Lecture delivered at the Herbert Samuel Hall, New West End Synagogue, on Thursday, 11th July 1963 under the auspices of the Society for the Study of Jewish Theology.
During the Middle Ages, Jewish thinkers devoted a good deal of time to discovering, or attempting to discover, the ‘Reasons for the Mitzwoth’ (ta’amei hamitsvot). This was the situation with which they were faced. They knew that many things in Judaism seemed most reasonable, appealing to every rational man. They knew that Judaism taught; ‘Thou shalt not kill’; ‘Thou shalt not steal’; ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’. They also knew that Judaism had a number of rules and regulations by which the Jew was expected to live, which, on the face of it, seemed anything but reasonable. The dietary laws are the obvious example. But those thinkers were convinced that God does not impose arbitrary rules on His worshippers and they therefore tried to suggest what God’s reasons may have been in ordaining the Mitzwoth. Thus, they argued, the dietary laws possess hygienic value, or they help the Jewish people to survive, or they provide a discipline through which holiness can be attained.
The Jewish mystics went further. They suggested that man’s deeds on earth had their influence in the heavenly realms. Each of the details of the Mitzwoth corresponds to some sublime mystery in the ‘upper worlds’; the performance of the Mitzwoth has a tremendous cosmic effect in awakening the divine grace and producing harmony in the heavens above. A favourite illustration is sometimes given by the latter-day mystics. Imagine, they say, a blueprint drawn up by a skilled architect. A mere line on the print represents a corridor; a point might signify a door; a small square might be the sign for a large room in the finished building. Similarly, the Torah is God’s blueprint for the cosmos. Although we cannot grasp these wonderful matters, it was argued, nonetheless it was true that if the Jew kept the dietary laws, for instance, as the Torah decrees they should be observed he guards himself and the whole universe from spiritual contamination. If the Jew wears Tzitzith prepared in the special manner the Torah ordains he brings down from heaven, as it were, certain divine illuminations the world requires for its continued existence.
Whether rationalist or mystic, however, the Jewish thinker in the Middle Ages was concerned only to answer the question: ‘Why did God?’ (There were not lacking thinkers who declared that even this question bordered on the blasphemous. God so commanded because He willed it so and it is not for man even to attempt to fathom the divine will).
In modern times the question the Jew asks is very different. For him the question is not, ‘Why did God tell us to keep certain Mitzwoth?’ but ‘Did God tell us to keep certain Mitzwoth?’ That this very different kind of question is put by the modern Jew can be attributed to a number of factors, not least of which is the abandonment of the older doctrine which has it that every word and every letter of the Pentateuch was dictated by God to Moses, together with the interpretation of the Pentateuch and its laws found in the Talmudic literature. Here is not the place to repeat at length the arguments which have compelled moderns to depart from this conception. Suffice it to say that as a result of the devoted researches of a host of distinguished scholars and thinkers over the past one hundred and fifty years a new picture has emerged concerning the nature of, the Biblical record and the Rabbinic interpretation of it. According to this picture the Bible is still the source of our faith and religion. It is still the world-transforming word of God. But it is now seen that the Bible is not, as the mediaeval Jew thought it was, a book dictated by God but a collection of books which grew gradually over the centuries and that it contains a human as well as a divine element.
This applies to the Pentateuch as well as to the rest of the Bible. It is impossible to follow the argument that the scientific study of sacred texts is valid and commendable but must stop at the Pentateuch. Either the method is sound or it is not. If it is not sound, or if it must be rejected in the name of dogma or tradition, it cannot be applied to the book of Isaiah, or even, for that matter, to the Zohar. If it is sound and elementary honesty demands its use then it must be applied to the Pentateuch. There is no middle way. Scholars all over the world have come to this conclusion. Christians have been compelled to apply the method even to the Gospels, Muslims even to the Koran, and by the same token, Jews even to the Pentateuch. The result has been that thinking men have tried valiantly to reinterpret a faith based on the idea of Revelation so that it is in accord with the new facts.
