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The Menorah Journal and shaping American Jewish identity: culture and evolutionary sociology: this paper was the winner of the 2010 Midwest Jewish studies association graduate student paper award.

  The study of the popularization of science sheds light on how
  particular ethnic and religious communities engage with science.
  To gain a properly nuanced view, this study must extend to
  include nonscientific journals that address those communities.
  The Menorah Journal, an influential English-language American
  Jewish publication, serves as a case in point. The Menorah
  Journal's use of evolutionary sociology in articles during
  its peak from 1915 to 1929 reveals that the American culture
  of scientific inquiry forms the backdrop to the Menorah
  Journal's push to construct a Jewish American identity based
  not upon religion or nationalism, but upon ethnicity. In the
  pages of the Menorah Journal, prominent intellectuals drew upon
  neo-Darwinism, orthogenesis, and neo-Lamarckism to address the
  challenges facing Judaism in America from an empirical, positivist
  vantage point, and to articulate an approach towards an American
  Jewish cultural renaissance. This paper situates the Journal
  within the context of contemporary American cultural reactions
  to progressivism, Deweyan pragmatism, neo-Darwinian and
  neo-Lamarckian evolutionism, and the social sciences, and presents
  case-studies that offer a detailed analysis of articles by
  Mordecai Kaplan, Leon Simon, Kaufmann Kohler, Simon Dubnow,
  and Isaac Baer Berkson. Evolutionary sociology, it will be seen,
  is a key element in the Menorah Journal's efforts to foster a
  Jewish cultural renaissance. Analyzing how the Menorah Journal
  deployed evolutionary sociology thus offers a fresh perspective
  from which to explore issues of Americanization, identity, and
  cultural vitality.
  "As the first step in seeing America and American Jewry
  eye to eye, the inquirer ... must cultivate the scientific
  attitude"
  (Marvin Lowenthal)


By the 1920s, American Judaism was at a crossroads. The second generation of American Jews was concerned about becoming fully Americanized, and there was a widespread belief that Judaism in America, brought to a crisis by restrictive immigration laws, would not withstand the forces of assimilation for long. This was the problem of modern American Judaism. The Menorah Journal, an early twentieth-century English-language Jewish periodical, advanced some of the most creative solutions to this problem. The Menorah Journal was one of the most significant American Jewish publications of its time and is an invaluable source of information for charting the evolution of American Jewish identity. (1) Originally conceived as the print organ for the university-based Jewish student organization, the Intercollegiate Menorah Association, it began publication in 1915 and enjoyed its peak popularity and influence in the 1920s. It remained continuously in print until 1962. Its uniqueness lay in its humanist approach to Judaism that was independent from religious affirmation or political affiliation. (2)

The Menorah Journal's contributing authors were among the most important thinkers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, of the period, including such illustrious names as leading intellectual Mordecai Kaplan, writer Lionel Trilling, philosophers Horace Kallen and John Dewey, historian Charles Beard, and writer and intellectual Randolph Bourne. Its Board of Consulting Editors, writes historian Lauren Strauss, "formed a veritable honor roll of American Jewish establishmentarianism," with Chancellors of the Jewish Theological Seminary Solomon Schechter and Cyrus Adler, Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis, prominent rabbi Judah Magnes, Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold, Reform rabbis and leaders Kaufmann Kohler and Stephen Wise, and sixteen other prominent intellectuals and leaders associated with it in 1915. (3) Its vision was laid out in the Editorial Statement in its January 1915 inaugural issue:
  [T]he Menorah Journal is under compulsion to be absolutely
  non-partisan ...; harking back to the past that we may deal
  more wisely with the present and the future; ... to deepen
  the consciousness of noblesse oblige; ... dedicated first
  and foremost to the fostering of the Jewish "humanities"
  and the furthering of their influence as a spur to human
  service. (4)


Its mission statement expresses the idea that it would serve as an innovative force for the revitalization of Jewish culture, that it promoted a leadership born of an academic aristocratic sensibility, and that it was patriotically American. The implications of this endeavor were far-reaching, especially because the Menorah Journal was among the most significant proponents of the developing idea that Judaism should be conceived of as an ethnicity. "The idea of ethnicity," explains historian Seth Korelitz, "... did not come into being until American Jews began to realize that there was something unique about the Jews which was not necessarily tied to their religion. ... In this process of defining Jews as possessors of a unique culture, the Menorah Journal helped lay the foundation for a new understanding of the identity of the American Jewish community." (5) Considering the Jews to be an ethnicity was a development that required a new vocabulary to describe it. This vocabulary developed in part out of ideas found in evolutionary sociology. .

