The Contribution Of Judaism

excerpts Beyond any currents, interpretations and influences, Judaism brought at least three fundamental principles to the basis of European culture: the secularization of the eternal, the ennoblement of matter through spirit, and the consideration of the human being as the supreme purpose of humanity. It is obvious that compared to the ideas in the 9th-7th centuries B.C., Judaism is original, even though nowadays it doesn't appear to be very new. The Jews were the first ones to think of a unique God, faceless and without a definite location. In the Jewish mentality, God isn't transcendental but historical; the ideal cannot be reached in a world "beyond", but in an "after" world. The Jewish Paradise is achieved through endless efforts in this world, at the end of one's time, not in a different part of space. This is the source of the active and anti-contemplative Judaic mentality. The Jews' connection with God is established and maintained not through mystical ecstasy, but through moral actions. "Israel" means the fight with God, not a capitulation to Him. Whoever lives in history more than in geography, is always anxious, unsatisfied, in a perpetual hurry, preoccupied more with the future rather than with the present. Even the European idea of future, understood as a qualitative time, superior to the present one, is a Jewish creation. The existentialism that hypertrophies the present at the cost of the future could never appear in the mind of a Jew that thinks in a certain manner. But the elevation from zoomorphic and anthropomorphic divinities to a faceless, historical God was so difficult, and it still is even today, that people always fall prey to idolatry. Nobody can think constantly of an uncertain future, even though images diminish any kind of future and stop, at a certain moment, the advancement towards it. Just like other conceptions about the world, Judaism starts from the idea that spirit is superior to matter, but unlike all the others, it forces the superiority of the spirit to refine matter. In the Bible, man is animated clay. Adam is not a fallen spirit; he is a man who rises to self-consciousness, the first being who assumes the destiny of living the dramatic tension of contradictory values. Judaism doesn't sacrifice the voluptuousness of life in the name of spiritual purity, instead it tries to civilize, to polish and enrich life itself. The heart should not act without thinking, and also the mind should not decide without feeling. In the Judaic conception of the world, men are not created to serve ideas; on the contrary, ideas are created to serve men. When ideas become an impediment, it is moral to sacrifice the idea and not the people. Man, being the supreme purpose, all the other creations are means. Judaism is incompatible with asceticism and fanaticism. That is why the Jews have developed a critical sense, iconoclast and anti-dogmatic, that periodically exasperates conservatories of all kinds. That is why monotheism appeared in a polytheistic world, as well as cybernetics in a mechanistic world. Constantly searching, the Jews were always drawn to what was new. Spiritual creation is the only anti-entropic force able to postpone the informational death of culture, in an over-industrialized society, threatened by standardization and vulgarization. That is why it's more natural that an idea should die for people rather than vice versa. Human sacrifice is permitted only in extreme situations, not when an idea is threatened, but what is most human in man: individuality, subjectivisms, and the freedom to pass from a poor idea to a more comprehensive one. The supreme value in society is individuality. Although all powerful, the God of the Bible didn't create the entire humanity at once, instead he created only one man, Adam, so that no one could claim to have superior ancestry. People are not the representatives of a species; they are the individualities of a community. To strike a single man means striking the whole humanity. Society exists so that every man can become the best he can be. It is true that, genetically, society is the cause and individuality is the effect, but from an ethical standpoint, individuality is the purpose while society is only the instrument. Only together with the rest of the men can anyone become an individual; without everyone else, he is alone. Addressing everyone, the ethics of Judaism doesn't neglect the importance of every person. Philo tried to rationalize faith and synthesize Jewish theology and Greek logic, and re-conciliate the Bible with Plato. In Philo's conception, the abstract logos of the Greeks enlightens the active logos of the Jews. While Philo understood the importance of reason in a moment of history when humanity was ascending from feeling to thought, Henri Bergson tried to counter-balance the schematics of the intellect with a philosophy of life and intuition, in the midst of positivism, pragmatism and scientism. Opposing spaced time and industry through a philosophy of "duration", Bergson was forced to become one of the greatest writers of our century (Nobel laureate for literature in 1928), because his style is "a hardened refusal, plastic rational, which doesn't allow repose, and imposes thoughts in motion" (Jeanne Hersch, L'obstacle du langage, in Henri Bergson, A la Balconiere Publishing House, Neuchatel, 1941, p. 217). Bergson succeeded in avoiding the stagnation of ideas in platitudes, and unified the Cartesian distinction of judgments with the Jewish feeling of time, of becoming and of movement, in a very clear and expressive style. Therefore, Judaism didn't remain isolated from the European cultures; instead it became a part of them. Even in the domain of languages – not only linguistics – the Jews had their contribution, sometimes thanks to the creative distance from their second language. "The lack of organic, instinctive knowledge of the language," wrote E. Lovinescu, "together with the defect of imprecision, offers the possibility for true talents to escape from routine and tradition into a burst of verbal creation, whose originality and spontaneity tips the balance of probable meaning alterations" (E. Lovinescu, Memoirs, II, Craiova, 1931, p. 149). The contact of Judaism with other cultures has always been prolific.Judaic Meanings, Hasefer, Bucharest, 1995 Henri Wald (1920-2000) was an amazing presence due to the profundity and clarity of his expression. Author of numerous studies (The Role of Language in the Formation of Ideas, 1957; The Tension of Thought, 1991; Homo locquens, Judaic Meanings, 1995, and others), he was an outstanding personality of Romanian – and Judaic – culture. (Realitatea evreiasca / Jewish Reality magazine, 9-29 March 2006).

by Henri Wald