Arthur Green responds to Daniel Landes

When the new issue of Jewish Review of Book came out, a friend emailed me the Landes review of Green and asked: Is this frum screed any different than the worst of the dogmatic pronouncements from YU polemicists?

Here is the article by Landes. Last Trumpet at Jewschool has published a response by Green.

To the editor:

Rabbi Daniel Landes’ da’ mah she-tashiv (“Know what to answer the heretic”) approach to my Radical Judaism, protecting innocents from “the dangers lurking in the rhetoric that Green and like-minded thinkers employ,” represents a theological bankruptcy lurking in traditional Jewish circles. The forces of religion fought two great battles in the twentieth century, one against evolution and the other, taken more seriously by Jews, against Biblical criticism. It lost them both, quite decisively. These defeats, plus the Holocaust, are real parts of the baggage that any intellectually honest Jewish theology must confront. My book is an attempt to create a viable Judaism in the face of those realities. Landes may choose to live in a closed circle that pretends these uncomfortable facts do not exist, continuing to play by the old theological rules. For Jews living outside those circles, such an approach does not work. He should know; many of his students are among them.

Who is the “God of Israel” Landes is so proud to champion? The God of Numbers 31, telling Moses to slaughter the Midianites? The “compassionate Father” of our rabbinic prayers? Would Landes accept the God of Maimonides’ Guide as “the God of Israel?” Or the God of the Zohar? The longest single chapter of my book is precisely about the evolution of our understanding of God, a process that has never ended. Landes passes over the obvious evolution and variety of Jewish views of God as though they did not exist. But a freezing of theological thought in the face of contemporary challenges is precisely what we do not need. It is just as threatening to living Judaism as is the freezing of halakhah.

Indeed Mordecai Kaplan understood that much of Judaism’s vigor lay in its ability to grow and evolve. But so did Rav Kook, whose theological writing has always attracted me more than Kaplan’s. I am amused that Landes finds Kaplan to be my “hidden master” at this late point in my career. Where was he when I could have used him to shore up my Kaplanian credentials? While Kaplan’s style may at times be trying, to dismiss his theology as simply “boring” is beneath the dignity of response. Kaplan at least tells you openly and honestly what he means by “God.” I respect this and try to do the same. In some areas the divergence between us may be more in affect than in substance. But in matters of the heart that makes all the difference.

The nasty attack on Jewish Renewal is also unworthy of Landes. He picks out my comment on the seventh commandment (I say clearly that I am reading the ten as a guide for teachers) to remind his readers of the sexual misdeeds of some leaders in that movement. I suggest he beware of calling the kettle black. I have not seen that the high fences of halakhah have been terribly successful of late at helping some Orthodox teachers to defeat temptation, either sexual or financial.

The high point of my annoyance is Landes’ claim that I offer “no doctrine of ahavat Yisrael.” This book is written entirely in the spirit of love for both Judaism and Jews. Why else would I make the effort? Landes is unhappy that I admit openly my deep alienation from “the narrowly and triumphally religious” within our community. Honesty can sting. My claim to be “a religious Jew but a secular Zionist” is also intentionally distorted for polemical purposes. I meant simply that I remain committed to the vision of a Jewish and democratic state (There – I have signed my loyalty oath!) while according it no messianic significance. Has that gotten too hard to understand?

Landes lines up with the late Sam Dresner and others in expressing an overweaning fear of anything that smacks of pantheism, celebrating God within nature, or an underlying sense of universal religiosity. But it is precisely this sort of religion that I believe humanity most urgently needs in this century, when our collective survival as a species is so threatened. I am here to teach a Jewish version of it, one relying deeply on our own sources and bearing our values, but without making an exclusive truth claim for Judaism. I rejoice that the deepest religious truths are known to men and women of many cultures, clothed in the garments of both east and west. See Malachai 1:11.

Mostly I am saddened and disappointed that Landes reads me this way. He is, after all, the director of Pardes Institute. Surely that worthy institution was so-named by its founders for the association of “pardes” with the multiple ways in which Jewish sources can be read and interpreted. It has claimed for decades to champion intellectual pluralism under the cloak of behavioral conformity. Heresy hunting does not befit its leader.

Arthur Green

26 responses to “Arthur Green responds to Daniel Landes

  1. I don’t see how Green’s response is any better.

      • Let me put it this way: After reading the first sentence, I could tell you everything else that Green was going to say, except that I didn’t anticipate him specifying responses to “the seventh commandment” and “Green=Kaplan.”

