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God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaismby Abraham J Heschel
God in Search of Man
Self-understanding of Judaism
TO RECOVER THE QUESTIONS
It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. 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.
Religion is an answer to man's ultimate questions. The moment we become oblivious to ultimate questions, religion becomes irrelevant, and its crisis sets in. The primary task of philosophy of religion is to rediscover the questions to which religion is an answer. The inquiry must proceed both by delving into the consciousness of man as well as by delving into the teachings and attitudes of the religious tradition.
There are dead thoughts and there are living thoughts. A dead thought has been compared to a stone which one may plant in the soil. Nothing will come out. A living thought is like a seed. In the process of thinking, an answer without a question is devoid of life.It may enter the mind; it will not penetrate the soul. It may become a part of one's knowledge; it will not come forth as a creative force.
PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY
In our quest for forgotten questions, the method and spirit of philosophical inquiry are of greater importance than theology, which is essentially descriptive, normative, and historical. Philosophy may be defined as the art of asking the right questions. One of the marks of philosophical thinking is that, in contrast to poetry, for example, it is not a self-sufficing pouring forth of insight, but the explicit statement of a problem and the attempt to offer an answer to a problem. Theology starts with dogmas, philosophy begins with problems. Philosophy sees the problem first, theology has the answer in advance. We must not, however, disregard another important difference. Not only are the problems of philosophy not identical with the problems of religion; their status is not the same. Philosophy is, in a sense, a kind of thinking that has a beginning but no end. In it, the awareness of the problem outlives all solutions. Its answers are questions in disguise; every new answer giving rise to new questions.1 In religion, on the other hand, the mystery of the answer hovers over all questions. Philosophy deals with problems as universal issues; to religion the universal issues are personal problems. Philosophy, then, stresses the primacy of the problem, religion stresses the primacy of the person.
The fundamentalists claim that all ultimate questions have been answered; the logical positivists maintain that all ultimate questions are meaningless. Those of us who share neither the conceit of the former nor the unconcern of the latter, and reject both specious answers and false evasions, know that an ultimate issue is at stake in our existence, the relevance of which surpasses all final formulations. It is this embarrassment that is the starting point for our thinking.
There are two types of thinking; one that deals with concepts and one that deals with situations. In our own time, the nineteenth century conflict between science and religion is being replaced by a controversy between the type of thinking that has as its object particular concepts of the mind and a way of thinking that has as its object the situation of man. Conceptual thinking is an act of reasoning; situational thinking involves an inner experience; in uttering judgment about an issue, the person himself is under judgment. Conceptual thinking is adequate when we are engaged in an effort to enhance our knowledge about the world. Situational thinking is necessary when we are engaged in an effort to understand issues on which we stake our very existence.
One does not discuss the future of mankind in the atomic age in the same way in which one discusses the weather. It would be wrong to leave out of such a discussion the awe, the fear, the humility, the responsibility, that are or ought to be as much a part of the issue as the atom itself. What we face is not only a problem which is apart from ourselves but a situation of which we are a part and in which we are totally involved. To understand the problem we must explore the situation.
The attitude of the conceptual thinker is one of detachment: the subject facing an independent object; the attitude of the situational thinker is one of concern: the subject realizing that he is involved in a situation that is in need of understanding.
The beginning of situational thinking is not doubt, detachment, but amazement, awe, involvement. The philosopher, accordingly, is a witness, not an accountant of other people's business. Unless we are involved, the problem is not present. Unless we are in love or remember vividly what happened to us when we were in love, we are ignorant of love. Creative thinking is not stimulated by vicarious issues but by personal problems. And so, for example, the problem of religious philosophy is not how does man arrive at an understandingof God, but rather how can we arrive at an understanding of God.
In a profound sense, the philosopher is never a pure spectator. His wisdom is not a commodity that can be produced on demand. His books are not responsa. We should not regard them as mirrors, reflecting other people's problems, but rather as windows, allowing us to view the author's soul. Philosophers do not expend their power and passion unless they themselves are affected. The soul only communes with itself when the heart is stirred. Quandaries knocking at the heart of the philosopher provide the motive that impels him to toil for truth. All philosophy is an apologia pro vita sua.
