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The Essential Agus

The Writings of Jacob B. Agus

Steven Katz

Publication Year: 1997

Rabbi Jacob Agus' (1911-1986) intellectual production spanned nearly a half century and covered an enormous historical and conceptual range, from the biblical to the modern era. Best known as an important Jewish scholar, he also held important rabbinic, teaching, and public positions. Although born and raised within an orthodox setting, Agus was strongly influenced by American liberalism and his work displayed modernizing sympathies, reservations about nationalism--including some forms of Zionism--and often severe criticisms of kabbalah. Agus crafted a unique, quite American, modernizing vision that ardently sought to remain in touch with the wellsprings of the rabbinic tradition while remaining open to the intellectual and moral currents of his own time.

The Essential Agus brings together a sampling of Agus' most important published and unpublished material in one easily accessible volume. It will be an invaluable resource for students and researchers seeking to experience Agus' intellectual legacy.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Preface

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pp. ix-x

Selectors

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pp. xi-xii

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1. Jacob B. Agus—An Introductory Overview

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pp. 1-36

Jacob Agus (Agushewitz) was born into a distinguished rabbinical family in the month of Heshvan 5671—corresponding to November 2, 1911—in the shtetl of Sislevitch (Swislocz), situated in the Grodno . . .

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Selections

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p. 37-37

THE FOLLOWING SELECTIONS have been chosen by Steven T. Katz and are taken from The Vision and the Way (New York, 1966 . . .

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2. The Ideal Personality

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pp. 39-56

THE ELAN of a religious culture is frequently symbolized in the one or more hero-images that it produces. The hero is the incarnation of the ideal. Greater than life-size, he represents in perfect measure that . . .

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3. Contemporary Issues

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pp. 57-91

LOOKING at the total spectrum of Jewish ethics, one sees that the popular notion, that the Law governs every question in Judaism, is a fallacy. There were indeed times when nearly all creative principles . . .

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4. Neo-Maimonism

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pp. 92-117

THE TERM "Neo-Maimonism" is coined in the same manner and for the same reason as the well-known designations—Neo-Aristotelianism, Neo-Platonism, Neo-Thomism, Neo-Kantism and Neo-Hegelianism. . . .

Part One. Jacob B. Agus as a Student of Modern Jewish Philosophy

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Selections and Prefatory Remarks

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p. 121-121

FROM 1941, when he published his first book, Modern Philosophies of Judaism (originally his Harvard Ph.D. dissertation), until the end of his life, Jacob Agus continually wrestled with and reflected on modern . . .

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5. The Common Core of Modern Jewish Philosophy

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pp. 123-143

HAVING SCRUTINIZED in detail the philosophies of Cohen, R o - senzweig, Buber and Kaplan, we turn now to the task of obtaining the necessary perspective in which they may be viewed as a whole. There is . . .

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6. The Nearness of God

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pp. 144-168

CHIEF RABBI KUK was essentially a mystic. His claim that "man is by nature a mystic"x may or may not be applicable to the generality of mankind, but it was certainly an accurate reflection of his own state of . . .

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7. Rav Kuk, An Appreciation

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pp. 169-175

IT IS STILL too early to essay an estimate of Kuks place in the history of Jewish life and thought. As these lines are being written, ten years after his death, some of his manuscript material is still unpublished and . . .

Part Two. Jacob B. Agus as a Student of Medieval Jewish Philosophy Aand Mysticism

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Selections and Prefatory Remarks

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p. 179-179

RABBI AGUS was a lifelong and informed student of medieval Jewish thought in both its philosophical and mystical modes. Though an ardent admirer of the former and a severe critic of the latter, he wrote . . .

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8. The Rise of Jewish Rationalism

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pp. 181-191

HAVING ESTABLISHED the validity of the general belief in prophecy, Maimonides proceeded to reassert the Orthodox dogma that only the Torah of Moses could be regarded as true revelation. Many Jewish . . .

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9. The Qabbalah

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pp. 192-206

IT WAS in the eighties of the thirteenth century that the classic text of Qabbalistic literature, the Zohar, appeared. The scholar, Rabbi Moses de Leon, is now presumed to have written the major portion of the . . .

Part Three. Jacob B. Agus and Jewish-Christian Dialogue: A View from the Christian Side

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Selections and Prefatory Remarks

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p. 209-209

DEEPLY SENSITIVE to the inseparable historical and theological connections between Judaism and Christianity, and well aware of the evils that Christian anti-Semitism had legitimated, Rabbi Agus was an . . .

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10. Judaism and the New Testament

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pp. 211-231

FATHER FLOROVSKY summed up the challenge of an interfaith dialogue in these well-chosen words—"It is delicate and painful, but not hopeless." The subject of this paper illustrates the aptness of his . . .

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11. Perspectives for the Study of the Book of Acts

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pp. 232-242

THE FAITH and career of Paul are generally regarded as marking the tragic break between Judaism and Christianity. While many Jewish scholars maintain that Jesus lived and taught within the ambience of . . .

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12. A New Kind of Christian-Jewish Disputation

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pp. 243-280

EVER SINCE Christianity was born, a dialogue has been under way between its followers and the defenders of Judaism. Since both Jews and Christians interpreted every aspect of life in terms of their respective . . .

