Friday, July 13, 2007

More on R' Greenberg's Theology

My second blog-post ever focused on the neo-Reconstructionist theology expressed by R' Irving (Yitz) Greenberg. Having recently subscribed to Tradition, I find that a zealot of the 13 Foundations of Maimonides, R' Dr. David Berger, wrote at the same time, a review expressing a similar position. In this month's issue, he defends his position; unfortunately, both the review and the letter are only available to subscribers.

Some excerpts that address this issue (most of the review addresses the main point of the book, Jewish-Christian relations):

In the wake of the Holocaust, the next stage has arrived, and it is startling in its radicalism. God, says Greenberg, has lost the moral right to command the Jewish people to live in accordance with the high standard required by the covenant. After His failure to protect the covenantal people from the Nazi onslaught, any such demand would be “inherently abusive . . . illegitimate, and therefore null and void, because it [would] only expose the Jews to greater danger” (p. 26). Nonetheless, some Jews so love God that they have voluntarily chosen to maintain the covenantal relationship, which now constitutes the highest level of commitment precisely because it is the product of a free choice. At this mature stage of the covenant, the partnership between God and man is that of equals (p. 188).

One wonders if Greenberg, who is committed to a halakhic way of life, means all of this quite literally. He never descends from the heights of rhetoric to the level of discourse that would actually address the consequences of this position.
...
Whether or not Greenberg is entirely serious, even a rhetorical rejection of the binding authority of the Torah would be understood by any fair-minded observer as a prima facie abandonment of Orthodox Judaism, so that complaints of marginalization by the Orthodox establishment...


R' Alan Yuter offers a different reading of R' Greenberg, in a letter in the current issue:

If however we mean that belief is difficult to sustain after the Holocaust, and the covenant’s brokenness refers to a human inability to measure up to the Divine mandate and we understand R. Greenberg’s prose metaphorically, poetically, and generously, we can quibble with the idiom, but not the intent. He is, after all, an observant Jew. One does not consistently obey commandments out of thoughtless inertia or mindless nostalgia.

R' Berger defends his position with more quotes from R' Greenberg's book describing the spiritual odyssey that led him to his position.

For my part, I have trouble with R' Yuter's alternate explanation, as it, too, appears to be even less Judaic than R' Berger's reading of R' Greenberg. The closest parallel that comes to mind is Galatians 2:16, which I shall not quote here.

* * *

Last year, R' Greenberg wrote an article for Modern Judaism expressing a somewhat different viewpoint, it seems to me somewhat closer to Reform. At some point I'd like to write a post examining the article more closely.

Whatever the conclusion, R' Greenberg explores interesting ideas. As one of the foremost public figures associated with left-wing Modern Orthodoxy, and a prominent advocate of the halachically observant lifestyle, despite his theology, what he says is always important.

Perhaps we laypersons should not try to understand the theology of the Great Minds of the era, but they write, and publish - shall we not read and learn?

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