In the early years of European Judaism, these colloquia (possibly following the pattern established by Commentary) were a distinctive feature. Re-reading the six of them is both moving and thought-provoking. But do these colloquia themselves still have anything to offer? Can we learn from what took place? Should we attempt to replicate the format? What follows is partial rather than systematic and the reflections follow personal interests rather than being judgments on quality.
A Jewish Perspective
The Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, wrote of Abraham in ‘fear and trembling’. I am writing this with a sense of panic and terror and so, as always in such a situation, will need to proceed very slowly, taking great care, step by step. What is such fear about? I want to suggest that these feelings, or more accurately, some aspects of them, are inevitable in our human condition, that they are part of what has been called ‘primary anxiety’, which some see as inherent in our awareness of ourselves as mortal human beings.
Thinking in Circles
Hannah Arendt is so modern that one of the academic disputes about her at present is whether she should be classified amongst the moderns or the ‘postmoderns’, an issue which probably puts her at the borderline of our knowledge and understanding, or rather, beyond it.1 She was not a religiously practising Jew: the first letter she wrote to an old Jewish friend, Gertrud Jaspers, after the war, speaks about sending some bacon, with detailed instructions on how to cook it – and somewhat significantly, she adds ‘I’ve forgotten the German word for it, the hell with it’.
A Personal Footnote
This article describes the work of the Youth Section of the WUPJ (the World Union for Progressive Judaism) in Europe soon after the Second World War and the establishment of the State of Israel, with especial attention to the influence of Rabbi Lionel Blue. It covers tensions between generations over how to ‘teach’ Judaism; the astonishing numbers of rabbinical students recruited; ways we ‘encountered’ the Bible; the first post-war youth conference in Germany; early meetings with young Jews from Eastern Europe; first encounters with Muslims; and particularly the Six-Day War. The changes this brought about through Netzer and the shift in focus towards a more Israel-centred ideology are described. Finally, the conclusion is drawn that only ongoing messianic or prophetic ideals keep Judaism alive.
Radical Evil, Radical Hope
The world is facing a multitude of interconnected issues, leading to avoidable starvation, poverty and death for hundreds of millions. Is Arendt's concept of the 'banality of evil', which she adopted in preference to Kant's 'radical evil', applicable here? Are we bystanders, addicted to 'growth'? The paper considers the central role of thinking and, with the help of Greek myth and Nietzsche, the relationship between evil and hope. Finally, there is an emerging concept of 'radical hope'. What is this, could it be of help and how would it connect with Judaism's teachings of the Messiah?
Rabbi Jeffrey Newman
Jeffrey Newman, Danny Rich, and Jonathan Magonet
Curthoys, Ned, The Legacy of Liberal Judaism: Ernst Cassirer and Hannah Arendt’s Hidden Conversation, New York/Oxford, Berghahn Books, 2013, 238 pp., ISBN 978-1-78238-007-8 (hbk).
Kaplan, Rabbi Dana Evan, The New Reform Judaism: Challenges and Reflections, Philadelphia, The Jewish Publication Society, 2013, 367 pp., ISBN 978-0-8276-0934-1 (hardback)
Appelbaum, Peter C. (with introduction by Professor Michael Meyer and foreword by Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg), Loyalty Betrayed: Jewish Chaplains in the German Army during the First World War, London/ Portland (Oregon), Valentine Mitchell, 2014.
Michael Shire, Michael Stannard, David Goldberg, Charles D. Middleburgh, Jeffrey Newman, Sidney Brichto, Danny Rich, and Albert H. Friedlander
Hans Sigismund Rahmer (John Desmond Rayner), rabbi: born Berlin 1924; ordained rabbi 1953; Minister, South London Liberal Synagogue 1953–57; Associate Minister, Liberal Jewish Synagogue 1957–61, senior Minister 1961–89 (Minister Emeritus); Lecturer in Liturgy and Rabbinic Literature, Leo Baeck College 1966–2003, Director of Studies 1966–69, Vice-President 1969–2005; Chairman, Council of Reform and Liberal Rabbis 1969–71, 1982–84, 1989–92; President, London Society of Jews and Christians 1990; CBE 1993; Honorary Life President, Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues 1994; married 1955 Jane Heilbronn (two sons, one daughter); died London 19 September 2005.