The Philosophy of Leo Baeck

From monotheism to morality.

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These three aspects of the belief in the good cannot be separated in the demands they impose on us any more than they can be detached from their mutual foundation: the One God. (Pg. 87)

The Importance of Jewish Law

To the tasks set by Judaism's faith in God and in man are added the duties based upon the commandment for the continued existence of the religious community, which are to be fulfilled by action. In accordance with the severity and duration of the struggle which Judaism had to conduct, these duties were exceedingly numerous. They include the manifold statutes, forms, customs, and institutions--e.g., the dietary laws and Sabbath rules, elaborated in the Talmud and usually given the erroneous name of the ritual Law. These serve not the religious idea itself but mainly the protection of its needs--a security for its existence through the existence of the religious community. This, and only this, is the primary measure of their value.

Their significance is characteristically express in the Talmudic phrase, "the fence around the law." They are a barricade for, rather than the doctrine of, Judaism. Historically this distinction has been maintained: the religion was not confused with or put on the same level as these statues. (Pg. 263)

To question whether this fence which surrounded and still surrounds Judaism was really necessary is to verge on ingratitude. For in history everything that fulfils a definite and required task is necessary; whatever accomplishes something and remains within the domain of the good is justified. In any case we know that by means of this fence the Jewish community maintained its individuality in the midst of both hostile and friendly worlds. Nobody knows what its existence would have been without it.

We must therefore acknowledge with gratitude the uses of that fence. It is neither unchanging nor unchangeable; in spite of burdens placed upon it, it possesses elasticity. We must preserve it to protect the existence and thus the task of Judaism until the struggle is over and the complete truth of the Sabbath of Sabbaths, which, says the ancient saying, "shall last for ever," is fulfilled. The great Day of Atonement for the sake of which Judaism guards its individuality has not yet arrived. (Pg. 270)

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Leo Baeck

Leo Baeck (1873-1956) was an 20th century German-Polish-Jewish rabbi, scholar, and a leader of Progressive Judaism.