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Judaism’s Promise, Meeting the Challenge of Modernity

Seymour W. Itzkoff

Judaism’s Promise, Meeting The Challenge Of Modernity follows Seymour W. Itzkoff’s well-received three-book series, Who Are the Jews? Judaism’s Promise, confronts the many revolutions that have reshaped Judaism over the centuries allowing it and its people a path of leadership into the modern world. It takes the writings of the Torah, Holy Scriptures, and Talmud seriously as exemplars of the human search for civilizational and moral intellectuality. The book’s basic concern is with the withering of Judaism as a force in contemporary Western civilization.
Sadly millions of Jews have left the faith. Others venture forth only hesitantly into a synagogue, now a bastion of fossilized ritual and conspicuous consumption. These millions needed more from the orthodoxy, and this book attempts to show them the way back by giving renewed life to the heritages of Judaism, and, consequently, to its meaning for the modern world. Judaism’s Promise argues for a return to the synagogue’s originating Hellenistic commitment «to come together» in intellectual and moral study. As Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan argued, Judaism must once more become in the 20–21st century the civilization that it once represented to the wider world, and not a fossilized ceremonialism.

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Chapter 1: The Future of the Jews? 1

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c h a p t e r o n e The Future of the Jews? Contemporary Context The role of the Jews in the modern world relates to a pungent and relevant statistic. In a review of the demography of the religions of the world, the 2007 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica gives us the following “membership” numbers as of 2006: Bahai, 7,800,000; Buddhist, 382,542,000; Christian, 2,173,184,000; Hindu, 871,982,000; Judaism, 15,118,000; Muslim, 1,335,964,000; Zoroastrian, 180,300. It is clear that the Jews constitute but a small percentage of religious adherents in our world. In 1930, with a world population of 2+ billion, there were about 16 million Jews in our world. The Holocaust destroyed over one third of these. Naturally, there has been an increase since then to the current figure of just over 15 million worldwide. But also since 1930, the population of the world has more than tripled, to over 7 billion. It is well to recall that in the days of Persian hegemony, c. 500 BCE to 500 CE, Zoroastrianism was a thriving, relatively gentle monotheistic competitor of the Jewish religion. Persia was overrun by Muslim invaders shortly after this time frame. Islam was forcibly inscribed onto the Persian nation and its many adherents throughout the Middle East. Today Zoroastrianism is a remnant religious memory. Itzkoff_Ch01_pp001-010.indd 1 4/30/13 2:47 PM 2 | judaism’s promise, meeting the challenge of modernity Is this...

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