From Defender to Critic: The Search for a New Jewish Self

Overview

A Vital, Living Judaism Can Be Found When the Voice of the Past Engages Modern Experience

"[This] synthesis of tradition and modernity is not a philosophy meant to serve as the platform for a new movement or institution, but a process of living experience among individuals and communities that choose to adopt its angle of vision. It is a process that demands constant introspection and renewal and cannot be branded or co-opted by any formal or official frame of reference. It stands separate from all expressions of...

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From Defender to Critic: The Search for a New Jewish Self

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Overview

A Vital, Living Judaism Can Be Found When the Voice of the Past Engages Modern Experience

"[This] synthesis of tradition and modernity is not a philosophy meant to serve as the platform for a new movement or institution, but a process of living experience among individuals and communities that choose to adopt its angle of vision. It is a process that demands constant introspection and renewal and cannot be branded or co-opted by any formal or official frame of reference. It stands separate from all expressions of institutionalized Judaism, as it never knows what new forces it will absorb as it moves into the future."
—from the Introduction

Dr. David Hartman, the world's leading modern Orthodox theologian, presents his own painful spiritual evolution from defender of the rule-based system of Jewish law to revolutionary proponent of a theology of empowerment, one that encourages individuals and communities to take greater levels of responsibility for their religious lives. In this daring self-examination, he explains how his goals were not to strip halakha—or the past—of its authority but to create a space for questioning and critique that allows for the traditionally religious Jew to act out a moral life in tune with modern experience.

In achieving this synthesis of tradition with the sensibilities of contemporary Judaism, Hartman captures precisely what creates vitality in living Judaism and charts the path to nurture its vitality forever.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
With this intelligent and heartfelt volume, Hartman, a former yeshiva student and pulpit rabbi, continues his critique of Orthodox Judaism’s reliance upon halakha even at moments when it creates disappointment or despair. The octogenarian asserts that while halakha certainly has its place in Jewish life, modernity demands that updates be implemented and that room be made for personal religious autonomy. He grapples with normative explanations of Jewish laws and biblical narratives, including the story of Abraham and his near-sacrifice of Isaac. There, he finds that instead of the biblical story demonstrating Abraham’s loyalty and love toward God, it highlights an incomprehensible adherence to commandments. Evaluating the theological philosophies of Jewish thinkers from Maimonides to Spinoza to Soloveitchik, Hartman argues that halakha as it stands alienates an already disgruntled Jewish community and fosters a religious experience lacking in joy or initiative. As with his other books, Hartman’s assertions are unconventional and controversial, and bring important issues to the table. (May)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781580235150
  • Publisher: Jewish Lights Publishing
  • Publication date: 3/15/2012
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 350
  • Sales rank: 1,016,242
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

A world-renowned philosopher and social activist, Dr. David Hartman (z"l) is the founder and president emeritus of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Named after his late father, the Institute is dedicated to developing a new understanding of classical Judaism that provides moral and spiritual direction for Judaism's confrontation with modernity.

Presently professor emeritus at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, he received his rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University's theological seminary in New York City. He is the author of many award-winning books, including A Living Covenant: The Innovative Spirit in Traditional Judaism (Jewish Lights) and Maimonides: Torah and Philosophic Quest, both winners of the National Jewish Book Award; A Heart of Many Rooms: Celebrating the Many Voices within Judaism (Jewish Lights), finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and a Publishers Weekly "Best Book of the Year"; and Love and Terror in the God Encounter: The Theological Legacy of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Jewish Lights).

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Table of Contents

Introduction: From Loving Defender to Loving Critic: An Intellectual Autobiography ix

Part I The Spirituality of Halakha: Early Essays

1 The Joy of Torah 3

2 The Body as a Spiritual Teacher: Learning to Accept Interdependency 25

3 Democratizing the Spiritual: The Risks and Rewards of Halakha 39

4 Embracing Covenantal History: Compassion, Responsibility, and the Spirituality of the Everyday 71

5 Creating a Shared Spiritual Language: The Urgency of Community and the Halakhic Roots of Pluralism 91

6 Conquering Modern Idolatry: Building Communities of Meaning around Shared Aspirations 111

7 Learning to Hope: A Halakhic Approach to History and Redemption 127

Part II Abraham's Argument: Reclaiming Judaism's Moral Tradition

8 Abraham's Argument: Empowerment, Defeat, and the Religious Personality 157

9 A Covenant of Empowerment: Divine Withdrawal and Human Responsibility 177

10 Mishpachtology: Judaism as a Family System 187

11 Custom and Innovation: Stepping Beyond the Parameters of the Past 199

12 My Daughter Is Not My Mother: Rethinking the Role of Women in Traditional Judaism 211

13 Hillel's Decision: Subjective Piety as a Religious Value 227

14 Halakha as Relationship: Toward a God-Centered Consciousness 247

15 Among Abraham's Children: The Confrontation of the Particular with the Universal 257

Notes 267

Bibliography 293

Index 298

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