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A Prophetic Guide for a Perplexed World: Louis Finkelstein and the 1940 Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion

  • Cara Rock-Singer


This article traces negotiations over the epistemic, ethical, and political authority of Judaism, Protestantism, Catholicism, and science in mid-twentieth-century America. Specifically, it examines how the president of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Dr. Louis Finkelstein, led a diverse group of intellectual elites as they planned and convened the 1940 Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life (CSPR). Based on the conference's transcripts, proceedings, and papers, in addition to Finkelstein's writings from the period, this article shows how Finkelstein used his vision of the Jewish tradition as a model to form a pluralistic intellectual space that brought together the representatives of multiple religious traditions and modern science. To accredit the American way of life to Judaism, Finkelstein traced America's ethical values, democratic politics, and scientific genius back to the Hebrew Prophets through Rabbinic Judaism. In response to Finkelstein's historiography and the political and ideological challenges of World War II, scientific and religious experts negotiated their authority and debated how to mobilize their traditions in a quest for political stability. By analyzing the CSPR as a meeting of multiple discourses, this article reinstates science as a fundamental player in the story of American pluralism and demonstrates the way a non-Protestant tradition shaped the terms of an elite public's understanding of the “democratic way of life.”



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I am grateful for the many people whose reading, comments, and suggestions were instrumental in producing this article, including Courtney Bender, Randall Balmer, David Starr, Gale Kenny, Beryl Satter, Lila Corwin Berman, Ronald R. Kline, Mordechai Silverstein, Shaiya Rothberg, and the participants in Columbia University's Seminar on American Religions. I would especially like to thank Leslie Ribovich, as well as the two anonymous reviewers, for their multiple rounds of helpful feedback. Finally, this piece would not have been possible without Aaron Rock-Singer, who patiently served as a sounding board and editor over the many years and stages of this article's production.

1 Finkelstein, Louis, “The Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion,” Thought: Fordham University Quarterly 15, no. 4 (1940): 681. The same essay, with a few minor revisions and an additional paragraph that Finkelstein ad-libbed, which was recorded in the meeting transcript, appears in the published Conference Proceedings: “The Aims of the Conference,” Science, Philosophy, and Religion: A Symposium (New York: Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc., 1941), 11–19.

2 “A Trumpet for All Israel,” Time, October 15, 1951.

3 Finkelstein began the meeting with letters from both Lehman and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. CSPR, “Proceedings, Monday Morning Session, September 9, 1940,” in Record Group 5, Box 36 (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1940), 1–2.

4 Beuttler, Fred, Organizing an American Conscience: The Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion 1940–1968 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 8593.

5 The pre-Aristotelian meaning of the Greek ethos signifies a rhetorical space demarcated by a coherent, shared set of social values. Lynda Walsh argues that, in midcentury America, through their “privileged access to knowledge” not held by the public, scientists began to perform a “prophetic ethos,” which she defines as “a role that a polity … authorizes to manufacture [political] certainty for them” by reinforcing the fundamental “covenant values” that bind the group together. Walsh, Lynda, Scientists as Prophets: A Rhetorical Genealogy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 24. From the late nineteenth through the middle of the twentieth century, American Jews used a similar strategy, drawing on historical narratives that connected modern Jews to the prophetic tradition to justify their position as essential to America and to the development of democracy. Wenger, Beth S., History Lessons: The Creation of American Jewish Heritage (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), 27, 38–44.

6 Silk, Mark, “Notes on the Judeo-Christian Tradition in America,” American Quarterly 36, no. 1 (1984): 67.

7 On efforts to seek “common ground” and form broad American coalitions, see Denning, Michael, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (New York: Verso, 1996); Wall, Wendy, Inventing the “American Way”: The Politics of Consensus from the New Deal to the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 63102.