There are two types of philosophy. Philosophy may be pursued as a process of thinking thought, of analyzing the content of thinking, such as principles, assumptions, doctrines. Or it may be pursued as thinking about thinking, as radical self-understanding,2 as a process of analyzing the act of thinking, as a process of introspection, of watching the intellectual self in action.
The action in which the intellectual self is engaged takes place on two levels: on the level of insight and on the level of translating insights into concepts and symbols. Radical self-understanding must embrace not only the fruits of thinking, namely the concepts and symbols, but also the root of thinking, the depth of insight, the moments of immediacy in the communion of the self with reality.
Correspondingly, the study of religion has two major tasks to perform. One, to understand what it means to believe; to analyze the act of believing; to ask what it is that necessitates our believing in God. Two, to explain and to examine the content of believing; to analyze that which we believe in. The first is concerned with the problem of faith, with concrete situations; the second with the problem of creed, with conceptual relations. Medieval Jewish philosophy was primarily concerned with the problem of creed. Itdealt, for example, more with the question: what is the content (and the object) of our belief in God? or at best with the nature of belief, and less with the problem: what is the source of our belief in God? Why believe at all? It paid more attention to the question of what we know about God than to the question of how we know about Him. Our primary concern is not to analyze concepts but to explore situations. The religious situation precedes the religious conception, and it would be a false abstraction, for example, to deal with the idea of God regardless of the situation in which such an idea occurs. Our first goal, then, is not to evolve the philosophy of a doctrine, interpretations of a dogma, but the philosophy of concrete events, acts, insights, of that which is a part of the pious man. For religion is more than a creed or an ideology and cannot be understood when detached from acts and events. It comes to light in moments when one's soul is shaken with unmitigated concern about the meaning of all meaning, about one's ultimate commitment which is integrated with one's very existence; in moments when all foregone conclusions, all life-stifling trivialities are suspended.
Thus the issue which must be discussed first is not belief, ritual or the religious experience, but the source of all these phenomena: the total situation of man; not how he experiences the supernatural, but why he experiences and accepts it.3
The theme of theology is the content of believing. The theme of the present study is the act of believing. Its purpose is to explore the depth of faith, the substratum out of which belief arises, and its method may be called depth-theology.
To apprehend the depth of religious faith we will try to ascertain not so much what the person is able to express as that which he is unable to express, the insights that no language can declare. We must keep in mind that "the chief danger to philosophy, apart from laziness and woolliness, is scholasticism, the essence of which is treating what is vague as if it were precise and trying to fit it intoan exact logical category."4 Indeed, one of the fatal errors of conceptual theology has been the separation of the acts of religious existence from the statements about it. Ideas of faith must not be studied in total separation from the moments of faith. If a plant is uprooted from its soil, removed from its native winds, sun-rays and terrestrial environment, and kept in a hothouse--will observations made of such a plant disclose its primordial nature? The growing inwardness of man that reaches and curves toward the light of God can hardly be transplanted into the shallowness of mere reflection. Torn out of its medium in human life, it wilts like a rose pressed between the pages of a book. Religion is, indeed, little more than a desiccated remnant of a once living reality when reduced to terms and definitions, to codes and catechisms. It can only be studied in its natural habitat of faith and piety, in a soul where the divine is within reach of all thoughts.
Only those will apprehend religion who can probe its depth, who can combine intuition and love with the rigor of method, who are able to find categories that mix with the unalloyed and forge the imponderable into unique expression. It is not enough to describe the given content of religious consciousness. We have to press the religious consciousness with questions, compelling man to understand and unravel the meaning of what is taking place in his life as it stands at the divine horizon. By penetrating the consciousness of the pious man, we may conceive the reality behind it.
THE SELF-UNDERSTANDING OF RELIGION
Philosophy is reflective thinking, and philosophy of religion may be defined as religion's reflection upon its basic insights and basic attitudes, as radical self-understanding of religion in terms of its own spirit. It is an effort at self-clarification and self-examination.
By self-clarification we mean the effort to remind ourselves of what we stand for, to analyze the experiences, insights, attitudes, and principles of religion; to uncover its guiding features, its ultimateclaims; to determine the meaning of its main teachings; to distinguish between principles and opinions.