In speaking of evolutionary sociology, what is meant is early twentieth century sociology's deployment of a range of responses to evolutionary theory. The prevailing evolutionary theories of the day were neo-Darwinism, neo-Lamarckism, and orthogenesis. (6) Neo-Darwinism was based upon the Darwinian idea of natural selection, which refers to variations in the species that confer some adaptive benefit in coping with the environment. Neo-Lamarckism refers to Lamarck's theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics during the life of the organism that are passed on to the next generation, positing, in essence, that our behavioral response to the environment is the mechanism for evolutionary change. Orthogenesis held that internal forces within the organism direct evolution without being influenced by the environment. Evolutionary science in social, religious, and political thought became widespread. Evolutionary theory was used to provide "scientific" support for almost any socio-political position. (7) Thus, no claim will be made here for a one-to-one correspondence between a socio-political view and a specific evolutionary theory. It is possible, however, to isolate markers in the writers' essays that reveal a preference for deploying a particular evolutionary mechanism that they felt was particularly well suited to support their own arguments. Evolutionary sociology, a contemporarily respectable science, was a critical tool in the arsenal of intellectuals who sought to persuade readers to accept their view of Judaism and to follow their prescription for how to create a renaissance of Jewish life on American soil.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, theories of biological evolution were applied to social change theory. By the third decade of the twentieth century the science of sociology had dissociated the phenomenon of societal change from biological evolutionary mechanisms. The process of decoupling these arenas of thought was fueled by the influence of progressivism upon sociology. Sociologist William Fine observes that sociology in the early twentieth century reflected the contemporary cultural "faith in progress buttressed by the spirit of empirical positivism." (8) Sociologists, explains Fine, "accepted the view that social science could help translate ethics into action and provide 'means of social change for democratic ends.' In emphasizing that man is the 'agent of his progress; they believed science would complement the moral commitment to reform by giving it direction, concreteness and scientific legitimacy." Ethics and social policy, Fine concludes, were accordingly "defined as resolvable within a scientific framework." (9) Sociologists believed that society had arrived "at the'organic phase,"' says Fine, "which demands widespread public enlightenment combined with scientific expertise." (10) The Menorah Journal, following the trend set by the new academic culture, also demonstrates a faith that general and Jewish social betterment should properly be directed by an academic elite that would help enlighten the wider public. In raising public awareness, science would lay the foundation for the public's engagement with creating social change in the moral, spiritual, ideological, and public policy spheres.

This revolution in thinking about ethics and social policy opened new pathways for the Menorah Journal to reconstruct Jewish social values. Sociology's insistence that evolution was a moral process, placing humanity at the center of the social problem, was appealing to the Menorah Journal. The scientific approach held out the promise of the proper prescription for social betterment in the spirit of modern cosmopolitanism, avoiding the divisiveness and particularism of religious ideology. Marvin Lowenthal, Associate Editor of the Menorah Journal, argues in his article "Jewish Realities in America" that the major problem the Jewish community faces is its inability to describe Judaism from an objective standpoint. (11) Criticizing the myopia of the orthodox, Reform, Zionist, and assimilationist groups, Lowenthal claims that the current fragmented dissonance of Jewish cultural life can be overcome only by obtaining the stance of the detached, objective scientific observer. "As the first step in seeing America and American Jewry eye to eye," remarks Lowenthal, "the inquirer ... must cultivate the scientific attitude, that is, the capacity to subtract the personal or group equation from a body of personal or group knowledge." (12) Empirical data must be gathered, he says, "before the Jewish world of to-day can be understood or the world of tomorrow conjectured." (13) A scientific mindset will, he feels, provide a global perspective that will avoid the confusion of divisive ideological discourse. Lowenthal typifies the Menorah Journal's modern, nondenominational, and cosmopolitan outlook with his emphasis upon science as the blueprint for a vital modern Jewish culture.

Mordecai Kaplan, arguably the most important Jewish thinker of the twentieth century and a pivotal figure in the development of a cultural conception of American Jewry, stressed the need for a scientific methodology to analyze the "problem" of Judaism, that is, how to face the threat of assimilation in America. His first article, "What Judaism is Not: forcefully argues against the orthodox view of Judaism in favor of a view informed by science. "Psychology and social science ... have revealed new worlds in the domain of the spirit: writes Kaplan. "[T]o those who want to find in Judaism a way of life and a higher ambition, it must address itself in the language of concrete and verifiable experience." (14) Religion could no longer rely upon the traditional claim of a supernatural God. The world of science had already exposed this as a fantasy. Instead, religion needed to be reconstructed by the tools of science to find new ways to express spiritual truths, grounded in the natural world of experience. Kaplan articulates a need for a social program based upon scientific, positivist empiricism. He makes it clear that the language of today is the language of science, and this language needs to be learnt by Jews in order to revitalize Judaism. A positivist, scientific pragmatism must now direct the future of spiritual life.

Kaplan acknowledges his indebtedness to the social sciences, which guide approaches to social issues in "government and education, as well as history, economics and psychology." (15) The social sciences are responsible, he believes, for creating the conditions for social change. Furthermore, the social sciences hold forth the promise of a new vision of religion that embraces evolutionism, nullifying the threat of materialism. Social science has proved, he argues, that cultural change derives not only from the physical environment, but from psychological forces as well. Echoing sociologist Franklin Giddingst' "consciousness of kind" theory, Kaplan writes that, as a result, social science is gradually accustoming us to regard human society not merely as an aggregate of individuals but as a psychical entity, as a mind not less but more real than the mind of any of the individuals that constitute it." (16) This observation allows him to properly diagnose the problem facing Judaism. The problem of religious adjustment," Kaplan contends, "is at bottom that of maintaining in a social group the psychical or spiritual energy which expresses itself in beliefs, ideals, customs and standards of conduct." (17) Kaplan sees himself at the vanguard of a new stage of adjustment to modern life, a stage defined by social science and psychology, which is the natural outcome of a progressively improving society that acquires more and better knowledge and facts about the world in which we live and about the human condition.

