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Preface Ira F. Stone A Confession and Apologia This book is made up of three separate parts, essentially, three separate books. The first is the classic text known as Mesillat Yesharim, written by Rabbi Moses Hayyim Luzzatto Ramchal and published in 1740. The second is the English translation of Mesillat Yesharim by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, published in 1936 by The Jewish Publication Society. The third is my own introduction to Kaplan’s translation and my commentary on Luzzatto’s classic, published here for the first time. The presence of these three textual layers is obvious from the title page and needs no further comment. However, what is absent from the title page, and what I want to introduce here, is the fact that my commentary constitutes the mature statement of my own theology, developed over the course of a career as an active pulpit rabbi and as a teacher both of lay adults and rabbinic students at The Jewish Theological Seminary and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. The elements of that theology are arrayed throughout the course of my commentary, and they too require no prefatory remarks. What does require an opening explanation, however, is my surprising choice of unfolding a personal theology through the medium of a commentary on a classic Jewish text. Although this mode of writing theology is no longer common, especially in the liberal Jewish community, this was the principal mode of writing theology for many centuries of Jewish history. While important expository works of Jewish theology, such as Guide for the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides, were certainly written and published in premodern times, they did not predominate. Accordingly, a great deal of Jewish theology must be gleaned from myriad Rabbinic commentaries on the Torah, such as those by Rashi and Ibn Ezra, and from commentaries on compendia of Jewish law, such as those by Rabbi Moses Isserles, which themselves are extensions of early Rabbinic literary and philosophic practice that began with the great collections of Midrash and commentary, culminating in the Talmud. h ix I have previously presented my theology in relatively discursive works: Seeking the Path to Life (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1993), Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud (The Jewish Publication Society, 1995), and A Responsible Life (Aviv Press, 2006). However, these books are not conventionally systematic in their theological presentations . The first book consists of poetic meditations; the second two include significant sections of textual commentary. Only in the present book is the reader required to work systematically through the commentary in order to understand the full flowering of my theology, which I offer here as a compelling one for contemporary , post-Holocaust, post-Enlightenment Jews. The “work” of discovering this theology, both for me and for the reader, requires an engagement not only with our own thinking in our own moment of history, but also with the cumulative Jewish tradition enfolded within the text of this quintessential expositor of the classic Jewish tradition, Rabbi Moses Hayyim Luzzatto, who was a master not only of the rabbinic tradition, but of the kabbalistic tradition as well. Importantly, he was also at home in the secular culture of his time, which provided him with yet another lens through which to adumbrate earlier tradition. Thus, I am advocating in this volume not only for my own theology, but also for a return by contemporary Jews to the form of Jewish theology that has generated so much of our cultural creativity throughout the centuries. Both the process of writing theology and the process of reading it in this mode demand a good deal from us. As readers we cannot grasp the substance of such a work simply by looking at the table of contents or by sampling a few pages. Rather, the theology must be assimilated as it was conceived, in ways unanticipated by the author, in ongoing response to the main text. Surprising challenges in that text invariably force the commentator to adjust his or her own thinking. So, for instance, where I ended up at the end of chapter 26 of Mesillat Yesharim was not exactly where I anticipated ending up when I first began. However, I am eternally grateful for the surprises I encountered on my journey and for the eventual destination. Without the text’s prodding, I would never have developed the theology that I now fully embrace. I invite you to take this journey with me, to make it your journey, allowing Mesillat Yesharim and my commentary to equally guide and goad you. Although we...


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