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Studies in the Meaning of Judaism (JPS Scholar of Distinction Series)

Authored by Eugene B. Borowitz

Publication Year: 2002

Noted educator, author, and speaker Eugene Borowitz delivers the fruits of his scholarship with grace in this new addition to the JPS Scholar of Distinction series. Gathered in this single volume are 33 essays covering the themes of modern Jewish theology, education, the history of Reform Judaism in America, Jewish law, ethics, and religious dialogue. This collection will appeal to a wide audience, including rabbis; scholars; and readers of religion, modern Jewish thought, and liturgy.

Published by: Jewish Publication Society

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Contents

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pp. ix-x

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiii

Every book comes to its public because many unheralded hands abetted the author’s intentions, and this work, gathered from many places, certainly demonstrates that. In the half-century span of these papers, the names of many who were instrumental in their publication have now slipped from active memory. I can only thank them now by this blanket ...

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Preface

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pp. xv-xvii

In most academic disciplines, the balance between accepted method and individual creativity is weighted heavily toward the accepted ways of doing things. The researcher’s special insight expresses itself largely in finding new modes of applying the established methodology, or finding new materials that merit consideration, or some other productive ...

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A GLIMPSE: WHEN AGNOSTICISM AND RATIONALISM COULD NO LONGER GROUND OUR VALUES

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pp. 1-5

Perhaps the most direct impetus to thinking is dissatisfaction with someone else’s statement of the way things are or ought to be. Young writers generally claim a place in intellectual discussion by their critiques of certain established figures in their field. What passed for Jewish theological thinking at mid-century was generally a watered-down version of ...

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1 / Theological Conference Cincinnati, 1950: Reform Judaism’s Fresh Awareness of Religious Problems

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pp. 7-16

If the purpose of the Institute on Reform Jewish Theology, held at the Hebrew Union College on March 20–22, was to formulate a declaration of belief, then it was a failure. The general as well as the Jewish press had carried stories declaring this to be its aim, and the American Jewish community is accustomed to seeing all assemblies of more than two persons bring forth some ...

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2 / Creating Commitment in Our Religious Schools

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pp. 17-30

It is a sign both of some modest success in Jewish education and of some emerging maturity in the ranks of Reform Jewry that we can devote ourselves to this particular problem: the creation of commitment in our religious schools. ...

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3 / The Idea of God

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pp. 31-46

Our genial chairman has with most uncharacteristic severity insisted that this paper must not extend ledor vador, from generation to generation, nor to netzach netzachim, from eternity to eternity, nor even leolam vaed, forever and ever, but must end in forty-five minutes. Under the circumstances, then, I am grateful that his kind invitation was not to speak to ...

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4 / Existentialism’s Meaning for Judaism: A Contemporary Midrash

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pp. 47-57

Why has existentialism had so little impact upon the leaders of American Jewry? The educators and social workers move in another philosophic universe entirely. The laity is barely conscious of its existence— as it is barely conscious of philosophy in general—though it occasionally manages to recognize some such name as Franz ...

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5 / Crisis Theology and the Jewish Community

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pp. 59-68

A dozen years have passed since Irving Kristol, in a savage critique of Milton Steinberg’s Basic Judaism,1 sought to demonstrate that Jewish thought in America was powerless to answer the great questions—questions about man and his condition, about destiny and the meaning of history— that the war had raised in the troubled minds of so many ...

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6 / Faith and Method in Modern Jewish Theology

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pp. 69-84

My assignment this morning is to discuss the role of faith in modern Jewish theology. In this context, faith may have three separate though related meanings: faith as commitment to action, faith as commitment to content, and mostly, faith as commitment to a beginning. Each level of definition has its particular implications for theological method and ...

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7 / Creative Worship in the Computer Age

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pp. 85-88

Fifteen years have passed since creative worship was introduced to Reform Jewish Youth at the first NFTY National Leadership Institutes. Much good has come from the notion that services should be designed by the worshippers themselves, based on their present needs and utilizing all relevant materials, not just the prayerbook. By this direct appeal ...

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8 / Why We Went: A Joint Letter from the Rabbis Arrested in St. Augustine

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pp. 89-93

Dear Friend: St. Augustine is the oldest city in the United States. It was here on St. Augustine’s Day, August 28, 1565, that Pedro Menendez de Aviles first sighted land. In 1965 it will celebrate its 400th anniversary— indeed it has requested federal funds to enhance this historic observance. St. Augustine has other distinguishing characteristics. ...

