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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 6: Haskalah: Crisis 83


c h a p t e r s i x Haskalah: Crisis Renaissance Revolution It is not coincidental that the opportunistic ruling cliques of Spain sent the converso Columbus, on his way west in 1492 CE, at the same time that stubborn Jews were being expelled, sent on their way north, east, and south. The world even then was bubbling with the new technological and intellectual innovations of the Renaissance. Economies were percolating, trade expanding, a world opening up even as the Portuguese explorers, many armed with the maps created by Jewish scholars, e.g., Abraham Zacuto and Joseph Vecinho, were guiding them around Africa to the spices, textiles, and the richness of the unexplored East. It is no coincidence that the Hanseatic German, Nicholas Copernicus, 1473–1543, and the heretical German theologian, Martin Luther, 1483–1546, were contemporaries, movers in the astronomical/scientific and religio/political sense. The world was hurtling toward a new cultural and historical ethos. Perhaps the most influential Jewish/Italian writer of this period was Simeone Luzzatto c. 1583–1663, co-rabbi with Leon of Modena of the Venice ghetto. His Discourse on the Status of the Jews, in Italian, was an apologetic for the usefulness of the Jews to modern states. Later, these arguments would be used by John Tolland, 1714, in England, arguing for the naturalization of the Jews. Luzzatto distinguished Itzkoff_Book.indb 83 23/10/12 5:42 PM 84 | judaism’s promise, meeting the challenge of modernity between different groups of Jews, the Talmudic scholars, followers of the Kabbala,...

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