Monday, January 01, 2007

Is There a Jewish Point of View?

If you can figure out who said this before looking at the bottom, you win a gold star.


In the philosophical sense there is, in my opinion, no specifically Jewish outlook. Judaism seems to me to be concerned almost exclusively with the moral attitude in life and to life. I look upon it as the essence of an attitude to life which is incarnate in the Jewish people rather than the essence of the laws laid down in the Torah and interpreted in the Talmud. To me, the Torah and the Talmud are merely the most important evidence for the manner in which the Jewish conception of life held sway in earlier times.

The essence of that conception seems to me to lie in an affirmative attitude to the life of all creation. The life of the individual has meaning only in so far as it aids in making the life of every living thing nobler and more beautiful. Life is sacred--that is to say, it is the supreme value, to which all other values are subordinate. The hallowing of the supra-individual life brings in its train a reverence for everything spiritual--a particularly characteristic feature of the Jewish tradition.

Judaism is not a creed: the Jewish God is simply a negation of superstition, an imaginary result of its elimination. It is also an attempt to base the moral law on fear, a regrettable and discreditable attempt. Yet it seems to me that the strong moral tradition of the Jewish nation has to a large extent shaken itself free from this fear. It is clear also that "serving God" was equated with "serving the living." The best of the Jewish people, especially the Prophets and Jesus, contended tirelessly for this.

Judaism is thus no transcendental religion; it is concerned with life as we live it and can up to a point grasp it, and nothing else. It seems to me, therefore, doubtful whether it can be called a religion in the accepted sense of the word, particularly as no "faith" but the sanctification of life in a supra-personal sense is demanded of the Jew.

But the Jewish tradition also contains something else, something which finds splendid expression in many of the Psalms, namely, a sort of intoxicated joy and amazement at the beauty and grandeur of this world, of which man can just form a faint notion. This joy is the feeling from which true scientific research draws its spiritual sustenance, but which also seems to find expression in the song of birds. To tack this feeling to the idea of God seems mere childish absurdity.

Is what I have described a distinguishing mark of Judaism? Is it to be found anywhere else under another name? In its pure form, it is nowhere to be found, not even in Judaism, where the pure doctrine is obscured by much worship of the letter. Yet Judaism seems to me one of its purest and most vigorous manifestations. This applies particularly to the fundamental principle of the sanctification of life.

It is characteristic that the animals were expressly included in the command to keep holy the Sabbath day, so strong was the feeling that the ideal demands the solidarity of all living things. The insistence on the solidarity of all human beings finds still stronger expression, and it is no mere chance that the demands of Socialism were for the most part first raised by Jews.

How strongly developed this sense of the sanctity of life is in theJewish people is admirably illustrated by a little remark which Walter Rathenau once made to me in conversation: "When a Jew says that he's going hunting to amuse himself, he lies." The Jewish sense of the sanctity of life could not be more simply expressed.

-Albert Einstein

15 comments:

Rabban Gamliel said...

See
http://rabbangamliel.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2006-11-01T00%3A00%3A00-05%3A00&updated-max=2006-12-01T00%3A00%3A00-05%3A00&max-results=6

Anonymous said...

He's not describing Judaism, he's describing Einsteinism. It's a nice philosophy, but to call it Judaism is nothing more than wishful projection on his part. If Judaism can be stretched to mean even that then it has no inherent meaning at all.

Anonymous said...

Orthoprax, did you post this just to have us guess who said it, or did you have something else in mind?

Another anon

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

As he clearly states "I look upon it [Judaism] as the essence of an attitude to life which is incarnate in the Jewish people rather than the essence of the laws laid down in the Torah and interpreted in the Talmud."

He's talking about what he perceives to be the essence of Judaism rather than the letter of the law or dogmatic beliefs. Dogmatism, in Einstein's eyes, is a misstep in the proper aim of religion.


Another anon,

No, my intent was not simply to play an identification game. Einstein had an interesting perspective on Judaism and I don't know if many people are familiar with his own words on the topic.

Comments, critiques, questions, etc are what I'm looking for.

