Friday, February 28, 2014

Tradition and Reality: the impact of History on Modern Jewish Thought by Nathan Rotenstriech

Since the emergence of the Jewish people into modernity from their Ghettos of Europe, their intellectual class has grappled with the tension between a unique Jewish Tradition the implies obligations and commandments from a Divine Authority and precludes the outside world vs. the joining of the common historical process of the outside surrounding nations.  From the 19th century onward, beginning with the Science of Judaism, one has seen a gradual withdrawal from a fundamental religious tradition centered around Hashem's commandments given at Mount Sinai to a secular national identity reduced to a common ancient language (Hebrew) centering around the modern concept of the state, specifically the modern State of Israel.  Professor Rotenstreich shows how far adrift the Modern Jew is from his authentic Jewish Tradition.

With a discussion of Zunz's and Krochmal's determination in finding the unique conceptualization of the eternity of the Jewish people, calling upon the "eternal spirit" or perennial cyclical upheavals, one understands a tension being uncovered when applying critical 'scientific' methods to studying Jewish History.  Abraham Geiger understood that historicism inevitably creates changes in Tradition.  With Henrich Graetz, Jewish tradition is reduced to a strict process of History in a Hegelian sense.  With Ahad HaAm and Nachman Bialik history turns nationalistic in a strict cultural way turning off the path of a rigorous historical process.

According to Professor Rotenstreich the Modern Jew has gone far away from Jewish Tradition, yet, he yearns to retain somehow his unique Jewish Identity.  Mr. Rotenstreich expects that the modern Jew must come to terms with his authentic Tradition and come back to it.  He does not advocate in any one direction but rather, he sees that the sociological experiment with the study of History has run its course.  

Written in 1973, this book is somewhat prescient because now one has seen somewhat of a renaissance of Jewish Tradition among the secular and Reformers who are now encouraging more adherence to Jewish Tradition.

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