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Abraham's Promise


Abraham's Promise presents a selection of important writings by noted Jewish philosopher-theologian Michael Wyschogrod, who is widely admired for his singular contributions to Jewish-Christian relations. Including several pieces never published before, this reader aptly captures the broad scope of Wyschogrod's work on Judaism and the Jewish-Christian encounter, collecting seminal essays, articles, and reviews that address such topics as the God of Abraham and the God of philosophy, sin and atonement, Judaism and ...
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Abraham's Promise presents a selection of important writings by noted Jewish philosopher-theologian Michael Wyschogrod, who is widely admired for his singular contributions to Jewish-Christian relations. Including several pieces never published before, this reader aptly captures the broad scope of Wyschogrod's work on Judaism and the Jewish-Christian encounter, collecting seminal essays, articles, and reviews that address such topics as the God of Abraham and the God of philosophy, sin and atonement, Judaism and the land, the Six Day War, Paul on Jews and Gentiles, and the theology of Karl Barth. An introductory essay by editor R. Kendall Soulen sets Wyschogrod's career and writings in context.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This collection of essays, articles, and reviews sums up the career of Wyschogrod (philosophy, emeritus, Baruch Coll., CUNY), an orthodox Jew who has written extensively on Jewish-Christian relations. The chapters, each of which opens with a summary of the issues treated here, range widely. One chapter, for instance, asserts that Judaism as a religion is not necessarily connected to a promised land. Others deal with the Six Day War, the Holocaust, Franz Rosenzweig, and Jewish-Christian relations. Of particular interest is the chapter on Protestant theologian Karl Barth. The author holds that Barth's writings provide religious shock therapy, plunging believers into a defenseless evaluation of their own religion. In addition, one of Wyschogrod's main points is that true Christians should also be good Jews. Soulen (systematic theology, Wesley Theological Seminary) provides a useful biographical and thematic introduction. Recommended for libraries with large Judaica collections. James A. Overbeck, Atlanta-Fulton P.L. Sports & Recreation Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802813558
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
  • Publication date: 9/1/2004
  • Series: Radical Traditions Series
  • Pages: 268
  • Sales rank: 918,114
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.61 (d)

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Judaism and Jewish-Christian Relations

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2004 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8028-1355-0

Chapter One

Divine Election and Commandments

In 1961 Michael Wyschogrod together with some twenty other writers contributed to a symposium sponsored by the journal Judaism on the topic "My Jewish Affirmation." The questions posed to the participants included: What do you regard as centrally significant in Jewish tradition and presently viable? By what lines of force do you consider yourself linked to the American Jewish community, the State of Israel and the Jewish people generally? and What, in your own background and experience, do you judge to have been decisive in your present Jewish engagement? Wyschogrod's contribution to the symposium economically introduces many of the themes that occupy him in his later work. Originally published in Judaism 10:4 (Fall 1961): 350-352.

* * *

In accounting for my commitment to Orthodox Judaism, the first consideration that comes to my mind is that I was raised in a fairly Orthodox home and that my education, first in Germany and then here, was imparted in schools that devoted at least as much effort to Torah subjects as to secular ones. At the Mesivta Torah Vodaath I studied with several men whose spiritual presence will remain with me for the rest of my life. Of these, I would mention only one: Rabbi Schlomo Heiman, of blessed memory, with whom I studied no more than three months before his death. By sheer accident, we also spent several weeks of a summer vacation together. Through him I came to appreciate that part of the Torah that cannot be written down but transmitted only in the being of the person whose everyday conduct exemplifies it. There were others, some now dead, others alive; they all taught generations of Yeshiva students most of whom, I dare say, remained observant Jews. I no longer see these people as often as I should, what with my involvement in academic work and related projects. Nevertheless, in the kind of stock-taking demanded by this symposium, I find myself thinking of them first.

Judaism means to me the election of the seed of Abraham as the nation of God, the imposition upon this people of a series of commandments which express God's will for the conduct of his people and the endless struggle by this people against its election, with the most disastrous consequences to itself as well as the rest of mankind. In spite of all this, the Divine election remains unaffected because it is an unconditional one, but subject to revocation. Lest all this sound inexcusably arrogant, I can only say that indeed it would be, were it the self-election of a people. As it is, it is a sign of God's absolute sovereignty which is not bound by human conceptions of fairness. Israel's election has meant that this people must observe a code of conduct far more difficult than that of any other people and that, when it does not live up to its election, it is visited by punishments so terrible that no human justice could ever warrant them. From this it follows that I view the establishment of the State of Israel with the greatest trepidation. The Divine Word is unmistakably clear concerning the Land of Israel. It is the soil which above all demands the faithfulness of the people of Israel to its election. Whenever the people of Israel have attempted to constitute a national life on this soil in disregard of its election, the soil has rejected them under the most catastrophic circumstances. The last thirty years have shown under what judgment the people of Israel live even on soil less sacred than that of the Holy Land; how much more perilous is it in the Land of Israel! I am therefore filled with the deepest fear when I view the optimistic, self-reliant cheerfulness with which the bulk of Jewish opinion, both Israel and other, views the State of Israel. And I shudder when I think of the responsibility devolving on the shoulders of the leaders of this state, some of whom give the Bible the place of prominence on their desks, cluttered with the affairs of a modern state.

