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An Orthodox view of other faiths

An American professor explores what Judaism has to say about different religions

    Alan Brill
    Alan Brill

    Judaism and Other Religions: Models of Understanding
    Alan Brill, Palgrave Macmillan, £21

    In this innovative work, Alan Brill explores attitudes in Jewish literature to other religions, especially Christianity and Islam. Following an extensive evaluation of biblical and talmudic sources, the author (right), a US Orthodox rabbi and professor of religion, helpfully divides his presentation into five traditions: inclusivist, universalist, pluralist, exclusivist and ecclesiocentric (ie based around the truth of halachah).

    In a series of very readable chapters, he supports each position with hundreds of citations. While giving each approach plenty of space, Brill has an agenda, to promote a new, inclusivist view in which some normative, exclusivist approaches are consigned to the margins of Jewish thinking.

    Though citing some sources antagonistic to other religions and, by extension, to their practitioners, he condemns texts that he finds obnoxious, describing other approaches with which he disagrees less vigorously as merely "undeveloped". This leads him to under-represent those texts and even to the astonishing suggestion (for an academic) that Christian censorship of the most negative writings of the medieval scholar Radak may have been beneficial.

    While this attitude may seem appealing in a modern, multicultural context, it risks underweighting less politically correct approaches and undermines the stated impartiality of an academic work.

    Notwithstanding this, the book's sources alone are an important contribution to the field. Most Jews are simply unaware of the existence of such a wide range of texts.

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