Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and
by Michael Lerner, Grosset/Putnam, 1994
Reviewed by Paul Lowinger
Can Judaism, an ancient tribal religion be renewed into a liberation
movement and spiritual force? If it can, maybe there's hope for the
other religions especially those which share the Old Testament so this
book is for gentiles as well as Jews. Lerner's magazine, Tikkun (to
heal, transform and repair the world) and his politics of meaning made
it briefly to Hillary and Bill Clinton's world so when Lerner visited
the White House so here is the main act.
The book begins with 357 interviews with Jews from 20 to 50 who said
that Judaism led to conformity, materialism, spiritual emptiness, joylessness,
intolerance of dissent, lack of democracy, preoccupation with the Holocaust,
no debate on Israel, sexism, homophobia and a sense of exclusivism about
Jewish suffering.We learn little about the opinions of the satisfied
Jews although Lerner says there were some.
Lerner's response is to propose a revolutionary democratic socialist
utopian Jewish movement based on the Bible and sacred texts. The tension
for Jews is between the revolutionary potential in the words of Moses
and the Prophets and the conservative conformity inherent in the Bible's
words of cruelty. Today's Jewish religious establishment rejects the
God of love and justice and chooses the Biblical and Talmudic words
of cruelty and fanaticism reflecting the pain of Jewish oppression in
the ancient empires and later in the countries of the Jewish Diaspora.
For Jews the Biblical message to "love the stranger" should predominate
over Biblical cruelties like those of Prophet Samuel who beheads Agag,
the Amalekite king after King Saul has saved his life. Violence in the
Bible like the order of God to wipe out Israel's seven tribal rivals
is tracked by Lerner to the 1994 massacre of 29 Muslims in Israel by
an American Jewish settler in a mosque on Purim.
Lerner is a Zionist for religious and pragmatic reasons but he rejects
Settler Judaism which stands for the demeaning and brutalizing of the
Palestinians.He approves the creation of a Palestinian state in the
West Bank and Gaza but I wondered why doesn't he mention reparations
for the Palestinians in Israel itself who lost their land and water?
And what about a withdrawal of United States funding of Israel's armed
forces that repress the Pales tinians and support the Israeli settlements
in the West Bank and Jerusalem?
Jewish Renewal doesn't do much with Jewish Messianism although Hasidism
is mentioned. It is said that as anti-semitism fades, Jews will feel
comfortable with Jesus as an honored teacher. The afterlife is also
neglected because Lerner identifies it with the death-oriented Egyptian
culture. I think a spiritually revived Judaism needs the Kabalistic
energy of the medieval messianic movements and the Jewish mystery cults
like the Essenes with their belief in resurrection and immortality.
Jewish Renewal is a meal of several courses from politics, history,
philosophy and religion that does not always blend. Even if you eat
slowly and chew every bite carefully, there's going to be indigestion
and you'll need an Alka Selzer but it's worth it.