- A Touch of the Sacred: A Theologian's Informal Guide to Jewish Belief
A Touch of the Sacred: A Theologian's Informal Guide to Jewish Belief is a pleasure to take in, both intellectually and spiritually. It succeeds as a serious and accessible work that dances between the world of belief and the world of reason. The authors accomplish this with humility and brevity, which is part of the appeal of the book.
Eugene Borowitz is the Sigmund L. Falk Distinguished Professor of Education and Jewish Religious Thought at HUC-JIR in New York, where he has been on faculty since 1962. He is also the founding editor of Sh'ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility. Frances Weinman Schwartz, who received her MA in Judaic Studies from HUC-JIR, is an educator and author whose area of expertise is adult Jewish learning. This work is a second collaboration between Dr. Borowitz and Ms. Schwartz, after The Jewish Moral Virtues (Jewish Publication Society, 1999). Both Borowitz and Schwartz are committed to the serious exploration of the responsibility of modern liberal Jews to be equally committed to individual autonomy and a covenant with God, Torah, and Israel.
The book is constructed for the reader's easy access. It is organized as a collection of brief essays, each in response to issues of theology, action, community, text, sanctity, and philosophy. Written in first person singular, the essays feature the ideas of Dr. Borowitz, "shaped and nurtured" (so noted in the Introduction) by Ms. Schwartz. The essays need not be read in any particular order, yet they do an excellent job of articulating the foundational beliefs of two deeply religious, non-Orthodox Jews. The information and ideas presented cross all denominational lines. The book would be a welcome addition to the library of anyone who has ever heard, bristled at, been embarrassed by, or even secretly harbored the worn out stereotypical view of the liberal Jew as less knowledgeable, less serious, less committed, or less "religious." It dispels the myth that theological challenges are not faced by all Jews today. In the academic Jewish world that often makes light of spirituality as a new-age phenomenon, this publication also unapologetically accepts and applauds the spiritual perspective as an important element of any serious attempt to articulate one's religious views.
Dr. Borowitz frequently reminds the reader that his views are simply his views—based on years of study and thought, of course—but the theology and opinion of one person all the same. At the same time, he reminds the reader what is at stake here: deep, significant questions. What difference do our beliefs make? What we believe shapes our individual lives and the substance of our work and our world. In words that have been attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, "it behooves us to be careful what we worship. For what we are worshipping, we are becoming."
The questions posed by the essays are not easy ones: How do we base our [End Page 86] actions on what God wants while being unable to articulate exactly what God is? What are today's answers to yesterday's fundamental questions of behavior, halakhah, and communal obligation? What is the nature of the partnership between God and humanity? The answers to these and other challenges speak to clergy and laity alike. While neither Dr. Borowitz nor Ms. Schwartz has particularly kabbalistic leanings, a compelling leadership model is illuminated through the use of Isaac Luria's ideas about tzimtzum, sh'virah, and tikkun. Interfaith dialogue is presented as a "messianic imperative." Both authors are zealous concerning the role of ethics and community responsibility in the lives of today's liberal Jews.
While Dr. Borowitz and Ms. Schwartz are consistent in their use of text and history as foundational to their beliefs, and are clearly guided by yesterday's wisdom, they do not allow it to dictate today's faith. They are also clear that their views stem, as do most of the arguments between...