Born in 1908 in Romania, Berkovits was educated in Berlin
before he was forced to flee Germany in the late 1930s.
After serving in rabbinates in England, Australia and Boston, he joined the faculty of Hebrew Theological College in Chicago in 1958.
Although he wrote 19 books and numerous articles, his name is less familiar today than some of his contemporaries like Martin Buber or Abraham Joshua Heschel. Perhaps the republication of this, his "keystone" work, will attract more attention to the Jewish philosopher, who died in 1992. "In contrast to other twentieth-century thinkers, who employed the classic Jewish sources to defend a modernist outlook
. Berkovits's work offers an argument for the independence and validity of a traditional Jewish worldview in a style more reminiscent of Judah Halevi, Maimonides, and Sa'adia Gaon," writes Hazony, a Ph.D. candidate at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. As Hazony notes, Berkovits's writing is challenging and methodical, but intellectually rewarding.
Berkovits' most important theological work appears in God, Man, and History (1959), which offers the central framework for his entire philosophy of Judaism. The essence of Judaism, he wrote, is found in the personal encounter of the prophet with God; it is through the memory of that encounter, no less than through rational speculation, that one understands the nature of God and his covenant. In this regard, he followed the tradition of the medieval thinkers *Saadiah Gaon and *Judah Halevi, and in modern times Samson Raphael *Hirsch, who viewed revelation as axiomatic to any philosophy of Judaism. He thus challenged the Maimonidean approach to divine attributes, for example, according to which it is reason alone that allows one to comprehend the Absolute; in Berkovits' view, memory of the encounter is primary and irreducible to reason. Reason can only help one describe the nature of God; however, it is only through the encounter that one discovers the central principle of Jewish religion that God cares about the fate of humankind. "The foundation of religion is not the affirmation that God is, but that God is concerned with man and the world; that, having created this world, he has not abandoned it, leaving it to its own devices; that he cares about his creation." God created the universe with man as its capstone; man is endowed with the capacity to take responsibility for creation, and therefore is charged by God with a duty to care for the world and for human history. Berkovits quotes, in this regard, the statement in Genesis 2:15 that God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden "to work it and to keep it." God's central concern for man is that he take responsibility for history, improving the world and caring for it