Contemplative Nation: A Philosophical Account of Jewish Theological Language 9780804781008

Contemplative Nation repudiates the tendentious claim that theology is alien to Judaism with an account of Jewish theolo

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Contemplative Nation: A Philosophical Account of Jewish Theological Language

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c o n t e m p l a t i v e

n a t i o n

co n t e m p lat i v e nat i o n A Philosophical Account of Jewish Theological Language

Cass Fisher

stanford university press stanford, california

Stanford University Press Stanford, California ©2012 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved. This book has been published with the assistance of the College of Arts and Sciences, University of South Florida. Published with the assistance of the Edgar M. Kahn Memorial Fund. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system without the prior written permission of Stanford University Press. Printed in the United States of America on acid-free, archival-quality paper Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Fisher, Cass, 1968- author. Contemplative nation : a philosophical account of Jewish theological language / Cass Fisher. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-8047-7664-6 (cloth : alk. paper) 1. Judaism--Doctrines. 2. Philosophical theology. 3. Judaism and philosophy. I. Title. BM602.F574 2012 296.301'4--dc23 2011049960 Typeset by Bruce Lundquist in /5 Bembo

‫ואמו קודמת לכל אדם‬ t. Horayot 2:5 For my mother, Bonnie Fisher


Acknowledgments  ix Introduction  1 1.  Hermeneutic Theory and the Study of Jewish Theology: Toward a New Model of Jewish Theological Language  21 2.  Jewish Theology as a Religious and Doxastic Practice  65 3.  Forms of Theological Language in Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael  101 4.  Forms of Theological Language in Franz Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption  153 Conclusion  207 Notes  229 Bibliography  279 Index  297


This project has been long in the making and I have been extremely fortunate to have excellent teachers and friends to guide me through its development. At the earliest stages, it was Frederick Sontag, John Hick, and Charles Zeltzer who set me on a path that has afforded me the luxury to spend my days reflecting on and nurturing my deepest commitments. Without their support and encouragement this work would not have materialized. My debt of gratitude to Michael Fishbane and Paul MendesFlohr is truly beyond words. They both introduced me to riches within the Jewish tradition that have had a profound impact on my academic and personal life. I hope that my research and my teaching will always provide testimony to the formative influence they have had on me. I have attempted to document my debt to them in the notes of this work, but that is only a pale reflection of what I owe to them intellectually and otherwise. I should make clear that although they have profoundly shaped my engagement with rabbinic Judaism and modern Jewish thought, my expression of the philosophical problems associated with Jewish theology and my efforts to address those issues are my own. I take full responsibility for any shortcomings that might be found in my argument. Paul Griffiths and David Tracy also provided guidance and intellectual resources that were pivotal to the development of my project. Without their help I would have been unable to bring the threads of my argument together. I sincerely appreciate their interest in my work and the generosity with which they shared their time with me. I was also fortunate to have many colleagues who helped me bring Con­ templative Nation to fruition. I would like to particularly thank John Knight and Bill Wright, who read the work in its entirety, and Jamie Schillinger, ix

Acknowledgments   x

who discussed most of its major points. Jerome Copulsky, Leah Hochman, Timothy Sandoval, and Ben Sax were important interlocutors who provided significant counterarguments that surely strengthened the work. Since moving to Tampa, Rabbi Marc Sack has done an admirable job of filling in for all of them. In the final stages of the work, I benefitted from the critiques and support of two senior colleagues, Yehuda Gellman and Norbert Samuel­son. True to the philosophical spirit which they both embody, they each had suggestions about how to improve my argument. I attempted to heed their advice as much as possible. I hope it will be evident to both of them that Contemplative Nation is a better book as a result of their comments. Sections of Chapter 2 and of Chapter 3 appeared in the Journal of Reli­ gion 90, no. 2 (2010): 199–236, as “Beyond the Homiletical: Rabbinic Theology as Discursive and Reflective Practice.” A section of Chapter 3 appeared as “Reading for Perfection: Theological Reflection and Religious Practice in the Exodus Commentary of Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael,” in Retelling the Bible: Literary, Historical, and Social Contexts, ed. Lucie Doležalová and Tomás Visi (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2011), 139–57. A section of Chapter 4 appeared in Modern Judaism 31, no. 2 (2011): 188–212, as “Divine Perfections at the Center of the Star: Reassessing Rosenzweig’s Theological Language.” I would like to thank the Journal of Religion, Peter Lang, and Modern Judaism for allowing me to reprint those materials here. In writing Contemplative Nation, I have been the recipient of not only intellectual generosity but of considerable financial generosity as well. The Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation and the Henry Luce Fellowship provided the initial funding that has made this book possible. The Wabash Center offered financial and moral support that helped bring the project to its conclusion. I cherish the friendships that have arisen from my involvement with the Wabash Center, and I am certain that I am a better teacher and researcher as a result of those relationships. I am also grateful for having had the opportunity to participate in the Early Career Workshop of the American Academy of Jewish Research. The facilitators and participants of the AAJR workshop brought critical reflections to my work that enabled me to put the finishing touches on this book. I am delighted to have developed a cohort of colleagues working in the field and I look forward to our ongoing conversations. Without the generous grants awarded to me by the

Acknowledgments   xi

College of Arts and Sciences and the Humanities Institute at the University of South Florida, I would not have been able to complete the manuscript. I would also like to thank Emily-Jane Cohen at Stanford University Press, whose enthusiasm for the project helped to propel me through the final stages of writing. Finally, I would like to thank my wife, Mariana Fisher, who has accompanied me on a journey that has been more tumultuous and more fun than either of us could have anticipated. I cannot imagine having followed this path without her insight, humor, and support. I look forward to sharing with her the tinge of normalcy that should be the fruit of completing the book.

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Over the last several decades, Jewish studies has evolved into a thriving discipline that explores every facet of Jewish history, culture, and religion. Despite the astounding growth of the field, one crucial subject still has not found its place within Jewish studies: theology. The reluctance of scholars to establish Jewish theology as an academic subject mirrors not only the long-standing debates about the place of theology within the University, but also the contested role of theology within Jewish religious life. As for the larger disciplinary questions, it seems the battle between religious studies and theology has peaked and there are signs that theology is recovering its position within academia. Even if this optimistic reading about the future of academic theology is correct, there is little reason to believe that Jewish theology will benefit from the fragile truce between religious studies and theology. The forces within both Judaism and Jewish studies that have marginalized theology are so numerous and powerful, unless they are either confronted or circumvented theology will remain a tangential subject within the academic study of Judaism. For many scholars, this is well and good, either because they think theology has not been an integral part of the Jewish tradition or because they fear that the study of Jewish theology will diminish Jewish studies’ hard-won academic credentials. The claim that 

Introduction   2

Judaism does not engage in theology is tendentious and relies upon the truisms that Judaism does not have a single universally accepted theology and that Jewish thought about God does not possess the same features as other theological traditions. Such arguments conceal the fact that Jewish practitioners have endeavored at every stage of the tradition to set forth their best understanding of God and the divine-human relationship. Those who would deny theology’s place in Jewish studies on academic grounds are equally misguided. If the goal of Jewish studies is to deploy the analytic tools of the academy to better understand Jewish history, culture, and religion, it makes little sense to bracket on principle a central cognitive component. Furthermore, we can hardly hope to give a full and accurate account of the vicissitudes of Jewish history or the dynamics of Jewish life and practice without taking into consideration the matter of Jewish beliefs. In Contemplative Nation, I seek to reframe the debate about the role of theology in Judaism and Jewish studies by proposing a new model for under­standing Jewish theological language. Scholars of Judaism often begin their analysis of Jewish theological reflection with a conception of theology as inherently systematic and dogmatic, a view that is the product of facile comparisons to other theological traditions. If Jewish theology, and particularly rabbinic theology, does not possess these features, then things do not bode well for Jewish theology. Held up to these criteria, Jewish theology is either an underdeveloped speculative discourse or a homiletic discourse that guides the laity but which does not aim to get things right about God and the divine-human relationship. For theology to find its place within Jewish studies, it is imperative that scholars of Judaism abandon this hackneyed conception of theology. It is the purpose of this book to provide an alternative understanding, one that better suits the conditions of theological reflection in the Jewish tradition.1 The dichotomy that sees Jewish theology as either flawed speculation or inconsequential homiletics misses that Jewish theology is not an abstract form of speculation divorced from matters of practice; rather, Jewish theological claims arise out of the very reading, reflective, and experiential practices that constitute the Jewish religious life. Identifying Jewish theology as either a speculative or a homiletic discourse has the additional negative consequences of attributing a single function and form to Jewish theological language. A central feature of my model of

Introduction   3

Jewish theology is that theological claims serve multiple functions within Judaism and that Jewish theological language takes many linguistic and cognitive forms. By developing an account of Jewish theology that grounds theological reflection in practice and identifies the diverse functions and forms of Jewish theological language, I hope to defend Jewish theology from the spurious criticisms that have pushed it to the margins of Jewish studies. Additionally, insofar as my account of Jewish theology is philosophical in nature, it is also my hope that the project will provide support and resources for those engaged in more overtly constructive work.

Jewish Theology at the Margins The metaphor of theology at the margins of Judaism and Jewish studies is, like most metaphors, apt in certain respects but distortive in others. Where the metaphor fails is in the impression it gives that Jewish theology is moribund. This is far from the truth. On the constructive side, post-Holocaust theology, feminist theology, exegetical theology, and covenantal theology have all been productive areas of research in recent decades. From the historical perspective, biblical, rabbinic, and kabbalistic theology have also captured the attention of scholars. Given this intensive engagement with Jewish theology by a handful of scholars, it is perplexing that Jewish theology could remain marginalized; yet I am hardly the first person to note the troubled status of theology within Judaism. Arthur Cohen, himself an important Jewish theologian, observed in his contribution to a collection of essays from 1966 entitled Varieties of Jewish Belief: “It must be understood that refusal to think about theological questions within Judaism is no longer possible. Not only is it not possible, it is dangerously irresponsible. With pathetically few exceptions, there is no Jewish theology in the world today; there is no Jewish theological thinking; where it is found, among our younger thinkers here and abroad, it is regarded with suspicion and contempt.”2 More than a decade later it would seem that Cohen’s cri de coeur had gone unheeded, as Jacob Neusner could make a similar assertion: “For a long time we were told that, in any event, Judaism has no theology, and it certainly has no ­dogmas. While the dogma of dogmaless Judaism has passed away with the generation to whom it seemed an urgent and compelling proposition, it has left discourse about and within Judaism in disarray. There is a poverty of philo-

Introduction   4

sophical clarity and decisive expression amid a superfluity of conviction, too much believing, too little perspicacious construction.”3 Whereas Cohen bemoans the dearth of Jewish theology, Neusner contends that contemporary Judaism is producing the wrong kind of theology. Jewish theologians, as he sees it, are quick to assert what they believe, but their work lacks intellectual rigor. On the positive side, using Solomon Schechter’s ironic phrase of “the dogma of dogmaless Judaism,” Neusner expresses confidence that Jewish studies is overcoming its fervid rejection of theology. Unfortunately, Neusner’s optimism that Jewish studies had relinquished its opposition to theology did not prove to be correct.4 A common attitude among professors is that the only purpose textbooks serve is to introduce students to topics that are too tedious for the professors to introduce themselves. In fact, textbooks and reference works are a significant indicator of what researchers in a field are likely to accept as consensus opinion. In a contribution to the Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion, David Ford notes the following views on Jewish theology inside and outside the academy: The term “theology” is often considered suspect among Jewish thinkers.This is partly because theology is sometimes seen as being about the inner life of God, which has not usually been a Jewish concern. Partly it has been a reaction of a minority against oppressive and dominant confessional theology: it has not been safe for Jews to condone public or university theological talk, since Christians (or others) could use it to seek domination or proselytize. Partly, too, theology has been seen as abstractive, intellectualizing and even dogmatizing (in the bad sense) instead of practice-oriented discussion about community-specific behavior. Perhaps the most acceptable term is Jewish religious thought.5

While one could challenge the details of Ford’s account, what he gets right is the ongoing concern about the place of theology in Judaism, including discomfort with the word theology itself. Ford sees Jewish theology as so beleaguered that he suggests abandoning the term for the more neutral religious thought.6 As this entire book is a defense of Jewish theology, I will not mount a counterargument here about the merits of the term theology. It should be apparent enough that the two terms are hardly synonymous.Whereas theology picks out discourse about God and the divine-human relationship, religious thought ranges over a far more amorphous semantic field pertaining to any aspect of the religious life.What does merit reflection at the start of this project

Introduction   5

is the ease with which Ford dismisses Jewish theology in his effort to introduce Jewish views on God. How is it that theology has become a dispensable term in Jewish studies with some holding that the term engenders confusion rather than clarity? While a comprehensive account of theology in Judaism remains a desideratum, it is possible to identify the principal factors that have suppressed theology’s contribution to the Jewish tradition. Undertaking a brief sketch of these factors is useful for more than just background purposes. The tangle of forces opposing theology will make clear that constructing a new model for understanding Jewish theological language represents the most expedient and productive solution and is surely preferable to a direct attack on the hydra that seeks to extinguish Jewish theology. The challenges facing Jewish theology begin with the word theology itself.7 Taking theology in its most rudimentary sense as discourse about God, rabbinic Judaism has no synonymous word or phrase. The lack of a semantic equivalent to the word theology in rabbinic Hebrew or Aramaic does not, however, pose an insurmountable problem. When I first met my wife, a native Czech speaker, she would say things about her hand when she clearly meant her arm. I did not infer from this that Czechs do not have arms; rather, a process of discovery revealed that typically Czechs use a single word to refer to the combined unit of the hand and arm.8 Similarly, just because rabbinic Judaism does not have a term to pick out its discourse about God, one would be foolish to conclude, on that basis, that the rabbis did not engage in theological reflection. This raises the question of how rabbinic Judaism construes its discursive forms; here, the matter becomes more complicated. Rabbinic Judaism divides its discourse into two principal categories: halakhah, which deals with matters of law and practice, and aggadah, a grab-bag term for all other forms of discourse including theology, ethics, pedagogical narratives about the rabbis, and much more.9 From the perspective of Jewish theology, this bifurcation of rabbinic discourse is unfortunate. Not only does rabbinic Judaism not have a term for theology, but its reflections about God and the divine-human relationship are set in opposition to the privileged legal discourse. Further concealing the important contribution of theology to rabbinic thought and practice is the fact that the rabbis’ theological discourse is conflated with all other non-legal forms of expression. As some of these other forms of nonlegal discourse

Introduction   6

have their roots in folk literature or narrative genres that are equal parts entertainment and pedagogy, rabbinic theology sacrifices its intellectual and religious seriousness by association. Certainly, part of what motivates the rabbis to divide their discourse along legal and nonlegal lines is their genuine concern about matters of law and practice. What also makes the division seem natural is the fact that the rabbis’ theological discourse is not held together by systematic or dogmatic interests. Had the rabbis organized their theological reflection around specific topics or had they been more committed to a soteriological conception of belief, one can imagine that they would have found more nuanced ways to differentiate their forms of discourse. Regardless of how things might have been different, what is incontrovertible is the fact that rabbinic thought about God is not systematic or dogmatic. Ismar Schorsch explains this lack of systematic thinking in Jewish thought by appealing to the role of exegesis in Judaism: “The traditional form of Jewish thinking, as shaped in the rabbinic period, tended to be exegetical; commentary became the quintessentially Jewish genre of intellectual expression. A sacred text called for explication, application, and renewal, and midrash evolved into a mode of cognition, an expression of piety, and a vehicle for revitalization. But textually oriented thinking is essentially concrete, circumscribed, and episodic. Its very specificity induces a minimal level of abstraction and a bewildering absence of systematic analysis.”10 Interestingly, the lack of systematic thinking in rabbinic thought is not limited to theology. As scholars have noted, there is little meta-halakhic reasoning in rabbinic literature.11 Nonetheless, it is only with theology that the rabbis’ indifference to systematic thought comes to serve rhetorical ends. For instance Solomon Schechter, one of the great scholars of rabbinic Judaism, notes that the rabbis “show a carelessness and sluggishness in the application of theological principles.”12 Further on in his magnum opus, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, Schechter asserts: “The fact is that the Rabbis were a simple, naive people, filled with a childlike scriptural faith, neither wanting nor bearing much analysis and interpretation.”13 These are biting criticisms coming from a founding father of the field of rabbinics and a historian who sought to overturn the “great dogma of dogmalessness” that had pervaded liberal Judaism and Jewish studies since Mendelssohn.14 Why do scholars willfully hold Judaism

Introduction   7

to a model of theology that fails to capture the features of Jewish thought about God? Certainly, one critical factor is these scholars’ discomfort with the anthropomorphic and parabolic nature of rabbinic theology.15 How can a committed rationalist embrace a body of theological literature in which God weeps, gets things wrong, and is bested by humans? Fortunately, for those who struggle with the systematic and dogmatic shortcomings of rabbinic theology, there is a ready solution at hand: rabbinic theology is homiletic. David Weiss Halivni gives a concise formulation of the homiletic approach when he states, “Rabbinic theology is not categorical nor easily categorized, and is more prone to homiletical discourse than to carefully groomed, neatly disciplined speculation. Rabbinic theology is often packaged and shrouded in aggadah, within a folkloric context, functioning more as hortatory and pedagogic than as speculative literature.”16 Identifying the rabbis’ theological discourse as homiletic absolves the rabbis from having created and transmitted a body of theological literature that is at odds with contemporary theological sensibilities. On this interpretation, the rabbis were not personally committed to their theological claims; instead, their theological assertions were meant to form and guide the laity. This approach to rabbinic theology faces significant hermeneutic and historical challenges. As outlined by Hans-Georg Gadamer, one of the principal hermeneutic tasks is to allow the text to assert its claim to truth.17 Reducing the rabbis’ theological reflection to homily recasts their truth claims as edifying discourse. According to Gadamer, the hermeneutic process entails a complex negotiation between what is “familiar” and what is “strange” in the traditionary text.18 Labeling rabbinic theology as homiletic severs the tension that is fundamental to hermeneutic understanding; it makes what is “strange” in rabbinic discourse “familiar” and in doing so it closes off the possibility of hearing what the rabbis sought to convey through their theological reflection. In addition to the hermeneutic challenges, there are also historical considerations that undermine the homiletic account of rabbinic theology. Part of what makes the homiletic account compelling is the fact that Judaism has preserved numerous midrashic collections organized around the liturgical reading of the Torah. Furthermore, the principal textual forms within the homiletic midrashim, the petih.ah and the h.atimah, appear to be sermons that lead into or expound upon the reading of the Torah. While scholars of

Introduction   8

Judaism were once convinced that these texts could disclose the spiritual and intellectual life of the ancient synagogue, a slow process of cognitive attrition has steadily eaten away at this formerly secure knowledge. One significant factor is uncertainty about what role, if any, the rabbis played in the ancient synagogue. As Shaye Cohen argues, synagogal epigraphs do not provide evidence for the rabbis’ status as synagogue leaders.19 Further under­mining the proposition that rabbinic theology was intended for the laity is the fact that recent scholarship contends that the early rabbinic community was relatively small, insular, and not in a position of social authority.20 More damning than the archaeological and sociological arguments is the fact that close textual analysis has cast doubt on whether the sermons in the homiletic midrashim are indeed sermons. Upon close inspection of ­Leviticus Rabbah, Richard Sarason comes to the conclusion that the mid­ rashic text is better identified as a scholastic compilation than a collection of rabbinic sermons.21 Taken together, these arguments lead Günter Stemberger to admit that “today we know much less about the rabbinic derashah [sermon] than we used to believe.”22 If compelling hermeneutic and historical arguments speak against the homiletic interpretation of rabbinic theology, why do scholars continue to adopt this approach? A partial answer lies in the fact that the association between aggadah and homiletic discourse has its roots in the rabbinic tradition itself. Binary distinctions often create conflict and the bifurcation of rabbinic discourse between halakhah and aggadah is a prime example of this dynamic. For instance two traditions preserved together in Song of Songs Rabbah state: “For I am sick with love” (Song 2:5): Despite the fact that I am sick, I am God’s beloved. It is taught that when a person is healthy one eats whatever is brought out. As soon as a person is sick, one requests to eat all sorts of delicacies. Rabbi Yitzhak said, “In the past the Torah was generally known and thus people sought to hear a word of mishnah and a word of talmud, but now that the Torah is not generally known people seek to hear a word of scripture and a word of aggadah.” Rabbi Levi says, “In the past a perutah [small coin] could be found and thus a person desired to hear a word of mishnah, ­halakhah, and talmud, but now since a perutah cannot be found, and especially since they are sick from servitude, people seek to hear only words of blessing and comfort.”23

Introduction   9

It is often the case that rabbinic texts that pit aggadah and halakhah against each other are rhetorically complex and could be read in support of either discursive form.24 In the comments above, interest in aggadah rises either because people have become less educated about Jewish belief and practice or because aggadah ameliorates the suffering of social ills.While it is possible to read the text as suggesting that aggadah is the true spiritual medicine and the epitome of the Jewish tradition, it seems that the comments are attempting to convey that under optimal conditions aggadah is only a small part of the proper regimen.Traditions such as these are not repudiations of aggadah, but they do contribute to the view that aggadah is a homiletic or edifying form of discourse and not a means for discovering the truth about God and the divine-human relationship. Curiously, even though there are rabbinic comments which say just that—“if you desire to know the One Who Spoke and the World Was, study aggadah for from it you will come to know the One Who Spoke and the World Was and you will cleave to God’s ways”— the idea that aggadah is homiletic has effectively supplanted the notion that aggadah is a theoretical discourse that orients one properly to God.25 That the homiletic interpretation of aggadah has come to hold sway is as much the result of the reception history of aggadah in later Jewish tradition as the result of the initial struggle between halakhah and aggadah. Here it is only necessary to mention in broad brush strokes the events that have contributed to the marginalization of aggadah, and by extension theology, within Judaism. While modern perspectives on aggadah coalesced around the homiletic interpretation, in the Middle Ages attitudes toward aggadah varied widely even among those who agreed that this portion of the ­rabbis’ work was problematic. In the introduction to his Guide of the Perplexed, Maimonides discusses midrash, the rabbinic genre of scriptural interpretation to which aggadah is closely associated. Maimonides sees three interpretive possibilities regarding midrash, not all of them praiseworthy: Now it was to the vulgar that we wanted to explain the import of the Mid­ rashim and the external meanings of prophecy.We also saw that if an ignoramus among the multitude of Rabbanites should engage in speculation on these Midrashim, he would find nothing difficult in them, inasmuch as a rash fool, devoid of any knowledge of the nature of being, does not find impossibilities hard to accept. If, however, a perfect man of virtue should engage in speculation on them, he cannot escape one of two courses: either he can take the

Introduction   10 speeches in question in their external sense and, in so doing, think ill of their author and regard him as an ignoramus—in this there is nothing that would upset the foundations of belief; or he can attribute to them an inner meaning, thereby extricating himself from his predicament and being able to think well of the author whether or not the inner meaning of the saying is clear to him.26

While Maimonides speaks of midrash, it seems evident that his criticisms of midrash are intended for aggadah. For Maimonides, the plain-sense of midrash is non-sense and no thinking person could embrace it at that level. Indeed, one who does exercise his or her intellectual powers is free to disavow midrash altogether; the “foundations of belief ” are not dependent on this part of the tradition. A third option exists, the one Maimonides will pursue: that midrash does possess profound truths but only if one can uncover its “inner meaning.” In order to uphold this esoteric view of mid­ rash, Maimonides argues that all of the rabbis’ comments about God are parabolic and function as “poetic conceits” that make no presumption to actually interpret Scripture.27 While Maimonides will occasionally endeavor to coax meaning out of midrash when doing so can give support to his philosophical positions, imputing esotericism to midrash is no less an act of textual violence than conceiving aggadah as principally homiletic. Both interpretive moves are propelled by the belief that the rabbis could not possibly have meant what they said.28 The philosophical approach to aggadah, as exemplified by Maimonides, undercut aggadah’s status as a legitimate and central part of the tradition. Effectively unmooring aggadah, philosophy opened the way for even more dismissive attitudes toward aggadah that did not bother with preserving its esoteric claim to truth. Such a perspective proved useful to Ibn Kammūnah in thirteenth-century Baghdad when he sought to reconcile the rabbinic and Karaite communities in his Treatise on the Differences Between the Rabbanites and the Karaites. One of the Karaites’ fundamental objections to rabbinic Judaism was a rejection of the exegetical techniques that are constitutive of midrash and aggadah.29 Apparently, aggadah was one of the areas in which Ibn Kammūnah was willing to make substantial concessions in order to bring harmony to the Jewish community: Some aggadic tales may be such as the disciples had heard from their masters, and not having understood their intent, have carefully transmitted them just

Introduction   11 as they had heard them. These tales having thus come down to us, we think little of them, because we do not know the intention of their authors.Where all this involves no (legal) permissions and prohibitions, it is (obviously) of no importance to us. As for many, if not most or even all, midrashic stories which the Sages have recited in interpreting Scriptural verses, they partake of poetic anecdotes and oratorical facetiae; the Sages certainly did not mean (to imply) that things were really as they described them.30

Ibn Kammūnah, motivated by the judgments of reason and pressing social needs, chose to diminish the status of aggadah for what he believed was a higher goal. Many have claimed that Ibn Kammūnah’s contemporary, Rabbi Moses ben Nahman (Nahmanides), made a similar choice when he was compelled to publicly defend the Jewish faith in the Barcelona Disputation of 1263. Although recent scholarship has argued persuasively that Nahmanides’ polemical arguments throughout the debate conceal his serious interest in and engagement with the aggadic tradition, his claim that the midrashim consist of sermons that do not compel belief reinforced the homiletic interpretation of aggadah for generations to come.31 When later Jewish thinkers, particularly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, faced similar circumstances of a dramatic shift in the intellectual horizon, combined with pressing social conditions, they too would find ways to weaken the claims of aggadah for the sake of a greater good.32 The work of eighteenth-century philosopher Moses Mendelssohn and the emergence of the scientific study of Judaism (Wissenschaft des Judentums) in the nineteenth century testify to that fact. I have already had the opportunity to mention Mendelssohn’s name in the context of Solomon Schechter’s phrase the “great dogma of dogma­ lessness,” which Schechter claims has characterized liberal Judaism and Jewish studies since Mendelssohn.33 Schechter argues (I believe rightfully) that it is a misrepresentation of Mendelssohn’s thought to make him bear the responsibility of introducing the modern notion that Judaism has no cognitive requirements. Inaccurate or not, Mendelssohn has been widely interpreted as supporting such a view and it is not difficult to see why that is so. It is Mendelssohn’s polemical work, Jerusalem; or, On Religious Power and Judaism, occasioned by public challenges to defend his commitment to Judaism and his understanding of revelation, that supports the view that

Introduction   12

Judaism makes no demands on belief. Defending the claim that Judaism is fully compatible with the truths of reason, Mendelssohn writes: It is true that I recognize no eternal truths other than those that are not merely comprehensible to human reason but can also be demonstrated and verified by human powers. Yet Mr. Mörschel is misled by an incorrect conception of Judaism when he supposes that I cannot maintain this without departing from the religion of my fathers. On the contrary, I consider this an essential point of the Jewish religion and believe that this doctrine constitutes a characteristic difference between it and the Christian one. To say it briefly: I believe that Judaism knows of no revealed religion in the sense in which Christians understand this term. The Israelites possess a divine legislation— laws, commandments, ordinances, rules of life, instruction in the will of God as to how they should conduct themselves in order to attain temporal and eternal felicity. Propositions and prescriptions of this kind were revealed to them by Moses in a miraculous and supernatural manner, but no doctrinal opinions, no saving truths, no universal propositions of reason. These the Eternal reveals to us and to all other men, at all times, through nature and thing, but never through word and script.34

Mendelssohn goes on to offer a forceful argument that it would impugn God’s goodness to believe that God had revealed knowledge necessary for salvation to part of the human population but not to all. Rejecting the notion of such an imperfect God, Mendelssohn contends that all of the eternal truths necessary for “salvation and felicity” can be acquired through the use of reason.35 The argument that Judaism does not require anything that contradicts reason paved the way for presentations of Judaism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in which theology was limited to its edifying function. From the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment, it was principally philosophical accounts of Judaism that sought to reinterpret aggadic theology or, failing that, to minimize its significance. In the nineteenth century, Jewish theology confronted a new and more ambiguous intellectual force— Wissenschaft—the study of Judaism according to the historical and critical principles of academic scholarship. The tools of academic research can be wielded for divergent purposes and recent studies of nineteenth-century Wissenschaft des Judentums reveal a wide range of theological, political, and intellectual interests among Wissenschaft scholars. Some scholars saw aca-

Introduction   13

demic research as a vehicle for religious reform or political emancipation, while others engaged in scholarship as a means of defending and preserving the Jewish tradition.36 Given the diverse motivations behind these scholars’ work, generalizations about Wissenschaft des Judentums are hazardous. ­Gershom Scholem, a critic of much nineteenth-century scholarship, says the following about the place of theology within Wissenschaft des Judentums: “We need not waste words on the theological emptiness of this Science of Judaism, on its barrenness in the religious sense. . . . And this may be readily understood: the historical critique which is the living soul of the Science of Judaism could only fulfill its mission through a secular, essentially anti-­theological mood.”37 Scholem captures with this comment a prominent feature of much Wissenschaft (and later) scholarship: the conscientious adoption of a neutral position on religious commitment and theological truth claims that fails to live up to the elusive ideal of objectivity. In contrast to ­Scholem’s critique, other accounts of Wissenschaft emphasize the existence of a strong theological agenda in nineteenth-century research. Ismar Schorsch, for instance, argues that “the founders of Wissenschaft knew that it had been theological contempt which had exiled the adherents of Judaism to the periphery of the body politic, and only a radical change in the Christian appreciation of Judaism would eventually secure complete political integration. As Zunz often intoned with controlled vehemence, political status was ultimately a consequence of the level of intellectual respect for Judaism.”38 Despite the apparent contradiction between Scholem’s and Schorsch’s readings of Wissenschaft, a dialectic connects their observations. The desire to reframe Christian perceptions of Judaism as well as Jewish selfunderstanding was part of the impetus for a purely historical approach to Judaism that either rationalized Jewish theology or pushed it to the margins. While theology within Jewish studies faces a set of challenges specific to the Jewish tradition, it is also the case that scholarly reticence about Jewish theological language mirrors general attitudes about theology within modern and postmodern philosophy. I would venture to say that most scholars who have sought to diminish the role of theology within Judaism did so, not for ideological or political purposes, but because a less theologized tradition is the only version they found philosophically compelling. Wissenschaft scholars were firmly embedded in their larger cultural hori-

Introduction   14

zon and thus they drew their philosophical resources from German idealism. As is well known, traditional theological language fared poorly under both Kant and Hegel. It would have been highly unusual for scholars who were the least bit acculturated to ignore the philosophical problems surrounding theological language. I propose as a contemporary parallel the academically trained scholar who renounces evolutionary theory. Stacking the cards against theology within Jewish studies is the fact that scholars of Judaism have a doubled commitment to continental philosophy. Not only did German idealism shape Wissenschaft in the nineteenth century; scholars of Judaism since then have more deeply engaged continental philosophy than analytic philosophy. This preference for continental philosophy has a profound significance for Jewish theology, as continental philosophers from Heidegger on have argued for the abandonment of what they call ontotheology, the grounding of being in God. The shaping of modern Jewish thought by the philosophical and theological prejudices of continental philosophy is most evident in the research on Franz Rosenzweig. Contemporary scholars have read Rosenzweig through the eyes of Levinas, Heidegger, and Gadamer, without acknowledging that these philosophers hold views on theological and metaphysical language that are in direct opposition to the main lines of Rosenzweig’s project. Conflating Rosenzweig with later developments in continental thought has much in common with the homiletical interpretation of aggadah: it neutralizes what is foreign and uncomfortable in Rosenzweig’s philosophy—his philosophical and theological arguments about God—by compelling him to adopt contemporary views about ethics, theology, or metaphysics. Focusing my comments on Rosenzweig may give the false impression that the philosophical problems surrounding contemporary Jewish theology are tensions within liberal-minded academic theology. One only has to note the resistance to theology in the work of Orthodox thinkers like Yeshayahu Leibowitz and Tamar Ross to realize that this is not the case.39 Identifying two additional impediments to theology finding its place within Jewish studies will serve as a fitting segue to my outline of the organization and main arguments of Contemplative Nation. As numerous scholars have documented and debated, the status of theology within the modern university is rife with problems.40 Jewish theology not only shares the ten-

Introduction   15

sions experienced by the larger field, it encounters additional lines of opposition that are particular to Judaism and Jewish studies. While Christian theology can point to its central place in the medieval university to justify its continued presence in contemporary academia, Jewish theology, obviously, can make no such claim. Furthermore, many would argue that Jewish theology should not make such an appeal as doing so would emphasize Judaism’s particularity and thus jeopardize Jewish studies’ status as a critical and objective discipline that shares the values of a liberal arts education. While it remains a contentious issue whether constructive theology has a valid contribution to make to university education and research, one goal of this book is to argue that attention to theological language is critical for understanding classical Jewish texts. I will seek to persuade the reader that, inasmuch as Judaism is a fitting subject for academic research, so too, by necessity, is its theology. The second impediment unique to Jewish theology revolves around the word Jewish rather than the word theology. The acceptance of Jewish studies within the university has subjected the study of Judaism to the same everincreasing specialization that drives all academic research. In reality, Jewish studies is an umbrella of subdisciplines that often have little professional or intellectual interaction. Scholars treat theological topics within the study of Hebrew Bible, rabbinics, medieval philosophy, Kabbalah, and modern Jewish thought, but very few thinkers have considered what features Jewish theological reflection might share across these historical and intellectual strata. While most would agree there is no single theology common to all the stages of the Jewish tradition, the segmentation of Jewish studies suggests there is no continuity to Jewish theological reflection at all.41 From this perspective, there is no reason to advocate for the place of Jewish theology within Jewish studies as there is no such thing as Jewish theology. The study of Christian theology has, to be sure, been subjected to the same drive to specialization.Yet few would deny the possibility of speaking meaningfully of Christian theology. Given the fact that philosophical and methodological problems plague the study of theology at multiple stages of the Jewish tradition, it is my contention that the most effective remedy is to rethink altogether the concept of theology within Judaism. Surely, beliefs about God and the divine-human relationship cannot be as utterly dispens-

Introduction   16

able as scholars would have us believe. Something must be wrong with how we are understanding theology and its place within the tradition, and it is my hope that a new model of Jewish theological language can move the discussion forward.

The Argument of This Book I have borrowed the phrase contemplative nation from Philo, the first-century Jewish philosopher from Alexandria.42 “Israel,” he says “is the mind inclined to the contemplation of God and of the world.”43 While Philo’s comment is based on an interpretation of the name Israel that links it to the vision of God, what lies behind his etymological concern is a philosophical conception of human perfection that culminates in the contemplation of the divine.44 Since Philo had little impact on the development of classical Jewish thought, for the purposes of this study I am not interested in his efforts to fuse Judaism and ancient philosophy.45 Given the challenges that theology has faced in the Jewish tradition, what I find striking in Philo’s formulation is the idea that the Jewish people are genuinely concerned with God and the divine-human relationship. As I will argue in the conclusion, I think there are good reasons to affirm Philo’s conception of the Israelites and to extend it to later forms of Judaism. Doing so requires a new model for understanding Jewish theology. In Contemplative Nation, I propose a model of Jewish theology that has two fundamental commitments: (1) that there are multiple forms of Jewish theological language; and (2) that the forms of Jewish theological language arise out of distinct forms of religious practice, such as different ways of religious reading, reflection on divine perfection, and the cultivation of religious experience. All too often critics of theology, Jewish and otherwise, reduce theological language to a single category such as the homiletic, the speculative, or the metaphysical. This flattening of theological reflection is the first step in controlling and negating theology’s claim to truth. It is, in David Tracy’s apt phrase, an effort to turn a varied and transformative discourse into “more of the same.”46 In my view, Jewish theology will not overcome the forces that seek to attenuate its claim to truth until scholars come to appreciate the diverse sources for Jewish theological reflection and the distinct linguistic forms that bring those reflections to expression. Acknowledging

Introduction   17

the different ways that Jewish thinkers think and speak about God is not, by itself, sufficient to put the systematic and dogmatic expectations to rest. What is also necessary is a new account of the role that theological reflection plays in Judaism, one that focuses on the intricate ways in which theology is bound up with practice. In order to highlight the fact that theological claims, on my model, arise out of religious practices and often point back toward them, I will refer to the model as Jewish Theological Practice, or JTP. In order to construct my model of Jewish theological language, in Chapters 1 and 2 I chart an unusual path through philosophical hermeneutics, Pierre Hadot’s work on ancient philosophy, and William Alston’s contribution to analytic religious epistemology. Hermeneutics is, for fairly obvious reasons, a good starting point for my search for philosophical resources to support Jewish theology. Hermeneutics is the philosophical discipline that explores the dynamics of interpretation, and Judaism is a scriptural tradition that has consistently relied upon creative rereadings of Scripture in order to preserve and enrich the tradition within ever new historical and cultural settings. If any philosophical discipline is going to illuminate the linguistic and interpretive elements within Judaism, it will most likely be hermeneutics. In Chapter 1, I undertake a critical analysis of the leading hermeneutic theories of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur. Gadamer and Ricoeur are familiar names within contemporary Jewish studies, but rarely have their hermeneutic theories been subjected to a critical appraisal that identifies the resources and the shortcomings of deploying their theories in the study of classical Jewish literature.47 In my readings of Gadamer and Ricoeur, I identify numerous ways in which their hermeneutic theories can advance the study of Jewish theology. Gadamer is particularly helpful on the dynamics of interpretation across great historical distance. This turns out to be useful not only for understanding the interpretive processes within Judaism, it also illuminates the challenges scholars of Judaism have faced in interpreting theological ideas that conflict with contemporary philosophical and theological sensibilities. As for Ricoeur, his most significant contributions to the study of Jewish theology revolve around his analysis of the multiple forms of biblical discourse and his concern for the limits of theological language. Ricoeur argues persuasively that all the forms of biblical discourse, such as narrative, law, prophecy, wisdom, and poetry, reflect a distinct aspect of the

Introduction   18

divine-human relationship and that each form of discourse makes a unique theological contribution. While Ricoeur’s theory requires significant adaptation in order to apply it to postbiblical Judaism, his attention to the distinct forms of biblical discourse will serve as a model for drawing a more nuanced account of Jewish theology. Despite my appropriation of significant resources from philosophical hermeneutics, in scrutinizing Gadamer’s and Ricoeur’s theories it becomes evident that they embrace philosophical positions that nullify the possibility of theological truth claims. Adopting a hermeneutic approach to Jewish theological language requires that I buttress their theories by making them more amenable to such claims. Chapter 2 addresses two related problems. If it is necessary to abandon the systematic and dogmatic approach to theology within Judaism, what can replace this standard conception? And, what account of Jewish theology can embrace the resources of hermeneutic theory while maintaining the possibility of theological truth claims? My effort to address these issues begins with a critical engagement with Pierre Hadot’s work on the role of spiritual exercises in ancient philosophy. Hadot argues that unlike the strictly theoretical orientation of much medieval and modern philosophy, ancient philosophy sought to bring about the inner transformation of the philosophical practitioner through a regimen of spiritual exercises. A close and somewhat creative reading of Hadot’s work provides me with a model of the relationship between theory and practice that I extend to Jewish theology. In summary, Hadot argues that ancient philosophical discourse had three principal functions: (1) Discourse had the theoretical function of justifying the philosophical way of life. (2) Discourse had a formative function. (3) The production and study of philosophical discourse was a spiritual exercise. Hadot’s complex account of the functions of ancient philosophical discourse is useful for Jewish theology for two reasons. First, it provides a model for pushing beyond the reductive claims that Jewish theology only serves the function of speculation or homily. Second, Hadot’s analysis of philosophical discourse suggests replacing the systematic and dogmatic conception of theology with an account of theology in which theory and practice are inextricable. Understood on these terms, theological reflection articulates and defends Jewish accounts of God and the divine-human relationship, forms Jewish practitioners, and is itself a form of practice. Arriving

Introduction   19

at a new understanding of the theoretical and practical functions of Jewish theology is pivotal in my effort to secure the place of theology within Jewish studies. Nonetheless, by itself, a better account of the functions of Jewish theology does not provide the resources to overcome the philosophical and theological prejudices of hermeneutic theory. In order to arrive at a hermeneutic position that is open to the possibility of theological truth claims, I must address the matter of epistemology directly. By drawing on William Alston’s work on religious epistemology, I am able to strengthen the important resources for Jewish theology within philosophical hermeneutics and Pierre Hadot’s work on ancient philosophy. Synthesizing arguments from Thomas Reid and Ludwig Wittgenstein, Alston sets forth an externalist epistemology that contends we have no alternative but to rely upon socially established belief-forming practices, which he calls doxastic practices. Alston argues that our doxastic practices are comprised of multiple belief-forming mechanisms that can be individuated according to the types of inputs the mechanisms use to formulate beliefs as well as the content of the beliefs that the mechanisms produce. Along these lines, Jewish theology is a doxastic practice that produces beliefs about God and that is comprised of belief-forming mechanisms like exegetical and hermeneutic engagement with Scripture, claims based on divine perfection, and claims that arise out of religious experience. Following Alston, I see each of these four sources as having a distinct input for its beliefs, for example, exegetical problems within Scripture are the constituents (the input) upon which exegetical claims about God are based, and so on. At the same time, what unites these multiple sources of belief-formation is that they are all ways of producing beliefs about God. Alston argues that the different belief-forming mechanisms provide mutual support as well as a background system for distinguishing true and false beliefs. In my view, it lends credibility to Jewish theology to acknowledge the multiple forms of reason and experience that constitute Judaism’s theological discourse, and it also addresses a long-standing problem of how Judaism evaluates its theological beliefs to argue that the belief-forming mechanisms produce and share an evaluative system. Given the hurdles that face the study of theology at multiple stages of the Jewish tradition, it is my belief that a general reassessment of theology

Introduction   20

within Judaism is in order. To that end, I am proposing a model of Jewish theology that, I claim, is applicable across the tradition. How is it possible to prove that this is in fact the case? To support my argument, I have selected two drastically different texts to analyze the utility of JTP: an early rabbinic scriptural commentary and a modern philosophical theology. Although it will not be conclusive evidence of the universal applicability of JTP, I believe it will give strong support to my model if it can accommodate the wildly different cognitive presuppositions and textual forms of Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael and The Star of Redemption. What I intend to demonstrate is that JTP is not only adequate to these texts but that it can resolve long-standing difficulties in the study of rabbinics and modern Jewish thought. As eager as I am to demonstrate the validity of JTP, ultimately what I am advocating is the idea that closer and more careful analysis of theology in rabbinic and modern Jewish thought can produce important insights in those fields of research. To give a foretaste of the results of my study, within rabbinics my model (1) establishes a meaningful distinction between exegesis and hermeneutics; (2) demonstrates the important function of reason in rabbinic theology; and (3) replaces the homiletic account of rabbinic theology with a more robust understanding of the vital theoretical and practical contributions that theology makes in constructing and preserving the rabbinic world view and its way of life. Deploying JTP in a reading of Rosenzweig’s Star (1) overturns the postmodern and postliberal readings of Rosenzweig as an opponent of metaphysics by demonstrating the critical role that divine perfection plays in his system; (2) restores the “Jewish” character of the work by emphasizing his use of exegetical and hermeneutical forms of theology; and (3) defends the place of personal revelation and religious experience in Rosenzweig’s argument. This is just a glimpse of what the reader can anticipate on the other side of my philosophical explorations. First, I must construct my model of Jewish theological language, for which I now turn to the subject of hermeneutics.

1 he rme neutic theory and the study of j ew i sh th e olog y Toward a New Model of Jewish Theological Language

As I argued in the Introduction, since the inception of Wissenschaft des Juden­tums a variety of forces inimical to theology have shaped the study of Judaism. To be sure, there is nothing nefarious in this state of affairs. Early scholars of Judaism thought a rational presentation of the tradition was the key to political emancipation, while the more philosophically minded were simply reflecting the dominant trends in modern and postmodern philosophy when they rejected theology along with metaphysics. If, as I have claimed, the Jewish tradition has sustained a complex and substantial discourse on the divine, then it is an important task for scholars of Judaism that we find the means to situate theological reflection within the scholarly purview. Jewish theology will be best able to meet the challenges of its critics if it can give an account of itself that answers the common counter­arguments that Judaism has no dogma, that Jewish discourse about God is not systematic, and that whatever theology does exist in Judaism is solely for the purposes of edification.These criticisms are based on the flawed notion that theology, by definition, is a coherent doctrinal system that compels assent. Given the need for a new model for understanding Jewish theological language, what should serve as its basis? Two compelling reasons suggest taking philosophical hermeneutics as a starting point. Hermeneutics is the 

Hermeneutic Theory and the Study of Jewish Theology   22

branch of philosophy that seeks to understand the various processes associated with the act of interpretation. As a scriptural tradition, interpretation has played a critical role in the development of Judaism and is a prominent element in its religious life. At the institutional level, the persistent interpretation and reinterpretation of its sacred texts has helped Judaism to endure profound political and social upheavals and to adapt to shifting cultural horizons. As for the individual, the Jewish practitioner not only lives by a calendar of liturgical reading, but constantly returns to the Torah, written and oral, for guidance about how to live the religious life and how to orient oneself toward the divine.1 The first reason, then, that philosophical hermeneutics is a good starting point for thinking about Jewish theology is that interpretation is a basic feature of the Jewish tradition. The travails of Jewish theology as an academic discipline provide the second reason why hermeneutics can make an important contribution to a new understanding of Jewish theological language. As I argued in the Introduction, scholars have repeatedly fixed the place of theology within the academic study of Judaism according to their own philosophical and theological commitments. For instance, commitments to a rational presentation of the Jewish tradition often lead to the claim that rabbinic theology is homiletic. Central to the hermeneutic inquiry into interpretation is a concern for how historical distance impacts one’s ability to understand. As I will discuss at length below, Hans-Georg Gadamer seeks to identify the contribution that our own commitments—what he calls prejudices—make in the act of interpretation. The second reason to turn to hermeneutics in order to help Jewish theology find a new footing is that the forces suppressing theology in Jewish studies are themselves hermeneutic in character. Although I intend to demonstrate that the hermeneutic theories of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur can play an important role in rethinking Jewish theology, the application of their theories to classical Jewish literature is not without serious challenges. Like many forms of modern and postmodern philosophy, the hermeneutic theories of Gadamer and Ricoeur are deeply concerned with the limits of knowledge and language. While their strategies for circumscribing discourse are quite different, the result, I will contend, is the same: both thinkers undermine the possibility of theological language. As my model of Jewish theology will require

Hermeneutic Theory and the Study of Jewish Theology   

that I bolster hermeneutic theory conceptually and epistemologically, it is imperative that I make clear the shortcomings of Gadamer’s and Ricoeur’s work as well as the tremendous resources that their thought can bring to the study of Jewish theology. In the discussion to follow, I will first offer a presentation and critical analysis of Gadamer’s work and then do the same for Ricoeur’s thought. The advantage of engaging the thinkers in this order is that Gadamer will provide insights about more general issues in the study of Jewish theology, while Ricoeur will contribute important structural features to my model of Jewish theological language that I will develop more fully in the following chapter. Given the voluminous and complex nature of both Gadamer’s and Ricoeur’s writings, I will present their hermeneutic theories in a manner that emphasizes the potential resources for the study of Jewish theology as well as the most glaring difficulties. In an effort to keep the discussion centered on Jewish theology, after laying out each thinker’s hermeneutic theory, I will immediately assess the theory from the perspective of the study of Jewish theology.

Gadamer’s Hermeneutic Theory As Gadamer develops his philosophical hermeneutics most fully in his magnum opus, Truth and Method, I will take it as the focus of my discussion.2 An appreciation of the motives that propel Gadamer’s philosophy as well as the scope of his argument are crucial to understanding his hermeneutic theory. Gadamer is distressed by the fact that science has appropriated to itself the role of being the sole arbiter of truth.3 His concern is that we have been compelled to relinquish the idea that art and literature can be sources of knowledge. In an effort to resist these forces he argues: Does not the experience of art contain a claim to truth which is certainly different from that of science, but just as certainly is not inferior to it? And is not the task of aesthetics precisely to ground the fact that the experience (Erfahrung) of art is a mode of knowledge of a unique kind, certainly different from that sensory knowledge which provides science with the ultimate data from which it constructs the knowledge of nature, and certainly different from all moral rational knowledge, and indeed from all conceptual knowledge—but still knowledge, i.e. conveying truth?4

Hermeneutic Theory and the Study of Jewish Theology   24

In Gadamer’s view, it is critical that we find the means for preserving the belief that the arts and humanities are sources of truth just as much as the sciences. Gadamer’s first step in mounting a defense for a broader notion of truth is to argue that all knowledge—scientific and humanistic—arises under the same conditions: in all human cognition and experience the individual’s historicity plays a determinative role in the acquisition of knowledge. As Gadamer seeks to uncover the forces that affect all human understanding, he can argue that “the province of hermeneutics is universal.”5 Hermeneutics is not just a methodology for interpreting traditionary materials; rather, it is a “theory of the real experience that thinking is.”6 It is important to see that while Jewish studies may only be marginally interested in philosophical hermeneutics, Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory claims to have something to say about all areas of human understanding, including Judaism. For present purposes, I will pick up Gadamer’s argument where he offers his critique of aesthetics as it developed in the nineteenth century. The principal problem with aesthetics for Gadamer is that the aesthetic consciousness of the individual becomes “the experiencing (erlebende) center from which everything considered art is measured.”7 The emphasis upon the inner experience of the aesthete extracts the work of art from the social context in which the artist produced the work and also removes the socially established criteria by which the work can be judged. Even more destructive is the fact that in abolishing all “extra-aesthetic elements” the aesthetic consciousness ignores the content of the work, the very thing that can “induce us to take up a moral or religious stance towards it.”8 This process by which aesthetics reduces the work of art to the aesthetic experience of the individual is what Gadamer calls “aesthetic differentiation.”9 For Gadamer, this act is ultimately a destructive one in that it “annihilates the unity of the work of art, the identity of the artist with himself, and the identity of the person understanding or enjoying the work of art.”10 A crucial task of Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory, then, will be to propose a more complex relationship between the artist, the work of art, and the individual who experiences and interprets the art object. What is most important for my purposes is that this relationship will have to be one in which the truth claim of the work of art is not diminished by the experience of its aesthetic properties.

Hermeneutic Theory and the Study of Jewish Theology   

Seeking to overcome the errors of aesthetics, Gadamer takes up the question of the ontology of the work of art. That is to say, he wants to inquire into the mode of being of the work of art and its relationship to being in general. Gadamer argues that it is the idea of “play” that reveals the most about the work of art from an ontological perspective. He is quick to clarify that by using the word play he does not mean that art, either in its creation or in our experience of it, is something “playful” or lacking seriousness. Play, he contends, is the means to “self-presentation,” which he considers a “universal ontological characteristic of nature.”11 In applying the notion of play to art, Gadamer makes the following observations: All presentation is potentially a representation for someone. That this possibility is intended is the characteristic feature of art as play. The closed world of play lets down one of its walls, as it were. A religious rite and a play in a theater obviously do not represent in the same sense as a child playing. Their being is not exhausted by the fact that they present themselves, for at the same time they point beyond themselves to the audience which participates by watching. Play here is no longer the mere self-presentation of an ordered movement, nor mere representation in which the child playing is totally absorbed, but it is “representing for someone.” The directedness proper to all representation comes to the fore here and is constitutive of the being of art.12

While it may seem that following Gadamer’s explorations into the phenomenology of art takes us a long way from the topic of Jewish theology, the point that Gadamer is seeking to make is crucial to his hermeneutic theory and, with slight modification, to Jewish theological language as well. It is worth noting that throughout Truth and Method, Gadamer often draws on religious parallels to art as a way of giving weight to his argument. In this case, part of what defines a ritual or theatrical performance is the fact that it projects itself toward an audience. The particular dynamic of play in theater and religious ritual transforms the audience into a participant, that is, a player. Gadamer goes so far to say that it is only in the presence of an audience that the performance “achieves its whole significance.”13 Although there is still much work to do on Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory before I can turn the discussion back to Jewish theology, I can make two points in anticipation of that discussion. First, it will be crucial to the model of Jewish theology that I develop in this and the next chapter that Jewish theological language is not just private speculation on

Hermeneutic Theory and the Study of Jewish Theology   26

things divine. Jewish theology intends its audience and in doing so it seeks to achieve certain ends. Second, in the same way that art turns its audience into a participant, Jewish theology is also self-promulgating and turns the reader or listener into a theologically reflective thinker. That the work of art directs itself toward its audience is an indication that the play of art produces meaning that it seeks to communicate. ­Gadamer calls the process by which the meaning of artistic play comes into being “transformation into structure.”14 What he seeks to capture by this phrase is that through the play of art a work emerges that has “absolute autonomy” over both the players and the spectators.15 As an indication of this autonomy, Gadamer points to the fact that in a theatrical performance we no longer ask about the players as individuals; instead the audience perceives them only as participants in the play. In the same way that the actors are drawn into the world of the play, so too is the audience. Gadamer describes this transformation of the world in the following terms: But, above all, what no longer exists is the world in which we live as our own. Transformation into structure is not simply transposition into another world. Certainly the play takes place in another, closed world. But inasmuch as it is a structure, it is, so to speak, its own measure and measures itself by nothing outside it. Thus the action of a drama—in this respect it still entirely resembles the religious act—exists as something that rests absolutely within itself. It no longer permits of any comparison with reality as the secret measure of all verisimilitude. It is raised above all such comparisons—and hence also above the question of whether it is all real—because a superior truth speaks from it.16

In tracing the notion of play as it culminates in transformation into structure, Gadamer arrives at the ontological mode of the work of art that he was pursuing. For Gadamer, transformation into structure is a process that has a privileged access to both being and truth. As he goes on to say, “the transformation is a transformation into the true . . . it is itself redemption and transformation back into true being.”17 It helps to understand this turgid language to note that Gadamer, like Ricoeur, adopts a Heideggerian notion of truth as manifestation.18 Whereas Heidegger focuses on the disclosure and concealment of being as the source of truth, Gadamer explores the process of play and the accompanying transformation into structure as a vehicle for truth to disclose itself. For Gadamer, the world that emerges

Hermeneutic Theory and the Study of Jewish Theology   

in “the play of presentation” is our world “in the heightened truth of its being.”19 While there will be more to say about the topic of truth further on, what is important to establish at present is that, for Gadamer, the ontological mode of the work of art is an “event of being” in which truth is disclosed. Although Gadamer begins his exploration of the ontology of the work of art by focusing on theatrical performance, he quickly extends his argument by showing that painting, the plastic arts, and literature all share the same ontological structure. For the purposes of this study, it is literature that is of ultimate importance. In addressing the topic of literature, Gadamer gives considerable attention to the act of reading. Reading for Gadamer “is always a kind of reproduction, performance, and interpretation.” As he sees it, the meaning of a text is dependent on the act of reading. From an ontological perspective, it is reading that gives to literature the structure of “an event in which the content comes to presentation.”20 The emphasis on reading in Gadamer’s account of literature raises the question of what types of texts qualify as literature. It would seem that the reading of any text whatsoever requires the same performative component and, indeed, Gadamer claims that “all written texts share in the mode of being of literature.”21 According to Gadamer, the difference between what we would normally consider literature and other types of texts is “not so fundamental.” If there is any distinction at all to be made among texts it is in regard to “the claims to truth that each makes.”22 The phenomenological traits of reading also serve to expand the scope of Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory to a universalist position. While the act of reading is crucial in producing meaning for Gadamer, this dependence on the reader does not undermine the possibility of the text communicating its message. Gadamer captures this tension between textuality and interpretation when he says that “nothing is so purely the trace of the mind as writing, but nothing is so dependent on the understanding mind either.” Reading is, for Gadamer, an astounding human power that transforms dead signs into a living voice. This voice, he says, “is to such an extent pure mind that it speaks to us as if in the present.” Those who have the power to read can “produce and achieve the sheer presence of the past.”23 Literature holds a privileged place from a hermeneutical perspective, not only because it is the most direct and content-rich form of ar-

Hermeneutic Theory and the Study of Jewish Theology   28

tistic expression, but also because it requires the full resources of the human understanding in order to communicate its message. As Gadamer constructs his hermeneutic theory, a central concern for him is the question of how knowledge in the human sciences is related to scientific knowledge. For Gadamer, this question receives a decisive answer with Heidegger’s fundamental ontology, which asserts that understanding is the “original form of the realization of Dasein.”24 That is to say that understanding is the fundamental characteristic of human being-there or existence. In order to fully comprehend the role of understanding in Heidegger’s thought it is necessary to address his conception of Dasein as a “thrown-projection.”25 By stating that human being-there is a “thrown-projection,” Heidegger means that Dasein is embedded in a particular social and historical framework (thus it is “thrown”), and it is fundamentally oriented toward its own possible future (thus it is a “projection”). This notion of Dasein has a profound impact on Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory. Through the idea of being “thrown” it is possible to overcome the dichotomy between the human and natural sciences that troubled modern hermeneutics from the outset. The privilege that the natural sciences claimed over the human sciences loses its force when both modes of inquiry acknowledge their fundamental “historicity.”26 Furthermore, the idea of being “thrown” in the sense of belonging to history comes to represent for Heidegger and Gadamer the condition for historical knowledge. As Gadamer puts it, “we study history only insofar as we are ourselves ‘historical.’”27 The idea of “projection” discloses the fact that understanding is always an understanding for oneself; it is a projection of one’s own possibilities. What makes this a pivotal concept for Gadamer’s hermeneutics is that our possibilities are always projected through “the concrete bonds of custom and tradition” that represent our being “thrown.”28 This notion of Dasein influences hermeneutics from a practical perspective in that every text is met with a “fore-projection” of meaning. Our encounter with a text is always guided by the fact that we are historically situated beings oriented toward our own future possibilities. According to Gadamer, interpretation is then the process by which our fore-­projections undergo revision as a result of the text calling them into question. Under­ standing a text rests upon the possibility of the text being able to say something that may or may not cohere with the meaning we are inclined to

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project onto the text. Gadamer argues that it is fundamental to the hermeneutic encounter that the interpreter be “sensitive to the text’s alterity.”29 This effort to allow the text to communicate its own message requires “the foregrounding and appropriation of one’s own fore-meanings and prejudices.”While we cannot avoid having “anticipatory ideas” about a text, Gadamer says that the “methodologically conscious understanding” will attempt to bring these ideas to light so that we can understand the text as much as possible on its own terms.30 In his explication of Heidegger’s notion of Dasein as “thrown-­projection,” Gadamer arrives at the fundamental theme of his hermeneutic theory, the idea that prejudices play a crucial role in the act of understanding. Gadamer argues that it is only with the Enlightenment that the term prejudice takes on its present negative connotations. Prior to the Enlightenment, the word prejudice (das Vorurteil) simply meant a “provisional legal verdict.”31 Enlightenment thinkers, however, identified prejudices with “unfounded judgments” based on the authority of tradition rather than reason.32 Gadamer pithily summarizes the role of this new conception of prejudice in Enlightenment thought when he says “there is one prejudice of the Enlightenment that defines its essence: the fundamental prejudice against prejudice itself, which denies tradition its power.”33 He argues that Enlightenment thinkers sought a purely objective form of reason, but in doing so they failed to consider that human reason, like Dasein in general, is radically historical. Prejudices are not, as the Enlightenment would have it, unwarranted judgments bequeathed to us by tradition. On the contrary, prejudices are the mark of our own historicity; our prejudices are the indicators that our reason is embedded in a social web of commitment and value. Most importantly, our prejudices set the parameters for our cognitive activity.34 Gadamer claims that the idea of the “classical” can help counter Enlightenment opposition to authority and tradition. In Gadamer’s use of the term, the classical does not refer to a historical period or a style; rather, it illuminates the role of history in the act of understanding. 35 Through the continuing significance of the classical work, it traverses historical distance and makes itself “contemporaneous with every other present.” On account of this ability of the classical to assert its truth claims across time, Gadamer argues that the most important feature of the classical is its “nor-

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mative sense.”36 He goes on to suggest that all hermeneutic understanding follows the model of the classical as a communication from the past to the present that is contingent upon the preservation and passing on of tradition. Gadamer summarizes this point by saying that “understanding is to be thought of less as a subjective act than as participating in an event of tradition, a process of transmission in which past and present are constantly mediated.”37 The notion that understanding arises through a dynamic encounter with the past is a defining feature of Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory, one that he develops from multiple perspectives. From the vantage point of the inter­ preter, the goal is to understand how what the author says “could be right.” Gadamer is so deeply committed to this hermeneutic disposition of openness to the text, he even claims that the desire for understanding should compel the reader to try and strengthen the author’s arguments.38 What propels hermeneutic engagement with the text at this level is what Gad­ amer calls the “fore-conception of completeness.”39 This term identifies our guiding presumption that the text we encounter is both meaningful and true.40 It is only when our presumptions fail to hold true, when the meaning of the text escapes us or its truth claims seem dubious, that the need for a hermeneutic perspective arises. Gadamer describes this process in the following terms: Hermeneutics must start from the position that a person seeking to understand something has a bond to the subject matter that comes into language through the traditionary text and has, or acquires, a connection with the tradition from which the text speaks. On the other hand, hermeneutical consciousness is aware that its bond to this subject matter does not consist in some self-evident, unquestioned unanimity, as is the case with the unbroken stream of tradition. Hermeneutic work is based on a polarity of familiarity and strangeness. . . . It is in the play between the traditionary text’s strangeness and familiarity to us, between being a historically intended, distanciated object and belonging to a tradition. The true locus of hermeneutics is this in-between.41

Unlike romantic hermeneutics, which sought to overcome historical distance and enter into the mind of the author, Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory sees historical distance as productive.42 For Gadamer, the radical historicity of Dasein has the implication that the meaning of a text is never closed; on the contrary, the meaning of a text will vary according to the cultural world

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of the interpreter. As Gadamer says, “the true meaning of a text or work of art is never finished; it is in fact an infinite process.”43 One significant way in which the mediated encounter with the past produces knowledge relates to our prejudices. Gadamer argues that our prejudices are not readily available to us. It is only through our encounter with traditionary materials that our prejudices are “provoked” in such a way that we come to perceive them. The act of understanding begins precisely at this point when we acknowledge the address of tradition and the truth claims with which it confronts us. In listening to the traditional text in this way, we put our prejudices at “risk.”44 The advantage of this is that we come to understand both ourselves and the text. It is on these grounds that Gadamer asserts that “understanding is, essentially, a historically effected event.”45 To help explicate the role of history in the act of understanding, Gad­ amer introduces two related concepts: historically effected consciousness (wirkungs-geschichtliches Bewußtsein) and the fusion of horizons. With the term, historically effected consciousness, Gadamer seeks to capture the role of our prejudices and our fore-understandings in the act of understanding. For instance, in our efforts to understand across “historical distance” the prejudices and fore-understandings that are the product of our historicity shape the nature of our inquiry and the results it produces. Our historicity, Gadamer claims, “determines in advance both what seems to us worth inquiring about and what will appear as an object of investigation, and we more or less forget half of what is really there—in fact, we miss the whole truth of the phenomenon—when we take its immediate appearance as the whole truth.”46 It is imperative to note that the impact of historically effected consciousness extends beyond the quest for historical knowledge. According to Gadamer, our historicity has equal power to corrupt or guide our research in the natural as well as the human sciences. It is for this reason that Gadamer says that “our need to become conscious of effective history is urgent because it is necessary for scientific consciousness.”47 Despite this appeal to “scientific consciousness,” it is foundational to Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory that our awareness of our own historicity is never “absolute.” As Gadamer insists, “To be historically means that knowledge of oneself can never be complete.”48 While our awareness of our historicity is only partial, a second concept crucial to Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory marks the positive boundaries

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of our consciousness—the concept of the horizon. For Gadamer, the term ­horizon refers to “the range of vision that includes everything that can be seen from a particular vantage point.”49 According to Gadamer, the individual knows the “relative significance” of everything contained within his or her horizon.50 Once again paralleling Heidegger’s views on the “thrownness” of Dasein, the horizon represents the way in which we are embedded in a particular historical or cultural perspective and the prejudices which that produces.51 In addition to our horizon, the traditionary texts that we read are situated within their own historical horizon. The hermeneutical task can then be described as the “fusion” of the horizon of the interpreter and the horizon of the text. Gadamer claims that this fusion requires that we transpose ourselves into the historical horizon. He states, “If we fail to transpose ourselves into the historical horizon from which the traditionary text speaks, we will misunderstand the significance of what it has to say to us. To that extent this seems a legitimate hermeneutical requirement: we must place ourselves in the other situation in order to understand it.”52 What distinguishes Gadamer’s position from that of romantic hermeneutics is that transposition as Gadamer understands it requires that our own horizon always moves with us. For Gadamer, this process is not driven by an empathy for the historical individual; rather, it is in the hope of achieving for ourselves a “higher universality” that will allow us to transcend our own particularity as well as that of the historical “other.”53 In order to understand the transformative nature of the hermeneutic encounter, it is crucial to see that the fusion of horizons requires not only a transposition into the horizon of the traditionary text, but also an application of the traditionary text within the contemporary horizon. Just as our historicity shapes the hermeneutic encounter in its initial phase, in that we are guided by our prejudices, the projective aspect of Dasein requires that we turn our focus forward and discern how the text informs our vision of our own possibilities. The process of understanding a text reaches its completion only when the textual interpretation is applied within the contemporary horizon. It is for this reason that Gadamer takes legal and theological hermeneutics to be the proper model for hermeneutics more generally. Legal and theological hermeneutics put themselves at the “service” of the law and God by responding to the truth claims of legal and religious texts

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and by interpreting their meaning for the present.54 The point for Gadamer is not that legal and theological hermeneutics are phenomenologically different than other forms of interpretation, but that they make explicit the normative element in interpretation that is otherwise often concealed. In the passages I have cited from Gadamer, he has repeatedly conceived of the hermeneutic encounter in terms of an event (Ereignis). Rejecting the internal experience (Erlebnis) of aesthetic consciousness, Gadamer instead sees hermeneutic encounter as an experience (Erfahrung) in the world and of the world of the text. It is this interaction that gives the hermeneutic encounter the status of an event. The significance of experience in Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory becomes apparent with his discussion of experience as a scientific category. Gadamer claims that science sees true experiences only as those that can be repeated and verified under controlled circumstances. By theorizing experience on objective grounds, science loses sight of the fact that experience is always experience for someone, an individual with a specific historical and social location.55 Science seeks to exclude from experience that which Gadamer believes makes experience possible. From Gadamer’s hermeneutic perspective, it is our historicity that constitutes our belonging to tradition and allows tradition to confront us as an experiential event. To eliminate this historicity for the purposes of scientific validation denudes experience of its content. A second reason Gadamer resists the validation of experience via scientific method is that he follows Hegel in construing experience as being dialectical in nature. What this means for Gadamer is that experience is essentially negative. As Gadamer understands it, a new experience is always one in which one’s prejudices or fore-meanings have been negated. While it is evident that experience understood as negation could not seek the demonstrative proof of scientific verification, Gadamer offers an additional reason why this must be the case. Pace Hegel, Gadamer argues that the initial negation of experience understood from a dialectical perspective never sublimates into positive knowledge: The nature of experience is conceived in terms of something that surpasses it; for experience itself can never be science. Experience stands in an ineluctable opposition to knowledge and to the kind of instruction that follows from general theoretical or technical knowledge. The truth of experience

Hermeneutic Theory and the Study of Jewish Theology   34 always implies an orientation toward new experience. That is why a person who is called experienced has become so not only through experiences but is also open to new experiences. The consummation of his experience, the perfection that we call “being experienced,” does not consist in the fact that someone already knows everything and knows better than anyone else. Rather, the experienced person proves to be, on the contrary, someone who is radically undogmatic; who, because of the many experiences he has had and the knowledge he has drawn from them, is particularly well equipped to have new experiences and to learn from them. The dialectic of experience has its proper fulfillment not in definitive knowledge but in the openness to experience that is made possible by experience itself.56

Experience for Gadamer is transformative. It is better understood as a mode of being than a foundation upon which beliefs can be secured. While ­Gadamer does not entirely eliminate the category of knowledge from experience, the knowledge that experience produces is essentially negative. It is for this reason that he says that “every experience worthy of the name thwarts an expectation.”57 Gadamer prefers to call the cognitive element in experience “insight” rather than knowledge.58 Understood on these terms, insight is the discovery of the limits and even the falsity of one’s prejudices. According to Gadamer, it is through experience that we come to know our “finiteness” and our “historicity.”59 As a result of its negativity and its resistance to knowledge, experience eludes scientific analysis. Part of what motivates Gadamer to conceive hermeneutic experience in negative terms is his belief that what we encounter in the traditionary text is more than language: in the text, we meet a Thou who bears a claim to truth. In encountering this Thou, a limit is placed on our own horizon and our prejudices are called into question. In order for the I-Thou relationship between the hermeneut and tradition to come to fulfillment, it is necessary that a dialogue take place between the hermeneut and the text. For this dialogue to occur, the hermeneut must “make the text speak.”60 As Gadamer describes it, this dialogue is initiated by a reciprocal process of questioning and answering between the text and its interpreter. This process is so fundamental from Gadamer’s perspective that he says: “We cannot have experiences without asking questions.”61 Questions represent for Gadamer a fundamental openness that allow the possibility for something to be revealed.

