Symposium on Open Orthodoxy III

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

image

Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg and His Theology of Covenant

by Ira Bedzow

Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg has been called one of the most influential Jewish teachers and communal leaders of the late twentieth century, and his writings have influenced – and continue to influence – Jews across the broad denominational spectrum. Joshua Feigelson, in his recent PhD dissertation, writes that much of Greenberg’s work was targeted primarily to Reform and Conservative Jews as a way for them to rediscover and reclaim traditional practices. [1]I would like to thank Rabbi Moshe Schapiro and Malka Fleischmann for their invaluable help on this article. [1] His writing therefore complements his participation in Jewish Federation, where, among … Continue reading Rabbi Greenberg himself has acknowledged, “My analysis of where we stand today leads me to look for a language and terminology that is mekarev rechokim even as its depths and meaning would enrich those deepest in the tradition.” [2]Irving Greenberg and Shelomoh Danziger, “Orthodox Modernism – An Exchange,” The Jewish Observer, December 1966, 16 Within Orthodoxy, Rabbi Greenberg thinks of himself as a marginal figure, whose words are only considered by those on the liberal side of Orthodoxy. [3]Irving Greenberg, For The Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter between Judaism and Christianity (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2004) 16. Yet, liberal Orthodoxy has grown in numbers and in the strength of its voice in recent years, and Rabbi Greenberg’s teachings are taking root in the public conversation about where modern Orthodoxy should be headed and how its more liberal segments can provide a theological foundation as they grow.

Rabbi Greenberg perceives his theology to be an expression for a “third era” in Jewish history, the first two being the Biblical and the Rabbinic periods. [4]Ibid. 30. According to Rabbi Greenberg, this third era demands a revamp of old institutions and the creation of new ones. [5]Irving Greenberg and Shalom Freedman, Living in the Image of God: Jewish Teachings to Perfect the World (Jason Aronson Incorporated, 1998) 13. The new era needs a theology that can be understood in a secular setting where it would, in fact, be less separated from general culture. [6]Ibid. 11. His modern Orthodox perspective is purposefully distinct from what he calls Orthodoxy or ultra-Orthodoxy (he often conflates the two), since Orthodoxy, according to Rabbi Greenberg, conceives of the balance between modernity and Judaism as a zero-sum game – any attempts “to justify and rationalize Torah in modern conceptual terms are objectionable on the grounds that such articulations only give authority to modernity while undermining the sancta of Israel.” [7]Irving (“Yitz”) Greenberg, Two Doors Rabbi Soloveitchik Opened and Did Not Walk Through: The Future of Modern Orthodoxy … Continue reading His position stems from a view that one can and should separate the essence of the Jewish religion from its expression in traditional society, and that a translation is necessary for the continuance of Judaism. [8]Irving Greenberg, “Change and the Orthodox Community,” Response: A Contemporary Jewish Review. 3, no. 1 (Spring 1969) 16. He explains, “In medieval religions the primary emphasis was away from worldliness and toward anticipation of the divine redeemer. This led to a suspicion of human power; powerlessness was the preferred theological mode because weakness made humankind dependent on God. No wonder, then, that modernizers who sought human liberation concluded that to free humanity, it was necessary to get free of God.” [9]Irving Greenberg, The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays (Jason Aronson, Incorporated, 1998) 138. Modernization of Orthodox Jewish expression is also needed today, according to Rabbi Greenberg, because the Holocaust had shattered the traditional Orthodox perspective as a result of the European rabbis’ fatal advice to be inactive in the political and social realms. [10]Irving Greenberg, “Theology after the Shoah: The Transformation of the Core Paradigm,” Modern Judaism 26.3 (2006): 216. As a general stance, Judaism, in this third era, should not be convincing solely by virtue of “the protective tariff of gentile hostility and cultural inferiority.” [11]Living in the Image of God, 26. Rabbi Greenberg expresses what would become his life’s mission early in his career, in his 1966 interview in The Commentator: “Never has a generation been so starved for spiritual nourishment, for a healing mission of Torah. Perhaps we have improved and strengthened, but surely we have not been up to the scope of the need. However, I believe that the internal issues are linked to the general community issues. If we drop our siege mentality, if we shift from mere preservation of our tradition to an attempt to apply it and explore it in every way, if we have the courage to ask the modern questions so that the Torah will give us the answers to the questions which bother us, I believe the resultant revival would not be content to turn inward but would reach out to our fellow Jew and the world in its plentitude and love and desire to serve as G-d’s witnesses.”

Instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as many assimilating Jews were doing when he was starting his career, Rabbi Greenberg began a quest to provide new meanings to old concepts. [12]He writes, “College and the intellectual challenge of modernity has been one of my areas of interest from the beginning. The interaction of modernity and Judaism has been seminal for the past two … Continue reading Because he saw American Orthodoxy in the 1960s as being fundamentally at odds with the ethos of modernity, he tried to separate the core of Orthodox Judaism, which he saw as living a halakhic life, from its Medieval trappings and replace them with a more modern expression. [13]He writes, “As it now stands, Judaism is bleeding to death in America. Many of its best sons and daughters are constantly attracted to the new ethos and feel that they must abandon the old to … Continue reading In doing that, he believed that he could mitigate the flight from halakhic observance. [14]One example that he gives in an interview in 1969 is the following: “Take the question of kashrut, dietary laws. Obviously, most Jews have concluded that in order to be faithful to modern culture … Continue reading For Rabbi Greenberg, establishing a positive interaction between Judaism and modernity and creating a synthesis which would highlight the best of both is nothing less than the particular mission of his generation and a challenge that would make or break the Jewish future. [15]Irving Greenberg, “Judaism and Modernity: Realigning the Two Worlds, An Edited Transcript of an Address by Rabbi Dr. Yitzchak Greenberg,” Perspectives on Jewish Education (series), Ed. Zvi Grumet … Continue reading This is not to consider modern culture as primary and Judaism as needing to adapt; rather, it is to understand that the eternality of the Torah is best understood in contemporary garb. [16]“Orthodox Modernism – An Exchange,” 16. Moreover, for the sake of Jewish unity, he stresses that Orthodoxy “must go through a modern experience” in the sense that it should engage in a renewal of the process of imbuing the contemporary experience with religious import. This is not meant to be a complete halakhic revolution (though he does call for a transformation of the halakhic process) or a submission to modernism; rather it is an attempt to apply religious values and practices to all areas of secular life. [17]Irving Greenberg, et. al., “Toward Jewish Religious Unity – A Symposium,” Judaism 15.2 (1966): 138. Otherwise, not only will Orthodoxy eventually lose to history, but, in the present, it will not be able to communicate with other Jewish denominations, let alone other religions. Not everyone, however, shared Rabbi Greenberg’s view of the balance between Americanization and tradition. For example, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l did not view acculturation into American society as positively as did Rabbi Greenberg. He writes with respect to Rabbi Greenberg’s view of Jewish Americanization, “Our primary goal must be the more selfish—yes, selfish—one of surviving as a viable tradition; and I simply cannot buy your thesis that this can be better done by much greater involvement in American political life.” [18]Aharon Lichtenstein, “Rav Lichtenstein Writes Letter to Dr. Greenberg,” The Commentator, June 2, 1966.

Rabbi Greenberg relies on Maimonides, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, and Rabbi Soloveitchik to justify his interpretative creativity and halakhic innovations, claiming that they did not object to thinking that the Torah transformed contemporaneous practices and can be reinterpreted in light of contemporary culture, as long as one maintains the Torah’s divinity. [19]The Jewish Way, 59; Two Doors Rabbi Soloveitchik Opened and Did Not Walk Through, 4; “Jewish Values and the Changing American Ethic,” 53.

A good example of his using Rabbi Hirsch as an anchor of legitimacy for his thought is the following: In defending his position early in his career, he stated, “In Hirsch’s words, I seek to avoid being a member of the party ‘which bears it [Judaism] as a sacred relic, as a revered mummy, and fears to awaken its spirit’ and of the party which is ‘filled with noble enthusiasm for the welfare of the Jews, but they look upon Judaism as a lifeless framework…they seek its spirit and find it not, and are in danger with all their efforts to help the Jew, of severing the last life-nerve of Judaism out of sheer ignorance.’ Hirsch states that ‘these two opposing elements are alike in one great respect, that they are both in the wrong.” [20]“Orthodox Modernism – An Exchange,” 14. However, as Rabbi Danzinger has already commented on Rabbi Greenberg’s use of Rabbi Hirsch in 1966, in this quotation, Rabbi Hirsch is not referring to opposing factions with respect to the eternal constancy or progressive development of Halakha. Rather, the reference is to those who observe the Mitzvot mechanically and without meaning and to those who want to change Halakha out of a belief that it is devoid of meaning. Rabbi Hirsch emphasizes both that Halakha has meaning and that a person must endeavor to discover it through observance. Rabbi Danzinger further notes, “In all the vast writings of Hirsch – the great reviver of Judaism’s spirit in relation to modern, cultured man – there is not a word to suggest the need to develop Halocha [sic.] in conformity with modern notions.” [21]Ibid. 19.

Rabbi Greenberg also intended to take Rabbi Soloveitchik’s thought to its logical conclusion, through doors which he recognizes that Rabbi Soloveitchik might have opened but through which he did not walk. [22]Two Doors Rabbi Soloveitchik Opened and Did Not Walk Through, 8. The two major conclusions that Rabbi Greenberg derives from Rabbi Soloveitchik’s thought are the importance of pluralism and the need for engagement with historical and critical methods in the study of Bible. I intend only to discuss the importance of pluralism, as it relates to Rabbi Greenberg’s overall theology.

Rabbi Greenberg writes that Rabbi Soloveitchik justified pluralism when the Jewish people faced an external threat yet did not condone pluralism for the sake of internal matters. [23]Ibid. 17. Yet, Rabbi Greenberg claims that this was only a public declaration and not a privately held belief. To explain why he says this, he tells of a time when he went to Rabbi Soloveitchik to seek permission for interfaith dialogue. Rabbi Greenberg recounts the experience as follows:

First, I said: Rebbe, you taught me that in the halakhic worldview, life is spiritually seamless. But then there is no real distinction between areas of social action and theology/doctrine. After a moment’s pause, he said: Greenberg, you are right…Then I said: Maybe you meant to say that Jewry is not prepared for such a theological enterprise and that one should restrict it until we are ready. Again, after a moment’s pause, he said: You are right. I responded: You know, many believe that the Orthodox would be in the best position to speak of Judaism. I myself plan to pursue the dialogue with Christianity because too much is at stake for us not to. He did not object. [24]Irving Greenberg, For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter between Judaism and Christianity (Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 2004) 14.

