Must a Jew Believe Anything?

BookMust a Jew Believe Anything?

Must a Jew Believe Anything?

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


March 9th, 2022

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The crucial question for today's Jewish world, Menachem Kellner argues, is not whether Jews will have Jewish grandchildren, but how many different sorts of mutually exclusive Judaisms those grandchildren will face. Kellner’s short, brisk, and accessible book examines how the split that threatens the Jewish future can be avoided.

The first six chapters of this strongly argued book analyse what religious faith means in classical Judaism and will be of interest to anyone seeking lucid insights into the nature of Judaism. The final chapter builds upon the conclusions of the first six in order to argue for a new way of construing the relationship of Orthodoxy to non-Orthodox Jews and institutions. Kellner argues that the Orthodox practice of framing the debate with non-Orthodox movements in terms of dogmatic fidelity contrasted with heresy is not the traditional Jewish approach, and that the debate could well be framed in other ways, ways that would allow all Jews to work together towards a less polarized Jewish future.

Undoubtedly, Must a Jew Believe Anything? has the potential to make a difference to how Orthodoxy understands itself and its relationship to other Jewish movements in the modern world.

For the second edition, the author has added a substantial Afterword, reviewing his thinking on the subject and addressing the reactions to the original edition.

'An important work in constructive Jewish philosophy by a leading international scholar of the field. It is also important as a document of the kind of thinking that characterizes modern Orthodoxy. The book is intelligent and academically solid as well as thought-provoking and controversial. It is a must read by anyone concerned with modern Jewish life who wants to understand an approach that affirms both Orthodoxy and a pluralistic sense of k'lal Yisrael without compromising integrity and religious commitment.'
Norbert Samuelson, CCAR Journal
'Kellner's book makes an important contribution to the possibility of dialogue between the different trends within Judaism and to the possibility of reducing the hostility and tension between them.'
Daniel Statman, Ha'aretz
 'Kellner is especially provocative. The challenge in his title almost jumps off the page as a cri de coeur, inviting a re-examination of beliefs taken for granted by Orthodox Jews for almost a millennium ... [he] demonstrates with passion and elegance how Maimonides radically transformed Judaism into an "ecclesiastical community" ... his social critique of the implication of dogma uniquely enhances our understanding of the Maimonidean project ... His thesis is an important one and should be read by all, encouraging urgently needed debate in the academy and the four ells of the yeshiva as well,'
James A. Diamond, Jewish History 
'A main contribution to a very timely question regarding the proper attitude of orthodox Judaism to non-orthodox and non-observant groups ... written with admirable clarity and touches of a highly relevant topic.' Daniel Statman, Journal of Jewish Studies 'This book has much to recommend it. Both scholarly and accessible, it is marked by a humane vision and a passionate commitment to a vibrant, outward looking Orthodox Judaism.'
David Berger, Tradition
'Over the last few years, an increasing number of people have been approaching me with crises of faith. One of the resources to which I direct them is Menachem Kellner's Must a Jew Believe Anything? It is, I believe, an outstanding work.'
Natan Slifkin, Rationalist Judaism
David S. Zinberg, Times of Israel

Author Information

Menachem Kellner is chair of the Department of Philosophy and Jewish Thought, Shalem College, Jerusalem and Wolfson Professor Emeritus of Jewish Thought, University of Haifa.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Cover 1
Half Title 2
Title Page4
Copyright 5
Dedication 6
1 Two Types of Faith22
Faith, Belief, and Trust23
Emunah in the Torah25
Theology and the Torah27
Classical Judaism and the Absence of Dogma35
2 Rabbinic Thought37
Testing for 'Required Beliefs'37
An Objection: Mishnah Sanhedrin X. l 44
A Defence of Dogma49
Heretics and Sectarians51
A 'Theology' of Action54
3 Why Judaism Acquired a Systematic Theology55
Behaviour and Belief55
Extrinsic Reasons for the Lack of Systematic Theology in Judaism57
Why Systematic Theology Developed among the Jews60
The Importation of Theology61
4 Maimonides: Dogma without Dogmatism63
Maimonides' Dogmas63
Maimonides on Inadvertent Heresy67
Maimonides on Conversion and the Nature of Faith69
Maimonides on Leaving Judaism71
Maimonides' 'Non-dogmatic' Dogmas: Science and Religious Faith72
Maimonides on Truth74
The Logic of Righteousness: Reason and Faith75
5 Maimonides: Impact, Implications, Challenges77
The Impact77
The Implications82
Challenges to Maimonides88
Was Maimonides Inconsistent? The Karaites93
6 Heresy-hunting98
Orthodoxy and Heresy98
Theology and Halakhah: A Category Mistake101
Three Contemporary Orthodox Statements103
Freedom of Enquiry104
The Illegitimacy of the Non-Orthodox106
The Three Statements: A Critique110
Why has Maimonides' Position become Dominant?115
The Maimonidean Bind119
7 How to Live with Other Jews121
Asking the Right Question121
So Who or What is a Jew Anyway?123
Non-Orthodox Jews and Judaisms 125
Maimonides and the Objectivity of Truth 130
Afterword 138
APPENDIX 1 Maimonides on Reward and Punishment 160
APPENDIX 2 The Thirteen Principles175
APPENDIX 3 Yigdal and Ani ma'amin 186
Note on Transliteration188
Note on Citation of Classical Sources189
Glossary 190
Biographical Notes on Jewish Thinkers193