Friday, March 20, 2009

Vayakhele-Pekudei (Supplement) Art Green - A Birthday Tribute

This essay, originally planned as a 65th birthday tribute to my dear friend and teacher, Arthur Green, is offered after a delay of three years. Art was born sixty-eight years ago, on March 21 1941 (Adar 20 5701). His birthday thus falls during the week preceding Shabbat Vayakhel-Pekudei, and shortly after Purim. He is very much a man of prayer, a subject to which this week’s Zohar portion is largely devoted, as well as being a “Purimdik” Jew—one of whose outstanding qualities is the ability to laugh at himself and the world, with an appreciation of his, and its, absurdities. Notwithstanding, his lightness of touch does not detract from the seriousness and depth of his thought and religious consciousness.

This essay begins with the personal, and only thereafter do we discuss the professional and intellectual aspects. Ultimately, as I have tried to convey in essays about other important .significant teachers and mentors in my life, the way in which a life is lived is far more important than the ideas expressed in writing. The latter are deemed more important by the scholar and biographer simply because they can be documented and footnoted. But the former reflects the person and his spiritual creative insights, and precedes the analysis of written manifestos or writings.

1. The Man

I first met Art Green during my junior year at Columbia College, in the fall of 1966-67. A friend of mine studying at the Jewish Theological Seminary, just up the street, told me of a rabbinical student who gave a class in Hasidism several times a week, early in the morning, before Shaharit. The idea somehow intrigued me, so I went. I’m not sure what I expected to see, but the class was given by a tall, clean shaven, burly, massive young man just a few years older than myself, who spoke with a mid-American accent (‘though, as I was later to learn, he had been born and grew up only a short distance across the Hudson, in the less fashionable, urban part of New Jersey). The overall impression given was more like that of a football player than of a future rabbi (or my image of what a rabbi was supposed to look like). He passed out some mimeographed pages with a brief text from Torah Or—a book by the first Habad rebbe, a companion volume to Likkutei Torah. The text discussed the question as to why the phrase Ahavat Olam, rather than Ahavah Rabbah, is used [i.e., among Hasidim] in both the morning prayers as well in the evening. It explained that the phrase Ahavat Olam (“eternal love,” which may also be read as “earthly love”) implied a love that could be contained in this world, whereas Ahavah Rabbah, “great love,” implied a love that was excessive, that was more powerful than the “vessels” human beings had, than what they could bear.

I was deeply impressed. I had never before heard this type of religious language, which spoke openly about religious emotion per se, about God’s love of us and man’s reciprocal love for Him, about different kinds of love—as well as the insight that even love could be excessive, could be too much. The Jews I knew, whether Conservative or modern Orthodox rabbis, or even Hasidim, usually talked about halakhah, about Israel, about the Jewish people, about Talmud, but hardly ever spoke about God, and what it meant to love, and be loved, by Him.

In retrospect, this first meeting seems emblematic of Art’s concerns: with the religious experience per se, with the innerness of life lived with God, but not in a spacey or flakey way, as these words too often sound today, but utterly grounded.

Fast forward 35 years. Arthur Green is a prominent figure on the Jewish scene, a distinguished professor and author, who has been invited to give a talk at Yakar about what is meant by Jewish spirituality today; about the dilemma of the modern man who seeks a spiritual path and life, but is not prepared to jettison everything he has learned in the secular world; and about why Hasidic texts are important to him in this quest. One of the listeners, a tall man wearing a cloth hat and an Abe Lincoln style beard, whom I knew casually as an Orthodox Jew steeped in the thought of Rav Soloveitchik, seemed puzzled. Following the lecture he asked a question: if the speaker didn’t believe in the literal revelation of the Torah and the obligation to fulfill the mitzvot, then did he believe in God, and in what sense? And why did he bother with all this Jewish religious stuff? Art answered, with utter simplicity: leit atar panuy mineh, “There is no place empty of Him.” There was a rare feeling that an answer had been given, not from the position of the scholar or from that of standard Rabbinic apologetics, but from a place of utterly simple religious faith.

