In his new book, prolific author and Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman, whose Renaissance Man resume includes serving as a senior constitutional advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and conceiving the Facebook Oversight Board, explores various contemporary approaches to Judaism in his book, out this week, To Be a Jew Today: A New Guide to God, Israel, and the Jewish People (FSG).

Why did you write this book?

Because I have kids who are about to go off to college, and that made me think a lot about their Jewish identity, and, by extension, my own. I started plotting this book and thinking about it, three or four years ago. I felt that the time was really ripe for a re-exploration of the most basic questions about what it means to be a Jew today. And that included how people think about God, and their spirituality - or lack of spirituality. It included Israel, which has come to assume a much more central position for a lot of Jews around the world today than it used to. And it also included the idea of Jewishness as a familial feature, that has love and struggle at the same time.

Early on, you pose the question: "What's the point of being a Jew?" Do you feel that you answered that by the book's end?

I think I gave it the old college try. Each Jew will have a different answer, and that's part of the theme of the book, that there are lots of different approaches and answers and each is valid, and as valid as the next. But I do argue that, for me, the point of being a Jew means struggling together with other Jews in a loving familial relation to try to understand how we make sense of God, of Israel, and of our own people.

Apart from the revisions you made following the Hamas massacre of October 7th, how has the book changed from when you began thinking about it?

When I started writing the book, it was much more analytical. It was much more, here are the different points of view that different people have, here's how things have evolved and here's how they're likely to go. It was much less personal. I was resistant to the idea of writing about my own experiences, to the idea of talking about feelings, like love and struggle and I really didn't want to share what I thought. This is my 10th nonfiction book and they're mostly very analytical and historical. I thought this would be a book, sort of like those. And as it turned out, it is in certain ways similar to those other books. But the book is also really different because it's by far my most personal book, it has the most of me in terms of my story, it has the most of me in terms of my psychic, emotional and spiritual and religious life.

I think the most driving challenge across many different branches of Jewishness all center on the question of inclusion and belonging versus separateness and distinctiveness.

In what ways was Moses Maimonides significant to your approach?

Maimonides is, many people think, the most towering single figure in almost 2000 years of Jewish intellectual history. And he's always loomed large in my life. From the time I was six to the time I was 18, I went to a school that was named after him. We studied his work. I studied his work in university. I've written about it as a professor.

One of his most fascinating and least read books is called The Guide of the Perplexed, where he set out to try to explain to thoughtful people of his generation how they might try to explore and resolve the conflicts and contradictions between rational, scientific and philosophical ideas and Jewish spiritual and religious tradition. And he didn't cheat. He didn't make it easy where it was hard. He made it very hard. And although he clearly had very strong senses of what he thought all Jews should believe, he did not dictate answers in the guide. He really tried to let you explore the contradictions, and try to figure out for yourself what to think.

I'm not trying to say that what I'm doing is in any way comparable, but I am trying to take a page from his book in terms of showing tensions, showing contradictions, making them the relevant ones for today because they're different now than they were 50 years or 200 years or 1000 years ago. And then allowing the reader to figure out for himself or herself, what, what that person believes.

What are the contradictions and tensions that you think are most significantly different from the ones from 50 years ago?

I think the most driving challenge across many different branches of Jewishness all center on the question of inclusion and belonging versus separateness and distinctiveness. And Jewishness has always had both of those strands, you know, on the one hand, the Jewish God is always supposed to be the universal God who's the God of everybody. And so therefore, should be welcoming of everybody, every Jew, and also every non-Jew who wants to become part of Jewishness is supposed to be able to join. So that's very inclusive.

At the same time, Jewishness has always had this story about an essential covenant between God and the people of Israel. And that's supposed to be in some sense, an exclusionary covenant. It's special to the Jewish people and it entails obligations and special love and special fear, and sometimes it entails special punishments. It's a very intense relationship and it's not always a well-functioning relationship, but it is, it has exclusionary components. And so you see this tension repeated for different strands of Judaism, you know, for Orthodoxy and Ultra-Orthodoxy, especially for Modern Orthodoxy.

The big challenge now is how can the community be inclusive of gay people, trans people, of women who want to be in leadership positions, without sacrificing its connection to the tradition. For Progressive Jews, a big part of the problem is how can Jews feel a special attachment to them, their own community or a special attachment to Israel that's grounded in social justice. If at the same time, there's a criticism of Israel out there, it's that Israel is not a liberal democracy in the way that some people imagined it would be, or hoped that it would be, and still hoped that it would be, hat creates a tension as well between the particulars of their connection to Israel and the universalism of their commitment to social values, like equality and justice.

How did you change the book after October 7th?

What changed after October 7th was that I had to take a deep breath and realize that there wasn't very much room in that moment for what you might call a lighthearted approach to rethinking God, Israel and Jewish people. There was a tremendous intensity driven by a range of emotions, from intergenerational trauma and the horror of October 7th seen through the lens of the Holocaust and the pogroms to the subsequent wave of pain and misery and empathy that many American Jews feel with respect to the number of Palestinians who have died in Gaza.

And then the generational conflict, which I think we're seeing playing out especially among progressive Jews that I had written about before October 7th as a general theme, the struggle between my generation of progressive American Jews and the college kids who are much more critical of Israel. And suddenly that was playing itself out in this incredibly concrete and immediate way. If the next generation feels that Israel isn't a beacon of social justice, which is what's happening for a lot of young progressive Jews, then the identification with Israel becomes very difficult as a sustaining method for that generation of Jews. And so then the question becomes well, then what is sustaining for that generation of Jews? I think that the underlying conflicts that I was writing about were real, but they were just brought home.

So I think the book got more somber after October 7th. It got less funny. In the course of it getting less funny, it also became a little bit more respectful of the seriousness of the pain engendered by the Israel-Palestine conflict, which I have always taken very seriously. But I was sort of hoping in the book to catch people when I first wrote it at a moment when they were open to reconsideration. And instead the book is coming out in a moment when people are very powerfully, emotionally and psychically, affected by current events. So I needed to also make sure that the tone was empathetic to the extremes of emotion that many Jews and not only Jews that many people are experiencing now.