In Review

Selected Works of Twentieth-Century Jewish Theology

Hasidism and Modern Man book coverHasidism and Modern Man
Martin Buber (Humanity Books, 1988)
These essays, reflecting the evolution of Buber’s philosophy over nearly half a century, focus on the spiritual message that he claims to find in the Hasidic movement and its relevance to the modern condition.
I and Thou book coverI and Thou
Martin Buber (trans. Walter Kaufmann; Touchstone, 1970)
This classic of twentieth-century spiritual reflection offers profound insights into relationships both with other human beings and with the One whom Buber calls “the Eternal Thou.”
Israel and the World book cover“The Man of Today and the Jewish Bible”
Martin Buber, in Israel and the World: Essays in a Time of Crisis (Schocken, 1997)
In this essay, Buber diagnoses the modern inability to appreciate the Jewish Bible as a symptom of the “detached spirit” and argues that the Jewish Bible, approached appropriately, is an antidote to exactly that.
Understanding the Sick and the Healthy book coverUnderstanding the Sick and the Healthy: A View of World, Man, and God
Franz Rosenzweig (trans. Nahum Glatzer; Harvard University Press, 1999)
A kind of accessible précis of Rosenzweig’s famous Star of Redemption, this witty little book puts forth an important critique of nineteenth-century German Idealist philosophical thinking and expresses a powerful vision of Jewish practice as an antidote to modern alienation.
On Jewish Learning book coverOn Jewish Learning (selections)
Franz Rosenzweig (ed. N. N. Glatzer; University of Wisconsin Press, 1955)
This collection of essays, speeches, and letters expresses Rosenzweig’s desire to reconnect the truths of Judaism with the lives of ordinary people and his dispute with Martin Buber about the need to be open to observance. Rosenzweig sought to recover traditional Judaism by living it and to live it by knowing it more deeply.
The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion book coverThe Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion (selections)
Mordecai M. Kaplan (Wayne State University Press, 1994)
This work is Kaplan’s systematic attempt to adapt the rationale for traditional Jewish practice to a modern world that he believes cannot responsibly accept the notion of a supernatural and personal God.
Quest for Past and Future book coverQuest for Past and Future: Essays in Jewish Theology (selections)
Emil L. Fackenheim (Beacon Press, 1968)
These learned and careful essays are by a scholar of modern continental philosophy who seeks to defend the notion of divine revelation and its key implications for the spiritual quest and for ethically responsible living.
Halakhic Man book coverHalakhic Man
Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Jewish Publication Society, 1983)
This is a powerful excursion into religious psychology and phenomenology, with a focus on the traditional practice and study of Talmud and a stringent critique of mysticism and romantic religion, by the twentieth century’s preeminent Orthodox theologian.
Judaism, Human Values, and the Jewish State book coverJudaism, Human Values, and the Jewish State (selections)
Yeshayahu Leibowitz (ed. Eliezer Goldman; Harvard University Press, 1992)
A controversial Orthodox critic of Israeli culture and politics, Leibowitz brings Jewish philosophy to bear on current issues of spirituality and politics alike, arguing that the separation of religion from state would serve the interest of halakhic observance.
Fate and Destiny book coverFate and Destiny: From Holocaust to the State of Israel
Joseph B. Soloveitchik (KTAV, 1992)
Soloveitchik offers an extended theological meditation on the Holocaust and the rise of the State of Israel, and a profound examination of the Jewish covenant of faith as well as the covenant of fate and destiny that links all Jews, religious and nonreligious alike.
Wrestling with God book coverGod’s Presence in History: Jewish Affirmations and Philosophical Reflections (selections)
Emil L. Fackenheim, in Wrestling with God: Jewish Theological Responses during and after the Holocaust (ed. Steven T. Katz et al.; Oxford University Press, 2007)
This volume offers a pointed confrontation of the traditional affirmation that God is immanent in human affairs with the horror of the Holocaust, and a prescription for the Jews’ relationship to tradition in light of their near-extermination.
Wrestling with God book cover“Cloud of Smoke, Pillar of Fire: Judaism, Christianity, and Modernity after the Holocaust”
Emil L. Fackenheim, in Wrestling with God: Jewish Theological Responses during and after the Holocaust (ed. Steven T. Katz et al.; Oxford University Press, 2007)
Greenberg’s searing and passionate essay argues that “Neither faith nor morality can function without serious twisting of perspective, even to the point of becoming demonic, unless they are illuminated by the fires of Auschwitz and Treblinka.”
The Sabbath book coverThe Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man
Abraham Joshua Heschel (Farrar, 1951)
In this moving, lyrical prose poem, Heschel presents his thoughts on the understanding of time and space upon which he believes the central Jewish holiday of the Sabbath rests.
Man's Quest for God book coverMan’s Quest for God: Studies in Prayer and Symbolism
Abraham Joshua Heschel (Scribner, 1954)
Heschel offers fresh and moving meditations of the phenomenon of prayer and the proper understanding of symbolism, with stimulating attention to the dialectic of a set, legally required liturgy and the need for spontaneity and intention.
God in Search of Man book coverGod in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism (selections)
Abraham Joshua Heschel (Farrar, 1955)
A kind of systematic theology of Judaism, this work is based on Heschel’s characteristic claim that “The living encounter with reality takes place at a level . . . that is responsive, immediate, preconceptual, and presymbolic.”
Confrontation and Other Essays book cover“Confrontation”
Joseph B. Soloveitchik, in Confrontation and Other Essays (Maggid, 2016)
This philosophically and theologically searching exploration of Jewish-Christian dialogue emphasizes the incommensurability of the two traditions and the often-overlooked dangers of seeking to harmonize them.
Body of Faith book coverThe Body of Faith: God in the People Israel (selections)
Michael Wyschogrod (2nd ed.; Jason Aronson, 1996)
This fascinating and highly original examination of the theological vocation of the Jewish people is conducted in dialogue with traditional Christian thinking and with Heidegger’s philosophy.


A reading list from Jon D. Levenson’s course on selected works of twentieth-century Jewish theology, mostly in the central European intellectual tradition (ca. 1920–1980), and their responses to challenges to Jewish practice, belief, and identity.

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