Returning to the late 1960’s: I next met Art Green in the Boston area—in Cambridge and Somerville, Mass.—during the early years of the Havurat Shalom, an institution initially called a “community seminary,” but in essence a new kind of learning-worshipping community; Art was instrumental in its founding. (This and other early havurot were later to become the model for a new type of informal, intimate, egalitarian, non-hierarchical alternative to the “establishment” suburban synagogue.) I had initially gone to the Boston area for graduate studies at Brandeis, and found myself spending my shabbatot oscillating between staying with families in the very traditional Hasidic community of the Bostoner Rebbe, and staying at home in Cambridge and davening at the Havurah. Some vignettes from those years: Shabbat morning: Twenty or thirty young people are sitting cross-legged, barefoot or in stocking feet, on a carpeted floor in an old house in Somerville. After Shaharit, which was filled with much singing and meditation, the Torah is taken out, placed on a low table in the middle of the room, and sections of the parshat ha-shavua are read. After the reading and its translation into English, there follows what came to be known as a “Quaker-meeting” style Torah reading. The leader—often Art, but it might be any of the members of the group—raised a problem or question relating to what had just been read; read a commentary, traditional or modern, or a relevant passage from contemporary thought or literature; or might propose his own radical interpretation. The discussion then opens up to other participants. The tone is earnest, engaged: how do we feel about this? Is this a part of the tradition that we can accept, or do we find it problematic? How do we, as Jews living today, deal with this—morally, intellectually, emotionally? The questions and comments were challenging, but somehow reverent, coming from a love of and commitment to the tradition, coupled with an insistence on intellectual and ethical integrity, rather than simply saying, “This is the tradition and we must accept it thus.”

Seudah Shlishit at the Havurah. Late Shabbat afternoon, people are sitting around the table in semi-darkness, eating a light meal, singing a quiet, meditative melody. It is Parshat Bo, and Art is speaking about the verse “Come to Pharaoh.” He talks in a personal way about his own struggles with the tradition: that at times he sees it as somehow squashing and limiting him, while an inner voice that seems more religiously authentic says “Liberate”—to forge ahead on new, experimental, non-traditional paths. The voice of the tradition, with its constraints and rules and limitations, is compared to Pharaoh or Mitzrayim—“the narrowed one.” Nevertheless, he concludes, we learn from this parasha that the seemingly timid, conservative voice, which many would reject, also comes from God: it is the voice of the Torah saying “Come unto Pharaoh.” That is, one must live in a constant dialectic beyond “liberation” and “tradition”—and not choose the seemingly more liberating path of throwing off all fetters. And all this, in an inverted, paradoxical way, he finds in a teaching of the Degel Mahaneh Efraim.

It is Rosh Hashanah 1969—the second year of the Havurah, the first year in their own building in Somerville. That year, Rosh Hashanah fell on Shabbat, meaning that, according to a tradition going back to the Mishnah, one does not blow shofar. Art stands up and gives a little sermon, which goes something like this: At one time, the Temple was the center of Judaism; thus, the one place that was an exception to the rule prohibiting blowing the Shofar on Shabbat was the Temple precincts. After the Destruction, the leading rabbis, led by Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, decided to blow the shofar in Yavneh, at the Beit ha-Vaad, as if to say: the center of vital religious life has shifted from the Temple with its offerings, to the center of the Oral Torah, where the Sages sit and deliberate. (R. Yitzhak Alfasi made a similar move when he blew shofar in the Diaspora, in his yeshiva at Kairouan.) Today, the center is within each person’s soul; “wherever they gather to call upon My name, the Presence can dwell.” And so, today, here, in Somerville, Massachusetts, we have decided to blow shofar here, in this community of sincere, intense seekers of the voice. Tekiah!

Recalling this incident to him years later, Art seemed a bit embarrassed at the rashness of his youth. Today, he has far greater respect and derekh-eretz for the time-honored tradition. Nevertheless, the story is a significant one, reflecting an important part of the mood of those days.

