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Religious Liberty_ A Jewish Perspective
This paper, like the preceding one of Mgr. Biffi, was presented at the meeting of the International Liaison Committee at Regensburg. We print this article with the kind permission of the author on the understanding that it may not be reproduced elsewhere, either in whole or in part, without his express permission.
It is a privilege to participate in so significant a Consultation as this meeting of the International Liaison Committee between the Roman Catholic Church and Judaism for we shall be dealing with fundamental issues of concern to two great faith-communities that arose in the ancient world, have survived the centuries of the middle ages and now in the modern era still possess the power to guide, instruct and inspire mankind.
These Consultations possess an additional dimension of importance deriving from the spirit of candor et caritas, frankness and love binding us all together. The great Hasidic rabbi, Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev was wont to say that he had learned the meaning of love from a drunken peasant. The rabbi had occasion to visit the owner of a tavern in the Polish countryside. As he walked in, two peasants were seated at a table far gone in their cups, putting their arms around one another and protesting how much they loved each other. Suddenly, Ivan said to Peter, "Peter, tell me, what hurts me?" "How do I know what hurts you?" Peter asked. Ivan's answer was swift, "If you don't know what hurts me, how can you say you love me?" That, said Rabbi Levi Yitzhak, is the true definition of love. It is in this spirit of candor et caritas that we are met here today. My task is to discuss religious liberty from the Jewish perspective.
It is in the modern age that religious liberty became a conscious human concern. The Sacred Scriptures of the Judeo-Christian tradition contain the most exalted ethical teaching known to humanity. Yet nowhere in their pages is religious liberty, however interpreted, set forth either as a right of the individual or as an obligation of society toward its members. The great classical works in medieval Jewish philosophy from Saadia to Maimonides and Crescas and, I believe, the imposing theological treatises of the Church Fathers and the Christian scholastic theologians, do not offer any discussion or analysis of the concept. The sources of religious law, the Talmud and the rabbinic Codes in Judaism and the great repositories of Catholic canon law do not deal with this concept except indirectly in referring to heretics. I know no traditional ethical treatise in which Judaism is particularly rich, which includes religious liberty as a virtue, and I would imagine that the same situation prevails in Catholic ethical literature.
To be sure, there were individual great-souled believers who had recognized the ideal of freedom of conscience before the modern era. History also knows of a few religiously motivated communities that had established religious freedom before the eighteenth century.
Perhaps the earliest instance of such societies are in the Chazar kingdom in Central Russia, between the Volga and the Don rivers, which lasted from the sixth to the tenth century. The Tartar rulers and upper classes of Chazaria had adopted Judaism as their faith in the eighth century, and they accorded full religious liberty to Christians and Moslems as well' The Dutch kingdom established by the Protestant William the Silent in the sixteenth century adopted the principle of toleration, though there were limitations on the doctrine in practice. The Puritan dissenter Roger Williams established the colony of Providence Plantations on Rhode Island, in the New World, making full freedom of conscience the basis of the commonwealth. The Catholic Lord Baltimore extended the right of worship to Protestants. But these were isolated and exceptional cases.
By and large, the principle of freedom of conscience became widely held and increasingly operative only with the Age of Reason. This revolutionary epoch shook both Jews and Judaism to their foundations through the impact of two related yet distinct forces, Emancipation and the Enlightenment. In the wake of the libertarian ideals of the new age, Emancipation broke down the walls of the ghetto throughout Western and Central Europe. With many hesitations and retreats, the Jews of Europe were finally admitted to political citizenship in the lands of their sojourning and granted most social, economic and cultural opportunities. In the process of political Emancipation, the age-old structure of the Jewish community and its authority over its members were all but completely dissolved. Henceforth, the only bonds remaining were purely voluntary on the part of individual Jews. 2
Even before Emancipation was complete, the Enlightenment had begun to undermine many of the presuppositions of traditional religion. Christianity had met major challenges before and was therefore able to fend off these attacks with a fair measure of success. Judaism, which for centuries had been isolated from the mainstream of Western culture, found itself almost helpless before the impact of the Enlightenment, particularly at the outset. The various schools of thought in contemporary Judaism represent different efforts at meeting the challenge of the modern world.
Yet, however unsettling the ideas of the Enlightenment proved to traditional religion, they had the positive influence of creating I am tempted to say compelling a spirit of mutual tolerance among the great faiths. Lessing's famous drama, Nathan der Weise, highlighted the new spirit. The drama, which had a Mohammedan Sultan and a Jewish Sage as its protagonists, contained the famous parable of "the Three Rings." These rings, which were identical in appearance, had been fashioned by a father for his three sons, because he loved them all equally and could not bear to give his priceless ancestral heirloom to any one of them. The overt message of the parable was clear. The three rings symbolize the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all of which are expressions of God's love for His creatures and of the reverence they owe Him in return. But scarcely beneath the surface was another implication none of the three faiths can reasonably insist that it alone represents the true revelation of God and should therefore be granted a privileged position in a free society. According to a striking definition, liberty is the spirit that is never absolutely certain that it is right.
As we have noted, there were individual saints and sages who had found it possible to unite tolerance of religious diversity with a fervent attachment to their own vision of God. But for most men, freedom of religion was the fruit of the rise of secularism. With the weakening of religious attachment among large segments of the population came the conviction that "one religion is as good as another." This pronouncement is, in many cases, a euphemistic restatement of the unspoken sentiment that one religion is as bad as another. Yet whatever its motivations, secularism is to be credited with making freedom of religion not only a pragmatic principle in society, but also an ideal goal for modern men. In this sense, if we may adopt a phrase of Horace M. Kallen, secularism may be described as the will of God. 3
Religious Liberty in a Secular World
While we may be truly grateful for this gift of the spirit, it is important to recognize that the ideal of religious liberty on secular foundations suffers from several grave limitations. Its first obvious weakness is that, given its secular origin, the principle of religious liberty would work best where religious loyalty is weakest or nonexistent. If the soil from which freedom of conscience grows is religious indifference, which regards all religions as equally lacking in value, it is obvious that the principle will lose most of its effectiveness among those who regard religion as possessing high significance in human life. Above all, it will be unable to command the allegiance of those who look upon their own religious tradition as possessing a unique measure of truth beyond that of all others. Yet as the history of mankind demonstrates, it is in situations where religious loyalty is most fervent that the danger of hostility to those outside the group is correspondingly greater, so that the doctrine of freedom of conscience is most essential. Thus a secularly motivated doctrine of religious liberty can serve least where it is needed most.
Moreover, liberty of conscience in a purely secular framework can create, at best, only a truce and not a state of peace among the religious groups. This truce is dependent upon the presence of a secular policeman, be it the State or a society in which religious loyalties are weak. On the other hand, if the members of a given social order hold their religious commitments passionately, neither law-enforcement agencies, nor official opinion, nor even a Bill of Rights in a constitution is likely to sustain religious liberty in practice for long. If U.S. Supreme Court Justice William 0. Douglas is right in his now famous dictum about America: "We are a religious people whose institutions pre-suppose a Supreme Being", freedom of religion will be in grave jeopardy when Americans take their pretensions to religiosity seriously, if the doctrine remains rooted only in a secular world view.
This threat to religious liberty is not merely theoretical. The past few years have witnessed the rapid growth of religious commitment on many levels among the American people. There has been a massive increase in the number of "born again Christians", primarily in Evangelical Protestantism, but not limited to these denominations. In Judaism, a marked increase of Ba'alei teshuvah, "repentant Jews returning to the tradition", has been noted primarily in Orthodoxy but also in the other interpretations of Judaism. In addition to these "mainline" churches, there has been a proliferation of cults, Oriental and pseudo-Oriental, as well as newly invented "spiritual" movements, with or without pseudoscientific terminology. They all promise relief from the modern ills of alienation, loneliness, frustration and anomie, generally by demanding unquestioning obedience to some charismatic leader and the severing of all links with parents, general society and secular culture. For them, a secular theory of religious liberty is suspect, if not meaningless, ab initio. The only hope that these and other religious groups will ever arrive at a modus vivendi in a pluralistic society lies in the articulation of a religious basis for religious liberty.
