The Won­der­ing Jew: Israel and the Search for Jew­ish Identity

Mic­ah Good­man, Eylon Levy (trans.)

  • Review
By – January 5, 2021

What is the future of Judaism? What forces will influ­ence the answer? What might a renewed Judaism in Israel look like polit­i­cal­ly, social­ly, and philo­soph­i­cal­ly? Mic­ah Good­man — an Israeli pub­lic intel­lec­tu­al, a cel­e­brat­ed author, and a senior fel­low at the Shalom Hart­man Insti­tute in Jerusalem — tack­les these ques­tions by delv­ing direct­ly into the facets that shape the hunger for con­nec­tion that he sens­es through­out Israel today. Good­man is a major voice for his gen­er­a­tion, and his immense schol­ar­ship and expla­na­tion of his per­spec­tive make this an intense and sat­is­fy­ing read.

Good­man empha­sizes the nat­ur­al ten­sion that has the nation in its grip, as it strug­gles to rec­on­cile mod­ern val­ues with ancient tra­di­tions. He asks, what is the role of reli­gion in the mod­ern world? He dis­cuss­es Israel’s efforts to come to terms with the tra­di­tion­al Ortho­dox Judaism that under­lies the Israeli state itself and the enor­mous influ­ence it exerts on all aspects of nation­al cul­ture and pol­i­tics. He offers cogent ideas about how to bridge the reli­gious-sec­u­lar divide that defines much of Jew­ish thought and iden­ti­ty today. The book will help Amer­i­can read­ers under­stand what divides Israeli soci­ety and threat­ens the solid­i­ty of the basic tenets of lived Jew­ish expe­ri­ence. Instead of feel­ing that the rifts that rock the coun­try have no solu­tions, read­ers will come away feel­ing hopeful.

The author explains the con­tra­dic­tions in the role of Zion­ism in defin­ing Judaism as one that pulls us back to tra­di­tion yet push­es us for­ward toward new ways of defin­ing our beliefs and prac­tices. But where do we place reli­gion in our con­tem­po­rary way of life? Good­man tells us that it is impor­tant to stay close­ly in touch with the past, and that it enrich­es our lives in a unique way. He cites many Jew­ish philoso­phers and the­olo­gians to sup­port his belief that stay­ing close to our her­itage is beneficial.

While Good­man is open about being part of an Ortho­dox con­gre­ga­tion, he is equal­ly able to see and embrace the val­ues of those who are involved with less tra­di­tion­al Juda­ic prac­tices. His views are sol­id but not sti­fling, sure-foot­ed but not cloy­ing. As he puts it, Judaism is the Jews’ ongo­ing con­ver­sa­tion. The con­ver­sa­tion about Judaism is Judaism.”

Good­man is clear in spelling out the prob­lem he will solve for us: the sym­phon­ic clash of ideas that rep­re­sents Judaism itself — not whether God exists, if a rev­e­la­tion took place at Mount Sinai, or whether the Torah is the ulti­mate truth — but instead, whether one or the oth­er set of beliefs pro­vides a stronger, more pow­er­ful way into the future for the Jew­ish community.

The book is divid­ed into four parts and con­tains notes and a rich­ly detailed index. Through­out the pages, Good­man defines, tack­les, and offers a res­o­lu­tion to the prob­lem he has set out for us, one which he argues has a great impact on our future. Through flu­id polemics and orig­i­nal jux­ta­po­si­tions, Good­man argues both for and against reli­gion and sec­u­lar­ism; final­ly, he presents us with ways to rec­on­cile what he deems the irrec­on­cil­able. It is well worth going on the jour­ney with him.

Lin­da F. Burghardt is a New York-based jour­nal­ist and author who has con­tributed com­men­tary, break­ing news, and fea­tures to major news­pa­pers across the U.S., in addi­tion to hav­ing three non-fic­tion books pub­lished. She writes fre­quent­ly on Jew­ish top­ics and is now serv­ing as Schol­ar-in-Res­i­dence at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al & Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau County.

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