Today’s Jewish Thinkers

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I am currently reading Rabbi Marc Angel’s Maimonides, Spinoza, and Us: Towards an Intellectually Vibrant Judaism.

In this book, Rabbi Marc D. Angel discusses major themes in the writings of Maimonides and Spinoza as a means of exploring how modern people can deal with religion in an intellectually honest and meaningful way.

After Stéphane Moses last week, I find it inspiring to read Jewish thinkers who encourage us to think and make sensible choices while not turning off our brains. Similarly I also enjoy what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes.

What about you, who are the contemporary Jewish thinkers that stimulate you?

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8 thoughts on “Today’s Jewish Thinkers

  1. Rabbi Marc Angel, hands-down, no contest.

    Obviously, there are plenty of original thinkers in academic venues. If someone wants outstanding and creative thinking, then by all means, the universities will have no shortage.

    But if we limit ourselves to popularizers, then I think Rabbi Angel is clearly the winner, at least in my opinion.

    The book that Ilana-Davita cites is an outstanding work, distilling much of Rabbi Angel’s work of his Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals and in his Conversations magazine, into one accessible and consolidated form.

    His works on Judeo-Spanish Sephardism are intended for the popular audience and show how much Modern Orthodoxy today can benefit from learning from the descendants of those Spanish Jews who first integrated Judaism with modern culture and science. See his Foundations of Sephardic Spirituality: The Inner Life of the Jews of the Ottoman Empire, his The Jews of Rhodes: The History of a Sephardic Community, his The Rhythms of Jewish Living: A Sephardic Approach, his Voices in Exile: A Study in Sephardic Intellectual History, his respective biographies of Rabbis Benzion Uziel and Haim David Halevi, etc. etc.

    Rabbi Angel is the first pulpit-type rabbi I’ve ever been able to get in touch with that I feel can really authoritatively and knowledgably deal with many of the topics that trouble me most. Many of the things that most concerned me, I either had to learn on my own, happening luckily across the appropriate sources, or I had to contact disparate far-flung university professors for assistance. But I keep finding Rabbi Angel dealing swiftly and easily with topics that so few else dealt with, that I had to painstakingly deal with myself. For example, regarding the Oral Law, I struggled for months with certain questions that no rabbi would answer, until I contacted a professor who specializes in the confluence of Talmudic Judaism and then-contemporary Persian Zoroastrianism. But wouldn’t you know it, but everything this professor told me, Rabbi Angel has in the book Ilana-Davita cites, as well as his The Rhythms of Jewish Living and in his biographies of Rabbis Uziel and Halevi! I spent months alone trying to solve these questions, because no one would answer them, and Rabbi Angel provides the answers in at least four different places!

  2. “… until I contacted a professor who specializes in the confluence of Talmudic Judaism and then-contemporary Persian Zoroastrianism. …”

    My point is that this professor has a very elite specialization, and is one of the very top in his field. I had to contact one of the most renowned professors in the given field, and yet all of his answers, Rabbi Angel has as well!

  3. This is going to seem strange, but I want to mention Janna Gur, editor of Israeli’s premier food magazine Al HaShulchan. She has realized that whole Jewish cultures revolving around ethnic food are dying away. She proposes to build a database of ethnic recipes and food stories from volunteer contributions, encouraging people to re-introduce Grandma’s recipes into their own cooking and eating.

    I believe this is important. When my Dad a”s passed away, I contributed all his Yiddish books to the Yiddish department at Bar-Ilan University. The head of the department’s hands trembled as she held a worn-out book called “Yiddisheh Maichlim” – Eastern European recipes from before WWII – embodying a whole way of life and thinking that exists no more. She was actually moved to tears, feeling physically close to the generation that lived and died 70 years ago.

    Israel is the hub of Jewish populations, many of which no longer exist in their native lands (Iraq, for example). Their foodways are preserved by the grandparents, whose children and grandchildren can no longer be bothered to deal with the old, labor-intensive methods. When the old folks die and no one is cooking up those pots of traditional food, the foodways and traditional mores vanish. Judaism, family, community and food weave a tight life pattern together. I think that Mrs. Gur, in starting a project to preserve traditional Jewish foodways, has started something of historical importance.

    • This is so interesting Mimi. Thank you for sharing. I agree that food is part of parcel of our culture and that it needs to be recorded so that it doesn’t disappear – at least partly – without our realizing it.

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