After forty years.
We had models for our own explorations, principally Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, early twentieth century teachers of German Jewry in its last pre-Hitler greatness. They have often been described as existentialists, post-Modernists or even, as we preferred, neo-Classical Jewish thinkers. They returned to sources (Bible, Talmud, Hasidism, medieval thought) with the eyes neither of old-fashioned devotees nor of modern "scientific" scholars, but rather of seekers and post-critical explorers. We, for our part, all considered ourselves their inheritors, even epigones, with the responsibility of translating their German thinking into American categories and presenting a "new theology" to our countrymen and women. We were to be both their followers and leaders of an intellectual future yet unknown.
We had many debates among ourselves: what was to be the place of Jewish law, which Buber and even the more observant Rosenzweig had tended to downplay? What of prayer in an age that hardly expected an answer to prayer? What could revelation mean to a generation that assumed the scripture was a human document from Genesis on to its latest interpreter. The holocaust was not a major subject of our discussions, though it later would absorb some of us as the central question of Jewish theology. The State of Israel was assumed but not interrogated until a decade later. We discussed the great issues of the nineteenth century and high modernism, though we sought to see them in a new light and to deal with them with new vision and vocabulary. Our book was the very first in a long line of volumes treating covenant theology, as some have termed our colloquium. We were friends, some as close as brothers, though time would separate us from each other with no little acrimony.
The later divisions formed around the issue of the holocaust. Under the influence primarily of Elie Wiesel, whom we met after this volume appeared, Emil Fackenhim, for example, turned all of his brilliance to the interpretation of the shoah. He propounded a 614th commandment: not to permit Hitler any posthumous victories, by which he largely meant to defend Jews and the Jewish state against any possible opposition. His politics turned rightward and his theology bent toward his politics. Others, like Steven Schwarzschild in particular, read the holocaust in left-wing fashion and concluded that Jews should be socialists and pacifists with a theology that supported or demanded a radical political stance. Eugene Borowitz called some of us to help him create "Sh'ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility" in 1970, and its pages continued the dialogue and debates of the RJ writers for more than thirty years, publishing a great deal of work by the authors of this volume in their later, and more famous, careers.
I shall describe briefly the later thinking of each of the authors included in Rediscovering Judaism. We all contributed to a small but decisive turn in American Judaism, a turn toward recovery of Jewish categories and texts, a return to Jewish commitment and spirituality. The outlines of this transformation are in RJ already; it was the genius of Ivan Dee to perceive its need and nourish its genesis. For that I am not the only one who should be lastingly grateful.
One of the two or three most famous of the contributors to Rediscovering Judaism, Borowitz has taught two generations of students at the New York school of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, as well as Harvard, Princeton, and other major universities. He has published more than a dozen fine books, ranging from haute vulgarization to incisive systematic theology. He is unquestionably the major interpreter of liberal Jewish thinking in America during the second half of the twentieth century.
Borowitz has tried with more than usual competence to reconcile human autonomy and responsibility. He insists, with classical Reform Judaism, on the inalienable right of each person to make decisions from his or her own situation and in accordance with his or her own personal conscience. Eschewing the lure of both immanence and modernity, he also posits a real God whose will for justice and obedience comes to us uniquely via our Jewish tradition. Simplistic notions of progress always commit the genetic fallacy; we cannot evaluate Judaism; it reevaluates us. Moving toward what he understands as post-modernism, Borowitz emphasizes the ever shifting position of our intellectual worlds, their pluralism and their inevitable limitations, but he reaches back to recover from our textual and historical antecedents sources of light and truth.
Some of Borowitz's best work has been the interpretation of other major Jewish thinkers of all stripes and commitments. Drawing on the Buber-Rosenzweig tradition, he has presented Orthodox, Humanist and Existentialist philosophers with empathy and critical, but always sympathetic, reconstructions. His original views on prayer, community and commandment have won him loyal disciples for many decades, and his important work continues unabated in his eighth decade.
Fackenheim was perhaps the most distinguished of our nine contributors and his profound essay in Rediscovering Judaism was republished many times. Beginning as a Hegel Scholar and an existentialist (or phenomenological) philosopher, Fackenheim produced a substantial body of rigorous and important works. He reconciled the best of German Jewish theology with the philosophy of Kant and Hegel. Skillfully, patiently, he reinterpreted classical problems like prayer and theodicy with discretion and creativity.
