Arthur Green–Radical Judaism #4 of 5

Chapter 3 of Radical Torah is on Torah and revelation. Torah points to the oneness of all reality and mitzvah is our sense of what creates holiness in our lives.
Green’s radical views on Torah go back to some of his first public statement.

In the 1960’s, the pulpit Rabbi David Hartman raised money to host annual SEGAL retreats in Quebec. The invitation list included depending on the year Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, Elie Wiesel, Emil Fackenheim, and Rabbis Wurzburger, Yitz Greenberg, Berkovits , Jacob Petuchowski, and Seymour Segal. The responses to each other’s positions formed the backbone of 1960’s Jewish theology. (Forty years later, a cross denominational retreat like this might once again force theologians to articulate their differing and mutually exclusive positions ).

In 1969, a young Arthur Green spoke to these assembled elders as a representative of youth culture. And the June 23 1969 issue of the NYT gave a lion’s share of its write up of the retreat to Green, who set out a radical position that his generation was looking for the sacred but he does not know if the traditional answer of eating beef is more holy than eating pig. Maybe today God’s voice is for us to eat natural foods or not to use cellophane or not to use migrant worker grapes.

A decade later in the Second Jewish Catalog , Green offered a subjective guide to religious practice, and scandalized the establishment for a Conservative rabbi to accept free love

In his first version of Green theology in the book, Seek My Face, the section on revelation was weaken than the section on creation.
In the second version of the book, E-hyeh, Green calls himself heterodox to distinguish himself from any sense of institutional obligation of practice. This third version of Green’s thought is more mystical and pantheistic.

The message of the Torah, read with mystic eyes, is that God alone exists as taught by the mystics in all religions This mystic oneness needs reinforcement through the world of the symbolic sefirot. Hasidic readings of the text are clearly the most useful in this scheme.
We cannot accept the world of the kabbalists as real science anymore but modern science does not have all the answers. We don’t know everything about reality but we cant take Kabbalah literally.The greatest insight of kabbalh today is psychological teaching about divine oneness. Torah is a vehicle for mystical consciousness.

From an Orthodox perspective, it would be unfair to judge a proclaimed heterodox position on Torah, revelation, and law. But what is lacking here from any perspective is the role of kabbalah as meaning creating in a post-foundational sense (see my last post). Green moves between ascribing an intellectualist approach to medieval kabbalah and concludes that it is fluid and symbolic. However, there is no need to situate kabbalah in the science-religion debate in post-secular age. I am not comfortable when he says that science has gaps in its explanatory power so he turns to kabbalah. Why are science and kabbalah even in the same discussion from a liberal perspective? If science is weak in immunology, cosmology, or oncology then the solution will come from further laboratory work, not by turning to the kabbalah to show that we can accept mystery in life. And the kabbalah is not symbolic because we have physics but because it has nothing to do with science.

[If one want to deal with the kabbalistic science of the Gra, R. Moshe Shapiro, and the Kabbalah Centre that would be a completely different discussion and focused on Orthodox thought.]

His view of revelation is as mystic teaching in our hearts. He explains this using Hasidic texts- that they only heard the aleph of creation on Sinai, meaning the mystic oneness of reality.

Green acknowledges that he is far from any traditional view and discusses that he has a God of disbelief, silent in our lives, and at best a projection for our needs. But he says that he really does accept revelation, a revelation of a God who pulsates as a wholeness of being in creation – inward in all things, an energy for evolution.This silent existence of God is everywhere So mitzvah are from this silent inwardness of creation and self. A panentheistic commander of mizvot. Green admits that this needs “unpacking,” which is his term. Mizvot are not a custom or folkway but to produce holiness and opportunity for encounter. Mizvot are a set of symbols to address the soul. Israel’s myth of sacred beginning.

Green considers Sinai as a great growth in religious consciousness and human awareness for freed slaves and the immediate commandment of not to have idolatry makes sense in their not wanting anything that constricts our minds.
But there is No God who makes a covenant with Israel. Only the One who calls from the heart to make this people his own. Green acknowledges that this is too personified and particualistic since God is revealed in all hearts, of all people – all revelation is based on culture. Israel said yes in the Sinai of the heart and the mind- Jews respond to an inner call. Jews are a channel for divine presence and blessing. No matter how secular they seem, Jews are priests at the alter of God.

Green asks: But does this mean that Sinai was merely human ? His answer : No, God is in the human heart The covenant is mutual, God is bound to it and we are promised by God that He will love us, the more you give the more you get. He has faith in reward.

I do not recognize traditional concepts of Torah, mizvot, and Sinai in Green’s presentation But then again he is proudly heterodox and speaks to those who are spiritual not religious. For crucial questions of canon, authority, and interpretation, Halbertal- remains the starting point. And for the meaning of Kabblah, sod, religious experience and Biblical exegesis, Fishbane is the place to start. But Green offers openness to the spirit and the therapeutic deism that guides contemporary lives.

Yet, before I let this chapter go, and post this review -I feel not satisfied. The Hasidism is not historical hasidism, the response to Biblical criticism seems fluffy, and the definition of mysticism is self-defined as his own unity of being unable to hold up in a study of mysticism. I might be faulted for wanting things more academic. Is this chapter just that he likes haimish language of Torah and mizvot and his pantheistic oneness of being is a justification for haimishness? I dont know! Martin Buber was a serious heterodox engagement with Torah, rigorous in history and philosophy. I have a gut feeling that this chapter reads like the homiletic logic so common in Orthodoxy.

I do know that many people are performing searches for Art Green’s new book, few for Fishbane, and even fewer for Novak. So it must be speaking to people?

Do I have any heterodox readers to evaluate this?

Continue to part 5 here,

One response to “Arthur Green–Radical Judaism #4 of 5

  1. EW Charleston SC

    Green is a teacher but remains a “seeker” trying to place his thinking into a “silo” (heterodox) is a waste of time. None of the silos in Jewish thought has “the answer.” My understanding of what Green is saying is that Judaism had and has a lot to say about the relationship of people to G-d, find what it was and is, use Knowledge from Hisory, Science, and other beliefs and seek a new (radical) Judaism.

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