This adjustment, Kaplan believes, is profoundly religious in character. The tools of secular science may serve religion by maintaining its function without necessarily preserving its form. Religion functions to allow the group "so to adjust itself to the environment as to make the most of its life." (18) Religion is firmly rooted within nature, and does not exist on a different plane of reality from the secular and every-day affairs of life. Indeed, if religion did not belong to this world, Kaplan asks, how can it be amenable to the laws of adaptation which hold good only in this world?" (19) Since religion exists in this world as a function of the group life, then it too must be subject to the "laws" of evolutionary adaptation. Kaplan's sociological approach thus preserves the relevance of religion in the life of the group. Kaplan believes that this perspective will restore religion to its rightful place of centrality in the group's identity. Theology through science, is being transformed in much the same way that chemistry replaced alchemy. "It will once again react naturally to the supernatural, writes Kaplan, and will find truer and more apt analogies to answer to the deepening of the sense of mystery." (20) Whereas in the past supernaturalism was invoked to explain the mysteries of life, now science will inquire into the causes of phenomena. Religion, however, is only one aspect of the total "social organism" that is Judaism. Judaism, to Kaplan, is "a social organism with a self-conscious soul. The integrity of this social organism is the primary condition of the existence of Judaism." (21) In light of the science of sociology Kaplan understands that religion does not define the group life, but it serves an important function within the social organism. The life of the social organism depends, therefore, not upon preserving religious form or belief, but upon preserving group integrity Only by preserving the conditions whereby a "consciousness of kind" can exist will a group's distinctive self-awareness persist. Kaplan further elaborates upon his diagnosis that the social organism of Judaism is in need of a program of social adjustment in his 1918 article, "Where Does Jewry Really Stand Today?":
  The Jewish problem in every one of its phases is a problem of
  social adjustment. It calls for a comprehensive and detailed
  mastery of the facts, both physical and psychological, that
  determine human grouping. It calls for a scientific comprehension
  of the inner connection between religion and living in common.
  A new school in Jewish thought is needed that will help to upbuild
  the Jewish Future as Judische Wissenschaft has reconstructed the
  Jewish Past. (22)


Kaplan concludes that just as the tools of science have been useful for the study of Jewish history and text, so too the methodology of the social sciences needs now to be applied to reconstruct Judaism and foster a cultural renaissance.

Kaplan's call for the social adjustment of American Jewry derives from Deweyan pragmatism, an empirical and naturalistic model for socially progressive thought in which the data of our experience forms the basis of our knowledge and guides our future actions. Deweyan pragmatism was one of the defining features of the landscape of Progressive Era American life. Historians link Deweyan pragmatism to the burgeoning progressive reform movement, which struggled with issues such as poverty, inequality, race, gender and national power. (23) Echoing the pattern of progressive reformers, the Menorah Journal likewise deployed pragmatism in its argument for changes in the Jewish and in the American social environment, changes that were to be directed by intellectuals of the Menorah movement. Describing the intersection of pragmatism and evolution in American thought, historian Richard Hofstadter writes,
  Pragmatism was an application of evolutionary biology to human
  ideas, in the sense that it emphasized the study of ideas as
  instruments of the organism. Working primarily with the basic
  Darwinian concepts--organism, environment, adaptation--and speaking
  the language of naturalism, the pragmatic tradition ... stood for
  freedom and control of the environment by man. (24)


Dewey adopted the term "natural selection" as a biological metaphor that fit his socially progressive model of controlled change. In Dewey's terms, selection meant that the social organism selected those values, norms, and behaviors that public opinion and education found most suitable. Dewey thus adapted the meaning of natural selection to fit a socially progressive model of controlled change. He rejected the evolutionary model of mutational transformations, or saltations, and argued that,
  the essence of the human problem is controlled foresight--ability
  to maintain the institutions of the past while remaking them to
  suit new conditions; in short, to maintain a balance between habits
  and aims. The term "selection" can mean ... that various modes of
  action and reaction are selected by an organism or a society because
  of their superiority over other modes. Society has its own mechanisms,
  public opinion and education, to select the modes it finds most
  suitable. (25)


Despite Dewey's use of the Darwinian term "natural selection," an incomplete understanding of Dewey's thought led contemporaries to misconstrue Dewey to have "adopted a neo-Lamarckian position that new habits can be transmitted from one generation to the next." (26) The popular, if misguided, view of Dewey among his contemporaries, then, places him in the neo-Lamarckian camp. It is this popularized view of Dewey that is reflected in the writing of Menorah Journal contributors Kaplan and Berkson, discussed below, who wed Deweyan pragmatism to neo-Lamarckian sociology in their articulation of Jewish cultural identity.

The Menorah Journal's social change agenda shared an intellectual link with the Chicago Pragmatists, whose principal ideologue, John Dewey, at one point contributed an article to the Menorah journal at the behest of his friend Horace Kallen. (27) The Chicago Pragmatists, argues Andrew Feffer, "saw themselves as agents of historical change who would guide a popular social reconstruction with an enduring and vital intelligence toward a fuller democracy." (28) They did so by providing the progressive reform movement with a systematic philosophy of action. The Menorah journal, whose many contributors drew upon pragmatism in their arguments for Jewish social and cultural reconstruction, is part of this broader philosophical and social phenomenon.

