Bela TABOR (TÁBOR Béla)
Epilogue to The Two Ways of Jewry, 1990
The first edition of The Two Ways of Jewry appeared in print in early August 1939, four weeks before the outbreak of World War II. I began writing it in January 1938, fifty days before the Anschluss and about two months after the Gyõr Speech in which Prime Minister Darányi announced the first Jewish Law.
These chronological data outline the historical environment into which the book was born. Nobody doubted that the announcement at Gyõr foreshadowed not simply a law restricting the rights of Jews, but the escalation of an already long-standing campaign against Hungarian Jewry. This much, the whole Jewry perceived; as yet, they perceived no more. The majority of Jews in Hungary received it not as the forerunner of catastrophe, but merely as an alarm of an increased threat to their lifestyle. But even that perception was muffled; the awareness of being threatened had already been integrated into their way of life over the course of two decades.
The Two Ways of Jewry sought to shake them out of this torpor. By writing it I hoped to contribute to the spiritual mobilisation of Hungarian Jewry. For this, the Jews had to be made acquainted with the inner, essentially esoteric, content of their Judaism; they had to be brought to realise their special and delicate historical place within Western culture and the responsibilities implied by it. Their self-pity and complacence as well as the inclination of a broad sector of Hungarian Jewry to search for the source of all their troubles outside themselves needed to be confronted. The purpose of the high standard which demanded them to measure their own behavior, actions and value-options not by the errors of others, but by their own recognized historical responsibility, was to raise up a generation of Jews reliant upon self-knowledge, positively self-conscious and strict with themselves. A generation which could liquidate all its internal barriers narrowing its horizons without weakening its communal identity, and one that could internalize the communal values bestowed upon it without dulling its universal sensitivity. Nobody knew the amount of time available; every judicious person knew that it was not much. No one foresaw, however, that in fact it was almost nothing; that the catastrophe was imminently looming.
The half-century of the Emancipation and subsequent two decades of anti-Semitism brought about a perplexity of identity in Hungarian Jewry. No Jew of the ages before the Emancipation, or those beyond the Carpathians had ever struggled with such a perplexity. They lived their traditional lives without embarrassement, not in front of a mirror. But the vast majority of Hungarian Jews – excluding, of course, the strictly traditionalist sector, but including those most active in Hungarian society and in Jewish communal life – had too deep a psychological interest in dating their history from the Emancipation and locating it west of the Carpathians. It was in fact this historical daydream, what they meant by the term ‘assimilation.’ They were brought up in the values of modern Western culture, and the phenomenon of Judaism as more than simply a religious denomination could not be made self-evident to them simply by pointing it out. While their leadership strove to reduce their existence to such a denomination, ceaselessly articulating that Judaism is merely a religion, the immediate experience of Jews was in irritating conflict with this notion. Being Hungarian, on the other hand, was a similarly immediate experience, at least for the overwhelming majority of Hungarian Jews. This wove a new contradiction together with the first. The perplexity of identity could have been eliminated only by shedding light on this web of contradictions. Nevertheless, the spiritual elite of Hungarian Jewry did not seriously attempt, either during the half-century of the Emancipation or over the subsequent two decades, to investigate and to illuminate what is signified, and what unity is hidden, by that obvious duality of Judaism: that it is both a religion and a people.
Neglecting to develop self-consciousness concerning their identity had no tangible consequences as long as Jewry was protected by the favorable circumstances of the age of Emancipation. Lacking any genuine identity-consciousness, however, Hungarian Jews proved dependent upon circumstances, and when these became unfavorable they were overwhelmed by a paralyzing perplexity. There was no internal reserve to guarantee spiritual autonomy; such a reserve could have been mobilized to counteract the ever more acute external conditions. Minimalism was becoming the guiding principle of their behavior: they always favored the aim, solution, interpretation, evaluation that demanded the least possible will and sensitivity. That is why they did not realize the true significance of the Gyõr Speech. They wanted to believe that only their accustomed life-style was endangered, and that this danger could be averted by minor changes in their career paths.
