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Israelis and the Jewish Tradition

Israelis and the Jewish Tradition: An Ancient People Debating Its Future

Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Israelis and the Jewish Tradition
    Book Description:

    In this powerful book one of the most important Jewish thinkers in the world today grapples with issues that increasingly divide Israel's secular Jewish community from its religious Zionists. Addressing the concerns of both communities from the point of view of one who is deeply committed to religious pluralism, David Hartman suggests a more inclusive and inviting framework for the modern Israeli engagement of the Jewish tradition. He offers a new understanding of what it means to be Jewish-one which is neither assimilationist nor backward-looking, and one that enables different Jewish groups to celebrate their own traditions without demonizing or patronizing others. In a world polarized between religious and secular and caught within a sectarian denominationalism, Hartman shows the way to build bridges of understanding.The book explores the philosophies of two major Jewish thinkers of the Middle Ages, Yehuda Halevi and Moses Maimonides. A careful analysis of Maimonides' approach to Judaism shows that messianism is not the predominant organizing principle that makes Judaism intelligible and significant, Hartman contends. He argues against Halevi's triumphalism and in favor of using the Sinai covenant for evaluating the religious significance of Israel, for this approach gives meaning to Zionists' religious commitments while also empowering secular Israelis to reengage with the Jewish tradition.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13051-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Crisis and Tradition
    (pp. 1-25)

    The dramatic events of the twentieth century have altered the traditional interpretation of exile for Jewish self-understanding. Before the advent of modern Zionism, the biblical story of the Exodus from Egypt had served as the dominant paradigm of Jewish history; it implied that change in the Jewish people’s exilic condition would occur only through the radical intervention of God. On the night of the Passover seder we read the following blessing: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, Who redeemed us and redeemed our ancestors from Egypt, and enabled us to reach this night, to eat thereon...

  5. CHAPTER TWO The God of History in Yehuda Halevi
    (pp. 26-51)

    Yehuda Halevi and Moses Maimonides were two of the most influential figures in the Jewish philosophical tradition. Both were committed to the centrality of halakhic practice, to revelation, and to the primacy of the talmudic tradition in defining Jewish life. Yet their understandings of Jewish spirituality as mediated and structured by Halakhah and the talmudic tradition were very different.

    Although their credentials as committed halakhic Jews are universally acknowledged by practicing members of the Jewish community, the influence of Halevi in shaping modern Orthodox religious sensibilities is far greater than that of Maimonides. In Israel today, for example, religious nationalists...

  6. CHAPTER THREE The Cosmic God in Maimonides
    (pp. 52-87)

    Many scholars have found great difficulty explaining how the same person could have written theMishneh Torah,Maimonides’ code of Jewish law, and theGuide of the Perplexed,his main philosophical work. The historian of Jewish philosophy Isaac Husik wrote that “Maimonides did not write his philosophy for the masses, nor did he compose hisGuide of the Perplexedfor the simple and the pious, though learned, students of the Talmud and the other rabbinic literature. They were satisfied with their simple faith, and Maimonides was not interested in disturbing it. For them he composed hisYad ha-Hazaqah,the code...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Rabbinic Foundations of Maimonides’ Thought
    (pp. 88-122)

    In his role as leader and educator of the Jewish community, Moses Maimonides follows the path of the biblical Moses in his relentless, uncompromising battle against idolatry (seeGuide1:36). Whereas for Yehuda Halevi the significance of the election of Israel is the revelation of God through the events of Israel’s history, for Maimonides election means that Israel is called upon to struggle against idolatry. TheMishneh Torahand theGuide of the Perplexedare obsessed with the theme of idolatry. The introductory chapters of theMishneh Torah,which Gershom Scholem considered completely unrelated to a life of Halakhah, were...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Halakhic Sobriety and Inclusiveness
    (pp. 123-166)

    Modern Jewish consciousness has been deeply shaped by the dramatic events of recent Jewish history. The drama surrounding the Six-Day War, which was an important catalyst in reawakening Jewish selfawareness, testifies to the power of events in shaping Jewish identity. My own decision to leave the diaspora, to give up the security and economic comfort my family and I had enjoyed in Montreal and to take up residence and build a new life in Israel, was not only the result of intellectual reflection. The events preceding the Six-Day War awakened me to the power of Jewish solidarity throughout the world....

  9. References
    (pp. 167-170)
  10. Index
    (pp. 171-174)