Published in Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought, Vol. 28 No. 1 Winter Issue 1979.
BYRON L. SHERWIN is associate professor of Jewish religious thought at Spertus College of Judaica, Chicago, Illinois.
A solidly built man with penetrating eyes, an endearing charm and an entertaining wit, Louis Jacobs has made a major contribution to Jewish scholarship. However, despite his enviable prolific output, his astonishing erudition and his ability precisely to articulate recondite notions, his work has received scant attention in the American theological community or the American Jewish one. The purpose of the present essay is to begin to redress this undeserved slight to one of contemporary Jewry’s most significant thinkers.
One may divide Jacobs’ many books and articles into three primary areas: (1) theology; (2) rabbinics; (3) Jewish mysticism.
Studies in Theology
The contemporary Jewish theologian is not merely confronted with the problem of defending the existence of God or the significance of revelation; he must also meet the challenge of establishing the very existence of Jewish theology. He must respond to the “pan-halakhist” who perceives Judaism as a system of law devoid of theological import, who understands Judaism as a way of living but not as a way of thinking. He must counter the claims of those who consider theology a peculiarly Gentile concern. He must answer the secularist who sees Judaism as only a cultural, ethnic manifestation of Jewish peoplehood, stripped of all religious and theological content. Furthermore, the Jewish theologian must work in a community – the Jewish one – which largely fails to take him or his theological concerns seriously. He must relate to colleagues in the academic world – including theological seminaries – who assign little importance to contemporary theological reflection. Despite these disabilities, Louis Jacobs has persisted in his attempt to articulate an organized Jewish theology for our times.
A Jewish Theology (1973) represents the first systematic presentation of the major themes of Jewish religious thought since Kaufmann Kohler’s Jewish Theology, published more than fifty years previously (1918). While this earlier work is apologetic in nature and totally rationalistic in its orientation, Jacobs’ book offers a forthright and rounded portrait of Jewish theological concerns, including constant references to the Jewish mystical tradition. Unlike other thinkers who seek to apologize for Judaism or defend it against intellectual and social challenges, Jacobs attempts to respond to a single question-what can Jews believe today?; i.e., what kind of faith emerges “within traditional Judaism” when it encounters modernism? The theologian, he says, “must try to present a coherent picture of what Jews can believe without subterfuge and with intellectual honesty”. For Jacobs, theology is both art and science. Theologians must be “committed to the truth they are seeking to explore”, but they must also be practitioners of Jüdische Wissenschaft, the scientific study of Judaism. Finally, they must also be artists.
Like Abraham J. Heschel, Jacobs rejects a monolithic view of Judaism as being unfaithful to the multi-faceted complexity of Jewish religious thought. Jewish tradition, he maintains, has no clear “mainstream” but many streams. It provides a variety of equally defensible traditional options for most theological, moral or personal problems. The process of analysis and selection of these options does not reduce tradition to the arbitrary selective will of the scholar, nor does it elevate modern tendencies into an absolute standard for judgment. But it does provide an opportunity for honest, careful confrontation with the tradition in order to elicit an authentic response to a contemporary problem.
In articulating his theology of Judaism, Jacobs harnesses the tools of analytic, linguistic philosophy to classical Judaic sources. While most modern Jewish religious thinkers have allied themselves with the existentialist school, Jacobs demonstrates that analytic philosophy, the currently dominant school of thought in Britain and America, need not be an enemy, but can be an ally, of Jewish philosophical theology. His utilization of linguistic philosophy is most clearly evident in Faith.
By reason of its structure, Faith reads like a contemporary version of a medieval Jewish philosophical classic, Saadia’s Beliefs and Opinions. Saadia moves from a discussion of how we know what we know, to a presentation of the content of Jewish belief. Similarly, Jacobs begins by discussing how we may come to believe what we believe. He then analyzes possible objections to that belief, i.e., to theistic belief. Finally, he provides a brief description of the nature and content of Jewish belief. By his use of linguistic philosophical tools, Jacobs subtly demonstrates the methodological continuity between medieval Jewish philosophy and modern analytic philosophy. For both approaches, belief entails the affirmation of the truth-value of propositions and the requirement for consistency amongst those propositions. Like Maimonides, Jacobs holds that since faith may mean assertion of the truth of a proposition, its clear, concise articulation is of great importance. Thus, his mastery of linguistic philosophy provides him with the impetus for clarity, so miserably lacking in many Jewish thinkers in the existentialist camp, and he offers a viable alternative to the “personal propaganda” which characterizes much that passes for con temporary Jewish thought.
