In Two Lives, his memoir of his great uncle and aunt, Vikram Seth reproduces extracts from the 1893 Jewish Prayer Book of a Berlin synagogue, at the end of which is a brief appendix on fundamentals of Jewish morality.
This says that “Judaism teaches: the Unity of Mankind. It commands us therefore to love our neighbor, to protect our neighbor and his rights, to be aware of his honor, to honor his beliefs, and to assuage his sorrow. Judaism calls upon us through work, through the love of truth, through modesty, through amicability, through moral rectitude, and through obedience to authority, to further the wellbeing of our neighbors, to seek the good of our fatherland, and to bring about the loving fellowship of all mankind.”
Given what would happen in that German fatherland within a half-century, the reference to “obedience to authority” makes painful reading. Assimilated Berlin Jews of this period were patriotic to a fault. A happier phrasing would have been, “through questioning of authority.” Truth and questioning are inseparable, as the terrible price of German obedience showed.
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