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It is history that provides the key to an understanding of Judaism, for its primal affirmations appear in early historical narratives. Thus, the Bible reports contemporary events and activities for essentially religious reasons. The biblical authors believed that the divine presence is encountered primarily within history. Although other ancient communities also perceived a divine presence in history, the understanding of the ancient Israelites proved to be the most lasting and influential. The people of Israel believed that their response to the divine presence in history was central not only for themselves but for all humankind.

Furthermore, God—as person—had revealed in a particular encounter the pattern and structure of communal and individual life to this people. Claiming sovereignty over the people because of his continuing action in history on their behalf, he had established a covenant berit with them and required from them obedience to his teaching, or law Torah. This obedience was a further means by which the divine presence was made manifest—expressed in concrete human existence. Even the chosen community failed in its obligation and had to be summoned back, time and again, to its responsibility by the prophets—the divinely called spokespersons who warned of retribution within history and argued and reargued the case for affirmative human response.

In nearly 4, years of historical development, the Jewish people and their religion have displayed a remarkable adaptability and continuity. In their encounter with the great civilizations, from ancient Babylonia and Egypt to Western Christendom and modern secular culture, they have assimilated foreign elements and integrated them into their own social and religious systems, thus maintaining an unbroken religious and cultural tradition.

Furthermore, each period of Jewish history has left behind it a specific element of a Judaic heritage that continued to influence subsequent developments, so that the total Jewish heritage at any given time is a combination of all these successive elements along with whatever adjustments and accretions have occurred in each new age.

The various teachings of Judaism have often been regarded as specifications of the central idea of monotheism. One God, the creator of the world, has freely elected the Jewish people for a unique covenantal relationship with himself. This one and only God has been affirmed by virtually all professing Jews in a variety of ways throughout the ages.

Jewish monotheism has had both universalistic and particularistic features. Along universal lines, it has affirmed a God who created and rules the entire world and who at the end of history will redeem all Israel the classical name for the Jewish people , all humankind, and indeed the whole world. This proposition was compatible with the presuppositions of Reform Judaism , which also shared the assumption that Judaism had made a decisive contribution to the historically unfolding spirit of Europe.

The proponents of religious reform naturally supported Wissenschaft des Judentums. One of the founding proponents of Reform Judaism in Germany, Abraham Geiger — , was also one of the most outstanding pioneers of Wissenschaft des Judentums. Critical historical scholarship, he maintained, would help identify the immanent forces in Jewish tradition sanctifying the change and renewal of Judaism that were deemed necessary by the advocates of reform.

Implicitly adopting the Hegelian principle that history is the progressive revelation of the divine truth, Geiger presented the study of history as an alternative to talmud Torah study of Torah as the Jew's mode of reflecting on God's will. Orthodox leaders, even those who supported to some degree the Jews' entry into the modern world, objected strenuously to what they perceived to be the historicist bias of Wissenschaft des Judentums. The founder of Neo-Orthodoxy in Germany, Samson Raphael Hirsch — bitterly remarked that the tendency of Wissenschaft des Judentums to compare Judaism to other historical phenomena — "Moses and Hesiod, David and Sappho" — in effect reduced Judaism to a "human and transitory [fact] of a by-gone age" cited in Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz, , p.

Similarly, the Italian Jewish religious philosopher Samuel David Luzzatto — plaintively observed with reference to the the votaries of Wissenschaft des Judentums , "They study ancient Israel the way the other scholars study ancient Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Persia" cited in Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz, , p. Luzzatto, although Orthodox, was a prolific author of scholarly studies of Judaism; nonetheless, he held that Wissenschaft des Judentums "must be grounded in faith" — as such it will "seek to understand the Torah and the prophets as the Word of God, [and] comprehend how, throughout our history, the spirit of God, which is our nation's inheritance, warred with the human spirit" cited in Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz, , p.

Luzzatto's indictment of Wissenschaft des Judentums for its historicist bias may have been somewhat overstated, for the early scholars of Wissenschaft des Judentums were, in truth, not utterly devoid of the existential religious commitment that he called for. Nonetheless, the thrust of Wissenschaft des Judentums was largely philological and antiquarian, and its methodological assumptions unequivocally conformed to a historicist mold which in the twentieth century, Jewish studies would seek to break.

