The Future of the American Jew

By Mordecai M. Kaplan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIXTEEN
THE GOOD AND THE BEAUTIFUL IN JEWISH LIFE

ETHICS

1
THE TORAH TRADITION A PERENNIAL STIMULATION TO THE GOOD LIFE

In the past, Judaism helped the Jew to live at his best. By making him feel that he was accountable to God for everything he did or failed to do, it gave dignity and worth to his personal life. The belief that the Jew was a member of a Chosen People imbued him with a spirit of noblesse oblige. It meant that in the Torah, God had revealed to him through his people a way of life. To know and to obey the Torah was at once the responsibility and privilege of the Jew. It gave him the key to eternal life hereafter; but it did more, it prescribed a way of life for him, an ideal and a discipline; it enabled him to organize his impulses and desires into an harmonious pattern of personality; it adjusted him to his fellow-men; it contributed to justice, cooperation and love. Not only did the Torah bring out his ethical powers, but it also awoke in him the desire to penetrate as deeply as possible into the meaning of the Divine Word. It led to intellectual pursuits which were satisfying in themselves, and rewarding in the respect they elicited from his fellow-Jews.

Can Judaism do as much for the modern Jew? In a world in which the Jew has been singled out as the victim of violence and injustice, life must be utterly meaningless for him, or possessed of sinister purport, unless he can find satisfaction in his very struggle against violence and injustice, and be helped in overcoming these evils in himself, the better to defeat them in the world. Can the Torah tradition of the Jew still aid him to this end? Every emotion experienced by the Jew in the past, from the mirth of Purim to the elegiac mood of Tishēa BeAb, found aesthetic expression in musical modes, art-forms, poetry and ritual. Can Judaism in our day make the tragic experience of Jews in the present time meaningful and edifying to future generations through expression in the arts?

Apparently, most modern Jews have found little inspiration to

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