Taking Rabbi Soloveitchik’s thinking to what he saw as its ultimate conclusion, Rabbi Greenberg justifies interfaith discussion, claiming that, according to the Rav’s worldview, Halakha does not permit a distinction between social action and theology. Therefore, permission for the former should apply to the latter. Rabbi Greenberg states that the Rav agreed with him, and thus calls his public writing to the contrary “Marrano writing.” [25]Ibid. 13-14.

In truth, however, it is conceivable that with respect to pluralism Rabbi Soloveitchik could make a distinction between social action and interfaith dialogue as a philosophical conclusion and not only as a political decision. In Rabbi Soloveitchik’s thought, the halakhic man uses Halakha to create an a priori ideal framework to which he can compare and consequently understand reality. However, because theoretical Halakha is an ideal system without any definitional relationship to the physical world, the physical world cannot determine what the ideal Halakha should be. Abstraction from physical halakhic acts may provide a conceptual commonality that could be used to theorize about the nature of future cases; yet, if the physical world temporarily aberrates from the halakhic ideal, any abstraction from the physical world is irrelevant. Given this framework, the ideal Halakha is both an ontological and epistemological system upon which one creates a theology and the source of a normative system by which one learns how to live and act in the world. As such, Rabbi Greenberg’s claim that the application of the ideal Halakha must be the same for theology and social action is specious since theology and social action exist in different frameworks, i.e. the former in an ontological/epistemological framework and the latter in a normative framework. The “spiritual seamlessness” of the halakhic worldview does not, therefore, imply a lack of distinction between areas of social action and theology/doctrine, but rather it refers to the fact that social action and theology/doctrine emanate from – and must always answer to – the same source, i.e. the ideal Halakha. It would then be philosophically coherent for pluralism to exist in the sphere of social action, since people can work together to achieve the same goal even when the reasons for that goal are different. For there to be any communication in theological matters, however, those in dialogue must speak the same language, i.e. that of the ideal Halakha, which does not occur in interfaith dialogue.

Even if one were to assume that Rabbi Soloveitchik does agree with Rabbi Greenberg’s philosophical conclusions, his refusal to walk through the door along with Rabbi Greenberg may stem from a reservation that his philosophical expression is, at best, an approximation of traditional concepts and must therefore not be drawn to its fullest implications. Rabbi Greenberg, on the other hand, saw Rabbi Soloveitchik’s and modern Orthodoxy’s restraint as a consequence of Haredi pressure. Fearing an impasse, at best, or the dissolution of modern Orthodoxy at worst, Rabbi Greenberg walked through the doors, which “open up a path of relevance and credibility that would prove that the Torah can be learned and lived in every culture.” [26]Two Doors Rabbi Soloveitchik Opened and Did Not Walk Through, 9.

That Rabbi Soloveitchik did not condone Rabbi Greenberg’s extension of his philosophy can be seen from Rabbi Soloveitchik’s response to a letter of apology from Rabbi Greenberg. It states, “You are certainly entitled to your opinion as much as I am to mine. I have never demanded conformity or compliance even from my children. I believe in freedom of opinion and freedom of action. When you consulted me about your participation (?) all I said, which I addressed not to you but to myself, was in the form of a hesitant (?) advice. In fact, I spoke in the first person, namely if I were invited I would not accept. I did not instruct nor did I try to convince you. Since you have made up your mind in accordance with your own view, all I can say to you is aleh v’hatzleach, Go and may God be with you!” [27]“Letter to Irving Greenberg,” September 29, 1965, Papers of Rabbi Irving Greenberg, Harvard University Library, 58: 17. This quote is found in Joshua Meir Feigelson’s dissertation, 107.

As a result of his interfaith interests, Rabbi Greenberg’s theology was influenced by contemporary Christian theologians for whom he has great respect and hakarat hatov. He consciously adapted their ideas for his theology and also adopted certain Christian impressions into his writings without reference to their sources, as evidenced by his casual use of allusions for pithy explanation or description. He sprinkles his prose with the occasional Christian reference in such a way that it betrays more than just the borrowing of a turn of phrase. Rather, the use of these foreign allusions reveals a reliance on foreign ideas as replacements for traditional Jewish expressions. For example, he writes, “The main feature of the Shabbat meal, however, is not what goes into the mouth but what comes out of it.” [28]The Jewish Way, 172. While this may seem to be a way to emphasize the priority of the spiritual over the material aspects of the day, anyone with the slightest familiarity with Christianity and the New Testament will notice the reference to the Gospel of Matthew (and Mark), in which Jesus uses the same expression to defend his rejection of the Rabbinic decree to wash one’s hands before eating. The chapter in which this reference is found begins with some Pharisees approaching Jesus to ask, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?” since he and his disciples would not wash their hands before eating, to which he replies, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” Jesus continues his response by saying that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person but rather what comes out of his mouth. I doubt that Rabbi Greenberg means to imply that we should learn from Jesus and break tradition for the sake of obeying God, yet his theology in general does rely on his Christian contemporaries and speaks to transforming Halakha in a time when the covenant has been broken. In another place, Rabbi Greenberg writes, “As long as the world is full of evil and suffering, the hidden God can only be detected rather than really known; until the world is perfected, we see God dimly, as through a glass, darkly.” [29]For The Sake of Heaven and Earth, 51. While this may be a truly vivid metaphor, it is also the expression that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians in his chapter about agape, the Christian notion of the covenantal love of God for humans and the reciprocal human love for God which extends to the love of one’s fellow. While Paul also borrowed the expression “through a glass, darkly” from the Rabbinic term aspaklaria, both he and Rabbi Greenberg use it to bridge Rabbinic Judaism and Christian theology. Rabbi Greenberg does admit that, initially, his thinking about God’s suffering, which plays a major part in his theology of the Holocaust, sounded very Christian. Yet he affirms its Judaic source by claiming that Christians derived the image from the Hebrew Bible and that Jews rejected the idea as a way to distinguish Judaism from Christianity. [30]Ibid. 25-6.

Rabbi Greenberg admits that his books may be ahead of their time, [31]Living in the Image of God, 21 but he also recognizes that, to be heard, ideas must not only be credible or logical, they must also enable people to cope with reality. [32]Living in the Image of God, 5 Therefore, though he uses many theological terms in imprecise, non-philosophical ways in order to expand his reading audience to as large a demographic as possible, [33]Steven Katz, “Irving (Yitzchak) Greenberg,” Interpreters of Judaism in the late twentieth century. Vol. 7, Ed. Steven T. Katz, (Bnai Brith Intl Continuing, 1993) 78; Steven T. Katz, … Continue reading I will attempt to provide a description of his theology in the most charitable and coherent way, relying on context to infer philosophical connotation when terms may be ambiguous.

Tikkun Olam

An historian by training, Rabbi Greenberg relies on his understanding of Jewish history to provide the basis for his theology. For Rabbi Greenberg, the goal of human life is to create a messianic society, whereby the world is rich enough to spend an unlimited amount of money to save even one life and is politically and socially reorganized so that there cannot be systematized legal degradation or discrimination against people. [34]Living in the Image of God, 69. Describing the perfected, messianic world, he writes, “In a world of justice and peace, with all material needs taken care of, humans will be free to establish a harmonious relationship with nature, with each other, with God.” [35]The Jewish Way, 18. In Rabbi Greenberg’s terminology, the redemptive process in perfecting the world is tikkun olam. His confidence in this messianic vision is demonstrated in his statement that “Judaism insists that history and the social-economic-political reality in which people live will eventually be perfected; much of what passes for the norm of human existence is really a deviation from the ultimate reality.” [36]Ibid. 34. The Jews are humanity’s vanguard, [37]Ibid. 19. and it is Judaism’s goal to achieve this, which, for Rabbi Greenberg, implies that Judaism should play a world role through cultural and religious outreach and through humanitarian and political involvement. [38]Living in the Image of God, 29. To do so, however, Jews must be able to be heard, which means not only finding a Jewish language appropriate for societal discourse but also behaving in ways that do not alienate secular society, as Rabbi Greenberg notes, “Until we learn to live with the totally different tone of contemporary culture, we shall be, too often, ineffective or not heard.” [39]“Jewish Values and the Changing American Ethic,” 61. For Rabbi Greenberg, this applies to both interfaith and interdenominational cooperation, and he notes that hostility to the Orthodox by the non-Orthodox was, in part, a result of the alienating attitudes of the former. [40]Two Doors Rabbi Soloveitchik Opened and Did Not Walk Through, 20.