8 Schultz, Kevin Michael, Tri-Faith America: How Catholics and Jews Held Postwar America to Its Protestant Promise (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

9 Gaston, K. Healan, “Interpreting Judeo-Christianity in America,” Relegere: Studies in Religion and Reception 2, no. 2 (2012): 293. See also Gerstle, Gary, American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 81186; Todd, J. Terry, “The Temple of Religion and the Politics of Religious Pluralism: Judeo-Christian America at the 1939–1940 New York World's Fair,” in After Pluralism: Reimagining Religious Engagement, ed. Bender, Courtney and Klassen, Pamela E. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010); Levitt, Laura, “Interrogating the Judeo-Christian Tradition: Will Herberg's Construction of American Religion, Religious Pluralism, and the Problem of Inclusion,” in The Cambridge History of Religions in America, ed. Stein, Stephen J. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 201–20.

10 McGreevy, John T., Catholicism and American Freedom: A History (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003), 166215.

11 Berman, Lila Corwin, Speaking of Jews: Rabbis, Intellectuals, and the Creation of an American Public Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 7392; Dollinger, Marc, Quest for Inclusion: Jews and Liberalism in Modern American (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 4176; Hollinger, David A., Science, Jews, and Secular Culture: Studies in Mid-Twentieth-Century American Intellectual History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 1741; Sarna, Jonathan D., “The Cult of Synthesis in American Jewish Culture,” Jewish Social Studies 5, no. 1/2 (1998–1999): 5279; Wenger, History Lessons, 2–7, 38–44.

12 Science in this period was understood not only to produce knowledge but also to play a role in the ethical cultivation of democratic citizens. Jewett, Andrew, Science, Democracy, and the American University: From the Civil War to the Cold War (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 119, 320–334; Gilbert, James, Redeeming Culture: American Religion in an Age of Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 6393. On Merton's formulation of the “scientific ethos” as the basis of liberal democracy, see Hollinger, Science, Jews, and Secular Culture, 80–96. Although there were critics of the extension of scientific expertise to the realm of politics, during the 1920s through the 1940s, scientists were also increasingly understood as authorities outside their particular fields. Marcel C. LaFollette, Making Science Our Own: Public Images of Science, 1910–1955 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 159–62.

13 George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 144–95; Jewett, Science, Democracy, and the American University, 320–34; Ronald L. Numbers, Science and Christianity in Pulpit and Pew (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 59–72.

14 Finkelstein, “The Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion,” 681–86.

15 Beuttler, Organizing an American Conscience, xiv.

16 On Finkelstein's mission to define a novel, de-Protestantized, civil religion and to position JTS as a leader in Jewish engagement with American life, see Berman, Speaking of Jews, 79–84; Gilbert, Redeeming Culture, 63–94; Pamela Susan Nadell, Conservative Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988), 279–84; Fred Beuttler, “For the World at Large: Intergroup Activities at the Jewish Theological Seminary,” in Tradition Renewed: A History of the Jewish Theological Seminary; Volume 2: Beyond the Academy, ed. Jack Wertheimer (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1997).

17 For a list of other such meetings, convened mostly in New York and occasionally other major cities, which were “oriented to inform and direct public agendas,” see Terry Wotherspoon, “Knowledge and Salvation for a Troubled World: Sociology and the Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion,” The American Sociologist 46 (2015): 376.

18 Hollinger, Science, Jews, and Secular Culture, 60–79. Hollinger notes that “secular-liberal philosophers” who were vocal critics of “genteel culture” were not invited to attend.

19 The CSSDF's leaders included pragmatist philosophers and educators John Dewey, Horace Kallen, Sidney Hook, and the Unitarian minister Rev. Edwin H. Wilson. James Gilbert argues that the CSPR's significance can be appreciated only in relationship to the meeting whose focal point was the better-known and broadly influential Dewey. Gilbert, Redeeming Culture, 63–93.

20 For example, the NCCJ held interfaith seminars that it called “Institutes of Human Relations.” Schultz, Tri-Faith America, 38; Matthew S. Hedstrom, The Rise of Liberal Religion: Book Culture and American Spirituality in the Twentieth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 142–71.

