Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

God is a Verb

R. Zweiback led Torah Study 4/21 - Deuteronomy 29:20-28

We were discussing why God cannot be anthropomorphic.

The discussion centered on Rambam's teaching of a transcendent God "without ears". The qualities we use to judge moral characteristics of people we tend to extend to thinking of qualities of God. We refer to God's actions in human terms but this cannot be taken literally and must be viewed as a metaphor. But we have to keep reminding ourselves of the transcendent God that is completely outside of and beyond the world.

Predicate Theology:
In the review of the book, “Evil and the Morality of God” by Harold M. Schulweis (Ktav, 1984), by Rabbi Morley Feinstein an interesting way of looking at our view of God is pointed out:

“We cannot prove to anyone what we know about God. But we have seen and experienced human kindness. We know what it is to do good, to love justice, to embrace compassion, to walk humbly, to care for another as we care for ourselves. These are the values that make life a blessing for the living. These are our realities. A proper belief system affirms these values as the actual subject — and God is the verb.

Let’s remember a grammar lesson. The subject comes before the predicate. But if we turn them around an insight emerges. Not God is just, but justice is Godly. Not God is compassionate, but compassion is Godly. Not God is loving, but loving another is Godlike. Thus, we have a new term called “Predicate Theology,” which emphasizes human interaction and responsibility. We have the capacity, Schulweis says, to experience, express and cultivate Godliness.
When evil occurs, the question should not be “O God, why did this happen?” For we have no answer and perhaps God is stunned to silence as well. Rather, we might ask, “What must be done for people to help one another, to act with the Godliness with which each of us is endowed?” Predicate Theology places the emphasis on people’s response to evil.”

Predicate Theology: Read the Article at This Link

I want to think about this concept more!

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Kinah - An Angry God?

Kinah – Anger / Jealousy – literally: smoke comes from His nostrils!

This problematic anthropomorphic description of God in Deuteronomy 29:19 was the topic of last week’s Torah Study. It is difficult to think of God as having similar strong emotions like humans. And even more difficult to visualize God's nose.

I thought it would be good to see what Rashi & Rambam might have looked like to try to grasp the differences in their interpretations.

Rashi – simply explains this as a metaphor

Rambam / Maimonides – explains that the message is written this way because it is the level of intelligence that people could grasp at the time.

Suggested Book:
The Personhood of God: Biblical Theology, Human Faith And the Divine Image by Yochanan Muffs


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Soloveichik - Messiah: Christians vs Jews

Torah Study 4/8 we reviewed an essay by Meir Soloveichik from Azure . Soloveichik points out the differences rather than the similarities when comparing the philosophy of Christians and Jews. A key element in his analysis relates to the role of humans in bringing the Messiah.

Soloveichik says we must be deserving of the Messiah, there must be redemption of all people before there can be a Messiah. Faith in the Messiah means we must have faith in human’s ability to redeem themselves.

Another interesting comparison noted: Jesus comes from Mary, the symbol of purity and good. The Messiah in Jewish literagy is a descendent of King David, and all the complex lineage of his birth and his life that was so much a mixture of goodness and sinfulness that the contrast cannot go unnoticed. While Christains believe in 'original sin' and that Jesus died for their sins; Jews must rise above the sins of our heritage and embrace redemption to enable a Messiah to come.

Critical Optimism:
Are people basically good? OR are people not necessarily good but capable of good. People have free will. Thus the laws are more important to help make people good.

Do we see ourselves as good or sinful? Are utopian ideals valid? How do you tell between good and sinful? Are the laws our guidelines? Is it about understanding ourselves? It is about making informed choices.

Hubris - what an interesting word and image mentioned in the discussion.
Wikipedia definition: is exaggerated self-pride or self-confidence (overbearing pride), often resulting in fatal retribution. In Ancient Greek hubris referred to actions taken in order to shame the victim, thereby making oneself seem superior.

Hubris implies that we have the answers and yet there is constant questioning.

Soloveichik’s commentary makes you think:
Another interesting article by Soloveichik

Note a previous blog entry:
Christians vs Jews - Big Differences

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Strong Link: Freedom to Law

“Freedom ungoverned by law is a danger”
Thus Pesach is linked to Shavuot.
The celebration of Freedom is linked to the celebration of receiving the Torah.

And so we count the Omer – the days between these celebrations. It is almost like holding our breath to bring these two observances together. This holds our community together.

Reviewing Deuteronomy 29:17-19
- with Rabbi Marder:
Moses is speaking of the individual who might think "not me" as it relates to the curses. The one who might say "I will follow my heart" regardless of the law. The Wicked Son or the Marginal Jew who says "I dont want anything to do with this" or who distances himself from the law. This is like a poisoned stump that can grow and destroy the community.