Page 73 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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going, illuminating and horizon-widening production of liter­
ature. No one but specialists can now reasonably hope to keep
track of it, yet many of these volumes open up questions and
concerns that promise many more fascinating books to come.
These works are the products of those who specialize in Jew­
ish thought. But where shall we draw the boundaries of “Jewish
thought” and thus include or exclude the writings of those many
other academics who bring the expertise of their disciplines to
bear on aspects of what Jews think or once thought? For ex­
ample, shall we exclude from our evolving view of Jewish con­
ceptions of reality the findings of students of government who
extrapolate from Jewish practice and comment an understand­
ing of Jewish political thought? Or those of the anthropologists
who uncover the worldviews buried in social practice or tale?
Today, from every area of the social sciences the books of Jewish
academics are awakening us to new dimensions of Jewish
Perhaps the liveliest area for publication in recent years has
been that of ethics. Oddly enough, though modernized Jews
have for well over a century identified the essence of Judaism
as ethics — in the Kantian sense of that term — there have
been few books indeed on that topic and most of those merely
illustrated how Jewish texts supported the precepts of liberal
universalism. Ahad Ha’am’s case is paradigmatic. Rejecting God
and revelation and substituting high human culture for Torah,
he was hard put to explain why one should care about the Jewish
people and continue its culture. He tried to give special value
to the Jewish folk by arguing that its unique national talent
lay in the realm of high culture and ethics. Thus, he insisted
that the fundamental distinction between Judaism and Chris­
tianity arose from their different understanding of ethics, a mat­
ter he hoped to make clear in a master work on Jewish ethics.
He never wrote that volume and despite the fact that this has
been a favorite ideological stance of Jews for decades, neither
has anyone else. The alleged higher ethical concern of Jews
has been more easily understood as a matter of action, partic­
ularly Jewish family life and liberal politics, than of a distinctive