Judaism's Vast Theological Wasteland

The Forward published an op-ed lamenting Judaism's vast theological wasteland: Where Have All the Theologians Gone? opinion by Elliot Cosgrove.

It's not a very good essay. The author says he does not know of any young Jewish theologians of note.

When Cosgrove in his essay gets past the name-dropping, he reveals a banality of thinking which underscores the point he laments. He asks at the end, "Do we believe that Mount Sinai really happened? Do we believe that the Torah continues to command us, shape us and bind us as a people? How can a Jew stand simultaneously at the base of Sinai and firmly in modernity?” The answers to Cosgrove's "key" theological questions are: Yes; yes; and that's what religion is all about.

His call to make "Judaism compelling to the Jews of its age" is straight out of 4th grade Hebrew school where a student might ask, Why is this Rashi relevant to what I had for breakfast? That’s not the all. He concludes, "The time is ours. Nevertheless, the question remains: Is anyone interested in being part of the conversation?" Here Cosgrove ignores the reality that serious theology requires sustained inquiry and study, publication and review. It’s never been a “conversation.”

And the major reasons we don't have a larger number of serious theologians are pretty clear. First, there is no place to go to study to become one. Show me a graduate program where a student must master the tools to become a professional Jewish theologian. Great thinkers must be properly trained and groomed. They don’t just rise up out of thin air to start “conversations.”

Second, when a creative thinker does come forward and publish, despite all the great obstacles he or she must overcome, that person unfortunately often is subject to attacks by the right wing rabbis and, even worse, usually is ignored by the progressive rabbis and scholars.

And the lay people are happy to read about “kosher sex” and consider that a substantial theological inquiry.

The result? Because of the shortage of trained constructive theologians, the decades have passed and neither the Holocaust nor the State of Israel has been integrated properly into our current Jewish religious thought and practice.

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