Modern civilization has a terrible momentum, a frighteningly breathless rhythm that prods us all to forget what is genuinely important. “The end of all this delirium,” wrote the philosopher Jacques Maritain, “is to prevent man from remembering G-d.” An important new book by Israeli thinker Asher Keren, “A Time For Change,” reflects similar concerns.
The author, who works as a scientist and adviser in Israel’s biotechnology industry, is deeply distressed by the “dissonance of a fragmented Jewish world composed of fragmented individuals….” He recognizes that we Jews have lost our “inner selves” – a recognition that falls comprehensively into the critiques of mass society offered by Emerson, Ibsen, Ortega y’ Gasset, Kierkegaard, Hesse and Jung. He persuasively urges a renewed sense of balance. This can happen, we are instructed, only when “our sun, Jewish law, Halacha, truly reflects our inner being.”
Asher Keren is a distinguished thinker; his book is manifestly learned and his analyses are bold and creative. Unafraid to offend, he understands how far we have all come from living in harmony with our natural and inborn disposition. As Jews, our task is to remember G-d at all times, but before this can happen, we must first learn to be at peace with ourselves, to live and love and coexist according to “our internal essence.”
“A Time For Change” is not an easy read. On the contrary, it requires considerable diligence and intellectual energy. But it is well worth the effort because it contains a message that must be heard. Keren is assuredly correct that a Jewish embrace of “relativistic ideology” will be lethal, and that the Jewish state is always the individual Jew (authentic or inauthentic) in macrocosm. When we lose our path as individual Jews, so, too, does the State of Israel lose its way. Scrutinizing today’s Jewish world, the author considers the “various intellectual stances” that affect this world and that can help to restore a moment in time when human beauty was “a reflection of a much deeper aspect of the soul.”
We have, we learn from this challenging volume, a decidedly existential freedom – a “choice to either enhance or to devastate G-d’s creation.” In losing our own inner balance, we have also forfeited our personal sense of holiness. Living in a wider world that confuses images for reality – a world in which “the camera has replaced the pen” – we Jews are reminded of many responsibilities to restore sacredness – to ourselves as individuals and to the State of Israel.
Recalling the Hassidic concept of “avoda b’gashmiyut” (worship of G-d through the corporeal), Asher Keren understands that the World To Come must be reached through THIS world, and that this means adding holiness to all of one’s actions.
“In all your ways shall you know Him” (Proverbs 3:6). It is not the Jew’s task to disavow his natural human impulses, but rather to transform these impulses into what is good and what is sacred.
True communion with G-d is the heart of Keren’s call for Jewish authenticity and Israeli survival. Once again, the imperiled Jewish people are perched close to the abyss, and once again we should not be lulled into taking Jewish life for granted. The rebirth of Israel offers us all a special opportunity to reconcile history and potential, but first we must understand that the Torah of Exile is not without merit, and that the Exilic experience is now necessarily complementary to the ingathered Jews in Israel. All that is worthy and important to the Jew and the Jewish state has a common source; that is, the individual Jew’s connection with G-d. A good place to start, says Keren, is with an awareness that each person contains a spark of divinity, and that all humankind was created in the Divine Image.
There is considerable wisdom in A Time For Change, especially in the author’s insightful linkages of individual Jewish destiny with the destiny of the Jewish state. The author informs us that the return to the Land of Israel can mean a return to Prophecy – to a situation wherein each individual can commune with G-d directly. Jewish nationhood is, of course, absolutely required, but it is also not sufficient. We, the Jewish People, have a “unique mission.” The Temple is once again within our sights, a distinct cause for celebration, but it still remains to be rebuilt.
“A Time For Change” considers a very wide range of fascinating subjects – perhaps an entire spectrum of our Jewish world. Such ambition offers the reader many meaningful benefits, but it also leaves him or her a bit overwhelmed. Asher Keren has contributed a commendable tour de force, but the sweep is sometimes so wide that more intense and detailed investigations are of necessity left out. All things considered, however, the author has certainly produced a most impressive book on the Jewish condition, one well-worth reading. It will be published shortly by Gefen Publishers.
LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Strategic and Military Affairs Columnist for The Jewish Press.