Going to Art and Kathy’s home for Shabbat lunch, beginning with his off-tune but for-all-that moving and spiritual Kiddush. There is lots of good food, good conversation—but always, at some point, as the focal point of the meal, learning Hasidut at the table. Reading and trying to understand the text—Rav Nahman of Bratslav, R. Nahum of Chernobol’s Meor Einayim, Amud ha-Tefillah from Sefer Baal Shem Tov are among the favorites—but thereafter asking the existential question: how do we connect to this? Other times, I would go to his house early in the morning on Shabbat, to study in preparation for prayer. I’d seen “real” Hasidim learning before davening—Habadniks in Crown Heights—but this was somehow different.

2. His Work and Thought

Art Green received his rabbinical training at JTS, where he was particularly close to Abraham Joshua Heschel; thereafter, he studied at Brandeis University, under the aegis of Alexander Altmann, where he wrote his dissertation on R. Nahman of Bratslav. It was during the latter period that he was active, in many ways the guiding figure, of Havurat Shalom. From the early 1970’s he lived in Philadelphia, where he taught in the Religion Department of the University of Pennsylvania, and then served successively as Dean and President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Seminary; as such, he in a certain sense filled the position played by Mordecai Kaplan. Arguably, two central works of these men—Kaplan’s Judaism as a Civilization and Green’s Seek My Face, Speak My Name—dramatically indicate the profound change in religious mood between the two halves of the twentieth century: the turn from the formal and communal to the intensely personal; from the rational, empiricist, and scientific to the subjective and intuitive. In 1993, Green returned to the Boston area to teach at Brandeis University and, more recently, in 2003, he left Brandeis to found a new kind of Rabbinical Seminary, outside the usual denominational framework, at Hebrew College in Boston, of which he served as Dean and then Rector.

In his writing, Art Green combines the role of objective academic scholar with that of religious teacher, for whom religious concerns are of profound personal importance, both to himself and to what he sees as the needs and concerns of the generation. In this, he differs greatly from most of his colleagues in academia. He thus has both students and talmidim—although the two often overlap. Hence, his written work falls into several diverse categories: (i) Academic Studies: e.g., his biography of Rav Nahman; studies of archetypal religious symbols and concepts, primarily in Kabbalah and Hasidism, such as the axis mundi, Keter, Shekhinah, etc.; (ii) Readers and Introductory Works—collections and introductory volumes addressed to the intelligent adult, particularly the religious seeker, who does not have specialized Judaic knowledge. These include three readers of Hasidic texts, taken from the teachings of R. Nahum of Chernobol, of the Sefat Emet, and from the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings on prayer, each of which includes an introduction, translation of texts, and notes, as well as an introduction to the Zohar, a “dictionary” of Jewish words, and more. (iii) Personal Religious Writings: He has written three books and several shorter essays in which he attempts to formulate his own religious world-view, inter alia with the hope that his own struggles and (provisional and tentative) answers to the question of how to live in the modern world as a serious religious Jew, with intellectual integrity and honesty, may be of value to others. These include: Seek My Face, Speak My Name; Ehyeh: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow; and a forthcoming book, his most thorough, systematic theology to date, based on the Rosenzweig Lectures that he delivered at Yale University in Autumn 2006.