  2. Green might have good motives but in the end he discards the very foundations of Judaism – God who desires and establishes relationships to achieve the perfection of creation, God’s revelation and transmission of the Torah at Sinai, and God’s specific relationship with the nation of Israel. What’s amazing is that he still calls his theology Jewish.

    Landes recognizes this and calls it what it is.

    The result of his theology could just as well be called a wishy-washy form of Buddhism using the terms Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

    He calls it Judaism but that doesn’t make it so.

  3. From Green’s perspective, it was God who broke the covenant. It wasn’t Green, after all, who chose to create the world through mindless evolution, spread revelation through multiple authors of dubious morality, and decimate the Jewish people in gas chambers. Green’s just picking up the theological pieces.

    • A river is never the same as you look at it from moment to moment although it may appear to be the same. Nothing is the same in fact from moment to moment. Judaism is not static if only because the people living it are different people and perceive it differently by dint of their God given uniqueness. There are threads that tie things back to the source, eternal golden braids in time. Everyone is trying to weave their thoughts and ideas to the strand. Posterity alone will define which strands are braided into the whole.

  4. Does the “vigor to grow and evolve” means a religious free-for-all?

    Are there not ikkarei ha-emunah somewhere within the permutations of this ongoing birur?

    And if the mitzvot as a paradigm are essential to Judaism, is it not the relationship between God and Israel / humanity that is definitive, even in Jewish formulations that place the panentheistic realization at the center of the spiritual quest?

    With no personal rancor toward Arthur Green (whose works I have been reading with interest since the days of Shefa Quarterly), I must agree with Len Moskowitz’s evaluation of “Radical Judaism.”

  5. Len,

    Whatever you say here should equally apply to your friend Alan Lew Z”L.
    When Lew says
    “That we are afloat in a great sea of being, an endless flow of becoming in which we are connected to all beings.” (This is Real, 16)”
    To my ears, it is equally Buddhist. Your not seeing the Buddhism in Lew, or the sufism in Avraham ben HaRambam is just willed blindness.
    Just because you are comfortable with Lew’s observance level does not change the fact that the theology is Buddhist.

    If your problem is that Green accepts the Jewish naturalism of Mordechai Kaplan, then just leave the Buddhism out of the discussion. To my ears, Lew was much more syncretic than Green’s Yiddishe neshamoh. You may find Mordechai Kaplan and all the naturalist throngs who follow him outside the pale, but it is not syncretic. He calls it Jewish because Mordechai Kaplan is a pillar of American Jewish thought, especially in RRC! At least call Green a kofer, and Green will say Amen, kan yehi ratzon for heterodoxy. Then you just express an Orthodox-heterodox divide.
    Your own Buddhist training practice makes many things that you say Buddhist- your keeping mizvot and identifying with Orthodoxy does not wave a magic wand over your own ideas. Finding quotes in Aryeh Kaplan does not help when he was paraphrasing the DOVER books on Buddhism into “we got that too.”

  6. Alan Brill said:

    “When Lew says “That we are afloat in a great sea of being, an endless flow of becoming in which we are connected to all beings.” (This is Real, 16)”
    To my ears, it is equally Buddhist.”

    When Alan Lew said those words, he had wholeheartedly returned to Judaism. He was a Rabbi, in active Jewish inreach/outreach mode, talking to an audience in the Bay Area (home of the largest western Zen Buddhist center in the US) for whom the Buddhist metaphors were more alive than the Jewish ones. He, in his years since his return to Judaism, wouldn’t even return a gassho, as noted in a previous post on this blog. His goal was to teach normative Jewish practice, using techniques appropriate to his students.

    Green, on the other hand, is not in inreach/outreach mode. He’s promoting his radical theology as normative Judaism.

    More on Kaplan, syncretism and my own training later.

  7. Len,

    So your criteria is like those in the post “Christain Rock and Kiruv”, if it is outreach to save then any theological travesty is OK. Buddhism, hip-hop, heavy metal, pop-science, new age, the relgion of Oprah or anything you hear from an evangelical is good if for kiruv. Out goes Maimonides or Albo for the sake of kiruv. So, you like Lew’s substitution of Buddhism for Judaism because it was for kiruv and you have a kishkes feeling about his frumkeit.You probably dont think it was a substitution because it was for outreach. You think anything is OK if it teaches normative Jewish practice. But a follower of Buber or Modechai Kaplan would be less Jewish because it is not kiruv?