Viewing the messianic ideal with American eyes, [41]Rabbi Greenberg looks at proper Jewish education through American eyes in a way which provides analogy to his theological views as well. He writes, “The reorientation of Jewish education in the new … Continue reading Rabbi Greenberg states that establishing a democratic system is an example of tikkun olam. [42]Living in the Image of God, 70. He writes that “just as free individuals and societies outperformed authoritarian structures in political, economic, and military matters, so too would voluntary covenantal service prove to be more total and dedicated than any imposed commitments.” [43]For The Sake of Heaven and Earth, 28. He gives the ideal of democracy religious justification by legitimating it as Judaism’s view: “In Judaism’s view, slavery draws legitimacy from idolatry; democracy is ultimately grounded in the God-given dignity of every human being. The God who created and loves us gives us freedom as our moral right and denies absolute authority to all human governments and systems. Totalitarianism or total worship of any human system is the idolatry of our time.” [44]The Jewish Way, 53. Democracy for Rabbi Greenberg is not only a political institution, it is the religious framework in which God and humans act in partnership. The creation of democracy thus fulfills a religious mandate. [45]Irving Greenberg, “Grounding Democracy in Reverence for Life: A View from Judaism.” Religions in Dialogue: From Theocracy to Democracy, Ed. Alan Race and Ingrid Shafer. (Hants, England: Ashgate … Continue reading He writes, “Our task is to create a societal/political framework to uphold these dignities to the best of our ability now, while pursuing the longer-term dream of transformation needed to bring into being a system which can sustain them fully. Democracy has proven to be more capable of this combination than any other political system.” [46]Ibid. 31. In one description of the covenant (which we will discuss below) between God and the Jewish people, Rabbi Greenberg writes, “Another outgrowth of this covenant concept has been the principle of the rule of laws, not of men. If God is bound by the law, then an earthly ruler is not above the law either. This tradition persists in the United States with the supremacy of the Constitution, the right of the individual and the group to legal protection, and the consensus of the need for limits on government.” [47]The Jewish Way, 75. Elsewhere, he writes, “‘Peace and prosperity’ is not just an American political platform; it is the prescription for the Messianic days.” [48]“Fundamental Jewish Values” (New York: National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL.)) His political and economic beliefs also shape his descriptions and understanding of religious rites and holidays. For example, Rabbi Greenberg sees redemption as the central paradigm of the Jewish religion [49]The Jewish Way, 18. and humane socialism as the secular parallel to the Exodus. [50]Ibid. 65. He portrays the creation of Yom Hashoah and Yom Ha’Atzmaut as a demonstration of the authority of the rule of law (and the people) and not of the ruler since their creation came from popular demand and not the willingness of the Orthodox Rabbinic establishment. [51]Ibid. 31, 281, 336. One could also draw a parallel between Rabbi Greenberg’s view of the covenant in the third era and Theodore Roosevelt’s and the Progressive Party’s covenant with the people … Continue reading

The mission of the Jewish people is to be a force in history in its own right, [52]Living in the Image of God, 15. by creating a community that takes care of its own in a way that can serve as an example to the world. [53]The Jewish Way, 124. As such, Rabbi Greenberg dedicates his life not only to his writing but in trying to fulfill his belief that “[i]t is not enough that the shul become more Jewish; the Jewish community centers, the Federation, the family service agencies, and so on, must also become more Jewish.” [54]Living in the Image of God, 23. However, after the Holocaust, Judaism and the mission of Jewish people cannot be understood in an exclusively Jewish framework. They must be viewed through the lenses of Christianity and modernity as well, [55]For The Sake of Heaven and Earth, 23. since the Holocaust was a revelational event for both Jews and for Christians. [56]Ibid. 15. That does not mean that Judaism and Christianity should merge into one religion. In this post-Holocaust world, “the two faiths need each other to maximize the good and to offset the negative tendencies inherent in both as they follow their own distinctive paths.” [57]Ibid. 38. Neither should Judaism devolve into a system of universal ethics that is committed to social welfare alone; for Rabbi Greenberg, Jewish ethics is the way to serve God, but through ritual, one connects to God. [58]The Jewish Way, 141.

Humans have the ability to achieve this state of societal perfection because they are created in the Divine Image, which he defines as having three distinct dignities: infinite value, equality, and uniqueness. [59]Living in the Image of God, 31. In his own American parlance, he writes, “The people of Israel hold these truths to be self-evident: that all humans are created in the image of God and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable dignities, among which are infinite value, equality, and uniqueness, the birthright of every son and every daughter of God.” [60]Irving Greenberg, “Covenantal Pluralism,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 34, no. 3 (summer 1997): 427. In his article, “Toward a Covenantal Ethic of Medicine,” Rabbi Greenberg adds a fourth dimension, which is the idea that humans – as images of the Divine – are constantly developing and in the process of becoming. [61]Irving Greenberg, “Toward a Covenantal Ethic of Medicine,” Jewish Values in Bio-Ethics, Ed. Levi Meier (New York: Human Sciences Press, 1986) 126.

Covenant

The manner in which Rabbi Greenberg conceives of tikkun olam being achieved is through his notion of covenant. [62]Living in the Image of God, 45. The covenant between God and the Jewish people is not a static, consistent agreement. The relationship it holds together changes as humanity gains autonomy vis-à-vis its ability to determine the nature of the covenant. God’s hiddenness increases as humans become more capable and more powerful. [63]Ibid. 47. This is not a matter of weakness in the Divine; rather it is a reflection of love and trust for humanity. How human autonomy in this third era affects the Divine relationship is explained by Rabbi Greenberg as follows: “One can have all the power in the world, but the more power one possesses, the less one will receive love – because others are so intimidated by power that they won’t express what they really feel. So, in the covenant, God renounces power – takes on limits and equal standing with the human partner – so that humans can relate with integrity and love to God.” [64]Ibid. 32. A consequence of this change in relationship is that theological cause and effect are no longer readily apparent. As Rabbi Greenberg writes, “We no longer have the covenantal right to draw the same conclusion as does the Book of Judges – that if there was a good outcome, God did it because we obeyed; and if there was a bad outcome, God inflicted the bad result on us because of our sins. [65]Ibid. 39.

The covenant of the third era originates in the experience of the Holocaust, yet it is the logical next step in the covenant’s historical development. In Rabbi Greenberg’s historical theology, the first phase of the covenant is the Biblical era, in which God limited Himself for the sake of the covenant yet remained dominant as the initiator and instructor. [66]For The Sake of Heaven and Earth, 30. This was not the first instance of God’s self-limiting, however, He also limited Himself for the sake of the Noahide covenant. Rabbi Greenberg does not examine the differences between God’s self-limiting for the sake of the Noahide vs. the Biblical covenant. He does say, however, that the Noahide covenant is of greater import than the Rabbinic tradition admits, since he conceives of it as the master paradigm for the structured love between God and humanity. [67]Ibid. 56.

The second era is the Rabbinic era, in which God imposes more “stringent” self-limits upon Himself, thereby inviting humans to assume a more participatory role. He writes that, after the destruction of the Second Temple, the rabbis reinterpreted the nature of God and God’s relationship with the Jewish people so as to find coherence in a time of changing social, religious, and political norms. In this reinterpretation, God withdrew Himself – prophecy ceased and miracles were no longer manifest. Rabbi Greenberg understands this description to mean that the destruction could not have happened unless God withdrew, yet he is ambiguous as to whether he thinks God’s withdrawal was only a precursor or also a punishment or cause of the destruction. [68]Irving Greenberg, “Judaism & Christianity: Covenants of Redemption,” Christianity in Jewish Terms, Ed. Tikva Frymer-Kensky, David Novak, Peter Ochs, David Fox Sandmel, Micahel A. Digner … Continue reading Regardless, withdrawal is seen as a positive act by God to give the Jewish people more autonomy to determine the details of the covenant. It was a step away from being servants and closer to being partners, thereby justifying the changes that the rabbis made to halakhic life. He writes with respect to the destruction of the Second Temple, “To borrow later language, in allowing the catastrophe, the Divine had exercised tzimtzum; it followed that humans were now called to more equal, assertive, and authoritative roles in the covenant.” [69]“Theology after the Shoah: The Transformation of the Core Paradigm,” 215.

Rabbi Greenberg understands that, similar to the destruction of the Second Temple, the Holocaust is a catalyst for reshaping one’s religious and metaphysical understanding of Judaism. It is a unique tragedy in Jewish history due to the totality of the Nazi plan, yet a post-Holocaust theology should not be grounded on whether the Holocaust was a punishment for sins, but rather on how we can continue in light of it. [70]Ibid. 214. Rabbi Greenberg argues that the Holocaust should be seen as a result of God’s withdrawing once again, yet this withdrawal was too much for the continuity of the covenant in its previous manifestation. In a word, after the Holocaust, the Divine covenant was broken. [71]Rabbi Greenberg adopts this view from Roy Eckhardt, who presented it in 1976 in his paper, “The Recantation of the Covenant.” Greenberg writes, “There was a need to rethink Judaism in light of … Continue reading

Rabbi Greenberg’s theological justification for understanding how this third era is consistent with his covenantal history is based on his reading of a particular Talmudic passage.

And they stood under the mount: Rav Avdimi b. Hama b. Hasa said, “This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain upon them like an [inverted] cask, and said to them, ‘If you accept the Torah, it is well; if not, there shall be your burial.’” Rav Aha b. Jacob observed, “This furnishes a strong protest against the Torah.” Said Raba, “Yet even so, they re-accepted it in the days of Ahasuerus…” [72]BT Shabbat 88a.

Just as in the transition from the Biblical to the Rabbinic period, when the Jews voluntarily accepted the covenant despite God’s withdrawal and self-limitation, so did a withdrawal and reacceptance occur between the Rabbinic era and today. [73]Living in the Image of God, 53-4, 57. Elsewhere he writes, “If one takes the Talmudic story to its ultimate logic, it is even bolder. It says that were Jews living only from the covenantal … Continue reading

In rectifying the broken covenant of the Holocaust, Rabbi Greenberg writes that the Jews are now under a voluntary covenant of their own making. This is because after the Holocaust, “God must repent of the covenant, i.e., do teshuva [repentance] for having given his chosen people a task that was unbearably cruel and dangerous without having provided for their protection. Morally speaking, then, God can have no claims on the Jews by dint of the covenant.” [74]Irving Greenberg, “Voluntary Covenant,” Perspectives (New York: National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL), 1987) 34. For Rabbi Greenberg, the Holocaust so fundamentally changed the nature of the covenant that God can no longer make any claim on the Jewish people. He writes, “The fundamental shift in the nature of the covenant can be put yet another way. It can no longer be commanded.” [75]Ibid. 34. Despite God’s inability to command, however, “the Jewish people, released from its obligations, chose voluntarily to take it on again… the Jewish people was so in love with the dream of redemption that it volunteered to carry on its mission.” [76]In The Jewish Way, Greenberg writes, “The covenant is binding, not just because it is juridical (that is, commanded) but because people continually accept its goal and become bound to its process. … Continue reading

