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

472 pages


December 2023


$40.00 Pre-order

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, and 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 that imagined biblical and rabbinic texts and modern scientific research producing a synthetic view of God, Israel, and the world. A general introduction and chapter introductions guide students and non-specialists 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 an assistant professor of religion and Åke and Kristina Bonnier Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies at Gustavus Adolphus College, and 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
Part 1: Writing Theological Modernity: The Nineteenth Century
1. The Essentials of Judaism
Gotthold Salomon, “Thirteen Basic Teachings of Religion.” (1829) (Trans. by Dana Rubinstein.)
Michael Creizenach, “Foundational Doctrines of Israelite Belief.” (1833) (Trans. by George Y. Kohler.)
Joseph Dernburg, “The Essence of Judaism According to Its Most General Principles.” (1839) (Trans. by Michael A. Meyer.)
Zecharias Frankel, “Speech at the Memorial Service for the Benefactor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Breslau.” (1855) (Translated by Thomas Tearney.)
Ludwig Philippson, “Introduction to the Five Books of Moses.” (1844) (Trans. by Alexandra Zirkle.)
Samuel David Luzzatto, “Lessons in Jewish Dogmatic Theology” (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) (Trans. by George Y. Kohler.)
Samuel Holdheim, “Ceremonial Law in the Kingdom of the Messiah.” (1845) (Trans. by George Y. Kohler.)
Leopold Stein, “The Necessity of the Written Law.” (1877) (Trans. by Samuel J. Kessler.)
Heinrich Graetz, “Correspondence of an English Lady about Judaism and Semitism.” (1883) (Trans. by Maren Scheurer.)
Manuel Joel, “Toward an Orientation in the Question of Cult.” (1869) (Trans. by Samuel J. Kessler.)
3. The Relevance of Judaism
Salomon Formstecher, “Religion of the Spirit.” (1841) (Trans. by Gershon Greenberg.)
Sigismund Stern, “The Tasks of Jews and Judaism in the Present Age.” (1845) (Trans. by Michael Zank.)
Samuel Hirsch, “The Religious Philosophy of the Jews.” (1842) (Trans. by Gershon Greenberg.)
David Einhorn, “The Benefits of the Jewish Doctrine of God.” (1852) (Trans. by Michael A. Meyer.)
4. God
Josef Lewin Saalschütz, “Ethical Monotheism.” (1844) (Trans. by Noa Sophie Kohler.)
David Kaufmann, “On Maimonides’ Negative Theology.” (1877)  (Trans. by Shira Billet.)
Part 2: Twilight of Modernity: The Early Twentieth Century
5. The Search for Essence
Hermann Cohen, “Judaism as a Worldview.” (1898) (Trans. by Samuel J. Kessler.)
Heymann Steinthal, “The Idea of the Creation of the World.” (1899) (Trans. by Mary Solberg.)
Leo Baeck, Revelation and World Religion (1905) (Trans. Victor Grubenwieser and Leonard Pearl.)
Solomon Schechter, “Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology.” (1909)
Max Wiener, “On the Being and Meaning of God.” (1937) (Trans. by Robert S. Schine.)
6. Judaism and the Origin of Ethics
Moritz Güdemann, “Instruction and Life.” (1902) (Trans. by Brian Britt & Steve Britt.)
Benzion Kellermann, “Liberal Judaism.” (1907) (Trans. by Garrett E. Paul.)
Moritz Lazarus, “The Ethics of Judaism.” (1898) (Trans. Henrietta Szold.)
Benno Jacob, “Judaism and the Results of Assyriology.” (1902) (Trans. by Noa Sophie Kohler)
7. What is Distinct About Jewish Theology?
Kaufmann Kohler, “Jewish Theology.” (1918)
Julius Guttmann, “Establishing Norms for Jewish Belief.” (1927) (Trans. Gertrude Hirscher.)
Alexander Altmann, “What is Jewish Theology?” (1933) (Trans. Edith Ehrlich and Leonard H. Ehrlich.)
Part 3: The Existentialist Turn: The Weiman Years and Beyond
8. Theological Existentialism
Martin Buber, “Judaism and the Jews.” (1911) (Trans. Eva Jospe)
Franz Rosenzweig, “The Star of Redemption.” (1921) (Trans. by Benjamin Pollock.)
List of Translators
Source Notes

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