    • Alan Brill wrote:

      “You probably dont think it was a substitution because it was for outreach. You think anything is OK if it teaches normative Jewish practice.”

      No, I don’t think that at all.

      I think Lew’s references could have been “ein ode milvado” (D’varim 4:35) and the commentaries on “na-ah-seh ah-dahm b’tzal-meinu k’d’mu-teinu” (B’reishit 1:26), which he translated into acceptable language for those who were more comfortable with a Buddhist idiom.

      I emphatically don’t think that “anything goes” for the sake of kiruv. I do think that it’s okay to translate Jewish ideas into language that people can understand, even it’s not the kind of language normally heard in among Orthodox Jews.

      > But a follower of Buber or Modechai Kaplan would be less Jewish because it is not kiruv?

      No, a Jewish follower of Kaplan’s theology (for example) is no less a Jew than you or I. Halakhically, they are probably in the class of tinokote she-nishbu (i.e., infants taken as prisoners, who are not responsible for their lack of education).

      The ones who “took them prisoner” might fall into another category. I don’t know — what do you think?

      Do you think that it’s okay to invent a new religion, call it Judaism, and teach that it’s the real Judaism?

      • Len Moskowitz

        I wrote: “The ones who “took them prisoner” might fall into another category. I don’t know — what do you think?”

        Since no one answered my question, I asked a rosh yeshiva at RIETS (who shall remain unnamed). He responded that the teachers and leaders in the non-Orthodox movements should also be considered tinokote sheh-nishbu, because they too did not have proper Jewish educations from young ages.

  8. >to an audience in the Bay Area (home of the largest western Zen Buddhist center in the US)

    I can’t help recalling that an Abess there had an Orthodox son and 3 pashut Orthodox grandchildren (2 Issei whose first language is Japanese – one of whom has smicha), and the beginnings of a mess of frum great grandchildren. Roads leading out and parallel with Western New Age discombobulations similar to other faiths (“pantheism”, for ex…Rav Kook would add “monotheism”…)can at times ultimately be roads back in, I think now more so than in the past, when two generations were reeling from different whirlwinds than X/Yers.
    I’d like to hear Dr.Nathan Katz’s take on some of this exchange, as he’s written extensively on intersections of faiths – as with R. Akiva Tatz’s dialogue with a Zen Buddhist Jew and the Jewish Renewal role in such things. I still snicker when much “inter-faith dialogue” from those realms is Jewish Jews talking with Jewish buddhists; can any other religious dialogue crew say that? I remember reading a bit from a “Hebrew Catholic” who attended some of the BC Jewish/Catholic conferences, but NOT as a speaker…

  9. I believe that this machloket between Green and Landes reveals a major fault-line among the generation of the younger, Hadar/Pardes/Yakar crowd. Whereas there is a lot of practical agreement concerning Halakha, innovation, egalitarianism etc., there are major disputes concerning the theological framework. One the one side is the Panentheistic Art Green model, and on the other side is the Yitz Greenberg/Shai Held covenant-“God as wholly Other.” I am not certain what the practical ramifications of this will be, but it is interesting to take note of it, and be aware of it’s possible consequences

  10. I’m not sure if either of them are using panentheistic properly, the quotes give from Green seem far closer to pantheism which could be the ‘fault’ of Green or Landes; i.e., the Divine within the universe, bracketed by the universe – than the universe within the Divine, bracketed by the Divine at least in not being ontologically equivalent.

  11. I think what is important for Green are three considerations. He wants a theology that ends up on the progressive side of issues. He wants a Judaism that is passionate about the planet and its future, is pluralist and tolerant, has some conception of global justice, doesn’t demonize non Jews, is on the side of enlightened science and so on. It makes little difference if this is the Torah’s views or not. Even if not, he will darshen so that these new values seem to have a Jewish connection, or he will say straight out the Torah is wrong. Arthur Green is not shy, as befits a major Jewish leader. Second he wants his theology to reflect his taste palette. He’s not a Talmud guy or a Rambam guy. We all know his enthusiasms. Third he wants his theology to be of interest to his demographic. God outside is pretty much a non-starter, so he has nowhere else to go but inward.