21 Gilbert, Redeeming Culture, 84. This is not to say that the CSPR was maximally inclusive. The public relations materials presented the CSPR as a group of men and women who differed “widely among themselves in religious faith, intellectual convictions, educational experience, racial origin, and social background” (Conference Executive Committee, “Press Release for July 22, 1940,” in Record Group 5d, Box 3, Folder 14 [New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1940], 18–19). This is despite the fact that the majority of participants were white men from the northeast and midwest, worked in the academy, and, with few exceptions, were Protestants or post-Christian Protestants and, in smaller numbers, Catholics and Jews. At the August 1940 meeting, Finkelstein told the group that he had received a number of complaints about the regrettably “undemocratic” lack of inclusion: There were no “Negroes” or women and the range of denominations and regional affiliations represented was quite narrow. Finkelstein explained that, although he was open to the criticism, his focus had not been on proportional representation. CSPR, “Proceedings, Monday Morning Session, September 9, 1940,” in Record Group 5, Box 36 (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1940), 11–12.

22 Gilbert, Redeeming Culture, 84. This opposition narrative likewise appears in William A. Durbin, “Science,” in Themes in Religion and American Culture, ed. Philip Goff and Paul Harvey (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 318–19. Two more recent works add nuance to such bifurcation. In Jewett's treatment, the CSPR is an example of alliances among religious leaders and physical scientists who did not believe that science should be a “source of values to guide social behavior…. As elsewhere, they tended to rhetorically erase the social sciences and to portray social change as a joint project of scientist, humanists, and religious thinkers.” Jewett, Science, Democracy, and the American University, 322–23. In addition, Wotherspoon tells the story of diverse social-scientific participation in conferences, including the CSPR and the CSSDF. Wotherspoon, “Knowledge and Salvation,” 373–413.

23 In the 1930s, George Sarton championed the new field of history of science, which began to destabilize an image of science as a universal. George Sarton, Sarton on the History of Science: Essays (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962), 355–61. Some of the CSPR's delegates understood science as a spiritual or moral system, whereas others discussed religion and science as relatives in a historical genealogy, occupants of separate spheres, or as competitors in claims to truth. Still others described philosophical or theological systems as competing kinds of scientific systems.

24 Dewey is but the most widely recognized symbol of a diffuse group that historian of science Andrew Jewett dubs “scientific democrats,” those who championed “science, as they understood it … [as] the basis for a cohesive and fulfilling modern culture.” Jewett, Science, Democracy, and the American University, 4–6, 9. Jewett complicates the narrative of science versus religion by highlighting crucial distinctions within these broad categories: It was, for example, Dewey's scientization of the human sciences, rather than championing of science in general, that drew criticism from both physical scientists and religious leaders. In comparison with the human sciences, the physical sciences, and to some extent the biological sciences, were less politicized. Jewett, Science, Democracy, and the American University, 321.

25 John T. McGreevy, “Thinking on One's Own: Catholicism in the American Intellectual Imagination, 1928–1960,” The Journal of American History 84, no. 1 (1997): 98–99; Michael R. Cohen, The Birth of Conservative Judaism: Solomon Schechter's Disciples and the Creation of an American Religious Movement (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 101–22; Gary J. Dorrien, The Making of American Liberal Theology (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001); Leigh Eric Schmidt and Sally M. Promey, American Religious Liberalism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), 1–12.

26 Hedstrom, The Rise of Liberal Religion, 10; see also 172–213.

27 Kathryn Lofton, “Liberal Sympathies: Morris Jastrow and the Science of Religion,” in American Religious Liberalism, ed. Leigh Eric Schmidt and Sally M. Promey (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), 253–57.