The task facing those who at least wanted to attempt mobilizing the psychological and spiritual resistance of Hungarian Jewry’s in these critical times, was primarily to eliminate this minimalism and to stop the Hungarian Jews from regarding even themselves as an outside circumstance. To be able to react resiliently to the increasing threats they required presence of mind. Communities and individuals alike have a presence of mind if they are able to measure up to a situation without directly mobilizing the core of their existence; such an attempt almost inevitably seizes up with panic and cramp. Rather, it is sufficient for them to direct the energies streaming in the capillaries of their physical-psychological-spiritual organism towards the situation; the energy of the core circulates so abundantly, freely and organically that they can measure it out as required.
The prerequisite of this presence of mind is precisely that which attracted Hölderlin in the Greek polis, or the way of life incorporated in it: “that energy and consistency which makes harmony with the center manifest even at the outermost point.” By this, Hölderlin formulated the measure of every communal identity, not only that of the Greek polis. The center to which it alludes is the answer to the following question: What does the community identify itself with at its highest level? The measure of a way of life is that energy and consistency with which the community reflects the highest level of its self-identity even at the most peripheral points of its existence. The degree to which this requirement is satisfied by a community is also the degree to which it will have the presence of mind to respond to the challenges of history. For this it needs, on the one hand, an elite that knows the highest level of the community’s identity; and, on the other, a connection between the elite and the other sectors of the community which makes it possible, nay natural, that the whole community be receptive to the value-system of the elite.
When The Two Ways of Jewry sought to make the Jewish Question a question of the Jews, it saw the key to its solution in such an elevation of the Jewish community’s level of identification, in such a free circulation of its spiritual energies: in the reflection of the highest level of identification even at the most extreme periphery. This is both a consistent application of the Biblical tradition and the way to its realization – a strict adherence to the Biblical scale of values: the sacrificial order based on ceaseless spiritualization of matter and the material.
Was this a utopian conception: the application of the Biblical model – that is, the spiritual value-order of sacrifice – to the modern economically orientated society? This question doubly misses the point. Firstly, the Biblical model knows no time that can tie it down to itself; it is never identical to any fixed form in time, but only to its constant self-transformation. Anyone who understands it differently regards the Bible as a myth of times past; that is, instead of identifying with the Bible, he emigrates to an alien religion. Indeed, Campbells statement holds here: myth is an alien religion. Secondly, the question could genuinely be answered only by that 600,000-strong Hungarian Jewry which was immediately addressed by the sacrificial command mediated by this conception. But this last sizeable Hungarian galut cannot be asked any more.
Galut is the Hebrew name for what is generally known by its Greek name, Diaspora. But unlike ‘diaspora’ meaning ‘dispersal,’ the universally accepted translation of galut is ‘exile’. The term originates from the Bible: Isaiah and Jeremiah already use it to refer to the community of Jews deported to captivity in Babylon. Later it assumed the meaning of the Jewish Diaspora. Today, of course, it does not mean exile proper; rather it has become a symbol through which to remember the late- and post-Biblical ages of Jewish history and to identify with them. We could call it a religio-historical symbol if the essence of Judaism were exhausted by the term ‘religion’. ‘Galut’ can thus be characterized by the same dual-unity as Judaism itself: it is a religio-historic and a folk-historic symbol in one; neither one without the other. The religio-historic factor predominates, however. This remains unchanged despite the fact that since the emergence of Zionism the folk-historic significance has regained much of its former emphasis. Only since then has this symbol again been used to refer to the Jewry living outside the Jewish state (Israel), as distinct from those living within. The spiritual meaning of the word does not assimilate this political meaning; it includes the Jews living in the Jewish state as well as those living beyond its borders, and this will remain so – for that is how it lives in Jewish religious consciousness – until, with the coming of the Messiah, Israel again becomes the Holy Land. Until then, ‘galut’ means the Jewish community of fate, in which, for two millennia, persecution and threat have indeed played a major role, although epochs of persecution have alternated with epochs of light.