A minority of dissenting voices in the Menorah Journal saw no role for evolutionary sociology in the discussion over Jewish culture. Modern Orthodoxy, the ideological heir of Samson Raphael Hirsch, rejected the idea of evolutionary control over Judaism, but for theological, rather than humanist, reasons. Representative of this point of view is Waldemar Haffkine, who was according to the Journal "one of the leading scientists of our time" and a pioneer "in the new science of bacteriology." (29) Haffkine entitled his article "A Plea for Orthodoxy," which title reflected the common perception of the time that orthodox Judaism was fast becoming an irrelevant force in American Jewish life and appeared to be dying out. (30) He attempted to inject a form of religious naturalism into the realm of discourse. God's wisdom and goodness is revealed not in the complex harmonies of nature, as classical religious naturalism such as the Bridgewater Treatises had it, but in the mitzvot, the commandments that Jews are expected to keep. Advances in microbiology have revealed the wisdom and goodness of God by affirming the essential beneficial results that obtain by adhering to Jewish law.

On the opposite side of the religious spectrum, secular humanist Marvin Lowenthal also rejects the use of evolutionary theory in the discussion because he did not wish to grant evolution control over human free will. "We shall not talk of evolution or progress; of these things we do not know," explains Lowenthal. "But we shall talk of change, for this we experience every day of our lives. In a world where all things can change, all things are possible--and in that faith we can find a strength that shall not deceive or fair." (31) A pragmatic realist, Lowenthal's faith rests squarely on human effort. He rejects the language of evolution and progress, and instead proclaims, We may succeed or fail, but however it fall out, ours shall be the joy or the bitterness." (32)

The clear majority of contributors to the Menorah Journal, however, were attracted to evolutionary theory. Historians Geoffrey Cantor and Marc Swetlitz argue that there were two main uses of evolution in American society that are particularly important in the Jewish context: the use of evolution in racial theory, and the populist political platform of fundamentalist Christian antievolutionism. (33) The case of the Menorah Journal demonstrates that another use of evolution, i.e., evolutionary sociology, was particularly important for the construction of an American Jewish identity. The contributions to the Menorah Journal of Leon Simon, Kaufmann Kohler, Mordecai Kaplan, Simon Dubnow, and Isaac Baer Berkson, discussed below, deploy a range of evolutionary theories in their attempts to define Judaism and to chart a future for it. Simon, following the line of argument of Deweyan pragmatism, deploys the language of natural selection to support nationalist Zionism. Kaufmann Kohler articulates a unique teleology-tinged orthogenetic basis for Jewish cultural evolutionary change, which supports his promotion of Judaism as a religion that is destined to play a significant leading role in the evolution of all religion. Kohler's view is rejected by Kaplan, Berkson, and Dubnow in favor of a neo-Lamarckian view of evolutionary social theory, by means of which they promote a vision of Jewish culture that responds and adapts to the American environment while preserving its unique cultural form.

Leon Simon, who introduced Ahad Ha'Am's writings to English readers, offers what he believes to be a neo-Darwinist perspective in his "Religion and Nationality." (34) He writes," It is the national instinct of self-preservation--often, no doubt, acting unconsciously--that determines what modifications of doctrine or of practice can be admitted." (35) Simon argues that those beliefs and practices that maintain Jewish national separateness are understood to be Judaism's survival mechanism, i.e., "the law of natural selection as applied to Judaism." (36) Simon's purpose in deploying a neo-Darwinian interpretation of Jewish history is to redefine Judaism not as a religion but as a culture. "Thus it is misleading to speak of the Jewish system of life as a religious system," writes Simon. Judaism "has been preserving its identity as a nation ... by turning its national-religious idea to that use which circumstances dictated, ever adapting and developing that idea and its consequences under the stress of changing conditions, to the end that it might live. This struggle for life is essentially the struggle of a nation which desires to breathe freely and to express itself fully as other nations do." (37) Simon concludes with a strongly Zionist message. The remedy to the Jewish dilemma of national survival, and the best way to assert positive control over the natural selection process, is the "restoration of Jewish national life in the land to which the Jewish nation is bound by its history and its religious associations." (38) Natural selection is tied to Simon's conception of Judaism as a national entity struggling to survive as a nation among nations. Simon's Zionism posits the restoration of the Jewish "organism" to its natural "habitat," as it were, which will allow the natural selection process to take place in such a way as to facilitate Judaism's survival, evolution, and progress.

The foremost spokesperson for the Reform movement, Kaufmann Kohler, opposes this point of view and rejects nationalist Zionism. He reasserts the definition of Judaism as a religion and not a nation. This message was in keeping with Reform Judaism of the 1920s, which sought to normalize Judaism as a religion like any other. Rejecting Jewish nationalism would permit Jews to proclaim their unambiguous identity as Americans and their unswerving loyalty to America, which in the context of the rampant xenophobic Americanism of the 1920s would have been particularly important. Kohler deploys evolutionary science to support his point of view, He sets aside the idea of natural selection in favor of an orthogenetic approach to the evolution of Judaism in "The Faith of Reform Judaism." In this article, he reiterates the well-known Reform principle that Judaism is to be defined as a universalistic faith, not as a particularistic race. He does so by evoking the language of science, saying, "Reform Judaism is the necessary outcome of our age of evolution." (39) Kohler makes it clear that Reform Judaism does not constitute a kind of transmutation of species, but is descended from its forebear. He declares, "Reform Judaism constitutes no break with the past, but asserts that the principle of Reform and Progress ... was ever a potent force inherent in Judaism, only working unconsciously in former ages and now consciously applied in our age of historical research." (40) Judaism, he argues, is now in a position to self-consciously select and transmit what is essential to the religion while discarding obsolete accretions.