This Divine withdrawal and the Jewish people’s voluntary reacceptance have made the Jewish people executors, and not only partners, of the covenant. As a result, the manner of Jewish leadership must change once again, from Kohen to rabbi and now to a more democratized structure where the layman has dominance. [77]Irving Greenberg, “Judaism and History: Historical Events and Religious Change,” Ancient Roots and Modern Meaning: A Contemporary Reader in Jewish Identity, Ed. Jerry V. Diller (New York: Bloch … Continue reading In his 1970 talk at Seton Hall, Rabbi Greenberg said, “The most widely observed mitzvah in the Jewish community—reaching far beyond the synagogues—is United Jewish Appeal and Israel bonds. To give to these is to give in light of Auschwitz and Israel simultaneously.” [78]Irving Greenberg, “The Religious Implications of the State of Israel,” The Place of Israel in Jewish and Christian Theology (Seton Hall University: Unpublished, 1970) 30. Please see the website … Continue reading

Rabbi Greenberg calls his concept of “broken covenant” a play on words since he says it comes from Rabbi Nahman of Breslov’s statement that there is no heart so whole as a broken heart. [79]Living in the Image of God, 55-6. A broken covenant is therefore, for Rabbi Greenberg, a statement of its opposite, i.e. a complete covenant, which one can assume means that its completeness emanates from God’s ultimate willingness to let humans be in control. Moreover, according to Rabbi Greenberg, being broken is theologically superior to being perfect since it is only through a broken reality that humans can achieve their potential. [80]Ibid. 58. Rabbi Greenberg borrows Rabbi Nahman’s words but not his meaning. He puts the Hebrew term into the context of contemporary romantic feelings and translates it as a common metaphor for the intense emotional pain or suffering one feels after losing a loved one. To put it in a Hebrew context, one would start by referring to its meaning in Psalms 51:19, where it connotes humility, desperation, and remorsefulness. Similarly, Rabbi Nahman understood it in terms of recognizing one’s dependence on God. In comparing it to depression, he writes, “Depression is like anger and rage. It is like a complaint against God for not fulfilling one’s wishes. But one with a ‘broken heart’ is like a child pleading before his father. He is like a baby crying and complaining because his father is far away.” [81]Sichot HaRan, #41-43, 45. The idea that broken-heartedness (lev nishbar) involves a sense of vulnerability and not autonomy is found in many Halakhot ranging from the social sphere to the personal sphere of the laws of prayer. Maimonides writes in Hilkhot Matanot Aniyim, “If a poor person asks one for a donation and he has nothing to give him, he should conciliate him with words. It is forbidden to scold a poor person or to raise one’s voice against him while shouting, because his heart is broken and crushed (libo nishbar v’nidke), and [Psalms 51:19] states, ‘God will not scorn a broken and crushed heart.’ And [Isaiah 57:15 describes as Divine the attribute of] ‘reviv[ing] the spirit of the lowly and revitaliz[ing] the heart of the crushed.’ Woe unto he who shames the poor, woe be he! Instead, one should be like a father to him, both in mercies and in words, as [Job 29:16] states: ‘I am a father to the destitute.’” [82]Hilkhot Mat’not Aniyim 10:5. In terms of prayer, Rabbi Yehiel Michel Epstein writes that one should pray in a building and not in an open space, the reason [being] that when a person is in a private place it engenders awe for the King and he will be humbled (libo nishbar). [83]Arukh HaShulhan, Orah Hayyim 90:8. From a theological perspective, brokenness is borrowed from the Kabbalistic idea of the breaking of the vessels (shevirat ha-keilim), which is related to tzimtzum. Again, while Rabbi Greenberg uses the idea to allow for human autonomy, the metaphysics of the breaking of the vessels involves a teleology of self-nullification into the Divine (bittul) and not the assertion of human independence.

In terms of his conclusion that the covenant can no longer be commanded, Baruch Spinoza preceded Rabbi Greenberg in claiming that God no longer could mandate obedience of Halakha. Spinoza argued that Jewish law had normative force only through the authority of the state; after the Jews were exiled, following the destruction of the Second Temple, they no longer were bound by the law. [84]Benedictus de Spinoza, Samuel Shirley, and Seymour Feldman, Theological-Political Treatise (Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co., 2001) 63, 221. Spinoza, however, took his claim further by advocating that, rather than maintain affiliation to the law, albeit making it go through a modernization process, Jews should integrate into their exilic surroundings through assimilation, since Jewish law is a source of alienation. Rabbi Greenberg maintains that God’s authority in the Divine covenant is not dependent on sovereignty, yet, like Spinoza asserts, the legitimacy of the covenant is not sacrosanct but rather contingent on historical events. Throughout the Middle Ages, disputations argued over this very point. For example, Rabbi Solomon ben Aderet concludes his response to the challenge of Raymond Martini, a Dominican Hebraist and one of the censors of the Talmud appointed by the Pope in the thirteenth century, as follows:

Here I have written at length because the group that makes these claims on us comes in a round-about way to these things. Their intention is to say that the commandments of the Torah are not eternal but were given only for a specific time, and they think that if [they can show that] the Sages acknowledge that they apply for a time and are nullified for another time, it gives [legitimacy to] the ability of the Giver of the Law to differentiate and say that He can nullify [the Law] even in the time [where it should apply, which is] in this world. Now we have strengthened the truth [with the above proofs] and revealed that the ideas of the Sages, of blessed memory, are not on the side that we have brought [of those who challenge us] and have answered [their false claims]. [85]Peirush HaAggadah, BT Berakhot 12b.

While it is true that Rabbi Greenberg acknowledges that the Jews reaffirmed the covenant after the Holocaust, accepting the idea of the brokenness of the covenant allows for one to claim that any other break could be legitimate as well. It is just a matter of how disastrous the historical calamity. Moreover, the Jews’ affirmation of the covenant after the Holocaust is a declaration of authority as much as it is love. Therefore, because of God’s hiddenness, the Jewish people can make the covenant according to their own will.

Rabbi Greenberg’s emphasis on human autonomy over the traditional symbol of being a servant of God (eved Hashem) is due to the connotations that contemporary society gives to the words used to translate eved. Yet we are servants to God and not servants of servants [86]BT Kiddushin 22b. and thus should not compare the human to the Divine relationship. [87]If we did, however, we would still see that the contemporary relationship between master and servant is far worse than those that are described in Halakha. For a description of how to treat a … Continue reading Those in the Bible who were called servants of God – Moses, Joshua, Caleb, Samuel, Ahiyah, Elijah, Yonah, Isaiah, Eliakim, Job, and Zerubabel – lived lives very different than any mundane model of servitude. Rather, by their servitude to God, they were leaders among men. They tried to change the social and political landscape by making their will accord to God’s will; they did not try to make God’s will accord with their will by trying to define the terms of the Divine covenant based on their autonomous understanding.

Halakha

The renewed covenant implies that the halakhic process must also be changed to serve the contemporary environment. “To rule halachically the same way as before is really to assume that God intervenes the same as before…the Halacha will have to give full religious weight to the new sensitivity to human dignity called forth as a response to the total degradation inflicted in the Holocaust.” [88]“Judaism and History: Historical Events and Religious Change,” 161. Mitzvot, in general, and Halakha, in particular, are meant to shape human beings in covenant with God. [89]Living in the Image of God, 19 Halakha’s observance and development is meant to be a Jewish method of tikkun olam and not just a legal system or a set of commandments. [90]Ibid. 20. It is not meant to improve the individual alone; Halakha is also a means to improve societal conditions. [91]Ibid. 31. From a theological perspective on the process of halakhic development he writes,

The basic thesis of the Halachah is very simple: norms, whatever their intrinsic worth, cannot be realized in real life in one step, if they can be realized at all. Then the crucial question of the moral state of society becomes: how to move, step by step, toward the overcoming of an evil without thereby collaborating with the system, that is, in the process selling out to the system. The classic tension of being either in the underground or the establishment—with nothing in between—has been the besetting problem of reformers and of revolutionaries throughout history. Judaism felt that the only resolution of this tension is to try a two level approach: the prophetic holding up of the generality and the constant renewal of exposure to that total demand—whether it be ‘freedom now’ or ‘social justice immediately’—must be combined with the Halachah [to achieve] the proximate and partial realization of the good possible at this moment. There is a crucial, ongoing role for the rabbi or the individual in deciding what is the next step to be taken. By taking only this step, one does become a de facto collaborator with the existing system. But without this ‘collaboration’ nothing would be achieved. [92]Irving Greenberg, “Jewish Tradition and Contemporary Problems,” Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University Atran Resident Lecture Series: Relationships Between Jewish Tradition and … Continue reading

Because society cannot change all at once, Halakha allows for a process of gradual change. There is societal improvement by evolution, not revolution. Therefore, when a rabbi recognizes that the Halakha is unjust, the challenge that must be faced is how to work within the system to create at least a small step towards change rather than give up on the system completely. The focus, however, is always to move the Halakha towards improved societal conditions.

Because religious service is not intended primarily to satisfy God, who, Rabbi Greenberg notes, does not need the gratification, the perspective one should take on halakhic rulings is that they must consider human dignity and a person’s quality of life. Poskim must give halakhic weight to people’s feelings and priorities and show leniency when the value of tzelem Elokim is at stake. [93]Living in the Image of God, 36-7. For example, he writes in his “Towards a Covenantal Ethic of Medicine” that rulings on birth control and abortion should be more than one-sidedly concerned with the quantity of life; rather, it should recognize that rulings in the matter consist of balancing the quantity of life [of the baby?] and its quality [with respect to the mother?]. [94]“Toward a Covenantal Ethic of Medicine,” 145-6. Similarly, in his new article on brain death, “A Life of Halakha or a Halakha of Life?” he writes that the primary criterion for answering a halakhic question is not precedent or existing norms but to uphold life. [95]Irving Greenberg, “A Life of Halakha or a Halakha of Life?” Halakhic Realities: Collected Essays on Brain Death, ed. Zev Farber (Maggid Books, 2015) 268. Towards the end of his article he writes, “The second factor distorting the attitude of the halakhists is their vision of halakha as an intellectual or legal system unto itself rather than as a Torah of living, creating, and guiding society. As a code, the primary emphasis is on adhering to precedents and upholding traditions. There is no obligation to provide for reality and ensure that the halakha actually works in real life.” [96]Ibid. 309. (I am not sure who the halakhists are to which Rabbi Greenberg refers, but such a sweeping statement deriding Jewish leaders and adjudicators of Halakha leaves little room for the pluralism that he so dearly desires and it mimics the alienating tone and behavior that he saw needed changing in the Orthodox. Does he really think that the halakhists do not want Halakha to work in real life because they see value in precedential reasoning and continuity with tradition? Is the conservatism of not immediately accepting something but rather allowing change to be thoughtful and gradual not a value that Rabbi Greenberg can acknowledge, if not affirm? Is there not a concern for human dignity on both sides of the brain death debate?) Rabbi Greenberg writes that he adopted the adjudicative process of his father, Rabbi Eliyahu Chayim Greenberg. “This defense of the people, Israel, was a very strong theme in my father’s life, and appeared in all of his psakim (rulings). He viewed the responsibility of the posek to employ the Halachah to help people, to relieve people’s pain. Therefore, he was highly critical of chumras that inflicted avoidable burdens and of rulings that caused pain to people when there were alternative imaginative possibilities to mitigate suffering.” [97]Living in the Image of God, 34. Especially in a time when the value of humanity must be bolstered as an expression of the Divine mandate, Rabbi Greenberg urges to use classic psak to advance this goal, and to engage Halakha to the limit and beyond to confirm human dignity. [98]Ibid. 37.

