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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 3: Torah/Law 27


c h a p t e r t h r e e Torah/Law Defined In the Old Testament books of Genesis and Exodus, the Hebrew plural of torah, torot, is usually linked with phrases such as “my commandments, my laws, my torot” {Genesis 26:5, J}, also {Exodus 16:28, P }. In Leviticus and Numbers the word torah denotes specific ceremonial rules for priests {Leviticus 6:1, 11:46–47, all P; Numbers 19:2, P}. In Deuteronomy, historically the last addition to the Pentateuch, the term torah is more generally applied to the laws, rules, narratives, curses, blessings, and speeches of the Pentateuch: “this book of the Torah” {Deuteronomy 29:20, D-1; 30:10 D-2}.1 These five books have retained their modern titles as they were adapted from the Hebrew, which usually titled these writings from the first words of each section of the intended unified whole. The Greek transliteration adapted in the Christian Vulgate now constitutes orthodox usage. From a 1965 edition of the orthodox Jewish Masoretic text, the contemporary titles of these books are used here. Thus the Pentateuch (the five), “. . . is a collection of several groups of laws and commandments that were given to the people of Israel, set in a framework of stories that explain the special status of the people before God.”2 It is important to empha- size that these texts, in addition to the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, in its various forms within the Pentateuch are to be considered, the word...

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