The Middle Way: The Emergence of Modern-Religious Trends in Nineteenth-Century Judaism, Volumes I & II

The Middle Way: The Emergence of Modern-Religious Trends in Nineteenth-Century Judaism, Volumes I & II

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Ephraim Chamiel
Edited by Dr. Asael Abelman
Translated by Dr. Jeffrey Green

Series: Studies in Orthodox Judaism
ISBN: Vol I:  9781618114075 (hardcover)
            Vol II: 9781618114082 (hardcover)
Pages: 534 pp. (Vol I) / 420 pp. (Vol II) 
Publication Date: December 2014

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This book in two volumes is devoted to examining the first encounter between traditional Judaism and modern European culture, and the first thinkers who sought to combine the Torah with science, revelation with reason, prophecy with philosophy, Jewish ethics with European culture, worldliness with sanctity, and universalism with the particular redemption of the Jews. These religious thinkers of the nineteenth century struggled with challenges of the modern age that continue to confront the modern Jews to this day. This objective work of scholarship, neither simplistic and isolationist nor destructive and arrogant, will be of interest to the modern thinker and to scholars of the history of religions. It is relevant to comparative study between Judaism and the various denominations of Christianity and other faiths that seek to find a middle way between their traditions and modernity.

Dr. Ephraim Chamiel earned his BA in economics and political science, and a diploma in business administration from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He worked in various executive positions for Bank Leumi, and in his fifties, returned to the university to study Jewish thought. He defended his dissertation in 2006 under the guidance of Professor S. Rosenberg and Dr. M. Silber (the present volume is a translation of the 2011 Hebrew publication of this study). His work explores the problem of combining the world of Torah and Jewish thought with the secular world, and considers this to be a matter of existential significance (one with which he struggles day in and day out). Presently, he conducts research and teaches in the field of modern Jewish thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His second book Ladaat Torah – a modern reading of the Pentateuch – was published in 2013 in Israel (Hebrew).

Having broadened the scope considerably, Chamiel provides interested readers with an indispensable study of what he calls “The Middle Way,” that is, the approach among Jewish thinkers which championed the Golden Mean and avoided the extremes of both religious skeptic and uber fundamentalists ... Chamiel posits that it is not clear what value the Land of Israel will hold at the end of days, if the prerequisite for returning there is the dramatic transformation of all mankind and the removal of all evil tendencies from human society ... Chamiel’s two-volume study is an indispensable contribution to our understanding of the emergence of varieties of traditionalist responses to modernity. His interpretation of R. Chajes is the most compelling and at least some readers may emerge with a greater appreciation for, and interest in the writings of, this great Galician Torah sage.
— Moshe Y. Miller, Tradition (49:3, 2016)
A most valuable contribution to the understanding of Chajes, Hirsch, and Luzzatto, treating complex issues in clear, lucid language. Chamiel’s command of the traditional, pre-modern thinkers and their impact on nineteenth-century thought is impressive.
— Michael K. Silber, Hebrew University
It seems to me that the main strength of Chamiel’s work is its comparative study of the ideas of Chajes, Hirsch, and Luzzatto in regards to each of the major problems that modernity poses for Judaism; from this comparative analysis, there emerges a complex and fascinating picture of the Middle Way. Each chapter contains precise and well-chosen readings, and presents a comprehensive picture of this trend. This work is an important contribution to the study of modern Jewish thought, as well as to our understanding of the complex formation of Neo-Orthodoxy.
— Moshe Halbertal, New York University Law School and Departments of Philosophy and Jewish Thought, Hebrew University
I do not think I am mistaken in emphasizing that this is an excellent work. It contains an exhaustive and comprehensive discussion of the general issues, combined with incisive and careful treatment of the details and bibliography related to this topic. The great labor that has been invested in this work is amply rewarded, and it also opens the way for both scholars and general readers to understand the influence of these three major thinkers on modern Jewish thought.
— Shalom Rosenberg, Departments of Philosophy and Jewish Thought, Hebrew University