28 Jewett, Science, Democracy, and the American University, 5, note 6.

29 Rather than use the phrase “cultures of liberalism,” which implies constitutive elements, I wish to point to the usefulness of the idea of liberalism as a rallying point, even among diverse participants. Lofton, “Liberal Sympathies,” 254.

30 Schultz, Tri-Faith America, 17. I do not mean to collapse difference in enacting such a comparison, but rather to nod to the disruptive challenges mounted by scholars who have critiqued comparison, on both ethical and epistemological grounds. See, for example, Rita Felski and Susan Stanford Friedman, Comparison: Theories, Approaches, Uses (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013); Marcel Detienne and Janet Lloyd, Comparing the Incomparable (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008).

31 The language of verticality draws on the way that scholars of lived religion have discussed the relationship between religious elites and lay people in terms of “high” and “low.” See, for example, David D. Hall, Lived Religion in America: Toward a History of Practice (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), ix.

32 Following Ronit Stahl's analysis of Will Herberg's and Robert Bellah's dual role as commentators on and creators of a vision of civil religion in America, I am suggesting that Finkelstein played a parallel role. Ronit Stahl, “A Jewish America and a Protestant Civil Religion: Will Herberg, Robert Bellah, and Mid-Twentieth Century American Religion,” Religions 6, no. 2 (2015): 435–48.

33 “Transcript of Luncheon Meeting, November 3, 1939,” in Record Group 5d, Box 2, Folder 12 (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1939), 2–3.

34 Conservative Judaism, JTS, and Finkelstein are players in a longer story of Jewish negotiations of tradition and modernity, in which science, religion, and politics were key categories. Moses Mendelssohn and his followers fit their tradition of “thinking and acting,” a language Finkelstein also deployed, into the category of religion. In the shadow of the Enlightenment, Jewish historians and philosophers developed a scientific study of Judaism, Wissenschaft des Judentums, to deal with challenges like the scientization of the study of history. The Conservative position, to which Finkelstein was party, grew out of what came to be called the positive-historical school, which sought to reconcile a transcendent God with immanent political change. Leora Faye Batnitzky, How Judaism Became a Religion: An Introduction to Modern Jewish Thought (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011), 28–49. Beginning in the 1920s, Finkelstein was instrumental in formulating a distinctive set of doctrines to consolidate a diverse array of rabbis and synagogues affiliated with JTS into what came to be known as the Conservative Movement. Abraham J. Karp, “A Century of Conservative Judaism in the United States,” The American Jewish Year Book 86 (1986): 34–51.

35 I use the term secularism to refer to a blend of political and epistemological assumptions that shaped matters of public culture and governance. Tracy Fessenden, Culture and Redemption: Religion, the Secular, and American Literature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 61; John Lardas Modern, Secularism in Antebellum America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 19–20.

36 Beuttler, Organizing an American Conscience, x; Gilbert, Redeeming Culture, 84.

37 In discussing Finkelstein, I use the term political theology in a way similar to what Vincent Lloyd has labeled the “sectarian sense,” which Lloyd defines as “the branch of [Christian] theology concerned with politics.” Although I do not mean to simplify the complexity of Jewish theological traditions in the image of Christian theology, nor suggest that Finkelstein understood himself as a theologian, I want to show how he looks to models of political leadership by Jewish sages in history, which are inflected with theological assumptions. Vincent W. Lloyd, “Introduction,” in Race and Political Theology, ed. Vincent W. Lloyd (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012), 8.

38 Louis Finkelstein, “Tradition in the Making: The Seminary's Interpretation of Judaism,” in The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Semi-Centennial Volume, ed. Cyrus Adler (New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1939), 27.

39 Sarna, “The Cult of Synthesis,” 55–59; Alon Gal, “The Mission Motif in American Zionism (1898–1948),” American Jewish History 75, no. 4 (1986): 368–70; Berman, Speaking of Jews, 84–92.