Finally, even if religious believers accept the practice of religious liberty but do not relate it to their religious world view, it will have no binding power upon their consciences. They may extend freedom of religion to those who differ from them, but it will be, at worst, a grudging surrender to a force majeure, and, at best, acounsel of prudence, limited in scope and temporary in application.
Unless a nexus is established between the religious tradition to which the believer gives his allegiance and the doctrine of religious liberty, he will still be in mortal danger, even if he makes no overt act in that direction, of violating the divine commandment, "You shall not hate your brother in your heart" (Leviticus 19:17). Thus the integrity of the ethical code by which he lives will be gravely compromised.
In sum, a secular doctrine of religious liberty suffers from all the liabilities to which secular morality as a whole is subject!' A secular moral code can deal only with gross malfeasance and not with the subtler offenses of attitude and spirit what the Talmud calls "matters entrusted to the heart". Nor can it supply the dynamic for an enduring allegiance to the ideal, even when it is within the power of a given group to impose its will on others.
These theoretic weaknesses inherent in a doctrine of religious liberty deriving from secularism are not merely theoretic. Many of the acute danger-points on the earth's surface today represent deep-seated conflicts among groups who are passionate in their adherence to their religious beliefs. It is from their faith that they draw the seemingly endless energy for internecine conflict. It is in the name of their religion that they justify their unwillingness to lay down their weapons and seek a peaceful solution to their problems. We have only to call to mind the Catholic-Protestant civil war now going on for decades in Ireland, the tragic bloodletting between Christian and Moslem Arabs in Lebanon and the violation of international law and morality being perpetrated in Iran by adherents of the Ayatoullah Khomeini in the name of the Prophet of Islam.
The slightly older agony of Bangladesh and the continuing strife between Hindus and Moslems in India supply additional proof that where religious convictions are fervently maintained the concept of religious liberty is tragically difficult to inculcate. Here secularism is totally irrelevant, indeed meaningless.
If religious liberty is to be established as an ideal to which men will give their allegiance, each religious tradition must take seriously its obligation to live and function in a pluralistic society. The first basic step is to go back to its own sources in order to discover what it can contribute to a religiously-oriented theory of religious liberty. This paper seeks to explore the bases in Judaism for a doctrine of religious freedom.
The Right to Liberty
At the outset, it should be noted that the concept of religious liberty possesses three distinct yet related aspects. Like so many ethical values, its roots lie in the instinct of self-preservation. In other words, the first and oldest aspect of religious liberty is the right which a group claims for itself to practise its faith without interference from others. The extension of this right to other individuals and groups is a great leap forward both in time and insight, which requires centuries to achieve and has all too often remained unattained to the present day. Indeed, even in our age, instances are not lacking of groups in virtually every denomination who define the right to religious liberty as the right to deny religious liberty to those who differ from them. 5
In this respect, religious liberty is no different from any basic right, such as freedom of speech or assembly, which is first fought for and achieved by a group on its own behalf. Only later and sometimes only halfheartedly is freedom of conscience extended to other groups who differ in belief and practice. Finally, the third and most difficult stage in religious liberty emerges and it is far from universal when a religious group, dedicated to its belief and tradition, is willing to grant freedom of thought and action to dissidents within its own ranks.
The Jewish people has played a significant role in the emergence of religious liberty in its first aspect. With regard to the two other aspects, I believe that Judaism, nurtured by the Jewish historical experience, has some significant insights to offer all men.
We may preface our discussion of these three categories of religious liberty by pointing out that no other religious group has as great a stake in the present and future vitality of the doctrine as has the Jewish community. It is true that virtually every denomination finds itself a minority in one or another corner of the globe and, unfortunately, can point to infractions of its right to worship and propagate its faith. Protestants were long exercised over the situation in Spain and parts of Latin America. Catholics are troubled by the status of the Church in Communist lands. Christians generally find themselves in difficult positions in parts of Africa and in Moslem autocracies in the Middle East.
Jews have had the sorry distinction of being a minority almost everywhere and always. In the thirty-six hundred years that separate Abraham from David ben Gurion, the Jewish people have been masters of their own destiny as an independent nation in Palestine for a small fraction of their history. This status prevailed less than five hundred years during the days of the First Temple, for eighty years during the Second Temple, and now during the thirty two years of the State of Israel in our day. These six hundred years constitute no more than one-sixth of the recorded history of the Jews. Moreover, even during these periods of independence and autonomy, there were large Jewish communities outside Palestine, more populous by far than the Jewish population in the homeland. The survival of these Diaspora communities was directly dependent on the degree of religious liberty they enjoyed. Hence, the curtailment of religious liberty may pose a major problem for all denominations; it is an issue of life and death for the Jewish group.
There is, therefore, historic justice in the fact that the people for whom religious liberty is so fundamental were the first to take up arms in defense of this right. The earliest recorded war for religious liberty is the struggle of the Maccabees against the Syrian Greek King Antiochus Epiphanes, which broke out in 169 B.C.E. The Maccabean struggle was launched not for the sake of political liberty, territorial aggrandizement, national honor or booty. It represented the armed resistance of a group in Palestinian Jewry who were resolved to protect their religious faith and way of life in a world where a determined effort was being made to impose the uniform pattern of Hellenistic culture and pagan religion on the entire Middle East.
Had the Maccabees not fought, or had they fought and lost, the Hebrew Scriptures would have been destroyed, Judaism would have been annihilated, Christianity would not have been born and the ideals of the Judeo-Christian heritage, basic to Western civilization, would have perished. There was, therefore, ample justification for the practice of the early Christian Church, both in the East and West, which celebrated a festival on August 1 called "the Birthday of the Maccabees," testifying to the debt which Christianity, as well as Judaism, owes to these early, intrepid defenders of freedom of conscience!
Thus the long struggle was launched for the first and oldest. aspect of the concept of religious liberty. From that day to this, there have been communities which have conceived of religious liberty almost exclusively in terms of their right to observe their own beliefs and practices. For such a group, the degree of religious liberty in a given society is measured by the extent to which it, and it alone, is free to propagate its faith. Religious liberty is defined as "freedom for religion" and "religion" is equated with the convictions of the particular group.
This limited conception of religious liberty has a long and "respectable" history behind it. It is noteworthy that the only instances in history of forcible conversion to Judaism were carried out by descendants of the very same Maccabees who had fought for religious liberty for their own people. The Maccabean prince, John Hyrcanus (135-104 B.C.E.), forced the Idumeans, hereditary enemies of the Jews, to accept Judaism. His son, Aristobulus, Judaized part of Galilee in the northern district of Palestine' These steps were dictated less by religious zeal than by practical considerations, a universal characteristic of mass conversions to our own day. It was not the only time that politics was wrapped in the garb of religion, nearly always to the detriment of religion.
For centuries, the doctrine that "error has no rights," unmitigated either by intellectual subtlety or by practical considerations, continued to hold sway. Heresy, that is to say, dissident views within dominant religious organisms, could be suppressed either individually or collectively by peaceful persuasion or by physical force. For heresy was viewed as illegitimate and sinful and hence worthy of the heaviest penalties. With the rise of Protestantism, which emphasized "private judgment" and the reading of the Bible as the unmediated Word of God, a multiplicity of sects emerged. What was equally significant, their legitimacy was, at least in theory, not open to question by the State. Religious liberty now became a practical necessity for the body politic as well as a burning issue for minority sects. Basically, it is to these minority groups that the world owes a debt for broadening the concept of religious liberty.
