Summa I: pp. 26-50

Group II.   Man is punished for his sins, failings: EXPLICATION AND CHALLENGE

   Theodicy Group II receives more emphasis in historical responses. It is the theodicy espoused by the “friends of Job.” This is the “fundamentalist view” that man’s suffering originates in sin.91 Job’s friends attempt to defend an obvious wrong as justice. By doing so, they unintentionally degrade Job’s idea of God. But because of his faith, Job cannot accept a defense of God that implies an insult to the dignity of God.92 Ultimately, Job’s innocence is vindicated, and the friends’ “fundamentalist response” repudiated, by the Divine.93
   We will address directly one Holocaust theodicy. This theodicy, popular in certain circles, proclaims that the Holocaust was a punishment for European Jewry’s transgressions, and explains the Holocaust as a modern-day version of the tochacha (admonition of punishment) cited in the Torah portions of Bechukotai (Leviticus 26) and Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 28).94
   Theodicies of “punishment” are less prevalent in newer theological writings,95 in parallel to the amplification of the (Literal) Written Law by the Oral Law. While there is an old tradition within Judaism that suffering man should examine his deeds, the same tradition admonishes man against pointing at another’s suffering as Divine punishment.
   The Divine harshly reproves the friends of Job, who have explained away Job’s suffering as punishment for sin.

The Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends; for ye have not spoken of Me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          —Job 42 : 7

The Divine, in the final chapter of Job, continues his reproach of the “friends,” who have defended God by rationalizing Job’s suffering as punishment.

and My servant Job shall pray for you; for it is only by dint of his [Job’s] sufferance of you that I have not done terrible things to you; for ye have not spoken of Me the thing that is right.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               —Job 42:8
    Norman Lamm, in a blistering assault on the “Holocaust as punishment” theodicy, terms it “massively irrelevant, impudent, and insensitive.”96 He notes that whoever advocates this theodicy “risks violating a most heinous sin of his own—that of tsidduk ha-din”—attempting to justify Israel’s travail as particular punishment.97
Fackenheim articulates the fatal flaw in simplistic “suffering is punishment” theodicies:

[Fundamentalist] Biblical faith originates as a myth which takes good fortune to be sufficient proof of righteousness, and ill fortune to be sufficient proof of sin. Good fortune is proof of God’s mercy and love; ill fortune merely proves that His ways are not our ways. For [fundamentalist] Biblical faith, in short, it is “heads-I-win-and-tails-you-lose”; its God has acquired the logical peculiarity that empirical evidence may confirm Him but that it is systematically unable to falsify Him.98

It is, of course, not biblical faith per se which leads us into this logical conundrum; It is, rather, a misformulation of Jewish theology.


   The third group of theodicies is also that of Job in his complaint and protest. It is the view of a God who contracts His providence by a Hester Panim (Hiding of the Face).
   In subsequent chapters, starting in Section 900 of our Unified Formulation, we devote considerable attention to this line of approach. The subject will be covered in depth in that section and subsequently.
   As indicated, Hester Panim is not employed as a response to the general theodicy dilemma. Rather, it is generally applied by its protagonists to specific historical periods, e.g., the Holocaust. At the same time, while some respected thinkers believe that the Divine has been in a state of Hiding since the destruction of the Temple, this concept has not been fully developed into a theodicy.
Group IV.  Other mainstream traditional responses: EXPLICATION AND CHALLENGE

   A common cord running through much of the balance of theodicies is that suffering “chastens” man or “challenges” man. In the Book of Job, Elihu stresses the idea that suffering frequently serves as a source of moral discipline.99 Elihu maintains that by inflicting suffering, God chastens man.100
   Variations and permutations of this theme appear throughout Jewish philosophy. However, this approach essentially concedes the major point: there is indeed such a phenomenon as undeserved suffering. Thus, it denies the correlation of suffering to sin of Theodicy Group II. Some combine the two concepts. When suffering is not due to sin, it serves the purpose of chastisement. Thus, they “cover all bases,” with man remaining God’s unfortunate target in a no-win world.101
   Another theme is that while God is perfect, the universe as a whole is not. This argument runs as follows: Religion must have the courage to face the facts; it must reject the dogmatic affirmations of religious thinkers through the ages that the universe is perfect, since only a perfect creation could have issued from an omnipotent and perfect Creator. It suggests that it is the worst form of anthropomorphism to assert that an omnipotent and omniscient God would only be responsible for an immaculate universe. It merely states what man, imagining himself almighty and all-wise, would do. God alone should be assumed to be perfect. Perfection, according to this theme, is identical with God; it cannot exist outside Him. But creation is separate from the Creator. The world is apart from God; it is, therefore, of necessity, imperfect.102
   Significant support for this approach can be gleaned from various elements of kabbalistic literature. The motif of the “breaking of the vessels,” with all of its variations and permutations, plays a major role in Lurianic Kabbalah.103 The universe did not end up perfect.
   The story of the “blasphemous” tailor presents the theme in Jewish folklore. When the rabbi reproached the tailor for taking six weeks to make a pair of trousers, while it took God no more than six days to create the entire world, the tailor parried. “Yes Rabbi,” he said “but just see what a world created in a hurry looks like.”104
   The question for those subscribing to the theodicy of an imperfect world reigned over by a perfect Divine is: Why does omnipotent God not intervene in this imperfectly crafted world?105 Did God not show the inclination and power to do so in biblical times?106
One response is the Maimonidean theory of evil and Providence.

