Originally published in the Jewish Chronicle, 8th March 1985.
The Book of Jewish Belief. By Louis Jacobs. Behrman House Press. New York. Available from Jewish Chronicle Publications at £11.25.
This book does not look like a book on Jewish theology. The format is similar to that of the “Jewish Catalogue” series—paperback, numerous illustrations, boxed inserts on almost every page, short chapters and easy text.
It is more than likely that the combination of all these ingredients will attract a wide readership—particularly among the intelligent young. This is no mean achievement of the author and the publishers.
For, while the “Catalogue” series can treat Judaism as a lot of fun, it is a little more difficult to apply such methods to a subject like Jewish theology. Dr Jacobs and Behrman House are to be congratulated on the result of their joint efforts.
The author deals with all the concepts in classical Jewish religious philosophy, such as the concepts of God, Torah, mitzvot, the Chosen People, the Messiah and the Hereafter. In addition, he devotes a section dealing with the religious institutions of Judaism such as the Sabbath and festivals, kashrut, tallit, tefillin and mezuza.
In these matters, Rabbi Jacobs not only describes the mitzva and its observances, but handles it conceptually in order to bring out its main teachings. He also includes six welcome chapters on ethical topics and thus provides a necessary balance, even in a book on Jewish theology, to show that Jewish thought emphasises the centrality of man’s ethical relationship with his fellow.
Another welcome feature are his chapters on the Holocaust and the State of Israel. The theological implications of both these world-shaking events cannot be left alone by modern theologians.
When it comes to some controversial subjects, Rabbi Jacobs’ approach is generally to describe both the traditional view and its modern alternative. Thus, in connection with the authorship of Torah, we are given a broad conspectus of ideas.
But he makes it abundantly clear that the non-fundamentalists who accept the historical-cultural view on the authorship of Torah need not be any less observant of the practical mitzvot of Judaism. Otherwise, his well-documented views on Revelation and the origins of .Torah are not particularly obvious in the present book.
There are a few minor points which are worth rectifying. Sometimes a boxed insert is a diversion to the reader when it does not appear on the actual page where the subject is discussed. And among the hundreds of striking illustrations there are a few, here and there, which do not seem to have relevance to the text. But these are very minor matters in a book which should be welcomed and enjoyed by a large readership.
Rabbi Dr CHAIM PEARL