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Studies by Leo Baeck on Judaism and Christianity

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Judaism and Christianity

Leo Baeck

Varda Books

This Library PDF version is for the use on an institutional computer only. To purchase your own copy of the book with enhanced functionality go to www.publishersrow.com

JUDAISM AND CHRISTIANITY

This Library PDF version is for the use on an institutional computer only. To purchase your own copy of the book with enhanced functionality go to www.publishersrow.com

VARDA BOOKS essays by

LEO BAECK

translated with an introduction

by Walter Kaufmann

JUDAISM AND

CHRISTIANITY

skokie, illinois, usa

5762 / 2002

This Library PDF version is for the use on an institutional computer only. To purchase your own copy of the book with enhanced functionality go to www.publishersrow.com

Copyright 2002 by Varda Books Original copyright , 1958, byT H E J E W I S H P U B L I C AT I O N S O C I E T Y O F A M E R I C A

All Rights Reserved This ebook has been published with permission of The Jewish Publication Society (Philadelphia). The printed book, which served as a basis for this book is catalogued by the Library of Congress thus: Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 58-8991 Designed by Elaine Lustig

New ISBN 1-59045-461-8 Library PDF No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage retrieval system, except for brief passages in connection with a critical review, without permission in writing from the publisher: Varda Books, 9001 Keating Avenue, Skokie, Illinois, USA

Prepared as an ebook by Varda Graphics, Inc.

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A NOTE TO THE READERDr. Leo Baeck was still among the living when the Jewish Publication Society decided to make available to the Eng lish reading public some of his writings bearing on Judaism and the origins of Christianity. Dr. Baeck graciously agreed to this plan. He chose the essays to be included in the vol ume and picked Dr. Walter Kaufmann as the translator. We are grateful to Dr. Kaufmann for his willingness to give so much of his time and energy to this task. Dr. Baeck also suggested the inclusion in this volume of the essay, The Faith of Paul, which appeared in the Jour nal of Jewish Studies, published in England, vol. III (1952), no. 3. We are grateful to the Journal and its editors for their courtesy. Unfortunately, circumstances made it necessary for us to postpone the publication of the volume until now. In the meantime, Dr. Baeck passed on to the Academy on High. May the thought and scholarship which he bequeathed to us serve to deepen our understanding of the faith and strengthen our loyalties to the tradition which he exempli fied so nobly in his life.THE JEWISH PUBLICATION SOCIETY OF AMERICA

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LEO BAECK: A Biographical Introduction by Walter Kaufmann

3 23

1 THE SON OF MAN 2 THE GOSPEL AS A DOCUMENT OF

THE HISTORY OF THE JEWISH FAITH

41 139 171 189

3 THE FAITH OF PAUL 4 5MYSTERY AND COMMANDMENT ROMANTIC RELIGION

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LEO BAECK: A Biographical Introduction by Walter Kaufmann

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When Leo Baeck died in 1956, he was widely hailed as one of the most saintly men of our time; but few in deed realized that he was the author of one of the most important polemics ever launched against Christianityand very probably the most interesting one written from the point of view of another religion. Unlike Kierkegaard, in his Attack on Christendom, Baeck did not merely criticize the millions of indiffer ent Christians, but the Christian religion itself. And unlike other critics, he did not attack religion in gen eral but only what he called romantic religion. A few days before publication, in 1938, Baecks cri tique of Romantic Religion, and the whole book of essays of which it formed a part, was destroyed by the secret police of the Nazi state. Less than ten copies survived. Soon after, World War II broke out. And Baeck survived it. He resolved that his essay should be trans lated and published in English, along with the other essays in the present volume, which he himself se lected. In time to come, he may well be remembered as much for this book as for anything else.3

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To use one of his own favorite expressions, there is something twofold about Leo Baeck. Although his ideas may well have their greatest effect still ahead of them, he himself belongs to a past chapter of Jewish history, no less than Maimonides. It was a proud chap ter: there have been few periods in history when so small a group has made as many major contributions to literature and music, art and science, philosophy and religion, as did German Jewry. Still flourishing in the nineteen-twenties, it is dead today. To give some idea of its many-sided genius, it is best to enumerate at least a few names: Felix Mendels sohn and Jacques Offenbach, Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schnberg; Marx, Lassalle, and Rathenau; Ehrlich, Ein stein, and Freud, and August von Wassermann, Otto Meyerhof, and James Franck; Brne and Borchardt, Wolfskehl and Mombert, Arnold and Stefan Zweig; Ludwig Borchardt, the Egyptologist; Husserl and Cassirer. If a few of these men were Jews in spite of themselves, and still otherslike Adolf von Baeyer and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Heinrich Hertz and Gustav Hertz, and Ludwig Wittgensteinwere only of partly Jewish descent, the Jews of Germany and Austria also made major contributions to Jewish history and Jew ish studies; for example, Leopold Zunz and Michael Sachs, Abraham Geiger and Samson Raphael Hirsch, Gabriel Riesser, Graetz, and Herzl. Though this necrology includes names of the first rank, the most distinctive contribution of German Jewry lies elsewhere. In the areas considered so far American Jewry bids fair to continue where German Jewry left off. But there were also some German-speaking Jews who somehow straddled German and Jewish4

