Monday, October 26, 2009

And Now, Some Serious Theology

Some excerpts from a review of God’s First Love: The Theology of Michael Wyschogrod by Meir Y. Soloveichik who is Associate Rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York.

As Kendall Soulen, who teaches at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. wrote in 2004:-

A major theme for Wyschogrod is that God’s election of Israel is based solely on God’s unalterable love and hence cannot be abrogated from the human side. "Now it is the proclamation of biblical faith that God chose this people and loves it as no other, unto the end of time."

God did not choose Israel because it was superior in any way to other peoples; indeed, in some respects it may even possess slightly more negative characteristics than other groups. Nor is God’s election conditional upon Israel’s obedience to the commands that God imposes on Israel as the expression of God’s will for Israel’s conduct. God’s election brings with it God’s command and the threat of severe punishment should Israel fail to live up to its election.

Yet in spite of the fact that the Jewish people have struggled endlessly against their election, with the most disastrous consequences for themselves and for the rest of humankind, the divine election remains unaffected because it is an unconditional one, based solely on God’s love. Ultimately, God’s anger is a passing phase that can only temporarily obscure God’s overwhelming love for Israel. Israel can be confident of its election and of God’s special love for it amid all the families of the earth.

I think my Christian readers will find his approach enticing.

For Jews, his thought seems to be promising, unique and probing.

So, what are some of Meir Soloveichik's observations?

....Michael Wyschogrod, perhaps the most original Jewish theologian of the past half century. An unapologetic defender of Israel’s particularity and God’s special love for the Jewish people, he has often found a warmer reception among Christian thinkers than among traditional Jewish ones...

...To Jewish critics, Wyschogrod’s emphasis on divine love and on the indwelling of the divine sounds more Christian than Jewish. Wyschogrod, however, insists on demanding that Jews refresh their religion from its original sources, arguing that a general and unspecific love is no love at all—and thus that God’s particular love for Israel is what makes possible his love for all humanity.

...One day in 1966, Wyschogrod visited Karl Barth in Basel and informed the great Christian thinker that he had begun to refer to himself as a “Jewish Barthian.” Barth was much amused by the appellation, and a discussion ensued about the Jewish people versus the Church in the eyes of God:

At one point he said, “You Jews have the promise but not the fulfillment; we Christians have both promise and fulfillment.” Influenced by the banking atmosphere of Basel, I replied: “With human promise, one can have the promise but not the fulfillment. But a promise of God is like money in the bank. If we have his promise, we have his fulfillment, and if we do not have the fulfillment we do not have the promise.” There was a period of silence and then he said, “You know, I never thought of it that way.”

...In Wyschogrod’s work...Jewish thought begins not with analysis of who the man of faith is but with who God is—not with how a member of the Jewish people approaches God but how God approaches the Jewish people. The Bible’s answer, he believes, is obvious: “It is the proclamation of biblical faith that God chose this people and loves it as no other, unto the end of time.” The clarity with which he focuses on the central biblical premise of election, God’s love for Israel, is what makes his work both so Orthodox as well as so original...Jewish theology must begin with the exclusive election of Israel, Wyschogrod argues, for it is the central principle of the Hebrew Bible...

...Many modern Jews are uncomfortable with this concept, assuming that a truly good God would treat all human beings equally and love all of them in the same way. In fact, many modern Jewish theologians and philosophers end up embracing, in the name of pluralism, an odd sort of religious relativism...

...[there is] the Bible’s depiction of God’s passionate, preferential love for Abraham, and it is here that Wyschogrod defends divine love for Israel. Indeed, he does more than defend the doctrine: He insists, strikingly, that everyone—Jew and Gentile—has a stake in God’s preferentially loving some more than others. If God loves human beings and seeks to relate to them because he is drawn to something unique about them, then his love must be exclusive and cannot be universal. He loves individuals because he has found something unique about them worth loving, which he may not find in another individual...For Wyschogrod, Hebrew Scripture speaks of preferential love and conveys thereby the extraordinary notion that God loves men because of who we are, not despite who we are.

Of course, Wyschogrod is not insensitive to the fact that this sounds hurtful to non-Israelites. If God is a father, motivated by genuine desire to be with us, then the fact that his love is a love founded in our uniqueness means that it is therefore dispensed unequally. Ultimately, however, according to Wyschogrod, it is precisely God’s preferential love for Israel that guarantees the possibility that each one of us can have a genuine relationship with God. Chosenness expresses to everyone, Jew and Gentile, “that God also stands in relationship with them in the recognition and affirmation of their uniqueness”...

When we grasp that the election of Israel flows from the fatherhood that extends to all created in God’s image, we find ourselves tied to all men in brotherhood, as Joseph, favored by his human father, ultimately found himself tied to his brothers...

...A faith founded on God’s eternal love of Israel emphasizes instead our experience of God’s salvation and redemption, which we once experienced and, Judaism declares, we will experience again. Israel’s faith, Wyschogrod writes, “has always centered around the saving acts of God: the election, the exodus, the Temple, and the Messiah.” Acts of destruction were remembered in minor fast days “while those of redemption became the joyous proclamations of the Passover and Tabernacles. . . . The God of Israel is a redeeming God; this is the only message we are authorized to proclaim, however much it may not seem so to the eyes of nonbelief.”...

I strongly suggest you read the entire, long article.



While you are there, check out there this Reading the Qur’an Through the Bible

(Kippah tip: Hirhurim)

1 comment:

camobel said...

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