Current Issue Article Abstracts
Summer 2020 Vol. 55.3
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Zev Garber combined the `Aḳedah narrative and the Pittsburgh synagogue slaughter and dramatized in oral torah the absolute faith of Abraham and the realized fate of Jews in prayer on Shabbat morning. He raised ethical and moral issues of justice and mercy associated with this absolute biblical test of faith and the lasting influence on the lives and souls of loyalist Jews and others to the Covenant of Abraham. However, Garber's written torah elaborates on old-new language of hate and violence (Antisemitism, anti-Zionism, Palestinianism, Israeli nationalism) that somewhat parallels, contributes to, and prevails alongside the Pittsburgh Shabbat Massacre.
Language is a reciprocal tool: It reveals, and, at the same time, it is revealing. We use language to explain the things that define our world, but, by the same token, the way we use language also necessarily discloses how we explain and define ourselves within that world. In general, everyone can instinctively grasp how a given word or phrase is used to demarcate, even create, that small bit of universe that it encompasses in linguistic terms. But, the subtle aspects of how this same word or phrase might disclose a part of our own identities is less obvious and is less consciously considered in the old-new language of hate and violence. How and why are reflected in this essay that expounds on like and dislike of group-people-religion identity and that somewhat parallels, contributes to, and prevails alongside the Pittsburgh Shabbat Massacre
There is an immutable framework of biblical faith, expressed in Israelite monotheism, namely, that God is both all-powerful and all-just. Such divine attributes, however, have been called into question throughout the course of Jewish history and experience, from earliest antiquity, through the annihilation of European Jewry in the twentieth century, and down to the present. The dual tragedies of the recent synagogue massacres, both in Pittsburgh (October 27, 2018) and at Poway (April 27, 2019), have brought a renewed focus to the most fundamental theodic question regarding the goodness of God in an imperfect world. It is tragically ironic that the weekly parasha read in Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue on the day of the carnage was VaYera' (Genesis 18–22), containing (in addition to the 'Aḳedah) the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah and Abraham's pointed question, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?" Eventually, it would be the Israelites themselves who would reshape the divine image from that of a tribal deity, known as the "God of Armies" in the account of the Exodus from Egypt, to a transcendent emblem of compassion. They would eventually address the troublesome theological issues revolving around divine justice with a powerfully "subversive" treatise of Israelite wisdom literature, the Book of Job, wherein we find two poetic and elegant answers to Abraham's question and to the perennial problem of evil.
VaYera' begins with Sarah's laughter at the announcement of her future maternity. Later she laughs in what seems a self-deprecatory manner at Isaac's birth and her nursing the child. Sarah also speaks. God listens. She insists that Abraham expel Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham resists. God insists that he listen to Sarah. Then Sarah goes silent—a traumatic textual aporia. Bereishit Rabbah and midrashic tannaim suggest a one-dimensional reading of a Sarah bereft at the impending sacrifice of Isaac. Yet, a close reading of VaYera' reveals a powerful woman of royal lineage and priestly powers who brings and withdraws fertility, emboldens and enriches Abraham, and demonstrates agency not typically assigned to biblical women. By considering Sarah not as handmaiden but priestess, not as possession but as princess, and not as victim but as victor, we recognize a Sarah whose passion for life, family, and love determined that a divine call to human sacrifice would not be her legacy. The Abrahamic deity would be worshiped with life, not death. God and Abraham may have listened to Sarah. We gain hope from her wisdom and remember our humanity in the face of inhumanity. As instruction for collective identity in the face of trauma, Sarah teaches us to laugh and to cry, to live and to love, and to act and to rejoice together.
Dancing at "the People's Beach": Spontaneous Dialogue in the New York Sands
Carolyn Renée Pautz
Scholars of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue have largely ignored religions of African derivation in the Americas, such as Candomblé, Vodou, and Santería. This essay contributes to a resultant lacunae in the academic literature in these fields by using ethnography and performance theory (approaches that are also largely unknown in said fields) to illustrate the function of a spontaneous interreligious dialogue on a New York beach between Haitian Vodouists and Freemasons, one that effectively enhanced interfaith understanding on the popular level, as witnessed by a Lucumí priestess and scholar.
This essay explores how Lebanon is modeling interreligious dialogue through the Christian-Muslim celebration of the Annunciation of Mary. It highlights the importance of dialogue in both religions and analyzes the theological foundations of the Feast of the Annunciation. While identifying the commonalities and the main differences in approaching this feast, the essay discusses the challenges that this initiative is facing and explores some practical opportunities to counteract extremism. The methodology utilized in this study is textual analysis, particularly based on the Sacred Scriptures, as well as the writings of researchers and practitioners of interreligious dialogue. It concludes that, among the several forms of interreligious dialogue, the Feast of the Annunciation of Mary offers a pioneering platform that facilitates bridging over misunderstandings in order to deepen spiritual solidarity by celebrating a common spiritual heritage and appreciating differences.
Two Sides of One Coin: Hillul Hashem and Kiddush Hashem
Gilbert S. Rosenthal
Hillul Hashem, the desecration of God's name, and Kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of God's name, are two of the most important moral principles of Judaism. Derived from biblical sources and greatly expanded by the sages, they are really two sides of one coin. Hillul Hashem constitutes a public action by a Jew that brings disgrace to God's reputation and sullies the good name of Israel. Actions of Kiddush Hashem exalt God's holy name, add honor and prestige to the Jewish people, and constitute the antidote to Hillul Hashem. The author analyzes how these concepts evolved through the ages. Most people erroneously believe that Kiddush Hashem implies martyrdom for Jewish principles (such as Rabbi Akiva). While martyrdom is the ultimate action of Kiddush Hashem, numerous sources are cited that stress that unjust, immoral, or unethical behavior vis-à-vis Jews and gentiles constitute Hillul Hashem. The author stresses that Israel's mission is to set an example for all nations and faiths to sanctify God's name through justice, honesty, and moral behavior for all peoples.
Questions about Paul's Gospel of Justification
Paul W. Newman
The Pauline gospel of justification is a major factor in current ecumenical discussions between Catholic and Protestant churches. The doctrine needs to be tested by the life and teachings of Jesus, who was centered on the Reign of God. Issues challenging justification by means of retributive justice are the doctrine of return that is central to the prophetic tradition, the emphasis of Jesus on the bilateral covenantal law of love for neighbors and enemies, the discrediting of death penalties in the world, the widespread emulation of Jesus' compassion, the inability of many modern people to believe in a scapegoat logic of forgiveness, and the desperate need of the world for the gospel of the Reigning of God.
Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and Interreligious Hermeneutics: Ways of Seeing the Religious Other ed. by Emma Polyakov O'Donnell (review)
Beyond "Holy Wars": Forging Sustainable Peace through Interreligious Dialogue—A Christian Perspective by Christoffer H. Grundmann (review)
RSM, Women, the Holocaust, and Genocide by Carol Rittner (review)
Eugene J. Fisher