By self-examination we mean the effort to scrutinize the authenticity of our position. Is our religious attitude one of conviction or a mere assertion? Is the existence of God a probability to us or a certainty? Is God a mere word to us, a name, a possibility, 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.
To understand what we mean is the task of philosophy. We think in words, but to employ words is not the same as to understand what they mean. Moreover, the relation between words and their meanings is elastic. Words remain, while meanings are subject to change. The expression "our father in heaven" may evoke in some a mental picture of a bodily figure sitting on a throne, and may mean to others the maximum of all majesty, used as a figure of speech, to indicate Him who is beyond all expression.
Such self-understanding is necessary for many reasons. Original teachings of religion are not given in rational, dogmatic terms but in indicative expressions. It is therefore necessary to explicate their meanings. Moreover, since they have been expressed in an ancient language, one must carefully penetrate the genuine intent of the Biblical authors.
Though the method employed in this volume is primarily one of self-understanding, there is another approach we shall have to keepin mind. Philosophy of religion has to be pursued in two ways: as radical understanding of religion in terms of its own spirit and as a critical reassessment of religion from the point of view of philosophy. It represents an effort of religion to justify its claims; to set forth its validity, not merely its relevance. There are false as there are true prophets; there are false as there are true religious doctrines. If a religion claims to be true, it is under obligation to offer a criterion for its validity either in terms of ideas or in terms of events.
A critical reassessment of religion is necessitated by the very situation of our thinking. We cannot continue to employ our critical faculty in all our endeavors and at the same time abstain from raising questions in regard to religion. "Our age is the age of criticism, to which everything must be subjected. The sacredness of religion, and the authority of legislation, are by many regarded as grounds of exemption from the examination of this tribunal. But, if they are exempted, they become the subject of just suspicion, and cannot lay claim to sincere respect, which reason accords only to that which has stood the test of a free public examination."5
Criticism of religion must extend not only to its basic claims but to all of its statements. Religion is liable to distortion from without and to corruption from within. Since it frequently absorbs ideas not indigenous to its spirit, it is necessary to distinguish between the authentic and the spurious. Furthermore, superstition, pride, self-righteousness, bias, and vulgarity, may defile the finest traditions. Faith in its zeal tends to become bigotry. The criticism of reason, the challenge, and the doubts of the unbeliever may, therefore, be more helpful to the integrity of faith than the simple reliance on one's own faith.
Intellectual honesty is one of the supreme goals of philosophy of religion, just as self-deception is the chief source of corruption in religious thinking, more deadly than error. Hypocrisy rather thanheresy is the cause of spiritual decay. "Thou desirest truth in the inwardness" of man (Psalms 51:8).
Rabbi Bunam of Przyscha used to give the following definition of a hasid. According to medieval sources, a hasid is he who does more than the law requires. Now, this is the law: Thou shalt not deceive thy fellow-man (Leviticus 25:17). A hasid goes beyond the law; he will not even deceive his own self.
Every king has a seal which, when attached to a document, is a guarantee of authenticity. The seal contains a symbol signifying the power and majesty of the king. What symbol is engraved on the seal of the King of kings? "The seal of God is truth,"6 and truth is our only test. A flatterer cannot come before Him (Job 13:16).
PHILOSOPHY AS RELIGION
Philosophy of religion as criticism of religion will not fulfill its function if it acts as an antagonist or as an imitator or rival. Criticism is often guilty of forgetting that the great trends in art, for example, are appraised, but not created, by it. This applies to religion as well. The disturbing fact, however, is that philosophy remains the perpetual rival of religion. It is a power that would create religion if it could. Again and again, it has tried its talent at offering answers to ultimate questions and has failed.
Philosophy does not always produce its own themes. Its subject matter is derived from common sense, from the world of art, religion, science, and social life. Themes such as the good, the beautiful, sympathy, love, God, causality, the social order, and the state are not the invention of the speculative mind. Philosophy is more creative in symbiosis with life than in preoccupation with themes born of its own reflection. Philosophy of religion remains, accordingly, a method of clarification, examination, and validation, rather than a source of ultimate insights. It must, furthermore, elucidate the essential difference between philosophy and religion. Its task is not only to examine the claim of religion in the face of philosophy, but also to refute the claim of philosophy when it presumes to becomea substitute for religion, to prove the inadequacy of philosophy as a religion.