If a man frees his thoughts from worldly matters, obtains knowledge of God in the right way, and rejoices in that knowledge, it is impossible that any kind of evil should befall him while he is with God, and God with him. When he does not meditate on God, when he is separated from God, then God is also separated from him; then he is exposed to any evil that might befall him; for it is only that intellectual link with God that secures the presence of Providence and protection from evil accident.107

Stitskin elaborates:

In this light Maimonides interprets the Book of Job. The bible describes Job as a good, virtuous man, fearful of God when tragedy befell him. But the text does not say that he was an intelligent, wise or clever man. It was only after he had attained a measure of enlightenment, wisdom and the realization that man’s highest good lies in an intellectual fellowship with God that his affliction came to an end. In the ultimate situation, when man’s encounter is rooted in an intellectual fellowship with Godin-Essence, he is finally relieved of all the accidents of time and space.108

Maimonides’ views in this area are paralleled in Ibn Daud’s Emunah Ramah.109
Another response often encountered is that the need to maintain man’s free will precludes the possibility of Divine intervention. We deal with this theme in the following section.

Man’s freedom, in and of itself, is deemed of surpassing importance. The God of Mercy is limited by the God of Freedom.
Questions this approach raise are as follows: Why did God clearly intervene in Biblical times but no longer? How, indeed, can the rahamim (mercy) face of God be so totally eclipsed by the freedom face? What is so absolutely crucial about freedom—from even Divine deliverance from harm? Of what value is the Covenant if God withholds His saving hand? Of what value is freedom if the price is a Holocaust? Granted that man must be free (to commit “moral evil,” among other things), why could “natural evil” not have been eliminated? Why can’t man’s freedom assert itself within bounds of lesser evil? Of what worth is freedom if so much evil befalls innocent bystanders who become hostages to the moral choices of others?

Group VI.   Kabbalistic responses

This group employs the motifs of “dualities,” tsimtsum, and “breaking of the vessels”110 as major elements in creation, imperfection, and evil. These extremely complex, image-laden, and elusive concepts fall beyond the bounds of this study, as they do not lend themselves to brief encapsulization. Nevertheless, a few kabbalistic concepts will be employed in our eventual formulation along with elements of Hester Panim and the Freedom arguments.

Group VII.   There currently is no answer.

The group of responses which posits that we currently have no answer to the problem has been one of the most popular responses, albeit not solutions, to date. By its nature it does not exactly lend itself to extensive analysis.
Naturally, we pay a price for this response. Can one adhere to a theology which does not provide a solution to a fundamental problem?
A variation on this theme is the response that posits a “dynamic tension” existing between the Jew’s faith in God and the searing problem of evil, the Jew maintaining both simultaneously.111
The early Hasidic master Levi Yitzhak of Berdiczev once interrupted the sacred Yom Kippur service in order to protest that, whereas kings of flesh and blood protected their peoples, Israel was not protected by her King in heaven. Having made his protest, he recited the Kaddish, which begins with these words: “Extolled and hallowed be the name of God throughout the world.”112 The Jew has found it possible to simultaneously protest and praise.


Often the religious response will take the following form: One or more of the theodicies noted above will be cited, possibly in hybrid form, and the inquirer will be advised that any logical or emotional gaps must be bridged by “faith in God.” This response claims to provide an intellectual solution to the problem of theodicy, but in reality is effectively hinged on the “faith in God” defense. A thousand partial intellectual responses still do not equal one complete intellectual response. A panoply of partial solutions do not add up to one satisfying solution. In this case the whole is less than the sum of its parts. And bridging the shortcomings of a rational and reasoned response with “faith in God” is in reality dependent entirely on “faith.” And after all, “is not faith what religion is all about?” Yes, and no. Yes, for Western religion must ultimately rest on at least one leap of faith; but no, blind faith is not the end-all of religion, particularly Judaism.