Limited Understanding of Religious Liberty
Yet, by and large, the ideal to which the various sects gave their loyalty continued to be religious liberty for themselves. When the Puritans left England and later emigrated from Holland to Massachusetts, they were actuated by a passionate desire for freedom of conscience, but in this limited sense only. Protestant dissenters, Catholics, Jews, and non-believers, could expect scant hospitality in the Bay Colony, and when any appeared within its borders, they were given short shrift. Various disabilities for non-Protestants survived in some New England states as late as the nineteenth century. Religious liberty began as a practical policy designed to establish articles of peace between opposing sects. Only slowly and painfully did it emerge as an ideal to which men have given their loyalty quite distinct from ulterior considerations.
Freedom of religion in an open society must necessarily presuppose two elements which were less obvious in the stratified societies of earlier days. It must include religious equality, for there can be no true religious liberty if the formal freedom of worship is coupled with legal, psychological, social or economic liabilities. That is the situation that prevails in Soviet Russia today. To be sure, a minority group cannot reasonably expect the same level of importance in society as the majority, but it has the right to demand that there be no restrictions or liabilities placed upon it by the State. In other words, full religious liberty means that the State will recognize the equality of all believers and non-believers, even though in society the relative strength of various groups will necessarily impose disadvantages upon the poorer and less numerous sects.
To cite a hypothetical case, a Protestant worshipping in a modest dissenter's chapel or a Jew offering his devotions in a simple prayer room could not reasonably object to the presence of a magnificent Catholic church in the community. But they would have legitimate grounds for objecting to a legal ordinance forbidding the building of a large Methodist church or an elaborate Jewish synagogue in the area. So would a Catholic finding himself restrained from erecting a church, a monastery or a parochial school in a given community.
There is one additional element essential to full religious freedom: religious liberty is not being truly safeguarded if it is purchased at the cost of religious vitality. Frequently the position of the Jewish community on questions of Church and State is misunderstood because it is attributed solely to the desire to avoid religious disabilities for itself and other minority groups, including the secularists. It is true that the position of minorities with regard to freedom of religion may parallel that of non-believers, who also oppose utilizing the power and resources of the State to buttress the claims of organized religion. But there is another and at least equally deep motivation for the Jewish position: a sincere concern for the preservation of religious vitality. This is possible only when religious convictions are free to be expressed. Here majority groups have as direct an interest as the minority.
A striking illustration is at hand in the controversy that arose when the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed as unconstitutional the prayer proposed by the Board of Regents of the State of New York for the public schools. Now that some of the smoke has cleared away, though by no means all the fire, it is clear that the Supreme Court was not "banishing God from American life". By the same token, it should be clear that Jews who, with few exceptions, wholeheartedly applauded the position of the Supreme Court (as did many other Americans) were not allying themselves with secularists and nonbelievers. They were defending what, according to their lights, represents the cause of the vitality of religion as well as its liberty. Religious practices that are imposed by psychological no less than by legal means do not strengthen but weaken the vitality of religion. In several European countries the State supports one or more churches, religious education is compulsory in the schools, and prayer is an obligatory exercise. These countries exhibit a low level of religious commitment among its adult population far less than in the United States, where religious practice and belief are entirely voluntary and are not enforced by the State.
To be sure, the Regents' prayer was nonsectarian, but as anyone genuinely committed to religion knows, there are some religious practices that are more nonsectarian than others! A good case in point was afforded by the "nondenominational" Decalogue which, thirty-two hundred years after Moses on Sinai, was revealed to the School Board of New Hyde Park, Long Island. From the most praiseworthy of motives, these guardians of the local public school system created a new text for the Ten Commandments which was neither Jewish, nor Catholic, nor Protestant, but one undoubtedly superior to them all. In their version the First Commandment read, "I am the Lord thy God who brought thee forth out of the house of bondage".8 In one fell swoop, the entire historic experience of Israel, which lies at the basis of the Biblical covenant and the Judeo-Christian tradition, was eliminated.
Religious Liberty in Judaism
We have dealt thus far with the first aspect of the ideal of religious liberty: the right which every religious group claims for itself to practice its faith freely, without restriction or interference from others. With regard to the two other aspects of the ideal of religious liberty more theoretic in character we believe the specific Jewish historic experience has significance for other religious groups and for the preservation of a free society itself.
As we have noted, there is, theoretically at least, no problem with regard to the doctrine of freedom of conscience for those who maintain that all religions are equally good or bad. Some years ago, when Communism was making substantial inroads among American college youth, I participated in a symposium on "Communism and Religion".9 Among the panelists were a Methodist bishop, a Presbyterian minister, two rabbis, and Earl Browder, then a leading spokesman for Communism in the United States. As the various speakers for religion sought to develop their positions vis-a-vis Communism, Mr. Browder turned to us and declared, to the manifest delight of the youthful audience, "The Communists are the only ones who can establish peace and equality among all religions because we do not believe in any of them!" The history of twentieth-century totalitarianism has demonstrated that religious intolerance can flourish under Communism and Fascism. Religious bigots can learn many a lesson in practising their craft from the anti-religious bigots of our age. The crude and brutal persecution of religion by atheistic regimes today makes the classic instances of religious intolerance of the past seem almost idyllic by comparison.
Nonetheless, it is true that the problem of evolving a theory of religious tolerance and practising it is genuine and complex, particularly for those believers who are convinced that they are the repositories of religious truth and that their fellow men who differ from them are not so blessed. In this connection, the attitude of the Jewish tradition is particularly interesting. It arose within a community that believes profoundly that it possesses the authentic revelation of God and that all other faiths contain, by that token, a greater or lesser admixture of error. Since such a standpoint is widespread among communicants of most creeds, it should be useful to examine the theory and practice of religious liberty within Judaism the approach of the Jewish tradition toward dissidents within its own community. Even more significant for the world at large is the theory and practice in Judaism of religious liberty toward non-Jews the attitude of the Jewish tradition toward (a) the rights of non-Jews seeking to maintain their own creeds, and (b) the legitimacy of such faiths from the purview of Judaism.
In order to comprehend the Jewish attitude toward religious differences within the community, it must be kept in mind that Judaism was always marked by a vast variety of religious experience, which is given articulate expression in the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew Bible contains within its broad and hospitable limits the products of the varied and often contradictory activities of priest and lawgiver, historian, prophet and sage, psalmist and poet. It reflects the temperaments of the mystic and the rationalist, the simple believer and the profound seeker after ultimate truth. The reason inheres in the fact that the Hebrew Bible is not a collection of like-minded tracts, but is, in the words of a great modern exegete, "a national literature upon a religious foundation".10
This characteristic of the Bible sets its stamp upon all succeeding epochs in the history of Judaism. It is not accidental that the most creative era in its history after the Biblical era, the period of the Second Commonwealth, was the most "sect-ridden"." Even our fragmentary sources disclose the existence of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and the Zealots, to use Josephus' classic tabulation of the "Four Philosophies". We know from the Talmud, which is a massive monument to controversy, that the Pharisees themselves, the dominant group in number and influence, were divided into various groups which held to strongly opposing positions, with hundreds of individual scholars differing from the majority on scores of issues. Although, unfortunately, too little is known about the Sadducees, the same variety of outlook may be assumed among them. With regard to the Essenes, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has indicated that the term Essenes is best used of an entire conspectus of sects who differed among themselves passionately. The Samaritans were also a significant group of dissidents, highly articulate in their divergence from a Jerusalem-centered Judaism. It was in this atmosphere that the early Jewish Christians first appeared, adding to the charged atmosphere of vitality and variety in Palestinian Judaism. There were also countless additional patterns of religious expression in the various Diaspora communities.