Those who are at all aware of what has been going on in the world of thought and scholarship know all this to be commonplace. During the past year, when speaking on this theme, I have had to pull myself up from time to time and ask why it should be necessary to state the obvious. Surely this is the view of the man in the street not only of the advanced thinker, of the average sixth-former not only of the Bible critic. Indeed there would be no need to say it, were it not that the Chief Rabbi and the London Beth Din are saying the opposite and trying to put the clock back. We are not concerned primarily with the attempt to ‘sell’ Bible Criticism. This has long been ‘sold’, long been taught and accepted. Our Society is trying rather to build theologically on the foundations of sound Biblical and Rabbinic scholarship and so help towards the working out of something like a philosophy of Jewish practice which does not contradict the evidence.
According to the new picture of the Bible it is both divine and human. As good an illustration as any of what this means is Brunner’s of a gramophone record. We cannot now hear Caruso sing but we do the next best thing. We play a Caruso record and hear the master’s voice. But, of course, it is far from perfect. It is a reproduction. There is the inevitable distortion produced by the record. On this new view Revelation means that at certain periods in the history of our ancestors man met God. Revelation is an event, translated into words by men. The words they used to express the experiences they had are those found in the collection of books we call the Bible. From out of its pages we hear the voice of God speaking to us-, but it is the voice of God speaking through the distortion of the fallible human record. Unless we are prophets ourselves how else can we hear God’s voice? There is nothing in this view basically opposed to the Jewish idea. We Jews have been taught to worship God, not any of His creatures, not even the Torah. The Torah is to be studied and obeyed because it leads to God. In other words, there is not the slightest need for us to give up the doctrine of Revelation. We believe that there is a revealed Torah, ‘Torah Min Ha-Shamayim’, but, this is not to be identified with the actual words of the Torah we have today. It is indeed contained in that Torah, it is, as it were, the Torah behind the Torah. And it is our duty to search for the Torah behind the Torah.
This, in brief, is the theory our Society upholds. We do not claim any particular originality for our views. It is the kind of theory held by thinking Jews all over the world. But I have noticed at meetings I have addressed on this theme that invariably someone asks how Jewish practice is affected. A most pertinent question, as a result of which it is better to speak of the sanction for the Mitzwoth rather than the reasons for them. It is precisely here that we differ from the Mediaeval Jew. He had one cogent answer to the question of why he should keep the Mitzwoth. ‘I have to keep the Mitzwoth,’ he would have said, ‘because God has ordered me to do so. If I am especially intrepid I may go on to try to discover why God did so.’ But the much more pressing question the modern Jew asks is, ‘what is the authority for my observance of those Mitzwoth for which there is no easily discernible reason?’ He cannot fall back on the simple answer given by the Mediaeval Jew. Once it is recognized that there is a human element in the Torah it must be seen that there is no easy method by means of which this can be disentangled from the divine element. One certainly cannot take a pencil and mark this verse in the Pentateuch human, this divine, in a sense it is all human, in another sense all divine. What then are our criteria? Granted that there is not too much difficulty in seeing that, for all the human aspect of the Pentateuch, God really did command us to love our neighbour how can we be sure that He also commanded us to observe the dietary laws or keep the traditional Sabbath? On the whole, in the modern world, there are five attitudes towards our question. I propose to call these: i) Fundamentalism, ii) Classical Reform, iii) The Attitude of the Historical School, iv) Folk-ways, v) The Theological Attitude. I want to examine each of these in turn and try to show why we, the members of our Society, consider the fifth to be the best and most satisfactory approach to the Jewish mind and heart. There are, of course, very many people in our Community who agree with us though it is lamentable that they have not as yet seen fit to associate themselves publicly with us. We can only hope that these worthy people will have the courage of their convictions and join us in our endeavours.
