A pril  13, 1947] In the course of the conversation, [Jacob] Kohn14 indicated that he wanted the Seminary sponsorship to be emphasized, and in case rabbis were to be invited to the local Board of Overseers, he should do the inviting. This, of course, ran counter to the need of de-­denominationalizing the institution, but I wasn’t going to make an issue of it, since much has to be done before we get to organizing a Board of Overseers.

The University of Judaism: The Symbol of the Conservative Movement M onday , M arch  17, 1947 That morning we met in Jacob Kohn’s study in the Temple with a group of Conservative rabbis . . . With these men I developed the idea that our group (the Conservative) needed a visible symbol to identify it. An abstract definition is not enough. We Jews ought to have our group life in the Diaspora liquidated because we can’t define ourselves. In ancient times, the Temple with its imageless sanctum sanctorum identified us. Later the Yeshiva with its unique combination of the three functions, academic, legislative and judicial. When the problem arose in modern times as to what might serve as the appropriate symbol for what kind of a group

14. Rabbi Jacob Kohn (1881–­1968) was a Conservative rabbi who served congregations in Syracuse, Manhattan, and Los Angeles. While in New York, Kohn served as rabbi of Ansche Chesed. He is the brother of Rabbi Eugene Kohn, a key disciple of Kaplan. Jacob Kohn was only a sometime supporter of Kaplan.


October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948

we are to constitute henceforth, the Reformers chose “the Temple.” The Orthodox still retain the Yeshiva. We should create the University of Judaism.15

Purpose of the University of Judaism M arch  19, 1947 [E ntered L ater after a S peech ] That evening I had dinner with the [Rabbi Jacob] Kohns. Greenberg wasn’t feeling well at the time, having driven around during the afternoon with [Friedgut] listening to his talk of woe. After dinner, Greenberg showed up feeling better. After dinner, about six couples arrived. They were the remains of a group, known as the Jewish Academicians, that used to meet quite frequently for the purpose of discussing topics of a philosophical and literary character. Kohn arranged to have them meet us at his home and hear from us the story of the University of Judaism. The chairman of the group was a physician Dr. Segal, who seems to be a rather well-­informed man generally. {33} There I developed the themes along the following lines: Jewish survival was possible only through educational agencies—­which reckoned with the conditions of the times. Now with nationalism and naturalism challenging Jewish survival, Jews could expect to survive as a group only within the margin of democratic nationalism and humanist naturalism. Fortunately, that coincides at present with the margin of safety upon which the future of mankind as a whole depends, etc., etc. The presentation was well received, and the discussion which followed was on a high level.

Kaplan—­More Respect for Simon Greenberg S unday , A pril  20, 1947 I am glad that I have learned to know Greenberg better than I did and that he likewise came to know me more intimately. He is not the obscurantist I thought he was. Theologically, he told me he was influenced by courses he had had with me when he was a student of the Teachers Institute about 26–­27 years ago. He does not believe in the historicity of miracle and theophany stories. That fact, however, does not prevent him from being scrupulous in the observance of all the ritualistic minutiae and from saying his prayers three times a day. Whenever he eats in a public place where he cannot wear a cap, he places his hand

15. My sense is that Kaplan was very excited about the University of Judaism and viewed it as another attempt to bring modern methods of study to bear on the tradition. I think he thought of it as similar to the Hebrew University with a rabbinical school. It would be an institution where Judaism would be studied with the methods of modern social science and history.

October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948


over his head while he recites the benediction—­a gesture intended to serve as a surrogate for the covered head. But there is more to him than meticulous religiosity. He possesses some fine character traits. He goes out of his way to help others in need. Having started some 25 years ago with a case of a halutz [pioneer] in Palestine, whom he helped with funds, which he secured from some of his wealthy members, to go to the Sorbonne and get a technical training, he subsequently built up a fund for students who needed financial aid. He likes people and takes a personal interest in them. He [word unclear] most of his friends in his congregation through his participation in all their joys and sorrows. He made it a point to give dignity and meaning to the festive occasions in their personal lives. He would take pride in acting as master of ceremonies at weddings and anniversaries. In this he made use of his ability to sing Hebrew and English songs. That would enable him to gather around himself groups of people who would join him in singing. He would thus become the life of the party. All this led me to regard him with considerable respect.

Kaplan Meets Will Herberg16 T hursday , M ay  1, 1947 I want to make note of some interesting persons I have recently had occasion to meet. Will Herberg, a young man in the late thirties, at present engaged in educational and cultural activity for some labor union in the needle industry. Some years ago he was a convinced Marxist, but now he has not only renounced Marxism, but he has become an ardent seeker after religious truth. If I am not mistaken, he took courses in religion at the Union Theological Seminary, where he came under the influence of Reinhold Niebuhr. That influence is evident in some of the articles and pamphlets he published recently, particularly an article in the Jewish Frontier and one in Commentary. In the latter he made the statement that we Jews are in need of a neo-­Orthodoxy similar to that developed by Barth17 and Niebuhr in Christianity. I was quite irritated by that statement of

16. William “Will” Herberg (1901–­1977) was an American Jewish writer, intellectual, and scholar. A communist activist during his early years, Herberg gained wider public recognition as a social philosopher and sociologist of religion, as well as a Jewish theologian. He was a leading conservative during the 1950s and an important contributor to the National Review magazine. 17. Karl Barth (1886–­1968) was a Swiss Reform theologian who is often regarded as the greatest Protestant theologian of the twentieth century. His influence expanded well beyond the academic realm to mainstream culture. His major work, Church Dogmatics, runs to thirteen volumes.


October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948

his, and I am commenting on it in “Random Thoughts.”18 I said that it were wiser to look to rationalist than to obscurantist attempts to reinterpret tradition. To make my point specific, I mentioned H. N. Wieman19 of Chicago University, who in his latest book, The Source of Human Good, warns against the present antirationalist trend. Herberg received a copy of the Reconstructionist, with that comment in it, and in reply wrote for an appointment. That was before I went out West. On my return, he called me up and we have met since then. During my absence, the Reconst. office received word from William R. Karvitz and Milton Steinberg that we should put Herberg on our editorial board, so pleased were they by his article in Commentary. In the discussion he had with me, I felt that there was a chance of winning him for a more reasonable approach to the problem of reinterpreting our tradition. He also seemed to welcome the idea of being invited to membership on our editorial board.

Kaplan Meets Henry Nelson Wieman M ay  1, 1947 H. N. Wieman, whose writings have had a considerable influence on me and whom I had never met personally, was brought to my house on Sat., April 19, by Rabbi Alex. Burnstein. The two of them happen to be taking courses together in the new School of Social Research. Wieman has his sabbatical this year, and he spends it by taking courses on Aquinas and Max Weber. I was very much thrilled at becoming acquainted with Wieman, who in addition to his fine intellectual traits appears to be a very fine-­charactered person. In his two-­hour visit, I tried to crowd in most of my revolutionary hypotheses about Soterics and the places of power in human life. That nervous haste to impart all one knows to a person whom one meets for the first time is due, I suppose, to the Jew in me. Whereas I was all agog with excitement, he was calm and deliberate. I even went so far as to point out that I don’t know any Christian theologian who thinks along lines similar to his, lines that are virtually identical with mine. It might, therefore, be worthwhile for the two of us to try to rally about

18. “Random Thoughts” was a regular column of Kaplan’s in the Reconstructionist. At a later time, he collected these columns and published them as Not So Random Thoughts (New York: Reconstructionist Press, 1966). The title was given to Kaplan by my colleague Professor Emanuel Goldsmith. 19. Henry Nelson Wieman (1884–­1975) was a philosopher and theologian of religious theocentric naturalism. Kaplan found he shared much in common with Wieman. See the work of Emanuel S. Goldsmith on Wieman more particularly: “Religious Naturalism in Defense of Democracy,” in Religious Experience and Ecological Responsibility, ed. Donald A. Crosby and Charley Hardwick (New York: Peter Lang, 1991), 317–­35.

October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948


us our followers among the younger theologians. Many of his disciples occupy important positions in the academies and religious world. I was happy to hear him respond quite enthusiastically to my suggestion.

Society for the Advancement of Judaism Celebrates Its Silver Jubilee S aturday , M ay  17, 1947 The SAJ [Society for the Advancement of Judaism] is in the midst of celebrating its silver jubilee. The organization actually completed the first quarter century last January. But a good many of the members are usually down South during the winter months. This accounts for our belated celebration. After considerable discussion at meetings of the Board of Trustees, in which I no longer take part, concerning the most fitting way of signalizing the silver jubilee from starting a building fund to making a $100,000 grant to the Reconstructionist Foundation, the only practical outcome is a sum of about $25,000 raised through the publication of an anniversary [volume]. The money will be used to put our present building into better shape. The exercises which form the celebration are of a simple character. I am happy at the good taste displayed by the Society in not resorting to the usual fanfare and publicity stunts which most congregations of that character do on their anniversaries. I am especially pleased that our people do not feel the need of having outside speakers, Jews and Gentiles, come to tell them how wonderful they are and that they can get along without special messages of congratulations from the President and the Governor. Today we had special services in honor of the founders. Of the twenty founders, only eleven had survived, and of these only six showed up at the services this morning. Ira [Eisenstein] gave an excellent talk. He dealt with the contributions of the SAJ to the development of Jewish religion, not in the comprehensive fashion that I would have attempted, but from the standpoint of the way it affects him personally. That enabled him, in the first place, to make his talk interesting by giving it a personal touch and, secondly, to confine himself to the simple idea that instead of regarding modern science, philosophy, and history as rivals of traditional religion, he learned from me to have them cooperate with our religious tradition in throwing light on the meaning of God.

Kaplan’s Analysis of the Conservative Movement M ay  17, 1947 I think it is high time to think through the question as to what should be the relation for Reconstructionists in the Rabbinical Assembly to the so-­called


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Conservative movement. Despite the lack of any consistent philosophy or program, that movement has been marking considerable organizational progress of late. The publication of the RA [Rabbinical Assembly] prayer book, which is to be followed by a succession of liturgical texts, the tightening up of the United Synagogue through the accession of two such good workers like Gordon and Millgrom,20 the formation of a number of Conservative synagogues on the West Coast—­all these facts point to a considerable strengthening of the Conservative movement. Unless Reconstructionism is given a place in that movement, it is likely to lose out with the average person, who cannot be won for an idea unless it is associated with some organizational glory. I therefore deem it necessary to work out a formula for Conservative Judaism that may lead to the formal recognition of Reconstructionism. ***** Many Jews who refuse to be identified as either Orthodox or Reform answer readily to the designation “Conservative,” though they have no definite idea what conservative means in terms of philosophy or program. The Seminary and its affiliated organizations, the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue, have always been regarded as representing the Conservative trend in Judaism, but of late those organizations in particular have been trying to place great emphasis on the term “conservative” and to associate with it specific achievements and policies. There looms the danger, however, if the present tendency will gain headway, that organizational loyalty will do service for clear and forthright thought and that a thin veneer of uniform activity may be permitted to cover subsurface stagnation in ideas and creative values. The fact that all who are identified with the Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue agree as being neither Orthodox nor as Reform should by no means be interpreted as implying that they are of one mind in matters of belief in practice. If any one group within those organizations happens to be in a position to assert {42} itself to a greater degree than the other groups, that does not entitle it to impose its will on them. It could not even if it would and should not even if it could. No element in a religious body should strive for power. The greater part of the activity in Jewish circles is not a manifestation of inherent vitality but of a galvanic kind of energy produced by the fear of anti-­ Semitism. That is due largely to the inner contradictions that characterize the very groups which exist for the purpose of furthering Judaism. The Conservative group, which possesses considerable creative potentiality, is more stymied than the other groups because it abounds even more than others in contradictions.

20. These were well-­known Conservative rabbis.

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In the interest of Jewish life, we should do all we can to resolve these contradictions while being fair to all concerned. However, there is no reason why we should not avail ourselves of the religious experience of our non-­Jewish neighbors. Though the Protestant church is very much divided by sectarianism, they find ways of having numerous denominations operate within a single organizational institutional frame. The Federal Churches of Christ consists of all of the Protestant denominations as well as many of the lesser ones. The Union Theological Seminary has at least eight or nine denominations represented on its faculty; the divinity schools of Yale and Chicago have as many as twenty-­two. Is there any reason why we Jews, who have much more in common despite our differences, would not be able to get together without suppressing differences. Since there is a wide divergence of belief and practice within the present frame of the Conservative movement, the only way to prevent any one group from becoming aggressive and impos[ing] an outworn and deadening uniformity is to arrive at some formula that will fulfill the following two conditions: (a) it will identify the common denominator among the various groups within the Conservative movement or that which distinguishes all of them alike from both Orthodox and Reform, and (b) it will define the position of those groups themselves from the standpoint of their differences in belief and practice. The only legitimate and fruitful conception of the Conservative movement is one which frankly recognizes the existence of more than one type of approach to the problem of Judaism. These groups should get to know themselves and one another and adopt the principle that they can cooperate on what they hold in common, recognizing each other’s right to its own way of thinking and living. In what follows, an attempt will be made to describe as objectively as possible the points of agreement and of difference in the three discernible groups within the Conservative movement. The areas of agreement are four in number. They are the following: (1) the indispensability of Eretz Yisrael [Land of Israel] for Jewish life in the diaspora, (2) the primacy of religion as the expression of collective Jewish life, (3) the maximum possible plenitude of Jewish content including the use of Hebrew, and (4) the encouragement of [a] scientific approach in Jewish higher learning. ***** There are at present outstanding groups within the Conservative movement. They may be designated, respectively, as right, center, and left. The following is an outline of their distinctive philosophies and programs. (a) The rightist subscribe to the 13 principles of the Maimonidean creed. In retaining the principles concerning the personal Messiah and bodily resurrection, they reserve to themselves the right to interpret those principles figuratively . . . Nevertheless, they accept in the whole the traditional belief with regard to its supernatural


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character. They resort to Maimonides’s Moreh21 for the explanation of textual difficulties and contradictions. Their theology would coincide almost entirely with that formulated in the Ikkarim.22 In the matter of ritual practice, they are guided in the main by the Shulhan Arukh, which they regard as authoritative and binding. While they recognize the need for change to meet new conditions of life, they put little faith in any existing rabbinical group as qualified to effect such changes. Nothing less than the convening of a Synod recognized by the entire body of the Jewish people would satisfy them as competent to deal with the problem of changing any of the traditional laws. S unday , M ay  18, 1947 In their ritual observances, they follow strictly the letter of the Shulhan Arukh.23 They are at one with the strictly Orthodox group in the requirement of ritual baths for married women after their menstruation periods. In the observance of the dietary laws, they adhere strictly to the prohibition of foods prepared by Gentiles; they would not think of eating even fish meals in non-­Kosher eating places. They abide by the prohibition of wine handled by a non-­Jew. They would not think of turning on the electric light on the Sabbath; they do not answer telephones, nor ring doorbells, nor use self-­running elevators. M onday , M ay  19, 1947 In the prayer book, they would not permit any tampering with the traditional test of any part of the service. They do not accept the Sabbath and festival prayer book published by the Rabbinical Assembly because of the changes it has introduced in the petitions for the restoration of the sacrificial cult. The practice of praying thrice daily and putting on tefillin [phylacteries] on weekdays is strictly upheld. They do not as a rule permit the seating together of men and women during services. Confirmation exercises on Shavuot are considered an un-­Jewish practice. In marriage laws, they are in no position to make any compromises in the matter of divorce, halitzah,24 or a Kohen’s [priest’s] marrying a divorcée.

21. Moreh here refers to Maimonides’s Guide for the Perplexed, which in Hebrew is called Moreh Nevuchim. 22. Sefer Ha’ikkarim is a fifteenth-­century popular work by Joseph Albo that sets forth the main principles of Judaism. 23. The Shulhan Arukh, sometimes referred to as the code of Jewish law, is a sixteenth-­century work by Joseph Karo (1488–­1575) setting forth the rules for all aspects of life. It is authoritative for Orthodox Jews. 24. Halitzah is a traditional ceremony whereby a childless widow and a brother of her deceased husband may avoid the duty to marry.