To be sure, all these groups of Judaism shared many fundamentals in their outlook, but there were important divergences, both within each sect and among them. The Talmud records that among the Pharisees the differences between the schools of Hillel and Shammai were deep-seated and broke into physical violence at one point." Nonetheless, the Talmud declares, the Shammaites and the Hillelites did not hesitate to intermarry and "He who observes according to the decision of Beth Hillel, like him who follows the school of Shammai, is regarded as fulfilling the Law" because "both these and others are the words of the Living God." 13 No such encomiums were pronounced on the Sadducees, who contradicted the fundamental principle of normative Judaism regarding the Divine origin and authority of the Oral Law. Those holding Sadducean views were stigmatized as "having no share in the world to come" 14 In this world, however, it is noteworthy that neither the Sadducees nor any others of these sects was ever officially excommunicated.
In the Middle Ages a variety of factors combined to contract this latitude of religious outlook in the Jewish community. First of all, the constantly worsening conditions of exile and alien status required, it was felt, a greater degree of group homogeneity. Secondly, most of the earlier dissident viewpoints disappeared. Thus, the standpoint of the super-nationalist Zealots was now totally meaningless, while that of the Sadducees, who centered their religious life in the Temple at Jerusalem, was completely irrelevant to the life of an exiled people. Thirdly, the widespread emphasis on religious conformity imposed by the medieval world on its aberrant sects also proved a model and example. Father Joseph Lecler points out in his massive, two-volume work, Toleration and the Reformation, that St. Thomas Aquinas was "relatively tolerant toward pagans and completely intolerant toward heretics." As Father John B. Sheerin notes, St. Thomas explicitly stated that "to accept the faith is a matter of free will, but to hold it, once it has been accepted. is a matter of necessity."
No such precise and logical theory was ever elaborated in Judaism. The Jewish community lacked the power to compel uniformity of thought, even in the relatively rare instances when the leadership was tempted to embark upon such an enterprise. Nonetheless, some efforts were made to restrict religious liberty in the Middle Ages. The history of these undertakings is significant for the intrinsic nature of the Jewish tradition.
The Contribution of Maimonides
Somewhat paradoxically, the attempt to impose a measure of uniformity on religious belief was due to the emergence of medieval Jewish philosophy, which was nurtured in Aristotelianism, and to a lesser degree in Platonism. Maimonides, the greatest Jewish thinker of the Middle Ages, confidently proposed a set of Thirteen Principles which he hoped would serve as an offical creed for Judaism. Though his statement attained wide popularity and was printed in the traditional prayerbook as an appendix, lesser men did not hesitate to quarrel with both the content and the number of articles of belief in his Creed, and it never became an official confession of faith.
An even more striking illustration of the enduring vitality of the right to religious diversity in Judaism may be cited. Uncompromisingly rationalistic as he was, Maimonides declared that to ascribe any physical form to God was tantamount to heresy and deprived one of a share in the world to come. Nowhere is the genius of Judaism better revealed than here. On the same printed page of the Maimonides Code where this statement is encountered, it is challenged by the remark of his critic and commentator, Rabbi Abraham ben David of Posquieres, who writes: "Better and greater men [than Maimonides] have ascribed a physical form to God, basing themselves on their understanding of Scriptural passages and even more so on some legends and utterances, which give wrong ideas." The critic's standpoint is clear. Rabbi Abraham David agrees with Maimonides in denying a physical form to God, but he affirms the right of the individual to maintain backward ideas in Judaism without being read out of the fold on that account. The right to be wrong is the essence of liberty.
Nonetheless, it is clear that the spirit of medieval Judaism was far less hospitable to religious diversity than had been Rabbinic Judaism in the centuries immediately before and after the destruction of the Temple. Thus, while the Sadducees, who denied the validity of the Oral Law, were never excommunicated, the medieval Karaites, who rejected the authority of the Talmud in favor of the letter of Scripture, were excommunicated by various individual scholars. At the same time, other scholars refused to invoke the ban against them and ultimately a more lenient attitude prevailed. 16
The excommunication of Spinoza in 1656, like the earlier ban on Uriel Acosta by the Sephardic community of Amsterdam, though frequently cited, was actually highly exceptional and the result of specific conditions. Primarily, it was the reflex action of a community threatened simultaneously on two fronts. On the one hand, the Jewish community in the Netherlands was living on sufferance, so that harboring a heretic who attacked the fundamentals of traditional religion might well jeopardize its status in the country. Second, the historic tradition of Judaism, long isolated from the winds of modern doctrine, felt itself too weak to sustain the reasoned onslaught of secular rationalism.
Excommunication was attempted again against religious diversity in the eighteenth century, this time against Hasidism, a folk movement, pietistic in character, which arose in Eastern Europe. The ban proved a total failure. Ultimately, the sect abated its hostility toward Rabbinical Judaism. Today the Hasidim and the Mitnaggedim, their rabbinical "opponents", are all within the camp of Orthodox Judaism.
In the nineteenth century, when the Reform movement first began to appear in Central Europe, some Orthodox rabbis in Central and Eastern Europe sought to stem the tide by invoking the ban against the innovators. It had proved largely ineffective in the field of ideas even in the Middle Ages; now it was completely useless. It served only to drive deeper the wedge between the traditionalists and the non-traditionalists and was tacitly abandoned.
In the summary, religious liberty within the Jewish community exists de facto. It is recognized de jure by all groups in Reform and Conservative Judaism and by more liberal individuals in Orthodoxy as well.
It need hardly be added that divergences among the groups and within them are often sharp, and the antagonisms among some of the advocates of different positions are, all too frequently, even sharper. The upsurge in some quarters of "religiosity" which followed in the wake of the irruption of Nazi savagery and the mass bestiality of World War II had a powerful impact upon Jews as well as upon Christians." It has strengthened the tendency to withdrawal and insulation against the world among many survivors of the Hitler Holocaust and exacerbated their hostility to all those outside their particular group. This spirit is very much in evidence today, but it is a mood of the day, if not of the moment, and it will pass. If history is any guide, these attitudes of isolation and hostility will be softened with time under the impact of gentler experiences. The harrowing events of the last three decades cannot abrogate the tradition of three millennia.
An observation is here in order with regard to the status of religion in the State of Israel. The Israeli Cabinet includes a Minister of Religions (in the plural), who is charged with the supervision and the maintenance of the "holy places" of all the three great religions and with the support of their institutional and educational requirements. It is paradoxical, but true, that at present there is full freedom of religion in Israel for everyone except for Jews! Catholic and Protestant Christianity, Islam and Bahai, all enjoy the fullest freedom of expression, including the opportunity for missionary activity among Jews, a situation which has aroused not a little antagonism. In addition to the Minister of Religions, Israel has three Chief Rabbis who are of unimpeachable Orthodoxy, except for those Orthodox groups who deny their authority. In accordance with the legacy of Turkish and British law, the Chief Rabbi (like his Christian and Islamic counterparts), has authority in the fields of personal status, notably marriage, divorce and conversion, and, to a lesser degree, in the maintenance of religious observance in the army and public institutions, and in the supervision of religious education.
At present, the religious Establishment is supported by the State of Israel. To be sure, the effort is made to invest the contemporary situation with the halo of tradition. The historical truth is, however, that the very existence of the office of the Chief Rabbi in Israel represents not a return to Jewish tradition, but an imitation of non-Jewish models and its value is highly debatable.
With the Chief Rabbinate as its symbol, Orthodoxy is the only officially recognized Jewish religious group in Israel today. Yet here, too, the innate tradition of dissent finds uninhibited expression. Thus, when the new and magnificent head-quarters of the Chief Rabbinate was erected in Jerusalem, many of the leading Orthodox scholars announced that it was religiously prohibited to cross the threshold of the building!