The simple answer to our question is to deny that it exists. Your fundamentalist does precisely that. He would say that all the talk about a different attitude on the part of the modern Jew is so much hot air. Nothing has happened, he protests, to make us reject the Mediaeval attitude as laid down by Maimonides eight hundred years ago and by the London Beth Din some two years ago. The famous representative of this point of view is Samson Raphael Hirsch; a thinker in whom there is much to admire but who has been venerated in some fundamentalist circles to the point of idolatry. Hirsch put the fundamentalist position very clearly and eloquently in an essay written in 1854 entitled ‘Judaism Up To Date’. This is what Hirsch has to say:
‘If the Bible is to be for me the word of God, and Judaism and Jewish law the revealed will of God, is it possible for me to ask my belly, my sensual enjoyment and comfort, my temporary advantage, whether it is also sweet or easy, or profitable or agreeable? Is it possible for me to take religion, my religion, which has been given to me by God as a standard with which to measure myself, my generation, and all my action and inaction, and trim it to fit the meanness, the sensuality, the petty-mindedness of my own desires at any particular time?’
Hirsch goes on to say:
‘Let us not deceive ourselves. The whole question is simply this. Is the statement “And God spoke to Moses saying”, with which all the laws of the Jewish Bible commence, true or not true? Do we really and truly believe that God, the Omnipotent and Holy, spoke thus to Moses? Do we speak the truth when in front of our brethren we lay our hand on the scroll containing these words and say that God has given us this Torah, that His Torah, the Torah of truth and with it of eternal life, is planted in our midst? If this is to be no mere lip-service, no mere rhetorical flourish, then we must keep and carry out this Torah without omission and without carping, in all circumstances and at all times. This word of God must be our eternal rule superior to all human judgment, the rule to which all our actions must at all times conform; and instead of complaining that it is no longer suitable to the times, our only complaint must be that the times are no longer suitable to it.’
These are brave and fighting words, presenting us with an either/or with a vengeance. The present-day followers of Hirsch thrive on this either/or. Either you accept the view that every word of the Pentateuch was dictated by God to Moses or you might as well give up Judaism altogether. More than one of the members of this School has said to me: ‘If I believed as you do I would not go to Synagogue, I would not keep the Mitzwoth I would see no purpose in living as a Jew’; as if Judaism had no value in itself, as if the Mitzwoth, were an irksome burden, as if the whole range of Jewish religious experience is invalidated unless we accept a particular theory of how God communicated His demands at a certain period in human history.
The followers of this School claim to be modern and let us say in all fairness that it has produced men who have risen to the top of their profession, who have participated to the full in Western life. Yet it is not without significance that the theme of studies these people generally prefer belongs to the realm of the safe. Physics and mathematics are safe subjects. Classics are innocuous and there is no great danger even in philosophy. History, particularly Jewish history, and the scientific study of the Jewish sacred works, are far from being safe subjects. History lets the past speak for itself and once you allow the past to do that you see that there can be no successful building of a philosophy of Judaism on unsound theories as to what happened in the Jewish past.
As an alternative to Fundamentalism there is the attitude of Classical Reform. (By Classical Reform I mean the position advocated by the leaders of the Reform Movement in the last century. There are interesting tendencies in present-day Reform which seem to spell a departure from the earlier position.) Classical Reform declares that we cannot convincingly answer the question why we should keep the dietary laws and the like. On this view Judaism is an ethical religion, a prophetic religion. The prophets, it is claimed, did not advocate the observance of ritual but they did stress the need for practising justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. This is what the Reform leaders had to say in the well-known ‘Pittsburgh Platform’ in 1885:
‘We recognise in the Mosaic legislation a system of training the Jewish people for its mission during its national life in Palestine, and today we accept as binding only its moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization. We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elation.’
