In three separate lectures presented at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion this month, Dr. Michael Morgan, professor of philosophy and Jewish studies at Indiana University, looked at how people have faced questions of faith, God, and Jewish life in the turbulent and disorienting 20th century.
Dr. Morgan, the 1999 Goldenson lecturer, noted that throughout this century, there has existed a "crisis of objectivity, a profound, recurrent need to seek objective grounds for meaning and orientation and at the same time, powerful reasons for doubting that the search can ever be fulfilled." He called this a "widespread crisis" that is also at the "core of Jewish life in the 20th century." He said this was true both before, but especially after, the Holocaust. "An honest and serious encounter with the death camps shows that continued Jewish existence, carried out by a retrieval of the Jewish past and its traditions, is as troubled and difficult as it is urgent and necessary."
In his first lecture, entitled "Horror and History: Judaism After the Holocaust," he contended that "part of the task of a post-Holocaust Jewish life is to determine what shape the life is to take, what one must do."
His second lecture, "Messianism and Politics," dealt with the question, does activism contribute to achieving ideals. He answered that liberals and others think the answer is yes. "Religious leaders are less confident in human capacity," he said, arguing that they believe divine redemption and intervention is required alongside human political action. To some, the coming of the Messiah, he said, is associated with people bettering the world. To others, the Messiah will come (again) when people can do no more evil. He said that since World War II, people find it more difficult to have faith in human capacity, but since they also can not abandon the concept, they continually struggle with their faith.
In his last lecture, Dr. Morgan addressed "God and Human Experience." In this talk, he looked at how various philosophers, among them Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, Gershom Scholem and Walter Benjamin, expressed their concepts of revelation.
Dr. Michael Morgan, ordained at HUC-JIR in 1970, received his doctorate from the University of Toronto in 1978. A recipient of an Amoco Foundation Distinguished Teaching Award from Indiana University in 1982, he has taught there since 1975. Dr. Morgan teaches courses in Jewish philosophy, the philosophy of religion, post-Holocaust philosophy and religious thought, and the history of Western philosophy. He is also the creator and director, for 15 years, of the Indiana University Summer High School Philosophy Institute, a one-week intensive residential program that has attracted outstanding students from more than 20 states. In addition, he has been on the faculty for the Summer Kallah of the Commission for Jewish Living for the U.A.H.C.; the Summer Institute of the Ohio Valley Federation of Temple Youth at GUCI, Zionsville, Ind.; the Wexner Foundation; scholar-in-residence at numerous Kallot for rabbis and at dozens of congregations; and has been the scholar-in-residence for the Study Kallah of OVFTY.
He has written extensively about Jewish philosophy and thought, and currently is working on "The Nazi Holocaust: An anthology of Theological and Philosophical Reflections," "The Collected Works of Baruch Spinoza," and "Franz Rosenzweig: Philosophical and Theological Writings."
The Goldenson Lecture Series, established in 1955 by Temple Emanu-El of New York, has brought prestigious scholars, academicians and rabbis to the Cincinnati campus of HUC-JIR to explore areas of Jewish Thought and Theology. The list of past Goldenson Lecturers include H.L. Ginsberg, William F. Albright, Leon I. Feuer, Harry M. Orlinsky, Lou H. Silberman, Levi Olan, Arthur J. Lelyveld, and Abraham Cronbach.