CHAPTER XIV THE JEWISH HOME TO-DAY-Woodmam
So much for the traditions of the Jewish home! What of it in this day and generation? The fact cannot be denied that the Jewish home is seriously threatened in our time. I do not go so far as a commentator on Jewish affairs, who declared as long as a decade ago: "The Jewish home, as we have known and loved it for ages, has ceased to be. It is no longer a Jewish home but the home of Jews. All the grace and beauty of Jewish ceremonial and custom have died out of it. The young generation goes out into the world, unaffected by the influences that held past generations loyal, and so Judaism and the community go alike to waste." And, yet, that the indictment is not wholly unjustifiable came to me when I learned of a Jewish mother who insisted upon a young married daughter averting the birth of a child, because its coming would interfere with and abbreviate a long-planned summer vacation in European lands. The home which trifles with life's dignities and sanctities in this fashion is become a mockery of the one-time majestic Jewish home.
It will be noted that the reference is not to the vast majority of Jewish homes in West European lands and in our lands, for these are the homes of the poor. And the homes of the poor present a problem, which in the absence of economic-industrial adjustment no ethical aspiration will solve. As for the largest number of Jewish homes in America, in them dwell victims of the mass migration movement which has within two generations transplanted huge numbers from continent to continent. Who will decide which raises the more serious problem, the involuntary migration of the hapless many or the voluntary imitation of the world by an unhappy few? There has really been more than a migration, for innumerable hosts have suddenly been compelled not only to wander from one continent to another but to leave one world behind them and to enter into a wholly new world.
The move is not merely from Russia or Roumania, Galicia or the Levant to America; it is a plunge into a new world-life with all that such sudden sea-change involves. This transplantation to strange climes and an alien life results in many cases in the tragedy of utter misunderstanding and alienation between parent and children, a tragedy remaining for some Zangwill to portray. But it is not only the homes of the poor and the oppressed Jews the texture of which has greatly altered within a generation. For within the homes of the well-to-do in Israel a graver and a sadder peril has come to threaten as a result of the repudiation, though it be implicit, of parental responsibility at its highest and of filial duty at its finest, which repudiation in truth is sequent upon the abandonment of the ancient and long unwearied idealism of the Jew.
If the homes of the poor are endangered from without, the home of the rich is in peril from within. Prosperity and its abandonment of the highest have undermined the home to a degree beyond the possibility of the effect of adversity. If it behoove children not to be over-insistent upon their parents accepting their ways and becoming exactly like them, it is trebly necessary for children to understand that foreignism in parents does not justify them in compelling parents to assimilate the externals of the new world and its new life. Under these circumstances, parents have a peculiar right to be themselves, to insist upon the essentials of their own modus vivendi, to cherish and maintain the things by which they lived in a past arbitrarily cut off.
It ought to be said that the Jewish home has been more menaced by the life of the world into which Israel has in some part entered than by any other circumstance. The truth is that the Jew's home is become a part of the world and in its new orientation (or occidentalization) has lost its other-wordly touch or nimbus. Thus Israel never really found it necessary to stress filial obedience. The latter has always been one of the things taken for granted. Save for its obviously necessary inclusion in the Decalogue, the Jew has always dealt with filial obedience as it dealt with the theory of divine existence or the fact of Israel's persecution taking all alike for granted.
If the conflict in the home is a little sharper within than without Jewish life, this is in some degree the defect of its quality. The large part played by the home in the life of the Jew makes the transition to the new order seem harsh and bitter. The Jewish parent of yore lived his life within the walls of the home, and the Jewish mother particularly passed her days within the limits of a home. It is not easy for the Jewish mother to surrender that sense of possession which grows out of undivided preoccupation with child or children, that sense of possession fostered as much by a child's sense of dutifulness as by parental concern. The Jewish mother, whom the middle-aged have known and loved, found her deepest and most engrossing interest in the days and deeds of her children. It may be and it is necessary for the Jewish mother to relinquish her long-time sense of ownership, but let it not be imagined to be easy. And it is the harder because with, perhaps before, its relinquishment comes a sense of deep loss and hurt to the child.
Nor would the necessity of yielding up the sense of possession in itself be so serious, if there did not coincide with it an ofttimes exaggerated sense of independence in the Jewish child. We may be witnessing an almost conscious break with the centuried tradition of filial self-subordination, or it may be that the revolt of the Jewish child seems more serious than it is because of the filial habit of obedience in the life of the Jewish home. Whatever be the explanation of the new filial role in the Jewish home, it is a sorry thing that Israel in its assimilative passion should be ready to surrender the home and its historic content, should be so unsure of itself and so sure of the world without as to be willing to give up its best and most precious for the sake of uniformity with the world.
And there are Jews who forget that the world reverences and honors the Jewish home even as it reveres the Bible of the Jew! A wise friend has written: "Whenever and wherever I have been asked by non-Jews what I consider the greatest and most permanent contribution of the Jew to civilization, I have always answered: the Jewish home. Ancient Greece knew of no real home as we understand it. Israel did." But it is not enough to laud the Jewish home of old. If Jews are to rest satisfied with praises of the Jewish home that was instead of seeking to beautify and ennoble the Jewish home that is, then, remembering the word of Juvenal, virtue is the sole and only nobility, may it truly be said of the Jew in the language of the rabbis: "As the dust differs from the gold, so our generation differs from the generations of the fathers."
And yet there is no Jewish question here, though there be a Jewish aspect of the wider problem we are considering. Jewish parents have in the past for reasons given or hinted at been almost Chinese in their adoration of a child. And when the day of parenthood dawns, these may be as unwisely adoring and hopelessly indulgent touching their children as were their parents. It may be that in the past Jewish parents have given more to their children than have non-Jewish. Let less be given parentally and more be asked,—Jewish parent and Jewish child need this counsel most.