Side by side with these tensions within Israel Orthodoxy are various other groups, Reform, Conservative (called Masorati "traditional") and Reconstructionist, representing a wide spectrum of modernism. They are exposed to many legal disabilities at the hands of the State and to harassment and annoyance by militants in society. In the Fall of 1979, the two Chief Rabbis of Jerusalem publicly declared that it was religiously forbidden to worship in Conservative synagogues on the High Holy Days. The decree proved counterproductive and was greeted with embarrassment, even among the Orthodox. Today there are several scores of Conservative and Reform synagogues in the country and their schools are growing as well. The official ban upon weddings performed by non-Orthodox rabbis is now being challenged in the courts by the Reform movement. Ultimately, the various schools of Jewish religious thought will demand and receive full recognition.
No long-term conclusions may therefore be drawn from the present union of religion and State in Israel. It is partial and subject to increasing strain and stress. That the ultimate pattern of religion-state relationships will approach the principle of the separation of church and state as understood in the United States is rather unlikely, but the religious disabilities suffered by non-Orthodox Jewish movements and by no one else will not long endure.
The conclusion is unassailable that the nature of Judaism, buttressed by its historic experience, makes the freedom of religious dissent a recognized reality for virtually all members of the community de facto, even by those who would not recognize it de jure.
Judaism in its Relation to Others
The attitude of Judaism toward religious liberty for those professing other creeds derives, in large measure, from another unique characteristic of the Jewish tradition, one which is frequently misunderstood not only by those outside the Jewish community, but by many who are within it. This trait, deeply rooted in normative Judaism, is the balance between particularism and universalism." The Jewish conception of freedom of religion is the resultant of two superficially opposing forces: the retention of the specific, national Jewish content in the tradition on the one hand and, on the other, an equally genuine concern for the establishment among all men of the faith in one God and obedience to His religious and ethical imperatives.
It is frequently argued that with the appearance of monotheism, intolerance became a coefficient of religion. It is undoubtedly true that, in a polytheistic world view, tolerance of other gods is implicit, since there is always room for one more figure in the pantheon, and the history of religious syncretism bears out this truth. On the other hand, the emergence of belief in one God necessarily demands the denial of the reality of all other deities. The "jealous God" of the Hebrew Bible who forbids "any other god before Me" therefore frequently became the source of religious intolerance. So runs the theory.19
It sometimes happens, however, that a beautiful pattern of invincible logic is contradicted by the refractory behavior of life itself. An apposite illustration may be cited. The French Semitic scholar, Ernest Renan, declared that the monotony of the desert produced a propensity for monotheism among the ancient Hebrews, whereas the variety in the physical landscape of Greece, for example, with its mountains and hills, its valleys, rivers and streams, necessarily suggested a multitude of divinities indwelling in them. This plausible theory enjoyed considerable vogue until it was learned that the pre-Islamic nomadic Arabs, who inhabited the vast monotonous stretches of the Arabian Desert, possessed a luxuriant polytheism, and that all the Semitic peoples, whose original habitat was the same desert, also had very elaborate pantheons. Thus the list of gods in the library of King Ashurbanipal contains more than 2,500 gods and modern scholars have added substantially to the number.
Now it is true that Judaism was strongly opposed to paganism. It insisted upon the uncompromising unity of God and refused to admit even a semblance of reality to other gods. Nonetheless, Biblical Judaism reckoned with the existence of paganism from two points of view. Though logicians might have recoiled in horror from the prospect, the fact is that Hebrew monotheism, the authentic and conscious faith in the existence of one God, did accord a kind of legitimacy to polytheism for non-Jews. In part, this may have derived from a recognition of the actual existence of flourishing heathen cults. In far larger degree, we believe, it was a consequence of the particularist emphasis in Judaism. Dedicated to preserving the specific group character of the Hebrew faith, the Jewish tradition was led to grant a similar charter of justification to the specific ethos of other nations, which always included their religion.
Whatever the explanation, the fact is clear. No book in the Bible, not even Isaiah or Job, is more explicitly monotheistic than Deuteronomy: "You shall know this day, and consider it in your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath; there is no one else" (4:39). Yet the same book, which warns Israel against polytheism, speaks of the worship of "the sun, the moon and the stars... which the Lord your God has assigned to all the nations under the sky" (4, 19, compare 29, 25). Thus the paradox emerges that the particularist element in Judaism proved the embryo of a theory of religious tolerance.
The second factor that helped to grant a measure of value to non-Jewish religion is one more congenial to sophisticated religious thinkers. A broadminded exponent of monotheism would be capable of recognizing, even in the pagan cults against which Judaism fought, an imperfect, unconscious aspiration toward the one living God. Perhaps the most striking expression of this insight is to be found in the post-Exilic Prophet Malachy: "For from the rising of the sun to its setting, My name is great among the nations; and everywhere incense is burnt and pure oblations are offered to My name, for My name is great among the nations, says the Lord of Hosts" (1:11).
Centuries later, Paul, standing in the middle of the Areopagus, echoed the same idea in his words: "Men of Athens, I observe at every turn that you are a most religious people! Why, as I passed along and scanned your objects of worship, I actually came upon an altar with the inscription, TO AN UNKNOWN GOD" (Acts 17:22-24).
This is not the only instance of universalism in our biblical sources. The author of the Book of Jonah pictures the pagan sailors and the king and inhabitants of Nineveh in a far more favorable light than he does the fugitive Hebrew prophet. There is the warm compassion of the Book of Ruth for a friendless stranger.
Towering above all is the breadth of view of the Book of Job, which pictures the patriarch Job not as a Hebrew who observes the law of the Torah, but as a non-Jew whose noble creed and practice is described in his "Code of a Man of Honor" (chap. 31).2° In this, the most subtle and exalted presentation of individual ethics in the Hebrew Bible, Job lists fourteen ethical and religious sins from which he has been free. The standard of conduct they reflect constitutes perhaps the oldest formulation of "natural law" which is binding upon all human beings.
This "Code of a Man of Honor" includes also the first affirmation of the equality of all people:
"Have I despised the cause of my manservant, or of my maidservant, when they contended with me?
For I always remembered,
"What shall I do when God rises up,
and when He examines me, how shall I answer Him?
Did not He make him in the womb, as He made me,
and fashion us both alike in the womb?" (Job 31:13-15)
All these Biblical writings testify to the fact that it was possible to maintain the unity and universality of God while reckoning with the values inherent in the imperfect approximations to be found in the pagan cults.
Thus the two apparently contradictory elements of the biblical world view the emphasis upon a particularist ethos and the faith in a universal God served as the seedbed for the flowering of a highly significant theory of religious tolerance in post-biblical Judaism. To this concept, known as the Noahide Laws, we shall return.
At the same time, it was self-evident that a universal God who is Father of all men deserves the allegiance and loyalty of all His children. A steady and unremitting effort was therefore made to counteract the blandishments of paganism and to win all men for Jewish monotheism through the use of persuasion. The biblical DeuteroIsaiah, the Apocryphal Sybilline Oracles, the life-long activity of Philo of Alexandria indeed the entire apologetic literature of Hellenistic Judaism were designed to win the allegiance of men for the one living God of Israel.
Holding fast to their conviction that Judaism alone represents the true faith in the one God, the Prophets had looked forward to its ultimate acceptance by all men: "For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that they may all call on the name of the Lord, to serve him with one accord" (Zephaniah 3:9). "And the Lord will be king over all the earth; on that day shall the Lord be one, and His name be one" (Zechariah 14:9).
This faith for the future did not cause Judaism to overlook the realities of the present. The ultimate may be, nay must be, left to God; the proximate is the concern of man. Since Judaism did not deny in toto the values to be found in the religious professions and even more in the ethical practices of many of their pagan fellow men, it created one of the most distinctive concepts of monotheistic religion, a unique contributionto the theory of religious liberty the doctrine of the Noahide Laws, which actually antedates the Talmud.
