Milton Steinberg


American Rabbi, Philosopher, Theologian and Author

Author Quotes

That is the fantastic intolerable paradox of my life, that I have gone questing for what I possessed initially -- a belief to invest my days with dignity and meaning, a pattern of behavior through which man might most articulately express his devotion to his fellows.

The believer in God has to account for the existence of unjust suffering; the atheist has to account for the existence of everything else.

Then there were so many things to be said that they did not speak of any of them.

When I was a young man, I admired clever people. Now that I am older, I admire kind people.

Do you remember, Meir, that epigram quoted in the name of Rabbi Johanan ben Zaccai: 'There is no truth unless there be a faith on which it may rest'? Ironically enough the only sure principle I have achieved is this which I have known almost all my life. And it is so. For all truths rest ultimately on some act of faith, geometry on axioms, the sciences on the assumptions of the objective existence and orderliness of the world of nature. In every realm one must lay down postulates or he shall have nothing at all. So with morality and religion. Faith and reason are not antagonists. On the contrary, salvation is through the commingling of the two, the former to establish first premises, the latter to purify them of confusion and to draw the fullness of their implications. It is not certainty which one acquires so, only plausibility, but that is the best we can hope for.

Does man not face life with a greater assurance is he believes that a benevolent providence foresees the future? And yet he must at the same time be confident that his will is free, otherwise moral support is meaningless altogether. Doctrines in themselves are not important to me, but their consequences are. For example, I urge upon men that they regard themselves as embodiments of the divine essence. If I convince them, their days are endowed with a sense of abiding significance and unturning glory. Then not all the misfortunes and degradations to which they may be subjected can take from them their feelings of oneness with angels and stars. And as for our people, persecuted and dispersed, they live under the shadow of death, cherishing a dream that is recurrently shattered by the caprice of tyrants and then dreamed again half in despair. What can enable such a people to persist except a conviction of a special relationship to God?

Jewish nationalism means no more than recognition of the peoplehood of Israel, and of the propriety of that people's being a religio-cultural group in America, a nationality in Eastern Europe, and in Palestine an actualized nation.

Stop, she shrieked, stop trying to make it easier. But we do not love each other. We never have... You mean, she screamed, you have never loved me.

If the believer has his troubles with evil, the atheist has more and graver difficulties to contend with. Reality stumps him altogether, leaving him baffled not by one consideration but by many, from the existence of natural law through the instinctual cunning of the insect to the brain of the genius and the heart of the prophet. This then is the intellectual reason for believing in God: That, though this belief is not free from difficulties, it stands out, head and shoulders, as the best answer to the riddle of the universe.

Live your life as if you make an impact (because you do).

The bashful learneth not, the impatient teacheth not. Why is Torah compared to water? To teach thee that as water floweth away from the lofty and gathereth only in the lowly places, so with wisdom among men.

What is man? A creature of dust; a thing of transience whose days fly by faster than a weaver's shuttle; a fragile being crushed sooner than a moth; a body, sustaining and reproducing itself after the fashion of the beast; a vessel filled with shame and confusion, impelled by pride and self-love, driven by passions.

Companionship, whether with God or anyone else, must be immediate or it is not companionship. In sum, there is and can be no vicarious salvation. Each man must redeem his own soul.

It [Judaism] expects a man, no matter what else he may think about evil , to recognize it as something to be fought and to go out and fight it.

Dualism makes an absolute of evil; Judaism regards evil as contingent to a prior and more basic good. Dualism despairs in advance of half of reality and half of human nature. Judaism holds that there is nothing which cannot be retrieved for the good. The most sinful impulses is man, as the rabbis point out, and the very forces which properly directed, motivate the virtues.

For all its [Judaism's] heavy intellectualism it set morality above logic, the pursuit of justice and mercy over the possession of the correct idea.

Manifestly, an abyss separates the modernist form the traditionalist in their respective views of Torah. But an abyss, no matter how broad and deep, is a cleft in the earth's surface. the walls to either side will be of similar composition; they will be joined by a common ground below and may be even further united by a bridge from above. So, though the tradition and the modernist differ over Torah, both revere it, each after his own understanding and fashion; or to look to it for guidance and inspiration. And both stand on the same ground, are made of the same stuff, and surmount their disagreements in arches of shared purpose.

Nor is the word political more horrendous, even when it precedes Zionism. For what does it signify? It refers either to methods for realizing the Zionist objective or to the objective itself. If to the former, it denotes the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency for Palestine, and their transactions with the Mandatory Power and others on immigration into Palestine and related problems. If this be political Zionism, what can be wrong with it? Anyone wishing Jews to be free to enter Palestine knows that governments must be dealt with and understandings negotiated. Or are there some so naive as to approve of results but not of the only means for attaining them?

ANTI-ZIONISTS, last of all, exhibit a distaste for certain words. It was Thomas Hobbes who, anticipating semantics, pointed out that words are counters, not coins; that the wise man looks through them to reality. This counsel many anti-Zionists seem to have neglected. They are especially disturbed by the two nouns nationalism and commonwealth, and by the adjective political. And yet these terms on examination are not at all upsetting. Jewish nationalism means no more than recognition of the peoplehood of Israel, and of the propriety of that people's being a religio-cultural group in America, a nationality in Eastern Europe, and in Palestine an actualized nation.

The entire universe, as I see it, is the outward manifestation of Mind Energy, of spirit, or to use the older and better word, of God.

In large part, anti-Semitism is the direct result of religious indoctrination.

When Judaism speaks of immortality… its primary meaning is that man contains something independent of the flesh and surviving it; his consciousness and moral capacity; his essential personality; a soul.

What is wrong with difference is not difference, but man's reluctance to allow and encourage it, and to cultivate it creatively.

One must not hold life too precious. One must always be prepared to let it go.

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American Rabbi, Philosopher, Theologian and Author