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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 11: Judaism Reconstituted


c h a p t e r e l e v e n Judaism Reconstituted The Historic Challenge The scientific mode of thinking which began to grip the European mind in the 17th century turned into a veritable revolution in our understanding of the natural and human world. The Enlightenment which was the inevitable social and general philosophical outcome of the victory of the scientific method began to seriously impact Jewish life by the mid-eighteenth century. What was happening to this Ashkenazic culture was unlike what had occurred almost two thousand years earlier with the spread of Hellenic and then interna- tional Hellenistic cultural throbbing. Greek philosophy opened the mind to a wholly new way of rationalistic thinking. And except for the pregnant scientific work of scientists such as Aristarchus, Eratosthenes and others in Alexandria and elsewhere in the Hellenistic world, this envelopment of rational study and analysis never quite developed the instrumentalities of thought and experiment which by contrast created the ongoing transformations of thinking and acting that the sci- entific method enabled. In one great and ongoing stroke the intellectual ground of belief was under- cut from all those theological incarnations of thought and social power that had undergirded Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. True for the Jews the stimulation of foreign intellectual developments was always ongoing. And as such we today Itzkoff_Book.indb 169 23/10/12 5:43 PM 170 | judaism’s promise, meeting the challenge of modernity recognize these great thinkers as Judaic groundbreakers, but not necessarily the Rabbis...

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