Book Review | Ralph Wintrob: “The Wondering Jew” by Micah Goodman

The Wondering Jew 002

by Micah Goodman (Author), Eylon Levy (Translator)

Yale University Press (Nov. 10 2020)

ISBN ‎ 9780300252248


Reviewed by Ralph Wintrob

“Where is Judaism headed today?”

“As Goodman presents his case, it’s a real eye-opener.”

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TORONTO. January 31/23 – Now here’s a question to shake us up a bit: Where is Judaism headed today? What shape is it taking now that Jews are safe and secure in the Land of Israel?

That’s the task Micah Goodman has set for himself, from the perspective of a post-army program where twenty-somethings, from both traditional and secular backgrounds, take some gap time to get things together by examining traditional Jewish texts, and the world’s cultural treasures together, without fear or favour.

Goodman’s thesis is that Israel has created new conditions for the development of Judaism away from extreme positions. He explores the new reality, and its historical background, in-depth. He especially reminds us of the ideas that the new Zionist movement forged, visions of a new Jewish reality put forward by Ahad Ha’am, A.D. Gordon, Hayim Nachman Bialik, but especially Rav Avraham Isaac Kook, the Ashkenaz chief rabbi of the Yishuv between the wars, and his thesis that the nation of Israel is holy and anyone, from whatever background, who contributes to the development of the Nation is to be treated as holy too, a remarkably progressive view for an Ashkenaz sage.

In addition, Goodman spells out for us the two radically different approaches that have shaped Judaism in the Galut, the Ashkenaz fear of political and cultural forces, that shut Jews off into a tight shell of absolutism, and the Sephardic view, that took a more open view to Jewish tradition, because they did not feel so threatened. It is this view, according to Goodman, that is the prevailing force, in the forging of a new Jewish reality in Israel.

On the whole, Goodman deals in generalities mainly, rather than exposing some results of traditionalists and secularists learning together in such programs as Beit Prat, seeking a middle ground.

But no matter. As Goodman presents his case, it’s a real eye-opener. We too should be studying the works of Zionist ideologues, and as he suggests too the Eight Chapters of the Rambam, an early attempt to find a common ground between two conflicting worlds.

And in case we get serious about it, Goodman includes a long section of notes elaborating on the citations and texts that he refers to in his presentation.♦

Credit: Yale University Press

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Ralph Wintrob is a former journalist, teacher-librarian

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Ralph Wintrob can be reached at

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