Hidden Master

Radical Judaism: Rethinking God and Tradition
by Arthur Green 
Yale University Press, 208 pp., $26.00

In recent years, the movement variously known as Jewish Spirituality, Jewish Renewal, and Neo-Hasidism has surged forth from independent prayer groups and study-based communities into the mainstream liberal synagogues. Along the way, it has helped pry the Holocaust and Israel from their central place in American Jewish identity. A decade ago the philosopher Michael Morgan made an important observation about the movement's serious commitment to religious experience and traditional ritual practices, and apparent disinterest in theological questions. "These trends point to God, the divine and especially to questions about our access to transcendence or our experience of God," which "should point to the notion of divine revelation and compel us to a careful reconsideration of it, [but] I do not see much activity of this sort."

For a while, at least, it apparently sufficed if God was merely hummable. Now Arthur Green, a distinguished scholar of kabbalistic and Hasidic thought, former dean of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and current rector of the Rabbinical School at Hebrew College, has provided a systematic theology for the movement of which he has as much claim as anybody to be the intellectual leader. In Radical Judaism: Rethinking God and Tradition, Green presents us with a Judaism built on the familiar three pillars of God, Torah, and Israel. But the closer we look, the less familiar they turn out to be.

In his introductory autobiographical remarks, Green briefly relates how his childhood faith in a personal God succumbed to "theodicy and critical history." By the time he was in college, he realized that he could no longer believe in an all-powerful God who permitted the occurrence of tragedies such as his mother's early death and the Holocaust. At the same time, the critical study of Jewish sacred texts convinced him that they were man-made. The experience was not entirely disheartening. His reading of Nietzsche inspired him to feel some "joy at the death of my childhood God and liberation from all that authority."

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