Most theodicies, or variations thereof, are common to more than one system of religious thought, whether contemporary or ancient, Western or Eastern. There are a number of theodicies, however, which are either clearly outside of Jewish tradition, only peripheral to Jewish thought, or generally identified with non-Jewish sources or traditions. We will briefly cover some of the major ones here.

   40.01     Overview

   “Ancient man tended to regard misfortune as resulting from cultic neglect in his worship of the gods. A Hittite king once searched long and hard through his records in order to uncover the error that might have angered the gods and brought on the plague that was killing his people.”113
   Monism, the philosophical view that the universe forms an ultimately harmonious unity, suggests the theodicy that evil is only apparent and would be recognized as good if we could but see it in its full cosmic context: “All partial evil, universal good.” Dualism as a theodicy, on the other hand, rejects the final harmony, insisting that good and evil are utterly and irreconcilably opposed to one another, and that their duality can be overcome only by one destroying the other.
   Under Dualism there arose the Zoroastrian conception of a cosmic war between Ahura Mazda and Ahriman, and the concept of the Kingdom of Satan poised against the Kingdom of God.114 Each of these polar positions has exerted a powerful pull on Christian thought.115 In classic Gnostic tradition the evil god prevailed over the good god.
   Paul Tillich has attempted a more rational version of the classic “finite/infinite defense.” This involves a sort of pantheism, in the tradition of Baruch Spinoza116 and Cordovero.117
   Tillich posits the unity of all beings: “Only in the unity of all beings in time and eternity can there be a humanly possible answer to the riddle of inequality.”118 Since my suffering, according to Tillich, is ultimately also your suffering, the pain is distributed evenly.
   Aquinas posited that if God had created the universe democratically, with equal measures to all, there would be no fullness and stimulation in Creation.119 (This parallels elements of the Augustinian theodicy and the Irenaean theodicy, both of which will be described later.) Given the underlying dynamics, this universe, accordingly, is the “best of all worlds.”120
   Aquinas agreed with Augustine that evil (both physical and moral) is the privation of goodness, of perfection. He posits that evil is necessary so that many goods may find expression. “If there were no death of other animals, there would be no life for the lion; if there were no persecution from tyrants, there would be no occasion for the heroic suffering of martyrs.”121
   It is said that the problem of evil, although insoluble, is counterbalanced and, so to speak, canceled out by the mystery of good. In the words of the old Latin tag, “If God exists, wherefore evil? If God does not exist, wherefore good?”122 But turning the question on its head does not solve the problem.123
   Proposed solutions to the problem of evil, some of which overlap theodicies in the Jewish tradition, include the following: evil is an illusion; evil is merely the privation of good; evil has to exist as a counterpart to the good;124 evil is the by-product of the operations of the laws of nature; the presence of evil brings out the good in people. Inadequacies in these theodicies are pointed out by the contemporary philosophers Mackie125 and McCloskey.126
   Other theodicies range from theodicies of an indifferent God—e.g., Camus et al.127 and Epicurus128; a mischievous God—e.g., Russell129; a bad God—e.g., Jung130; an incomprehensible God—e.g., Kafka et al.131; a finitely powerful God—e.g., Kushner et al.132; and a God capable of creating only an imperfect world—e.g., the Indian mystic Tagore et al.133
   The mainstream Christian theodicy is that developed by Augustine (354-430 C.E.),134 which posits that the original sin of Adam and Eve haunts us to this day.135

   40.02     Irenaean Theodicy
   Alongside the mainstream of Augustinian theodicy is the “minority report” of the Irenaean tradition. It dates to Irenaeus and others of the early Hellenistic fathers of the church in the second and third centuries—prior to Augustine—and it has flourished again in more complex forms during the last hundred years.
   In contrast to Augustine, who regarded man as having been created by God in a finished state, and as then falling disastrously away from this, Irenaeus saw man as still in process of creation.136 The “minority report” “sees moral evil as an inevitable result of God’s creation of man as an incomplete creature, at the beginning of a long process of moral and spiritual development.”137 Labeled the “soul-making” theodicy, it is based on the assumption that there are certain very valuable human qualities which could not be fully developed without subjecting man to suffering and challenge.138
   The Irenaean theodicy is paralleled by a rabbinic interpretation/insight on Genesis 2:3: me-kol melachto asher bara Elokim la-asot (“from all His work, which God created to make”). What is the meaning of the words “to make”? It is man who completes unfinished creation and achieves a closer state of perfection. Man, as a partner with the Divine, helps complete creation.139 (See also below in section 100.)
   The kabbalists developed this general concept in their formulation of the nahama di-kissufa (“bread of shame”) theodicy: If the good bestowed by God is not deserved (as in a world with no challenge), the recipient’s pleasure will be lessened, or even negated, by the feelings of shame which always accompany undeserved favors.
   Hick encapsulates the Irenaean position:

