By Rabbi Jonathan Woll
Prof. Alan Arkush addressed the question Can Modern Judaism Be Rational? at APJ’s February 22nd meeting at NYC’s Temple Israel. Dr. Arkush is a Professor of Modern Jewish Intellectual History at Binghamton – SUNY and a Senior Contributing Editor of the Jewish Review.
Prof. Arkush discussed the “Thomas Jefferson” of his age, the philosopher and defender of Jewish rights, Moses Mendelssohn. He reviewed passages from Mendelssohn’s book Jerusalem illustrating Mendelssohn’s thinking on belief and deed also positing that Mendelssohn was a liberal who wanted nothing more than a separation of church and state as a foundation for discussing religion and personal rights. APJ’s president, Lance Sussman and Alan Arkush have enjoyed a friendship and scholarly consultations for many years.
Why Mendelssohn? Because during the last 250 years, friction continues over ideas, beliefs and deeds – particularly in the lingering matter of the separation of Church and State. Still, the conversation in the public space, particularly in the United States, is about belief and reason, secularity and sectarianism. Dr. Arkush’s words generated thoughtful responses assuring us that we are still in pursuit of rational belief in Jewish thinking and practice.