Mitzvot: Contemporary Thought

On history, spirituality, obligation, and standing at Sinai.

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--Dr. Jakob J. Petuchowski, 1925-1991, was Professor of Rabbinics and Jewish Theology at the Cincinnati campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Reprinted from The Condition of Jewish Belief: A Symposium, composed by the Editors of Commentary Magazine, by permission; all rights reserved.

We Obligate Ourselves

I believe that the ultimate locus of authority for what we believe and how we practice as Jews is in ourselves. That is the irreversible gift of modernity. I also believe that we can and must voluntarily surrender some of that authority, primarily to our communities—for without a community we would be totally bereft (without a minyan, I cannot genuinely worship as a Jew)—and ultimately to God as we experience God in commanding relationship with us. But we reserve the right to determine how, and in what areas, and to what extent we surrender that authority. In the last analysis, we obligate ourselves.

-- Rabbi Neil Gillman, Ph.D., is the Aaron Rabinowitz and Simon H. Rifkind Professor of Jewish Philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York Reprinted with permission from, “I Believe,” Sh’ma 14/456 (September 3, 1993).

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