This is not a radical break for Rabbi Greenberg from the traditional view of Halakha, since he perceives the operation of Halakha to be a process of interpretation and application through history and in changing circumstances. [99]“Orthodox Modernism,” 13. His critique of contemporary Orthodoxy (at least in 1966) is that it has escaped into the purely ritualistic realm of Halakha, has homogenized Halakha, and has made a routine out of it. [100]“Dr. Greenberg Discusses Orthodoxy, YU, Viet Nam, & Sex,” The Commentator, 1966. Please see the website RabbiIrvingGreenberg.com … Continue reading He calls for “…a thorough re-examination of the Shulchan Orach. The purpose of halachah is to transform the mundane into the holy by the utilization of the halachah which applies to any given experience, but today, there are some experiences which halachah doesn’t cover adequately, and we are unwilling to apply many Halachot that deal with contemporary problems. The Poskim aren’t meeting their responsibility in updating and fully applying our law codes. This inaction represents a denial of one of the basic tenets of Judaism: that our tradition may be applied to any situation. In short, the halachah has broken down.” [101]Ibid. For Rabbi Greenberg, the halachah will be far better served when we recognize that its goals are tzelem Elokim and tikkun olam, and when we use whatever authority it has, or needs, or wants, to achieve its own goals. [102]Living in the Image of God, 103-4. Of course, many of his Orthodox contemporaries reject this critique and uphold the belief that, while the Halakha is meant for the betterment of human beings and society, it should not be changed willy nilly to meet the demands of contemporary desires but, rather, should progress by virtue of its own conventions.

Pluralism

As said above, the covenant after the Holocaust was not only fundamentally changed, it was broken. In one place, Rabbi Greenberg uses the term “broken” to refer to our inherited conceptual and ideological categories and tikkun to refer to rectifying the brokenness of our own understanding. [103]“Judaism and History: Historical Events and Religious Change,” 220. Divine concealment leads to epistemological pluralism, since without prophecy no one can claim to know the absolute truth. [104]Living in the Image of God, 42. Epistemological pluralism is, therefore, an attempt to gain clarity of our own vague understanding. However, for Rabbi Greenberg, the value of pluralism when applied to this type of brokenness is in its multiplicity, since it precludes absolutist inclinations and the totalitarian politics that they can engender. [105]“Judaism and History: Historical Events and Religious Change,” 222. To give one of his examples, he writes, “‘Never again’ is one of the profoundest truths to come out of the encounter with the Holocaust. But applied by Meir Kahane, one-sidedly – without awareness of the ‘brokenness’ of the Jews and the Jewish tradition – it became a prescription for continuing the Holocaust, in spirit and values, by inflicting violence and proposing to inflict expulsion and even death on innocent civilians, Arabs, and others.” [106]Ibid. 231. In other places, Rabbi Greenberg refers to ontological pluralism, which stems from two different sources. The voluntary covenant that is a consequence of the Holocaust justifies denominational pluralism, since if each Jew voluntarily engages God in a covenant that is not commanded, then no expression of Judaism should be considered illegitimate. Each denomination is holy in its willingness to act in an image of God that is of its own making. From an interfaith perspective, ontological pluralism stems from multiple revelations, i.e. God gave a different message to the nations, or, epistemologically, from the idea that each tradition or religion may be absolutely true from its own vantage point, but that this vantage point is not held by everyone or by all religions. [107]Irving Greenberg, “Seeking the Religious Roots of Pluralism,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 343, no. 3 (Summer 1997): 389.

According to Rabbi Greenberg, most people do not understand the principle of pluralism since they equate it with relativism (nothing is absolutely true, so everyone can say whatever he or she wants). [108]Irving Greenberg, “The Principles of Pluralism,” Sh’ma (April 1999) 4. Rabbi Greenberg, on the other hand, acknowledges the existence of absolute truths, yet he admits that absolute truths have limits. In his words, “The limit may grow from the discovery that beyond my world there is another realm of discourse and truth that may coexist with mine.” [109]Ibid. 4. Pluralism is a consequence of recognizing the limits of one’s own absolute truths, acknowledging the existence of another’s absolute truths, and allowing contradictions to be maintained. For Rabbi Greenberg, however, pluralism must encompass more than simple affirmation; it entails learning from other faiths and denominations so as to provide oneself with a fuller picture. [110]“Covenantal Pluralism,” 434. He writes, “A pluralist system can deal positively with other traditions and with alternative readings within the tradition without being undermined because in some ways it has come to know its own limitations.” [111]Two Doors Rabbi Soloveitchik Opened and Did Not Walk Through, 10. At times, Rabbi Greenberg explicitly insists that pluralism must progress to partnership, where each partner affirms that its truth/faith/system alone cannot fulfill God’s dreams. [112]For The Sake of Heaven and Earth, 43. Pluralism also allows for a free religious market, since the only religious power is that of persuasion and not coercion. He also sees pluralism as inescapably built into democracy. [113]“Grounding Democracy in Reverence for Life,” 33. Judaism demands a pluralistic viewpoint, at least in our current era where human autonomy is a priority, due to the dignity of human beings who are created in the image of God. Dignity disallows intellectual suppression or religious coercion; it fosters conversation and the benefits of disagreement.

Rabbi Greenberg grounds interfaith dialogue and cooperation in his view of “God’s pluralism,” i.e. “that no religion has a monopoly on God’s love.” [114]Irving Greenberg, “Pluralism & Peoplehood: A biblical model of reconciliation can help bring Jews and Christians together,” MyJewishLearning.com. God’s covenant with Noah was not superseded by the covenant at Sinai; therefore those religions that uphold the Noahide covenant have a Divine mandate along with Judaism to perfect the world through tikkun olam. Rabbi Greenberg takes this cooperation one step further with regard to Christians, since he incorporates Christians into the children of Abraham out of his view that the Holocaust was a revelational event for both Jews and Christians. He also relies on Rabbi Menachem Meiri’s designation of Christians as people bound by religion and thus not idolaters in the Talmudic sense. The revelational aspect of the Holocaust for Christians was an impetus for a Christian self-critique against those parts of its theology that can be construed as anti-Semitic. It allowed Christianity to transform into a religion that could engage in partnership and cooperation with Judaism, though Judaism has to remove its chauvinistic elements as well. The self-critique of the Church to which Rabbi Greenberg refers comes from the private discussions and writings of Christian theologians, in particular Roy and Alice Eckhart, and from the issuance of Nostra Aetate, which not only revised centuries of church teaching about the Jewish people but also contained statements that condemn all hatreds, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at any time or from any source, and which calls for further mutual understanding and appreciation through friendly discussions. [115]“Nostra Aetate,” July 9, 2013. Using the analogy of converts who, by joining the Jewish people, become children of Abraham, he considers Christians to be children of Abraham as well, albeit under the Noahide branch of the family and not the Jewish one. [116]“Pluralism & Peoplehood” He writes explicitly,

Do Christians not also merit recognition under Isaiah’s thrice repeated rubric, ‘so you [the people of Israel] are My witnesses, declares the Lord–and I am God’ (Isaiah 43:12; see also 43:10, 44:8)? Are there not hundreds of millions of human beings who had never heard of the God of Creation until Christians sought them out and testified to them about the God of Israel, who is the God of Creation, who loves them and wants them to be redeemed? Even if Christians spoke to gentiles about Jesus as Lord, did they not, in the end, bring these people to the God of Israel, whom Jesus worshiped as Lord? These untold millions would never have known of the God of Israel but for Christians’ repeated witness to them, until the people were convinced; and when they heard that the Lord had taken note of them and that God had seen their plight, then they bowed low in homage.

That the Jewish people serve as a model for humanity presumes the need for Jews to be co-workers with others to perfect the world. Furthermore, contemporary Judaism would benefit from its Christian relatives, not only as partners but also as a corrective. Because of Judaism’s two-sided goal of particularism and universalism and its tendency to focus on the former over the latter, Christianity can remind Jews of their universal mandate. He writes, “Judaism’s focus on family as the context for brit is constructive; pursued one-sidedly it can lead to tribalism and amoral familialism. The religion needs to be corrected by a faith that breaks out of the family model and explores the power of a universal, self-defined belief group. Rabbinic Judaism brings humans more powerfully into participation in the covenant; but it needs a counterpart religion to explore the element of grace and transcendence in a more central way. In this perspective, Jewish covenant peoplehood and Christian faith community are both validated.” [117]“Judaism & Christianity: Covenants of Redemption,” 155. This perspective does not impinge upon his view of chosenness, since, for Rabbi Greenberg, chosenness is both in tension with and complementary to equality. [118]Living in the Image of God, 80. Elsewhere, he includes Christians as members of the people of Israel, [119]At least as honorary members; see For the Sake of Heaven and Earth, 96. since he defines the term as anyone who affirms that God made a valid covenant with Abraham and his descendants and takes up the covenantal task of world redemption. [120]“Covenantal Pluralism,” 425. This is an expansion of his thought, since in his 1966 interview in The Commentator, he limits his inclusion of those who take the covenant seriously to Reform, … Continue reading He even suggests that Judaism and Christianity grow out of one and the same covenant, the Abrahamic/Sinaitic, like two branches on one tree. [121]For The Sake of Heaven and Earth, 99.