   The main features of the Irenaean theodicy stress the creation of man, through the processes of natural evolution, at an epistemic distance from God, giving him a basic freedom in relation to his Creator; and man’s consequent self-centredness as an animal organism seeking survival within a harsh and challenging world which is however an environment in which he can develop, as a morally and spiritually immature creature, towards his ultimate perfection; this development beginning in the present life and continuing far beyond it. Such a theodicy sees moral and natural evil as necessary features of the present stage of God’s creating of perfected finite persons, although the precise forms which they have taken are of course contingent. Thus the ultimate responsibility for the existence of evil belongs to the Creator; and Christianity also believes that, in His total awareness of the history of His creation, God bears with us the pains of the creative process.140

   A tangential attack would apply the Schlesinger line.

   If it is claimed that God has greatly improved the world by providing opportunities for virtuous responses to suffering to exist, then it would also have to be admitted that he has impaired the world to no less degree by also providing opportunities for vicious responses. Surely the world could have been no worse off by having opportunities for neither.141

   The central problem, acknowledged by Hick, is whether “the end justifies the means,” whether all the “growth” in the world can justify the suffering of one child. Moreover, if Irenaeus is correct, pain and suffering should be distributed in more equal measure, to allow for equal personal growth potential, and not overly victimize some. Again, if the end purpose is “growth through challenge,” an omnipotent Deity should a priori have created man with the desired characteristics.142 Finally, does not the idea that God placed obstacles before man contradict our conception of God?143 Does it not position God as the primary source of the problem?
   In the words of its chief contemporary elucidator, Hick, the ultimate question regarding the Irenaean theodicy remains: “Can there be a future so good, so great as to render acceptable, in retrospect, the whole human experience, with all its wickedness and suffering as well as all its sanctity and happiness?”144
   Our survey may lead the reader to ask the following questions:

   Are we making too much of the theodicy dilemma?
   Perhaps religious thought is not necessarily so intellectually
   Perhaps we must simply take a “leap of faith” that all is
ultimately for the best?
Perhaps God’s concept of morality is different from ours?

   The next three sections (50.00, 60.00, and 70.00), which conclude Part I of this book, directly address these questions.


   50.01     Intellectuality

Judaism’s intellectuality is, along with its monotheistic orientation, one of its essential characteristics. According to a mid-rash, Abraham’s break with idol worship was both an intellectual and a religious revolution. Judaism is rightfully proud and rightfully protective of the intellectual rigor of Talmudic exegesis and of post-Talmudic scholarship. The “people of the book” must carefully protect the intellectual strength, authenticity, and vigor of the book as well.
Judaism has survived in large measure because of its intellectual rigor. It is puzzling that a religion whose concern with intellect, as a rule, borders on the extreme, does not currently demand more from its theology in general, and its theodicy in particular. Areas are either left unexplored or are consigned to the netherworlds of the “inscrutability of God” or “finite man’s inability to grasp the infinite.”
Theologians sometimes ignore the fact that the finite/infinite defense can equally well apply to systems of belief which are anathema to Judaism. Idol worshippers, devil worshippers, and child-sacrificers can all give the finite/infinite defense a good workout. The finite/infinite defense has its place, but we question its appropriateness as a central element of Jewish theodicy.

Most Western religious philosophies correctly proclaim that the Divine essence is inscrutable and unfathomable. However, the relationship between the Divine and man is not relegated to those unfathomable domains. The distinction is crucial.
Certainly, Judaism is quite averse to the idea of an arbitrary God. According to the pagan Atrahasis epic (of the Great Deluge), the god Enlil engineered the flood for a somewhat arbitrary reason, namely, because the noise of humanity was disturbing his sleep. But in the biblical version human vice was the catalyst.145
The philosophy of medieval Spanish Jewry, generally considered the “Golden Age” of Jewry, placed reason quite high on the pantheon of Jewish values. It treated reason as the very mode in which and by which man and God relate to each other.
According to Saadia, we will reject any prophet if he calls upon us

to follow that which is contrary to our reason.  I state it as a rule, that all which may be found in the books and words authored by one of us, who believe in One God, speaking of Our Creator and His deeds in language which true speculation contradicts, we may be absolutely certain that the expressions are used figuratively. Those who search for their true meaning will find it.

