Arthur Green- Radical Judaism #2 of 5 parts

The first chapter is on Green’s quest for God.

Continued from part 1- here.

Continue to part 3 – here. Continue to part 4 here.
part 5 here

Green writes that he is a Jewish seeker looking for a lone path. He discusses his atheist upbringing and that he is seeking a middle path between atheism and theism, which he finds in his poetic pantheistic reading of Hasidism.

Green wants to be both a seeker and the spiritual leader of our age. His calling himself a seeker is a bit much at this point when Green sets himself up  as an exemplar and leader of our age.  Someone who is seeking does not write an article called “On Being Arthur Green” implying that one should learn from his wisdom – it was published when he first got to Hebrew College. One can only write an article like that at a pinnacle to share your wisdom. In addition, Green has been in the public eye and noted in the newspapers his whole life.

As a spiritual autobiography of someone who was in all the important places, there was little on his teachers at JTS or Brandeis. Nor on his classmates David Novak, Reuven Kimmelman, and  Byron Sherwin. Nothing as doctoral adviser at Penn or his being President of RRC. Nor a mention of being invited as a young academic to Peter Berger’s “other side of God” retreats or being one of the youngest involved in the Classics of Spirituality and World Spirituality series. Nothing on founding Shefa quarterly with Jonathan Omar-Man and Adin Steinsatz. And most surprisingly nothing on the founding of the first havurah while in grad school Havurat Shalom in Somerville, where along with his buddies Danny Matt, Michael Fishbane, James Kugel and Michael Strassfeld they set out to create a new Judaism for a new age. As a seeker he can claim to “still haven’t found what I am looking for” and not need to survey the past. But if he is offering wisdom that he holds as truth then the disestablishmentarianism is a bit jarring.

Green himself attributes his title Radical Judaism to the radical “God is dead” theology of the 1960’s. He claims that the holocaust and historical criticism ruptured his faith. He found his way back through the non-personal pantheistic hiding God of Hasidism and Kabbalah. He attributes his salvation in the writings of  Hilell Zeitlin (H”YD) who went from freethinking journalist to fervent Hasid and was uniquely able to interpret Hasidism through the eyes of Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Tolstoy. Zeitlin created an urbane Hasidism for his urban newspaper readers.

As a side point, Green’s Tormented Master followed the interpretive lines of Zeitlin and portrayed Rav Nahman as struggling with doubt and freethinking.  When Mendel Pierkaz gave a negative review of Green as “Hasidism for a new world” since it was based on Zeitlin, everyone was furious and even more furious when Piekarz reprinted his review.  The sacrilege was that Green was considered in America as the true university interpretation of Rav Nahman. Now Zvi Mark is the regnant academic work on Rav Nahman and has a different reading of Rav Nahman than Greens, and more people follow the interpretation of Rav Nahman by Rabbis Kenig, Schick, Arush and Schechter et al than academic works.

Green accepts his involvement in the psychedelic age and quaintly defines post-modernism as the rejection of modernity by the counter culture of the 1960’s  They sought to transcend the rational into the realm of myth, drugs, pantheism, and poetry. (Go read Art Green’s early psychedelic works under the pseudonym Itzhak Lodzer.)

Green accepts as another side to his thought that of religious humanism- Kafka, Buber, and Hebrew literature.

After almost 40 years, Green is not claiming identity of his thought with Heschel anymore. He does claim affinity to Tom Berry (d 2009) visionary advocate of evolutionary ecological development of human consciousness, human lifestyle, and our life on the planet. Berry is the near forgotten theologian of the Age of Aquarius and moon landing, who barely got obituaries last summer when he died. Green reminds people of Berry’s positions on our sitting on the edge of a new evolutionary moment where religion will no longer be literal. Like in 2001 Space Odyssey, the world is being thrust into the future and mankind needs to evolve with it.  Religion will now be a mystical pantheism of energy flow that God providentially directs. Yes, he believes this but just not literal the way fundamentalists or orthodox believe. This God is not the theistic God of the Protestant era but “God” – the force of the astro, geo, bio, psych, realms.