Krochmal, who lived in the politically and socially conservative Austrian provience of Galicia where emancipation and religious reform were remote prospects, published a monumental treatise in Hebrew on the challenge posed to Judaism by critical historical research. This work, published posthumously in , was indicatively titled Moreh nevukhei ha-zeman Guide of the perplexed of our time.

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The reference in the title to the perplexed of our lit. Krochmal begins his treatise with the observation that Jewish youths are genuinely perplexed by the results of critical scholarship that cast doubt on the traditional view of events and, particularly, on the traditional view of the sacred texts, their composition, and, therefore, their authority. An observant Jew, Krochmal noted that the faith of these youths will surely not be fortified by an obscurantist response; the enjoining of dogma in the face of the fruits of scholarship would only exacerbate the estrangement of these youths.

Faith, as Maimonides in his day indicated, must be allied with reason; now, Krochmal argued, faith must also be grounded in a proper philosophical understanding of history. With a few notable exceptions e. Even among those thinkers whose primary concern was to develop via Hegel and Schelling a philosophy of Jewish history, one discerns an attempt to come to terms with Kant's critique of Judaism as a heteronomous pseudoreligion. Nineteenth-century thinkers associated with every tendency in modern Judaism from Reform to Neo-Orthodoxy shared a conviction that the faith of Israel properly understood actually promotes ethical piety.

Even Luzzatto, a staunch traditionalist who expressly rejected the very premises of Kant's ethical rationalism, argued that Judaism is fundamentally a religion of moral sentiment. Samson Raphael Hirsch developed an elaborate exegesis of the traditional precepts of Judaism, the mitsvot commandments , demonstrating how each in its distinctive manner fosters the development of moral consciousness.

Moritz Lazarus — , a professor at the University of Berlin from and prominent lay leader of Liberal Judaism in Germany, devoted numerous essays and a two-volume study, Die Ethik des Judentums The ethics of Judaism; — , to a systematic demonstration of Judaism's inherent compatibility with Kant's conception of morality. With respect to the psychological study of Judaism, he proposed an examination of the literary sources of classical Judaism as they most faithfully record the will, intent, and way of life of the Jews.

By insisting that only on the basis of such a study could Judaism be properly characterized, Lazarus abjured the speculative approach of Formstecher and Samuel Hirsch. He introduced Kantian categories not as speculative presuppositions of his study but merely as heuristic principles that to his mind best organize and elucidate the empirical structure of Judaism and help illuminate the objective unity of its ethical structure.

Lazarus maintained that such a study demonstrates that Judaism in effect is a system of autonomous ethics; specifically, the rites and values of Judaism foster the development of what Kant celebrated as moral consciousness. The ethical piety engendered by Judaism may be best characterized as "holiness" — a quality of life that bespeaks neither a numinous nor a transcendent reality but, rather, the indomitable conviction that a moral life is the ultimate meaning and purpose of existence.

To Lazarus's profound disappointment, his Ethics of Judaism was severely criticized by the generation's foremost Kantian philosopher, Hermann Cohen — , the founder of the Marburg school of neo-Kantianism. Cohen faulted Lazarus for locating the source of Judaism's ethical teachings in the Jewish "folk-soul. Ethics must derive its validity from rational, universal concepts. What renders Jewish ethics interesting, Cohen contends, is its distinctive dependence on the concept of a universal, unique God — and not just as a phantasm of the Jewish folk-soul but as a rationally defensible concept.

Like Lazarus, Cohen was prominently associated with Liberal Judaism, especially in his latter years, and he also sought to demonstrate the fundamental compatibility of Judaism with Kant's ethical idealism. Interpreting the master's teachings in a somewhat novel fashion, Cohen understood ethics not as primarily addressing the individual but in its fullest sense as summoning society to the task of molding the future according to the principle of a rationally determined, a priori ought. According to Cohen's most mature conception of faith and ritual, however, religion — in contradistinction to ethics — does not address the individual merely as representative of rational humanity; rather, it appertains to the individual as such, especially through the notion of sin, which Cohen understood as the individual's anguished realization of his or her own moral failings.

This consciousness of sin, Cohen observed, bears the danger that the individual will despair of his or her own moral worth and abandon all subsequent moral effort. The self-estrangement attendant to sin requires the concept of a forbearing God who by the act of forgiveness serves to reintegrate the individual into an ethically committed humanity. The atonement of sin is not effected by God's grace but by the individual, who in acknowledging God's forgiveness becomes rededicated to the moral task.

