God, Torah and Israel in Modern Jewish Thought Introduction to Judaism: Lecture 8 February 4, 2008
Goals for Today • Identify the central modern modes of thought that influenced Judaism’s pre-modern symbolic vocabulary • Understand the various ideological/religious responses to modernity • Discuss the implications of the range of Jewish expressions that exist in the modern period.
Student Question • “I am having a hard time understanding how the oral Torah got to be an authoritative text…How does one come to see the oral Torah as credible when the interpretative techniques that it employs are seemingly abstract and irrational?”
The Structure of Judaism’s Basic Symbolic Vocabulary GOD TORAH ISRAEL MITZVOT MESSIAH Time/History
Enlightenment • Secular and anti-religious • Reason in opposition to Revelation • Universal not particular truth
What are the Challenges to Judaism’s Narrative? • Don’t write--Think!
Modes of Thought Influencing Jews • Autonomous Reason • “Think for Yourself!” • Scientific Naturalism • “Prove it to me!” • Historicism • “What really happened?” • Nationalism • “Where is your primary allegiance?”
Are They Different From Pre-Modern Challenges? Moses Maimonides (b. 1135) Abraham Geiger (b. 1810)
Ideological Responses-Overview • Secularist/Political Responses • Zionism • Bundism • Modernist Responses • Reform • Orthodox • Positive-Historical/Conservative • Traditionalist Response
Response 1: Secularist • God-Tool for exploitation • Torah-National Culture, History • No Halakhah, Mitzvot (commandment) • Israel-Persecuted People ready for freedom • Messiah-Revolutionary Fervor
Bundism • Revolutionary Social change through socialism • Join Jewish workers with non-Jewish revolutionaries
Response 2: Modernist • Reconcile Judaism and Enlightenment • Judaism=Religion • Universal over Particular • Ethical over Legal • Non-Political Response • Four main denominations…
Reform Movement • Begins in Europe moves to U.S. • God-Ideal of ethical consciousness (p. 94) • Torah-Revelation of Reason • Historical husk vs. moral core • Israel-The Mission Theory • Mitzvah-Ethical Commandments • Messiah-Universal Integration (p.100)
Orthodox Movement • Created in Response to Reform • Creator God • Torah-“Discrete Words and Letters” • Mitzvot are binding-Ethical Meaning • Messiah-Redemption in Land and Loyal Citizens
Positive-Historical Movement • Called Conservative in the U.S. • Accept Halakhah/Mizvot and historical change • Torah-Evolution of man’s relationship with the divine • Mitzvot and change
Reconstructionst • Originates as a left branch of Conservative Judaism in 1968 • God-Process that Makes for Salvation • Torah-Jewish Folkways • Israel-Civilization, not Religion
Response 3: Traditionalist/Ultra-Orthodox • Central and Eastern European • Similar to Orthodox (Mitzvah, Halakhah) • Reject modern political, social, philosophical thought • Premodern Messiah (p.101) • Present as authentic tradition • Are they?
“…May your mind not turn to evil and never engage in corruptible partnership with those fond of innovations, who, as a penalty for our many sins, have strayed from the Almighty and His law…Be warned not to change your Jewish names, speech, and clothing--God forbid…Never say: ‘Times have changed!’…The order of prayer and synagogue shall remain forever as it has been up to now, and no one may presume to change anything of its structure.” --Rabbi Moses Sofer, 1762-1839
Discussion Questions • How would Modernists and Traditionalists Read Rabbi Akiva Story? • What are the strengths and limitations of each response? • What core symbols (if any) connect various expressions of modern Judaism?