Centrally, Kohler argues that evolutionary change is the inevitable result of the natural drive of an inner life force. What was in previous times an unconscious process would now be subject to our conscious direction. "Religion, in order to be a life force," asserts Kohler, "must ever create new adequate forms, to embody its ever advancing ideas and ideals." (41) Kohler believes, in a fashion reminiscent of vitalism, in an inherent spiritual force in Judaism. Of central importance, however, is his assertion that this inner force impels its evolution. His understanding of the mechanism for evolution is strikingly evocative of the evolutionary theory of orthogenesis, which held that evolution is guided by an intrinsic drive and not by natural selection.

Kohler, furthermore, appends a teleological component to his argument. He believes that the Jews are living out a religious destiny. In his formulation of the Jewish mission, Kohler believes that the Jews are chosen to bring the light of "a universal system of truths and ethics, destined to become the religion of humanity." (42) Judaism lies beyond the confining scope of the science of sociology or anthropology. Its prophetic universalism is the internal driving force of its evolution, allowing for what he calls the unfolding of the religious genius and ethical spirit, ever potent in [the Jew]." (43) Evolution itself is part of the unfolding of this great potential. Kohler writes, In adopting the forms of life from the civilizations surrounding him, and utilizing them for his intellectual and spiritual life, he not only found the fountain of regeneration for himself, but he became a vital and vitalizing factor for the culture and world-view of the people in whose midst he lived." (44) America provides the most fertile soil, Kohler concludes, out of which the message of Judaism can grow to spread its message around the world. Far from being threatened by the American idea of the Melting Pot, Kohler believes America to be in the birth-throes of a new era that would produce an enlightened humanity. (45) The choice America places before the Jewish community, he argues, is this: "Shall a Jewish nation without God, or the cosmopolitan Jew with his God, achieve this great task, for which the centuries are waiting? ... This ideal Zion of humanity not built by human hands, a spiritual Zion for all mankind, is the goal, the aim of Reform Judaism." (46) The Jewish mission, spurred by its spiritual inner life force, is to create a brighter future for the whole world. His view of evolution is teleological, a kind of cosmopolitan messianism in which Judaism would play a key role in the spiritual evolution of all humanity.

Mordecai Kaplan, however, does not accept Kohler's orthogenesis. In "How May Judaism Be Saved?," Kaplan attacks Reform Judaism and reasserts that Judaism is synonymous "with the social mind of the Jewish people." (47) If exponents of Reform Judaism are right in their claim that Judaism is a religion in need of some religious reforms, then that would put an end to all our troubles. "The only fault with such a solution is that it usually puts an end to Judaism." (48) Kaplan rejects Kohler's form of evolutionism because, to his mind, it neither adequately explains Judaism, nor does it facilitate Jewish survival. "Reform Judaism represents to us an absolute break with the Judaism of the past, rather than a development out of it," he writes. "Whether or not there is such a thing as spontaneous generation in physical life, it certainly does not exist in spiritual life." (49) Kaplan perceives Reform Judaism as almost a new species, a failed experiment of spontaneous mutation. Reform Judaism, Kaplan believes, has no viability, and furthermore it misses the point that Judaism is entering a new stage in its evolution, which it will pass through "without a break in its continuity." (50) Scientific knowledge will serve as the guide towards adaptations suited for survival. Verifiable "study and observation of religious phenomena" is the only true criterion we can rely upon to draw practical inferences towards a viable programmatic solution to Jewish survival. (51) The historical-positive school of thought must now be supplemented, Kaplan argues, by "a new method of adjustment, which for want of a better term we may designate the socio-psychological." (52) The findings of sociology and psychology, in other words, will reveal the path to Judaism's successful adaptation and survival.

Kaplan adopts a neo-Lamarckian view of social evolution and argues that the mechanism that drives evolution is the self-consciousness of the Jewish people. Although he acknowledges the importance of changes in the environment, to him the environmental factors simply create the conditions that encourage the Jewish cultural "organism" to "self-adapt," which process he does not equate with natural selection. Kaplan argues that "during the past hundred and fifty years, Judaism has been wrestling with the problem of self-adaptation which both the redistribution of Jewry and the incursions of materialistic secularism have called into being." (53) Judaism may have been forced by environmental factors to wrestle with self-adaptation, but ultimately the choices it makes will be self-directed.

Kaplan develops his ideas further in "Judaism as a Civilization: Religion's Place in It" (1928), which prefigured the mature theory that became his 1934 magnum opus, Judaism as a Civilization. Rejecting the classification of Judaism as either a race or a religion, Kaplan views Judaism as "nothing less than the tout ensemble of ... the cultural life of a people ... Judaism is the funded cultural activity which the Jewish people has transmitted from generation to generation." (54) Kaplan says that this cultural transmission must take place by education, but that transmission alone is not sufficient. Jewish civilization must also be transformed. That is, he says, "it must evolve to meet the challenge of the future. If the Jewish consciousness is to survive, it must be a continually readjusted, revitalized consciousness." (55) Directing the evolution of Judaism, he clarifies, depends upon our ability to determine the essential functions its constituent religious elements served and then adapt those to meet modern Jewry's spiritual needs. (56) The key to continuity is both preservation and reconstruction. In a neo-Lamarckian vein, Kaplan argues that Judaism must self-consciously adapt to environmental changes by receiving transmitted characteristics via education and tradition, and then modifying itself to suit the modern condition by acquiring new characteristics.