Judaism's Unique Contribution
The Apocryphal Book of Jubilees, written before the beginning of the Christian Era, could not conceive of untold generations of men before Moses living without a divine Revelation. It therefore attributes to Noah, who was not a Hebrew, though God-fearing and righteous, a code of conduct that is binding upon all men:
In the twenty-eighth jubilee, Noah began to enjoin upon his son's sons the ordinances and commandments and all the judgments that he knew and he exhorted his sons to observe righteousness and to cover the shame of their flesh and to bless their Creator and honor father and mother and love their neighbor and guard their souls from fornication and uncleanness and all iniquity. (7:22)
This injunction is elaborated in the rabbinic tradition under the rubric of the Laws of the Sons of Noah." According to this rabbinic view, all human beings, by virtue of their humanity, are commanded to observe at least seven fundamental religious and moral principles. These commandments include the prohibition of idolatry, sexual immorality, murder and theft; the avoidance of blasphemy and of cruelty to animals by eating the limb of a living creature; and the establishment of a government based on law and justice. Individual rabbis suggested that various other phohibitions be added to the list, but these Seven Noahide Laws remain basic.
The original impulse behind the formulation of the Code was not the desire to be "lenient" toward non-Jews as being "beyond the law". The purpose was not to free the generality of mankind from the obligation to observe the complex of Biblical ritual and law incumbent upon the Jewish people. The aim was to restrain the tendencies to lawlessness and violence deeply imbedded in human nature by imposing the great fundamental norms of civilized behavior upon all human beings and holding them morally accountable for any infraction.
The Noahide Laws arose in a pagan world in which the worship of the Living God and obedience to His will did not prevail. But the logical consequences of the doctrine were ineluctable and they were drawn with increasing clarity after the emergence of the two other great monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam. If all non-Jews are as much obligated to observe the Noahide Laws as Jews are to fulfill all the precepts enjoined upon them by the Torah, it follows inescapably that the non-Jew who observes the Noahide canon is as worthy of salvation as the Jew who observes the entire rubric of Jewish law. Hence, there is no imperative need for the non-Jew to accept the Jewish faith in order to be "saved".
These Laws of the Sons of Noah, it may be noted, seem to be referred to in the New Testament as well: "...but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood... that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell." (Acts 15:20, 29).
This doctrine of the Noahide Laws is extremely interesting from several points of view. It represents in essence a theory of universal religion which is the heritage of all men. Characteristically Jewish is its emphasis upon good actions rather than upon right belief as the mark of the good life. Ethical living rather than creedal adherence is the decisive criterion for salvation. Its spirit is epitomized in the great rabbinic utterance:
"I call Heaven and earth to witness that, whether one be Gentile or Jew, man or woman, slave or free man, the Divine spirit rests on each in accordance with his deeds." 22 In its all-encompassing sweep, this passage recalls the famous words of Paul: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."23 Significantly, the equal worth of all men in the rabbinic formulation does not derive from common doctrinal belief, nor does it depend upon it; it requires only loyalty to a code of ethical conduct.
Many contemporary religious thinkers are now seeking a theory which will confine complete loyalty to a specific tradition while accepting wholeheartedly the postulates of a democratic society which is committed to pluralism as a reality and to religious liberty as a good. The issue is one which profoundly agitates citizens of the free world in our day because of its practical importance in government and politics.
There is more than academic interest, therefore, in this rabbinic adumbration of a theory of religious tolerance resting upon a concept of "natural law". This doctrine of the Noahide Laws, be it noted, was not the product of religious indifference. It arose among devotees of a traditional religion who not only loved their faith but believed that it alone was the product of authentic revelation. Yet they found room for faiths other than their own, as of right and not merely on sufferance. Elsewhere, I have sought to set forth the principles for an ethical system rooted in "natural law" and therefore accessible to virtually all of humanity.24
The Daughter Faiths of Judaism
The principle of the Noahide Laws had originated in a pagan world. It obviously proved even more valuable when two monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam, replaced paganism. Both "daughter faiths" sought energetically to displace the mother and deny her authenticity. The mother faith sought to repel these onslaughts as effectively as possible by calling attention to what she regarded as their errors. But she did not, on that account, ignore the elements of truth which her more aggressive offspring possessed.
The attitude of Judaism in the Middle Ages toward these two religions necessarily differed with the personality of each particular authority, his environment and his own personal experience. The proximity of the Christian and the Jewish communities in Europe, and the consequent economic and social relationships upon which Jewish survival depended, compelled the medieval rabbinic authorities to reckon with reality. In the Talmud considerable limitations had been placed upon Jewish contacts with pagans, particularly at heathen festivals and with regard to idolatrous objects of worship. In the Middle Ages the rabbis could not maintain the position that Christians were pagans and that all the Talmudic restrictions upon intercourse with idolaters applied to them. By and large, these modifications of Talmudic law were originally ad hoc improvisations and limited to specific practices upon which the livelihood of Jews depended." But what began as a practical necessity led to the rise of an appropriate theory.
Among the most painful features of medieval Jewish-Christian relations were the public religious disputations forced upon Jews, often at the instigation of Jewish converts to Christianity. 26 Nonetheless, these debates led to one positive result. They gave the Jews the impetus to re-evaluate the general principles governing their attitude toward non-Jews and to recognize that there were significant differences between the pagans of antiquity, to whom the Talmud refers as "idolaters," and the Christians who were their contemporaries in the Middle Ages.
Thus the tragic disputation, convened in Paris in 1240, involving the convert Nicholas Donin and four Jewish representatives, led to the public burning of twenty-four cartloads of Hebrew books. The chief Jewish spokesman was Jehiel ben Joseph of Paris and he was assisted by Moses of Coucy. It is a tribute to the greatness of Moses' spirit that, in spite of this grim exhibition of fanaticism, he developed a new insight into the character of the dominant faith, an insight undoubtedly stimulated by his participation in the debate. Time and again he called upon his brethren to maintain scrupulous ethical standards in dealings with Christians, basing himself on broad religious and moral considerations." Not expediency, but regard for the honor of Israel and the avoidance of Hillul Hashem, "the desecration of the Holy Name," became the fundamental motivations.29
The practical need of a modus vivendi between Jews and Christians could not be denied, since they lived in closest proximity with one another throughout Europe. Simultaneously, the outlines of a theory of religious tolerance were being laid by Jewish thinkers living in Mohammedan as well as in Christian countries. The teaching of the second-century Talmud Sage, Rabbi Joshua, "There are righteous among the Gentiles who have a share in the world to come"," was slightly but significantly broadened by Maimonides into the generalization, "The righteous among the Gentiles have a share in the world to come." 31 Thus the principle that salvation was open even to those outside the Jewish fold remained normative and served as the basic principle underlying the Noahide Laws. The medieval poet and philosopher, Judah Halevi, wrote, "These peoples [i.e., Christianity and Islam] represent a preparation and preface to the Messiah for whom we wait, who is the fruit of the tree which they will ultimately recognize as the roots which they now despise." 32
Rabbi Menahem Meiri, who lived in thirteenth-century France when several expulsions of Jews from that country took place, wrote, "Those among the heathen of the ancient days who observe the seven Noahide precepts, i.e., refrain from idol worship, desecration of God's name, robbery, incest, cruelty to animals, and have courts of justice, enjoy the same rights as Jews; how much the more so in our days, when the nations are distinguished by their religion and respect for law! We must, however, treat equally even those who have no system of law, in order to sanctify the Name of God." 33 He distinctly declares that "in our days idolatry has ceased in most places", and describes both Muslims and Christians as "nations disciplined by the ways of their religions." 34
Moreover, even the trinitarian concept of Christianity, which Judaism emphatically rejected as impugning the unity of God, was not generally regarded as sufficient to deny to Christianity the character of a monotheistic faith. The twelfth-century Talmudic commentator, Rabbi Isaac the Tosafist, set forth a legal basis for the view that belief in the Trinity was legitimate for Christians in his statement: "The children of Noah are not prohibited from shittuf, i.e., associating the belief in God with that in other beings." 35 This utterance achieved such wide scope and authority that it was frequently attributed by later scholars to the Talmud itself.
