The Future of the American Jew

By Mordecai M. Kaplan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
"CAN THESE BONES LIVE?"

1
THE INNER CRISIS

Neither sub-human nor super-human beings are troubled by inner conflict. That is a distinctly human trait. Man is forever being pulled in opposite directions by his longings and desires. This condition becomes abnormal, however, when the tension reaches a breaking point. The strain of the modern Jew's inner life is nearing that point. Jews who have moved into the orbit of Gentile society are at odds with themselves to a far greater degree than non-Jews. Every American Jew who knows that Jews are not desired and whom that knowledge deeply hurts is agitated by conflicting emotions. Outwardly he may seem calm, but inwardly he is worried. He is a divided being, a Hamlet forever soliloquizing -- to be or not to be a Jew.

That is true of at least two million of the five million Jews in the United States. Of the other three, one million are too young to realize what goes on about them, and the other two million either play possum or do not care what happens. The Jews who do not care transfer their inner tension to whatever Jewish activity they engage in. Whatever institution, organization, club, trade union, fraternal order or even congregation that includes them in its membership is, through them, rendered uncertain whether to be Jewish to the hilt or only to the point of a needle.

Ultimately, this inner conflict will be resolved in favor of whichever tendency will prove to be the stronger. In the meantime, American Jews may be divided into two groups: those in whom the urge "to be Jews" has the upper hand, and those in whom the urge "not to be Jews" has the upper hand. We shall call the former "affirmative Jews" and the latter "marginal Jews."

Affirmative Jews are those who, despite being troubled by the illwill of neighbors and the difficulties created thereby, accept their fate without demur. Most of them are identified with the synagogue and all that it represents; it is their principal link with the Jewish people. If they are Orthodox, they adhere to the traditional belief that God manifested, through miracle and self-revelation, His special concern in their ancestors. If they are non-Orthodox, they regard the ethical and

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