Religion is thus preeminently a series of acts of atonement — rites and prayers expressing remorse and repentance and focused on the belief in a merciful, forgiving God. To Cohen, the reconciliation between God and humans thus achieved requires, in turn, that God be conceived not as an idea but as a being who relates to the finite, ever-changing world of becoming, of which humans are a part. Despite the fundamental ontological distinction separating them, being and becoming are interrelated through what Cohen called correlation.

God and humans are correlated when the individual cognizant of God's mercy — God's love and concern — personally rededicates to emulating in his or her actions these divine qualities. Cohen spoke of correlation as a shared holiness in which God and humans are coworkers in the work of creation. Cohen set forth these views in his posthumously published volume, Religion der Vernunft aus den Quellen des Judentums , ; translated in as Religion of Reason out of the Sources of Judaism.

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In it he expounds his new conception of religion through a selective exegesis of the sources of classical Judaism in the Bible, the midrash, liturgy, and medieval Jewish philosophy. These traditional expressions of Jewish piety, Cohen avers, exemplify the most refined conception of religion. The emerging portrait of Judaism as a faith of deep, personal significance has suggested to many commentators that Cohen anticipated the existentialist theology characteristic of much of twentieth-century Jewish thought, with its emphasis on the dialogic relation of the individual with a living, personal God.

Cohen, however, continued to speak of the religion of reason, and his God remained the rational God of ethics. And although in a striking revision of his Kantian premises he accorded religion defined by prayer and ritual intrinsic significance, he still did not quite regard it as an utterly independent reality enjoying a unique ontological and epistemological status.


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Although not entirely absorbed into ethics, the religion of reason was for Cohen ultimately ancillary to ethics. Religion — and Judaism in particular — is conceived as an instrument for enhancing moral consciousness i. Despite the fact that Cohen's concept of correlation does indeed outline some important features of twentieth-century religious existentialism, his overarching moral theology renders him more a son of the previous century. Moral reason for Cohen was the heart of religion, and thus not surprisingly he identified it with revelation: "Revelation is the creation of Reason" Religion of Reason , , p.

This identification of reason and revelation was typical of nineteenth-century philosophical idealism. For religious existentialists the point of departure was revelation understood as a metarational category pointing to God's spontaneous and gracious address to the finite human.


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In this respect, the transitional figure from nineteenth- to twentieth-century Jewish thought is not Cohen but the little-known lay scholar Solomon Ludwig Steinheim — A physician by profession, Steinheim was not affiliated with any ideological camp within the Jewish community in his native Germany; indeed, he spent the last twenty years of his life mostly in Rome, isolated from organized Jewish life.

If one views Jewish thought from Mendelssohn to Cohen as a sustained effort to interpret Judaism as a religion of reason par excellence, then Steinheim stands alone in the nineteenth century. In his monumental study Offenbarung nach dem Lehrbegriff der Synagoge Revelation according to the doctrine of the synagogue , Steinheim sought to remove religion from the tutelage of reason, maintaining that religious truths are the gift of supernatural revelation.

Benjamin on Batnitzky, 'How Judaism Became a Religion: An Introduction to Modern Jewish Thought'

Furthermore, the concept of supernatural revelation posits God as the creator who, unbounded by necessity, creates the world freely and out of nothing. As such, revelation confirms the irrefragable human experience of freedom that reason — burdened as it is by the principle of universal necessity perforce — denies. Accordingly, reason must acknowledge the primacy of revelation. In that God is the logical presupposition of revelation, Steinheim observed, the affirmation of the possibility of revelation implicitly reestablishes the dignity and authority of God: "Our task is to present revelation [such that] we are constrained … to accept God.

Therefore, it is for us to make a declaration the exact opposite of Mendelssohn's and to prove the Old Testament was given not to reveal law but the living God" Steinheim, , vol. Revelation, therefore, has a unique epistemic status, and its conceptual content corresponds to the postulates of Kant's moral reason: God, freedom, and immortality. It also follows that for Steinheim not only are these postulates granted in revelation, but that also the categorical imperatives of morality derive their authority from God and revealed will.