Maimonides, with his penchant for systematic canons of thought, was strongly critical both of Christianity and of Islam. Living all his life in Islamic countries, with few direct contacts with Christians, Maimonides tended to react negatively to the trinitarianism of Christianity and to its Messianic claims for Jesus as the Savior. On the other hand, the uncompromising emphasis upon the unity of God in Mohammedanism, with which he was in constant contact, gave him a greater degree of tolerance for Islam, although he castigated the sensuality of the Prophet Mohammed. Even the adoration of the Ka'abah, the black stone of Mecca, was regarded by Maimonides as a vestige of polytheism which had been reinterpreted in Islam a remarkable anticipation of modern research.
In a passage in his great code, Mishneh Torah (which appears mutilated in the printed texts because of the censor), Maimonides rejects the claim that Jesus was the Messiah on the ground that Jesus failed to fulfill the Messianic function as envisioned in Scripture and tradition. Maimonides then proceeds:
The thought of the Creator of the world is beyond the power of man to grasp, for their ways are not His ways and their thoughts are not His thoughts. All the words of Jesus the Nazarene and of Mohammed, who arose after him, came into being only in order to make straight the road for the King Messiah, who would perfect the world to serve God together, as it is said, "Then I shall turn all the peoples into a clear speech, that they may all call upon the Lord and serve Him shoulder to shoulder."
How is that to be? The world has already been filled with the words of the Messiah and the words of the Torah and the commandments. And these words have spread to the furthermost islands among many people uncircumcised of heart or of flesh, who now discuss the Commandments of the Torah. Some declare that these commandments were true, but are now no longer obligatory and have fallen into decline, while others declare that there are secret meanings within them, not according to their obvious intent and that the Messiah had come and disclosed their secret connotations.
But when the true King Messiah will arise, he will succeed and be raised to glory and then they will all return and recognize they had inherited falsehood, and that their Prophets and ancestors had misled them. 36
Maimonides elsewhere declares that Christians are idolaters because of their trinitarian belief s.37 In this regard, he goes further than the warrant of his rabbinic sources. Nor was his attitude shared by most of his contemporaries. Thus, his great predecessor, Saadia (882-942), the first great figure in medieval Jewish philosophy and who also lived under Islam, declared that the Christians' belief in the Trinity is not an expression of idolatry, but the personification of their faith in life, power and knowledge.3° In his negative view, Maimonides not only ignored the Talmudic passage quoted above, but was in sharpest variance with most Jewish scholars, such as Rashi and Meiri, who lived in Christian countries, knew Christians at first hand, and recognized their deeply-rooted belief in the One God.
Later such rabbinic authorities as Moses Rivkes, Hayyim Yair Bacharach (1638-1702), and Rabbi Jacob Emden (1697-1776) explicitly recognized a common tradition linking Judaism and Christianity when they pointed out that Christians believed in God, the Exodus, Revelation, the truth of the Bible, and creatio ex nihilo.39
In the eighteenth century, Moses Mendelssohn wrote a famous reply to the Protestant minister Johann Casper Lavater. Therein he expounded the traditional Jewish doctrine, speaking in the accents of eighteenth-century Enlightenment:
Moses has commanded us the Law; it is an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob. All other nations we believe to be enjoined to keep the law of nature. Those conducting their lives in accordance with this religion of nature and of reason are called "virtuous men from among other nations," and these are entitled to eternal bliss (sind Kinder der ewigen Seligkeit).
There was an obvious apologetic intent and a consequent exaggeration in his next statement:
The religion of my fathers, therefore, does not desire to be spread. We are not to send missions to Greenland or to the Indies in order to preach our faith to these distant nations. The latter nation, in particular, observing as it is the law of nature better than we do here, according to reports received, is in view of our religious doctrines an enviable nation.
It is true that an active missionary campaign has not been carried on in Judaism ever since the pre-Christian centuries when Hellenistic Judaism won untold pagans for "reverence for God" and thus helped lay the foundation for the rapid spread of Christianity. In the Middle Ages the external facts of history united with the inner nature of Judaism to preclude large-scale efforts to win non-Jews to Judaism.
Today, some voices are being raised in the Jewish community in favor of a more active effort to bring the message of Judaism to religiously uncommitted non-Jews, though without employing conventional missionary techniques." A warm discussion on the question is now going on among Jewish religious leaders and laity. But both those who favor and those who oppose such an active effort are at one in recognizing the legitimacy of non-Jewish faiths, the availability of salvation to all who observe the basic spiritual and ethical principles embodied in the Noahide Laws and the right of all men to the fullest liberty of religious pactice and belief.
The attitude of Judaism toward religious liberty may now be summarized as follows:
1. Judaism insists on total freedom of religious belief and practice for itself, which will include full equality before the law and no attenuation of vital religious commitment freely given.
2. Judaism accepts the existence of differences within the Jewish community and accords to dissidents the right to their own viewpoint and practice. This right is recognized, at least de facto, by Orthodoxy and de jure by all other groups.
3. Judaism recognizes the existence of other religions among men and their inherent right to be observed de jure.
There is a measure of oversimplification in Albert Einstein's utterance, "I thank God that I belong to a people which has been too weak to do much harm in the world." But more than mere incapacity inheres in the Jewish attitude toward religious liberty. The balance between the universal aspirations of Judaism and its strong attachment to the preservation of its group-character have impelled it to create a theory that makes room in God's plan and in the world for men of other convictions and practices.
Moreover, the deeply ingrained individualism of the Jewish character, its penchant for questioning and its insistence upon rational conviction have made dissent a universal feature of the Jewish spiritual physiognomy. As a result, all groups within the Jewish community have achieved freedom of expression and practice. Efforts to limit or suppress this liberty of conscience have not been totally lacking and undoubtedly will re-occur in the future. But such attempts are invariably accompanied by a bad conscience on the part of apostles of intolerance, who thus reveal their weak roots in the tradition thatthey are ostensibly defending and betray their predestined failures to achieve their ends.
Finally, the millennial experience of Jewish disability and exile in the ancient and the medieval worlds has strengthened this attachment to freedom of conscience among Jews. In addition, the modern world has demonstrated that the material and intellectual position and progress of Jews, individually and collectively, is most effectively advanced in an atmosphere of religious liberty.
Thus all three elements, tradition, temperament and history, have united to make religious freedom, both for the Jewish community and the larger family of mankind, an enduring ideal and not merely a temporarily prudential arrangment. Undoubtedly Jews have fallen short of the lofty standards of their tradition in this as in other respects. Yet it remains true that, by and large, they have maintained their loyalty to the ideal of freedom of conscience for themselves and for all men.
1. On the Chazar kingdom, see A.B. Pollok, Kahazaria (Hebrew), Tel Aviv, 1951; D.M. Dunlop, The History of the Jewish Khazars (Princeton, 1964). For a brief account, see M.L. Margolis and A. Marx, A History of the Jewish People (Philadelphia, 1927), pp. 525 f.
2. On the medieval community, see Salo W. Baron, The Jewish Community, Its History and Structure to the American Revolution, III (Philadelphia, 1942). The impact of the Enlightenment and Emancipation is treated in all works dealing with modern Judaism. A recent study is that of H.M. Graupe, The Rise of Modern Judaism (Huntington, L.I., 1978).