But for Judaism, intellectualism, while crucial, is still only a base. It is a necessary, but not sufficient component. Ultimately, it is a means toward an end. From this finely crafted intellectual base the Jew constructs a spiritual ladder heavenward, paralleling Jacob’s dream.147
It is this dual approach which distinguishes the Jew, and which has been the key to his survival through the millennia. But the intellectual base still remains crucial.148
The crucial nature of the intellect is a central theme of Abraham Ibn Ezra,149 who goes beyond our position in extolling the primacy of the intellect.

The highest virtue in life is reason.  The soul must further take pains to know its own origin and comprehend its own nature, with the help of Wisdom whose “eyes” are undimmed, bringing the far-off, remote places near to us and making night appear like day.150
It is not a visual image but an intellectual perception, which provides a true vision of God.151

The theme is paralleled by his more famous fellow medieval Maimonides, who considers intellectuality as the route towards “cleaving to God.”

For the intellect that God made overflow unto man and that is the latter’s ultimate perfection, was that which Adam had been provided with before he disobeyed. It was because of this that it was said of him that he was created in the image of God and His likeness.152

Moses Ibn Ezra follows through on the theme. “The Active Intellect is the first of God’s creations.”153
In contemporary times, Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik makes rationality a central concept in his conception of “Halakhic Man,” whom he differentiates from “homo religiosus.”

his most characteristic feature is strength of mind. He does battle for every jot and title of the Halakhah, not only motivated by a deep piety but also by a passionate love of the truth. He recognizes no authority other than the authority of the intellect (obviously, in accordance with the principles of tradition). He hates intellectual compromises or fence straddling, intellectual flabbiness, and any type of wavering in matters of law and judgment.154

A religion which is intellectually elitist in its basic dogma cannot afford weak links in its philosophical underpinnings;155 nor can it afford a philosophy not convincing to its educated adherents, which in Judaism’s case involves practically all its adherents. A religion confronted by challenges on all sides, and indeed often from within as well, has very little margin for laxity. On the other hand, a religion which convincingly articulates and grounds its dogma can survive anything and everything.
A religious man of reason (including the man of Halachah), bridles at religious fervor which lacks firm intellectual supports. While cognizant of the authentic possibilities of rapture and bliss, he is wary of them. To him the world of reason and of the intellect is not the enemy. The religious man of reason, and particularly the man of Halachah, yields to no man intellectually. He is sometimes dismissed as a blasphemer by those who stress fervor over reason. Yet religious man of reason need not waver in response to the vacuous sloganism of fanatic elements of the right, just as he need not cow under overrated assaults from the left. It is thus incumbent on him to seriously examine and reexamine, and if necessary refine, his intellectual and religious understanding of basic issues.156
On the one hand, it is crucial that he guard that his religious practices are not added to or subtracted from gratuitously by zealots of the religious left or right. On the other hand, the intellectual components of his theological formulation must be clear, intelligible, and well-developed. That which is emotionally grounded must be demarcated from that which is intellectual.157 And that which is alleged to be in the realm of the intellectual must be defensible on those grounds.158

50.02     Inquiry

The importance of philosophical inquiry is pressed home through the centuries.159

whenever the Torah, according to what appears from the external meaning of its words, disagrees with some things which are clear from the point of view of Philosophic Thought, it is proper that we should interpret them in a manner which is in agreement with Philosophic Thought. In this (way) none of the tenets of (our) revealed religion will be destroyed. . . How much more proper is it that we should not disagree with Philosophic Thought when we do not find the Torah disagreeing with it.

The Lord informed us that complete clarification will come to us if we search and reason in every phase of the revelation.

Support comes as well from an heir to the kabbalistic tradition, the late Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Abraham Isaac Kook.

As a result of this moral and intellectual refinement, a preliminary conditioning for the actions of the higher spiritual influence, there developed in the Jewish people the inclination to pursue the study and cultivation of nature, the desire for free inquiry, for a clear and rational ethic. This became the heritage of Israel, which is to be found always among Jewish groups and individuals in each generation.
—A. I. Kook162
50.03     Geometry

Judaism and Halachah have their own inner logic and cohesive structure. In some sense this can be thought of as an inner theological geometry.

there is practical value, as well as theoretical validity, in the display of an inner logic within Judaism, which dispels anarchy and sets limits.

