Last year, R. Art Green published a book, and R. Daniel Landes wrote a critical review of it in the Jewish Review of books. Green then responded to the review, and Landes responded to the response (on the same link). This is now Green’s next response. Underlying all of this are some interesting questions about the possibilities and limits of Jewish theology. (One could say “questions about Orthodoxy and Neo-Hasidism,” but perhaps it’s more complicated than that.) We welcome more discussion and debate on these issues, and not only from the two men involved. Green’s next letter is below.
Let’ s continue this public conversation, which is not over, in a face-to-face second person form, without the barrier of an intervening magazine. Internet interest will provide more than sufficient readership.
I find your tone, in your latest response as well as the initial review of my Radical Judaism, to be significantly annoying, ranging between dismissive and condescending. This is particularly bothersome because you continue to distort my views, either because you have not read me carefully or because a straw-man Art Green better suits your purpose.
You distinguish my views from earlier Jewish notions of an abstract deity by saying that I “flatly deny” divine transcendence. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Please re-read page 18:
“Transcendence” in the context of such a faith [my mystical panentheism] does not refer to a God “out there” or “over there” somewhere beyond the universe, since I do not know the existence of such a “there.” Transcendence means rather that God – or Being – is so fully present in the here and now of each moment that we could not possibly grasp the depth of that presence. Transcendence thus dwells within immanence.
Now you may not like the monistic theology of the succeeding sentences (“There is no ultimate duality here…” ), but my theology does not deny transcendence. In saying that the mystery of divine presence can never be fathomed, I am seeking a religious language that retains the essential element of transcendence while linking it to a real part of human religious experience, rather than simply asserting it as tradition-enforced dogma. My insistence (ibid.) that “the whole is mysteriously and infinitely greater than the sum of its parts” is intended (see n. 4 to that page) to distinguish my view from that of the sort of reductionist pantheism with which you choose to identify me.
You similarly claim that my “God (like Mordecai Kaplan’s) has been divested of all personality.” We should probably leave Kaplan aside. The Kaplan scholars will probably tell you that Kaplan’s views over his long lifetime were inconsistent. See especially Jack Cohen’ s book on Kaplan and Rav Kook, and some of the sources quoted there. (I hope you and I both live long enough to be celebrated for similar inconsistencies!) But I do not divest God of all personality. I painstakingly try to show, through the long course of Chapter Two, how our images of God as divine person developed, including ancient Near Eastern and other historical influences. I trust that you do not deny these. When I finally come to express my own views (p. 73), I say the following:
Here too I turn to Kabbalah for a way to say this within the context of Judaism. The Zohar understands well that the personal God-figure, in both its male and female articulations (tif’ eret and malkhut) is a series of symbolic constructions, less than the divine absolute…the mystics were creating a theological position that they rarely dared to articulate clearly. The personal God is a symbolic bridge between transcendent mystery (that which by definition the mind cannot grasp) and a humanity that constantly reaches forth toward it. Because that “ :reaching” needs to be undertaken by the whole human self, including emotion and body as well as mind, the “ bridge” needs to be one to which we can most wholly respond, a projection of our own form.
I go on, in the ensuing two pages, to talk about my own use of such personalistic language, despite my essentially monistic theology. I even insist (p. 74: “ But to be fully at home in Judaism…” ) on the importance of personalistic language. Now you may say, of course, that this is disingenuous, that my love of such language is inconsistent with my true position. But here I give you the RaMBaM, about whom the very same claim is rightly made. I am, if anything, less elitist in my view. I think it is not only the unwashed masses who need such language, but even we who seek to enter the doors to the palace’ s inner chamber. As long as we remain human, we live in a dualistic outer universe, and thus need the language of “ I” and “ Thou.”
As for my “ unsophisticated” way of reading evolution as a matrix for discovering the sacred, let me say that here I am trying intentionally to re-weave a contemporary understanding of our biological origins with elements of Jewish mythic speech. My goal is a bold re-assertion of the sacred dimension in our modern account of origins. I ultimately believe that the sacred needs to be expressed in mythic language; to denude it of that would result in a prosaic impoverishment of consciousness, the opposite of my intent. But in order to go forward with a renewed use of myth, we sometimes do need to step outside it and to say exactly what we do and don’ t mean by employing it. I do alternate between those two stances (de- and re-mythologizing, you may call them) in this book. Confusing, perhaps, but “ unsophisticated?”
Now we turn to “ pluralism” and “ criticism.” I welcome criticism, especially if it suggests constructive alternatives, which I have not seen you offer. I precisely want to stimulate thought and open-ended discussion of theology among Jews, as I hope we are indeed doing here. But to say of my views, despite the extensive history I offer, simply “ This is not the God of Israel” and “ This is not the Torah of Israel” feels rather little like “ pluralism.” You may not like the word “ heretic,” but this does feel (from the recipient’ s end) like heresy-hunting. Those statements are more like R. Yaakov Emden, shall we say, than like the earlier elu ve-elu divrey elokim hayyim.
Finally, I still fail to understand vos hakt ir a chainik about a “ doctrine of ahavat yisra’ el.” I say quite clearly (p. 138ff.) that I remain a part of klal yisra’ el, requiring fellowship with those with whom I disagree, for reasons both historical and theological. I also say, and I think I have a right to, that “ this does not establish my only religious landscape.” Is that what so disturbs you? Believe me, reb yid, I know quite well that you and I “ are inextricably bound to (and stuck with) each other.” To me that’ s both bad news and good. I hope that’ s true for you as well.
ARTHUR GREEN IS RECTOR OF THE RABBINICAL SCHOOL AND IRVING
BRUDNICK PROFESSOR OF JEWISH PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGION AT
HEBREW COLLEGE IN NEWTON MA