When I look at the American Jewish scene, I find much that is heartening. We are witnessing the maturing of a generation at home in this country in all but the deepest sense (no believing Jew can dispense with the reality of the exile, and America is spiritually secure enough not to demand our dispensing with it), deeply faithful to the Covenant whose level of Jewish literacy would have been inconceivable thirty years ago. An example of this is the coming into being of Yavneh, a national organization of religious Jewish students with chapters at leading campuses across the nation. This has been an entirely spontaneous development; while professional Jewish organizations pour millions and millions of dollars into activities kept alive artificially and with the greatest of effort, Yavneh came into being by itself when Orthodox students at various universities were drawn together by the need to pray, to observe kashruth and have regular sessions of Torah study. Before anyone realized what was going on, a national organization came into being, financed by members' dues. While less than two years old, Yavneh has already conducted a series of summer courses in various fields of Jewish learning. These courses grant no credit and award no degrees; they serve only to deepen the Torah education of the participants. At the second annual convention, held during the past Labor Day weekend, close to four hundred students attended and participated in a series of lectures and seminars second to none in their intellectual rigor and religious sensitivity. All this is evidence of the fruits of Yeshiva education whose effects are just now beginning to be felt on the American Jewish scene.

Side by side with such manifestations I also observe the "Jewish" organizations, heavy with money and access to the media of public communication that only money can buy, for whom the Jew's relationship to God is a topic of very little interest. Instead, they are busy with such projects as the eradication of all manifestations of Christianity from American public life, manifestations to which they object, it can be suspected, not so much because they are Christian as because they are religious and take seriously the Word of God as a genuine event in human history. They issue pronouncements on public issues, such as the birth control controversy, without even mentioning the rabbinic view of the matter, as if the Jewish point of view were self-evidently identical with the ideology of the social sciences or the liberalism of the New York Post. One's first and most natural reaction is to declare the word "Jewish" an equivocal one: on the one hand stands the community of believers, those faithful to the Sinaitic Covenant, while on the other we group all interpretations of the "Jewish" in national, ethnic and essentially secular terms. While the greatest temptation for a Jewish Barthianism is to perform just this separation and emphasize the ensuing gulf, traversable only by Divine grace, a reverent faithfulness to the biblical Word precludes such a "solution" for the believing Jew. The trouble is that the election of Israel is an election of the seed of Abraham which is an election of the flesh. To our human religious consciousness, an election by religious sensibility rather than by birth would seem more reasonable. But the Divine election, in its sovereignty, is of a people of the flesh, a people having its share, if not slightly more, of negative national characteristics, characteristics accentuated by a harrowing history of suffering.

Now it is the proclamation of biblical faith that God chose this people and loves it as no other, unto the end of time. Consequently, even the hardly disguised self-hatred of the new Commentary and Prof. Mordecai Kaplan's reinterpretation of Judaism in the spirit of John Dewey is a part of Israel's history of redemption which the believing theologian cannot ignore, if only because he, like every other Jew, is held accountable for them in Divine judgment. And, as the transgressions of the people he loves, these manifestations may even be dear to God as the misdeeds of a child are to his parents.

There is no doubt in my mind that American Jewry is living through a period of decision. Those segments of the community whose interest is primarily a secular one, will, within a relatively few generations, lose their interest in any form of Jewish life and thereby make unnecessary the diverse "reinterpretations" so prevalent today. To those who remain, the Covenant and its obligations will remain real.

Chapter Two

The One God of Abraham and the Unity of the God of Jewish Philosophy

Wyschogrod argues that the biblical conception of the one God must be carefully distinguished from the metaphysical concept of divine unity in Parmenides, Plato, and Maimonides. The biblical confession of the oneness of God is not a statement about the nature of God or even about the non-reality of gods other than YHWH. Rather, it concerns the relationship of the God of Israel to Israel and the nations, and the relationship of Israel and the nations to each other. Previously published in German as "Der eine Gott Abrahams und die Einheit des Gottes der jüdischen Philosophie," in Das Reden vom einen Gott bei Juden und Christen, ed. Clemens Thoma and Michael Wyschogrod (Bern: Peter Lang, 1984), pp. 29-48. First publication in English.

