By Shmuel Ben-Gad, AJL Reviews
This book is written from a Modern Orthodox point of view and is aimed at “discerning traditional readers.” As the subtitle indicates, it deals with six discrete topics. Some chapters are drier than others. I imagine the part that will be of most interest to readers is the author’s argument that a modern, religiously motivated, scientific study of the Tanakh—using recent archaeological discoveries and the recovery of ancient languages related to Hebrew, for example—is in accordance with the methods of the mediaeval exegetes even if it sometimes leads to different conclusions. The discussion and comparison of eight exegetes is also quite enlightening. Dr. Sokolow of Yeshiva University is evidently a lover of the Tanakh but I cannot say that this book, for all its information and argumentation, conveys the actual atmosphere of the text. I suppose it might be argued that this can only be experienced by diving into the Tanakh itself, something which this book certainly encourages.
by Fred Isaac
The world is changing at an extraordinary and increasing rate. How is Modern Orthodoxy to respond, in both specific and general ways? Rabbi Gordon’s recent volume takes on the task with commitment and an open mind.
The book’s essays encompass a wide array of topics. The first chapter attempts to develop an overarching philosophy that balances the reality of the new (in science, technology and life-style) with Halakhic norms and the Observant Jewish life. Rabbi Gordon refers frequently to scientific knowledge, which challenges the assumptions of the Sages and increases the difficulties of living halakhically in contemporary society. The remaining papers deal with specific issues, including women’s roles in Observant Judaism (Chapter 3), the Mezuzah (Chapter 5), and Messianism (Chapter 8). In each Gordon finds positive aspects of the modern view, and balances them with the words and thoughts of the great Jewish thinkers.
While the author is clear in his preference for observance, he is also keenly aware of the difficulties in harmonizing the two sides. His extensive footnotes range from the Talmud to the 20th century. Seven of the eight chapters were previously published in the 1970s and ‘80s. They do not deal with questions of contemporary technology, or recent medical advances. We see Gordon’s struggle at the opening of our new age. In this way, his book is unlike Rabbi David Hartman’s From Defender to Critic, which shows both current and prior analysis of these questions. Because his selected topics remain important, Rabbi Gordon’s statements should be part of our continuing discussion. Its serious content may not be appropriate for synagogues or schools. Academic and seminary libraries, however, will find it useful as a compilation of important views.
Includes notes, Bibliography & Source Lists, Index
This review first appeared in the AJL newsletter.