A presentation by Dr. Miri Freud-Kandel from the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the New London Synagogue in December 2011. Dr. Freud-Kandel offers some insights on the place of theology in Judaism and its relationship to ritual and practice.
Judaism is generally seen as an organic, non-systematic religion in which ritual develops from particular historical circumstances rather than theological debate. The absence of sophsticated reflections on the divine in Jewish sources highlights the problem of theology in the Jewish context. In the modern period, Moses Mendelssohn and Samson Raphael Hirsch argued that Judaism was devoid of dogma, and should be characterized by its emphasis on ritual rather than faith. Similarly, Jewish communities around the world tend to privilege political and social concerns over principles of belief. It is worth asking, therefore, whether theology matters at all in Judaism?
Dr. Freud-Kandel explains that Louis Jacobs viewed theology as the individual’s quest to find meaning in their Judaism. Only a sound system of belief, he argued, could successfully secure the individual’s commitment to ritual and encourage the transmission of Judaism to future generations. Yet while insisting on the critical role of theology, Jacobs also recognized the impossibility to construct a definitive Jewish theology, precisely because of his emphasis on the individual. Hence the performance of ritual implies the beliefs in God, covenant, and revelation, gives these abstract concepts a means for practical implimentation. These therefore need to be discussed and refined in order to sustain Jewish practice.
A Q&A session follows the lecture.