Before World War II, the Eastern European community was the largest of the galut. A striking phenomenon during the age of Emancipation and the subsequent two decades was the aspiration of Hungarian Jewry (or at least its dominant sectors) to distance itself from this Eastern European Jewish community, which constituted more than half of the Jewry of the world. This aspiration was partly a natural consequence of already living within the range of modern Western culture, yet on its Eastern border – and closest to tradition; and partly a symptom of the perplexity of identity already mentioned. More accurately, this was another sign of the neglect responsible for the perplexity of identity: a failure to start the analysis which could have illuminated the very real unity masked by the very real duality of Jewish existence. Performing this task would also have made it unnecessary for them to distance themselves from the Eastern European Jews. It would have made clear the historical border-existence of Jews which cannot be encompassed by any form of historic existence; neither that which seeks to blur the recognizable difference between the Jews and their environment, nor that which attempts to secure their distinction by stressing particular ethnographic characteristics pertaining to a specific historical phase.
The reason the fantasist-conformist sector of Hungarian Jewry which had gained a continually increasing influence upon its life felt the need to distance itself from the Eastern European Jewry was that Eastern European Jews - or their way of life - ostentatiously and provocatively embodied the antithesis of what it sought to achieve: to make its own difference from ist environment unrecognizable. The one-dimensionalism and sign-blindness inherited from the neophyte rationalism of the Enlightenment saw this homogenizing assimilation as the only viable route towards harmonizing the relations between ethnic communities. Hungarian Jewry threw its own identity as prey to the Moloch of mimicry: to avoid others recognizing its distinction it had to choose a way of life in which it could not even recognize itself. It sought to avoid the danger of collective schizophrenia inherent in this, by distancing itself from the Jews of Eastern Europe. Hungarian Jewry projected its aversion to its own distinctness onto them; it succesfully persuaded itself that it was averse to them, and not to what made itself different from its own environment. Modern psychology is well aware of this mechanism of projection.
Of course, the truth was that Hungarian Jewry was seeking to break away from Jewish communality of fate. The ruthless logic of history prevailed, however, when brutal violence forced it to make the identity it wished to conceal completely recognizable, and precipitated it into the most intimate communality of fate with those it sought to distance itself from; into the communality of destruction.
‘Galut’ does not only mean ‘exile’. The Hebrew word has a second meaning: ‘uncovering the covered’. In Greek: Apocalypse.
The Greek apokalypto means ‘to uncover’; to dis-cover, open what has been hidden, whether or not it is fearful. Exactly like the root of the Hebrew ‘galut’: gala. But the Jewish Apocalyptic Literature that sprung up in the Hellenistic era uncovers the secrets of the end of time in truly fearful visions, and with such suggestive force that in the consciousness of the long centuries the meaning of the term signifying the act of uncovering the covered, apocalyptic, has transformed; by now it does not express the act of uncovering the covered, nor even general uncovering, but the indescribably fearful itself. It acquired this meaning in the cultures built upon the ruins of Hellenism and was adopted so into the Hungarian literary language.
This figurative meaning is not the only meaning of the word ‘apocalyptic.’ Words belonging to the two meaning-groups of the Hebrew gala: ‘exile’ and ‘uncovering of the covered’, appear in the Bible around 250 times. Almost half of them refer to the uncovering of the covered, certainly not confined to the dis-covering of the end. The Septuagint, a Bible-translation originating from the early stages of Hellenism, uses the apokalypto-apokalypsis word group to translate these. The figurative meaning of the word took over only through the works on eschatological themes, termed Apocalyptic Literature, which came to the fore in the latter stages of Hellenism.
The fact that the same Hebrew word expresses both exile and the uncovering of the covered, testifies to an underlying connection between these two meanings as discerned in one of the deeper layers of Jewish spiritual tradition. This connection can be discovered easily enough: they relate to one another as do home and hiddenness. Galut is the negation of both; one meaning is homelessness, the other, unhiddenness. Or, more precisely, ‘making homeless’ and ‘unhiding’. The exile, the deportation, deprives the exiled of his home; the apocalypse deprives the secret of its hiddenness. In Apocalyptic Literature, the secret is that which awaits us hidden in the womb of the future. The common connotation of the two meanings of gala is: to force into an alien environment.
