From Publishers Weekly
Faced with the profound contemporary polarization between secular and religious in Israel, Hartman, a recipient of two National Jewish Book Awards for previous works (Maimonides: Torah and Philosophic Quest, etc.), proposes a third path: one that allows secular Israelis seeking meaning in their Jewish identity to return to traditional texts without suffering authoritarian condemnation for not adhering to Jewish law. Hartman goes a step fartherDand will ruffle many religious feathersDin arguing for the "demythologization" of the Jewish people, for an abandonment of the "narcissistic frame of mind in which the reality of God revolves exclusively around my people's history, my rituals and my traditions." In seeking a paradigm for this open-ended approach, Hartman turns to the two great medieval Jewish philosophers: Maimonides and Rabbi Judah Halevi. The latter viewed Judaism as a mystical, revelation-based religion oriented toward messianic redemption and the particularity of the Jews. Maimonides, in contrast, took an Aristotelian rationalist approach to Judaism, focusing more on the universalistic spirit of the Bible's creation narrative than on the particularism of the revelation at Mt. Sinai. Halevi's mode of thought, Hartman asserts, underlies the attitudes of religious Zionists who oppose territorial compromise in the Middle EastDa position Hartman rejects, favoring territorial compromise just as he preaches compromise regarding the religious tradition. Judaism, he says, is a text-based interpretive tradition, and secular Jews can reenter the interpretive conversation without committing themselves to halakic observance. Much of what Hartman says will be controversial, but he offers a serious proposal for reimagining Judaism in the modern, secularist world. (Oct.)
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Hartman, founder and director of Jerusalem's Shalom Hartman Institute, addresses "the crisis facing secular and religious Zionists in Israel today" in a book based on the 1998 Terry Lectures he delivered at Yale Divinity School. Palestinian peace negotiations challenge "a central ideological tenet" of many religious Zionists' messianism, while many secular Israelis seek to reengage with Jewish tradition without rejecting Western culture. Hartman examines contrasting Middle Ages approaches to Jewish tradition in the chapters "The God of History in Yehuda Halevi" and "The Cosmic God of Maimonides' Thought." In "The Maimonidean Sensibility," he offers "a meaningful precedent and model for individuals seeking ways to reclaim their tradition while at the same time sharing in the values and cultural traditions of the broader human community." Mary CarrollCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved