JEWISH RENEWAL by Michael Lerner

JEWISH RENEWAL

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Michael Lerner has found God, and he wants other alienated progressive Jews to find God, too. Unfortunately, this overlong tome is more likely to put readers to sleep than to awaken them to Jewish spirituality. Who is Lerner's God? ``S/he'' is ``the possibility of possibility,'' that is, the possibility of transformation. Lerner wants to return Judaism to its original revolutionary creed of freedom, equality, and social justice and to its belief that the world must be ``repaired.'' Editor of the progressive journal Tikkun, he convincingly responds to critics who say that Jewish renewal, with its revisions of liturgy and ritual, is inauthentic, by showing how through its history Judaism has undergone a continual process of change. But he is on squishier ground when he draws on psychoanalytic theory. In an almost comical act of biblical interpretation, Lerner explains that Abraham's binding of Isaac for sacrifice was a repetition compulsion, a reenactment of his own father's supposed cruelty to him. Similarly, all oppression and injustice--from slavery to the Holocaust--is reduced to a form of collective neurosis. Lerner's arguments are often philosophically weak; claiming Jews have internalized such ``distortions'' as anti-Semitism, Lerner states that ``it is ludicrous to describe the abandonment of Judaism...as a product of rational choice.'' We are all victims of the past--so much for radical freedom. Contemporary Jews, according to Lerner, have lost touch with the revolutionary message of their religion, instead accommodating to secular, capitalist society. He paints a portrait of the American Jewish community as venal and corrupt. He offers no evidence, but he does have a villain: his favorite bogeyperson, Norman Podhoretz, and other neo-cons. Readers may want to go directly to Part III, a useful discussion of the ways in which Jewish renewal ideas are being expressed in ritual, from nonpatriarchal liturgy to a reappropriation of the Sabbath as an expression of human equality and dignity. Lots of mind-numbing analysis and little inspiration for Jews seeking a religious expression for their political convictions.

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 1994
ISBN: 0-399-13980-X
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1994




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