3. Cf. his provocative book bearing the same title, Secularism as the Will of God (New York, 1954).
4 We have developed the theme of the relationship of ethics to religious faith in A Faith For Moderns (New York, 1960).
5. Instances are to be found, even today, in every religious group. Thus, several months ago a furore was created in the State of Israel when members of the ultra-Orthodox community of Me'ah She'arim in Jerusalem sought to prevent vehicular traffic on the Sabbath by stopping and even burning the cars coming through the Mandelbaum Gate. When the police arrested the leaders in the group, their sympathizers in New York demonstrated in front of the Israeli consulate carrying banners in the name of the "Committee for Religious Freedom in Israel".
The New York Times (Dec. 18, 1964) reported that the Most Rev. Louis Alonso Munoyerro, titular Archbishop of Sion and Catholic Vicar-General for Spain's armed forces, gave an interview to the newspaper ABC in Madrid, in which he denounced full religious liberty for Protestants in Spain as part of an international conspiracy that was seeking "to make Catholic unity disappear from our fatherland." The Archbishop urged Spaniards to learn from history to be "circumspect" and not to "join the chorus of those champions of liberty who judge the success of the Vatican Council by whether it produced the enslavement of the conscience of Catholic people, and among them the Spanish people."
Fortunately, these attitudes are not representative of Catholicism or Judaism as a whole. Nor is religious intolerance rare among atheists. It is, of course, well known that the Soviet Constitution guarantees "freedom of religion and the right of anti-religious propaganda." This right to "freedom of religion" is felt to be entirely compatible with the heavy disabilities visited upon virtually all religious institutions and leaders, the prohibition of religious education, and the all but complete suppression of Judaism.
6. Cf. the judicious comments on the subject of the role of the Maccabees in Christian thought in T.K. Cheyne, The Origin and Religious Content of the Psalter (New York, 1895), p. 29.
7. Cf. Josephus, Antiquities XII, 9, 1; 11, 3.
8. In Exodus, chapter 20, Jews reckon verse 2 as the First Commandment, verses 3-6 as the Second, and verse 17 as the Tenth. Roman Catholics and Lutherans consider verses 3-6 as the First Commandment and verse 17 as containing the Ninth and Tenth. Most Protestants count verse 3 as the First, verses 4-6 as the Second, and verse 17 as the Tenth.
9. Cf. our paper, "Educating For a Nation of Nations," in Religion and the Public Schools (Santa Barbara, Cal., Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, 1961), and our volume The Root and the Branch: Judaism and the Free Society (Chicago, 1962), pp. 94-114.
10. Cf. A.B. Ehrlich, Die Psalmen (Berlin, 1905), p. vi.
11. The literature on the religious movements in the Judaism of the two centuries B.C.E. is enormous. For a brief presentation of some of the differences among the sects, see our The Root and the Branch: Judaism and the Free Society, pp. 34 f.
12. Cf. B. Sanhedrin 88b, B. Shabbat 17a; P. Shabbat 1, 4, 3c.
13. Cf. Mishnah Eduyot 4, 8; B. Erubin 13b.
14. Cf. Mishnah Sanhedrin 10, 1.
15. Cf. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhoth Teshubhah 3,7 and RABD, ad loc.
16. On the uses of the ban in medieval Judaism, and the famous though atypical excommunications of Uriel Acosta and Benedict Spinoza, cf. our book Judaism for the Modern Age, pp. 292-306. Spinoza's complex attitudes toward Judaism and Christianity are analyzed in Isaac Franck, "Spinoza's Onslaught on Judaism" (Judaism, volume 28, No. 2, Spring 1979) and "Was Spinoza A 'Jewish' Philosopher?" (Judaism, Vol. 28, No. 3, Summer 1979).
17. The tendency to extreme pietism reappears after major catastrophes with sufficient regularity, we believe, to be called a "law". The validity of the contention deserves to be examined by a study and analysis of the historical evidence.
18. On this fundamental aspect of Judaism, cf. The Root and the Branch: Judaism and the Free Society, pp. 23-27.
19. This contention has been a staple in the thinking of Arnold Toynbee. The same view is set forth by Leo Pfeffer, who cites the same commandment (cf. his paper, "Church and State: A Jewish Approach" in Jacob Fried, ec. Jews in the Modern World [New York, 1962] I, p. 210. This is astonishing, since, aside from Pfeffer's general insight into Judaism, he himself cites Roger Williams who utilized the Decalogue (which includes this commandment), as the foundation for his theory of religious tolerance. Cf. Pfeffer, ibid, pp. 219 f.
20. For a detailed analysis of the structure and content of this important ethical document, as well as for the exegesis of Job 31:13-15 cited below, see "Job's Code of Conduct," in R. Gordis, The Book of Job: Commentary, New Translation and Special Studies (New York, 1978), pp. 542-46.
21. Cf. B. Sanhedrin 56a-602; Tosefta, Abhodah Zarah 9, 4-8.
22. Cf. Yalqut Shimeoni on Judges, sec. 42.
23. Cf. . Galatians 3 : 39.
24. See R. Gordis, "A Basis For Morals: Ethics in a Technological Age" (Judaism, Vol. 25, No. 1, Winter 1976).
25. On the history of Gentile-Jewish relationships in Christian Europe, see the excellent study of S. Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance (Oxford, 1961). On religious tolerance in Judaism, see A. Altmann, Tolerance and the Jewish Tradition (London, 1957), and the writer's The Root and the Branch: Judaism and the Free Society, chap. 3, esp. pp. 47-52.
26. The texts of many of these disputations are assembled in J.D. Einsenstein, Otzer Vikkukhim (New York, 1928). Cf. also Katz, op. cit., pp. 106 ff., and the bibliography there cited; O.S. Rankin, Jewish Religious Polemic of Early and Late Centuries (Edinburgh, 1956); F.E. Talmadge (ed.), Disputation and Dialogue: Readings in the Jewish-Christian Encounter (New York, 1975).
27. The modifications of the Talmudic laws by great legal authorities in the early Middle Ages are analyzed by S. Katz, op. cit., pp. 12-36.
28. Cf. Katz, ibid., pp. 102 ff.
29. Cf. the moving passage in his Sefer Mitzvot Hagadol (Venice ed., 1547), pp. 152-c-d, cited by Katz, op. cit.,
30. Cf. Tosefta, Sanhedrin 13:2.
31. Maimonides, Hilkhoth Melakhim, 8, 11; Hilkhoth Teshuvah 3, 5; Milkhoth Eduth Iggerothav (Leipzig, 1859), part 2, p. 23b.
32. Cf. His Kuzari, 4, 23.
33. Cited in Bezalel Ashkenazi, Shittah Mequbbetzet, 1761 ed., pp. 78a.
34. His descriptive phrase, `ummoth hageduroth bedarkhei hadathot, means literally "nations restrained by the ways of religion." Cf. Katz, op. cit., pp. 114-115; for a careful and well-balanced treatment of Meiri's views.
35. Cf. Tosafot on B. Sanhedrin 63b.
36. Cf. Mishneh Torah, Helkhoth Melakhim 1, 4.
37. Cf. Mishneh Torah, Abodah Zara 9, 3; Commentary on the Mishnah, Abodah Zarah, 1.
38. Cf. Emunot Vedeot 2, 5.
39. Cf. Moses Rivkes, Be'er Hagolah on Shulhan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat 525, 5.
40. For a brief history of proselytism in Judaism and the issues involved, Cf. Judaism for the Modern Age (New York, 1955), chap. 16, where I urged the Jewish community to consider the advisability of a dignified presentation on the tenets and practices of Judaism to all who might be interested, whatever their religious background. Recently, Dr. Alexander Schindler, president of the (Reform) Union of American Hebrew Congregations, has led his organization to plan a program of information on Judaism primarily for those who might be interested in becoming proselytes. The program will be directed in particular to non-Jewish partners; in intermarriages whose numbers have been growing steadily during the past two decades.