For Rabbi Greenberg, the value of interdenominational pluralism also comes from the brokenness of the covenant because of the Holocaust. [122]“Toward Jewish Religious Unity – A Symposium,” 135. In an autobiographical remark, Rabbi Greenberg provides some insight into his path towards pluralism as follows:

In an earlier phase of my life, before I was affected by this experience, I was in a triumphalist Orthodox mood. I once made a speech about how the other Jews would all disappear while the Orthodox would live on. A colleague stood up to say that he would like to ask me only one question: What is the Orthodox position on gas chambers? Do they believe in the separation of men and women in gas chambers? I will never forget that question as long as I live. It is not that one appreciates mehitzah any less as a result, but the question illuminated how grossly distorted was my perception of what the central questions are and of where the religious testimony was being given. [123]Irving Greenberg, “The End of Emancipation,” Conservative Judaism 30, no. 4 (Summer 1976): 60-1.

In order for the Jewish people to survive the twenty-first century as a people, they will not only need the widest variety of denominational options so that a critical mass of Jews will stay affiliated, but all of the denominations will have to work together to create a people that is unified even when diverse. [124]Two Doors Rabbi Soloveitchik Opened and Did Not Walk Through, 22. For Rabbi Greenberg, each denomination is a valid partner in the covenant of the Jewish people; they all constitute legitimate Jewish communities whose members fulfill their obligations of prayer and Torah study as they participate in such activities. [125]For The Sake of Heaven and Earth, 33.

Rabbi Soloveitchik justified the idea of epistemological pluralism and the notion that religious thought can validate other philosophical methodologies because of it. He writes, “Pluralism asserts only that the object reveals itself in manifold ways to the subject, and that a certain telos corresponds to each of these ontical manifestations. Subsequently, the philosopher or scientist may choose one of the many aspects of reality in compliance with his goal.” [126]Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Halakhic Mind (New York: Seth Press, 1986) 16. However, while pluralism could exist, it is not a starting point for ecumenical dialogue. Despite the fact that two religious thinkers may live in the same reality, the worldview and philosophy of each thinker will be different based on the different foundational beliefs and goals of each religion. Rabbi Greenberg may argue that Christians and Jews have the same telos, but, if that is the case, then what he considers their common ground is so weak, or so abstract, that little or nothing can be said about it except that it is a shared impractical definition that can encompass both but explains neither sufficiently.

Ontological pluralism accepts the premise that there could be multiple descriptions of something that are not contradictory, even when taken at face value. For example, a person can describe the room in which he or she sits in terms of tables and chairs or in terms of atoms and atomic particles. Though the descriptions are different, one description does not contradict the other. Rather, they use different conventions (linguistic or otherwise) by which the same object is measured. The tool of conceptual pluralism allows the philosopher to understand seeming contradictions, not as stemming from a conflation of frames of reference but rather as a conflation of descriptive conventions. As such, differences in the understanding of certain theological and philosophical concepts within an overarching religious worldview need not be a cause for factioning; rather they can be understood in terms of using different descriptive conventions. For Rabbi Greenberg’s inter-religious pluralism to be useful, however, one must accept the premise that different religious narratives hold the same truth but describe it in different ways. They are not conflicting or irreconcilable in essence, but merely in description. This seems to be what he implies when he speaks of pluralism demonstrating the limits of one’s own faith and the benefits that partnership, even in the theological sense, brings to each participating faith. Yet, Christianity and Judaism split into two religions precisely because ontological pluralism could not be held. The division into two faiths was not over linguistic matters, but over deeply held premises regarding the way in which the world and everything in it had proceeded and should proceed through history.

In the ontological sense, it would be more logical if Rabbi Greenberg were a relativist rather than a pluralist since he could accept the premise that one can have multiple frames of reference which are cognitively equivalent, yet which are incompatible when taken at face value. He could then allow contradictions to be a problem of improperly conflating frames of reference rather than of logical inconsistencies. Regardless, when looking at the world and one’s relationship with God and his or her fellow from the foundation of a Jewish perspective and grounded in the Jewish tradition, it would be very difficult to be invested with one’s whole heart, soul, and energy while at the same time considering another religion to be cognitively equivalent yet irreconcilable with Judaism.

General Critique

To debate with Rabbi Greenberg on any particular implication that is a consequence of his historical theology demands either that one accept his re-definitions or that one try to persuade him that older meanings have contemporary import. In either case, engagement is not authentic dialogue since either strategy demands that one side concede the entire argument. With the acceptance of his re-definitions, his understanding of the nature of the covenant and its consequences regarding the halakhic process and pluralism are justified, since they proceed logically and naturally from his premise. To persuade him that older meanings have contemporary import is to attempt to provide an alternative historical narrative, which is nothing more than asking Rabbi Greenberg to abandon his theology. Therefore, any debate over particular details will end up as a hopeless search for common ground. I will give two examples to demonstrate this claim.

Rabbi Greenberg’s redefinition of concepts removes them from the framework in which they were previously found, yet he does not acknowledge the consequences of that removal. Therefore, when we see a term that he uses differently, we still allow its previous connotations to influence our understanding, even when the word no longer bears them in any other but the most superficial way. For example, Rabbi Greenberg uses the word tzimtzum to describe God’s self-limitation for the purpose of affirming humanity. He writes, “In my view, this hiddenness is what the Kabbalah means by the term tzimtzum. Tzimtzum is a reflection not of the absence or weakness of God, but of God’s voluntary and loving self-limitation in order to help humans take full responsibility for their actions. As time goes on, God’s increasing self-limitation means that humans take primary responsibility for the outcome of history – and, thus, of the cosmic process as well.” [127]Living in the Image of God, 48. However, Rabbi Greenberg’s view of Kabbalah is that its success weakened the role of philosophy and reason in the Jewish religious economy. [128]For The Sake of Heaven and Earth, 81. Through this admission, it is fair to say (and his historical narrative confirms this as well) that he dismisses the entire cosmology and its normative and theosophic implications. He nevertheless uses the word, tzimtzum, taking the word out of its cosmological context and giving it a totally different meaning in his usage than in its traditional usage. Rabbi Greenberg’s choice of the word tzimtzum, despite his rejection of how the word fits into a Kabbalistic framework, allows his readers, who may only recognize the word superficially, to apply the positive implications that tzimtzum carries rather than understand God’s hiding Himself through the more conventional term hester panim. By making this substitution, Rabbi Greenberg can portray God’s hiddenness as an act of affirming humanity and not as a response to human failure. Even if one would accept this semantic sleight of hand, however, one is still left with the following question about his historical theology: At the beginning of each era, God hides His face so as to give authority to humanity to uphold the covenant, yet each era begins with a major tragedy. Based on this description of events, which would be more theologically consistent – that God’s hiding His face, greater human autonomy, and Jewish tragedy are coincidental, or that humanity had no choice but to assume more responsibility as a result of God’s hiding His face? [129]See Responsa Beit HaLevi, Discourse 18 (discourses are at the end of the responsa) for a similar idea which explains the difference between the first and second tablets given to Moshe. If it is the latter, then relying on our own reasoning is not a positive expression of human autonomy. Rather, it is a lonely reminder that our communication with God is no longer explicit. While God’s silent communication does make the scholar superior to the prophet [130]BT Bava Batra 12a. in terms of his ability to know God’s will without spoken direction, it does not mean that God’s will is as obvious.

For the second example, based on his conception of tzelem Elokim and of how the messianic era will come about through tikkun olam, Rabbi Greenberg’s belief that democracy is the ideal religious framework in which God and humans work in partnership is coherent. However, the halakhic tradition is not as clear-cut as Rabbi Greenberg’s theology makes it seem. Starting with the conflicting rulings in the Talmud, Jewish legalists have debated whether a monarchy should be preferred over other political frameworks or if other forms of government should be preferred to it. Even in the third era itself, both Rav Kook and Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Herzog acknowledged the legitimacy of democracy as a necessary reality, yet did not believe it to be a messianic ideal. [131]R. Abraham Isaac Kook, Mishpat Kohen, Responsum 144, para. 14. R. Yitzhak Isaac Herzog, Ha-hukim le-Israel al-pi ha-Torah: kerech aleph (Jerusalem: Mossad HaRav Kook, 1989), 5. When it comes to the messianic ideal and societal change, however, for Rabbi Greenberg, the halakhic debates of previous eras do not hold much weight, and Rav Kook and Rabbi Herzog could be categorized as halakhists who do not ensure that the Halakha actually works in real life even if they do, in fact, provide for reality. To sympathize with his view yet try to be faithful to the halakhic tradition would be like taking a half-step that supports neither side, since it could be interpreted as a choice motivated by Orthodox fear that any concession would be a detraction of Torah at worst or Marrano writing at best.

For Rabbi Greenberg, his historical narrative is his truth; competing historical narratives cannot inform his truth but can only stand parallel to it. They may allow him to see the limits of his truth and he may utilize other truths by working together with other faith communities, but competing truths, especially when based in a narrative theology, do not have a common plane on which to co-exist. To give a linguistic example, I cannot intelligibly have a theological conversation with someone who speaks French while I speak English. I may recognize a few words, though they might mean something different now that they are adopted into English, but I will not be convinced by my French-speaking friend nor will my arguments affect him. For Rabbi Greenberg, however, this analogy must be adapted to account for one more factor, i.e. his rejection of the truth of traditional Orthodoxy. With this in mind, the analogy would consist of his standing with someone who is speaking Old English while he keeps telling him to get with the times and speak the English of today. Not only will they not understand each other’s points, there is no sympathetic ear for the conversation to begin.

Conclusion

The benefit and the importance of Rabbi Greenberg’s theological writings are that they force us to reconsider what we may be taking for granted. His work provides us with a different way to see the Jewish tradition – a reconceptualization – that, while using the same language and terms that we know, gives us a different understanding from that which has traditionally been conveyed. He forces us to re-examine the tradition in light of his historical-theological narrative, and to understand his critique of contemporary Judaism through fresh eyes. His linguistic innovation reminds us of the power of language and demands that we think about concepts such as redemption, covenant, tzelem Elokim, and tikkun olam. These are words that should not be taken lightly, since the connotations that we attribute to them can change their meanings drastically – for better or for worse.

