Survival through Integration: American Reform Jewish Universalism and the Holocaust

Survival through Integration: American Reform Jewish Universalism and the Holocaust

Survival through Integration: American Reform Jewish Universalism and the Holocaust

Survival through Integration: American Reform Jewish Universalism and the Holocaust

Synopsis

The book focuses on the most prominent exponents of the universalistic ideology of American Reform Judaism in the 1930s and 1940s. Those who attempted to maintain unquestioning fealty to the principles of universalistic Reform, even in view of the disheartening realities of the Holocaust, are the heroes of the plot that unfolds here. The way they struggled for their beliefs should be viewed as a point of departure for a more general discussion of the challenge posed by the Holocaust to the modern Jewish belief in the possibility and desirability of full cultural and social Jewish integration into non-Jewish society at large.

Excerpt

In October 1934 – twenty-one months after the Nazi accession in Germany – Hebrew Union College (HUC), the rabbinical academy of American Reform Judaism in Cincinnati, held its traditional annual lecture to inaugurate the academic year. the speaker that year, like every year since he had been chosen president of the college in 1922, was Dr. Julian Morgenstern. Morgenstern began by asking rhetorically whether the tragic events in Germany should change the universalistic Jewish worldview. in his response he inveighed against the conclusion adduced by the president of the World Zionist Organization, Nahum Sokolow, who had claimed at the Zionist Congress the previous year that Hitlerism proved the Zionist claims, or as Morgenstern put it, that all Jews should now join “a definitely and positively particularistic interpretation of Judaism.” It was evident from the aggressive tenor of Morgenstern's response that in his universalistic view the Zionist interpretation of the recent antisemitic events in Germany was the real challenge to Jewish survival, to some extent even more dangerous than the antisemitic events themselves.

To substantiate his arguments, Morgenstern drew on his reputation as a world-renowned Bible scholar and likened the Zionist response to Nazism to the reforms carried out in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. As he construed the matter, these reforms – just like the Zionist response to Nazism – were an ultra-particularistic Jewish response to a physically and spiritually existential threat from hostile non-Jewish surroundings. According to Morgenstern, those reforms generally, and foremost the divorce of non-Jewish wives and banishment of their children, were “one of the blackest and most shameful incidents in our entire history.” in his view this was an expression of the nationalistic and particularistic principle, quite as drastic as present-day Nazism and with a not-altogether-different purpose. He

Julian Morgenstern, “Judaism Accepts the Challenge,” October 1934, at the
opening exercises of the Hebrew Union College Chapel, American Jewish Archives
(AJA), ms Col. 30, 14/2.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.