PHILOSOPHY AS A PERSPECTIVE
Philosophy, in undertaking to examine the insights of religion, will do well to remember its own limited status; the fact, namely, that it represents the limited though real point of view of one school or one period; that it is confined to the experience of only part of actuality. Indeed, without a qualifying adjective the term philosophy is somewhat of a misnomer. There is not one but many philosophies, and the divergence between Aristotle and Augustine, the Stoics and the thinkers of India is just as real as the divergence between Moses and Buddha. Those who believe in the existence of a perennial philosophy may believe in the possibility of a critical reassessment of religion from the perspective of a fixed philosophical system, the validity of which is established beyond dispute. To those who question the validity of a perennial philosophy, philosophy it self is in contant flux, in need of constant examination. Philosophy of religion would then be defined as a critical reassessment of religion from the perspective of a particular philosophical situation.
For all its limitations, philosophy is the human attempt to attain a synoptic view of things, to see the whole of the world and its parts together. Since religion tends to become self-inflated and to disregard those aspects of reality which are not immediately relevant to dogma and ritual, it is the task of philosophy of religion to place religious understanding in relation to the entire range of human knowledge. Human knowledge is continually advancing, and the eternal issues of religion find new relevance when confronted with the forces of the endless process of human inquiry.
Philosophy of religion has two parents: philosophy and religion. It is not born of self-reflection of religion but of the encounter of thetwo. Indeed, all philosophy of religion comes into being when both religion and philosophy claim to offer ideas about ultimate problems. Since Greek religion did not claim to be a source of such ideas, philosophy of religion did not arise in Athens but in the encounter of Judaism and Greek philosophy.7
Philosophy of religion is involved in a polarity; like an ellipse it revolves around two foci: philosophy and religion. Except for two points on the curve that stand in equal distance to both foci, the more closely its thought comes to one, the more distant it is from the other one. The failure to sense the profound tension of philosophical and religious categories has been the cause of much confusion.
This unique situation of being exposed to two different powers, to two competing sources of understanding, is one that must not be abandoned. It is precisely that tension, that elliptic thinking which is a source of enrichment to both philosophy and religion.
RELIGION OF PHILOSOPHY
In the desire to reconcile philosophy and science with religion, attempts have often been made not only to prove that there are no conflicts between the doctrines imparted by revelation and the ideas acquired by our own reason, but also that they are intrinsically identical. Yet such reconciliation is not a solution but a dissolution in which religion is bound to fade away. If science and religion are intrinsically identical, one of them must be superfluous. In such reconciliation, religion is little more than bad science and naive morality. Its depth gone, its majesty forgotten, its value becomes questionable. Its only justification is pedagogical, as a shortcut to philosophy, as a philosophy for the masses.
Philosophers have often mistaken the non-conformity of religion for philosophical immaturity and, instead of trying to understand religion as religion, have approached it as a rudimentary form of philosophy. In such an approach the object of inquiry became adjusted to the pattern of the inquirer, and religious categories, convertedeven before they were explored, were treated as if they were philosophical abstractions. The result of such an inquiry is usually a highly rarefied religion. What begins as a philosophy of religion ends as a religion of philosophy.
A WAY OF THINKING
Philosophy does not begin out of nothing. It may, at best, be defined as a science with a minimum of presuppositions. But it can never dispense with all presuppositions. It is, furthermore, involved in a specific way of thinking, in certain modes and categories of apprehension and evaluation. The major premises of Western philosophy are derived from the Greek way of thinking.
There is more than one way of thinking. Israel and Greece not only developed divergent doctrines; they operated within different categories. The Bible, like the philosophy of Aristotle, for example, contains more than a sum of doctrines; it represents a way of thinking , a specific context in which general concepts possess a particular significance, a standard of evaluation, a form of orientation; not only a mental fabric but also a certain disposition or manner of interweaving and interrelating intuitions and perceptions, a unique loom of thoughts.
