Shaul Magid is the editor of Jewish Thought and Culture for Tikkun, professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College, and the Kogod Senior Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. His last two books are The Bible, the Talmud, and the New Testament: Elijah Zvi Soloveitchik’s Commentary to the New Testament (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019) and Piety and Rebellion: Essays in Hasidim (Academic Studies Press, 2019). His forthcoming book Meir Kahane: An American Jewish Radical will be published in 2020 with Princeton University Press.
Morty Leifman was a man who believed to his last day that what went on inside those gates at JTS was a crucial part of American Judaism. Yet he was not Pollyannaish or uncritical – he could be devastatingly serious and cutting and would put his career on the line for something, or someone, he believed in. But through it all he remained a consummate believer in Conservative Judaism. When we sometimes expressed our doubts about that he heard us and responded in a serious and honest manner, always with a grin and a twinkle in his eye. He had his own way of being subversive. But even in some of the darker moments inside those gates, I don’t think Morty ever considered leaving them behind. That was his spiritual home.
There are few Jewish figures in the contemporary Jewish imaginary as seemingly irredeemable as Meir Kahane. In 1986 the Israeli Parliament passed “The Racism Law” specifically targeting Kahane and his KACH party that eventually removed him from the Knesset. Even though the law could arguably have been applied to others in subsequent Israeli Parliaments (even some who openly espouse allegiance to Kahane) it never has been and likely never will. It was a law legislated to invalidate one individual. In America, The Jewish Defense League he founded in 1968 has long been discredited, even as it still exists, and his vision of the diaspora, Jews, race, and ethno-absolutism is an embarrassment to much of the American Jewish public.
Arthur Green recently published a review of my recent book Hasidism Incarnate in Studies in Jewish-Christian Relations. The review raises some important issues in regards to the study of Hasidism and Hasidic literature more generally, and the nature of comparison in the study of religion. It also gestures toward the complex relationship between scholarship and theology that many of us, both in Jewish Studies more generally, and Jewish mysticism in particular, traverse in our work. I begin my discussion of the larger questions raised in the review with Green’s claim of omission. In his review Green notes that it is surprising that I chose not to invoke Psalm 90:1 A prayer to Moses, man of God (ish ha- Elohim) in my study as it would ostensibly support my basic contention about incarnational thinking.
My approach and Somerson’s should be two examples of dueling alternatives on the American Jewish Left, hopefully beyond the Left, in search of both a correction (tikkun) and a conclusion (siyum) to the injustices of one people dominating another.
Led by Reb Zalman, the Jewish Renewal movement ushered in a new Aquarian Age of Judaism. To make it stick, we need to talk metaphysics. Plus: a response by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (z”l) written in the last days of his life gives insight into how our great teacher saw his life’s work.
I say to many of my American Jewish colleagues who have justifiably marched and even been arrested protesting the death of Eric Garner; where are you when similar injustices occur against Palestinians like him all the time? Where were you when you saw similar acts of violence in Five Broken Cameras?
There are arguably no two movements in Israel as disparate as the Settler Movement (known as Yesha) and Neturei Karta. Yesha represents the community of Israelis who live in the West Bank. It does not support a two-state solution and remains wed to a Greater Israel ideology that claims all of historic Erez Israel belongs to the Jews. Members of Neturei Karta are what we might call premillenialists. They are against a Jewish State in the Land of Israel claiming that tradition dictates that the messiah will come solely by divine fiat and the job of the Jews is to perform mitzvot and passively await his arrival.
A Hidden Light is the interesting experiment of an insider who stands outside a world he left but never abandoned. The work is neither critical nor apologetic, nor is it polemical. It is the loving, creative rendition of a devotee who has tried in his long career to separate Hasidism’s radical theology from its rigid and conventional sociological framework.