In Principles of the Jewish Faith and A Jewish Theology, Jacobs treats all of the major problems of Jewish theology, e.g., the existence of God, the nature of God, providence and free-will, evil, revelation, rationales for observance, Jewish peoplehood, prayer, Messianism, life after death, and others. However, his presentation is marred by three factors.
Firstly, his own theological perspective is often obscured behind the mass of information that he conveys. While some existentialist theologians may be criticized for being unduly confessional, considering autobiographical insights to be theological facts, Jacobs is guilty of the opposite. He clearly reviews a plethora of past and present theological options on a given issue, but oftentimes fails to present his own position on it.
Secondly, Jacobs may be taken to account for not having adequately or directly provided a theological stance concerning the two events which offer the most persistent challenge to contemporary Jewish theology: the Holocaust and the State of Israel. While he does make occasional references to the Holocaust, he does not provide a specific theological response to it, nor does he discuss in detail its implications for the viability of, or the nature of, a post-Holocaust Jewish theology.
Only in A Jewish Theology does he first confront the State of Israel as a theological problem, albeit he does so in surprisingly little depth and detail. For Jacobs, “theology cannot provide detailed practical solutions to the problems facing Jews now that the State of Israel is a reality”. What theology can do is to seek “to foster certain attitudes which, from the theological point of view, are sounder than others”. He states five such attitudes and elucidates them all too briefly and insufficiently. They are: God alone is to be worshipped, not the Jewish people; Jewish nationalism is no substitute for religion; God is the Father not only of the Jewish people but of all mankind; there should be no crude interpretation of the notion of “sacred soil”; Hebrew or Israeli culture is not Torah.
Though helpful in formulating a theological stance toward the State of Israel, these five attitudes are insufficiently articulated, and Jacobs could make a monumental contribution to contemporary Jewish thought were he to work out a complete theology regarding the State. Further more, one can only hope that he would revise his position that Jewish theology is unable to provide practical solutions to the problems confronting Jewish existence, specifically with regard to Israel. An expansion and elucidation of his five attitudes might also force a re-thinking of priorities and activities within Diasporan, especially American, Jewry.
Thirdly, Jacobs’ discussion of theological issues is uneven. Some, like revelation, or the nature of God, are treated in meticulous detail, while others, like peoplehood and statehood, are discussed all too briefly and the sources utilized in reflecting upon them are limited.
In the early 1960s, Jacobs’ views on the nature of revelation were attacked by the British Orthodox rabbinate and the ensuing “Jacobs controversy” became the most significant event- of post-World War II British Jewry. Certainly it was the only Jewish theological dispute ever to receive international press coverage. Largely because of it, Jacobs’ theological writings have stressed the need to formulate a viable theology of revelation for contemporary Jewry.
The dispute between Jacobs and the British Beth Din centered about two irreconcilable views. His Orthodox opponents embraced the fundamentalist position which believes the Torah to have been literally dictated by God and which considers Jewish law to be His revealed word. In this view, revelation is a monologue of God to man. The revelatory message – the Bible, Judaism, Jewish law – is devoid of a human element; it is totally of divine origin and divine dictate. Jewish religious commitment, therefore, is either/or; i.e., either one accepts that the Torah and Jewish law were dictated by God, or one might as well give up Judaism altogether. Consequently, this position denies the validity of Biblical criticism, as it is presumed to claim a human role in the authorship of the Bible.
Jacobs’ position, as first stated in 1957, in We Have Reason to Believe, rejected the fundamentalist posture. He asserted that the Bible is not revelation itself, not the verbatim word of God, but the record of revelation. As such, it contains a human as well as a divine element, and bears all the marks of human literary production. It can, therefore, be subjected to the critical methods of analysis which are used to clarify the meaning of other literary works.
In the wake of the “Jacobs controversy”, his position on revelation and religious observance was developed and refined in Principles of the Jewish Faith and A Jewish Theology. It is to the details of that position that we now turn our attention.
Jacobs deftly ties his discussion of, revelation to an analysis of the theological underpinnings of Orthodox, Reform and Conservative Judaism. His own final position, which approximates the Conservative one, emerges from his polemical attacks upon the theologies of revelation underlying Orthodoxy and Reform. His views on revelation provide theological conceptualization as well as a basis for practical implementation.
Jacobs identifies the Orthodox position with a fundamentalist understanding of revelation that the Torah and its commandment are dictates of God that can neither be questioned nor altered by human initiative. They can only be obeyed. Man worships God as a servant obeys his master, in passive obedience.
