Art Green: Judaism Unbound Episode 133 - God is One


Art Green, theologian and historian of Jewish religion, joins Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg for the third episode in Judaism Unbound's series exploring the role of God in contemporary Judaism. Together they explore the history and contemporary practice of Jewish mysticism, questioning frameworks of "mainstream Judaism" and a commanding, personal God in the process. [1]

 Image Credit: Hebrew College

Image Credit: Hebrew College

(0:01 - 17:41): To begin the episode, Green looks back on his rejection of the idea of a "fellow in the sky," along with his discovery of mystical conceptions of God that resonated more deeply with him. He encapsulates these conceptions, largely originating in Kabbalistic and Hasidic ideas, as the "oneness of being." He discusses the many layers of Judaism, and its many different forms of God-belief, which have evolved in a variety of directions over the course of Jewish history. He explores the idea that all religion is projection, analogizing the cosmos to a hall of mirrors. [2] Green also considers the construction of "mainstream Judaism" -- an idea he traces to the early 19th century -- and how it consciously erased traditions of Jewish mysticism. [3] He then names a process, unfolding for a number of decades, whereby Hasidism and Kabbalah have re-gained an important place in Jewish life. [4]

(17:42 - 34:05): Green proposes that mysticism has risen in prominence largely because developments like the Holocaust, and the nuclear bomb, challenged the belief that science alone would be the salvation of humanity. He argues that the trend towards Jewish mysticism is related, therefore, to the embrace of teachings from Zen Buddhism, Hindu Gurus, and others who gained many followers in the mid, and late, 20th century. Green then pivots to look at the role that religion can play in instilling a sense of discipline, through the creation of regular practices or rituals. In doing so, he challenges the idea that God commands human beings, instead arguing that the commandments of Judaism are "a gift of the tradition has given me for disciplining and regularizing spiritual life," and that each of us chooses to what extent we accept them. He also asserts that Judaism needs a new religious language.

(34:06 - 49:52): Returning to his own personal story, Green tells the story of his discovery of Hasidism [5] and his life-long commitment to small, intimate Jewish forms of Jewish community. [6] He speaks of religion's call to open one's heart, and its imperative to determine how one will maximize the "split-second of planetary evolution" that each one of us calls our life. To close the episode, Green connects these ideas to the realm of politics, arguing that humanity needs to take more urgent action with respect to climate change, and that the denigration of Palestinians has been "a betrayal of Judaism at its best."

 Image Credit: Weiser Antiquarium

Image Credit: Weiser Antiquarium

[1] Read Art Green's bio by clicking here. Explore all of his books, and purchase them for yourself, at this link

[2] Green connects his ideas around mirrors, and projection, to a story by Franz Kafka. Click here to read it (its title is "An Imperial Message").

[3] For an introduction to Kabbalah from Green, listen to this 2004 interview on NPR.

[4] Green cites Gershom Scholem as a central figure in reviving the study of Jewish mysticism. Learn more about Scholem by clicking here.

[5] A 1910 essay by Hillel Zeitlin, entitled "The Foundations of Hasidism," was central to Green's discovery of Hasidism. Read an excerpt of it in translation by clicking here.

[6] Learn more about the Havurah movement, of which Green was a pioneering leader, by listening to Episode 84: The Jewish Catalog, Then And Now - Riv-Ellen Prell.

[7] For a lecture from Green regarding the present and future of Judaism, click the video below.