Kaplan's understanding of Judaism, and the evolutionism that he deploys as a logical consequence thereof, derives from sociology's definition of the function of religion "as the self-conscious life of a social organism." (57) Although he draws upon the tools of psychology, the science of psychology is in itself too limited in perspective to adequately explain Judaism. The Freudian psychology of the individual subconscious and William James' individualistic pragmatism fail, he argues, to help us to "measure the forces and influences that emanate from the social life about us." (58) Freudian psychology and William James' philosophy both err, Kaplan says, by explaining religion as the experience of the individual. Although an individual may feel spirituality, religion is only properly understood as a function of the group life. The sociological definition of religion, however, is not to be identified with secularist materialism. Kaplan is careful to limit the materialist implications of his view of religion. "This does not mean, as Positivism would have it, that God is only another name for the corporate soul of the group," writes Kaplan. "The religion of Humanity evolved by Comte well deserved the ridicule it called forth from Huxley, when he said that he would as lief worship a wilderness of monkeys as bow the knee to Humanity." Positivism, he says, is another form of idolatry, or a "social'egolatry.'" Rather, Kaplan asserts, "the fact remains that the religious experiences of the individual are but the inpouring from the self-conscious life of the group with which he is 'religiously' identified." (59) The social life of the organism is, for Kaplan, the key to understanding Jewish life, its evolution, and the possibilities for its future direction.

Historian Simon Dubnow's "A Sociological Conception of Jewish History" also promotes a neo-Lamarckian view of evolution that counters mechanistic neo-Darwinism. He argues that his sociological conception of Jewish history "provides the only possible basis for an objective and scientific history; it enables the historian to shake off the bonds of theology and metaphysics and to place his research on a firm biosociological foundation." (60) Dubnow makes explicit his view that the social construction of Judaism is not only conceptual in nature, but also biological in fact. Sociology, however, must also make room for progressivist ideals in the evolutionary scheme. In the neo-Lamarckian sociological framework, social evolution is characterized by its progressive nature. (61) The social evolution of Judaism, according to Dubnow, is not merely parallel to biological evolutionism but is in fact an aspect of biological evolution. Thus, he writes, "Our method of historical investigation is thus faithful to the principle of evolution. We shall consider in the first place the process of formation of the national unit, then its struggle for unhindered existence and for the preservation of its individual characteristics accumulated during the ages of cultural growth." (62) The mechanism for the successful adaptation and evolution of the biosocial organism is Lamarckian. The national organism develops new individual characteristics and protects already acquired ones. Jewish biosocial evolution, however, is not to be confused with a materialistic conception of Jewish history. Dubnow believes his theory avoids the pitfalls of an obsolete theological history and a modern myopic materialism by positing a holistic definition of Judaism as a cultural entity that is not reducible to any one particular function.

Isaac Baer Berkson, a student of Dewey's at Teachers College of Columbia University, similarly advances a neo-Lamarckian viewpoint. In "A Community Theory of American Life: The Problem of Adjustment in the Light of Jewish Experience," Berkson characterizes Judaism as a religious culture with a national self-consciousness. This understanding is not only the basis for the reconstruction of Jewish life but also has even larger implications for the construction of a new American identity. Berkson provides his own, third alternative to the two prevailing theories of American identity--the Melting Pot ideal and the federation of nationalities ideal. The "federation of nationalities" argument preserves the boundaries of each group, but, says Berkson, the theory pivots "on the identity of race, [and] the argument is primarily that 'we cannot change our grandfathers.'" (63) His alternative theory he calls the "community theory." It makes the national self-consciousness of the group the basic constituent. The evolutionary implication of his theory, he claims, is that "culture is not inherited but must be acquired through some educational process." (64) The mechanism of cultural evolution is neo-Lamarckian; it is the acquired characteristic of culture, he writes, that "becomes the ground for perpetuating the group." (65) Berkson thus draws a clear distinction between the neo-Darwinian assumption of inherited characteristics common to racial theory and the neo-Lamarckian idea of acquired characteristics that drives his cultural theory. This distinction, in his opinion, describes the fundamental divide between "the extremists of the Reform Movement and the Modernist Radical-Nationalists." (66) In the case of the Modern Radical Nationalists, he argues, "the conception of identity in race leaves room for progress and new embodiments, but tends to minimize the importance of history and what has already been acquired." (67) Berkson, like Kaplan, identifies the Jewish people "with its cultural and spiritual aspirations," which conception "comes very close to the view that nationality is essentially a psychological force." (68) This psychological force is not biologically determined, but is cultivated. Nationality is determined through education, not inheritance. Berkson's understanding of nationality in cultural rather than racial terms harmonizes the idea of two nationalities living together:
  Our theory requires neither proof nor assumption that a group
  has an identity of race which is significant or a culture which
  is particularly excellent. It endeavors to provide conditions
  that will permit these factors to play ... without at the same
  time minimizing the duties and possibilities which rise out of
  living in America. By making the educational agency central and
  the fundamental means of perpetuating the group, we have chosen
  the instrument which is directly relevant to what we wish to
  preserve, namely, the cultural life of the group. (69)


The preservation of the cultural life of the group will in turn enrich the life of the nation by adding to its cultural inheritances. (70) Berkson makes it clear that his plan is specific to American Jews. (71) At the same time, Berkson accepts Ahad Ha'Am's cultural Zionist ideal, which posits the need for a cultural center to constantly renew the cultural spirit of the Jews. Cultural allegiance may be paid to the Jewish people, but political allegiance for American Jews must be unequivocally for America.