Providing a contemporary idiom to express Torah concepts is not a perversion of Torah per se. Hazal recognized the possibility that other languages could provide insight. [132]BT Megilla 9b. See also Genesis Rabba 36:8. However, benefit only occurs when foreign languages are translated into a Torah framework and not when the Torah is made to fit into a foreign framework. For example, there are both positive and negative views within Hazal regarding translating the Torah into Greek. The negative view is based on the story of when the Hellenist king Ptolemy coerced the Jews to translate the Torah into Greek, whereas the positive view is rooted in the verse that Yaphet shall dwell in the tents of Shem. When the Greek language used to translate the Torah is that of the dominating Hellenist monarch, meaning that the Torah had to be made to fit Hellenistic perspectives, translation is a deleterious experience. When new languages can expand one’s understanding of the Torah, when the new language sits in the house of the tradition, it adds new insight. [133]Genesis 9:27; BT Megilla 8b-9b; Genesis Rabba 36:8; Turei Even, Megilla 8b; Tur, Orah Hayyim 58; see, however, Maimonides, Hilkhot Tefillin 1:19. Of course, translation alone will always leave the text altered from the original. Only when Jewish culture is strong, and the oral tradition is still a vital part of the pedagogical process, will that which is lost in writing be recaptured by explanation and dialogue.

Rabbi Greenberg is sensitive to the ills and injustices which plague our community and of which we should all be aware. Like the prophets of old, he decries the weaknesses of our character and provides a poetic picture of hope for the future. I share his sensitivities but not his picture. I fear that his theology will be utilized by those who follow him in the same way that he expanded Rabbi Soloveitchik’s thought through his own understanding. Close reading without the complement of experiencing and accepting how the thinker enacted his Jewish philosophy allows for extensions that may not be warranted. Also, as with any contemporary interpretation, one must always and continually question where one’s intuition is based and how words inevitably change when put in a different context. Because of this constant tension between new and old, especially when the new comes to replace the old and not to supplement it, with any new conceptualization one should consider what is lost as much as what is gained.

As a concluding thought, when trying to balance our conception of the past and our understanding of the present, it would be proper to remember the words of Rabbi Meir: “Do not look at the flask but what is in it. There are new flasks filled with old wine and old flasks which do not even contain new wine.” [134]Mishna Avot 4:27.

About the Author: Ira Bedzow is the Director of the Biomedical Ethics and Humanities Program at New York Medical College. Among his other responsibilities, he is in charge of a new master’s program in biomedical ethics at NYMC, which has an option for a focus in Jewish medical ethics. He is also the Senior Scholar of the Aspen Center for Social Values. Rabbi Bedzow received rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg (Yoreh Yoreh), Rabbi Daniel Channen (Yoreh Yoreh), Rabbi Yitzchak Oshinksy (Yadin Yadin), and Rabbi Dovid Schochet (Yadin Yadin). He earned his PhD in Religion at Emory University.

 

Endnotes

Endnotes
1I would like to thank Rabbi Moshe Schapiro and Malka Fleischmann for their invaluable help on this article.

[1] His writing therefore complements his participation in Jewish Federation, where, among other things, he organized Shabbat retreats to introduce religious observance to the unaffiliated, and other organizations, where he provided insight into religious life. After participating in a retreat that included YU students and non-affiliated Jews that Rabbi Greenberg led, Joseph Telushkin writes of Rabbi Greenberg’s influence on the non-Orthodox, “As Irving Greenberg (who spent the weekend with us, and gave it ruchniyut, a pervasive spirituality it would otherwise have lacked) suggested, these people are telling us something. Right now Orthodoxy is not an option to them, for they view Orthodox Jews as being generally morally insensitive people, caught up in private concerns that are irrelevant to the students’ world. Their deepest concerns, they feel, are ignored by us. But when Orthodox Jews tangibly show them that they share their moral concerns, that suffering touches them equally, then they’ll regard Orthodoxy as a possible approach to life, something that can at least be considered without involving one in moral compromise. And then, if we can show a superior family life, a finer communal life, a greater ability to satisfy the existential problems of modern man (that is, that laws between man and God have practical ramifications) they might be willing to adopt it as a way of life.” (Joseph Telushkin, “Kosher Dialogue,” The Commentator, November 26, 1969.) This quote is found in Joshua Meir Feigelson’s dissertation, Relationship, Power, and Holy Secularity: Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and American Jewish Life, 1966-1983. (Dissertation, Northwestern University.  Chicago: UMI, 2015, (Publication No. 3705247) ) 88-89. 
2Irving Greenberg and Shelomoh Danziger, “Orthodox Modernism – An Exchange,” The Jewish Observer, December 1966, 16
3Irving Greenberg, For The Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter between Judaism and Christianity (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2004) 16.
4Ibid. 30.
5Irving Greenberg and Shalom Freedman, Living in the Image of God: Jewish Teachings to Perfect the World (Jason Aronson Incorporated, 1998) 13.
6Ibid. 11.
7Irving (“Yitz”) Greenberg, Two Doors Rabbi Soloveitchik Opened and Did Not Walk Through: The Future of Modern Orthodoxy (2010: http://www.bjpa.org/Publications/details.cfm?PublicationID=21416), 1-2.
8Irving Greenberg, “Change and the Orthodox Community,” Response: A Contemporary Jewish Review. 3, no. 1 (Spring 1969) 16.
9Irving Greenberg, The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays (Jason Aronson, Incorporated, 1998) 138.
10Irving Greenberg, “Theology after the Shoah: The Transformation of the Core Paradigm,” Modern Judaism 26.3 (2006): 216.
11Living in the Image of God, 26.
12He writes, “College and the intellectual challenge of modernity has been one of my areas of interest from the beginning. The interaction of modernity and Judaism has been seminal for the past two centuries, and it was the key to the Jewish future.” (Living in the Image of God, 9.)
13He writes, “As it now stands, Judaism is bleeding to death in America. Many of its best sons and daughters are constantly attracted to the new ethos and feel that they must abandon the old to embrace the new. There are two major types of response that can be given to this crisis. One possibility is a withdrawal from the culture which is saturated with the new values to a cultural and religious island (perhaps, one should say, ghetto) within. This would enable us to maintain many of our current patterns of response. The other choice is to try to accept, refine and ultimately master the new environment and ethic. To do this, however, would require new conceptions, techniques and emphases.” (Irving Greenberg, “Jewish Values and the Changing American Ethic,” Tradition (1968): 50.)
14One example that he gives in an interview in 1969 is the following: “Take the question of kashrut, dietary laws. Obviously, most Jews have concluded that in order to be faithful to modern culture they must give it up, either because it was difficult, unavailable, divisive socially, or in some way restrictive of the opportunities to truly work in society. If the only serious conception of Kashrut is essentially separatist, which is the role it played in a previous culture, then it must crumble for most Jews. But perhaps Kashrut also represents a certain reverence for life, or an awareness of the divine in the human, which could translate itself into a certain kind of social-ethical relationship. If so, then the separatism aspect of Kashrut lives in an integrated society: I think Kashrut should be kept more by people who eat with Gentiles than by those who eat with Jews. It’s at that moment when we are sharing a meal that the Jew can feel at one with the Gentile and yet be reminded of his distinctiveness.” (“Change and the Orthodox Community,” 16.)
15Irving Greenberg, “Judaism and Modernity: Realigning the Two Worlds, An Edited Transcript of an Address by Rabbi Dr. Yitzchak Greenberg,” Perspectives on Jewish Education (series), Ed. Zvi Grumet (Israel: The Lookstein Center, 2006) 14.
16“Orthodox Modernism – An Exchange,” 16.
17Irving Greenberg, et. al., “Toward Jewish Religious Unity – A Symposium,” Judaism 15.2 (1966): 138.
18Aharon Lichtenstein, “Rav Lichtenstein Writes Letter to Dr. Greenberg,” The Commentator, June 2, 1966.
19The Jewish Way, 59; Two Doors Rabbi Soloveitchik Opened and Did Not Walk Through, 4; “Jewish Values and the Changing American Ethic,” 53.
20“Orthodox Modernism – An Exchange,” 14.
21, 37Ibid. 19.
22Two Doors Rabbi Soloveitchik Opened and Did Not Walk Through, 8.
23Ibid. 17.
24Irving Greenberg, For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter between Judaism and Christianity (Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 2004) 14.
25Ibid. 13-14.
26Two Doors Rabbi Soloveitchik Opened and Did Not Walk Through, 9.
27“Letter to Irving Greenberg,” September 29, 1965, Papers of Rabbi Irving Greenberg, Harvard University Library, 58: 17. This quote is found in Joshua Meir Feigelson’s dissertation, 107.
28The Jewish Way, 172.
29For The Sake of Heaven and Earth, 51.
30Ibid. 25-6.
31Living in the Image of God, 21
32Living in the Image of God, 5
33Steven Katz, “Irving (Yitzchak) Greenberg,” Interpreters of Judaism in the late twentieth century. Vol. 7, Ed. Steven T. Katz, (Bnai Brith Intl Continuing, 1993) 78; Steven T. Katz, “‘Voluntary Covenant:’ Irving Greenberg on Faith after the Holocaust,” in Historicism, the Holocaust, and Zionism: Critical Studies in Modern Jewish Thought and History (New York: New York University Press, 1992) 240.
34Living in the Image of God, 69.
35, 49The Jewish Way, 18.
36, 75Ibid. 34.
38Living in the Image of God, 29.
39“Jewish Values and the Changing American Ethic,” 61.
40Two Doors Rabbi Soloveitchik Opened and Did Not Walk Through, 20.
41Rabbi Greenberg looks at proper Jewish education through American eyes in a way which provides analogy to his theological views as well. He writes, “The reorientation of Jewish education in the new American ethic begins with the recognition that too much has been made of the idea that Judaism comes from God and one must simply obey. This idea is true. Yet it is a one-sided truth.” (“Jewish Values and the Changing American Ethic,” 62.) Because God has given Jews free will, Greenberg advises, Jewish education should stress relevance over obedience. Also, parents should delay in imposing mitzvah observance on their children so as to avoid communicating formalism and ensure they are ready to internalize the message of the mitzvah. Moreover, the rational and existential should be stressed over authority; authority should be used to enrich understanding and increase appeal but not as the primary motive for observance. The model which Greenberg advises is admittedly the American model, which accounts for the pluralism of American society. See “Jewish Values and the Changing American Ethic.”
42Living in the Image of God, 70.
43For The Sake of Heaven and Earth, 28.
44The Jewish Way, 53.
45Irving Greenberg, “Grounding Democracy in Reverence for Life: A View from Judaism.” Religions in Dialogue: From Theocracy to Democracy, Ed. Alan Race and Ingrid Shafer. (Hants, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2002) 31.
46, 91Ibid. 31.
47The Jewish Way, 75.
48“Fundamental Jewish Values” (New York: National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL
50Ibid. 65.
51Ibid. 31, 281, 336. One could also draw a parallel between Rabbi Greenberg’s view of the covenant in the third era and Theodore Roosevelt’s and the Progressive Party’s covenant with the people to make them masters of the Constitution, where “[i]n accordance with the needs of each generation the people must use their sovereign powers to establish and maintain equal opportunity and industrial justice.” (Platform of the Progressive Party, August 7, 1912)
52Living in the Image of God, 15.
53The Jewish Way, 124.
54Living in the Image of God, 23.
55For The Sake of Heaven and Earth, 23.
56Ibid. 15.
57Ibid. 38.
58The Jewish Way, 141.
59Living in the Image of God, 31.
60Irving Greenberg, “Covenantal Pluralism,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 34, no. 3 (summer 1997): 427.
61Irving Greenberg, “Toward a Covenantal Ethic of Medicine,” Jewish Values in Bio-Ethics, Ed. Levi Meier (New York: Human Sciences Press, 1986) 126.
62Living in the Image of God, 45.
63Ibid. 47.
64Ibid. 32.
65Ibid. 39.
66For The Sake of Heaven and Earth, 30.
67Ibid. 56.
68Irving Greenberg, “Judaism & Christianity: Covenants of Redemption,” Christianity in Jewish Terms, Ed. Tikva Frymer-Kensky, David Novak, Peter Ochs, David Fox Sandmel, Micahel A. Digner (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2000) 149.
69“Theology after the Shoah: The Transformation of the Core Paradigm,” 215.
70Ibid. 214.
71Rabbi Greenberg adopts this view from Roy Eckhardt, who presented it in 1976 in his paper, “The Recantation of the Covenant.” Greenberg writes, “There was a need to rethink Judaism in light of the Eckhardts’ spiritual witness.” (Irving Greenberg, “What Would Roy and Alice Do? A Reflection on How I Came to Be a Failure through Dialogue, Thank God,” The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue (May 19, 2012).)

