London (Jul. 21)
Israel has been preserved only because it kept its rituals and if the rites had not been strictly observed it probably would not exist today, declared Edmond Fleg, celebrated French author, speaking on “The Mission of Israel” at the second world conference on Progressive Judaism here yesterday.
M. Fleg pointed out that orthodox, progressive and Zionist Jews are still seeking a central idea which will reunite them. This idea, he suggested, will be found in the ancient concept of the mission of Israel “which must be lit with fresh youth and the life of the past and the present.”
Discussing “The Task of Liberal Judaism,” Rabbi Felix Levy of Chicago, said that three forces were at work in the modern world, science, nationalism and industrialism. The latter two he characterized as “the twin enemies of religion. Religion today is engaged in a deadly combat with this twin-headed monster. If they win, religion will disappear because it will not be worth observing. But if religion is able to defeat the monster, religion will enter its proper phase of duty.” Rabbi Levy declared that the failure of religion in the past may be laid to the fact that it had been content to run only in the old grooves.
SEES DANGER IN CEREMONIES
In the course of a discussion on “Personal Piety” during which Heinrich Stern of Berlin presided, Rabbi Israel Mattuck of London pointed out the danger of ceremony destroying the balance in religion. Ceremonies have value and have danger, he said, “the greatest danger being in the belief that the observation of ceremonies pleases God and religion being corrupted and rotted at its very heart by those who believe that the worship of God means to observe certain things.”
In the same discussion, Rabbi Germain Levy of Paris compared music with prayer, pointing out that like music one can only understand prayer by trying it. Claude Montefiore emphasized the necessity for discipline, saying that a certain amount of dullness, regularity and ceremony is necessary even for the most liberal Jews for an inculcation of piety.
Mr. Montefiore, who presided at the opening session, declared that progressive Judaism endeavors to satisfy thinking men and women today but said that this did not imply that “Judaism must veer about with every new fashion in philosophy or that it could be false to the fundamental doctrines. But within those wide limits it seeks to enrich our conceptions of God and makes them more consistent with the advance of knowledge and science.”
TRACES PROBLEMS OF REFORM
After pointing out that the problems of the “world of the Bible” and of today are different and that Reform Judaism had begun largely with outward things, Mr. Montefiore traced the difficult problems that confronted Reform Judaism 50 years ago and which have not yet been definitely settled.
Some of these are, what are the legitimate influences of Biblical criticism on progressive Judaism, what should be the value of tradition, what the place of rabbinic ordinances as compared with Pentateuchal Law, how far should all purely national elements be removed from modern Judaism, how many of Maimonides’ Thirteen Articles of faith are still valid for Reformers, what should be the attitude of Reform to Sabbath observances and the dietary laws.
On the other hand he said that the success of Liberal Judaism had revealed certain defects. Indifference had not been abolished by Reform. Admitting that the problems of today are graver than those of 50 years ago, Mr. Montefiore enumerated the following as the pressing questions of today: is the God of the modern world the God of Judaism, can there be a reconciliation between the two and has prayer a meaning?
RABBI SCHULMAN READS PAPER
Rabbi Samuel Schulman of New York read a paper on “The Conception and Value of Prayer.” The central fact in religion is prayer, Rabbi Schulman said. Prayer expresses the conviction that God is a reality and not merely a wish, he continued. Rabbi Schulman emphasized that there was an aspect of modern thought which frankly acknowledges religion as a fundamental human experience which performs a peculiar function in life and which has biological value and therefore justifies itself.
In the absence of David Koigen, his paper on “The Conception of God in the Light of Modern Thought” was read by Rabbi Nathan Stern of New York. Sir Philip Hartog and Rabbi Bernard Heller of Scranton, Pa., also spoke.