The Society for Ethical Culture
Felix Adler (1851-1933) was the founder of the Ethical
Culture Movement. Born in a small town in Germany, he came to the United States
at the age of six because his father, Samuel Adler, was appointed rabbi of
Temple Emanu-el in New York.
In 1870, Felix earned a B.A. at
Columbia University. Then he returned to Germany and enrolled at Heidelberg
University, leading to ordination as a reform rabbi and a Ph.D. in philosophy. On
his return to New York, he gave a sermon at Temple Emanu-el called “The
Judaism of the Future,” in which he predicted a Judaism without God.
The Society for Ethical Culture, which
Adler founded in 1876, is essentially a repetition
of Jewish ethics as taught in the Torah and the Talmud. Adler had, of
course, learned this during his rabbinical studies. Therefore he contributed
nothing new to ethical conduct. He only changed the name of the source from
Judaism to his new organization. Judaism has always emphasized deed over creed,
as does the Ethical Culture Society. No doubt, Adler, having been appointed a
professor of philosophy at Columbia, participated in all those “liberal”
causes which are also the province of Jewish interest. Yet, Ethical Culture
appeals evidently only to intellectual snobs who have no more understanding of
religion than someone who has learned how to add, subtract, divide, and multiply
but knows no more about mathematics than that, yet claims that math is childish
The functions, the anticipated
consequences of Judaism, are far more than ethical culture, however important.
First, Judaism explains the relationship of man to the universe. “I am the
Lord Your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” This supports freedom
and rejects slavery. “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” This gives men
the right to rest and recover from a week of labor.
Judaism also relates man to man.
“Honor your mother and your father,” etc. not only supports the relationship
of one generation to the next, it also dignifies all human beings, old and
young. “You shall rise before the ‘hoary’ (white) head” emphasizes the
bond between the generations, including those temporarily young.
We are forbidden to commit adultery,
murder, steal. lie, and envy because no human society can exist for long if
these prohibitions are not observed. The common experience of mankind demands
that we refrain from conduct that injures our fellow men. Indeed, Ethical
Culture claims to support all of this. Yet, it lacks an essential aspect of
Judaism which makes it possible for endless generations of Jews to live by these
commandments. It is called “religion,” from the Latin “Res Ligare,”
meaning “the thing that binds.” Judaism binds its followers together. This
is done by using ritual, which is a means of making the unseen visible.
Therefore we carry the Torah scroll around the synagogue (assembly), as it is a
visible object, as is a lulav and an esrog, a tallith, or a kippa. These
objects, indeed man made, are an effective means of giving our tradition
substance and meaning.
Judaism, unlike Ethical Culture,
anchors every Jew in the long history of the Jewish people. Every Jew, living
now, was present at Mr. Sinai. Every Jew, alive today, is a descendant of
Abraham. All Jews, currently alive, spent forty years in the wilderness... and
all Jews were the victims of the Holocaust. “We are one,” so that which
happens to any Jew anywhere happens to all of us.
Judaism, like other religions,
celebrates the life cycle from birth to death and also celebrates the cycle of
nature from spring to winter back to spring. None of this is possible in the
Ethical Culture religion.
Judaism is also a great teacher. Two
huge religions have come out of Judaism. Their total followers amount to 3.7
billion people around the world. These descendants of Judaism are guilty of
horrible crimes against the Jewish people. Even now, two generations after the
Europeans murdered six million Jews and enriched themselves by stealing all the
property of the dead Jews, the European Union and their followers are once more
looking to destroy Israel and kill the few Jews still living among them. They
cannot tolerate the ethics taught by Israel to all the nations of this world.
Therefore they seek to kill the messengers, because they cannot kill the
Felix Adler, indeed a typical
“intellectual,” understood none of this. Living in an unreal, abstract
world, he sought to teach a lesson which his Jewish ancestors had learned long
before him. “Veohavto lerayacho komaucho.”