Rabbi Greenberg tries to give the term “broken” a positive connotation as well. He writes that the term is a double entendre whereby the brokenness is not only in terms of the covenant’s normativity, but also a demonstration of its members’ true compassion. Therefore, a broken covenant can be even stronger than one that is not. See Living in the Image of God, 55-58.

72BT Shabbat 88a.
73Living in the Image of God, 53-4, 57. Elsewhere he writes, “If one takes the Talmudic story to its ultimate logic, it is even bolder. It says that were Jews living only from the covenantal acceptance at Sinai, the Torah would not have been fully binding after the Destruction. Post-destruction Jews are living under the command of the Torah by dint of the reacceptance of the Torah at Purim time…Yet the covenant of Purim does not replace Sinai; it renews it. Purim confirms that the road to redemption continues even though we live in a world where the mighty, manifest acts of God are not available.” (The Jewish Way, 250-1)
74Irving Greenberg, “Voluntary Covenant,” Perspectives (New York: National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL), 1987) 34.
76In The Jewish Way, Greenberg writes, “The covenant is binding, not just because it is juridical (that is, commanded) but because people continually accept its goal and become bound to its process. The present generation is neither the slavish follower of the tradition handed down by past generations nor an autonomous community free to tamper with past practices or to reject past goals. Each generation is a partner entering into the covenant responsibility and process and thus joining the transgenerational covenantal community. This is the basis of the rabbinic tradition that all Jews who ever lived or who ever will live stood at Sinai and heard the proclamation of the covenant. It is that moment – standing before Sinai to accept the covenant – that is symbolically recreated every year on the morning of Shavuot.” (The Jewish Way, 70-1)
77Irving Greenberg, “Judaism and History: Historical Events and Religious Change,” Ancient Roots and Modern Meaning: A Contemporary Reader in Jewish Identity, Ed. Jerry V. Diller (New York: Bloch Publishing, 1978) 159.
78Irving Greenberg, “The Religious Implications of the State of Israel,” The Place of Israel in Jewish and Christian Theology (Seton Hall University: Unpublished, 1970) 30. Please see the website RabbiIrvingGreenberg.com (http://rabbiirvinggreenberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/lecture_religious_implications.pdf), but it is also found in Joshua Meir Feigelson’s dissertation, 135-136.
79Living in the Image of God, 55-6.
80Ibid. 58.
81Sichot HaRan, #41-43, 45.
82Hilkhot Mat’not Aniyim 10:5.
83Arukh HaShulhan, Orah Hayyim 90:8.
84Benedictus de Spinoza, Samuel Shirley, and Seymour Feldman, Theological-Political Treatise (Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co., 2001) 63, 221.
85Peirush HaAggadah, BT Berakhot 12b.
86BT Kiddushin 22b.
87If we did, however, we would still see that the contemporary relationship between master and servant is far worse than those that are described in Halakha. For a description of how to treat a Canaanite slave, see Leviticus 25:44-46; Hilkhot Avadim, Chapter 9. For a description of how to treat a Jewish servant, see Exodus 21:1-6; Leviticus 25:39-46; and Deuteronomy 15:12-18; BT Kiddushin 20a.
88“Judaism and History: Historical Events and Religious Change,” 161.
89Living in the Image of God, 19
90Ibid. 20.
92Irving Greenberg, “Jewish Tradition and Contemporary Problems,” Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University Atran Resident Lecture Series: Relationships Between Jewish Tradition and Contemporary Social Issues 1967–68, 11. Please see the website RabbiIrvingGreenberg.com (http://rabbiirvinggreenberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/lecture_Jewish_Tradition.pdf), also found in Joshua Meir Feigelson’s dissertation, 98.
93Living in the Image of God, 36-7.
94“Toward a Covenantal Ethic of Medicine,” 145-6.
95Irving Greenberg, “A Life of Halakha or a Halakha of Life?” Halakhic Realities: Collected Essays on Brain Death, ed. Zev Farber (Maggid Books, 2015) 268.
96Ibid. 309.
97Living in the Image of God, 34.
98Ibid. 37.
99“Orthodox Modernism,” 13.
100“Dr. Greenberg Discusses Orthodoxy, YU, Viet Nam, & Sex,” The Commentator, 1966. Please see the website RabbiIrvingGreenberg.com (http://rabbiirvinggreenberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Commentator-articles-YG-and-AL.pdf), also found as Appendix A in Joshua Meir Feigelson’s dissertation.
101Ibid.
102Living in the Image of God, 103-4.
103“Judaism and History: Historical Events and Religious Change,” 220.
104Living in the Image of God, 42.
105“Judaism and History: Historical Events and Religious Change,” 222.
106Ibid. 231.
107Irving Greenberg, “Seeking the Religious Roots of Pluralism,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 343, no. 3 (Summer 1997): 389.
108Irving Greenberg, “The Principles of Pluralism,” Sh’ma (April 1999) 4.
109Ibid. 4.
110“Covenantal Pluralism,” 434.
111Two Doors Rabbi Soloveitchik Opened and Did Not Walk Through, 10.
112For The Sake of Heaven and Earth, 43.
113“Grounding Democracy in Reverence for Life,” 33.
114Irving Greenberg, “Pluralism & Peoplehood: A biblical model of reconciliation can help bring Jews and Christians together,” MyJewishLearning.com.
115“Nostra Aetate,” July 9, 2013.
116“Pluralism & Peoplehood”
117“Judaism & Christianity: Covenants of Redemption,” 155.
118Living in the Image of God, 80.
119At least as honorary members; see For the Sake of Heaven and Earth, 96.
120“Covenantal Pluralism,” 425. This is an expansion of his thought, since in his 1966 interview in The Commentator, he limits his inclusion of those who take the covenant seriously to Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Jews only.
121For The Sake of Heaven and Earth, 99.
122“Toward Jewish Religious Unity – A Symposium,” 135.
123Irving Greenberg, “The End of Emancipation,” Conservative Judaism 30, no. 4 (Summer 1976): 60-1.
124Two Doors Rabbi Soloveitchik Opened and Did Not Walk Through, 22.
125For The Sake of Heaven and Earth, 33.
126Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Halakhic Mind (New York: Seth Press, 1986) 16.
127Living in the Image of God, 48.
128For The Sake of Heaven and Earth, 81.
129See Responsa Beit HaLevi, Discourse 18 (discourses are at the end of the responsa) for a similar idea which explains the difference between the first and second tablets given to Moshe.
130BT Bava Batra 12a.
131R. Abraham Isaac Kook, Mishpat Kohen, Responsum 144, para. 14. R. Yitzhak Isaac Herzog, Ha-hukim le-Israel al-pi ha-Torah: kerech aleph (Jerusalem: Mossad HaRav Kook, 1989), 5.
132BT Megilla 9b. See also Genesis Rabba 36:8.
133Genesis 9:27; BT Megilla 8b-9b; Genesis Rabba 36:8; Turei Even, Megilla 8b; Tur, Orah Hayyim 58; see, however, Maimonides, Hilkhot Tefillin 1:19.
134Mishna Avot 4:27.

About Ira Bedzow

Ira Bedzow is the Director of the Biomedical Ethics and Humanities Program at New York Medical College. Among his other responsibilities, he is in charge of a new master’s program in biomedical ethics at NYMC, which has an option for a focus in Jewish medical ethics. He is also the Senior Scholar of the Aspen Center for Social Values. Rabbi Bedzow received rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg (Yoreh Yoreh), Rabbi Daniel Channen (Yoreh Yoreh), Rabbi Yitzchak Oshinksy (Yadin Yadin), and Rabbi Dovid Schochet (Yadin Yadin). He earned his PhD in Religion at Emory University.

Leave a Reply