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I have already stated that the text questions its interpreter by challenging the prejudices and fore-meanings that the interpreter brings to the text. How then does the interpreter make this a reciprocal process by asking questions of the text? Here Gadamer returns to his concept of the “fore-conception of completeness,” the guiding presumption that what the text says is meaningful and true.The fore-conception of completeness leads us to believe that the text is itself an answer to a preceding question.The hermeneut must discover what question the text is seeking to address. This exploration represents the interpreter’s questioning of the text. It is at this point that Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory reaches its full complexity. As Gadamer repeatedly makes clear, the hermeneut cannot escape her own horizon; therefore the “reconstructed question” of the text is never simply an artifact of the historical horizon of the text. By necessity, this reconstructed question of the text must be a “real question” for the hermeneut. The work of determining the question that the text seeks to answer “merges with our own questioning.” According to Gadamer: “Part of real understanding . . . is that we regain the concepts of a historical past in such a way that they also include our own comprehension of them.”62 Such an understanding—one which successfully bridges the ­horizon of the hermeneut and the historical horizon of the text—is contingent upon asking the right question of the text. Gadamer states on this point: Posing a question implies openness but also limitation. It implies the explicit establishing of presuppositions, in terms of which can be seen what still remains open. Hence a question can be asked rightly or wrongly, according as it reaches into the sphere of the truly open or fails to do so. We say that a question has been put wrongly when it does not reach the state of openness but precludes reaching it by retaining false presuppositions. It pretends to an openness and susceptibility to decision that it does not have. But if what is in question is not foregrounded, or not correctly foregrounded, from those presuppositions that are really held, then it is not brought into the open and nothing can be decided.63

In order for the hermeneutic encounter to culminate in a successful fusion of horizons, it is necessary that one foreground one’s prejudices, to the degree that is possible, while allowing what remains of one’s prejudices to be put at risk by the truth claims of the text. From Gadamer’s perspective, it is only on these terms that the text can be made to speak to the hermeneut as if it were a Thou.

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Having laid out the basic features of Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory and the conditions he believes necessary to initiate a dialogue between text and interpreter, I can now turn to a critical discussion of the contributions his hermeneutic theory makes to the study of Jewish theology and the challenges of deploying it in a reading of classical Jewish texts.

Gadamer’s Hermeneutic Theory and the Study of Jewish Theology Without question it is Gadamer’s insights into the role of prejudices in the hermeneutic encounter that are most beneficial to the study of Jewish theology. What Gadamer’s account of prejudices suggests is that the marginalization of theology in Jewish studies is not the result of a willful conspiracy to excise God from the Jewish tradition. A more probable narrative is that succeeding generations of scholars shared the dominant intellectual commitments and values of their cultural horizons, in which theological language was either ignored or rejected. Considering the fact that the academic study of Judaism began in nineteenth-century Germany, it is not surprising that the study of Judaism in its earliest stages reflects the antit­heological tendencies of the German idealism that permeated these scholars’ cultural horizon. That subsequent generations of scholars of Judaism have found their intellectual resources in forms of continental philosophy that are equally skeptical about theological language means that there has been little to challenge the marginalization of theology in Jewish studies. Discovering that the marginalization of theology in Jewish studies is as much the product of multiple cultural horizons as it is the work of individuals is also helpful for thinking about how to initiate a recovery of Jewish theology. Prejudices, both in Gadamer’s usage and as standardly taken, are amorphous and persistent. The forces opposing Jewish theology are too numerous and indeterminate to be overthrown by a frontal assault. Advocating for a shift in fundamental theological intuitions requires a new approach to the topic, such as the one I am setting forth here. It would be a substantial contribution to Jewish studies if Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory did nothing else but disclose the role of historicity in how we understand Judaism. That Gadamer’s theory goes beyond this diagnostic function and provides resources for negotiating the role of our historicity in the encounter with traditionary texts is an additional boon to

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the study of Jewish theology. In laying out Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory, I began with his critique of aesthetics in the nineteenth century. Gadamer introduced the phrase aesthetic differentiation to refer to the process by which aesthetic consciousness strips the work of art of all meaning outside the experience of the observer. In the Introduction, I noted a similar process in the study of Jewish theology. Scholars of Judaism have often taken recourse to the category of the “homiletical” as a way to disarm problematic theological assertions or Jewish theology as a whole. While one can understand the allure of identifying a troubling theological claim as homiletic, reducing Jewish theology to an edifying discourse suppresses its claim to truth for reasons similar to the ones Gadamer outlines in his critique of aesthetic differentiation. Gadamer answers aesthetics by returning to the ontology of the work of art where he discovered that the artwork is more than self-presentation or play; it is representation for someone. In seeing the work of art as intentional, as directed toward an audience, Gadamer recovers the meaning that the artwork seeks to convey. The work of art is not just about how one experiences it; it is also about what the artist is trying to say through the work of art. A similar pattern holds with Jewish theology. While Jewish theology may often be entertaining, particularly in the parables of the ­rabbis, the purpose of a theological assertion is not just to entertain or comfort. A theological claim says something substantive about God and the divinehuman relationship: it seeks to illuminate God’s nature or actions or it seeks to properly orient the practitioner toward God. Deploying the category of the homiletical in order to dismiss problematic theological comments is warranted only in the context of a thoroughgoing critique of religion. Only if religion is an ideology meant to deceive and manipulate would it make sense to say that a tradition forms its practitioners toward that which it takes to be false. Gadamer’s efforts to reassert the truth claim of the traditionary text as an antidote to aesthetic differentiation can also help counter the “homiletic differentiation” that persists in the study of Jewish theology. Gadamer insists on the alterity of the traditionary text as a means of preventing the collapse of the text into our own categories. While he rejects the view that we can know the textual Other independent of our own historicity, he encourages an openness to the traditionary text in which

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we foreground our prejudices and in doing so come to dialogue with the text as a Thou. This disposition of hermeneutic openness allows the text to announce its claims to truth and to challenge our prejudices. As a consequence, we will ask more appropriate questions of the text and arrive at better knowledge of both the text and ourselves. Applying Gadamer’s theory to the study of Jewish theology can advance historical and constructive scholarship, as it would require that scholars take account of their own philosophical and theological prejudices. The clarity that Gadamer’s work brings to the relationship between historical and constructive thought is worth dwelling upon. Jewish studies has fashioned itself and has found accession into the university as a principally historical discipline. Even modern Jewish thought is typically more concerned with what so-and-so said—that is to say, with historical philosophy—than with whether that particular philosophical or theological position is correct.64 Gadamer’s work helps to narrow the gap between historical and constructive thought in ways that are useful for Jewish studies.65 First, the radical historicity of Dasein calls into question an objective and scientific approach to history. Historical inquiry—like all human inquiry— is guided by personal interest and commitment. In that historical research is a production of knowledge from within a specific cultural, historical, and personal context; it shares the constructive aspect of more openly normative investigation. Second, Gadamer holds that, like legal and theological interpretation, hermeneutics culminates in application, a process of making meaning within the contemporary horizon that is inherently constructive. Acknowledging the normativity that is present in historical research reveals the moral weight of historiography and also opens a path for more explicitly constructive work on Jewish theology and philosophy. While there is no reason to think that doing work in Jewish studies is necessarily an act of traditio, or tradition making, for those so inclined, that is one way of thinking about the building up of knowledge within the discipline. As Gadamer says, “Tradition is not simply a permanent precondition; rather, we produce it ourselves inasmuch as we understand, participate in the evolution of tradition, and hence further determine it ourselves.”66 Acknowledging prejudices and embracing the creative and normative components of thought are essentially methodological considerations. The

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model of Jewish theology I am seeking must be more than methodologically sound; it must have practical application. Given Gadamer’s claims about the universal nature of hermeneutics, Jewish texts must necessarily exhibit the same hermeneutic characteristics that are exemplified in any act of understanding. As it turns out, classical Jewish texts are an excellent test case for Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory on the basis of their rigorous exegetical engagement with the Bible as well as their tendency to build upon earlier exegetical traditions. Should all go well, Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory will provide substantive insight into how classical Jewish literature functions from a hermeneutic perspective, while also helping to guide my hermeneutic encounter with these texts. To say that classical Jewish texts have a hermeneutic component is not to suggest that the rabbis or Rosenzweig (to use the examples of this study) were practitioners of Gadamerian hermeneutics. Obviously, neither of the texts I analyze speaks about the need to foreground prejudices, and neither do they articulate an event theory of understanding in which a fusion of horizons takes place. That the texts do not speak in these terms does not, however, preclude the possibility that the texts, and the individual interpretative acts that comprise them, function along the lines that Gadamer has described. For instance, it seems quite certain that something like a fusion of horizons is in operation when one considers the different methods and goals of biblical interpretation in a tannaitic commentary on Exodus and a modern philosophical theology. As I will labor to demonstrate in the discussions of the Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael and The Star of Redemption, Gadamer’s suggestion that hermeneutics is the mediation of the familiar and the strange within tradition is quite apropos for the way in which both texts struggle to understand and apply Scripture within their contemporary contexts. That both the Mekhilta and the Star take on the challenge of making the biblical text relevant within their own horizons lends support to Gadamer’s claim that textual meaning remains open and, as such, continues to grow. The question that must be asked is whether the application of Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory to the Jewish tradition produces the results I have described. Do we, in fact, on his hermeneutical theory understand ourselves and the text better?67 Recalling Gadamer’s account of hermeneutic experience, there are reasons to be concerned on this point. Gadamer argued

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that hermeneutic experience was an entirely negative affair, not producing knowledge in any form. According to Gadamer, all that can possibly come from hermeneutic experience is an openness to new experiences. Doesn’t this position vitiate Gadamer’s insistence on the importance of the truth claims of traditional texts? Why must hermeneutic experience only negate our fore-conceptions rather than contribute to our knowledge? At least with respect to the theological matters that are my concern in this study, it is possible to find a partial answer to these questions in the foreword to the second edition of Truth and Method, where Gadamer states: “This fundamental methodical approach avoids implying any metaphysical conclusions. In subsequent publications, especially in my research reports . . . I have recorded my acceptance of Kant’s conclusions in the Critique of Pure Reason: I regard statements that proceed by wholly dialectical means from the finite to the infinite, from human experience to what exists in itself, from the temporal to the eternal, as doing no more than setting limits, and am convinced that philosophy can derive no actual knowledge from them.”68 My survey of Truth and Method was sufficiently detailed to cast doubt on Gadamer’s efforts to place the burden of this argument strictly on Kant’s shoulders. While Gadamer does take Kant as an interlocutor in his discussion of aesthetic consciousness, it is Heidegger’s philosophy, and not Kant’s, that Gadamer uses to establish the foundations of his hermeneutic theory. In any event, whether Gadamer appeals to Kant or to Heidegger on this point, the outcome is much the same. The knowledge of God that Kant prohibits for epistemological reasons, Heidegger also rejects on the basis of his critique of ontotheology. For Heidegger, traditional metaphysics, particularly in its efforts to ground being in God (ontotheology), is the primary cause of our “forgetfulness” of being. Western philosophy, according to Heidegger, has gone astray by focusing its attention on beings rather than being. As a result, an instrumentalist view of knowledge has taken over and we have lost sight of our authentic nature as participants in the disclosure of being. Of course, it is not just knowledge of God that Gadamer seeks to limit in the hermeneutic encounter. Leaving aside the question of what might have compelled Gadamer to adopt this position, it is evident that a complete ban on knowledge would undermine the contribution that ­Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory could make to the study of traditional Jew-

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ish texts. A hermeneutic encounter with these texts that proceeded under the presupposition that nothing at all can be said about God would effectively cripple the entire endeavor.69 While Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory has much to offer my model of Jewish theology, these resources rest upon philosophical foundations that are highly resistant to theological claims. Additionally, although Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory can inform an understanding of Jewish theology, there are a variety of questions to which his hermeneutic theory makes no contribution at all, such as: What forms does Jewish theological language take? What functions do Jewish theological claims serve? What is the relationship between theological reflection and religious practice in Judaism? What is the philosophical status of Jewish theological language? As I turn to a discussion of Ricoeur’s hermeneutic theory, two principal issues propel my engagement with his thought. First, a robust account of Jewish theological language requires more conceptual and analytical resources. Second, additional philosophical work, particularly epistemology, is necessary as Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics raises as many questions for Jewish theology as it solves. While Ricoeur will not provide answers to all of these questions, he will significantly advance my efforts to construct a model of Jewish theological language.

Ricoeur’s Hermeneutic Theory Attempting an exposition of Ricoeur’s work is a challenge for reasons that go beyond the prodigious quantity of his writings or the breadth of ­topics they cover. Rather, it is the dynamic nature of Ricoeur’s thought that presents the most difficulties. This quality manifests in his writings in two distinct ways. First, in developing his positions Ricoeur takes interlocutors from fields that are commonly thought to have no common ground of understanding between them. For instance, Ricoeur’s hermeneutic theory bridges the notorious continental/analytic divide in modern philosophy by initiating a theory largely indebted to Heidegger on a distinction made by Frege. In this regard, Ricoeur is as much a model as a challenge to the present project. Emulating Ricoeur’s proclivity for philosophical boundary crossing, in the next chapter I will appeal to the analytic religious epistemology of William Alston as a way of making hermeneutic theory more neutral on the

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question of theological language. It is to the second way in which Ricoeur’s thought can be said to be dynamic that I would like to direct the reader’s attention. One of the most distinctive features of Ricoeur’s work is that he allowed his thought to constantly evolve. Often the conclusions, or even the residual problems, of one project set the terms for Ricoeur’s subsequent research. As a result of the organic nature of his thought, Ricoeur frequently emended previous positions from one work to the next, or even as we shall see, in the midst of a single work. Anything I then offer as a representation of Ricoeur’s hermeneutic theory faces the danger of being nothing more than an artificial reification of one moment in his ever-developing thought. My strategy with Ricoeur will be the same as it was with Gadamer: I will focus upon the portions of Ricoeur’s work that are most fruitful for constructing a model of Jewish theological language. Although my principle of selection guides me toward Ricoeur’s writings that deal explicitly with the topic of religious language, those writings, as will become apparent, are inseparable from his larger hermeneutic theory. Ricoeur, like Gadamer, also seeks to answer the question of what account of truth is appropriate to the arts and humanities. For Ricoeur, the principal problem is that if our understanding of truth is limited to philosophical and scientific conceptions in which propositions are true if and only if they correspond to reality, then literature, which is not propositional, will have no claim to truth. While there are important differences in the hermeneutic theories of Ricoeur and Gadamer on the topic of truth, one point of agreement is that they both call upon Heidegger’s notion of truth as manifestation or disclosure.70 For the sake of convenience, I will speak of what is common to their views on truth as the “manifestation theory of truth.” Stated briefly, the manifestation theory of truth argues that being is in a constant state of disclosure and concealment. Concealment of being for Heidegger is the process by which human concern for being is distracted by a concern for beings. In that beings are the principal objects of metaphysical and scientific knowledge, Heidegger’s notion of truth directly opposes the correspondence theories of truth that he associates with logical positivism and scientism. Understanding the role of the manifestation theory of truth in Ricoeur’s thought requires a full explication of his hermeneutic theory.

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Ricoeur’s hermeneutic theory, as it is developed in much of his published writings, begins with a distinction borrowed from Gottlob Frege. Frege, in a watershed article entitled “On Sense and Reference,” laid out the foundations of his theory about how language refers to objects in the world. The specific problem Frege addresses in his essay is how to account for the fact that sentences with a different “cognitive value” can have the same truth value. In such cases there is an apparent contradiction where a  =  a and a = b. One example that Frege brings of such sentences is the assertions that “the morning star is Venus” and “the evening star is Venus.” Frege attempts to resolve difficulties of this sort by making a distinction between the terms idea, sense, and reference. He defines the three terms in the following manner: “The reference of a proper name is the object itself which we designate by its means; the idea, which we have in that case, is wholly subjective; in between lies the sense, which is indeed no longer subjective like the idea, but is yet not the object itself.”71 By distinguishing sense from reference, Frege is able to show how sentences with different senses or cognitive ­values can have the same reference. It is important to note that Frege is decidedly not interested in questions of hermeneutics in his essay. This is evident from the following comment: But now why do we want every proper name to have not only a sense but also a reference? Why is the thought not enough for us? Because, and to the extent that, we are concerned with its truth value. This is not always the case. In hearing an epic poem, for instance, apart from the euphony of the language we are interested only in the sense of the sentences and the images and feelings thereby aroused. The question of truth would cause us to abandon aesthetic delight for an attitude of scientific investigation. Hence it is a matter of no concern to us whether the name “Odysseus”, for instance, has reference, so long as we accept the poem as a work of art. It is the striving for truth that drives us always to advance from the sense to the reference.72

While Ricoeur makes much use of Frege’s distinction between sense and reference, his purpose in doing so is to contest positions like Frege’s which deny literature’s claim to truth. At the very outset of Ricoeur’s hermeneutic theory, he establishes a theory of textuality in which Frege’s distinction between sense and reference comes to play a central role. Ricoeur argues that when discourse is inscribed into a text it loses its referential capacity.73 By emphasizing the

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diminished capacities of writing as opposed to speech, Ricoeur is entering a lengthy debate that he traces back to Plato’s Phaedrus.74 For Ricoeur, it is the fact that the author is no longer present, and thus not able to specify in a gestural manner to that which he or she refers, that textual reference fails. In setting out his theory of the text, Ricoeur’s argument aims to be universal. All texts, according to him, suffer from referential failure, and furthermore some texts, those which we call “literature,” have this referential failure as the ground of their possibility. In a startling remark, Ricoeur states: “The role of most of our literature is, it seems, to destroy the world.”75 Ricoeur is not here being apocalyptic; rather, he is saying there is a necessary effacement of reality in order to establish the fictional world of literature. Among the forms of fiction that create such an alternate world, Ricoeur includes folktales, myths, novels, and plays. Poetry has a place of distinction among these literary forms in that it is not simply a genre, but also the overarching form of nondescriptive discourse that relinquishes its ostensive reference for the purpose of establishing the world of the text. At first blush this idea that literature is nondescriptive is highly counterintuitive. With poetry in particular, we are more likely to say that it is the pinnacle of descriptive language rather than nondescriptive. While Ricoeur maintains Frege’s distinction that a linguistic expression, a sense, can be separated from its reference, he deploys this distinction in order to defend literature’s ability to refer, and as such to have a portion in truth. It is crucial to remember that for Frege and Ricoeur the reference of a sentence is its truth value. According to Ricoeur then, literature does make a claim to truth, but not by attempting to refer in a descriptive manner to the world of objects.76 Instead, it renounces this firstlevel reference and achieves a second-level reference by projecting its own world unique to the text. The model on which Ricoeur develops this view of literary reference is that of metaphor. He argues that while metaphor is literally false, there is a second level of metaphorical meaning that can be illuminative and, as such, true. But what is this world of the text and what role does it play in the hermeneutic enterprise? In explicating his notion of the world of the text, Ricoeur explicitly points to the influence of Heidegger. Like Gadamer, Ricoeur also borrows heavily from Heidegger’s notion of understanding in Being and

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Time. Ricoeur notes that Heidegger disengages understanding from the act of comprehension and instead theorizes understanding as the act of situated beings “projecting our ownmost possibilities.” Ricoeur goes on to say: What must be interpreted in a text is a proposed world which I could inhabit and wherein I could project one of my ownmost possibilities. That is what I call the world of the text, the world proper to this unique text. The world of the text is therefore not the world of everyday language. In this sense, it constitutes a new sort of distanciation which fiction introduces into our apprehension of reality. We said that narratives, folktales and poems are not without referent; but this referent is discontinuous with that of everyday language. Through fiction and poetry, new possibilities of being-in-the-world are opened up within everyday reality. Fiction and poetry intend being, not under the modality of being-given, but under the modality of power-tobe. Everyday reality is thereby metamorphised by what could be called the imaginative variations which literature carries out on the real.77

There are several crucial points that I would like to emphasize in regard to Ricoeur’s concept of the world. First, the notion of a world that opens up in front of the text plays a pivotal role in reformulating the hermeneutic task from the way it was conceived in romantic hermeneutics. The hermeneut no longer seeks to get behind the text in order to gain knowledge of the author, nor to understand the text better than the author. Rather, the text is now taken to be distanciated from the author and so the proper object of interpretation is the world that the text projects.78 Second, this projection of a world is a disclosure of a possible mode of being-in-theworld. The world of the text is both a possible-world and a world that it is possible to “inhabit.” It will require considered attention further on to determine whether this formulation is strong enough to bear the type of truth claims associated with religious texts. Finally, there are indications in this passage of the transformative power of the hermeneutic encounter with the world of the text. This last point will become important when I shift to thinking about Jewish exegetical and hermeneutic practices as religious practices. Crucial to Ricoeur’s understanding of the world of the text and to his treatment of religious language is the distinction he makes between speculative and poetic discourse. I stated above that poetry is not simply one of the genres of fictional literature, but is rather the overarching category

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for all nondescriptive discourse. While poetic language does not “add to our knowledge of objects,” it does have the power to disclose fundamental truths about our being-in-the-world. Ricoeur writes: Poetic discourse is also about the world, but not about the manipulable objects of our everyday environment. It refers to our many ways of belonging to the world before we oppose ourselves to things understood as “objects” that stand before a “subject.” If we have become blind to these modalities of rootedness and belonging-to (appartenance) that precede the relation of a subject to objects, it is because we have, in an uncritical way, ratified a certain concept of truth, defined by adequation to real objects and submitted to a criterion of empirical verification and falsification. Poetic discourse precisely calls into question these uncritical concepts of adequation and verification. In so doing, it calls into question the reduction of the referential function to descriptive discourse and opens the field of a nondescriptive reference to the world.79

It is evident that Ricoeur’s understanding of poetic discourse is deeply grounded in fundamental philosophical questions regarding epistemology, language, and truth. According to Ricoeur, our experience of the world has been obscured by our dependence upon a subject-object view of language and knowledge. He attributes this dichotomous stance toward the world to theories of truth in which propositions are true only on the basis of whether they correspond to the external world. While he does not spell this out, the problem that arises from this situation is that our relationship to the world becomes entirely instrumental in character. In the absence of poetic discourse, the world is only something to be known and manipulated. The solution he proffers is to engage in a form of discourse which, by renouncing its descriptive capacity, can take us back beyond the subjectobject split in order to discover what it means to belong to the world. Although Ricoeur attributes a second-order reference to poetic discourse, in fact poetic discourse and the mode of being it exemplifies is, as he says, “originary.” This fact will prove pivotal for his account of religious language. Clearly, it is not just a theory of language and an epistemology that underlies Ricoeur’s position, but also an anthropology. When rationality is bound to distorted notions of truth and then given free reign, it produces a speculative knowledge that turns all, even God, into its object. This form of speculative knowledge is what Ricoeur, following Kant and Heidegger,

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calls ontotheology, the ultimate goal of which is to ground being in God. While poetry may have a second-order reference, in relation to corrupted forms of speculative thought, poetry is primary in its access to truth. Within the context of religion, it is generally the poetic rather than the speculative that garners Ricoeur’s attention. In these discussions, the speculative can appear as nothing more than the necessary foil for the poetic. Outside the topic of religion, however, the relationship between the speculative and poetic in Ricoeur’s thought is more complex than I have so far indicated. In that Ricoeur argues that speculative discourse is the ground for all of our concepts, his hermeneutic theory cannot be said to valorize the irrational.80 Reason, in the form of speculative thought, has a central role both within hermeneutics and in human endeavors more generally. In respect to hermeneutics, Ricoeur goes so far as to argue, pace Gadamer, that through structuralism scientific knowledge of a text is possible.81 How then are we to understand the relationship between these seemingly incommensurable forms of discourse? Ricoeur suggests that it is only on the basis of an epoché, a phenomenological suspension of belief or judgment, that it is possible to shift between poetic and speculative discourse.82 Nevertheless, it is a pivotal feature of his hermeneutic theory that these seemingly distinct modes of discourse are in fact interdependent. In this regard he states, “My inclination is to see the universe of discourse as a universe kept in motion by an interplay of attractions and repulsions that ceaselessly promote the interaction and intersection of domains whose organizing nuclei are offcentered in relation to one another; and still this interplay never comes to rest in an absolute knowledge that would subsume the tensions.”83 According to Ricoeur, the modes of discourse are, to use an apt phrase from the Christian tradition, “distinct but not separate.” Before turning to Ricoeur’s treatment of religious language, it will be helpful to address his conception of truth as it pertains to poetic discourse. Unsurprisingly, Ricoeur’s comments on truth as manifestation tend to be of a largely suggestive nature. In fact, there are good reasons why he does not develop these ideas further. As useful as it would be to know the truth conditions that make the world presented by one text true and that of another false, the fact that Ricoeur is proposing an alternative to such verificationist procedures undermines this desideratum. It might then seem that

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the manifestation theory of truth, as Ricoeur deploys it, has nothing about it that could justify the use of the word truth. This would be wrong. As I mentioned earlier, Ricoeur’s notion of truth borrows from Frege as well as Heidegger. For Frege the truth value of a sentence is its reference. Ricoeur adopts this view and so the truth value of a poetic text is the world that the text projects. While Ricoeur does not work out a pragmatic calculus for this purpose, one way to think about the truth of poetic texts is to consider their ability to transform the reader. Essential to the possibility of being transformed by the world of the text is the fact that the reader also has his or her own world. Here again Ricoeur follows Heidegger by saying that it is only humans who have a world (Welt) while animals are merely imbedded in an environment (Umwelt). Ricoeur describes the way in which the world of the reader is transformed by the act of reading in the following: “I will say that, for me, the world is the whole set of references opened by every sort of descriptive or poetic text I have read, interpreted, and loved. To understand these texts is to interpolate among the predicates of our situation all those meanings that, from a simple environment (Umwelt), make a world (Welt). Indeed, we owe a large part of the enlarging of our horizon of existence to poetic works.”84 It would be difficult to overemphasize the degree to which hermeneutics is a transformative and even spiritual discipline for Ricoeur. Hermeneutics, as he understands it, requires that the hermeneut relinquish all claim to autonomy over the self, so that the encounter with the text can re-create the interpreter’s subjectivity. He even speaks of the “spirituality of discourse” which presents to us “new dimensions of our being-in-the-world.”85 In one formulation of this point particularly resonant with religious overtones, he states “the matter of the text becomes my own only if I disappropriate myself, in order to let the matter of the text be. So I exchange the me, master of itself, for the self, disciple of the text.”86 While Ricoeur does not provide criteria for determining which texts are in fact true, he does indicate what an encounter with a true text would look like: self-transformation.87 Having set forth the problems of textual reference and the world of the text, I can now turn to Ricoeur’s treatment of religious language. At the beginning of an essay entitled “Philosophy and Religious Language,” Ricoeur identifies three fundamental assumptions in his analysis of religious lan-

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guage.88 Looking at these assumptions can shed light on what motivates Ricoeur’s treatment of religious language and the problems he is seeking to avoid. The three points can be summarized in the following manner: 1. Philosophical analysis of a religion should begin with religious language. The philosophical problems surrounding religious experience are secondary to an analysis of the medium that such experiences first come to expression, i.e. language. 2. Religious discourse is not “senseless.” It expresses something that does not arise in other forms of discourse and it is “meaningful” to the community that utilizes it. 3. Philosophy necessarily has a role to play in the study of religion in that religious texts make truth claims. However, religion presents a challenge to philosophy in that the truth claims of religion elude philosophical theories of truth. Religion thus compels philosophy to discover a more comprehensive notion of truth that is adequate to the “dimensions of reality” opened up by religious discourse. Ricoeur’s first point, which privileges the study of religious language over religious experience, can be understood as a strategy to deflect reductive accounts of religious experience and to remove the onus from the philosopher positively inclined toward religion of having to give a causal account of religious experience. Instead of focusing on the thorny problem of religious experience, Ricoeur suggests that we turn our attention to religious language. Following upon this is the assertion that religious discourse cannot be senseless as much modern and postmodern philosophy would contend. Finally, religious discourse claims to be true, a claim that challenges philosophy to expand its theories of truth. Despite the criticisms of Ricoeur’s views on religious language that will emerge from my analysis, it is important to see that his intention is to defend religious language as both meaningful and true. In “Philosophy and Religious Language,” Ricoeur initiates the presentation of his own hermeneutic perspective on religious language by contrasting it to the methods of analytic philosophy. According to Ricoeur, analytic accounts of religious language take as their starting point propositions

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referring to God’s existence and attributes. He is critical of such an approach in that it immediately transforms the question of the philosophical status of religious language into the “second-order discourse” of theology and speculative philosophy. Hermeneutic philosophy, as Ricoeur describes it, does not begin by conceptualizing and testing the propositions of religious language; rather, it endeavors “to get as close as possible to the most originary expressions of a community of faith.”89 In a statement that outlines his basic position on religious language, Ricoeur argues that: “These documents of faith do not primarily contain theological statements, in the sense of metaphysical speculative theology, but expressions embedded in such modes of discourse as narratives, prophecies, legislative texts, proverbs and wisdom sayings, hymns, prayers, and liturgical formulas. These are the ordinary expressions of religious faith. The first task of any hermeneutic is to identify these originary modes of discourse through which the religious faith of a community comes to language.”90 While Ricoeur makes a slight emendation to this position some years later by acknowledging that biblical narratives do in fact show “embryonic theological thinking” and that theology does to some extent have “roots” in the originary forms of religious discourse, nevertheless this statement remains representative of Ricoeur’s views on the topic.91 By identifying theology with metaphysical speculation, Ricoeur sets up a dichotomy between theology and the originary forms of religious expression. Elsewhere, he makes the distinction between originary forms of discourse and theology even more explicit when he says, “In my opinion, we should consider the most originary, hence the most pretheological, level of religious discourse possible.”92 One significant outcome of this view is that Ricoeur will go on to say that the religious language of Scripture is not speculative or theological but poetic. An equally crucial element of Ricoeur’s theory of religious language is the idea that despite the singular connotations of the term originary, Ricoeur contends that there are many modes of “originary” religious discourse. I will take up each of these points in turn. Ricoeur’s negative views on theological language would seem to be a serious impediment to using his hermeneutic theory to construct a model of Jewish theology. In addressing this concern the place to start is with his definition of theology. Clarifying his use of the term he says, “I put theo-

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logical utterances on the same speculative side as philosophical utterances inasmuch as theology’s discourse is not constituted without recourse to concepts borrowed from some speculative philosophy, be it Platonic, Aristotelian, Cartesian, Kantian, Hegelian, or whatever.”93 One possible response to Ricoeur would be to say that rabbinic theology and much later Jewish thought about God as well, is surely not informed by philosophy in the way he describes. In large part, Ricoeur’s views on theology are the result of his accepting Heidegger’s critique of ontotheology. A second factor shaping Ricoeur’s approach to religious language is his rejection of Kant’s transcendental idealism. Even though Kant’s philosophy imposes stringent limits on knowledge, Ricoeur argues that the determinative role it gives to the subject undermines the possibility of a hermeneutic encounter in which the self is called into question by the text. Ricoeur applies these critiques to his theory of religious language and claims it is only by rejecting the subjectobject language of traditional metaphysics and transcendental idealism that a proper understanding of Scripture is possible. Ricoeur states: This double renouncing of the absolute “object” and the absolute “subject” is the price that must be paid to enter into a radically nonspeculative and prephilosophical mode of language. It is the task of a philosophical hermeneutic to guide us from the double absolute of onto-theological speculation and transcendental reflection toward the more originary modalities of language by means of which the members of the community of faith have interpreted their experience to themselves and to others. It is here where God has been named.94

For Ricoeur, it is only through a hermeneutic philosophy committed to the critique of ontotheology that the poetic nature of Scripture in its “originary modalities of language” can come to light. But how is it that religious texts achieve this “nonspeculative” and “prephilosophical” discourse that abandons subject-object dualism? To answer this, I must turn to Ricoeur’s analysis of scriptural language and its task of naming God. In the above discussion, Ricoeur includes in the modes of biblical discourse items such as “narratives, prophecies, legislative texts, proverbs and wisdom sayings, hymns, prayers, and liturgical formulas.”95 Typically, one might consider these categories as genres rather than modes of discourse, but Ricoeur is adamant about his choice of terms and it is important to

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understand why that is so. He argues that the word genre is primarily used by literary critics for the purposes of classification. In contrast, he says, “The modes of [biblical] discourse are more than means of classification—as the word ‘genre’ seems to say; they are means of production—by this I mean instruments for producing discourse as a work.”96 What lies behind this distinction between classification and production is the view that, with a mode of discourse, form and content are interdependent. The upshot of this tight connection between form and content is that each distinct mode of biblical discourse illuminates a specific aspect of the religious life. According to Ricoeur, “Not only does each form of discourse give rise to a style of confession of faith, but also the confrontation of these forms of discourse gives rise to tensions and contrasts, within the confession of faith itself, that are theologically significant.”97 Each mode of biblical discourse represents a unique aspect of the divine-human relationship and as such provides the means by which “God is named in an original fashion.”98 Similar to his interest in plotting out the relationships between the speculative and the poetic in nonreligious discourse, within religion, Ricoeur is concerned to see how the multiple modes of discourse in the Bibles support and limit one another. Perhaps the most substantive limit that Ricoeur places on the religious language of the Bibles is his designation of these texts as poetic, meaning that they are nondescriptive. Identifying the Bibles as poetic has the consequence that they cannot say anything about God; by definition, the Bibles are nontheological. Instead, the Bible projects a world that presents to its reader a possible mode of being-in-the-world. Ricoeur explicitly states that the possible mode of being that the text offers is a matter of “belonging to the world” and not a propositional knowledge.That being said, there are also features internal to the biblical text that Ricoeur takes as placing limits on religious discourse. In the essay “Naming God” Ricoeur states: Thus God is named in diverse ways in narration that recounts the divine acts, prophecy that speaks in the divine name, prescription that designates God as the source of the imperative, wisdom that seeks God as the meaning of meaning, and the hymn that invokes God in the second person. Because of this, the word “God” cannot be understood as a philosophical concept, not even “being” in the sense of medieval philosophy or in Heidegger’s sense.The word “God” says more than the word “being” because it presupposes the entire context of narratives, prophecies, laws, wisdom writings, psalms, and so on.

Hermeneutic Theory and the Study of Jewish Theology    The referent “God” is thus intended by the convergence of all these partial discourses. It expresses the circulation of meaning among all the forms of discourse wherein God is named.99

In this passage, it is not Ricoeur’s philosophical commitments that determine how the biblical text is to be understood; rather, it is the reading of the Bible itself that leads to the claim that philosophical concepts cannot properly apprehend the divine. It is precisely the multiplicity of biblical discourse that marks God as an excess that cannot be contained within the conceptual sphere. What seems at first an irresolvable fragmentation of the biblical text, becomes for Ricoeur an argument for the Bible’s unity. That all of the modes of biblical discourse refer to God in a distinct but complementary fashion is the force that unifies the biblical text. Conversely, it is the multiplicity of the modes of discourse that renders any single mode as being only a “partial” discourse. The passage just cited from the essay “Naming God” is immediately followed by a discussion of the topic of “limit-expressions.”While forms of biblical discourse such as the parable are more closely akin to “limit-­expressions” in that they claim that God both “is” and “is not” like x, the term is applicable to all biblical discourse due to the limits placed on any one mode of discourse by all of the others. Picking up the themes of the earlier passage, Ricoeur goes on to say: The referent “God” is not just the index of the mutual belonging together (appartenance) of the originary forms of the discourse of faith. It is also the index of their incompleteness. It is their common goal, which escapes each of them. Indeed, that God is designated at the same time as the one who communicates through the multiple modalities of discourse just discussed and who also holds back is why the dialectic of the naming of God cannot be transformed into a form of knowledge.100

What is crucial for Ricoeur is that each of the modes of biblical discourse makes a contribution to a task that cannot succeed, either individually or collectively. While the modes of discourse provide models to conceive of God, such as the monarch, the judge, and the father, these models are, each in themselves, only a partial expression of the divine. They are the product of one among many modes of discourse. God is always more. Ricoeur also argues that, because the models of God are all anthropomorphic in nature,

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they have a tendency to devolve into idols. Consequently, there is a dialectic between the models and the “Unnameable Name.”101 The “Name” becomes for Ricoeur the symbol of the limits of religious language and the models upon which it relies. As he says, the “Name subverts every model, but only through them.”102 The modes of discourse and the models of God they produce can orient us toward God, but they cannot encapsulate the divine. Religious discourse for Ricoeur meets its limit in the ever-elusive knowledge of God.

Ricoeur’s Hermeneutic Theory and the Study of Jewish Theology The greatest contribution that Ricoeur’s work makes to the present study is his analysis of the multiple forms of biblical discourse. While I will have reason to question the larger distinction that Ricoeur makes between the speculative and the poetic as the overarching modes of discourse, there is much in his treatment of scriptural language that can contribute to a study of Jewish theology. In a manner quite similar to Ricoeur’s reading of the Bible, I will argue that in both the Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael and The Star of Redemption multiple forms of theological predication are also deployed. Ricoeur’s analysis of the modes of biblical discourse sets a precedent for the study of postbiblical theology that demands attention to the complexity of religious language. In fact, even more of Ricoeur’s analysis of biblical discourse can be usefully carried over into the study of later forms of Jewish theology. Two particularly salient elements of Ricoeur’s work are the related claims regarding the uniqueness of each mode of discourse as a specific expression of the divine-human relationship and the fact that the modes of discourse are united in their common function. That these points are also valid for postbiblical Jewish theology is evident upon reflection. As to the uniqueness of each form of predication, certainly theological claims that are based on exegetical issues that are internal to Scripture, tensions between the biblical and contemporary cultural horizons, reflections on divine perfection, or those claims that arise experientially—all represent a specific mode of the religious life. To wrestle with divine revelation from both within and outside the text, to speculate about the nature of God, and to articulate the human encounter with God all hold a distinct place among the numerous

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ways in which Jews have thought and spoken about the divine. If we seek to understand the foundations of Jewish theology, to follow Ricoeur’s lead and acknowledge the distinct characteristics of each form of theological language seems an appropriate place to start. Again, though, Ricoeur’s point strikes even deeper into the heart of the issue. It is not just that classical Jewish texts have spoken about God in a variety of ways; rather, what is central is that these distinct forms of predication function together to conceive God’s nature and to shed light upon the divine-human relationship. All too commonly, scholars argue that the lack of systematic thinking in Judaism is evidence that there is no Jewish theology. By extending Ricoeur’s analysis of biblical discourse to later forms of Jewish theology, a possible rejoinder to this critique emerges. In order to speak of Jewish theology it is not necessary to demonstrate some hitherto concealed system of thought. Rather, all that needs to be done is to show how the different forms of theological predication aim toward a common goal. By such means, it is possible to secure a proper place for Jewish theological reflection without having to posit a dogmatic unanimity regarding the content of Jewish theology. The previous points could be borrowed without reservation from Ricoeur’s work and applied to other stages of Jewish theological reflection. The next issue requires a greater degree of caution. In my exposition of Ricoeur’s thought, I identified two distinct motivations for thinking about the limits of religious discourse.The first set of reasons that compel Ricoeur to limit religious language stem from his rejection of ­ontotheology. The second source of support for Ricoeur’s limits on religious language arises from within biblical discourse. The existence of multiple forms of religious discourse in the Bibles attests to the limits of each form individually and of all the forms together. The question of the limits of religious language is significant for both historical and constructive reasons. On the historical side, both the Mekhilta and The Star of Redemption give serious consideration to what can and cannot be said about God. Clearly, there is much to learn about how theology is conceived in both texts by the ways in which its theological claims are circumscribed. From a constructive perspective, the fact that for various historical, philosophical, and theological reasons, speaking about God has become difficult in our age suggests that there is something to be learned from how limits on theological language were

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drawn in earlier periods. So, while Ricoeur makes an important point in emphasizing the limits of religious language—one that I intend to carry into my analysis—it is important to reflect on the reasons for following his lead. In my view, I will best serve my historical and constructive interests if I do not impose my own limits on theological predication. For historical and hermeneutic reasons, it is better to allow the Mekhilta and The Star of Redemption to speak for themselves on this matter, rather than attempting to adjudicate the power or failure of theological language from the start. I follow Ricoeur by taking up this question of the limits of religious language, but I do so because the texts themselves demand this, not because of my own philosophical prejudices. There is one remaining set of issues within Ricoeur’s work that, with some effort, scholars of Judaism can apply to postbiblical Jewish theologies. Ricoeur’s version of the manifestation theory of truth and the transformation of the reader that it fosters seem at the surface quite appropriate to forms of Jewish religious life in which scriptural interpretation is a central religious practice. Despite the obvious affinity between Ricoeur’s hermeneutic theory on these points and the Jewish view of exegesis as a spiritually formative practice, there are reasons not to collapse the two perspectives. Ricoeur’s hermeneutic theory, as I have shown, is deeply rooted in a critique of ontotheology. For Ricoeur, the truth of the poetic text rests upon the rejection of its descriptive capacity. Without crossing over to my imminent critique of Ricoeur, I can simply point out that as a reader of classical Jewish texts it would require textual justification to deprive classical Jewish sources of their claims to truth—that is as descriptive claims about the way things are. This is an exceedingly thorny issue that is of critical relevance to the study of Jewish theology in all its historical phases. Accordingly, I will return to this question throughout my argument. While I agree with Ricoeur that the hermeneutic encounter can be transformative, I do not accept his arguments about why this is so. At the start of my discussion of Ricoeur, I suggested that critiquing his thought is a bit like aiming at a moving target since Ricoeur allowed his ideas to change and develop in an explicitly public fashion. As I have sought to demonstrate, the cornerstone of Ricoeur’s hermeneutic theory is the fact that once discourse becomes inscribed in a text its referential

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capacity is diminished. It is from this claim that Ricoeur’s hermeneutic theory develops. It is quite disconcerting, then, that in the third volume of Time and Narrative Ricoeur decides to jettison the issue of reference from his hermeneutic theory. While Ricoeur ends up abandoning this part of his theory, this shift does not alleviate the need to critique his views on the matter. This is so for two reasons. First, Ricoeur’s comments that indicate a move away from the topic of reference are exceedingly brief considering the importance of the matter. Second, following this modification to his thought, Ricoeur did not produce an entirely new hermeneutic theory that avoids the question of reference. Rather, the presentation that I have given of Ricoeur’s hermeneutic theory is consonant with the vast majority of his published writings and represents the terms on which Ricoeur’s work has entered into academic discussions. Finally, Ricoeur’s writings on religious language are particularly enmeshed with his referentially oriented hermeneutic theory. For all these reasons, it makes sense to bracket for the moment Ricoeur’s self-criticism and to critically reflect upon his hermeneutic theory as I have outlined it. The importance of reference in Ricoeur’s hermeneutic theory is evident in the fact that it is the failure of reference within a text that produces his theory of textuality. Ricoeur argues that because discourse is distanciated from its author, the text loses its ability for ostensive reference, and so the only thing that the text can refer to is the world that it projects. Two points in this formulation demand attention. First, while Ricoeur expends considerable energy distinguishing between modes of discourse, he makes little effort to differentiate types of texts. Second, it is questionable whether the problems of reference can be reduced to ostension. According to Ricoeur, all texts suffer from a first-order referential failure and all texts regain their referential powers by projecting a world. While Ricoeur appears to believe, rightly, that there is a class of descriptive texts, he does not tell us how they manage to overcome the referential problems inherent in textuality.103 What is problematic in Ricoeur’s failure to attend to the differences among types of texts is that it strains credulity to suggest that an ancient biblical commentary and a modern novel project a world in the same way. It is precisely Ricoeur’s emphasis on ostensive reference that allows him to develop a theory of textuality that applies to all texts. The question that goes unan-

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swered by Ricoeur is what justifies limiting reference to ostensive reference? Surely, it is the case that our daily conversations are permeated by references to things and abstract objects for which ostension is not possible. How is it that we carry out our linguistic intentions in such cases? Philosophers of language are divided, but the likely answer is that it is through a combination of both definite descriptions and where possible, direct or causal reference. Furthermore, there is no reason to think that reference by definite description or by causal means is more problematic in writing than in oral expression. Suffice it to say, Ricoeur narrows the question of reference in order to produce the theory of textuality that best suits his hermeneutic and philosophical goals. My concern about Ricoeur’s treatment of reference is just as much a hermeneutic issue as it is a philosophical one. Ricoeur’s philosophical treatment of reference leads to the hermeneutic question of how to deal with texts that do not share the same philosophical presuppositions. For instance, in the Mekhilta the possibility of a biblical text to retain its reference is largely determined by exegesis. In one particularly interesting case, the referential act contained within a biblical text is in fact strengthened through creative rabbinic exegesis. A comment from the Song of the Sea (Exod. 15) on the phrase “This is my God and I will beautify Him” (Exod. 15:2) states: “This is my God and I will beautify Him” (Exod. 15:2): Rabbi Eliezer says “From this you can say that a handmaid beside the sea saw what Isaiah, Ezekiel, and all of the rest of the prophets did not see. As it is said regarding them, ‘and through the prophets I have made similitudes’ (Hos. 12:11). And it is written, ‘the heavens were opened up and I saw visions of God’ (Ezek. 1:1).” He made a parable regarding this. To what is the matter similar? To a king of flesh and blood who enters into a province and around him are a circle of bodyguards, mighty-men on his right and his left, soldiers in front of him and behind him. Everyone asks “Which one is the King?” since he is flesh and blood like them. However, when the Holy One Blessed Be He revealed Himself beside the sea not one of them needed to ask “Which one is the King?” Rather, when they saw Him they recognized Him, and they all opened their mouths and said “This is my God and I will beautify Him” (Exod. 15:2). MdRI, Shirata 3, 126; Lauterbach, 1:184.104

Rabbi Eliezer offers an intensive reading of the deictic particle this, which leads to the claim that all the Israelites at the Sea of Reeds saw God in a

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direct fashion that even exceeded the visions of the prophets. By claiming that the deictic particle corresponds to God’s explicit and sensible manifestation beside the sea, the referential act of the Israelites becomes precisely the sort of ostensive reference that Ricoeur’s theory precludes. The key hermeneutical question is not whether Rabbi Eliezer’s reading is valid, but whether one can approach it in good faith when one’s philosophical presuppositions undermine its claim to truth from the start. As this will also be an issue that will arise throughout the book, at present I will only suggest that I am in a better position hermeneutically when my philosophical presuppositions exhibit the least possible initial conflict with those of the texts that I am reading. Ricoeur’s account of the world of the text also faces difficulties within a Jewish context. I stated above that in constructing his theory of the text Ricoeur does not give sufficient consideration to variations among textual forms. Classical Jewish texts, particularly rabbinic texts, serve as an important test-case for this aspect of Ricoeur’s hermeneutic theory. For instance, determining the world of a rabbinic text is extremely perplexing. Taking the Mekhilta as an example, it is difficult to know whether it is more appropriate to speak of a single world of the text or multiple worlds. If there is a single world of the Mekhilta, it would seem that each manuscript of the text would possess a unique Mekhilta-World according to its textual variations. Figuring out how those multiple Mekhilta-Worlds relate to each other would be an excruciating task.105 In fact, the challenges of applying Ricoeur’s theory go far deeper than the complexities of manuscript analysis. Given just a single manuscript and its corresponding Mekhilta-World, how would one determine what the features of that world are? The problem rests in the fact that the Mekhilta, like other rabbinic texts, is a compilation of sayings and exegeses by numerous rabbis who often are not even contemporaneous with each other.106 How is it then possible that a world could emerge in front of the text that would synthesize the diverse interests of the rabbis and even at times their outright contradictions of one another? One could suggest that the world of a rabbinic text is constituted by the shared practices and beliefs of the rabbis whose sayings comprise the text. Leaving aside the difficulty of determining what precisely those shared practices and beliefs might be, there is the further problem that what

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would emerge is a generic rabbinic world common to all rabbinic texts. A generic rabbinic world of this sort would, by necessity, have to conceal the differences among the rabbis, which is so much of what motivates rabbinic literature. Adopting Ricoeur’s concept of the world of the text would also foreclose the very interesting recent work that seeks to separate out tannaitic and amoraic layers of the Babylonian Talmud from the editorial contribution of the stammaim.107 To navigate through this theoretical quagmire, it is helpful to look at the continuation of the passage from the Mekhilta. Continuing with the discussion in the Mekhilta on Exodus 15:2, “This is my God and I will beautify Him,” the text states: “. . . and I will beautify Him” (Exod. 15:2): Rabbi Ishmael says “Is it possible for flesh and blood to beautify his maker? Rather, it means that I will beautify myself for Him with the commandments. I will make before Him a beautiful lulab, a beautiful sukkah, beautiful fringes, and beautiful phylacteries.” Abba Shaul says “Make yourself like Him. Just as He is merciful and compassionate, so you too should be merciful and compassionate.” Rabbi Yose says “I will declare the excellences and praises of He Who Spoke and the World Was before all the nations of the world.” Rabbi Yose the son of the Damascene says “I will make a beautiful temple before Him, since naveh can only mean the temple, as it is said “[for they devoured Jacob] and desolated his habitation” (Ps. 79:7). And it says “Look upon Zion, the city of our festivals. Your eyes will see Jerusalem a secure habitation” (Isa. 33:20). MdRI, Shirata 3, 127; Lauterbach, 1:185.108

On the basis of this passage, it would seem that the best alternative is to see the Mekhilta as producing multiple worlds. Remarkably, from a single phrase, “. . . and I will beautify Him,” four rabbis construct four different worldviews.109 Each of these four worldviews privileges a distinct aspect of the religious life ranging over observance of the commandments, ethical formation, bearing testimony, and cultic performance. The statements cannot be reduced on the presumption of what unexpressed views these individuals might otherwise share. Rather, these statements are four divergent perspectives on how the human side of the divine-human relationship is ideally fulfilled. If the text were then to have its say, it would demand the possibility of multiple worlds, a world for every worldview. But what is the utility of speaking in this manner? If virtually every rabbinic statement constitutes its

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own world, what do we gain by speaking of worlds rather than taking the more austere route of simply speaking of statements? I suggest that we gain very little by speaking of worlds in the context of rabbinic literature and that use of the term is likely to foster confusion rather than clarity. The final component of Ricoeur’s hermeneutic theory that requires critical reflection is the distinction he makes between speculative and poetic discourse. At the start of this discussion, I emphasized the fact that Ricoeur is committed to defending the position that religious language is both meaningful and true. The question that confronts readers of classical Jewish texts is whether his method of defending religious language is adequate to the sources. Ricoeur’s strategy is based on a distinction between originary modes of religious discourse and second-order forms of religious discourse such as theology. This distinction allows Ricoeur to eliminate speculative discourse from the religious language of the Bibles and to place the Bibles squarely in the category of the poetic. The immediate problem with this argument is that it renders the Bibles nondescriptive, which means that they cannot say anything about God or the world.110 Instead, the Bibles, like other nondescriptive texts, present possible modes of beingin-the-world that can, ideally, renew our sense of “belonging to the world.” The argument does of course have its merit in that it allows an individual who accepts the critique of ontotheology to continue to find biblical discourse meaningful and true. The question is: is the price that has to be paid too high? I would like to suggest that from both an exegetical and a hermeneutic perspective the answer to this question is yes. Returning to Ricoeur’s distinction between originary and theological discourse reveals what is at stake exegetically. Ricoeur sustains this distinction by adhering to an understanding of the word theology that identifies it as a collateral, if not a lineal, descendant of the philosophical schools. On such a definition of the term theology, Judaism would have no identifiable theology other than that of a Philo, Saadia Gaon, or some other explicitly philosophical thinker. In the Introduction, I argued that the word theology has a distinct application in Judaism, one in which the systematic and dogmatic features of Christian theology are not held as its essential features. My reason for making this move is to accentuate the precise ways in which classical Jewish texts reflect upon the divine, and in doing so, make truth

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claims about God. That this is true even of the Hebrew Bible should not be a surprise. Adopting Ricoeur’s terminology for a moment, even the most mundane examples from the Bible show themselves to be of a speculative rather than a poetic nature. For instance, Jethro upon being told by Moses of God’s actions in Egypt and the desert declares, “Now I know that God is greater than all the gods” (Exod. 18:11). What makes this biblical statement, which is putatively based on both evidence and a notion of divine perfection, poetic, while nonbiblical claims about divine perfection are cases of a second-order speculation? Again retaining Ricoeur’s terminology just for the sake of argument, it would appear that the Hebrew Bible, like many other forms of literature, is quite capable of juxtaposing speculative and poetic discourse. At the exegetical level, a textual analysis that begs the question from the start by identifying the entire Bible as poetic will inevitably miss much of what Scripture seeks to assert. In the end, Ricoeur’s distinction between speculative and poetic discourse is simply too blunt to capture the complexities of biblical discourse or any other religious discourse. Ricoeur’s speculative/poetic distinction fails not only at the exegetical level, but at the hermeneutic level as well. As Gadamer persuasively argued, it is inevitable that one approaches traditionary materials with the prejudices of one’s own cultural horizon. He went on to argue, however, that it is crucial to foreground such prejudices so as to encounter the truth claims of the text. On Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory, an authentic hermeneutic encounter resists the desire to eliminate the truth claims of the text for the purposes of making it conform to one’s own prejudices, philosophical, theological, or otherwise. Simply put, there is no obviating the “strangeness” one sometimes experiences in reading traditional materials. The text must retain its alterity if it is to have the power to call our own modes of being into question. The only apparent justification for rendering biblical discourse as poetic is that by doing so the Bibles escape the critique of ontotheology, which of course, Ricoeur accepts. He argues that his hermeneutic approach takes the originary forms of religious expression as its object. Yet, it is difficult to fathom that these originary modes of expression have any concern for the perils of ontotheology or its subject-object forms of language and knowledge. On the contrary, the Hebrew Bible, if anything, is concerned with subject-subject forms of knowledge; that is, it

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is concerned with God’s relationship with humanity in general and with the nation of Israel in particular.111 Despite Ricoeur’s good intentions in attempting to preserve the meaningfulness and truth of the Bibles, reducing this fundamental relationship between God and humanity to an originary “belongingness” to the world can only be described as a hermeneutic failure brought about by unchecked philosophical prejudices. In an attempt to honor the profound degree of self-critical reflection that permeates Paul Ricoeur’s work, I have sought to prepare the reader for an important shift in his thought that surfaces after the publication of most of the writings I have discussed. At the beginning of Time and Narrative, Ricoeur informs his reader that The Rule of Metaphor and Time and Narrative “form a pair,” in that the two works “were conceived together.”112 As true as this statement may be, by the third and final volume of Time and ­Narrative it becomes clear that an important shift has taken place in Ricoeur’s thought since The Rule of Metaphor. That this is so can be seen from the following comment, in which Ricoeur explains the more central role that the act of reading has come to take in his thought: This recourse to the mediation of reading marks the most obvious difference between the present work and The Rule of Metaphor. In addition to the fact that, in the previous work, I thought I could retain the vocabulary of reference, characterized as the redescription of the poetic work at the heart of everyday experience, I also ascribed to the poem itself the power of transforming life by means of a kind of short-circuit operating between the “seeing-as,” characteristic of the metaphorical utterance, and “being-as,” as its ontological correlate. . . . A more precise reflection on the notion of the world of the text and a more exact description of its status of transcendence within immanence have, however, convinced me that the passage from configuration to refiguration required the confrontation between two worlds, the fictive world of the text and the real world of the reader. With this, the phenomenon of reading became the necessary mediator of refiguration.113

The continuity between the two works that Ricoeur claims at the beginning of Time and Narrative is more strained, then, than some of his comments indicate.114 By abandoning the question of reference, Ricoeur has essentially undermined his earlier hermeneutic theory. Interestingly, what comes to replace the theory based on reference is a hermeneutic theory with a more explicit affinity to Gadamer’s work. This fact is evident in

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Ricoeur’s language and his thought. In terms of language, Ricoeur now alternatively links reference with Gadamer’s terms horizon and application.115 That Ricoeur’s hermeneutic theory itself has drifted back toward Gadamer is evident in the new emphasis that Ricoeur places on topics such as the dynamics of tradition and the legitimacy of the authority of tradition. In respect to the former, Ricoeur now shows interest in the process by which traditions undergo creative renewal through their reading communities.116 Ricoeur’s renewed concerns about the authority of tradition introduce an epistemological element into his work that allows for a more focused discussion of the truth claims of tradition.117 As I hope is now evident, both Gadamer and Ricoeur have much to contribute to the study of Jewish theology. With respect to Gadamer, his analysis of the act of understanding across distant cultural horizons reveals as much about the processes by which the Jewish tradition evolves as about how scholars understand it. As for Ricoeur, his discussion of the forms of biblical discourse as expressions of distinct aspects of the divine-human relationship can serve as a model of later Jewish theological language that acknowledges the multiple forms of theological expression and their ties to the religious life. Appropriating these resources for the study of Jewish theology is not, however, a simple matter. Gadamer and Ricoeur base their hermeneutic theories on philosophical positions that undermine the possibility of theological truth claims. It will not help secure theology’s rightful place within Jewish studies to set forth a model of Jewish theological language that disavows all claims to truth. In order for philosophical hermeneutics to inform my model of Jewish theology, it is necessary that I buttress Gadamer’s and Ricoeur’s theories by providing epistemological support for theological language. In undertaking this endeavor, I am adhering to Gadamer’s injunction to see where an author is correct and, should that effort fail, of taking on the task to make the author’s arguments stronger. As I see it, Gadamer’s and Ricoeur’s hermeneutic theories will be significantly better tools for the study of religious texts if they do not demand a reductive account of religious language from the start. To help bring this about, I will now turn to a discussion of the functions of Jewish theological language and an analysis of its sources in religious and reflective practices.