The American culture of scientific inquiry, Deweyan pragmatism's call for social reform, and sociology's use of evolutionary concepts were compelling to the Menorah Journal. Evolutionary sociology provided a promising new basis for understanding Judaism and its place in American society. The Menorah Journal offered a range of evolutionary perspectives, including neo-Darwinism, orthogenesis, and neo-Lamarckism, all of which were deployed to justify differing views of Judaism from an empirical point of view, and to prescribe an approach to ensure Jewish survival. Evolutionary sociology was thus a central motif in the conceptual shift that took place in American Jewry during the first three decades of the twentieth century, when "the idea of ethnicity," to borrow from Seth Korelitz, began to take root. The deployment of evolutionary sociology made it possible for the Menorah Journal to become one of the most significant proponents of the developing idea that Judaism should be conceived of as an ethnicity. The Modern Synthesis of Darwin's ideas of natural selection and Mendel's model of genetic inheritance sealed the privileging of the Darwinian model of evolution in biology only much later, so some models of evolutionary theory that are now out of fashion were still part of the social discourse during the period in which the content of Jewish ethnicity was being fleshed out in the pages of the Menorah Journal. Given that there are more articles that deploy neo-Lamarckian social evolutionary theory than other theories, it may fairly be said that this reflects the predilection of early twentieth century sociology for Lamarckianism because it is particularly well-suited for the study of human behavior. (72)

These case studies, drawn from the Menorah Journal from the 1910s through the 1920s, illustrate that the debates over Judaism in America shared a common ground of discourse with the social sciences. The importance of, for example, Leon Simon's neo-Darwinist nationalist Zionist view, Kaufmann Kohler's orthogenetic religious conception of Judaism, and Mordecai Kaplan's neo-Lamarcician sociological approach, lies not in their fidelity to a particular evolutionary mechanism, but rather in the fact that each one deployed that evolutionary mechanism which he felt would best support his own argument. This was a strategy that was particularly appealing because evolutionary science was the intellectual coin of the realm. The Menorah Journal must thus be considered among the popularizers of science, and its unique contribution to the debates over fostering Jewish cultural vitality derives from its deployment of a scientific modality of inquiry rooted in Progressive Era American culture.

Additional Resources

Brodkin, Karen. How Jews Became White Folks & What That Says About Race in America. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1998.

Cherry, Shai. "Three Twentieth-century Jewish Responses to Evolutionary Theory." Aleph: Historical Studies in Science and Judaism, Vol. 3 (2003): 247.

Fried, Lewis. "Creating Hebraism, Confronting Hellenism: The Menorah Journal and its Struggle for the Jewish Imagination." The American Jewish Archives Journal, Vol. LIII, No. 1 & 2 (2001): 147-174.

Kessner, Carole S., ed. The "Other" New York Intellectuals. New York: New York University Press, 1994.

Libowitz, Richard, Mordecai M. Kaplan and the Development of Reconstructionism. Studies in American Religion, Vol. 9. New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1983.

Nadell Pamela S. "Developing an American Judaism: Conservative Rabbis as Ethnic Leaders." Judaism, Vol. 39, No. 3 (1990): 45.

Ostendorf, Berndt. "Literary Acculturation: What Makes Ethnic Literature 'Ethnic.'" Callaloo, Vol. 25 (1985): 577-586..

Roberts, Jon H. and James Turner. The Sacred and the Secular University. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Wacker, R. Fred. "Assimilation and Cultural Pluralism in American Social Thought." Phylon (1960-), Vol. 40, No. 4 (1979): 325-333.

(1.) See Robert Alter, "Epitaph for a Jewish Magazine: Notes on the 'Menorah Journal,'" Commentary, Vol. 39, No. 5 (1965): 51-55; Daniel Greene, "The Crisis of Jewish Freedom: The Menorah Association and American Pluralism, 1906-1934," Chicago: Diss., Department of History, University of Chicago, 2004; Seth Korelitz, "The Menorah Idea: From Religion to Culture, from Race to Ethnicity," American Jewish History, Vol. 85, No. 1 (1997): 75-100; Andrea Pappas, "The Picture at Menorah Journal: Making 'Jewish Art,'" American Jewish History, Vol. 90, No. 3 (2002): 205-238; Lauren B. Strauss, "Staying Afloat in the Melting Pot: Constructing an American Jewish Identity in the Menorah Journal of the 1920s," American Jewish History, Vol. 84, No. 4 (1996): 315-331.

(2.) Greene, "The Crisis of Jewish Freedom," p.21.

(3.) Strauss, "Staying Afloat in the Melting Pot," p.317.

(4.) "An Editorial Statement: Menorah journal, Vol. 1, No. 1 (1915).

(5.) Korelitz, "The Menorah Idea: pp.75-76.

(6.) Peter J. Bowler, The Eclipse of Darwinism: Anti-Darwinian Evolution Theories in the Decades around 1900 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983), pp.7-8.

(7.) E.g., Marc Swetlitz, "Responses to Evolution by Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Rabbis in Twentieth-Century America," in G. Cantor, and Marc Swetlitz, eds., Jewish Tradition and the Challenge of Darwinism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), pp.5-6; Bowler, The Eclipse of Darwinism, pp.18-19.

(8.) William F. Fine, Progressive Evolutionism and American Sociology, 1890-1920, Studies in American History and Culture (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1979), p.108.

(9.) Fine, Progressive Evolutionism, pp.8-9.

(10.) Fine, Progressive Evolutionism, p.167.

(11.) Marvin Lowenthal, "Jewish Realities in America," Menorah Journal, Vol. 7, No. 1 (1921): 1-15.

(12.) Lowenthal, "Jewish Realities in America," p.5.

