Tuesday, July 2, 2013

New Directions in Jewish Theology: Arthur Green

Rabbi Arthur Green delivered the lecture “New Directions in Jewish Theology in America” at the University of Michigan in 1993.

It explores, as the title suggests, that sometimes bastard child of Judaism, theology.  Long associated with Christianity, Jewish theology as such only began in earnest at the beginning of the modern era (barring some excursions by Jews in the Arab world in the Middle Ages).

In many ways, this lecture seeks to establish Jewish theology on a firm Jewish foundation.  Green is not interested in creating something wholly new, but taking aspects of Jewish tradition, and giving them modern Jewish credentials.  One way is commentary.  Commentary is one of the great Jewish enterprises, and every great Jewish book is followed hard upon by a commentary (and sometimes a commentary upon the commentary!)

Green wants a resurgence of this, and he put his money where his mouth is when he produced his own translation and commentary on the voluminous Sefat Emet in 1998.  

What Rabbi Green says in this lecture is not entirely profound, but probably needs to be said and followed.  In order for Judaism to move forward, stop hemorrhaging the loss of non-orthodox individuals, its old teachings must be poured into new forms.  This was always the way of Judaism, but the shock of the Holocaust put a temporary halt to it as survival and the support of Israel became paramount American Jewish concern.

With those impulses receding, Rabbi Green attempts to give it a jump start to Jewish theological creativity.

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