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.