An eclectic exploration of the abiding elements of Jewish belief, covering major ethical, ritual, and theological topics. This guide to Jewish philosophical literacy is refreshingly versatile because Ariel (The Mystic Quest: An Introduction to Jewish Mysticism, not reviewed) has no ideological investment in a particular Jewish denomination. What is served up here is a smorgasbord of the beliefs of Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform Jews, rather than polemics about any one interpretation of Jewish belief. We therefore learn about both the unknowable God of medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides and the equally transcendent God of the contemporary Reform thinker Eugene Borowitz. Ariel describes the ancient rabbinic sages' elaboration on the concept of the afterlife and the kabbalists' belief in the transmigration of souls. He outlines the modern adaptations of the concept of ``the chosen people'' by both secular cultural Zionists and diaspora pietists. Writing of the traditional 613 commandments, Ariel explains both the modern Orthodox integration of ritual practice and modernity, and the Reconstructionist invalidation of defunct Jewish ``folkways.'' A chapter on prayer examines the contemplative, personal prayer of the Hasidic masters as well as the growing impact of Zionism on the Reform movement's prayer book. Ariel, president of the Cleveland College of Jewish Studies, feels that an organic inconsistency is the one constant in the history of Jewish belief, that ``Jewish tradition promotes a surprisingly open and pluralistic notion of biblical truth.'' The constant evolution of belief from the biblical springboard remains the most significant of the author's ``Jewish sacred myths,'' which underlie all forms of Jewish belief. The evenhanded everything-and-everyone approach may alienate readers committed to one Jewish point of view, and the book has several unproven assumptions stated as facts—yet Ariel provides a remarkably rich and useful one-volume introduction to millennia of Jewish beliefs.
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