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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About the Author
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 Malkeinu—Our 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
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
God, Merciful and Compassionate? Dr. Marc Zvi Brettler 21
Seeing God through the Metaphoric Imagination Rabbi Andrea L. Weiss 27
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
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
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