2 jewish theology as a relig ious and doxast i c p rac t i c e

In the previous chapter, I began my effort to construct a model of Jewish theological language by critically evaluating the resources for such a project in the hermeneutic theories of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur. While philosophical hermeneutics has much to contribute to the study of Jewish theology, there are also considerable barriers to the application of these hermeneutic theories to traditional Jewish texts.The principal problem in the thought of Ricoeur and Gadamer is that their acceptance of the critique of ontotheology results in limits on theological language that would derail the hermeneutic encounter with classical Jewish texts. How is it possible, then, to draw upon the resources of philosophical hermeneutics without adopting the philosophical commitments of Ricoeur and Gadamer that would rob Jewish texts of their claim to truth? If, in constructing my model of Jewish theology, I wish to build on Gadamer’s and Ricoeur’s hermeneutic theories, I must find a way to make philosophical hermeneutics more amenable to theological language. Perhaps it would be enough to initiate the hermeneutic encounter by simply bracketing any philosophical presuppositions that undermine theological truth claims. If Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory is correct, then this suggestion is neither desirable nor possible. According to Gadamer, prej

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udices play a critical role in the act of understanding. Furthermore, we would not be able to sideline our prejudices in this way, as they are neither transparent to us nor under our voluntary control. While Gadamer asserts that the hermeneut should, to the extent possible, foreground her prejudices, this suggestion is not just a measure to limit the influence of one’s own horizon. Much to the contrary, foregrounding one’s prejudices sets the boundaries of one’s interest in and commitment to the texts one aims to read. Therefore, by foregrounding my own philosophical and theological prejudices I will help illuminate the goals of the study. Whereas for Ricoeur and Gadamer it is the critique of ontotheology that underlies their hermeneutic theory, the present study is driven by the belief that Jewish theology is a vital part of the Jewish religious life and that it is possible to provide it with epistemological support. It is crucial to note that my philosophical and theological prejudices far exceed the goals of this project. As desirable as it may be to produce an epistemological account of Jewish theology, this cannot be my task here. Epistemological work of this sort would require that I go well beyond the boundaries I have set for the present study. An epistemology that is adequate to the needs of Jewish theology would also have to address topics such as the theory of reference and the theory of truth. Fortunately, for the model of Jewish theology that I am seeking to construct, it is possible to get by with less than a full-fledged epistemology. My immediate goal is to reorient philosophical hermeneutics so that it does not undermine the possibility of theological claims from the outset. That the study does not need an entire epistemological theory can be seen from another perspective. Constructing a model of Jewish theological language only requires that I uncover the forms of theological predication; I will not seek to adjudicate the truth or falsity of any specific claim about God made in either the Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael or The Star of Redemption. Stated succinctly, what the project requires is a hermeneutic orientation in which speaking about God appears to be a meaningful activity that has some plausible claim to truth. It may seem that these goals are so negligible that the project is unlikely to make a contribution to contemporary discussions of Jewish theology, but I do not believe that this will be the case. Drawing on a range of philosophical resources, I will establish a tentative model of Jewish theology that can

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then be confirmed, disconfirmed, or modified through a close reading of the Mekhilta and The Star of Redemption. The advantage of beginning my study of Jewish theology with such a model in hand is that it will make it easier to identify the forms of theological predication and it will provide a framework from which to consider how those forms of predication interact with one another. In addition, while I will not be offering a full-blown epistemological theory, critical to my model is an analysis of the sources of Jewish theological claims, for example different types of reading practices, deployments of reason, and experience. Should my model help to elucidate the theology of the Mekhilta and the Star, I will have laid important foundations for future efforts to consider Jewish thought from an epistemological perspective. Like the discussion of philosophical hermeneutics in the previous chapter, I will continue to construct my model of Jewish theological language in critical dialogue with other philosophers.With hermeneutics it was evident that the philosophical discipline that deals with matters of interpretation was a reasonable starting point for thinking about a scriptural tradition such as Judaism. As the philosophical choices I make in this chapter to fortify hermeneutic theory are somewhat less transparent, what follows is an outline of the argument of this chapter. In the Introduction, I argued that scholars of Judaism have frequently characterized Jewish theology, particularly rabbinic theology, as homiletic. Ricoeur’s hermeneutic theory exhibited a similar critique of theological language by seeing it as a speculative discourse rather than as one of the “originary” forms of discourse that comprise the Bibles. Reducing theology to either a homiletic or speculative discourse, however, misses the complex interplay between theory and practice in Jewish theological reflection. As I intend to show, a close relationship exists between Jewish religious practices and Jewish theology. Typically, Jewish theological claims arise out of religious practices such as reading Scripture or reflecting on or praising God, or through the cultivation of religious experience. Not only do Jewish religious practices foster theological reflection, but Jewish theology often serves as a type of discourse that justifies a Jewish worldview or a Jewish way of life, including its religious practices. While it is not a panacea to all the interpretive and philosophical problems that Jewish theology faces, it will bring considerable clarity to the subject to get a better handle on the

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functions of Jewish theology, particularly as they relate to practice. To this end, I will continue the work of constructing my model of Jewish theological language by making an appeal to Pierre Hadot’s contributions to the study of ancient philosophy. Hadot’s work is innovative in its emphasis on the practical rather than the theoretical component in ancient philosophy. As Hadot sees it, ancient philosophy was more a way of life than a theoretical discourse. At the center of this philosophical way of life were spiritual exercises designed to produce a transformation of the inner life of the philosopher. Hadot ­argues that philosophical discourse was in the service of these practical ends. This presentation of ancient philosophy diverges sharply from the standard view that the goal of philosophy, ancient or otherwise, is speculative insight. In many ways, the turn to Hadot is a natural extension of the discussion of hermeneutics. From Hadot’s perspective, “contemporary hermeneutic theories . . . come straight out of the practices of ancient exegesis.”1 More important than intellectual genealogy, Hadot’s approach to ancient philosophical texts mirrors elements of Ricoeur’s account of biblical discourse. Hadot writes that “in order to understand the works of the philosophers of antiquity we must take account of all the concrete conditions in which they wrote, all the constraints that weighed upon them: the framework of the school, the very nature of philosophia, literary genres, rhetorical rules, dogmatic imperatives, and traditional modes of reasoning.”2 Like Ricoeur, Hadot is concerned with forms of discourse and the limitations on expression that are inherent within them. My engagement with Hadot will advance the discussion of the last chapter by exploring the functions of philosophical and theological discourse and the relationship between discourse and practice. While Hadot’s work can make an important contribution to a new understanding of Jewish theology, it does not provide the necessary philosophical support to achieve the hermeneutic neutrality to theology that I am seeking. To cross that threshold, I will draw on the religious epistemology of William Alston as the final stage in the construction of my model of Jewish theology. Alston’s religious epistemology, which he develops in Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience, is principally concerned with the contribution that religious experience makes to religious belief. As I intend to

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show, his arguments in support of religious experience have the potential for a wider application that includes theological language. In the progression from Ricoeur to Hadot to Alston, there is a shift in focus that is critical to my model of Jewish theology. Ricoeur emphasizes the multiplicity of the forms of biblical discourse as well as the fact that each form of discourse reflects a distinct aspect of the divine-human relationship. My critical and constructive reading of Hadot furthers this concern about the forms of discourse by exploring the relationship between discourse and practice. Alston’s work contributes the missing epistemological support by shifting the focus from forms of discourse and their related practices to thinking about the forms of theological discourse as distinct ways of acquiring beliefs, what he calls “belief-forming” or “doxastic” practices. Even though it is the doxastic practice of perceiving God that occupies Alston’s attention, his account of how belief-forming mechanisms operate, individually and collectively, has much to contribute to other ways of forming beliefs, religious or otherwise. Alston’s approach to religious epistemology suggests a model for understanding Jewish theology in which the different forms of theological discourse arise from distinct belief-forming mechanisms. For instance, forming beliefs on the basis of exegesis is distinct from rational reflection on God, which is in turn distinct from beliefs based on religious experience. What emerges from this is an account of Jewish theological reflection as a doxastic practice that is comprised of multiple belief-forming mechanisms. Insofar as these belief-forming mechanisms are themselves religious practices, Alston’s epistemology will help secure the view that Jewish theological reflection is deeply rooted within Jewish religious life. Alston’s work provides not only the final and decisive resources as I construct my model of Jewish theology, it also yields the epistemological support that I have been seeking to bolster hermeneutic theory. Alston’s epistemology is a form of externalism that borrows elements from both Thomas Reid and Ludwig Wittgenstein. He rejects foundationalist or internalist epistemologies that require a subject be able to provide arguments in support of her beliefs. From Alston’s perspective, this is simply not how individuals go about forming their beliefs. As he sees it, we typically do not have access to the grounds of most of our beliefs. To help support this view, Alston argues that even our most trusted doxastic practices, such as sense perception, suffer

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from epistemic circularity. That is to say, we cannot prove doxastic practices like sense perception to be reliable without relying on the beliefs that they produce. Alston’s solution to this difficulty is to follow Reid, arguing that we have no alternative but to rely upon our standard ways of forming beliefs. He fine-tunes this position by combining it with Wittgenstein’s emphasis on the social nature of belief-forming practices. This leads Alston to defend “socially established” doxastic practices, among which he includes religious experience as it is cultivated in specific religious traditions. In extending Alston’s epistemological arguments to Jewish theological language, I aim to adopt a philosophical position in which, at the very least, speaking about God is a plausible and meaningful activity. Ricoeur seeks to preserve the meaningfulness of biblical discourse as part of the world of the text, and Hadot construes discourse as being in the service of practice. On the basis of Alston’s work it will be possible to bring these lines of argumentation to a more satisfactory conclusion, in which thinking and speaking about God are vital parts of the divine-human relationship. Through his critique of foundationalism and through the presentation of his own externalist religious epistemology, Alston will provide a vantage point from which it is not only possible to speak about God, but doing so is necessary for the religious life. This appropriation of Alston is far short of providing an epistemological account of Jewish theology, but it does meet the more meager goal of fashioning a hermeneutic stance that does not negate the possibility of theological truth claims from the start. As I intend to demonstrate through the remainder of the work, accomplishing this more limited task can make a significant difference in how to understand Jewish theology from both a theoretical and a practical perspective.

Hadot on Ancient Philosophy and Spiritual Exercises Pierre Hadot argues that philosophy in the Greco-Roman context consisted of “spiritual exercises,” the purpose of which was to produce a transformation of the inner life of the philosophical practitioner.3 Ancient philosophy, as Hadot sees it, was, first and foremost, a “way of life”; and, as such, the task of philosophical discourse was to define and promote the philosophical mode of living. Surprisingly, Hadot’s account of ancient philosophy has resonated deeply with scholars of religion. Indeed, Hadot could hardly have

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imagined that scholars of such diverse religious traditions as Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity would find his conception of spiritual exercises to be a crucial resource in understanding the beliefs and practices they study.4 Within Judaism, scholars of rabbinics, medieval Jewish philosophy, and modern Jewish thought have contended that the idea of spiritual exercises illuminates important aspects of Jewish thought and practice.5 It is not without good reason that scholars of Judaism, particularly of the rabbinic period, have found Hadot’s depiction of ancient philosophy compelling.To begin with, Hadot identifies a significant shift in Hellenistic philosophy in the first century b.c.e. in which a scholastic form of textual commentary replaced oral argumentation.6 While there is still much debate about the methods of study and transmission of the earliest layers of rabbinic literature, rabbinic Judaism is also a commentarial tradition rooted in exegesis.7 This basic phenomenological similarity between ancient philosophy and rabbinic Judaism is striking. Michael Satlow has gone so far as to say that “Talmud torah was essentially a Greco-Roman form of spirituality, expressed . . . in a uniquely Jewish idiom.”8 Hadot’s comments about the place of the sage in ancient philosophy also contribute to the impression of a deep structural similarity between ancient philosophy and rabbinic Judaism. According to Hadot, the idea of the sage in ancient philosophy is as important as the living and embodied sage. He claims that the philosophical sage is a “transcendent norm established by reason,” through which “each school will express its own vision of the world, its own style of life, and its idea of the perfect man.”9 As scholars of rabbinics have increasingly come to appreciate, the stories of the sages in rabbinic literature function as pedagogical narratives that seek to shape values, practices, and beliefs.10 Another feature of Hadot’s account of ancient philosophy that resonates with rabbinic Judaism is the claim that Greco-Roman philosophers sought to maintain a mental state called prosoche, which Hadot characterizes as an “attention to oneself and vigilance at every instance.” Hadot goes on to link this state of attentiveness to a consciousness of God: “The ‘attentive’ person lives constantly in the presence of God and is constantly remembering God, joyfully consenting to the will of universal reason, and he sees all things with the eyes of God himself. Such is the philosophical attitude par

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excellence.”11 Taken together, the practice of textual commentary, the emulation of a sage, and the cultivation of an awareness of God tempt the scholar of Judaism to posit an isomorphism between ancient philosophy and Judaism. Hadot even points out that early Judaism, in the persons of Philo and Josephus, sought to present itself as a philosophy.12 For the purposes of the present discussion, I will bracket the question of what historical contact existed between Greco-Roman philosophy and contemporary forms of Judaism.13 The structural similarities between the traditions provide sufficient grounds for comparative work without having to trace actual historical borrowings. What most scholars of religion have gravitated toward in Hadot’s work is his account of spiritual exercises. According to Hadot, the principal task of Greco-Roman philosophy was to train the philosophical practitioner in the “art of living.”14 But what is so pernicious in life that all of the philosophical schools were compelled to address such a fundamentally practical question as how to live? Hadot argues that there was widespread agreement among the philosophical schools that “mankind’s principal cause of suffering, disorder, and unconsciousness were the passions,” which he identifies with “unregulated desires and exaggerated fears.”15 The philosophical answer to the passions came in the form of askesis, a term later identified with spiritual self-deprivation, that is, asceticism, but which Hadot thinks is more properly understood in the philosophical context as “inner activities of the thought and will.”16 Hadot gives significant consideration as to how best translate askesis and ultimately decides on “spiritual exercises.”17 He argues that the term spiritual most fully captures the sense of askesis in that philosophical exercises engage “the individual’s entire psychism.” Furthermore, the word spiritual corresponds to the fact that by practicing these exercises “the individual raises himself up to the life of the objective Spirit; that is to say, he re-places himself within the perspective of the Whole.”18 The spiritual exercises that Hadot identifies take a variety of forms. They can be physical, such as in “dietary regimes,” or they can be intellectual or contemplative.19 While no systematic treatise on ancient philosophical exercises has been preserved, Philo of Alexandria does transmit two lists of exercises that include intellectual practices such as “research,” “attention” ( prosoche), and “thorough investigation,” and more general practices such as

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“self-mastery” and “therapies of the passions.”20 What unites the different types of exercises is that they are all meant to bring about a transformation of the self.21 Hadot speaks to this point when he states: In all philosophical schools, the goal pursued in these exercises is self-­ realization and improvement. All schools agree that man, before his philosophical conversion, is in a state of unhappy disquiet. Consumed by worries, torn by passions, he does not live a genuine life, nor is he truly himself. All schools also agree that man can be delivered from this state. He can accede to genuine life, improve himself, transform himself, and attain a state of perfection. It is precisely for this that spiritual exercises are intended. Their goal is a kind of self-formation, or paideia, which is to teach us to live not in conformity with human prejudices and social conventions—for social life is itself a product of the passions—but in conformity with the nature of man, which is none other than reason.22

If, as Hadot contends, ancient philosophy was principally a practical activity directed toward self-transformation, then what was the place of discourse in Greco-Roman philosophy? It is on the relationship between theory and practice that Hadot’s work receives its strongest criticism, but it is also at this juncture in his thought that his work can make the most significant contribution to the study of Jewish theology. Critics of Hadot’s work like Maria Antonaccio, Thomas Flynn, and Wayne Hankey claim that Hadot severs the relationship between theory and practice. Antonaccio and Flynn both blame Hadot’s existential tendencies for his privileging the choice of a way of life over the theoretical discourse that defines and articulates the philosophical modes of living.23 Antonaccio’s criticisms are particularly sharp as she claims that Hadot’s philosophy exhibits a form of “voluntarism” that leads him to neglect the “metaphysical necessity” that would have made the philosophical way of life compelling in its original context.24 Wayne Hankey also notes Hadot’s privileging practice over theory, but he suggests that it is a rejection of religion that motivates Hadot’s argument. He sees in Hadot’s writings a shifting preference from Neoplatonism in his early work to the ­Stoics and Epicureans in his later work, which Hankey attributes to Hadot’s “denial of transcendence.”25 Clearly, the separation of theory and practice in Hadot’s thought that these critics address has the potential to become deeply problematic when Hadot’s work is applied to the Jewish tradition.

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Nevertheless, I believe it is possible to utilize resources internal to Hadot’s thought to strengthen his position on the relationship between theory and practice, thus arriving at a better understanding of theological reflection within Judaism. Untangling the relationship between theory and practice in Hadot’s analysis of Greco-Roman philosophy requires that we look back to the practitioner’s initial decision to follow the philosophical path. For Hadot, much hangs on the fact that the practitioner chooses which form of the philosophical life to embrace. As he sees it, philosophical discourse is contingent upon the initial decision to adopt a philosophical way of life. “Philosophical discourse,” he claims, “originates in a choice of life and an existential option—not vice versa.”26 On these terms, the philosophical life is not good because it orients the philosopher toward truth. Rather, the philosophical life is good because the practitioner finds its way of life compelling and its particular form of self-transformation desirable. That Hadot supports this view is borne out by his claim that ancient philosophy never saw theory as “an end in itself.” On the contrary, he says that theory was “clearly and decidedly put in the service of practice.”27 On Hadot’s reading of ancient philosophy, philosophical theories either gave cognitive support to spiritual exercises or were themselves spiritual exercises.28 Hadot offers a series of additional arguments that further limit the contribution of theory to the philosophical life. Perhaps the most beguiling of these arguments is the claim that philosophical discourse and the philosophical way of life “appear to be simultaneously incommensurable and inseparable.”29 Hadot’s first effort to defend this incommensurability recapitulates his existential argument: in the ancient world, it was one’s way of life and not one’s discourse that made one a philosopher. His second argument for the incommensurability of theory and practice touches on a pervasive theme in his writings: the limits of language. For Hadot, discourse and practice have “completely heterogeneous natures.” He spells this out, saying, “The essential part of the philosophical life—the existential choice of a certain way of life, the experience of certain inner states and dispositions—wholly escapes expression by philosophical discourse.”30 It is not clear why Hadot thinks that philosophical discourse falters completely when it comes to our lived experience. Surely, something of our choices

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and inner states is expressible in language. Be that as it may, Hadot routinely returns to the limits of language to demarcate the boundary of theory in ancient philosophy. In a discussion of the origin of philosophy, Hadot makes an assertion that recurs throughout his work, that “in the last analysis, real knowledge is know-how, and true know-how is knowing how to do good.”31 Hadot is not simply stating here his proclivity for the practical side of philosophy. Much to the contrary, the limits he places on language and knowledge have a profound impact on how he understands the goals of philosophy. For instance, in a discussion of Socrates he states that “knowledge is not a series of propositions or an abstract theory, but the certainty of choice, decision, and initiative.”32 For Hadot, the limits on language and knowledge are a theme that traverses the whole course of the philosophical life. Just as he privileges the choice of a way of life over discourse at the outset of the philosophical life and practical knowledge over propositional knowledge along the way, Hadot insists that the culmination of the philosophical life also eschews linguistic formulation. This is most clearly seen in his discussions of Neoplatonic philosophy, the pinnacle experience of which is an encounter with the One that overcomes the duality inherent in language. As Hadot describes it, “Our only access to this transcendent reality is nondiscursive, unitive experience.”33 One might protest that Hadot is here and in the discussion of Socrates simply doing descriptive work. Hadot’s essays on Wittgenstein and his references to Wittgenstein’s work support the view that for Hadot the final stage of philosophy, and not just Neoplatonism, is a nondiscursive experience.34 With a vision of philosophy that is ideally practical (know-how), nonpropositional, and nondiscursive,35 one can only affirm Antonaccio’s claim that Hadot is an “anti-theorist.”36 The tension between theory and practice in Hadot’s work is particularly apparent in his constructive comments in which he defends the possibility of retrieving the spiritual exercises of ancient philosophy for contemporary practice. These comments merit attention, as they provide an opportunity for Hadot to set forth his own philosophical commitments. In one such comment Hadot states: “I think modern man can practice the spiritual exercises of antiquity, at the same time separating them from the philosophical or mythic discourse which came along with them. The same spiritual exercise can, in fact, be justified by extremely diverse

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philosophical discourses. These later are nothing but clumsy attempts, coming after the fact, to describe and justify inner experiences whose existential destiny is not, in the last analysis, susceptible of any attempt at theorization or systematization.”37 Here Hadot reveals how little regard he has for philosophical discourse. Philosophical arguments are, essentially, interchangeable and this is so because their only value is to provide support for spiritual exercises and the experiences these exercises induce. Apparently, Hadot perceives this task of separating philosophical life and philosophical discourse as a key feature of his work. Reflecting on his research he has said, “I have tried to show, among other things, that philosophical practice is relatively independent from philosophical discourse.”38 Given the limits that Hadot places on language and his stated desire to separate discourse and practice, an uncritical application of his thought to Judaism would likely result in the further marginalization of theology within Jewish studies. After all, if discourse and practice are perfectly separable, then it is possible to study the Jewish religious life independent of any purported theological underpinnings. As for the model of Jewish theology that I seek to construct, it is clear that Hadot’s work by itself cannot provide the resources for a more neutral stance on theological language. Despite the preponderance of evidence that Hadot minimizes the role of discourse within ancient philosophy, I would like to argue that developing a less prominent thread in Hadot’s thought can strengthen his arguments and help his work better serve the interests of the study of Jewish theology and, perhaps, scholars of religion more generally. While I believe the above reading of Hadot is accurate, it does not capture everything he has to say about philosophy as a theoretical discourse. Recall that Hadot claimed that philosophical discourse and the philosophical life were “incommensurable and inseparable.”39 Although Hadot clearly privileges the side of this dichotomy that posits incommensurability between discourse and way of life, he does provide arguments in support of his claim that they are also inseparable. In one of his more developed formulations of this view he states: We can consider the relationship between philosophical life and philosophical discourse in three different ways, which are closely linked. First, discourse justifies our choice of life and develops all its implications. We could say that through a kind of reciprocal causality, the choice of life determines discourse,

Jewish Theology as a Religious and Doxastic Practice    and discourse determines our choice of life, as it justifies it theoretically. Second, in order to live philosophically, we must perform actions on ourselves and on others; and if philosophical discourse is truly the expression of an existential option, then from this perspective it is an indispensable means. Finally, philosophical discourse is one of the very forms of the exercise of the philosophical way of life, as dialogue with others or with oneself.40

Reading Hadot with a hermeneutic of goodwill, it is possible to see this passage as providing the outlines for a stronger account of the relationship between theory and practice than is typically found in his work.41 Indeed, just as Hadot claims, on this account theory and practice are deeply intertwined. Building on his comments, the first task of philosophical discourse is to construct and maintain the cognitive framework that is essential for the integrity of the philosophical way of life. As Hadot points out, this is not simply a theoretical concern, as discourse and practice are mutually informative. The second task of philosophical discourse is to communicate a compelling expression of the philosophical life in such a way as to bring about the self-transformation of the philosophical practitioner. Hadot clarifies the illocutionary functions of philosophical discourse by saying that “discourse always has, directly or indirectly, a function which is formative, educative, psychagogic, and therapeutic. It is always intended to produce an effect, to create a habitus within the soul, or to provoke a transformation of the self.”42 According to Hadot, character formation in ancient philosophy is a complex activity that requires both social interaction and individual attention and effort. Discourse is the means by which the school seeks to act upon the practitioner from a social perspective.The third function of philosophical discourse bridges the gap between social force and the practices of the individual. Here Hadot argues that philosophical discourse is itself a form of spiritual exercise. From this perspective, producing philosophical discourse as well as listening to it or studying it is a means for the individual to shape his or her beliefs and values. Given Hadot’s stated desire to loosen the connection between discourse and practice, it is remarkable that he offers an account in which the two are so thoroughly inextricable.43 Rather than trying to render Hadot’s work self-coherent, perhaps it is better to simply acknowledge his paradoxical assertion that philosophical discourse and the philosophical way of life are “incommensurable and inseparable.”

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In any case, what is most important for Jewish theology is that deep within Hadot’s work there lies a model for understanding theory and practice as interdependent features of the philosophical life. It is this stronger account of the relationship between discourse and the way of life that can help theological reflection find its place in the study of Judaism. Applying Hadot’s stronger account of the relationship between discourse and practice to Judaism can reconcile long-standing difficulties in the study of Jewish theology. In the Introduction, I argued that scholars have often taken reductive approaches to Jewish theology that attribute to it a singular function. This reading of Hadot would lead to a more complex understanding of the goals of Jewish theological reflection. No longer mere homily or flawed speculation, Jewish theology would be a justifying discourse, a formative discourse, and a spiritual exercise. Equally important, Jewish theology would no longer be cut off from the religious life. For instance, as a justifying discourse Jewish theology would seek to secure the entire edifice of Jewish thought and practice (the Jewish “way of life,” in Hadot’s terms). Hadot’s second category of “formative discourse” is far superior to identifying Jewish theology with its homiletic function. Whereas scholars often use the term homiletic to emphasize that a theological claim is edifying but not true, acknowledging the formative element in Jewish theology assumes just the opposite, that the theological assertion is attempting to guide the practitioner toward that which is ultimately true. Additionally, whereas the category of the homiletic paints all theological assertions with the same brush stroke, formative discourse allows for a variety of discursive modes and social settings in which formation can occur.44 I see no compelling reason to concede to the synagogue a monopoly on religious formation. Certainly, Jews undergo religious formation as much in the home and the beit midrash (study house) as they do in the synagogue. Finally, the idea that theological reflection is a spiritual exercise, thus setting it as a crucial feature of the Jewish religious life, is a significant step forward for Jewish theology. Construing theological reflection as a spiritual exercise removes the onus that Jewish theology must, by definition, mirror the systematic and dogmatic features of other religious traditions. As a spiritual exercise, Jewish theology does endeavor to understand and defend its conceptions of God, but that in itself grants no privilege to systematic

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order or the notion of salvific knowledge. Instead, the purpose of theological reflection is to properly orient the practitioner to God and to cultivate the divine-human relationship. While I believe there is much to be gained by highlighting the multiple functions of Jewish theological language, pursuing this line of thought leads to a more fundamental set of questions. Renewed attention to the functions of Jewish theology raises the more basic question of from whence do Jewish theological claims originate? A proper understanding of Jewish theology requires at least a partial inventory of the different ways of making claims about God. Knowing the functions of Jewish theological language tells us what contribution theology makes to the larger tradition; it does not disclose the basic nature of Jewish theology. The suggestion that there is such a nature to Jewish theology is likely to raise the hackles of contemporary scholars of Judaism who hold with pride their anti-essentialist commitments. But their concern is unnecessary: the model of Jewish theology I am proposing is open and fluid. In fact, true to the hermeneutic nature of this project, one of my goals is to provide an account of how Jewish theological belief-forming practices shift within new cultural and intellectual horizons. A second but equally important point is that linking theology to practice does not, by itself, strengthen the philosophical case for conceiving theology as a plausible and meaningful activity. Turning to William Alston’s religious epistemology can help resolve both of these residual issues: the desire to identify the forms of Jewish theological language and to provide them with philosophical support. Alston’s insights into the workings of ­belief-forming practices will provide the resources for thinking about Jewish theology as a complex set of interrelated activities in which diverse applications of reason and experience produce claims about the divine. Additionally, Alston’s epistemological defense of religious experience will provide an orientation to the study that is far more open to theological language than the previous thinkers I have engaged. With these resources in hand, it will be possible to assemble the pieces of my model and proceed to the work of analyzing the theological language of the Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael and The Star of Redemption.

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Alston’s Religious Epistemology In his work Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience, William Alston argues that the “experiential awareness of God . . . makes an important contribution to the grounds of religious belief.”45 Alston’s epistemology, which is indebted to both Thomas Reid and Ludwig Wittgenstein, takes the position that because our most frequently used belief-forming (doxastic) practices cannot be shown to be reliable without falling into epistemic circularity, our only alternative is to form beliefs in ways that are socially wellestablished. One significant result of this argument is the creation of a more level playing field for doxastic practices, such as mystical perception, that have a reasonable degree of social distribution but are not universally employed. While the model of Jewish theological language that I will propose does count religious experience among its basic sources of belief, my appeal to Alston’s work is motivated by more than the desire to affirm the cognitive contribution of experiential encounters with the divine. In constructing his epistemology, Alston lays out an account of belief-forming practices that can tie together the hermeneutic and philosophical resources I have surveyed so far. Following Alston’s argument will allow me to construct a model of Jewish theological language that reflects Gadamer’s methodological concerns, Ricoeur’s interest in the multiple forms of biblical discourse, and Hadot’s views on the relationship between theory and practice. Not only will Alston’s epistemology provide the means to synthesize these materials; it will also provide the philosophical support for theological language that has so far eluded me. In order to draw out these positive contributions of Alston’s work, I must first sketch the broad contours of his argument. Because he does not proceed from any theological presuppositions, Alston characterizes Perceiving God as a work of philosophy rather than theology. Nevertheless, the work does bear upon an important theological concern. Alston speaks to this point when he states: Although in this book I am centrally concerned with the epistemological value of mystical perception, I certainly don’t want to suggest either that this is its only theoretical interest, or that this is its main importance for the religious life. I certainly don’t think that God presents Himself to our experience primarily to render certain beliefs justified. On the contrary, according to the Christian tradition the main significance of mystical perception is that

Jewish Theology as a Religious and Doxastic Practice    it is an integral part of that personal relationship with God that is the fundamental aim and consummation of human life. Without God and me being aware of each other in a way that, on my side, is properly called “perception”, there could be no intimate relationship of love, devotion, and dialogue that, according to Christianity, constitutes our highest good.46

From Alston’s perspective, the divine-human relationship is contingent upon our ability to perceive God and to form beliefs on the basis of such perceptions. As Alston points out, it is tempting to understand his work as an argument from religious experience to the existence of God. Such a reading, however, overlooks the important subtlety and innovation of his argument. Many discussions of religious experience begin with the presupposition that religious experience is best understood as a subjective phenomenon. Starting from this presupposition has the unfortunate consequence of forcing one to argue, not only for God’s existence, but also for God’s role in the subjective experience of the mystical practitioner. In contrast to this subjective understanding of religious experience, Alston argues that the awareness of God is best understood on perceptual terms.This shift to a perceptual framework helps Alston to construe religious experience as a social practice and removes the onus of having to defend God’s contribution to the experience of the religious practitioner. Since Alston’s epistemological theory is based upon socially established belief-forming practices, it is not surprising that he would want to move beyond the identification of religious experience with the private consciousness of the individual. But what exactly is the problem with construing religious experience as subjective? According to Alston, the claim that religious experience is thoroughly subjective goes part and parcel with the view that there is no positive intellectual content in religious experience that can inform our religious beliefs.47 Religious experience is often viewed on these terms because its content is taken to be affective rather than cognitive. Although Alston is not particularly concerned to trace the intellectual history of this perspective, he identifies Schleiermacher, Rudolf Otto, and William James as the major proponents of theories of religious experience based on emotions. In Alston’s view, these thinkers all vacillate between an understanding of religious experience as an affective state and as “cognitive of objective realities.”48 While this inconsistency is problematic for their own theories,

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what is worse is that their emphasis on the subjective aspect of religious experience is taken out of context by later generations of scholars who are themselves critics of religious experience. The details of this debate are not essential for my purposes, but Alston’s response does demand our attention. Alston begins his analysis of religious experience by citing first-person reports he has culled from sources like William James’s Varieties of Reli­ gious Experience and Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism.49 In attempting to give a rough phenomenological account of the experiences, Alston states that the “sources take it that something, namely, God, has been presented or given to their consciousness, in generically the same way as that in which objects in the environment are (apparently) presented to one’s consciousness in sense perception.”50 In support of his perceptual model of religious experience, Alston sets forth a theory of perception he calls the “Theory of Appearing.” He summarizes the theory, which he considers a form of “direct” or “naïve” realism, in the following formula: “For S to perceive X is simply for X to appear to S as so-and-so.” The simplicity of this account of perception allows Alston to claim that “the notion of X’s appearing to S as so-and-so is fundamental and unanalyzable,” which is to say that perception has a “nonor pre-conceptual character.”51 It is important to note that Alston’s concern here is with the minimal requirements for a case of perception. He is well aware of the fact that “adult perception” is, as he says, “typically shot through with conceptualization and belief.”52 There are two principal matters at stake for Alston in his account of perception. The first is the role of subjectivity in mystical perception (which he refers to as “MP”). If religious experience is perceptual and perception is fundamentally “unanalyzable,” then religious experience (perception) cannot be reduced to the subjective beliefs or feelings of the practitioner.The second has to do with the role of God in MP. As I have already noted, if religious experience is subjective, then defending the validity of the experience requires arguing for the existence of God as well as God’s role in the particular experience. On Alston’s line of argumentation all that is necessary is that God could possibly appear to a subject in such a way that God plays a causal role in the perceptual experience leading to belief. By considering more closely the role of God in Alston’s argument, I can begin to move toward the epistemological component of his thought. Alston seeks to keep his argument free of all theological presuppositions, a

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necessary move if he is going to persuade those who reject such theological presuppositions about the rationality of forming beliefs on the basis of mystical perception. He concludes that the only way to argue independent of any theological commitments that people do genuinely perceive God is to argue for the epistemological position that beliefs formed on the basis of such (putative) perceptions are (prima facie) justified. If that is the case, we have a good reason for regarding many of the putative perceptions as genuine; for if the subject were not often really perceiving X why should the experience involved provide justification for beliefs about X? This reverses the usual order of procedure in which we first seek to show that S really did perceive X and then go on to consider what beliefs about X, if any, are justified by being based on that perception. But we can proceed in that order only if we are working from within a perceptual belief-forming practice. The question of the genuineness of the alleged perception can be tackled from outside only by defending the episte­ mological assumptions embedded in the practice in question.53

On Alston’s line of argumentation, the veracity of mystical perception can only be defended indirectly. His desire to keep his argument free of all theological commitments requires that he defend the belief-forming practice in question, in this case MP, rather than the specific outputs of MP. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the indirect support Alston acquires by focusing on the question of how beliefs are formed is negligible. As he argues, by determining that it is rational to engage in a particular beliefforming practice, one is committed to judging it rational to believe that that way of forming beliefs is reliable.54 While I will return to this point further on, I must first address the externalist nature of Alston’s epistemology. As Alston points out, the terms internalism and externalism are often used in different ways in epistemological arguments. Typically, internalist epistemologies are foundationalist, since, on their view, beliefs must be grounded in a basic set of a priori beliefs to which the individual has cognitive access.55 In contrast, externalist epistemologies reject the deontological structure of foundationalism on the claim that the majority of our beliefs do not meet such rigorous standards. Externalist epistemologies argue that under proper conditions it is rational to form beliefs in the ways we normally do.56 Taking the reliability of our belief-forming mechanisms and our rationality in relying upon them as the focus of his epistemology, Alston releases

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the individual from having to provide grounds for her beliefs. One compelling consequence of this position is that the claim to rationality is no longer the privilege of those select individuals capable of advancing arguments for what they hold to be true. Instead, we all get things right much of the time about our beliefs. This is particularly important for religious beliefs, which Alston argues are the frequent victims of an “epistemic imperialism” or “double-standard” that unfairly requires religious beliefs to meet and exceed the epistemic tests of other belief-forming practices. Although epistemology is typically concerned with the justification of belief and the requirements for knowledge, Alston limits his argument to the matter of justification because the truth conditions for knowledge on the topic of mystical perception would introduce unwanted theological propositions into the argument.57 Alston’s externalist epistemology leads him to emphasize the “state or condition of being justified in holding a certain belief ” and not a subject’s act of justifying a belief.58 To be justified in Alston’s view, then, does not require one to adduce reasons for a belief; rather, it simply requires one “to be in a strong position for realizing the epistemic aim of getting the truth.” A central component of his argument is that to be in such an “epistemically strong position” is to have “an adequate ground or basis” for believing a proposition.59 Alston’s epistemology is, then, both “source relevant” and “truth conducive,” in that it focuses on the belief-forming practice that is the source of a given belief and on whether that source reliably produces true beliefs. Alston argues that justification admits of different types and degrees. The two principal types of justification for Alston are mediate and immediate justification. The difference between the two is that mediate justification is based on reasons, or as he puts it, “other things one knows or justifiably believes,” whereas immediate justification does not involve additional beliefs.60 Immediate justification, he argues, is possible with experience, self-evident propositions, and certain categories of propositions such as those about one’s own mental states. This distinction is important for Alston’s argument about mystical perception, but less so for mine. He is concerned to show that some mystical perceptions can have immediate justification. The theological claims that I will be looking at, on the other hand, are supported by reasons and so should be construed as mediately justified. In the context of

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Alston’s larger argument, the two degrees of justification, prima facie and unqualified, are critical in understanding the constitution and operation of doxastic practices. As Alston defines the two degrees of justification in terms of each other, I will cite his own definition: To be prima facie justified in believing that p by virtue of the satisfaction of conditions, C, is to be so situated that one will be unqualifiedly justified in that belief provided there are no sufficient “overriders”, that is, no sufficient considerations to the contrary. The considerations might be reasons for believing that not-p (“rebutters”), or they might be reasons for supposing that C fails to provide adequate justification in this case (“underminers”). Unqualified justification is simply justification without any such qualifications attached: justification no matter what else.61

What makes possible the movement from prima facie to unqualified justification is a “background system” of beliefs that accompanies every doxastic practice. These background beliefs function as an “overrider system” that allows for the evaluation of beliefs. Here, Alston is following Wittgenstein in arguing that the evaluation of beliefs is intrinsic to a belief-forming practice.62 In keeping with his externalist epistemology, it is not necessary that a subject determine that there are no overriders in order to be justified in a belief. Instead, all that is necessary is that “there are none.” What this means for Alston is that if there were an overrider it would have to be something that the subject could “ascertain fairly easily.”63 Similarly, it is not necessary that the subject determine that the ground of a belief is adequate; rather it only has to be such.64 In defending MP, Alston takes the circuitous route of first examining the epistemological foundations of sense perception (SP).65 His reasons for proceeding in this manner are twofold. First, sense perception is the most trusted and thoroughly studied of our belief-forming practices. Understanding the epistemological credentials of sense perception can shed light on the task of providing a similar defense of mystical perception. Additionally, because we know so much about sense perception and because our reliance upon it as a source of beliefs is so thorough, it is often the case that MP is, to its detriment, contrasted with SP. In turning his attention to SP, what Alston wants to know is whether there is any noncircular argument that can demonstrate that forming beliefs on the basis of sense perception is reli-

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able. Much of Alston’s argument hangs on the issue of epistemic circularity, regarding which he says, “Epistemically circular arguments would seem to be of no force. If we have to assume the reliability of SP in order to suppose ourselves entitled to the premises, how can an argument from those premises, however impeccable its logical credentials, provide support for the proposition?”66 Of course, some arguments are more obviously circular than others. For instance, simple track record arguments in support of SP clearly depend upon the use and reliability of sense perception and so must be discarded. Alston goes on to look at a variety of a priori, Wittgensteinian, transcendental, and empirical arguments.67 What he discovers across the board is that the arguments are either epistemically circular or they fail to establish the reliability of SP. In Alston’s view, this circularity appears to be a condition of our reason, such that “none of our most basic ‘doxastic’ (belief-forming) practices, including introspection, memory, and reasoning of various sorts, can be noncircularly shown to be reliable.”68 This fact about our basic beliefforming practices presents a “crisis of rationality” that Alston seeks to address with an epistemology based on socially established doxastic practices.69 The above considerations lead Alston to affirm our most common ways of forming beliefs. As he sees it, there is very little alternative to doing so. Given that we will inevitably run into epistemic circularity at some point(s) in any attempt to provide direct arguments for the reliability of one or another doxastic practice, we should draw the conclusion that there is no appeal beyond the practices we find firmly established, psychologically and socially. We cannot look into any issue whatever without employing some way of forming and evaluating beliefs; that applies as much to issues concerning the reliability of doxastic practices as to any issue. Hence what alternative is there to employing the practices we find ourselves using, to which we find ourselves committed, and which we could abandon or replace only with extreme difficulty if at all?70

In Alston’s view we simply do not have the capacity to stand apart from our belief-forming practices in order to evaluate them objectively. According to him, it is then “eminently reasonable for us to form beliefs in the ways we standardly do.”71 The epistemology that Alston develops out of this position owes much to the work of Thomas Reid and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Reid, responding to Hume’s skepticism, argued that Hume had no basis to retain his confidence in reason while throwing all our other belief-forming

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practices into question. Reid, instead, claimed that all of our basic beliefforming mechanisms came “out of the same shop, and were made by the same artist.” He further added that if this artist “puts one piece of false ware into my hands, what should hinder him from putting another.”72 While there are a few notable differences between Alston’s and Reid’s positions, Alston sees himself as following Reid in accepting all of our basic doxastic practices until it is proven that they are unreliable.73 Wittgenstein’s influence on Alston’s epistemology is more complicated than that of Reid, as evidenced by Alston’s attestation that he is not a “slavish follower” of Wittgenstein.74 Where Alston is most in debt to Wittgenstein is in the use he makes of Wittgenstein’s theory of “language games,” regarding which Alston says: “What Wittgenstein called a ‘language game’ is something much more inclusive than the term would suggest. It involves modes of belief formation and assessment (the aspect we shall be concentrating on under the rubric ‘doxastic practice’), characteristic attitudes, feelings, and modes of behavior toward certain sorts of things, as well as ways of talking.”75 Alston, in fact, prefers the term “form of life” to “language game,” as he thinks it better reflects “the richness of the concept.”76 The principal way in which the philosophies of Reid and Wittgenstein complement each other, and in so doing advance Alston’s own argument, is that while Reid emphasizes the innate side of our basic belief-forming practices, Wittgenstein focuses on their social aspect.Wittgenstein argues that we learn and utilize our doxastic practices before we are even aware of them. The fact that the proper use of our doxastic practices must be learned leads both Wittgenstein and Alston to see doxastic practices as deeply social. In Alston’s words, “Doxastic practices are thoroughly social: socially established by socially monitored learning, and socially shared.”77 Where Alston diverges from Wittgenstein is on the relationship between language games, an issue that bears directly on the question of truth. In Wittgenstein’s view, language games are independent of one another. This is, in part, motivated by the fact that each language game is built upon a unique set of presuppositions. What follows from this is that propositions are only true within a specific language game, and inquiries that are appropriate to one language game cannot be pursued in another.78 In contrast, Alston adopts a realist view that posits “a single concept of reality” and a notion of truth that applies to all doxastic practices.79 Alston readily

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admits that his position on truth separates him from “the various nonrealist, verificationist, and relativistic versions of Sprachspielism now current . . . and by such rumblings as deconstructionism that emanate from Europe.”80 For my purposes, it is particularly significant that Alston’s realist account of truth also separates him from the Heideggerian notion of truth-as-manifestation that is at the heart of Gadamer’s and Ricoeur’s hermeneutic theories. In turning to Alston’s account of belief-forming practices, the first question is what qualifies as a doxastic practice? Reid, who was concerned with our innate mechanisms for forming beliefs, had an easy reply to this question by appealing to belief-forming mechanisms that are universal, such as reason, sense perception, memory, and the like. In his only decisive departure from Reid, siding with Wittgenstein, Alston acknowledges ­doxastic practices that are not universal. The need for this move within Alston’s larger argument is obvious since we are not all mystically percipient. By introducing belief-forming practices that are socially learned rather than innate, a more complex picture emerges of what distinguishes one doxastic practice from another and how multiple doxastic practices can serve the same ends. In fact, in Alston’s view, doxastic practices are not isolated and independent mechanisms for the formation of belief; rather, these practices function together to form a “system or constellation” of belief formation.81 Furthermore, doxastic practices are complex not only in their interactions with other doxastic practices but also in terms of their constituent components. In addressing these issues two preliminary points require attention. First, practices for Alston are not necessarily voluntary.This fact corresponds to Alston’s view that belief formation itself is not voluntary. For Alston, the word practice includes “psychological processes like perception, thought, fantasy, and belief formation, as well as voluntary action.”82 Second, the individuation and grouping of doxastic practices is a theoretical activity. As Alston puts it, “a ‘practice’ is not something with an objective reality that constrains us to do the grouping in a certain way.”83 Rather, we organize practices for the purposes of conceptual clarity. Until this point in his argument, Alston has used the term “belief-­forming mechanism” interchangeably for “doxastic practice.” In an effort to give a more descriptive account of the structure and operation of our belief-­forming practices, Alston suggests that the reader now think of “individual mecha-

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nisms as quite narrow in scope.” This is a significant move for Alston as he can now differentiate belief-forming mechanisms according to the specific types of information (inputs) a mechanism uses to formulate its beliefs and the specific types of beliefs that the mechanism produces (outputs).What unifies an individual mechanism is the function that goes from one type of input to one type of output. As I will argue, this narrow view of belief-­forming mechanisms is helpful in thinking about the different types of theological predication in Judaism: exegetical claims about God arise from a different way of forming beliefs than reflection on divine perfection, which is itself different from claims based on experience. In contrast to belief-­forming mechanisms, which Alston now construes narrowly, “doxastic practices,” he says, “involve large aggregations or families of mechanisms rather than a single mechanism.”84 Still, just like with individual belief-forming mechanisms, it is possible to individuate a doxastic practice according to a basic similarity ranging over the information that it accepts as inputs, the beliefs that it produces as its output, and the function that makes the transformation possible.85 One point that Alston repeatedly insists upon is that doxastic practices do not operate independently of each other. Just as a doxastic practice is comprised of a number of individual belief-forming mechanisms, all doxastic practices are dependent on other doxastic practices in order to produce and evaluate beliefs. Alston offers the following example: “Sticking with SP, let’s consider the concepts we use to identify perceived objects. I can recognize my wife just by the way she looks. But the conception of her I employ when I realize that what I see is my wife draws from other things that I know or believe about her—for example, features of her personality and her characteristic patterns of activity. And, again, those beliefs depend on memory and reasoning, as well as on perception, for their formation and justification.”86 This insight regarding the dependence of doxastic practices on other doxastic practices leads Alston to a complex view of belief formation in which numerous belief-forming mechanisms and their overarching doxastic practices provide mutual support in the pursuit of true belief. Looking ahead to my application of these ideas to Jewish theology, Alston’s epistemology lends itself to a view of Jewish theology as a doxastic practice that consists of multiple ways of thinking and speaking about God and which draws on and contributes to other ways of forming beliefs within the tradition.

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One significant characteristic of doxastic practices, according to Alston, is that they are subject to change. For instance, Alston notes that “the overrider system of SP has changed as we have learned more about sense perception.”87 The same goes for religious doxastic practices. As religious traditions develop over time, their background beliefs change as do their methods for evaluating and supporting beliefs.88 Alston’s point about the fluidity of doxastic practices complements Gadamer’s arguments about the role of our prejudices and our historicity in the act of understanding. In our efforts to understand traditionary materials we do not have the ability to completely set aside the beliefs and values that shape our cultural horizon. Jewish theology, with all of its various belief-forming mechanisms, is not static over time. From one cultural horizon to another, the constellation of belief-forming mechanisms that comprise Jewish theology will take on new formations. As ideas about the nature of Scripture or reason change, for instance, so do the dominant ways of thinking and speaking about God. Alston’s point about the changing nature of doxastic practices will prove a useful tool in thinking about the continuity and differences in the theological language of the Mekhilta and the Star. With this sketch of Alston’s concept of a doxastic practice, I can now turn to the question of what doxastic practices a person can rationally rely upon. Given Alston’s critique of the arguments supporting sense perception, it might seem that there is little that can be said in favor of one practice over another. But this is not the case. For one thing, while epistemically circular arguments cannot be used to demonstrate the reliability of a practice, they can provide what Alston calls “significant self-support.” Alston offers as one example arguments about our predictive success with regard to sense perception that assume sense perception to be reliable. In his view such self-support “function[s] as a way of strengthening the prima facie claim of a doxastic practice to a kind of practical rationality, rather than as something that confers probability on a claim to reliability.”89 In fact, Alston sees fit to place the whole of his argument under the banner of practical rationality. As he says: I call this rationality “practical” to differentiate it from the rationality we would show to attach to a belief if solid grounds for its truth were adduced, or to attach to a doxastic practice if sufficient reasons were given for regarding it as reliable. I have foresworn the attempt to carry out anything like that

Jewish Theology as a Religious and Doxastic Practice    for our familiar doxastic practices. I only claim that we cannot be faulted on grounds of rationality for forming and evaluating beliefs in the ways we normally do (absent any sufficient overriding considerations), since there are no alternatives that commend themselves to rational reflection as superior.90

That Alston’s emphasis on practical rationality is an outgrowth of his externalist epistemology is clear enough. What still needs to be determined is how this move affects the way in which we evaluate and employ our doxastic practices. While Alston opts out of providing demonstrative arguments in support of our doxastic practices, he must still provide the criteria for evaluating them. For him there are two factors that would force us to dismiss a given practice: (1) the practice producing an amount of internal inconsistency that overwhelms the overrider system; or (2) the practice producing beliefs that contradict the outputs of a more deeply rooted and socially-established doxastic practice. Alston is adamant that a doxastic practice must be allowed to produce some amount of contradictory beliefs. Taking SP again as his example, he says that an epistemology that rejected sense perception as a rational way of forming beliefs on the basis that it “sometimes yields mutually contradictory beliefs” would be a “fantastically rigoristic epistemology.”91 On the positive side, Alston argues that the rationality of engaging in a practice is strengthened when that practice is socially established and has “persisted over a number of generations.” As he sees it, a practice is not likely to have persisted over time and have been practiced by a large number of people “unless it was putting people into effective touch with some aspect(s) of reality and proving itself as such by its fruits.”92 While Alston is concerned to eliminate “idiosyncratic doxastic practices,” he does not think that we should reject a doxastic practice just because a relatively small number of people utilize it. Many doxastic practices require that the individual develop a set of skills. As examples of doxastic practices with limited distribution, Alston points to the abilities to identify “the distinctive qualities of wines and inner voices of a complex orchestral performance.”93 One would be right to conclude that Alston’s epistemology sets a low requirement in terms of positive support. In fact, he describes his position on doxastic practices as a “negative coherentism,” by which he means that doxastic practices “do not require positive support in order to be (prima

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facie) acceptable, but only the absence of sufficient reasons against them.”94 The upshot of this view is that we do not abandon socially established belief-forming practices without good reasons for doing so.95 Furthermore, the burden of proof for rejecting a socially established doxastic practice is placed squarely on the critic of that practice.96 So, to what extent are we rational in relying on our common beliefforming practices and what can be said about their reliability? Alston is very clear that, despite his many arguments, he has not shown SP to be reliable in an epistemic sense. Instead, what he has demonstrated is that from the perspective of practical rationality it is rational to engage in SP. The pivotal move comes when he goes on to say, “In judging SP to be rational I am thereby committing myself to the rationality of judging SP to be reliable.”97 It is now possible to see more clearly what Alston meant by describing his epistemology as both source relevant and truth conducive. In an effort to shake off the responsibility of arguing for the validity of particular perceptions of God, Alston’s epistemology is designed to defend the ground of those perceptions: that is, MP. If he can defend the rationality of engaging in MP, then some of the perceptions made on that basis will be true and so MP will have a contribution to make among the grounds of religious belief. A major caveat to this is that mystical perception is not something that can be defended in general, as it has no background system and ultimately no practitioners. Rather, for Alston to advance his argument he must look at mystical perception within a particular tradition. Being a Christian, he takes the Christian mystical perceptual practice, or CMP as he calls it, as his subject. In the second half of Perceiving God, Alston argues that CMP has a minimal amount of internal inconsistency and that it produces no beliefs that cannot be squared with the outputs of other doxastic practices. In Alston’s view, religious traditions can be seen as overarching doxastic practices that in turn combine other doxastic practices, each of which produces religious beliefs as their output. In this way, religious doxastic practices are like sense perception in that they combine different modes of forming beliefs about the same subject. Similar to the combined contribution of our senses, Alston considers revelation, natural theology, and mystical perception as central Christian doxastic practices.98 Individually, each of these practices has its own propositional content that makes a distinct con-

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tribution to Christian belief. Additionally, each of these doxastic practices helps to fill out the background system of the alternative practices. On this understanding of the Christian tradition, Alston contends that a conception of religious epistemology that makes a “cumulative case” based on “multiple sources of support” best reflects the possibilities and limits of human cognition.99 What remains to be seen is whether Alston’s epistemology can buttress hermeneutic theory in the service of an understanding of Jewish theology that can answer its many critics.