Judaism represents the ideal ethical religion, for its moral code is commanded by the living God. Steinheim's conclusions regarding Judaism are hence not unlike those of other nineteenth-century Jewish thinkers; the crucial difference is that, for him, Judaism is a fact of supernatural revelation. Significantly, the philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig — , whose path to Judaism from the midst of assimilation has become emblematic of much of twentieth-century Jewish religious thought, is grounded in his adoption of what he calls Offenbarungsglaube , a belief in revelation as a historical and existential reality.

Such a belief must be the fulcrum of any genuine theology; otherwise, as Rosenzweig observes in his first essay on religious matters, "Atheistic Theology" , but first published after his death , one arrives at the strange anthropocentric brew concocted by the nineteenth century, which by placing religion within the realm of human sensibility alone — be it called spiritual experience, moral consciousness, or national soul — is in effect godless. Theology, he contended, must proceed from the theocentric fact of divine revelation, the fact of God's address to humans.

Rosenzweig developed his understanding of this address on the basis of a radical critique of philosophical idealism, with its quest for universal, timeless, abstract truths. In contrast to the logical reasoning of the philosophers, revelation is in time; it is an occurrence whereby God establishes a relation with specific time-bound individuals. Phenomenologically, this relation is what is celebrated in biblical tradition as love: the divine sounding of "Thou" to the temporally contingent "I" of the individual. God addresses the individual in his or her finite existence, calling each individual, as it were, by his or her "first and last name," which distinguishes each person existentially from all others.

In revelation, the contingent existence of the individual is thus confirmed in love and blessed with the kiss of eternity. Occurring in time, revelation is hence inaccessible to a reason that considers only timeless essences.

The history of Judaism

Yet this conception does not contradict reason but merely delimits its sphere of validity. Properly understood, philosophical reason and faith are complementary. This affirmation of revelation allowed Rosenzweig to discern in Judaism what many of his generation of assimilated German Jews had denied — that Judaism was a theocentric faith of enduring existential significance.

Later, Rosenzweig sought to incorporate into his life and thought more and more extraliturgical aspects of traditional Judaism, from the commandment of keeping a kosher kitchen to that of Torah study. His approach to the mitsvot , however, was distinctive. Unlike Orthodox Jews, he could not accept the mitsvot on the basis of rabbinic authority, for, as he once remarked, "religion based on authority is equal to unbelief" cited in Rosenstock-Huessy, , p.

His approach to the Law, as he explained in a now-famous open letter to Martin Buber — , was to encourage each individual Jew to explore the sacramental and existential possibilities of the mitsvot so as to determine which of these precepts he or she personally feels called on to fulfill. In an article entitled "The Builders: Concerning the Law," Rosenzweig further elaborated his position to Buber with reference to a rabbinic commentary to Isaiah , arguing that humans are not only God's obedient children banayikh but also "Your builders" bonayikh.

As such, every generation has the opportunity — indeed, the task — to re-create for itself the Law Glatzer, , p. Rosenzweig's nondogmatic brand of traditionalism was, and continues to serve as, a guide to many who seek to reappropriate traditional forms of Jewish piety and to affirm Judaism as a relation to a living God. Furthermore, Rosenzweig inspired the serious, nonapologetic theological reflection characteristic of much Jewish religious thought in the twentieth century.

Among those he most decisively inspired was his friend Buber, who emerged as a genuine religious thinker only with the publication of I and Thou Buber's previous writings on spiritual matters, Jewish and otherwise, belonged to a genre of Romantic mysticism that Rosenzweig had in mind when he wrote "Atheistic Theology"; these writings were virtually devoid of any reference to the God of revelation. With his treatise on I — Thou, or dialogic, relations Buber affirmed faith as grounded in the revealed word of God, and in so doing he developed a novel conception of revelation.

For Buber, revelation is homologous with what he called dialogue. God, the Eternal Thou, addresses one through the varied life experiences — from the seemingly ephemeral and trivial to the grand and momentous — that demand a dialogic response, or a confirmation of the Thou, the unique presence, of the other who stands before one. In uttering "Thou" the actual act of speech is superfluous , the self, or I, in turn finds its own presence confirmed.

