Page 137 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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ELLENSON / EUGENE B. BOROWITZ: A TRIBUTE
129
during his six years o f study for the rabbinate. These men were
still attuned to the philosophies of Kant and Hegel, and the
twentieth-century Jewish thinkers they applauded — Cohen and
Baeck — were men informed by the thought of these “Teutonic
geniuses” and “the schools derived from them .” Indeed,
Borowitz observed that many of these men who had been his
own teachers “still seem to think that Judaism must essentially
have to do with ideas or concepts, much as Hermann Cohen
interpreted it half a century or so ago. They are puzzled if
not disdainful when one tries to speak of Jewishness, as I have
done in
The Masks Jews Wear
in terms of the ground of the
self.”
Emphasis upon “se lf’ and the key role that modern culture
played in informing this dimension of Borowitz’s theological
project should not obscure the very real limits he placed around
the existentialist approach he had come to adopt as the most
promising method for the creation of a modern Jewish theology.
In that same 1974 speech, he wrote, “When being Jewish is
primarily a matter of where one grounds one’s self, then Jew­
ishness is involved in all one’s life and surely requires explicit,
particular expression in much of it.” Borowitz’s appreciation
of pluralism applauded “the many options available in tradition­
al and modern ways of expressing one’s Jewishness” and as­
serted that an existentialist Jewish faith must “motivate us to
Jewish living.” Highly critical of a “mindless existentialism” that
would abandon traditional Jewish “learning and analysis to
whatever feels good Jewishly,” Borowitz demanded that Jews
take responsibility for the study and practice of tradition.
In concluding his remarks that night in 1974, Borowitz as­
serted, “The thinker’s . . . job is to give this [modern Jewish]
way of living the comprehensibility of sensitive, thoughtful lan­
guage — at least, so I now understand my task. To complete
such a statement of modern Jewishness — I do not know wheth­
er I am capable of carrying out so ambitious a project. But
I am emboldened by the honor here bestowed upon me and
encouraged by the many blessings God has given me day by
day, and especially, this one. So I propose to see what I can
manage to do about this in the years ahead.”
The task of modern Jewish thought, as Borowitz so aptly
phrased it twenty years ago, is not simply one of framing and
facing “intellectual options.” Instead, “We need to guide Jews