Jewish Theological Practice In developing my model of Jewish theology, I will adopt Alston’s use of the word practice as well as his penchant for acronyms. In the context of Alston’s work, the phrase “Jewish theological practice” (henceforth, JTP) suggests that JTP is a doxastic-practice comprised of a set of mutually supportive belief-forming mechanisms. As I will shortly mention, Hadot’s work also exerts its influence on my choice of terms. As an initial effort to push beyond a conception of Jewish theology as homiletic or flawed speculation, it will be useful to compare Hadot’s views on ancient philosophy with Alston’s description of the function of CMP. Alston, in typical fashion, begins his consideration of CMP by first looking to sense perception: The basic function of SP in our lives is to provide a “map” of the physical and social environment and thereby enable us to find our way around in it, to anticipate the course of events and to adjust our behavior to what we encounter so as to satisfy our needs and achieve our ends. Part of the self-support we have noted for SP constitutes the successful carrying out of this aim. To discover an analogous self-support of CMP we have to ask what its basic function in human life is. It is not primarily a theoretical or speculative function, any more than with SP, but it is not the same kind of practical function either. It is an analogous function, namely, providing a “map” of the “divine environment”, providing guidance for our interaction with God. CMP, along with the other sources that are drawn on to build up the Christian scheme of things, has the function of giving us a picture of God, His purposes, activities, requirements on us and plans for us, a picture that will guide us in our interactions with Him.100

Both Hadot in his account of ancient philosophy and Alston in his formulation of Christian mystical perception wrestle with what role to ascribe

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to cognition. Placing the emphasis solely on theory threatens to relegate ancient philosophy and Christian mysticism to misguided forms of speculation with mere historical relevance. As I argued in the Introduction, Jewish theology has faced similar difficulties as philosophical and theological prejudices have led historians to emphasize the homiletic aspects of Jewish theology over its claim to truth. The question is how is it possible to understand JTP on terms that acknowledge the cognitive component in Jewish theology? Fortunately, both Hadot and Alston can guide us in this endeavor. Like Hadot’s claim that ancient philosophy consists of spiritual exercises that includes philosophical discourse itself, we can also see JTP as a voluntary and transformative religious practice of a discursive nature. Furthermore, just as ancient philosophy justifies the philosophical way of life and forms the philosophical practitioner, JTP also articulates and justifies Jewish thought and practice and seeks to shape its auditor or reader. Jewish theology, however, is more than a justifying activity; it is also knowledge about God and the divine-human relationship. In this way JTP is more similar to the “‘map’ of the ‘divine environment,’” of which Alston speaks. In Alston’s view, perception of God is a sine qua non for a fully developed personal relationship with the divine. Similarly, a conception of God is no less essential for properly orienting oneself to the divine. I would thus suggest that in addition to the justifying, formative, and exercitative functions of JTP, that JTP seeks to disclose the truth about God for the purpose of establishing and developing the divine-human relationship for those who make the theological claims and those who read or hear them. My synthesis of Hadot’s and Alston’s work suggests that JTP has wide goals and narrow goals directed, respectively, toward the religion at large and the individual. In terms of the religion itself, Jewish theology supports and clarifies the details of Jewish thought and practice. With respect to the individual, Jewish theology provides the conceptual framework that underlies the divine-human relationship and the cognitive means of enacting that relationship. One might want to go further and inquire into what Alston calls the “foundational presuppositions” of JTP. Here, however, there is need for caution as Jewish theology is not monolithic and its presuppositions have changed over time. As I am seeking a model of Jewish theology that is applicable across the tradition, the features of the model must be

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quite generic and the model itself must be open to reconfiguration within different religious and cultural horizons. Consequently, it would not meet the needs of the model to take ideas such as God possesses all possible perfec­ tions or God is a personal agent as its “foundational presuppositions.” Indeed, whatever I could lay down as quintessential to Jewish theology across all of its manifestations would tell us very little. It will better suit the construction of my model to focus on the components that typically comprise JTP, such as its belief-forming mechanisms and its overrider system, rather than some purportedly unanimous beliefs across the Jewish tradition. One of the important advantages of Alston’s epistemology is that his view of doxastic practices as a web of belief-forming mechanisms illuminates and supports a theory of theological language based on multiple forms of theological predication. Each of the belief-forming mechanisms that constitute JTP is itself a form of predication. That is to say that from a specific type of input, such as scriptural exegesis or rational reflection on divine perfection, these belief-forming mechanisms produce claims about God. In developing my model I will not take on the challenge of identifying all possible forms of Jewish theological language. The model is stronger and its utility is greater if it remains open to other possible ways of formulating beliefs about God within the Jewish tradition. Having said that, in constructing my account of JTP I do wish to lay out what I take to be basic forms of theological predication in Judaism. To that end, I will analyze the theological language of Mekhilta and the Star by attending to four types of claims about God: exegetical claims, hermeneutic claims, claims based on divine perfection, and claims based on experience. According to my model, each of these ways of speaking about God arises from religious practice and makes a unique contribution to the Jewish understanding of the divine. Among these four types of theological predication, it is exegesis and hermeneutics that are the most challenging to differentiate. As I will argue, it is the practice of reading the Torah with an eye to addressing such things as its contradictions, superfluities, and lacunae that produces exegetical claims about God. In contrast, hermeneutic claims about God arise from the interpretive effort to preserve the meaning of Scripture within a new cultural horizon. Recently, scholars such as James Kugel and David Weiss Halivni have problematized the distinction between “pure” or “plain-sense”

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readings of Scripture and “applied” readings. Similar to the position that I am staking out here, Kugel argues that not all ancient biblical interpretation was driven by extrinsic concerns. He reminds his reader that “very often their [the interpreters] primary or sole motivation appears to be making sense out of the biblical text—but making sense out of all of it, its little details, chance juxtapositions, everything.”101 Nonetheless, Kugel concludes that because the interpreter cannot completely disavow his or her commitments and concerns, “it seems best to leave aside any distinction between ‘pure’ and other forms of exegesis.”102 David Weiss Halivni’s criticism is historical in nature. He argues that the idea of plain-sense reading of Scripture, or peshat, was not prevalent in rabbinic literature up to and including the Talmud.103 Even more to the point, Halivni notes that aggadah is, by its very nature, divorced from the plain-sense of Scripture. He states “[h]alakhah and speculation [aggadah] are impelled by divergent motivations, considerations and methodologies. . . . Aggadic discourse is only loosely tied to a text, stimulated by, rather than subjugated to, a scriptural text.”104 The contribution of Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory to my model requires that I be sympathetic to Kugel’s concern. Following Gadamer, I am compelled to admit that all interpretation is guided by personal interest and prejudice. Conceding Kugel’s point that pure exegesis is chimerical does not, however, require that I abandon the distinction between exegesis and hermeneutics. This is so for two reasons. First, it is possible to distinguish exegesis and hermeneutics on a basis other than the dichotomy of pure versus applied interpretation. Understanding exegesis and hermeneutics as distinct theological belief-forming practices demands that each practice have a unique set of inputs from which the practices produce their beliefs. The following definitions of exegesis and hermeneutics can help identify what those sets of inputs are. I propose to understand exegesis as the religious practice of making the biblical text cohere with itself and hermeneutics as the religious practice of making the biblical text cohere with the cultural and theological horizon of the interpreter.105 On this definition, the input that feeds exegesis is Scripture itself, guided by the assumption that the Torah should not exhibit contradictions, superfluities, lacunae, and the like. Hermeneutics, by contrast, has a much wider set of inputs. Indeed the whole cultural and theological horizon of the interpreter informs the process by which the mean-

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ing of Scripture is preserved and asserted within a new context. To be sure, the distinction between exegesis and hermeneutics is not absolute; these are, indeed, fluid categories. Exegetical difficulties within Scripture often produce claims about God that reflect the cultural horizon of the interpreter and hermeneutic efforts to affirm Scripture often begin with a genuine exegetical problem. In addition to their distinct inputs, the second reason why it is possible to distinguish exegesis and hermeneutics is because these are the religious reading practices by which the Jewish tradition has sought to understand the Torah. While the Mekhilta and the Star can only stand in as representative examples, part of the task of the next two chapters will be to show that both works, in demonstrably different ways, engage Scripture from exegetical and hermeneutic perspectives for theological ends. My principle of selection in choosing rational reflection and religious experience to round out my model stems from the generic character of reason and experience as sources of theological claims, the distinct nature of their inputs, and, following Ricoeur, the fact that reason and experience each represent a unique aspect of the divine-human relationship. While there is much that speaks in favor of granting a role to reason and experience in the production of Jewish theological language, both categories also face challenges. The homiletic interpretation of rabbinic theology gives the impression that ancient philosophers rather than rabbis had a monopoly on the use of reason. In my reading of the Mekhilta, I will argue that rational reflection on the divine, often combined with hermeneutic engagement with Scripture, was a vital source for rabbinic theology. Insofar as divine perfection is the central cognitive handle for rational reflection about God, attention to rational reflection can also challenge dominant trends in the scholarship on Rosenzweig. Rosenzweig’s critique of Hegel’s totalized thought has led scholars to read Rosenzweig as a precursor to postmodern philosophy. Acknowledging the place of reason and divine perfection in Rosenzweig’s theological language reveals a philosophical project that is sharply at odds with postmodernism. As for experience, it has often been taken as a truism that first-person accounts of religious experience play a far less significant role in Judaism than in other religious traditions. While recent scholarship on Jewish mysticism has made significant progress in counteracting this view, as with all truisms,

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there is some shred of truth in the observation that experience is secondary to other ways of speaking about God in Judaism. Attending to the contribution of experience in an early rabbinic text and a modern philosophical theology will allow for insights in the comparative discussion in the Conclusion about the conditions for drawing on experience as a source for theological claims. To be sure, it is not just the role of experience that is likely to vary in a comparison of the theological language of the Mekhilta and the Star. While I will show that both texts engage in all four forms of theological predication, they do so in markedly different ways. As Alston explicitly remarks—and I believe Gadamer would be inclined to affirm—doxastic practices undergo significant changes as our cultural and intellectual horizons shift. These observations reveal what I take to be one of the most significant features of my model of Jewish theological language. JTP identifies basic sources of Jewish theological claims, but acknowledges that these features manifest differently, individually and as constellations, at distinct points within the tradition. Equally important is the fact that JTP remains open to other ways of forming Jewish theological beliefs. Given the dynamic nature of JTP, one might question whether background and overrider systems exist in order to evaluate the beliefs that JTP produces. Looking at how Alston formulates the overrider system for CMP can help flesh out what JTP would require to adjudicate the truth or falsity of its beliefs. Alston says that “CMP takes the Bible, the ecumenical councils of the undivided church, Christian experience through the ages, Christian thought, and more generally the Christian tradition as normative sources of its overrider system.”106 Alston is aware that his selection of sources for the overrider system of CMP is controversial, but he defends his choices as being broadly inclusive. Coming back to Judaism, like the belief-forming practices that comprise JTP, the overrider system for JTP is also dynamic.107 In the same way that belief-forming practices change over time, so too does the overrider system for JTP shift across historical periods and between Jewish communities. The overrider system for JTP is also more amorphous than that of CMP due to the fact that Jewish theology does not exhibit the systematic features associated with Christian theology. What is critical to keep in mind is that to lack definition and to lack

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existence are two different things. While the evaluative criteria for Jewish belief may be difficult to put a finger on, one should not for that reason assume they do not exist. Typically, Jewish beliefs are evaluated according to whether or not they cohere with common understandings of the oral and written Torah, the wider tradition, and the contemporary beliefs of the community. On this basis, we know intuitively that the claim that there are two powers in heaven cannot possibly be an authentic Jewish belief. Julius Guttmann discusses how authority has been displaced by subjectivity in setting norms for Jewish belief in the modern period. For Guttmann, evaluation of Jewish belief is now contingent upon the personal acknowledgment of a “unified fundamental religious conviction” that gives Jewish religious beliefs their meaning.108 In his view, the process is not corrupted by its subjectivity. To support this point, Guttmann notes the consensus of scholarly studies about what constitutes Jewish belief. He goes on to say that “even more significant than this accord in the scholarly definition of Jewish belief is the unity which has survived in Jewish belief itself. The inner bond with the basic religious beliefs of Judaism which has taken the place of external norms for these beliefs has proven strong enough to preserve the uniform religious basis of Judaism.”109 By pointing to Judaism’s persistence over time, Guttmann invokes what Alston called “significant self-support.” We know that JTP has effectively evaluated the beliefs it produces on the basis of the fact Jewish theology continues to guide individuals in their relationships with the divine. If part of the purpose of JTP is to guide practitioners, then who are rightfully seen as participants in JTP? In other words, is it only the virtuosi who are able to deploy the various theological belief-forming mechanisms, who engage in JTP, or are those who accept the theological beliefs produced by JTP also involved in its practice? Here we might call into question Guttmann’s suggestion regarding the diminished role of authority in belief formation. We arrive at many of our beliefs, including our theological beliefs, through authoritative testimony. Frequently, we come to believe things because rabbis, scholars, or traditionary materials tell us so. It is then necessary to extend JTP beyond the limited group of individuals who are themselves capable of making theological assertions on the basis of JTP. Alston rightfully acknowledges “amateur” participation in doxastic practices. As he

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describes them, such amateurs may have very little, if any, cognitive grasp of the practice’s overrider system.110 Similarly, it is possible to admit individuals as participants in JTP who know the Jewish tradition in a passive manner that does not allow them to evaluate beliefs through a ready facility with the traditional texts that comprise the overrider system, however those are specified. In concluding my epistemological considerations of Jewish theology, it should be clear that I make no claim to having shown participation in JTP to be rational. I do believe that such an argument could be mounted on the basis of Alston’s epistemology and that it would make an important contribution to how we think about Jewish theology. Part of what the argument would require is demonstrating that JTP can tolerate whatever internal inconsistency it produces and that the outputs of JTP do not run afoul of the outputs of more established doxastic practices.111 I see no reason why this could not be carried out. My purpose in entering into matters of epistemology was to augment my larger hermeneutical argument. As I am about to embark on the first of my textual analyses, I should be explicit about how my foray into epistemology has achieved those ends. I have treated Jewish theology as if it were itself a single text. In doing so I asked the Gadamerian-styled question: what is Jewish theology saying? I was driven to this question out of a refusal to deny the existence of Jewish theology or to reduce it to mere homily or poorly developed speculation. For Gadamer, asking a question properly requires a state of “openness.”112 As I have argued, the philosophical presuppositions of Ricoeur’s and Gadamer’s hermeneutic theories precluded the “openness” necessary for dealing with matters of Jewish theology. In the current chapter, I have sought to provide a framework for understanding Jewish theology that is informed by both Hadot’s reading of ancient philosophy and by William Alston’s epistemology based on doxastic practices. To be sure, the framework that I have set forth is but a bare sketch. It is, nevertheless, sufficient to open up the possi­ bility that Jewish theological language is meaningful and true. As this was all that was necessary to fortify the hermeneutic argument, I can now proceed to the work of deploying JTP in readings of the Mekhilta and the Star.

3 f o r m s o f t h e o lo g i ca l lan g uag e i n m e k h i lta o f rab b i i s h ma e l

The philosophical discussions of the previous two chapters culminated in my proposal of a new model for understanding Jewish theological language, which I refer to as JTP, for Jewish Theological Practice. Despite the technical aura that comes from identifying Jewish Theological Practice by its initials, the core features of JTP are relatively straightforward. JTP has two fundamental commitments: (1) that there are multiple forms of Jewish theological language; and (2) that the forms of Jewish theological language arise out of religious practices such as different ways of religious reading, reflection on divine perfection, and the cultivation of religious experience. It is my hope that despite my peregrinations through hermeneutics, ancient philosophy, and analytic religious epistemology, the simplicity of JTP remains evident. Certainly, upon reflection, it seems natural to think that the Jewish tradition has spoken about God utilizing different forms of reason and experience and that Jewish theological language must maintain a close connection to religious practice. However sound these seemingly basic claims appear, the value of JTP hinges on its ability to illuminate the theological language of classical Jewish texts. Before introducing Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael (henceforth Mekhilta), I would like to make clear what I think can come from analyzing the theo

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logical language of the Mekhilta according to JTP.The results that I am looking for move in two directions. It is my hope that my reading will confirm that JTP is a powerful tool for understanding rabbinic theology. Achieving this end will require persuasive evidence that exegesis, hermeneutics, rational reflection on divine perfection, and religious experience all make a significant contribution to the theological reflections of the Mekhilta. Should this turn out to be the case, I will take it as positive support for the claim that JTP is adequate to at least one significant stratum of the Jewish tradition. As I discussed in the Introduction, the status of rabbinic theology is in dispute; some scholars see rabbinic theology as principally homiletic while others would prefer to jettison the term theology altogether. If JTP can shed light on the basic features of rabbinic theology and its place within the rabbinic religious life, this will be considerably more reason to affirm JTP.

Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael is an early rabbinic commentary on sections of the book of Exodus.1 The Aramaic word mekhilta is a singular noun meaning “rule” or “norm,” which in reference to the text also means the rules by which the Hebrew Bible is to be interpreted.2 Saul Lieberman has made the further observation that the term mekhilta corresponds to the Greek term kanón, used to designate treatises of logic.3 Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael is associated with Rabbi Ishmael on the basis of the medieval practice of naming rabbinic texts according to the first cited rabbi. In fact, analysis of the text does indicate that a “core” of the Mekhilta originated from the school of Rabbi Ishmael.4 Although there are debates surrounding the date of the Mekhilta, scholars include it among the class of rabbinic literature known as midrash halakhah, produced by the earliest rabbis, the tannaim. Rabbinic thought is divided, by the rabbis themselves and by the academic scholars who study them, between the two categories of halakhah and aggadah.5 Halakhah includes legal discussions and matters of practice, while aggadah is an amorphous category encompassing all other topics of discussion including the theological reflection that is central to my study. Although the Mekhilta falls into the class of midrash halakhah, the text, according to Jacob Lauterbach’s analysis, is actually about 60 percent aggadah and 40 percent halakhah.6

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As with many rabbinic texts, the question of dating the Mekhilta is exceedingly complex. Typically, rabbinic texts are not single-authored works; rather, they are anthologies of sayings attributed to rabbis who may not be from the same geographic location or even contemporaneous with one another. Furthermore, these anthologies commonly underwent redactions that in many cases add a layer of later material. The reader should bear these points in mind, particularly as I will occasionally speak of “the” ­Mekhilta as if it were a unified text. In terms of the redaction of the ­Mekhilta, even scholars who assign an early date to the text, such as Lauterbach, agree that the Mekhilta underwent subsequent revisions. Despite the complications in dating the Mekhilta, scholars generally accept the assessment in Strack and Stemberger that “the form of the individual traditions, the cited rabbis and the historical allusions suggest a date of final redaction in the second half of the third century.”7 In the previous chapter, I defended my principle of selection in focusing on exegesis, hermeneutics, rational reflection on divine perfection, and religious experience as basic sources of Jewish theological claims. It is important to repeat that in my reading of neither the Mekhilta nor The Star of Redemption do I intend to present a comprehensive typology of the forms of theological predication. The decision to explore Jewish theological language from a diachronic perspective opens up one set of possibilities while closing off another. Because I am proposing JTP as a model of Jewish theological language that is applicable across the tradition, it is necessary to demonstrate that the model functions properly within diverse historical and intellectual horizons. One advantage of such a diachronic analysis is the opportunity it offers to consider the theoretical and practical conditions for a rich theological reflection. What such a study precludes is an exhaustive analysis of theological predication in either of the texts that claims to have the last word on the topic. The nearly ubiquitous appeal to Scripture in the Mekhilta tends to conceal the differences among the forms of theological predication and gives the appearance that everything that is said about God is either exegetical or hermeneutical in character. It is only through a close reading of the theological claims and the scriptural verses brought to support them that one begins to sense that often more is going on than just scriptural inter-

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pretation. What becomes apparent through such a reading is that specific identifiable presuppositions drive the scriptural interpretation of the rabbis. Frequently in the Mekhilta, these presuppositions revolve around notions of God’s greatness. Presuppositions, as I am using the term, are a distinctly positive and narrow instance of what Gadamer refers to as a prejudice. That is to say, a presupposition consists of a limited set of beliefs that play a determinative role in the process of understanding. To give a relevant example, one of the fore-meanings that the rabbis commonly project on the biblical text is the presupposition that God possesses maximal greatness.8 What happens in terms of actual scriptural interpretation is that a dynamic occurs between a biblical text and the “maximal greatness” presupposition that either challenges the presupposition or presents an opportunity for the tradent to articulate it.9 To take just one example, we can look at a comment in the Mekhilta on a phrase from Exodus 17:6 in which God says to Moses: “Behold, I will be standing there before you (beside the rock at Horeb . . .).” Reading Scripture in the atomistic fashion customary to rabbinic interpretation, an anonymous comment responds to the first part of the verse and states: “The Holy One Blessed Be He said to Moses ‘Every place in which you find human footsteps, there am I before you.’”10 It is clear that part of what motivates this commentary on Exodus 17:6 is the belief that God’s greatness entails the omnipresence of the divine. No exegetical problem such as a difficult word, atypical orthography, a lacuna in the narrative, or a conflicting counterverse motivates this anonymous comment; nor does a hermeneutic conflict require that the interpreter infuse the text with new meaning.11 Rather, it seems that the tradent was committed to both the fact of God’s greatness and to the practice of expressing that idea through close readings of Scripture. The passage is an excellent example of how the presupposition of God’s greatness can be endlessly ramified through the encounter with Scripture. Attention to presuppositions in the interpretation of Scripture can also help to illuminate within the Mekhilta a form of theological predication based on religious experience. As I will discuss, there are a number of comments within the Mekhilta that presuppose certain features of human religious experience. While there is sufficient textual evidence to consider claims based on religious experience as one mode of theological predica-

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tion in the Mekhilta, there are reasons to be more cautious on the topic of religious experience than is necessary with the claims based on divine perfection. Chief among such considerations is the difficulty of separating out experiential and literary aspects from the religious texts of the ancient Mediterranean world.12 The Mekhilta is no different in this regard, in that the claims that the rabbis make about God on the basis of religious experience are intricately bound up with Scripture and its interpretation. A second consideration is that, in contrast to claims about God’s greatness that permeate the Mekhilta, theological claims based on religious experience are far less common. Given these points, why go out of the way to establish claims based on religious experience as a basic form of theological predication in the Mekhilta? The most important reason for doing so is that experiential claims satisfy the requirements of my principle of selection insofar as they arise from a distinct belief-forming mechanism with its unique input and common output. The comparative element of this study also supports the inclusion of religious experience as a source of theological language. Identifying a form of theological predication that is present in the Mekhilta, but is more fully developed in The Star of Redemption, maximizes the rewards of a diachronic approach by providing insight into the theoretical and practical conditions that promote experiential claims.

Two Theological Studies of Mekhilta: Kadushin and Goldin Among the considerable body of research on the Mekhilta, two book-length studies that appeared in the late 1960s and early 1970s bear most directly on my theological analysis of the text: Max Kadushin’s A Conceptual Approach to the Mekhilta and Judah Goldin’s The Song at the Sea: Being a Commentary on a Commentary in Two Parts.13 A brief overview of the two works will prove beneficial as the authors employ drastically different methodologies that can inform my reading of the text. Interestingly, both authors inscribe their methodological concerns in the titles they give to their books. Beginning with Kadushin, his “conceptual approach” to the Mekhilta is part of a larger project in which he endeavors to map out the relationships between rabbinic thought, value, and practice.14 His principal argument is that while rabbinic thought is not systematic, it is, what he calls, “organismic,” meaning that a “single pat-

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tern of concepts” structures all rabbinic thought.15 An important point, to which I will return, is Kadushin’s requirement that these foundational concepts, which he calls “value-concepts,” must have a corresponding noun as the conceptual term that names it. The premier examples of such rabbinic value-concepts are “God’s justice (Middat Ha-Din), God’s love (or mercy) (Middat Rahamim), Torah, and Israel.”16 Kadushin argues that, with only a few exceptions, all other rabbinic concepts are subconcepts of these four. What makes the rabbinic conceptual system “organismic” is that the nature of the conceptual terms prevents them from being used propositionally and so the whole conceptual system lacks any sort of systematic or logical order. Kadushin argues that “organismic rabbinic concepts . . . are not objects, qualities, or relations in sensory experience.” Neither are they philosophical or scientific concepts. As he explains, “philosophic and scientific concepts depend upon definitions, whereas rabbinic concepts are connotative only, and hence are not amenable to formal definition.”17 Because rabbinic concepts are not definitional, their meanings cannot be given once and for all. Instead, the concepts emerge and develop in relation to other concepts. It is on this basis that Kadushin argues that rabbinic thought has an “organismic” character. In addition to the comprehensive analysis that Kadushin seeks to give to the rabbinic thought process, his work is also driven by the desire to elucidate the nature of rabbinic religious experience. Kadushin argues that rabbinic religious experience is best described as a form of “normal mysticism.” According to Kadushin, the rabbis, through their reading and interpretation of the Bible, were aware of forms of mysticism that had visual and auditory components. In fact, there are rabbinic value-concepts associated with these stronger mystical encounters. The conceptual terms for these experiences are dibbur, which refers to prophecy, and gilluy Shekhinah, referring to a visual perception of the divine. Kadushin argues that the rabbis relegate these forms of immediate sensory experience of God to the past and the future. The religious experience that the rabbis seek to cultivate is an inward orientation to God, which they call kavvanah. Kadushin understands kavvanah to be a nonsensory awareness of God’s presence. Insofar as the primary locus of kavvanah is in the performance of prayer and blessing, Kadushin is particularly concerned to defend the mystical experience asso-

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ciated with these religious acts. He articulates his position in the following discussion regarding the blessing for a new moon: No ideas at all are involved in an acute awareness of God’s near presence resulting from an act of orientation; there is only sheer experience of God, for the moment unconceptualized and hence not communicable. However, such an experience is indeed momentary, and always passes into a communicable experience, one that is mediated by concepts. In this case, what begins as an incommunicable experience leads directly to an awareness of God’s love as expressed in the Berakah on the new moon. Incommunicable mysticism leads directly into normal mysticism.18

With his notion of normal mysticism, Kadushin sees common forms of religious observance as the controlled response to a religious experience that is ineffable and nonsensory. Like Kadushin, Goldin also made his method explicit in the title of his work when he named his study, The Song at the Sea: Being a Commentary on a Commentary in Two Parts. For his analysis of the Mekhilta, Goldin selected a far more brief section of the text to comment upon, namely the section in Exodus 15 dealing with the song the Israelites sang at the Sea of Reeds.19 Goldin’s methodology is also significantly more austere than Kadushin’s. Goldin eschews any large scale theories about rabbinic thought or rabbinic religious experience. Instead, he only seeks to offer a detailed commentary on how the rabbis of the Mekhilta interpreted this particular passage of the Torah. Goldin’s effort to provide a close reading of the text is evinced by his beginning with an analysis of the biblical passage itself; thus the two parts of the commentary referred to in the title. All of these facts are consistent with Goldin’s claim in his introduction that the primary desideratum of rabbinic studies “is detailed, critical commentaries in English.”20 This is precisely what Goldin offers his reader. His analysis of the Mekhilta consistently provides insight into the interpretive strategies of the rabbis. The fundamental difference between the two studies is the preference for either a broad analytic approach to the text as with Kadushin or a close exegetical reading like Goldin. In fact, there are advantages and disadvantages to both methods of reading the Mekhilta. Attending to the repeated concern in the Mekhilta for attributing greatness to God can shed light on this point. Goldin, for his part, provides comments on numerous pas-

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sages that illuminate the rabbis’ intentions of amplifying God’s greatness. For instance, he rightly emphasizes that the rabbis are quick to mention that God’s ways are not like the ways of humans,21 and that the rabbis continually seek to draw out the hidden perfection in God’s actions.22 Goldin also notes that the Mekhilta, like the Song of the Sea itself, occasionally shifts from speaking about God to speaking to God. He usefully characterizes this direct discourse as having a liturgical or doxological character.23 Despite the lucidity of Goldin’s commentary on the text, what he does not do is synthesize these diverse statements in order to speak more broadly about rabbinic theology. While Goldin is apparently not interested in making general claims of this sort, his failure to do so has a negative impact on his exegetical sensitivity to the text. Lacking such a generalized view of the theological interests of the Mekhilta leads Goldin at times either to misconstrue or to ignore claims about God’s perfection. In my own analysis of the text, I will cite numerous examples of where Goldin fails to capture the theological import of the Mekhilta. The difficulties that Kadushin encounters regarding the topic of attributing greatness to God in the Mekhilta are considerably different than those that Goldin struggles with. A value-concept, as Kadushin argues, must have a noun that serves as the name of the conceptual term. This criterion effectively eliminates much of what might be included in an account of God’s greatness. Because rabbinic Judaism lacks conceptual terms for God’s omnipotence or omniscience, they cannot be value-concepts, and so discussions of God’s knowledge and power receive little attention from ­Kadushin.24 Frequently, when Kadushin comes across a passage in the ­Mekhilta that deals with God’s greatness, he argues that what is actually under discussion is God’s “otherness.”25 Here, however, Kadushin corrupts the text by smuggling in a notion that not only is not a value-concept, but is not even mentioned in the rabbinic statement he is discussing. If a consistent theme throughout the Mekhilta is unanalyzable on his model of interpretation, then the model either needs to be refined or jettisoned. As this is not a study of Kadushin, I will not attempt to decide that question here. The merits of each work are also equally apparent. The complexity of rabbinic thought propelled by a deep intertextual engagement with the Bible demands that a methodology exhibit the kind of close exegetical anal-

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ysis that Goldin both calls for and provides. In Kadushin’s case, while his overarching account of the operations of rabbinic thought proves problematic, there is something to be said for the synthetic approach that he adopts in his reading of the text. Even though rabbinic thought is not itself systematic, it does not follow that scholars should abandon systematic efforts at understanding rabbinic theological reflection. The model of JTP that I am proposing is consonant with Kadushin’s fundamental desire to understand the basic features and operation of rabbinic thought. Where it departs from Kadushin is in its scope. Kadushin begins with the totalizing claims that rabbinic concepts are connotational and concludes with the claim that rabbinic thought is, in its entirety, “organismic” in nature. In contrast, I am proposing what I believe to be a more modest synthetic approach, beginning with the presupposition that classical Jewish texts do engage in theological reflection and then seeking to understand what the forms of theological predication are, how they function as a whole, and what their limits are. Although JTP shares only the most basic features with Kadushin at the methodological level, in terms of the model’s content, I do owe a debt to Kadushin’s analysis of rabbinic religious experience. Despite reasons to be cautious about “normal mysticism” as he formulates it, Kadushin is right to think that there is still much to be learned about the role of religious experience within rabbinic thought and practice. With that introduction to the Mekhilta, I can now turn my efforts to deploying JTP in a reading of the text.

Exegesis The natural starting point for my discussion is to begin with exegesis as a source of theological claims. Exegesis, as I use the term, refers both to a religious practice and a belief-forming mechanism. As a religious practice, exegesis centers on the activity of interpreting Scripture with the intention of rendering it fully self-coherent. Given the fact that the rabbis themselves never speak of “self-coherence,” I should explain why I contend that this is a significant force motivating their scriptural interpretation. Although scholars have struggled with how to best formulate this point, it is evident that the rabbis perceive Scripture as a divinely authored text, and that as such it should not exhibit orthographic or grammatical errors, contradictions, superfluous elements, significant lacunae, and so on.26 Exegesis is the

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religious practice of attending to Scripture and demonstrating that it does not possess such imperfections.27 The practice of engaging Scripture along these lines is also a way of forming beliefs. Armed with a set of presuppositions about the nature of Scripture, the exegete reads and interprets Torah as a way of producing beliefs, some of which pertain to God. The reasons for starting with exegesis are twofold. First, much of what there is to say about exegesis also applies to hermeneutics. Second, by beginning with exegesis I can progress from basic claims that treat single verses to more complex exegetical and hermeneutical claims that come about through reading multiple verses together. One significant proviso to my method is that the theological claims I am considering in isolation are often incorporated by the editors of the Mekhilta into larger literary units. A full analysis of the forms of discourse in the Mekhilta would have to include the editorial discourse through which the various traditions are assembled. Insofar as I am concerned with the more basic question of how the rabbis speak about God, I can forego the exceedingly complex question of how the editor(s) make use of the individual traditions. Following this procedure of beginning with the most basic examples of textual difficulties, I will examine a text that addresses an apparent lacuna in the biblical narrative. The theological comment deals with Moses’ burial, a topic that arises amid a discussion of Joseph’s bones being taken up from Egypt in Exodus 13:19.28 The passage states: Joseph merited [the right or responsibility] to bury his father since none among his brothers was greater than he was, as it is said “and Joseph went up to bury his father . . . etc.” and “chariots and horsemen went up with him” (Gen. 50:7,9). Who among us is as great as Joseph in that none other than Moses attended to him? Moses attended to the bones of Joseph as there was no one among Israel greater than him [Moses], as it is said “and Moses took the bones of Joseph with him” (Exod. 13:19). Who among us is great like Moses in that none other than the Shekhinah attended upon him, as it is said “and He buried him in the valley” (Deut. 34:6). MdRI, Beshallah. petih.ta, 79; Lauterbach, 1:121.29

In this case, the theological assertion is straightforward, the Shekhinah, that is the divine presence, buried Moses. The basis of this claim is a gap in the biblical text. Deuteronomy 34:6 does not indicate who buried Moses; rather, the verse uses a common grammatical form in which imperfect verbs

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without subjects function as passives. Accordingly, one would only know that Moses was buried but not who buried him. In this anonymous rabbinic tradition, however, the absent subject is not a marker of a passive construction, but rather an indication that God is the missing agent.30 Obviously, one can only speculate about the origin of a given rabbinic tradition. Still, it is easy to imagine that the rabbinic interpreter was reading the Torah, or reciting as it may be, and found a creative way to fill in a significant gap in the narrative. What warrants postulating a reading practice that seeks to remedy the textual difficulties of the Torah is the sheer abundance of rabbinic claims that do just that.31 In this case, the exegete exploits an ambiguous syntactical construction to fill in a significant lacuna in the biblical narrative. Doing so presents the opportunity to make the dramatic theological claim that it was God who assumed the burial obligations for Moses. While my reading of the Mekhilta will focus more on the forms of theological language rather than the functions of a given claim, it is not difficult to see the profound consequences of having God attend to Moses’ burial rites. It invests Torah and the way of life that is grounded in it with great solemnity to conceive of God as so intimately involved in the life of Moses. Furthermore, the image of God taking on Moses’ burial obligations confirms that it is a compassionate and loving God who is the focus of rabbinic Judaism. While it is not possible to survey every type of exegetical difficulty that the rabbis encountered, it will serve as a conceptual merismus of sorts to go from a theological claim spurred on by a gap in the Torah to one that arises from a seemingly superfluous element in Scripture. For the rabbis, the biblical text is the word of God and as such there can be nothing contradictory or superfluous in the text. On this view, because every letter and word of Torah is saturated with meaning, the most innocuous elements in Scripture become potential springboards for theological assertions.32 In the following passage, for instance, it is the word also that prompts the theological reflection of the interpreters. The text is a series of comments on Exodus 19:9 that states: “And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Behold I am coming to you in a thick cloud so that the people will hear my speaking to you and also in you they will trust forever.’” The Mekhilta comments on this verse: Rabbi Yehudah says “From whence can you say that the Holy One Blessed Be He said to Moses ‘Behold, I will speak to you and you will correct me

Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael   112 and I will agree with you so that Israel will say “Great is Moses whom God (ha-Makom) agrees with,”’ as it is said ‘and also in you they will trust forever’” (Exod. 19:9). Rabbi says “There is no need for us to make Moses great, if in doing so we make the Holy One Blessed Be He turn back upon his word. Rather this verse teaches that God (ha-Makom) said to Moses ‘Behold, I will call you to the top of the mountain and you will go up,’ as it is said ‘And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain and he went up’” (Exod. 19:20). “And also in you they will trust forever”: also in you, also in the prophets who will come in the future after you. MdRI, Bah.odesh 2, 210; Lauterbach, 2:299.

In the first comment, Rabbi Yehudah b. Ilai offers a solution as to how it could be brought about that the Israelites would “also trust in [Moses] forever.” The presupposition of his line of reasoning is that to “also” trust in Moses is superadditional to trusting in God. Rabbi Yehudah’s exegetical solution is to exploit an unknown element in the verse, the content of God’s discussion with Moses. He argues that what the Israelites heard was a conversation between God and Moses in which Moses corrects God and God accepts Moses’ point of view. Within our own cultural and theological horizon, Rabbi Yehudah’s comment is quite striking. Neither he nor the rabbis of the Mekhilta as a whole sense any theological impropriety in putting words in God’s mouth. Rabbi, as Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi is often referred to in the Mekhilta, is a student of Rabbi Yehudah b. Ilai. In responding to his teacher’s comment, he takes issue with the perceived slight to God’s greatness, but not the theological daring that allows Rabbi Yehudah to speak for God. Rabbi’s alternative suggestion is that the Israelites “also trust in [Moses] forever” through God’s association with Moses. God’s calling him to the top of the mountain distinguishes Moses from the rest of the people.33 The final statement in the passage exemplifies a different approach to dealing with a seemingly superfluous element of Scripture, one that attends to the numerical significance through its dual referent, x and also y.34 Exploiting the twofold sense of the word also, the anonymous comment projects the verse into the future by claiming that the Israelites will trust both in Moses and the prophets who come after him. This seemingly innocuous exegetical twist has the profound effect of extending this trust in Moses and the prophets who come after him into the future by addressing the ever-renewed present of one who studies this tradition.35 By

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these means, the comment seeks to secure the scriptural intent that “also in you they will trust forever.” In attempting to differentiate exegetical and hermeneutical ways of speaking about God, I have argued that exegesis is the religious practice of demonstrating that the Torah is self-coherent. It is often the case in rabbinic exegesis that the issue of self-coherence extends beyond the isolated word or phrase and instead links two verses together. There are, of course, many reasons that the rabbis read disparate verses together. Most commonly it is the case that one verse can help clarify a second, more problematic verse, or, alternatively, that two verses appear to contradict each other and there is need for an exegetical solution. The next example of a theological claim based on exegesis calls upon a second verse in order to help clarify a difficult word. In the midst of the Song of the Sea, the Israelites sing in Exodus 15:8: “And with the breath of your nostrils the waters were piled up. They stood like a heap of flowing water. The deeps thickened in the midst of the sea.” The principal difficulty in the verse is the word for “piled up,” ‫נערמו‬. The central meanings of the root—‫ם‬-‫ר‬-‫‘( ע‬-r-m)—revolve around craftiness, with all of the various verbal, nominative, and adjectival forms one would expect. A less common meaning of a word with the same root is the noun “heap,” ‫‘( ערמה‬aremah). Exodus 15:8 is in a sense a hapax legomenon, as it is the only instance in the Hebrew Bible of the root used in a verbal form with a meaning associated with a “heap” or “being piled up.” With this background we can go on to look at how the verse is interpreted in the Mekhilta: “And with the breath of your nostrils the waters were piled up” (Exod. 15:8): With the measure that they measured out, you measured out to them. They said “Come, let us deal shrewdly with them” (Exod. 1:10), so you gave craftiness to the waters and the waters were fighting against them with every type of punishment. For this reason it is said “And with the breath of your nostrils the waters were made crafty” (Exod. 15:8). MdRI, Shirata 6, 137; Lauterbach, 1:201.36

In this anonymous derashah, the theological principle that God’s punishment is measure for measure allows the exegete to read Exodus 1:10 as an explication of a difficult word in Exodus 15:8. Because Pharaoh acted “shrewdly” against the Israelites and oppressed them on account of their becoming numerous, God, at the Sea of Reeds, imbues the waters with

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craftiness in order to punish the Egyptians. On this reading, the waters are not piled up; rather, God makes the water the agent of divine justice. The exegetical task of clarifying a difficult word in the biblical text becomes an opportunity to assert God’s power and justice. Generally speaking, the more complex a given rabbinic theological statement is, the more likely it is that the statement is of a hybrid form. One can see this passage as a claim based on exegesis as well as a claim based on a notion of God’s greatness. Despite the genuinely difficult verbal form in Exodus 15:8, it is the principle that God’s justice is “measure for measure” that provides the exegetical link to Exodus 1:10. In fact, the phrase “with the measure that they measured out, you measured out to them” is a standard idiom in rabbinic exegesis that helps solve many exegetical difficulties. Although the phrase is stock, its direct address to God reflects well the fluidity with which rabbinic theological discourse oscillates between speaking of God, to God, and as we saw in the previous example, for God. A third example of how the rabbis in the Mekhilta exploit scriptural difficulties for theological ends can provide insight into exegesis as a religious practice for the rabbis. While exegetical challenges such as lacunae in the biblical narrative or words with multiple or indeterminate meanings pose real difficulties for the rabbis, contradictions between verses undermine the authority of Scripture and call into question its divine authorship. Undoubtedly, the most well-known and discussed scriptural contradiction in the Jewish tradition is the divergent formulations of the commandment pertaining to the Sabbath in the two versions of the Decalogue in Exodus 20:8 and Deuteronomy 5:12. Utilizing different verbs, Exodus 20:8 states the fourth commandment as “­remember the Sabbath to sanctify it” whereas Deuteronomy 5:12 enjoins “observe the Sabbath day to sanctify it.” In an effort to justify these alternative phrasings, the Mekhilta offers the following anonymous exegesis: “Remember” and “Observe”: Both of them were said in a single utterance. “(And you shall observe the Sabbath day for it is holy for you) one who profanes it will surely die (whoever does work upon it, he will be cut off from the midst of his people)” (Exod. 31:14) and “On the Sabbath day two lambs” (Num. 28:9), were both said in single utterance. “The nakedness of your ­brother’s wife (do not uncover)” (Lev. 18:16), and “her husband’s brother will come into her” (Deut. 25:5) were both said in a single utterance. “You shall not wear sha‘atnez [wool and linen together] (Deut. 22:11)” and “You shall make tassels for your-

Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael   self (Deut. 22:12)” were both said in a single utterance. These are things that it is impossible for a human to say, thus it is written, “One thing God has spoken two things I have heard” (Ps. 62:12) and “‘Is not my word like fire,’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 23:29). MdRI, Bah.odesh 7, 229; Lauterbach, 2:328.37

The Mekhilta’s solution to the conflicting prescriptions for Sabbath worship is to emphasize the uniqueness of divine speech; God, it seems, can make contradictory assertions in a single speech act.38 Before providing exegetical proof of the multiplicity of God’s word, the Mekhilta points to three other instances of significant halakhic contradictions in the Torah: (1) the commandment that no work should be done on the Sabbath and the laws requiring Temple sacrifices on the Sabbath; (2) the laws concerning proper sexual conduct, including not having sexual relations with one’s sister-inlaw and the law of levirate marriage; and (3) the commandment prohibiting the mixture of wool and linen and the laws regarding the fringes on garments which are to be made of precisely such a mixture.39 All of these passages are contradictory in a manner that challenges human modes of reasoning. For the anonymous commentator, there is one theological solution to all of these exegetical difficulties: an appeal to the uniqueness of divine speech.40 While Azzan Yadin is likely correct that it is the contradiction between Exodus 20:8 and Deuteronomy 5:12 that provided the exegetical problem at the root of this tradition, I would like to suggest a different approach to this tradition than his analysis, which concludes that the three additional pairs of contradictions “fit into the derashah poorly, and may not be original to it.”41 Rather than seeing the additional examples as secondary, one can instead take the application of a common exegetical solution to additional texts as evidence for exegesis being both a religious practice and a belief-forming mechanism. At the most basic level, religious practices are actions that are performed repetitively in order to cultivate religious beliefs and values, to orient the practitioner to the divine, and to help maintain the religious community and its worldview. Repeating an exegetical solution is fundamental to the practice of scriptural exegesis and helps to secure the theologoumenon by demonstrating its broad application. In fact, the rabbis recycle and refashion this theologoumenon so as to suit alternative scriptural contexts. Thus, in Sifrei Deuteronomy, where the issue of mixing wool and linen is primary, all that is necessary is to shuffle the order of the verses.42 In

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this instance, the paradigm case of “remember” and “observe” the Sabbath supports the interpretation of the prohibition of mixing wool and linen and the laws concerning tzitzit rather than vice versa as in the Mekhilta. The dynamic nature of exegesis as a religious practice that folds back upon itself and seeks multiple forms of expression is significant for under­ standing the relationship between exegesis and theology in rabbinic thought. Close analysis of the above text suggests that the principal theological assertion, “both of them were said in a single utterance,” is a stock phrase that likely arises from a preexisting theologoumenon. Indeed, the idea that God says multiple things with a single utterance is a theological topic that finds a variety of formulations in the Mekhilta and elsewhere in rabbinic literature. Among the Mekhilta’s interpretations of the Song of the Sea from Exodus 15 is the following theological discourse about the multiplicity of God’s speech: “Who is like you among the gods, O Lord?” (Exod. 15:11): Who is like you among those whom others call gods, but who have no substance to them? Regarding them it is said: “They have mouths but they do not speak” (Ps. 115:5). These have mouths, but do not speak. The Holy One Blessed Be He, however, says two things in a single utterance, something that is impossible for flesh and blood to do.This is as it is said “Once God has spoken, two things have I heard” (Ps. 62:12), “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord” (Jer. 23:29), and it is written “and rumbling comes forth from his mouth” (Job 37:2). “Who is like you glorious in holiness?” (Exod. 15:11): Handsome are you and glorious in holiness.Your measure is not like the measure of flesh and blood [i.e., humans]. The measure of humans is such that a person is not able to say two things at once, but the Holy One Blessed Be He spoke the ten sayings [i.e., the Ten Commandments] as if they were one, as it is said “and God spoke all these words saying” (Exod. 20:1).The measure of humans is such that a person is not able to hear two people when they cry out as one. With the Holy One Blessed Be He, however, even if all the inhabitants of the world came and were crying out before Him, He could hear their cry, as it is said “O, one who hears prayer, all flesh comes unto you” (Ps. 65:3). MdRI, Shirata 8, 143; Lauterbach, 1:208.43

The disquisition continues its contrastive comparison of divine and human attributes and, as one would expect, human abilities—like the idols’ mouths that don’t speak—pale next to the divine attributes. What this second text helps to make apparent is the close connection between exegesis and theol-

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ogy and the ruminative nature of exegesis as a religious practice. The previous text sought to resolve the exegetical difficulty of the conflicting formulations of the fourth commandment by appealing to an existing theological motif on the uniqueness of divine speech. Reading the texts together suggests that theology is not only the product of the rabbis’ exegetical work; it also informs that work. What appears to be a scriptural contradiction is really evidence of God’s greatness. As a religious practice and a way of forming religious beliefs, exegesis is both productive and transformative in that the search for new exegetical solutions is often the result of refashioning existing resources and applying them to new exegetical difficulties. While theology is just one domain of the rabbis’ exegetical reflections, when the rabbinic practice of exegesis turns to the topic of theology, exegesis becomes a mechanism for theological belief formation; that is, a way of thinking and speaking about God. The next task is to see how exegesis compares to hermeneutics as a source for theological predication.

Hermeneutics Discussions of rabbinic hermeneutics often center upon the variously numbered rules of interpretation, or middot, that are associated with Hillel, Rabbi Ishmael, and Rabbi Eliezer.44 While the inclusion of the middot in the liturgy is testimony to their religious and cultural importance, my interest in rabbinic hermeneutics is both more narrow and more broad than the middot.45 The question I am pursuing is more narrow than the middot in that my concern is not with rabbinic hermeneutics in toto, but rather with hermeneutics as a basis for theological predication. Some of the middot do serve as the basis for theological reflection, such as inferences from minor to major (qal va-h.omer), and I will address such rules of interpretation where appropriate. Hermeneutics, as I am using the term, is also broader than the middot; in following the hermeneutic theories of Gadamer and Ricoeur I am interested in the fundamental processes of understanding that guide Jewish thinkers as they interpret Scripture within new cultural and historical contexts. In thinking about hermeneutics it is necessary to remember that a scriptural tradition has two needs that cannot be abrogated as it develops over time. First, Scripture must remain a fruitful source for the religious community in its ongoing efforts to elucidate and develop religious practices and

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beliefs. Hermeneutics from this vantage point is the application of Scripture to the present. Second, in order for Scripture to maintain its status as the rich and authoritative source that can guide the practitioner’s life, it is crucial that the interpreter mitigate any conflicts between the contemporary cultural and theological horizon and that of Scripture. In this capacity, hermeneutics provides the resources for the perpetual reinterpretation of Scripture. On this understanding of hermeneutics, much of the rabbinic theology in the Mekhilta is hermeneutic in character. The first passage I will present as an example of a theological claim based on hermeneutic engagement with Scripture deals with one of the most poignant questions facing the rabbis: how should they orient themselves and their followers to the Roman government? The Mekhilta proffers one suggestion on this matter through a reading of Exodus 12:31, which states: “And he [Pharaoh] summoned Moses and Aaron at night and said ‘Arise, go from the midst of my people.You and the Israelites go worship the Lord as you said.’” The Mekhilta continues: “And he summoned Moses and Aaron (Exod. 12:31)”: Why is this said since it says “And Pharaoh said to him ‘Go from my midst . . .’ and Moses said ‘You have spoken well (Exod. 10:28 ff )’” [That is to say,] you have spoken appropriately and you have spoken in a timely fashion. “. . . I will not see your face again (Exod. 10:29).” However, it also says “All these of your servants will come down to me [Moses] . . . (Exod. 11:8).” Now Scripture has only said “these” to indicate that at the end you [Pharaoh] will be at their head. Rather, this verse teaches that Moses showed honor to the kingdom as the Holy One Blessed Be He had told him to do so, as it is said “And God spoke to Moses and to Aaron . . . regarding Pharaoh” (Exod. 6:13). He commanded them to show honor to the kingdom. MdRI, Pish.a 13, 45; Lauterbach, 1:70.

The question that this anonymous comment seeks to answer is why does Moses come into Pharaoh’s presence when Moses has already said to Pharaoh in Exodus 10:28 ff. that he will not see Pharaoh again? The solution that the Mekhilta suggests is that Moses says this to Pharaoh for the purposes of showing him honor.46 To support this claim the tradent cites Exodus 6:13, where the content of God’s command to Moses and Aaron regarding Pharaoh is not stated; all that is known is that God spoke to Moses and Aaron about Pharaoh. The uncertainty about what God said is resolved by claiming that God commanded Moses and Aaron to show

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honor to Pharaoh. The result of this interpretation is that showing honor to the ruling power is given a divine warrant.The passage then extends this claim by going on to show how seven other biblical figures also showed honor to the ruling kingdom.47 What is most interesting in this passage is the theological freedom of the rabbis to place their views on civics in God’s mouth.48 Leaving aside the various political questions that the passage raises, how one comported oneself toward the government was an issue of great personal import, during both times of persecution and times of more genial relations with the Roman government. Accordingly, it seems reasonable that the exigent needs of the rabbis’ political situation led them to seek God’s guidance through a hermeneutic reading of Scripture. Their hermeneutical stance toward Scripture in this instance is reflected in Ricoeur’s comment about metaphorical discourse: “what it creates, it discovers; and what it finds, it invents.”49 Out of pressing need, the rabbis combed Scripture to discover how God would guide their followers and themselves in times of trouble. In the discussion of exegesis, I mentioned that one factor motivating rabbinic interpretation is the desire to fill in perceived lacunae in the biblical text. One particular form of lacuna that was of great interest to the rabbis was the concern to specify God’s motivation for a given action when none is given in the Bible. The following anonymous comment on Exodus 19:4 considers God’s reasons for punishing the Egyptians. In Exodus 19:3 God tells Moses to declare to the Israelites, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I lifted you on the wings of eagles and I brought you to me (Exod. 19:4).” Picking up on the phrase “you have seen,” the Mekhilta goes on to say: “‘You have seen’: I [God] am not speaking to you through tradition, neither am I sending missives to you nor am I causing witnesses to testify before you; rather, ‘you have seen what I did with the Egyptians’ (Exod. 19:4). They saw how guilty they [the Egyptians] were before me on account of idolatry, sexual impropriety, and the spilling of blood in former days. I only punished them, however, on your account.” MdRI, Bah.odesh 2, 207; Lauterbach, 2:296.

This passage, once again, demonstrates that rabbinic theological reflection is not reducible to an abstract predication about God in the third person. On the contrary, rabbinic theology oscillates between speaking to God, about

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God, and even, as in this passage, through God. Going beyond this, what is remarkable about this text is that it neutralizes other competing divine motivations for punishing the Egyptians, such as the opportunity to display God’s might (Exod. 6:1), to recount God’s works to future generations of Israelites (Ex. 10:1–2), to make God known to the Egyptians (Exod. 7:3–5), and to make God known to the world at large (Exod. 9:16). It is a sharp reframing of the exodus narrative to claim that God’s actions were strictly motivated by compassion for Israel. The hermeneutic character of the commentary is further amplified by the shift from third to second person. Whereas the third-person plural of the word to see indicates that it was the Israelites living at the time of the exodus who saw the sins of the Egyptians, the passage goes on to say that it was “only . . . on your account” that the Egyptians were punished. This shift from third to second person effectively includes the individual who hears the rabbinic interpretation within the Israelite community redeemed from Egypt. Furthermore, God’s direct address to the reader or auditor significantly amplifies the formative power of the derashah. The transformation of the biblical narrative and the inclusion of the rabbinic audience in the exodus produce an exceedingly powerful fusion of the biblical and rabbinic horizons.50 The interpretation brings God’s compassion to the forefront of the exodus event and then extends the divine compassion into the rabbinic present. Hermeneutic engagement with Scripture allows God to become manifest and so secures the divine-human relationship.51 To call this homiletic or edifying discourse undervalues its transformative power for the practitioner as well as its role in constructing the rabbinic religious world. Looking at a second text that also happens to deal with the exodus will lend support to the claim that hermeneutics can be a significant vehicle for theological reflection. Just as the previous text overlooked a number of possible divine motivations for redeeming the Israelites from Egypt, the current text also endeavors to depict the events of the exodus within specific parameters. The discussion takes as its starting point the command to acquire the lamb for the paschal sacrifice four days before its slaughter (Exod. 12:3 ff.). This topic, however, becomes an opportunity to reassess the operative forces behind the exodus. The Mekhilta states: “And you shall keep watch over it” (. . . until the fourteenth day of this month and the entire congregation of Israel will slaughter it at twilight) (Exod. 12:6):

Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael   Why does the verse make the acquisition of the paschal lamb precede its slaughter by four days? Rabbi Mattya ben Heresh says “Scripture says ‘I passed over you and I saw you and behold you were ripe for love’ (Ezek. 16:8). This means that the time had arrived to fulfill the oath that the Holy One Blessed Be He had sworn to Abraham that He would redeem his children. However, Israel did not have any commandments that they could fulfill in order to be redeemed. This is as it is said, ‘. . . your breasts were firm and your hair had grown but you were naked and bare’ (Ezek. 16:7). That is to say, naked of any commandments. Consequently, the Holy One Blessed Be He gave them two commandments, the blood of the paschal sacrifice and the blood of circumcision, so that they could fulfill them in order to be redeemed. For this reason, it is said ‘I passed over you and I saw you resting safely in your blood, etc.’ (Ezek. 16:6). Scripture also says ‘Also I have sent you forth in the blood of your covenant, your prisoners from a well that had no water’ (Zech. 9:11). Thus the verse makes the acquisition of the paschal lamb precede its slaughter by four days since a person does not receive a reward except by means of proper religious action.” MdRI, Pish.a 5, 14; Lauterbach, 1:23.52

This passage is a striking refiguration of the exodus narrative that conforms the biblical story to a rabbinic view of reward and punishment. The driving question that underlies the passage is why did God redeem the Israelites from Egypt when they had not fulfilled any commandments so as to justify this reward? While the passage takes note of God’s promise to Abraham to redeem his descendants (Gen. 15:14), according to Rabbi Mattya ben Heresh this promise is not in itself a sufficient condition to warrant the Israelites’ redemption. On his interpretation, the Israelites must have also properly fulfilled divine commandments in order to merit their redemption. God’s motivation for taking the Israelites out of Egypt is no longer the simple fulfillment of a promise, but is instead based on a duly earned reward. It would appear that part of what drives Rabbi Mattya ben Heresh’s interpretation is that the account of the observance of the paschal sacrifice (Exod. 12:28) is immediately followed by God’s destruction of the firstborn of Egypt that precipitates the exodus (Exod. 12:29). The proximity of the two events leads him to conclude that there is a causative relationship between the paschal sacrifice and the exodus.53 Through his hermeneutic rereading of Scripture, Rabbi Mattya ben Heresh maps onto the biblical narrative a very precise (rabbinic) view of both God and the divine-human relationship. This is a significantly different hermeneutic application of the

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exodus narrative than the previous text, which emphasized God’s continuing love for and providence over Israel. The enthusiasm with which the rabbis embrace the multiple possibilities of scriptural interpretation suggests that, from their perspective, getting things right theologically rarely entailed a single solution.54 One way to understand the complementary nature of these two passages is to see them as instances of the wide and narrow goals of Jewish theology that I discussed in the previous chapter. The wide goal of Jewish theology to articulate and defend the religious worldview is evident in Rabbi Mattya ben Heresh’s interpretation, which interpolates into the exodus narrative a rabbinic view of reward and punishment. The previous passage, which extends God’s love and providential care for Israel from the exodus into the present, serves the narrower goal of addressing the religious needs of the practitioner. To be sure, it is hardly a new insight that the rabbinic sages interpret Scripture for their own religious and ideological purposes. The contribution that I hope to make to that widely acknowledged claim is that the rabbis’ hermeneutic reading of Scripture is a religious practice and a means of producing theological beliefs (and other types of belief as well). One might rightfully wonder what sort of evidence exists that the rabbis conscientiously engaged in scriptural interpretation for the purposes of applying it within their contemporary horizon. After all, scholars have become increasingly skeptical about the reliability of rabbinic literature as a historical source, particularly a source of information about the rabbis themselves. More to the point, a second-order reflection on scriptural interpretation as a formalized practice is not the sort of thing one would expect to find in rabbinic literature. What then justifies construing hermeneutics as a religious practice and a theological belief-forming mechanism? In my view the most persuasive evidence is simply the enormous body of literature that the rabbis produced, compiled, edited, transmitted, and studied.55 While rabbinic literature does not tell us everything we would like to know about the rabbis’ reading practices or their other ways of thinking and speaking about God, it does give clear testimony to their deep engagement with Scripture and their methods and reasons for engaging in scriptural interpretation.56 As I discussed in some detail in Chapter 1, Gadamer’s work describing the conflicts and negotiations between distant cultural horizons is a

Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael  

key feature in my account of philosophical hermeneutics. As I will seek to demonstrate, not only do conflicts exist between the cultural and theological horizons of the Bible and those of the rabbis in the Mekhilta, but even more to the point, these conflicts present an opportunity for the rabbis’ own theological assertions.57 At the most basic level, theological conflicts across distant historical horizons are like any other theological dispute; they revolve around what is fitting to say about God. This formulation, however, raises as many questions as it answers. For instance, on what basis does one judge that a given theological claim is or is not appropriate to make about God? Extending Gadamer’s formulations, I have suggested that it is cultural or theological horizons that are in conflict, but I must now press the point further. Certainly, when a rabbi encounters in Scripture a theological idea that challenges his sense of theological propriety, there is more than cultural horizons that are in tension with each other. I would suggest that what lies at the heart of such conflicts is competing ideas about God’s maximal greatness. In Western philosophical and religious traditions, God’s greatness has often been analyzed under the category of divine perfection. As philosophers and theologians are well aware, apart from revelation and religious experience, divine perfection represents one of our only cognitive handles for grappling with and developing our conceptions of God. For all its utility, one danger embedded in the notion of divine perfection is the intuition that there must be a static set of attributes that properly express God’s greatness. Upon reflection, it seems obvious that our understanding of God’s greatness shifts in tandem with our historical circumstances. What is fitting to say about God from the historical perspective of a sovereign nation with a vibrant cultic worship in a centralized temple is likely to be very different from what one would want to say under the conditions of a vanquished people who have lost their cultic rituals and who are struggling to reformulate every aspect of their religious and national identity. To put it bluntly, our ideas about what constitute divine perfection are historically and culturally conditioned. If this is true, then the “theological dissonance,” to borrow Fishbane’s phrase, that the rabbis occasionally experience in their reading of Scripture is hermeneutical in character.58 One of the key tasks of rabbinic and later forms of Judaism is to maintain and defend the ultimate meaningfulness and import of the Torah within new historical and cul-

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tural contexts. As a religious practice, the hermeneutic reading of Scripture, including hermeneutic theology, is the act of making Scripture relevant within these new settings. That this is also a distinct belief-forming practice is evident in the decisive role that the hermeneut’s theological intuitions play in interpreting the Torah. As a belief-forming mechanism, the principal inputs from which exegetical theology produces its claims are the various textual cues and difficulties of Scripture. In contrast, although the rabbis’ hermeneutic theology may exploit the same textual features and problems as exegesis, what drives their hermeneutic engagement with Scripture is the desire to demonstrate that the Torah supports their own theological intuitions. Without these theological intuitions as a starting point, there would be no hermeneutic theology. As I will argue, the rabbis’ hermeneutic claims about God’s greatness are best construed as a subset of a larger rabbinic discourse on divine perfection. I will, however, provide one short text here to illustrate what I have said so far about the relationship between the conflict of horizons and theological production. Extracting from a long discussion of the second commandment, which states, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3), the Mekhilta continues with the following comments: “. . . other gods [’elohim ’ah.erim]” (Exod. 20:3): But are they really deities? Has it not already been said “and placed their gods in the fire for they are not gods” (Isa. 37:19). So why does Scripture say “other gods”? It does so only because others [’ah.erim] call them gods. Another interpretation. “other gods”: This is said because they prevent [me’ah.rin] goodness from coming into the world. Another interpretation. “other gods”: This is said because they make their worshipers into strangers [‘ah.erim].59 Another interpretation. “other gods”: This is said because they are strangers [‘ah.erim] to those who worship them. For this reason Scripture says “Behold he cries out to him but he does not respond. From his distress he will not save him” (Isa. 46:7).60 MdRI, Bah.odesh 6, 223; Lauterbach, 2:319.61

While the passage goes on at some length in this vein, the principal problem is clear: the rabbis take issue with the idea that there are other gods. Their strict commitment to monotheism compels them to defuse a biblical text that could be read as suggesting that the case was otherwise. Even the hint of there being other gods creates a theological conflict that demands resolution for the rabbis. The Mekhilta’s approach to the text is to ignore

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the larger biblical context in which other gods were known and referred to, and to provide instead a host of paronomastic explanations based on the word other to explain why Scripture formulated such an impious expression. As in many such cases, the hermeneutical conflict is resolved by mapping the rabbis’ own beliefs onto the biblical text. This example is, however, only an indirect claim about God. For more substantive assertions about the divine, I now turn to the topic of divine perfection.

Rational Reflection on Divine Perfection Several important features distinguish rational reflection on divine perfection from exegesis and hermeneutics. First, in contrast to exegesis and hermeneutics, which do not specify the theological content of the beliefs they produce, rational reflection on divine perfection generates beliefs that cohere around the thematic of God’s greatness. In analyzing the contribution of rational reflection to the theological language of Mekhilta, I must demonstrate the rabbis’ concern for this thematic as well as sketch its principal elements. Second, whereas the best evidence for the claim that exegesis and hermeneutics are religious practices is the canon of rabbinic literature itself, rational reflection on God’s greatness is closely connected to a fundamental rabbinic religious practice: offering praise to God. Understanding the significance of rational reflection for the rabbis requires a joint exploration of reflection and praise. Finally, although scholars have widely accepted the importance of exegesis and hermeneutics in rabbinic thought, the place of rational reflection on divine perfection is on more tenuous ground—this despite the work of scholars such as Arthur Marmorstein and Ephraim Urbach on the topic.62 Before proceeding, I should point out that my use of the phrase rational reflection with regard to divine perfection is not meant to suggest that other forms of Jewish theological language are irrational. By itself, the phrase divine perfection picks out a set of interrelated theologoumena. It is only when rational reflection directs itself to the subject of divine perfection that a religious practice and belief-forming mechanism take shape. It is simply the case that without deploying deductive reasoning, the idea of divine perfection can produce no beliefs whatsoever.63 At first blush, the suggestion that reflection on divine perfection and the offering of divine praise are closely linked appears to be a category

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mistake.64 After all, isn’t reflection a theoretical activity while praise is a practical one? A significant goal of mine in proposing JTP is to rethink the relationship between theological reflection and religious practice. The interdependence of praise and reflection on God’s greatness in Mekhilta lends support to this move. As a commentary on the book of Exodus, Mekhilta has the opportunity to comment on what has become the paradigmatic instance of praise in the Jewish tradition, the Song of the Sea in Exodus 15. One brief but poignant comment on the Song of the Sea is the following: “‘I will sing to the Lord’ (15:1): It is fitting to ascribe greatness to the Lord. It is fitting to ascribe power to the Lord [It is fitting to ascribe glory, victory, and majesty to the Lord]. Thus David said ‘For you O Lord is greatness, power, glory, victory, and majesty’ (1 Chron. 29:11)” (MdRI, Shirata 1, 119; Lauterbach, 1:173). Although this passage does little more than juxtapose Exodus 15:1 and 1 Chronicles 29:11, reading the verses together helps clarify praise as a linguistic act that identifies and affirms God’s greatness. Judah Goldin rightly calls this passage an “acclamation . . . in the form of a poetic doxology.”65 A second discussion of the Song of the Sea in Mekhilta extends the point that it is “fitting” to praise God by arguing that offering divine praise is a fundamental religious obligation. Recall that as Pharaoh and his army approached the Israelites beside the Sea of Reeds, the Israelites called out in complaint to Moses that they should have never left Egypt and that they now feared for their lives. Moses responds to the people in Exodus 14:13 ff.: “Do not fear. Stand and see the salvation of the Lord that he will do for you today, for you have seen the Egyptians today, but you will not see them ever again.The Lord will fight for you, but you be silent.” The Mekhilta transmits two comments on this passage, both of which take up Moses’ insistence that the Israelites should be silent: Rabbi Meir says “‘the Lord will fight for you’ (Exod. 14:14): If when you stand and are silent ‘the Lord will fight for you’ how much the more so when you give him praise.”66 Rabbi [Judah] says “‘the Lord will fight for you’: God (ha-Makom) will do for you miracles and mighty deeds and you will be standing there silent? Israel said to Moses ‘Our master what is our obligation (mah ‘aleinu) to do?’ He said to them ‘Be glorifying and exalting, giving song and praise, greatness, and glory to the one whom wars belong.’ This is like what is said ‘praises of God in their throat’ (Ps. 149:6); and it says ‘Be exalted

Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael   above the heavens O God, let your glory be upon the entire earth’ (Ps. 57:12); and it says ‘Lord, you are my God. I will exalt you; I will praise your name for you have done wonderful counsel from long ago in perfect faithfulness’ (Isa. 25:1). At that moment, Israel opened their mouths and said ‘I will sing a song to the Lord for he is highly exalted’” (Exod. 15:1). MdRI, Beshallah. 2, 96; Lauterbach, 1:143.

