This is a book about the Jewish religion. Not about Jews,
or Jewish problems, or Jewish culture, or Zionism, but about
those beliefs, ideals, and practices which make up the historic
Jewish faith. __________
In writing it I have tried to be as concise as possible, and as simple as a complex and often subtle subject matter would allow. At the same time I have not been so concerned with brevity and simplicity as to confine myself to a mere cataloguing of facts. This book is interpretive as well as descriptive.
Always, however, I have striven to be objective, to suppress my private viewpoint, to depict Judaism as it is, and, where Jews differ in their construction of it, to give each party a fair hearing. But while I am neutral, at least in these pages, as among contending Jewish sects, whether traditionalist or nontraditionalist, whether Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform, I am not neutral on Judaism itself. I am a professing Jew whose faith is a matter of heart as well as head, of ardor no less than conviction. Of this enthusiasm I could not make a secret if I would; I would not if I could. Like any author I welcome any reader. But I have intended Basic Judaism for three groups of people especially. It is addressed in the first instance to believing Jews in the hope that, finding in it a lucid and ordered formulation of their faith, they may be encouraged to live that faith the more consistently and forthrightly.
It is directed equally to that large body of heretofore indifferent Jews who, whether in response to pressures from without or voids within, are groping to establish rapport with the Jewish Tradition, standing at the synagogue’s doors “heart in, head out.” Basic Judaism is not a missionary text. It is declaratory, not exhortatory. But in that fact may lie its usefulness for these wavering Jews. Here, so to speak, is the faith with which they must, if they can, come to terms.
This book is designed last of all for those many non-Jews who happen to be curious about Judaism. The Christian in quest of an objective understanding of the Jewish religion is not a person to be envied. To be sure, he will find books aplenty dealing with his theme. But if they are of Christian authorship they will pretty generally present Judaism only in so far as it bears on the emergence of Christianity or solely for the purpose of contrasting it with its daughter faith, almost always to its disadvantage. And if they have been written by Jews they will tend to be excessively detailed and to assume a larger body of background information than the typical non-Jew possesses. Even worse, they are quite likely to be slanted in favor of some special viewpoint, or else to be preoccupied with confusing and, to an outsider, irrelevant sectarian differences.
What has long been needed is a book on Judaism, written from within Judaism and hence sympathetic to it, concerned with it for its own sake and not as a foil for something else, unencumbered with details and as free as possible from doctrinal and ritualistic dissensions. For only from such a book can the undecided Jew and the inquiring non-Jew come to see Judaism as believing Jews see it, to comprehend why it has elicited from them such intense and sustained loyalty, and proved so mighty a force in their lives and through them in human affairs generally.
To these purposes this book is dedicated. That it shall realize all of them and in their completeness is more than I expect. It is my hope only that it will achieve some of them at least in part. As for the residue of goals destined to be missed and of intentions fated to be fulfilled but fractionally —there remains the consoling epigram of the ancient Sages of Israel: “Not thine to finish the task, but neither art thou free to exempt thyself from it.”