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(b) The center group is, in large measure, the continuation of the school of thought first articulated by Zacharias Frankel25 and later transferred to this country by [Solomon] Schechter. Its representatives are not daunted by the charge of inconsistency and timidity. They might be said to hold that in the basic principles of religion as well as of politics and economics, the human mind has so far proved unable to arrive at satisfactory solutions by means of rational and consistent thinking. In fact, all such claims have only led to tyranny and oppression, besides leaving the original confusions and uncertainties just where they were at first. They can point to better results, from the standpoint of greater tolerance and freedom, having been achieved by the method of “muddling through.” That attitude reveals itself, to begin with, in the limitations of their scientifically historical approach to the contents of our tradition. Neither Frankel nor Schechter had any qualms about reconstructing the history of Judaism since the days of the Maccabees, in the light of objective research, regardless of what the rabbinic tradition itself has had to say on that history. Likewise, they have not hesitated to subject the books of the Prophets and the Hagiographa26 to scientific scrutiny. But when it comes to the Torah, they refrained on principle from applying any of the critical apparatus and method of study. If now and then they venture to express as untraditional concerning the authorship of any part of the Torah, they do so quite self-­consciously and timidly. They avoid the teaching of the Torah text in the rabbinical training schools and make a point to stress the fact that somehow the Torah is sui generis. In his introduction to Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology,27 Schechter fulminated against the attempt to question the truth of divine revelation as the source of the Torah, although it must be admitted that his conception of divine revelation is rather vague. The most lucid statement which has thus far emerged on the problem with regard to the Torah has been made by Louis Ginzberg in one of his essays in Students, Scholars and Saints.28 He does not actually negate the fact of revelation, but he negates its significance for Judaism. He declares that the distinctive character of Judaism does not derive from the belief in the revealed character of the law but from the assumption that the laws themselves are manifestations

25. Zacharias Frankel (1801–­1875) was a Bohemian-­German rabbi and historian who studied the historical development of Judaism. He was the founder and most eminent member of the school of historical Judaism, which advocates freedom of research while upholding the authority of traditional Jewish belief and practice. This school of thought was the intellectual progenitor of Conservatism. 26. Hagiographa is the last of the three divisions of the Hebrew scriptures, comprising Psalms, Proverbs, and so on. 27. Solomon Schechter’s Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (New York: Macmillan, 1909 [and many later editions]) is a very fine introduction to rabbinic thought. In 1903, Schechter taught a course at JTS in rabbinic theology. Mordecai Kaplan and Henrietta Szold sat in the back of the class. 28. Louis Ginzberg, Students, Saints and Scholars (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1928 [and many later editions]).


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of the divine will. This identification of law with religion, he holds, is Judaism’s contribution to religion. The corollary which he draws from that assumption is between law and laws. Law is [abiding] and laws change. That corollary theoretically opens the door to the principle of changes. Actually, the change might go so far as to have new legislation replace the old. But entirely new legislation could not, as it does in the Catholic Church, acquire the character of revelation and is therefore limited. The traditional law is regarded as sufficiently flexible and latitudinarian to permit within its frame whatever modifications the needs of the times call for. W ednesday , M ay  21, 1947 The fact that so far little has been achieved by the process of interpretation is due to the personal equation of those who are qualified to perform that task rather than to any inherent obstacle. Life, however, cannot wait. Thanks to the exigencies of the times, certain changes have taken place in Jewish life which those of the center group feel will have to [be] sanctioned formally as they are now informally. Some of these are the following: Relaxation in the strictness of Sabbath observance. Those who work on the Sabbath or engage in business because of economic necessity need not labor under a sense of sin. Even those who are not under such necessity are not expected to conform to the letter of the Shulhan Arukh [The Code of Jewish Law]. There is no established norm from this point on. Most turn on the lights, but some don’t. Most do not ride, but some do. As many prepare breakfast and reheat their other foods as do not. Similar relaxation obtains in the dietary laws. Though, in principle, in practice there is a marked departure from the letter [of the law] of the Shulhan Arukh. As many draw the line between home and outside as do not. Most have two sets of dishes; few don’t. All eat fish and milk foods {45} in hotels and restaurants without scruple. On Passover, however, there is a close approach to strict conformity to traditional laws concerning hametz [leaven—­forbidden on Passover]. In the matter of ritual purity, there are very few who still adhere to the law requiring the ritual bath. As far as worship is concerned, the range of differences is rather large. The only departures from tradition common to all congregations of the center group are the mixed seating and the frequent use of English in the prayers. Beyond that, there is no uniformity except with the covering [of] the head in the synagogue. Most use no musical instruments; some do. Of those who have mixed choirs, very few engage non-­Jewish singers. Nearly all have the first Amidah,29

29. Amidah is a prayer said while standing.

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and most have also the traditional Amidah, repeated by the cantor. The only changes in the prayer text affecting doctrine are the recent ones incorporated in the RA prayer book. In most congregations, the entire Sidrah30 of the week is read on Sabbath morning; in few, only a portion. Of the latter, most cover the entire contents of the Torah, usually in a three years’ cycle; very few, however, read each year the same part of the Sidrah, which they regard as of most interest. The traditional distinction of Kohen, Levi, and Israelite31 is maintained in nearly all of these congregations. The practice of having confirmation classes for girls and confirmation exercises for them in Shevuot has become quite general. There is no uniform standard with regard to the recital of daily prayers, the use of tefillin [phylacteries] by the men, or the wearing of a fringed tallit [prayer shawl]. The same is true of washing before meals and reciting grace. The tendency to observe them is on the wane. All scruples with regard to shaving with a razor are gone. The most troublesome problem is that of the marriage and divorce laws. Some would refuse to sanction the marriage of a divorcée to a Kohen, but most would not. Halitzah is virtually ignored, but with a sense of guilt. Most rabbis in this group refuse to officiate at the wedding of a divorced woman who has not received a Jewish bill of divorce, but they advise the couple to apply to a Reform rabbi; some merely avow their helplessness; a minority override their scruples. For years the entire matter has been the subject of discussion and deliberation by the RA without any practical results. (c) The third group, which might be designated as the left, consists for the most part of those who have been influenced by the Reconstructionist movement, which has been on the American-­Jewish scene since the appearance of the Reconstructionist magazine in Jan. 1938. The movement, as such, transcends the religious groupings, because its primary aim is to find the basis of an affirmative character for unity among all who want to remain Jews and to raise their children for Jewish life. However, it comes with a conception of Judaism and Jewish religion which, when accepted by {46} members of the Conservative party, necessitate their constituting a third group within that party. The two main principles of the movement are (a) that to be a Jew means to be involved not only in a set of beliefs and practices usually identified as religion but in the civilization or culture of a people, with all that such involvement

30. Sidrah is the portion of the week from the Pentateuch. 31. Kohen, Levi, and Israelite are divisions of priests, Levites, and all others originating in ancient functions in the Temple. The status as priest, Levite, and so on is determined by the father. Kaplan thought this racist and eliminated it at the SAJ. Most Reconstructionist synagogues follow his mode.


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implies, [and] (b) that the Jewish religion in which the values of that civilization are utilized as a means of individual and collective salvation, though indebted for its unique character to the divine intuitions of its lawgivers, prophets, and sages, has been subject to the laws and limitations of the human mind and spirit. ***** The Reconstructionist movement has not been long on the scene, nor has it evolved any kind of organized institution. This is the reason it is not possible to give a description of the religious behavior and systematic endeavors of those who identify themselves with that movement. On the whole, they have not gotten in practice, though they may have gotten in theory, far beyond the situation in which the centrist group finds itself. But that is a condition which time will, no doubt, correct. There can be no question that those who associate themselves with the Conservative movement, or are associated with it in the minds of others, divide themselves into three distinct groups, of which the foregoing is an attempt to describe in terms of philosophy and programs. Here and there an error may have crept in unintentionally, but on the whole it seems to be a fair and objective description. The question before us is: are we willing to accept these differences among us and to live with them by resolving with the aid of the democratic process all conflicts to which they give rise? Or do we prefer to go on assuming that it is possible for the Conservative movement to evolve some monolithic type of thought and practice? We of the Reconstructionist wing submit the suggestion that such an assumption will do neither us nor Jewish life as a whole any good. It will only stymie our efforts and render us uncreative and spiritually sterile in the future as it did in the past. Driven underground, our differences will only cancel out one another, leaving us completely neutralized. Brought to the surface and granted the normal interchange in the free market of ideas and ideals, our differences will render us partners in the great adventure which all of us who have anything to contribute to the revitalization of Jewish life should be permitted to share.

Introducing Confirmation at SAJ and Kaplan on His Crying M onday , M ay  26, 1947 I don’t recall whether I have ever recorded in this journal how we came to have confirmation exercises in the SAJ. Originally I was strongly opposed to the ceremony of confirmation, because it is so clearly a borrowing [from] Christian religion. I tried for a long time to counteract the temptation to introduce it by holding on Shevuot some kind of exercises for the children of the religious school. Once on a Shevuot

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morning about seven years ago (1940), I happened to meet Jacob Levy, one of our members, as he was about to enter {52} the Temple on W. 91st St. He felt apologetic about absenting himself from our services and explained that a friend of his was having his child confirmed that day in the Temple. “Besides,” he added, “I think we ought to have confirmation. It would bring the people to our services.” That remark struck home, particularly when I got to the SAJ services that morning and noted the thinness of the attendance, which was, no doubt, due to the fact that many of our people were attending services where confirmation exercises were taking place. Thereupon I resolved to propose to the Board that we accept the confirmation ceremony and work out a two-­year study course which would be a requirement for those who are to participate in it. The Board adopted my suggestion, and we held the first exercises in 1942. With Ira in charge of the course, I had no misgivings as to the success. Since then, those exercises have been the stimulus for the three cantatas which Judith and Ira have written and which have themselves become a worthwhile cultural asset. Yesterday the confirmants presented the script of [Morton] Wishengrad,32 given a few months ago on the Eternal Light program, based on the legend of Rabbi Yitzhak Leib of Berditchev.33 Judith directed the presentation. It was breathtaking in the beauty of the performance. Knowing all too well my complete inability to withhold my tears, which begin to flow at the merest suggestion of human suffering and tragedy, I went to services with half a dozen handkerchiefs. Four of them were drenched with tears by the time the presentation was over. I often wonder why it is I cannot control my tear glands the way most other people do. Is it because of physical weakness or emotional power? I am inclined to suspect the latter to be the case. It does not take much to put me into a dither of fear or anger. The same is true of the sense of pity and distress over human woes. I feel in such moments as though I was literally swept off my feet by a powerful gust and am rendered completely helpless.

A Chance Conversation with Abraham J. Heschel J une  9, 1947 As I was entering the Seminary building last Sunday, I met Heschel. He invited me to his new study on the sixth floor. There I got to talking with him about Hasidim—­he is working up a new collection of Hasidic literature; the one he had in Europe has been destroyed. He seemed to be intrigued by my comment that Hasidism was in a large measure a reaction against the new trend

32. Morton Wishengrad (1913–­1963) was a playwright and script writer for the JTS program Eternal Light. 33. Rabbi Y. L. of Berditchev (1740–­1809) was a well-­known eighteenth-­century Hasidic leader.


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toward the Westernization of Judaism. I believe that in addition to Hasidism’s being an attempt to become reconciled to Galut [exile], its contribution consists in the producing [of] unique personalities of a religio-­ethical type.

Pressure on Kaplan to Head University of Judaism J uly  23, 1947 Last week I received a letter from Finkelstein that Moshe Davis would come to Hunter [New York] to discuss with me the situation in Los Angeles, which has grown quite complicated. Davis came to see me last Monday and spent all afternoon here. He brought with him a dossier of the correspondence between Finkelstein, [Samuel] Dinin, and [Joel] Geffen (one of the fieldworkers under [Max] Arzt). From that correspondence, I gathered that both the Reform and the Orthodox groups are making difficulties by threatening to establish similar schools of their own. Davis then told me that the inner council—­Finkelstein, Greenberg, Arzt, and Davis—­had come to the conclusion that unless the Seminary sent some outstanding person to the LA community to head the undertaking, the whole plan would fall through. They had asked Salo Baron [and] Abraham Halkin to go there for a year. But every one of them found some excuse for refusing. They now turn to me as their last hope. I had not counted on such an invitation and have been preparing myself to [renew] teaching at the Seminary, where at present the students are receiving no instruction that might in any way orient them to their function as rabbis. It seems to me far more important to help train the 70 students we have here than to let myself in for an undertaking that would draw me into a vortex of controversy with the Reform and Orthodox elements of the LA community, to say nothing of the fact that I now question the possibility of making headway with the project itself when it encounters such opposition. On the other hand, if the Seminary were willing to go into partnership with all the elements of the Community, including the Reform, the foundation for genuine and creative communal unity would be laid in this country. Under these circumstances I might have been willing to forego the peace of staying at home and accept the invitation to launch the undertaking in LA. The foregoing is how I put the matter to Davis, and he seemed convinced that I was right. He agreed that the situation in LA presented a unique {60} opportunity to make a move that might decide the fate of American Jewry in assuring it a future. Believing that Davis had considerable influence with Finkelstein, I had reason to think that he might get F. [Finkelstein] to accept my proposition. Next day (Tuesday) Geffen called me up on the phone and reported to me the result of the discussion he had had with Greenberg and Davis. They could

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not accept my proposition. In arguing with me, he referred to the unworkability of the U.N. to prove that a joint administration of the University would likewise be unworkable. My reply was that the U.N. will ultimately have to prove workable or mankind faces annihilation. Likewise, if the various groups in American Jewry cannot unite on an academic level, there is no future for American Judaism. We left it at that.

University of Judaism a Seminary Enterprise Exclusively F riday , A ugust  15, 1947 After Finkelstein came to LA, he reported to Moshe Davis that the University of Judaism would never get started there if he were to try to make of it a cooperative enterprise in conjunction with the Reform and Orthodox groups. There was no alternative to the original approach—­that of having the Seminary operate it and welcome the other elements to cooperate and avail themselves of the opportunity the University would offer to strengthen our educational and cultural efforts. The message was transmitted to me last week by Davis together with the request that I agree to come to LA to deliver a series of lectures as part of a postgraduate curriculum for teachers, rabbis, and social workers. I felt that I could not afford to turn down his request . . . I am too much committed to the idea of the University of Judaism to permit the fact that the institution as planned in LA falls far short of what it ought to be to prevent me from taking an active part in translating that idea into reality. The enclosed letter of Aug. 12 from F. [Finkelstein] I received today.

Political Tension over the Mandate: Kaplan on Jewish Terrorists S aturday , S eptember  27, 1947 It may well be that the future of the Jewish people is now being weighed in the discussions over the United Nations Committee on Palestine. The statement made by [Arthur Creech] Jones34 for the British government, like everything the British say, is ambiguous, in spite of the apparently solemn declaration of their eagerness to surrender the mandate and to get out of Palestine. The Arabs will present their case Monday, and the Jews, Tuesday. Each side will repeat for the thousandth time what it has been saying for the last thirty years. All that is byplay. The fear of Russia and the Arab oil have apparently knocked the underpinnings from whatever assistance the U.S. might have rendered our people in this decisive hour.

34. Arthur Creech Jones (1891–­1964) was a British official who served in the Colonial Office.


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In the midst of this terrible state of suspense, our wild men—­the Irgun and Stern35 gangsters—­are continuing their irresponsible campaign of murder and robbery, acting with the same abandon and ruthlessness as that which marked the Sicarii,36 who perhaps more than any others were responsible for the destruction of our Second Commonwealth. Only yesterday they killed four British policemen in the course of a bank robbery in Tel Aviv. They use that money to pay the youngsters—­mostly Yemenite boys and girls—­for the acts of sabotage and murder which they are hired to carry out. These youngsters are poor, ignorant, and superstitious and haven’t the least conception of the magnitude and consequences of the crimes they are paid to commit. I was so wrought up when I read last night of their dastardly deed that I called up Joseph Proskauer,37 the president of the American Jewish Committee, and suggested to him that he issue a call to the rabbinate in this country to decree a fast day in protest against the violence of the Irgunists and Sternists. He replied that he felt as sharply as I did but that he could not take any such action without the consent of Arthur Louria, the secretary of the Jewish Agency. I immediately called Louria. He could not take it upon himself to give me a definite answer, but he promised to discuss my suggestion with [Moshe] Shertok.38 Tonight he called me to tell me what [Shertok] had to say about it. According to Shertok, it would [be] dangerous to issue such a call to the rabbinate, because many of them are in sympathy with and work for those groups. Moreover, the political situation has worsened during the last few days. Both Truman and Marshall are holding out against us. Nothing, therefore, should be done that might divert attention from the main issue. Of course I am not going to do anything further about the matter, after having gotten this information.

U.N. Passes the Partition Plan S aturday , N ovember  29, 1947 U.N. It is a long time, indeed, since we Jews have had occasion as we do tonight to sing: la’yehudim ha’yitah orah ve’sasson ve’simcha ve’kar [Heb., For

35. The Irgun and Stern were paramilitary organizations formed in the 1940s and dedicated to the principle that it was only through violence that the Jewish state could be established. Irgun was the military arm of the Yishuv. 36. Sicarii was a terrorist group of the first century dedicated to driving the Romans out of Palestine by killing Roman officials. Sicarii means “daggers.” 37. Joseph Proskauer (1877–­1971) was an American lawyer, judge, philanthropist, and political activist. 38. Moshe Shertok (Sharett; 1894–­1965) was a Zionist political figure who served as foreign minister in the first provisional government in 1947 and as prime minister in 1954–­55.

