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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 7: Our Judaic Heritage 101


c h a p t e r s e v e n Our Judaic Heritage Context of Survival The Jews and Judaism have survived because they have adapted to historic changes, especially when they were “losers.” We have an ancient evolutionary principle at work, albeit on the sociohistorical level: those creatures/groups who are outliers, on the perimeter of historic dominance, often, if they adapt defensively to their circumstances, in the turn of history, can often return to the fore. The dominant creatures/groups of one epoch in biological time are dominant because they have made the most of their momentary opportunistic adaptation to external events. These propitious externalities along with the internal morphological or behav- ioral inheritances from their past have allowed them to catapult to dominance. By virtue of this dominance and its biological opportunities, they tend to specialize, to wring that last bit of “juice” out their inadvertent opening. But alas, the world does change. Nature is not concerned with the fortunes of one successful species/social group. The larger forces of evolution create their own dynamic of change, and the once powerful can quickly fall from favor, often to become extinct. Thus the Jews, by dint of their ability to change with the winds of history have been able to hang on and gain successive moment in the light of day. That is, when their leadership has/had the presence of mind and the visionary outlook to persuade the Jewish community to bend with time and survive until another day....

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