Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies

Leibowitz: Faith, Country & Man

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies

Leibowitz: Faith, Country & Man

Article excerpt

"Leibowitz: Faith, Country & Man". Three-hour documentary, written and directed by Uri Rosenwaks and Rinat Klein. Producers: Haim Slutzky and Dana Cohen of Dana Productions. Sponsored by Israel's Channel 8, AviChai Foundation and Rabinovich Foundation for Cinema. Israel. Hebrew with English subtitles. New release: 2013.

"Now, the loftiest idea a person can think of is the Unity of God, and all theological concepts that flow from this." Moses Maimonides, Commentary on the Mishnah (Egypt, 12th century)

Among the movies and films that I saw at the 2013 Jewish International Film Festival in Sydney was one that I knew I needed to view. It is called "Leibowitz: Faith, Country & Man," and it was divided into three parts which were screened with short breaks between them. Seeing "Leibowitz"--the film, was not just a meaningful viewing experience, it was more like actually experiencing the brilliant, feisty, professor and members of his family. The film is richly peppered with appearances and comments by Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, many of his six children, and his wife Greta. The film is so accurate, in fact, that I felt that this is the Professor Leibowitz that I saw in real life and at times I even felt as if I were walking behind him as he was returning home to his wife Greta.

Of the three hour-long segments, "Faith" was the first and had the greatest resonance for me personally. It is about Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz and his most personal take on faith, including significantly, his conception of God and prayer. We must be thankful that Professor Leibowitz, who immigrated to Palestine in 1935, lived during the modern period when so much of his 91 years of life could be faithfully recorded for posterity.

Professor Leibowitz was born in Riga, Latvia in 1903 and died in Jerusalem in August 1994. Even though it has been approximately 20 years since his passing, his impact upon Israelis and the world beyond continues unabated. He was a very outspoken person on an amazing variety of subjects, and was completely frank and forthright with the people who would turn to him with questions; all knew that they could trust him and believed that he would give only honest answers.

Professor Leibowitz was head of the Biological Chemistry Department at the Hebrew University and Professor of Neurophysiology, but wrote prolifically on a variety of Jewish subjects as well. I have most of his books on Judaism--both in Hebrew and English, and English translation. I believe it appropriate to weave some of my personal background into any review of Professor Leibowitz, since I have been profoundly influenced, even transformed, by him during my most formative years.

I knew of the professor when I enrolled as a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for the academic year of 1968 and 1969. Perhaps because of my studies in Bible with my dear late teacher Professor Nechama Leibowitz (d. 1997), Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz's sister, the Leibowitz name and fame became very important to me. In this review, we will focus on Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz and his work.

I had the privilege of attending some of his public forum lectures in Jerusalem and I would see him at various places at the Hebrew University, including Beit Hillel and at the synagogue that he regularly attended--Congregation Yeshurun. "Leibowitz. " the film deals with three major areas of his Jewish activism: "Faith", "Country" (the State of Israel) and "Man". Part one on "Faith" is the major focus of my review. It highlights his teachings and writings dealing with belief in God and prayer. Professor Leibowitz's lectures, radio and television broadcasts, and books, detailed with great clarity his position on faith and prayer. This, as with so much of his religious philosophy, is informed by his dedicated study of Maimonides.

In order to shed light on the impact of Professor Leibowitz's teachings and insights in the area of faith and prayer, let me highlight but two of his books. …

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