Page 141 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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ELLENSON / EUGENE B. BOROWITZ: A TRIBUTE
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plunged into a spiritual crisis which stems from the recognition
that it is now impossible to maintain that there is a commanding
secular ground for values. Yet, ethical foundations for distin­
guishing between good and evil — between the Nazi SS officer
and his Jewish victim — must be constructed and moral abso­
lutes must be maintained. The need to oppose evil resolutely
means that ethical warrants for guiding human values and ac­
tions must be produced. Religion addresses this need and is
entitled to an independent voice in the contemporary setting
precisely because of the confidence in the tradition from which
it speaks. In a bewildering world of choices and indecision, re­
ligion offers the surest compass for navigating the shoals of
competing moral claims. In offering this analysis of the
postmodern religious situation, Borowitz, in effect, is arguing
that the desire on the part of many present-day Jews to affirm
a normative ethics has led them back to God. However, unlike
earlier Kantian approaches that marked the writings of men
such as Hermann Cohen, Borowitz points out that the move
from ethics to God no longer engenders an idealistic construc­
tion of God. Instead, this movement from the moral to the Di­
vine in postmodern Jewish faith has been marked by a belief
in a personal deity Who is at once transcendent and immanent.
In sum,
Renewing the Covenant
contends that contemporary his­
tory has effectively undermined the confidence in human judg ­
ment that previously undergirded modern thought. This, in
turn, has led to a renewed appreciation of the truth and power
of religion in a postmodern situation.
ROLE OF AUTONOMY
Nevertheless, Borowitz is not prepared to retreat totally from
the insights and affirmations of an Enlightenment world. The
one survivor of modernist religiosity, in his view, is the concept
of “the self.” Autonomy is so firmly rooted in the contemporary
Jewish condition, so unalienable a right, that its surrender would
be unthinkable. Borowitz asserts that the ongoing affirmation
of this concept remains crucial for present-day liberal Jews.
They reject the religious fundamentalism that appears to dom­
inate so many sectors of the Jewish world today, even as they
turn with a new respect to examine the wisdom and power of
Jewish religious tradition. For liberal Judaism, Jewish spiritu­