The human mind is one-sided. It can never grasp all of reality at once. When we look at things we see either the features which they have in common or the features that distinguish each of them. There are periods in the history of thought in which a sense for the common and universal is best developed, and there are periods in which a sense for the distinct and the individual is particularly keen. Philo's mind, for example, moved on a path which bypassed the specific and the different--in both Judaism and Hellenism. To him both offered the same message; the ecstasy that he knew from Hellenistic cults he assumed to be identical with the state in which the Hebrew prophets received revelation.8 Following his example, many thinkers were mainly interested in pointing to the common elements in reason and revelation and desired to equalize what wasdifferent in them. What they failed to see is the unique wealth of spiritual insight contained in the prophetic ideas of the divine pathos. Hebrew thinking operates within categories different from those of Plato or Aristotle, and the disagreements between their respective teachings are not merely a matter of different ways of expression but of different ways of thinking. By dwelling upon the common elements of reason and revelation, a synthesis of the two spiritual powers was attained at the price of sacrificing some of their unique insights.
Vitally important as it is for Judaism to reach out into non-Jewish cultures in order to absorb elements which it may use for the enrichment of its life and thought, it must not be done at the price of giving up its intellectual integrity. We must remember that the attempt to find a synthesis of prophetic thinking and Greek metaphysics, desirable as it may be in a particular historic situation, is not necessarily valid sub specie aeternitatis. Geographically and historically, Jerusalem and Athens, the age of the prophets and the age of Pericles, are not too far removed from each other. Spiritually they are worlds apart. On the other hand, had Jerusalem been located at the foot of the Himalayas, monotheistic philosophy would have been modified by the tradition of Oriental thinkers. Thus, our intellectual position situated as it is between Athens and Jerusalem is not an ultimate one. Providence may some day create a situation which would place us between the river Jordan and the river Ganges, and the problem of such an encounter will be different from that which Jewish thought underwent when meeting with Greek philosophy.
METAPHYSICS AND META-HISTORY
There is, for example, a basic difference in meaning, intention and theme between a scientific theory of the origin of the universe and what the first chapters of the Book of Genesis are trying to convey. The Book of Genesis does not intend to explain anything; the mystery of the world's coming into being is in no way made more intelligible by a statement such as At the beginning God createdheaven and earth. The Bible and science do not deal with the same problem. Scientific theory inquires: What is the cause of the universe? It thinks in the category of causality, and causality conceives of the relationship between a cause and an effect as parts of a continuous process, as changing parts of an unchanging whole. The Bible, on the other hand, conceives of the relationship of the Creator and the universe as a relationship between two essentially different and incomparable entities, and regards creation itself as an event rather than as a process (see chapter 22). Creation, then, is an idea that transcends causality; it tells us how it comes that there is causality at all. Rather than explaining the world in categories borrowed from nature, it alludes to what made nature possible, namely, an act of the freedom of God.
The Bible points to a way of understanding the world from the point of view of God. It does not deal with being as being but with being as creation. Its concern is not with ontology or metaphysics but with history and meta-history; its concern is with time rather than with space.
Science proceeds by way of equations; the Bible refers to the unique and the unprecedented. The end of science is to explore the facts and processes of nature; the end of religion is to understand nature in relation to the will of God. 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 which is not man's, and to satisfy God's need for man.
Philosophy is an attempt to find out the essence of things, the principles of being; Biblical religion is an attempt to teach about the Creator of all things and the knowledge of His will. The Bible does not intend to teach us principles of creation or redemption. It came to teach us that God is alive, that He is the Creator and Redeemer, Teacher and Lawgiver. The concern of philosophy is to analyze or to explain, the concern of religion is to purify and to sanctify. Religion is rooted in a particular tradition or in a personal insight; classical philosophy claims to have its roots in universal premises.
Speculation starts with concepts, Biblical religion starts withevents. The life of religion is given not in the mental preservation of ideas but in events and insights, in something that happens in time.
A CHALLENGE TO PHILOSOPHY
Religion, we repeat, is a unique source of insight. This implies that the insights and demands of religion cannot be completely synchronized with the conclusions of any particular system of philosophy nor be adequately expressed in terms of science. What is meaningful in religion is not necessarily meaningful in philosophy, and vice versa. The role of religion is to be a challenge to philosophy, not merely an object for examination.
