Image above: “Rabbi Israel ben Shabtai, Maggid of Kozienice (d. 1814).”
An Exchange Concerning the Jewish-Christian Dialogue
I just came across an amazing quote from Rabbi Israel ben Shabtai Hapstein, known as the Maggid of Kozienice (Yiddish, Kozhnits) (c.1733-1814). Martin Buber (1878-1965), who popularized the legends and teachings of the various Hasidic masters, quotes the Kozhnitser Maggid as having uttered in prayer: “If You do not yet wish to redeem Israel, then at least redeem the goyim.“
Tongue-in-cheek, I would juxtapose to the famous quote ”Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), a new quote “Salvation is from the Gentiles” (Pseudo-Israel of Kozienice).
As I believe it important to see in what context Buber quotes the Maggid of Kozhnits, I have provided below the passage in Buber’s writing in which the quote appears:
The second focus of the Jewish soul is the basic consciousness that God’s redeeming power is at work everywhere and all times but that a state of redemption exists nowhere and never…
With a strength that original grace has given him and that none of his historic trials has ever wrested from him, the Jew resists the radical division of soul and world that forms the basis of this [Christian] conception; he resists the conception of a divine splitting of existence; he resists most passionately the awful notion of a massa perditionis [Latin, literally lost masses].The God in whom he believes has not created the totality to let it split apart into one blessed and one damned half. God’s eternity is not to be conceived by man; but–and this we Jews know until the moment of our death–there can be no eternity in which not everything would be accepted into God’s atonement, when God has drawn time back into eternity. Should there be a stage, however, in the redemption of the world in which redemption is first fulfilled in one part of the world, we would derive no claim to redemption from our faith, much less from any other source. ”If You do not yet wish to redeem Israel, then at least redeem the goyim,” the Rabbi of Koznitz used to pray.
(Martin Buber, “Two Foci of the Jewish Soul (1932)” in: The Martin Buber Reader: Essential Writings, ed. Asher D. Bierman , p.111)
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Please forgive me but it seems that in an age when the human animal has successfully walked on the moon and returned safely to terra, when the international space station is in perpetual orbit, a constant reminder for all those who really need one that we live in an age of manifest miracles, in a post racial, post religious age, it seems terribly moot to hold our imaginations (and therefore our souls, in my opinion) captive to the ancient texts and narratives. The scientific needs to be informed by the sacred. The rational needs to be moved by the romantic. The pragmatic needs to be inspired by the passionate.
But as a Jew born to a lapsed Roman Catholic father and a sole survivor Holocaust orphan mother, who survived as a hidden child (pretending to be Catholic) and was baptized years prior to my conception, I have already invested decades in ascetic study of the Jewish/gentile questions. I have come to some satisfactory working conclusions and am no longer interested in such pedestrian matters.
Here’s all that’s relevant, in my opinion, about the Jewish/gentile question, from a public policy, political philosophy, literary criticism perspective: just as in the Oedipal myth, Christianity holding dominion over the world at the expense of the Judaic, is patricide and God cannot abide patricide. The child, instead of following in the footsteps of the father, purloins the sacred texts and wisdom prematurely, allowing for the creative energy to be applied in haphazard and ego driven ways.
This sacred energy becomes manifest in the physical realm (of course, because the energy is real but it is not moral; it has no power to choose to allow itself to be harnessed in order to build huge steel furnaces and boilers and all sorts of things which serve humanity in a positive fashion but to refuse to allow itself to be harnessed in order to build automatic weapons and tanks and bombers and gas chambers and crematoria) but no longer in service to the sacred; just haphazardly. So humans become enslaved to the material, willingly, because look at all the evidence that materialism provides regarding how successful one can become if one only believes in materialism. Where is the evidence for God? Where is the evidence for salvation? There is none.
When the opponent has succeeded in making the spiritual so marginal that it is only seriously discussed by madmen and the material is so in the ascendant that even the rules for discussion are considered subject to logic, a playing ground upon which the magically mysterious cannot win, the bet will be settled and the game will be over and all the veils will be removed and humanity will learn that it has lost.
Happy (pagan) New Year.
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Dear Daniel (and Bezalel)
Upon reading your response, Daniel, I have to say that I’m rather impressed by the honest soul-searching I’ve come across in some Catholics (post Vatican-II folks) and think that A.J. Heschel z”l was well aware of the classical rabbinic voices of religious humanism and anti-ontic-chosenness which also continued to have representative voices in each period of rabbinic history.