Louis Jacobs and the Quest for a Contemporary Jewish Theology

BookLouis Jacobs and the Quest for a Contemporary Jewish Theology

Louis Jacobs and the Quest for a Contemporary Jewish Theology

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


January 1st, 2023





For Louis Jacobs, the quest—engaging with and thinking about Jewish faith—was a lifelong pursuit. He offered a model for an observant, committed, but intellectually curious Judaism, that empowered individual seekers to address challenges to faith. His theology emerged in the 1960s, a period characterized by general religious crisis. In Orthodox Judaism a battle was under way  for religious control. Generating a widespread controversy known as the ‘Jacobs affair’, his thought offers a lens for examining the trajectory of Orthodoxy. Today, the focus of debate has shifted considerably, reflecting the changing cultural and intellectual concerns of a ‘post-secular’ age. Yet Jacobs’s emphasis on a personal quest is as relevant as ever.

This first book-length analysis of his theology unpacks the building blocks of his thought. It argues that, despite its particularities and limitations, his approach can provide a powerful model for contemporary religious seekers in the context of a growing impetus away from established, denominationally bound, forms of religion. Many Orthodox Jews still prefer the certainty of unquestionable religious truth claims, rather than pursuing a subjective search for religious meaning. For those seeking alternative models for the contemporary Jewish quest a reconsideration of Jacobs’s theology can offer valuable tools.

‘A major study of an important twentieth-century Jewish thinker and religious leader, whom I was privileged to know and learn from.’ 

David Novak, Fellow of St. Michael's College, University of Toronto

Author Information

Miri Freud-Kandel is Lecturer in Modern Judaism in the Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford; Fellow in Modern Judaism at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, and co-convenor of the Oxford Summer Institute on Modern and Contemporary Judaism. She is the author of Orthodox Judaism in Britain Since 1913: An Ideology Forsaken (2006) and co-editor, with Adam S. Ferziger and Steven Bayme, of Yitz Greenberg and Modern Orthodoxy: The Road Not Taken (2019).

Table of Contents

Section TitlePage
Part I. The Grinning Cheshire Cat 
1. The Making of Louis Jacobs
2. Tradition vs. Orthodoxy
3. The Jew in the Pew
Part II. Liberal Supernaturalism: The Theology of Louis Jacobs 
4. God
5. Torah
6. Israel
Part III. The Contemporary Jewish Quest: From Cheshire Cat to Tinkerer
7. Revelation in Context: From Louis Jacobs to TheTorah.com
8. The Tyranny of Labels
9. Mysticism and the New Age
10. Truth and Faith
Conclusion: Reconsidering Jacobs for the Contemporary Jewish Quest