Torah and West­ern Thought: Intel­lec­tu­al Por­traits of Ortho­doxy and Modernity

Rab­bi Dr. Meir Y. Solove­ichik. Dr. Stu­art W. Halpern, and Rab­bi Shlo­mo Zuck­i­er, eds.
  • Review
By – April 20, 2016

Torah and West­ern Thought: Intel­lec­tu­al Por­traits of Ortho­doxy and Moder­ni­ty is a col­lec­tion of essays on twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Mod­ern Ortho­dox lead­ers who bridged the worlds of Torah and the West. Each por­trait, itself craft­ed by a con­tem­po­rary Mod­ern Ortho­dox thinker, pro­vides a brief biog­ra­phy of the subject’s life and milieu, his or her con­tri­bu­tions to Jew­ish and West­ern thought, and his or her impact on con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish life. The por­traits are of Rav Kook, Rab­bi Yitzchak Her­zog, Rab­bi Immanuel Jakobovits, Rab­bi Avra­ham Yitzhak Kook, Rab­bi Dr. Nor­man Lamm, Pro­fes­sor Nechama Lei­bowitz, Rab­bi Dr. Aharon Licht­en­stein, Rab­bi Ahron Solove­ichik, Rab­bi Joseph B. Solove­ichik, and Rab­bi Dr. Isadore Twer­sky. Col­lec­tive­ly, these thinkers have tack­led top­ics as com­plex and diverse as Jew­ish med­ical ethics, bib­li­cal Inter­pre­ta­tion, Jew­ish His­to­ry, Zion­ism, and the place of a lib­er­al arts edu­ca­tion in Jew­ish life. 

The chap­ter enti­tled Rab­bi Immanuel Jakobovits and the Birth of Jew­ish Med­ical Ethics,” writ­ten by the physi­cian and ethi­cist Dr. Alan Jotkowitz, pro­vides the read­er with both a broad under­stand­ing of Jakobovits’ method­ol­o­gy and an in-depth analy­sis of key top­ics, includ­ing end-of-life care, arti­fi­cial repro­duc­tion, and cos­met­ic surgery. Despite the com­plex­i­ty of these issues, the chap­ter is acces­si­ble to the aver­age but inter­est­ed read­er. The author makes it clear that Rab­bi Jakobovits under­stands Jew­ish med­ical ethics to val­ue respon­si­bil­i­ties and duties over auton­o­my and unlim­it­ed human free­dom.” At the same time, Jotkowitz con­cludes with an appre­ci­a­tion of Rab­bi Jakobovits’ con­tri­bu­tion in imbu­ing Judaism with a sense of mis­sion to the nations of the world” and the moral life of humankind.”

The book includes one woman in its col­lec­tion of por­traits. The chap­ter on Pro­fes­sor Nechama Lei­bowitz, writ­ten by her biog­ra­ph­er Yael Unter­man, shares the life and immea­sur­able con­tri­bu­tion of an inno­v­a­tive edu­ca­tor and rev­o­lu­tion­ary in bib­li­cal stud­ies. At the same time, Unter­man laments that Lei­bowitz is often woe­ful­ly over­looked in both tra­di­tion­al and aca­d­e­m­ic cir­cles.” With deep appre­ci­a­tion, the pro­file sug­gests how Leibowitz’s work fits with the cur­rent trends in the world of Torah study that presage the future of Jew­ish edu­ca­tion.” Unter­man advo­cates that if Leibowitz’s method­ol­o­gy is inte­grat­ed along­side oth­er Tanakh-teach­ing meth­ods, it can con­tin­ue to play a vital role in Jew­ish education.”

Torah and West­ern Thought pro­vides the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be chal­lenged by the col­lec­tive wis­dom of ten great minds that have trans­formed Jew­ish life and West­ern civ­i­liza­tion in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. Each chap­ter inspires the read­er to take a fresh look at how our ancient tra­di­tion has shaped the think­ing of mil­lions. At the same time, Torah and West­ern Thought encour­ages us to see Torah study as a time­less trea­sure that we should all seek to under­stand more fully.

Relat­ed Content:

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

Discussion Questions