Needless to say, the boundaries between these categories are not airtight: there is much of the personal even in his “scholarly” writings, just as his popular writings reflect his vast erudition. A short bibliography of his books and several of his more important essays and studies appears at the end of this tribute. One might begin to talk about Art Green’s religious concerns and thoughts in terms of the people he has chosen to write about. Thus, his first book, Tormented Master (an expansion of his doctoral dissertation), an attempt to understand the complex and angst-ridden personality of R. Nahman of Bratslav, reflects at least in part his own keen awareness of the complexities and difficulties of religious faith. His interest in R. Nahum of Chernobol, about whom he composed a reader for Paulist Press, expresses his affinity towards what he calls “non-dualistic mysticism”—a mysticism which somehow avoids the psychological pitfalls of dualism of body and soul. His essay “Three Warsaw Mystics” relates to the issues posed by modernity and the quest for an approach that integrates religious depth with intellectual honesty and a modern sensibility, through three emblematic figures: the late 19th-century Hasidic teacher R. Yisrael Alter of Ger; Hillel Zeitlin, who may be viewed as a kind of precursor of the Havurah model with his attempts to create an intimate religious circle whose members would foster one another’s spiritual growth; and Art’s own mentor, A. J. Heschel. All three of these figures, like Art himself, might be described as modern persons who were unable to be naive believers, yet sought to live a rich, authentic Yiddishkeit, even lives of holiness, within the modern context. It is worth mentioning that the Sefat Emet, to whom Green devoted an entire volume, and is usually seen as a more traditional figure (and who has of late enjoyed an impressive revival among Israeli religious circles, perhaps more so than any other Hasidic teacher), is also perceived by him as a radical figure. He is found of quoting Heschel’s words: “Radical theology in Judaism begins with Sefat Emet and R. Zaddok of Lublin.”

As noted earlier, Green’s books on personal theology make a fascinating contrast with Mordecai Kaplan’s Judaism as a Civilization, and may be taken as emblematic of the weather-change in Jewish thought between the two halves of the twentieth century. Yet, in a peculiar way, he may also be read as a continuation of Kaplan. There is a similar struggle, born of the modern zeitgeist, with the idea of the super-naturalism; but whereas Kaplan rejected the supernatural, almost dogmatically, Green attempts to see the natural as supernatural. Quoting Heschel, he emphasizes that “there is no religion without a sense of the miraculous.” In a certain sense, one might say that the naturalistic, this-worldly conceptions of the founder of Reconstructionism—a movement with which Green was significantly involved for well over a decade—are transformed through his mystical lens, the sociological categories of Kaplan being replaced by the passionately religious language of “neo-Hasidism”—an approach as remote from Kaplan’s Deweyian-Durkheimian purview as can be imagined.

It seems to me that there is also an interesting proximity between Green’s thought and that of the French Jesuit philosopher, paleontologist and geologist, Teilhard de Chardin, who developed a philosophy of the cosmos and of creation which integrated the views of modern science. Teilhard spoke, in largely naturalist terms, of the universe as being guided by a teleology, moving its evolution in a purposeful way towards every higher forms of being and of consciousness, what he calls an “Omega point.” In his more recent writing, and particularly in his newest book, Green speaks a great deal about evolution, describing the universe as an enormously complex, evolving organism, which in its totality is itself God: a classical panentheistic position (but not pantheistic, to cite a distinction often used with regard to Rav Kook), in which the whole is somehow more than the sum of its parts. I’m not sure I can follow him to that place nor, indeed, am I certain that I fully understand him.

His first book-length theology, Seek My Face, Speak My Name, may be read as an attempt to translate religious language into an idiom comprehensible to contemporary man. Green’s approach seems rooted in the insight that the alienation of many modern people from religion stems from a confusion of the archaic and quasi-mythical language of religion with its contents. To put it in perhaps overly graphic language: they think of religionists as believing in God as “the old man in the sky with a long beard” of children’s Sunday school stories, and as such not even worthy of serious thought by modern educated adults. The entire first section of that book is devoted to breaking down this stereotype: he begins by re-sensitizing his readers to the core experience of religion—the sense of the ineffable in the universe in everyday life (Heschel’s “radical amazement”), the intuitive sense of Oneness—without using what is for them the alienating language of the tradition. He then turns to a serious discussion of the nature of religious language as such (an excellent discussion of the name of God as fluid and flowing as suggesting the ineffable nature of the Divine; change of imagery from the vertical to that of “innerness”), so that they may ultimately be able to hear the language of the tradition itself in a new way.