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the Jews it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honor (Esther 8:16)].39 At 5:25 this evening, the U.N. finally adopted the partition plan by a vote of 33 to 13. Baruch atah adonai she’heheyanu ve’keyamanu, ve’higianu la’zman ha’zeh [Heb., Blessed art Thou oh Lord Our God who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this time]. Considering the dreadful finality that an adverse vote might have had, in that it would have put an end to all our hopes of resuming life as a nation in our homeland and would have rendered futile all efforts to keep Judaism alive in the diaspora, we should thank God in the benediction of the gomel prayer [prayer for deliverance].

The Future of the American Jew: Kaplan Gets His Copy T hursday , D ecember  25, 1947 Yesterday I received an unbound copy of my new book The Future of the American Jew. It doesn’t look as bad as I was afraid it would, because I couldn’t get Macmillans to let me see beforehand the kind of paper they were going to use. ***** As is natural, I suppose, I am afraid to read any part of the book for fear I might come upon mistakes.

Kaplan to Teach a Course in Jewish Mysticism at the University of Judaism T uesday , J anuary  13, 1947 Simon Greenberg called up to find out what courses I expected to give on the West Coast. I told him that I would give a course in Midrash, Ber. Rabba, and in Mysticism based on Scholem’s book.40

39. Kaplan often quoted verses from the Scriptures from memory. In this case, he misquoted the verse in that he reversed the words of the original. I have kept his Hebrew text but corrected it in the English. This verse is used in the Havdalah service at the end of Shabbat, so Kaplan’s misquote is all the more surprising. 40. Scholem’s book here, of course, is Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (Jerusalem: Schocken, 1941 [and many other editions]). Kaplan happened to see Schocken when the book came out, asked to borrow his copy, and read it with great interest. He was particularly struck by the fact that the infinite or ein sof was not a person, similar to his own concept of God.


October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948

The Rich Can Sometimes Be Cheap J anuary  17, 1948 Apropos of F. [Finkelstein]’s remark that rich men make it a principle not to touch their capital, Simon Greenberg told the story about the old [Julius] Rosenwald of Chicago.41 He was making out his will. There was a question of about two million dollars that had to be disposed of. The lawyer suggested that he telephone to Lessing [Rosenwald] or some other members of the family to get some advice. Getting Rosenwald’s consent, the lawyer was about to call up Philadelphia; Rosenwald then asked him to wait till the evening, when he would be charged only night rates.

Alexander Altmann J anuary  17, 1948 Have just had a visit from M. Altmann of London, brother of Alexander Altmann42 of Manchester. He is very eager to help his brother come to this country and is even ready to pay for his expenses, if the Seminary would be willing to invite him to lecture on the West Coast as part of its University of Judaism project. That might lead to his receiving a permanent appointment there. {88} I, on the other hand, tried to induce Mr. M. Altmann to organize a Reconstructionist group in London. It is quite apparent that there are both Rabbis and laymen in Britain whose lives are frustrated because they lack a normal outlet for their ideas and feelings as Jews, because those ideas and feelings are out of gear with traditional Judaism.

Kaplan at the Seminary: Colleagues Still Critical T uesday , J anuary  20, 1948 In the class of Midrash A (Juniors and Seniors), I lecture on the interpretation of the Pentateuch. It is many years since I gave that course. When I did so in the past, it was during the hours in Homiletics. Before I ventured to put my interpretation under the head of Midrash, I made it a point to ask Finkelstein’s permission, pointing out that Midrash B would be in ancient Midrash text, while

41. Julius Rosenwald (1862–­1932) was a businessman, philanthropist, and founder of Sears. His son was Lessing, who funded the contest that Kaplan won, which resulted in the publication of Judaism as a Civilization. See my Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century: A Biography of Mordecai M. Kaplan (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993), for details. 42. Alexander Altmann (1906–­1987) was a well-­known Jewish scholar who became a professor at Brandeis University. Arthur Green and Eliot Wolfson were trained by Altmann and became very well known themselves. Altmann’s primary research was the life and thought of Moses Mendelssohn.

October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948


in Midrash A, I would give a modern Midrash. He could not reasonably object, and he didn’t. All that maneuvering had to be gone through in order to avert objections on the part of some of my colleagues in the Faculty to my giving the students my own views on the Pentateuch, as they objected two years ago to my giving the students my views on religion in general.

Gerson Cohen J anuary  21, 1948 I was quite taken aback by Gerson Cohen,43 the most scholarly and well read among the students {90}, when he argued that the attempt to operate with tradition is entirely misdirected. He said he agreed with [Micha Josef Berdichevsky],44 to whom Judaism was merely a fate and not a faith. Nothing that happened or didn’t happen in the past matters. What counts is the fact that we are Jews and have to make the best of our situation as Jews.

Kaplan and Homiletics at Jewish Theological Seminary M onday , F ebruary  9, 1948 Last Saturday night, Moshe Davis came to see me. He told me that the Executive Committee of the Seminary Board had voted to give me the professorship of the philosophies of religion and S. Greenberg the professorship of homiletics. I was never happy in my occupancy of that chair. In the first place, I was [never] in a position to exploit even a tenth of its potentialities. I should have had at least two men to assist me in the course [on homiletics], one to teach the men to write and the other to supervise their practice preaching and speaking. Secondly, the tradition of having the men preach at the Seminary synagogue, where the audience consists of the faculty and a few stragglers, on the one hand, would extinguish in the students all enthusiasm for preaching and, on {94} the other, made each sermon an occasion for the faculty to learn in an indirect and distorted fashion the kind of ideas I would try to model in the students. Time and again the student preacher would report to me the cold [word not clear] one or another faculty member would administer to him after the services for daring to preach some religiously or socially heterodox idea. On one occasion,

43. Gerson David Cohen (1924–­1991) was a Jewish historian, a Conservative rabbi, and the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary from 1972 to 1986. Born in New York in 1924, he was especially known for ordaining the first female rabbi in Conservative Judaism in 1985. 44. Micha Josef Berdichevsky (1865–­1921) was a Russian-­born writer of Hebrew, a journalist, and a scholar. He appealed for the Jews to change their way of thinking, freeing themselves from dogmas ruling the Jewish religion, but is also known for his work with premodern Jewish myths and legends.


October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948

Finkelstein intimated at a Faculty meeting that he was going to start a holy war against me because, according to him, I was responsible for the lack of a religious message in the services that the students preached in the synagogue. *****

Kaplan Concerned about “the New Palestine”45 F ebruary  9, 1948 ***** The news from Palestine is becoming daily more frightening, and the attitude of our Government in Washington is apparently contributing to the self-­ assurance with which the Arabs are preparing to destroy, as soon as the British leave the country, everything that we Jews have built up during the last half-­century.

Is Ethical Teaching of Judaism Superior to Other Religions? T uesday , F ebruary  10, 1948 In class today (Seniors in Midrash A, which is my interpretation of the Pentateuch) I lectured on Gen. 19 [the story of Sodom and Gomorrah]. [Benson] Skoff,46 who apparently was influenced by the significance of the story as I interpreted it, put the question which seems to agitate many of the students: Is it not true that the ethical teaching of Judaism is superior to that of the other religions or civilizations? Why then should we not stress the intrinsic superiority of Judaism? He put that question just before the end of the hour, and I was unable to answer it in the few minutes at my disposal. The answer, which I hope to give at the next session, calls for a complete reconstruction in our idea of loyalty. We generally assume that we are loyal to a tradition because of what it teaches. The fact is, we are loyal to the people which has evolved the tradition. Moreover, the main ground for our loyalty to the people is not what it had achieved but what we hope it will achieve in the

45. Editor’s note: I have been reading the diary for a long time (about forty years at this point), and it is clear that though Kaplan rarely comments on the news, he is concerned on many levels. Thus he did not write much in those days when Israel was coming into being, but he certainly was concerned as a Jew and as a committed Zionist. 46. Benson Skoff (1923–­2014), ordained JTS, was a lecturer in classical languages at the University of Texas. He was rabbi of Brith Shalom Kenesth Israel in Richmond Heights, Missouri, for thirty-­one years.

October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948


future. What it has achieved is no longer its exclusive possession. If it has intrinsic merit, it is certain to be appropriated by all who are in search of inspirational or directive values. But what it is in a position to achieve only those who belong to it can help it achieve.

Milton Steinberg Discusses Kaplan’s Latest Book S unday , F ebruary  29, 1948 Milton Steinberg of the Park Ave. Synagogue spoke last Friday night on my book. He announced his subject in the New York Times as follows: Rabbi Milton Steinberg will speak on Dr. Mr. M. Kaplan’s latest book The Future of the American Jew, A Disciple’s Agreements and Dissents.47 While he was addressing his audience, I was sitting at home studying and making notes in complete indifference to the fact that I and my ideas were for the time being in the forefront of the consciousness of several hundred people. If when I am alive and aware that I am being discussed, I am not one whit affected one way or the other; what difference will it make to me when I am gone whether people approve or disapprove of what I have written or whether, what is more likely, [they] will ignore it altogether? Of the few people who, having heard Steinberg, gave me an account of what he said, each one stressed what interested himself most, for the standpoint of Steinberg’s attitude toward me and the Reconstructionist movement. Thus Abraham Burstein, a former graduate of the Seminary who makes his living by doing odd jobs for the Mizrahi and Orthodox rabbis, reported that he was told that Steinberg lambasted me and declared that he was getting away from Reconstructionism. On the other hand, Hannah Goldberg, Lee Frieder, and [Samuel] Sokolow reported that though he stressed the element of dissent, he paid me high tribute. From what I gather from them, it seems to me that he refuses to recognize the extent to which I emphasize the element of transcendence in my conception of God.48 The fact that I also deem it necessary to reckon with the natural factors that play a part in determining the extent and manner of the functioning

47. “A Disciple’s Agreements and Dissents” was the title of Milton Steinberg’s talk about Kaplan’s book. 48. Kaplan varied widely in his concept of God. At times he seemed to embrace naturalism in his theology; at other times he was more theistic. Steinberg spoke about God as the “soul of the universe,” so it is difficult to understand how Steinberg could refuse to recognize a transcendent concept of God. Of course, we don’t have a text but rather a secondhand report. On the matter of Kaplan’s concept of God, which includes material on Steinberg, see my The Radical American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013), especially “Kaplan and His God: An Ambivalent Relationship,” 110–­32.


October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948

of that element renders him impervious to my insistence on the transcendental affect of the divine.

Kaplan at Hebrew Union College M arch  16, 1948 Sometime in January, I received an invitation from Dr. Hiram B. Weiss, then chairman of the Board of Governors of Hebrew Union College, to take part in a symposium on “The Future of Torah in America,” which would be held this month in connection with the inauguration {99} of Nelson Glueck49 as the fourth president of the College. The subject intrigued me at once, and I accepted the invitation. The fact that Lena had been invited to come along with me was an added inducement. Immediately after my acceptance, I received a letter of acknowledgment from Rabbi Bertram W. Korn,50 the Director of Inauguration Activities, which gave a few particulars about the symposium, but none that were important. It was many weeks later that I learned that the other two participants were to be Dr. Samuel S. Cohon,51 Prof. of Jewish Theology at the Hebrew Union College, and Dr. Abraham Neuman, President of Dropsie52—­ the latter a Seminary graduate and a former student of mine. I did not find any difficulty in preparing the paper for the occasion. I am not yet satisfied with the whole of it, and I expect to polish up some of the paragraphs in it before giving it to the printer. I cannot say that I am wildly enthusiastic about it. The idea which I try to express in it deserves far more elaboration and illustration than I could possibly give to it in the limited space of an article, and it seems rather cramped within that space. The day or two before we were to leave for Cincinnati, I caught cold, and I was debating with myself whether or not I should give in to myself and stay home. The fact that I had sent in the paper I had prepared would place me above being suspected of failing to appear for lack of a paper. But the sense of duty got the better of me, and we made the trip, although I suffered considerably the entire time I was away, and even now I still feel the aftereffects of the cold.

49. Nelson Glueck (1900–­1971) was an American rabbi, academic, and archeologist. He served as president of Hebrew Union College from 1947 until his death and made many significant archeological discoveries. 50. Bertram Korn (1918–1979) served as chaplain during World War II and was a Reform rabbi, scholar, and author on Jews during the Civil War. 51. Samuel S. Cohon (1888–­1959), ordained HUC, was a theologian, faculty member at HUC, and author. 52. Abraham Neuman (1890–­1970), ordained JTS, was president of Dropsie College and editor of the Jewish Quarterly Review.

October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948


We got to Cincinnati Friday, March 12, at 8:30, and by 10:00 we were at the College. The symposium, which was scheduled to begin at 10:00, was about twenty minutes later. The chairman was Prof. Jacob R. Marcus.53 Each of us read his paper, which took about half an hour. There was not much time for questions from the floor. The few questions—­about three or four—­were addressed to me, but Marcus properly called upon Neuman to conclude the discussion. In his closing remarks, he took the opportunity for the second time—­the first one having been taken by him in the course of his main address—­to make some snide remarks about Reconstructionism. I was not going to let him get away with it. He tried to answer the question, which had been put to me by Rabbi Brickner, concerning the prospect of bringing the message of religion to bear upon the present world malaise by saying that what we need is not sociology of religion but for some great prophet to arise who would do for the age what Jesus did in his day. An amazing statement—­this from a man who is assumedly ultra-­Conservative! In my reply I said that we had come to discuss Torah and not prophecy. Moreover, if anything was distinctive of Judaism, it was that we have learned to rely upon the method of Torah rather than upon that of prophecy for guidance. {100} Friday night, Lena and I had dinner with the Neumans. With us they had as guests Rabbi Max Raisin54 and David Polish55 [and] Mr. and Mrs. Grossman of Detroit. From there we went to the Rockdale Ave. Temple, where the Conservative Service was held. The sermon was delivered by Joshua Loth Liebman. From there we started walking back to our hotel—­the Netherland Plaza—­a distance of over three miles, but after walking for about twenty minutes, I had to take the car. Saturday morning, a student brought the academic trappings to me and to Neuman, who was also stopping at the same hotel. All the other guests and participants in the inauguration services were scheduled to arrive in buses which took them from the College to the Isaac M. Wise (Plum St.) Temple, where the service was to be held. The service was very impressive, and Glueck delivered a remarkable address which reflected a deep sense of humility and responsibility as well as [an] intense feeling of love and devotion to his people in its present struggle for survival here and in Eretz Yisrael. Lena and I had lunch with the Neumans in the Frontier Room of the hotel. The chief topic of conversation between “Bram” (as Neuman is called by

53. Jacob Rader Marcus (1896–­1995) was a preeminent scholar of Jewish history and founded the American Jewish Archives. In the early 1980s, I had a fellowship at the archives and met Marcus. He greeted me warmly and said, “Out here we are all Reconstructionists.” 54. Max Raisin (1882–­1957) was a well-­known Reform rabbi and author who served in Paterson, New Jersey, at Barnert Temple. 55. David Polish (1910–­1995), a prominent Reform rabbi who served in Evanston, Illinois, was an author and president of CCAR.


October 13, 1946–­March 16, 1948

his wife and friends) and myself was Finkelstein and the tactics employed by the Seminary in fund-­raising. Neuman maintained that F. [Finkelstein] was exploiting the idea of the University of Judaism merely as a campaign slogan without any intention of carrying out the basic purposes I associated with that concept. I must admit that there is a good deal of truth to what he said and that what he is making of Dropsie College falls far more in line with that concept than what F. is making of the Seminary. Neuman was not the only one who gave me an earful about alleged charlatanry of F. It is quite evident that F.’s reputation for integrity and forthrightness has so far not reached anyone I have ever met. Saturday night, the Inauguration Banquet was held. Like the two preceding occasions, it was participated in by vast numbers and equally impressive. Here again Glueck carried off the honors by dint of the sincerity and aptness of his closing remarks. He stressed the fact that he was deeply rooted in the spiritual life here and in Palestine. “I am a son of Cincinnati and I am a son of Jerusalem,” he said. It takes considerable courage for a man as head of Hebrew Union College to state his position in those terms. Compare his attitude with that of Finkelstein on the question of Zionism (see above p. 96 [in the original diary]). Sunday afternoon I spent at the dormitory reception room discussing Reconstructionism with about fifteen or twenty students who were able to be present. Of late, Reconstructionism {101} has had less of a following among the students than in previous years. The students whom I asked to explain the change said that it was because Reconstructionism was being assailed by [Julian] Morgenstern56 and other members of the Faculty, presumably Cohon. The word has gone around that Reconstructionism is “atheism with a yarmulke.”

56. Julian Morgenstern (1871–­1976), Reform rabbi and scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures, was president of Hebrew Union College from 1921 to 1947.

