Time to Revitalise Judaism: A Respectful Challenge to the Jewish Establishment

     Review of “Jewish Law as Rebellion: A Plea for Religious Authenticity and Halachic Courage,” by Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo

     As author of “Who Stole My Religion? Revitalising Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet,” I was immediately intrigued by the title of Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo’s new book. The idea that Jews should not blindly accept the status quo but should use Jewish law as a source for rebelling again complacency, denial, injustice, oppression, and more, with the courage to apply Jewish teachings to help promote a better world excited me.

    My eagerness to read the book was increased when I read the eight pages of blurbs from a large group of distinguished Jews who extolled the book. These include former UK Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (”a challenging, even provocative book … a work well worth reading …“), Rabbi Irving Greenberg, and his wife Blu (“For decades Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo has been a prophetic voice in  contemporary Judaism… before you is an intellectual spiritual feast.“), Susanah Heschel, daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (“raises profound questions that disturb complacency and demand the attention of our hearts and minds.“), and Rabbi David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland (“Anyone who wishes to appreciate both the potential of halachic Judaism as well as the challenges it poses will be greatly enriched by this impressive work.”).

     An additional incentive to read Rabbi Cardozo’s book was his statement in the Acknowledgements that the most influential person on his thinking, along with Rabbi Eliezer Berkovics, is Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a person I have long regarded as a hero and an inspiration.

    So I started reading “Jewish Law as Rebellion” with great anticipation. And I was not at all disappointed, as the book, which contains almost 450 pages of Rabbi Cardozo’s essays and articles, is a constant source of challenging ideas and inspiration, which are much needed today. I strongly recommend it as it has the potential of revitalising Judaism and making it relevant to today’s challenges.

     Here is just a sample of his lovingly presented ideas that if heeded would shift Judaism to a transformative religion with great benefits to humanity:

    To provide such ideas and to help overcome the problems mentioned above, I propose the following:

• Responding to climate threats should become a major focus in Jewish life today since climate experts are warning that we may soon reach a tipping point when climate change spins out of control with catastrophic consequences.

• Vegetarianism and veganism should be put on the Jewish agenda since animal-based diets violate basic Jewish teachings on health, compassion, sharing, justice, environmental sustainability, and other values. 

• Since, contrary to Jewish teachings, animals are widely abused today, using Tu B’Shvat, ‘The New Years for Trees,’ as a model, the ancient ‘New Year for Animals,’ initially used for tithing of animals for sacrifices, should be renewed. It should be transformed into a day devoted to increasing awareness of Judaism’s teachings on compassion to animals and how far current realities are from these teachings.

        Responding to Rabbii Cardozo’s loving, respectful, challenging critique of Jewish life today by making such changes would help revitalise Judaism and bring many currently alienated Jews back to Jewish involvement.