40 Louis Finkelstein, “Faith for Today: A Jewish Viewpoint,” in Faith for Today, ed. Stanley High, et al. (Garden City, NY: Town, Hall Press and Doubleday, Doran and Company, Inc., 1941), 155–60.

41 De Certeau argues that modern historians replaced princes as political actors who “made history,” beginning with the act of separating present and past. Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 2, 6–11. Jewish history and theology are inseparably linked through the belief that “God is known only insofar as he reveals himself ‘historically,’” rendering the memory of Ancient Israel sacred. Finkelstein's mode of historicism is hardly unique; ideas of providential, sacred history pervaded Jewish historiography well into the modern period. Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor, Jewish History and Jewish Memory (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1982), 8–9, 89–90. For a parallel story of contestations over theology and historicism in Weimar, Germany, see David N. Myers, Resisting History: Historicism and Its Discontents in German-Jewish Thought (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003).

42 Finkelstein describes the Hebrews as “the fathers of history” and the writer of The Book of Samuel as “the world's first true historian.” Louis Finkelstein, Akiba: Scholar, Saint and Martyr (New York: Covici Friede Publishers, 1936), xiii. Likewise, although by the standards of today's historiography, it was a work of collective memory, he viewed the Talmud as “objective” and constituted by an “almost scientific approach.” Louis Finkelstein, The Pharisees: The Sociological Background of Their Faith (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1938), xxiii. See Seth Schwartz, “Historiography on the Jews in the ‘Talmudic Period’ (70–640 CE),” in The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies, ed. Martin Goodman, Jeremy Cohen, and David Sorkin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 83–87.

43 Finkelstein, “Faith for Today: A Jewish Viewpoint,” 182.

44 Finkelstein, “The Conference on Science Philosophy and Religion,” 688.

45 Finkelstein, The Pharisees, xxvi–xxvii.

46 Finkelstein, The Pharisees, x–xxi.

47 Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), vii–viii.

48 Finkelstein repeats many elements of this narrative in other places. See, for example, Finkelstein, Akiba, xvi–xxiii. See also JTS librarian Alexander Marx's foreword as well as Finkelstein's first chapter of his study of European Rabbinical councils. Louis Finkelstein, Jewish Self-Government in the Middle Ages (New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1924), xi–xii, 2–4.

49 Finkelstein, The Pharisees, xv–xx. On the popular “Jewish embrace of America's claim to a biblical legacy” through connections with Puritanism, see Wenger, History Lessons, 11, 15–57. Finkelstein aligned with neo-Orthodox Protestants who were likewise reconnecting to Calvinist roots in reaction to Protestant liberalism. See William R. Hutchison, Religious Pluralism in America: The Contentious History of a Founding Ideal (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 165–69; Amy Kittelstrom, The Religion of Democracy: Seven Liberals and the American Moral Tradition (New York: Penguin Press, 2015), 62–63.

50 Finkelstein, Akiba, x–xi. Akiba ben Joseph, a late first- and early second-century Rabbi, was a major figure in the earliest collection of rabbinic literature, the Mishnah, and led the Bar Kokhba revolt, a fight for Jewish freedom from the Romans.

51 Louis Finkelstein, “Maimonides and the Tannaitic Midrashim,” The Jewish Quarterly Review 25, no. 4 (1935): 470.

52 Louis Finkelstein, “The Maxim of the Anshe Keneset Ha-Gedolah,” Journal of Biblical Literature 59, no. 4 (1940). Finkelstein notes that these assemblies, which existed from around the sixth to the second century BCE, likely “did not refer to a particular meeting [but were] … rather an institution which had developed in ancient Israel for bringing together the people in times of crisis” (455, n. 1).

53 Finkelstein, Akiba, 34–35, 74, 79, 92–135; Finkelstein, Jewish Self-Government, 63, 96; Finkelstein, The Pharisees, 400–401, 576–608.

