Thursday, January 07, 2010

Abraham Heschel's God Needs Man

The Theology of Abraham Joshua Heschel
Judaism is not a doctrine but a life—the continuation of the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Or so Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972) often said. To learn Jewish theology, then, is to relive the history of God’s encounter with the Jewish people, for theology and history are inseparable. What God revealed to Israel through the prophets, the sages, and the mystics is the “bold and dangerously paradoxical idea” that God needs man.

Much of academic Jewish scholarship finds conflicts between biblical Judaism and the rabbinic Judaism of late antiquity as well as between rabbinic Judaism and later kabbalistic-hasidic teaching. The academic consensus sets up dichotomies between the legal and the spiritual and between the rational and the mystical. Heschel instead integrates biblical, rabbinic, and kabbalistic sources into a unified vision of God’s continuing dialogue with the people of Israel. Indeed, Heschel’s scholarship, rightly understood, is inseparable from his theology, for his scholarship seeks to re-create the dialogue of the Jewish people with God.

God needs man may sounds heretical. Kilmelman explains it as

One might think of the divine–human relationship as analogous to that of a general and soldier where the power lies with the general and the soldier merely follows orders. In reality, every command implemented by the soldier extends the general’s power. The growth of the power of the general thus corresponds to the increase in compliance by the soldier, and vice versa. An order that commands no compliance is a voice in the wilderness.

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