10.03 Nadir and Refinement (pps.5-7)

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abstract, but only attains validity when it succeeds in the face of harsh reality. And if philosophical doctrine cannot handle challenge, including the challenge of experience, reformulation within the bounds of dogma may be in order.

The Holy One, blessed be He, rejoices in the dialectics of Torah. Read not here “dialectics” (pilpul) but “creative interpretation” (hiddish).

In the post-Holocaust environment, in particular,16 there is a growing body of respected thinking which welcomes aggressive inquiry and legitimate reformulation/refinement of Jewish thought.17

To avoid Auschwitz, or to act as though it had never occurred, would be blasphemous. Yet how [can we] face it and be faithful to its victims? No precedent exists either within Jewish history or outside it. Even when a Jewish religious thinker barely begins to face Auschwitz? he perceives the possibility of a desperate choice between the faith of a millennial Jewish past, which has so far persisted through every trial, and faithfulness to the victims of the present. But at the edge of this abyss there must be a great pause, a lengthy silence, and an endurance.

The fact that one contends with the common theological formulations does not mean that one is contending with God. To put matters in further perspective, it should be noted that Jewish tradition gives wide berth to aggressive inquiry.19 Occasionally God reveals His approval of those who contend with Him directly, as He did in the case of Job. He rejects the wellmeaning defenders of His “justice” toward Job in the words which He addresses 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 42:720

——————- NOTES ——————-

15 Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, p. 1.

16 Cf. Fackenheim, To Mend the World, p. 11. “The cruelty and the killing raise the question whether even those who believe after such an event dare to talk about God who loves and cares without making a mockery of those who suffered. Theologians refusing to face this question-and ‘mutatis mutandis’ philosophers as well-merely seek refuge from a unique scandal in an unreal realm of abstract thought.” See also Fackenheim, The Jewish Return into History, p. 32.

17 Cf. Berkovits, Major Themes in modern Philosophies of Judaism, p. vii. “Judaism is awaiting a reformulation of its theology and philosophy.” Cf. Borowitz, Choices in ModemJewish Thought, p. 276. Cf. Greenberg, “Cloud of Smoke, Pillar of Fire,” p. 24.

18 Fackenheim, The Jewish Return into History, p. 26.

19 There is a concept in Judaism of makom hinichu lanu avoteinu le-hitgaber bam, i.e., each generation has been left a portion of the Torah to reveal (in spite of the general, hierarchic, authoritative superiority of prior generations, due to their proximity to Sinai).

20 Berkovits, With God in Hell, p. 126.


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