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March 15, 2013

What Jewish Theology?

Torah Scrolls low res"Judaism, in its native form, steers away from any type of theological questions because religion's role is not to explain nature of God but rather how God acts in our life and how He wants us to live."

 

What Jewish theology?
Judaism, in its native form, steers away from any type of theological questions because religion's role is not to explain nature of God but rather how God acts in our life and how He wants us to live.
Rabbi Levi Brackman • Ynet

Jewish theology is a huge topic and I could not possibly do it justice in a short article. In this series I am trying to give a personal account of why I care about Judaism, so here I will explain Judaism’s approach to theology from the perspective of my own journey trying to grapple with it.
 
Ever since I was a small child, deep theological questions have fascinated me. At age eight I was asking my teachers how it was possible to have free will if God knows what we are about to do. I recall how excited I was to start studying Hasidism and the Kabbalisitc teachings upon which it is based. It promised answers to some of the most vexing theological questions.

There was a point in my teenage years when I was unable to quench my thirst for this knowledge. I would awaken before dawn to study Hasidic texts. By the time I was 20, I had learned by heart what many consider to be the deepest and most profound teachings of the Chabad Hasidic school of Jewish mysticism. My daily routine of studying Hasidic and Kabbalistic texts lasted until I was about 30 years old.
 
In my early 20s I began studying medieval Jewish philosophy and I wrote a thesis on the Maimonidean concept of prayer. Over time it occurred to me that fundamentally Hasidism is a form of philosophical mysticism. In other words, it attaches well known philosophical ideas to explain mystical concepts. Despite their competing claims, they are really not that different.
 
Of course both philosophy and mysticism give answers to the most difficult of theological questions. But as is often the case with difficult theological questions, the answers often bring deeper and more profound questions in their wake. One example of this is the claim that the Kabbalah, and the Chabad school of Hasidic philosophy in particular, explains the unity of God and how multiplicity emanated from the One. In the final analysis, however, while answering some questions, the result is a theology that suggests a duality within the Divine Essence itself.
 
Thus, after much study and few truly satisfying answers, a number of years ago I came to the conclusion that no one can fully explain the most perplexing theological questions. In fact, no one in history has ever known the answers to these questions. There are some things that are simply unknowable to us humans.
 
This revelation clarified for me why Biblical and Talmudic Judaism steers away from any type of theological discussions beyond a simple statement of monotheism. The prophet (Isaiah 55:8) clearly states that it is impossible for us humans to understand God. Even Moses was unable to “see” God’s face (Exodus 33:23). Maimonides states that the closest we can get to understanding God is to comprehending what He is not. We will never be able to understand what He is (see Guide for the Perplexed 1:50-54).
 
The lack of a theology, beyond a generic belief in one God, is, to me, part of the beauty of Biblical and Talmudic Judaism. The message is that it is a waste of time trying to understand the nature of God or how the multiplicity that exists stems from the Oneness of our Creator, or how we can have free choice if God is omniscient, or how evil can exist if God is good, etc. We humans never have and never will be able to understand how God works. These are things that are in the realm of unknowable.
 
It is, however, important for us to know God's modus operandi within the human realm. This is what Torah offers us – a framework that explains what God does in the universe – yet it never explains how He does it. We then have a choice whether or not to believe in what the Torah tells us. In other words, the Torah and the Talmud tells us “the what” of God’s activities in the universe, but they don’t discuss “the how and why” or the nature of God.
 
Mine is a religion which is realistic, offering us things to believe in when we don’t have clear facts to rely on. My religion does not make claims it cannot substantiate. Judaism, in its native form, steers away from any type of theological questions because the role of religion is not to explain the nature of God but rather how God acts in our life and how He wants us to live. These are the truths (rather than THE truth) that Judaism offers us – and because more than that is not available to us humans, for me it is more than enough.

Rabbi Levi Brackman is co-founder and executive director of Youth Directions , a non-profit organization that helps youth find and succeed at their unique positive purpose in life.

Comments

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while at univarsity during the 1980's and already in my 40's i arrived at the conclusion that there were things beyond our understanding. that the profound questions had a simple answer, VIZ the answer is we have no answer.I am so grateful to this writer as i enter old age aware that i shall never realize the profound.But content with this fact.

>> Mine is a religion which is realistic


yep thats why kosher meats costs too much. lol

This article sounds like particle physics to me,the deeper you go the less you understand:)

Do not presume the ways of God to scan/ The proper study of Mankind is Man.

Alexander Pope, from Essay on Man

what utter nonsense!!

before one can delve into questions such as "how the multiplicity that exists stems from the Oneness of our Creator, or how we can have free choice if God is omniscient, or how evil can exist if God is good, etc. " - or abdicate onesself from the need to do so, one needs to first accept that there is indeed a god and that he wrote a book called the torah.
insofar as the questions above are concerned, the answers are important and necessary in order to evaluate the likelihood of the existence of god, and whether answers exist which are reasonable while consistent with an omnibenevolent, omniscient and intercessory god. the authors calling the lack of clear answers to these issues "part of the beauty of Biblical and Talmudic Judaism" is laughable.