54 Finkelstein, Jewish Self-Government, 4; Finkelstein, Akiba, 35. Finkelstein repeatedly argues that, although Greek thought was important, the Hebrews stemmed the “tide of Hellenization” through these bodies of collective memory. Without these institutions, the Abrahamic faiths “would have perished before they were born.” Akiba, 35–36.

55 De Certeau, The Writing of History, 87.

56 Schultz, Tri-Faith America, 15–67; Egal Feldman, Catholics and Jews in Twentieth-Century America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 45–83. For an example of Finkelstein's work with NCCJ, see Louis Finkelstein, J. Elliot Ross, and William Adams Brown, The Religions of Democracy: Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism in Creed and Life (New York: The Devin-Adair Company, 1945). See also Stanley High, et al., Faith for Today (Garden City, NY: Town, Hall Press and Doubleday, Doran and Company, 1941).

57 In intra-Jewish politics, some criticized Finkelstein's devotion to interfaith work as a distraction from his Jewish leadership and attention to the spiritual needs of Jews. Louis Finkelstein, The Jews: Their History, Culture, and Religion (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1949), xxvi; Louis Finkelstein, The Beliefs and Practices of Judaism (New York: The Devin-Adair Company, 1941), 5.

58 Finkelstein wrote an essay, of approximately ninety pages, introducing the basic tenets of Judaism, which appeared in multiple publications during the 1940s, including The Beliefs and Practices of Judaism; Finkelstein, Ross, and Brown, The Religions of Democracy; Finkelstein, The Jews. I cite the earliest version.

59 Beginning in the 1930s, Conservative rabbis like Finkelstein joined their Reform counterparts and secular intellectuals who were using sociology to defend Jewish belonging in America by marketing “Jewishness through its function” as an American minority. Berman, Speaking of Jews, 77.

60 Finkelstein's arguments to this effect relied on the history of mass conversions in Europe, sociological analysis of the diversity of Jewish communities, population statistics, and explanations of Jewish covenantal theology. Louis Finkelstein, “The ‘Jewish Problem,’” in Record Group 5d, Box 1, Folder 77 (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary); Finkelstein, The Beliefs and Practices of Judaism, 5–6.

61 Finkelstein, Akiba, xvi.

62 Finkelstein, The Beliefs and Practices of Judaism, 10. Finkelstein's approach challenges the popular idea, forwarded by Reform Judaism and taken up in the historiography, that the Jewish theology of chosenness was a political liability and that Talmudic culture represented deference to tradition over reason. Schultz, Tri-Faith America, 9.

63 See Karp, “A Century of Conservative Judaism,” 6–17, 34–36.

64 Finkelstein, “Tradition in the Making,” 22, 26, 29–30.

65 In his Essays in Sociology, Max Weber (1864–1920) discussed the nature of religion, by which he meant Christianity, in the context of disenchantment. Weber argues that creeds are not “‘knowledge’ in the usual sense, but rather a ‘possession,’” which one must believe in to make the tradition a logical system. Through the Latin “credo non quod, sed quia absurdum est,” he argues that belief is, by nature, absurd. De Certeau, The Writing of History, 87.

66 Weber, Max, Gerth, Hans, and Mills, C. Wright, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1958), 154. See also Maskell, Caleb J. D., “‘Modern Christianity Is Ancient Judaism’: Rabbi Gustav Gottheil and the Jewish-American Religious Future, 1873–1903,” Religion and American Culture 23, no. 2 (2013): 140–41; Meyer, Michael A., Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 264334; Silver, Abba Hillel, Democratic Impulse in Jewish History (New York: Bloch, 1928).

67 Finkelstein, The Beliefs and Practices of Judaism, 4, 14.

68 Finkelstein, The Beliefs and Practices of Judaism, 3, 7–9.

69 “Faith for Today: A Jewish Viewpoint,” 174–78.

70 Finkelstein, “Tradition in the Making,” 31.

71 “Press Release for July 22, 1940,” in Record Group 5d, Box 3, Folder 14 (New York: JTS, 1940), 18–19. Emphasis mine.