The statement of Galileo that “the great book which ever lies before our eyes—I mean the Universe—is written in mathematical language and the characters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures” applies as well to the Halakhah. And not for naught did the Gaon of Vilna tell the translator of Euclid’s geometry into Hebrew [R. Barukh of Shklov], that “To the degree that a man is lacking in the wisdom of mathematics he will lack one hundredfold in the wisdom of the Torah.”
Rabbinic thought must have coherence.
—M. Kadushin165

Indeed Judaism congratulates itself on its internal cohesiveness. This claim is valid primarily in the realm of talmudic exegesis and Halachic development. In the realm of Jewish philosophy the same claim cannot truly be made. There are more than a few loose ends. While we may presume that embedded in Jewish canon and tradition lies a cohesive, integrated, and powerful philosophical structure, if it has been articulated we have not seen it. Thus, while over the millennia there has been a near-obsessive touching up of the minutiae of Halachah on the frescos of the cathedral dome, the underlying philosophical foundation has been allowed to remain less than convincingly completely developed.166


Man of Halachah is prepared to take leaps of faith, but, notwithstanding his acceptance of his own finitude, he is averse to the emotionally absurd. Thus, Judaism generally shies away from leaps of faith that are either intellectually flawed or emotionally grating.167 Judaism has historically distinguished and differentiated itself by carefully circumscribing the “blind faith” aspect of religion and carefully appealing to reasoned theological development. While Judaism embraces selected “leaps of faith” as well as the concept of purely ritual law (chok), the general thrust of Jewish theology, given the choice, is the line of reasoned analysis.
Judaism already requires several serious “leaps of faith” from its adherents.168 One can argue that these include the (interrelated) leaps that—
there is a Divine, as Judaism perceives God; the Torah and its text are genuine, correct, and accurate;
the Masorah is correct;
the Divine will cares about my adherence to Judaism today; there is a moral imperative for the Jew to be a man of Halachah.

Thus several crucial leaps of faith are embraced by Judaism. And while by definition monotheistic religion requires at least one “leap of faith,” the greater any religion’s reliance on “leaps of faith,” the more fragile its foundations.169 Religious viability can be endangered by right-wing theological enthusiasm, just as it can be sapped by left-wing rationalism.
Surely religious man takes as a premise that finite man cannot fully comprehend infinite God. Nevertheless, within that context, it is surely a plausible exercise to construct a palatable theological edifice.
Judaism, on the whole, is receptive to chukim, which are, by definition, without any apparent reason other than their Divine origin. Judaism, as a religion, is receptive to emotionally palatable “leaps of faith” and, according to most, to Divine “miracles”;170 but as a religious system it is emotionally honest and intellectually rigorous.
The fact that Judaism contains strong intellectual components should not be confused with Hermann Cohen’s “religion of reason.” For, contrary to Cohen’s formulation, Judaism does indeed validly contain not only a high level of reason, but also major leaps of faith along with a very strong ritual component. The ritual component is often not grounded in any rationale other than that it is Divinely ordained, which is its necessary and sufficient grounding. However, even the ritual component is somewhat subject to intellectual analysis.
Judaism has historically been what Marshall McLuhan would call a “cool” religion, as opposed to a “hot” religion. It is not frenzied, starry-eyed, or frantic.
It does invoke and require “leaps of faith,” yet it is well-considered, thoughtful, and even occasionally somewhat cynical in its religious approach. It will sift through the evidence endlessly before deciding a particularly intractable issue. Judaism tries to “cool off” overzealous would-be converts. While its ultimate aim is a spiritual upliftment, it is still wary of extremes and of overemotionalism in any direction. It is wary of the self-denying ascetic and is wary of the man of frenzy.
The development of Masorah through the present day is a continuum of reasoned analysis, debate carefully circumscribed by accepted doctrine, rules of explication, and prior halachic guidelines.
Indeed, one of the elements which has sustained the Jew through the fearsome millennia has been the careful grounding of Jewish law and doctrine. This has inculcated an internal confidence which has withstood the manifold severe tests of time.
From our theological perspective, we would maintain that Judaism can embrace limited “leaps of faith,” provided the leaps are not counter-intuitive. A “leap of faith” may be positive-intuitive or neutral but should not be counter-intuitive. In order to incorporate a “leap of faith,” Jewish man must have faith in the leap. Eliezer Berkovits notes as follows:

Yehuda Halevi, who was not a rationalist, found it necessary to exclaim: “God forbid that there should be anything in the Torah that is contrary to reason!” The Torah is not absurd and the authentic Jew does not engage in religious acrobatics. To believe in the absurd is absurd.171

Bleich drives home the point:

Jewish philosophers have repeatedly stressed that God cannot command man to accept the illogical or the irrational. The human intellect, no matter how much it may desire to do so, cannot affirm the absurd. Man may, if prompted by a sufficiently compelling reason, postulate the existence of unicorns or mermaids, but he cannot affirm the existence of a geometric object which is at one and the same time endowed with the properties of both a square and a circle. He cannot fathom the concept of a square circle, much less affirm the ontological existence of such an object.