    Let’s face it, the Jewish people are in schism. Depending on how you count, they have at least two religions. Orthodoxy and its satellites, and Reform (or unaffiliated) and its satellites. The unaffiliated camp doesn’t care much what they are called, Judaism 2.0 would do. I feel the primary goal is to hold Jews together as a global community, even if the unity is somewhat artificial. The conceptual confusion that is involved when two distinct religions use the same names is well worth the price. The point that Orthodoxy is the closest successor of traditional Judaism is granted by everyone. Whether or not this closeness is a virtue or not is not solved by saying “But this wasn’t/isn’t Judaism.”

    This tinok shenisbah idea is a halachic but not an empirical category. Go tell a group of non Orthodox Jews that Moshe kibail Torah miSinai. How many will say, “OMG, who knew?” It’s the Orthodox way of never recognizing other Jewish groups, except as potential kiruv material. No one but Orthodoxy knows how to help Jews lead a moral and spiritual life. Eleven million Jews are children, mamish children , captured and raised by pirates while at sea.

  12. EJ, dead on. I remember when I was in biz school that we had a class in industrial marketing where rather than learning from a book, we played an elaborate game for the entire semester. We were to try and determine customer preferences and spend R&D money to develop products that fit the customers needs. The problem is that the customer preferences were always moving around so if you designed the product to fit the last set of preferences you never quite made it. The key was to figure out somehow where the customer was GOING TO BE and not just where they were. In other words, the valid thing to recognize was that things were in motion and not static. I think the same thing underlying dynamic informs the schism that EJ mentions above. Within the Orthodox worldview, there are incredible lengths taken to prove that what exists now at this moment was always in place and that there is an unbroken chain of transmission of the same basic way of life. To people used to a critical analysis of history, there are incredible lengths taken to prove that what exists at this moment is the result of a historical process that included inputs generated internal to the Jewish people and externally by other societies and cultures. These two views cannot avoid being in conflict.

  13. ej wrote:

    “This tinok shenisbah idea is a halachic but not an empirical category. …”

    There are limits to what traditional Jewish theology can say about institutions that purposely and knowingly uproot the fundamentals of Judaism.

    Tinoke Sheh-nishba allows traditionally observant Jewry to respond favorably to individual traditionally non-observant Jews without endorsing heretic institutions and their leaders.

    Someone who was disposed to judge others for the good might consider the Tinoke Sheh-nishba response as the most compassionate response that traditional Jewry could make to widespread institutional heresy, and accept it for what it is.

    In some ways, it could be seen as similar to the response that the Catholic Church made with Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate. It’s not ideal, but anyone familiar with the Church and the limits their theology imposes on them, can see it (despite its obvious shortcomings) as an act of great courage and an attempt at a compassionate response towards Jewry.

  14. Prof Yaakov Bildstein has an article on the problematical nature of using the term tinok shnishba in our era. Rav Yoel bin Nun has an article in Akdamot seeking to replace it with a new category. And Rav Shagar has at least two articles on the subject seeking to create a new category. I don’t have the references at hand, and my photocopies are at home.

  15. I have no wish to enter into the Landes-Green disputations, but I am flattered that Pierre wrote:
    “I’d like to hear Dr.Nathan Katz’s take on some of this exchange, as he’s written extensively on intersections of faiths – as with R. Akiva Tatz’s dialogue with a Zen Buddhist Jew and the Jewish Renewal role in such things. I still snicker when much “inter-faith dialogue” from those realms is Jewish Jews talking with Jewish buddhists; can any other religious dialogue crew say that? I remember reading a bit from a “Hebrew Catholic” who attended some of the BC Jewish/Catholic conferences, but NOT as a speaker…”
    Pierre gets my point perfectly. If we care about interreligious dialogue, then a conversation between a Jew and and JuBu simple doesn’t pass muster (as Tatz’s book). I once read a book by Hans Kung on interreligious dialogue wherein every participant was between Christians and Christians representing other religions. Utterly inauthentic.
    Genuine dialogue is always surprising; new insights emerge when one makes the effort to step outside of one’s usual framework. To do this, we have to get to know real, flesh-and-blood Buddhists (or Hindus, or whatever). Dialogue must be between and among real people, not our own projections. And what else are JuBus but Jewish projections onto Buddhism? (Pace, friends.)