To make what at first blush might seem an outrageous statement: I would suggest that, in an important sense, Green stands foursquare within the Maimonidean tradition. Book One of the Guide for the Perplexed is essentially an elaboration of the classic Rabbinic dictum: Dibrah Torah bilshon b’nai adam—“The Torah speaks in the language of man.” It is in this light that Maimonides develops his reading of anthropomorphic and anthropopathic religious language as metaphor, and as such requiring reinterpretation, as well as his negative theology or concept of “negative attributes.” Green, by constantly hammering away at the distinction between imagery and the thing itself, does much the same thing within a modernist semiotic context. But, as a champion of the Kabbalistic rather than the philosophical approach, Green also revels in the luxuriant richness of the imagery of the Kabbalah. Already in a youthful essay (written, in the heady days of the ‘60s, in the context of the psychedelic drug movement), he suggested that the very richness of imagery of the Kabbalah, rather than conflicting with the pristine monotheism of Judaism, helps to free the religious imagination from any one rigid image of God, thereby serving to open the way toward the One.

On another level, Green might be placed within the context of contemporary radical theology, beginning with the Christian “Death of God“ school of the 1960’s. (It is no accident that Harvey Cox, author of The Secular City and one of the key figures of that movement, used to visit the Havurah periodically, especially on Purim [“Festival of Fools”], and seems to have found a common language with Art and others there.) One of the key concepts of that school was “demythologization”: a phrase used by Rudolf Bultmann and others to denote the need to go beyond the mythological and/or poetic language of religious imagery to the concrete theological meaning underlying behind it. (This, too, is a legitimate enterprise within Jewish tradition. ) But, unlike many of the Christian demythologists, who sometimes read as iconoclasts and “atheists in a dog collar,” Green moves beyond the rationalist “deconstruction” to rediscovering a new and imaginative religious language: “to reinvigorate the tradition with the richness of myth—so long as we know that it is myth!”

Another important point of comparison for his thought is that of Martin Buber. In broad terms, Art Green may be identified with the school of “Neo-Hasidism,” often associated with the name of Martin Buber; the model community he founded in the ‘60s, the first Havurah, drew much of its inspiration from the Freies Jüdisches Lehrhaus in Frankfort am Main, in which Buber played a prominent role. Like Buber, he found a powerful model in Hasidic thought and community life but, unlike traditional Hasidism, both remained outside the orbit of Orthodox halakhah—although, in practice, Green lives a very traditional life. Moreover, while Green finds much inspiration in Buber’s writings, and is deeply interested in ethical and inter-personal issues, the theme of dialogue as such does not occupy the central role in his thought that it does for Buber.

A reviewer of Green’s book in the Israeli Orthodox-academic-oriented journal Akdamot noted a certain congruence between the writing of Green and that of Rav Soloveitchik, in the sense of the intensely personal style of the theology of both men; as I have noted here on various occasions, in his public lectures the Rav spoke at times in extraordinarily personal terms. But Green never seemed to find much of interest in either the Rav or in his thought. Though the two lived in the same city for a period of six years, I do not believe they ever spoke face to face. On several occasions, Art and other members of the Havurah went to hear the Rav’s Saturday night shiurim at Maimonides School, but they went home disappointed. (Albeit he once mentioned to me that he was much impressed by a talk in which the Rav addressed a circle of secular Yiddishists in Boston.) Even the Rav’s interest in Hasidism (he credited his sensitivity to religious experience to his childhood melamed in Khaslovich, a Habad Hasid) was “Litvish,” whereas Green’s orientation, both temperamentally and ideologically, leans far more towards Polish and Ukrainian Hasidism.

In his writing, teaching and conversation, Art Green has described himself as identifying most strongly with what he calls the radically non-dualistic stream within Jewish mysticism. One figure who comes readily to mind as an influence in this regard is R. Aaron of Starosselye, one of the close disciples of R. Shneur Zalman of Lyady, who formulated an uncompromising unitive mysticism, ultimately rejected by the mainstream of Habad. But even more so, one of Green’s favorite thinkers is R. Nahum of Chernobol, a first-generation disciple of the Maggid of Mezhirech, author of Me’or Einayim and progenitor of over a dozen Ukrainian Hasidic dynasties (many of which, such as Talner and Harnistopol, are to this day known for their sanity and moderation, and rejection of the general “khnukhishness” of latter-day Galician Hasidism).

