Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 451
If Two Worlds is a “tribute” to his father, it is also a son’s selective recapitulation of formative experiences. Despite Rabbi Daiches’ ability to reach dissident groups within his own religious community and in the secular world of Edinburgh and beyond, his son was lonely as a child. He had few close friends in the small Jewish community and few at the secular Watson’s Boys’ College, where his orthodox observance of the Sabbath precluded participation in sports and debating. Food at the schoolboys’ favorite eating place was not kosher, so here too David felt excluded. Even on vacation at the shore, the family seems to have been a fairly separate unit. Grandfather Daiches, rabbi of an Orthodox Jewish congregation, Beth Hamedrash Hagadol in Leeds, is described as a wonderfully loving person, but David saw him quite infrequently; the mature Daiches suspects that his father was trying to escape a ghetto mentality.
Assessing his own break with tradition, Daiches describes the “enormous change” once he entered the University of Edinburgh. He was popular and participated actively in university life—including leadership in the literary and debating societies, closed to him earlier at Watson’s because of Sabbath scheduling.
One alternative to Orthodoxy, Liberal Judaism, was closed to him by his father’s convincing argument:My father’s chief objection to Liberal Judaism was thus that it made the individual conscience the arbiter of what was good and worth preserving and what was valueless and expendable in the law which had come down as the word of God. Once you take that view, divine authority is gone and chaos is come again.
Somehow, this argument left only agnosticism as an alternative. He says,I came to see the Hebrew Bible as a fascinating record of the spiritual development of a people rather than as a book of conduct inspired by God. . . . I read much Zionist literature as well as modern Hebrew poetry. . . . Unconsciously, I was preparing for a showdown with my father. Whatever happened, I was not to be accused of lack of knowledge of or affection for my ancestral heritage.
Daiches explains that he also began to question the separation between Jews and non-Jews, wondering whether it was “healthy, desirable,” or even “possible.” Indeed, at university he found that many of his new non-Jewish friends were intelligent and thoughtful. It was somewhat threatening to discover that on some level he had more in common with them than with his relatives and Jewish friends.
Realizing that he had often experienced earlier life in “an abyss” between worlds, Daiches defined his ideology, married Isobel Mackay, and discovered the impossibility of a real “showdown” between the generations, because of the presence of love.
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