Part Four. Jacob Agus' Ideology of American Judaism: American Jews or Jewish Americans?

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Selections and Prefatory Remarks

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p. 283-283

RABBI AGUS was an admirer of the United States and an ardent advocate of Jewish participation in all facets of American life. He was, of course, not unaware of the challenge such participation posed to the . . .

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13. Who We Are

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pp. 285-295

EVERY HISTORIC community establishes its specific character by reflecting on three aspects of its life—its self-image, its attitude to the universal values of culture and religion, its posture toward other groups . . .

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14. Assimilation, Integration, Segregation: The Road to the Future

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pp. 296-313

IN OUR FAST-MOVING world one must be inordinately clairvoyant or narrowly fanatical to risk any predictions concerning the future. The Jewish situation anywhere in the world is always sensitive to a variety of . . .

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15. Jewish Self-Image in the Postwar World

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pp. 314-344

IN THEIR STRUGGLE for the fullness of emancipation, the Jews relied most heavily on the help of liberals and they redefined their identity in terms of individual freedom. The ideals and the temper of . . .

Part Five. The Concept of God in Jacob Agus' Theology

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Selection and Prefatory Remarks

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p. 347-347

A KEEN STUDENT of theology, Rabbi Agus was sensitive to the criticisms raised against traditional notions of God. In response, he attempted to think through for himself the complex issues connected . . .

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16. The Idea of God

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pp. 349-368

THERE IS NOTHING that we do or think which does not in some way impinge upon the idea of God. For this idea is the most fundamental and all-embracing of concepts in the range of thought. How then . . .

Part Six. Jacob B. Agus on the Meaning of Jewish History and Experience

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Selections and Prefatory Remarks

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p. 371-371

THE ISSUE OF JEWISH identity, involving the perennial questions of what it means to be a Jew, especially in our time (i.e., after the Holocaust), the rebirth of the State of Israel, and the remarkable growth of . . .

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17. Epilogue to the Evolution of Jewish Thought

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pp. 373-397

THE EMANCIPATION of the Jews of western Europe, proceeding apace from the first decade of the nineteenth century, brought the individual Jew to the fore, liberating him from the pressure of enforced . . .

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18. The Concept of Israel

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pp. 398-446

ISRAEL IS AT ONCE the name of a people, a state, a religious community, and an ethereal ideal. A certain ambiguity characterized the term "Israel" from the very beginning. Jacob s name was changed to . . .

Part Seven. Jacob B. Agus and the Conservative Movement

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Selections and Prefatory Remarks

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p. 449-449

FOR FOUR DECADES Rabbi Agus was an active presence within the Conservative movement. In addition to his work on the movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, he served, among other . . .

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19. Reevaluation of the "Responsum on the Sabbath"

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pp. 451-457

AN EVALUATION of the actual consequences of any one decision by the Law Committee is exceedingly difficult. Its positive impact in the direction of a reacceptance of a Sabbath synagogue attendance program has been counteracted by several factors. . . .

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20. Birth Control: A Dissent

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pp. 458-459

I DISSENT from the line of reasoning pursued in this responsum. It is forced, contrived, inconclusive, and beside the point. It does not deal, . . .

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21. Law in Conservative Judaism

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pp. 460-469

THE CONCEPTION of revelation, outlined in the first part of this essay, has many points of contact with the opinions and judgments of diverse philosophic luminaries in the past. However, we do not lay . . .

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22. A Theological Foundation for the Halachah

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pp. 470-478

A PHILOSOPHY of Halachah is an integral portion of one's worldview in general. At least, it is so in my case. I beg the reader s indulgence for the outline form of exposition, which necessarily raises more . . .

Part Eight. Jewish Law as Standards

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Selection and Prefatory Remarks

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p. 481-481

GIVEN HIS TRADITIONAL talmudic training and extensive talmudic erudition, aligned with his sense that the halakah (Jewish law) required some modification to be meaningful in our time, it is not . . .

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23. The Conservative Movement

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pp. 483-523

In point of organization and the official crystallization of ideology, the Conservative group is the most recent alignment on the American scene. While the Jewish Theological Seminary, the focal point of the . . .

Part Nine. Jacob B. Agus as Pulpit Rabbi

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Selections and Prefatory Remarks

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p. 527-527

RABBI AGUS made his career as a communal rabbi first in Chicago, then in Dayton, Ohio, and then for more than thirty years in Baltimore at Congregation Beth El. The role of communal rabbi was one that he . . .

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24. Religion and Nationalism

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pp. 529-548

ANYONE WHO SETS out to study the history of the Jew concludes very soon that at all times the factors of both nationalism and religion were involved in the makeup of the Jewish community. Whether the . . .

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25. The Covenant Concept—Particularistic, Pluralistic, or Futuristic?

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pp. 549-565

IN A DRAFT STATEMENT by a group of rabbis attending an interfaith seminar, the following sentence occurred: "It must be emphasized that the traditional Jew cannot conceive of God entering into a . . .

Bibliography of the Works of Jacob B. Agus

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pp. 566-573


E-ISBN-13: 9780814763551
E-ISBN-10: 0814763553
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814746929
Print-ISBN-10: 0814746926

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 1997