Encountering God: El Rachum V'chanun-God Merciful and Gracious

Encountering God: El Rachum V'chanun-God Merciful and Gracious

by Lawrence A. Hoffman PhD (Editor)


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It is time to recover rabbinic lessons of late antiquity: God is a God of grace and love; human beings can aspire to goodness and promise; on Yom Kippur the two of them meet—God's love energizes human potential and the world is reborn with hope restored.

The God of Jewish tradition is far from the strict God of justice commonly understood to be the God of the Hebrew Bible. God’s self-introduction to Moses atop Mount Sinai does indeed conclude with the image of punishment throughout the generations but begins with "God merciful and gracious," the imagery that finds its way into rabbinic liturgy and lore as solely the God of grace and compassion, pardon and love.

To arrive at this selective perception of biblical tradition, the Rabbis of the Talmud deliberately misread the biblical text, and then fashioned a myth of God who dresses up as a leader of prayer and promises pardon if Israel will only repeat these merciful attributes as part of its prayer ritual on that day. Ever since, the Thirteen Attributes—as the list comes to be known—becomes central to Jewish prayer, accompanying the liturgy for holidays generally, and framing the opening and closing services of the holiest day in the Jewish year, Yom Kippur, the “Day of Judgment” itself.

In this seventh volume in the Prayers of Awe Series, contributors—men and women, rabbis and laypeople, scholars and artists from across the spectrum of Jewish life, and representing the US, Israel, the UK, Germany, France, Canada, and Australia—chart the importance of these Thirteen Attributes of God. They explore the kind of God Jews meet in prayer and the consequent self-reflection about the human condition that Judaism recommends on the basis of its idealized image of God as, above all, merciful and gracious.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781580238540
Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
Publication date: 07/26/2016
Series: Prayers of Awe Series , #7
Pages: 262
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD, has served for more than three decades as professor of liturgy at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. He is a world-renowned liturgist and holder of the Stephen and Barbara Friedman Chair in Liturgy, Worship and Ritual. His work combines research in Jewish ritual, worship and spirituality with a passion for the spiritual renewal of contemporary Judaism.

His many books, written and edited, include seven volumes in the Prayers of Awe series: Who by Fire, Who by Water—Un'taneh Tokef; All These Vows—Kol Nidre; We Have Sinned: Sin and Confession in Judaism—Ashamnu and Al Chet; May God Remember: Memory and Memorializing in Judaism—Yizkor; All the World: Universalism, Particularism and the High Holy Days; Naming God: Avinu MalkeinuOur Father, Our King; and Encountering God: El Rachum V'chanun—God Merciful and Gracious. Hoffman also edited the ten-volume series My People’s Prayer Book: Traditional Prayers, Modern Commentaries, winner of the National Jewish Book Award; and coedited My People’s Passover Haggadah: Traditional Texts, Modern Commentaries, a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award (all Jewish Lights).

Rabbi Hoffman cofounded and developed Synagogue 2/3000, a transdenominational project to envision and implement the ideal synagogue of the spirit for the twenty-first century. In that capacity, he wrote Rethinking Synagogues: A New Vocabulary for Congregational Life (Jewish Lights).

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

About This Book Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman xii

The God of Grace in Judaism Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman xvii

Encountering God: Can God Be Known? Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman xxx

Part I The Liturgy

The Thirteen Attributes: Translation and Commentary Dr Joel M. Hoffman 3

Part II The Attributes of God: Their History and Meaning


Will the Real God Please Stand Up? Balancing the Classic Accounts Rabbi Charles H. Middleburgh 15

Biblical Beginnings

God, Merciful and Compassionate? Dr. Marc Zvi Brettler 21

Seeing God through the Metaphoric Imagination Rabbi Andrea L. Weiss 27

Post-biblical Reinterpretation

How the Bible Became the Prayer Book: Not Threats of Punishment but Rabbinic Promises of Forgiveness Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig 33

Thirteen Attributes or Ten Sefirot? The God of Medieval Mystics Dr. Sharon Koren 38

Mercy or Grace?

"By the Grace of God"-A Biblical Idea? Dr. Marc Zvi Brettler 47

By the Grace (Yes, Grace!) of God Rabbi David Ellenson 50

Mercy and Truth

The Single, Solitary Self That Isn't Rabbi Jonathan Blake 57

The Son of Truth Meets the God of Compassion Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand 61

Truth: Cast Down and Resurrected Rabbi Elie Kaunfer 66

A Cosmos with "Give"-and Moments of Truth Rabbi Nicole Roberts 70

Part III The Sacred Triangle: God, Self, and Community


"God… God!" Before, After, and Forever Rabbi Asher Lopatin 79

Theology-Encountering God

Inviting God Back to the Garden Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl 85

Being Honest about God Rabbi Andrew Goldstein 90

God-Still All-Good and All-Powerful Rabbi Walter Homolka 94

God Forgives Because He Has No Choice Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur 99

Whose Attributes? Catherine Madsen 103

A Love Letter from God Rabbi Jonathan Magonet 108

God Is a Long, Deep Breath Rabbi Jay Henry Moses 113

"Adonai, Adonai": The Message of Awe but the Sound of Compassion Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz 117

Cutting God Slack Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin 121

Becoming God Rabbi Dennis C. Sasso 125

Anthropology-Encountering the Self

The Common Thread of Judaism: God's Character and Our Own Dr. Annette M. Boeckler 131

Not What We Were but What We Will Be Rabbi Joshua M. Davidson 137

A Divine Gardener, the Human Face, and a Thousand Acts of Mercy: Innovative Insights from the New Reform Machzor Rabbi Edwin Goldberg 141

Like God: Not Perfect, but Living Up to Our Best Selves Ruth W. Messinger 147

Mercy: Who Needs It? Rabbi David A. Teutsch 150

In Whose Image? Yom Kippur's Annual Choice Rabbi Daniel G. Zemel 155

"Communology"-Encountering Community

Loose Ends Can't Always Be Tied Rabbi Lawrence A. Englander 163

A Dual Message to the Jew in the Pew from the Throne of Mercy Rabbi Aaron Goldstein 167

Who Knows Thirteen? Jews Do Rabbi Julia Neuberger 172

I Show Up: My Unexpected Gift of Compassion Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso 176

Part IV Secularism and God: The Case of Israel

Israeli "Secular" Poets Encounter God Rabbi Dalia Marx 181

Facing God's Face and God's Back: Hebrew Poetry as Prayer Dr. Wendy Zierler 198

Appendix: Thirteen Attributes Elsewhere in the Bible 204

Notes 205

Glossary 217

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