72 Louis Finkelstein, “Draft,” in Record Group 5d, Box 2, Folder 19 (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1939), 1.

73 Wenger, History Lessons, 15–57.

74 Fessenden, Culture and Redemption, 61.

75 Hedstrom, The Rise of Liberal Religion, 144.

76 Finkelstein, “Draft,” 1–3.

77 See Wenger, History Lessons, 58–95.

78 Moloch is the pagan god of child sacrifice; the location of Moloch's shrine, Gehinnom, came to be the Jewish equivalent to hell.

79 Finkelstein, “Draft,” 3–12. Finkelstein underlined “us” in pencil.

80 Finkelstein, The Beliefs and Practices of Judaism, 7.

81 Finkelstein, “Draft,” 8–9.

82 Finkelstein quoted a paragraph from Pope Pius XI's 1937 encyclical Divine Redemptoris, in which the Pope urged Catholic collaboration with other men of faith to fight their common foe. Pope Pius XI's 1928 encyclical against “religious interaction with Protestants” had been a barrier for Catholic participation in the NCCJ in the 1930s and 1940s. Hedstrom, The Rise of Liberal Religion, 144. See also McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom, 174–80.

83 As Maimonides had taught, these were merely different kinds of truths, the former temporal and the latter eternal. Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, 4th ed. (New York: Dutton, 1904), 384–91. Moses Mendelssohn articulated the relationship between temporal, political truths and eternal, religious truths using this same passage, which I discuss in detail later in this article. Mendelssohn, Moses and Arkush, Allan, trans., Jerusalem, or on Religious Power and Judaism (Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press, 1983), 39. Weber's differentiation of science, which is “chained to the course of progress,” from art, which does not lose value as new artistic ideas are formulated, is in this same vein. Weber, Essays in Sociology, 137.

84 Finkelstein, “Draft,” 6–12.

85 Stahl, “A Jewish America and a Protestant Civil Religion,” 434.

86 “Transcript of Luncheon Meeting, November 3, 1939,” in Record Group 5d, Box 2, Folder 12 (New York: JTS, 1939), 15.

87 “Transcript of Luncheon Meeting, November 3, 1939,” 13.

88 “Transcript of Luncheon Meeting, November 3, 1939,” 15.

89 “Transcript of Luncheon Meeting, November 3, 1939,” 1–2. UTS's Reinhold Niebuhr was supposed to arrive late, but he never made it to the meeting. Anton Pegis was the sole Catholic representative thanks to a late cancelation by French theologian Étienne Gilson. For a list and description of attendees, see the following chart:

90 “Transcript of Luncheon Meeting, November 3, 1939,” 3–5.

91 This paragraph analyzes “Transcript of Luncheon Meeting, November 3, 1939,” 3–7.

92 “Transcript of Luncheon Meeting, November 3, 1939,” 7–8.

93 “Transcript of Luncheon Meeting, November 3, 1939,” 8–10.

94 “Transcript of Luncheon Meeting, November 3, 1939,” 10–13.

95 “Transcript of Luncheon Meeting, November 3, 1939,” 15–19.

96 “Transcript of Luncheon Meeting, November 3, 1939,” 17.

97 Weber, Essays in Sociology, 149. Weber argued that disenchantment caused people to believe that the universe was incalculably magical and its irregularity prevented mastery of it. In 1927, between the publication of “Science as a Vocation” in 1917 and the CSPR, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle unsettled the scientific understanding of reality. The universe was perhaps completely calculable, but it was not completely knowable; science could no longer ensure certainty (138–39).

98 “Transcript of Luncheon Meeting, November 3, 1939,” 58–64.

99 As wrote, Gerald Bruns, “From a transcendental standpoint, [the Talmudic] theory of authority is paradoxical because it is seen to hang on the heteroglossia of dialogue, on speaking with many voices, rather than on the logical principle of univocity, or speaking with one mind. Instead, the idea of speaking with one mind … is explicitly rejected; single-mindedness produces factionalism.” Quoted in Daniel Boyarin, Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 27.

