Rabbi Arthur Green is a master of shaking up complacent souls. When he first came along in the late sixties, he galvanized my older brother into a spirited form of Jewish revival that eventually won the respect of even my staunchly orthodox father. Art’s was a Judaism tempered by Mordecai Kaplan’s reason, ignited by A.J. Heschel’s prophetic passion, and distinguished by his own neo-Hasidic, mystical fervor. The affinity that Art discovered between our much-neglected mystical tradition and the insights of psychedelics was a magnet to many in the counterculture of the Sixties.
My own copy of Green’s latest book Radical Judaism is dog-eared, underlined and much scribbled with margin notes. His self-description at a recent public appearance as “a non-believer in most Jewish explanations of truth” while ardently remaining “a deeply religious person who takes Jewish questions seriously,” echoes the cautious position from which I once again approach this tradition after much time estranged.
These days, Rabbi Green has a set of urgent concerns: Will humanity survive the terrible damage we have wreaked on our planet? Will Judaism play a significant role in insuring that survival? Can we draw upon our tradition for instruction in “the conscientious stewardship of the earth”? If we cannot, then in what way will Judaism remain relevant?
The question calls for the definition of a new daily practice. When I recently went to keep a vigil by a favorite river ravaged by the storm, I found myself at a loss for Jewish prayer or ritual. Is there something out there that I should know about?