Sometime soon after the publication of Rediscovering Judaism, Fackenheim felt the belated but insistent power of the Holocaust, partly under the influence of Elie Weisel, who became one of our mentors. Fackenheim deserted the technical and persistent issues of a perennial philosopher and began to see everything anew in the harsh light of the Shoah. He now claimed that all of the old thinking had to be discarded in favor of an insistent, revolutionary Zionism that privileged the right of Jews to their own self-determination and self-protection. This led him to the political and theological right, far from his liberal roots in German Reform Judaism.
Finally moving to Jerusalem, Fackenheim spent his last years defending wholeheartedly the right-wing ideology of an intransigent Israel, and, in the name of the six million dead, refused to give Hitler any putative posthumous victory. It remains an unfinished task for his disciples, like Michael Morgan, to reconcile the earlier with the later Fackenheim, the universalist neo-Kantian with the polemical nationalist of his final years.
Maurice Friedman spent his long and useful career mostly in the service of Martin Buber whose main work he translated, interpreted, and circulated throughout North America. If Buber became the most celebrated Jewish thinker of his century, it was in large part because of the dedication and skill of Friedman. A pacifist and ecumenist, Friedman has never occupied a central role in the Jewish community of scholarship, but, among students of modern religious thought, he occupies a unique position. His interpretations of Christianity, beginning in Rediscovering Judaism, have been widely read, and his love for Martin Buber's life and work has proved extremely valuable to us all.
Harris is the most private and cautious of our group. In a major review of Rediscovering Judaism in The Christian Century, the late Jewish theologian, Arthur Cohen, singled out Harris's chapter as the most incisive. Since that time Harris has spent his life studying rabbinic thinking, especially about life cycle events and celebration of holy seasons. His career in Chicago has been consistent, productive and modest, raising a number of devoted students.
Jakob J. Petuchowski
Spending his career teaching Reform rabbinical students at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Jakob Petuchowski, nevertheless, consistently held Reform Judaism up to intense critical scrutiny. Deeply learned and very conservative in both theology and politics, he urged the return to tradition both liturgically and philosophically. His influence in his native Germany was powerful; he worked tirelessly to bring believing Christians and Jews closer together. His early anti-Zionism later moderated and his strong criticism of what he considered reckless and radical in America alienated him from others of us who continued a direction first indicated in Rediscovering Judaism and proliferating widely in common endeavors as well as idiosyncratic probes.
Zalman Schachter (Shalomi)
"Reb Zalman," the Godfather of New Age Judaism in North America is unique among the writers in Rediscovering Judaism. Raised and trained in Habad Hasidism, he broke with Lubavitch over his increasingly radical crossing of established boundaries and his advocacy of the use of chemicals for mystical purposes. He ordained dozens of new rabbis, taught untiringly at Jewish Renewal institutes, retreats, and ecumenical centers, and wrote powerfully, if also somewhat enigmatically, about the spiritual life as he experienced it. No single figure was more important to the spread of Aquarian versions of Judaism that united traditional ideas (which he had mastered early on) and the radical practice of deep meditation, social and psychological experiment.
No one can understand the religious life of the younger generation of American Jews, bored with institutionalisms and hierarchies, who fails to examine the life and teaching of Zalman and his followers. He is the only one of our number to fulfill the roles of tsaddik and guide to an entire generation of earnest seekers and devotees, with wide ranging consequences both encouraging and dangerous.
Steven Schwarzschild, the scion of a great Frankfort Jewish family, was a disciple of the rationalist philosopher of the turn of the century, Hermann Cohen. Skilled in the techniques and insights of contemporary philosophy, Schwarzschild insisted on Judaism as a thinking person's faith, with immediate consequences in pacifism and democratic socialism. His radical politics and neo-classical theology included a defense of the personal messiah, a deep suspicion of Jewish nationalism and a reading of Maimonides, the greatest Jewish thinker of the middle ages, that underlines his rationalism and ethical priority.
Schwarzschild thought more than he wrote, and wrote more than he published. It may be decades before his fully elaborated philosophy will be widely available. But, even in outline, his powerful insights interrogate modernism, humanism, and all conventional piety. For those of us who were personally close to him, his presence guides us even decades after his death. The high tide of German Jewish thought ends with Schwarzschild's summa of its wisdom, moralism, and unsentimental piety.
