Schulweis, Harold Maurice

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SCHULWEIS, HAROLD MAURICE

SCHULWEIS, HAROLD MAURICE (1925– ), U.S. rabbi, theologian, community leader. Born in the Bronx, n.y., Schulweis was educated at Yeshiva College, Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York University, and the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif. He taught philosophy at City College of New York before taking pulpits in Parkchester, n.y., Oakland, Calif., and Encino, Calif.

Schulweis is widely regarded as the most successful and influential synagogue leader in his generation. His theology of the American synagogue extended the traditional role of the synagogue to encompass the full cultural life of a living Jewish community. Beginning in 1970, at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, Schulweis introduced a series of synagogue innovations that spread widely among American congregations. These include: Synagogue-based "Havurot" – small groupings of families sharing learning and celebration in congregants' homes; "Response" – a support and educational organization welcoming gays and lesbians and their families into the synagogue; and "Keruv" – a vigorous outreach to unaffiliated Jews and "unchurched" Christians, offering classes and counseling toward conversion into Judaism.

As a theologian, Schulweis has reconsidered the classical concept of God. He locates God not above but within and between human beings, not a vertical relationship but communal and internal. The conception of "the God within and between" allows him to argue that revelation is both divine in origin and carried out by human powers of expression. Morality is the expression of conscience, which is a living nexus between the divine and the human in everyday life. Schulweis thought that by defining God as the source of history's dynamic, the conception of the personal God reduces the human being to passivity and subservience. Instead, Schulweis argues for a two-dimensioned conception: Elohim, the amoral God of nature; Adonai, the God of transformation, whose attributes of goodness – Godliness – we make real in bringing the world closer to perfection. Thus, the focus of religious experience and reflection for Schulweis is not God but "Godliness." This "predicate theology" concentrates upon God's attributes of goodness instead of arguing the existence of a personal, "Subject" God. In this way, Schulweis rescues belief from the problem of evil, and simultaneously restores the dignified place of the human being as God's Covenantal partner.

This conception runs aground if there is some circumstance wherein Adonai's attributes of Godliness are totally absent. The Holocaust would seem to present this scenario, prompting some to proclaim that the God of the Bible died at Auschwitz. In response, Schulweis notes that despite the overwhelming evil of the Holocaust, there remained "sparks" of Adonai even in that most benighted moment. In the late 1960s, Schulweis was introduced to a Jewish family rescued and hidden from the Nazis by German Christians. In response he founded The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous as a way of celebrating the heroic goodness of Christians who rescued Jews in German-occupied Europe.

In a similar way, Schulweis argued that action is demanded in all circumstances of moral darkness. He cofounded mazon, as an answer to poverty in America, and established Jewish World Watch, a coalition of Jewish organizations dedicated to alleviating suffering and raising political awareness of on-going genocide around the world.

Rabbi Schulweis wrote many books, including: Approaches to the Philosophy of Religion, Evil and the Morality of God, For Those Who Can't Believe, Finding Each Other in Judaism, In God's Mirror, and two books of original religious poetry and meditation: From Birth to Immortality and Passages in Poetry.

[Edward Feinstein (2nd ed.)]