Page 77 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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BOROWITZ/JEWISH THOUGHT — ON THE EMERGENCE OF A GENRE
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context of a given practical medical problem as the author con­
siders how much weight to give the tradition, how much to in­
dividual self-determination. To a limited extent, this issue also
surfaces indirectly in the differing approaches to a given de­
cision by “stringent” and “liberal” decisors.
INTERPRETERS OF JUDAISM
It is but one step further to the possibility of presenting a
comprehensive intellectual understanding of Judaism, a system­
atic Jewish philosophy or theology. During the fifty year period
under consideration the thought of our two great American
Jewish thinkers, Mordecai Kaplan and Abraham Heschel, came
to full maturity. In this era, too, translation and interpretation
made available the ideas of the German Jewish thinkers,
Hermann Cohen, Leo Baeck, Franz Rosenzweig and Martin
Buber. Each gave voice to a distinctive interpretation of Judaism
entire, one largely motivated by disagreement with the formu­
lations of the other synoptic theoreticians. Most of the systematic
writing, however, was devoted to specific issues, Zionism and
Jewish identity being particularly prominent early on, the Hol­
ocaust dominating the middle period, while mysticism and fem­
inism are evoking considerable attention now. These creative
efforts need to be understood against the background of the
academic concern with the history of ideas, already mentioned
above. Thus we have many studies describing critical themes
in the thought of one or another thinker, or in modern thought
generally, or the outlines of the thinking of one or another
writer.
It must be noted, however, that often under the guise of an
objective investigation of a given theme a writer is putting for­
ward a personal Jewish agenda, hermeneutics and advocacy not
being unrelated as postmoderns see it.
All this publication has both created and been made possible
by a not inconsiderable reading public that has an interest in
Jewish philosophy or theology. Its following among Jewish pro­
fessionals, academics and clergy might be ascribed to their work,
more cynically to a need for a “plausibility structure” to justify
their continued activity. But there has been a growing interest
in these once esoteric topics on the part of lay Jewry as well.