Art is fond of summing up the conflict or difference between Hasidism and its opponents by saying that, whereas to the latter the focus was upon halakhah, and the model one of obedience, even punctiliousness, about every detail thereof, in Hasidism the ultimate goal was always avodah—service of God with all one’s heart—with halakhah serving as the path, the means, but not the essence of what it’s all about per se. Perhaps it was this, more than anything else, that hindered Green from taking more than a passing interest in Rav Soloveitchik’s teaching.

A word about his relation to the Jewish community: although, as founder of the Havurah movement, he was a central figure in the “Jewish counter culture” of the 1960s and early ’70s, he is today very much involved in and sensitive to the problems of the mainstream Jewish community. Were I to compare Green to such figures as Zalman Schachter and Art Waskow, who together with him were perhaps the leading figures, teachers and thinkers, in the early decades of the Jewish counter-culture, he seems far more “mainstream,” less “New Age” than them. Thus, for example, in a series of columns he wrote in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent during the years he lived in that city, he writes about problems such as intermarriage, Jewish education, the importance of Hebrew, and other problems, in a way that exudes normality. The non-denominational Rabbinical Seminary, adjunct to the Boston Hebrew College, to which he has devoted most of his energies during the past five-odd years, is an attempt to create use a new educational and leadership model for the American Jewish community in a pluralistic age, in which the traditional denominations will be increasingly irrelevant. He once spoke of his educational philosophy as being based upon that of the Frankfurt Jüdisches Lehrhaus: “Expose people to the classical sources and your love of them, without imposing restrictions on either thought or behavior, and it will lead them to Jewishly and humanly positive lives.”

Also worthy of mention, in rounding out a picture of the man, is his connection to Hebrew. He speaks a beautiful Hebrew—putting to shame at least 50% of the American olim I know who have been living here for decades!—and loves the language. But he is well aware that, at this point in time, Hebraism as such will not become a major movement in American Jewry and that Hebrew is not likely to be a major avenue of discourse among American Jews, and acts and educates accordingly.

* * * * *

A few words about his approach to halakhah and religious praxis. Some years ago, when I first thought of writing about Art Green (originally, in the context of a review-essay of Seek Your Face, Speak Your Name for Tradition or another modern-Orthodox forum), I planned to include a section explaining my own interest in Art as an Orthodox Jew. I imagined that many of my fellows in the Orthodox world would wonder what I, as an Orthodox Jew, find so attractive and positive in the thought and personality of a thinker who is so clearly outside of the halakhic orbit of ”shelomei emunei Yisrael.” But upon rereading what I wrote then—both my apologetics for my interest in his thought and my polemic with certain points therein—I felt that there was something artificial, preachy, even self-righteous about the manner and tone. First, as always in life, one begins on the personal level: I simply like the man. He has great personal charm, an unassuming, frank warmth; even when we disagree, there is an honesty, depth and sincerity to his religious quest that makes it impossible to dismiss him as an “apikoris.” We have been friends for well over half a lifetime; the five-year difference between us is small enough to say that, in a sense, we have “grown-up-together”: we have known one another through the proverbial thick-and-thin.

But beyond that, in terms that go beyond my particular biography, there are a few points that nevertheless require clarification. Green loves tradition, is a deeply religious person, and lives a very traditional life style viz. Shabbat, prayer, etc.—but, in principle, does not see the halakhah, as a system, as binding upon himself in any formal legal or juristic sense. He prefers to speak about Judaism—certainly, of its “religious” or theocentric elements, of mitzvot bein adam lamakom—as a “symbol system,” which he finds deeply evocative and which brings him to the experience of the Presence, of the Holy, within the universe. (Interestingly, the Havurat Shalom and other new-style prayer groups in which Art has been involved were largely inspired by the warmth and intensity of Hasidic prayer—and the attempt to relive it, not by “converting” to mainstream, Orthodox Hasidism, but by creating a new kind of prayer environment, which brings these qualities into one’s own, modern milieu.) But ultimately, it is no more true or false than any other symbol system or tradition, which at their best work in similar ways for their faithful; he sees the Torah, not as the one truth, but as one of many paths leading to the One.

