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Radical Judaism: Rethinking God and Tradition by Art Green (review)

From: Conservative Judaism
Volume 65, Numbers 1-2, Fall-Winter 2013-2014
pp. 107-115 | 10.1353/coj.2013.0039

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Perhaps fifteen years ago, as a young seeker, I read and was deeply impacted by Art Green’s Seek My Face, Speak My Name. Now, still a seeker like the author, I have had the pleasure to explore Rabbi Green’s latest work, Radical Judaism: a rethinking, in Green’s words, of God and tradition.

Green begins by reasserting the theological centrality of creation, understood by him as origins and evolution (p. 16). Neither denying nor ignoring evolution and the modernist challenge it posed to religion, Green reframes evolution as a meaningful process which is neither random nor the simplistic outcome of “intelligent design,” but rather “the result of an inbuilt movement within the whole of being, the underlying dynamis of existence striving to be manifest ever more fully in minds that it brings forth and inhabits, through the emergence of increasingly complex and reflective selves” (p. 21). This movement takes place not only biologically but also in the evolution of understandings of God, the opening of the human heart, and the development of moral behavior (pp. 28–29).

Less creation than unfolding, more kabbalistic than rabbinic, evolution is not the product or creature of God, but rather the very self-manifestation and self-garbing of divinity. This divinity is the One, as Green names it, or simply Being, the inner force of existence (pp. 25, 17–19). The supernatural then “resides wholly within the natural”; God is the very “underlying reality of being” and the “One . . . behind the many” (pp. 22, 99).

This religious interpretation of scientific theory is a reaffirmation of the centrality of myth in theology, “an act of mythopoetic transformation, a remythologization of the cosmos for our postmodern age” (p. 33). Such a remythologization is not without its dangers, Green warns, as the use of myth by Nazis, religious fundamentalists, and others demonstrates (p. 104). But we will not go wrong, he claims, if we make the litmus test of myth the universal vision and values that such myth ultimately means to champion (p. 105). Myth should hearken back to the great stories that unite us all (such as evolution), while any myth that divides out part of the One and takes it for the whole (idolatry and racism, for example) loses its legitimacy (p. 105).

Yet this One, the very essence of all that is and all that we are, is yet an other, and most especially a lover, the monotheistic God who loses His divine erotic partner and turns to us instead (pp. 54–49). Here monism and theism cohabitate. At times it seems that theism is simply a means to monism, allowing Green to claim that “the God who is the object of our love, precisely because we bring ourselves forward in that love with such openheartedness and vulnerability, is the One who can lead us beyond the duality that ‘I love you’ implies, toward that place where there is only One” (p. 75). At other times the otherness of God seems more significant, as in Green’s affirmation that there is still a God who seeks us out, that there is still a God who needs us and desires our partnership and who makes demands upon us (pp. 158–159). Yet ultimately it is the monistic God that is central for Green. His theology is “mystical-panentheist, using personalist metaphors” but ultimately not bound to them (p. 159).

This God is expressed through Torah. Yet to hear that expression requires a re-appropriation of Torah different from both modern and pre-modern approaches. Affirming the critical tools and historical scholarship of modernity while eschewing modernity’s straitjacket of constant critical distance and a solely literal conception of truth, Green champions a post-modern intimacy with the text that produces readings that are “poetic attempts to reinvigorate our spiritual lives through a contemporary remythologization of Judaism” (p. 84). This reading is no longer based on a metaphysic of divine origin, but rather on a postmodern appreciation of the multiplicity inherent in the text and our role as readers in giving voice to that multiplicity (pp. 116–117).

What then of the mitzvot, the commandments that the Torah contains? They are human responses to...


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