The Explanatory Dictionary of Hungarian defines ‘apocalyptic’ as: ‘similar to the horrors of the last judgement; terrifying.’
Yes, that is the continuation of the story after August 1939, after the publication of the book. ‘Apocalyptic: similar to the horrors of the last judgment; terrifying.’ It has no name. It is usually circumscribed, albeit with a single word. Some call it Holocaust, by the Greek word for a burnt offering; some call it Shoah, by the Biblical word for destruction, catastrophe, distress; some call it Auschwitz, pars pro toto, by the name of one of several extermination camps. In actuality it was the murder of six million Jews, mostly Eastern and Central European, among them six hundred thousand Hungarian Jews. Men and women, old and young, children on the threshold of their futures and babies just beyond the threshold of life, families and strangers, lovers and loveless people, happy and unhappy, healthy and unhealthy, carefree and careworn, friends, enemies and indifferent people, those who carry the intoxicating responsibility of the spirit in their hearts and those who content themselves with picking the flower of every hour. How could all this belong to History? Death, irreplaceable death, everyone’s own death, is on this side of history. History makes death into its own material, it builds from death. Of course, not only from death: also from the moment, that is, from intensified life. History is the bridge between intensified life and death. Ceaseless migration; oscillating between eternal life and eternal death. But personal life, individual fate is still on this side of History, although each person can be a beneficent and a victim of it.
Yes, this was to be the first among the three events that led directly to an epoch-change in Jewish history. The second was the establishment of the new Jewish state; the third, the entropisation of the symbol.
Let us Bid farewell to the six million irreplaceable singles, let us hand them over to their final resting place: to History, which knows only diagonals. Having been reduced to a historical fact, the deaths of the six million Jews became the first trigger of the change of epoch in Jewish history. It radically changed the geographical distribution of the remnant Jewry which in turn caused a shift in the spiritual centers of gravity of the world Jewish population. At the same time, the traumatic psychological and spiritual impact left an indelible mark on its relation to the world and to its own Jewishness.
Both factors are closely interwoven with the second and third epoch-changing events: with the establishment of the new Jewish state, and with the entropisation of the symbol.
In Eastern and Central Europe only a tiny fraction of the Jewish community survived the devastation. But even among those who returned to their homelands, many could not bear the thought of living in an environment where everything reminded them of their murdered loved ones and their past; where among the pedestrians teeming the street they might encounter the murderers’ accomplices. They decided to emigrate. In the first years after the war, the world was open before them, but the main directions of their migration were, besides Western Europe, the two gravitational centers: one the USA, the other the new Jewish state.
The real epoch-changing event from the point of view of Jewish history is certainly the loss of the Eastern European center (the remaining Jewish masses of the Soviet Union, inasmuch as they remained Jews, could be disregarded in this respect, being cut off from world Jewry). This very center had previously guaranteed – in this region, and, through radiation, elsewhere – the continuity of the tradition. This was the keeper of the symbol in Europe and in America; this, with the heat of its encircling, crystallized way of life, fostered the ancient – or at least for a few centuries ancient-lived – symbols.
Now the Eastern European center was split in two. To use a geometrical metaphor, the circle which had had one center became an ellipsis with two focal points. American Jewry represents the first focal point, Israel the other. Numerically the majority of Jews live in these two countries, and if we disregard the roughly two and a half million Jews living in the Soviet Union – which is in line with reality, particularly if we note that their emigration is at full blast, mainly to Israel and the USA – then the proportions become still more heavily weighted towards these two foci.
