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Modern Philosophical Thought in Judaism is a Question of Constant Adjustment

Like the rest of the world, Judaism has experienced a marked secularization. Secularization is often a by-product of education and in the case of Judaism specifically, there is also the effect of the genocide of the Second World War which adds a dimension to thinking both religious and secular which other cultures simply don’t have.

Today’s thinkers have big, chewy issues to deal with. On the one hand, they have the requirement to reconcile religion with history and then to reconcile it with non-Jews and finally to reconcile it with itself. It is a huge undertaking.

18th and 19th Century Europe

The history of Judaism in this period is one pogrom and the discussion of whether or not there was a right to even sit at the table. Frequently anti-Semitism took away livelihood, ghettoized and back-footed Jews sufficiently that Jewish thinking tended to be apologist.

Nevertheless, Jews were integrated into the modern state and the implication was the need for a rethink as there was no longer the automatic subservience to Torah and Rabbi as there had been in the past

The 20th Century

The events of 1945 and beyond were to change all thinking. In the first place, there was a requirement to explain Judaism to non-Jews and also to secular Jews who had lost the traditions of Hebrew and sacred texts.

Even the concept of a chosen people patiently waiting for the Messiah and the restoration of the Promised Land was, for some, hard to believe post-1945. Philosophy needed to re-examine and re-contextualize this thinking for a people of an understandable survivor mentality whose background had been to an extent erased.

Coming to America

The land of the free and the home of the brave opened its doors and opened all the portals to opportunity. There was nothing here was off limits, nothing that could not happen. But it also embodied change. Central Synagogue in New York City embodied all that could be, but with it came change. Men sat with their wives and families.

This challenged tradition on the one hand, but spoke of belonging being part of the wider community and required a new interpretation.

Philosophy and the Jewish State

Of all the adjustments in some ways, this one requires the greatest shift in philosophical thinking. The establishment of Israel as a Jewish state under Zionism is in and of itself a welcome event, but, there is a problem of reconciliation.

Israel is a state created by man. It was supposed to be created by God. It is not enough to see the hand of God guiding the politicians as the Catholics would so easily persuade themselves. Return to the Promised Land was supposed to be achieved by the direct action of God.

Jewish philosophical thinkers now have to find ways to reconcile the existence of the state with the reality of the political situation and to try and find answers to questions such as is it even possible to share the Promised Land with non-Jews.