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Theological Liberalism With an Idealistic Understanding of Judaism,

jan peczkis|Friday, May 1, 2015

This work includes a wealth of information, dealing with such concepts as the Character of God, the afterlife, ethics, angels, the dual nature of the human spirit, and much more. The author presents evidence for the widespread extent of the ancient belief in the immortal soul that is independent of the body (pp. 286). Belief in the immortal soul is also part of Judaism, thus inadvertently refuting the claim that it was copied by Christians from the Greeks. On another subject, author Kaufman Kohler treats the Tosefta as part of the Talmud. (p. 402).

Theological Liberalism With an Idealistic Understanding of Judaism,


Kohler caricatures Christianity as essentially an invention of the Apostle Paul, consisting of a series of legendary accretions, etc. True to his liberalism, he also treats the miracles in Judaism as dispensable.

Not surprisingly, Kohler interprets Isaiah 53 as referring to the sufferings of Israel. Interestingly, however, he mentions one Jewish tradition of the Messiah, based on 4th Ezra 8,28, and dating from before the Bar Kokhba revolt. It states that the true Messiah is to suffer and die, and destroy Rome. (p. 384).


Kohler defends Jewish religion from charges that it is just a system of orthopraxy. On the other hand, he acknowledges that, (quote) Another shortcoming of the Synagogue and of Rabbinical Judaism in general was its formalism. Too much stress was laid upon the perfunctory `discharge of duty', the outward performance of the letter of the law, and not enough upon the spiritual basis of the Jewish religion. (unquote). (p. 473). He adds that, (quote) The Cabbalah [Kabbalah] was but the reaction to the excessive rationalism of the Spanish-Arabic period...The legalism and casuistry of the Talmud and the Codes appealed too much to the intellect, disregarding the deeper emotional sources of religion and morality; on the other hand, the mysticism of the Cabbalists overemphasized the emotional element, and eliminated much of the rational basis of Judaism. (unquote). (p. 474). Finally, Kohler lauds modern Reform Judaism for having reversed long-established trends of the ceremonial laws and prayers being conducted mechanically and without understanding. (p. 471).


Kohler begins with the standard approach of framing this issue as a set of extra religious duties that God imposes on Jews, while glossing over the special privileges that Jews get in the process. He at first approaches Jewish Chosenness as an outcome of Jewish aptitude, (quote) The belief in the election of Israel rests on the conviction that the Jewish people has a certain superiority over other peoples in being especially qualified to be the messenger and champion of religious truth. (unquote). (p. 325).

The author then goes further, flirting with a racial concept of Jewish elitism. He comments, (quote) All these and similar sayings disprove completely the idea that the election of Israel was an arbitrary act of God. It is due rather to hereditary virtues and to tendencies of mind and spirit which equip Israel for his calling. (unquote). (p. 328). Kohler's notion of innate and hereditary Jewish characteristics, moreover ones that qualify Jews as Chosen in a quasi-racial or racial sense, was forcefully repudiated by Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan. Please click on, and read my review, of The future of the American Jew.
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