There is much that philosophy could learn from the Bible. To the philosopher the idea of the good is the most exalted idea. But to the Bible the idea of the good is penultimate; it cannot exist without the holy. The holy is the essence, the good is its expression. Things created in six days He considered good, the seventh day He made holy.9
Plato's Euthyphro raised an issue which, in various forms, was often debated in Christian and Mohammedan scholasticism, namely: do the gods love the good because it is good or is it good because the gods love it? Such a problem could only arise when the gods and the good were regarded as two different entities, and where it was taken for granted that the gods do not always act according to the highest standards of goodness and justice. To inquire: is a particular act holy (commanded by, or dear to God) because it is good or is it good because it is holy (commanded by or dear to God)? would be just as meaningless as to inquire: is a particular point within the circle called the center due to its equidistance from the periphery or is its equidistance from the periphery due to its being the center? The dichotomy of the holy and the good is alien to the spirit of the great prophets. To their thinking, the righteousness of God is inseparable from His being.
Wise criticism always begins with self-criticism. Philosophy, too,is in need of constant examination and purification. Reason in testing religion is testing itself; examining its own premises, scope, and power; proving whether it has advanced enough to comprehend the insights of the prophets. Indeed, there are insights of the spirit to which our reason comes late, often too late, after having rejected them.
In order to succeed, philosophy of religion must keep in mind both the uniqueness and the limitations of both philosophy and religion.
Religion, as we shall see, goes beyond philosophy, and the task of philosophy of religion is to lead the mind to the summit of thinking; to create in us the understanding of why the problems of religion cannot be apprehended in terms of science; to let us realize that religion has its own scope, perspective and goal; to expose us to the majesty and mystery, in the presence of which the mind is not deaf to that which transcends the mind. One of the goals of philosophy of religion is to stimulate a critical reassessment of philosophy from the persective of religion.
THE WORSHIP OF REASON
It is improper to define philosophy of religion as an attempt to supply a rational basis for religion, because such a definition implicitly identifies philosophy with rationalism. If rationalism were the sign of a philosopher, Plato, Schelling, William James, and Bergson would have to be disqualified as philosophers. Rationalism, according to Dewey, "precludes religious faith in any distinctive sense. It allows only for a belief that is unimpeachable rational inference from what we absolutely know."10
Extreme rationalism may be defined as the failure of reason to understand itself, its alogical essence, and its meta-logical objects. We must distinguish between ignorance and the sense of mystery, between the subrational and the super-rational. The way to truth is an act of reason; the love of truth is an act of the spirit. Every act of reasoning has a transcendent reference to spirit. We think through.reason because we strive for spirit. We think through reason because we are certain of meaning. Reason withers without spirit, without the truth about all of life.
Reason has often been identified with scientism, but science is unable to give us all the truth about all of life. We are in need of spirit in order to know what to do with science. Science deals with relations among things within the universe, but man is endowed with the concern of the spirit, and spirit deals with the relation between the universe and God. Science seeks the truth about the universe; the spirit seeks the truth that is greater than the universe. Reason's goal is the exploration and verification of objective relations; religion's goal is the exploration and verification of ultimate personal relations.
A challenge is not the same as a clash, and divergence does not mean a conflict. It is a part of the human condition to live in polarities. It is an implication of our belief in one God to be certain that ultimately reason and revelation are both derived from the same source. Yet what is one in creation is not always one in our historic situation. It is an act of redemption when it is granted to us to discover the higher unity of reason and revelation.
The widely preached equation of Judaism and rationalism is an intellectual evasion of the profound difficulties and paradoxes of Jewish faith, belief, and observance. Man's understanding of what is reasonable is subject to change. To the Roman philosophers, it did not seem reasonable to abstain from labor one day a week. Nor did it seem unreasonable to certain plantation owners to import slaves from Africa into the New World. With what stage in the development of reason should the Bible be compatible?
For all the appreciation of reason and our thankfulness for it, man's intelligence was never regarded in Jewish tradition as being self-sufhcient. "Trust in the Lord with all thy heart, and do not rely on thine own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5). "And thou has felt secure in thy wickedness, thou hast said: no one seeth me; thy wisdom and thy knowledge led thee astray, and thou hast said in thy heart: I am, and there is no one else beside me" (Isaiah 47:10).
