Menu JTA Search

No Jewish View on Life in Philosophic Sense, Says Professor Albert Einstein

There is no Jewish view of life in the philosophic sense, according to Professor Albert Einstein. “Judaism,” he says, “appears to me to be almost exclusively concerned with the moral attitude in and toward life.”

“Judaism,” he explains in an article which appears in the current issue of “Opinion,” “I believe to be rather the content of the life-approach of the Jewish people than the contents of the law laid down in the Torah and interpreted in the Talmud. Torah and Talmud are for me only the most weighty evidence of the governing concepts of Jewish life in earlier times.

“The essence of the Jewish concept of life seems to me to be the affirmation of life for all creatures. For the life of the individual has meaning only in the service of enhancing and ennobling the life of every living thing. Life is holy; i.e., it is the highest worth on which all other values depend. The sanctification of the life which transcends the individual brings with it reverence for the spiritual, a peculiarly characteristic trait of Jewish tradition.

“Judaism is not a faith. The Jewish God is but a negation of superstition and an imaginative result of its elimination. He also represents an attempt to ground morality in fear—a deplorable, discreditable attempt. Yet it seems to me that the powerful moral tradition in the Jewish people, has, in great measure, released itself from this fear. Moreover, it is clear that ‘to serve God’ is equivalent to serving ‘every living thing.’ It is for this that the best among the Jewish people, especially the Prophets, including Jesus, ceaselessly battled. Thus Judaism is not a transcendental religion. It is concerned only with the tangible experiences of life and with nothing else. Therefore it seems to me to be questionable whether it may be termed a ‘religion’ in the customary sense of the word, especially since no ‘creed’ is demanded of Jews, but only the sanctification of life in its all-inclusive sense.

“There remains, however, something more in the Jewish traditions, so gloriously revealed in certain of the psalms; namely, a kind of drunken joy and surprise at the beauty and incomprehensible sublimity of this world, of which man can attain but a faint intimation. It is the feeling from which genuine research draws its intellectual strength, but which also seems to manifest itself in the song of birds. This appears to me to be the loftiest content of the God-idea.

“Is this then, characteristic of Judaism? And does it exist elsewhere under other names? In pure form it exists nowhere, not even in Judaism where too much literalism obscures the pure doctrine. But nevertheless I see in Judaism one of its most vital and pure realizations. This is especially true of its fundamental principle of the sanctification of life.

“It is noteworthy that in the Commandment to keep the Sabbath holy the animals were also expressly included—so strongly was felt as an ideal the demand for the solidarity of all living things. Far more strongly yet is expressed the demand for solidarity of all humankind; and it is no accident that the socialistic demands for the most part emanated from Jews.

“To how great an extent the consciousness of the sanctity of life is alive in the Jewish people is beautifully illustrated by a remark once made to me by Walter Rathenau: ‘When a Jew says he takes pleasure in the hunt, he lies!’ It is impossible to express more simply the consciousness of the sanctity and the unity of all life as it exists in the Jewish people,” Professor Einstein concludes.

NEXT STORY