Anonymous said...

This has absolutely nothing to do with Judaism. It’s a beautiful idea, but just read through the Talmud and the Bible and you will see it is all about the law.

The only way I see to reconcile this with actual Judaism is to try to isolate different stands within the Jewish tradition. For example, whilst P is ritualistic, concerned always with miniscule details of law, D is more spiritual, less concerned with rigor in law and more concerned with morality and with the ideological and philosophical worldview that are manifest in the law (that there is one God, charity etc.).

This same dichotomy may very well be true in later generations, such as the chassiduk vs Litvack, Reform vs. Orthodox. But, I am not sure that you see much of the Einstonian perspective from the time of the Mishnah to the time Haskalah. This may be because the Christians owned that perspective in that period.

If anyone is interested, here’s Dawkins talking about Einstein and religion:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfnDdMRxMHY at 3:11

Anonymous said...

Is what I have described a distinguishing mark of Judaism? Is it to be found anywhere else under another name? In its pure form, it is nowhere to be found, not even in Judaism, where the pure doctrine is obscured by much worship of the letter.

Also, about this being Einstein:

It’s interesting that it is. Einstein is frequently quoted about soft subjects. It always bothered me. The man was an unquestioned genius in physics, but what did he know about religion, politics etc. that everyone cares so much about what he says?

But, this quote in a way dovetails with Einstein the physicist. What separated Einstein from other physicists was his ability to see things outside of the box, to not be confined by preconceived notions, and to approach reality from a completely different unexpected perspective. For example, anyone who has ever studied relativity is completely aghast at the shattering of the notion of simultaneity that everyone else in the world takes for granted.

To me, in this quote, he’s completely reinventing and redefining, not only Judiasm, but religion. Above, he talks about the “pure doctrine.” What does he mean by this? I assume he is not talking about revelation. I also assume he’s not talking about the original doctrine since that is different from his description! Rather, he refers to an abstract pretend doctrine. A theoretical one. It reminds of the way we define objects in physics that don’t exist in real life, like bras or kets, or electromagnetic fields. These things have no real existence in the real world, but to the physicist they exist as real conceptual objects. Although Einstein’s religion never did exist in the real world, we can define it to have existed if we can only reorient our perspective as to what is real and what is not.

B. Spinoza said...

> In its pure form, it is nowhere to be found, not even in Judaism, where the pure doctrine is obscured by much worship of the letter.

I find the esoteric/kabbalistic approach to be interesting because it does worship the letter, but at the same time it searches for what it considers the "pure doctrine" i.e. the hidden meaning. It a difficult dance, but it can be rewarding.

Rabban Gamliel said...

Hey Spinoza you're my kind of guy.
Ein Sof Rocks!
I think XGH thinks our approach a little nutty for thinking we can get positive knowledge concerning G-d rather than his permanent "I don't know approach."

B. Spinoza said...

>Hey Spinoza you're my kind of guy.
Ein Sof Rocks!

Well, in theory. I'm honestly not a real student of Kabbalah, but there are some interesting concepts there

>think XGH thinks our approach a little nutty for thinking we can get positive knowledge concerning G-d rather than his permanent "I don't know approach."

it all depends on how you define and conceive of the term "God", of course. Which is the endless debate we always have. Do you go with the conventional meaning or the philosophic/esoteric meaning? Using the conventional meaning the "I don't know approach" is rational.

Rabban Gamliel said...

I beleive that there is G-d as He is in Himself and then G-d as we perceive him. G-d as He is in Himself dwells alone. There is nothing but Him. He is as alone to today at the beginning. He is outside of space and time. All the categories we apply to G-d are the best metaphors we can.

Hasid_Letz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hasid_Letz said...

Upon reading the title, I heard a voice, "Einstein"

Do I get to cash in the Gold Star?

Madinwilly

B. Spinoza said...

>Do I get to cash in the Gold Star?

you get a free ticket to heaven

Hasid_Letz said...

If only it was round trip

Mad

alex said...

For an essay that both praises and critiques Einstein's Jewish thinking, check out The Biblical Echo by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman.