Page 136 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
. . . a root belief that personal dignity means having substantial
self-determination.”
Borowitz thus turned to religious existentialism — particularly
as expressed in Martin Buber’s philosophy of dialogue and re­
lation — as the most compelling and attractive methodological
approach Jewish thinkers could employ in addressing issues of
contemporary religious and communal concern. Furthermore,
as he was to demonstrate in his books of those years, traditional
thinkers in the community, such as Heschel and Soloveitchik,
had similarly moved beyond the Kantianism of their own youth
and had come to embrace elements of religious existentialism
in their own attempts to describe Jewish religious faith and prac­
tice. In explicating the thought of these two exemplars of tra­
ditional Judaism, Borowitz was also displaying another proclivity
of his own thought. The Jewish theology he was struggling to
express was not intended to be a sectarian one, reserved only
for members of the Reform community. Instead, he was at­
tempting to address a broad swath of American Jewry who,
regardless of denominational label, made their Jewish decisions
in large measure on the basis of personal freedom. His pre­
sentation of the positions of Heschel and Soloveitchik, rep re­
sentative as they were of the traditionalist camps in American
Judaism, reflected Borowitz’s own desire to speak to the reality
that marked the spiritual and communal lives of vast numbers
of American Jews across denominational lines.
EXISTENTIALIST OUTLOOK
Borowitz expressed these thoughts with striking and charac­
teristic clarity in 1974 when he received the National Book
Award in the field of Jewish thought for
The Masks Jews Wear.
Borowitz, in accepting the award, stated in a speech printed
in that year’s
Jewish Book Annual,
“I should like to see in this
honor a sign that, after 25 years of labor, the existentialist in­
terpretation of Judaism has become accepted among American
Jews.” He noted that in his own “groping for a post-rationalist,
post-naturalistic way of thinking about Judaism,” he had come
to be attracted to “the broad-scale literary, philosophic and the­
ological currents loosely united under the term ‘existentialist.’”
These currents, he continued, had been treated with contempt
— or what was even worse, totally ignored — by his own teachers