Rabbi Meir’s comment addresses the power of praise to establish and strengthen the divine-human relationship. He subtly extends the relationship between God and the Israelites beyond the biblical text to his contemporary audience, and suggests that the act of giving praise can draw one closer to God than those who were brought out of Egypt. In the brevity of his remark, it is easy to miss the formative force of his words in establishing continuity between the biblical and rabbinic worlds and asserting the efficacy of praise to strengthen the divine-human relationship. Rabbi Judah is less concerned with the power of praise than the duty to praise God. For Rabbi Judah, praise of God is such a vital part of his religious consciousness it is inconceivable that the Israelites would stand silently while God destroyed Pharaoh’s army on their behalf. Intent on reading the rabbinic practice of praising God into the text, Rabbi Judah reshapes the scriptural narrative.67 Moses no longer says, “the Lord will fight for you but you be silent”; rather, his words are made into a question: “the Lord will fight for you and you will silence yourselves?” Showing an alacrity which they do not possess in the biblical text, Rabbi Judah’s Israelites then beseech Moses to tell them how they should respond to God’s salvific acts. In language that mirrors that of the liturgy, Moses indicates in the strongest possible terms that they should give praise to God.68 After citing three biblical verses on the topic of praising God, the narrative continues, stating that, following Moses’ response, the Israelites immediately broke out with the Song of the Sea that begins Exodus 15.69 This is a remarkable reworking of the scriptural narrative that brushes aside the Israelites’ complaints to Moses earlier in the passage and conceals the fact that the Israelites only come to trust in God by witnessing the divine acts of deliverance that occur after their exchange with Moses. Clearly, Rabbi Judah is rereading Scripture to make it conform to the religious consciousness and the forms of the religious life that mark his own cultural horizon. I believe there is much to learn from what the

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rabbis endeavor to read into the biblical text. In this case, Rabbi Judah goes to great lengths to demonstrate that the Israelites properly responded to God’s salvific act with divine praise. In their commentaries on the Song of the Sea, the rabbis of the Mekhilta stop at no end to embellish this quintessential act of praise. As they envision the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, it is not only the adults among the Israelites who sing out in praise to God, but so too do their infants and even the embryos in the women’s wombs. In the rabbis’ theological imagination, the epiphany of God beside the sea is truly a cosmic event, as the nations of the world and the ministering angels also join in with the Israelites’ song of praise.70 In truth, praise of God is a fundamental Jewish value and practice the centrality of which can hardly be gainsaid. The question is to what extent is praise in the Mekhilta bound up with theological reflection, particularly claims about God’s greatness? One formulaic expression that the rabbis deploy repeatedly in the Mekhilta reveals the close connection between praise and divine perfection. In its most succinct form, the expression begins by praising God’s greatness in relation to the entire world, but then goes on to say that God’s greatness is most fully exemplified in God’s relationship either to the speaker or to Israel as a whole.71 For instance, one claim begins by saying, “You are the one who helps and supports all who come into the world, but for me especially . . .” and then goes on to provide the scriptural prooftexts to support this assertion.72 Not much further on in the Mekhilta, an inverted use of the formula emphasizes God’s relationship to Israel: “You, your goodness, your great kindness and your mercy are upon us, but your right hand is stretched out to all who come into the world.”73 Variations on the formula produce claims that God “heals,”74 is the “salvation of,”75 “hears the cry of,”76 “feeds and sustains,”77 and is the “God of ” all the inhabitants of the world.78 Theological reflection in these comments is not an abstract theoretical activity divorced from the religious life. On the contrary, notions of God’s greatness fuel the offering of divine praise. While it is a key feature of JTP that Jewish theological reflection arises out of religious practices, grounding theological reflection in practice does not eliminate the important theoretical work that theology accomplishes. One significant function of hermeneutic theology is to harmonize Scrip-

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ture and the theological commitments of its rabbinic interpreters. This “fusion of horizons,” to use Gadamer’s term, is necessary if Scripture is to maintain its authority as a divinely authored work and guide the religious practices and beliefs of its followers within ever-changing cultural and social contexts.79 Within the Mekhilta, one topic that draws considerable hermeneutic interest is the concern to demonstrate that neither the plagues nor the destruction of the Egyptian army diminish God’s perfect justice. Some of the ways in which the rabbis of the Mekhilta justify God’s destructive acts against the Egyptians are the following: (1) God does not decree destruction upon the Egyptians until they have displayed complete wickedness.80 (2) Since Pharaoh is the first to sin, he is the first to be punished.81 (3) God’s punishment of the Egyptians is measure for measure.82 (4) God punishes the Egyptians by the means with which they prided themselves.83 (5) God devises an appropriate punishment at the sea according to the degree of transgression of each individual Egyptian.84 (6) God does not rejoice in the destruction of the wicked.85 From this brief and partial synopsis it is apparent that some rabbis were concerned to demonstrate that God was in the right for his punishment of the Egyptians and that the punishment was carried out in a just manner.86 One surprising aspect of the rabbis’ commentary on the destructive aspects of the exodus is the fact that they extended their reflection on these events even to the horses that were killed along with the Egyptian army in the sea. Regarding the following phrase, “Horse and its rider He threw into the sea” (Exod. 15:1), an anonymous comment states: “Horse and its rider” (Exod. 15:1): The Holy One Blessed Be He brought [the] horse and its rider and stood them in judgment. He said to the horse “Why did you run after my children?” The horse said “The Egyptian compelled me to run against my will, as it is said, ‘the Egyptians chased after . . .’” (Exod. 14:23). He said to the Egyptian “Why did you run after my children?” The Egyptian said “The horse compelled me to run against my will, as it is said, ‘for the horse of Pharaoh entered ( . . . into the sea)’” (Exod. 15:19).What did the Holy One Blessed Be He do? He placed the man upon the horse and he judged them together, thus “Horse and its rider He threw into the sea” (Exod. 15:1). MdRI, Shirata 2, 125; Lauterbach, 1:182.87

While it is a challenge for the contemporary reader to take seriously Scripture citing horses, this imaginative episode conceals a real theological con-

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cern for the commentator: why would God permit the needless destruction of animals? 88 For the commentator, it is inconceivable that God’s justice, even toward an animal, would be less than perfect, and so he must devise an exegetical solution. Further indications in the Mekhilta that God’s justice necessarily extends over all of creation is evident in the effort to provide an explanation of why the first-born of cattle were killed in the final plague, as well as the claim that God does not withhold the reward of any creature, including that of a dog.89 Theological assertions such as these are fundamental claims about God and the nature of divine justice that bolster the rabbinic way of life by defending the view that God rewards proper action and punishes transgression with perfect justice.90 While it is impossible to know what the rabbinic interpreter thought of his own exegetical feat of implicating the Egyptian horses in the transgression of their riders, a charitable reading requires taking seriously the claim that God possesses perfect justice. It is imperative to see that this text and others like it serve a justificatory function and not just a homiletic one. Acknowledging the contribution the text makes to upholding God’s justice is essential to preserving the text’s claim to truth.91 In their reading and interpretation of Scripture, the rabbis not only created opportunities to express their notions of God’s greatness, they also defended their conceptions of divine perfection, even from the plain-meaning of Scripture when necessary. To call this intensive theological and exegetical work “homiletical” is to miss the rabbis’ genuine interest in asserting God’s greatness. The hermeneutic conflicts that the rabbis experienced in reading the Torah were by no means limited to the question of justice. One common set of concerns in the Mekhilta was to defend what, following Alvin Plantinga, I will call God’s aseity and sovereignty.92 The term aseity refers to God’s independent existence, and the claim to divine sovereignty asserts that it is God who rules over all.While aseity is generally used in theology in an ontological sense, here I am using the term to also indicate that God is independent of human action. The following is a brief list of examples of hermeneutic conflicts that revolve around the issues of aseity (a) and sovereignty (s): (1) The reason that God instructs the Israelites to place blood on their doorposts prior to the final plague is in order to reward them for fulfilling the commandment and not out of divine need (a).93 (2) Even though the Sea of

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Reeds does not part until Moses holds out his hands, it is God who splits the sea and not Moses (s).94 (3) Despite a biblical verse that suggests the contrary (Exod. 15:2), it is not possible to add to God’s glory (a).95 (4) Although the Song of the Sea describes God as a warrior girded with weapons, God has no need of weapons and, instead, fights with the divine name (a).96 (5) Contrary to the account of creation in Genesis, God does not in fact rest on the seventh day of creation, but only allows this to be written (a, s).97 What this survey of hermeneutic conflicts indicates is that rabbinic interpreters often approach Scripture with a set of presuppositions about God’s perfection that they will assiduously defend, even if it means altering foundational biblical narratives.To better understand this process, it will be helpful to look at texts that address the issues of divine aseity and sovereignty. For rabbis who possess a notion of divine perfection that entails God’s aseity or independent existence, there is perhaps no issue more pressing than how to understand the divinely commanded sacrificial cult of the temple. Exodus 13:2 presents an opportunity to address this issue, when God says to Moses, “Consecrate to me every first-born, the first issue of every womb among the children of Israel, whether man or beast, it is Mine.” The Mekh­ ilta comments: “. . . it is Mine” (Exod. 13:2): Why is this said since it says “. . . the male you shall consecrate to the Lord your God” (Deut. 15:19)? This is so that you will receive a reward. Or perhaps it means that if one consecrates it, it is consecrated but if one does not consecrate it, it is not consecrated. Scripture states “. . . it is mine” (Exod. 13:2), that means in either case. So why does Scripture say “. . . the male you shall consecrate” (Deut. 15:19)? A person consecrates it in order to receive a reward. Similar to this you must say is the verse “. . . and the priest will kindle wood upon it [the altar] every morning” (Lev. 6:5). Why is this said? Has it not already been said “And Lebanon is not sufficient for burning” (Isa. 40:16)? So then why does Scripture say “. . . and the priest will kindle wood upon it” (Lev. 6:5)? This is in order to receive a reward. Similar to this is the verse “one lamb you shall offer in the morning . . .” (Num. 28:4). Why is this said when it has already been said “and its [Lebanon’s] animals are not sufficient for a burnt offering” (Isa. 40:16)? Why then does Scripture say “one lamb you shall offer in the morning” (Num. 28:4)? It is in order to receive a reward. Similar to this is the verse “And you shall make for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in your midst” (Exod. 25:8). Why is this said when it has already been said “Do I not fill the heavens and the

Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael   132 earth?” (Jer. 23:24)? So why does Scripture say “And you shall make for Me a sanctuary” (Exod. 25:8)? This is in order to receive a reward on account of the action. MdRI, Pish.a 16, 58; Lauterbach, 1:89.

Despite the numerous scriptural examples that are brought to bear on the theme of this passage, the overall point is relatively simple: the sacrificial cult, including the Temple itself, does not benefit God; rather, it provides opportunities for human reward. In contrast to the passage above on divine justice, in which the tradent had no alternative but to read Scripture against itself, in this case the hermeneut builds upon existing inner-biblical theological tensions.98 The commentary transforms these tensions into a scriptural dialogue that supports the view that God has no need for cultic rituals. While the reality of a destroyed Temple is certainly part of what motivates this tradition, this does not mitigate the critical function of divine perfection in the commentary. Compelled by a notion of divine perfection that cannot admit the idea that God needs or is pleased by cultic observance, the tradent embraces and exploits the prophetic critiques of the sacrificial cult and arrives at the decidedly unbiblical view that divine perfection places God beyond the reach of cultic worship. A reading of the Mekhilta that fails to acknowledge the concern for divine perfection that permeates the work could easily misconstrue this text as serving homiletic ends rather than justifying God’s perfection and the system of reward and punishment that is central to rabbinic theology. The rabbis’ virtuoso ability to creatively reinterpret Scripture ensures that the theological tensions they sometimes encounter in their reading of the Torah are productive rather than destructive. In this text, the rabbis preserve God’s aseity while at the same time lending credence to a theology of reward and punishment that can replace the sacrificial cult of the Temple. A similarly condensed set of assertions about God’s sovereignty accumulate around the narrative account of the battle with the Amalekites in Exodus 17. During the battle, Moses ascends to the top of the hill and holds the staff of God in the air.When Moses raises his hands, the Israelites prevail over the Amalekites, but when he lowers his hands the Amalekites gain strength. Discovering this fact, Aaron and Hur prop up Moses’ hands with a stone until the Israelites are victorious. The Mekhilta comments on this passage: “And it came to pass that when Moses would lift up his hand that Israel would prevail . . .” (Exod. 17:11): Is it really the case that Moses’ hands

Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael   strengthened Israel or broke Amalek? Rather, whenever Moses lifted his hands toward heaven, Israel looked upon him and trusted in the one who commanded Moses to do so and thus the Holy One Blessed Be He did for them miracles and mighty deeds.99 Similar to this is the verse “And the Lord said to Moses ‘Make for yourself a fiery serpent’” (Num. 21:8). Now is it the case that the snake causes death and brings to life? Rather, whenever he did so Israel looked upon it and trusted in the one who commanded Moses to do so and thus the Holy One Blessed Be He sent them healings. Similar to this is the verse “And the blood shall be as a sign for you” (Exod. 12:13). Now how is it that the blood would help the angel or Israel? Rather, whenever Israel did so and put the blood on their doors, the Holy One Blessed Be He protected them, as it is said “and the Lord will pass over the door (Exod. 12:23).” MdRI, Amalek 1, 179; Lauterbach, 2:259.

The hermeneutic conflict that motivates this comment stems from the suggestions within Scripture that human actions possess theurgical powers; from the Mekhilta’s perspective, such beliefs would undermine God’s status as the ruling power in the universe. The anonymous tradent’s solution is to argue that there is no magical power in Moses’ hands, the fiery serpent, or the blood on the doorpost;100 rather, the performance of these actions stirs trust in God, the true agential force behind the three wondrous deeds. While the passage is insistent on restoring to God the power behind Israel’s military victory, their healing, and their redemption, these theological emendations to Scripture also allow the interpreter to refigure the conception of divine sovereignty by linking it to God’s providence and religious faith: when Israel trusts in God, God’s providential care is upon them. The effort to resolve a hermeneutic conflict regarding God’s perfection opens up an opportunity to present an account of the religious life in which trusting in God is primary.101 In this passage, as in many others, rabbinic theological reflection leads directly to discussions of religious practice. Although rabbinic claims about God’s perfection often stem from an effort to remedy the discord between scriptural and rabbinic conceptions of God, resolving such hermeneutic tensions is by no means the only source for the rabbis’ assertions about divine perfection. Just as commonly, the slightest feature of Scripture leads to a seemingly unprovoked assertion about God’s greatness. In such cases, the rabbinic interpreter is not engaged in a theological negotiation with Scripture, but is instead using the Torah

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to develop and articulate his presuppositions about God’s greatness. This may seem like a rather slight distinction, but given the paucity of information about the rabbis’ reflective practices, acknowledging the eagerness with which they approach the topic of God’s greatness is critical to understanding the role of divine perfection in their theology. In setting out their conceptions of God’s perfection, the rabbis of the Mekhilta broach most of the standard themes, such as God’s possession of maximal power, knowledge, and goodness, as well as God’s ever-presence. Indeed, a close reading of the Mekhilta confirms Arthur Marmorstein’s argument that the rabbis saw God as omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and so on. My only caveat in deploying this philosophical terminology is that while the rabbis often construe God as being all-powerful, all-­knowing, and all-good, only rarely do they address the logical conundrums that other intellectual traditions associate with these divine attributes. As I am skeptical about the possibility of identifying a single and coherent theology of the Mekhilta, in the discussion to follow I will not endeavor to present the divine attributes in a systematic manner. Instead, my comments on the attributes will seek to further uncover the role of rational reflection on God as a religious practice and a way of forming religious beliefs.102 Turning to the topic of omnipotence, it can be simply put that the rabbis of the Mekhilta ceaselessly extol God’s power. Two common ways in which they do so are either to embellish God’s actions in Scripture or to itemize the differences between God and humanity. An instance of the former can be seen in a comment about the splitting of the Sea of Reeds in Exodus 14:21. The Mekhilta states: “and the waters were divided” (Exod. 14:21): All the water that is in the world was divided. From whence do you say that also the water that was in cisterns, ditches, caves, and that which was in a jug, a cup, a pouch, and a flask were divided? As it is said, “and the waters were divided” (Exod. 14:21). “The sea” is not written here but rather “the waters.” This teaches that all the water that was in the world was divided. MdRI, Beshallah. 4, 104; Lauterbach, 1:153.103

The exegetical concern that motivates this interpretation is the shifting language from the beginning of the verse, where Moses holds his hands out over “the sea,” and the end of the verse, where it is “the waters” that are divided. Additionally, the word for water in Hebrew is dual in number but

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the anonymous tradent reads it as a plural. While these linguistic features of the Torah lay the groundwork for the claim that every body of water in the world was divided, a desire to proclaim God’s greatness is key to making the exegetical connection. That the Mekhilta in this pericope is deeply concerned with God’s greatness is evident from a lengthy aggadic narrative that precedes this passage in which the sea refuses Moses’ command and divides only upon God’s epiphany beside the sea.104 In both the aggadic narrative and in this passage, the rabbis of the Mekhilta assert that God, not Moses, is the operative force in dividing the sea.This passage, however, goes beyond the question of agency, utilizing the shifting language of Scripture and its linguistic ambiguities to embellish the Torah’s account of the dividing of the Sea of Reeds so as to further magnify God’s greatness. Scripture is, then, the prism through which the tradent is able to develop and express his conception of God’s perfection.105 Rabbinic thought and practice are only secure to the extent that they are authorized by and oriented toward that which is truly ultimate, and passages such as this one help support the view that this is the case. Utilizing Scripture as a vehicle to extol God’s greatness is both an act of religious worship and a cognitive activity that justifies the rabbinic worldview. The rabbis’ penchant for emphasizing God’s omniscience is every bit as strong as their desire to assert God’s power. It is virtually idiomatic that “everything is revealed before Him.”106 The fact of God’s omniscience is returned to throughout the commentary, and it is even said to play an important role in how the Torah is written.107 Like the previous text, the following passage demonstrates how the slightest textual feature of Scripture can provide the foundation for the rabbis to express their antecedently held beliefs about God’s perfection. The text is a commentary on the opening words of Exodus 12:29: “And in the middle of the night the Lord struck all the first-born of Egypt”: “And in the middle of the night” (Exod. 12:29): Why is this said since it says elsewhere “Moses said ‘Thus says the Lord “Around midnight I will go out . . .”’” (Exod. 11:4)? Because it is impossible for flesh and blood to rise precisely at midnight, but in this case the one who created it divided it. Rabbi Yehudah ben Bathyra says “The one who knows its hours and its stages, He divided it.” MdRI, Pish.a 13, 42; Lauterbach, 1:67.

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The first interpretation is anonymous and seeks to resolve the difference in prepositions, “in” and “around” (italicized above), in two passages that deal with God’s killing of the first-born of Egypt.108 As the anonymous tradent and Rabbi Yehudah ben Bathyra argue, God is able to go out precisely at midnight because God created the night and knows its inner workings. Since Moses is not privy to such knowledge, when he discusses the events of the final plague he must use the more imprecise language of “around” midnight. What is interesting about this passage is that the interpretive move seems inconceivable without a preceding notion of God’s greatness and a desire to make God’s perfection known. Indeed, it is this concern for divine perfection that comes to answer the question of why Scripture varies its language in two references to the same event. In my view, the tradents do not arrive at this solution haphazardly. The persistent desire throughout the Mekhilta to assert God’s greatness strongly suggests that this was a guiding principle for some rabbis in their interpretation of Scripture. It is only by positing such an interpretive principle that one can account for the fact that claims about God’s perfection so frequently find their way into the rabbis’ comments. Once again, understanding God as omniscient serves as a justification for the entire edifice of the rabbinic religious life.109 God’s possession of maximal knowledge and power confirms the fact that God is worthy of being sought, obeyed, and worshipped. While it is hardly controversial to argue that some rabbinic interpreters possessed an interpretive principle that sought to maximize God’s greatness, this point in itself does not establish that rational reflection on God rises to the level of a religious practice for the rabbis. Indeed, one must ask what sort of evidence would support the existence of such a practice? With no second-order reflections from the rabbis on how they go about their theologizing, there is no alternative but to appeal to the text of the Mekhilta itself. Such an argument must be cumulative in nature. Taken together, the link between divine praise and divine perfection, the rabbis’ willingness to reinterpret Scripture in order to defend their conceptions of God’s perfection, and the rabbis’ tendency to overread Scripture so as to further develop and articulate their understandings of God’s greatness all lend credence to the view that conceptualizing and attesting to divine perfection was a significant religious activity for some members of the rabbinic community.

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An additional source of support for a practice of rational reflection on God’s attributes is to look at rabbinic claims about divine perfection that have little or no connection to Scripture. Such texts disclose that rabbinic concerns about divine perfection extend beyond the rabbis’ work of scriptural commentary. One place to look for nonscriptural claims about God is the rabbinic genre called ma‘aseh that recounts the lives and deeds of the rabbis.110 The following ma‘aseh is embedded within the Mekhilta in the midst of commentary on Exodus 23:7 that states, “Distance yourself from a false charge, do not kill an innocent or righteous person, for I will not vindicate the wicked” (Exod. 23:7). The ma‘aseh regards Yehudah ben Tabbai, who along with Shimon ben Shetach formed the third of the five pairs of leaders prior to the tannaim. The ma‘aseh states: It happened that Yehudah ben Tabbai entered into a ruin and he found there a dying man who was convulsing and a sword dripping blood in the hand of the murderer. Yehudah ben Tabbai said to him “May it come upon me if you or I did not kill him, but what am I to do since Torah said ‘according to two witnesses . . . does a matter stand’ (Deut. 19:15). However, the one who knows and is a master of thoughts will punish that man.” He had hardly gone out from there when a snake bit him and he died. MdRI, Mishpatim 20, 327; Lauterbach, 2:474.

Several points from this passage demand attention. The text identifies God with the epithet: “The One Who Knows and is a Master of Thoughts.”111 It would, then, seem that omniscience is a principal attribute of the divine for Yehudah ben Tabbai. Also noteworthy is that neither the attribution of omniscience to God nor God’s acting on that knowledge to punish the murderer is given scriptural support. Instead, God’s omniscience is both declared and affirmed in a strictly narrative setting. This provides some evidence for the fact that rabbinic reflection on God’s greatness did, at times, stand on its own, independent of scriptural commentary.112 One interesting twist to this narrative is that God’s omniscience allows God to play the dual role of witness and judge. From this perspective, God also adheres to and upholds the legal injunctions of the Torah. The attribute of omnibenevolence is hermeneutically more complex than omnipotence or omniscience. In addressing the issue, one must confront not only one’s own conceptions of goodness, but also those of the ­rabbis and

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the Bible. Relying on commonly held intuitions about divine goodness, a contemporary interpreter might be inclined to reject the suggestion that the rabbis attribute omnibenevolence to God. When the ­Mekhilta claims that God revived the Egyptians at the sea only for the purposes of punishing them further, it is very difficult to see how such actions are compatible with ultimate goodness.113 Despite such conflicts between contemporary views on the topic and those of the rabbis, the rabbis of the Mekhilta do consider God as being all-good.114 One key aspect of omnibenevolence is God’s preservation of the world. This topic comes under discussion in the Mekhilta in the context of the sacrifice offered by Jethro in Exodus 18:12: “And Jethro, Moses’ father-inlaw, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God and Aaron and all the elders of Israel came to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God.” Upon citing this verse, an anonymous tradent in the Mekhilta asks where Moses has disappeared to as it seems that he is not included in the meal. The answer that emerges is that Moses is not mentioned as participating in the meal because he is, in fact, serving Jethro, Aaron, and the elders. This suggestion becomes the backdrop for a ma‘aseh about Rabban Gamaliel, who invited the sages for a feast and served them himself against their protestations. The ma‘aseh continues: Rabbi Yehoshuah said to them “Let him be so that he may serve, since you will find that one greater than Rabban Gamaliel served people.” They said to him “Who is this?” He said “Abraham, our father, the great one of the world. He served the ministering angels although he thought that they were Arab men who worshipped idols. How much the more so should Rabban Gamaliel serve sages who learn Torah.” Rabbi Zadok said to them “Let him be so that he may serve, since you will find that one greater than Rabban Gamaliel and greater than Abraham served people.” They said to him “Who is this?” He said “The Shekhinah, who in every moment supplies food to all the inhabitants of the world sufficient to their need and satisfies the desire of every living being. This is the case not only for worthy humans and the righteous alone, rather it is also the case with the wicked who worship idols. How much the more so should Rabban Gamaliel serve sages and sons of the Torah.” MdRI,Yitro 1, 195; Lauterbach, 2:280.115

This text is a profound example of how the rabbis constructed their ethical and religious lives exegetically. The fact that Moses is not mentioned in

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Exodus 18:12 provides textual support for the practice of attending upon the sages. This may seem like a light matter, but beneath it lies a reverence for Torah, study, and God that are the linchpins of rabbinic religiosity. For my purposes, it is Rabbi Zadok’s reflections on God’s goodness that are pivotal. Rabbi Zadok demonstrates God’s omnibenevolence by arguing that every need and desire of every living creature, both righteous and wicked, is ultimately fulfilled by God. It is particularly interesting that this claim is so inherently plausible that he offers no scriptural proof. Rabbi Zadok’s comment gives further evidence of rabbinic reflection on divine perfection that is independent of Scripture.116 Finally, like other passages I have presented, Rabbi Zadok’s theological statement is oriented toward practice. His assertions about God’s omnibenevolence are closely tied to his efforts to uphold the religious practice of attending upon the sages. By arguing that rational reflection on God’s attributes is both a rabbinic practice and a source for theological beliefs, I do not mean to depict the rabbis as philosophers or natural theologians.117 That this is a distinctly religious use of perfection language is evident from the close connection that rabbis draw between divine perfection and the offering of divine praise. While rabbinic perfection claims arise in different contexts and adopt different forms, what unites them is their reliance upon antecedent beliefs about God’s greatness. Without these beliefs there would be no hermeneutic conflict with the Bible, no exegetically gratuitous affirmation of God’s greatness through Scripture, and, of course, no scripturally independent claims about divine perfection. Rabbinic perfection claims, despite their diversity, share one fundamental commonality: they are all examples of divine praise. Having placed reflection on divine perfection alongside exegesis and hermeneutics as religious practices that make a contribution to rabbinic theological language, I will now seek to add to this list by turning to the topic of religious experience.

Religious Experience The topic of religious experience is, by all accounts, fraught with difficulties. Even William Alston, whose work Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience provides the epistemological resources for my account of Jewish theological language, says, “I often find the use of this term to be

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obfuscating, and I try to avoid it wherever possible.” For Alston, the principal problem with the term religious experience is that it is simply too broad: “it can cover the whole extent of one’s religious life.”118 Alston’s solution— to focus on mystical perception rather than religious experience—is of little use in the context of rabbinic literature, as the rabbis rarely transmit the first-person accounts that an analysis of perception requires. Like the rabbis’ reflections on divine perfection, much of what they have to say about religious experience finds expression through their scriptural commentary. This introduces the difficulty of how to differentiate between literary form and experiential content.119 That my principal interest is in theological language mitigates some of the challenges by narrowing the focus to claims about God rather than the purported contents of an individual’s consciousness. Still, difficulties remain. As with the topic of divine perfection, understanding the contribution that religious experience makes to rabbinic theology requires close attention to the presuppositions that propel the rabbis’ interpretation of Scripture. The book of Exodus contains several of the most descriptive accounts of religious experience in the Torah, and Mekhilta comments extensively on two of these instances: the divine epiphany beside the Sea of Reeds and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.120 It says something important about the rabbis’ attitudes toward religious experience that their commentaries on both episodes seek to dramatically intensify the experiential component. For instance, interpreting the verse from the Song of the Sea in which the Israelites sing, “This is my God and I will glorify Him” (Exod. 15:2), Rabbi Eliezer gives a strong reading of the deictic particle this, which leads to the view that as the Israelites sang this verse they all saw and pointed to God. This vision of God is, then, said to exceed those of Isaiah and Ezekiel.121 The emphasis on the direct experience of God persists throughout the commentary on the exodus narrative and resurfaces in the discussion of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. I have already examined an interpretation of Exodus 19:4 in which God is made to say, “I am not speaking to you through tradition, neither am I sending missives to you nor am I causing witnesses to testify before you, rather, ‘you have seen what I did to the Egyptians’ (Exod. 19:4).”122 In fact, in the rabbis’ revisioning of these events, the Israelites’ desire to perceive God at Sinai is not quenched

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by their experience of the divine acts of salvation at the Sea of Reeds. At one point in the commentary, Rabbi states that the Israelites said to Moses “It is our desire to hear [these matters] from the mouth of our king. Hearing from the mouth of an attendant is not like hearing from the mouth of the king.”123 A second formulation of the same tradition claims that the Israelites insisted on seeing rather than hearing the events at Sinai.124 These passages reflect the manner in which the rabbis commonly project their ideas about experience onto Scripture in a mode of description or narrative expansion rather than personal testimony. For obvious reasons, the best opportunities for the rabbis to shape religious experience according to their understandings and desires exist with biblical narratives that deal with the divine-human encounter. It is rarer for comments about experience to arise in exegetical or hermeneutical contexts unrelated to the divine-human relationship. Such passages are advantageous in that they reveal how the rabbis conceive religious experience independent of an explicit scriptural prompt. The following text is a commentary on the commandment in the Decalogue to observe the Sabbath, given in Exodus 20:11. The verse states: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea and all that is in it. On the seventh day He rested, therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and He sanctified it” (Exod. 20:11). In a discussion of the latter part of the verse, the Mekhilta comments: “Rabbi Shimon the son of Yehudah of Kefar Acco says in the name of Rabbi Shimon, ‘He blessed it with the manna and He sanctified it with the light of the human face, “therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and He sanctified him”’ (Exod. 20:11)” (MdRI, Bah.odesh 7, 231; Lauterbach, 2:331). This text is exegetical in nature in that Rabbi Shimon is attempting to specify the referent of a putatively ambiguous object suffix attached to the verb to sanctify. Rabbi Shimon understands the object suffix not as referring to the Sabbath but rather as indicating that God sanctified Adam and by extension also humanity. On this reading, God sanctifies the Sabbath day indirectly through the light of the human face.125 At the phenomenological level, the text reflects a notion of religious experience that surfaces throughout Mekhilta, in which the encounter with God consists of a divine in-dwelling, in this case represented by light. This text, like many others, leaves opaque the details of religious experience.126 With respect to Rabbi

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Shimon’s theological assertion that God sanctifies Shabbat through humans, one can only surmise that it is in having experienced the sanctity of Shabbat that Rabbi Shimon arrives at this reading of Exodus 20:11. There is nothing in the verse itself that in any way hints at the role of humans in the sanctification of Shabbat, much less suggests the light of the human face. At least from this preliminary evidence, religious experience for the rabbis entails a manifestation of divine presence in the context of religious observance. Looking at a second text will lend support to this view. Turning back to a more narrative context, one typical theologoumenon that bears upon the topic of religious experience is the claim that the Holy Spirit dwelled upon the Israelites at various points in the biblical narrative. This theme surfaces at the beginning of the commentary on the Song of the Sea. The discussion seeks to explain the religious phenomenology behind the Israelites’ sudden eruption into song in Exodus 15. Utilizing the interpretive technique called semuchin, which draws inferences based on the proximity of verses, an anonymous tradent asserts that there is a causative relationship between the Israelites’ declaration of faith in Exodus 14:31 and their eruption into song in 15:1.127 Exodus 14:31 reads: “And Israel saw the mighty hand with which the Lord acted against the Egyptians.The people feared the Lord and they trusted in the Lord and in Moses His servant.” The anonymous commentator argues that it is the reward for their trust in God that the Holy Spirit rests upon the Israelites as evidenced by their ecstatic song. Commenting on the latter part of the verse the Mekhilta states: “. . . and they trusted in the Lord” (Exod. 14:31): Great is the faith with which Israel trusted in the One Who Spoke and the World Was. For the reward of Israel’s trusting in the Holy One Blessed Be He, the Holy Spirit rested upon them and they sang the Song [of the Sea]. This is as it is said “. . . and they trusted in the Lord and in Moses His servant” and it is said “Then Moses and the Israelites sang” (Exod. 14:31–15:1). And thus you find that Abraham our father inherited this world and the world to come only through the merit of the trust with which he trusted in the Lord.This is as it is said “And he trusted in the Lord and He accounted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). “Then Moses and the Israelites sang” (Exod. 15:1): Rabbi Nehemiah says: “Everyone who accepts upon himself a single commandment in faith, he is worthy that the Holy Spirit should dwell upon him.Thus you find with our fathers that as a reward for the trust that our fathers trusted in the Lord, they merited that the Holy Spirit dwelt upon them.” MdRI, Beshallah. 6, 114; Lauterbach, 1:167.

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The passage continues at some length, giving numerous scriptural examples of the power of faith.128 For my purposes, this abbreviated citation of the tradition is sufficient to make the necessary points about religious experience as a source for theological claims. The main theological idea is, in fact, quite basic: Israel trusted in God and as a reward the Holy Spirit dwelt upon them and they rejoiced in song.129 Faith, then, is an experienceinducing act that brings the practitioner closer to the divine, in this case through the medium of ecstatic song. That the experiential component of religious observance is what is at stake in the passage is evident from Rabbi Nehemiah’s comment that one commandment properly fulfilled causes the practitioner to merit the Holy Spirit.130 But is it really religious experience that is the source of these claims and provides their justification? In my view it is unlikely that one would make the exegetical connection between faith, prayer, and the Holy Spirit, or the extension of this claim by Rabbi Nehemiah, to all of the commandments, unless one had the experience that religious observance held the possibility of encountering the divine presence. Just because the rabbis deploy their interpretive skills to articulate these points should not conceal the experiential grounding of their comments. The view that rabbinic literature only serves the purposes of social construction or religious formation with no basis in the beliefs or experiences of the commentators is, to my mind, simply not credible. A second text that deals with similar themes can provide additional evidence that religious experience is a source for rabbinic theological claims. This text is a set of comments on Exodus 20:21. In the verse, God gives Moses the following directive for the Israelites: “You shall make for me an altar of earth and you shall sacrifice upon it your burnt offerings, your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place that I cause my name to be mentioned, I will come to you and I will bless you.” The passage from the Mekhilta focuses on the last part of the verse. “In every place . . .” (Exod. 20:21): This means that I reveal myself to you in the Temple. On account of this verse the sages said that it is prohibited for the Tetragrammaton to be said in the country [as opposed to in the Temple]. Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob says “If you come to my house I will come to your house. However, if you do not come to my house I will not come to your house. The place that my heart loves, there my feet lead me.” On account of this verse the sages said “Whenever ten people enter into the synagogue, the

Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael   144 Shekhinah is with them, as it is said ‘God takes his stand in the congregation of God’ (Ps. 82:1). From whence do we know that the same is true of three who are sitting as judges? This is as it is said ‘. . . in the midst of judges He will judge’ (Ps. 82:1). From whence do we know that the same is true when two people are together? This is as it is said ‘Then the fearers of the Lord spoke each to his companion . . . (the Lord inclined his ear and heard and a book of remembrance was written before the Lord for the fearers of the Lord and for those who value His name)’ (Mal. 3:16). And from whence do we know that the same is true even in the case of a single person? This is as it is said ‘In every place that I cause my name to be mentioned, I will come to you’” (Exod. 20:21). MdRI, Bah.odesh 11, 243; Lauterbach, 2:351.131

The passage is comprised of four parts: (1) the initial anonymous comment; (2) the sages’ prohibition on saying the divine name; (3) the comment of Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob; and (4) the second longer tradition attributed to the sages. The first anonymous comment seeks to limit Exodus 20:21 by demarcating the Temple as the only legitimate place in which God’s selfrevelation occurs. This view is given further support by the sages’ prohibition on saying the divine name outside the Temple.With Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob’s comment, however, the passage takes a distinctly personal turn. His comment is an intensive reading of the second person pronoun in Exodus 20:21 that transforms God’s promise to the nation into a promise directed to the Israelites as individuals. He discreetly places an aphorism in God’s mouth that personalizes the biblical verse by cautiously extending it beyond the cultic context. On his understanding of the verse, worship of God is reciprocated by God’s self-revelation to the individual. The divine manifestation, which at the beginning of the passage was limited to the Temple, is now the object of personal experience. The second comment by the sages both affirms Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob’s position and goes beyond it by identifying specific instances when the divine presence manifests itself outside the Temple. By the end of the passage, the reversal of the biblical verse and the initial anonymous tradition is complete. No longer is the experience of the divine presence limited to the cultic context; rather, it is an element in communal and individual worship. In terms of the relationship between religious experience and theological predication, it is evident that the exegesis in these comments is a method of expression and not the operative force behind the comments. The rabbis believed that God was present to

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them in various ways, and to support this belief they performed remarkable feats of scriptural interpretation. In my discussion of William Alston’s work in Chapter 2, I noted that a pervasive contemporary view of religious experience construes it as a highly subjective and individual phenomenon. From such a vantage point, the passages above demonstrate remarkable restraint. Although the Mekhilta clearly affirms the religious experience of the individual, the topic is commonly treated either in the context of scriptural commentary or within the parameters of established religious practices. One might suspect from this that the rabbis were guilty of a religious gerrymandering in which the previously imposed limit of the divine presence to the Temple, is, upon the Temple’s destruction, extended to the observance of the commandments but no further. Such skepticism regarding the rabbis’ motives does not hold up. For instance, in one passage in the Mekhilta God is made to say that “in every place that you find human footsteps, there I am before you.”132 What then accounts for the fact that discussion of religious experience in the ­Mekhilta does not erupt into a plethora of personal testimony? While it is likely that there are many contributing causes, one significant element is that, for the rabbis, religious experience is grounded in communal practices. These practices rely upon a prior set of beliefs, similar to Alston’s background system, that structure the practices and evaluate the beliefs that arise from them.133 Although I would not want to restrict rabbinic religious experience to Kadushin’s “normal mysticism,” it seems to me that Kadushin is correct that the rabbis have suffused their religious life with opportunities for an experiential encounter with the divine. It may be that the grounding of religious experience within the shared forms of religious observance combined with the tendency to project religious experience onto the biblical text together act to restrain testimony about more intensive personal experiences. This supposition brings me to the final topic of this chapter, the limitations placed on theological predication in the Mekhilta.

Limits on Theological Predication The question of what limits the rabbis of the Mekhilta place on their theological predication is an exceedingly complex topic. A proper analysis of such “limits” requires attention to two related topics: (1) the question of

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whether and how the rabbis adjudicate the truth of their theological claims; and (2) rabbinic views on the extent to which God does or does not elude thought and discourse. Uncovering the limits of theological predication in the Mekhilta would be a daunting task on the basis of these points alone. As it is, though, additional complications quickly present themselves. One such issue is that the hermeneutic conflicts with the Bible, particularly those related to divine perfection, are instances of the rabbis placing their own limits on the theological claims of Scripture. Rabbinic limits on theological predication then extend beyond their own theological discourse to that of the Bible as well. An additional matter threatens to undo my inquiry altogether. Simply put, there is no evidence of anything like a unified set of limits deployed by the rabbis in their theological predication. Indeed, there is considerable conflict among the rabbis about what sorts of claims can be made about God. In discussing the topic, I must be exceedingly careful not to present a false sense of unanimity on what are, in fact, contentious theological issues. Finally, analysis of rabbinic limits on theological predication is constrained by the fact that rejected theological claims are preserved far less frequently than claims that have not been censured. In general, rabbinic literature is very good about transmitting conflicting opinions—even, occasionally, opinions that are rejected. Still, one must assume that the actual practice of evaluating and rejecting specific theological claims was more extensive than what has been transmitted through rabbinic literature. Perhaps the best starting point is the question of the success or reach of theological predication in the Mekhilta. Throughout the intellectual life of Western civilization countless philosophical and theological arguments have been proffered as to why language fails to capture the divine. Commonly, some aspect of divine perfection is appealed to in order to explain this fact. One anonymous tradition in the Mekhilta follows this path, but does so with a degree of subtlety that can help illuminate the limits of the rabbis’ theological discourse.The passage is a commentary on the beginning of the Song of the Sea, where Moses and the Israelites sing, “I will sing to the Lord for He is truly exalted” (Exod. 15:1). “I will sing to the Lord for He is truly exalted” (Exod. 15:1): A parable. To what is the matter similar? It is similar to a human king who enters into a province and everyone is praising before him that he is mighty, but in fact he

Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael   is weak; that he is rich, but in fact he is poor; that he is wise, but in fact he is stupid; that he is merciful, but in fact he is merciless; that he is a judge and that he is trustworthy. In truth he does not have a single one of these attributes; rather, they are all flattering him. This is not the case, however, with The One Who Spoke and The World Was. Despite everything with which one praises Him, He is greater than His praises. MdRI, Shirata 1, 119; Lauterbach, 1:174.

While being careful not to generalize from one comment to the entire Mekhilta, let alone the tannaitic rabbis as a group, the principle that is expressed with this parable does strike a reasonable balance on the limits of theological predication.134 From this perspective, it is possible to speak of God’s attributes so long as one realizes that the divine exceeds that which one can say about it.135 What lends credibility to this view is the general absence of claims of divine ineffability in rabbinic theology. While disputes exist about what can be said of God or how one should go about speaking of the divine, God is not a surd for the rabbis and they are not proponents of a strict ineffability. The vivid imagery of the Sinai narrative also provides a context in which the rabbis give consideration to the limits of theological predication. One such instance is a commentary on Exodus 19:18 that states, “Mount Sinai was smoking in its entirety because the Lord had come down upon it in fire. Its smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln and the entire mountain trembled violently.” An anonymous tradition in the Mekhilta comments: “And its smoke went up” (Exod. 19:18): Is it possible that it was just like ordinary smoke? Scripture says “like a kiln” (Exod. 19:18). Is it possible that it was just like an ordinary kiln? Scripture says “and the mountain was burning with fire unto the midst of the heavens” (Deut. 4:11). So why does Scripture say “like a kiln,” in order to sink into the ear what it is able to hear. Similar to this is the verse “A lion has roared, who will not be afraid? (My Lord God has spoken, who will not prophesy?)” (Amos 3:8). But who was it that gave power and might to the lion? Was it not Him? Behold, one must say that we define Him from His creations to sink into the ear what it is able to hear. Similar to this is the verse “And behold the Glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east and its sound was like the sound of mighty waters” (Ezek. 43:2). But who was it that gave power and might to the waters? Was it not Him? Behold, one must say that we define Him from His creations to sink into the ear. MdRI, Bah.odesh 215; Lauterbach, 2:308.

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Where the previous passage emphasized God’s perfection, this passage takes up the other side of the issue: the power of and constraints on human thought and language. Neither the Bible nor the rabbis make use of a purely abstract language to speak about God. Instead, they both rely upon that which is available from mundane experience to help describe God’s nature and actions. What is critical about this passage is that while it notes a fundamental inadequacy of our language for describing God, it nevertheless affirms the modes of expression that are commonly available to us.136 Language, even in its most generic forms, can disclose some part of the truth in our efforts to speak about God. There is, thus, a pragmatic quality to rabbinic theological language that allows for inexact expressions that point in the right direction, even if such expressions fail to capture the ultimate truth about God.137 It would appear that what is most important is that something of the divine truth be conveyed. The above passages clearly indicate that the rabbis of the Mekhilta reflect on what can and cannot be achieved through theological predication. I noted at the outset of this discussion that there is a different sense of the limits of theological language that is not concerned with the powers of human language but rather with the normative issue of what should or should not be said about God. It should be apparent to all who read the Mekhilta closely that the rabbis do on occasion reveal their polemical interests. For instance, on several occasions it is asserted that Scripture is written in such a manner as to dispel the belief that there are two powers in heaven.138 One common feature of these comments is that the proponents of the belief in two powers are clearly identified as being outside the rabbinic community. In one instance the belief is attributed to heretics,139 and in two other cases it is the nations of the world who are said to hold this belief.140 That the rabbis would reject the beliefs of those outside their own community is not particularly surprising. What is more interesting is how the rabbis evaluate their own beliefs. While the pages of the Mekhilta are filled with theological disagreements, there are only a few instances of outright censure.141 The most significant among these passages is a set of exchanges between Rabbi Akiba and Pappos ben Yehudah, who according to tradition were imprisoned together.142 In a detailed analysis of this tradition, Menahem Kahana has argued that the text of the Mekhilta is corrupt and

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that a proper understanding of the debate requires looking to the relevant fragments from the Cairo Genizah as well as parallel texts in other midrashic collections.143 According to Kahana, these additional textual sources disclose the fact that what drew Rabbi Akiba’s ire in the debate with Pappos is that Pappos’s beliefs were Gnostic in nature.144 For the purpose of expediency, I will look at two sections of the debate that do not require reconstruction.145 While I have referred to the discussion between Rabbi Akiba and Pappos ben Yehudah as a debate, the text itself does not provide any historical information as to when the discussion took place or under what circumstances. The exchange is inscribed by the editor in a section of the Mekhilta that comments on a phrase from Exodus 14:29, “and the Israelites walked on dry ground in the midst of the sea.”The following passage contains the first two of Pappos’ comments, which are not related to the verse under discussion but do fit in thematically with the preceding interpretations in the Mekhilta. Pappos interpreted the verse “Like a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots” (Song of Sol. 1:9): “Pharaoh rode on a stallion and as it were (kivyakhol) the Holy One Blessed Be He revealed himself on a stallion, as it is said ‘You tread on the sea with your Horses’ (Hab. 3:15). Pharaoh rode on a mare and as it were the Holy One Blessed Be He revealed Himself to him on a mare, as it is said ‘Like a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots’” (Song of Sol. 1:9). Rabbi Akiba said to him “Enough Pappos!” [Pappos] said to him “Then how do you understand the meaning of the verse ‘Like a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots?’” [Akiba] said to him “Lesassti is written. The Holy One Blessed Be He said ‘Just as I was quick (shesassti) to destroy the Egyptians, so I also nearly destroyed the Israelites. And what caused them to be saved? ‘ . . . on their right and on their left’” (Exod. 14:29) [referring to previous interpretations cited prior to this passage].146 Pappos interpreted the verse “But He is one alone and who will turn Him back? His soul desires and He acts” (Job 23:13). “He is the single judge for all who come into the world and there is no one who will turn back his words.” Rabbi Akiba said to him “Enough Pappos!” Rabbi Pappos said “Then how do you understand the meaning of the verse ‘But He is one alone and who will turn Him Back?’” [Akiba] said to him “There is no need to refute the words of the One Who Spoke and the World Was. On the contrary He judges everything according to the truth and everything is just [according to law].” MdRI, Beshallah. 6, 112; Lauterbach, 1:164.147

Kahana claims that Pappos’s first comment is dualistic in nature, that it hints at the masculine and feminine aspects of the divine in Gnostic thought,

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and that this is why Rabbi Akiba objects to it so forcefully.148 For two reasons, I would like to propose a somewhat softer reading of the text in the form in which it has been transmitted. First, in both manifestations it is the “Holy One Blessed Be He” that appears. Second, a similar interpretation is offered by Rabbi Yehoshuah ben Qorha in Avot de-Rabbi Natan A, chapter 27. The major advantage of Kahana’s reading is that it offers us insight into Rabbi Akiba’s rejection of Pappos’s claim. Without the suggestion of Gnostic influences we have little to go on in determining Rabbi Akiba’s ardent refusal of the interpretation. Michael Fishbane solves this difficulty by suggesting that Pappos’s original tradition is not that God was revealed on a horse but rather as a horse.149 Kahana also claims that the second tradition is Gnostic in character, that Pappos conceives of God as an evil demiurge. At least for how the text has been preserved in the Mekhilta, I would suggest a more simple interpretation in which what is at stake are opposing views on God’s greatness. For Pappos, God’s greatness is best exemplified in divine aseity. He defends this attribute to such an extent that he makes God utterly capricious, unbounded by any principle. Akiba rejects Pappos’s heterodox construal of divine independence, instead promoting God’s perfect justice.What is of particular interest in this passage is the glimpse that it gives of how divergent theological views were adjudicated in the tannaitic period. From Akiba’s perspective, both of Pappos’s positions demanded censure as they asserted wildly inappropriate things about the divine. While the exchange between Rabbi Akiba and Pappos does not tell us how two conflicting mainstream views were decided, it does provide evidence of the constraints of Scripture and tradition on theology. Insofar as there is no precedent in either Scripture or tradition of God taking the form of an animal, and as God is held in the same sources to be not only independent but also good, both of Pappos’s positions had to be rejected. While the rabbis may not have articulated the precise parameters of their background beliefs, they were surely aware when the boundaries of those beliefs had been crossed.150

Conclusion Over the course of this chapter I have argued that theological predication in the Mekhilta takes multiple forms. Exegesis, hermeneutics, divine perfection,

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and religious experience all make a contribution to how the rabbis of the Mekhilta think and speak about God. In addition to being ways of thinking and speaking about God, what is common to these forms of theological predication is that they arise out of religious practices. My analysis of theological predication in the Mekhilta provides strong evidence that reflection upon the divine was an important part of the religious lives of the tannaitic rabbis cited in the Mekhilta. Theologizing was itself a value for these rabbis and not just a method for the spiritual formation of their disciples and the laity. To be sure, there is a pedagogical aspect to this activity, but it begins with the pedagogy of oneself. Understanding rabbinic theology along these lines suggests that we should abandon the view that rabbinic theology is either a homiletic discourse or an underdeveloped form of speculation. A far more plausible and generous reading of the material is that the rabbis were genuinely interested in articulating and developing their understandings of God and the divine-human relationship, and that they found ways of integrating that activity into their religious practices. In thinking about how JTP has aided my reading of the Mekhilta, I would like to give particular emphasis to Paul Ricoeur’s contribution. Recall that for Ricoeur each of the forms of biblical discourse represents a distinct aspect of what he calls the “confession of faith.”151 Despite wanting to state the matter differently so as to better fit a Jewish perspective, the general point is still crucially important. Applying Ricoeur’s insight to the Mekhilta discloses the fact that the forms of theological predication and the practices that produce and sustain those modes of discourse are fundamental features of the rabbinic religious life. Making the Bible coherent with itself (exegesis), making it relevant to the present (hermeneutics), reflecting on God’s perfection, and seeking out religious experience are the sources from which the rabbis conceive and develop their understanding of God and the divine-human relationship. I would like to close my discussion of the Mekhilta with a passage that gives a powerful indication of the rabbis’ interest in theological reflection. The first half of Exodus 17 recounts the events of Massah and Meribah, where the Israelites parched with thirst from their wandering in the desert cry out to Moses, who then cries out to God. Exodus 17:7 states: “The place was named Massah [trial] and Meribah [contention] on account

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of the strife of the Israelites and their trying the Lord saying ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” The Mekhilta offers the following comments: “. . . on account of the strife of the Israelites” (Exod. 17:7): Rabbi Yehoshuah says “The Israelites said ‘If He is the master of all works [or deeds] just as He is the master over us, then we will acknowledge Him, but if not then we will not.’” Rabbi Eliezer says “They said ‘If He supplies to us our needs, then we will serve Him, but if not then we will not.’” For this reason it is said “. . . on account of the strife of the Israelites and on account of their testing the Lord saying ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’ (Exod. 17:7).” MdRI, Vayassa 6, 175; Lauterbach, 1:253.

Much like Philo’s description of the Israelites as a “contemplative nation,” Rabbi Yehoshuah and Rabbi Eliezer also envision the Israelites as engaging in theological reflection. The dispute about whether God’s power or providence is primary pales next to the rabbis’ profound reinterpretation of the biblical text. Both rabbis transform a critical instance of Israelite disobedience prior to the giving of the Torah into a theological disputation about God’s perfection. The result is that the contentious nature of the Israelites’ actions is removed; instead the Israelites become justified for insisting that God truly exhibit the attributes fitting an all-powerful deity.152 The tradents’ willingness to project the practice of theological reflection onto the biblical text is evidence of how important that practice was to them. Here, theology is far more than homily or theoretical speculation; it provides a fundamental orientation to God that is a precondition of the divine-human relationship and which supports the entire structure of the rabbinic religious life.153 All in all, it would seem that JTP has succeeded in its goals of drawing out the multiple forms and functions of theological language in the Mekh­ ilta while also defending the central place of theological reflection in the religious lives of the rabbis. I now turn to The Star of Redemption, to see if JTP can prove equally adept in its treatment of Franz Rosenzweig’s theological language.

4 f o r m s o f t h e o lo g i ca l lan g uag e i n f ra n z r o s e n z w e i g ’s t h e star o f r e d e m p t i o n

The transition from an early rabbinic commentary to a modern philosophical theology is marked by a radical shift in cognitive presuppositions and discursive strategies. If JTP has succeeded in illuminating the theological language of the Mekhilta, then what is to be gained by turning to a second text, indeed, one of an entirely different genre? For JTP to stand as a model of Jewish theological language, I must demonstrate that it is widely applicable; there seems no better way to do that than to deploy JTP in readings of drastically divergent texts. Surely, it speaks in favor of my model of Jewish theology if it can traverse the wildly different philosophical and theological horizons of an early rabbinic text and a modern philosophical theology. As with my reading of the Mekhilta, I will not be satisfied just to show that JTP is adequate to Franz Rosenzweig’s theological language. On the contrary, I intend to demonstrate that reading the Star along with JTP can resolve current debates in Rosenzweig scholarship. With the Mekhilta, JTP was able to shed light on important questions about the nature of rabbinic theology, its functions, and the relationship between theory and practice in rabbinic Judaism. The general nature of these questions is a direct result of the ongoing uncertainty about the place of theology within rabbinic Judaism. It is a peculiar fact of Rosenzweig scholarship that scholars continue to 

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debate the nature of his basic philosophical and theological commitments. For instance the metaphysical, cognitive, and experiential status of Rosen­ zweig’s theology remains open, as does the role of Judaism in his work.That scholars continue to contest these issues in Rosenzweig’s thought is an indication that the place of theology in modern Jewish thought is nearly as precarious as it is in rabbinics.While my first task in reading the Star will be to address the forms of Rosenzweig’s theological language, where possible, I will also attend to the most contentious issues in Rosenzweig studies. I will begin with a brief introduction to Rosenzweig and his book and then quickly turn to methodological issues peculiar to the Star, including a discussion of two of Rosenzweig’s contemporary interpreters. Following upon this introduction, I will explore exegesis, hermeneutics, divine perfection, and religious experience as sources for the principal theological claims in the Star. The chapter will conclude with a discussion of the limits that Rosenzweig places on his theological language.

Rosenzweig and The Star of Redemption Franz Rosenzweig was born on December 25, 1886, into a well-to-do and relatively assimilated family in Cassel, Germany. As Nahum Glatzer puts it, “self-respect demanded affiliation with the Jewish community,” but otherwise the family’s commitment to Judaism was at best superficial.1 One indication of the family’s limited Jewish observance is the fact that it was only during his university studies that Rosenzweig learned of the religious rites of the Sabbath eve.2 Rosenzweig entered university in 1905 with the initial intent to study medicine, but he later switched to history. He completed his studies in 1912, earning a Ph.D. with a dissertation entitled “Hegel and the State,” written under the famed historian Friedrich Meinecke.3 In January 1910, when Rosenzweig was just beginning the research for his dissertation, he attended a conference, along with his cousins Hans and Rudolf Ehrenberg, centered on Hegel in Baden-Baden. In Paul MendesFlohr’s words, the goal of the conference was “to found a society dedicated to the Hegelian ideal of promoting a historical consciousness appropriate to the epoch now emerging with the advent of the twentieth century. This new historical consciousness, in which the self will realize itself as the subject not only of its own destiny but preeminently that of the Zeitgeist,

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would allow one to overcome the false subjectivity that characterized the previous century.”4 Although the neo-Hegelian society never fully attained its goal, it provided Rosenzweig with an important framework to explore his deepening misgivings with historical studies, and attendance at its meetings occasioned the formation of friendships that would prove decisive for his intellectual and spiritual development. Among these, his friendship with Eugen Rosenstock was of overarching significance.5 Rosenstock, who was Jewish by birth, had converted to Christianity at the age of sixteen. Rosenzweig’s cousin, Hans Ehrenberg, had also converted to Christianity; another cousin, Rudolf Ehrenberg, whose mother was Christian, resolved at this time to affirm Christ, and Rosenzweig nearly followed suit. As the story goes, after the completion of his Ph.D. in 1912, in the early part of 1913 Rosenzweig followed Rosenstock to the University of Leipzig, where Rosenstock was a lecturer in medieval constitution. After many months of intense discussions regarding matters of faith, on July 13 Rosenzweig was persuaded to adopt Rosenstock’s version of Christianity, which was rooted in the concept of revelation. Rosenzweig, however, stipulated that he wanted to enter the church as a Jew; he believed that doing so required him to pass through the high holidays of Rosh ­Hashanah and Yom Kippur before converting. Rosenzweig attended a traditional service in Berlin for Yom Kippur. Glatzer, on the basis of Rosenzweig’s writings and conversations that he had with Rosenzweig’s mother, portrays Rosenzweig’s experience in this synagogue as the catalyst for his decision to remain a Jew.6 However that may be, what is certain is that Rosenzweig began studying Judaism in Berlin in the fall of 1913 and continued to do so through the following year. During this time he developed a close relationship with Hermann Cohen, his teacher at the Lehranstalt für die Wissen­ schaft des Judentums. The next several years of Rosenzweig’s life were dominated by the First World War. Initially, Rosenzweig enlisted as a medic in the Red Cross, but he ultimately volunteered for the army. Much of his time during the war was spent in an anti-aircraft unit on the Balkan front. While not to minimize the dangers that confronted him as a frontline soldier, the period was intellectually productive for Rosenzweig. In the early years of the war he had time to read and write and to conduct an exchange of letters, most

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notably with Rosenstock and his cousins that would pave the way for the Star.7 In the latter part of the war, Rosenzweig wrote The Star of Redemption on postcards from the front. Immediately following the war, Rosenzweig prepared both his dissertation and the Star for publication; they went to press in 1920 and 1921, respectively. As if it were not enough to write one of the defining texts of modern Jewish thought from a bunker, two aspects of Rosenzweig’s life after the war further augment his legendary status. Rejecting an offer by his Doktorvater, Friedrich Meinecke, of a university lectureship, Rosenzweig instead devoted himself to adult Jewish education as the head of the Freies Jüdisches Lehrhaus in Frankfurt am Main.8 Under Rosenzweig’s direction, the Lehrhaus was a haven for scholars of Judaism and Jewish intellectuals. As Paul Mendes-Flohr describes it, the Lehrhaus became “the focus of a veritable renaissance in German Jewish spiritual life.”9 It was only two and a half years after becoming the head of the Lehrhaus that Rosen­ zweig’s life underwent another profound change, this time, tragically, for the worse. In February 1922, Rosenzweig was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral ­sclerosis, now commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.The disease advanced quickly and Rosenzweig spent the remainder of his life in paralysis, including the loss of the power of speech, with only limited movement in one hand. Nevertheless, he remained a prolific writer and translator as well as a prominent figure in German-Jewish thought throughout the remainder of his life. Despite the compelling nature of Rosenzweig’s biography, further amplified by the recent publication of additional letters, I must restrict my discussion to The Star of Redemption and that which bears directly upon it.10 The Star is, to say the least, a complex work, and it places a different set of demands upon its reader than does the Mekhilta. There are two salient features of the Star that distinguish it in important ways from a rabbinic text. Unlike the anthological form of the Mekhilta, the Star is a philosophical system written by a single person. My discussion of Rosenzweig’s theological language in the Star must then take into account the larger movements of the work and its principal goals. A second and related point is that the Star deals with questions I have taken up in this study, namely hermeneutics and epistemology. I must begin my analysis by asking whether Rosenzweig’s

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treatment of these issues is in anyway a barrier to the application of my model of Jewish theological language.

