Modern Jewish Theology


Modern Jewish Theology

The First One Hundred Years, 1835–1935

Edited by Samuel J. Kessler and George Y. Kohler

JPS Anthologies of Jewish Thought Series

430 pages


December 2023


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December 2023


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December 2023


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About the Book

Modern Jewish Theology is the first comprehensive collection of Jewish theological ideas from the pathbreaking nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, featuring selections from more than thirty of the most influential Jewish thinkers of the era as well as explorations of Judaism’s identity, uniqueness, and relevance; the origin of ethical monotheism; and the possibility of Jewish existentialism. These works—most translated for the first time into English by top scholars in modern Jewish history and philosophy—reveal how modern Jewish theology developed in concert with broader trends in Jewish intellectual and social modernization, especially scholarship (Wissenschaft des Judentums), politics (liberalism and Zionism), and religious practice (movement Judaism and the struggles to transcend denominational boundaries).

This anthology thus opens to the English-language reader a true treasure house of source material from the formative years of modern Jewish thought, bringing together writings from the very first generations, who imagined biblical and rabbinic texts and modern scientific research would produce a synthetic view of God, Israel, and the world. A general introduction and chapter introductions guide students and nonspecialists through the key themes and transformations in modern Jewish theology, and extensive annotations immerse them in the latest scholarship.

Author Bio

Samuel J. Kessler is Åke and Kristina Bonnier Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies and an assistant professor of religion at Gustavus Adolphus College. He is the author of The Formation of a Modern Rabbi: The Life and Times of the Viennese Scholar and Preacher Adolf Jellinek. George Y. Kohler is an associate professor in the Department of Jewish Philosophy and director of the Joseph Carlebach Institute for Jewish Theology at Bar Ilan University. He is the author of Kabbalah Research in the Wissenschaft des Judentums (1820–1880): The Foundation of an Academic Discipline and Reading Maimonides’ Philosophy in 19th Century Germany: The Guide to Religious Reform.


“Exciting! This anthology has the potential to help reframe the entire field of modern Jewish thought. Its study tends to leave out the nineteenth century almost totally—and yet, as the editors show, this was an extremely important period for the development of Jewish thought and the attempt to negotiate modern sensibilities about religion and science. Additionally, because many of the nineteenth-century figures were at the intersection of Wissenschaft and philosophy, attending to them can better integrate modern Jewish thought into Jewish studies as a whole.”—Robert Erlewine, professor and director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Eastern Michigan University and author of Judaism and the West: From Hermann Cohen to Joseph Soloveitchik

“What a gold mine! You have before you the keys to a world of rich, provocative, and often still startlingly relevant Jewish thinking. There was a robust Jewish theological conversation before Heschel and Soloveitchik, before Kaplan and Levinas, before Plaskow and Adler, but only now, with this wonderful volume, has this vital world opened to non-specialists and non-German readers.”—Shai Held, president and dean of Hadar and author of The Heart of Torah

Modern Jewish Theology will be an indispensable and enduring resource for scholars, students, and teachers.”—Asher D. Biemann, professor in the Department of Religious Studies, Jewish Studies Program, University of Virginia

Table of Contents

Notes on Translations and Annotations
List of Abbreviations
Part 1. Writing Theological Modernity: The Nineteenth Century
1. The Essentials of Judaism
Gotthold Salomon, “Thirteen Basic Teachings of Religion” (1829) 
    Translated by Dana Rubinstein
Michael Creizenach, “Foundational Doctrines of Israelite Belief” (1833) 
    Translated by George Y. Kohler
Joseph Dernburg, “The Essence of Judaism According to Its Most General Principles” (1839) 
    Translated by Michael A. Meyer
Zecharias Frankel, “Speech at the Memorial Service for the Benefactor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Breslau” (1855) 
    Translated by Thomas Abraham Tearney
Ludwig Philippson, “Introduction to the Five Books of Moses” (1844) 
    Translated by Alexandra Zirkle
Samuel David Luzzatto, “Lessons in Jewish Dogmatic Theology” (1863) 
    Translated by Emanuel Fiano
2. Torah as Law and Ritual
Samson Raphael Hirsch, “Nineteen Letters Concerning Judaism: Eighteenth Letter” (1836)
    Translated by Paul Franks
Abraham Geiger, “The Relation of the Natural Meaning of Scripture to Its Talmudic Interpretation” (1844) 
    Translated by George Y. Kohler
Samuel Holdheim, “The Ceremonial Law in the Kingdom of the Messiah” (1845)
    Translated by George Y. Kohler
Leopold Stein, “The Necessity of the Written Law” (1877) 
    Translated by Samuel J. Kessler
Heinrich Graetz, “Correspondence of an English Lady about Judaism and Semitism: Fourteenth Letter” (1883) 
    Translated by Maren Scheurer
Manuel Joel, “Toward an Orientation in the Question of Cult” (1869) 
    Translated by Samuel J. Kessler
3. The Relevance of Judaism
Salomon Formstecher, “Religion of the Spirit” (1841) 
    Translated by Gershon Greenberg
Sigismund Stern, “The Task of Jews and Judaism in the Present Age” (1845) 
    Translated by Michael Zank
Samuel Hirsch, “The Religious Philosophy of the Jews” (1842) 
    Translated by Gershon Greenberg
David Einhorn, “The Benefits of the Jewish Doctrine of God” (1852) 
    Translated by Michael A. Meyer
4. God    
Joseph Lewin Saalschütz, “Ethical Monotheism” (1844) 
    Translated by Noa Sophie Kohler
David Kaufmann, “On Maimonides’ Negative Theology” (1877) 
    Translated by Shira Billet
Part 2. Twilight of Modernity: The Early Twentieth Century
5. The Search for Essence
Hermann Cohen, “Judaism as a Worldview” (1898) 
    Translated by Samuel J. Kessler
Heymann Steinthal, “The Idea of the Creation of the World” (1899) 
    Translated by Mary M. Solberg
Leo Baeck, “Revelation and World Religion” (1905) 
    Translated by Victor Grubenwieser and Leonard Pearl
Solomon Schechter, “Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology” (1909) 
Max Wiener, “On the Being and Meaning of God” (1937) 
    Translated by Robert S. Schine
6. Judaism and the Origin of Ethics
Moritz Güdemann, “Instruction and Life” (1902) 
    Translated by Brian Britt and Steve Britt
Benzion Kellermann, “Liberal Judaism” (1907) 
    Translated by Garrett E. Paul
Moritz Lazarus, “The Ethics of Judaism” (1898) 
    Translated by Henrietta Szold
Benno Jacob, “Judaism and the Results of Assyriology” (1902) 
    Translated by Noa Sophie Kohler
7. What Is Distinctive about Jewish Theology?
Kaufmann Kohler, “Jewish Theology” (1918) 
Julius Guttmann, “Establishing Norms for Jewish Belief” (1927) 
    Translated by Gertrude Hirschler
Alexander Altmann, “What Is Jewish Theology?” (1933) 
    Translated by Edith Ehrlich and Leonard H. Ehrlich
Part 3. The Existentialist Turn: The Weimar Years and Beyond
8. Theological Existentialism
Martin Buber, “Judaism and the Jews” (1911) 
    Translated by Eva Jospe
Franz Rosenzweig, “The Star of Redemption” (1921) 
    Translated by Benjamin Pollock
List of Contributors

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