Daniel Landes responds to Arthur Green’s response.

Arthur Green responded to Daniel Landes’ review of his book in the Jewish Review of Books- see here. Now, Landes responds to the response. Unfortunately, Landes still ponders if Green rhetoric is unsophisticated. But to Landes’ credit, he apologizes associating sexual scandal with Renewal Judaism and using that to tarnish Green by association. And Landes calls himself committed to pluralism, I guess not to alienate his Pardes consistency, but it is not the pluralism of which Green speaks. For my own take on Green, I unfortunately spread it out over five posts so few piece them together. Here are three of them- here, here, and here.

Daniel Landes Responds:

According to Arthur Green, “the story of evolution, including the ongoing evolution of humanity, is bigger than all the distinctions between religions and their myths.” But he struggles to find meaning within this cold process. In Radical Judaism, he writes:

If we could learn to view our biohistory this way, the incredible grandeur of the evolutionary journey would immediately unfold before us. We Jews revere the memory of one Nahshon ben Aminadav, the first person to step into the Sea of Reeds . . . What courage! But what about the courage of the first creature ever to emerge from sea onto dry land? Do we appreciate the magnificence of that moment?

Let’s set aside the question of whether this is a sophisticated way to think about evolutionary history (it isn’t), and note how quick Green is to personify nature. Perhaps it is because his God (like Mordecai Kaplan’s) has been divested of all personality.

Green asks rhetorically whether I would accept the God of Maimonides’ Guide or of the Zohar. They are, of course, two radically different conceptions, but both assert a divine transcendence that Green flatly denies and grapple with the problem of divine-human interaction. I understand Green’s fascination with Rav Kook, a true panentheist, but underlying Rav Kook’s theology is the shimmering energy of the All-existing within God. As the ground of being, God validates and uplifts nature. Kook’s God is neither dead nor asleep: He is free to plunge into life and history.

In short, Green is right to point out that the tradition of Jewish thinking about God has a history, but, as he acknowledges, he has given up playing by the “old theological rules” of this tradition. Why, then, all the righteous indignation when a reviewer points out that this is precisely what he is doing? His disdain is also hard to understand. The relational God of Israel is, after all, the one affirmed by his teacher Abraham J. Heschel as well as by Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, the Gerrer Rebbe, author of the Sefat Emet and another key figure for Green. As for the fish, all I can say is that, given Green’s neo-Hasidism, I hope that at least it was a herring or nice sable.

Green writes that the “high point of his annoyance” with me is in my contention that he presents a theology that has no doctrine of ahavat Yisrael, and then goes on to assert that he loves Jews and supports the State of Israel. I never asked for a loyalty oath or doubted Green’s love of his fellow Jew. But neither of these adds up to a doctrine. In his book it would appear that he would replace simple Jews—if they have the wrong politics or a backward spirituality—with a member of Green’s “extended faith community” (“my Israel”) who is not Jewish but who shares his journey. My point was that ahavat Yisrael is about empirical (one might almost say carnal) Jews, an actual living community. But ahavat Yisrael also cuts both ways. Tradition leads me to maintain—as difficult as it might be to fathom from these exchanges—that Green and I are inextricably bound to (and stuck with) each other.

When I invited Green to lecture here at Pardes, the discussion in our beit midrash was frank and vigorous, but there was nothing that smacked of censure. Similarly, in my review, I argued that he was deeply, theologically wrong, but Green’s letter notwithstanding I did not call him a heretic (a word I don’t use). Pluralism does not preclude criticism.

Finally, I owe Green an apology. He is, of course, right that the Renewal movement is not the only one that has been beset by sexual scandal, and I did not mean to suggest otherwise. I hope that the Orthodox world has at least begun to learn that denial serves no one well, and that the “high walls of halakha” are sometimes breached by those who ought to maintain them. I suggest that the Renewal movement might learn, nonetheless, of the indispensability of law in curbing human temptation.

4 responses to “Daniel Landes responds to Arthur Green’s response.

  1. You are, I think, too quick to take offense. Landes did not “call Green unsophisticated.” Rather, he said in passing that a rhetorical image chosen by Green was not scientifically well-founded. Landes may be right or wrong but he was not displaying “nerve.” To the contrary, the tone of his response seemed quite conciliatory. Thanks for flagging this interesting exchange.

  2. > the indispensability of law in curbing human temptation.

    Now that would be an interesting topic for a real discussion… preferably by people who have been paying attention to the actual practice of “halachic” Judaism, as opposed to the idealized 1970s discourse so beloved by “pluralist” Orthodox Jews.

  3. The discussion is foolish if it’s any more than academic. Why do we continue to speak about God as if we were describing an existence that has the reality of a natural entity? What God are we talking about: the one proven by the cosmological argument? the ontological argument? the argument from design? the teleological argument? etc, etc. Better to be a truly radical mystic and say nothing about the divine.

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