The senior member of our fellowship, Silberman remains among the most learned and rigorous. Coming from roots in American Reform, he overcame liberal simplifications and evasions without surrendering to the call of immanence or fuzzy spirituality. More a scholar than an original speculative mind, he yet beckoned us to feats of recovery of the past and critical examination of issues in the long history and complicated meaning of Jewish religion. From the Dead Sea scrolls to American Judaism, Silberman was a dependable guide and genial mentor to all of us.
Arnold Jacob Wolf
I am the only one of our group to spend his entire career in the pulpit, though I also taught at Chicago, Yale and Loyola as well. My early attempt to confront Judaism and psychoanalysis published in Rediscovering Judaism has continued to preoccupy me. My most recent teaching post was at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis on Spirituality and Analysis. I have read Freud carefully as a late modernizing Jewish figure, and seen depth psychology as a version of classical rabbinic views of human nature. I have also published textbooks on Jewish theology and ethics and participated in the great struggles for peace and civil rights of our century.
I have continued to value the fellowship that manifests in Rediscovering Judaism and the additional collegiality of David Hartman, Samuel Dresner, Yitz Greenberg, Elie Wiesel, Moshe Greenberg and many others. Work recording new developments in Jewish theology and its Christian parallels, published first in Judaism: A Quarterly Journal successively by Schwarzschild, Silberman, and Borowitz, has fallen to my charge in recent years.
Our effort to transform and deepen American Judaism was surely not a complete success, nor is its effect wholly concluded. But we were, indeed, a bridge toward a new seriousness that could recover lost, or seemingly lost, Jewish ideas and texts and could guide a future of courageous reinterpretation. Whether this task is properly called post-modernism or must await a newer formulation and title, only the future can tell. Our world is not yet free of superstition, war and cruelty, so there remains much to do and to think through for the sake of our millennial Jewish covenant with God.
Borowitz, Eugene (1924-) 1968 A New Jewish Theology in the Making (Philadelphia: Westminster) 1973 The Mask Jews Wear (New York: Simon & Schuster) 1983 Choices in Modern Jewish Thought (2nd ed. 1995, New York: Behrman) 1991 Renewing the Covenant (Philadelphia: JPS) 2002 Studies in the Meaning of Judaism (Philadelphia: JPS) Fackenheim, Emil (1916-2002) 1970 Quest for Past and Future (Boston: Beacon) 1970 God's Presence in History (New York: NYU) 1982 To Mend the World (New York: Schocken) 1992 German Philosophy and Jewish Thought (Toronto: UT) Friedman, Maurice (1928-) 1981 Martin Buber's Life and Work III Volumes (New York: Elsevier-Dutton) Harris, Monford (1920-) 1992 Exodus & Exile (MN: Fortress Press) Petuchowski, Jakob J. (1925-1991) 1961 Ever Since Sinai (3rd Edition, Arbit, 1979) 1978 Theology and Poetry (Boston: Routledge) 1992 Mein Judesein (Freiberg: Herter) 1998 Studies in Modern Theology and Prayer (Philadelphia: JPS) Schachter, Zalman (Shalomi) (1924-) 1983 The First Step (New York: Bantam) 1993 Paradigm Shift (Northvale: Aronson) 2003 Wrapped in a Holy Flame (New York: Jossey Bass) Schwarzschild, L. Steven (1924-1989) 1960 Franz Rosenzweig (London: Hillel) 1987 Contemporary Jewish Thought (ed. Cohen & Mendes-Flohr, New York: Scribners) 1990 The Pursuit of the Ideal (ed. Kellner, Albany: SUNY) Silberman, Lou (1914-) 1951 Rabbinic Essays by J.Z. Lauterbach, ed. (Cincinnati: HUC) 1969 Concerning Jewish Theology in North America (in AJYB, Philadelphia: JPS) 1976-7 Theology and Philosophy (in HUC-JIR One Hundred Years ed. Karff, Cincinnati: HUC) Wolf, Arnold Jacob 1997 Jewish Spiritual Journeys (ed. with L.A. Hoffman, West Orange: Behrman) 1998 Unfinished Rabbi (Chicago: Ivan Dee)
ARNOLD JACOB WOLF, a contributing editor, is Rabbi Emeritus of K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Congregation in Chicago. Unfinished Rabbi: The Selected Writings of Arnold Jacob Wolf was published by Ivan Dee in 1998. His article, "Perils of P'shat," appeared in the Summer/Fall 2003 issue.
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|Title Annotation:||Current Theological Writing|
|Author:||Wolf, Arnold Jacob|
|Publication:||Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2004|
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