Rosenzweig on Epistemology, Hermeneutics, and Theological Language In contrast to the Mekhilta, with Rosenzweig it is not historical distance that is problematic, but rather a powerful sense of historical and intellectual proximity. Rosenzweig’s works resonate so deeply with contemporary philosophical and theological concerns that it is easy to assume the existence of shared philosophical and cultural horizons between him and us. There are, however, reasons to be cautious about a facile assimilation of Rosenzweig to the philosophical concerns and prejudices of the present study. For one thing, although the hermeneutic and epistemological ideas that I explored in Chapters 1 and 2 have precursors that extend back well before the early twentieth century, philosophical hermeneutics and analytic religious epistemology are both developments that postdate Rosenzweig. Complicating matters is the fact that Rosenzweig defends positions on knowledge, interpretation, and theological language that bear upon the basic philosophical commitments of JTP. In order for JTP to stand as a reliable tool for understanding Rosenzweig’s theological language, I must demonstrate that his principal philosophical concerns are, at the very least, consonant with the trajectory of the philosophical arguments of this study. In taking up these larger questions about Rosenzweig’s thought, it will aid my discussion to make use of two later essays of Rosenzweig’s: “The New Thinking” and Understanding the Sick and the Healthy.11 Rosenzweig wrote both “The New Thinking” and Understanding the Sick and the Healthy with the goal of helping his readers better understand the Star and its complex philosophical and theological arguments. As the topic of epistemology emerges as a central theme in both essays, I will begin with the question of whether Rosenzweig’s thought is compatible with the epistemological orientation of JTP. For a reader of the Star who turns to “The New Thinking” and Understanding the Sick and the Healthy for guidance, what is most perplexing in these essays is Rosenzweig’s repeated references to “common sense.”12 The reader who has followed the difficult and circuitous path charted by the Star is likely to feel incredulous at the suggestion that it is common sense that lies at the heart of Rosen-

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zweig’s system. Nevertheless, in both essays Rosenzweig suggests that the new method of philosophizing that has arisen among his intellectual circle, and of which the Star is an example, is closely akin to common sense. For instance, he states in “The New Thinking” that “the new philosophy does nothing else but make the ‘method’ of healthy human understanding [des gesunden Menschenverstandes] into the method of scientific thinking.”13 The phrase translated as “healthy human understanding” can also be under­ stood as the German term for common sense, gesunder ­Menschen­verstand. Here a potential link opens up between Rosenzweig and the epistemology of William Alston. Common sense is the key philosophical term for Thomas Reid, whose philosophy is one of the principal resources out of which Alston constructs his epistemology. Such a direct connection ­between Alston and Rosenzweig becomes tenuous, however, in light of the fact that Rosen­zweig, a thinker who does not hesitate to drop names, never (to my knowledge) mentions Thomas Reid. Fortunately, there are substantial grounds for a comparison between Rosenzweig and Alston that are independent of the question of the influence of Reid’s commonsense school of philosophy on Rosenzweig. Regardless of the philosophical lineage of Rosenzweig’s term gesunder Menschenverstand, it is evident that the point for which Rosenzweig argues is compatible with Alston’s epistemology. Alston, the reader will recall, adopted the externalist epistemological position that we must trust our standard ways of forming beliefs, so long as they are not shown to be unreliable. Rosenzweig adopts a similar position when he argues that philosophy diverges from healthy human understanding in its perpetual need to discover the essence of things. On Rosenzweig’s view, common sense avoids this philosophical pitfall on account of the fact that it knows only contingent, concrete reality. In “The New Thinking” Rosenzweig formulates the matter this way: All philosophy asked about “essence.” It is by this question that it distinguishes itself from the unphilosophical thinking of healthy human understanding. For the latter does not ask about what a thing “really” [eigentlich] is. It is sufficient to know that a chair is a chair; it does not ask whether, say, it might really [eigentlich] be something entirely different. Philosophy asks exactly this when asking about essence. The world is by no means permitted

Franz Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption    to be the world, God by no means permitted to be God, man by no means permitted to be man, rather all must “really” be something totally different.14

Indeed, it is this incessant need of the philosopher to get behind things and know them in themselves that marks the distinction between a diseased and a healthy intellectual engagement with the world. In a slightly different, but complementary set of points, Rosenzweig addresses the pathology of the philosopher in Understanding the Sick and the Healthy: “Common sense puts its faith in the strength of reality. The philosopher, suspicious, retreats from the flow of reality into the protected circle of his wonder; slowly he submerges to the depths, to the region of the essences. Nothing can disturb him there. He is safe.”15 Rosenzweig, like Alston, also advocates for a position that accepts our standard ways of forming beliefs about the world.16 As Rosenzweig sees it, there is a fundamental paradox that the philosopher who seeks the “really real” extracts himself or herself from the course of life and the interaction of its basic elements, God-Human-World. Rosenzweig, it should be said, was a thinker who did not want to be identified with any philosophical school or perspective. Along these line he declares, “Our enemy is not idealism as such; anti-idealism, irrational­ ism, realism, materialism, naturalism, and what not, are equally harmful.”17 In Rosenzweig’s view, any philosophical -ism represents an attempt to define essences. Nevertheless, Rosenzweig’s position on common sense clearly entails a certain realism about the world.This aspect of Rosenzweig’s philosophy is apparent in his views on the irreducibility of the elements God-­Human-World as well as in his critique of Hans Vaihinger’s “als-ob” philosophy in Understanding the Sick and the Healthy.18 Alston, for his part, is adamant in Perceiving God that his epistemology proceeds from a “fullbloodedly realist perspective.”19 Although Rosenzweig and Alston have very different conceptions of truth, they do share a deep concern for defending the possibility of speaking “truly” about God and the world. For both thinkers, God and the world are concrete realities one experiences in the particularities of one’s life. While Alston and Rosenzweig go about their philosophical work in markedly different ways, they share a fundamental desire to affirm the philosophical possibility and the theological importance of the divine-human encounter. Alston believes that the perception of God is critical to the

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d­ ivine-human relationship. He argues that without being able to perceive God and to form beliefs on that basis, we would not know how God was positioned toward us in the present. His religious epistemology is, then, a defense of what he takes to be a crucial way of forming religious beliefs. Some of Rosenzweig’s most powerful affirmations of religious experience occur in what is arguably his most explicitly theological work, his translation and commentary on the poems of Judah Halevi, where Rosenzweig writes: “God is not merely the one who was. He is not merely base, supporter, of the world and of the human. For surely, this is an empty faith, a mere ‘surrender,’ if it lacks the experience of the living present, indeed if it does not directly spring from it.Without the God who takes action, powerfully working in the day of our present life, the quiet and inaudible, which preserves the world and our hearts that he created, becomes a fairy tale, no, worse: a dogma.”20 In contrast to the God of the philosophers, who is a remote creator God, Rosenzweig’s work provides support to the idea of a personal God.21 As I will argue, one way of looking upon the Star is that the rejection of the totalized forms of knowledge associated with idealism is essential for reconstituting the proper relationships between the elements, most notably the divine-human relationship. Rosenzweig’s use of the term common sense can also help determine whether his views on interpretation and understanding are at odds with JTP. In the discussion of philosophical hermeneutics in Chapter 1, I argued that the hermeneutic theories of both Ricoeur and Gadamer were developments of Heidegger’s conception of Dasein as a thrown-projection.What Ricoeur and Gadamer both take from this is that human understanding occurs within a horizon and that it projects itself forward from that horizon. While Rosenzweig does not use the term horizon as a consistent technical term, he is firmly committed to the idea that understanding occurs in lived time and asserts that this is a matter of common sense.22 In “The New Thinking” he states: The new thinking knows, just like the age-old thinking of healthy human understanding, that it cannot cognize independently of time—which until now has been the highest mantle of glory in which philosophy draped itself. As little as one can begin a conversation with the end, or a war with a peace treaty (which pacifists certainly might like), or life with death—but rather, for better or worse, one must learn to wait actively or passively until the time

Franz Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption    is ripe, and one is permitted to skip not a single moment—so knowledge too is, at every moment bound to this very moment and cannot make [that moment’s] past not past, or its future not future.23

In addition to Rosenzweig’s concern with time, there are numerous other aspects to his thought that suggest a comparison to philosophical hermeneutics. To note just the most obvious points of possible contact, one might cite Rosenzweig’s emphasis on dialogue,24 his view that truth is always a truth for someone,25 and his distinction between believing and unbelieving knowledge that anticipates later discussions of the hermeneutic circle.26 The surface similarities between Rosenzweig and philosophical hermeneutics are compelling and have been the focus of recent scholarly discussion.27 There is, of course, one danger in conflating Rosenzweig’s work with the hermeneutic theories of Ricoeur and Gadamer: the fact, outlined in Chapter 1, that hermeneutic theory is less than amenable to theological truth claims. As with the previous chapter on the Mekhilta, this chapter will seek to demonstrate that Rosenzweig’s theological language is complex and arises out of different forms of reason and practice. One significant implication of this reading of Rosenzweig’s theological language is that it is not reducible to a hermeneutic “world” or “poetic discourse.” It will then be evident that Rosenzweig’s thought is not only consonant with philosophical hermeneutics but also with the critique of philosophical hermeneutics that motivated the epistemological work of Chapter 2. Finally, it is also necessary to ask whether Rosenzweig’s views on theological language are sufficiently compatible so as to warrant the use of JTP in a reading of the Star. Rosenzweig says explicitly in the Star that he is engaging in theology and not philosophy of religion.28 In his later writings, Rosenzweig is quite specific about how he believes theology should be practiced. For instance, in “The New Thinking,” he claims that he and his circle practice theology in a new mode that avoids polemics and apologetics and that refuses to address “religious problems” independent from the full scope of human life.29 In the Star, Rosenzweig seeks to restructure the relationship between philosophy and theology. In order to achieve this end, he deploys different modes of thought for each part of the Star that include mathematical logic, grammar, and liturgy. The fact that God is a primary topic in each part of the Star indicates that Rosenzweig shared the basic

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view of JTP that theological language could take multiple forms. Furthermore, Rosenzweig’s theological language should not be restricted to logical, grammatical, and liturgical forms. In the Star, he engages with Scripture both exegetically and hermeneutically; he reasons about God’s greatness; and he makes claims about experience if not from experience. Taking these points together, it is clear that Rosenzweig saw theological language as consisting of multiple forms and that he consciously embraced and exploited that fact in his writings. It would seem that JTP is particularly well suited for analyzing the theological language of Rosenzweig’s Star.

Two Recent Studies on Rosenzweig: Batnitzky and Gordon A testament to the power and difficulty of Rosenzweig’s thought, the study of his work has become a veritable subdiscipline within Jewish studies. Given the attention that scholars have devoted to Rosenzweig’s writings, I should justify what contribution my theological reading of Rosenzweig via JTP can make to recent scholarship. From the perspective of JTP, two book-length studies that seek to redefine Rosenzweig’s philosophical and theological commitments as well as the role of Judaism in his thought are of principal interest.The two works are Leora Batnitzky’s Idolatry and Repre­ sentation:The Philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig Reconsidered and Peter Gordon’s Rosenzweig and Heidegger: Between Judaism and German Philosophy.30 Batnitzky asserts vociferously that scholars have consistently misrepresented Rosenzweig’s thought. She objects most strongly to the characterization of Rosenzweig as an “existential religionist,” but she also believes Rosenzweig has been wrongly identified as a neo-Hegelian and a postmodern. According to Batnitzky, what is common to these misinterpretations is that each of them “conflates Rosenzweig’s views of philosophy and Judaism.”31 A point she reiterates throughout her book is that there is no “confluence” between philosophy and Judaism for Rosenzweig.32 On her reading of Rosenzweig, philosophy and Judaism exist “in incommensurable, yet hermeneutically complex tensions.”33 In fact, hermeneutics plays a decisive role in Batnitzky’s own account of Rosenzweig’s thought. She writes that “at the most basic level, The Star of Redemption’s argument is a hermeneutical one. The book’s central question asks how meaning is constituted, and even more particularly, how meaning is constituted in

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the modern world.”34 Despite the first impression of a similar hermeneutical approach, there are profound methodological and philosophical differences between Batnitzky’s study and the present analysis. Building upon her rejection of the “existential religionist” account of Rosenzweig’s thought, Batnitzky claims that Rosenzweig is not a proponent of personal revelation and that his theology is of a noncognitive sort.35 On her reading, Rosenzweig privileges the social component of religion as exemplified in communal prayer over the categories of experience and belief that pertain only to the individual. Along these lines, Batnitzky suggests that it is George Lindbeck’s “cultural-linguistic” model of religion that best illuminates Rosenzweig’s thought.36 Insofar as Lindbeck’s model of religion is heavily indebted to Wittgenstein, this assessment of Rosenzweig’s thought suggests a second similarity between Batnitzky’s method and the present one. By giving brief consideration to the topic of theological language in Batnitzky’s work, it will become apparent that her interests in hermeneutics and Wittgenstein lead in very different directions from the path I am charting here. Batnitzky’s understanding of Rosenzweig’s theological language is conditioned by two idiosyncratic readings of Rosenzweig’s work. The first is her claim that Rosenzweig is best described as an “ethical monotheist.” On this point she says, “Rosenzweig’s thought is an ethical monotheism in the tradition of Hermann Cohen because his aesthetic theory, his philosophy of language, his hermeneutics, as well as his understanding of Jewish and European nationalism, are all oriented and stem from an interpretation of the ethical content of monotheism.”37 As is surely now apparent, a principal goal of JTP is to provide an account of Jewish theological language that affirms multiple ways of thinking and speaking about God. My reading of Rosenzweig will demonstrate that his theology reflects this linguistic and conceptual diversity and that, consequently, Batnizky mischaracterizes his thought by forcing it under the homogenizing rubric of “ethical monotheism.”38 Batnitzky’s second idiosyncratic reading of Rosenzweig’s work has a more far-reaching impact on how she understands his theological language. Batnitzky bases her argument on a comment Rosenzweig makes in “The New Thinking,” where he provides advice on how to read philosophy.

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­ ecause Batnitzky runs astray by taking Rosenzweig out of context, I will B quote Rosenzweig at length, italicizing the section that she cites elliptically. The reader has a particularly high regard for the first pages of philosophical books. He believes they are the basis for all that follows. Consequently he also thinks that in order to have refuted the whole, it’s enough to refute these pages. Hence the immense interest in Kant’s teaching of space and time, in the form in which he developed it at the beginning of the Critique. Hence the comical attempts to “refute” Hegel by refuting the first triad of his Logic, and Spinoza by refuting his definitions. And hence the helplessness of the general reader in the face of philosophical books. He thinks they must be “especially logical,” and understands by this the dependence of every succeeding sentence on every preceding one; so that when the famous one stone is pulled out, as a consequence “the whole collapses.” In truth, this is nowhere less the case than in philosophical books. Here a sentence does not follow from the preceding one, but more likely from the one following. Whoever has not understood a sentence or a paragraph is little helped if, in the conscientious belief that he must not leave anything behind that is not understood, he reads it perchance again and again or even starts over again. Philosophical books deny themselves such a methodical ancien régime–strategy, which thinks it may not leave behind any fortification without having conquered it.They want to be conquered napoleonically, in a bold attack on the enemy’s central force, upon the conquest of which the small outlying fortifications will fall automatically. Thus, whoever does not understand something can most assuredly expect enlightenment if he courageously goes on reading.39

In this passage, Rosenzweig is addressing two issues, one theoretical and one practical. Rosenzweig’s theoretical point is in support of his claim earlier in “The New Thinking” that the Star is a “system of philosophy.” As a system of philosophy, the Star cannot be dismantled simply by critiquing its first pages, or for that matter, any single isolated passage. Like any system of philosophy, the Star makes a series of claims about the nature of reality, and refuting the work requires one to address that ideational complex. Fair enough, but why is Rosenzweig inclined to make this point? On close reading of the essay, it is clear that Rosenzweig has entered into this discussion as a way of helping the reader through the infamously difficult part 1 of the Star. Batnitzky, however, reads this passage much differently, extrapolating from Rosenzweig’s claim that “a sentence does not follow from the preceding one, but more likely from the one following,”

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that each of the three parts of the Star is dependent upon the one that follows it. From this perspective, she suggests that the Star is best read back to front. Furthermore, inasmuch as each part of the Star is guided by distinct forms of thought, including logic, grammar, and liturgy, Batnitzky claims this reversal results in an epistemological hierarchy. On her reading, the experience of revelation that Rosenzweig treats through grammatical analysis in part 2 takes precedence over the mathematical logic of part 1, and the communal liturgical structures of part 3 take precedence over both experience and logic.40 On the basis of this purported epistemological hierarchy, Batnitzky claims that Rosenzweig’s thought is nonpropositional and that he is not a proponent of personal revelation.41 She argues that Jewish blood and the Jewish community are Rosenzweig’s primary interests, and that he “privileges the carnal nature of Jewish election over ‘Jewish ideas,’”42 It is the actual substance of the individual Jew and the Jewish community that is ultimate because the communal framework is, itself, the condition for language, experience, and logic. It is not surprising that theology and theological language play little role in Batnitzky’s interpretation of Rosenzweig. Proceeding from a construal of religion that denies it cognitive content, it is difficult to imagine how one could say much about God. My reading of Rosenzweig, on the other hand, will show that he is deeply concerned with theology and theological language, and that to understand his thought one must begin from that vantage point. Peter Gordon’s book Rosenzweig and Heidegger presents a different set of challenges to my analysis of Rosenzweig’s theological language. Like Batnitzky, Gordon also avers that Rosenzweig’s thought has been misinterpreted. For Gordon, there are two errant trajectories of Rosenzweig interpretation. One body of Rosenzweig scholarship is essentially hagiographic in that it uncritically takes Rosenzweig’s philosophy as a modern expression of the Jewish tradition. A second body of Rosenzweig scholarship errs in a different direction by reading Rosenzweig, along Levinasian lines, as a postmodern ethicist. Where both interpretations fall into error is in their failure to place Rosenzweig within his proper philosophical context.43 For Gordon, the German philosophical horizon is the formative influence on Rosenzweig’s thought. As he puts it, “one best understands Rosenzweig’s philosophy when it is restored to its German philosophical context. One misunderstands his

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work when [it] is taken as the autochthonous expression of timeless Jewish wisdom.”44 Gordon argues throughout the book that Rosenzweig’s intellectual debt to the Jewish tradition is minimal; he concludes that it is “somewhat deceptive, and surely imprecise, to range Rosenzweig’s thought within the category of ‘Jewish’ thought.”45 Since I am attempting to read Rosen­ zweig as an example of Jewish theology, I must respond to Gordon’s claims. Like Batnitzky’s argument about the epistemological hierarchy of the Star, Gordon’s views on the minimal contribution of Judaism to Rosenzweig’s thought is also based on an elliptical reading of “The New Thinking.” I will again quote the larger passage and italicize the section cited by Gordon.46 The following pages would like to try, on the one hand, to assuage the disappointment of the buyers, who believed [themselves] to have purchased a nice Jewish book and afterward had to discover, like one of the earliest critics, that it was by no means meant “for the daily use of every member in every family.” I cannot describe the Star of Redemption any more accurately than this critic has done with pregnant brevity: it is indeed not meant for the daily use of every member of every family. It is in general not a “Jewish book,” at least not in the sense that the buyers, who were so angry with me, think of a Jewish book; for while it deals with Judaism, it deals with it no more comprehensively than it deals with Christianity, and barely more comprehensively than it deals with Islam. Nor does it claim to be a philosophy of religion. How could it do this, given that the word “religion” does not even occur in it! Rather, it is merely a system of philosophy.47

It is critical to note that Rosenzweig, particularly in his essays, is a highly rhetorical writer. His essays, like Platonic dialogues, lead the reader down an intellectual path in which each part can only be understood in terms of the whole. Consequently, extracting comments from their larger arguments can produce unnecessary confusion and contradiction. In the passage above, by ignoring the larger argument about the reception of the Star and disregarding Rosenzweig’s use of the phrase “Jewish book,” Gordon grossly distorts Rosenzweig’s point. Clearly, it is the case that when Rosenzweig says the Star is not a Jewish book, he means it is not a Jewish book of a very particular kind. That it is to say, it is not a regurgitation of the Jewish tradition that is meant to provide easy access to its beliefs and practices to any interested individual. On the contrary, Rosenzweig is adamant that the Star

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is a “system of philosophy.” As should be obvious, none of this has any bearing on whether Rosenzweig’s theological language takes a distinctly Jewish form. Furthermore, Rosenzweig returns to this question toward the end of the essay and asserts in no uncertain terms that the Star is a deeply Jewish work. There he writes: But the “Jewish book”? as which it is already designated by means of its cover page? To be able to say with complete truthfulness what I have to say now—I should like to speak as softly as the poet who ends his powerfully wide-ranging fugue on the theme of cosmic beauty with the unforgettable introduction: To me it appeared in the shape of a youth of a woman. [Just as] I have received the new thinking in these old words so, in them, have I given it back and passed it on. For a Christian, as I know, words of the New Testament would have come to his lips instead of my words, [while] for a pagan, I think, not words from his sacred books [would have come to his lips]—for their ascent leads away from the original language of mankind, not to it, like the earthly path of revelation—but perhaps [words] wholly his own. But to me, these [came]. And yet this is, to be sure, a Jewish book: not one that deals with “Jewish things,” for then the books of the Protestant Old Testament scholar would be Jewish books; but rather one for which, to say what it has to say, especially the new thing it has to say, the old Jewish words come. Like things in general, Jewish things have always passed away; yet Jewish words, even when old, share the eternal youth of the word, and if the world is opened up to them, they will renew the world.48

In Gordon’s view this passage “indicates that Rosenzweig considered the new thinking not as intrinsically Jewish, but only incidentally so.”49 While Rosenzweig is quick to acknowledge that his Christian interlocutors are equally responsible for the development of the new thinking and, as such, have an equal share in it, it is a severe obfuscation to say that the new thinking is only “incidentally” Jewish for Rosenzweig. He clearly states that he both received the new thinking as expressed in the Star in Jewish forms and that he considers the work inherently Jewish. Gordon provides us with very little reason to question Rosenzweig’s own assessment. As the remainder of this chapter is devoted to reading Rosenzweig as a model of Jewish theology, I will not argue the point further here. Given Gordon’s concerns about the role of Judaism in Rosenzweig’s thought, it is surprising how emphatically he defends the centrality of theology in it. In Gordon’s view “nearly all of [Rosenzweig’s] mature work is

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expressly concerned with bridging the post-Enlightenment gulf between philosophy and theology.”50 Gordon resolves the apparent contradiction in his argument by identifying Rosenzweig’s philosophy as a “philosophical expressionism” marked by a “distinctive intellectual orientation poised between the religious nostalgia for origin and the modernist struggle to move beyond metaphysics.”51 On his reading, Rosenzweig’s theological interests are driven by the distinctly philosophical motivation to produce a mode of religious life that is independent of traditional metaphysics. Gordon attributes to Rosenzweig the belief that “the only genuine theology . . . is one courageous enough to surpass metaphysical collapse.”52 Constructing such a theology is, in Gordon’s view, Rosenzweig’s primary task. Two additional facets of Gordon’s presentation of Rosenzweig’s thought bear on JTP. In terms of Rosenzweig’s philosophy, Gordon suggests there are both hermeneutical and phenomenological features to Rosenzweig’s “philosophical expressionism.” Gordon argues that Rosenzweig, like ­Heidegger, believed that “knowledge is always bounded, local, and finite,” and so he is properly identified as a “hermeneutic thinker.”53 Because Heidegger and Rosenzweig see meaning as inextricable from the practical modes of life, Gordon suggests their hermeneutics is in fact an existential hermeneutics.54 In contrast to Batnitzky, who discounts the role of personal revelation in the Star, Gordon argues that it is precisely the problem of religious experience after the collapse of metaphysics that motivates Rosenzweig’s phenomenological approach to religion. In calling Rosenzweig’s method a “phenomenology of religion,” what Gordon means is that it is “a systematic study of the ‘original’ structures of religious experience.”55 Batnitzky’s and Gordon’s readings of Rosenzweig support and challenge the study of the Star’s theological language that I am about to undertake. Both Batnitzky and Gordon defend a hermeneutic approach to Rosen­ zweig’s thought by arguing that Rosenzweig was himself concerned with the role of historicity in the act of understanding traditional texts. It is curious that the initial consensus between Batnitzky and Gordon evolves into drastically different interpretations of Rosenzweig’s work.The principal advantage of my approach stems from its simplicity. Rather than attempting to reconceive the whole of Rosenzweig’s thought, I am only interested in his theological language, how he uses it and the limits he places on it. It is my

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contention that this distinctly narrow approach to the Star will help answer many of the questions that persist about Rosenzweig’s work.

Exegesis In the exegetical theology of the Mekhilta, the rabbis atomize the biblical text in a manner that displaces the sentence as the basic unit of meaning and instead focus on phrases, words, and even individual letters. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the emergence of biblical criticism, Rosenzweig does not participate in the rabbinic practice of rendering Scripture coherent with itself at such a level.This fact does not diminish the centrality of Scripture in the Star, nor does it indicate a lack of concern on Rosenzweig’s part for the unity of the Bible or for the task of understanding the Bible within its own context.56 He addresses both of these issues, and often uses exegesis to support his positions. Among Rosenzweig’s many exegetical engagements with Scripture in the Star, his discussion of the Song of Songs in 2:2 stands out for its centrality to his argument and for the methodological reflections that inform his discussion.57 Rosenzweig begins 2:2, literally the central chapter of the Star, by citing Song of Songs 8:6, “Love is as strong as death,” and he concludes the chapter with an extended analysis of the entire Song of Songs.58 Mirroring the place he has given it within his own work, Rosenzweig claims that the Song of Songs is “the focal book of revelation.”59 Of course, Rosenzweig is not alone in this sentiment, as Rabbi Akiba famously said that “all the world in its entirety is not worthy like the day that the Song of Songs was given to Israel.” Rabbi Akiba goes on to add that “all the writings are holy but the Song of Songs is the holy of holies.”60 Exegesis, as I am using the term, is the effort to demonstrate the selfcoherence of Scripture. Rosenzweig’s reading of the Song is best described as exegetical in that his guiding interest is to address how a love lyric found its place within the Bible. By using this point as his entry into the text, Rosenzweig mirrors the rabbinic exegetical concern to demonstrate the unity and coherence of Scripture. From the start of Rosenzweig’s discussion of the Song, however, it is possible to discern a facet of his exegetical method that distinguishes him from the rabbis of the Mekhilta, namely its phenomenological character. The principal part of 2:2, entitled “Revelation

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or the Ever-Renewed Birth of the Soul,” is a phenomenological account of revelation as the experience of an individual. Rosenzweig refers back to this discussion as he prepares his analysis of the Song of Songs: Under the love of God, the mute self came of age as eloquent soul. This occurrence we had recognized as revelation. If language is more than only an analogy, if it is truly analogue—and therefore more than analogue—then that which we hear as a living word in our I and which resounds toward us out of our Thou must also be “as it is written” in that great historical testament of revelation whose essentiality we recognized precisely from the presentness of our experience [unseres Erlebnisses]. Once more we seek the word of man in the word of God.61

What sets Rosenzweig’s exegetical approach to Scripture apart from that of the rabbis of the Mekhilta is that Rosenzweig begins with the assumption that there is a homology between experience, Scripture, and language. What substantiates this view for Rosenzweig is the fact that both Scripture and the experience of revelation are constituted by language. Revelation is linguistic for Rosenzweig in the sense that it is an encounter of God’s “I” speaking the command “Love me!” to the individual’s “you.”62 As I will argue, the presumption of this homology expands the exegetical task for Rosenzweig in that Scripture must not only be self-coherent, but it must also be in accord with experience. The key concept that expresses the homology between Scripture, language, and experience is the word Gleichnis, which William Hallo translates as “analogue.” In Rosenzweig’s view, an analogue shares in the power and function of the object that it represents. Revelation has such an analogue in love in that the command “Love me!” is, for Rosenzweig, the entire content of revelation. The relationship between revelation and love has a profound influence on how Rosenzweig understands the Song of Songs. He states on this point: The analogue of love permeates as analogue all of revelation. It is the everrecurring analogy of the prophets. But it is precisely meant to be more than analogy. And this it can be only when it appears without a “this means,” without pointing, that is, to that of which it is supposed to be the analogy. Thus it is not enough that God’s relationship to man is explained by the simile of the lover and the beloved. God’s word must contain the relationship of lover to beloved directly, the significant, that is, without any pointing to the significate.

Franz Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption    And so we find it in the Song of Songs. Here the reader seems to be confronted by the choice, either to accept the “purely human,” purely sensual sense and then, admittedly, to ask himself what strange error allowed these pages to slip into God’s word, or to acknowledge that the deeper meaning lodges here, precisely in the purely sensual sense, directly and not “merely” in simile.63

Love as the true analogue of revelation secures its place in Scripture by adopting a form that refuses to interpret or explain itself. As a result, love achieves ultimacy; it can no longer be reduced to being a symbol for something higher. Stating the matter somewhat differently, through love form and content are united in the Song of Songs and thus the Song is the most complete and perfect expression of the identity of revelation and love. A difficulty emerges, however, in that the Song’s refusal to identify itself as an account of divine-human love creates the suspicion that the Song is really just a human love lyric.We will better understand Rosen­zweig’s theological position vis-à-vis the Song if we follow his discussion of how this ambiguity was exploited in modern readings of the biblical text. According to Rosenzweig, up until the “threshold of the nineteenth century,” the Song was generally understood as both a love lyric and a “mystical” poem. As he says, “One simply knew that the I and Thou of human discourse is without more ado also the I and Thou between God and man. One knew that the distinction between immanence and transcendence disappears in language.”64 For Rosenzweig, the merit of the traditional reading of the Song is its ability to embrace both its worldly components and its theological components. In contrast, because the idea of revelation became increasingly problematic for modern thought, interpreters sought to dispel this unity in the Song between the human and the divine. For instance Herder and Goethe both insisted that the Song was a “worldly” love song. Rosenzweig makes clear this is no mere literary observation; rather, the insistence upon the “worldly” character of the Song has profound theological implications. He argues: In this designation, “worldly” expresses no more and no less than that God does not love. And this was, after all, really the opinion. Even if man “loved” God as the symbol of perfection, he would never demand that God “requite” his love. Spinoza’s denial of divine love for the individual soul was welcomed by the German Spinozists. If God had to love, he might at the most be the “all-loving Father.”The authentic love-relation of God to the individual soul

Franz Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption   172 was denied and the Song of Songs thereupon made out to be a “purely human” love lyric. For authentic love, which is precisely not all-love, existed only between men. God had ceased to speak the language of men. He withdrew again into his neopagan-Spinozan concealment beyond the heavenly vault of the “attributes” covered by the cloudbank of the “modi.”65

The philosophical attack on the Song’s theology was complemented by a similar approach to the text on the part of Wissenschaft.66 Reading the Song from text-critical and historico-critical perspectives produced the conundrum of how to understand the relationship of its primary characters: the Shulammite, the king, and the shepherd. This confusion was resolved with the discovery that Syrian peasants celebrate a wedding ritual in which the groom assumes the role of the king. The Song’s true nature as a “worldly” love song was thus secured from a scientific perspective. Rosenzweig’s exegesis of the Song is, then, meant to counter what he took to be a pervasive antitheological reading of the text. By providing this background prior to his analysis of the Song of Songs, Rosenzweig makes clear the significance of exegesis for theology. Turning to Rosenzweig’s reading of the Song, it is evident from the start that his engagement with the text occurs at a different level than the exegetical comments of the Mekhilta. Where the rabbis scrutinized and interpreted Scripture’s most basic components, Rosenzweig instead begins his analysis with broad observations about the text as a whole. The first notable feature for Rosenzweig about the Song is its pervasive use of the first-person singular. Proportionally, he says, the “I” occurs in the Song more frequently than in any other biblical text save, perhaps, Ecclesiastes. The significance of this “I” is accentuated by the fact that its first predication—“for your love is better than wine”—is a comparative and is thus grounded in the personal point of view (Song of Sol. 1:2). Regarding the “I,” Rosenzweig perceptively notes the persistent change in voices such that the “I” and the “You” become inter­changeable. This fluidity between the “I” and the “You” only ceases at one point and that is with the declaration that “love is as strong as death” (Song of Sol. 8:6). For Rosenzweig, this is the only objective comment in the text. According to him, this statement contains everything that can be said about love and revelation.Whatever else may be said regarding these topics can only be said within the relationship between the individual soul and God that is established in revelation. The significance of this one objective

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comment is that it is the precise point that creation, revelation, and redemption are linked to one another. With the statement that “love is as strong as death” comes the assurance that the “living soul, loved by God, triumphs over all that is mortal.”67 Thus, in revelation the soul transcends its creaturely status by being informed about and directed toward its redemption. One of the most distinctive features of the Song of Songs is the way in which the content of its ever-shifting images is replicated in the rhythm of its language. The language of the Song is propelled just like the ­Shulammite seeking her lover or like the lover skipping across the mountains in the form of a gazelle.The temporality and cadence of the text imbue the reading of the Song with an experiential character. Rosenzweig notes this fact and identifies it directly with the experience of revelation’s command to love. He writes: She soars along in the fleeting sounds of the I. No sooner does a note sound than it is absorbed in the next; soon it resounds again, enigmatic and profoundly unexpected, only to peter out again.The speech of love is all present: dream and reality, sleep of the limbs and awakening of the heart, intertwine indistinguishably. Everything is equally present, equally fleeting and equally alive—“like a gazelle or a young stag upon the mountains.” A downpour of imperatives descends on this evergreen pasture of the present and vitalizes it. The imperatives sound different but always mean the same thing; “Draw me after you, open to me, arise, come away, hurry”—it is always one and the same imperative of love.68

For Rosenzweig, all the expressions of love in the Song, particularly the imperatives, are identical to the imperative “Love me!” that lies at the heart of his account of revelation. While Rosenzweig does not seek to diminish the worldly in the Song, he believes that the entire narrative can be read as the awakening of the soul in revelation to the love of God. Furthermore, this love of God is not generic; on the contrary, it is entirely personal. As Rosenzweig says, “Her love is not to be a case of love, another case among many, a case that others could recognize and determine. It is to be her own love, unawakened from without, awaking solely from within herself. And so it happened. Now she is his.”69 According to Rosenzweig, it is precisely the personal and experiential nature of revelation that compels the individual to move beyond revelation and into redemption. The beloved soul wants to hold fast to the lover and make known her love to all. Rosenzweig sees confirmation of this phenom-

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enological fact in verse 8:1: “Who will make you like a brother to me, who sucked from the breast of my mother? I would meet you outside, I would kiss you and there would be no one who would despise me.” After citing this verse, Rosenzweig goes on to say: “Love after all always remains between two people; it knows only of I and Thou and not of the street. Thus this longing cannot be fulfilled in love, for love is directly present in experience [Erlebnis] and manifests itself only in experience [Er-lebnis]. The sobs of the beloved penetrate beyond love, to a future beyond its present revelation. They yearn for a love eternal such as can never spring from the everlasting presentness of sensation.”70 Love, as Rosenzweig goes on to say, “longs to be founded in the presence of all the world.”71 This is what compels the beloved to go beyond revelation and to seek redemption. Rosenzweig believes this phenomenological fact, that the love of revelation surpasses itself, is clearly inscribed in the text of the Song. The Song truly deserves its status as “the focal book of revelation,” in that it articulates the experience of revelation but within the overarching dynamic of Creation-Revelation-Redemption: the created and beloved soul seeking its ultimate end in a love that surpasses death. While I will save the brunt of my comparative comments for the concluding chapter, I will venture a few basic observations here. Although Rosenzweig does engage in scriptural exegesis that is the source for theological claims, his exegesis is not the fine-grained scriptural analysis practiced by the rabbis of the Mekhilta. In part this is just a fact of the differences in religious practices and methods of belief-formation that one would expect between an ancient religious community and a modern philosopher. The matter comes into sharper focus by noting the prejudices that motivate the rabbis’ exegesis as opposed to those of Rosenzweig. The exegetical activity of the rabbis begins with the belief that Scripture is the word of God and that as such it cannot contain anything that might be construed as an imperfection (e.g., superfluities, contradictions, etc.). Rosenzweig also believes Scripture to be the word of God, but his belief does not entail that the scriptural text is itself perfect. Rosenzweig formulates his position in a letter to Jacob Rosenheim in which he places his beliefs in opposition to more orthodox views: Where we differ from orthodoxy is in our reluctance to draw from our belief in the holiness or uniqueness of the Torah, and in its character of revelation,

Franz Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption    any conclusions as to its literary genesis and the philological value of the text as it has come down to us. If all of Wellhausen’s theories were correct and the Samaritans really had the better text, our faith would not be shaken in the least.This is the profound difference between you and us—a difference which, it seems to me, may be bridged by mutual esteem but not by understanding.72

So what does drive Rosenzweig’s exegesis of Scripture? From Rosenzweig’s perspective, the self-coherence of Scripture is not a matter of contradictions and lacunae; rather, for Scripture to maintain its divine status it must correspond to our phenomenological understanding of the religious life. Even though Rosenzweig attempts to show that Scripture applies to something that we would take to be external to the text, Rosenzweig does not perceive the relationship on these terms. As I have noted, Rosenzweig believes there is a homology between language, Scripture, and experience. The defining features of the experience of revelation are necessary, in Rosen­zweig’s view. That the isolated individual becomes an engaged and discoursing self through revelation is, for Rosenzweig, as true today as it was a thousand years ago, and it will continue to be true up until the messianic age. Rosenzweig’s strong exegetical reading of the Song allows him to affirm Rabbi Akiba’s position that the book is the ultimate expression of the divine-­human relationship. No longer a problematic love poem embedded in Scripture, the Song now becomes the source for the foundational theological claims that God is a loving person and agent who encounters the soul in this world and redeems it in the next one. Exegesis as a religious and belief-forming practice looks quite different in the context of second-­century rabbis and a twentieth-century philosophical theology, yet it remains a potent source for producing theological beliefs. I will now turn to see how hermeneutics fares as it crosses the same historical and cultural divide.

Hermeneutics Given the sharply divergent interpretations of Rosenzweig and his project, it is noteworthy that several of his recent interpreters find a significant hermeneutic component within his thought. He argues that: the perspective of the individual is limited by his or her historicity;73 that the art object is not independent from its community of interpreters;74 that the present stands in tension with the past and seeks to dominate it;75 and that the poem

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creates an “ideal” world.76 The central place that Rosenzweig gives to his hermeneutic perspective is evident from the way he builds it into his understanding of revelation. “Revelation” he writes “is of the present, indeed it is being-present itself. Revelation too looks back into the past at that moment in which it would like to give its presentness the form of a predicate. But the past only becomes visible to revelation when and as revelation shines into it with the light of the present. Only in this backward glance does the past prove to be the base and prediction of the present experience, domiciled in the I.”77 Rosenzweig’s point is that the experience of revelation in the present is constitutive of how the individual understands and appropriates the past, which in his case refers to the Jewish tradition. This conception shares a structural dynamic with Heidegger’s and Gadamer’s belief that the historicity of the individual is inescapable and is determinative of his or her understanding. Comments that Rosenzweig makes contrasting halakhah and canon law with Islamic legal interpretation show how he envisions these principles playing out in practice: The commandments in the garb of positive laws are for the most part ritual laws; they are in the sign language of the love for God, amplifications, that is, of the “first tablet.” The world act and precisely the highest act especially is therefore incalculable love, wholly free, while in Islam it is obedience to the law once promulgated. It follows that Islamic law everywhere strives to go back to direct pronouncements of the founder, thus veritably developing a strictly historical method, while both Talmudic and canon law seek to make their points by means, not of historical fact-finding, but of logical deduction. For deduction is subconsciously determined by the goal of the deduction, that is to say the present, and therefore it gives the contemporary power over the past. Investigation, on the other hand, makes the present dependent on the past. Even in this seemingly pure world of law, then, one can still recognize the difference between the commandment to love and the obedience to law.78

While not wanting to endorse Rosenzweig’s views on Islam and its juridical procedures, his point is nevertheless important.79 Even at the level of ­halakhah, the present has an unconscious but determinative power over the past. What is critical in this is that the power of the present is not destructive of the past. For Rosenzweig, to say that legal deduction is guided by the present is to say that it is guided by revelation in the present. Interpretation, even legal interpretation, becomes for Rosenzweig an expression of divine love.

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In the Mekhilta, one critical force driving the rabbis’ hermeneutical theology is their desire to resolve the theological dissonance they, at times, encounter in reading Scripture.80 The need to continually rework and improve the fusion of the rabbinic and biblical horizons helped to constitute scriptural hermeneutics as a religious practice for the rabbis. In contrast, Rosenzweig is not particularly concerned to resolve these sorts of hermeneutic conflicts. What marks his interpretation of Scripture as hermeneutic is his application of scriptural verses within his own system of thought. Rosenzweig extracts scriptural verses from their literary contexts, and through a complex interweaving of Scripture he imbues the verses with new meaning that supports the argument of the Star. As a first entry point into Rosenzweig’s hermeneutic engagement with Scripture, I will explore a prominent motif throughout the Star, Rosenzweig’s theology of light. The importance of divine light for Rosenzweig is, of course, inscribed into the title of the work. Performing a hermeneutic act on the Star of David, Rosenzweig refashions it as a star of redemption, in which Judaism represents the light at the center of the star and Christianity is the light that goes forth into the world.81 More than just a perspicuous symbol to express the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, light, for Rosenzweig, is a constitutive feature of both creation and redemption. Rosenzweig develops his theology of light through hermeneutic engagement with Scripture. In Star 2:1, entitled “Creation or the Ever-Enduring Base of Things,” he expounds on the creation of light in Genesis 1:3. After focusing on the first two verses of Genesis with a particular emphasis on the darkness that characterized the precreation, Rosenzweig states: It is a darkness in which all qualities show the one gray color of the-wasteand-the-void until God intones his “let there be light” into it. Light is no more a thing than darkness. It is itself a quality. It is to cognition what the “good!” is to volition, the utterly affirming valuation. And now God “separates” the chaos of attributes, and when the separation is accomplished, and the beginning of creation is completed in the visibility of the individual attributes, then what had already become visible in the light rings for the first time as resounding sound, as word: the “good.”82

Rosenzweig, in this passage, exploits aspects of the scriptural account of creation in order to hermeneutically transform God’s creation of light in

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Genesis 1:3. The textual feature that Rosenzweig builds upon is the fact that God creates light in verse 1:3, but does not name the light “day” until the following verse and that both actions are independent of the creation of the luminaries, which does not occur until verse 1:14.These facts support the claim that light is a quality and not a substance. The claim that light is a quality leads Rosenzweig to link light and cognition, thus making God’s first creative act the founding of intelligibility.83 Securing the foundations of cognition in creation is critical for Rosenzweig’s argument if philosophy is to discharge its responsibility of providing theology the ontological support for creation that it lacks.84 Through a creative reading of Scripture, Rosen­ zweig advances the work of his system. Rosenzweig’s theology of light plays a critical role not only in creation but also, at the opposite pole in his system, in redemption. One particularly interesting case is his paraphrastic use of Psalm 139:12: “Darkness does not conceal from you and the night shines like the day. Darkness and light are alike,” but Rosenzweig condenses it into “the night is light with him.” In a discussion midway through the chapter devoted to redemption, Star 2:3, Rosenzweig states: In the last judgment which God himself passes in his own name, all merges into His totality, the names of all into His nameless One. Redemption lets the day of the world end beyond creation and beyond revelation with the same stroke of midnight with which it began. But of this second midnight, it is true, as it is written, that “the night is light with Him.” The day of the world manifests itself at its last moment as that which it was in its first: as day of God, as day of the Lord.85

For Rosenzweig, the unity that idealism seeks in reason is in reality only accomplished with redemption. In Rosenzweig’s understanding of redemption, God is reconstituted as a unified being—and thus the final and complete All—through the absorption of humanity and the world into the divine. In this passage, Rosenzweig employs the image of the “world day,” in which the entire process from creation to redemption takes place in the span of a single figurative day. Building on this metaphor, he uses Psalm 139:12 to argue that though redemption occurs at midnight its principal quality is light rather than darkness. The reabsorption of humanity and the world into God is represented by an effulgence of God’s light and not a final

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darkening of the human world. Although Psalm 139 does contain images suggestive of judgment or redemption, in making the hermeneutic move that he does, Rosenzweig has freely put verse 12 to use for his own purposes. In referring to Psalm 139:12, Rosenzweig is embedding the biblical text in a complex of ideas quite different from its original literary context. In this and the previous passage, Rosenzweig utilizes scriptural passages to support and amplify aspects of his philosophical system. The hermeneutic nature of the next passage is particularly pronounced as Rosenzweig strings together multiple scriptural interpretations in order to give a phenomenological account of the experience of revelation. At the center of Rosenzweig’s account of revelation is a dialogue between God and the soul that documents their first encounter. Nearly all of the conversation between God and the soul occurs through their antiphonal citation of Scripture to each other. In the lead-up to the dialogue, Rosen­ zweig discusses the fact that neither God nor the human individual has a fully developed “I” without a “You” to stand opposite the otherwise solitary self. It is fitting, then, that the premier biblical question “Where are you?” initiates Rosenzweig’s dialogue between God and the soul (Gen. 3:9). This is, of course, the question that God poses to Adam after he and Eve have hidden in the garden on account of their having eaten from the tree of knowledge. Interestingly, Rosenzweig passes over Adam’s reply to God as the prototypical human response to God’s revelation. Adam’s reply fails to establish the divine-human encounter as he seeks to deflect God’s inquiry by placing the blame for his actions on Eve. Instead, it is Abraham—who says, “Here I am,” when the angel of the Lord calls him twice by name—who sets the dialogue in motion (Gen. 22:11). For Rosenzweig, Abraham’s being called twice by name requires from him a proper response to God’s query. This is a curious choice on Rosenzweig’s part, as the address and reply only occur as Abraham raises his hand to sacrifice Isaac. Rosenzweig’s privileging the call to Abraham on Mount Moriah is rich with theological implications, but I will leave them aside as the true revelatory experience is yet to come. According to Rosenzweig, only the grammatical form of a commandment can properly capture revelation’s existence in the present moment. Any assertion in the indicative mood, including the declaration of one’s own love, is already past. In scriptural form, the “commandment of all com-

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mandments” as Rosenzweig calls it, is Deuteronomy 6:5, the third verse of the Shem‘a: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.”86 In the soul’s experience of divine revelation, as Rosenzweig envisions it, God’s command assumes the abbreviated form: “Love me!” It is this stark and direct command that the soul hears immediately upon acknowledging God’s initial call. On Rosenzweig’s construal of revelation, the authentic response to God’s command begins with an acknowledgment of one’s sins. The command to love God sparks the painful awareness that one has hitherto not been a lover of God. In response to God’s command, the soul can only utter, “I have sinned.” Because Rosenzweig does not here use quotation marks or provide a citation, it is impossible to know what scriptural passage he has in mind with this admission of guilt. Nahum Glatzer identifies the phrase with the liturgy for Yom Kippur. Mara Benjamin suggests 2 Samuel 12:13 and Psalm 51:6 as sources for the phrase “I have sinned.”Whatever the source, the soul’s declaration of its sinfulness begins the rapprochement between God and soul. Acknowledging its failure to love God in the past, the soul comes to see that even in the present a profound asymmetry marks the divine-human relationship, as God’s love vastly exceeds the fitful love of the soul. The realization of this disparity draws the soul even closer, compelling it to declare to God, “I am yours.” Like God’s command “Love me!” the phrasing of this declaration appears to be Rosenzweig’s own. Nonetheless, the assertion, “I am yours” resonates with biblical expressions, most notably one hears echoes of Song 2:16, “My beloved is mine and I am his.” After the soul dedicates itself to God, the dialogue resumes the back-andforth of biblical verses. God confirms that the soul is a divine possession by reciting the end of Isaiah 43:1: “I have called you by name and you are mine.” For Rosenzweig, the soul’s self-dedication to God occurs “groundlessly,” that is, purely out of its own experience and with no connection to the world. In contrast, God’s response, “I have called you by name and you are mine,” makes a claim upon the soul that bears upon its relationship to other souls and the world at large. By appropriating the soul in this way, God links the experience of revelation, which is always bound to the present moment, with a past. On this point, Rosenzweig states that “the presentness of the miracle of revelation is and remains its content; its historicity, however, is

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its ground and its warrant. Individually experienced belief had already found within itself the highest bliss destined for it. Now it also finds the highest certainty possible for it, but only in this its historicity, its ‘positivity.’”87 Rosenzweig’s theology is decidedly liturgical in character, so it is not surprising that the effort to fix revelation within tradition is immediately followed by a turn to prayer. For Rosenzweig, the culminating experience of revelation is when the soul acquires the ability to pray. Concluding the dialogue, the soul utters the pivotal phrase from Psalm 22:2, “My God, my God.” The dialogue that Rosenzweig constructs between God and the soul is fascinating and perplexing. Despite his criticisms of liberal theology, Rosenzweig’s account of revelation appears to revitalize Schleiermacher’s notion of “absolute dependence” by turning revelation into a direct and personal encounter between God and the soul. Even more surprising, in laying out his conception of revelation, Rosenzweig embraces rabbinic theologoumena that characterize the divine-human relationship as exceedingly dynamic, so much so that neither God nor the individual achieve their full personhood independent of the other. Absolute dependence appears to go in two directions. As Rosenzweig’s scriptural account of the phenomenology of revelation comes midway through a dense work of philosophical theology, the reader is right to wonder about his intentions with the passage and the forms of reason and argumentation he believes make his account of revelation compelling. Calling Rosenzweig’s dialogue between God and soul a “scriptural account” of revelation conceals the belief-forming mechanisms that enable Rosenzweig to construct his argument. Rosenzweig does not simply find these ideas within Scripture, nor does he arrive at them by attending to difficulties within the biblical text. On the contrary, it is evident that Rosenzweig’s account of revelation is a hermeneutic construction in which he seeks to make Scripture meaningful within a new cultural and intellectual context, namely his philosophical system. Certainly there are differences between the rabbis’ and Rosenzweig’s hermeneutic practices, but those differences do not obviate the fact that Rosenzweig, like the rabbis, reads Scripture in a manner that preserves Scripture’s authority by infusing it with new meaning. It speaks to the difficulty of the Star that scholars have drawn diametrically opposed conclusions about Rosenzweig’s basic positions and the phil-

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osophical merits of his argument.88 I would argue that much hinges on the interpreters’ divergent views on the hermeneutic element within Rosen­ zweig’s thought. Batnitzky combines her Gadamerian notion of hermeneutics with a cultural-linguistic understanding of religion that she borrows from Lindbeck. This leads her to argue that “The Star of Redemption’s structure may be best characterized as a kind of hermeneutical argument that privileges the epistemological status of communal frameworks over and against individual experience and logic.”89 As I have shown in the context of Rosenzweig’s hermeneutic theology, and will refer to again in my discussion of divine perfection and religious experience, such a reading is only possible if one ignores Rosenzweig’s theological claims.90 In contrast to Batnitzky’s reading of Rosenzweig’s hermeneutic philosophy, Peter Gordon argues that Rosenzweig practices an “existential hermeneutics” more akin to Heidegger’s philosophical method than Gadamer’s. He notes that “like Heidegger, Rosenzweig is interested in contexts of meaning that are bound up specifically with our ways of existing—of living, of practicing ritual, and of engaging usefully with everyday objects. Rosenzweig’s hermeneutic thus shares with Heidegger the existential and eminently practical dimension that is noticeably lacking in Gadamer.”91 While Gordon’s suggestion that Rosenzweig practices an “existential hermeneutics” is an important insight, that corrective does not have to come at the expense of limiting a Gadamerian textual hermeneutic. Gordon’s projecting onto Rosenzweig an exclusively Heideggerian “existential hermeneutics” diminishes the important role of Jewish texts and tradition in Rosenzweig’s philosophy and theology. It is this, I believe, that motivates Gordon’s fervent and repeated assertion that the Star is not a Jewish book. Mara Benjamin does not share Batnitzky’s or Gordon’s interest in identifying Rosenzweig as a hermeneutic philosopher. Where she speaks of Rosenzweig’s hermeneutics, she typically means to pick out his interpretive practices, regarding which she is often dubious. She speaks of Rosenzweig’s “audacious misreading of scripture” and his “hermeneutical hubris.”92 However, in attempting to identify the motivations behind Rosenzweig’s use of Scripture in the Star, Benjamin does attribute to him a particular hermeneutic perspective. She argues that “Rosenzweig’s portrayal of revelation, framed by Pentateuchal parameters but utterly and idiosyncratically Rosenzweigian, is the product of a dis-

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tinctly modern imagination.”93 For Benjamin, it is Rosenzweig’s reshaping revelation as a command devoid of heteronymous content that marks his thought as modern. As she writes further on, “underneath his intricate but ultimately precarious structure, the beams of post-Kantian religious thought are clearly visible.”94 While it would be foolish to deny the influence of Kant on Rosenzweig’s thought, careful reading of Rosenzweig’s theological language hardly supports a Kantian reading of his project. Kant thoroughly disavows the possibility of making the kinds of theological claims that occur on virtually every page of the Star. This fact will become even more apparent as I turn to Rosenzweig’s reflections on divine perfection. As an interpretive model for understanding Rosenzweig’s hermeneutic theology, JTP wins out over alternative readings on the basis of its austerity. Hewing to Rosenzweig’s theological language and the belief-forming mechanisms that produce his claims about God circumvents the far more precarious work of characterizing his larger philosophical project. Attending to Rosenzweig’s theological language does not just avoid problems; it helps to resolve ongoing debates that stem from flawed understandings of his basic philosophical and theological commitments. After all, there seems no better way to clarify his views on philosophy and theology than to look at how he actually uses theological language. To that end, I now turn to one of the most important and yet least understood parts of Rosenzweig’s thought, his conceptions of divine perfection.

Divine Perfection In contrast to the hermeneutic elements of Rosenzweig’s thought that have been identified and discussed by numerous scholars, the critical role of divine perfection in the Star has gone mostly unnoticed. As divine perfection is the most obvious and to some minds egregious form of theological language, one might explain the neglect of Rosenzweig’s claims about God’s perfection by appealing to the marginalization of theology in Jewish studies more generally. Although I suspect there is some truth to that explanation, the reception of Rosenzweig’s work in contemporary academic research reveals additional forces that have concealed this feature of his theological language. When writing the preface to Totality and Infinity in 1961, Emmanuel Levinas could hardly have known that his brief but affirmative comment about

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Rosenzweig’s thought would have a profound impact on Rosen­zweig scholarship decades later. In his preface, Levinas endorses Rosenzweig’s critique of totalized forms of thought and claims that the Star is “too often present” in Totality and Infinity to be cited.95 As postmodern thought began to permeate academic discourse in the 1990s, scholars were drawn to Rosenzweig’s work for the precise reason that Levinas had specified: Rosenzweig’s critique of Hegel and the totalized forms of thought that characterize Hegel’s philosophy mirrored the critiques of reason that were being expressed by postmodern philosophers. Inspired by Levinas’s self-pronounced debt to Rosenzweig’s thought, scholars sought to draw out the shared themes between the two thinkers.96 Given Levinas’s vociferous rejection of theology and the limits he seeks to place on reason, it is not surprising that this research would suppress Rosenzweig’s interest in divine perfection.97 More recently, scholars of Rosenzweig have challenged Rosenzweig’s postmodern credentials and have rejected the conflation of Rosen­zweig’s and Levinas’s philosophical projects.These efforts to reassess Rosenzweig’s philosophical and theological commitments have not resulted in a greater awareness of Rosenzweig’s interest in divine perfection. Leora Batnitzky was the first to push for a reappraisal of Rosenzweig’s thought. Clearly, her claim that Rosenzweig’s theology is nonpropositional and her transpositional reading of the Star, which diminishes the contribution of logic to Rosenzweig’s argument, do not construct a framework in which perfection claims can be analyzed. Peter Gordon also resists the Levinasian reading of Rosenzweig, seeking to reframe Rosenzweig’s philosophy by placing it within its proper historical and cultural context. In contrast to Batnitzky, Gordon does see theology as a vital part of Rosenzweig’s project, but he insists that Rosenzweig’s theology is distinctly postmetaphysical in character. While there are few philosophical terms with a more amorphous semantic range than “metaphysics,” whether one construes the term logically, transcendentally, or ontologically, a postmetaphysical theology must certainly entail a rejection of claims about divine perfection. While Batnitzky and Gordon were undoubtedly correct to distance Rosenzweig from his postmodern interpreters, analysis of Rosenzweig’s use of perfection language will show that Rosenzweig is no more a postliberal or postmetaphysical thinker than he is a postmodern one.98

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Because my argument that claims about divine perfection are central to the Star runs counter to current trends in Rosenzweig studies, I would like to precede my discussion with a gentle apology for my position. Rosen­ zweig, who clearly enjoyed the artifice of a well-chosen quotation, selected as a dramatic epigraph for his work Psalm 45:5: “Rush forth, ride for the sake of truth.” While Rosenzweig does not fully develop his conception of truth until the final book of the Star, in the introduction to part 3 he makes the forceful assertion that God’s truth only reveals itself to those who seek it with both hands. Rosenzweig identifies these two hands with the hand of the philosopher and the hand of the theologian.99 I would suggest that nothing establishes the type of concord between philosophical and theological intuitions that Rosenzweig promotes as does the notion of God’s perfection. It is not surprising that Rosenzweig’s interpreters have not shared my interest in this theme in the Star. Considering that Rosen­ zweig’s strategy to counter the All of idealism is to establish God, the world, and the human person as “irrational objects,” one might rightfully wonder what content theology could possibly have when God is understood on these terms.100 In response to such a reading, I would emphasize Rosen­ zweig’s rejection of negative theology in 1:1 and his clearly stated desire to seek God in God’s “absolute factuality” or “positivity.”101 A definition of metaphysics that I think would be widely agreed upon is that metaphysical claims are universal, necessary, or both.102 Analysis of Rosenzweig’s perfection language will demonstrate that his understanding of God’s “absolute factuality” and “positivity” is decidedly metaphysical in character. As Rosenzweig documents in “The New Thinking,” part 1 of the Star has been a challenge to readers since its publication. Rosenzweig added little clarity to the matter, when in that essay, he described the first part of the Star as “the reductio ad absurdum of the old philosophy and, simultaneously, its salvation.”103 Considering the difficulty of part 1 with its mathematical logic, it is far more tempting to emphasize the reductio rather than the salvation that these arguments purportedly bring to philosophy. As a matter of interpretation, I believe it pivotal to affirm the positive contribution of part 1 to establish the irreducibility of the elements GodHuman-World.104 It is only on the basis of being able to conceptualize the elements as distinct factualities that Rosenzweig is able to map the rela-

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tions between them that form the configuration of the star. If, as Rosen­ zweig leads us to believe, it is a principal objective of part 1 to under­ mine the identity of reason and being that produces the All of idealism, the extent to which the notion of God’s perfection fuels his arguments is surprising. In truth, Rosenzweig appeals not to one concept of divine perfection but to two. While Rosenzweig often affirms what appears to be the standard array of divine perfections, he also conceives of divine perfection as a process that God undergoes in the course of CreationRevelation-Redemption. Even if perfection is something that God only arrives at fully at the end of time, this fact does not prevent the concept of divine perfection from playing an important role in Rosenzweig’s system along the way. Indeed, in Rosen­zweig’s account of God’s self-emergence in the protocosmos, God is linked to the notion of perfection from the moment that the divine “Yes” proceeds from its “Nothing.” He characterizes this primal “Yes” as “a step on the road to the perfection of God,”105 and he represents it as God’s “infinite essence, his infinite factuality, his Physis.”106 Once the divine has emerged from its Nothing, Rosenzweig seeks to give it symbolic expression, and here too perfection plays a pivotal role. Rosenzweig designates God with the symbol A, on the basis of the fact that God is “quintessentially and infinitely affirmed” and because God’s infinite nature means that nothing can precede God.107 Along these lines, Rosenzweig also defends God’s aseity by arguing that God “is dependent on nothing outside of himself, and appears to require nothing outside of himself.”108 Rosenzweig conceives of God as simple such that divine unity “precedes any identity of reasoning and being and thereby precedes both the reasoning which is valid for being and the being which can be reasoned out.”109 This transcendent God surely warrants the metaphysical designation that Rosenzweig gives to it in the title of 1:1 (“God and His Being or Metaphysics”).110 The question is whether the claims about divine perfection in 1:1 are just instances of Rosenzweig turning the old philosophy upon itself or whether reflection on divine perfection remains a productive source of knowledge for Rosenzweig. Should the subject of divine perfection continue to surface in the Star, then I would suggest that it represents a part of the logic that Rosenzweig claims in the “New Thinking” to have threaded throughout the work.111

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Rosenzweig had originally hoped that the three parts of the Star would be published independently.112 In the introduction to part 2, Rosenzweig clearly seeks to affirm the continuity between what he had intended to be the first and second books of his trilogy. There he claims that the archwords “Yes” and “No,” which were the critical components of his mathematical logic in part 1, are the necessary antecedent to language that makes speech possible. The logic of part 1, he says, “is the prognostication of this real language of grammar.”113 A similar pattern holds for God, in that the elemental God who emerges from the divine Nothing in part 1 becomes the prophecy of God’s manifestation in the course of Creation-Revelation-Redemption that is the subject of part 2. For all of Rosenzweig’s talk about his grammatical method at the start of part 2, much of his discussion of creation bears greater similarity to the logical modes of thought that dominate the previous part of the Star. Most significantly, the notion of divine perfection continues to play a critical role in Rosenzweig’s arguments. The key issue that Rosenzweig addresses is whether God creates freely or by necessity. Here, Rosenzweig wrestles with competing notions of divine perfection. The claim that God creates only on the basis of divine freedom has the merit of sustaining the view that God is unconditioned by and entirely independent of creation.114 While Rosenzweig appreciates this line of thought, he is disturbed by the idea that God would have no inherent connection to creation, which would result in the removal of God from the world. Although Rosenzweig does not use this language, his arguments suggest that God’s perfection also entails relational properties. Through an ingenious, if not fully persuasive, move, Rosenzweig manages to defend both sets of theological intuitions about divine perfection. On the basis of an appeal to Maimonides, Rosenzweig argues that creativity is a fundamental divine attribute ensuring God’s connection to the world. Rosenzweig preserves God’s aseity by pushing God’s unconditionality back to the primal “Yes” that affects God’s emergence out of the divine Nothing.115 It is God’s decision to exist at all that most fully characterizes God’s freedom. Throughout the remainder of Rosenzweig’s discussion of creation, the notion of divine perfection continues to play a central role in his arguments. For instance, divine perfection provides Rosenzweig a counterargument to the idea of emanation—an idea, Rosenzweig argues, that collapses the

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distinction between God and world. Even when Rosenzweig finally arrives at his grammatical method at the end of 2:1, here as well divine perfection has a contribution to make. All subjects except for the divine pass over into their predicate—contaminating the universality of the assertion with the speaker’s subjectivity. Rosenzweig argues that this is not so with God whose subjectivity is fully self-contained. When God says of creation that “it is good,” it is truly so. In this sense, God is the ultimate metaphysician as only God can make a truly universal claim. Rosenzweig states in the Star that the subject of revelation as he develops it in 2:2 is the centerpiece of the work.116 Given the privileged place of revelation in Rosenzweig’s system, it speaks to the importance of divine perfection in his thought that it plays a pivotal role here as well. In Rosen­ zweig’s system, creation represents a manifestation of God—a breaking forth of the divine from its elemental factuality. Nonetheless, the fact that creation is a past event means that God once again slips into concealment. Although this is not how Western philosophical and theological traditions have typically construed divine perfection, on Rosenzweig’s processive understanding of God’s perfection, God needs revelation to secure divine being as factual.117 According to Rosenzweig: “From out of the darkness of his concealment there must emerge something other than bare creative power, something in which the broad infinity of the acts of creative power is captured in visible form lest God should once more be able to retreat behind these acts into the concealed.”118 It is revelation, Rosenzweig argues, that draws God out of concealment, a process he identifies with the outpouring of divine love. Despite the fact that it is God’s perfect goodness that demands this dissemination of divine love, one might still think that Rosenzweig, in his account of revelation, has backed away from his commitment to divine perfection as a principal theological value. This is decidedly not the case, however, as Rosenzweig does make two significant moves to preserve God’s aseity. The first move is his assertion that love is not an attribute but an event.119 The necessity for God to express love in revelation does not in turn situate a fundamental lack or a desire within the divine essence. Revelation may be an act of “self-negation” and “self-sacrifice,” but this outpouring does not diminish God’s perfection.120 While Rosenzweig has multiple reasons for wanting to understand love as an event, one crucial