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A TRACK: LEADING ON FROM GOD, THE GROUND OF OUR VALUES

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pp. 95-100

In the near twenty years spanned in this section, the fruit and ultimate inadequacy of my early existentialist approach to Jewish theology manifested themselves. Having a fresh standpoint and becoming a full-time professor empowered me to publish four books in the late 1960s. The first, A Layman’s Introduction to Religious Existentialism (number 71 in the bibliography) set Jewish existentialism alongside its more ...

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9 / On Celebrating Sinai

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pp. 101-114

The past century and a half of Reform Jewish thought should have taught us, it seems to me, that observances remain more meaningful than our analyses of them can disclose. Liturgy and ritual are a significant language of their own and not merely a primitive substitute for the philosopher or social scientist or theologian’s self-consciousness. ...

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10 / The Problem of the Form of a Jewish Theology

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pp. 115-131

Methodological problems have been the concern of Jewish theologians only in recent years. Other than holding sporadic discussions of the place of dogma in Judaism, thinkers of previous generations seemed to take the initial steps and dominating principles of their work for granted. In contemporary Jewish thought as in almost all other humanistic fields ...

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11 / The Postsecular Situation of Jewish Theology

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pp. 133-148

Simply to report the situation I discern in contemporary Jewish theology often leads to grave problems in communication; for in considerable measure it is taking a direction substantially opposed to that of contemporary temporary Protestant thought and at even further variance from most Roman Catholic thought. Hence I believe it to be almost as important to set ...

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12 / Education Is Not I-Thou

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pp. 149-156

Five years ago, perhaps four, our problem was whether we could still be religious. William Hamilton assured us that the only religious experience moderns could have was of the absence of God, and Harvey Cox defined secular man as one utterly shut off from the sense of the numinous. Religious educators somehow managed to survive, in part because the ...

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13 / Tzimtzum: A Mystic Model for Contemporary Leadership

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pp. 157-170

If sex was another generation’s “dirty little secret,” as D. H. Lawrence termed it, surely ours is power. Now that we can admit we bear this primal lust, we see it operating everywhere, often more decisively than money, class, conditioning, genetics or the other usual determinants of behavior. The “purest” relationships reveal a political structure. In sex ...

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14 / A Jewish Response: The Lure and Limits of Universalizing Our Faith

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pp. 171-178

Traditional Judaism has a reasonably well-defined attitude to non-Jewish religions. The Torah describes God as making a covenant with Noah and thus, through Noah and his children, with all of humanity. The rabbis made this covenant the basis of their authoritative rulings about the religious status of non-Jews. They and all the Judaism that flowed from them ...

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15 / The Authority of the Ethical Impulse in Halakhah

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pp. 179-191

A good deal of attention has been given to the turn to Jewish tradition among those who at one time identified the essence of Judaism with universal human ethics. With the loss of confidence in the authority of Western civilization, the possibility arose that classic Jewish teaching might be the best guide to the good life.1 The question is then often ...

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16 / Recent Historic Events: Jewish and Christian Interpretations

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pp. 193-213

Several discussions about my book on contemporary Christologies1 suggested to me that I occupy an uncommon situation in the field of contemporary Jewish thought. Most of my professional colleagues are philosophers, specializing in the medieval Jewish or modern general areas. I am one of a tiny number identifying themselves as Jewish theologians ...

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17 / The Autonomous Jewish Self

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pp. 215-233

Questioners commonly challenge me with a Jewish version of the fallacy of misplaced confidence. For generations now, liberal Jews have made Western culture their surrogate for Torah—with disastrous results. While one might have accepted some Jewish sacrifice as the necessary accompaniment of a seismic shift to living in a new and better world, thinking ...

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A WAY: THE POSTMODERN EXPLICATION OF JEWISH SELFHOOD

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pp. 235-240

Insight may open up the past in new ways, but it does not thereby go on to become a creative force generating a fresh way of restructuring how we think. It was one thing for me to realize that individualistically founded thought would inevitably fail to appreciate the full social dimension of human responsibility. It was quite another thing to create a way ...