Many years ago, Green wrote an article in Shefa Quarterly on the need for a new Jewish theology deserves reprinting for its quest for remytholization over rationalism. Not shattered myths but learning to make the myths of Pesikta, Zohar, and Rav Nahman come live again. For a sense of what this new volume lacks in its discussion of myth compared to older Green writings, here are some excerpts from a NYT interview from 1989 about the new RRC prayer book. They give a sense of the kernel of the birth his rejection of rational for myth and learning to see religion as a progressive force.

While the notion of a ”chosen people” is still excluded from the new liturgy, the mention of miracles, like the splitting of the Red Sea, have been restored. Dr. Arthur Green, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and one of the editors of the new volume, said the ”language of myth” speaks powerfully to many people, even if they do not believe in the literal details. ”As myth, the ancient tale of wonder underscores the sense of daily miracle in our lives,” he said.

Dr. Green, the president of the college, said the prayer book was molded by events that began unfolding in the 1960’s, and ”our view of religion and its place in society have drastically changed” since then. The nation, he said, went from debates over ”Is God Dead?” to seeing the power of religion in the civil rights movement and in the movement to end the Vietnam War. ”We learned from the 60’s that religion can be a progressive social force for change,” he added.

Continue to part 3 – here.
Continue to part Four here
Continue to part 5 here.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

6 responses to “Arthur Green- Radical Judaism #2 of 5 parts

  1. Those who have had the privilege of meeting Rabbi Arthur Green will agree that he is just a wonderful person, decent, unassuming, warm, friendly, easy to talk to, a total mensch. When you compare his sweet personality with his theology there is this huge discrepancy. When it comes to speaking his mind he has no fear. He will go where his spirit and intuition lead, no matter how far away it may be from traditional thought. In Yiddish we call this “breite playtzus,” broad shoulders. And it’s been this way I would conjecture from the very beginning of his career. I guess this quality is necessary in a leader, were it not that traditionally there was a rabbinical caste to keep a gadol from roaming too far off the plantation. But in the space where Rabbi Green lives there are no such constraints.I hope future students of Rabbi Green get a better handle on how these two aspects of his personality mesh.

    This brings me to my second point. I’ve been thinking why I so resist Jewish Renewal theologies. My tentative answer today is that such mystical ideas are of interest to those who welcome regressions to a pre-Oedipal stage of development, a place where there is no threatening father, no frightening aspects of reality, where a unity with the mother does not bring out either depressive or paranoid positions. It’s a place of deep peace and joy with no downside. All that prevents us from acheiving this desirable place is our materialism and fear of letting go.

    Rabbi Green’s theology should be understood as based on a deep longing for such pre-Oedipal moments of merger and unification, and its validity might very well hang on the question whether such regressions are desirable.

    • I may quote you on his “breite playtzus” since the beginning of his career. You posted a while back that you bought the book, correct?

  2. Yes, it sits there in a prominent position together with many of the other books you have discussed. I am reading Robert Bolano’s Nazi Literature in America which I expect will turn out to be far more entertaining than merging with the cosmos.

  3. Steven Waldman

    To ej – your criticism of mystical paths of unity as attempts towards regressive merger may be enlightened by referring to Ken Wilber’s discussion of the “pre-trans fallacy.” Certainly much of what is marketed as “trans” rational is in fact “pre,” but reducing all of one to the other would split reality in half, ignoring so much of what may very well underlie even the more traditional world view.

  4. EW Charleston SC

    To use one myth(preoedipal)to attempt to debunk another makes little sense. Rabbi Green’s “quantity” vs. “quality” descriptions in interpreting Jewish practice is close to the heart of the matter for those of us who are “seekers” of meaning in daily life. What Rabbi Green delivers is a Judaism with roots extending back to traditions but meaningful for living today.

  5. stergios triantafyllou

    excellent

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