This was formulated a long time ago, since when a good deal has happened. Among other things, a certain Viennese doctor has had much of importance to say about the complexities of the human mind. Apart from the distinctiveness of Judaism, we know that life is deeper than logic, that Judaism is more than assent to theological propositions, that you cannot reduce it to ethics, even to ethics infused with a spirit of religion. There are depths in the human soul which only ritual can reach. It is no accident that, during the Roman period, when thousands of Gentiles were flocking to become converts to Judaism, it was not so much the Jewish ethic which attracted them, glorious and challenging though this was, but the fascination of Jewish ritual. They longed to observe Kashruth, to keep the Sabbath and the other distinctive Jewish institutions. Modern man is as much a creature of human needs as ancient man. It is simply not true to say that these things are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilisations or that they are entirely foreign to our mental and spiritual state. For man cannot live in heaven, Judaism urges him to bring down his ideals from heaven to give them concrete expression on earth, making them fruitful in daily living. It is highly significant that here and there in the Reform world of today one finds a new appreciation of the value of Halakhah. It is now widely recognised that the Classical Reform position results in an impoverishment of Judaism. Jews need a faith which sustains the soul in its quest for the divine and provides opportunities for man’s elevation to God in the day-to-day business of living,
The Historical School
An attitude which, while rejecting Fundamentalism, has a vivid appreciation of the significance of the Mitzwoth in their traditional form, is that of the Historical School, or Breslau School, as it is sometimes called. Among its representatives were Zechariah Frankel, the historian Graetz and Solomon Schechter. It is said that during the Great Exhibition in England in the last century, Graetz attended Synagogue and read the Haphtarah on the Sabbath before the Fast of Ab, when the first chapter of Isaiah is read. Graetz, it is said, proceeded to read the chapter with his own textual emendations. But after the service the great historian was seen to wrap his handkerchief around his wrist, because, Bible critic though -he was, he belonged to the Historical School, which upholds the need for observing the Sabbath in the traditional manner, including the prohibition of carrying out any object into the public domain. Louis Ginzberg, one of the most outstanding Talmudists of modern times and a Bible critic to boot, was a disciple of these men. Like them he was a strictly observant Jew. In an address Ginzberg delivered on Frankel’s life and thought, he pointed out that neither for Frankel nor for Graetz was the Law identical with the Bible. One could have a free attitude towards the investigation of the Bible and the other sources of Judaism without this affecting practical observance in its traditional form. Ginzberg said:
‘The dietary laws are not incumbent upon us because they conduce to moderation, nor the family laws because they further chastity and purity of morals. The law as a whole is not the means to an end, but the end in itself; the Law is active religiousness, and in active religion must lie what is specifically Jewish, All men need tangible expression to grasp the highest ideas to keep them clearly before them, to say nothing of the ordinary masses for whom abstract ideas are merely empty words. Our need of sensuous expressions and practical ceremonies brings with it the necessity for the material incorporation of religious conceptions, and varying people have given them varying forms. The Law is the form in which the Jewish spirit satisfies this need. In the precepts which are the dramatic representation of the inward feelings, Judaism found a material expression of its religious ideas; through them its abstractions became realities and in them the essential needs themselves, reverence and recognition of the divine will, were expressed. Every form became thus spiritualized and living, bearing within itself a lofty conception.’
There is no doubt that the Historical School has achieved great things. Jüdische Wissenschaft has transformed our knowledge of the Jewish past and there can be no by-passing its findings. But it is not unfair and irrelevant to note that the members of this School were more interested in the past than in the present and future. The questions they tried to answer were questions regarding the history of Judaism. What did the Bible, the Talmud, Saadiah and Maimonides really say? You can only discover this, they rightly argued, by having, in the first instance, accurate texts. And so a good deal of their activity was devoted to the establishment of proper texts. You can only discover this if you know the languages in which the thought of the past is conveyed. And so they engaged in the careful study of Semitic philology. You can only discover this if you know much about the background to the thought of the past. And so they examined with keen insight the history of the different civilisations in which Jews moved and had their being. Men have only a limited quota of energy. Few can be both theologians and historians and the members of this School decided that they could best make their contribution as historians. The result was that their occasional excursions into theology were not always too profound and, to their credit, they generally recognized this. The theologian of today cannot afford to neglect their massive achievements but, as a theologian, he must build on them and go beyond them.
Solomon Schechter saw the problem. Schechter writes:
‘The historical school has never, to my knowledge, offered to the world a theological programme of its own. By the nature of its task, its labours are mostly conducted in the field of philosophy and archaeology, and it pays but little attention to purely dogmatic questions. On the whole, its attitude towards religion may be defined as an enlightened Scepticism combined with a staunch conservatism which is not even wholly devoid of a certain mystical touch.’