10 March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950

Kaplan Sees New York Times Publisher about “Palestine” W ednesday , M arch  17, 1948 About two weeks ago, I received a letter from Sol A. Dann of Detroit in which he urged me to see Arthur Sulzberger of the New York Times for the purpose of getting him to use the influence of his paper in behalf of the Jewish interest in Palestine. Dann referred to the editorial in the Reconstructionist in which we appealed to American Jews like [Bernard] Baruch1 and [David] Lilienthal,2 who had rendered our country high service to use their good offices in the present emergency in Palestine, and asked me to exert myself as well by going to see Sulzberger. He had written a letter to Sulzberger suggesting a possible visit from me and Dr. [Benjamin] Akzin3 of the Zionist Emergency Council. I hated like the deuce to go to see Sulzberger, but when the latter replied to Dann that he would be glad to see Akzin and me, I could not very well back out. I got to Akzin’s office yesterday at 3:00. We outlined our talk with Sulz­ berger. We got to him at 3:30. The interview lasted an hour and worked out exactly as we had expected. Akzin apparently is experienced in that kind of interview and knows beforehand what a man like Sulzberger is likely to say. As A. prognosticated, most of the talking was done by Sulzberger, who tried to vindicate his philosophy of Judaism and his understanding of Zionism. He read excerpts from a statement he had drawn up in 1937 after a visit to Palestine. That statement is as full of non sequiturs as an adolescent’s face of pimples. But neither Akzin

1. Bernard Baruch (1870–­1965) was a financier, stock investor, philanthropist, and advisor to Woodrow Wilson and FDR. 2. David Lilienthal (1899–­1981) was a public administrator and head of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Atomic Energy Commission. 3. Benjamin Akzin (1904–­1985) was a Zionist activist and later Israeli professor of law.



March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950

nor I deemed it wise to enter into an ideological discussion with Sulzberger. Akzin succeeded, however, in persuading him to put a member of his staff to look into the question of the American oil interests in the Near East to find out whether there is any truth in the allegation that the U.S. must court Arab favor because of its dependence on the Near East oil.

The Essence of Religion M arch  28, 1948 In my own treatment of the subject, I struck a new note by identifying religion with morale. What morale is to the soldier and civilian in time of war, that religion is to all of us in our everyday struggle against the evils in physical nature and in human nature. Religion is the morale in living, which is inspired by a people or church that claims transcendent sanction for its own existence and its civilization or way of life and that promises to help those who belong to it to achieve {104} salvation. The morale or religion shows itself in the will to be and do our best and to bear the worst that can befall us.

Passover and Self-Emancipation A pril  27, 1948 I preached the Second Day Pesach (last Sunday) on “The Meaning of Self-­Emancipation.” I defined self-­emancipation as the coincidence of the freedom to exist with the freedom to belong and applied it to the struggle in EY [Eretz Yisrael—­the Land of Israel], where it has produced a heroic type of Jew who can create and fight against the most cruel odds. I pleaded that we in America also emancipate ourselves and not be deterred by the anti-­Semitism to which what was happening in EY might and probably would give rise.

A New Jewish State M ay  14, 1948 In fifteen minutes from now, a new Jewish state will officially come into being. The mental and physical agonies of birth are beyond those suffered by any people known to history. May God grant that it will not be stillborn.4 U’moldotayikh b’yom huledet o’takh . . . [Heb., As for your birth, (when) you were

4. Kaplan very movingly quotes in Hebrew the three full verses from Ezekiel where the prophet speaks of the travails of the birth of the people Israel. In this allegory, God sees Israel as a baby in a field and extends the hand of life. The chapter in Ezekiel goes on to detail Israel’s sinfulness as a grown woman, but in the beginning, Kaplan and the prophet focus on the birth and God’s concern.

March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950


born your navel cord was not cut, and you were not bathed in water to smooth you; you were not rubbed with salt nor were you swaddled. No one pitied you enough to do any of these things for you out of compassion for you; on the day you were born, you were left lying rejected, in the open field. When I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood. Yea, I said to you; “Live in spite of your blood.” (Ezek. 16:4–­6)].5 No words of my own could possibly express any better the feelings that storm in my heart at this moment. Their full force—­it is zero hour at this exact moment—­is brought out in the poet’s translation. Even the verse which precedes them has significance for me. Ah’vekha ha’emori ve’emaych hitit [Heb., Your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite . . .]. The new state has been parented by the U.N. with the U.S. as its father, and the Soviet Republic as its mother is sent forth by them into the world as a castaway, but God will say to this state as he said to the one of old, be’dameych hayi [Heb., Live despite your blood]. This is 5:30 p.m. Judith and Ira [Eisenstein] just phoned telling me Truman issued a statement at 6:01 p.m. (New York time) recognizing the Jewish state. It is simply impossible for me to describe how I feel at this moment. Again and Again. Baruch she’heheyanu ve’keyemanu la’ zman ha’zeh [Heb., Blessed (are you o Lord) who has kept us alive and sustained us to this time].

Truman Recognizes Israel M ay  17, 1948 ***** S unday , M ay  17, 1948 Friday at 5:20, Judy and Ira phoned a mazal tov [Heb., (what) good luck] on the news of Truman’s recognition of the State of Israel.

Kaplan Teaching Midrash in Los Angeles6 T hursday , M ay  20, 1948 Am enjoying giving the courses in Midrash and Philosophies of Religion because I get a new insight into the subject matter each time I teach it. The members of the class who had never taken any work with me—­the HUC [Hebrew Union College] men particularly—­find it hard to accept the idea of

5. Translation from JPS-­Hebrew English Tanakh (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1999). 6. Kaplan was teaching at the newly founded University of Judaism in Los Angeles.


March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950

salvation rather than the idea of God as central to religion. They regard that approach as humanism, against which they have been conditioned at the HUC. Last Tuesday (May 18), I gave my second lecture of the series. The subject was “The Meaning of Peoplehood.” The attendance was good despite the competition of [the] Rubenstein concert, for which many people had bought tickets beforehand.

Religion Helps Us to Be Fully Human T hursday , M ay  27, 1948 The lecture on “The Place of Religion in Human Life,” the third in the series of public lectures, worked out very well. It helped me clarify in my own mind the conception of religion as that which impels man to use his ever-­ increasing fervor for ends that would make him fully human. While I was writing out the outline, I still thought of religion as a means of getting man to transcend himself, to evolve into some superman type (not necessarily Nietzschean). In the course of typing out my outline, Lena commented that what I had to say about religion sounded abstract and unrealistic. When I took my morning walk and reviewed the outline in my mind, it occurred to me that the point about religion would sound much more concrete and realistic if I suggested that its function is to help man become fully human. This enabled me to stress the idea that {120} we only delude ourselves if we assume that man in his present state has already achieved humanity.

A Disappointing Evening J une  3, 1948 Tonight I have to attend the reception to be given to me by the Board of Overseers of the West Coast University of Judaism (later I realized that it was the Community Council Committee on Education). . . . It is ten o’clock at night. I’ve just come from the so-­called reception. I was very much disappointed in the gathering. It consisted of a handful of simple and uninfluential people including Jacob Kohn and his wife . . . I recited my little piece as though I took them seriously. It was pretty good acting on my part. But the aftereffect is anything but pleasant. When Lena and I came out of the Garden Restaurant where the dinner had taken place, she said that she was as mad as hell that I should have put in such effort into the preparation of the talk to a group of people who were ineffective. I have seldom seen her so disgusted with any of the affairs we attended. I certainly don’t blame her for feeling that way. I felt that way myself, but having somewhat expected it, since I knew [Samuel] Dinin to be the organizer of the affair, I was able to accept the situation more calmly.

March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950


Kaplan Meets One of the “Hollywood Ten” S unday , J une  6, 1948 Friday night, Samuel [Ornitz]7 and his wife visited with us. He is a writer and she is a lecturer. He is at present under indictment for contempt in refusing to answer questions put to him by the Committee on Un-­American Activities. Devorah Berman called me up last week to ask me whether I would object to having him come to see me. She said he did not want to ask me personally for fear he might embarrass me if I did not care to see him. I told her that I would be most happy to see him; I became acquainted with him last year and was very favorably impressed by the part he took in helping Devorah to arrange the meeting which [Simon] Greenberg and I addressed. I saw then that he was eager to reintegrate himself into Jewish life. {124} Lena and I enjoyed the company of the Ornitzes. As a professional writer, his description of people is very vivid.

Death of Joshua Loth Liebman J une  11, 1948 Joshua Liebman’s sudden death last Wednesday came on as a terrible shock. I was extremely fond of him. I looked forward to his ultimately becoming a pillar of strength in Reconstructionism. His loss to Jewish life and to me personally is irreplaceable. Tav, Nun, Tzadie, Bet Hay [Heb., May his soul be bound up with the bundle of life].8

Dinner Out at the Coconut Grove9 J une  24, 1948 The food was excellent, but the conversation was boring.

Julius and Mollie Fligelman Have the Kaplans to Dinner W ednesday , J une  30, 1948 Last night we had dinner with Julius and Mollie Fligelman. For once our hosts had invited us to discuss seriously what could be done in LA

7. Samuel Ornitz (1890–­ 1957) was a novelist and screenwriter blacklisted by the House Un-­American Activities Committee. He was one of the “Hollywood Ten” who defied the committee. 8. Kaplan wrote only the Hebrew letters here for the traditional formula. 9. A few local rabbis, a cantor, their wives, and a few friends took the Kaplans to dinner. Kaplan’s other comments on the evening have been omitted.


March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950

to further Reconstructionism. As Julius remarked, the conversation we had last night should have been held immediately after I got here. But unfortunately, as chairman of the local Welfare drive, having to raise ten million dollars, he has been working entirely too hard to pay much attention to the Rec. movement, despite the fact that he owes to it whatever interest he has in Jews and Judaism. In addition, he and his wife are preoccupied with the Brandeis camp, where they expect to establish an art center. That very purpose is one to which he admits he was inspired by Rec. We canvassed the possibilities of getting funds for the movement. The main difficulty which has to be surmounted is how to get our people, who are spiritually quite unimaginative, to envisage the good which the movement might accomplish. In my talk, which I expect to give tonight at the gathering which is to take place at the Fligelman home, I shall refer to the specific outcomes of the Rec. approach as being the following: the center, the community, the Univ. of Judaism, the camp as an educational agency, and the fostering of the arts. More important even than these institutions are personalities. The Fligelmans themselves are, as Jewish personalities, the product of Rec. If we want more of that type than we do of the kind who, when approached for a contribution for the Welfare fund, has to be won over by being told by those who call on them that they, too, are not interested in the synagogue, then we have to strengthen the Rec. movement. Mollie took us in her car to her home about 7:00 and brought us back at 12:00 midnight. On the return trip, we spoke of the way Dinin had bungled the affair, which was originally to have been a public dinner to be given to me, and of poor leadership material. She characterized him as very limited in his imaginative grasp, dry in his manner of [exposition], and generally an inefficient pedagogue.

Kaplan Leaves LA for Salt Lake City—­Concerned about Shabbat J uly  3, 1948 We took the “Pony Express”10 to Salt Lake City. We got in on Friday at 4:45 p.m. and went to the Utah Hotel, where we are now staying. We had dinner with the local rabbi of the Orthodox Congregation, Rabbi Cardin. We managed to get through in time to be back in our hotel before sundown.

10. Pony Express was apparently the name of the train from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City.

March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950


Plan for His Next Book—­Soterics11 J uly  22, 1948 I am working on what I believe to be the final outline12 into which I expect to cast my ideas on Soterics. In that outline, the problem of salvation is integrated into the problem of reconstructing civilization and having both serve as the two aspects of the problem of having man become fully human. The third chapter in that outline is to deal with the category of reason as the initial one in the process of demonstrating how each of the categories in the division of wisdom and spirit is to be incorporated in all the other categories. I am therefore engaged at present in analyzing the meaning of reason and noting its operation in my own thinking and psychic reactions. This naturally leads to my being more than usually introspective. Thus I was trying to study the effect of applying reason {138} to the two experiences of frustration I had last Friday. The first was losing a dime through sheer carelessness, and the other was receiving the letter from Miss Feingold13 [that] set forth the details of the prize contest in which I came out a loser.14 The first experience, while it did not last long, was emotionally quite upsetting at the time. I studied myself in the effort to use reason to dispel the sense of frustration. The second was, if emotions could be measured, hardly more upsetting at the moment than the first. The fact about the second experience is that it virtually elicits the same sense of disappointment every time it is recalled, and it will be recalled over a long period. Each time I recall it, I try to apply the curative balm of reason and watch it work—­a fine indoor sport.

11. Soterics was the name Kaplan gave to his system. Soter is from the Greek, meaning “to save,” and he added “-­ics” because it was to be a science of salvation like physics. 12. Kaplan planned a book on Soterics. He finished it and submitted it to Macmillan, but it was rejected and never published. In the 1950s, he had the book translated into Hebrew. The whereabouts of this manuscript have been a problem. The book was published as Ha’emunah ve’hamusar [Heb., Faith and Ethics] in Israel by Ruben Mass Inc. The Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood is supporting the retranslation of this work back into English, and hopefully it will be published by the JPS. I believe it is outstanding work, intellectually provocative and spiritually inspiring. A manuscript was recently found at the RRC that we believe to be one version of the original manuscript. Tzemach Yoreh of New York City is working on the translation. 13. Jessica Feingold (1910–2003) was secretary to Louis Finkelstein and chancellor of JTS. 14. There was a contest at JTS in the Institute on Religion and Social Affairs. Kaplan and Eisenstein submitted a manuscript entitled “Education for Group Equality.” Kaplan did not win the prize, which would have meant publication of the manuscript. See the original diary for July 22, 1948.


March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950

My Splendid Mediocrity T hursday , A ugust  19, 1948 What have I been doing all these weeks? Thank God, my health has been good, and I have been able to work uninterruptedly during the last few weeks that I’ve been here at Hunter.15 If I had only my personal well-­being to consider, I would say that I am having as peaceful and serene a life as one has a right to expect. I am reaping to the full the benefits of my splendid mediocrity. The main benefit is the sheltered existence which I enjoy. I have carved that kind of existence, because I have been taking a course in life which affords just enough adventure to engage but not to exceed my limited abilities and courage. Of course I have had my disappointments and frustrations, but I am so appreciative of the many good things in life which I do have that I manage to take those disappointments and frustrations in my stride. I started out with the idea of [noting] what I have been doing and instead allowed myself {139} to become introspective. I confess this is getting to be boring even to myself. I shall therefore proceed with what I began.

Kaplan’s Summer Reading A ugust  19, 1948 The following are the books I have read since I left Los Angeles on July 1: {140} The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer; That Winter by Merle Miller; The Middle of the Journey by Lionel Trilling; part of Emotional Problems of Living by English and Pearman; Torat ha-­Neviim [Heb., The Ideology of the Prophets]16 by M. Buber; How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Car­ negie; Heros I Have Known by May [Easliva] [?]; Deep Analysis by Charles Berg.

15. Kaplan is referring here to Hunter, New York, where he sometimes went during the summer. Hunter is near Woodstock, where the Eisensteins also lived for a time. In an earlier period, there was a grand hotel in Hunter where Solomon Schechter used to summer. There is a famous photo in my biography of Kaplan, Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century: A Biography of Mordecai M. Kaplan (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993), 109, of Schechter meeting Kaplan on a train platform, which I assume was at Tannersville, near Hunter. 16. This was published by Mosad Bialik in 1942.

March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950


Lena Kaplan, Ann Eisenstein, Miriam Eisenstein, Daniel Musher, Mordecai Kaplan, and Hadassah Musher, Hunter, New York, 1947. (Courtesy David Musher)

On “Random Thoughts”17 A ugust  19, 1948 In the course of reading and note-­taking, I have been jotting down “Random Thoughts.” I keep on writing them for the future issues of the Reconstructionist magazine, though I am completely in the dark whether they have any real merit and should be kept up by me. The fact is that they are the only things I really enjoy writing. When I try to fish for an opinion about them from some of my uncritical friends, I naturally discount the high praise they accord them. On the other hand, my critical friends have a tendency to say the “Random Thoughts” are not as good as they used to be. That, too, I cannot rely on, because I am quite convinced that the ideas per se and the style in which they are expressed are as good as those of the first year. I have, therefore, no way of gauging the value or merit of the undertaking as a whole. The only genuine good 17. Kaplan wrote a column for the Reconstructionist that he called “Random Thoughts,” which consisted of epigrams on a variety of subjects. In the 1960s, he collected and organized these epigrams into a book called Not So Random Thoughts (New York: Reconstructionist Press, 1966). The title comes from my colleague Professor Emanuel Goldsmith, who was working with Kaplan at the time.


March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950

accomplished by my writing them is that they help Eugene Kohn in the layout of the contents of each number of the magazine, in that they enable him to solve the problem of spacing the material. He used up just as many of the “Random Thoughts” he needs to fill in the space left by the article material on hand.

