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date: 16 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the thoughts of the most significant and influential theologians in American Jewish religious life, Mordecai Kaplan and Abraham Joshua Heschel. Emerging from the pragmatism and naturalism of the early decades of the century, Kaplan fostered a fascination with humanity that led him to eschew traditional Judaism's theocentric views of morality. For him, it would be better to understand Judaism as a civilization—no better and no worse than others—and jettison mitzvoth (commandments) in favour of “folkways” so as to inspire social behaviour, for it is through the folk themselves that morality comes into being. Heschel, by contrast, favours a more mystical and theocentric approach. For him the prophets best articulated the apocalyptic dangers of even the smallest immorality and the need to rise above human communities to root morality in God's will for us.

Keywords: Mordecai Kaplan, Abraham Joshua Heschel, American Jewish theologians, Judaism, morality

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