[The purpose of the Digest is informative: Preterence is given to papers not generally accessible to our readers. Quotation does not indicate approval–Editor.]
The creation of a new rabbinical seminary where rabbis would be trained to understand the modern needs of the Jew of the present, just as medical students are taught to understand the human body, is proposed by Prof. Horace M. Kallen in his article, “Can Judaism Survive in the United States?” (“The Menorah Journal,” December issue).
Prof. Kallen analyzes the method pursued in the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Institute of Religion and concludes that “in spite of all the brave language about leadership and living Judaism in American life, welded together by rabbis, the rabbinacal training has no specifically American or generally Jewish as against Judaistic content, whether in method or attitude. It is a thing apart, preoccupied with a very little beyond the remote past, and needing translation to get present significance.”
Neither the fundamentalist seminary, the reformist college nor the liberal institute satisfy Prof. Kallen’s standard of the true functions of rabbinical training. For, he says, “they assume that the modern Jews whose ‘spiritual’ needs the professional keepers of Judaistic antiquities are to serve by means of them, require no study or understanding. They are to be known by the rabbinical mind immediately and intuitively in the same absolute way that Rabbi Joel Blau knows his God. It is of record that the assumption is not vindicated by its results. Rabbis, as a class, develop through no fault of their own neither into scholars nor ministers. They develop into public flatterers of the powers on which their livelihood depends. Flattery is the sum of their ‘spiritual leadership.’
“If historical Judaism’ is to be preserved as a continuous current of life and not as a dead antiquity, it is necessary to train the rabbi for this purpose,” continues Prof. Kallen. “It is necessary that the rabbinical schools shall pay much less attention to the Judaism of the past, and much more attention to the Jew of the present. It is necessary that scholarship, which is scientific knowledge of the past, shall be separated from ministry, which is wise service of the present. The business of the rabbi is to minister religiously to the modern Jews. To equip him only with ancient rules and practices is as self-defeating as to teach a medical student about drugs but not about the human body to which they are to be administered.
“The starting-point for the training of a Judaist minister is the Jewish present, not the Jewish past. The rabbinical seminary should be organized on the same principle’ as a first class medical school. It should aim to instruct candidates for the rabbinate in the structure and functions of Jewish communities. It should aim to make them understand the nature and the development of the institutional organs of the communities, their reciprocal influences, their health and their diseases, the points of crises or strain or transformation in their development at which his ministrations might be called for. It should aim to do the same thing with respect to the individual Jews who compose the communities, and whose personal fates are implicated in their aggregate destiny. It should pay particular attention to the psychopathology of their daily lives in which their being Jews is a factor and which therefore calls for ministrations of Judaism. A training school for Judaist ministers, in a word, would familiarize its trainees with that total fulness of the life of the Jewish people which I am accustomed to call Hebraism, and of which Judaism is a part, and but a small part.
“I realize that none of the three institutions whose courses I have surveyed is able, even if by some miracle its government were willing, to make such a change. Their investment in their status quo is too great; they have too many interests at stake.
“But it may be that some Jews of great wealth are interested enough in the survival of Judaism as a living religion and not as an antique survival to risk some of their wealth on the experiment of bringing back Judaism to the Jew. For it is Judaism that must return to the Jew, not the Jew to Judaism. The whole history of Judaist institutions in America shows this. The transformations of orthodoxy, the mutations of reform, the appearance of new sects–these are not the activties of Jewish laymen. They are the endeavor of the churchmen, of the ‘spiritual leadership’ to told their customers, to catch up with the body of jewry that keeps leaving them behind.
“The critical point in the survival of Judaism in the United States is the education of the profesional Judaists, whose vocation is to bring Judaism livingly to bear at the points in the lives of Jews here religious intervention is indicated.
“I confess, sadly, that I have no great confidence what anybody who has the means and the power will have also the imagination and the courage to try to do it.”