Jewish Theology in our Time
A New Generation Explores the Foundations and Future of Jewish Belief
Edited by Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove
Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010, 202 pages
ISBN 13: 978-1-58023-413-9
ISBN 10: 1-58023-413-5
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - June 29, 2010
The number of non-Orthodox Jews is decreasing and many Orthodox Jews are turning from the practices of their parents toward the more fundamentalist views of their great grandparents. It is therefore a good time to rethink what Judaism means and try to show how the religion is relevant in our time. This volume, with two dozen articles from rabbis and scholars of all Jewish denominations, males and females, attempts to do so. The writers focus on different aspects of Judaism, such as its beliefs, morality, practices, and how the writers feels affected by their views of Judaism, and how they changed over time, and their ideas about God and how God functions in the universe, if at all. Each writer offers his or her own opinion. Thus, readers will find a wide spectrum of thought-provoking ideas.
For example, one writer asks how it is possible in the twenty-first century to believe that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and merciful, when it is clear that God did nothing to save the six million Jews during the holocaust. Certainly, the rabbi feels, a merciful God would not let innocent people be butchered if God has the power to save them. He, therefore, offers us a different concept of God. "I do not believe in an up-there/out-there God. God is the pervasive becoming ground of all." Then he explains what he means.
Another writer speaks of revelation being a dialogue where "mine is not the only voice. Participating in any dialogue requires me to be still and listen…. Part of our job in our Sinaitic dialogue is to be silent in God's presence, so that we can be open to God's voice and also the voices of the generations of servants who came before us." The writer then tells us how this is done.
A final example is from Dr. Marc B. Shapiro. He tells us his understanding of the brilliant teachings of Moses Maimonides (1138-1204), which he sees as being relevant today as they were 800 years ago.
Shapiro, an Orthodox Jew, states that he feels comfortable in "removing God from almost everything that takes place in the world." The world functions according to the laws of nature; God is not "pulling the strings of the world." He sees nothing wrong with a person having their own understanding of what revelation is. This approach of an uninvolved God, he stresses, focuses on what people should do to improve themselves and society, and not on what God does for us. He recognizes that there is truth in all religions, no one religion can encompass all of God's truth, but "a person should not conclude that there is no falsehood in the area of religion." Religious people can even learn from atheists who dramatically identify "the foolishness and evils of religion." How does one evaluate a theological system? It is good if it helps people lead good lives and helps others.