How Basic Is “Basic Judaism”?: A Comfortable Religion for an Uncomfortable World

"How Basic Is 'Basic Judaism'?: A Comfortable Religion for an Uncomfortable World," Commentary, January 1948. (A review of Basic Judaism by Milton Steinberg.)


It is social philosophy that is his talking point, and not religion. Judaism, Rabbi Steinberg finds, has an immanent political doctrine that adds up to “political democracy, to a modification of capitalism in the direction of democracy, and a world state.” How convenient . . . But what is this but an oblique way of saying that one of the merits of Judaism is that it permits its believers to read the New Republic with untroubled soul? And what kind of belief in Messianism is it that finds itself represented in such diverse figures as Saint Augustine, Tennyson, and Hegel? And what a grotesque selection!

Rabbi Steinberg’s Judaism is obviously native American. That is to say, in its heart it has no faith in the effectuality of religion on the American scene, and hastens to adopt a vocabulary with a higher popularity rating at the first opportunity. Genial and well-wishing—appropriate company for a business man’s luncheon. When he says “all good men are Messiahs,” it rings with all the fervor and conviction of “any boy can grow up to be president.”

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