Jewish tradition in its entirety was given by God at Sinai; the rabbinic interpretations of Scripture were already revealed to Moses at Sinai. The halakhah, being totally of divine origin, must be objectively and immutably true, for only that which is objectively true may be eternally valid and binding upon all generations. Being devoid of a subjective human element, the law proceeds according to an internal logic of its own, unaffected by social or intellectual fashion. Just as the prophet is a passive recipient of revelation, rather than a partner in a dialogue with God, so is the halakhist a passive expositor of the law. He may elicit the inherent truth of the tradition revealed at Sinai, but he may not legislate. The tradition was given once and takes time to unfold. The prophet, the sage, the scholar only make the implicit become explicit. Human ingenuity and creativity only uncover; they do not innovate; they ·do not discover. In addition, this position assumes that truth is regressive; i.e., the further we get from Sinai by the passage of time, the further we get from the source of truth – the revelation at Sinai when all truth was revealed. This regressive notion of truth finds its classical expression in the Talmudic citation: “If the early scholars were like angels, we are like men; if they are like men, we are like asses.”
Jacobs emphatically rejects this posture. For him, fundamentalism is an essentially medieval understanding of the nature of revelation and of Judaism which can no longer be held, in the light of the findings of modern scholarship and of historical investigation into the nature and development of our faith. To hold to fundamentalism is to defend a single strand of Jewish thought and experience while overlooking other equally defensible ones within classical Judaism.
While Jacobs finds the fundamentalist stance, which he identifies with Orthodoxy, to be wanting, so does he perceive the classical Reform view of revelation to be fallacious.
Classical Reform Judaism’s rejection of the binding quality of Jewish religious law (halakhah) was based upon its assumption that revelation is “progressive”; that is, as time goes on, as man “evolves”, God’s truth is progressively revealed to man. Thus, the more recent or contemporary an idea, the more valid it is. Since Reform sees itself as the most recent expression of Judaism, it expresses, therefore, the highest truth now available.
For Jacobs, this notion of progressive revelation, which rejects the binding quality of halakhah in the name of a higher, more recently revealed truth, is specious. It is an improper attempt to apply a Darwinian theory of progressive evolution to revelation and to the history of Judaism. While Judaism is continually changing and developing, it is not necessarily evolving from a lower to a higher form. In the wake of two World Wars, the Holocaust , numerous other wars, social strife, ecological threats and economic uncertainties, the claim that mankind is making automatic progress in religious development, moral insight and quality of life, proves to be hopelessly naive. Jacobs writes:
The doctrine of progressive revelation seems to imply that God has kept former generations in ignorance of the truth in its fullness until the spiritual supermen of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries came on the scene. It hints that in many ways we are spiritually superior to Amos, Isaiah, Akiba and Maimonides. . . . ..It comes perilously close to a belief in God who is constantly changing His mind.
Having found both the fundamentalist and the “progressive” views to be wanting, Jacobs proceeds to articulate his own position regarding revelation and the nature of Jewish law and tradition.
Revelation, he holds, is not revealed in “propositional” terms, either all at once or progressively, but is an intense divine-human encounter embracing a divine initiative and a human response. “Revelation is an event, not a series of propositions about God and His demands.” Man is a partner in that event. Out of it, and in response to it, Jews have creatively developed the tradition known as “Judaism”. For Jacobs, as for Zechariah Frankel, the “father of Conservative Judaism”, “Judaism is the religion of the Jews”; that is, as a result of the revelatory experience and in continuous response to it, Jews continue to develop Jewish faith throughout the generations.
Accordingly, the Bible and subsequent Jewish tradition are neither dictates of God nor are they a body of revelatory truth (presently made obsolete by the revelation of higher truths) given to people intellectually and spiritually more primitive than we are. On the contrary, “the Bible is a record of how men were confronted by God”, and subsequent Jewish tradition is the record of how Jews in past generations confronted God, seeking to understand His plan for mankind in general and His will for the people of Israel in particular.
. . . [R]evelation is a meeting or series of meetings with God Himself. Revelation is an event. It has been translated into words by human beings who experienced it and their words are found in the record we know as the Bible. From out of its pages we, too, can hear the voice of God speaking to us, but it is the voice of God speaking through the distortions of the fallible human record. Unless we ourselves are prophets how else could we hear God’s voice? There is nothing in this view basically opposed to the Jewish idea, though it does involve, of course, a thorough reinterpretation of what revelation means.
