Michael Lerner is founder and editor of Tikkun magazine, a bimonthly Jewish critique of politics, culture, and society. In Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation, the author spells out new directions for Judaism emphasizing love, compassion, and justice. He finds in the Torah the basic challenge for humankind to heal and transform the world.
Lerner is a contentious believer who begins with a critique of status quo Judaism. He asserts that this spiritually deadened faith has driven away some of the best and the brightest Jews because of its overemphasis on exclusivism, Holocaust trauma, and suffering.
Jewish renewal, in Lerner's words, is "part of a worldwide religious and spiritual revival a product of the failure of secular modernism to shape a world that would satisfy human needs." Jewish renewal offers a politics of meaning which celebrates the capacity of human beings to decrease the pain in the world and to stand up against structures which oppress and violate the powerless, the weak, and the stranger. The same spirit informs Lerner's opposition to patriarchy and homophobia.
The Sinai story of emancipation serves as a touchstone for Jewish renewal. The author criticizes those who idolize Israel and dedicate themselves to the extermination of Arab enemies. Lerner delineates a post-Zionist philosophy and ethic of kindness especially toward the Palestinians.
"Much of the pain and oppression we experience in this world," the author states, "is a reflection of the way we do not recognize God in the world, in one another, and in ourselves." That is why Jewish renewal is based on communities of meaning dedicated to virtues such as humility, compassion, honesty, hopefulness, joyfulness, and humor. That is also why Jewish renewal involves the fashioning of new rituals, prayers, and practices for the faithful.
Although Michael Lerner's vision of a path of renewal for Judaism is controversial, it demands a hearing. His politics of meaning is refreshing and far-reaching.