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Being Jewish

David Gelernter, a computer scientist and observant Jew, wants his co-religionists to get holy

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Hadeish Yameinu

Hadeish Yameinu by David Gelernter

  David Gelernter, a prominent victim of the Unabomber, is a Yale computer science professor who is also fluent in the history and practice of Judaism. An observant Jew, Gelernter just published Judaism: A Way of Being (Yale University Press). Partly an exploration of the religion’s core themes and partly a defense of adherence to its commandments, the book is also an impassioned and provocative plea for Jews to recognize their religion’s unique relationship to God and to Western civilization. Gelernter spoke to Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry about the importance of separation to Jewish life, about Jewish superiority, and about why Conservative and Reform Judaism appear doomed to failure.

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Eric Weis says:

Jewish superiority? Somebody ought to read Torah, or daven the Amidah, to be reminded about humility. Being an Or l’Goyim does not mean being superior …it implies carrying God’s mitzvot to the world. It is HaShem who is superior. To claim human superiority, as contrasted with Jewish uniqueness, betrays a lack of fundamental understanding of the covenant. The pluralistic streams have got this right. An Orthodoxy which preaches superiority is simply heretical and will in time, wither.

Pete Webb says:

“We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this season.” Shehecheyanu Prayer

I take offense at the idea of superiority. All streams of Judaism share the same core values that enrich the community.

Interesting interview.
What Professor Gelernter didn’t emphasize in the interview was the Jewish tradition of learning Torah. He obviously has studied Talmud. I doubt that many who affiliate with Reform or Conservative Judaism have studied Talmud, or even know what it is. Today, even in Israel, a good many Jews have not even read the 5 Books of Moses.
What was most interesting in the interview came toward the end. There really is no need for Reform or Conservative Judaism. Any Jew who wants to come closer to his or her Jewish roots has a place in Orthodox Judaism, regardless of how observant they are, or what opinions they have.
“A Way of Being” is a good title. For Judaism isn’t really a religion like other religions with their systems of beliefs. Judaism really is a way of life.

Michael Krauss says:

Eric, I think the teaser did not represent Gelenter’s views in the interview. He did not speak of Judaism’s “superiority” in the sense you address.

In a different sense of the term, one who does not find his religion “superior” should change religions, no?

This business of Jewish superiority irks me. We are no better, or worse than anyone else. Good people do good works. Bad people do bad things. Both reside in all religions.

Professor Gelernter’s view of Judaism reflect the best and worst of orthodx Judaism- structured,historic,principled, -narrow,self involved ,confined, and sclerosed. His is a view that see Judaism not as an eitz chayim,but as a mausoleum.Tradition,in and of itself, does not equal authenticity.Sometimes it is only nostalgia,sometimes fear,sometimes self-loathing . He is obvioulsy an intelligent man,who feels deeply his love of his religion.Yasher koach to him.But he cannot legitimately judge anyone but himself.

I was disappointed by this podcast. Professor Gelernter makes statements that I believe are historically inaccurate or highly questionable, as follows:

1. “God has withdrawn from the modern world.” — I believe thousands of his fellow Orthodox Jews, not to mention non-Orthodox Jews, would vehemently disagree.

2. “Judaism is the most important intellectual development in Western history.” — This simply isn’t true. Judaism was extremely important in the intellectual development of Western thought, but so were Greek and Roman philosophy, ethics, literature and science.

3. “Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism don’t work.” — I’m not a Reform or Conservative Jew, but this seems like classic Orthodox Jewish triumphalism — this also ignores other newer developments, such as Reconstructionist, Renewal and Humanistic Judaism.

4. He also asserted during the podcast that Jews who can’t completely embrace halacha — who object to the kosher food laws, or are, in his words, “homosexual” — can still participate in the Orthodox community. That would be news to the thousands of Jews who have left Orthodoxy over the last two centuries, largely because even small infractions in observance caused Orthodox communities to frown upon them.

5. He additionally said that Orthodoxy has room for dissent and argument, so Jews who don’t agree with much of Orthodoxy can still participate in Orthodox communities.

As someone with an extensive knowledge of the Orthodox community worldwide, I could not believe my ears.

Orthodox communities have many virtues, including great piety, study, and warmth, but tolerance for dissent and arguments are not among them, except within a very narrow range of thought.

I had a quick look at an excerpt from the introduction to his book available on I was disappointed to see Orthodox Judaism referred to in his book as “normative Judaism” — as though the non-Orthodox Jews were mere aberrations — and what seemed to be a defense of Orthodoxy Judaism’s refusal to ordain women rabbis and cantors.

Professor Gelernter expressed hope in the podcast that his book will explain Judaism to college students. I think his book is more likely to alienate them.

his weakest argument is about jewish obligation, which is ironic given his emphasis on observance.

charlie salem says:

Robin, Leibal and especially Rivka – spot on!
We in the UK don’t have anywhere liek the cultural acceptance and tolerance that you US jews have.Media incited academic,cultural and commercial boycotts of Israel mask this inward dislike of Judaism here.The BBC don’t help either!!!
Orthodoxy has alot to offer but not when it forgets the strict requirement to have humility before hashem and with our fellow man.They say they’ll be alot of surprises as to get allowed ‘into’ olam haba and now i know why!!!!
Best C

Milton Strauss says:

Such arrogance! He seems to assume that the traditional literature is available to only the orthodox, not considering that these texts are the heritage of Jews, of whatever kind.

montgomery garretsen says:

Jewish superiority? A Bronze Age sky fairy? The “chosen people?”

The Pentateuch is a disparate collection of Iron Age scribblings trying to make sense of an unknown world – nothing more, nothing less

Josh Teitelbaum says:

kol hakavod to Sara Ivry on Vox Tablet in general, and the two I have heard so far (on the mikveh and David Gelerntner). Just so interesting and well done. Keep up the excellent work. I agree with Gelerntner that Orthodoxy needs to be more open and accepting of the non-Orthodox. This is exactly what Chabad is doing. The new generation of Chabad rabbis whom I have met in California are really open folks, and they are attraction many to their shuls, some of whom drive there on Shabbat.

This is getting a bit more subjective, but I much prefer the Zune Marketplace. The interface is colorful, has more flair, and some cool features like ‘Mixview’ that let you quickly see related albums, songs, or other users related to what you’re listening to. Clicking on one of those will center on that item, and another set of “neighbors” will come into view, allowing you to navigate around exploring by similar artists, songs, or users. Speaking of users, the Zune “Social” is also great fun, letting you find others with shared tastes and becoming friends with them. You then can listen to a playlist created based on an amalgamation of what all your friends are listening to, which is also enjoyable. Those concerned with privacy will be relieved to know you can prevent the public from seeing your personal listening habits if you so choose.


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Being Jewish

David Gelernter, a computer scientist and observant Jew, wants his co-religionists to get holy

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