Jew­ish The­ol­o­gy and World Religions

Alon Goshen-Gottstein and Eugene Korn, eds.
  • Review
By – December 11, 2012

Every so often a book comes along that clar­i­fies some­thing you’ve been think­ing about but which has nev­er pre­sent­ed a clear path to under­stand­ing. This is one of those hap­py occur­rences. If you’ve been wonder­ing how Judaism relates to the oth­er great reli­gions of the world, and how this reli­gious plu­ral­ism affects con­tem­po­rary Jews and their sense of iden­ti­ty, Jew­ish The­ol­o­gy and World Reli­gions is the place to look.

The edi­tors posit that one high­ly sig­nif­i­cant qual­i­ty of mod­ern Jew­ish life is that Jews inter­act today on an almost con­tin­u­al basis with non-Jews. This rep­re­sents a major change in Jew­ish life from our more tra­di­tion-bound past, and the result of this reli­gious plu­ral­ism can be con­fus­ing. Do we know how we think about the non-Jews’ beliefs? Do we under­stand their cul­tures and their world views? Do we have a clear idea of our own Jew­ish mis­sion, and has expo­sure to oth­er tra­di­tions changed it?

The two edi­tors of this vol­ume hold out­stand­ing cre­den­tials. Alon Goshen-Gottstein is the founder and direc­tor of the Eli­jah Inter­faith Insti­tute and direc­tor of the Cen­ter for the Study of Rab­binic Thought at Beit Morasha, Jerusalem; Eugene Korn serves as the Amer­i­can direc­tor of the Cen­ter of Jew­ish-Chris­t­ian Under­stand­ing and Coopera­tion in Efrat, and also as co-direc­tor of the Insti­tute of The­o­log­i­cal Inquiry. Togeth­er they have put togeth­er a ros­ter of learned and artic­u­late con­trib­u­tors, includ­ing well-known Jew­ish writ­ers like Alan Brill, Ruth Langer, and Avi Sagi.

The book takes on dif­fi­cult top­ics from a philo­soph­i­cal per­spec­tive. For exam­ple, it expli­cates Jew­ish views on a range of world reli­gions and dis­cuss­es the effects of Jew­ish plu­ral­ism in depth. Inter­faith rela­tions consti­tute a sec­tion of the book that is par­tic­u­lar­ly well-writ­ten and insight­ful. This is also true of the thor­ough exam­i­na­tion of rab­binic posi­tions on Chris­tian­i­ty and the stud­ies of the Jew­ish views of Islam, Hin­duism, and Buddhism.

At first glance, the top­ics may seem heavy, but the writ­ing is sol­id and the ideas are acces­si­ble. High on the list is the con­cept that if we are to main­tain our Jew­ish iden­ti­ty and con­ti­nu­ity, we need to for­mu­late a Jew­ish the­ol­o­gy of world reli­gions that will help us do so. This is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant for Jew­ish thinkers and edu­ca­tors who are con­cerned with ensur­ing that Judaism con­tin­ues to make a mean­ing­ful con­tri­bu­tion to the contempo­rary world. Index, notes on contributors.

Relat­ed Con­tent: Win­ners and Final­ists of the 2013 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award

Lin­da F. Burghardt is a New York-based jour­nal­ist and author who has con­tributed com­men­tary, break­ing news, and fea­tures to major news­pa­pers across the U.S., in addi­tion to hav­ing three non-fic­tion books pub­lished. She writes fre­quent­ly on Jew­ish top­ics and is now serv­ing as Schol­ar-in-Res­i­dence at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al & Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau County.

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