  16. Daniel Landes’ critique took the words from my mouth when first reading Green’s “Seek My Face” (Hebrew translation). Even more superb is his “uncovering” of the “hidden master”.
    Green’s response doesn’t make thing better and unintentionally acknowledges Landes’ case:

    1. There is indeed an “evolution” of God in Judaism. However this God was always consistent with his moral demands of Humanity and Israel. Therefore, both the Chasidic masters and R. Kook who maintain a panentheistic outlook, never gave up a Torah lifestyle or the idea of Israel’s uniqueness. Also, this “God” never tried to market Himself to the changing whims and fashions of the people – whether they were following Egyptian, Canaanite or Hellenic deities. , Green boasts that he knows better then the previous generation what they believed in. In reality, they always made an effort to reconcile their theology with the biblical and rabbinical one, and never saw a contradiction between the “God”s.
    The pantheistic religion a-la Green is a response to every new age trend in the market, and and justification of every almost every liberal fashion. If “everything is God” and therefore holy, there can be no true sense of right or wrong and real moral stand cannot be sought-after. The conscious attempt to revolutionize a completely new theology is Reconstructionism by definition.

    2. Evolution presents a problem only for the Haredim, who are just straw-men for Green’s arguments. For R. Kook the theory’s “trueness” was irrelevant; he just saw it as a means to explain some Kabbalistic ideas. Green, it seems, adopts evolution because it’s the current scientific paradigm, just as Kaplan adopted trans-naturalism. (I believe he should be warned against the attempt of joining religion and science. Scientific theories have a tendency to change or to be dismissed altogether, rendering their “spiritual” counterpart as pseudoscience).

    3. While Biblical criticism is a challenge for the Orthodox, I personally don’t think it undermines Torah mi-Shamyim . It may be claimed that the author(s) are divinely inspired (see Halivni’s “REVELATION RESTORED: DIVINE WRIT AND CRITICAL RESPONSES” ). Green’s dismissal of this possibility, is a definitive mark of Kaplan’s teachings.

    4. The Holocaust was not the first tragedy to befall the Jewish people, although it’s by far the worst tragedy. In every generation Jews lost faith in God due to the difficulties of the exile. For the faithful, the answers were either theodicy, or God hiding his face. Both of these are found in the Tanakh. (see Eliezer Berkovits: Faith after the Holocaust)

    5. What’s striking is that Green’s response stops short with the Holocaust without mentioning the State of Israel which, according to the disciples of his beloved R. Kook, is God’s return to the arena – no less!
    For me, as a religious Zionist, one of his most disturbing ideas is the dismissal of Israel’ s true significance for Judaism: It’s not just a shelter, but the a chance for Judaism to shake of the anomaly of the Exile. It’s the only place where Judaism can once again become a real “religious civilization”. Furthermore, his dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is quite ad hoc and naive. He advises the Israeli’s to agree to the Palestinians’ demands on pluralistic grounds, i.e. just because the Palestinians demand them… It seems that according to him that by clinging to our outdated notions of nationalism we fail to see that the century long conflict is just a misunderstanding… in the end we are all One and same.

    (edited by site owner-please read rules for comments before commenting again)

  17. I don’t understand what you’re saying. How can someone who fails to offer korbanot and has only one wife claim to follow a “Torah” lifestyle? And is it a lifestyle or is it morality?

    Rav Kook would argue that it is not just the conception of God, but the conception of morality that has evolved. L’maaseh, however, contemporary Orthodox Judaism doesn’t follow him in that regards.

  18. Art Green, Arnie Eisen and David Ellenson will be talking about Green’s book at the Manhattan JCC on Monday November 8th at 8 PM.

  19. Perhaps someone should write a critique of the Pardes model of ‘pluralism.’ If you compare it to Chabad’s toleration of heterodoxy you see the basic parallels.

    Chabad: it’s OK if you drive to shul, just do more mitzvot and feel Jewish.

    Pardes: it’s OK if you drive to an egalitarian minyan, just engage with these texts and feel Jewish.

    In other words, It’s good that Landes put this out there so that people who are not Orthodox will have a better idea of what they are getting if they choose to go to Pardes.

  20. R Daniel Landes deserves much praise for his critique of Arthur Green’s latest book, which views Judaism as only of many religions with “ethical truths” and attempting to show that one can be a good Jewish Buddhist.

  21. Steg (dos iz nit der šteg)


    Pardes does not claim to be pluralist. Pardes only believes in one thing — Jews should learn Torah. Everything else is not their agenda, their issue or their problem. Their dominant approach to Torah, though, comes from a traditional perspective.

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