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Not in the Heavens: The Tradition of Jewish Secular Thought Hardcover – November 7, 2010

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Not in the Heavens: The Tradition of Jewish Secular Thought + How Judaism Became a Religion: An Introduction to Modern Jewish Thought
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (November 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069114723X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691147239
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,088,597 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Lucid and winsome."--John Wilson, Books & Culture

"There are not many contemporary Jewish scholars who could offer such succinct and at the same time penetrating analysis of such a variety of secular Jewish thinkers, writers, and artists. . . . David Biale's Not in the Heavens is a useful and fascinating account of the development of modern, secular alternatives. In demonstrating the variety and depth of modern secular thought, Biale has no doubt advanced our appreciation of this formidable tradition. As an introduction to modern Jewish thought in general, and Jewish secularism in particular, his book is likely to be required reading for the foreseeable future."--Steven Frankel, H-Net Reviews

"While readers may have been exposed to many of the ideas presented here, they may not be aware of their origins. For that reason, the book is a significant contribution to Jewish scholarship in many disciplines, most notably history and philosophy. While the text is serious, it is not ponderous, and the author takes time to explain the concepts. It should be purchased by academic libraries. The book should also be of interest to serious lay readers, and is recommended for larger synagogue libraries. Includes notes and index."--Fred Isaac, AJL Newsletter

"Biale covers a wide range of figures and the diverse approaches to secularism that stand behind modern modes of Jewish identification. This is a well-researched, cogently argued, and clearly presented volume."--Choice

From the Inside Flap

"Not in the Heavens offers a lucid and superbly informed overview of the major currents of secularization in modern Jewish thought. Its particular originality is in its persuasive demonstration of the roots of these trends in aspects of Jewish religious philosophy that go back to the medieval period and the Enlightenment."--Robert Alter, University of California, Berkeley

"Although religious Jews have always anticipated spending 'next year in Jerusalem,' others have preferred to tarry, as it were, 'this year in Tel Aviv,' the symbolic capital of secular Jewry. This is their story, told by a master Jewish historian with erudition, sympathy, and full awareness of the ironies that tie both destinations--and the destinies of religious and secular Jews--inextricably together."--Martin Jay, University of California, Berkeley

"A rich and engaging work on the tradition of secular Jewish thought. Weaving together historical narrative and textual analysis, theology and philosophy, scripture and interpretation, and political theory and cultural criticism, Biale offers a provocative rethinking of Judaism's relation to the secular. Not in the Heavens is the most exhaustive and sustained discussion of Jewish secularism that I have read."--Jerome E. Copulsky, Goucher College

"This is an excellent book. Biale provides an entirely new synthesis of a largely untouched subject. No one has previously attempted to discuss secular thinking as a separate phenomenon in modern Jewish life. This book, while accessible and aimed at a general audience, is also a major contribution to Jewish studies."--David Sorkin, author of The Religious Enlightenment: Protestants, Jews, and Catholics from London to Vienna

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jan Peczkis on July 31, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The author cites the "non-Jewish Jew", Polish Jew Isaac Deutscher, and his heroes: Spinoza, Heine, Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Trotsky, and Freud. Like Deutscher, Biale sees these Jews as connected to the tradition they had rejected--a sort of alternative Jewish identity. (p. 1).

To Biale, the descendant of Polish Jews, secularism does not necessarily mean atheism. Belief in God can be retained while stripping God of his Biblical personality and authority. (p. 15). According to Biale, Judaism emphasizes orthopraxy (correct practice) over orthodoxy (correct belief), and the Jewish concept of God, unlike its Christian counterpart, is not heavily endowed with dogma. This, according to the author, makes it easier to imagine a world without Him. (p. 15; see also p. 103).

Maimonides and Spinoza are credited with anticipating the later rationalistic and allegorical view of the Bible, especially when it conflicted with science. Instead of abandoned as outdated and mythological, the Bible eventually became transformed into a Jewish cultural icon. Spinoza is reckoned a pantheist, although he seemed to believe that God, although in no sense like the God of the Bible, was something more than just a personification of the universe. (p. 43). Albert Einstein's view was similar, which made him neither a theist (in the traditional sense), nor a crude materialist. (p. 43).

The author devotes much attention to Zionism, and its creation and reinforcement of a secular Jewish identity. Many Zionist personages and their philosophies are elaborated.

On another subject, Joseph Hayim Brenner was a militantly secular Jew who lived in Palestine before being murdered by the Arabs in 1921. Unlike those who consider anti-Semitism necessarily irrational, Brenner did not.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
this is a very thorough and fascinating book about modern secular Jews. Yet, sadly there is no mention or discussion of Rabbi Sherwin Wine. Very disappointing to those of us who knew Wine personally and belonged to his Birmingham Temple in suburban Detroit, Michigan.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ernest Hammer on April 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book traces the the history of secularism in Judiaism through the ages. It presents the thoughts and writings of the jewish philosophers leading up to the present day.
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