Propositions which constitute objects of belief must, then, first, and foremost do no violence to human credulity. They must be readily apprehended and accepted by human thought.172
Judaism does not teach that God requires of man a “leap of faith” in the Kierkegaardian sense, i.e., blind faith to the extent of acceptance of the absurd. It teaches, rather, that God’s beneficience assures man that his diligence and perseverance will ultimately lead to understanding and intellectual satisfaction.173

Aquinas notes:174 “Faith signifies the assent of the intellect to that which is believed.”175
Theology can parry almost any philosophical challenge by responding that God’s ways are mysterious. No one challenges the assertion. The crucial point is whether Judaism wishes to embrace this proposition as a substitute for an integrated philosophical structure. Judaism prides itself on a religious intellectual rigor, if not an intellectual elitism, as well. But Judaism cannot have it both ways. If Judaism claims to be intellectually rigorous, the philosophical underpinnings of God’s interaction with man need philosophical structure—and a philosophical structure which is integrated with the balance of Jewish philosophy. If the philosophical underpinnings of the interaction between God and man are essentially allowed to rest on the proposition that the ways of God are mysterious, then Judaism is not fatally flawed, but the claim to intellectual defensibility becomes most vulnerable to challenge.


70.01     The Moral Divine

The moral core of the Divine permeates Scripture and Jewish writings.

The Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice.
—Deuteronomy 32:4

The Lord is righteous. He loves righteousness.
—Psalms 11:7

Righteousness and justice are the foundations of his throne.
—Psalms 97:2

The king’s strength loveth justice..
—Psalms 99:4

That I am the Lord who exercises mercy, justice, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.
—Jeremiah 9:23

But let justice well up as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.
—Amos 5:24

The Eternal who is righteous, He will not do unrighteousness.
—Zephaniah 3:5

Indeed, the moral core of the Divine is not challenged by any but peripheral elements in Jewish and Christian tradition. The interrelated general philosophical question is whether the Divine morality roughly parallels mortal conceptions of morality.176

70.02     Moral Intelligibility and Absoluteness

A pivotal issue in theodicy is whether the interaction between the Divine and man is morally intelligible. Those who posit that it is not leave themselves wide latitude in addressing the classic theodicy dilemma, but detract from the internal elegance and power of Judaism.177 Those who posit in the affirmative,178 in the tradition of Abraham, Isaiah, and Maimonides, set a higher standard for Judaism but a tougher task regarding theodicy.179
We would assert as follows: Exclusive only of one’s personal situation, man does have the right to seek the moral underpinnings of the interaction between man and the Divine. (On our exclusion of “one’s personal situation,” see the discussion of “bifurcation” in the appendix.) Schulweis notes:

God wishes man to understand Him morally so that he can emulate Him morally. God informs Abraham of His plans for Sodom and Gomorrah, “for I have known him to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, and they may keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice” (Genesis 18:19). Nothing vitiates the moral purpose of the covenant as much as the envelopment of God in a mist of supramoral inscrutability. It is the measure of the greatness of His personality that He is morally intelligible.
“For the Lord will do nothing, but He revealeth His counsel unto His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). For Jeremiah, God wishes to be known. To know God is no metaphysical exercise. It means to imitate God’s moral concern for the weaker vessels of society. “Did not thy father eat and drink, and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 22:15).180

Once we differentiate qualitatively between human morality and Divine morality, we enter a netherworld of theological and moral chaos.
“Thus I have explained to you that the stream of reason which flows toward us from the Lord, may He be exalted, is the bond which unites us with Him’’ (Maimonides).181 If reason is the “very bond which unites us,” it would follow that the moral interaction should be within reason, as well.