For Jacobs, the Bible is a record of a direct revelation of God. There is, however, a second indirect variety of revelation in which the people of Israel play an active and creative role. As in the Talmudic notion that Moses legislated certain laws on his own volition and God later ratified his decrees, so, in this view, the laws, traditions, ideas and observances accepted by the whole Community of Israel became binding as the word of God. Thus, for Jacobs, revelation is neither “regressive” nor “progressive”, but continuous. The Judaism of today can, at best, strive to be an authentic continuation of the past. The Judaism of today is neither the highest form of Jewish experience nor is it the lowest. The challenge to contemporary Judaism is to try to be the best form of Jewish belief and practice for its day. But, there are no guarantees. The constant danger of atrophy, on the one hand, and radical subjectivism, on the other, may prevent the vibrant, creative development of a form of Judaism compatible with past traditions and current intellectual and spiritual needs. However, as Jacobs puts it, quoting Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague, “The search for Torah is itself Torah.”
In articulating this position in Principles of the Jewish Faith, Jacobs approximates the view of the founders of Conservative Judaism like Zechariah Frankel, Solomon Schechter and Louis Ginzberg, who held that the source of Jewish authority is not in the Bible but in the historical and religious experience of the people of Israel. In A Jewish Theology, Jacobs goes beyond this earlier view. Here, he expresses a “theological approach” to the nature of Judaism – specifically, to Jewish law – saying that one must go beyond the “historical” view of Frankel which perceives Judaism only in those terms. One must adopt an attitude which under stands Judaism as a religion and not only as the historical product of the Jewish people. For one adopting this approach, the mitsvot are to be perceived as ways to God. Because they can succeed in bringing people to God, the mitsvot, though developed by the people of Israel, must be considered as binding as the will of God. Thus, for Jacobs, halakhah remains binding, but individual laws, since they are not divine dictates, are continually open to change and to analysis.
Despite Jacobs’ highly sophisticated theological efforts to articulate a non-fundamentalist position on the nature of revelation and Jewish law, and despite the many merits of that position, his stance creates many difficulties.
To equate the collective will of the Community of Israel with Judaism is problematic. Not only can such a notion be used to justify any idea or deed, no matter how intellectually preposterous or morally abhorrent, by invoking the motto vox populi vox Dei , but it suggests that any current generation of Jews, no matter how distant they may be from Jewish life or learning, may collectively decide the nature of Judaism. When Jews lived in the uni-cultural kehilot of Europe and were immersed in Jewish life and learning, such a position might be defensible, but, at present, when many are ignorant of Jewish thought and practice, its viability may be doubted. Furthermore, to claim that the collective voice of the people determined the tradition is to endanger the possibility for authentic minority dissent. Indeed, the views of minority dissenters, like Maimonides and the Kotzker Rebbe, cannot be eliminated from Judaism simply because they did not hold views in accordance with the collective will of the Community of Israel. To adopt this position is potentially to threaten Jacobs’ own understanding of Judaism as a multi-faceted, rather than a monolithic, faith.
To replace the absolutism of fundamentalism with the absolutism of the Volkgeist merely transfers authority from presumed divine dictates to the presumed collective will of the people, discarding an objective standard for a subjective, socially determined one. Furthermore, revelation remains monologic rather than dialogic. For the fundamentalist, revelation is a monologue of God to Israel. For Jacobs, revelation is a monologue of Israel to God.
His claim that because the mitsvot, developed by the people of Israel, bring men to God, they must, therefore, be considered as if they were commanded by God, is never adequately defended. It does not necessarily follow that because revelation is a monologue of Israel to God that it is also a monologue of God to Israel.
Jacobs’ claim that “the whole of the Torah is minhag, custom” is similarly problematic. There are certainly adequate grounds in classical Judaism to defend the claim that minhag is Torah; i.e., that the customs and traditions developed by the people may become integrated into the Torah (in the generic, expansive use of term; i.e., into the Tradition). However, it does not follow that Torah in its entirety, that all of Jewish tradition, is the product of the creative energies of the Jewish people. A non-fundamentalist alternative position to that of Jacobs might argue for a dialogic view of revelation in which Judaism is understood to consist of an objective, divine element and a subjective, human one: the latter including custom and rabbinic legislation, etc., and the former including the basic ideas and institutions of Jewish faith such as, for example, monotheism, the Sabbath, or the chosenness of Israel. To posit both objective and subjective elements within Judaism would provide a non fundamentalist stance which would prevent Judaism from becoming a socially determined or personally idiosyncratic affair.
While Jacobs may be correct in perceiving his approach as being amenable to many modern Jews, it does not seem viable from the standpoint of Jewish tradition itself. Though he implies that modernity ought to serve as a standard by which to measure the viability of various observances, that is certainly not his view, for elsewhere he has written:
It is only an attitude of cynical expediency that justifies the ruthless pruning of challenging ideas by labeling them “outmoded”. The yardstick to be employed is not that nebulous concept “modern thought” but Jewish tradition itself.