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18 / Hillul Hashem: A Universal Rubric in the Halakhah

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pp. 241-253

The need to rethink the theory of modern Jewish ethics arises from the loss of the meaning the liberals assigned to the words “Jewish” and “ethics.” For Hermann Cohen and the many who utilized his ideas, the neo-Kantian definition of ethics determined the meaning of the word “Jewish.” Today, the several competing versions of philosophic ethics all ...

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19 / The Ideal Jew

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pp. 255-273

In this lecture I should like to pay tribute to the memories of two scholars who, in different ways, contributed to my intellectual growth. The one was Fritz Bamberger, Assistant to the President of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who, while teaching modern Jewish thought at our school, exemplified much of the best of pre- Hitlerian German Jewry. ...

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20 / The Critical Issue in the Quest for Social Justice: A Jewish View

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pp. 275-288

Though esteeming highly the spiritual worth of the individual, the Bible authors give priority to the corporate human relationship with God. I would speculate that they do so largely because they view humankind as essentially social. Looking at Adam, they have Adonoi say, “It is not good for man to be alone: I will make a fitting helpmate for him.”1 And the tower of Babel story ...

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21 / The Blessing over a Change of Wine: A Study in the Development of a Jewish Law Published in Honor of the Eightieth Birthday of Nathaniel E. Hess

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pp. 289-315

Wine had a special place in Jewish lives as far back as our records go. The Bible refers to it more than several hundred times; only water is mentioned as a beverage more frequently. Most of these biblical references celebrate the joy or esteem of wine, though not a few passages also call attention to its dangers. For all that, the well-known Jewish practice ...

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22 / Co-Existing with Orthodox Jews

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pp. 317-326

Orthodox spokesmen have often proposed a simple solution to the problem of Jewish unity. They suggest that, since we Progressive Jews adapt to so much else in the modern world, we agree for the sake of Jewish unity to accept classic Jewish law in all matters related to Jewish identity. The analogy to kashrut serves as a paradigm for this argument. “You ...

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23 / Dynamic Sunyata and the God Whose Glory Fills the Universe

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pp. 327-339

My response to Prof. Masao Abe is divided into two disparate yet related sections. The first, though lengthier and theologically more substantive, is intimately, perhaps decisively, related to the second, which is shorter and more practical. ...

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24 / “Please, God, Heal Her, Please”

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pp. 341-349

[The conference began on the day of Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral. As I was the first speaker on the formal program, I began as follows: The Torah says—here I read the text of Genesis 35:28, dealing with Isaac’s death and burial. I continued, Al tikri ken, ela Va-yigva Yitzhak va-yamat, vaye’asef el amav, ve hu lo zaken u-seva yamim, va-yikberu oto edom veyisrael banav. ...

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25 / “Im ba’et, eyma”—Since You Object, Let Me Put It This Way

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pp. 351-374

All authors hope someone reads them and finds their work engaging. And they dream of having insightful, accomplished people so taken with their effort that they will then want to write about it. Having learned and benefited for years from the work of the friends whose response to Renewing the Covenant is presented here, [in Reviewing the Covenant: ...

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A PAUSE: TO LOOK BACK BEFORE MOVING ON

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pp. 375-378

I have not often taken much time to think about my life and its development. My personal and intellectual life have generally been so full of activities and projects that my thinking has been mostly present- and future-oriented. Had it not been for two most flattering invitations, I should have stayed far away from autobiography, even in the restricted ...

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26 / A Life of Jewish Learning: In Search of a Theology of Judaism

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pp. 379-414

Bob Seltzer and I first encountered each other half a century ago at his family’s St. Louis synagogue. Newly hatched from rabbinical school, I was the assistant rabbi there, and, as was typical in those days, I had been asked to start and run a youth group. Bob was a member of that highschool- age group and I remember him as bright, sensitive and somewhat ...

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27 / “Halakhah” in Reform Jewish Usage: Historic Background and Current Discourse

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pp. 415-433

Reform Judaism equally espouses freedom and tradition. In recent decades, as freedom has appeared to overstep its proper bounds, Reform Jews have increasingly used the term “halakhah,” Jewish law, in their efforts to redress the balance between their movement’s central affirmations. 1 This effort has been complicated, I believe, by a failure to distinguish between the four major shades of meaning given the term. ...

Glossary

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pp. 435-442

Bibliography of the Writings of Eugene B. Borowitz

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pp. 443-465

Index

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pp. 467-473


E-ISBN-13: 9780827609983
Print-ISBN-13: 9780827607217

Publication Year: 2002