JUDAISM AND WORLD RELIGION

Judaism and World Religion. London: Macmillan and New York: St Martin’s Press, 1991. ISBN 0-312-06863-8 JUDAISM AND WORLD RELIGION

This was my first published book. I don’t think many people have read it, which is rather a pity as it contains some good stuff (not all of which I go along with today). It ranges widely, from conservation of the environment, through the ethical problems of economic life, to matters of state and religion. There are philosophical issues too; what is the ultimate hope for people (‘Messiah’), how do we reconcile suffering and radical evil with traditional forms of belief in God, and why does God allow such confusion and disagreement about fundamentals to prevail amongst religious believers?

What, then, is the theme of the book? It focuses on a problem that affects all religions equally (hence the title). The sources of religion (Bible, Talmud, Church fathers, Quran and the like) were all set down in writing in worlds very different from ours. Can we derive guidance from these ancient writings for our present circumstances? Even if we were people of perfect faith within our respective communities, ready and eager and obedient and wanting nothing better than to decide about conservation, or the welfare state, or the politics of the Near East, or Third World Debt, on the basis of our traditions, is it possible to do so? Traditionalists certainly try to do this, which is why they so often cite the Bible and other sources in support of their arguments. I aim to make explicit the processes of reasoning involved when people do this, and to ask whether and how such extrapolation can be justified. Even where it is not logically justified, is there some other justification for such a procedure, perhaps the fact that constant reference to a traditional source and vocabulary helps social bonding within the faith community, offers firm anchorage in an insecure world?