Kaplan Reflects on His Life and Is Critical of Ira Eisenstein S aturday , A ugust  28, 1948 My days do anything but creep along. They seem to fly by like the telegraph poles when you sit in a fast-­moving express. Some days I put in as much as nine or ten solid hours of work; other days I dawdle away the time. Whenever I do the latter, I feel rather depressed. Does that mean that when I do work, it is because I want to escape something that is subconsciously annoying me? I don’t think that is quite true. The fact is that I really enjoy my work and hate to be interrupted by social amenities. I would be happy to work much harder if I had anyone collaborate with me or at least sufficiently interested in what I am working on to discuss it with me. I find my solitariness at times quite unendurable. The people in my own immediate circle who would kill themselves to read The Naked and the Dead would no more think of reading The Future of the American Jew than a book on Chinese astrology. I don’t think that any one of my four daughters, God bless them, to whom I have dedicated the book, have read as much as ten pages of the book. How else can I feel than, as the prophet put it, lo’reek ya’gahti le’tohu ve’hevel ko’khi khiliti [Heb., I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for empty breath (Isa. 49:4)].18 In all the weeks that Ira is here, he never once engages with me in a “bull session” or discusses a problem which is or should be of profound interest to both of us. I must admit that every time he conducts the service—­which lasts from about 30 to 35 minutes Saturday mornings—­I wish I were a thousand miles away. If I were not afraid that my walking into the local synagogue {141}, which is conducted in strictly Orthodox fashion, would cause a scene, I would have preferred by far to attend services there to hearing Ira read the service. I am sure there can be nothing subconsciously responsible for this resentment his manner arouses in me. I cannot discover the slightest scintilla of Yirat shamayim [Heb., fear of heaven] in him.19 That hurts me to the deep. He is so good; he is so understanding. Why should he be so devoid of cosmic sentiment or so afraid to express it, if he actually has it?

18. When Kaplan quotes a biblical verse, he does not ordinarily give the source. The source has been supplied by the editor. 19. The Hebrew expression ordinarily refers to faith in God. Kaplan’s outburst here is unusual. Ira Eisenstein was his most faithful disciple over a long period of time, and Kaplan appreciated his efforts deeply. It is true that Eisenstein was more naturalistic in his religious belief than Kaplan.

March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950


Kaplan Upset That Ira Eisenstein Does Not Want to Work with Him T uesday , A ugust  31, 1948 Although I felt I had good reason to be resentful of Ira’s failure ever to come around for the purpose of discussing or studying together, I yielded to Lena’s suggestion that we {143} go up to stay with Ira and Judith after supper. Even so, we stayed only about forty minutes. But what I learned during that short time made me very sad.

Kaplan Feeling Better F riday , S eptember  10, 1948, N ew Y ork Last Tuesday, I returned to the city after a stay in Hunter of eight and a half weeks. On the whole I was as well off physically and mentally during that time as I had a right to expect. Even my resentment of Ira’s failure to avail himself of the opportunity to work together on some common project wore off.20 Toward the end, we did get together once or twice and discussed at length the direction the Reconstructionist movement ought to take.

Eisenhower Awarded Degree from Jewish Theological Seminary M onday , S eptember  27, 1948 This afternoon I attended the special convocation at the Seminary, which took place for the purpose of awarding Gen. Dwight Eisenhower the honorary degree of Dr. of Humane Letters . . . [Eisenhower] delivered a very effective extemporaneous talk, which, in my opinion, he spoiled by concluding that he hoped that it won’t be long before the theological distinction will be the only one distinguishing one American from another. That of course means that he still operates with the outlived notion that theological distinctions are the source of different religious groupings. That notion is the chief cause of the hopeless confusion in peoples’ minds about the relation of Jews to non-­Jews, a confusion that is bound to have tragic consequences for us Jews. *****

20. For Kaplan’s feelings about Eisenstein not working with him, see the diary entry for August 28, 1948.


March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950

T uesday , S eptember  28, 1948 The exact words used by Eisenhower are given in the following quotation from this morning’s New York Times. “He asserted that theological seminaries for teaching religious doctrine were necessary, then added: ‘My own hope is that in the future development of this country, except for some such limited use as this, the day will come when in speaking of an American, there will be no reason for applying any qualitative adjective of any kind.’”

Ira Eisenstein Preaches on the Assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte O ctober  5, 1948 I preached today on “What We Mean by God.” As Lena put it jokingly, “You managed to put God across.” I must confess that I had anticipated the sermon would be a flop and come as anticlimax to the highly emotional and poetic sermon Ira delivered yesterday on “The New State of Israel.” Although I did not agree with his view that “while we do not condone we do not condemn” the murder of Bernadotte,21 I could not help admiring his use of the first few verses in Is. 63 in support of his argument. In fact, I have always regretted the presence of these verses in the Bible. It has all the beauty and the power of the Hymn of Hate,22 but it is demonic and not divine. It does not wield a humanizing influence and is therefore out of place in religious literature.

Kaplan Can’t Avoid Eating Nonkosher Food: Mixed Emotions O ctober  7, 1948 For the first time in my career, I lived up to what I have to say about the dietary practices in Judaism as a Civilization on p. 440.23 When that book appeared, that page was the pièce de résistance in the battle royal which my opponents waged against me. It afforded them material for all kind of wicked

21. Count Folke Bernadotte (1895–­1948) was a Swedish diplomat who, during World War II, negotiated the release of thirty-­one thousand prisoners from Nazi concentration camps, including many Jews. He served as a mediator in the Israeli-Arab conflict and was assassinated by militant Zionists. The verses in Isaiah 63 contain, among others, the following: “I trampled peoples with My anger, I made them drunk with my rage and I hurled their glory to the ground.” 22. This was an anti-­English poem that came out of World War I written by Ernest Lissauer. The poem is extremely nationalist. 23. On page 441 of Judaism as a Civilization: Toward the Reconstruction of American Jewish Life (New York: Macmillan, 1934) in his discussion of Kashrut as a custom or folkway, we find the statement “There need not be feeling of sin in case of occasional remissness, nor the self-­complacency which results from scrupulous observance.” Kaplan probably had this in mind.

March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950


jests. Yet at no time before today did I take advantage of the liberty I extended to my fellow Jews. The occasion of this new spurt of freedom on my part was an invitation by De Wilton of the Macmillan Co. to luncheon. When he invited me to a similar luncheon sometime before the summer, I managed to find some excuse for not accepting. This time, however, it would have [been] boorish for me to refuse a second time. I knew what I was in {155} for. Nevertheless, I made no attempt to ask him to prepare some fruit salad or fish for me. I made up my mind to eat whatever I would get, even though I would have a hard time swallowing the food. Sure enough, first came bouillon, then some chopped meat preparation. I managed to eat about half of it and to wash it down with coffee and dessert. It was an ordeal, but I went through it unscathed and the better for having had the courage to live up to my conviction on the matter.

Being Fully Human Means Taking Responsibility—­Soterics O ctober  16, 1948 I preached Wednesday [morning] my Yom Kippur sermon. The theme was: What we mean by being human. I tried to answer the question raised by my sermon on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. I preached for a full hour and succeeded in holding the interest of the people. The point made was that being human meant acting with a sense of individual {156} responsibility for the use to which one puts whatever power one possesses. That represents the latest stage in the formulation of my main thesis in Soterics. If I managed to get the idea across, it is due to the fact that I have been living with it these last few months. I only wish that I could compel myself to bring together into book form the material, both in notes and in ideas, that I have so far accumulated on the subject of Soterics. I should not complain, however, because the main thesis in Soterics has become much clearer as a result of the thinking that I have been doing even these last few months. In the meantime, I must proceed with my work on Trends in Modern Judaism (or The Making of Modern Judaism), which I expect to give as one of my courses this year at the Seminary.

Joseph Sossnitz24—­One of Kaplan’s Early Teachers O ctober  16, 1948 I recall very vividly at how great a sacrifice my parents arranged with [Joseph] Sossnitz {157} (who was then in his early sixties) to teach me Talmud

24. Joseph Sossnitz (1837–­1910) was a rabbi, scholar, and mathematician who attempted to harmonize the thought of Darwin with the Torah. Kaplan’s father hired Sossnitz because he was concerned about Kaplan’s budding heterodoxy. Perhaps unknowingly, Israel Kaplan started his son on


March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950

and read with me some of the Jewish philosophical works. The instruction at the Seminary—­with [Bernard] Drachman25 and [Samuel] Joffe as the faculty—­was entirely too inadequate, and father felt that instead of studying with me, I might benefit more from someone else. So Sossnitz was engaged to supplement my studies at the Seminary by giving me, I believe, three lessons of two hours each a week for the large sum of eight dollars per month. Father’s salary at the time amounted to eighteen dollars a week, out of which he paid thirty dollars a month for our four-­room flat on 135 Madison St. I was then sixteen years old.

Kaplan Eulogizes Judah Magnes26—­a True Saint O ctober  29, 1948 On the way to give my talk Wednesday morning, I learned the sad news of Magnes’s death. I am deeply grieved not only over his passing but also that I missed the opportunity of visiting with him since he came here just before I left for the West. Lena and I were about to call on him and his wife, when first he took sick, then she did. He was to have come to the SAJ [Society for the Advancement of Judaism] services on Yom Kippur. I thought I would see him there, but when Yom Kippur came, Magnes was in no condition to walk to the SAJ synagogue. There is no question that he was a rare person. I have never met anyone with as beautiful a soul as his, neither in life nor in literature. As I think of it, he comes very close to what a humanist Christian pictures Jesus to have been. I doubt whether there ever was such a Jesus, but I am sure there was a Magnes. If he had been more articulate, he would have ranked with Gandhi. Lacking that quality, he has left no disciples. He will always be remembered, however, as one of the few really great Jewish souls of my generation.

the road to a more naturalistic point of view. Most people think that Kaplan’s earliest influences were William James and Emile Durkheim, but it may be that Sossnitz served as a model for the teenage Kaplan before he entered Columbia University. On Sossnitz and his context, see Eliyahu Stern, Jewish Materialism: The Intellectual Revolution of the 1870s (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018). Kaplan mentions that his father hired Sossnitz to study Maimonides’s Guide with him. 25. Rabbi Bernard Drachman (1861–­1945) was a leader of Orthodox Jewry in New York City and rabbi of Park East Synagogue for forty-­five years. He translated Nineteen Letters of Ben Uzziel by Samson R. Hirsch. About his relationship to Kaplan, see my Judaism Faces the Twentieth Century. Drachman was very much an American and proud of the fact that he was born on the Fourth of July. 26. Judah L. Magnes (1877–­1948) was a prominent rabbi, leader of the New York Kehillah, rabbi at Temple Emanuel in New York City, and pacifist in World War I who emigrated to Mandatory Palestine and became president of the newly established Hebrew University. He was a long-­term acquaintance of Kaplan.

March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950


Atheists Yes; Communists No27 N ovember  19, 1948 The first question was whether atheists and communists would be admitted in to the Jewish community. I replied that atheists who wanted to be identified as Jews and to bring up their children as Jews had every right to belong to the Jewish community. On the other hand, communists[, whose] whole ideology requires the liquidation of Jewish life outside Eretz Yisrael, cannot consistently be members of such a community.

University of Judaism Encounters Problems N ovember  19, 1948 Peter Kahn told me that the University of Judaism in Los Angeles is encountering difficulty because the Reform and the Orthodox element there refuse to have anything to do with it. They point to the fact that it is merely a branch of the Seminary instead of an organ of the community, as those whom we sought to interest in the project a year ago spring were led to believe that it would be. Kahn says that the reason the Seminary authorities give for making the U. of J. into a branch of the Seminary is that the State of California refuses to charter the institution. He thinks, however, that such is not the case, and he was staying over in San Francisco to find out from some lawyer friend whether it was not possible to receive a charter. On the assumption that a charter could be obtained, I suggested that those who are at present interested in the University of J. should guarantee the Seminary a certain amount of annual support but should have the University become a communal project, which should be independent of any affiliation with any of the rabbinical schools.

Kaplan Has Lunch with Joe Levy,28 a Congregant—­Followed by a Put-­Down N ovember  24, 1948 [After lunch] On the way out from the restaurant, I remarked that I enjoyed the discussion because it gave me {171} an insight into human nature.

27. Kaplan had been speaking at a meeting and was asked the question regarding admitting atheists and communists to the Jewish community. 28. Joe Levy was a longtime member of the SAJ. He owned Crawford Clothes, a large chain of stores, and in 1938 bought the McAlpin Hotel across from Macy’s, where Kaplan’s excommunication was carried out in 1945. On the excommunication, see my The American Judaism of Mordecai M.


March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950

Again the competitive spirit impelled him to put me in my place. “All you know about human nature is from books. I know it from people. I have 8,000 people to deal with. I can tell character from the expression on their faces and even from their handwriting.” I wasn’t going to argue with him. By that time, I felt I had to go home.

Rabbi Joachim Prinz Comes to See Kaplan about His Congregation N ovember  27, 1948, 6  p . m . Dr. Joachim Prinz and Michael Stavitsky came to see me this afternoon about participating in the next annual conference (the 2nd) in their congregation B’nai Abraham in Newark, at which the various problems of the congregation are to be discussed. They feel that the time is ripe for the introduction of certain changes in ritual and ideology . . . After Prinz and Stavitsky had their say, I tried to unfold to them the possibility of converting their congregation, which numbers 1,100 families and which reaches about 5,500 people, into a community.29 That would involve reaching at least 10,000 and organizing them into a regional Kehillah for the purpose of all their religious, recreational, and educational needs. That was not what they had come to see me for.

Kaplan Feeling Serene T uesday , J anuary  25, 1949 Two hours a week, I am in a serene a mood as I could ever wish or hope to be. One of those hours is on Tuesday after I am through with my four-­period session at the Seminary, and the other is on Friday when I am through with the two-­hour session. That state of mind is probably due in the main to the tension which usually precedes the hours of instruction and which is relaxed when the instruction has succeeded in making some interesting point on the subject matter taken up in class. Added to the relaxation of the tension is the awareness of being {180} securely entrenched in the Seminary despite my deviation from the

Kaplan, ed. Emanuel S. Goldsmith, Mel Scult, and Robert Seltzer (New York: New York University Press, 1990), chapter 1. Levy had nothing to do with the excommunication, of course. In this entry, Kaplan had had lunch with Levy before the parting mentioned here. Levy, although a strong Kaplan supporter, was annoyed by Kaplan speaking from the pulpit about social action issues, particularly Kaplan’s support of unions. Needless to say, as an employer of a large number of people, Levy had ongoing trouble with unions. 29. Kaplan believed that community-­wide organization was more important than the individual synagogues that made up the community.

March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950


Conservative line of the Faculty and Rabbinical Seminary. It is good to feel that you are accepted for what you are, even if those who accept you would wish you to be otherwise. That is the case with me vis-­à-­vis most of my colleagues.

A Class Discussion Angers Kaplan and Leads to Self-­Doubts F riday , F ebruary  4, 1949 I was teaching this morning my class in Philosophies of Religion. I use with them both primary and secondary source material. At present I have them read Scholem’s book. The assignment for today was German Hasidism of the 12th and 13th centuries. I was using the information given in that chapter to make the point that Jewish religion, as the reflection of the Jewish will to live, necessarily adjusts itself to the contemporary thought world in which Jews happen to find themselves. The facts in that chapter should convince anyone but a stubborn mule that German Hasidism was the Jewish replica of the concepts of salvation and of the means of attaining it that then prevailed in German Christendom. Generalizing the implication of those facts, we arrive at the very important conclusion that the core of Judaism is the Jewish people and not some supernatural covenant between God and Israel or any similar supernatural datum. The class took a long time in getting the point. They no sooner got it, then [Samuel] Dresner,30 helped by Stern, started a running debate with me, which was more in the nature of a filibuster on their part than a debate. Dresner’s contention was that if we give up the idea of a supernatural bond between God and Israel, it is not only hopeless but criminal to urge anyone to remain a Jew and to bring up his children as Jews. We are merely inveigling them into a future which holds out nothing but a life of misery for them. This is not the first time that these men and, in the other class, Richard Rubenstein31 let loose that kind of a barrage. I must confess that I find myself so flabbergasted by the arrogance with which they rattle off a succession of unwarranted assumptions with a glibness which came from oft-­repeated practice that I lose my temper. That, of course, is the worst thing that can happen to anyone engaged in a fight or a debate.

30. Rabbi Samuel Dresner (1924–­2000) was a congregational rabbi, visiting professor of philosophy at JTS, author on Hasidism, and joint author with Edward Kaplan of Abraham Joshua Heschel: Prophetic Witness (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998). 31. Richard Rubenstein (1924–­) is a rabbi, academic, and president of the University of Bridgeport. The author of many works, primarily in Holocaust theology, his most famous is one in which he challenged Kaplan: After Auschwitz: History, Theology and Contemporary Judaism (New York: Macmillan, 1966). During his years at the seminary, Rubenstein was traditional, but in the course of time, he became quite radical.


