Jewish Responses to the Outside World


The accomodationist approach taken by many Jews in responding to the world around them can also be viewed as a way of integration. An individual does not have to approach faith and reason as an either or approach. The individual takes the knowledge claims of outside sources seriously but allows for the validity of human thought to engage him or her. For the integrationist, Divine revelation need not be in conflict with human understanding. But when human understanding appears to conflict with a traditional understanding of religious tradition, the integrationist allows for rational truth to alter the literal meaning of religious texts. The integrationist allows for the supremacy of the knowledge of God, but recognizes the endowment of creation by God with reason. 

While the realities of the Diaspora had positioned Jews as minorities in all cultures for much of Jewish history, the influence, exposure, and opportunity to engage non-Jewish forms of thinking varied. During the golden age of Jewry in Spain, wealthy Spanish Jews were particularly drawn by outside influences. 

Exposed to the intellectual renaissance occurring during Islamic rule and the rediscovery of classical Greek texts, they were convinced that there were other routes to God so much so that according to later popular belief in the post expulsion period, they were expelled from Spain as a result of their waywardness and infidelity to the singularity and uniqueness of Jewish thought. 


Interestingly, comparisons between then day Spanish Jewry and the modern Jewish community can be made. Jewish communities of today often seek to define spirituality by extra -Jewish modes and replace the commandments as the cornerstone of Jewish identity, thought and practice. In short, this superfluous approach to the question of Jewish thought simply views foreign modes of thought as simply reflecting many components already found in Jewish thought. 

Those ideas outside of Jewish thought seen as strengthening the Jewish experience were and are included. Theoretically those dangerous to the community are rejected. An example of this is a Hasid who brings a popular peasant tune into the synagogue and incorporates it into the synagogue service thereby “sanctifying” it to a higher level. Another example is that of the edict of Rabbenu Gershom which instituted monogamy among Jews. When it was promulgated, his contemporary rabbis, especially Sephardic ones, challenged this on the basis that it was influenced by Chukat haGoy, (i.e. that is the way of the Gentiles). Nonetheless, the practice has remained, though he derived this from Christian standards of his day.

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Jacob Lumbroso

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