Woe unto them who say of evil, it is good, and of good, it is evil; that change darkness into light and light into darkness; that change bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter.
—Isaiah 5:20

It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, “Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it down to us, that we may hear it and do it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, “Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it and do it?” But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.
—Deuteronomy 30:12-14

This strain of thought, however important it may be in Jewish writings, is of course not unique to Judaism. John Hick notes:

A theology cannot go unchallenged when it is repugnant to the moral sense that has been formed by the religious realities upon which their theology itself professes to be based.182

To take the liberty of inverting the thrust of Saint Ignatius’ dictum: We should never fail to believe that white is white, even if our hierarchic church defines it as black.183
Shubert Spero concludes that the values which God has commanded man to follow are actually God’s ways.184 He notes that the rabbinic teaching of imitatio dei is found in several statements:

What does the text mean, “Ye shall walk after the Lord your God”?    to follow the attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He.
—T B. Tractate Sotah185

As the All-Present is called compassionate and gracious, so be you also compassionate and gracious.

As He is compassionate and gracious, be also compassionate and gracious.
—Mekhilta, Shabbat187

Fackenheim, following the Midrash, notes that morality for Judaism is “nothing less than a threefold relationship involving man, his neighbor, and God Himself.”188 Consequently, if morality is to serve as the basis for the relationship, it must be intelligible.
70.03     “Protest Literature”

From its beginning, Israel has never yielded its right to call for a rational Divine justice, to ask that God’s justice be morally justifiable and answerable, as well, to the standard He has set for man.189
Scriptural writings, commencing with Abraham, give standing to the doctrine that God’s inscrutability is nevertheless held to the moral standards expostulated for man.190 The Divine, as well, in the cases of Sodom and Nineveh, for instance, is portrayed as yielding to the universally perceived moral standard at the expense of elements of Divine prestige.

And Abraham drew near, and said:
“Wilt Thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?
Peradventure there are fifty righteous within the city;
wilt Thou indeed sweep away and not forgive the place
for the fifty righteous that are therein?
That be far from Thee to do after this manner,
to slay the righteous with the wicked,
that so the righteous should be as the wicked;
that be far from Thee;
shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?”
—Genesis 18:23-25

Right wouldest Thou be, 0 Lord,
Were I to contend with Thee,
Yet will I reason with Thee:
Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper?
Wherefore are all they secure that deal very treacherously?
Thou has planted them, yea, they have taken root;
They grow, yea, they bring forth fruit;
Thou art near in their mouth,
And far from their reins.
—Jeremiah 12:1-2

Awake, why sleepest Thou, 0 Lord?
Arouse Thyself, cast not off forever.
Wherefore hidest Thou Thy face,
And forgettest our affliction and our oppression?
For our soul is bowed down to the dust;
Our belly cleaveth unto the earth.
Arise for our help.
And redeem us for Thy mercy’s sake.
—Psalms 44:24-27

How long, 0 Lord, shall I cry,
And Thou wilt not hear?
I cry out unto Thee of violence,
And Thou wilt not save.
Why doth Thou show me iniquity,
And beholdest mischief?
And why are spoiling and violence before me?
So that there is strife, and contention ariseth.
—Habakkuk 1:2-3

Thou that art of eyes too pure to behold evil,
And that canst not look onto mischief,
Wherefore lookest Thou, when they deal treacherously,
And holdest Thy peace, when the wicked swalloweth up
The man that is more righteous than he?
—Habakkuk 1:13

As God liveth, who hath taken away my right;
And the Almighty, who hath dealt bitterly with me;
All the while my breath is in me,
And the spirit of God is in my nostrils,
Surely my lips shall not speak unrighteousness,
Neither shall my tongue utter deceit;
Far be it from me that I should justify you.
—Job 27:2-6

God, where art Thou? Where is the God of justice?
—Malachi 2:17
 In theological development, what appears to be a non-rational Divine morality is oft blamed on man’s finite capability of understanding, or on man’s sinfulness. God is thus defended at the expense of man. Man, however, resists being maneuvered into this defensive position. The “partner of God in creation’ doggedly insists, as does Job, on a rational morality of the Divine.191


Granted, there are many who need no answer to various challenging philosophical questions in order to be secure in their faith. Granted, their approach is viable. Granted, Judaism may be approached on different levels. Yet those who quest for an integrated underlying philosophical structure may legitimately claim the right to a palatable response. And Judaism is sufficiently internally cohesive to provide one. Do we not have the self-confidence that the philosophical structure is ultimately cogent? Five hundred years after Golden Age of Judaism, is there to be “no room at the inn’’ for the intellectually demanding?

David Birnbaum Summa Metaphysica philosophy treatise proposes an original theory unifying science and religion. See also David Birnbaum Potentialism Theory, David Birnbaum Quest for Potential (Q4P), Theory of Everything.

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