Magazine article Tikkun

The Greening of Judaism

Magazine article Tikkun

The Greening of Judaism

Article excerpt

Down to Earth Judaism: Food, Money, Sex and the Rest of Your Life, by Arthur Waskow. Morrow, 1995. 402 pp. $25.00.

Godwrestling: Round 2, by Arthur Waskow. Jewish Lights, 1996. 338 pp. $23.95. "Clumsy, intuitive, marked by a blunder here and a blemish there, yet powerfully attractive to others who connected with its impulsive energy."

This is how Arthur Waskow describes his first Jewish book, The Freedom Seder, an inspired, untutored midrash on the Passover Haggadah, which stirred a generation of politically active and religiously sensitive American Jewish youth from the moment it was published in 1969. More than twenty-five years and several Jewish books later, Waskow is still impulsive and intuitive, still powerfully attractive to many others who have come to recognize him as the leading writer/activist in the "movement for Jewish renewal."

A student of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, whom he describes as "the rarest kind of rebbe-for he creates not clones of himself but independent leaders," Waskow was ordained a rabbi in 1995 "by a committee of one Hasidic, one Reform, and one Conservative Rabbi and a Jewish feminist theologian." He first discovered his passion for Judaism during the Washington riots that broke out after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968. He was already thirty-four years old, an author, activist, and family man; it would have been out of character and out of sequence for him to take up, Akiba-style, a protracted apprenticeship. "If someone had insisted that I wait to create until I knew how to steer and to brake, I would have shrugged and moved on...," Waskow comments. So he learned as he wrote, risking errors while making inspired connections between fragments of Jewish tradition and the fraying edges of the American political tradition. "Somewhere within me deeper than my brain or my breathing, my blood began to chant."

Waskow's two newest books, Godwrestling: Round 2 and Down to Earth Judaism: Food, Sex, Money and the Rest of Your Life, carry this process of learning/teaching another step forward. Godwrestling: Round 2, a revision of his 1978 Godwrestling, is at turns rhapsodic, confessional, liturgical, and prophetic. Down to Earth Judaism functions as its sober, programmatic counterpart. An eloquent if somewhat repetitive handbook, it marks Waskow's attempt to balance his earlier work about the Jewish holiday cycle, Seasons of Our Joy, with a blueprint for Jewish living in the day-to-day. It is a worthy companion volume.

While Waskow's emerging theology of radical immanence or pantheism permeates Down to Earth Judaism, it is in Godwrestling that Waskow allows himself to write freely about his theological "wrestling" and "dancing." Undeterred by Irving "Yitz" Greenberg's famous summons to constrain theological discourse-"No statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of burning children"-free of the tortuous, philosophical dialectic that informs the late Joseph Soloveitchik's ruminations on God, untouched by the Freudian despair that permeates the thinking of Richard Rubenstein, the angry edge that cuts through the tenderest writing of Elie Wiesel, and the rebellious, antiphilosophical rage that informs Emil Fackenheim's work, Waskow writes confidently about the birth of a new order: "...some other language that encompasses and transcends modernity is necessary. I propose that this language is God-language. It is God in a new key, with a new Name. For the old Godlanguage was itself transcended, reduced, relativized, by the leap of modernity" (Godwrestling, p. 178).

While his style is personal and informal, Waskow deploys his Godlanguage to build and motivate a constituency, namely that body of nonOrthodox American Jews who want to create "a transformed post-Rabbinic Judaism-feminist, holistic, eco-centered, body-affirming, yet deeply rooted in the Jewish past." Perhaps because he writes to promote his political agenda, Waskow projects a melange of different personae. …

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