Schechter goes on to develop his famous theory of Catholic Israel, that is, the source of Jewish authority is not in the Bible but in the historical experience of the people of Israel. It is in this conception that whatever theology there is in the Historical School inheres. But Schechter continues:
‘How long the position of this school will prove tenable is another question. Being brought up in the old Low Synagogue, where, with all attachment to tradition, the Bible was looked upon as the crown and climax of Judaism, the old Adam still asserts itself in me, and in unguarded moments makes me rebel against this new rival of revelation in the shape of history. At times this now fashionable exaltation of Tradition at the expense of Scripture even impresses me as a sort of religious bimetallism in which bold speculators in theology try to keep up the market value of an inferior currency by denouncing loudly the bright shining gold which, they would have us believe, is less fitted to circulate in the vulgar use of daily life than the small cash of historical interpretation. Nor can I quite reconcile myself to this alliance of religion with history, which seems to me both unworthy and unnatural. The Jew, some writer aptly remarked, was the first and fiercest Nonconformist of the East, and so Judaism was always a protesting religion. To break the idols, whether of the past or the present, has always been a sacred mission of Judaism, and has indeed been esteemed by it as a necessary preliminary to the advent of the kingdom of God on earth.’
In other words Schechter is reminding us, and surely he is right, that Judaism is not antiquarianism, that an adherence to Judaism involves far more than an investigation into our history. Judaism is a living religion. Jews do not only wish to know what the Rabbis believed or what Maimonides believed but what present-day Jews are expected to believe. The Synagogue Jew is naturally interested in the Jewish past but his burning need as a human being is to know what Judaism says to him now. He needs to know over and above what Maimonides taught long ago how much of relevance is there in Maimonides teaching for him in his predicament.
It is to the eternal credit of Dr. Mordecai Kaplan that he, possibly more than any other Jewish thinker of our day, has made us face squarely this question of relevance. Kaplan, in his attempt to deal with the problem, describes the Mitzwoth as ‘folk-ways’. It would be doing less than justice to Kaplan’s thought to leave this term unexplained. Kaplan’s ‘Reconstructionist School’ has had many important things to say on the proper understanding of the ‘folk-ways’ conception. Kaplan argues that Judaism is a civilisation. It is a whole order of existence, a whole way of life. The precepts of the Torah are life-enhancing. To observe them is not at all a matter of living with the past, it is far removed from ancestor worship. It is more than revering the history of Israel or simply keeping up the traditions. It is rather a determined effort to live richly and rewardingly in the present with a full realisation of all the dignity and nobility inherent in the term ‘Jew’. To ask why the Mitzwoth should be kept is, on this view, a betrayal. The Mitzwoth are a privilege, they have intrinsic value, they are anything but a burden. The Jewish ceremonies are beautiful, they endow life with meaning and significance. The Sabbath, for example, can give the Jew so much, as it gave our ancestors, in terms of spiritual nourishment and refreshment. The dietary laws can provide him with anchorage in his glorious past and help to keep the Jewish ideal alive. And so throughout the whole range of the Mitzwoth, there is ample justification for their observance unless we wish to deprive our lives of poetry, feeling and striving after the highest we know. This, indeed, Kaplan would say, is the purpose of religion. It exists to foster human values at their highest and best and summon men to gaze deeper into life’s meaning.
Our objection to this attitude is to its excessive emphasis on human values as the true aim of religion. What has become of the Jew’s eternal quest for God with the Mitzwoth as the means for its realisation? Is it not true that, for all the laxity in matters of observance today, the modern Jew wishes to obey the Mitzwoth as Mitzwoth (the word means ‘divine commands’)? The believing Jew wishes to know how his Creator wishes him to behave. The whole point of the Jewish emphasis on Torah and Mitzwoth is that there is splendour in the idea of submission to the will of God. Rabbi S. J. Sevin once observed that the ‘folk-ways’ attitude attempts to reverse the old Jewish saying that the Minhag of Israel – the custom of Israel – is Torah. It, too, is, as it were, God-ordained. The ‘folk-ways’ approach tends to suggest that the Torah of Israel is Minhag – the Torah of Israel is really the custom of Israel. But Israel needs the idea of Torah as the will of God. Much as we value the insights of this school we cannot stop there. We must try to discover if it is possible to depart from Fundamentalism, as we must if we are to preserve our intellectual integrity, and yet preserve the idea of keeping the Mitzwoth because they are the commands of God, because that it is which God would have us do. I submit that there is a fifth approach which, for want of a better name, we might call the Theological.