Jacobs is not unaware of the difficulties inherent within his position, yet, like so many others who hold similar views, he persists in trying to attain the elusive synthesis of tradition and change. One can only hope that he will continue to develop and refine his views on Jewish law and religious observance.
Studies in Rabbinics
Though Jacobs’ theological works, popular writings, and his studies in Jewish mysticism have received some attention, his studies in rabbinics, because of their highly technical nature, have had but a limited readership. These studies rest upon assumptions set down in his theological works. Only when classical Jewish literature is assumed to have been a product of human literary creativity and not a product of divine dictation does critical analysis become possible.
The fact that the rabbis were interested mainly in discussing the word of God and applying it to the life of their people need not blind us to the recognition of the literary form and style of their greatest monument, the Babylonian Talmud.
His investigations into Talmudic history, economics and literary form have been a constant concern, starting with his doctoral dissertation, his earliest essays and his first scholarly book, Studies in Talmudic Logic and Methodology, whose first section deals with the forms of argument in Talmudic literature. Though extensive work on this subject had already been done by other scholars, especially Adolf Schwarz, Jacobs critically evaluates their claims and presents his own views. He demonstrates that not only deduction was known to ancient rhetoric in general and to rabbinic rhetoric in particular – as other scholars had maintained – but that induction, as well, was known and employed. In the opening chapter, Jacobs refutes Schwarz’s long-held view that the kal va-homer form of argument, found in both Biblical and rabbinic literature, is similar to the Aristotelian syllogism. On the contrary, Jacobs forcefully argues that the kal va-homer is not like the syllogism, but may be compared, rather, to a form of Indian inference known as kimpunar.
The second chapter provides an intriguing exercise in intellectual history. Here the author demonstrates a remarkable affinity between an early rabbinic form of argument, binyan av, and a form of argument discussed in the nineteenth century by John Stuart Mill. Next, Jacobs examines the Talmudic form of argument called sebhara and contends that it is roughly equivalent to “common sense.” (He implicitly suggests a similarity between the sebhara and the “reasonable man” criterion in Anglo-American law.) Finally, he discusses the use of the reductio ad absurdum in Talmudic literature.
The second section of this book deals with “Talmudic methodology”. Like Abraham Weiss and, more recently, David Halivni-Weiss and Jacob Neusner, Jacobs utilizes literary criticism to analyze Talmudic sources. He maintains that, for the sake of literary art and pedagogical stimulation, the editors of the Talmud skillfully “worked-up” a story from materials which they already had. As a result of the writings of Jacobs and others, the popular view that the Talmud is a disorganized hodgepodge of unrelated, unstructured and undisciplined discourses should be laid to rest. He summarizes his research into the literary style of the Talmud as follows:
(The Talmud, i.e., the Gemara) is far from being a verbatim report of discussions, which took place in the Babylonian schools but is rather a contrived literary product of great skill, in which older material has been reshaped by methods having a close resemblance to those of literary artists throughout the ages.
Studies in Jewish Mysticism
Jacobs’ vast knowledge of the intricacies of Kabbalistic thought is clearly evident throughout his theological and popular writings. Though ideas rooted in Jewish mysticism have long been anathema to modern Jewish theological discourse, Jacobs has reinjected it with an infusion of mystical notions.
Most recent studies in Jewish mysticism have emerged from the pens of Gershom Scholem and his disciples. While thoroughly aware of the writings of the “Scholem School,” Jacobs remains essentially uninfluenced by them and has formulated his own unique approach to Jewish mysticism, in general, and to hasidism in particular, especially Habad or Lubavitch. He does not seek Sabbatean influences behind every hasidic tree, as does the “Scholem school”, nor does he perceive hasidism primarily as a variety of proto-existentialism , devoid of sophisticated systems of thought, a la the popularizers of hasidism, such as Buber. Jacobs is neither a hasid nor an apologist for hasidism; he only attempts to elucidate and to analyze aspects of hasidism that are often overlooked by others.
