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David Birnbaum’s God and Evil is a bold and highly original synthesis which attempts to provide an overarching metaphysical solution to the vexing problem of radical evil in a world created and sustained by an all powerful, all knowing, benevolent God. Birnbaum’s treatment of the highly intimidating and emotionally wrenching problem of a Jewish theodicy in a post-Holocaust world is audacious yet sensitive, traditional and yet highly innovative. The work ranges over a multitude of traditional and contemporary (Orthodox and non-Orthodox) Jewish sources, draws inspiration from the likes of Gersonides, Isaac Luria, Rav Kook and Rav Soloveitchik, but also from such unexpected quarters as Aquinas and Irenaeus, and yet somehow manages to stay within the parameters of an authentically Jewish, halakhic point of view. Birnbaum’s book is an intellectual odyssey, yet it is also, as becomes very clear as one reads on, a highly passionate and emotional quest. The author is himself deeply troubled (as we all should be) by the stark contrast between his abiding faith in a God who is betrothed to (Hosea 2:21-22) and promises to guard the Jewish people in all their ways (Psalms 91:l1), and who keeps kindness and mercy to the thousandth generation (Exodus 34:6-7), and the realities of newborn infants “immersed” unto death, and children being thrown alive into fires and having chemicals injected into their eyes, spines and brains, to name but a fraction of the atrocities experienced by God’s people in Nazi Europe.
The originality of Birnbaum’s approach is evident in his philosophical point of departure. Instead of first focusing on God’s attributes, and the possibility of reconciling these attributes with manifest evil, Birnbaum begins with the question of the “purpose of man,” a query he believes can only be answered by conducting a far more radical
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