The Theological Approach
A sound theological approach will not fail to build on the findings of the Historical School. It will acknowledge that there is a history of Jewish observances and that these did not drop down ready made from heaven. It will recognise, for instance, that the dietary laws were not dictated in all their details by God to Moses but evolved gradually, frequently in response to outside stimuli. It will see the whole area of Jewish observance growing naturally out of Israel’s experience. But it will see the hand of God in all this, will see that the ‘Tree of Life’ which is the Torah yields no less nourishing fruit because it began its existence as an acorn. We believe in the God who speaks to us out of Israel’s experience; Israel, the people dedicated to God’s service and the fulfilment of His purpose. We believe in the God who, as Frankel said, reveals Himself not alone to the prophets but through Klal Yisrael, the Community of Israel as it works out and applies the teachings of the prophets. Yes, it is true, in a sense, that the whole Torah of Israel is Minhag, custom, growing through the experiences of human beings and interpreted by them in response to particular conditions in human history. But we go on from there to say that since this happened, since this is how God revealed Himself, then the Minhag of Israel is Torah.
Either one sees power in the idea of submission to God’s will or one does not see it. If one does see it, and very many sensitive religious people do, then there can be no greater value than the idea of a Mitzwah as an opportunity of doing God’s will. The Sabbath, for example, whatever its origins, is still the institution by means of which the Jew acknowledges God as Creator. Louis Ginzberg is right when he says that it is quite possible for a scholarly Jew to have the exact opinion of a German Protestant professor as to how the Sabbath came into Jewish life, but come it did and he can find it to be binding on him because it can bring him nearer to God as it brought his ancestors.
This is no new idea. It is implicit in much of the teachings which have come down to us from Rabbinic times. To this day the Jew says when he kindles the Hanukah lights: ‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, who hath commanded us by His commandments, and hath commanded us to kindle the lamps of Hanukah.’ Where did God command us to kindle the lamps of Hanukah? It is not in the Bible. And yet the Rabbis ordained that we should recite this benediction as they ordained a similar benediction before reading the Hallel. The Hallel is composed of verses from the book of Psalms. The book of Psalms was not given to Moses on Sinai and yet the Rabbis instruct us to praise God for commanding us to recite some of its verses. Historically considered, God commanded us to read these verses through the experiences of the people of Israel, through the Minhag of Israel. And if we believe that God works through and in Israel – and I cannot see how you can have a Judaism without this belief – then this is the sanction for the Mitzwoth. God sanctified us by His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Hanukah lights, to read the Hallel, to worship in Synagogues. Search the Bible from beginning to end and you will find there no command to build Synagogues. And yet Jews build Synagogues and pray in them in the conviction that this is the will of God, since this is how Jews have stressed their religious strivings. We, too, erect Synagogues and worship in them for the same reason. We need a vocabulary of worship and this the Mitzwoth provide. That is their sanction.
Is this Orthodox Teaching?
If you have followed me thus far I know that there is a question you will wish to ask. It is a question which has been put to me many times. I shall put it crudely because it has been put to me often in this way. ‘So all the fuss has been about very little. You are simply telling us to do what the members of the London Beth Din are telling us to do. How do you differ from them?’
First, supposing there were no practical differences between what we are trying to say and what the London Beth Din says, does this mean that theory is unimportant? What has happened to Anglo-Jewry? Do we have to be so pragmatic in our approach that we can see neither value nor significance in the investigation of truth for its own sake? This would reduce Judaism to a form of behaviourism. Judaism is a way of thinking, an attitude to life. It places a good deal of emphasis on study, on investigation, on concern for the truth – the seal of God, as the Rabbis describe it. Theory is in itself of great importance apart from its implications for practice.
