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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 10: Understanding Historical Judaism


c h a p t e r t e n Understanding Historical Judaism Monotheism The radical nature of Moses’ vision and gift to Judaism and the civilized world was an inner recognition of the unitary nature of the human world of things, powers, and human existence. The evidence argues that the Moses persona was but a few generations beyond the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaton, c. 1350 BCE. Moses lived together with the other Semite corvée laborers in the Delta of the Nile under the rule of Ramses II, c. 1270 BCE. By then the monotheism of the sun god Aton which Akhenaton tried to impose over the traditional priesthood and onto the Egyptian masses was a fading memory. Yet there could have been a residue of believers in this intellectually more powerful construction. At any rate this conception of one ruling principle in the universe was joined to the powerful war god Yahweh believed in by the Bedouin tribesman, in this case the Midianites of the Sinai, the Arabian and Negeb deserts. We should not think of the monotheism of Moses and the Israelite leadership fleeing Egypt as a primeval religious vision. Let us put a tentative date of c. 1200 BCE on the events of the Exodus. Literacy and the writing down of the various religious myths of the Near East go back to c. 3000 BCE. Much intellectual effort had already gone into varied attempts at understanding the structure of material and social life that we humans...

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