“Illuminating Jewish Thought: Explorations of Free Will, the Afterlife, and the Messianic Era” by Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank— The Theological Foundations and Philosophies of Judaism

Wiederblank, Netanel. “Illuminating Jewish Thought: Explorations of Free Will, the Afterlife, and the Messianic Era”, Maggid, 2018.

The Theological Foundations and Philosophies of Judaism

Amos Lassen

When I received my copy of “Illuminating Jewish Thought”, I was both filled with joy and apprehension. I was happy in that as a philosopher I was going to have many new ideas to think about. The apprehension had to do with the sheer size of the book with its 600 plus pages. Because I like to read each sentence several times, I imagined seeing myself sitting with this book for many Passovers and mulling over each philosophical statement. I am proud to say that I misjudged the book as it is totally readable that I sat glued to the chair as I read. Here in one volume are the theological foundations of the Jewish faith as well as answers to so many of the questions that I have pondered for years. Rabbi Wiederblank brings together Jewish texts ranging from philosophical to Kabbalistic, ancient to modern, in this easily accessible source book.

We investigate the Jewish scholastic tradition of three fundamental and esoteric topics: free will, the afterlife, and the messianic era. We look at primary sources translated into modern English from their original tongues. We are therefore able to read and analyze independent texts and to do so independently. Rabbi Wiederblank then illuminates and contextualizes these complex concepts. In effect, as we read we discover the very foundations of Jewish practice and belief. The concentration is on those theological principles of Judaism that have to do with eschatological thought. Using the three principles of redemption or divine justice, revelation and faith in God as the framework here, this volume centers on the concept of redemption with two more volumes to follow.

Having taken many graduate and undergraduate philosophy course, I remember all too well that the purpose of philosophical exploration is to deal with the questions that are always on our minds but are lodged in those recesses that are not always part of our awareness. However by studying these questions, we can rise to spiritual excellence. The topics that we examine here are those that we do not publicly look at and/or deal with. We study the concept of Jewish thought here and what this term means takes the entire first chapter of the book and I must say that this chapter really made me think.

I have always had questions about the Jewish definition of free will and how to use it as well as its scope. The works here really help to understand it. The world to come or the afterlife is another enigma in Judaism and the explanations here are eye opening. Then there is the concept of the Messiah of which I found the sources and explanations here to be exceptional in terms of gaining understanding. This is not just a book to be read but one to be cherished. My copy is on a very special place on my desk so that it is always close at hand.

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