Book Reviews

“Liberalizing Liberal Judaism” (Macmillan) by James Waterman Wise is a book dealing mainly with the problem of “the descendents of believers in Judaism.” The circle which it embraces is, however, much larger, for not only does the problem concern the descendants of German Jews and the “ever increasing number of East European Jews,” as the author himself puts it, but it is of great interest to everyone who has learned to think of religion in terms of historical development and is willing to search for the truth in religion, even at the risk of the discomfort of doubt.

Once the principle laid down by the author that the purpose of religion is to help man to “live well-a principle which is so basically in accordance with Jewish doctrine-is agreed upon, the other conclusions, presented so forcibly, seem to be a logical consequence and an expression of a sincere striving for religious truth.

Taking Judaism as the point of departure, through the process of spiritual development, safety from the standpoint of Jewishness is secured in advance. However, the candor with which the author treats the entire problem reaches the point of revolutionary endeavor. Although it may appear very difficult at first to accept some of the suggestions made by the author, this book is a valuable contribution to modern Jewish religious thought.

The first American edition of “Yiddish Folk Songs”, adapted for voice and piano, made its appearance. The Bloch Publishing Company deserves credit for issuing the collection of fifty Yiddish folk songs by Sarah Pitkowsky Schack, providing a novel feature for the American Jewish home.

Folk songs depict the soul of the people-their sorrow, their joy, their struggle and their hope. In former times, before the synagogue reached its stage of stagnation, folk songs were a welcome feature even in the synagogue service. The Orthodox prayer book contains a number of folk songs composed in the Aramaic language. The Selichoth and the Knoth are largely productions of a similar nature, although they are framed more in the style of a prayer.

The Jewish Folk Songs, which are the products of the Yiddish language period, possess both in contents and melody such a direct appeal to Jewish sentiment and philosophy of life, that they are of unusual interest to even those who are already a generation apart from the mode of life they portray. In fact, as an educational means and one which at the same time is of entertaining value, they are unparallel and much sought in Jewish home life and family gatherings.

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