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As a response to the continuously renewing presence and address of another, dialogue must be born ever anew. The I — Thou response thus requires spontaneity and cannot be determined by fixed expressions, gestures, and formulations.

follow site It also follows that God's address, as being refracted revealed through the addressing presence of the Thou who stands before one likewise, requires such spontaneity. Buber further contends that authentic service to God is found only in such a spontaneous response to the Eternal Thou, who turns to humans through the flux of life's ever-changing circumstances. Although not utterly dismissing prayer and ritual as bearing the possibility of spontaneous and hence authentic relation to God, Buber does not regard them as paradigmatic forms of religious service.

Clearly such a conception of divine revelation conflicts radically with the classical Jewish conception of a historical revelation viz. Furthermore, Buber's antagonism toward liturgical prayer and the mitsvot as the proper form of divine service conflicts not only with tradition but also with all expressions of institutional Jewish religious life.

Acknowledging his anomalous position within Jewish religious thought, Buber insisted that he was not in a formal sense a theologian. He claimed he sought neither to justify revealed propositions about God nor to defend revealed scriptures and doctrine. He simply pointed to dialogue as a meta-ethical principle determining the life responses of an individual, ensuring that these responses will be informed by love and justice and crowned with existential meaning i.

He taught that this principle is at the heart of all great spiritual traditions, but particularly that of Judaism. The concept of dialogue can thus be employed as a hermeneutical principle by which to read the Hebrew Bible and other formative religious texts in the Jewish tradition, such as those of Hasidism. As a particular community of faith, Judaism is, in Buber's view, distinguished by its millennial and clarion witness to the dialogic principle both in its collective memory enshrined in its central myths and sacred texts and, ideally, in its current institutions.

In fact, as a Zionist, Buber held that Jewish religious life in the Diaspora had been falsely restricted to the synagogue and the home, thus losing hold of the founding dialogic principle of Judaism and its comprehensive purview of divine service. By restoring to the Jews the sociological conditions of a full communal life, Zionism allows for the possibility that the Jews' public life, guided by the principle of dialogue, will once again become the essential realm of their relation to God.

The reappropriation of the public sphere as the dialogic responsibility of the community of faith is consonant with the supreme injunction of the prophets of Israel and thus constitutes the renewal of what Buber called Hebrew, or biblical, humanism. Buber's religious anarchism and often radical politics alienated him from many Jews committed to traditional forms of worship and conventional positions. Yet his philosophy of dialogue has manifestly inspired others, especially those eager for extrasynagogal expressions of Jewish spirituality. In order to convey these messages and expose the students to diverse contemporary approaches to Judaism, I required them to visit a Jewish museum the Skirball Cultural Center , attend a Shabbat dinner or services, and observe Simchat Torah festivities.

I scheduled guest speakers — rabbis from four Jewish denominations — to speak and answer questions about how they understand and practice Judaism. Just as my research used interviews and observation, so too would my students get their introduction to Judaism by interacting with Jews and observing Jewish life first hand. The students — USC undergrads — began the class with diverse levels of Judaic knowledge, ranging from none to some. Although the readings sparked interesting conversations in class, what they appreciated most was their visits to synagogues, Shabbat dinners, and the museum.

In the class discussions following these visits, it was clear that they now understood concepts and facts more deeply and in more personal ways. By engaging all of their senses — eating chicken soup and kugel, dancing with the hakafot, listening to Jewish music from around the world, and feeling the schach of a sukkah where we held class one day — they experienced lived Judaism in ways that would have been impossible in a class based solely on texts. My experience teaching Intro to Judaism showed me that I was better off rethinking the class according to my own scholarly and pedagogical approach.

Even if the students did not come away with a deep knowledge of Jewish history and rabbinic literature, they gained a sense of what it means to live as a Jew in the contemporary world. Course Syllabus. Considering that my field is Second Temple Jewish history, my first inclination was to begin at the beginning with Ancient Israel how can we start anywhere but with the Hebrew Bible?

For example, what would happen if we were discussing Sabbath observances and I wanted to refer to biblical laws, Orthodox practices and Reform innovations? Students need to be able to grasp and differentiate between the many historical manifestations of Judaism. Therefore, I divided the course into three parts: 1 history, 2 beliefs, and 3 practices. The history section of the course is structured chronologically and emphasizes a dichotomy between traditional and non-traditional Judaism, a dichotomy that is based on the assigned book Judaism in America by Marc Lee Raphael.

We then fast forward to modern Jewish movements of the past two hundred years sorry to my Medievalist friends!