He has three major studies on the subject – Seeker of Unity, Tract on Ecstasy, and Hasidic Prayer. In the first book, he carefully examines the life and works of Rabbi Aaron Horowitz of Starosselje (1766-1828). A little known hasidic master, Rabbi Aaron was an unconventional, but highly sophisticated, speculative mystic and a disciple of Schneur Zalmen of Liady, the founder of Lubavitch hasidism. Seeker of Unity portrays a side of hasidism virtually otherwise unavailable to the English reader and pro vides evidence that hasidism did produce mystical theology of a highly complex and intricate nature. Besides portraying the “cerebral” side of hasidism, Jacobs also offers to the reader of Seeker of Unity what is probably the clearest statement in English of the Zoharitic doctrine of the sefirot (Divine effusions, emanations) and of the Lurianic concept of tsimtsum (Divine contraction).
In this study of Rabbi Aaron, Jacobs shows how one specific Jewish mystic dealt with the theosophical problem that is at the root of Kabbalistic speculation: how does one account for the existence of anything other than God; how does one account for the emergence of a finite universe from an infinite God? Hence, Rabbi Aaron’s system, as elucidated by Jacobs, deserves a chapter in the long history of philosophical cosmology as well as in the history of Jewish mysticism.
Towards the end of Seeker of Unity, Jacobs turns to a discussion of “practical mysticism”; i.e., the knowledge gained during the mystical experience. This concern pervades Tract on Ecstasy and Hasidic Prayer. A significant, though unfortunate, characteristic of Jewish mystical literature is the virtual absence of “diaries” in which the mystic describes the forms and stages of rapture that he has experienced. An exception to this rule is the Kuntras Ha-Hitpaalut of Dobh Baer of Lubavitch. Jacobs’ Tract on Ecstasy is a masterful translation of this rare gem of Kabbalistic literature. Generously introduced and annotated, the Tract . . . invites both scholar and layman into a fascinating but unexplored area of writing. For those in search of a particularly and authentically Jewish guide to meditation, the Tract . . . should be required reading. In this vein, reference should be made to the more recent work, Jewish Mystical Testimonies. A major compilation of felicitously translated and clearly explained primary sources, it provides a pervasive survey of the varieties of Jewish mystical experiences to be found in the scant literature of Jewish mystical biography and autobiography.
Just as mystical diaries are a rarity in Kabbalistic literature, so is the notion of unio mystica – the union of the mystic with the Divine. Though it is an essential feature of other mystical traditions, the claim has been that it is virtually absent in Jewish mysticism. Jacobs, however, in his Kabbalistic studies, demonstrates its presence in both theoretical and practical Jewish mysticism.
He shows that there is a strand of Judaism which held that the demarcation between the divine and the human is not absolute. From Biblical theology, through medieval Jewish philosophy and anti-Christian polemics, a concerted effort was made to distinguish the divine from the human, God from man. However, as Jacobs shows, late Jewish mystical speculation endeavored to erase that distinction. Man’s soul, rather than being considered a creation of God, was perceived to be “a part of God”. Hence, the goal of mystical experience, as presented by Rabbi Aaron and by Dobh Baer, was reunification of the divine soul within man with the Divine source from which it emerged. In this view, the aim of prayer at its highest level is “annihilation of the self” in order to achieve a level of rapture in which unio mystica is attained. Both Rabbi Aaron and Dobh Baer offer a road-map as to how that ultimate mystical experience may be achieved.
In Hasidic Prayer, Jacobs implicitly rebuts a commonly asserted claim that Judaism is a “this-worldly” religion. He demonstrates that for the greatest revivalist movement which Judaism has produced – hasidism – the ultimate goal of religious existence, specifically of prayer, is to forsake the world; to abandon the self; to affirm our empirical observations as being saturated with illusion; to consider our world an illusion in the mind of God; to seek union with the ultimate Reality, with the Divine.
Before concluding a discussion of Jacobs’ writings on Jewish mysticism, one should note his masterful translation of one of the great classics of Kabbalistic pietica, Moses Cordevero’s (1522-1570) Palm Tree of Deborah (Tomer Devorah). While much attention has been paid to the moralistic writings of the Jewish philosophers, little effort has been expended upon elucidating the nature of the ethical notions that emerge from the theosophic speculation of leading Kabbalists. This translation of the ethical treatise by classical Kabbalism’s greatest systematic thinker is a welcome contribution. It is noteworthy that Jacobs applies some of Cordevero’s ideas in his own popular discussions of Jewish ethics.
Jacobs’ writings offer a balance between learned and popular expression. Despite his profound scholarship, he is always the teacher, the preacher, seeking to reach the many, seeking to enchant and to stimulate the layman. While many scholars find it nearly impossible to popularize difficult ideas and while many writers can do no more than vulgarize the sublime and the complex, Jacobs’ literary and pedagogic gifts provide his readers with “popularization” in the best sense of the term. For Jacobs, the popular need not be “beneath the concern of the serious”. “It is in many ways harder to write a popular book with clarity than a learned one,” he says. Besides his popular exposition of theological concerns in We Have Reason to Believe and his discussion of Jewish Values, he treats various aspects of prayer and liturgy in three other small books: Guide to Yom Kippur, Guide to Rosh HaShana and Jewish Prayer.
