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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A mixed bag--but worth reading on balance, June 24, 2000
This review is from: Jewish Renewal: Path to Healing and Transformation, A (Paperback)
As another reviewer wrote, this book is a meal of several courses that don't always blend: in other words, a mixed bag -- but on balance, one worth reading.
Lerner's ideas about religion are often interesting. For example, Lerner tries to make sense of Abraham's almost-sacrifice of Isaac by suggesting that when Abraham heard the voice of God telling him to sacrifice Isaac, he was merely experiencing a delusion -- but when he stopped, THAT was the voice of God. Lerner's discussion of Jewish holidays is eloquent.
When it comes to politics and history (even religious history) Lerner is on shakier ground, and wrote some things that gave me pause. To name a few:
1. Lerner's criticism of Rabbinic Judaism on issues like homosexuality doesn't fully grapple with the views of his intellectual adversaries. Lerner reasons: The rabbinic authorities changed the plain meaning of the written Torah all the time, therefore we can do the same today when we deem it ethically appropriate.
What Lerner should be aware of is that some Orthodox Jews think that the rabbinic authorities themselves spoke with divine authority, because they were repeating an oral tradition ("the Oral Torah") which itself (due to a divine miracle) was passed down unchanged from Mt. Sinai. It follows that if you believe the Oral Torah doctrine, the Jewish position on homosexuality and a whole lot of other things must be written in stone--- or in other words, if its in the Mishnah and the Talmud (the leading documents of pre-medieval rabbinic Judaism), God said it.
I don't expect Lerner to endorse the Oral Torah doctrine--but he should explain to his readers why he rejects it, rather than just pretending it doesn't exist.
2. His discussion of the Holocaust is tainted by his deemphasis on history. He talks a lot about how capitalism and the lack of meaning in Germans' lives created Hitler--but somehow he overlooks the two most immediate causes, the Depression and the Versailles Treaty. Talking about the rise of Hitler without talking about the Depression and Versailles is like talking about the American Revolution without mentioning George III and the Stamp Act.
3. Perhaps because he thought he was writing to an audience of the leftwardmost 1% of American Jews, Lerner has not come to grips with the collapse of Communism and Socialism. He admits that Communism did not quite work out early in the book, but then he repeatedly refers to Marxism as somehow a liberation movement (I wonder how high the death toll has to rise for Lerner to reconsider). But worst of all, he refers to Mao, the biggest butcher of them all, "liberating" areas from "feudalism." The idea of Mao liberating anything is just plain morally obscene. One might as well refer to Hitler liberating the Germans (say, from the Treaty of Versailles, which was about as popular with ordinary Germans as feudalism).
This nutsiness arises out of his hostility to capitalism. Without much discussion, he routinely equates capitalism with oppression, and he seems to think some form of global socialism is necessary to avoid ecological catastrophe. He doesn't really argue these points intelligently; my sense is he just kind of assumes them.
To sum up: Lerner's book was certainly worth reading, but it would have been much better had he run it by people whose views were not too close to his--maybe one who is religiously far to his right and another who is politically far to his right.
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Michael Lewyn
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Location: New York, NY

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