The People and the Book: Freedom within a closed canon

The Torah portions Mattot and Masei are read on Shabbat, July 22.

July 11, 2017 14:00
4 minute read.
Art by Pepe Fainberg

Art by Pepe Fainberg. (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)


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I REMEMBER a disagreement I had with my teacher, the late Hebrew University philosophy of education Prof. Michael Rosenak, about the underlying thesis of Mordecai Kaplan’s “Judaism as a Civilization.” Following Kaplan, I argued that the renewal of Judaism requires not merely to reconcile our faith with contemporary science and ethics but to support them. Beyond ridding ourselves of such hoary ideas as “the world to come,” “miracles” or “personal providence,” we should also rule out those parts of the Talmud and even of the Torah that clash with our modern worldview and moral sense, such as laws about sexual orientation and animal sacrifices, as well as those which discriminate against women.

In response Rosenak asked me to consider the following metaphor: When one’s home feels small and suffocating, instead of breaking the walls and sprawling out into the yard, “break through the roof.” In other words, one should grow while keeping the original house intact.


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