The Contemporary Religious Jew – A Soul Torn Between Two Worlds

Man is, undoubtedly, the focal point of religiosity. True, Jewish philosophy does not see man as the sole object of religion, for such a view places religiosity on a human-subjective basis, whereas religiosity is indeed an objective thing, which belongs not only to man but also to the world, like all other real things. Religiosity is the way to elevate the entire world towards God, but man’s role in religiosity is immeasurably greater than his role as a part of the world; for since religiosity treats the entire world as its field of action, the only active factor there is man. And since religiosity is the outlining of a dynamic path, clearly, man is the center of religiosity as a way of fulfilling the special role of the religious man as a implementor. The purpose of religiosity forces man not only towards constant activity, but also towards certain character traits which belong not only to the sphere of his human wholesomeness, but also to his role in the world.

One of these basic characteristics is the unity of the soul which, besides being an indispensible step towards self-perfection, is a vital foundation in man’s role as the implementor of the Supreme goal. It is the unity of the soul that gives man the ability to devote all of his energies to fulfilling his goal, whereas every form of split and schism in the soul hinder man’s ability to act and to go in his unique path.

What is the state of things in this regard with the simple religious person of today? A short examination will show that religious people today lack psychological unity; moreover, their inner duplicity results in serious disturbances in their religious life and can be one of the central causes for the decline of religiosity. The primary source of this duplicity is that the ordinary religious Jew is actually living in two worlds: the religious world, on the one hand, and the secular world, on the other. These two worlds are very different from each other and sometimes even contradict each other. To live in both seems impossible, but the reality is that the majority of religious Jews today do indeed live in such a way.

The first foundation for the development of such a lifestyle is to avoid presenting things in all of their truthfulness. The religious and secular worlds clash in certain points, but the religious people dodge these aspects and thus spare themselves the shock of excitement and the necessity to choose. They try to establish their world in such a way that no formality will be affected, but they do not notice that the ensuing psychological injury is unavoidable. For there is necessarily an inner conflict that is fundamental and consistent. Namely, the religious and secular wolrds differ from one another in their very esence because their foundations are at variance. Life in the religious world is measured according to absolute values; the criterion is Truth, and the goal is the Almighty. In contrast, in the secular world, values are relative, the measuring stick is man himself, and the objective is man. In fact, these worlds are not as different from each other as their foundations are. Love and hatred, sadness and joy, and joviality and grief exist in both, and the differences are not all that great. Nevertheless, it is impossible to make projections from one world onto the other because, in each one, there is a completely different reality which is measured in an entirely different way, and there is no contact between them.

To make a link between these two worlds as they are is completely impossible because they have nothing in common. Despite their external and practical similarity, they are infinitely apart in essence. In addition to this fundamental difference, there is another contrast which both accompanies and accentuates it. For the religious person, the religious world is a world that has nothing to do with the intellect, a world without reasoning, a world in which there is no room for thought, and which is governed by a vague and mysterious sentiment, whereas the secular world is a clear and tangible world, a world that can be grasped by thought and by the intellect, which can be relied upon without resorting to unknown supports that are beyond reason and discernment.

So there are two very distinct and different worlds, yet the “religious” person is living in both simultaneously. This way of life causes duplicity in the beginning, for the religious person is thus two people: a religious one and a secular one. This schizophrenia exists in all religious people and, consequently, their fulfillment of the supreme goal is very faulty. Then this duplicity becomes unbearable, the psyche is completely torn, and one is forced to decide which of the two worlds he wants to live in and discard the other completely.

The situation is that, on the one hand, the double, schizophrenic life of the religious person is psychologically destructive, while, on the other, it is impossible to avoid. It is impossible not to be in both worlds. Any attempt to live in just one of them does not solve the problem because the other world, in its very existence, oppresses the person, even without living in it.

There is only one way for humanity to exist, and that is: unity. That is to say, we must combine both worlds into one unified entity, which will include all the external values of the secular world, but will always measure them according to the absolute criteria and the lofty aspirations of the religious world.