* * *

The classification of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as monotheistic religions is one of the best-established axioms of religious scholarship. The historical relationship of Christianity and Islam to Judaism makes this classification plausible. The monotheism of Christianity and Islam is related to their origins in Judaism whose monotheism is thus fundamental. This picture is not without its difficulties. In the case of Christianity, its trinitarian teaching has seemed - at least to some Jewish and Muslim critics - to compromise its monotheism to some degree. And in the case of Judaism, the question is raised as to when monotheism appeared in the development of Judaism. The traditional view was that it is simultaneous with the election of Abraham which is depicted in rabbinic literature as a function of Abraham's discovery of the one, true God, maker of heaven and earth. But classical biblical criticism as represented by the school of Wellhausen rejected this view as far too simplistic. For it, monotheism is a highly advanced form of religious consciousness which, for that very reason, could not have been there from the very beginning. "According to the prevailing view," writes Yehezkel Kaufmann, "it was under the influence of the literary prophets that Israelite religion slowly evolved its monotheistic character." Kaufmann rejects this view and connects the monotheistic revolution in Judaism with the person of Moses. In spite of these problems and a number of others, the classification of mature Judaism as monotheistic and the tracing of the monotheism of Christianity and Islam to their origins in Judaism is widely accepted.

Yet there is no concept in Judaism which requires as much careful analysis as the oneness of God. Properly understood, the biblical texts which speak of the oneness of God uncover the very center of the Jewish encounter with God. Improperly understood, they turn the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob into a metaphysical Absolute that has very little relationship to the God who entered into covenant with Abraham and who brought the children of Israel out of Egypt. Curiously enough, much in this question hinges on the simple interpretation or translation of verses, particularly Deuteronomy 6:4: Sh'ma Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu Adonai echad. This verse, which for the moment we will leave untranslated, is undoubtedly the most significant verse of the whole Bible in popular Jewish consciousness and probably also for rabbinic Judaism. The rabbis ordained the recitation of this verse together with Deuteronomy 6:5-9, Deuteronomy 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37-41 twice daily in the morning and evening services. The recitation of these passages is considered by the rabbis as biblically ordained, though there is some disagreement about whether this applies to all of the above-mentioned passages or only to some of them. In any case, it certainly applies to Deuteronomy 6:4. Rabbinic prayer thus consists of the recitation of the biblical passages referred to together with the Eighteen Benedictions, a text composed by the rabbis and containing no biblical quotations. The religious preeminence of Deuteronomy 6:4 for the rabbis and for Judaism as it has existed since the end of the Talmudic period is thus established.

For this very reason, it becomes most important to understand what it is that Deuteronomy 6:4 is asserting. Of the six words in the verse, the one that has naturally attracted most attention is the last, the word echad. In the Babylonian Talmud (Berakoth 13b) we read "It has been taught. Symmachus says: Whoever prolongs the word has his days and years prolonged. R. Ahab. Jacob said, [He must dwell] on the echad." Since the word echad is usually translated as "one," the verse has been read to attribute to God a particular quality, namely oneness. And this is how the verse has usually been translated: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." Translated and interpreted in this sense, the problem is one of understanding. What does it mean to assert that God is one? What does it mean to assert that anything is one? Is God one in the same sense in which a tree is one tree and not two trees? And if not, then how does the sense in which God is one differ from the sense in which the tree is one? These are questions which demand answers because without them the meaning of Deuteronomy 6:4 remains unclear.

Our inquiry has now taken a metaphysical turn. This is inevitable because for the Western mind, the topic of oneness or "the one" rests on two foundations: the Deuteronomic text (6:4) to which we have already referred and the Greek metaphysical tradition originating with the pre-Socratics and particularly Parmenides whose influence is paramount in all future discussions of oneness or "the one." To understand Parmenides' contribution to this problem, we must enter the domain of metaphysical thinking. Parmenides' (c. 475 B.C.E.) basic vision can be summarized in terms of a thought that he considered unthinkable, the thought of non-being.


Excerpted from ABRAHAM'S PROMISE by MICHAEL WYSCHOGROD Copyright © 2004 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
A Biographical Sketch of Michael Wyschogrod xi
An Introduction to Michael Wyschogrod 1
Divine Election and Commandments 25
The One God of Abraham and the Unity of the God of Jewish Philosophy 29
A Theology of Jewish Unity 43
Sin and Atonement in Judaism 53
Judaism and Conscience 75
Judaism and the Land 91
Reflections on the Six Day War after a Quarter Century 104
The Revenge of the Animals 107
Faith and the Holocaust 111
Franz Rosenzweig's The Star of Redemption 121
A Jewish Death in Heidelberg 131
Jewish-Christian Relations
A Jewish View of Christianity 149
Incarnation and God's Indwelling in Israel 165
Israel, the Church, and Election 179
Paul, Jews, and Gentiles 188
A Letter to Cardinal Lustiger 202
Why Was and Is the Theology of Karl Barth of Interest to a Jewish Theologian? 211
The Impact of Dialogue with Christianity on My Self-Understanding as a Jew 225
Works by Michael Wyschogrod 237
Index 248
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