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factor is his desire to preserve God’s perfection. In terms of Rosenzweig’s larger system, his second effort to preserve divine perfection within revelation is even more decisive. An individual who has received God’s revelatory command “Love me!” cannot respond to the divine as he or she would to a human lover. The divine-human relationship does not allow for the same reciprocal dynamic that characterizes human love. Rosenzweig states, “If the object of love gives thanks, its thanks cannot be directed toward the lover. Rather, it must seek outlets in other directions, symbolic outlets so to speak. Love would bring thank-offerings because it feels it cannot give thanks. With respect to the lover: it can only allow itself to be loved, nothing more. And it is thus that the soul receives the love of God.”121 ­Divine perfection prohibits the possibility that God could be the recipient of human love; it functions like a shield deflecting human love and requiring that it find a substitute object in the world. Rosenzweig does not undertake a detailed analysis of God’s attributes in support of this position. Instead, he simply asserts that revelation consists in God giving peace to the soul and not the other way around.122 It is only when Rosenzweig comes to the subject of redemption that he seeks to justify this argument and to draw out its implications. It is on the topic of redemption that the two competing notions of divine perfection in the Star confront each other most directly. Here, Rosenzweig juxtaposes his more traditional theological intuitions with his affirmation of the rabbinic and kabbalistic theologoumenon that God is also redeemed through redemption. Redemption for Rosenzweig is a largely human process, in which the love for God is directed out into the world, ultimately bringing about the messianic state that Rosenzweig calls the “kingdom of God.” In this end-state, the two elements external to God—the human and the world—are absorbed into the divine. It is only then that God becomes the All, the totality that Rosenzweig critiques idealism for positing at the start of its philosophical systems rather than at the conclusion. While Rosenzweig states explicitly that redemption brings about the perfection of God, he also maintains that this “becoming of God” does not entail any sort of transformation, development, or superaddition within the divine.123 As a solution to the apparent antinomy between God’s becoming and God’s perfection, Rosenzweig appeals to the concepts of time and eternity. ­According

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to Rosenzweig, when the three elements God-Human-World emerge from their distinct Nothings, they not only enter into temporality, they also establish the possibility of their future integration in eternity. As I understand it, Rosenzweig’s point is that God exists both in time and in eternity, the implication being that God becomes perfect in time and is perfect in eternity.124 For present purposes, what is more important than the success or failure of Rosenzweig’s argument is his insistence on upholding divine perfection. Although his defense of divine perfection takes on a comic tone when he claims that the sentence “God is good” is true even when spoken by a parrot, Rosenzweig’s rhetoric should not distract his readers from what is at stake.125 Shortly after his foray into avian predication, Rosenzweig returns to the point that God’s perfection places limits on the range of human responses to the divine. Rosenzweig holds that for God to remain truly unconditioned it is not possible for individuals or religious communities to give thanks to God in a direct manner that is capable of achieving its end, that is, rendering God thanked. Were this possible, God would become an object for humans and Rosenzweig insists that God is beyond being an object. In Rosenzweig’s grammatical analysis of the problem, to treat God as an object is to constrain God within the accusative case.The grammatical solution Rosenzweig proposes to the philosophical and theological nonstarter of objectifying God is to argue that it is the dative case that rules over prayer as evidenced in its principal function of giving praise “to God.” Indeed, Rosenzweig states that it is the act of giving praise to God that binds religious communities together. Considering that Judaism and Christianity in their liturgical worship are the agents of redemption, it is quite significant that God’s perfection and the limits it places on the illocutionary power of prayer is the fundamental force maintaining these communities. Rosenzweig’s introduction to part 3 is the longest of his introductions and this is in no small part due to the difficult theological question he addresses: whether or not it is possible to entreat God with prayer. The theological problem and its relationship to the topic of divine perfection are evident; if humans can act upon the divine, then God is no longer unconditioned and perfect. Rosenzweig’s solution to the dilemma is to conceive of prayer in such a manner that through it God can tempt humans and humans can tempt God. On such terms, prayer becomes a bridge between the

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elements God-Human-World that secures their factuality and works toward their redemption by drawing the divine into the world through communal prayer, thus paving the way for the kingdom of God. Rosenzweig is emphatic that the relations between the elements that are nourished by communal prayer and conclude with God’s self-redemption do not impinge upon God’s perfection. Regarding the latter notion, Rosenzweig states that “any conception of a development in time such as mystical impertinence or disbelieving arrogance may impute to him, bounces off his eternity. It is not for himself that he himself needs time, it is He as Redeemer of world and man, and not because he needs it but because world and man need it. For the future is not, for God, anticipation. He is eternal, he alone is eternal, he is the Eternal per se.”126 In 3:1 and 3:2 Rosenzweig goes on to show how the Jewish and Christian liturgical calendars bring God as the Eternal into time. On Yom Kippur for instance, communal prayer causes eternity to shed its transcendence and to become immediately perceptible to the entire congregation.127 In his discussion of Christianity, Rosenzweig makes a comment equally apropos to Judaism that speaks to the theological tensions I have sought to highlight. He writes: “There is an alternating current oscillating between God’s attributes; one cannot equate him with the one or the other; he is, rather, One precisely in the constant equalization of apparently opposite ‘attributes.’”128 The persistent debate that Rosenzweig engages in on divine perfection throughout the Star, culminates in 3:3, the final book, with him proposing multiple strategies for resolving the theological dilemma that remains. One strategy places a limit on theological language by claiming that in the experience of God’s love, God draws too close for us to be able to say what God is.129 A second line of argumentation reconsiders the notion of truth from both the human and divine perspectives. For humans, Rosenzweig contends, truth is always partial. We must affirm the truth that is imparted to us, but we must also acknowledge its limits. From the divine perspective, Rosenzweig argues that God simultaneously is and surpasses the truth. Furthermore, truth does not disclose anything about the divine essence; it only reveals that God loves. A third solution lies in Jewish life itself. Judaism, through its singular focus on the eternal life planted within it, “smelts the blazing, flashing contradictions more and more into a unitary, still glow.”130

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Jewish practice thus facilitates God’s internal process of unification which is in essence a balancing of divine perfections. The question that remains is how does Rosenzweig’s reliance upon divine perfection to construct his system and advance his arguments illuminate his philosophical and theological commitments? I would like to begin answering that question by addressing the arguments in the Star that appear to support a noncognitivist position. Despite the claim at the beginning of the Star that God, like the world and the human, is an “irrational object,” and the claim at the end of the book that in revelation all we know is that God loves, it is difficult to accept Leora Batnitzky’s argument that Rosen­ zweig’s philosophy is nonpropositional.131 Without the possibility of making truth claims about God, Rosenzweig would be unable to establish God as one of the three elements at the heart of his system and he would also be unable to think through God’s roles in creation, revelation, and redemption. Batnitzky’s suggestion that there is an ascending epistemological hierarchy to each book of the Star is an ingenious solution, but it fails to account for the fact that the Star is a system—one in which assertions about God’s perfection play a vital role. What about Peter Gordon’s suggestion that Rosenzweig is a postmetaphysical thinker similar to Heidegger? While Gordon, rightfully, emphasizes the centrality of theology to Rosenzweig’s project, his reading of Rosenzweig’s position as postmetaphysical seems untenable.132 It is difficult to see how Rosenzweig’s claims about divine perfection, which permeate the Star and are central to its argumentation, could be anything but metaphysical, no matter how one construes metaphysics. The metaphysical nature of Rosenzweig’s account of divine perfection comes into full-relief only when Rosenzweig’s debt to F. W. J. Schelling is acknowledged.133 The influence of Schelling’s philosophy on Rosenzweig’s thought has received considerable scholarly attention. For his part, Rosenzweig was quite transparent and emphatic about his debt to Schelling. In “The New Thinking,” Rosenzweig states that part 2 of the Star seeks to provide the narrative philosophy that Schelling had called for in The Ages of the World.134 Rosenzweig’s admiration for The Ages of the World is profound. In an oft-quoted letter, he says it is “a great book, beginning to end. If it had been completed, no one outside the Jews would care at all about the Star.”135 In an earlier letter, he identifies Schelling as his “patron

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saint” among modern German philosophers.136 The formative influence of Schelling’s philosophy on Rosenzweig’s conception of divine perfection was noted by Julius Guttmann in his Philosophies of Judaism. “Rosenzweig upholds—undoubtedly under the influence of Schelling—this primary dual­ism in the essence of God, and seeks to understand this essence in terms of its interaction.”137 The duality that Guttmann refers to is the dynamic between God’s freedom and God’s essence in Schelling’s thought. A brief quote from Schelling’s The Ages of the World will make clear how these ideas come to bear on Rosenzweig’s understanding of divine perfection. The Ages of the World is a transitional work between Schelling’s early and late writings that is driven by the criticism that German idealism is a strictly a priori form of philosophy that can never get beyond possibility to treat actual existing objects.138 The work prepares the way for Schelling’s later writings by introducing his theory of the divine potencies, which through a series of inversions serve as the transition from idea to existence. What I would like to draw the reader’s attention to is Schelling’s analysis of the first two potencies, which correspond to God’s freedom and God’s essence.139 God, in accordance with the necessity of its nature, is an eternal No, the highest Being-in-itself, an eternal withdrawal of its being into itself, a withdrawal within which no creature would be capable of living. But the same God, with equal necessity of its nature, although not in accord with the same principle, but in accord with a principle that is completely different from the first principle, is the eternal Yes, an eternal outstretching, giving, and communicating of its being. Each of these principles, in an entirely equal fashion, is the being, that is, each has the same claim to be God or that which has being.Yet they reciprocally exclude each other. If one is that which has being, then the opposed can only be that which does not have being. But, in an equally eternal manner, God is the third term or the unity of the Yes and the No.140

For any reader who has struggled through part 1 of the Star, Schelling’s comments will immediately draw to mind Rosenzweig’s discussion of the self-emergence of God in the protocosmos that documents a similar process of the divine “Yes” extending itself from within the divine “Nothing.” The similarities between Schelling’s and Rosenzweig’s theology, however, do not end with the cryptic matter of theogony. As I have sought to demonstrate, Rosenzweig constructs his theology out of a delicate balance between a transcendence that is the necessary result of God’s perfection

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and a relationality that has its own claim on the logic of divine perfection. Schelling’s theology also reflects a movement between God as impassable and transcendent and a God whose perfection manifests in an outpouring of love and being. In theological language that mirrors Rosenzweig’s later formulation of this dynamic, Schelling says of these potencies that “they are infinitely far from each other and infinitely near.”141 What is perhaps most striking about Schelling’s discussion of the first two potencies is his claim that this duality in God “is interwoven into the innermost fibers of the language of the Old Testament Scriptures.”142 Rosenzweig shared this view and in one of his final writings claimed that the unifying of the two divine poles, the far and the near, is the central revelation of the Hebrew Bible.143 Although these points represent only the barest sketch of common themes within Rosenzweig’s and Schelling’s work, one can say with confidence that an account of Rosenzweig’s views on divine perfection that did not acknowledge Schelling’s influence would overlook one of the principle sources of Rosenzweig’s thought on the subject. Noting one additional point of common language between Schelling and Rosenzweig can help to identify the important differences in their philosophical and theological positions. Echoing Kohelet, Schelling writes toward the end of The Ages of the World: “All life must pass through the fire of contradiction. Contradiction is the power mechanism and what is inner­ most of life. From this it follows that, as an old book says, all deeds under the sun are full of trouble and everything languishes in toil, yet does not become tired, and all forces incessantly struggle against each other.”144 In a passage I have already cited, Rosenzweig also concludes the Star with imagery that combines fire and contradiction. There is, however, an important difference between Schelling’s and Rosenzweig’s formulations. For Schelling, the fire of contradiction is foundational and all life must pass through it. Rosenzweig, in contrast, presents Judaism as the agent who shapes and perfects the burning contradictions. Judaism, as he says, “smelts the blazing, flashing contradictions more and more into a unitary, still glow.”145 It is imperative to see that Rosenzweig’s concern remains theological, whereas Schelling transitions from theology to ontology.146 In Schelling’s philosophy, the potencies become the basic forces of reality; the dynamic process of conflict and resolution that defines the potencies represents a contradiction

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at the heart of existence. The contradiction that Rosenzweig addresses is restricted to God and the divine-human relationship; as such, it is Judaism that is the motive force in overcoming the tension between God’s transcendence and God’s relationality.147 In the liturgical theology of the Star, it is through the temporal cycle of communal worship that the eternal and transcendent God is made present. I would thus contend that Rosenzweig’s repurposing of Schelling’s ideas is quite radical, and that his deployment of these ideas is only understandable in the context of his larger system. To say that Rosenzweig borrowed his views on divine perfection from Schelling tells a small but important part of the story.

Religious Experience The contribution of religious experience to Rosenzweig’s thought is a complicated subject that has been the source of significant scholarly dispute. It is not difficult to see why that is the case. First, the term religious experience is woefully ambiguous; it could refer to any type of experience within a religious context from the most extreme to the most banal. Second, inquiring into the role of religious experience in Rosenzweig’s system has often been conflated with the even more obtuse question of the place of religious experience in Rosenzweig’s dramatic biography. Third, as with other important topics in the study of Rosenzweig’s thought, if one fails to account for his highly rhetorical mode of argumentation, it is possible to read Rosenzweig as defending positions diametrically opposed to his actual arguments. In this case, Rosenzweig’s repeated criticisms of mysticism in the Star can easily come across as a renunciation of religious experience altogether. I will address these points in reverse. It is undeniably the case that a strong critique of mysticism permeates the Star. Rosenzweig’s objection to mysticism leads him to develop a complex account of experience that privileges external over internal experience.148 Although Rosenzweig’s goal is to promote a mode of religious experience that is grounded in the world through communal worship rather than the private experience of an individual, there is a dialectic to internal and external experience that is critical to the divine-human relationship and to Rosenzweig’s theological claims based on that relationship. Understanding the contribution of religious experience to Rosenzweig’s theology will require that I chart that dialectic,

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points of which will now be familiar after my discussion of revelation and hermeneutics. With respect to his own religious experience, Rosenzweig left, what is at best, ambiguous testimony.149 As Paul Mendes-Flohr says quite definitively, “Nowhere does Rosenzweig evoke his personal experience of revelation.”150 Despite the paucity of direct evidence, the question of Rosenzweig’s experiences and religious sensibilities has remained a subject of interest. Nahum Glatzer concludes an essay devoted to the topic by saying: “In answer to the question, ‘was Rosenzweig a mystic?’ we must reply that although he was not a mystic, Rosenzweig did reach a position of ‘theistic mysticism,’ operating with ‘strictly mystical theologoumena.’151 A paradoxical position? Perhaps, but one resolved by the peculiar spiritual odyssey of the man himself.”152 Since Glatzer’s essay, scholars have pushed the discussion of Rosenzweig’s views on religious experience in opposite directions. Robert Gibbs and Leora Batnitzky have argued for positions that curtail the Jewish or revelatory nature of experience for Rosenzweig while other scholars like Peter Gordon and Benjamin Pollock have argued that experience plays a more central role in the Star than scholars have commonly acknowledged.153 Fortunately, my guiding interest in Rosenzweig’s theological language will help to circumvent the most pernicious difficulties surrounding the topic of Rosenzweig and religious experience. For instance, focusing on the contribution that religious experience makes to theological language allows me to bracket questions regarding Rosenzweig’s sustained critique of mysticism. Rosenzweig’s rejection of mysticism is a polemic against trends in nineteenth- and twentieth-century liberal theology that have little bearing on theological language or its sources. Although this point is somewhat counterintuitive, by focusing on theological language I can also set aside questions regarding Rosenzweig’s own personal experience. Following Peter Gordon’s suggestion that Rosenzweig seeks to identify the basic features of religious experience, it is possible to argue that what Rosenzweig explicates is not his own religious experience, but rather religious experience as such. Lending support to such an approach is the argument that were Rosen­ zweig only discussing his own religious experience, the Star would surely fall short of the goals of philosophy and theology as he articulated them. Rather, Rosenzweig must be giving a philosophically universalizable argu-

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ment and the phenomenological account that Gordon suggests seems to be the best of the available possibilities. I would, however, like to make clear that as a reader of Rosenzweig’s work, I firmly believe that he did possess a profound religious sensibility. It seems patently obvious that this religious sensibility informed his writings as well as his life choices. I presume that this religious awareness was the product of and sustained by religious experience, but I have little interest in proving that as a matter of fact. It is Rosenzweig’s theological language that I am interested in; unlike his personal religious testimony, his theological language is available in abundance. Although Rosenzweig named his work The Star of Redemption, it is arguably revelation that plays the central role. Paul Mendes-Flohr suggests that the Star is best described as a “system of revelation.”154 While Rosenzweig does occasionally refer to revelation in the historical terms of Mount Sinai, typically, when he speaks of revelation he is referring to “the miracle of the personal experience of revelation.”155 In my analysis of Rosenzweig’s hermeneutic theology, I have already discussed his account of revelation that begins with God’s command “Love me!” and concludes with the individual gaining the ability to pray. Embedded within this scripturally and liturgically structured description of revelation is a phenomenological account that charts the transformation of the self. At this level, the self, which prior to revelation exists in utter isolation, becomes through revelation a soul beloved by God that is able to turn toward the world as a discoursing figure. As Rosenzweig himself states, this theory of revelation has two poles: the divine and the human.156 I will analyze each of these poles in turn. Beginning on the divine side of the relationship, the tensions between God’s immanence and transcendence come to the forefront in the topic of revelation. That God is most fully immanent in revelation can be seen from Rosenzweig’s assertion that only in the “revelation of divine love, is the Creator and Redeemer too manifested to us, to the extent that such manifestation is vouchsafed at all.”157 According to Rosenzweig, revelation is the pinnacle in the knowledge and experience of God in that through the experience of God’s revelation the practitioner can know and affirm God’s past activity as Creator and God’s future activity as Redeemer. Although revelation does have a cognitive component for Rosenzweig, the relationality of the event outpaces the knowledge that it produces. Rosenzweig

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likens revelation to an experience of a friend, where one understands what the friend says but does not participate in the friend’s experience.158 God is, however, far more than just a friend; in revelation God gives God’s self away in “a continually renewed self-sacrifice.”159 It is on this basis that revelation comes to have an “experiential and presentative character.”160 On the side of immanence, religious experience provides the foundation for cognitive and affective claims about the divine that we would not know in other ways. It does not matter whether Rosenzweig is here speaking of his own experience, offering a phenomenological account of religious experience as such, or drawing inferences through a transcendental account of the mere possibility of religious experience. On whichever reading one favors, it is still the case that Rosenzweig is deploying either the actuality or the idea of religious experience to produce claims about God. Remaining with the divine pole of revelation, the experience of God also marks its own limits in ways that protect God’s transcendence. According to Rosenzweig, “the ‘ultimate’ that we know of God is none other than the innermost that we know of him, namely that he reveals himself to us.”161 That this is to be taken as a bare and isolated fact is clear when Rosenzweig says that God does not become “visible” in revelation, rather we come to understand the relations of the elements: God-HumanWorld.162 In addition to these cognitive limits there are also experiential and practical limitations on the revelatory encounter with the divine. As I noted in the discussion of divine perfection, the premiere example of these limits is the fact that the practitioner cannot successfully direct gratitude toward God.163 Whether this claim is the deliverance of reason or experience, it has the significant effect of steering the individual away from a dangerous mystical trance and instead redirecting him or her to the redemptive task. From the divine pole, then, religious experience (revelation) provides Rosenzweig a basis from which to make claims both about God’s immanence and transcendence as well as the necessary limits of speaking of either set of divine attributes. By shifting to the human pole of revelation, it is possible to see additional ways that religious experience makes a contribution to Rosen­ zweig’s theological language. From the human perspective, the ultimate fact of revelation is the transformation of the self. According to Rosenzweig, it

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is only “in the love of God that the flower of the soul begins to grow out of the rock of the self.”164 Without the direct agency of God that pours the divine love on the individual, it would be impossible to make the transition from “mute self ” to “eloquent soul” that Rosenzweig describes.165 From the perspective of the practitioner, it is this transformation brought about by the experience of revelation that secures religious belief. The practitioner comes to trust in God, which allows the soul to be “at peace in the love of God, like a child in the arms of its mother.”166 In fact, according to Rosenzweig, after revelation the soul remains forever in “God’s proximity” with a “protective circle” drawn around it.167 A profound change also occurs on the side of the divine through revelation. God’s katabatic, if not kenotic, outpouring of divine love culminates in God’s own renewal. “The lover who sacrifices himself in love is recreated anew in the trust of the beloved, and this time forever.”168 Rosenzweig is keenly aware of the radical nature of this theological statement. The final and ultimate consequence of revelation is that a bridge is constructed “from the eternal to the personal” that prepares the way for the process of redemption.169 Taking the two poles of revelation together, it is evident that the experience of personal revelation is a rich source for Rosenzweig for theological claims. On the basis of religious experience, Rosenzweig makes a variety of theological claims that would be otherwise unknowable. It would, however, mischaracterize Rosenzweig’s thought to leave the matter there. Rosen­ zweig argues that it is the congregation that grounds personal experience and places it on a “firm foundation.”170 Prayer is, as he says, the “greatest gift presented to the soul in revelation.”171 While Rosenzweig’s system is, as Paul Mendes-Flohr suggests, a “system of revelation,” his theology is best described as a liturgical theology.172 In having revelation culminate in the individual gaining the capacity to pray, Rosenzweig sets a trajectory from the internal experience of revelation to the external experience of the divine presence in communal prayer. ­Pivotal to this process is Rosenzweig’s de-emphasis of personal prayer and his building up of the communal liturgical structures as conducive to religious experience. Regarding personal prayer, Rosenzweig says that the individual cannot “soar higher” than the lament, the prayer that is uniquely individual.173 In contrast, as a member of the liturgical community it is pos-

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sible to experience one’s “earthly eternity.”174 As Rosenzweig describes it, there are numerous factors including liturgical time, the liturgy itself, and even the faith of the people that help to make the liturgical community the abode for the divine. Ultimately, though, it is the unity of the community in liturgical time that compels God’s presence. Rosenzweig states, “The cult too appears merely to build the house in which God may take up residence, but can it really force the exalted guest to move in? Yes it can. For the time which the cult prepares for the visit of eternity is not the time of an individual; it is not mine, nor thine, nor his secret time. It is the time of All.”175 Communal worship for Rosenzweig provides a proleptic experience of redemption, what Rosenzweig commonly refers to as the “kingdom of God.” The unity of the congregation is a powerful foretaste of the full unification that will come with redemption. Redemption, as Rosenzweig conceives it, is the reintegration of the elements God-Human-World. Unlike Hegel’s claim to have brought the All to completion through the perfect self-consciousness of the Spirit, Rosenzweig contends that it is only in the end-time that one can speak properly of the All. In the concluding chapter of the Star, Rosenzweig describes how the All is only accessible through prayer: “The All, which must be everything as well as whole, can neither be honestly recognized nor clearly experienced. Only the dishonest cognition of Idealism, or the unclear experience of mysticism, can delude itself with having comprehended it.The All must be comprehended beyond cognition and experience if it is to be comprehended immediately. And precisely this comprehension takes place in the illumination of prayer.”176 Ironically, in the same breath that Rosenzweig renounces mysticism, his language begins to break apart in a manner common to mystical discourse. He asks his reader to entertain the idea of a comprehension that is not cognitive and an illumination that is not experiential. While comprehension of the All through prayer may be beyond cognition, Rosenzweig has not chosen to forego second-order reflection on the prayer life. To the contrary, he utilizes prayer to support a notion similar to the kabbalistic view that Jewish soteriology is not about the world to come; rather, it is about the world of redemption that is constantly coming to us.177 Like exegesis, hermeneutics, and divine perfection, religious experience turns out to be a productive source of theological claims for Rosenzweig.

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Given the challenges of separating out Rosenzweig’s personal life from his thought, it remains open for debate as to how religious experience functions as a belief-forming practice for him. It could be that he is speaking from his own experience or, alternatively, he can be read as giving either phenomenological or transcendental accounts of religious experience. Again, my take on this part of his theological language is that he is, at least in part, speaking from personal experience. It is difficult to discern what would motivate such a detailed and impassioned account of religious experience if Rosenzweig had no participation in it. Fortunately, it is not necessary to decide this point here. However his arguments are understood, the contribution of religious experience to Rosenzweig’s theology is irrefutable.

The Limits of Theological Language Throughout my analysis of the theological language of the Star, there have been numerous instances in which Rosenzweig sought to place limits on what can be said about God. Clearly, his motivations for delimiting the scope of his theological language have both philosophical and theological sources. In summary, Rosenzweig adopts and assiduously defends a relationship with a personal God that is not consumed in the totalized thought of idealism and that also avoids the theological and social dangers of mysticism. This position requires that it be possible to say just enough about God to affirm the divine-human relationship, but not so much that God is absorbed into thought or experience. Rosenzweig effectively built these criteria into his system through his phenomenology of revelation, his philosophy of language, and his theology, which privileges event over content. My efforts to document these aspects of Rosenzweig’s thought as they arose render redundant a systematic appraisal at this juncture. Instead, I will explore more closely the limits on theological language as Rosenzweig formulates them in the final book of the Star. In Star 3:3, entitled “The Star or the Eternal Truth,” Rosenzweig proposes a theory of truth that can embrace the competing claims of Judaism and Christianity.The guiding principle of Rosenzweig’s theory is that “God is truth,” which he takes to mean that the truth is only whole with God.178 For humans, truth is “imparted”; it is our task to embrace that part of the

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truth which is ours so we can say, “Truly!” to God’s truth.179 This dichotomous theory of truth requires there to be serious limits on theological truth claims. Rosenzweig addresses the issue: We learn that God loves but not that he is love. He draws too nigh to us in love for us to be yet able to say: he is this or that. In this love we learn only that he is God, not what he is.The What, the essence, remains concealed. It is concealed precisely by being revealed. A god who did not reveal himself would not permanently hide his essence from us, for nothing remains concealed from man’s far-reaching learning, his capacity for conceptualization, his inquisitive intellect. But God pours forth over us in revelation; with us he turns from stationary to active God. Precisely thereby he forges the fetters of love around our free intellect, which is irresistible for everything stationary. Bound by such bonds, summoned thus by name, we move in the orbit in which we found ourselves, and along the route on which we are placed. We no longer reach beyond this except with the powerless grasp of empty concepts.180

Rosenzweig’s suggestions regarding the limits of our ability to know and speak about the divine are quite ingenious. The problem is not that God is too remote for us to know anything about the divine. Much to the contrary, our inability to speak objectively about God stems from the fact that God is too close to us. Rosenzweig then follows up this first counterintuitive claim with a second one: God’s self-disclosure is in fact a concealment from the probing human intellect that would, on its own, reveal the concealed God. Apparently, only through self-revelation is God able to remain concealed. The startling nature of Rosenzweig’s language bears repeating: God “forges the fetters of love around our free intellect.”181 At the end of the Star, Rosenzweig continues to promote a highly intimate divine-human relationship albeit one that purports to produce limited knowledge of God. One could gather from this discussion that even though Rosenzweig defends the notion of a personal God, his views on theological language ultimately coincide with rationalist positions like those of medieval Jewish philosophy. After all, his concluding statements on the matter seem to reflect Maimonides’ claim that we know God’s actions but not God’s essence. Rosenzweig directly rebuts such theological positions in his commentary on the Halevi poems: The most accurate theology is the most dangerous. After a long drought, today we have a theology, mostly Protestant, that leaves nothing to be desired

Franz Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption    as to accuracy. We have it now: that God is Wholly Other, that to talk about Him is to talk Him away, that we can only say what He does to us.The result of this monstrous accuracy is that we accurate people today all stand together like children in a circle. One person asserts one accurate point; his neighbour scorns him with the even more accurate statement that this assertion was false because it was accurate. And so it goes around the circle until we arrive at the first. The whole thing is called theology.182

Even apart from this critique of “accurate” theology, we would have to question any attempt to conflate Rosenzweig with medieval Jewish philosophy. Despite Rosenzweig’s protestations, he has said quite a bit about God, including claims about God’s essence. For instance it could hardly be accidental that God is, among other things, a person, agential, or good. While it may appear that Rosenzweig is simply guilty of gross inconsistencies, a hermeneutic of good will suggests otherwise. One could argue that what Rosenzweig is seeking to capture is the genuine tensions that pervade our thought, language, and experience. Although Rosenzweig insists that GodHuman-World are all equally “irrational,” it happens that these tensions are most evident with respect to God who is both near and far, knowable and unknowable, and so on.183 Again, in turning to the Halevi commentary we find evidence that Rosenzweig is not foundering upon a theological Scylla and Charybdis, but is rather trying to preserve both sides of the argument. “But just as we have to heed the limits of our knowledge, so too, and not less, the limits of our not-knowing. Beyond all our knowledge God lives. But before our not-knowing begins, your God presents Himself to you, to your call, to your ascent, to your readiness, to your glance, to your life.”184 I would suggest that one of Rosenzweig’s most important contributions in terms of his theological language is his effort to preserve our ability to think and speak about God while also acknowledging the limits thereof. In this respect, Rosenzweig’s fundamental theological intuitions appear consonant with the rabbinic perspectives represented by the Mekhilta.

Conclusion One would think that there are far fewer barriers to understanding the thought of a near contemporary like Franz Rosenzweig than there are for understanding rabbinic literature that requires crossing great historical

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and cultural distance in order to hear its claims to truth. How is it that a ­single-authored work less than a hundred years old could face similar interpretive challenges to the task of reconstructing rabbinic theological views from the ancient world? To be sure, Rosenzweig is partly to blame for this state of affairs; he wrote an exceedingly difficult book and then followed it with commentaries whose rhetorical flourishes often led his readers further astray. In Rosenzweig’s defense, his project, which includes restoring theological reflection, preserving the divine-human relationship, and renegotiating the balance between philosophy and theology was monumental in nature and there is little sense in wishing that he had met these challenges in any other way than he did. Furthermore, the difficulties of Rosenzweig’s work hardly explain the fact that the Star has become something of an academic Rorschach. What contemporary philosopher or theologian has generated so many contradictory interpretations? In recent years scholars have alternatively argued that Rosenzweig is committed to both experience and theology and that he rejects personal revelation and only affirms a nonpropositional theology. Similarly, where one reader sees the Star as a haphazard series of underdeveloped arguments, another uncovers an abiding concern with systematic thought that stretches back to the founders of German idealism. All that one can say in response is to agree with Gadamer that our research is guided by our prejudices—in this case philosophical and theological ones. This study is no more immune to the hermeneutic conditions of understanding than previous readings of the Star. Clearly, my desire that scholars give greater attention to theological truth claims motivates this project from start to finish. That being said, just because we all have prejudices, and I am here using the term in Gadamer’s positive sense, does not mean that all prejudices are valid or, in this case, effective tools for interpreting Rosenzweig. I take it that my preceding argument has conclusively demonstrated that a proper understanding of Rosenzweig’s thought requires careful attention to how he utilizes theological language. I would like to briefly recount how I think JTP has helped in that endeavor. The main point I would like to emphasize is the benefit of individuating the forms of Rosenzweig’s theological reflection according to the

Franz Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption   

belief-forming mechanisms that produce his claims. Approaching theological language as an array of cognitive and discursive forms brings to the surface the multifaceted nature of Rosenzweig’s theology. For instance, distinguishing between exegesis and hermeneutics reveals the differences between Rosenzweig’s ruminations on the Song of Songs and its status within the Bible and his hermeneutic deployment of Scripture in constructing his phenomenological account of revelation. As I have sought to show, these are very different ways of reading Scripture and different ways of formulating theological assertions. Particularly because of the reception history of Rosen­zweig’s work, JTP’s focus on divine perfection makes a signal contribution to understanding the Star. Scholars have been quick to assimilate Rosenzweig to trends in modern and contemporary philosophy, but they have rarely done the work to assess whether his theological language is compatible with the philosophical trends they find compelling. JTP has allowed me to make a persuasive case that future efforts to characterize Rosenzweig’s project will have to take into account the role of divine perfection in his thought. JTP also made an important contribution to the debates about the place of experience within Rosenzweig’s thought. My concern for theological language sharpens that debate by bracketing questions about Rosenzweig’s personal experience, instead examining how experience functions as a source for theological reflection. This approach was flexible enough to accommodate different accounts of experience without having to decide among them. Altogether, I would say that JTP discharged its responsibilities in reading Rosenzweig quite well. JTP has demonstrated that it can settle ongoing debates about Rosenzweig’s thought and that it can open new avenues for research. For a model that was purposefully fashioned to have the type of general characteristics that would allow it to be widely applicable, those are welcome results. Two questions remain that I will take up in the concluding chapter. While JTP has proven sufficiently flexible to be deployed in radically different phases of the tradition, are the insights that it produces substantive enough to support comparative conclusions? For instance, can JTP disclose the changes that have occurred in the belief-forming mechanisms that comprise Jewish theology, or can it illuminate the theoretical and practical conditions for a rich theological reflection? If JTP can answer

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questions like these, it will be valid, not only for the local analysis of specific texts, but for lending credibility to the comparative enterprise. This leads to the second question: if JTP has succeeded in demonstrating its utility, then what implications or guidance does JTP have for future studies on Jewish theology?

conc lu s i on

My principal goal in Contemplative Nation has been to develop a model of Jewish theological language that can overcome the view that theology is not an integral part of the Jewish religious life; a view that stubbornly persists regardless of significant work in biblical, rabbinic, and mystical theology, modern Jewish thought, post-Holocaust and feminist theology. One factor perpetuating the antitheological approach to Judaism is the claim that theology is inherently systematic and dogmatic and Jewish thought about God does not typically exhibit these features. As a corrective to such arguments that seek to brush aside millennia of theological reflection, I have set forth an account of Jewish theology that emphasizes the diverse functions and multiple forms of Jewish theological language and which draws a more complex picture of the relationship between reflection and religious practice in Judaism. While I hope my model of Jewish Theological Practice ( JTP) will prove useful for the purposes of constructive theology, my present concern has been to demonstrate the heuristic virtues of the model by deploying it in close readings of Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael and The Star of Redemp­ tion. Although I believe the model possesses the flexibility to be successfully deployed at any stage of the Jewish tradition, there is no compelling way to defend that claim within the confines of a single volume. I have, there

Conclusion   

fore, chosen the radically different genres of an early rabbinic biblical commentary and a modern philosophical theology as a means of demonstrating JTP’s ability to adapt to texts constructed on the basis of distinct discursive forms and cognitive presuppositions. Benefits of this diachronic approach include the opportunity to make comparative observations about the conditions for a rich Jewish theological reflection and the opportunity to analyze the changes in the belief-forming practices that constitute Jewish theology as it traverses significant historical and cultural distance. With these points in mind, I will assess the merits of JTP from three perspectives. First, I will summarize what I take to be the most important contributions that JTP has made to the study of rabbinic theology and the work of Franz Rosenzweig. Second, on the basis of my analysis of Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael and The Star of Redemption, I will make a few brief comparative remarks to highlight the resources within JTP for thinking about Jewish theology across the common disciplinary boundaries marked by historical period and philosophical and religious outlook. Finally, I will return my attention to JTP itself and consider how it addresses long-standing problems in the study of Jewish theology and the ways in which it might advance future research on the topic. Although the Mekhilta represents only a small sample of rabbinic literature, it is my hope that my theological reading of the text will help derail suggestions that the rabbis’ theological reflection was half-hearted and under­developed speculation, or that their theological discourse was directed toward the religious formation of the laity and that theology was not a vital intellectual and religious concern of the rabbis themselves. Stated positively, I hope that JTP will promote the view that theological reflection is a significant factor in the rabbis’ exegetical and hermeneutic engagement with Scripture, and that the rabbis resolutely appealed to reason and to a somewhat lesser extent experience to round out the conceptions of God they discovered in the Torah. On this account, theology is not a theoretical activity that stands in opposition to the practical concerns of the religious life. Theology in rabbinic Judaism erases any assumed split between theory and practice by taking on the cognitive work to understand the divinehuman relationship, the rhetorical work of religious formation within the rabbinic community, and the practical work of self-transformation through theologically informed reading and reflective practices.

Conclusion   

The previous points deal with the functions of theological reflection within rabbinic Judaism. JTP also addresses more fine-grained issues in rabbinic theology through its analysis of the forms of the rabbis’ theological language. Here, I will highlight two significant advantages that JTP brings to the study of rabbinic theology, the first of which is a meaningful and productive distinction between exegesis and hermeneutics. Scholars have devoted significant effort to describing the dynamics of rabbinic scriptural interpretation. A common difficulty that confronts these studies is the fact that the rabbis do not privilege the “plain sense” of Scripture in the medieval or the modern sense of that term. Approaching the topic from the hermeneutically and epistemologically informed perspective of JTP makes it possible to sustain the distinction between exegesis and hermeneutics by circumventing the problems associated with the dichotomy of plain versus applied meaning. Focusing on the belief-forming mechanisms that constitute rabbinic interpretation reveals that the rabbis engaged in different types of reading practices. Sometimes the rabbis read in order to resolve various types of textual difficulties with the goal of rendering Scripture self-coherent, and other times they read in order to adapt Scripture to their contemporary horizon. I am not suggesting that the rabbis consciously engaged in these different reading practices or that they were even aware of the distinction.Their self-awareness of their own belief-forming practices is independent of how we understand the theological claims they preserved in their literature. On close analysis of those theological claims, it is evident that some of their theological assertions are prompted by tensions within Scripture while other claims arise from a much wider and indeterminate input that far exceeds Scripture and appears to contain their entire religious worldview. Exegesis and hermeneutics, as I have defined them, are indeed fluid categories. Exegetical problems can have hermeneutic solutions and vice versa. That this is so only further underscores the rabbis’ abiding commitment to scriptural interpretation and confirms the view that the hermeneutic contours to understanding truly are universal. By focusing on the belief-forming mechanisms that constitute the rabbis’ reading practices, JTP provides a more nuanced account of rabbinic scriptural interpretation than is possible on the basis of the distinction between the plain and interpretive senses of Scripture.

Conclusion   

Differentiating exegesis and hermeneutics as sources for the rabbis’ theological reflection is, essentially, a methodological matter. No one would deny the centrality of scriptural interpretation in the rabbis’ theology; it is simply a matter of how to best understand their engagement with Scripture. By identifying reflection on divine perfection as a significant source for rabbinic theological claims, JTP makes a more substantive contribution to the understanding of rabbinic theology. In the Introduction, I laid out the multiple forces that have marginalized theology within rabbinic Judaism. A combination of traditional, historical, and scholarly factors conceals the contribution that theology makes to the rabbinic religious life and obscures the rabbis’ motivations for speaking about God. JTP, with its focus on the belief-­forming mechanisms that produce rabbinic theological claims, restores the rabbis’ profound interest in conceptualizing and asserting God’s greatness. There have, of course, been strong advocates for the role of reason in rabbinic theology, notably Arthur Marmorstein and Ephraim Urbach. JTP, in contrast to the methods of earlier studies, entails no overall characterization of rabbinic theology; in particular, there is no desire to depict the rabbis as rationalists that accompanies JTP.What JTP commits me to is analyzing how the rabbis form their theological claims and, on this score, there can be little doubt that various notions of God’s perfection are crucial to their theological reflection. Admitting that fact does not impose upon the rabbis a monolithic and unanimous conception of God. It is possible to construe God’s maximal greatness in myriad and contradictory ways. Furthermore, JTP does not identify theology with systematic or dogmatic thinking, so the fact that rabbinic theology sometimes arises out of rational reflection on divine perfection does not mean that it always does so. Unlike rationalistic approaches to rabbinic theology, JTP has no desire to brush under the carpet the anthro­ pomorphisms and anthropopathisms within rabbinic theology that some scholars have found embarrassing. An additional advantage of JTP is that the dual emphasis on the function and form of the rabbis’ theological language makes clear that their concern with God’s perfection is both a theoretical activity that justifies God and a practical activity rooted in religious formation and the desire to praise God. What emerges from this is a better account of the rabbis’ efforts to conceptualize God that seeks to understand the rabbis on their own terms and not as the specter of philosophy, ancient or modern.

Conclusion   

I would also like to highlight two ways in which my application of JTP to the Star can advance scholarly discussion of Rosenzweig’s work. The equivalent concern within Rosenzweig scholarship to muddling over the existence and nature of rabbinic theology is the question of whether or not the Star is a Jewish book. Rosenzweig himself is responsible for posing this question, as the result of comments he made in his essay “The New Thinking.” Despite drawing on a wide range of philosophical resources, JTP is, at heart, an austere method. My principal goal in deploying JTP in a reading of the Star was to arrive at a better understanding of how Rosenzweig formulates his theological claims. As I have argued, given the complexity of the Star’s philosophical system and the rhetorical ambiguity of Rosenzweig’s authorial voice, a streamlined methodology can prove beneficial. Close analysis of Rosenzweig’s theological language confirms the Jewish character of his thought as well as the inextricable connection between philosophy and theology in the Star.These points are particularly evident in his reliance upon exegesis and hermeneutics at critical points in the work. As Rosenzweig noted, the heart of the Star—literally its central book—is its discussion of revelation. It is no small matter that Rosenzweig constructs his account of revelation out of a hermeneutic stringing together of biblical verses and then supports the intimate relationship between God and humanity that he envisions through an exegetical reading of the Song of Songs. Attending to Rosenzweig’s theological language affirms his reliance upon traditional modes of Jewish thought and the integral nature of the philosophical and theological aspects of his project. While my application of JTP began with the narrow goal of seeking to better understand Rosenzweig’s theological language, the circumscribed nature of the analysis does not prevent my study from advocating for a reassess­ment of Rosenzweig’s project. This is most evident with my discussion of the role that divine perfection plays in the Star. The reception history of the Star, particularly in America, was profoundly shaped by the emergence of postmodern philosophy and the dominance it held over much academic discourse in the latter part of the twentieth century. On the basis of his critique of Hegel and his rejection of totalized forms of thought, Rosenzweig was seen by many scholars as a precursor to postmodernism. Lending credence to this interpretation of Rosenzweig’s work was

Conclusion   

­ mmanuel Levinas’s declaration in the preface to Totality and Infinity that E the Star is “too often present” to be cited.1 Curiously, even as the Levinasian interpretations of the Star have subsided, Rosenzweig is still characterized as espousing a theology that is alternatively postmetaphysical, postliberal, or apophatic. JTP demonstrates that claims based on divine perfection are critical to Rosenzweig’s philosophical system, and it should not be difficult to see that this raises serious challenges to the aforementioned interpretations of Rosenzweig’s theology. If a metaphysical claim is one that is either universal, necessary, or both, there seems no way around the fact that a large part of Rosenzweig’s theology has a metaphysical and cognitive character that cannot be squared with the postmetaphysical and postliberal readings of the Star. While Rosenzweig’s reliance on divine perfection to construct and propel his system is not incompatible with a position that is ultimately apophatic, JTP indicates that the kataphatic element of Rosenzweig’s theology is crucial to the construction of his philosophical system. While I take it as confirmation of the utility of JTP that it can advance discussions in the disparate fields of rabbinics and modern Jewish thought, a critic might view JTP as homogenizing what are fundamentally distinct strata of the Jewish tradition. If the rabbis and Rosenzweig formulate their theologies on the basis of exegesis, hermeneutics, rational reflection on divine perfection, and religious experience, what distinguishes their theological reflection and the practices that support it? The first point to make is that apart from a shared interest in conceptualizing God’s greatness—a concern I take to be endemic to monotheism—I have in my application of JTP made no gesture toward harmonizing the theological content of the Mekhilta and the Star. If the rabbis possess a common theology, I have yet to discover it, so there is little to support the potential criticism that JTP conflates the theological content of the Mekhilta and the Star. One might still protest that it distorts the Jewish tradition to impose upon each historical stratum a common set of doxastic practices. I am deeply sympathetic to this concern and I am pleased that JTP has a ready response.While my main purpose in introducing William Alston’s religious epistemology was to buttress philosophical hermeneutics and to help make hermeneutic theory more amenable to theological truth claims, there are also important points of continuity between the two philosophical projects. Essential to

Conclusion   

Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory is the belief that the prejudices of our contemporary horizon guide our encounter with tradition. For Gadamer, we are historical beings through and through, and this means that we cannot shake off the formative role our cultural horizon has upon us. Alston makes a similar point that helps bring Gadamer’s claims into sharper focus. In Alston’s view it is not just that our cultural or intellectual horizon changes; he contends that our doxastic practices themselves change over time. Even the most superficial glimpse back at the material I have covered in this book would demand assent to these views. To that end, I will briefly consider the changes that take place in the theological belief-forming practices of exegesis and rational reflection on divine perfection. For the rabbis, exegesis appears to be a communal activity guided by the view that Scripture is a divinely authored or inspired work, which demands that it be free of certain kinds of defects—contradictions, superfluous elements, and so on. Rosenzweig also uses scriptural exegesis as a source for his theological claims, but he does so on radically different terms.2 Although Rosenzweig in “The New Thinking” is quick to assert that his philosophy developed in conversation with his interlocutors, there is no indication that scriptural interpretation in the Star was a communal practice as it was for the rabbis.3 Even more to the point, while Rosenzweig is clearly concerned with the unity of the Hebrew Bible as can be seen from his reading of the Song of Songs, his acceptance of modern biblical criticism disabused him of the rabbinic view that the divine authority of Scripture hinged on resolving every apparent exegetical difficulty. This is not to suggest that Rosenzweig did not possess his own presuppositions that guided his exegesis. Part of what motivates his reading of the Song of Songs is his extension of the self-coherence of Scripture to the view that Scripture must also cohere with experience. Just because the rabbis and Rosenzweig both use exegesis as a source for their theological claims, it does not follow from this that scriptural exegesis is static in the Jewish tradition. That point holds for all of the doxastic practices I have discussed. Rational reflection on divine perfection is an equally forceful example. One might think that the logic of divine perfection would lend greater continuity between the rabbis’ and Rosenzweig’s theological claims. This turns out not to be the case for two reasons. First, the topic of divine perfection is susceptible to exceedingly

Conclusion   

different interpretations shaped by what are often contradictory theological intuitions. Does God’s perfection entail utter transcendence or perfect relationality? Opinions on these issues differ among the rabbis, let alone the later Jewish tradition. Second, thinking about God’s perfection as a form of divine praise in the context of the rabbinic reinvention of Judaism in the aftermath of the Temple’s destruction is a very different cognitive act than working through a Schellingian problematic of the tension between God’s freedom and God’s essence within a philosophical system. While I think it is significant that Jewish theology shares common belief-forming practices across the tradition, that observation does not eliminate the necessity for detailed analysis of how those belief-forming practices function within a given context. Not only do the belief-forming practices that comprise Jewish theology change, so too does the manner in which the belief-forming practices constellate at any given stage of the tradition. For instance, in rabbinic Judaism, as represented by the Mekhilta, it is undeniably the case that exegetical and hermeneutic engagements with Scripture are the principal sources for the rabbis’ theological claims. In comparison to exegesis and hermeneutics, the claims that arise out of religious experience in the ­Mekhilta are negligible. Rosenzweig’s work exhibits a very different hierarchy to his theological belief-forming practices. While the rabbis’ exegetical and hermeneutic readings of Scripture are roughly equal, in Rosenzweig’s Star the hermeneutic application of Scripture far outpaces exegetical interpretations. What explains this fact? I would suggest the most important factors are that Rosenzweig does not share the rabbis’ concern to demonstrate the unity of Scripture at the level of its most minute details and that Rosen­ zweig interprets Scripture in the Star principally for the purpose of aiding him in the construction of his philosophical system, a task that is inherently hermeneutic in its application of Scripture to the present. Equally important are the different roles that experience plays in the Mekhilta and the Star. As I have just noted, experience is a relatively paltry source for theological claims in the Mekhilta, but just the opposite is the case in the Star. For present purposes, it makes no difference whether I take Rosenzweig’s discussion of religious experience to be a personal, phenomenological, or a transcendental account. On any of those possible interpretations, it is still

Conclusion   

the case that for Rosenzweig religious experience is a rich source of theological claims. In attempting to account for the difference between the Mekhilta and the Star on this point, I would suggest several likely factors. First, the rabbis are deeply committed to a scriptural worldview. Most of what they have to say about religious experience or anything else finds expression through scriptural interpretation. This scriptural orientation to their thinking masks, and perhaps to some extent suppresses, religious experience as a source for theological claims. A second factor elevating religious experience in Rosenzweig’s thought is that he elaborates his views on the topic as part of a philosophical system that seeks to capture the dynamic relationships between God, world, and person. The theoretical structure that characterizes Rosenzweig’s thinking is notably less well developed in rabbinic discourse. Having a more fully articulated account of God, world, and person provides Rosenzweig with the tools to speak more directly about experience and, perhaps, also from it. Finally, some would argue that experience is a relatively late concept. Without getting embroiled in that issue, I will point out that the hermeneutic nature of my argument demands that I acknowledge the increased interest in religious experience that is the result of Schleiermacher’s influence on the liberal theology that dominated Rosenzweig’s intellectual horizon.What these points indicate is that deploying JTP entails not only an analysis of the individual belief-forming practices that inform the theology of a given text, but also analysis of how the relations between those belief-forming practices impart a unique shape to Jewish theology as a doxastic practice. As I transition to considering how JTP might contribute to future studies, I would like to highlight one remaining feature of the model.While it is certainly the case that Judaism and Jewish studies have a unique story to tell about the challenges that theology has faced, it would mischaracterize these issues to depict opposition to theology as a strictly Jewish phenomenon. One could argue that modern and postmodern philosophy are characterized by a series of assaults on metaphysics that have been equally destructive to theological language. As our doxastic practices change, so too does our understanding of what constitutes knowledge. I would contend that as modern and postmodern philosophy have become increasingly dubi-

Conclusion   

ous about metaphysics and theology, a tendency arises to think of the earlier Jewish tradition as profligate in its (ab)use of theological language. This sense of epistemic superiority can easily lead us to miss the fact that theological reflection typically includes efforts to weigh the power and ­limits of theological language. It is not just the sin of philosophical vanity that scholars should be concerned about. Failing to take into account the selfimposed limits on theological language prevents us from properly understanding how theological reflection was practiced and understood within a given period or text. While I do not share the philosophical commitments that compel Paul Ricoeur and Pierre Hadot to emphasize the limits of theological language, at a methodological level I think both are correct that analysis of theological language must also include its presumed limits. In the Introduction, I suggested that JTP would provide resources for both historical and constructive work on Jewish theology. Before detailing the contributions JTP makes to constructive Jewish theology, I would like to address the problematic distinction between historical and constructive research. Since the inception of Wissenschaft des Judentums in the nineteenth century, Jewish studies has fashioned itself as a principally historical discipline. It should be evident from my discussion of Gadamer that there are good reasons to be skeptical about rigid distinctions between historical and constructive approaches to the Jewish tradition. As Gadamer makes clear, our encounter with tradition is always guided by our prejudices and commitments. Bernard McGinn gives this point a positive formulation when he states: “Historical reconstruction, when well done, is more than mere description: it is always guided and informed by explanatory perspectives that are at least implicitly constructive.”4 In truth, the claim to a purely scientific and objective approach to history has been nearly abandoned in contemporary academia, and so it may seem unnecessary to raise these points here. Given the vicissitudes of theology within Judaism and Jewish studies, I think it is important to reflect on the implicit normativity of historical research. One of the central objectives of JTP is to provide an account of Jewish theology that will help scholars acknowledge the truth claims of classical Jewish literature. That this is a fundamentally hermeneutic goal can be seen in Gadamer’s assertion that “a text is not understood as a mere expression of life but is taken seriously in its claim to truth.”5 While we are

Conclusion   

not compelled to adopt the beliefs of the traditional text, we are also not free to ignore or willfully distort them.6 The normative force of historical research into Jewish theology is amplified when one considers Jewish theology as the simultaneously theoretical and practical activity that I have presented it as. To ignore, deny, or deflate Jewish theological truth claims has a profound impact on how one conceives of Jewish belief and practice.7 This is not just a matter of historical concern. By concealing the truth claims of Jewish theology, one alienates contemporary Jewish theological reflection from its resources within the tradition. Without tradition as its guide, contemporary Jewish theology is left to its own devices within a cultural horizon in which the status of theological language is highly contested. The multiple forces impinging upon Jewish theological language do not distinguish between the theoretical and practical functions of theological reflection. Undermining our ability to think and speak about God at the theoretical level also has consequences at the practical level. With diminished ability to clarify our understanding of God and to justify our practices and beliefs, it is inevitable that our relationship to God will also become strained. How can one orient oneself to that which he or she does not understand and does not have the resources to think about? Scholars who are personally invested in the future of the Jewish tradition might take into consideration that a rigorously historical approach to Judaism that is not methodologically attuned to its philosophical and theological prejudices deprives contemporary Judaism of the resources it needs for its own preservation.8 Although in this study I have disavowed adjudicating the truth value of any particular theological claim, I should make some concluding remarks on the matter of truth more generally. The hermeneutically inclined critic who thinks it unduly burdens traditional Jewish sources to appeal to Alston’s epistemology should bear in mind that my epistemologically informed hermeneutic theory is, in its ontological commitments, more neutral than Gadamer’s or Ricoeur’s. Gadamer, for instance, makes clear that he is engaged in the “general task of establishing the ontological background of the hermeneutical experience of the world.”9 In contrast, JTP seeks a position of neutrality on ontological issues so that it can draw on both correspondence theories of truth and the manifestation theories of truth

Conclusion   

proposed by Ricoeur and Gadamer. A correspondence theory of truth is necessary insofar as Jewish theological claims seek to convey knowledge that God has certain properties such as being a personal and agential being. The manifestation theory of truth, however, also makes a contribution to JTP by providing a model for understanding God’s disclosure through the various forms of predication. Through JTP the practitioner not only comes to understand God, but is reoriented in such a way as to enter into renewed relationship to God.10 David Tracy expresses this point well when he says that “the subjective correlate to the objectivity of manifestation is ‘recognition.’”11 In the same way that being becomes accessible through language for Gadamer and Ricoeur, God becomes accessible in the practice of JTP. In this way, JTP is not committed to one theory of truth to the exclusion of another.12 I think it would behoove scholars of Judaism to affirm, with Edward Farley, that “the reduction of the sense of truth to a particular method and its reality paradigm suppresses most of the spheres of human transaction with the world.”13 The diverse forms of theological predication arising out of equally diverse theoretical and experiential practices require that we consider the question of truth from multiple vantage points.14 One basic contribution of JTP to future constructive work, then, is the model it provides in its effort to harmonize and draw upon alternative conceptions of truth. A significant factor that confounds historical approaches to Jewish theology is confusion about what it means to talk about theology that is not defined by its systematic and dogmatic features. The remedy I have proposed for this difficulty calls for a new model of Jewish theology that takes into account the multiple forms of Jewish theological language and the tight relationship between theological reflection and religious practice. I am optimistic that this conception of Jewish theology will not only provide a better understanding of classical Jewish sources, it can also advance contemporary theological work. Even the very limited comparative remarks I have made about the Mekhilta and the Star help shed light on the optimal conditions for Jewish theological reflection. For instance, a contemporary Jewish theologian who wanted exegesis to make a significant contribution to his or her theology would do well to follow the rabbis and participate in exegetical interpretation as part of a communal practice. Doing so would certainly deepen the theologian’s engagement with Scripture and help him

Conclusion   

or her to develop the interpretive skills necessary for devising exegetical solutions. It would also behoove that theologian to follow Rosenzweig and get clear about what the self-coherence of Scripture entails. Alternatively, a theologian interested in emphasizing the contribution of religious experience to theological reflection would surely benefit from studying how Rosenzweig’s more rigorous account of God, world, and person provides a framework in which religious experience becomes a rich source for theological claims. Although I make these recommendations tentatively and with the understanding that much more comparative work is necessary, my point is that JTP can help optimize the resources available to Jewish theological reflection. JTP can also support contemporary Jewish theology from a second perspective. A major hurdle facing many Jewish theologians is determining how Scripture can remain a productive source for theological reflection when the interpreter no longer shares the presuppositions that guided scriptural interpretation in earlier phases of the Jewish tradition. Stated somewhat differently, one might ask whether midrashic thinking is still a viable way of articulating and clarifying our notions of God and the divinehuman relationship. Distinguishing the exegetical and hermeneutic components of Jewish scriptural interpretation helps reduce the mysterious aura that surrounds midrash and that can make it seem that midrash is ill-suited to be the motive force behind modern or postmodern versions of Judaism. Surely, most branches of contemporary Judaism can agree on the necessity to better understand the diverse threads that unite Scripture as well as the need to reinterpret the meaning of Scripture within our ever-changing cultural and religious horizon. From that perspective, midrashic thinking, understood as the union of exegesis and hermeneutics, remains a critical factor in the preservation and renewal of the Jewish tradition. JTP possesses two additional resources for contemporary Jewish theology. According to JTP, Jewish theology is not limited to scriptural inter­pretation; rather, Jewish theology is a network of mutually dependent belief-forming mechanisms. Scriptural interpretation can and should be augmented with other sources for forming theological beliefs such as rational reflection on divine perfection, religious experience, and whatever other sources the theologian can identify within the Jewish tradition. Jewish theology has

Conclusion   

always possessed a composite character of this sort, and a key to its ongoing vitality lies in finding the means to reaffirm such a multifaceted approach to God. Construing Jewish theology along these lines—that is as an ­Alstonian doxastic practice—is crucial for one further reason. Lending credence to the view that Jewish theology is not a reasoned activity that seeks to get at the truth about God and the divine-human relationship is the abstruse way the rabbinic tradition adjudicates the truth of its theological claims. While rabbinic literature does transmit narratives in which rabbis silence their interlocutors, it is far more often the case that competing theological views are simply juxtaposed. This piling up of alternative theological claims can give the false impression that the rabbis were not particularly interested in the truth of their theological positions and that they did not invest much effort in distinguishing one position from another. Alston’s account of doxastic practices provides a solution to this dilemma. According to Alston, every doxastic practice entails a background system of belief comprised of the outputs of its constituent belief-forming mechanisms. This background system of belief yields “overriders” and “underminers” for theological claims that violate the traditional boundaries of scriptural interpretation or the deliverances of reason or experience. Adopting Alston’s account of doxastic practices provides the contemporary Jewish theologian with a remedy to the vexing problem of whether Jewish theology is oriented toward truth, and, if so, how potentially true beliefs are separated out from those which are patently false. Alston admits that the background system is somewhat amorphous, but that fact makes it more applicable to Judaism rather than less. On the basis of his account, one can acknowledge that the rabbinic tradition, for instance, has the ability to dismiss the view that there are “two powers in Heaven” without having to posit evaluative processes for which we have little or no evidence. Equally important, this model suggests that Jewish theologians can get on with their business, since when their reflections go astray the relevant overriders or underminers will present themselves. The last point brings me back to the epistemological concerns that are central to JTP. Despite all of my talk of epistemology, I do not suppose that I have shown that one can rationally engage in JTP. I assume that one can, but it has not been my task in this study to demonstrate this point. JTP, as

Conclusion   

I have developed it so far, is a model for understanding Jewish theological language. The epistemological status of Jewish theological claims remains an open question. What I have sought to accomplish with my foray into epistemology is to make hermeneutic theory more amenable to theological truth claims. Despite the limited nature of that goal, I hope it is now apparent that there is much to be gained by adopting an account of Jewish theology that acknowledges the multiple functions and forms of its language and the intricate connection between reflection and practice. Still, I would be remiss not to suggest that JTP can go further. Following in Alston’s footsteps, it would be possible to make a case that JTP can be rationally engaged in. On Alston’s model, to do so would require that one show that JTP is a socially established belief-forming practice, that it is not egregiously at odds with any more well-established doxastic practice, and that it does not produce an excessive amount of internal inconsistency. Those do not strike me as insurmountable challenges. Turning back to the title of this book, Philo’s description of Israel as a “contemplative nation” is rife with bitter irony. His idea that the Jewish people are fundamentally concerned with divine things is as lost on contemporary Judaism as was his entire body of work to earlier stages of the tradition. Leaving aside the challenges that theology has faced in Jewish studies, when one considers American Jewry’s susceptibility to the antiintellectualism that permeates American culture or the Israeli “peace process” that appears impervious to rational intervention, the suggestion that the Jewish people are a “contemplative nation” seems wide of the mark. There is some solace to be had in thinking of Philo’s characterization of the Israelites as an ideal rather than as a factual description. Philo’s account of his contemporaries who read Judaism allegorically, the apostasy of his nephew, even his own ignorance of Hebrew indicate that he no more lived in a Jewish utopia than we do. Construing the phrase as an ideal also allows us to hold at arm’s length the essentializing and nationalistic element that would distinguish the Jewish people according to their purported cognitive and spiritual powers. The question then becomes: is the notion of the Jewish people as a “contemplative nation” an ideal to which we should still aspire? Two further questions bear directly on that determination: (1) Does the notion of the Jewish people as a “contemplative nation” capture some-

Conclusion   

thing significant about Judaism apart from Philo’s philosophical conception of the tradition? (2) Does construing the Jewish people as a “contemplative nation” lead Judaism in an advantageous direction? If contemplation is taken as reflection on things divine—God and the ­divine-human relationship—then I do think that Philo’s sobriquet for the Israelites resonates with later Jewish tradition. In formulating a conception of theology that is adequate to the Jewish tradition, I have sought to replace the systematic and dogmatic criteria with a notion of theological reflection that is grounded in religious practices and, to some extent, points back toward those practices by providing their justification. It is imperative to see that on this understanding of Jewish theology theological reflection is not an esoteric activity reserved for an elite class of scholars. JTP conceives of theological reflection as a necessary feature of the study of written and oral Torah. As all Jews are required to study, it seems only right to extend participation in JTP to any Jew committed to carrying out that commandment. It also strengthens the egalitarian nature of JTP to acknowledge that whether it occurs in conjunction with prayer and blessings or independently, many Jews are also likely to deploy their rational faculties to reflect on God’s perfection. Similarly, although it is not a commandment to experience God, for many observant Jews the purpose of the ritual life is to cultivate a sense of God’s presence. Rational reflection and religious experience are also, then, not the exclusive domain of the religious elite. From this perspective, Philo seems correct that contemplation is the patrimony of the entire people. JTP is designed to elevate awareness of and participation in Jewish theological reflection, so it is little surprise that the basic features of my model support Philo’s goal of fashioning the Jewish people into a “contemplative nation.” As a way of strengthening this point, I would like to briefly highlight features of the Jewish tradition that are independent of JTP, but which also support the view that theological reflection is a vital part of the Jewish religious life. I would like to begin by returning to the question of the homiletic midrashim. Although I have already stated my agreement with Richard Sarason that the homiletic midrashim are more likely scholastic collections than actual sermons, it should give one pause that the scholarly consensus could have been otherwise. In order to identify the homiletic

Conclusion   

midrashim as sermons, it is necessary to attribute a profound knowledge of Scripture and its interpretation to the congregants who could have benefitted from them. I would be delighted for additional evidence or arguments to surface that could demonstrate that these homilies did have a place in the ancient synagogue. Leaving aside the question of sermons, I would also like to draw attention to the basic characteristics of aggadah. Not only is aggadah not systematic or dogmatic, it seldom finds recourse to the indicative mood.The literary features of aggadah make it a far more engaging discursive form than had the rabbis restricted themselves to stringing together theological assertions. From the various forms of wordplay (paronomasia, notarikon, gemmatria) that propel their scriptural interpretations to the parable and the sage story that are such vital parts of their aggadic thinking, the rabbis consistently deploy discursive forms that either require the auditor’s participation or surreptitiously captivate it. Through these techniques, aggadah becomes self-promulgating in that it transforms its audience into theologically reflective practitioners. In the same way that aggadah seeks to draw its audience into its reflective practice, later phases of Jewish theology also endeavor to promote wider participation in theological reflection. For instance, Maimonides concludes the Guide of the Perplexed with instructions on how to cultivate the ability to focus one’s thoughts on God throughout daily life.15 The Zohar advances beyond the aggadic tradition in its use of literary techniques, immersing its reader in a world of mystical theology and religious experience. Even Moses Mendelssohn, who denies that revelation is a source for eternal truths, says that “religious actions without religious thoughts are mere puppetry, not service of God.”16 Furthermore, although religion can no more compel belief than can government, the commandments according to Mendelssohn do lead the practitioner toward the acquisition of true beliefs. “They [the mitzvot] guide the inquiring intelligence to divine truths, partly to eternal and partly to historical truths upon which the religion of this people was founded. The ceremonial law was the bond which was to connect action with contemplation, life with theory.”17 It seems there is significant support throughout the Jewish tradition for the idea that it is the task of the Jewish people, and not just its religious elite, to direct their thoughts to God and the divine-human relationship.