But there is another, still more important factor, this one concerning the nature of the epoch-change: from whence and to where the center has moved in splitting from one into two focal points. The old environment; one which had equally low levels of economy, society and culture, which politically depreciated human rights and which in a range of ways threatened the dignity of the human being, was replaced by a new environment, providing the community of immigrant Jews with everything the environment of the previous center denied or could not grant them. This is valid, albeit in different forms, for both Israel and the US. It introduced a new epoch in which, for the first time in the history of the galut, Jewry had equal conditions with which to shape its fate and take its part in the division of labor of universal history. Yet an even more far-reaching factor involved in this turn of fate is the following: while the surroundings of the old Eastern European center, and with them the everyday secular life of the Jew, was closely tied to the European Middle Ages (or rather to the interim between the Middle Ages and the Modern Era), the two new focal points found themselves at the forefront of modern society. This could, in the long-run, radically influence the way in which the relationship between the sacred and secular continues to change within Judaism.
The traumatic psychological and spiritual impact of the shoah on individual survivors also contained elements that flowed into History. Generally speaking, it reinforced tendencies which already existed: the narrow-spirited became narrower, the broad-spirited, broader. We need not deal with the latter here; any one who is interested can find them through this allusion and all that they represent: deep calls to deep, and broadness to broadness. The book itself, incidentally, illustrates this concept from several angles. The former tendency manifested itself above all on a broad scale of alienation. There were those who became alienated from their environment, and this in turn was represented along a broad scale, from childish sulking to the devastating effect of ressentiment. One illustration of the childish sulking is the group of people who became alienated from the German language, refusing to speak German or to listen to German words. Who could take offense at their doing so? This alienation was genuine: faultlessly deducible from the logic of passions deprived of their space; a logic induced by the black myth of blind anguish just as the logic of the spirit is induced by the colorful primordial myth of suffering refracted in the prismatic medium and space of joy. But the narrow-spirited manifested graver symptoms of this alienation. There were those who became alienated from their non-Jewish environments – in the case of Hungarian Jews, from their non-Jewish Hungarianness – those who became alienated from their Jewishness, and those who became alienated from God. This was not restricted to those who had gone to the hell of a concentration camp. It could serve as a pretext for their own selves to those (as a result of historic events, not so many) who wanted to seize the opportunity to prevail in fields that had once been closed to them. Thus a relatively large number of Jews (‘proportionately’, to use this absurd and wantonly created term) gained powerful positions which made them odious. They were not exclusively brutal careerists, we can find amongst them sensitive souls. They convinced themselves that they served a good cause according to their convictions and that they represented the truth; as conscience and conviction can easily be bribed, the sleeping conscience can easily be mistaken for good conscience, and it is easy to acquire the proud self-consciousness of representing the true cause by self-delusion.
Mutatis mutandis, a similar mechanism was active within those who became alienated from their Jewishness. The only difference was that in this case intimidation played the role of the greedy career-appetite in that. And as in the former case, a narrowness of spirit was a prerequisite of apostasy. The ground was long prepared for the so comfortable-seeming solution of apostasy. After all, the history of the galut is densely permeated by the history of persecutions; what happened in this case may have been the most severe, but was not the first. Many people decided, following this reasoning, to found their lives upon ‘false papers’. They not only abandoned their Judaism, but kept it secret from their children. Thus evolved – and this may be an important development from the point of view of the change of epoch in Jewish history – the sector of ‘Jewish descent’ which distinguishes itself quite rightly from Jews, and at the same time does not. This no-man's-land between Jew and non-Jew creates not only a grave internal problem for a large proportion of the second generation of apostates but also a serious task for the spiritual community of the Jews.
The key to everything we have dealt with here is handed to us in the final analysis by the problem of the crisis of the symbol. I spoke of the entropization of the symbol as the third epoch-changing event in the most recent history of the Jews. This entropization as the threat of ‘heat-death,’ is only a tendency; not yet a completed final stage in the history of the symbol. The process was born together with secularization, but is not identical to it; secularization by itself concerns only one group among all the inherited meaning-emanating symbols, albeit the group which, in the final analysis, gives meaning to all.