Not only has Jacobs attempted to popularize complex ideas, he has also mined the vast resources of all genres of Jewish literature in order to compose a series of masterfully translated and clearly explained texts, enabling the reader who is uninitiated in Jewish law, philosophy , exegesis, or mysticism to encounter the primary sources themselves. This series, entitled The Chain of Tradition and originally intended for high school use, is appropriate for anyone interested in hearing the sources speak for themselves.
Jacobs’ more recent book, What Does Judaism Say About…? provides concise, erudite statements on one hundred and ten issues of social, moral, theological and legal concern. It is a treasure trove for the curious, treating topics such as: advertising, artificial insemination, change of sex operations, cremation, drugs, ecology, euthanasia, extra-sensory perception, faith healing, hijacking, hypnotism, nudism, patriotism, pornography, and reincarnation.
Louis Jacobs’ penchant for clarity, his passion for cogency and his always startling erudition make both his scholarly and popular works an inestimable intellectual adventure for the scholar as well as for the layman. His unrivaled ability to confront honestly and forcefully the theological problems of our times provides contemporary Jewry with a “guide to the perplexed.”
 Louis Jacobs, A Jewish Theology (New York: Behrmann House, 1973); Kaufmann Kohler, Jewish Theology: Systematically and Historically Considered (New York: KTAV, 1968, 2nd edition). Samuel S. Cohon began a systematic Jewish theology in the late 1930s but never completed it.
 A Jewish Theology, pp. 14-15.
 Louis Jacobs, Faith (New York: Basic Books, 1968).
 Faith, pp. 113-126; A Jewish Theology, pp. 116-135.
 A Jewish Theology, pp. 281-283.
 On the Jacobs controversy, see: Chaim Bermant, Troubled Eden (New York: Basic Books, 1970), Chapter Nineteen; Ignaz Maybaum, “The Jacobs Affair,” Judaism 13, (1964), pp. 471-77; Alfred Sherman, “The Jacobs Affair,” Commentary 38 (October 1964), pp. 60-64; Sefton Temkin, “A Crisis in Anglo-Jewry,” Conservative Judaism 18 (Fall, 1963), pp. 18-35.
 Louis Jacobs, We Have Reason to Believe (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1957).
 Louis Jacobs, Principles of the Jewish Faith (New York: Basic Books, 1964).
 For Jacobs’ views on revelation and observance of Jewish law, see, Principles of the Jewish Faith, pp. 289-301; A Jewish Theology, pp. 199-230. Many modern Jewish theologians have been often justifiably accused of being generally ignorant of halakhic literature. In Theology in the Responsa (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975), Jacobs demonstrates the irrelevancy of this charge if directed at himself. This pioneering study of the relationship between Jewish theology and Jewish law will undoubtedly engender future studies on the aggadah in the halakhah, the halakhah in the aggadah, and on the relationship between them.
 Sabbath 112b.
 Jewish Theology, p. 202. Unfortunately, Jacobs limits his discussion of “progressive revelation” to the articulation of that position embraced by Classical Reform Judaism. Compare, for example, Robert Gordis who maintains that progress is not necessarily unilinear; that the graph has its dips and that human life and Jewish life continually progresses in terms of ascending spirals.
 A Jewish Theology, p. 203.
 Ibid., p. 214.
 See the discussion and sources noted by Abraham J. Heschel in his Torah Min HaShamayim [Theology of Ancient Judaism] (New York: Soncino, 1965), Vol. II, pp. 282-285.
 For an analysis of some of these difficulties, see: Menachem Kellner, “Louis Jacobs’ Doctrine of Revelation,” Tradition XIV, 4 (Fall, 1974), pp. 143-148.
