Stud­ies in Judaism and Plu­ral­ism: Hon­or­ing the 60th Anniver­sary of the Acad­e­my for Jew­ish Religion

Leonard Levin, ed.

  • Review
By – October 20, 2017

Stud­ies in Judaism and Plu­ral­ism, edit­ed by Leonard Levin, is an anthol­o­gy of essays com­piled in cel­e­bra­tion of the six­ti­eth anniver­sary of the Acad­e­my of Jew­ish Reli­gion (AJR), a train­ing insti­tu­tion for plu­ral­is­tic cler­gy and Jew­ish lead­er­ship. The anthol­o­gy includes twen­ty essays writ­ten by cler­gy, edu­ca­tors, and thought lead­ers from across the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty. The essays are divid­ed into sev­en units and focus on plu­ral­ism in an edu­ca­tion­al, denom­i­na­tion­al, halachic (legal), and com­mu­nal context.

In the intro­duc­tion, Levin, who teach­es Jew­ish Phi­los­o­phy at AJR, begins with a def­i­n­i­tion of plu­ral­ism. He sug­gests that plu­ral­ism dif­fers from rel­a­tivism by striv­ing for a gold­en mean between a dog­mat­ic claim to objec­tiv­i­ty and descent into pure sub­jec­tiv­i­ty…. Plu­ral­ism is the ongo­ing give-and-take that seeks to achieve this dynam­ic par­tial con­sen­sus, while rec­og­niz­ing and respect­ing the dif­fer­ences that per­sist between us.” The essays that fol­low may offer a nuanced dis­tinc­tion from Levin’s def­i­n­i­tion, but all share a deep appre­ci­a­tion of plu­ral­ism as an essen­tial val­ue of Jew­ish life. Many authors also share their per­son­al or pro­fes­sion­al strug­gles or their com­mu­nal chal­lenges in cre­at­ing a plu­ral­is­tic Jew­ish space.

Joel Alter, in his essay Doc­u­ment­ing Core Val­ues: A Plu­ral­ism Audit in a Jew­ish Day School,” shares his expe­ri­ence imple­ment­ing a plu­ral­ism audit, a core val­ue of the Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty Day School of Water­town, Mass­a­chu­setts. He sug­gests that the com­pro­mis­es required to estab­lish and sus­tain a plu­ral­is­tic com­mu­ni­ty in a school high­light the inher­ent ten­sions between com­mu­ni­ty and indi­vid­ual auton­o­my, val­ue-based posi­tions and mere’ pref­er­ences, com­pet­ing cul­tur­al pri­or­i­ties, and sources of author­i­ty.” The process led Alter to a deep­er under­stand­ing of the chal­lenges inher­ent to edu­cat­ing around a core school val­ue and liv­ing the mis­sion of a school.

With a very dif­fer­ent feel, Shi­ra Paster­nack Be’eri’s essay, Tex­ting Across the Arab-Jew­ish Divide,” explores her own prej­u­dices as a Jew­ish Israeli hail­ing a taxi in Jerusalem. Fol­low­ing a peri­od of height­ened ten­sion around the High Holy Days, the author ulti­mate­ly refus­es a ride with an Arab Israeli dri­ver. Feel­ing unset­tled by her self-described race-based fear,” Be’eri reached out to the dri­ver a few weeks lat­er to apol­o­gize. The dri­ver accept­ed the apol­o­gy and offered a per­son­al prayer for peace. The exchange renewed the author’s hope in find­ing voic­es of human­i­ty and com­pas­sion to be heard above the clat­ter of hatred and conflict.”

The essays in Stud­ies in Judaism and Plu­ral­ism are both touch­ing and thought-pro­vok­ing. While a hand­ful will require a back­ground in Jew­ish prac­tice or thought to appre­ci­ate, the major­i­ty of the essays are acces­si­ble and will offer the casu­al read­er a deep­er appre­ci­a­tion for the chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties that embrac­ing plu­ral­ism hold for the future of Jew­ish life.

Jonathan Fass is the Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of Edu­ca­tion­al Tech­nol­o­gy and Strat­e­gy at The Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion Project of New York.

Discussion Questions