March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950

For all I know, the reason for my loss of temper may be that I am not so sure of my own assumptions which I pit against theirs. In fact, I know and admit them to be assumptions. As such, they depend on the extent to which they work. If people who agree with me were to become better and happier Jews, I could tell my opponents to go to the devil. But I know all too well how ineffective my assumptions have so far turned out to be. Is it a wonder then that when I am subjected to a bombardment by a counter faith which, in the past, did reconcile Jews to their lot, I am shaken to the roots of my being? Take, for example, the Friday-­night services which are conducted at the SAJ synagogue. Besides Cantor Nathanson, the sextant Scher, and myself there is not a single person who come to them for their own sake. Tonight there were only two Kaddish sayers besides the three of us during the first part of the services. Ira used to come once in a while. Now even he never shows up. {188} Maybe the supernaturalists are right. And with them also the assimilationists. The assimilationists would be justified in maintaining that our Reconstructionist attempt to reinterpret and modernize the Jewish tradition is like taking old kerosene lamps and putting electric bulbs on top of them inside the old-­style glass chimneys that used to protect the wick of flame. That is done in homes where they have poor aesthetic taste but can certainly not be adopted as a general practice. To say that with such self-­questioning continually agitating me, I can’t be happy is to put it mildly. I should like to discuss all this with Lena, but I know beforehand that it can only end up in making her also unhappy. What good would retiring from the Seminary do? I couldn’t expect to draw a pension and then proceed to undermine the efforts of those who are trying to save Judaism in the country from disintegration. What then would we live on? That it has come to this makes me often feel with Jonah tov moti may’hayai [Heb., Better my death than my life (Jon. 4:3)].

Thoughts on Israel F ebruary  17, 1949 Nothing seems to be more symptomatic of the loss of Jewish vitality than the fact that it is possible for our so-­called affirmative Jews who are actively engaged in Jewish affairs not to realize that with Israel reborn as a modern nation with a President, an Assembly, and a Constitution, even if a provisional one, the beliefs and hopes on which our people have sustained themselves throughout the last 1,900 years have to be revised radically and our social structure to be remodeled from top to bottom. Yet every one of those Jews acts the way the generations of our people acted in retaining the prayer of [?], which was recited every Sabbath in thousands of congregations in behalf of the scholars in the academies

March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950


of Babylon for more than one thousand years after the last trace of those academies has disappeared. {191} The main reason probably for the de-­Judaizing effect of the establishment of Israel upon American Jewry is that it will deprive them of something to work for and hope for. I believe it was Wilde who said that next to failing to get what you want, the worst thing is to get what you want. ***** Ira lunched with me today. I so enjoyed his company—­and that’s true not only for today but for all times—­that I can’t have enough of it.

Mixed Emotions on Spinoza M arch  14, 1949 Getting to Spinoza after a six weeks’ sojourn in Scholem’s32 world was a relief. I refer to the session at the Seminary last Friday. What a blessing it would have been if he had done for human nature what he does for the Bible and had said that just as the only {200} way to understand the Bible, we must go to the Bible itself, so to understand human nature, we must observe human nature itself more carefully. His more geometrico33 only stands in the way of a proper appreciation of his keen perceptions of human nature. Too bad that the Jews excommunicated him. He had revenged himself on our people by poisoning with hatred the second of his criticisms of our religious tradition. He makes us but to be an anachronism and Christ a superior personality to any of our prophets, neither of which idea follows necessarily from his rational assumptions about the Bible.

The Kaplans Spend an Evening with the Heschels M arch  14, 1949 Last night Lena and I visited with the [Abraham J.] Heschels. We spent a pleasant evening. Scholem, who is in this country, had promised to come, but didn’t show up. Petrowshka, a great Talmudic scholar who came some three years

32. Kaplan had been teaching the Philosophies of Religion course at JTS from Scholem’s book on mysticism. 33. Spinoza’s Ethics is presented in a geometrical form with axioms and propositions based on the axioms.


March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950

ago from Europe, had also promised to come but called up saying that a cold prevented him from keeping his appointment. In the course of the conversation, Heschel made an important observation, though he did not develop its implications. He remarked how little Polish Jewry contributed to Jewish scholarship in comparison with German Jewry. On the other hand, some of the outstanding creators of Polish literature in the fields of poetry, fiction, and literary criticism have been Jews. As I think of his remark, it occurs to me that we should put into the scale the far-­reaching development of Yiddish cultural life and autonomous communal organization.

A Very Human Kaplan M arch  14, 1949 Yesterday morning, Elliot Cohen34 spent two and three-­quarter hours with me. I had invited him, on the advice of Alan Strook,35 to ask him to help me in the effort to get the American Jewish Committee to sponsor in part the Survey Commission on Jewish Community. He seemed to be more eager even than I for this interview, although he had no idea what it was to be about. I wonder if I can retrace the course which the conversation took. As he came in, he remarked that except for having grayed somewhat, I haven’t changed in appearance virtually since he has known me. “Quite snowed over and not just a little more gray,” I said. “Only the other day I came across in one of my notebooks a statement I wrote in 1927 saying, ‘Just pulled out three hairs from my beard, two brown and one gray.’” “Do you keep a diary?” he asked. “I have been keeping a journal since 1913, etc.”

Not Nationhood but Peoplehood M arch  23, 1948 Tonight a number of our contributing editors together with our Reconst. staff met at my home to discuss the revision of the Rec. platform. We discussed for three hours the Introduction (formerly Preamble) and The Meaning of Judaism. We made considerable headway. {205}

34. Elliot Cohen (1899–­1959) was one of the founders of Commentary, which was liberal under him. 35. Alan Strook (1908–­1985) was a lawyer and chairman of the board of JTS who was active in Jewish affairs.

March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950


F riday , M arch  25, 1949 As I recall, the main ideas brought out in the discussion at the meeting last Wednesday night were the foll[owing]: For the Introduction. The establishment of the State of Israel has generated a new spirit in American Jews. To translate that spirit into action that will insure and strengthen the future of Judaism in America, it is necessary to reformulate our status and to reinterpret our tradition. For the Meaning of Judaism: (1) The substitution of the term peoplehood for nationhood in the previous Platform (1945). (2) The affirmative attitude toward religion as a requirement rather than optional, as is implied in that edition of the Platform, and (3) The distinction between religious and secular as based upon the following: (a) Reverence for sancta, (b) the universal significance of sancta and focal experiences in the career of the Jewish people, and (c) the belief in God as the Power that makes for salvation or as the Cosmic Ground for the moral and spiritual value of human life.

Gershom Scholem Lectures in New York on Kabbalah and Kavanah W ednesday , A pril  6, 1949 Last Wednesday (March 30), I attended a Hebrew lecture given at the Seminary by Prof. Gershom Scholem of the Hebrew University. The subject was “Kawwanot in Kabbalah.” The main point was that the opposition to Kabbalah on the score of Kawwanot was due to the fact that the Kabbalists diverted the classic prayers from their original function. That function was to articulate the kabalat ol malchut shamayim [Heb., receiving the burden of the kingdom of heaven] [expressing one’s commitment to the traditional law] as a member of the community. The Kabbalists, by introducing the kavanot [Heb., intentions], diverted it to the use of the individual mediation. Why didn’t the Kabbalists compose new prayers in the same way as the Payyetanim?36 Scholem’s answer was: because they were conservative in that respect, though in the use to which they put the prayers, they were revolutionary. I think there are other and truer reasons. The Kabbalists, he said, were not pantheists. (That is reminiscent of Hermann Cohen.)37 They did not want to have the human individual depersonalized

36. A piyyut is a traditional prayer, many of which were created in the Middle Ages by gifted writers, often hazanim (cantors) who were called payyetanim. 37. Hermann Cohen (1842–­1918) was a prominent German Jewish philosopher and one of the founders of the Marburg school of Neo-­Kantianism. Kaplan, though he differed with Cohen, had a profound interest in him and wrote a book dealing with his philosophy entitled The Purpose and Meaning of Jewish Existence: A People in Image of God (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society,


March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950

through absorption into piety. They merely wanted to enter into communion with God. Instead, however, of having, as did their predecessors, the theosophists or the Hekhalot mystery, their souls rise to God’s presence, they hoped to achieve the same result by the use of the word in so far as it contained the name of God. Before long, the [?] attained magical potency. That was the case in Lurianic Kabbalah due to the fact that the natural tendency to have prayers answered asserted itself. Scholem was introduced by Prof. Saul Lieberman, who spoke in high praise of his achievements, which he described as a yesh ma’ayin [Heb., something from nothing].38

The Facts on Louis Brush, Who Endowed the JTS Dormitory A pril  6, 1949 Last night I listened to another learned lecture by Saul Lieberman on the occasion of his inauguration as Dean of the Seminary Graduate Department. Simon Greenberg presided. [Alexander] Marx gave a brief talk about Louis [Brush], the man who left one-­and-­a-­half million dollars for a dormitory building. It is twenty years since the new buildings have been put up. Never in all that time was anything done to honor the memory of Mr. Brush. The main reason was that there was no one who could give any information about him or explain what really moved him to leave such a large legacy for an institution in which, according to what Marx said, he had lost all interest. The story is that in the early years of the Seminary (about 1907), a student [named] Alexander Cohen was operated on and died under the knife. The doctor said the death was not due to the operation but to the fact that Cohen had suffered from malnutrition. This led Mrs. Schechter39 to make strenuous efforts in behalf of a dormitory. On one occasion she spoke to Brush about the need of a dormitory. He promised he would someday try to help her in her purpose. Years passed. First Schechter died, then Mrs. Schechter. Finally Brush died. To everyone’s surprise, when Brush’s

1964). Kaplan’s book has an interesting format. He has the words of Cohen above the line and his comments below. He calls his book an epitome. 38. There are many different versions of what Lieberman said in his introduction. Kaplan’s version is the most charitable. According to others, Lieberman said something like, “The Kabbalah is nonsense, or there is nonsense and the history of nonsense is scholarship.” This quip by Lieberman may have been made about Scholem on another occasion, but I have heard the remark from many sources. 39. On the effort of Mathilde Schechter to establish a decent living arrangement for seminary students, see my article “The Baale Boste Reconsidered: The Life of Mathilde Roth Schechter (M.R.S.),” Modern Judaism 7, no. 1 (1987): 1–­27. Mathilde Schechter (1857–­1924) was an intelligent, creative person who founded the Women’s League of Conservative Judaism as well as the Students House, which preceded the Brush dormitory at the seminary.

March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950


A light moment at the Jewish Theological Seminary. From left: Judah Goldin, Moshe Davis, Mordecai Kaplan, Hillel Bavli, and Seymour Fox, ca. 1950. (Courtesy Jewish Theological Seminary) will was opened, it was learned that he left virtually all he had for the Seminary dormitory. Brush’s relatives contested the will but lost their case. The rumor is that B., who was a bachelor, had hated his relatives. {209}

Relative of Ahad Ha-­Am Offers Kaplan a Ride on Shabbat A pril  11, 1949 When I stepped out in the morning from the Hotel where I was stay40 ing for the night, someone who was in a car hailed me. He asked me whether he could take me where I wanted to go. I told him I only rode in a car on the Sabbath when I had to. I had in mind the fact that I had ridden the night before in a car to and from services. He stopped the engine and asked me to step {211} into the car, because he wanted to talk to me. He then introduced himself as Herman Ginsberg, of the same Ginsberg family as that of Asher

40. Kaplan was in Boston speaking at Temple Israel, the congregation of Joshua Loth Liebman, whom he much admired and who had passed away. On Liebman, a famous author, see the glossary.


March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950

Ginsberg.41 . . . For a moment, I hesitated whether I should go in or not. But finally I turned back in the direction of the hotel. I soon found myself standing in front of Temple Israel, where I had spoken the night before.

Israel Admitted to the U.N. W ednesday , M ay  11, 1949, 10:20  p . m ., D aylight S aving About three hours ago, Israel was admitted to the U.N. as the 59th of its nations. While we Jews have every reason in the world to rejoice over this culmination of the Zionist movement, we should not forget that Israel can never become the Zion restored that our forefathers for the last two thousand years yearned after. Sooner or later the truth that “you can’t go home again” must be borne in on us. Let us not wait till it is too late to do anything about it.

Kaplan’s Thoughts at 68 J une  11, 1949 Today is the sixty-­eighth anniversary of my birthday. I thank God that I have nothing wrong with me physically; that I am on terms of goodwill with my colleagues in the Seminary, in the SAJ and the Reconstructionist Foundation; and that I can look forward to a considerable stretch of creative activity in the form of writing and organizational reconstruction. I thank God for my darling daughters, my sterling sons-­in-­law, and my sweet grandchildren. My prayer is that Lena’s health improve and that all apprehension concerning it be dispelled.

Thinking about His Understanding of the Torah M onday , J une  20, 1949 I am at work these days on the course I have to give beginning next week to the Seminary alumni. The course is designated “Homiletical Interpretation of the Pentateuch” and is described as follows: The purpose of this course is to indicate the permanent moral and spiritual values which are inherent in the Pentateuch as an expression of the will of the Jewish people to fulfill its divine destiny. I have had to designate it as “homiletical” so as not to appear to be trenching on H. L. Ginsberg’s domain, which is the Bible as a whole. . . .

41. Asher Ginsberg (1856–­1927) was the actual name of Ahad Ha-­Am, the well-­known cultural Zionist. Kaplan, though he was critical of Ahad Ha-­Am, was one of his most well-­known disciples. On Kaplan and Ahad Ha-­Am, see chapter 3, “Nationalism and Righteousness,” in my The Radical American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013).

March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950


In the meantime, I am laboring over the new parts that I have not as yet been able to render significant for the purpose I have stated above. Once in a while I get quite a thrill, as when I came across Ezekiel Kaufmann’s point about Deuteronomy, that it stresses the concept of the Torah as a means of countering the centrifugal pull of idolatrous practices. But most of the time I find myself trudging in long stretches of desert, oppressed by drought for lack of any inspiring idea. I do nothing but talk to the rock of repetitions and self-­contradictory texts abounding in trivia, like those in the first part of Numbers, and not a drop of thought issues forth.

A Candid Evaluation of Louis Finkelstein J une  25, 1949 Finkelstein took an active part virtually in all the sessions [of the Rabbinical Assembly Convention]. The trouble with him is that he is impulsive and makes statements which he later regrets. But lacking the courage to say that he changed his mind, he tries to save face by resorting to qualifications or denials. Otherwise, he seems to have become more mature and less greedy of power than he was some years ago. If he had real vision, he could have become a tremendous power for good in American Jewish life. I refer particularly to his inner resistance to any rapprochement with the Reform forces. If he could overcome that resistance, he would be able to unify all the positive forces for Judaism in this country and overcome the baneful influence of Orthodoxy.

Kaplan Happy with Course on the Pentateuch J uly  17, 1949 Even more exhilarating was the course I gave to the Seminary Alumni on the interpretation of the Pentateuch. This last week, I lectured two hours daily. The men came in droves, and they felt they got a good deal out of it. I myself was stimulated to develop some new interpretations and general ideas, most of which I have written out as part of what I hope will come to be a work on the Pentateuch.

On Jerome Bass J uly  17, 1949 This morning’s conversation with [Max] Arzt42 while taking a walk with him led up to the difference between the Zeitgeist of the Seminary in his student

42. Max Arzt was a member of the seminary administration. See the glossary.


March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950

days and the Zeitgeist today, which is definitely reactionary. That spirit manifests itself not only among students who come from traditional backgrounds but very often also among those who come from antireligious houses. He mentioned as examples [Jerome] Bass43 and Dresner. Bass comes from a socialist home, where he was brought up in complete ignorance of Judaism. He served a number of years in the army. While there, he “got religion” and made up his mind to study for the rabbinate, although he is in his middle, if not late, twenties. Arzt learned what a hard time Bass is having with his Talmud and undertook to teach him. One Sabbath when he expected Bass to come, Bass did not show up. After a while, he heard a knock at the door. In walked Bass, who explained that he had to walk up five flights. When asked why he didn’t ring the bell, he answered that he didn’t ring the bell on the Sabbath. Thereupon Arzt lectured him for acting in medieval fashion. Bass’s reply was that all his life, he had been deprived of what he considered living waters. Now that he has the opportunity to drink of those waters, he should not be {247} blamed for taking it in gulps. The other student is Dresner. He was formerly a student at HUC. While there he seems to have come under the influence of Abraham Heschel, who is a pietist. In asking the placement for a High Holiday position, he made it a point to express a preference for a congregation where men and women are seated separately. He was, accordingly, recommended to Samuel Rosenblatt of Baltimore, who is genuinely Orthodox.

Editor of Prayer Book Does Not Believe in Prayer A ugust  25, 1949 Here is a “typical curiosity” of Jewish life, which I learned about from Jack Cohen this morning. A Dr. Paltiel [Philip] Birnbaum, who recently published the traditional prayer book44 with selections from the traditional commentaries on it, was together with Cohen a member of the faculty of the Hebrew Camp Sharon, which is under the auspices of the Chicago Bureau of Education. He told Cohen he does not believe in prayer and that he regards the traditional prayers as part of the Jewish folklore and therefore would oppose the slightest deviation from it.