Symbols can be described by symbols only. The more desymbolized the signs we try to use the more we fail in the description. The symbol is a sign, but a sign that hides as well as it signifies; a chain of hidden layers of meaning each of which chases beyond itself towards a more hidden layer; and a more universal one. The symbol is a sign hiding an infinite chain of hiding signs. Being a sign, it signifies; but being a symbol it signifies also that it hides: that it hides this infinite chain of hiding signs. So the symbol does not signify less, but more than a conventional sign: it signifies also that it has deeper layers and these layers too, consist of hiding signs. Its hiding signifies, and its signifying hides – and both call.
They call out for thirst – but this word, too is a symbol. “Thirst is proof for the existence of water”, states Franz Baader. He cites this as evidence for the existence of God, but we are interested here only in the fact that he uses a symbol to prove a symbol: the hiding-sign of the existence of water is proved using the hiding-sign of thirst. “We mix ourselves a drink from thirst,” writes Szabó Lajos, extending Franz Baader’s train of thought. We can mix a drink from thirst for the same reason that thirst proves the existence of water. Thirst is water itself, its existence assuming the form of its own lack. To stay within the dimensions of our symbol: in thirst the primordial ocean calls back – drinks back – its own existence as fragmented into rivers; and, being present as its own absence in the rivers, transmits the call on from river to river, from thirst to thirst.
In the thirst to which the symbol calls us we are parched for existence; but for that hidden dimension of existence that chases beyond itself towards a more hidden dimension. This existence is not minimal, it is maximal: growing existence. Minimum and maximum are not states, but movements. Minimal existence is shrinking existence, while maximal existence is growing. The growth of existence is also the growth of community. Parmenides states that existence and thought are identical. But to say instead that existence and community are identical would be to express ourselves more broadly; for the term ‘community’ includes the connotations of ‘thought’. This thought chases beyond itself towards a more hidden meaning. As the symbol is infinite and thought is infinite so the community is infinite: it can be infinitely intensified and infinitely reduced. The community is the subject and the object of the thirst – likewise, the community in each individual. This I term ‘personality’. The maximal community thirsts for the greatest thirst, the minimal community thirsts for the smallest. In the former, the greater thirst drinks the smaller into itself; in the latter it disperses into the smaller ones: the smaller thirst renders the larger forgotten. One mixes a drink from the greatest possible thirst, the other, from the smallest.
The crisis of the symbol, which in its tendency is the entropization, heat death, cooling down of the symbol, indicates the route from the greater thirst to the smaller. This is the route of the disembodying of the spirit. The symbol is the body of the spirit – hence its decisive significance; and this is the secret of the multimillennial role of the symbol.
The mystery of the body is the mystery of life; the mystery of the living body is also that of love; the mystery of love is, in turn, the metaphor for the thirst for the greatest thirst. When the symbol calls for thirst, the members of the symbol-community feel it in the depth of their souls as if a young body called them for love. The symbol fills the message of the spirit with eros, fills the significance with weight; because the warmth of the living body of the spirit heats up every meaning which the symbol mediates.
The entropization of the symbol, then, is the depreciation of a certain spiritual form in the midst of a certain community. We spoke of it as triggering the change of epoch in Jewish history; this is a process, however, which is not restricted to the Jews, but concerns all of Western culture. Still, it is reasonable to emphasize it as an agent of recent Jewish history, not only because, through their relatively small population and intensive spiritual interest the Jews may be affected to a higher degree, but primarily because Jewry is an indissoluble unity of religion and people, and this form of existence devolves a more vital task to the symbol for the preservation of its identity than is the case in other communities. That perplexity of identity which is apparent in Eastern European Jewry today is mainly a consequence of the fact that, partly through the political pressure of recent decades and partly through the break in continuity which took place immediately before and during the war, it ceased to be self-evident in Eastern European countries that Jewry should manifest itself as a symbol-community.
Today only orthodoxy is immune from this problem, and Israel is in the unique position of being able to neutralize the effects of the depreciation of the symbol. But the crisis of the symbol has such vast implications that the spiritual exertion of all trends of Jews is required to prevent it from deepening into a universal crisis of Jewish identity-awareness.
Translated by Hegedüs Pál and Jessica Sacks