(13.) Lowenthal, "Jewish Realities in America," p.14.

(14.) Mordecai M. Kaplan, "What Judaism Is Not," Menorah Journal, Vol. 1, No. 4 (1915): 215.

(15.) Mordecai M. Kaplan, "What Is Judaism?," Menorah Journal, Vol. 1, No. 5 (1915): 315.

(16.) Kaplan, "What Is Judaism?," p.316.

(17.) Kaplan, "What Is Judaism?," p.316.

(18.) Mordecai M. Kaplan, "The Future of Judaism," Menorah Journal, Vol. 2, No. 3 (1916): 169.

(19.) Kaplan, "The Future of Judaism," p.166.

(20.) Kaplan, "The Future of Judaism," p.169.

(21.) Kaplan, "The Future of Judaism," p.170.

(22.) Mordecai M. Kaplan, "Where Does Jewry Really Stand Today?" Menorah Journal, Vol. 4, No. 1 (1918): 35.

(23.) Andrew Feffer, The Chicago Pragmatists and American Progressivism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), pp.7-8.

(24.) Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought (New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1959), pp.124-25.

(25.) Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought, p.140.

(26.) Thomas Carlyle Dalton, Becoming John Dewey: Dilemmas of a Philosopher and Naturalist (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), p.61.

(27.) John Dewey, "The Principle of Nationality," The Menorah Journal, Vol. 3, No. 4) (1917): 203-208.

(28.) Feffer, The Chicago Pragmatists, p.2.

(29.) Waldemar M. Haffkine "A Plea for Orthodoxy," Menorah Journal, Vol. 2, No. 2 (1916): 67.

(30.) Haffkine, "A Plea for Orthodoxy: p.67.

(31.) Marvin Lowenthal, "Bernard Shaw Among the Rabbis," Menorah journal, Vol. 7, No. 5 (1921): 286.

(32.) Lowenthal, "Bernard Shaw Among the Rabbis," p.286.

(33.) Swetlitz, "Responses to Evolution," pp.6-8.

(34.) Leon Simon, "Religion and Nationality," Menorah Journal, Vol. 5, No. 3, 4 (1919): 154.

(35.) Simon, "Religion and Nationality," p.229.

(36.) Simon, "Religion and Nationality," p.230.

(37.) Simon, "Religion and Nationality," p.231.

(38.) Simon, "Religion and Nationality," p.233.

(39.) Kaufmann Kohler, "The Faith of Reform Judaism: Menorah Journal," Vol. 2, No. 1 (1916): 10.

(40.) Kohler, "The Faith of Reform Judaism," p.10.

(41.) Kohler, "The Faith of Reform Judaism," p.11.

(42.) Kohler, "The Faith of Reform Judaism," p.13.

(43.) Kohler, "The Faith of Reform Judaism," p.13.

(44.) Kohler, "The Faith of Reform Judaism," p.13.

(45.) Kohler, "The Faith of Reform Judaism," p.15.

(46.) Kohler, "The Faith of Reform Judaism," p.15.

(47.) Mordecai M. Kaplan, "How May Judaism Be Saved?" Menorah Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1 (1916): 34.

(48.) Kaplan, "How May Judaism Be Saved?" p.37.

(49.) Mordecai M. Kaplan, "A Program for the Reconstruction of Judaism," Menorah journal, Vol. 6, No. 4 (1920): 183-184, 186.

(50.) Mordecai M. Kaplan, "Toward a Reconstruction of Judaism: Menorah journal, Vol. 13, No. 2 (1927): 123.

(51.) Kaplan, "What Is Judaism?," p.313.

(52.) Kaplan, "What Is Judaism?," p.315.

(53.) Kaplan, "What Is Judaism?," p.312.

(54.) Mordecai M. Kaplan, "Judaism as a Civilization: Religion's Place in It," Menorah Journal, Vol. 15, No. 6 (1928): 503-504.

(55.) Kaplan, "Judaism as a Civilization: Religion's Place in It," p.504.

(56.) Kaplan, "Judaism as a Civilization: Religion's Place in It," p.506.

(57.) Kaplan, "How May Judaism Be Saved," p.44.

(58.) Kaplan, "May Judaism Be Saved," p.44.

(59.) Kaplan, "How May Judaism Be Saved," p.44.

(60.) Simon Dubnow, "A Sociological Conception of Jewish History: Menorah Journal, Vol. 14, No. 3 (1928): 261.

(61.) Fine, Progressive Evolutionism, p.2.

(62.) Dubnow, "A Sociological Conception of Jewish History," p.261.

(63.) Isaac B. Berkson, "A Community Theory of American Life: The Problem of Adjustment in the Light of Jewish Experience," Menorah Journal, Vol. 6, No. 6 (1920): 311.

(64.) Berkson, "A Community Theory of American Life," p.312.

(65.) Berkson, "A Community Theory of American Lifer," p.312.

(66.) Berkson, "A Community Theory of American Lifer," p.312.

(67.) Berkson, "A Community Theory of American Lifer," p.312.

(68.) Berkson, "A Community Theory of American Lifer," p.313.

(69.) Berkson, "A Community Theory of American Life," pp.314-315.

(70.) Berkson, "A Community Theory of American Lifer," p.315.

(71.) Berkson, "A Community Theory of American Life," p.317.

(72.) See George W. Stocking, Jr., "Lamarckianism in American Social Science: 1890-19153," Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 23, No. 2 (1962): 239-256.

Matthew Kaufman York University
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