43. Jerome Bass (1919–­2006) served in the Marines in World War II and, as this entry indicates, came to religion rather late. It was generally known that he had little background and entered the seminary without knowing any Hebrew. The seminary required extra years because of his lack of background. It was unusual for the seminary to accept a candidate for the rabbinical school with no background at all. For a full biography, see the Veterans History project in 2004. The interview can be found by Googling Jerome S. Bass. 44. Philip Birnbaum, ed., Prayerbook for Sabbaths and Festivals (New York: Hebrew Publishing, 1947).

March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950


The Seminary Faculty and Jewish Law O ctober  5, 1949 This morning a special committee of the Seminary Faculty headed by Simon Greenberg dealt with two questions: The first was whether the Seminary Faculty, qua Faculty, should be involved in the problem of Jewish law, with which the Rabbinical Assembly has been wrestling of late.45 What it really meant was whether Saul Lieberman should be authorized by the Faculty to act as a brake on the decisions of the Law Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly. Fortunately both Greenberg and Lieberman had sense enough to realize that for the Faculty to insist on such supervisory tactics would be worse than foolish.

Kaplan Stays Away from Services as a Matter of Principle T uesday , O ctober  18, 1949 This year I did not attend the Hoshanah Rabbah46 services. The impression they made on me last year did not wear off (see above p. 159 [in the original diary]). Actually, the basic reason for those services is the traditional belief in God as a rain giver. So why bother with them?

Problems with Rabbinical Students O ctober  26, 1949 Hardly a year passes when I don’t have a tussle with the students. I had one yesterday with the members of the Senior class. This is the first time a Senior class is asked to take a course with me in Philosophies of Religion. The last two years, Senior students would do a paper for me on some subject in the philosophy of religion. I found the papers which had been handed in to me very unsatisfactory. That is why I want them to take the course instead of writing a paper. At that they rebel. I was so disgusted with their bargaining tactics that I told them they should leave the class, because I didn’t want to have anything to do with them. They nevertheless {273} remained, and I went on with the discussion. The fact

45. The Rabbinical Assembly consists of the rabbis of the Conservative movement. It has a committee called the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, which issues responses (teshuvot) to questions posed by any rabbi. For a long time, this committee was dominated by Professor Louis Ginzberg. The committee publishes its decisions, and the volumes of its decisions may be consulted in the library of JTS. 46. Hoshannah Rabbah is a minor holiday in the middle of Succoth (Festival of Booths) where the prayer for rain is emphasized. Many Americans do not understand that in Israel, there is no rain from Passover until Succoth. Traditional Jews pray for the rain, which would fall during the winter months in Israel.


March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950

is that no non-­Jewish school, especially a professional one, ever pampers47 its students as much as the Seminary does. It is probably the same in the other rabbinical schools. The root of the evil is, of course, the fact that being a Jew is a purely voluntary affair, and few able men care to go into the rabbinate.

Richard Rubenstein M onday , N ovember  21, 1949 Last Friday after another one of those storming discussion in class—­this time Sophomore and Freshman studying Moore’s Judaism—­in which I tried to point out the significance of the change in the conception of God from that of a quasi-­physical entity to an abstraction, Richard Rubenstein came up to me to continue the discussion. I invited him to my office, and he told me something about himself that I had not suspected. Incidentally, he reminded me that I had had him in that very office about six years ago, before he became a student at HUC. He wanted to get my advice about being a rabbi. He said that I then told him it was more important to have Jewish educators and that I advised him to go into the field of Jewish education. The following is the story about himself. He was born to a wealthy family living on Park Ave. who are members of Temple Emanuel. His main spiritual guide was Rabbi Goldenson. Though living near the Park Ave. Synagogue, he never stepped into it, because he considered it Orthodox. After attending HUC for about two years, he became disgusted with Reform Judaism. What repelled him was its conception of itself as the highest development of Judaism at the same time that it had swallowed German Enlightenment hook, line, and sinker. During those years, he met with Abraham Heschel, who was then on the HUC Faculty and just as unhappy in his way for being there as Rubenstein was in his. Rubenstein left HUC and, in order to qualify for the Seminary, went to study in the Brooklyn Yeshiva Torah Vedaat. There he found what he was looking for. He is still under the influence of its principal and its general spirit and is a convinced Orthodox Jew. He approves of the clear-­cut position I take in Judaism and strongly disapproves of the shilly-­shallying of some of my colleagues. His problem now is what to do when he graduates. He will not accept a Conservative congregation because it is against his principle to preach Conservative Judaism, and he cannot serve in an Orthodox congregation because he thinks that only a rabbi of the traditional stamp is in place there.

47. The rabbinical students had to take many courses each term. Sometimes the courses would meet once or twice a week, but of course there were assignments in each course.

March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950


Kaplan Lectures and Heschel Criticizes48 N ovember  23, 1949 The one who had most to say was Heschel. In the first place, he misunderstood the distinction I made between status vis-­à-­vis the non-­Jews and inner status. Secondly, he refused to accept the basic principle that before one can believe as a Jew, one has to belong to the Jewish people. Thirdly, he objected to my conception of Torah as search for truth instead of as authoritative teaching. Fourthly, the suggestion that Jews bind themselves anew by a covenant was meaningless to him. It simply meant another conference and futile resolutions. Fifthly, my conception of Israel, which he likewise misunderstood, was entirely repugnant to him. Sixthly, the concept of salvation as I interpreted it he thought was an importation from Christology. The only thing to be done, according to him, is to issue a call to the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot.

Guiding Principles for the Conservative Movement49 D ecember  11, 1949 After the meeting last Tuesday at which I read the outline of my paper on the Guiding Principles for the Conservative Movement, Moshe Davis asked me to give him the full paper, which I had with me. Today I called him up to ask him what he had done with it. He told me that Finkelstein had it turned over to Elliot Cohen for publication in the Commentary. I doubt, however, whether Cohen or his henchmen will allow it to appear in the Commentary.

The Kaplan Festschrift50 J anuary  29, 1950 F. [Finkelstein] informed me that at the two recent meetings of the faculty, which I had not attended, it was decided to make arrangements for the publication of a Festschrift in honor of my 70th anniversary a year from next June. I expressed my appreciation of the honor.

48. Kaplan had given a lecture before the complete seminary faculty. 49. Kaplan read this important paper before the Law Committee. It was published in 1950 as a supplement to Conservative Judaism 6, no. 4 (May 1950). Elliot Cohen was editor of Commentary. 50. A festschrift is a volume published in honor of a scholar, usually in his seventies. The Kaplan Festschrift did not appear until 1953 and consisted of two volumes, one Hebrew and one English. The essays were written by a variety of well-­known scholars and dealt in each case with the field of expertise of the person writing. It was published by the seminary. Mordecai M. Kaplan Jubilee Volume: On the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1953).


March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950

Today it occurred to me that instead of the usual type of Festschrift, which generally gathers dust, the one with which I am to be honored might be a fruitful piece of work, if it were to consist of a collection of religious meditations based on texts in the tradition and related to all possible occasions and vicissitudes. When I called up F. this afternoon for the purpose of apprising him of my idea of the Festschrift, he described what he had had in mind. That was something on the order of the volumes issued on Dewey Whitehead etc., in which ten English and ten Hebrew papers would deal with various phases of my philosophy to be followed by a reply of mine to the various critiques. F. thought well, however, of my idea and promised to talk it over with Moshe. *****

On the Flyleaf of Volume 1551 J anuary 1950 “He was haunted by time, as if he wrote in a room full of clocks and calendars.” “He laughed at himself, applauded and pitied and punished himself, as if ‘himself’ were a younger and rather distant relative given into his care. He stood on the curb and jeered at himself, while himself was leading the parade.” Fitzgerald, “The Double Man” (in SRL [Saturday Review of Literature] Feb. 24, 1951—­copied Monday, Feb. 26, 1951) “If you feel like a damn fool inside, you’d better get it out, because that’s the only way you’ll get over feeling like a damn fool.” Fight against Fears by Luz Freeman, p. 56—­copied Monday, July 2, 1951 “Writing,” said Kafka, “is a form of prayer.” (July 26, 1951) “The immense sadness of growing old . . .” (Thursday, Sept. 13, 1951)

51. Kaplan was in the habit of writing down quotations he wanted to remember on the flyleaf of the volume. Some of these from volume 15 are listed here with the dates that he entered them.

March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950


On Entering Trivia into the Diary T uesday , F ebruary  7, 1950 With so much reading and writing as I would like to do, and with the time to do it in felt to be rapidly shrinking, it seems bad economy to spend any of that time on recording the trivia of my day-­to-­day existence. But the drive of the long indulged-­in habit of writing up such trivia is too strong for me to resist. If I try to do so, I feel as though I were deliberately erasing experiences which, however insignificant, constitute my life. That explains why I am resuming the writing of this journal by starting this, the fifteenth volume.

Praise for Bernard Mandelbaum Speaking at the SAJ F ebruary  7, 1950 Bernard Mandelbaum preached last Sabbath at the SAJ services. I was pleasantly surprised at both the manner and the matter of the sermon. They exceeded my expectations. He had something to say and said it with an easy grace that was disarming. Had he done any less well, I would have been up in arms against his overemphasis on ritual observances. After the lecture at the Seminary on Friday, Richard Rubenstein said to me that the students are now getting a plethora of lectures on the philosophy of Judaism at the expense of the study of text. In addition to my course and the one which Finkelstein gives, the courses by Heschel and [Robert] Gordis cover the same ground as we do. The latest arrival on the scene is Gordis. He has taken over, beginning with last week, the course in homiletics to the end of the year. In doing so, he explained in his introductory lecture that he would follow the precedent I had set—­namely, using the first of the two periods for giving a philosophy of Jewish life. This is interesting but annoying news. He will no doubt help to muddy the pool in which I try teaching the boys to swim.

On Being at Home in the World through the Use of Reason F ebruary  8, 1950 It is a long time since I’ve used the journal to think with.52 I should like to put into shape the three lectures I’ve given at the Jewish Museum. Just because I feel so strongly about the need for the new approach which I develop in those lectures, I cannot articulate that feeling in an appropriate kind of introduction. Perhaps the intimacy of the journal will come to my aid. So here it is:

52. This editor has felt the lack of philosophic thought in the diary in the late 1940s, as Kaplan confirms here.


March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950

The great value which the religious tradition had for mankind lay not so much in the specific beliefs and practices that it prescribed as in the general orientation that it provided. As a result of such orientation, human beings felt at home in the world. Men struggled and suffered, but they had, so to speak, a roof over their heads. Nowadays, they no longer have that feeling of being at home in the world. The sense of homelessness, of forlornness, dampens all our joys and adds torment to our sorrows. When we survey the various efforts that man has made to get his bearings in the world with the help of his own experience and thought, we grow even more discouraged. Despite all the philosophizing that has been done about life, we seem to be no further than when we started. Again and again someone possessed of brave soul as well as great mind adventured into the realm of ideas only to get lost. Or, if he returned, all he could report was a trackless waste into which one ventures at great risk. Thus left in the lurch by revelation, we find ourselves disillusioned by the efforts of reason. I wish to make one more try at orientation. I shall not attempt either Descartes’s method of beginning from scratch the same kind of introspection or Spinoza’s method of axioms and definitions by which you pull out one rabbit after another from a hat which originally hides them all. We shall avoid what seems to have been a misleading assumption in all rational attempts {4} at orientation—­namely, to try to discover with the aid of reason the ultimate nature of reality instead of depending upon some supernatural source of information for the knowledge of that reality. The fallacy underlying that kind of rational approach is the assumption that it is possible for the human mind to know ultimate reality as it is apart from the mind. That is the fallacy which all young children commit when they try to learn from the mirror how they appear while they are asleep. The orientation which men derived from their religious tradition, however false a picture it gave of reality, possessed a truthful quality which the various national orientations lack—­namely, the quality of an invention. The rational orientations, on the other hand, hope or claim to be discoveries. When we free ourselves of the assumption that the religious tradition is of superhuman origin, we can realize that it was the first glorious invention, like the thousand and one elementary inventions that have enabled man to transcend the beast, like the invention of the club, the wheel, the lever, or the uses of fire, etc. We shall feel at home in the world when we learn that being oriented calls for the same kind of a process as having a home—­namely, building it. The religious tradition represents the first world home that man built for himself. If we do not find it habitable any longer, the thing to do is not to assume the pose of Rodin’s Thinker and wait for a heavenly roof to grow over our heads but to proceed building one anew.

March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950


Rabbi Solomon Goldman53 Loses an Eye F ebruary  20, 1950 I was shocked to learn last night that Sol Goldman met with an accident which necessitated the removal of his right eye. God knows how he will go through this ordeal, which came upon him just when he finally got around to acting on his doctor’s orders to take a much needed rest.

Kaplan Finds Norman V. Peale54 “Too Sweet” but Valuable M arch  14, 1950 Most of the time55 I spent reading Peale’s much advertised book The Real Art of Happiness. I was irritated by its saccharinity and its sanctimoniousness, by his giving the New Testament the credit for being the source of ideas on happiness and actually taking most of the text from the Old Testament. If I were of the letter-­writing tribe I would write to him protesting against this procedure of his. Despite these irritations, I read quite far into the book because of the occasional phrases and {9} quotations that had an exhilarating effect. It occurred to me that there is a genuine analogy between mouth feeding and mind feeding. We can all stand sweetmeats once in a while; in fact, we demand them.

Kaplan Learns of Milton Steinberg’s Death While on Tour M onday , M arch   20, 1950 ( transferred M onday , M ay   15, 1950), 56 O klahoma C ity I lectured last night at the Dallas Community Center. The Federation is in {17} the process of putting up a new building for the Center. I had been told not to expect more than 125 people. Actually, there were 218. I’ve seldom had so many and such intelligent questions put to me by any of the other audiences

53. Solomon Goldman (1893–­1953) was a conservative rabbi. See the glossary. 54. Norman Vincent Peale (1898–­1993) was an American minister and author known for his work in popularizing the concept of positive thinking, especially through his best-­selling book The Power of Positive Thinking. He served as the pastor of Marble Collegiate Church, New York, from 1932 until his death. Peale was a personal friend of President Richard Nixon. President Donald Trump attended Peale’s church while growing up and married his first wife, Ivana, there. Peale’s ideas and techniques were controversial, and he received frequent criticism both from church figures and from the psychiatric profession. 55. Kaplan was on a lecture tour and spent much time traveling from one place to another. The tour was in the South. 56. Kaplan kept the diary in large accountant-­type volumes (twenty-­seven in all), which apparently he did not take with him when he traveled. On this extended speaking tour in the South, he kept writing but transcribed the entries later, as this and other entries indicate.


March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950

I’ve addressed on this trip. I was on my feet for two-­and-­a-­quarter hours. My legs, which seem to bother me every year around this time, were so weary that they kept me from falling asleep for the longest time. At this point I was interrupted by a telephone call from Jack Cohen in New York to tell me the sad news of Milton Steinberg’s57 death and suggesting that I send a telegram to the New York Times, Tribune, Post, and Telegram expressing our sense of loss. I immediately wired the following to each of them: “American Judaism has sustained an irreparable loss in the passing of Rabbi Milton Steinberg. He had the mind of a philosopher, the soul of a poet, and the vision of a prophet.” (Later I learned that not a single one of those papers published the telegram.)

Speaking Tour58 B ack to N ew Y ork , S unday , M arch   26, 1950 ( transferred T uesday , M ay  16, 1950) The following are the questions which had been sent through the Lecture Bureau by the Jewish Cultural Committee of St. Louis. I had occasion to deal with all of them in the course of my address [in St. Louis]:

1. Is the American Jewish community dying? 2. How do you envisage the American kehillah? 3. What is the essential difference between modern and premodern religion? 4. What is your concept of God? 5. Why “ritual” in modern Judaism? 6. What is left of the “Chosen People” concept? 7. What is the difference between “Liberal Judaism” and “Liberal religion”? 8. What might be the structure and nature of an indigenous American Jewish culture?

Moshe Davis Leaves for Israel M onday , A pril  10, 1950 I attended the reception given to Moshe Davis at the Seminary on the eve of his departure for Israel. Quite a roster of speakers to give him a sendoff. I naturally had to be one of them. I made the point that insofar as the TI [Teachers Institute] contributed to his being qualified to take charge of it, it proved its

57. Milton Steinberg died on March 20, 1950. 58. Kaplan was on a speaking tour throughout the Southwest for the better part of two weeks, traveling and speaking constantly, mostly to large audiences. At this time he was sixty-­nine years old.

March 17, 1948–­April 10, 1950


capacity to be self-­sustaining. His ability lies in his realization that cultural values cannot thrive in a vacuum. They have to be rooted in living experiences. His endeavors are centered upon making Judaism a thing of the five senses. That sense for the realities has enabled him to act as bridge builder—­pontifex between the different trends within the Conservative movement, and now between America and Israeli Jewry. Received today a letter from Nelson Glueck notifying me of the honorary degree of DHL that the Hebrew Union College–­Jewish Inst. of Religion had voted to confer on me at the forthcoming graduation exercises on Saturday, June 10.