In terms of ethical issues—i.e., the need, often evoked by religious thinkers, for the certainty of revelation to provide a firm grounding for morality—Green speaks of one central commandment: to know that Man, that every human being, is created in the Divine image. All else—as in Hillel’s “Golden Rule”—follows from this. (By this, following Peter Berger’s Heretical Imperative, he conceives ethics and/or religious truth, not as a deductive legal system, derived from axioms and formal precedents, as in Kelner’s philosophy of law, but as more inductive and perhaps even intuituve.) My own caveats with his approach boil down to two key points:

First, the heteronomous nature of the Torah, and of morality, is very important to me; it seems to me that Green advocates a far more autonomous ethics. I’m not sure whether this difference is rooted in a different perception of human nature: certainly, Art is hardly sanguine about the evil of which human beings are capable, but he seems less inclined towards the model of milhemet hayetzer—which some might see as a Jewish equivalent of almost Calvinist modes of thinking—in which human life is depicted as a constant moral struggle, fought within the soul of each individual, in which even one’s own seemingly best judgment may also be slanted. But, ultimately, he is more a (mystic) theologian than a moral philosopher—assuming the two can really be separated.

Secondly, my own commitment to halakhah, to what Rav Soloveitchik called “the Masorah community,” is in the end an existential, a priori one, which Green does not share. It’s not even a question of “belief” or “non-belief” in Torah min ha-Shamayim, as Orthodox Jews in the modern age are fond of putting it: among other points, what we actually practice as Jews in everyday life is about 90% Rabbinic anyway. Rather, it is the acceptance of authority of Hazal and their successors as an existential, life decision. (Although I should add here that, in traditional halakhic legal theory, the basic notion is that of כפה עליהם הר כגיגי—that, except for the case of the proselyte, a Jew doesn’t make a personal decision to accept halakhah, but it is imposed upon him willy-nilly.)

Third, notwithstanding my own modernist problems with Biblical criticism and historical, critical thinking viz. the traditional understanding of Sinai, I find within myself a certain core of belief—something that goes beyond words, which cannot be expressed except in the “mythic,” esoteric language of the mystics—that something, somehow happened at Sinai. I believe, too, in a certain objective holiness that enters with Shabbat enters: something that is somehow far more than a sociological or semiotic or even legal construction.

In any event, these issues—how the modern Jew is to deal with the whole issue of Revelation—pertains only indirectly to Art Green, and is a subject for discussion in its own right. Indeed, last year I published here, for Shavuot, the first half of a major essay on this theme. Due to various personal factors, I did not complete the second half in a timely manner, so I now hope to present it for the coming Shavuot.

3. A Personal Conclusion

When asked by people whom I regard as my most important teacher or rebbe, I invariably reply that there is no single individual whose path I have accepted unreservedly, but that there are three teachers who have most profoundly influenced me and shaped my thinking: Rav Soloveitchik, Shlomo Carlebach, z”l, and Art Green, yibadel lehayyim arukim. It seems to me that my own relation to each of them may best be described in terms taken from the second mishnah in Avot: “On three things the world stands: on Torah, Avodah, and Gemillut hasadim.” Clearly, Rav Soloveitchik was for me the central source of Torah learning per se: of Talmud, of halakhah, of the core texts of our tradition. Just as clearly, for Shlomo, everything comes back to love—of God and of one’s fellow man—limitless, infinite hesed, without boundaries. From Art, I learned about avodah: of the Hasidic path in prayer, of devotion, of the meaning of religious worship, and of that which is prior to avodah: how to approach the problem of God, the meaning of knowledge of God and faith, with honesty and integrity, and yet with awe and humility in this crazy modern world.