Some of the basic presuppositions of Judaism cannot be completely justified in terms of human reason. Its conception of the nature of man as having been created in the likeness of God, its conception of God and history, of the election of Israel, of prayer and even of morality, defy some of the realizations at which we have honestly arrived at the end of our analysis and scrutiny. The demands of piety are a mystery before which man is reduced to reverence and silence.11 Reverence, love, prayer, faith, go beyond the acts of shallow reasoning.
We must therefore not judge religion exclusively from the viewpoint of reason. Religion is not within but beyond the limits of mere reason. Its task is not to compete with reason but to aid us where reason gives only partial aid. Its meaning must be understood in terms compatible with the sense of the ineffable.
The sense of the ineffable is an intellectual endeavor out of the depth of reason; it is a source of cognitive insight. There is, therefore, no rivalry between religion and reason as long as we are aware of their respective tasks and areas. The employment of reason is indispensable to the understanding and worship of God, and religion withers without it. The insights of faith are general, vague, and stand in need of conceptualization in order to be communicated to the mind, integrated and brought to consistency. Without reason faith becomes blind. Without reason we would not know how to apply the insights of faith to the concrete issues of living. The worship of reason is arrogance and betrays a lack of intelligence. The rejection of reason is cowardice and betrays a lack of faith.
IDEAS AND EVENTS
The subject of a philosophy of Judaism is Judaism. But what kind of entity is Judaism? Is it a set of ideas or principles, a doctrine? To try to distill the Bible, which is bursting with life, drama, and tension, to a series of principles would be like trying to reduce a living person to a diagram. The exodus from Egypt, or the revelation at Sinai, or Miriam's slander against Moses, is an event, not anidea; a happening, not a principle. On the other hand, he who would try to reduce the Bible to a catalog of events, to a sacred history, will equally fail. The Lord is One, or Justice, justice shalt thou pursue, is an idea or a norm rather than an occurrence. A philosophy of Judaism, therefore, is a philosophy of both ideas and events.
Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) sums up the essence of Judaism in thirteen articles of faith: 1. The existence of God; 2. His unity; 3. His incorporeality; 4. His eternity; 5. God alone the object of worship; 6. Revelation through His Prophets; 7. The preeminence of Moses among the Prophets; 8. The entire Pentateuch was divinely given to Moses; 9. The Immutability of the Law of the Torah; 10. God's knowledge of the acts and thoughts of man; 11. Reward and punishment; 12. The coming of the Messiah; 13. Resurrection. With the exception of 6, 8, 12, 13, these articles refer to principles or to the realm of ideas, rather than to events or to the realm of history. Significantly, the form in which these articles became popular and even incorporated in many prayerbooks begins with the words, "I firmly believe that ..."
The Maimonidean creed is based upon the premise that it is in ideas that ultimate reality comes to expression. To the Biblical man, however, it is in events, not only in ideas that ultimate reality comes to expression. The substance of Judaism is given both in history and in thought. We accept ideas and recall events. The Jew says, "I believe," and is told, "Remember!" His creed contains a summary of basic ideas as well as a summary of outstanding events.12
To the Jewish mind, the understanding of God is not achieved by referring in a Greek way to timeless qualities of a Supreme Being, to ideas of goodness or perfection, but rather by sensing the living acts of His concern, to His dynamic attentiveness to man. We speak not of His goodness in general but of His compassion for the individual man in a particular situation. God's goodness is not a cosmic force but a specific act of compassion. We do not know it as it is but as it happens. To mention an example, "Rabbi Meir said: When a human being suffers what does the Shechinah say? My head is too heavyfor Me; My arm is too heavy for Me. And if God is so grieved over the blood of the wicked that is shed, how much more so over the blood of the righteous."13 This statement, quoted in the Mishnah immediately following the description of capital punishment, is intended to convey how painful it is to God when His children suffer, be it even a criminal who is punished for his crime.
Different are the problems when we accept such an approach. The problem is no longer how to reconcile the Bible with Aristotle's view of the universe and of man, but rather: what is the Biblical view of the universe and of man's position in it? How should we understand ourselves in terms of Biblical thinking? The problem is: What are the ultimate questions of existence which religion comes to answer? What are the ideas a religious man stands for?