""Mine is a religion which is realistic, offering us things to believe in when we don’t have clear facts to rely on. My religion does not make claims it cannot substantiate.""

here he makes use of incredible spin and blatant distortion of facts. he paints it as a positive that judaism offers things to believe in without reliable facts. why is this good? is it good to believe in krishna, allah , thor or the flying spaghetti monster without evidence? this is a terrible idea which should be rejected, not something to applaud.
furthermore, judaism and the torah make numerous claims which not only cant be substantiated, but for which the contra-evidence is plentiful and impressive.
his shpiel might work on teens and ignorant BT's but to anyone with a bit of knowledge and the ability to think critically its just more deceptive kiruv category propoganda.

With his way, you don't have to explain all the inconsistencies in the Torah.
Or to explain how and why God answers prayers if He already knows ahead of time how things will unfold.

"My religion does not make claims it cannot substantiate."

Then you must be talking about a different religion from the one being peddled by countless Kiruv clowns the world over.

The difference is that they, unlike you, at least have the cojones to accept that Judaism does indeed make a whole host of claims, though proving them is ,of course, a whole 'nother story.

This is the major weakness of Judaism.Too much focus on ritualism and almost no spirituality and theology.

"I would awaken before dawn to study Hasidic texts. By the time I was 20, I had learned by heart what many consider to be the deepest and most profound teachings of the Chabad Hasidic school of Jewish mysticism."

I waited to read the whole article before deciding how self-serving this article sounds.

A basic point of logic: how do you know WHAT it is that God wants you to do if you don't know what God is? How do you know the halachos are from Hashem or are what he wants? Instead of being teachers of our tradition, rabbis have appointed themselves as God's representatives on earth. And obviously they are able to make a binding psak din. I'm glad this rabbi has at least pointed out the obvious that the rabbinic establishment ignores: that their foundations are shaky to begin with. Therefore, halacha should be optional. The point of this article seems to be: Rabbis don't know what God is, but we know what he wants, so do what we say. Also, we have authority over you because we're amazingly learned, you am ho'oretz.

I'm not saying I don't find Torah and Judaism (or rather parts of them) very inspiring on a spiritual level, but each individual has the right to choose what they believe in based on common sense and common decency. They should certainly have the right to ignore unbelievably detailed proscriptions of how to live each minute of one's life. That's the best way to go when you have no idea what God is and when God could be anything.

>By the time I was 20, I had learned by heart what many consider to be the deepest
>and most profound teachings of the Chabad Hasidic school of Jewish mysticism.

Yeah, well, it's Chabad. I've seen how their educational system works. I don't think the bar is set very high.

>Mine is a religion which is realistic, offering us things to believe in when we
>don’t have clear facts to rely on. My religion does not make claims it cannot
>substantiate.

Good Lord. How often do I say it? They have NO sense of irony.

>In the final analysis, however, while answering
>some questions, the result is a theology that
>suggests a duality within the Divine Essence itself.

BTW, did anyone else pick up on this?

Would one aspect of that "duality" have the initials "MMS"?

Jeff,
I've come to the conclusion that all of traditional/ Orthodox Judaism has been infected to a greater or lesser degree with mysticism. Some groups eg. Modern Orthodox try to be less mystical. However, even my MO synagogue ends with the hymn "Anim Zemirot" which in my opinion is riddled with idolatry (Hashem wears tefillin? give me a break!)

Even the Orot Sefardic siddur has what I would consider idolatrous passages. Even the Conservative siddur has "Anim Zemirot" printed in it. Even Mishkan Tefillah, the Reform siddur has some anthropomorphic passages. All these must be rooted out.

Dave,I agree 101% with you!

His [ the author ] is representational of a modern debased Jewish vision poisoned by lies and historical inaccuracies , worshiping shallowness and to be throw away when recognized as the trash it is

Abu, thanks. I am glad we agree.

Which reminds me of..."It is complete. I have created a god. But I have no control over it."


"
In others’ eyes, I am part of the world. But when I look out at the world from my own vantage point, I am not in it. What I see is the world. As an observer, I am the point of view that creates the world. I can’t belong to the world. In principle, we can say that it’s the truth."

"Remember. You can feel it if you hold your hand against your chest. It belongs to no one. It’s our pulse, yours and mine. This is what brings us to the truth. It’s what proves that we are the very world itself. Follow your instincts. The answer is already there."


I tried to become an ideal religious man… I killed my own personality, and tried so hard to become one… anytime, anywhere.


: skepticfrum
thats a beautiful thing you wrote is it your own?

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