So, in answer to my Orthodox friends and colleagues who are sometimes puzzled and wonder “what I see” in this Heterodox thinker, I answer: the words may at times be apikorsish, but the music is the music of an authentic Jewish neshome—combining great love of the Jewish people, its tradition, and its God; thorough erudition; a lively, clear writing style, that is easy to read without being simplistic; a keen, insightful eye for reading text; and intellectual honesty, which never allows him to be satisfied with sentimentality or cliche. I can only conclude by wishing Arthur Green, and his dear wife Kathy, many more healthful and productive years.

4. Bibliography

Academic Studies

Tormented Master: The Life and Spiriual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav. University of Alabama, 1979; (rept: Woodstock: Jewish Lights, 1992)

Keter: The Crown of God in Early Jewish Mysticism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997.

Devotion and Commandment: The Faith of Abraham in the Hasidic Imagination. Cincinnatti: Hebrew Union College Press, 1989.

Editor of: Jewish Spirituality from the Bible Through the Middle Ages and Jewish Spirituality from the Sixteenth Century Revival to the Present. 2 vol. New York: Crossroad, 1986-87. (World Spirituality. An Encyclopedic History of the Religious Quest. 13-14)

“The Children of Israel at the Sea” Judaism (ca. 1975)

“The Song of Songs in Early Jewish Mysticism,” Orim: A Jewish Journal at Yale 2:2 (1987) 49 ff.

“Shekhinah, the Virgin Mary, and the Song of Songs: Reflections on a Kabbalistic Symbol in Its Historical Context,” AJS Review 26:1 (2002), 1-52.

“Zaddik as Axis Mundi in Later Judaism,” in Journal of the American Academy of Religion 45 (1977), 328–347.

“Hasidism: Discovery and Retreat,” in Peter Berger (ed.), The Other Face of God (Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1981).

“Typologies of Leadership and The Hasidic Zaddiq,” in his (ed.) Jewish Spirituality II (World Spirituality. 14; New York: Crossroad, 1987), 127-156

“Three Warsaw Mystics,” Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 13 (1996), 1-58

As stated mentioned earlier, Green’s scholarly writing has throughout the years been complemented by more popular comment on issues confronting the Jewish community, and shorter essays on religious and theological issues.

Readers & Introductions

Your Word is Fire: The Hasidic Masters on Contemplative Prayer, with Barry Holtz. 3rd ed.: Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 1993.

Upright Practices and the Light of the Eyes (from R. Nahum of Chernobol’s Meor Einayim).. New OYork: Paulist Press, 1982.

The Language of Truth: The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet. Philadelphia: JPS, 1998. Includes important introduction

A Guide to the Zohar. (The Zohar, Pritzker Edition, 1). Stanford University Press, 2002 (?).

These are the Words: A Vocabulary of Jewish Spiritual Life. Woodstock, Vt: Jewish Lights, 2000.

Theological Writings: Personal and Programmatic

Seek My Face, Speak My Name: A Contemporary Jewish Theology. Northvale NJ–London: Jason Aronson, 1992.

Ehyeh: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow. Woodstock, Vt: Jewish Lights, 2003.

Radical Judaism: A Hasidism for a New Era. The 2006 Rosenzweig Lectures. Forthcoming: New Haven, Yale University Press.

“Confessions of an Aggadic Jew” (forthcoming in the Neil Gillman festschrift).

“The Role of Jewish Mysticism in a Contemporary Theology of Judaism,” Conservative Judaism 30:4 (1976), 2o ff.

“After Itzik,” in The New Jews, A. Mintz & J. Sleeper, eds. (New York: Vintage Press, 1971).

Itzik Lodzer (pseud.), “Notes from the Jewish Underground: On Psychedelics and Kabbalah.” Originally published in Response 2; reprinted in The New Jews (above).

About Art

Lawrence Fine, “A Warsaw Mystic in Newton: The Kabbalistic Thought of Arthur Green,” Tikkun (Jan/Feb 2004).


Blogger nealhugh said...

Art Green is a very fine man!!!

9:06 AM  

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