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Judaism, Human Values, and the Jewish State Revised ed. Edition

5.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674487765
ISBN-10: 0674487761
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Editorial Reviews

Review

The essays are incisive, provocative, fearlessly consistent...No one interested in Israel, Judaism and the nexus of the two can afford complacently to ignore the questions Leibowitz refuses to stop asking. (Menachem Kellner New York Times Book Review)

The essays in this fine collection amply reveal Leibowitz's unswerving consistency...At the same time, though, a close reading of the essays reveals tensions which, although possibly reconcilable, nevertheless point to a certain elasticity in this seemingly inflexible thinker. In the end, author>Leibowitz's humanity stands revealed as much in these rare moments of inconsistency as in his fanatic adherence to principle. (David Biale Religious Studies Review)

The most significant criticism of Israel that Israel has ever been handed by one of its own citizens. [Leibowitz] has a rare moral presence. (Moshe Halbertal New Republic)

Yeshayahu Leibowitz's significance in contemporary Jewish intellectual life, and in Israel's political and intellectual life, is comparable to that of figures better known in the United States--Buber, for example, or Scholem. Leibowitz is more locally involved, and he is more openly polemical. But he is never mysterious or evasive, oracular or reticent. He just fights his battles, but the result of all his battles is a remarkably consistent doctrine. It remains lean and elegant--and, even for people who disagree, heartening and enlivening. (Michael Waizer)

About the Author

Yeshayahu Leibowitz was head of the Biological Chemistry Department at the Hebrew University and Professor of Neurophysiology, Hebrew University Medical School.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Revised ed. edition (August 11, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674487761
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674487765
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #963,347 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Jeffrey N. Saks on April 4, 2000
Perhaps the best introduction to Yeshayahu Leibowitz in English is Eliezer Goldman's prefatory essay to the volume he edited, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Judaism, Human Values, and the Jewish State (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1992). This volume contains 27 translated essays, most of which come from Leibowitz's Hebrew collection, Yahadut, Am HaYehudi u-Medinat Yisrael (Jerusalem: Schocken, 1975). Goldman's recent collection of his own essays, Mehkarim ve-Iyyunim (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1996) contains a number of pieces on Leibowitz as well.
Yeshayahu Leibowitz (1903-93) was the often paradoxical, so-called "conscience of Israel"--a philosopher, controversial social critic, and sharp-tongued Socratic gadfly. He was born in 1903 in Lithuania, and was educated in Germany prior to settling in Jerusalem in 1934, where he taught chemistry, physiology, and the philosophy of science at the Hebrew University. He was an author and editor of the Encyclopedia HaIvrit, and taught, lectured, and wrote on a wide range of issues throughout his long life.
Beyond his political thought, Leibowitz is perhaps best known (and critiqued) for his radical conceptions of Judaism. In brief, his position focused on the centrality--indeed, exclusivity--of mitsvot as the constitutive factor in Judaism. Observing the commandments (i.e. fulfilling the divine will) is an end in itself, and not a means to achieve personal, spiritual, or communal benefit. The significance of a religious act, argues Leibowitz, is in its performance qua worshipping God. To seek any meaning beyond that is, in his opinion, idolatry.
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Eliezer Goldman, the editor, has done an excellent job in presenting the ideas and views of Leibowitz to the English speaking public. This collection of articles gives a broad overview of the Jewish faith, the relationship of religion to the people and the state of Israel, the political problems of the Israeli state and finally the relationship of Judaism to Christianity. It is a thoroughly honest exposition of the problems inherent in the various topics and it is a pity that the book has not become more widely known and reviewed.
It should be of interest to a Jewish as well as Gentile readership and had his warnings after the 1967 war, in relation to the occupation of the conquered territories, been heeded Israel would not be in the difficult straits the country finds itself in today.
His discussion of the Judeo-Christian heritage and refusal to accept the term is also valuable. He does not mind explaining "the repugnance Judaism has for Christianity" as seen from a genuine orthodox Jewish perspective, rather than from any of the other parts of the spectrum which comprises today's Judaism.
While some may not agree with all of his views, they are honest, well reasoned and therefore important to be listened to.
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As another review points out, Leibowitz believes that the purpose of Judaism and mitzvot is "the religious perfection of man", and that mitzvot (commandments) should be observed for their own sake rather than for external ends. According to Lebowitz, it follows that religion is completely separate from morality; if serving God is the most important end in life, it takes priority over man's perceptions of morality. Rather than seeing the almost-sacrifice of Isaac as an aberration, Leibowitz sees it as a classic example of how Judaism should function - obedience to the divine command for its own sake. Leibowitz has a point: certainly, God does not exist to serve man. But I wonder if Leibowitz somewhat oversimplifies Judaism; halacha (Jewish law) is based in part on broader perceptions of morality (though on the other hand, that morality comes in part from halachic tradition).

Leibowitz follows his logic to a variety of conclusions, including:

*rejection of messianism, because hope in a worldly Messiah "undermine[s] the motivation to serve God in the world as it is" and thus leads to defections from Jewish practice when the Messiah fails to come and the "cheerless day-to-day practice of Torah and Mitzvoth" (p. 71) fails to inspire.

*Rejection of the idea that Jews are naturally holy. Holiness, according to Leibowitz, comes from following Mitzvoth, and thus a belief in holiness by birth is merely "racist chauvinism."

*Rejection of Christianity because "in Christianity it is not man who serves God but rather God serves man." (p. 98).

*Rejection of Kabbalah because Kabbalah interprets mitzvot as "a method for mending disruptions in the world of divinity" (p. 111) and thus falsely elevates man to a divine level.
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This book is a must for those who want to understand the complexities, difficulties and richness of the founding of the modern State of Israel, its relation to the people, to Judaism and human values. What is it about this religion that makes it special? Why does the author criticize Jewish religious fanaticism as the modern "Golden Calf", why does he accuse them of practicing idolatry?
How and why do Jews have to pray the Shema Israel? The holiest prayer for millennia what does it mean? The three sections it contains what do they teach us? To me the book was an interesting and challenging answer to these and many other questions about Judaism and the state of Israel. I found his approach wise, controversial at time, but overall a fascinating and learned, wise and very much at hand with today's painful realities of the Israeli society and the immensity and richness of Judaism as a form of relating to God and to other human beings. A philosophical road which is a delight to follow under the guidance of Y. Leibowitz who is known after all as the "conscience of Israel".
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