100 The members of this group who were also on the Executive Committee included Louis Finkelstein, Frederick Grant, Harold Lasswell, Anton Pegis, and Harlow Shapley. Additional attendees were Mortimer J. Adler, William F. Albright, Lyman Bryson, Watson Davis, Hoxie N. Fairchild, C. P. Haskins, F. Ernest Johnson, Robert M. MacIver, Jacques Maritain, and Luther A. Weigle.

101 Mortimer Adler (1902–2001) was born to a nonpracticing Jewish family. He spent his intellectual life devoted to Catholic philosophy, especially focused on the work of Aquinas, although it was not until late in his life that he converted officially to Catholicism. At the time of the Conference, Adler was a professor at the University of Chicago.

102 CSPR, “Proceedings, Preliminary Meeting, August 9, 1940,” in Record Group 5, Box 36 (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1940), 23–24.

103 The full paper is reprinted in the CSPR's publication. Mortimer J. Adler, “God and the Professors,” in Science, Philosophy, and Religion; a Symposium (New York: Philosophy and Religion in their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life Conference on Science, 1941), 121–22.

104 “Proceedings, Preliminary Meeting, August 9, 1940,” 27–28.

105 “Proceedings, Preliminary Meeting, August 9, 1940,” 30–36.

106 “Proceedings, Preliminary Meeting, August 9, 1940,” 39–40.

107 “Proceedings, Preliminary Meeting, August 9, 1940,” 41.

108 Finkelstein, The Pharisees, ix.

109 Karp, “A Century of Conservative Judaism,” 34–36.

110 “Proceedings, Monday Morning Session, September 9, 1940,” 10.

111 Finkelstein, “The Conference on Science Philosophy and Religion,” 683. As he wrote repeatedly, the core of Judaism was to be found in “the principles of the Fatherhood of God and the dignity and worth of Man as the child and creature of God [, which] are more consistent with those of democracy than any other system of government.” Finkelstein, The Beliefs and Practices of Judaism, 8.

112 Finkelstein, as well as his mentors and colleagues, often used the language of a “Jewish mind and spirit,” constant through history although adapted to modernity, to describe the essence of Conservative Judaism. See Karp, “A Century of Conservative Judaism,” 5–6, 34–36.

113 Finkelstein, “The Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion,” 683–89.

114 “Proceedings, Monday Morning Session, September 9, 1940,” 13.

115 “Proceedings, Monday Morning Session, September 9, 1940,” 46–47.

116 “Proceedings, Wednesday Morning Session, September 11, 1940,” in Record Group 5, Box 36 (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1940), 211–17.

117 “Proceedings, Wednesday Morning Session, September 11, 1940,” 219–21.

118 Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, 384–91. Finkelstein draws on Book 3, Chapter 51, in which Maimonides argues that those with knowledge of the natural sciences have not reached the level of perfection of those who know God. After one knows God through intellect, he continues, it is essential to devote oneself to worship of God, which includes following the law, prayer, and other commanded ritual acts. These practices are all means of turning the mind completely toward God.

119 In contrast to a modern historian's temporal narrative, situated around an arbitrary “mythic ‘zero,’” representing the “‘beginning’ which is nothing,” Finkelstein's imagination of absolute sovereignty was spatial. De Certeau, The Writing of History, 90–91.

120 De Certeau, The Writing of History, 221–23.

121 Boyarin, Carnal Israel, 27–29. This is a popular translation of a passage in the Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 13b, in which the bat kol, a heavenly voice, enters to resolve a seemingly intractable debate over which one of two legal traditions is correct.

122 Finkelstein, “Faith for Today: A Jewish Viewpoint,” 176–77.

123 Walsh, Scientists as Prophets, 4.


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