11 May 19, 1950–­June 10, 1951

Kaplan Comments on Harold Weisberg and Harold Schulweis F riday , M ay  19, 1950 I attended a Seminary faculty meeting last Wednesday. When I entered the room, they were discussing the sermon which had been delivered by Harold Weisberg last Saturday. I was especially interested in what they had to say, because Weisberg has been added to the staffs of the SAJ [Society for the Advancement of Judaism] and the Reconstructionist Foundation. The sermon was a violent critique of the Seminary. He spared no one. According to Heschel, it did not have a modicum of reverence or piety. And yet I understand that after Weisberg was through, [Louis] Finkelstein rose to say that he was grateful to him &c., &c. Another member of the graduating class who had given a similar performance was Schulweis. Both men are above the average student intellectually but are somewhat too brash and negative in their attitude toward traditional values.

SAJ: Shall Women Be Called to the Torah?1 M ay  19, 1950 Wednesday evening I took part in the 28th annual meeting of the SAJ. [Harold] Weisberg was introduced by Jack Cohen. Jack Cohen was the moderator

1. Obviously, until this point, women were not called up to the Torah during services. Kaplan is justly famous for inaugurating the bat mitzvah with his daughter Judith in 1922. He once said that he had four reasons for the bat mitzvah, referring, of course, to his four daughters. Kaplan himself was ready, I think, to have women called up to the Torah in the 1920s, but the congregation was not. He apparently did not want to pressure them on this issue. The members of the SAJ were subject to the culture of their time, and it took many years for women to acquire equality in the non-­Orthodox denominations. It terms of women becoming bat mitzvah after 1922, I think it depended on the family. If the family wanted a bat mitzvah, they would have it, but I don’t think it was automatic for


May 19, 1950–­June 10, 1951


of a general debate on the question: Shall women be called up to the Torah and be counted in a minyan? Weisberg responded to Jack’s introduction. He is a facile speaker and makes an excellent impression. I took part in the debate and gave the closing talk. [Samuel] Friedenberg made a speech in which he urged that we maintain the status quo. So did two women: Mrs. Hollander and Mrs. Sokolow. For once I was in a good mood despite the fact that a large number of the people in the SAJ are far from being Reconstructionists.

Thoughts on Tradition J une  5, 1950 It is a mistake to assume that the values by which we live derive from the tradition. The function of a tradition, if we believe in the principle of evolution, is not to provide us with the necessary guidance. The fact is that every tradition has more than one answer to every question, and people choose whichever answer conforms to their desires or expectations. The tradition is essentially a means of group identification. What determines the values we adopt and for which we seek confirmation in the tradition is mainly the condition in which we find ourselves. When, as a result of reflection, we find that the condition in which we find ourselves is not suited for achieving certain desirable values, we have to go about creating the condition which is suitable. The need for creating organic communities is the need for creating social conditions, without which we cannot continue to live as Jews in this country.

Ira and Judy Consider Making Aliyah—­Kaplan Reacts T hursday , J une  8, 1950 Had quite a long talk with Judy and Ira about the advisability of migrating to Israel for them and for Lena and me. Ira said he would have no difficulty in finding a job. In fact, he had been offered the position of directing the recently established YMHA [Young Men’s Hebrew Association] in Jerusalem and a position in Beit Berl, where groups of recent immigrants are given a three-­month training in Israeli civics. If he would act on the way he feels now, he certainly would settle in Israel, because there he was needed and wanted, and the people we associated with were more congenial.

every girl of twelve and a half. Kaplan strongly favored the general equality of women, as one sees through his support of the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the vote. He spoke about this issue when he was rabbi at the Jewish Center, which was Orthodox and hence had many congregants who were against the equality of women. I am absolutely certain there were many who were unhappy with his support for the equality of women at the center.


May 19, 1950–­June 10, 1951

I asked Ira to tell me whether he thought that we were giving the alternative of building Jewish life here due consideration. If we were to exert ourselves to the limit of our capacities in behalf of American Jewish life, would not the results enable us to fulfill ourselves here? He was unable to give any definite reply. Judith was less enthusiastic about transferring to Israel. She thought {37} more in terms of their children. She did not relish the idea of their being brought up in the militarist and chauvinist atmosphere, which for a long [time] to come is bound to prevail in Israel. Neither was she much troubled about their children’s becoming entirely assimilated here, if they preferred to be so. Although I did not say a word indicating my displeasure, and although I realize that everybody has a perfect right to live his own life, I was unhappy to see how fundamentally neither Judy nor Ira seemed sufficiently determined to help create the conditions that would render Judaism viable here. They lack the missionary zeal, without which Judaism cannot possibly be made to survive in the Diaspora. By missionary zeal, I do not mean the zeal to convert the goyim [non-­Jews]; I mean the zeal to be creative as Jews in all phases of human life.

Kaplan Has Lunch with Barnett Brickner and His Wife J une  12, 1950 Barnett Brickner and his wife, Rebecca, both of whom I have known since the days of the Benderly Bureau of Education, sat with me downstairs at the Netherland Plaza from 11:00 to 1:00 discussing Reconstructionism.2 He hasn’t changed much, although he expressed himself as dissatisfied with the trend of Jewish life among the people he has been ministering to. Despite his careerism, he has a streak of genuineness in him. He admitted to the lack of an orientation. He would very much like to be in closer contact with me so as to make good that lack. Despite that apparent or perhaps real yearning for some basic faith, I cannot help feeling that it is motivated less by the desire to transform or reconstruct Jewish life than by the desire to be more sure of himself and to have what to say. What interests him is, after all, not a way of life but a way of speaking. He is fed up on the old vocabulary or semantics and would like some new semantics to be handed to him on a silver platter.

2. Kaplan was in Cincinnati to receive an honorary doctorate from HUC.

May 19, 1950–­June 10, 1951


Kaplan Receives an Honorary Doctorate from Hebrew Union College–­Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati T hursday , J une  15, 1950 Saturday morning I walked over from the hotel to the Plum St. Temple, where the graduation exercises were to be held. The neighborhood in which it is has deteriorated and seems to be on the way to becoming a Negro ghetto. When I got to where it is located, I found myself standing in front of what was evidently a religious edifice. On the wide grass plot in front of it, a number of men and women were standing around, whom I took to be visitors to the graduation exercises. But when I looked up, I saw a number of crosses on the building, which puzzled me. While I was asking somebody for the whereabouts of the Temple, I was hailed by Rabbi Egelson, who was across the street, where the Temple was. As soon as I entered, I was greeted by Nelson Glueck; with him I had to pose for a picture as prescribed by the rules. I was introduced to Dr. Samuel Atlas, who was to be my sponsor. The procession began at 9:45, and I finally found myself jammed in as one of six garbed in academic gowns on the pew, where at most only five could sit comfortably, with only their ordinary clothes on. It was a hot day. The service was uninspiring. The exercises began with the baccalaureate sermon, which was delivered by Solomon Freehof.3 I thought that as good a sermon as one could expect under the circumstances, from the standpoint of delivery, information, inspiration, connection with the sidrah, and relevance to the occasion. . . . The ceremony of ordination and the conferring of degrees were carried through in normal fashion. I was among the recipients of the honorary degrees. I was given the DD. The Gamorans4 took me out to lunch with them at some nonkosher Jewish restaurant nearby. Rabbi Heller was with us. From 3:30 to 6:30, I attended a session of the CCAR [Central Conference of American Rabbis], which took place at the Gibson Hotel. The first part of the session was conducted in Hebrew. It was chaired by Dr. Samuel S. Cohon. Two Hebrew papers were read dealing with the religious aspect of contemporary Hebrew literature. There was no discussion from the floor. Here and there someone was smoking, but it was apparent that many more would have smoked if it weren’t for the Sabbath.

3. Solomon Freehof (1892–­1990) was a prominent Reform rabbi and scholar, president of the CCAR, and president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. He served as pulpit rabbi at Rodef Shalom, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was well known for his many works of Reform responsa. 4. Emanuel Gamoran (1895–­1962) was a noted communal educator, editor of the Jewish Teacher, author, and Zionist. He was one of the Benderly Boys.


May 19, 1950–­June 10, 1951

The greater part of the session dealt with brief reports of experiments being conducted by some of the members of the CCAR with worship [and] education of children, adolescents, and adults. Prof. Franzblau5 (a graduate of the TI [Teachers Institute] many years ago) spoke of the place of psychiatry in the training of rabbis and to the ministry. Rabbi Kagan described his own psychiatric training and present practice of it as part of his ministry in Mt. Vernon. At the end of the session, I was called on to say a few words, which I did. I told them that I felt entirely at home among them because of our common striving to establish a permanent future for Judaism in this country. The banquet took place in the Netherland Plaza. It lasted from 6:30 to 10:00. Before the speeches began, Lester A. Jaffe,6 the chairman of the HUC [Hebrew Union College] Governing Board, who was toastmaster, introduced every one of the recipients of the doctorate. When he called my name, I was given quite an ovation, and when he told them that it was my 69th birthday, the audience sang “A Happy Birthday to You.” The one significant talk was made by Rabbi Eisendrath.7 He pointed out that four years ago, when he became President of the Union of Hebrew Congregations, it numbered little over 50,000 and that now it numbers over 110,000 people. That, however, was less than 10 percent of the Jews in this country. During that time, 90 new congregations were added to the 400 or so (I don’t remember the exact number he mentioned). From his remarks, it was evident that the Reform movement was viewed by its leaders with a sense of partisan insecurity and rivalry instead of as a movement to satisfy an element in American Jewry who could not otherwise be kept within the bounds of Judaism.

Reconstructionism Recognized at Jewish Theological Seminary J une  20, 1950 During the three or four days preceding the graduation exercises, I had developed a cold. Because of a rise in my temperature, the doctor put me to bed Friday night and injected me with penicillin. I didn’t think I would be able to attend the graduation exercises on Sunday. I was able to throw off the cold, however, sufficiently to come and do my part first in sponsoring {41} Eugene Kohn, who was to receive an honorary degree, and secondly to receive the [Solomon]

5. Abraham N. Franzblau (1901–­1982) was a faculty member at JTS and TI, educator, and author who was active in the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. 6. Lester A. Jaffe (1896–­1953) was a lawyer, faculty member at University of Cincinnati, and officer of the bar association. 7. Maurice Eisendrath (1902–­1973), ordained HUC, was a leading Reform rabbi, author, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and officer of the World Union for Progressive Judaism who was active in the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

May 19, 1950–­June 10, 1951


Schechter citation. When my name was called from the citation, I was given an ovation by everybody present. I was happy to hear Finkelstein refer to me as the founder of the Reconstructionist movement and to Eugene Kohn as the managing editor of the Reconstructionist. It seems that the existence of the movement is at last recognized within the Seminary walls, and its name is no longer taboo there.

“Take Me Out to the Ball Game”: Kaplan Goes to Yankee Stadium with His Grandson T hursday , J une  29, 1950 My grandson Jeremy8 took me this afternoon to the Yankee Stadium to see the ball game between the New York (Yankees) team and the Washington (Senators) team. That was the first time in my life I went to see a professional ball game. After three-­quarters of an hour, I was so bored that I suggested to Jeremy that we leave. I didn’t want him, however, to feel disappointed in having failed to entertain me, so I suggested that we go to the Bronx Zoo, where I had never been before. I am glad I went there, because I certainly enjoyed watching the animals incomparably more than the big, husky professional ball players. That millions of people should be preoccupied with watching, reading, and listening to reports about these games is symptomatic of that immaturity which accounts for the perilous condition of our civilization.

Thoughts on Reconstructionism as a New Denomination J uly  13, 1950 I can now see why I have always been averse to Reconstructionism’s evolving into another denomination. That, I have intuitively felt, would divert it from ever carrying out its purpose, which called for much more than a change of values and ideology. That plus [the problem of] the leadership which is best qualified to be the vehicle of the new values and ideology. I have been hoping that one or another of the existing organizations or institutions might become such a vehicle. I have been turning frantically to the Seminary (through its students), to the Rabbinical Assembly, to the Jewish Welfare Board. It now appears to me that perhaps the B’nai B’rith is the most suitable group to become such a vehicle. If waiting would not involve so much painful labor for me, I would write up the suggestion in article form. Maybe I will anyhow.

8. Jeremy Musher (1935–­1974), professor of chemistry at Yeshiva University, was the oldest son of Hadassah and Sidney Musher.


May 19, 1950–­June 10, 1951

Kaplan at Brandeis Camp in California T hursday , A ugust  10, 1950 I am having a most exciting time here. Little did I imagine I would be enjoying my stay here as much as I do. When [Shlomo] Bardin9 invited me to be his guest, it was with the understanding that I was to sit down once in a while under a tree, and a number of the young people who were sufficiently interested in putting questions to me would gather around me and I would try to answer their questions. Instead, it has turned out that I meet a group of about ten, supposedly the best informed, students for an hour every morning. The rest of the student body is divided into two groups (there are 130 in all), each of which I meet on alternate mornings. When I met the small group, after having read the questions which they put down on the tests (containing 58 questions of information) and which they would like to have answers for, I realized that it would be futile to attempt to answer those questions as formulated by them, because they seemed to lack the basic understanding of what the term “Jew” denoted. I therefore started out by having them realize that “Jew” is a common noun that does not denote function, as does salesman or barber &c., but one that denotes belonging or status. As such, it can be understood only in the context of a social group which confers the status upon the individuals who belong to it. That led to the question as to the kind of group the Jews constituted, temporary or permanent, and the differences between these two groups in that the former is a purposive and the latter a natural group. The next question was what made the Jews into a group. The answer “common interests” had to be itemized in terms of the specific interests. These were found to be: security, welfare, self-­perpetuation, law and order, culture, morale, social responsibility. To further these interests, {55} special agencies, institutions, regulations, &c. had to be devised. The complex of the interests and the agencies to promote them constitute a civilization. Hence Jews are a people united by a civilization and, as such, confer status upon every individual Jew. Status implies both privilege and responsibility. Privilege is based upon the heritage, which comes from the past. That heritage consists of advantage in terms of power, or any or all of the values which go to make up a civilization. Responsibility consists in helping one another to prepare the future so as to enable the children to enjoy the privileges which the civilization has made possible and which are common to all its adherents.

9. Shlomo Bardin (1898–­1976), who came to the U.S. from Eastern Europe in 1939, was an educator and founder and director of Brandeis Camp Institute in California.

May 19, 1950–­June 10, 1951


Kaplan at Brandeis Camp Learning How to Paint A ugust  23, 1950 Every weekday afternoon, I spent over an hour and a half trying to learn how to paint. I do not know whether I really learned anything, but I know that during that time I was oblivious to the problems of being human or being Jewish. Perhaps art contains the secret of being both at the same time without the heartaches and the headaches that they generally give rise to.

On the Difficulties of Writing {60} T uesday , S eptember  12, 1950 This is the second night of Rosh Hashanah. I have gotten to a point where I feel that unless I make progress with my writing on “Soterics,” on “Modern Trends in Judaism,” or on “The Interpretation of the Torah,” or at least record some of my inner struggles and difficulties, I have not lived. Life for me has come to mean only that of it which leaves some record of itself behind. I have not at all been satisfied with the slow pace of my writing. It takes me a long time to pick up sufficient momentum for many of the three pieces I am doing. Every interruption, however slight, and I have plenty of them, breaks the chain of my thinking, and it is quite an effort for me to resume it. The break is usually accompanied by the inner agitation of conflicting feelings and attitudes about life as a whole and Jewish life in particular. That agitation is probably what makes resumption of the interrupted work so difficult.

Kaplan Reflects on Himself, the Korean War, and the Marx Festschrift W ednesday , S eptember  13, 1950 The worst thing that can then happen to me in the quiet race that goes on among us for distinction in literary productivity. A few days ago, I was put into a rather bad mood when I received the two Jubilee volumes in honor of Prof. [Alexander] Marx’s 70th birthday. When I received the invitation to contribute an article to the book, I turned it down for some flimsy reason. The real reason was that I was still smarting from the hurt that Marx had inflicted on me when he joined Louis Ginzberg and Saul Lieberman10 in the denunciation of the new

10. Lieberman, Ginzberg, and Marx wrote a letter published in the Hebrew publication Ha’doar the September after the publication of the Reconstructionist prayer book in 1945, denouncing Kaplan but not accepting the excommunication of the Orthodox. For the full story, see my The


May 19, 1950–­June 10, 1951

Sabbath Prayer Book. By this time, however, the scar is healed, but the fact that I am the only member of the Faculty who has not contributed to the Jubilee volume is not likely to add any glory to my reputation. In addition to this rather trivial cause of my mental upset, there is of course the general condition of the world these days, as reflected in the Korean War. It is impossible to free oneself from the universal anxiety and fear that we might be heading for another world war, infinitely more terrible than the last two. Already the Rabbinical Assembly and the Seminary are being geared into the pro