Rabbi Byron Sherwin of the Sperms Institute for Jewish Studies, in Chicago, Is a Man of Views Both Definite and Informed

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* Rabbi Byron Sherwin of the Sperms Institute for Jewish Studies, in Chicago, is a man of views both definite and informed. See, for instance, his "Jews and the World to Come" in the June/July 2006 issue of FIRST THINGS. Writing in Judaism, the journal of the American Jewish Congress, he addresses a "category mistake" that confuses Judaism with a liberal assimilationism that threatens the continuity of the Jewish people. He cites a statement by his teacher Abraham Joshua Heschel: "When I think of what our people have accumulated over the centuries that nobody will ever know about, it seems like a second holocaust. Hitler destroyed our people. Now we let their spirit die." And he cites Steven Cohen who wrote that, by the early 1980s, most "American Jews had been raised with the understanding that liberalism or political radicalism constituted the very essence of Judaism, that all the rest--the rituals, liturgy, communal organizations--were outdated, vestigial trappings for a religion with a great moral message embodied in liberalism." This is called "prophetic Judaism," an idea that, as Sherwin and others note, mimics Enlightenment-driven reconstructions of liberal Protestantism. Key to that reconstruction is the idea of "the sovereign self." For Immanuel Kant, ethical axioms must be universal and categorical, premised on individual will and autonomy. Judaism with its ethnic particularism and eccentric laws do not qualify, and it is therefore not surprising that Kant called for the "euthanasia of Judaism." The Kantian approach led in circuitous ways to the notion of a "Judeo-Christian ethic. …