 Jacobs’ position in this regard approximates Solomon Schechter’s notion of “Catholic Israel,” which was formulated when the majority of Jews were observant. This concept was offered as an alternative to the innovations made by Reform rabbinic synods and to the Orthodox claim that the Shulkhan arukh was the ultimate halakhic authority. To assert this position at a time when the majority of Jews are not committed to Jewish life and practice is problematic for Schechter as well as for Jacobs. In Principles, Jacobs himself notes the difficulties of this view. For example, at the time of Elijah, when most Jews worshipped the Baal and only the minority worshiped God, Baalism might have been said to represent the collective will of the community of Israel or Catholic Israel (p. 297). To affirm this notion today, when the majority of Jews do not observe the Sabbath and the dietary laws, for example, would imply that such observance is no longer part of Judaism as it does not express the collective will of the Jewish people. Jacobs might have considered attempts to reformulate Schechter’s notion, such as that proposed by Robert Gordis, for whom Catholic Israel might be defined as referring not to all Jews, but only to the majority or consensus of those Jews concerned with Jewish religious tradition and committed to its observance. (See Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly (1942) pp. 78-81; Judaism for the Modern Age, pp. 166-186.) For individuals such as Gordis and Jacobs, who identify with Conservative Judaism, this redefinition is also problematic, for, if Catholic Israel is so defined, Orthodoxy might justifiably claim that it is Catholic Israel and that it should determine what Judaism is. One may suggest, however, that Catholic Israel might be usefully construed to denote not the collective will of the people of Israel or of committed Jews, but of the social factor in the development of Judaism; that is, not the sole factor, but one of a number of factors in determining Jewish belief and practice at a given time and place.
 A Jewish Theology, p. 224.
 See, for example, the statements of Jacob Mollin (Maharil) and Judah Loew of Prague (Maharal), “The custom of our forefathers is Torah” (Minha avoteinu, torah hu.); Shulkhan arukh – Yoreh Deah 376:4 (Isserles quoting Mollin) and Judah Loew’s Netivot Olam, “Netiv Ha-Torah,” Chapter 7. R. Meir of Rothenberg is quoted as saying “The customs of the communities are Torah, even where such customs abrogate halakhah.” See Sefer Tashbetz 2:63.
 A variant of this position has been formulated by Robert Gordis in A Faith For Moderns (New York: Block Publishing, 1960), pp. 136-159; and Judaism for the Modern Age (New York: Farrar, Strauss, Cudahy, 1955), pp. 153-166. I also have delineated such a position at length in an essay, “Philosophies of Jewish Law” to be published in Jacob Agus, ed., Conservative Jewish Thought Today.
 Louis Jacobs, Jewish Values (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1960), pp. 9-10.
 Louis Jacobs, Studies in Talmudic Logic and Methodology (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1961); “Are There Fictitious Baraitot in the Babylonian Talmud?” Hebrew Union College Annual 42, (1971), pp. 185-197; “The Talmudic Sugya as a Literary Unit,” Journal of Jewish Studies 24, (1973), pp. 119-127; “A Study of Four Parallel Sugyot,” Journal of Jewish Studies 25, (1974), pp. 389-411; “How much of the Babylonian Talmud is Pseudepigraphic,” Journal of Jewish Studies 28, (1977), pp. 46-60.
 Studies in Talmudic Logic, p. 69.
 Louis Jacobs, “The Economic Situation of Jews in Babylonia” (Hebrew) Melila 5, (1955), pp. 83-100; “The Economic Conditions of the Jews in Babylon in Talmudic Times Compares with Palestine,” Journal of Semitic Studies (1957), pp. 349-359.
 Louis Jacobs, “The Qual va-Homer Argument in the Old Testament,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 35, (1972), pp. 221-227.
 Louis Jacobs, Seeker of Unity (New York: Basic Books, 1966); Tract on Ecstasy (London: Vallentine Michell, 1963); Hasidic Prayer (New York: Schocken, 1973).
 See Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York: Schocken, 1941), p. 121.
 Louis Jacobs, Jewish Mystical Testimonies (New York: Schocken, 1977).
 Scholem, Major Trends, p. 5.
 Louis Jacobs, “The Doctrine of the ‘Divine Spark’ in Man in Jewish Sources,” in Studies in Rationalism, Judaism and Universalism, ed. R. Loewe (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966), pp. 87-115.
 Palm Tree of Deborah (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1960).
 See, for example, Jewish Values, p. 121.
 We Have Reason to Believe, p. 151.
 Louis Jacobs, A Guide to Yom Kippur (London: Jewish Chronicle, 1957); A Guide to Ros HaShana (London: Jewish Chronicle, 1959); Jewish Prayer (London: Jewish Chronicle, 1955).
 Louis Jacobs, Jewish Kaw (New York: Behrman House, 1968); Jewish Ethics, Philosophy and Mysticism (New York: Behrman House, 1969); Jewish Thought Today (New York: Behrman House, 1970); Jewish Biblical Exegesis (New York: Behrman House, 1973); Hasidic Thought (New York: Behrman House, 1977).
 Louis Jacobs, What Does Judaism Say About…? (New York: Quadrangle Books, 1973).