Rebecca T. Alpert. Whose Torah?: A Concise Guide to Progressive Judaism. The New Press, 2008.
This short book is part of a new series, “The Whose Religion? Series” published by the politically leftist New Press. This book and the series are welcome attempts to link progressive religious faith with progressive political activism.
Alpert is a pathbreaking rabbi and professor, one of the first women in Jewish history to be ordained a rabbi, a professor at Temple University, and long time political activist. All of these elements of her life are evident in this interesting book.
I mildly recommend this book. I like Alpert’s general philosophy of life and that she refused to choose between her sense of calling as a leader in her faith community and her sense of calling to work for social change in our wider society. It is encouraging to read about the ways elements of the Jewish tradition can be understood to underwrite progressive politics.
At the same time, I felt a bit disappointed at the lack of theological depth I found. The title of the book, Whose Torah?, gave me hope that I would find a penetrating rationale for a politically progressive reading of Torah from a Jewish perspective–a repudiation of the idea that you either center on the Bible or on a contemporary, essentially secular, social justice agenda that gets its main guidance from present-day experience and Enlightenment humanism. But in the end, Alpert has very little to say about the content of Torah.
I appreciate her affirmation of the progressive elements of modern Judaism, but I would have liked more grounding in the ancient texts–not because such grounding is the only valid way to be politically progressive but because I think the entire progressive community would benefit from more of an awareness of how progressive many elements of the biblical writings are.