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A Biographical Introductionliterature and thoughtrather more so than any of those named so far. Most famous among these are Heine and Kafka; but alongside them there is a line of others who accented Judaism even more. It opens with Moses Mendelssohn, includes Moritz Lazarus and Heymann Steinthal and Hermann Cohen, and ends with Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buberand Leo Baeck. Baeck was equally at home in Aristotle and in the Talmud, in the Bible and in German literature: he was the heir of the best the world could offer himand a rabbi. The way in which he fused this multifarious her itage was inimitably his own; but the ability and the resolve to effect such a fusion he shared with Moses Mendelssohn and his other heirs. In these men Judaism lost the narrowness of the ghetto and recovered the scope it had always had when it was freewithout ceasing to be Jewish. The major reason for the wide appeal of these men and their im pact was that they were not eclectics, nor primarily apologists. There was something serene and irenic about Baeck, and no man could have been more polite than he could be. But he had fire and originality and was at heart an iconoclast. He never preached a sermon that did not sparkle with new ideas, and every conversation with him and almost every letter from him was memorable. He was sometimes wrong, but always wise and never dull. It is entirely fitting that his essays on Judaism and Christianity should be published as his last major work. For his first major work was his book on The Essence of Judaism, his reply to Harnacks classic on The Essence of Christianity. In English, this point, which no German reader could miss, has been lost because Harnacks book was translated under the title5

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Judaism and ChristianityWhat is Christianity? Baecks thought was polemical from the beginning, and the central theme from begin ning to end is his polemic against Christianity. It might be fashionable to slur over this truth and to misrepresent the facts ever so slightly by saying that he wanted to reopen a dialogue between Judaism and Christianity, as if he had wanted to restore Judaism to the role of an equal partner. With his staggering polite ness, he might even have put the matter that way him self. It is told that in his homiletics class he would of ten begin his comments on a trial sermon: It was wonderful. But after some generous compliments he would proceed, If I may say just one thingand rip the sermon to shreds. Baecks point was not that Judaism was not inferior to Christianity but rather that Judaism was distinctly superior. It is one of the oddities of our time that this view is scarcely ever discussed in public. Yet it would be very strange if it were not shared by most Jews; and Christian theologians must surely take for granted that this is at the very least the position of practically all rabbis. Most Christians are convinced of the immeasur able superiority of Christianity over all other religions, and quite especially over Judaism; but it is polite to grant that the Jew, of course, considers his religion the equal of Christianity; and it is the acme of liberalism to grant that, theoretically at least, he might be right. The view, however, that Christianity is inferior to Judaism is simply ignored. The Essence of Judaism could still be read as pri marily a work of apologetics. The essays in the present volume are thoroughly militant in spirit, though so polite that those who merely browse in them might miss that fact. It would be a pity if they did. For whether6

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A Biographical Introductionone agrees with Baeck on particular points or not, what he here tries to do needs doing so badly. Serious Christians should care to know in what re spects one of the outstanding Jewish thinkers of our time considered their religion to be open to objections: not just Catholicism or Luther, or some few beliefs or excesses, but the very core of Christianity. Religion tends to become repulsive when it is not under attack, and it is often at its best when it is persecuted. Ger man Judaism was a case in point; so, specifically, are Baecks essays. As Kierkegaard well knew, though his contemporary admirers seem to have forgotten it, Christianity needs less apologetics and more criticism. Serious Christians should therefore welcome Baecks Judaism and Christianity. Readers who consider themselves neither Jews nor Christians may find these essays fascinating in two ways. First, they may view them as unusually interest ing contributions to the history of ideas. Secondly, adopting the perspective suggested here, they may con centrate on the manner in which so proud and wise a man responded to a hostile world, and particularly to the challenge of Christianity: Baecks response differs not only from Heines and Kafkas but also from Rosenzweigs and Bubers. And Jewish readers? There is no danger that any of Baecks writings will make them complacent: like the prophets, Baeck stresses the central importance of the challenge in Judaism rather more than his contempo raries. And he himself lived true to this challenge and exemplified what he taught, unlike some of the most outstanding German philosophers and theologians who before 1933 had talked, and after 1945 went right on talking, with a cracked existential pathoscracked by the rift between life and thought or, as Baeck might7

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have said, between mystery and commandment, or, in one word, by their romanticism. Baeck was a great man, and he may yet lead Jewish readers to reflect on dimensions of their own religion of which they had never been aware. In sum, this is a signally important work for anyone seriously concerned with Judaism or Christianity. It may prove to be a seminal work. No doubt, it has faultsin the original, toobut a lack of nobility is not one of them.3

Baecks style was legendary even among his devo tees in Germany. Nobody questioned that it was highly peculiar, but nobody minded seriously. It seemed natu ral that a man of Baecks originality should express himself in unconventional ways. One of his more frequent idioms was, Es ist ein zwiefachesIt is something twofold. This phrase was generally followed by a prolonged contrast. Two good examples of this mode of thought may be found in the present volume, in the juxtaposition of Mystery and Commandment and of Classical and Romantic Religion. Whether one finds the roots of this dialectic in Ger man philosophy or in the Talmud, this way of thinking is relatively rare in the English-speaking world. Baecks thinking revolves around substantive concepts; and he does not explain these by placing them in the context of some experi...

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