THE PHILOSOPHY OF JUDAISM
The term Judaism in the phrase philosophy of Judaism may be used either as an object or as a subject. In the first sense, philosophy of Judaism is a critique of Judaism; Judaism as a theme or the object of our examination. In the second sense, philosophy of Judaism has a meaning comparable to the meaning of a phrase such as the philosophy of Kant or the philosophy of Plato; Judaism as a source of ideas which we are trying to understand.
Now Judaism is a reality, a drama within history, a fact, not merely a feeling or an experience. It claims that certain extraordinary events occurred in which it originated. It stands for certain basic teachings. It claims to be the commitment of a people to God. To understand the meaning of these events, teachings and commitments is the task of a philosophy of Judaism.
As already stated, our method in this book is primarily, though not exclusively, that of self-understanding, and the term Judaism in the subtitle of the book is used primarily as a subject.
NOTES FOR CHAPTER 1
A characteristic shared by philosophy and science is the fact that each answer engenders new questions. The difference seems to be that philosophy's issues are perennial, and none of its answers remains unchallenged, since each answer has to be a total answer.
Self-knowledge or self-understanding has in various forms been the central concern of philosophy (the first of the three maxims inscribed on the front of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi was "Know Thyself"). Its importance has been stressed by Socrates and Plato, see Charmides 167B-172C; Akibiadet 133B; Xenophanes, Memorabilia IV, 2, 24. Aristotle, Metaphyaica 1072B 20. Compare Plotinus, Enneads, IV, 4.2; Theologie des Aristotle, translated by Dieterici, Leipzig, 1893, p. 18. All philosophy is "spiritual self-observation" (J. F. Fries, Syatem der Metapbysik, 1824, p. 110), "the science of inner experience" (Th. Lipps, Grundtataachen des Seelenlebens, p. 3), "the self-cognition of the human spirit" (Kuno Fisher, Geschichte der Philosophie, vol. I, ed, 5, p. 11); compare Max Scheler, Die transzendentale und die paychologiache Methode, Leipzig. 1922, p. 179. In Jewish literature the definition of philosophy as self-understanding is quoted by Bahya Ibn Paquda, The Duties of the Heart, shaar habehinah, ch. 5, ed. Haymson, Vol. II, p. 14. Compare Joseph Ibn Saddik, Haolam Haqaton, ed. S. Horovitz, Breslau, 1903, beginning. See Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed 1, 53. According to Hermann Cohen, Religion der Vernunft, Frankfurt a. M., 1929, p. 23, the self-cognition of man is the deepest source of religion. Sayings on self-knowledge in Hebrew literature are collected in I. L. Zlotnik, Maamarim, Jerusalem, 1939, pp. 17-26.
A. J. Heschel, Man is Not Alone, New York, 1951, p. 55.
F. P. Ramsey, The Foundations of Mathematica and Other Logical Essays, New York, 1950, p. 269.
Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, preface to the first edition, translated by J. M. D., Meikeljohn, New York, 1899, p. xl, note.
See Julius Guttmann, "Religion and Wissenscbaft im Mittelalterlichen und im Modernen Denken" in Featachrift zum 50 Jaehrigen Bestehen der Hochschdule loor die Wiuentchaft des Judentums, Berlin, 1922, p. 147f.
See A. J. Heschel, Die Prophetie, Cracow, 1936, p. 15. The categories in which the Biblical man conceived of God, man, and the world are so different from the presuppositions of metaphysics upon which most of Western philosophy is based that certain insights that are meaningful within the Biblical mind seem to be meaningless to the Greek mind. It would be an achievement of the first magnitude to reconstruct the peculiar nature of Biblical thinking and to spell out its divergence from all other types of thinking. It would open new perspectives for the understanding of moral, social and religious issues and enrich the whole of our thinking. Biblical thinking may have a part to play in shaping our philosophical views about the world.
A. J. Heschel, The Sabbath, New York, 1951, p. 75.
Dewey, A Common Faith, New Haven, 1934.
See A. J. Heschel, Man's Quest for God, New York, 1954, p. 104.
See Man is Not Alone, p. 163.
Mishnah Sanhedrin, VI, 5.
Copyright © 1955 by Abraham Joshua Heschel, renewed © 1983 by Sylvia Heschel
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