Contemporary Jewish Theology: A Reader
Dr. Richard Hess' review of, "Contemporary Jewish Theology: A Reader," by Elliot Dorff and Louis Newman.
Dorff, Elliot N. and Louis E. Newman eds. Contemporary Jewish Theology: A Reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. xvi + 522 pp. Paperback, $27.95. ISBN 0195114671.
This reader combines contributions by classic Jewish writers in the first part of the century with those written more recently. It balances Jewish feminist writers and holocaust reflections. Writers such as Buber, Heschel, and Kaplan provide classic observations of what formed the basis for Jewish humanism in the period before the Holocaust. Their works exhibit the optimism of God’s immanence and human personal freedom that marked this movement.
Writers discussing the basic doctrines of God, Creation, Revelation, Redemption, Covenant/Choseness, and Law. Regarding these, one is struck by the absence of much reference to the biblical text or even to Jewish Rabbinic writings. There is a great deal of continued discussion in areas relating these themes to modern concerns and priorities. However, only David Novak’s essay on “The Election of Israel” seriously interacts with a wide variety of biblical texts. In this section there also appear articles by Falk and Umansky exploring the questions of feminism and Jewish feminism in relation to the patriarchal traditions of Judaism.
The two most powerful and relevant sections are those dealing with the holocaust and the modern state of Israel. Both of these have rightly produced a vast literature reflecting on the experiences and their relevance for Judaims today. Not only is there the question of how belief should continue (or even whether it should) but also the challenge of the relationship of post-holocaust Judaism to Christianity and Western secularism (e.g., Greenberg’s essay).
The work ends with a symposium looking to the future as well as some suggestions for further reading. This volume is a key resource for understanding modern Judaism as expressed in the Reform and other movements. It provides a measure of the impact of secularism into Western Judaism and at the same time is a valuable resource for understanding Jewish contributions to many post modern trends in thought and culture. Missing are discussions criticizing the possiblity of theology in Judaism and some essays on the biblical elements in Jewish theology (cf. discussions by Tsevat and Levenson).
Richard S. Hess
Professor of Old Testament