Faith and Social Action

in European Judaism
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In the footsteps of Hermann Cohen, 'the idea of humanity in the correlation of the unity of God', Leo Baeck rises out of the experience of the First World War beyond being the Nebenmensch to become the Mitmensch, who lives forever with the Divine Mitleid, compassion. God must love the poor man, since man ought to love his poor Mitmensch, fellow man (p. 15 in Leo Baeck, Teacher of Theresienstadt). In 1922, Leo Baeck expressed this new awareness of correlation in his unique language, the 'twofoldness', in his extraordinary, beautiful essay 'Mystery and Commandment': 'There are two experiences of the human soul in which the meaning of his life takes on for a man a vital significance: the experience of commandment; or as we may also put it, the knowledge of what is real and the knowledge of what is to be realised …' This twofold experience could also be called humility and reverence. Humility is the feeling for that deep and mysterious sphere in which man is rooted, and reverence is man's feeling that something higher confronts him, and whatever is higher is ethically superior and therefore makes demands and directs, speaks to man and requires his reply, his decision. The true expression of this twofoldness is faith and social action, as Leo Baeck expresses at the end of This People Israel: 'What was confused becomes definite; clearly pre-empts what had been confused,' and 'The man of this earth works for something to come into being which this earth itself does not give.' And the great hope, that this is achievable, that tikkun olam is never an illusion beyond our grasp, is given ever again in the birth of a child.

European Judaism

A Journal for the New Europe

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