Judaism: A Way of Being

Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Written for observant and non-observant Jews and anyone interested in religion, this remarkable book by the distinguished scholar David Gelernter seeks to answer the deceptively simple question: What is Judaism really about? Gelernter views Judaism as one of humanity's most profound and sublimely beautiful achievements. But because Judaism is a way of life rather than a formal system of thought, it has been difficult for anyone but a practicing Jew to understand its unique intellectual and spiritual structure. Gelernter explores compelling questions, such as:•How does Judaism's obsession with life on earth versus the world-to-come separate it fundamentally from Christianity and Islam?•Why do Jews believe in God, and howcanthey after the Holocaust?•What makes Classical Judaism the most important intellectual development in Western history?•Why does Judaism teach that, in the course of the Jewish people's coming-of-age, God moved out of history and into the human mind, abandoning all power but the capacity to talk to each person from inside and thereby to influence events only indirectly?

    In discussing these and other questions, Gelernter seeks to lay out Jewish beliefs on four basic topics-the sanctity of everyday life; man and God; the meaning of sexuality and family; good, evil, and the nature of God's justice in a cruel world-and to convey a profound and stirring sense of what it means to be Jewish.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15646-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. I Picturing Judaism
    (pp. 1-21)

    What is it about Judaism that is transfixing enough to have kept a brilliant, fractious, bickering, relentlessly skeptical people alive for three thousand years, made them the senior nation of the Western world, and turned them into a marvel and (too often) an obsession to so many of their fellow human beings?

    Answering that question is the goal of this book. But first we American Jews must face reality. Judaism may be transfixing, but the numbers speak for themselves: America’s Jewish community is shrinking relentlessly. It is melting like old snow into warm American earth. Except for Orthodox Jews, who...

  6. II Separation
    (pp. 22-54)

    Why does Judaism have such intricate ceremonies and laws? Why can’t religion be a personal matter between man and God, with no complex rule book butting in?

    Traditionally such questions were raised by Christians in the process of arguing for Christianity’s superiority. Nowadays they are asked more often by Jews who have rejected normative Judaism for some liberal or reformed variety, or who have left Judaism altogether. But whoever asks, and whatever his motive, the questions are central and need answering.

    The answers are built into Judaism’s very fabric. I will start with a physical gesture in synagogue. From there...

  7. III Veil
    (pp. 55-87)

    How can a Jew understand and deal with a God as abstract and indescribable as the unique God of Judaism?

    Doesn’t this pure and deep but difficult view doom Judaism to be a cold, abstruse, forbidding religion in which man and God stand on opposite sides of an impermeable barrier or infinite gap?

    These questions have been nearly as popular among Judaism’s Christian antagonists as those in the previous chapter. In recent years, non-observant Jews have posed them as well. These too are good and important questions, whoever is doing the asking. The answers emerge from the microcosmic imagetheme I’ve...

  8. Color plates
    (pp. None)
  9. IV Perfect Asymmetry
    (pp. 88-121)

    Isn’t normative or Orthodox Judaism inherently antiwoman, insofar as its public ceremonies are conducted by males? Assuming we reject the idea that women are in any way inferior, aren’t we forced to make basic changes in Judaism?

    In more positive terms: how does Judaism understand sexuality, the family, and relationships between man and woman?

    These questions lead to some of Judaism’s most important aspects: its striking definition of man, its view of the home as (in major respects) successor to the Temple, and its idea of human sexuality as a force that holds the spiritual universe together.

    “Separation” and “the...

  10. V Inward Pilgrimage
    (pp. 122-173)

    Finally we reach the hardest, deepest problem any religious believer faces: the question of evil. How can we accept the simultaneous existence of a just, all-powerful God and a merciless world? When innocent human beings are hurt or destroyed by cruelty and violence wemustask, with Macduff, “Did heaven look on and would not take their part?” We must entertain the grim hypothesis associated in some sources with the second century heretic Elishah ben Abuya:Leit din ve-leit dayan, “there is no judgment and no judge.”

    Investigating this problem requires, to start, that we consider the underlying theme of...

  11. VI David’s Dance
    (pp. 174-190)

    We are left with four images as we circle the city of Judaism. From the north, the Torah scroll held high and wide open, to the sound of rushing water; from the east, a large tallit by itself, and the sound of a shofar; from the south, a man and woman embraced (“Let him kiss me with his mouth’s kisses!—your love is better than wine,” Song of Songs 1:2) as someone blows out a lamp; from the west, Abraham’s face at the moment he catches sight of Mount Moriah, to the sound of a still, small voice—rustling satin,...

  12. Appendix A: Why Believe in God?
    (pp. 191-196)
  13. Appendix B: What Makes Judaism the Most Important Intellectual Development in Western History?
    (pp. 197-202)
  14. Appendix C: Jewish and Christian Ethics
    (pp. 203-206)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 207-216)
  16. Index
    (pp. 217-225)