MACLEAN'S REVIEWS

NEW BOOKS

The trouble with Rabbi Feinberg is he's just too palatable

MORDECAI RICHLER July 25 1964
MACLEAN'S REVIEWS

NEW BOOKS

The trouble with Rabbi Feinberg is he's just too palatable

MORDECAI RICHLER July 25 1964

NEW BOOKS

The trouble with Rabbi Feinberg is he's just too palatable

EVERY MAN, they say — they say hopefully —has a book in him. and now Toronto Rabbi Abraham Feinberg has given us his: Storm The Gates Of Jericho, an autobiography.

It is not, I'm sorry to say, a good or even a readable book. Abraham Feinberg is for many of the right things: the workers, civil rights, nuclear disarmament, the yellow people, black people, Jewish people, and so forth. In fact Feinberg is for so many things — seemingly ready with a sermon or a press statement at the drop of a cause — that the total effect is one of busyness and ultimately (for this reader, anyway) superficiality.

Storm The Gates Of Jericho is a flat and obvious book. You know as much about Rabbi Feinberg after reading ten pages as you do after struggling through a hundred. The rabbi is not unintelligent, he’s as sincere as they come, he has a good heart, but his book is untroubled by originality or insight.

THE POET PRINCE AND MATERIALISM

Rabbi Feinberg baffles me. In 1930, he tells us, he walked out on his wealthy New York congregation because religion, to his mind, had become a business, a merchandise-mart. Okay, it’s a point of view. But the rabbi did not walk out to distribute his worldly possessions among the poor or, like Stalin, quit the priesthood to join the revolution — he left to try his hand at show business. Now, renouncing the synagogue is one thing; but taking up arms against materialism as Anthony Frome, Poet Prince of the Airwaves, is something else.

When Feinberg returned to the pulpit, it was as a reform rabbi. The reform Jews have tried to modernize religious practice; they have made it palatable, easy. They have also, in my opinion, destroyed whatever mystery and beauty there was in the faith.

While orthodox Jewish practice is severe, illogical, even bigoted, it is rich in poetic tradition and it is solidly there. A force. Reform Jews would rip it up like a narrow dirt road to make way for an eight-lane superhighway.

The trouble is that religion was never meant to accommodate traffic; it’s there to slow it down. Reform Jewry, I think, ultimately leads

nowhere. As if to underline my point, Rabbi Feinberg, towards the end of his book, offers us what he calls, revealingly, “My Creedless Credo.'’ Among other credos, he lists, “I believe that all truth is very difficult to come by; therfore I must be skeptical.” The trouble, Horatio, is not with philosophy, it’s in the Reader’s Digest.

Finally, Rabbi Feinberg’s prose is uneconomic, lumbered with unattractive catchphrases and alliterations, fancy and florid beyond editorial redemption. On one page he tells us “sundry scruples flitted like bats through my mind.” Scruples like bats? Elsewhere he writes. "To join wings for nuptial flight with an incomparable one set apart and differentiated from all others by a quality of tenderness and desire deeply realized is to distinguish human love from that of the beast,” when all he means to say is that marriage is good for you, but catch yourself a swinger.

Rabbi Feinberg, then, is as close to the Jewish intellectual furnace as, say, Norman Vincent Peale is representative of the Christian ethic.

MORDECAI RICHLER