Jump on Board with JBOM
JBOM stands for Jewish Book of the Month Club. This book club was started last year by Messianic Rabbi and blogger Derek Leman. The goal of this book club is to get a group together within the greater Body of Messiah reading, sharing and getting educated in Jewish works that we or our families and communities might not ever otherwise explore. I encourage you to hop on board the train! The JBOM book for Jan and Feb is God In Search Of Man (A Philosophy of Judaism) by Abraham Joshua Heschel. Check out Derek’s latest post on God In Search of Man.
Abraham Joshua Heschel was a Jewish Thinker. But not just a Jewish Thinker. Heschel was one of the foremost Religious Thinkers of his day and one of the greats in any generation. Heschel received a traditional yeshiva education as well as his Rabbinic ordination in Germany. Heschel was arrested by the Gestapo and deported to Poland before getting the chance to leave for London due to his fortunate circumstances as a Jewish Scholar. Heschel’s family wasn’t as fortunate. His mother and three sisters died at the hands of the Nazis. Heschel never returned to Germany or Poland for the rest of his life. In 1940 Heschel came to New York where he would hold teaching positions at Hebrew Union College and later at Jewish Theological Seminary until his death in 1972.
I had first heard of God in Search of Man a little over a year ago. My brother was taking an Intro to Judaism course at one of our local Universities and this was the main textbook for the course. After starting this book a week ago I quickly found out why. This book starts at the academic level. I quickly learned I couldn’t just casually read this book on a Sunday afternoon while the tv is blaring its sports and news and the kids are running all through the house pretending to be superheros, at least not if I wanted to soak up any of its depth. After starting off with all of the attractions or you could say distractions of having family and friends in town for New Years and my daughter’s birthday last weekend I found that I had read, re-read and re-re-read the first chapter all within the first week. I am happy to report that I’m in Chapter 4 and moving along rather nicely now:-).
Section: God Chapter I – Self Understanding Judaism
Heschel’s problems are our problems. The post-modern world that Heschel encountered has only become more apparent and unfortunately no less a problem for Religion to deal with in the 21st Century. Heschel states that Religion is its own worst enemy and to be blamed for its woes. He says that Religion’s purpose is to answer man’s ultimate questions but when it becomes oblivious to those ?’s, it becomes irrelevant and the crisis has begun.
“Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion its message becomes meaningless”
Heschel is on a quest for the forgotten questions of Religion and this is where philosophy comes in to play. Heschel states that philosophy is the art of asking the right questions. Depending on the object or subject (in our case the religion of Judaism specifically), philosophy is a specific way of thinking and at it’s best may be defined as a science with a minimum of presuppositions. The role of religion is to also be a challenge to philosophy and not merely an object for examination or criticism. Philosophy of Religion must not be mishandled or misunderstood and turn into a Religion of philosophy. Philosophy is reflective thinking and philosophy of religion must begin at self-clarification and self-examination in order to determine its own authenticity in order to ask its ultimate questions.
“Wise criticism always begins with self-criticism”
Self-clarification asks: What do we stand for? What are our ultimate claims? What are the insights gained and attitudes expressed from our experiences?
Self-examination asks: Is our religious attitude one of conviction or mere assertion? Is the existence of God a probability to us or a certainty? Is God a word, a name, a hypothesis, or is He a living presence? Is the claim of the prophets a figure of speech to us or a compelling belief?
“Religious thinking, believing, feeling are among the most deceptive activities of the human spirit. We often assume it is God we believe in, but in reality it may be a symbol of personal interests that we dwell upon. We may assume that we feel drawn to God, but in reality it may be a power within the world that is the object of our adoration. We may assume it is God we care for, but it may be our own ego we are concerned with. To examine our religious existence is, therefore, a task to be performed constantly”
Heschel goes on to look at area’s such as Science and Rationalism in comparison and in compliment to Religion on its quest to man’s ultimate questions.
On Religion and Science, Heschel states that they do not deal with the same problem. The Bible regards creation as an event; Science regards it as a process. The Bible doesn’t categorize an explanation of the origins of the world with its terms and conditions borrowed from nature, rather it alludes to what made nature possible, namely, an act of the freedom of God. Science seeks the truth about the universe; Religion guided by the Spirit seeks the truth that is greater than the universe.
“The intention of scientific thinking is to answer man’s questions and to satisfy his need for knowledge. The ultimate intention of religious thinking is to answer a question that is not man’s, and to satisfy God’s need for man”
On Religion and Rationalism, Heschel states that Reason’s goal is the exploration and verification of objective relations; Religion’s goal is the exploration and verification of ultimate personal relations. That the way to truth is an act of reason but the love of truth is an act of the spirit. That reason, as beneficial and necessary as it is, is not self-sufficient, that without spirit it withers.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5
10 You felt secure in your wickedness, you said, “No one sees me”; your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said in your heart, “I am, and there is no one besides me.” Isaiah 47:10
As we continue on our journey, Heschel will take us through our problem: What are the ultimate questions of existence which religion comes to answer?
May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you in the name of Yeshua the Messiah!