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Cohen, Arthur A.


COHEN, ARTHUR A. (1928–1987), U.S. novelist, publisher, art historian, and theologian. Born in New York, Cohen received his B.A. (1946) and M.A. (1949) from the University of Chicago and then continued with studies in medieval Jewish philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He founded, with Cecil Hemley, Noonday Press in 1951; in 1956 he began Meridian Books. From 1960 to 1974, when he founded Ex Libris Publishing Company, he worked as an editor. He wrote essays, works of non-fiction on Jewish subjects, and novels.

His The Natural and the Supernatural Jew (1962) sets the most insistent theme of his theological writings. Since Enlightenment, he avers, Jewish thought and imagination have with ever-increasing measure focused on the "natural" Jew enmeshed in immediate social and political concerns. Cohen fears that this understandable attention to the interests of the natural Jew, abetted by secular attitudes and biases of the modern period, has led to the neglect of the "supernatural" Jew, the Jew of the covenant conscious of his transcendent responsibilities. Accordingly, the urgent task of contemporary Jewish religious thought is to develop a strategy to reintegrate the natural and the supernatural Jew, otherwise the prospect looms that although the supernatural Jew may survive, Judaism will perish. Because of the experience of the modern, secular world, however, the supernatural vocation of the Jew could no longer be naively affirmed. To be spiritually and intellectually engaging, Cohen holds, the presuppositions of classical Jewish belief must be first "theologically reconstructed." Cohen's conception of this endeavor is inspired largely by the German Jewish thinker Franz *Rosenzweig whose uncompromising affirmation of theistic belief – grounded in the experiential categories of creation, revelation, and redemption – was supplemented by an equally unyielding adherence to rigorous philosophical reflection and honesty. For Cohen, the task of theological reconstruction is rendered all the more urgent by the Holocaust, which in disclosing "the tremendum of evil," has so radically challenged the presuppositions of Jewish belief that to avoid this task is to relegate Judaism to blind faith and atavistic sentiment. Clearly, as Cohen argues in The Tremendum. A Theological Interpretation of the Holocaust (1981), the retreat to an unthinking, platitudinous posture endangers the recovery of Judaism as a supernatural vocation. These themes are echoed in Cohen's novels, among them The Carpenter Years (1967), In the Days of Simon Stern (1973), A Hero in His Time (1976), Acts of Theft (1980), and An Admirable Woman (1983). He coedited, with Paul Mendes-Flohr, Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought (1987).

[Paul Mendes-Flohr (2nd ed.)]

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