Judaism for the World: Reflec­tions on God, Life, and Love

By – December 3, 2020

Arthur Green’s new book, Judaism for the World: Reflec­tions on God, Life and Love is the tes­ta­ment of a unique, and unique­ly impact­ful, edu­ca­tor. Cur­rent­ly a pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy and reli­gion at Hebrew Col­lege and Rec­tor of its Rab­bini­cal School, Rab­bi Green has been writ­ing for and lead­ing spir­i­tu­al­ly seek­ing Jews for over five decades. In this work, he offers essays grouped togeth­er around the theme of Soul (large­ly cen­tered around prayer), Year (as in the Jew­ish cal­en­dar), and World (reflec­tions on con­tem­po­rary Judaism as well as his own life).

As a leader of the Havu­rat Shalom move­ment of the late 60’s into the 70’s, and the author of a sem­i­nal biog­ra­phy of Rab­bi Nach­man of Breslov based on his dis­ser­ta­tion as well as numer­ous oth­er pop­u­lar works, Green’s inter­est, and mode of edu­ca­tion has long been cen­tered on Neo-Hasidic, Kab­bal­is­tic mys­ti­cism. He does­n’t hes­i­tate to break with tra­di­tion­al con­cepts of the divine author­ship of the Torah or even the con­cept of God, yet he is steeped in rev­er­ence for Jew­ish texts, cul­ture, and com­mit­ment. Thus, his thoughts on prayer include state­ments such as We who cre­ate God’ do so in response to the com­plete­ly real pres­ence of divin­i­ty with­in and around us” and Once you tell me it [Judaism] is a legal sys­tem, one that I must observe… I am afraid you will find me bolt­ing from the conversation.”

Through­out these reflec­tions, Green offers spir­i­tu­al sug­ges­tions (includ­ing ten path­ways toward a new Shab­bat” and a rec­om­men­da­tion to recite, each day of the week, the cor­re­spond­ing vers­es from the Cre­ation account in Gen­e­sis) inter­spersed with per­son­al nar­ra­tive. Hav­ing lived through decades cru­cial for the flour­ish­ing of Jew­ish stud­ies with­in both the acad­e­my and the larg­er Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty in Amer­i­ca, Green’s sto­ries of sum­mer camp spent with a teenage who’s who” of now leg­endary Jew­ish edu­ca­tors is a par­tic­u­lar high­light. Tales of cor­re­spon­dence and even clash­es with lumi­nar­ies includ­ing Ger­shom Scholem and Rab­bi Abra­ham Joshua Hes­chel also make for a fas­ci­nat­ing win­dow into the the­o­log­i­cal and edu­ca­tion­al debates rag­ing dur­ing the peri­od of Green’s spir­i­tu­al development.

Reflect­ing on the hol­i­day of Passover, Green notes that the cel­e­bra­tion of the Fes­ti­val of Free­dom is not meant as a self-con­grat­u­la­to­ry exer­cise. Rather, it is meant to stir us to ask our­selves, What does this free­dom demand of me?” As a writer and teacher, Rab­bi Green has often taught his stu­dents the free­dom they have in chart­ing their own Jew­ish jour­neys; it is a free­dom that demands a deep com­mit­ment to, and love for, Jew­ish peo­ple­hood, Jew­ish spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, and a desire to mine Jew­ish texts for their time­less wis­dom, all prin­ci­ples that Rab­bi Green has demon­strat­ed through­out his illus­tri­ous career. In this poignant, learned, and per­son­al vol­ume, he con­tin­ues to shine a spir­i­tu­al light for those seek­ing their own indi­vid­ual path.

Dr. Stu Halpern is Senior Advi­sor to the Provost of Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty. He has edit­ed or coedit­ed 17 books, includ­ing Torah and West­ern Thought: Intel­lec­tu­al Por­traits of Ortho­doxy and Moder­ni­ty and Books of the Peo­ple: Revis­it­ing Clas­sic Works of Jew­ish Thought, and has lec­tured in syn­a­gogues, Hil­lels and adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion­al set­tings across the U.S.

Discussion Questions

Judaism for the World is equal parts pro­found and beau­ti­ful. This is a book that will be acces­si­ble to most read­ers and is the per­fect anti­dote for any­one feel­ing a loss of inspi­ra­tion about Judaism or about the larg­er world around us. Green’s prose is ele­gant and enchant­i­ng, and his insights and teach­ings about Judaism are both orig­i­nal and time­less. His approach to Judaism will be inspir­ing and per­son­al­ly res­onate for so many. This is the kind of book you can read over and over again, get­ting a deep­er and new per­spec­tive each time.

Judaism for the World is a col­lec­tion of essays and per­son­al reflec­tions bro­ken up into three sec­tions: 1) Jew­ish the­ol­o­gy, 2) the annu­al cycle of Jew­ish hol­i­days, and 3) what it means to live in the larg­er world. While each sec­tion does not always adhere tight­ly to these cat­e­gories, each one con­tains trea­sures that will stir the soul, reawak­en our curios­i­ty, and breathe new life into our evolv­ing rela­tion­ship with Jew­ish tradition.