Liberal Judaism/Choices in Modern Jewish Thought

Sloyan, Gerard S.

Critical, historical, unabashedly theist LIBERAL JUDAISM Eugene B. Borowitz Union of American Hebrew Congregations, $7.95, 468 pp. CHOICES IN MODERN JEWISH THOUGHT A PARTISAN GUIDE Eugene B,...

...Borowitz's liberalism puts him in the camp of those who study the Hebrew Scriptures critically (i.e., in a historical context), finding there a God who "speaks" to Israel through this people's determining what its God requires of them...
...He believes, for example, in the necessity of prayer...
...Borowitz sits lightly on the 613 precepts the rabbis mysteriously teased out of the Mosaic books...
...CHOICES IN MODERN JEWISH THOUGHT A PARTISAN GUIDE Eugene B, Borowitz Behrmen House, $9.95, 305 pp...
...As a correlate of the latter conviction the Reform thinker rules out their ethnicity, "civilization," or millennia of suffering as that which defines their Jewishness...
...1918) nor the ethical monotheism of Leo Baeck (d...
...Yet he is sufficiently halachic (i.e., commandment-oriented) to hold for the normative status of oral and written law Mishnah and Talmud as expository of Torah, Prophets, and Writings...
...When he appends critiques he does so as one who does not consider himself superior to those with whom he differs...
...The volume comes to life only in a chapter on personal autonomy as the sole means of defining authentic modern Judaism...
...Chapters on the existentialist thought of Rosenzweig, Buber, and Heschel follow...
...Borowitz courageously spells out the real article: a community that has lived complacently with secularism as Christianity seems fated next to do and is painfully, ruefully progressing toward a livable faith...
...Gerard S. Sloyan THESE books are the second and third volumes of a trilogy, Choices having been written for college students and Liberal Judaism to "bridge the gap between the academic and lay levels of thinking about Judaism.'' The first in the series had been Understanding Judaism, for teenagers...
...The exposition is patient, clear, and remarkable in this genre only mildly anti-Christian...
...Borowitz finds this spirit praiseworthy not as an independence of God but as a response to the challenge issued them by the God who ultimately defines them as Jewish...
...Their new selective adherence to symbols of their Jewishness springs from the autonomy that characterizes them, in opposition to a heteronomy of regulations rooted in human tradition...
...It summarizes by way of paraphrase, seldom exact quotation and never citation, the neo-Kantianism of Hermann Commonweal: 58 Cohen, the religious consciousness of Leo Baeck, Zionism (Herzl, Ahad Ha-Am), and the naturalism of Reconstruc-tionism's founder Mordecai Kaplan...
...If this is to be achieved, Borowitz maintains, a dialectical Jewish theology must be created...
...1972), whose thought he summarizes in Choices...
...He is of the Reform tradition which was brought to these shores in the mid-nineteenth century and is most identified with the Bohemia-born Isaac Meyer Wise, founder of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Borowitz's parent institution...
...In easy, almost leisurely fashion, he traces Jewish history from biblical to modern times, dealing with great matters along the way like God and the power of evil, the uses of freedom, life after death, and ritual as humanity's reaching for the holy...
...Commonweal: 60...
...Some of the Orthodox may see their worst suspicions of infidelity to halacha outside the camp confirmed...
...Borowitz's liberal stance means that he is a protagonist of the Jewish state who is convinced it does not define his Jewishness, a deplorer of the Holocaust who has no way of knowing if it was the greatest of human evils or unique in its decision to eliminate a people for its peoplehood, and a Jew who thinks that since the early seventies American Jews have been turning their backs in numbers on a century of naive capitulations to science and modernity...
...The longer book Liberal Judaism is more successful both pedagogically and in substance...
...Most valuably for Jews and outsiders alike, it interweaves Tal-mudic lore in a way calculated to make that thicket of riches attractively available...
...Paradoxically, he finds the books of the prophets which he puts in the traditional second rank to be especially relevant to liberal Judaism, a situation which did not hold before the Napoleonic Emancipation...
...Conservative and Reconstructionist Jews are well served by this Reform teacher...
...1965) but a religion at whose center stands a creator God who called Abraham and his progeny to be a peculiar people, then Moses to give this people the gift of adherence to law...
...Here the author is teaching on his own authority and is not constricted by the views of others...
...But to assert this autonomy as if it were self-evident or self-validating "seems only the dogmatic convulsion of an outdated liberalism...
...Rabbi Borowitz is Professor of Jewish Religious Thought at Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and the founding editor of Sh'ma, A Journal of Jewish Responsibility...
...Borowitz's "liberal" stance may not be that of all in his Union of Hebrew congregations...
...While lauding the courageous election of what is ethically right for humanity as the heart of Judaism, he is likely to balance it with the fittingness of traditional Jewish piety...
...The net effect, unfortunately, is bland, in the manner of a textbook on the history of ideas...
...Choices is the more ambitious book of the two...
...Postmodern liberal Jewish thought must live in a dynamic balance of tradition (not subservience to truth derived from the culture, nor the sacrifice of personal decision to the Torah) and autonomy...
...It turns out to be unabashedly theist: not the "religion of reason" of Hermann Cohen (d...
...then the theorists of the Holocaust, and modern orthodoxy as represented by Joseph B. Soloveitchik...
...Borowitz is admirably fair in his presentations...
...Liberal Judaism, abetted by its modest price, would serve the reading or study needs of Christians admirably, especially those resting on a Buber or Heschel plateau...
...In his devotion to the prophetic teachers who focused on "ethics, society, individuals, change, and ultimate goals," Borowitz resembles Abraham Joshua Heschel (d...

Vol. 112 • January 1985 • No. 2


 
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