It is true that we uphold the observance of the Mitzwoth as much as the London Beth Din. We certainly do not suggest that the Halakhah, be discarded. What we do urge is the emergence of a new philosophy of Halakhah one which is in accord with the facts. I feel that here is the place to say something about the term ‘Orthodox’ which has been bandied about in the recent controversy. Are we Orthodox? Well, of course, if by ’Orthodox’ you mean ‘Fundamentalist’ then our Society is not Orthodox. If this is what is meant by Orthodox I am proud to be unorthodox because it seems to me no one can today be a fundamentalist without either being in ignorance of the facts or in full knowledge of the facts but lacking the courage to face them,
But if by ‘Orthodox’ you mean (what I suspect the term has meant in Anglo-Jewry until recent years) a certain positive attitude towards Jewish tradition, a certain respect for Jewish observance, a realisation that the Mitzwoth can bring us nearer to God, then we are Orthodox because this is what we believe. Not that one should in any event attach much significance to what is after all only a term, originally a term of reproach. If it be asked whether we are observant the answer is yes. We do stand by the practice of the Mitzwoth and try to keep them as best we can.
But it would be a little dishonest simply to leave it at that. We would be guilty of pulling wool over people’s eyes if we pretended that there are only theoretical differences between us and the Beth Din. The truth is that differences in theory inevitably result in differences in practice. ‘Show me a man’s philosophy,’ said Chesterton, ‘and I will show you the man.’ If your theory is sound it will be reflected in your practice. If your theory is distorted this, too, will be reflected in your practice. Whatever our opponents say about us we are not going to suggest that they are anything but honest men who sincerely believe in their theory. And if there is a most unfortunate rigidity in Anglo-Jewish religious life today, a terribly inflexible interpretation of the Halakhah on the part of religious officialdom this is not because of any personal failings on the part of our opponents, beyond that of their addiction to an untenable theory of Judaism. If your history is rigid, if it is dinned into you day after day that you must believe that every detail was dictated by God to Moses on Sinai, you will be rigid in your practice. If, on the other hand your theory is flexible, allowing for the concept of development, is broader and wider and more liberal, is soundly in accord with the idea of historical growth and change, then your practice will be less fiercely intolerant, more amenable to reason without degenerating into superficial lack of concern.
I propose to give two examples out of many for what I am trying to say; one comparatively trivial, the other of much greater significance. Is it really so difficult to decide whether one can have a microphone in the Synagogue on the Sabbath that it has to take six or seven years with a decision still not forthcoming? Why has this happened? Because if you have a fundamentalist point of view you are always afraid of infringing God’s law. You do not see Judaism in terms of God revealing Himself to the people of Israel as it works out its own salvation. You tend to see everything in the most unbending terms and are in a constant state of apprehension. In the circumstances it is not surprising if you decide that the best thing is to make no decision.
This is a trivial example. Now for a more serious one. Many of us believe that the attitude adopted in Anglo-Jewry to the children of mixed marriages is directly opposed to all that Judaism stands for. A child has been brought up by a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. The mother as well as the father has seen to it that the child has been given a Jewish education. He has attended Synagogue and Synagogue classes from his infancy. He looks upon himself as a Jew. The child grows up and wishes to marry a Jewish girl but when he approaches the authorities, instead of them regularizing the position by conversion without more ado, they persist in treating him as an original applicant for conversion with demands made on him that are so excessive as effectively to bar him from the ranks of traditional Judaism. Against all humane principles you keep him outside. But, having been brought up as a Jew, he loves Judaism, or, at any rate, he prefers it to any other religion. It is his faith and he wants no other. This kind of rigid application of the law is only possible for a fundamentalist and that is one of the strongest reasons why, theory apart, it is necessary to reject Fundamentalism on practical grounds.
These are the five attitudes. We have adopted the fifth because it seems to us the best way of understanding the meaning of Judaism for the modern Jew. We reject the first attitude because we cannot believe that Judaism wishes us to be obscurantist. We reject the second attitude because we see Judaism as more than ethics. We cannot accept the third attitude as it stands because we see Judaism as more than history. We do not adopt the fourth attitude because we see Judaism as more than sociology. But we believe with the fifth attitude that Judaism is a religion and a religious approach sees the Mitzwoth as the way to God. The sanction for the Mitzwoth is that they succeed in bringing men to God. Because they do this they are commanded by God.
