Right now, especially in New York, Los Angeles, and Israel, tens of thousands of Jews are arguing, sometimes at the top of their voices, about ethics and justice — and only a small percentage is in the yeshivot. Jews have done this from the beginning, arguing even with God. This should come as no surprise for, as David Frank points out: “The God of the Hebrew Bible is, by nature, argumentative. Humans, made in God’s image are argumentative . . . and ‘thick-necked.’” But the most interesting arguments, historically, have been between and among Jews themselves: for example, Moses versus Korach (on the issue of aristocratic privilege) or Ben Zakkai versus the Zealots (on the efficacy of armed resistance).

Barry Schwartz’s Judaism’s Great Debates emerges from this rich and cacophonous tradition. A deceptively simple little book, it identifies ten crisis points in the...

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