 Professor I. Heinemann (‘Ta’ame Ha-Mitzwoth Be-Siohruth Yisrael, Jer., 1949) gives three reasons why the Jewish rationalists the Middle Ages felt obliged to search for the meaning of the Mitzwoth: i) As a defence of Judaism against Gentile ridicule; ii) As a means of attaining to a deeper understanding of the purpose of the Mitzwoth, with a corresponding greater enthusiasm for their observance; iii) the belief that God was no tyrant imposing arbitrary rules on His creatures. While the mystics see meaning, in terms of the superral mysteries, of even the details of the Mitzwoth, Maimonides (‘Guide’ III:26) states that some of their details are arbitrary and that the search for reasons must be confined to the general purposes of the commandments. Cf. on the whole subject, for the rationalist point of view, Leon Roth: ‘The Guide for the Perplexed: Moses Maimonides’, Hutchinson’s University Library, London, 1948, pp. 72 – 80, and for the mystical point of view, G. Scholem: ‘Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism’, 3rd ed., Thames and Hudson, London, 1955, pp. 28 – 30.
 There has been constant misrepresentation of the views of the Society on this score. We have been accused of embracing old-fashioned nineteenth century views and bowing before the magic names of Graf and Wellhausen. In fact, none of us has ever suggested that Bible studies came to an end with Graf and Wellhausen In fact, I have been at pains to note, whenever I have written or spoken on the subject of Bible Criticism, that scholarship progresses. Our whole discussion has to do with the state of present-day Biblical scholarship. There are, of course, scholars today who have moved very far from the Documentary Hypotheses as presented by Wellhausen. There are scholars today who reject it completely. There are others who modify it considerably. For scholarship does not stand still and it is the essence of the scientific approach to be testing and re-testing hypotheses in the light of further evidence. What no scholar of any reputation at all in the field of Bible scholarship does is to accept the fundamentalist position, the doctrine that every word of the Pentateuch was dictated by God to Moses. In the statement published in the ‘Jewish Chronicle’, 2nd Feb. 1962, p. 8, the Dayanim of the London Beth Din declare their conviction that ‘unity and contemporaneous revelation on Sinai of the Written and Oral Law through Moshe Rabenu’ is a belief ‘central to Judaism’. In the same statement they accept the doctrine of verbal inspiration, reject not alone Higher Criticism but textual criticism and imply that the present text was the one given to Moses on Sinai. They conclude ‘An attitude to the Torah such as adopted by Dr. Jacobs implies the tentative nature of the mitzvot and must, because of the absence of the sanction of the Sinaitic revelation, as the ultimate basis of observance of the mitzvot, finally lead to their abrogation’.
 For the idea of Torah behind the Torah I am indebted to Ernst Simon: ‘Torat Hayyim: Some Thoughts on the Teaching of the Bible,’ in Conservative Judaism, Vol. 12:3, Spring 1958, pp. 1- 19. Professor Simon writes ‘I believe that this is a Conservative approach to the problem of Revelation, as differentiated from the Orthodox viewpoint which identifies the actual text of the Hebrew Bible with the Divine original as well as from the radically humanistic – including the Reconstructionist and Reform theories – which seem to strip the Bible altogether of its Divine character. We claim neither that the Divine original is in our hand nor do we admit that there is no such original. We read and teach the Bible as a palimpsest, discovering in it again and again traces of the original word of God. The text we possess reveals this hidden, authentic writ as well as conceals it.’
 ‘Judaism Eternal’, trans. by Dayan Dr. I. Grunfeld, Vol. II, The Soncino Press, London, 1956, pp. 213 -223.
 Louis Ginzberg: ‘Students, Scholars and Saints’, Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1928; Meridian Books, 1958, pp. 195 – 216.
 ‘Studies in Judaism’, Introduction, Meridian Books, 1958, pp. 9 – 21.