Conclusion   

What then is to be gained by Judaism’s embrace of the contemplative elements within the tradition? I would like to answer that question by starting with more general points and concluding with the matters I take to be most vital. My commitment to philosophical hermeneutics leads me to see Judaism as engaged in a continual process of preservation and renewal that is common to all traditions. Because Judaism has always been embedded in and conversant with a wider cultural horizon, this act of tradition making is greatly misconstrued if it is taken as nothing more than the internal development of Judaism’s “essence.” Much to the contrary, many of the changes Judaism has undergone throughout its history mirror similar transitions within the larger culture. Along these lines, just as I do not think the marginalization of theology is a uniquely Jewish phenomenon, neither is it the case that a move to a greater interdependence between theory and practice is a uniquely Jewish solution. David Tracy, for instance, makes the following remarks about how Christianity might resolve tensions within Western philosophy through a similar effort to ground theological reflection in the religious practice of spiritual exercises: As theology struggles to undo the nearly fatal separation of (not distinction between) theology and spirituality, perhaps theology may also suggest new ways for philosophy itself (including hermeneutical philosophy) to abandon all modern separations of theory and practice and retrieve the ancient philosophers’ understanding of the role of spiritual exercises in and for theory itself. . . . As our Western philosophy and theology learn to acknowledge the cognitive point of such exercises in, for example, Buddhist philosophies, perhaps at least “Christian philosophers” might join their theological colleagues in new, if tentative, attempts to recover what was once held together in both our disciplines: spiritual practice and theory, theory and a way of life. The new, global, cross-cultural understanding of both disciplines can encourage all responsible thinkers to take that new intellectual journey back to the future of both theology and philosophy as thought-ful ways of life.18

At the most general level, then, I share with Tracy the hope that the effort to integrate theological reflection into religious practice can help overcome the opposition between theory and practice that is the hallmark of modern life. Incorporating theological reflection into religious observance will allow us to unify our inner lives so that we no longer have to accommodate

Conclusion   

separate selves for our scientistic-secular-workaday world and another for our houses of worship and Sabbath tables. In addition to helping heal the bifurcated modern consciousness, affirming the role of theological contemplation in Judaism has a number of positive consequences for the historian of Judaism, the Jewish tradition, and the Jewish practitioner. Regarding the academic study of Judaism, I hope I have made the case that readings of the Mekhilta and the Star are greatly enriched by attending to their theological content. Of course, the point is not that these two texts happen to be informed by theological considerations, but, rather, that theology is a crucial element in constructing the Jewish religious worldview and that theological reflection is a central part of the Jewish religious life. Acknowledging that Judaism is not just a halakhic tradition but also a contemplative one will encourage scholars to recover and preserve theological elements within Judaism that would likely be lost were the suppositions sustained that Judaism either knows no theology or that its theological reflection is underdeveloped and not oriented toward truth. I firmly believe that we will arrive at a far more comprehensive understanding of Judaism when we analyze all of the tradition’s cognitive contents and not just those that happen to conform to our own philosophical and theological prejudices. Although my principal focus has been on the forms of Jewish theological language, Pierre Hadot’s work served as a transition from philosophical hermeneutics to religious epistemology that also allowed me to address the functions of Jewish theology. Jewish theology, I argued, has a three-fold function: (1) Theology serves theoretical ends by justifying the Jewish way of life including its conception of God and the divine-human relationship. (2) Theology plays a significant role in the religious formation of the practitioner in the synagogue, the house of study, and the home. (3) The study of Jewish theology and the theological reflection that study induces are spiritual exercises that transform the practitioner and help foster the divinehuman relationship. If this account is correct, theology is instrumental in constructing and holding together the Jewish religious worldview and its way of life. It is easy to imagine that a Judaism bereft of theology would face serious difficulties in defending its religious beliefs and in cultivating Jewish practice. Judaism in the contemporary period has encountered a

Conclusion   

variety of challenges, and I do not mean to suggest that the recovery of Jewish theology is a panacea to all the problems the tradition faces. Still, I cannot help thinking that the diminished role of theology in contemporary Judaism plays some part in the fact that only 44 percent of American Jews belong to a synagogue or that 47 percent of Jews in America intermarry.19 Jewish theology is complex, theoretically and practically, and it demands to be treated as such. I hope it is now apparent that all interested parties— historians, philosophers, theologians, rabbis, and religious practitioners— have something to gain from taking a fresh look at Jewish theology. That the Israelites or the Jews who followed them are a “contemplative nation” is perhaps no more than an ideal, but it is a worthy ideal the absence of which has profound consequences for how we understand Jewish history and deprives contemporary Judaism of resources necessary for its survival. If one of the ways that God manifests is through language, then the elimination or reduction of our theological language will have devastating consequences for our knowledge and experience of God. I would suggest that the antitheological forces prevalent in Jewish and general culture over the past several centuries have brought that state of affairs to pass. On the upside, there is no reason to think that this process is irreversible. Jewish studies and the Jewish tradition, each for their own reasons, can recover a notion of theology that better captures the multiple functions and forms of Jewish theological language. Judaism’s entry into the modern world has been a convulsive series of events, both tragic and glorious. If, despite the harrowing vicissitudes, we wish to see the drive to emancipation and nationhood as a success that has culminated in Jewish survival and self-determination, it will serve as a profound expression of the newfound freedom to weigh the resources of Judaism’s past in order to guide the way for its future.

r e f e r e n c e mat t e r


Introduction 1.  In attempting to define a notion of theology that is adequate to the central features of the Jewish tradition and religious life, I find myself asking similar questions as those Frederick Sontag addressed to Schubert Ogden. Sontag writes: “What I want to ask is: Can theology be defined adequately without reference to its context? Or, must we know what message a given theology wants to deliver before we can tell very much about the form it will take? Is it possible to define all of theology in the abstract? Will different theologies differ precisely because they see theology as having different tasks and forms? Is it really possible to find one framework within which all theologies can be fitted, or is this quest itself based upon assumptions about the systematic structure underlying all theology which may be false?” Frederick Sontag, “What Is the Message of Theology?” Dialog 14, no. 3 (1975): 227–28. Sontag is responding to Schubert Ogden, “What Is Theology?” Journal of Religion 52, no. 1 (1972): 22–40. 2.  Arthur Cohen, “Further Reflections on the Natural and Supernatural,” in Varieties of Jewish Belief, ed. Ira Eisenstein (New York: Reconstructionist Press, 1966), 31–42, 41. 3.  Jacob Neusner, “The Tasks of Theology in Judaism: A Humanistic Program,” Jour­ nal of Religion 59, no. 1 (1979): 71. 4. This is not to diminish Neusner’s concerted efforts to bolster the status of theology within Jewish studies. In the 1990s, Neusner’s work took a decidedly theological turn as exemplified by his book The Theology of the Oral Torah: Revealing the Justice of God (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999). Furthermore, among the 255 chairs in Jewish studies registered with the Association for Jewish Studies, Neusner has the only chair explicitly designated for Jewish theology (“History and Theology of Judaism”). For a sketch of his views on theology and its place within Jewish studies and the university see Jacob Neusner, “Theology Comes Home: The Role of Theology in the Academic Study of Religion and the Role of Theology of Judaism in the Academic Study of Judaism,” Religion 31, no. 1 (2001): 1–18. Ziony Zevit argues that opposition to theology in Judaism extends to seminary curricula. “In contrast to Christian institutions, theology is almost absent from course descriptions in centers of Jewish higher learning and rabbinical training.” According to Zevit, this is true of the leading reform, conservative, and orthodox seminaries. Further on in his essay, he makes the equally disturbing observation that “although there are Jewish theologians, there is no discipline.” Ziony Zevit,


Notes to Introduction   230 “Jewish Biblical Theology: Whence? Why? and Whither?” Hebrew Union College Annual 76 (2005): 300, 338. 5.  David F. Ford, “Theology,” in The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion, ed. John R. Hinnells (London: Routledge, 2005), 61–79, 73. It is noteworthy that the second edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica, arguably the most important pedagogical tool in Jewish studies, preserves an article on theology by Louis Jacobs from the first edition that shares Ford’s basic sentiments, cf. Louis Jacobs and Ellen Umansky, “Theology,” in Encyclopaedia Judaica, ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik, 22 vols., 2nd ed. (Detroit: Macmillan Reference, 2007), 19:694–99. 6.  As one might expect, the neutrality of the term religious thought is only apparent. Gavin Hyman speaks to this point in an essay that charts the current debate between theology and religious studies: Thus, as gods disappear and theology fails, the terminology of the “religious” is invoked to denote a post-theological form of thinking at the end of theology. What is particularly interesting, therefore, is that the term religion is taking on a new meaning here—it is not being used in the traditional sense as a generic term to refer to world faiths but, rather, to refer to (a/) theological thought at the end of theology: the theological here gives way to the “religious.” Religion and the religious have thus become interstitial terms that refer to forms of thought that occur between theological thought and thought “about religion.”

Gavin Hyman, “The Study of Religion and the Return of Theology,” Journal of the Amer­ ican Academy of Religion 72, no. 1 (2004): 213. 7.  It is, of course, not just Judaism that has wrestled with the term theology. Christian philosophers and theologians in the 1960s substituted theology with the phrase God-talk. I do not see God-talk as a viable alternative for Jewish theology, as the term suggests a lack of rigor and concern that does not accurately characterize the theological reflection in classic Jewish sources. David Kraemer takes the opposite view that the term “God-talk” is the best way to refer to the rabbis’ views on God. Identifying theology as a strictly “Greek” enterprise, Kraemer argues that “there was simply no precedent for theology in the classical sense in earlier rabbinic literature.” He goes on to say: “If we want to speak of a rabbinic theology, we can only do so by understanding the term ‘theology,’ according to its etymological meaning, as ‘God talk.’ We must then inquire into the nature of rabbinic ‘God talk,’ asking how and with what assumptions the rabbis of antiquity speak about God. If this is what we mean by theology, then we may at least begin to discuss the matter, for the rabbis do, both directly and indirectly, speak of God.” David Kraemer, “Concerning the Theological Assumptions of the Yerushalmi,” in The Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman Culture, vol. 3, ed. Peter Schäfer (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002), 355. 8. The same is, of course, true of Hebrew. 9.  On the etymology of the word halakhah, see Saul Lieberman, Greek in Jewish ­Palestine/Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1994), 83, n. 3. Aggadah comes from a root meaning “to tell” and picks out all nonlegal forms of religious discourse. For a recent study on aggadah see Eugene Borowitz, The Talmud’s Theological Language-Game: A Philosophical Discourse Analysis (Albany: State

Notes to Introduction    University of New York Press, 2006). Barry Wimpfheimer, in a study that appeared as I was putting the finishing touches on this work, has significantly advanced the discussion of the relationship between halakhah and aggadah. Wimpfheimer argues that it is only in the geonic period that “the first strong utilization of the dichotomy of Halakhah and Aggadah” occurs. Barry Scott Wimpfheimer, Narrating the Law: A Poet­ ics of Talmudic Legal Stories (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), 33. I support Wimpfheimer’s effort to draw a more complex account of legal and narrative material in rabbinic Judaism. Still, I am not persuaded by his proposal to abandon the distinction between halakhah and aggadah. While that move may make sense within the more narrow scope of legal texts, within the midrashic material that I deal with, I would contend that it is preferable to construct a more nuanced account of aggadah. 10.  Ismar Schorsch, From Text to Context:The Turn to History in Modern Judaism (Han­ over, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1994), 172. 11.  On meta-halakhah see Walter Wurzburger, “Meta-Halakhic Propositions,” in The Leo Jung Jubilee Volume: Essays in His Honor on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday, ed. Menahem M. Kasher, Norman Lamm, and Leonard Rosenfeld (New York: Jewish Center, 1962), 211–21. While it was not his intention, Wurzburger’s essay demonstrates how challenging it is to delineate meta-halakhic principles. In addition to the difficulty of specifying such principles, it is also important to note that where there is reflection on the foundations of halakhic reasoning, these discussions often include aggadah, for instance the “oven of Akhnai” b. Bava Metzia 59a-b. Leib Moscovitz also speaks to the lack of meta-halakhic analysis in rabbinic literature when he writes: “As important and interesting as the justification or conceptual prehistory of individual concepts and principles may be, the rabbinic sources rarely address such issues explicitly.” Leib Moscovitz, Talmudic Reasoning: From Casuistics to Conceptualization (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002), 43. See also Barry Wimpfheimer’s discussion of halakhah as “antisystem.” Wimpfheimer, Narrating the Law, 11–13. I am in firm agreement with Eugene Borowitz who sees theology as grounding halakhic claims: “While the halakhah seeks to define just what constitutes one’s obligation, the aggadah often attempts to supply the theological and historical foundation of Jewish duty; so to speak, a major function of aggadic theology is to explicate Judaism’s metahalakhic foundations.” Eugene Borowitz, The Talmud’s Theological Language-Game: A Philosophical Discourse Analysis (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006), 59. 12.  Solomon Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology: With a New Introduction by Neil Gillman, Including the Original Preface of 1909 and the Introduction by Louis Finkelstein (Woodstock,Vt.: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1999), 13 ff. 13.  Ibid., 42. 14.  Solomon Schechter, “The Dogmas of Judaism,” in Studies in Judaism, 1st series (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1945), 148. Despite Schechter’s affirmation of dogma in “The Dogmas of Judaism,” his comments in Aspects of Rabbinic Theology show that he believes Judaism’s minimalist approach to dogma is to the tradition’s merit. He praises the rabbis by saying, “Neither speculation nor folklore was ever allowed to be converted into rigid dogma.” Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, 46. For more on dogma in Judaism see Leo Baeck, “Does Traditional Judaism Possess

Notes to Introduction   232 Dogmas?” in Studies in Jewish Thought: An Anthology of German Jewish Scholarship, ed. Alfred Jospe (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1981), 41–53; David Novak, “The Role of Dogma in Judaism,” Theology Today 45, no. 1 (1988): 49–61; J. David Bleich, “Faith and Dogma in Judaism,” in Encounter, ed. Chaim Schimmel and Aryeh Carmell (New York: Feldheim Publications, 1989), 8–21; Menachem Kellner, Must a Jew Believe Anything? (London: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1999). 15.  One might imagine that scholarship has moved past the rationalistic approaches to Judaism that characterize the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In fact, the work of contemporary scholars exhibits similar philosophical and theological prejudices as those that dominated Wissenschaft des Judentums. For instance Ephraim Urbach reserves the category of the homiletic as a means of dismissing rabbinic claims about God that fall outside his rationalistic presentation. In his introduction to The Sages he says: “Careful attention must also be given both to the exegetical and homiletical methods used by the Sages in their Halakhot and Haggadot and to the artistic form that they gave to their own words. Only the study of these aspects can teach us what weight to attach to a dictum, a homily, or a Halakhic discussion as expressing a substantive idea, and what must be put down to method, form, and formulation.” Ephraim Urbach, The Sages:Their Concepts and Beliefs, trans. Israel Abrahams (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975), 17. David Stern wrestles with the question of whether the ­rabbis believed the theologies they produced. His solution is to posit an “aggadic time and space” which he says is “different not only from our own time but from that in which the Rabbis themselves lived. For the most part, the aggadic time and space would have been coeval with the world of the biblical past—a distant, self-encapsulated past for the Rabbis.” David Stern, Midrash and Theory: Ancient Jewish Exegesis and Contemporary Literary Studies (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1996), 93. For an account of rabbinic time that is circular rather than linear, see Elliot Wolfson, Alef, Mem, Tau (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 59 ff. 16.  David Weiss Halivni, Peshat and Derash: Plain and Applied Meaning in Rabbinic Exegesis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 89. 17.  Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2nd rev. ed., trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (New York: Continuum, 1989), 269. 18.  Ibid., 295. 19.  Shaye Cohen, “Epigraphical Rabbis,” Jewish Quarterly Review 72, no. 1 (1981): 1–17. 20.  For an account of the social formation of the early rabbinic movement see Catherine Hezser, The Social Structure of the Rabbinic Movement in Roman Palestine (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997). 21.  Richard Sarason, who undertook a careful analysis of the petih.ah in Leviticus Rabbah, found that virtually all of the petih.ot were the creation of the text’s editors. He thus argues that “given the state of the evidence and the fact that the bulk of the petih.ot preserved in the midrashic compilations as we have them are editorial constructions, I do not think we can profitably and reliably say much about rabbinic ‘sermons’ or the original oral exegeses.” Richard S. Sarason, “The Petih.ot in Leviticus Rabba: ‘Oral Homilies’ or Redactional Constructions?,” Journal of Jewish Studies 33, nos. 1–2 (1982): 564.

Notes to Introduction    22.  Günter Stemberger, “The Derashah in Rabbinic Times,” in Preaching in Judaism and Christianity: Encounters and Developments from Biblical Times to Modernity, ed. Alexander Deeg et al. (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008), 9. Stemberger raises the following question: “We thus have very little direct evidence for rabbis preaching to the public in the Palestinian synagogues.This does not, of course, exclude the possibility that sermons explaining the biblical reading were common and routine in late antique synagogues, as it is frequently claimed to have been the case in pre-70 synagogues. If we assume this possibility, we have to ask ourselves: Who were the preachers?” Ibid., 14. 23.  Shir Ha-Shirim Rabbah 2:5. The translation of all biblical and rabbinic texts is my own. When translating verses from the Hebrew Bible, I will often do so in a manner that seeks to make explicit the basis of the rabbinic interpretation. 24.  It is worth noting the irony of an aggadic statement denigrating aggadah and which is preserved in an aggadic collection. Extending the irony is the fact that Song of Songs Rabbah begins with one of the strongest and most well-known arguments supporting aggadah: the simile that the rabbinic parable is like a candle that allows one to find a precious object in the dark. For a discussion of this text see David Stern, Parables in ­Midrash: Narrative and Exegesis in Rabbinic Literature (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991), 61–67. b. Sotah 40a is another example of a text that wrestles with the hierarchy of aggadah and halakhah and which could be read to support alternative positions. 25.  Sifrei Deuteronomy § 49, 115. Louis Finkelstein, Sifrei on Deuteronomy, originally published as Siphre ad Deuteronomium H. S. Horovitzii schedis usis cum variis lectionibus et ad­ notationibus (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1969); henceforth Sifrei Deuteronomy. 26.  Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, trans. Shlomo Pines (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), 10. 27.  On the parabolic nature of midrash see ibid., 102; and for midrash as “poetic conceit,” ibid., 573. For a far more nuanced account of Maimonides’ use of midrash see Alfred Ivry, “The Weight of Midrash on Rashi and Maimonides,” in Between Rashi and Maimonides: Themes in Medieval Jewish Thought, Literature and Exegesis, ed. Ephraim Kanarfogel and Moshe Sokolow (New York:Yeshiva University Press, 2010): 301–18. 28.  One of the fundamental challenges surrounding this subject is the fact that figurative language is a vital part of the rabbis’ theological reflection. Figurative language often breaks semantic conventions in order to convey its point. In some respects it is true that, on occasion, the rabbis do not mean what they say; or more precisely, it requires interpretative work to understand what they are saying.The challenge is how to negotiate that gap between what the rabbis say and what they likely meant without allowing one’s own philosophical and theological prejudices to dominate the task of interpretation. 29. The Karaites’ renunciation of rabbinic modes of exegesis notwithstanding, it appears that the Karaite tradition did preserve some aggadic material. See Philip E. Miller, “Was There a Karaite Aggadah?” in “Open Thou Mine Eyes . . .”: Essays on Aggadah and Judaica Presented to Rabbi William G. Braude on His Eightieth Birthday and Dedicated to His Memory, ed. Herman J. Blumberg et al (Hoboken, N.J.: KTAV Publishing House, 1992), 209–18. 30.  Leon Nemoy, “Ibn Kammūnah’s Treatise on the Differences Between the Rabbanites and the Karaites,” Jewish Quarterly Review 63, no. 3 (1973): 228 ff.

Notes to Introduction   234 31.  See Nina Caputo, Nahmanides in Medieval Catalonia: History, Community, and Mes­ sianism (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008); Robert Chazan, ­Barcelona and Beyond: The Disputation of 1263 and Its Aftermath (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992); Marvin Fox, “Nahmanides on the Status of Aggadot: Perspectives on the Disputation at Barcelona, 1263,” Journal of Jewish Studies 40, no. 1 (1989): 95–109. 32. This is by no means to suggest that the only possible response to aggadah from an Enlightenment perspective was to abandon it. For a discussion of Benedetto Frizzi’s efforts to harmonize rabbinic literature with modern philosophy and science, including Locke and Shaftsbury, see Lois Dubin, “The Sages as Philosophes: Enlightenment and Aggadah in Northern Italy,” in “Open Thou Mine Eyes,” ed. Blumberg et al, 61–77. 33.  Schechter, “Dogmas of Judaism,” 148. 34.  Moses Mendelssohn, Jerusalem; or, On Religious Power and Judaism, trans. Allan Arkush (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1983), 89. 35.  Ibid., 94. 36.  See David Myers, “The Ideology of Wissenschaft des Judentums,” in History of Jewish Philosophy, ed. Daniel Frank and Oliver Leaman (London: Routledge, 1997), 629–41. Michael Meyer, “Two Persistent Tensions Within Wissenschaft des Judentums,” Modern Judaism 24, no. 2 (2004): 105–19. 37.  Gershom Scholem, On the Possibility of Jewish Mysticism in Our Time and Other Essays (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1997), 65. 38.  Schorsch, From Text to Context, 182. See also ibid., 195, 267, and 283. 39.  For a discussion of Leibowitz’s views on theology see Avi Sagi, Jewish Religion After Theology, trans. Batya Stein (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2009). While I share Tamar Ross’s interest in combining philosophical hermeneutics and analytic philosophy, on the subject of theological language our projects have little in common. Ross adopts a Wittgensteinan account of theological language that restricts it to its use in a particular language game. She writes: When an Orthodox Jew says, “I believe in Torah from Heaven,” her primary concern is not to discuss facts or establish history, but to make a statement on an entirely different plane. It reflects her wish to establish a much stronger claim that will regulate her entire life. It is a statement that may bring her to take risks or make sacrifices that she would never dream of for the sake of opinions that she knows to be far better grounded from a scientific point of view. Her belief in the divine origins of Torah serves as the primary basis for a way of life and worldview to which she is inextricably bound in a multitude of ways by personal conviction, passion, and practical considerations.

Tamar Ross, Expanding the Palace of Torah: Orthodoxy and Feminism (Waltham, Mass.: Brandeis University Press, 2004), 193. I do not believe that Ross’s account accurately reflects the linguistic intentions of typical religious adherents, Orthodox or not. I find no compelling reason to think that when a practitioner utters an assertion about God that he or she is speaking about “a way of life and worldview” and not making a claim about the divine. Alan Mittleman adopts a similar Wittgensteinian position, in which “the word God does not make a claim about the furniture of the universe.” As he goes on to say, “To speak of God is to underwrite a form of life that allows us to respond with

Notes to Introduction and Chapter 1    love and courage and hope to the mystery out of which we come and toward which we progress.” Alan Mittleman, “Asking the Wrong Question,” First Things 189 ( January 2009): 17. As I will discuss in Chapter 2, I find William Alston’s critique of such views persuasive and join him in his realist approach to religious language. William Alston, Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991), 165, n. 37. 40. The literature on this topic is exceedingly large. For recent discussions see Fields of Faith:Theology and Religious Studies for the Twenty-First Century, ed. David F. Ford, Ben Quash, and Janet Martin Soskice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); The­ ology and Religious Studies: An Exploration of Disciplinary Boundaries, ed. Simon Oliver and Maya Warrier (New York: T & T Clark, 2008). 41.  Obviously, I am not arguing for an essentialist definition of Jewish theology. I believe that we can and should ask about features that are common to Jewish theological reflection and that it is possible to do so without establishing rigid criteria for what qualifies as Jewish theology. For instance, one could follow Wittgenstein and inquire into the “family resemblance” among forms of Jewish theological reflection. On polythetic definitions, see Rodney Needham, “Polythetic Classification: Convergence and Consequences,” Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 10, no. 3 (1975): 349–69. 42.  Philo speaks of Israel as a “contemplative nation,” in Philo, Quaest. Ex. 46 and 76. I first encountered the phrase in David Winston, Philo of Alexandria: The Contempla­ tive Life, the Giants, and Selections (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1981), 293. 43.  Philo, Som. II, 173; Philo of Alexandria, The Works of Philo, trans. C. D. Yonge (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishing, 1993). 44.  Summaries of Philo’s account of the process of human perfection can be found at Philo, Congr. 15 ff.; Mos. I 48; Op. 77 ff.; Quaest. Gn. I 6. 45.  While not denying that some of Philo’s teachings may have circuitously found their way to the rabbis, David Runia summarizes Philo’s reception history by saying, “Pagans were not greatly interested in his thought; Jews either ignored him or condemned him to silence.” David T. Runia, Philo in Early Christian Literature: A Survey (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 17. 46.  David Tracy, Plurality and Ambiguity: Hermeneutics, Religion, Hope (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 15. 47.  For incisive criticisms of hermeneutic theory that have helped shape my own arguments, see Shlomo Biderman, Scripture and Knowledge: An Essay on Religious Epis­ temology (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995), 66; Moshe Idel, Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation (New Haven, Conn.:Yale University Press, 2002), 116.

Chapter 1: Hermeneutic Theory and the Study of Jewish Theology 1.  Here I am in agreement with David Kraemer, who writes, “If ‘rabbinic theology’ is about the relationship of God with Israel, then rabbinic reading/writing practices (‘talmud’) become essential evidence for the study of this theology.” David Kraemer, “Concerning the Theological Assumptions of the Yerushalmi,” in The Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman Culture, ed. Peter Schäfer, vol. 3 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002), 356, n. 3.

Notes to Chapter 1   236 2.  Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2nd rev. ed., trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (New York: Continuum, 1989). 3.  Gadamer argues that “the domination of the scientific model of epistemology leads to discrediting all the possibilities of knowing that lie outside this new methodology [‘fiction’!].” Ibid., 84. 4.  Ibid., 97. 5.  Ibid., xxxiv. 6.  Ibid., xxxvi. 7.  Ibid., 85. 8.  Ibid. 9.  Ibid. For a critical discussion of Gadamer’s understanding of aesthetics see John Pizer, “Aesthetic Consciousness and Aesthetic Non-Differentiation: Gadamer, Schiller, and Lukács,” Philosophy Today 33, no. 1 (1989): 63–72. 10.  Ibid., 95. 11.  Ibid., 108. 12.  Ibid., 108 ff. 13.  Ibid., 109. 14.  Ibid., 110. 15.  Ibid., 111. 16.  Ibid., 112. 17.  Ibid. 18.  For an elegant and lucid presentation of Heidegger’s conception of truth see Charles Guignon, “Truth in Interpretation: A Hermeneutic Approach,” in Is There a Sin­ gle Right Interpretation? ed. Michael Krausz (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002), 266 ff. In what follows, I will use the phrase manifestation theory of truth to speak of the notion of truth that Gadamer and Ricoeur borrow from Heidegger. I am using the word theory here as a way of associating Heidegger’s account of truth with correspondence and coherence theories of truth. Manifestation account of truth might be a more accurate phrase. I should also note that Gert Albert uses the phrase manifestation theory of truth in relation to Popper and not Heidegger, in Gert Albert, “Pareto’s Sociological Positivism,” Journal of Classical Sociology 4, no. 1 (2004): 59–86. 19.  Gadamer, Truth, 137. 20.  Ibid., 160. 21.  Ibid., 162. 22.  Ibid., 163. 23.  Ibid. 24.  Ibid., 259; original emphasis. 25.  Ibid., 259, 264. 26.  Ibid., 261. 27.  Ibid., 262. 28.  Ibid., 264. 29.  Ibid., 269. 30.  Ibid. 31.  Ibid., 270.

Notes to Chapter 1    32.  Ibid., 271. 33.  Ibid., 270. 34.  Ibid., 276. “In fact history does not belong to us; we belong to it. Long before we understand ourselves through the process of self-examination, we understand ourselves in a self-evident way in the family, society, and state in which we live. The focus of subjectivity is a distorting mirror. The self-awareness of the individual is only a flickering in the closed circuits of historical life. That is why the prejudices of the individual, far more than his judgments, constitute the historical reality of his being.” Original emphasis. 35.  Ibid., 287. Gadamer describes this as “the historical process of preservation (­Bewahrung) that, through constantly proving itself (Bewährung), allows something true (ein Wahres) to come into being.” 36.  Ibid., 288. 37.  Ibid., 290; original emphasis. 38.  Ibid., 292. “If we want to understand, we will try to make his arguments even stronger.” 39.  Ibid., 293. 40.  Ibid., 294. 41.  Ibid., 295. 42.  See ibid., 298, n. 228. 43.  Ibid., 298. 44.  Ibid., 299. 45.  Ibid., 300. 46.  Ibid. 47.  Ibid., 301. 48.  Ibid., 302; original emphasis. Ricoeur makes a similar point when he states, “­Between absolute knowledge and hermeneutics, it is necessary to choose.” Paul Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action, and Interpreta­ tion, ed. and trans. John Thompson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 193. 49.  Gadamer, Truth, 302. 50.  Ibid. 51.  On the relationship between the horizon and prejudices Gadamer states, “A hermeneutical situation is determined by the prejudices that we bring with us. They constitute, then, the horizon of a particular present, for they represent that beyond which it is impossible to see.” Ibid., 306. 52.  Ibid., 303. 53.  Ibid., 305. 54.  Ibid., 311. 55.  For a concluding summation of this point, see ibid., 476. 56.  Ibid., 355. 57.  Ibid., 356. 58.  Ibid. 59.  Ibid., 357. 60.  Ibid., 377. 61.  Ibid., 362.

Notes to Chapter 1   238 62.  Ibid., 374. 63.  Ibid., 363. 64.  For a discussion of these issues see David Shatz, Jewish Thought in Dialogue: Es­ says on Thinkers,Theologies, and Moral Theories (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2009), xii. 65.  “From the viewpoint of philosophical hermeneutics, the contrast between historical and dogmatic method has no absolute validity.” Gadamer, Truth, xxxiii. 66.  Ibid., 293. 67.  One might wonder whether the goal of understanding a text better is faithful to Gadamer’s philosophical position. If interpretation is inevitably guided by the hermeneut’s prejudices, must we not abandon the idea of better or worse interpretations? ­Gadamer explicitly rejects such a “hermeneutic nihilism.” Ibid., 95. For a helpful discussion of this topic see Guignon, “Truth in Interpretation,” 281 ff. 68.  Gadamer, Truth, xxxvi. 69.  Moshe Halbertal’s critique of the antimetaphysical views of deconstruction can and should be extended to Gadamer and Ricoeur. Moshe Halbertal, Interpretative Revo­ lutions in the Making: Values as Interpretative Considerations in Midrashei Halakhah ( Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1997), 202. 70.  For more on Heidegger’s, Gadamer’s, and Ricoeur’s concepts of truth, see David Tracy, “A Theological View of Philosophy: Revelation and Reason,” in The Question of Christian Philosophy Today, ed. Francis J. Ambrosio (New York: Fordham University Press, 1999), 148, 155. See also Louis Dupré, “Truth in Religion and Truth of Religion,” in Phenomenology of the Truth Proper to Religion, ed. Daniel Guerrière (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990), 34 ff.; Edward Farley, “Truth and the Wisdom of Enduring,” in Phenomenology of the Truth Proper to Religion, ed. Daniel Guerrière (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990), 66 ff. 71.  Gottlob Frege, “On Sense and Reference,” in Readings in the Philosophy of Lan­ guage, ed. Peter Ludlow (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997), 566. 72.  Ibid., 569. 73.  Ricoeur, Hermeneutics, 141. 74.  Paul Ricoeur, Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination, ed. Mark I. Wallace, trans. David Pellauer (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 219. 75.  Ricoeur, Hermeneutics, 141. 76.  “Considering an example from epic poetry, Frege holds that the proper name Ulysses has no reference; ‘We are interested,’ he says, ‘only in the sense of the sentences and the images and feelings thereby aroused.’ In contrast to scientific inspection, therefore, artistic pleasure seems linked to ‘senses’ without any ‘reference.’ My whole aim is to do away with this restriction of reference to scientific statements . . . the literary work through the structure proper to it displays a world only under the condition that the reference of descriptive discourse is suspended. Or to put it another way, discourse in the literary work sets out its denotation as a second-level denotation, by means of the suspension of the first-level denotation of discourse.” Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-disciplinary Studies of the Creation of Meaning in Language, trans. Robert Czerny (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977), 220 ff. 77.  Ricoeur, Hermeneutics, 142.

Notes to Chapter 1    78.  On Ricoeur’s notion of the world that opens up “in front” of the text and how this is related to his views on reference, see ibid., 177. 79.  Ricoeur, Figuring, 222. 80.  “Speculative discourse is the discourse that establishes the primary notions, the principles, that articulate primordially the space of the concept. Concepts in scientific language as well as in ordinary language can never actually be derived from perception or from images, because the discontinuity of the levels of discourse is founded, at least virtually, by the very structure of the conceptual space in which meanings are inscribed when they draw away from the metaphorical process, which can be said to generate all semantic fields. It is in this sense that the speculative is the condition of the possibility of the conceptual. It expresses the systematic character of the conceptual in a secondorder discourse. If, in the order of discovery, the speculative surfaces as a second-level discourse—as meta-language, if one prefers—in relation to the discourse articulated at the conceptual level, it is indeed first discourse in the order of grounding.” Ricoeur, Metaphor, 300. 81.  One statement to this effect is the following: “If there is a feature which distinguishes me not only from the hermeneutic philosophy of Schleiermacher and Dilthey, but also from that of Heidegger and even Gadamer (despite my great proximity to the work of the latter), it is indeed my concern to avoid the pitfall of an opposition between an ‘understanding’ which would be reserved for the ‘human sciences’ and an ‘explanation’ which would be common to the latter and to the nomological sciences, primarily the physical sciences.” Ricoeur, Hermeneutics, 36. Or to put it more directly, “A text is a quasi-individual, and the validation of an interpretation applied to it may be said, with complete legitimacy, to give a scientific knowledge of the text.” Ibid., 212. 82.  Ricoeur, Metaphor, 300. 83.  Ibid., 302. 84.  Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, 3 vols., trans. Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1984), 1:80. 85.  Ricoeur, Hermeneutics, 202. 86.  Ibid., 113. 87.  Gadamer holds a very similar position: “In the experience of art we see a genuine experience (Erfahrung) induced by the work, which does not leave him who has it unchanged, and we inquire into the mode of being of what is experienced in this way. So we hope to better understand what kind of truth it is that encounters us there.” Gadamer, Truth and Method, 100. 88.  Ricoeur, Figuring, 35. 89.  Ibid., 37. 90.  Ibid. 91.  Ricoeur, Figuring, 247 ff. 92.  Ibid., 58. 93.  Ibid., 223. 94.  Ibid., 224. 95.  Ibid., 37. 96.  Ibid., 38.

Notes to Chapter 1   240 97.  Ibid., 39. 98.  Ibid., 224. David Tracy brings considerable clarity and seriousness to this position when he states: “But the principal theological question of today for Jews, Christians, and Muslims is not so much the theological implications of the fascinating history of the earlier different names and forms for the divine in the complex history of ancient Israel, but rather the still contemporary theological question of the different forms for the experiencing, naming, and understanding of divine reality since the prophetic and Deutero-nomic emergence of radical monotheism.” David Tracy, On Naming the Present: Reflections on God, Hermeneutics, and Church (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1994), 29; original emphasis. 99.  Ricoeur, Figuring, 227. 100.  Ibid., 228. 101.  Ibid., 229. 102.  Ibid., 233. 103.  For a somewhat similar set of criticisms see Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Resurrecting the Author,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 27, no. 1 (2003): 22. 104. Throughout Contemplative Nation I will cite Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael from the Horovitz-Rabin edition and I will also provide page numbers to the newly republished Lauterbach edition. Using the current citation as a model, “MdRI” stands for Mekhilta of (de-) Rabbi Ishmael; “Shirata 3” is the section (masseket) and chapter in which the text is found; “126” is the page number in the Horovitz-Rabin edition; “Lauterbach, 1:184” indicates the volume and page number where the text and its translation can be found in the new two-volume Lauterbach edition. H. S. Horovitz and I. A. Rabin, ed., Mechilta d’Rabbi Ismael cum variis lectionibus et adnotationibus (1931; repr., Jerusalem: Shalem Books, 1997). Jacob Lauterbach, ed., Mekilta de Rabbi Ishmael: A Critical Edition on the Basis of the Manuscripts and Early Editions, with an English Translation, Introduction, and Notes, 3 vols. (1933–35; repr., Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2004). For a discussion of this passage and its parallel in Mekhilta of Rabbi Shimon, see Elliot Wolfson, Through a Speculum That Shines: Vision and Imagination in Medieval Jewish Mysticism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994), 40. Alexander Samely also discusses this passage and suggests that rabbinic literature “contain[s] a kind of performative discourse which constitutes what one might call a theo-deixis rather than a theology.” Alexander Samely, Forms of Rabbinic Literature and Thought: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 198. While I appreciate Samely’s strong reading of this text, I obviously must reject his minimizing of rabbinic theology. 105.  One example of such an analysis is Judah Goldin’s study of the two versions of Avot de-Rabbi Nathan, in Judah Goldin, “The Two Versions of Abot de Rabbi Nathan,” Hebrew Union College Annual 19 (1945–46): 97–120. Goldin admits in an appendix to his essay that the categories he uses to distinguish the theological interests of the two texts produce inconsistencies that he is not able to resolve. 106.  I take Alexander Samely to be making a similar point when he states: “Anybody who wishes to draw on the explicit authority of whole rabbinic texts cannot quote uncontentious ‘basic principles’ or ‘core’ messages. This goes for the modern scholar as much as for post-talmudic Jewish theologians and halakhists. Whole rabbinic

Notes to Chapter 1    books do not make unequivocal unified statements, and explicit general principles often provide no reliable summary of their topic. . . . All reductions of a major rabbinic theme to a universal principle or an ‘essence’ are therefore the reader’s own creation.” Samely, Forms, 62. 107.  See Jeffrey L. Rubenstein, ed., Creation and Composition: The Contribution of the Bavli Redactors (Stammaim) to the Aggada (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005). 108. The comment of Rabbi Yose, the son of the Damascene, is based on a paronomastic play of words where the word for beautify (ve-’anvehu, as it occurs in the firstperson imperfect tense with a third-person object-suffix in Exod. 15:2) is linked to a similar sounding word for place or habitation (naveh). 109.  Ishay Rosen-Zvi aptly describes the biblical idea that one can “beautify” God as a “theological scandal” for the rabbis that requires hermeneutic intervention. Ishay Rosen-Zvi, “Can the Homilists Cross the Sea Again? Revelation in Mekilta Shirata,” in The Significance of Sinai: Traditions About Sinai and Divine Revelation in Judaism and Chris­ tianity, ed. George J. Brooke, Hindy Najman, and Loren T. Stuckenbruck (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2008), 222. 110.  Shlomo Biderman makes a similar observation in his own critical engagement with hermeneutic theory. Referring to Ricoeur and Gadamer as “textualists,” Biderman states: There is hardly any need to go far into the nature of Scripture in order to realize that terms such as “dialogue,” “participation,” “belonging,” or “distanciation” can provide only a very partial account of the Scripture’s nature and meaning. They can in no way be adequately substituted for terms such as “truth,” “certainty,” or, for that matter, “knowledge.” The main weakness of textualism is that it ignores the descriptive nature of Scripture, that is, the cognitive force that is so explicit in so many scriptural passages of so many religious traditions. Therefore, if we insist on describing the relations between text and interpreter as elements of the “hermeneutic circle,” we should take care not to detach the circle from reality, or, what is worse, to detach it from the question of truth, or to see truth contained within the circle as an altogether relative concept. But this separation from reality or detachment from truth is what the advocates of textualism advocate.

Shlomo Biderman, Scripture and Knowledge: An Essay on Religious Epistemology (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995), 66. 111.  In a somewhat perplexing comment, Ricoeur states on this point, “But the story of the partnership between God and Israel is, as such, not only open and ongoing but unfathomable and unspeakable.” Ricoeur, Figuring, 242. I would take the Hebrew Bible and postbiblical forms of Jewish theology to be making just the opposite case, that in some fundamental way the relationship between God and Israel can be conceived and expressed. 112.  Ricoeur, Time, 1:ix. 113.  Ibid., 3:159. 114.  Ricoeur discusses his transition away from a referential understanding of textuality in Paul Ricoeur, “Intellectual Autobiography,” in The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur, ed. Lewis Edwin Hahn (Peru, Ill.: Open Court, 1995), 47. See David Tracy’s comments on this issue Tracy, Plurality and Ambiguity, 124, n. 39.

Notes to Chapters 1 and 2   242 115. With respect to “horizon,” Ricoeur states that “reference and horizon are correlative as are figure and ground.” Ricoeur, Time, 1:78. The statement on “application” is even more explicit: “In moving away from the vocabulary of reference, I am adopting instead that of ‘application,’ handed down by the hermeneutical tradition and awarded a new place of honor by Hans-Georg Gadamer in his Truth and Method.” Ibid., 3:158. 116.  For instance see ibid., 3:178, 216, 219. 117.  See ibid., 3:227.

Chapter 2: Jewish Theology as a Religious and Doxastic Practice 1.  Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, ed. Arnold Davidson and trans. Michael Chase (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), 67. 2.  Ibid., 61. 3.  Hadot’s writings on spiritual exercises were first collected in Pierre Hadot, Exer­ cices spirituels et philosophie antique (Paris: Études augustiniennes, 1981), portions of which are reprinted and translated as Philosophy as a Way of Life, cited above. Spiritual exercises are a recurring theme throughout Hadot’s work. See, Pierre Hadot, What Is Ancient Philosophy? trans. Michael Chase (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002); Pierre Hadot, The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, trans. Michael Chase (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998); Pierre Hadot, Plotinus or the Sim­ plicity of Vision, trans. Michael Chase (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993). 4.  Recent discussions of Hadot’s spiritual exercises across the disciplines of religious studies include: Aaron Stalnaker, Overcoming Our Evil: Human Nature and Spiritual Ex­ ercises in Xunzi and Augustine (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2006); Matthew Kapstein, Reason’s Traces: Identity and Interpretation in Indian and Tibetan Buddhist Thought (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001), 3–26; Dan Arnold, Buddhists, Brahmins, and Belief: Epistemology in South Asian Philosophy of Religion (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 212–13; William Spohn, “Spirituality and Its Discontents: Practices in Jonathan Edwards’s Charity and its Fruits,” Journal of Religious Ethics 31, no. 2 (2003): 253–76; Ted Preston, “The Stoic Samurai,” Asian Philosophy 13, no. 1 (2003): 39–52. 5.  Michael Satlow, “‘And on the Earth You Shall Sleep’: Talmud Torah and Rabbinic Asceticism,” Journal of Religion 83, no. 2 (2003): 204–25. Jonathan Schofer, “Spiritual Exercises in Rabbinic Culture,” AJS Review 27, no. 2 (2003): 203–26; Josef Stern, “­Maimonides’ Demonstrations: Principles and Practice,” Medieval Philosophy and Theol­ ogy 10, no. 1 (2001): 47–84; Hilary Putnam, “Jewish Philosophy as a Way of Life,” lecture delivered at the University of Chicago, November 12, 2002; Hilary Putnam, Jewish Phi­ losophy as a Guide to Life: Rosenzweig, Buber, Levinas, Wittgenstein (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008). 6.  Hadot, What Is Ancient Philosophy? 150–53. 7.  On the exegetical dimension of rabbinic Judaism, see Michael Fishbane, Bibli­ cal Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); Michael Fishbane, The Exegetical Imagination: On Jewish Thought and Theology (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998); Michael Fishbane, ed., The Midrashic Imagination: Jewish Exegesis, Thought, and History (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993); Daniel Boyarin, Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash (Bloomington: Indiana University

Notes to Chapter 2    Press, 1990); Steven D. Fraade, From Tradition to Commentary: Torah and Its Interpretation in the Midrash Sifre to Deuteronomy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991); James Kugel, In Potiphar’s House: The Interpretive Life of Biblical Texts (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990); David Stern, Parables in Midrash: Narrative and Exegesis in Rabbinic Literature (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991). Recent discussions of the Mishnah have been particularly concerned with how rabbinic texts were composed and transmitted. See Judith Haputman, Rereading the Mishnah: A New Ap­ proach to Ancient Jewish Texts (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005); Elizabeth Shanks Alexander, Transmitting Mishnah: The Shaping Influence of Oral Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). On orality in early Judaism more generally see Martin Jaffe, Torah in the Mouth: Writing and Oral Tradition in Palestinian Judaism, 200 b.c.e.–400 c.e. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). For an account of the social formation of the early rabbinic movement, see Catherine Hezser, The Social Structure of the Rabbinic Move­ ment in Roman Palestine (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997). 8.  Satlow, “Talmud Torah and Rabbinic Asceticism,” 224. 9.  Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, 57. 10.  See the following and the references therein: Richard Kalmin, “Rabbinic Portrayals of Biblical and Post-biblical Heroes,” in The Synoptic Problem in Rabbinic Litera­ ture, ed. Shaye Cohen (Providence, R.I.: Brown Judaic Studies, 2000), 119–41; Richard Kalmin, The Sage in Jewish Society of Late Antiquity (London: Routledge, 1999); Jonathan Schofer, The Making of a Sage (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005). 11.  Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, 130. 12.  Ibid., 129. 13.  For an excellent overview of this topic, see Steve Mason, “Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian Philosophies,” in Approaches to Ancient Judaism, n.s., 4, ed. Jacob Neusner (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990), 103-40. See also Catherine Hezser, “Interfaces Between Rabbinic Literature and Graeco-Roman Philosophy,” in The Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman Culture, vol. 2, ed. Peter Schäfer and Catherine Hezser (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000), 161–87; Henry A. Fischel, Rabbinic Literature and Greco-Roman Philosophy: A Study of Epicurea and Rhetorica in Early Midrashic Writings (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1973). For a strong statement against conflating the rabbis with the schools of ancient philosophy, see Seth Schwartz, Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 b.c.e.–640 c.e. (Prince­ ton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001), 163. 14.  Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, 272. 15.  Ibid., 83. 16.  Ibid., 128. 17.  In his deliberations, he considers and rejects other possibilities such as “psychic” exercises, “moral” exercises, “ethical” exercises, “intellectual” exercises, exercises “of thought,” and exercises “of the soul.” Ibid., 81. 18.  Ibid. 19.  Ibid., 6. 20.  Ibid., 84. 21.  Ibid., 6. 22.  Ibid., 102.

Notes to Chapter 2   244 23.  Maria Antonaccio, “Contemporary Forms of Askesis and the Return of Spiritual Exercises,” Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics 18 (1998): 76–78; Thomas Flynn, “Philosophy as a Way of Life: Foucault and Hadot,” Philosophy and Social Criticism 31, nos. 5–6 (2005): 617–18. 24.  Antonaccio, “Contemporary Forms,” 76. 25. Wayne Hankey, “Philosophy as Way of Life for Christians? Iamblichan and Porphyrian Reflections on Religion, Virtue, and Philosophy in Thomas Aquinas,” Laval théologique et philosophique 59, no. 2 (2003): 196. Hankey makes the additional observation that the Stoics and Epicureans, whom Hadot focuses on in his later work, “tend toward a more or less total demythologizing of religion.” Ibid., 202. 26.  Hadot, What Is Ancient Philosophy? 3. 27.  Ibid., 60. 28.  Ibid., 104. 29.  Ibid., 172. 30.  Ibid., 173. 31.  Ibid., 18. Hadot is here drawing on a distinction introduced by Gilbert Ryle between “knowing-how” and “knowing-that.” Ryle’s distinction between these two types of knowledge has recently been challenged, largely for the reason that knowing how to do something typically requires significant knowledge that certain things are the case. See Paul Snowdon, “Knowing How and Knowing That: A Distinction Reconsidered,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 104 (2004): 1–29, and the references there for recent discussions of the topic. 32.  Hadot, What Is Ancient Philosophy? 33. 33.  Ibid., 167. 34.  Hadot’s essays on Wittgenstein have been collected in Pierre Hadot, Wittgenstein et les limites du langage suivi d’une letter G. E. M. Anscombe et de logique et literature réflexions sur la signification de la forme littéraire chez Wittgenstein par Gottfried Gabriel (Paris: Librarie Philosophique J.Vrin, 2004). Hadot makes a particularly poignant reference to Wittgenstein in a discussion of Skepticism: This philosophical discourse leads to epokhē, or the suspension of our adherence to dogmatic philosophical discourse, including Skeptical discourse, which, like a purgative, evacuates itself along with the humors whose evacuation it provokes. André-Jean Voelke rightly compares this attitude to that of Wittgenstein, who, at the end of the Tractatus, rejects the propositions of the Tractatus like a ladder which has become useless. Likewise, Wittgenstein opposes philosophy as pathology to philosophy as a cure. What is left after this elimination of philosophical discourse by philosophical discourse? Only a way of life. (Hadot, What Is Ancient Philosophy? 144)

35.  Related to Hadot’s concern for the limits of knowledge and language is his frequent reminder that most ancient philosophers saw the acquisition of wisdom as unachievable. As the following quote indicates, it is crucial to the philosophical way of life that human perfection is never completed: “With the possible exception of the Epicurean school, wisdom was conceived as an ideal after which one strives without the hope of ever attaining it. Under normal circumstances, the only state accessible to man is philo-sophia: the love of, or progress toward, wisdom. For this reason, spiritual exercises

Notes to Chapter 2    must be taken up again and again, in an ever-renewed effort.” Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, 103. 36.  Antonaccio, “Contemporary Forms,” 72. 37.  Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, 212. 38.  Pierre Hadot, “There Are Nowadays Professors of Philosophy, but No Philosophers,” Journal of Speculative Philosophy 19, no. 3 (2005): 236, n. 48. 39.  Hadot, What Is Ancient Philosophy? 172. 40.  Ibid., 175. 41.  One reason a “hermeneutic of goodwill” is necessary is because this passage is immediately preceded by claims of “incommensurability.” Ibid., 174. I was first introduced to the phrase “hermeneutic of goodwill” by David Tracy. On the subject of hermeneutic of goodwill, see Josef Simon, “Good Will to Understand and the Will to Power: Remarks on an ‘Improbable Debate,’” in Dialogue and Deconstruction,The ­Gadamer Derrida Encounter, ed. D. P. Michelfelder and R. E. Palmer (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989), 162–75. Quoted in Nicholas Davey, Unquiet Understanding: ­Gadamer’s Philosophical Hermeneutics (Albany: State University of New York, 2004), 66. 42.  Hadot, What Is Ancient Philosophy? 176. 43.  “There is no discourse which deserves to be called philosophical if it is separated from the philosophical life, and there is no philosophical life unless it is directly linked to philosophical discourse.” Ibid., 174. 44.  See Galit Hasan-Rokem, Tales of the Neighborhood: Jewish Narrative Dialogues in Late Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 60. 45.  William Alston, Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991), 1. 46.  Ibid., 12. 47.  Ibid., 4. 48.  Ibid., 16. 49. William James, Writings, 1902–1910 (New York: Library of America, 1987); Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism:The Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness (Oxford: One World, 1999). 50.  Alston, Perceiving, 14. 51.  Ibid., 55; original emphasis. 52.  Ibid., 187. 53.  Ibid., 10; original emphasis. 54.  Ibid., 178. 55.  See Alvin Plantinga, “Reformed Epistemology,” in A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, ed. Phillip Quinn and Charles Taliaferro (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997). 56.  For Alston’s clearest and most persuasive statements on the differences between internalism and externalism see Alston, Perceiving, 74 ff. 57.  Alston says on this point, “I can’t argue that some people know that God is loving without arguing that it is true that God is loving, and it is no part of my aim in this book to establish theological propositions.” Ibid., 71. 58.  Ibid. In his subsequent work, Alston moves away from talk of “justification” and instead advocates for a pluralistic approach to what he calls “epistemic desiderata.”­William

Notes to Chapter 2   246 Alston, Beyond “Justification”: Dimensions of Epistemic Evaluation (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2005), 39–57. I will not endeavor in what follows to reformulate Alston’s earlier work in light of later developments. That is a worthy task, but it would lead me too far astray from my topic of Jewish theology. 59.  Alston, Perceiving, 73; original emphasis. 60.  Ibid., 71. 61.  Ibid., 72. 62.  Ibid., 158. 63.  Ibid., 159; original emphasis. 64.  Alston states on this point, A conclusive reason for avoiding such higher level requirements is that they imply that one is required to have an infinite hierarchy of justified beliefs. For if to be justified in the belief that p one has to be justified in believing that the ground of the former belief is an adequate one (call the italicized proposition, “q”), then a parallel condition will be put on the belief that q; to be justified in holding it one must be justified in believing that the ground of the belief that q is an adequate one. And to be justified in that belief, one will have to have a still higher level justified belief that the ground of that belief is adequate. And so on ad infinitum. Since it seems clear that no human being can possess an infinite hierarchy of beliefs—justified or not—to impose any such requirement will imply that no human being justifiably believes anything, and our subject matter will have disappeared. (Ibid., 147, n. 2)

65.  Alston’s discussion of sense perception in Perceiving God is a summary of a more extended discussion in his The Reliability of Sense Perception (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993). 66.  Alston, Perceiving, 108. 67. The arguments that Alston associates with Wittgenstein are arguments based on verificationism, criteria of physical object concepts, paradigm cases, and private language. 68.  Alston, Perceiving, 103. In an attempt to be cautious about claiming more than he has proven, Alston qualifies this comment at the start of chapter 4, where he writes: Even if we were mistaken in Chapter 3, and SP or memory or introspection can be noncircularly shown to be reliable by reflection on concepts or by rational intuition, we would still have not escaped the necessity of dealing with the problem of what to do about doxastic practices we all engage in without being able to show that they are reliable. For what about the practice we employ to show that SP is reliable—rational intuition, let’s say? Can we mount a noncircular proof of its reliability? If we can’t, we have the same problem at a second remove. If we can, then if that proof depends on using SP we are involved in a very small circle. If we do not have to use SP here, let’s consider the practice we do use. Can we give a noncircular proof of its reliability? If not, our original problem has been postponed to this point. And so on. We are faced with the familiar dilemma of continuing the regress or falling into circularity. (Ibid., 146)

69.  Ibid., 103. 70.  Ibid., 149. 71.  Ibid., 150. 72.  Cited in ibid., 151, from Thomas Reid, An Inquiry into the Human Mind, ed. T. Duggan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 207.

Notes to Chapter 2    73.  Alston, Perceiving, 153. 74.  Ibid., 153. By way of contrast, after laying out his theory of doxastic practices Alston states, “The conception of doxastic practices just outlined is, in its essentials, the view of Reid, even though the terminology is different.” Ibid., 164. 75.  Ibid., 154. 76.  Ibid. 77.  Ibid., 163. In an effort to strike a balance between Reid’s emphasis on innate mechanisms and Wittgenstein’s concern for the social component, Alston states “We still have much to learn about the relative contributions of innate structures and social learning in the development of doxastic practices. Of my predecessors in this approach, Reid places more stress on the former, Wittgenstein on the latter. But whatever the details, both have a role to play; and the final outcome is socially organized, reinforced, monitored, and shared.” Ibid., 163. 78.  A good example of the independence of language games is Wittgenstein’s censure of Father O’Hara in his lectures on religious belief. According to Wittgenstein, ­Father O’Hara sought to make religion a “question of science” by providing evidence in support of religious claims. From Wittgenstein’s perspective this is a “blunder” or a confusion of language games. Father O’Hara attempts to make the language game of religion a matter of reason, something which, in Wittgenstein’s estimation, it is not. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology, and Religious Be­ lief, ed. Cyril Barrett (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 57. For a more fluid account of the relationship between language games see Cora Diamond, “Wittgenstein on Religious Belief: The Gulfs Between Us,” in Religion and Wittgenstein’s Legacy, ed. D. Z. Phillips and Mario von der Ruhr (Burlington,Vt.: Ashgate, 2005), 130. 79.  Alston, Perceiving, 239. 80.  Ibid., 165. Alston sets out his theory of truth more fully in William Alston, A Realist Conception of Truth (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996). 81.  Alston, Perceiving, 155. 82.  Ibid., 153. 83.  Ibid., 165. 84.  Ibid., 156. 85.  Ibid., 165. 86.  Ibid., 161. 87.  Ibid., 164. 88.  On this point, Alston states: “Change is obvious in religious doxastic practices. The background belief system of Christianity, for example, has undergone marked development, especially in its early centuries, and that has repercussions for its M-beliefforming practice, both for its overrider system and for its identification of the object of theistic experience.” Ibid. 89.  Ibid., 174. 90.  Ibid., 168. 91.  Ibid., 170. 92.  Ibid. 93.  Ibid., 169.

Notes to Chapter 2   248 94.  Ibid., 153. 95.  Ibid., 178. 96.  Ibid., 195. Alston states on this point, “By recognizing the embeddedness of individual experiential beliefs in a socially rooted practice, I can thereby put the burden of proof on one who would deny the rationality of such belief formation.” Ibid. 97.  Ibid., 178. 98.  Alston, of course, does not mean this to be taken as an exhaustive analysis of the doxastic practices that comprise Christianity. 99.  Ibid., 306. 100.  Ibid., 250. 101.  James L. Kugel, The Bible as It Was (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997), 25. 102.  Ibid., 26. 103.  Halivni writes: “Etymologically, the root p-sh-t means extension, continuation, context. If this is the word’s meaning, there is no evidence that the rabbis of the Talmud gave precedence to literal meaning. Indeed, from some places in the Talmud where the root p-sh-t is not employed, it can be proven that the rabbis of the Talmud did not always prefer simple over applied meaning. They possessed no built-in sense of the superiority of peshat. Peshat did not take hold of them at their time.” David Weiss Halivni, Peshat and Derash: Plain and Applied Meaning in Rabbinic Exegesis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 10. 104.  Ibid., 98. As we shall see, Halivni’s formulation is not sufficiently precise in that aggadic claims are often intricately bound to scriptural verses even at the level of grammar and orthography. 105.  This distinction between exegesis and hermeneutics is substantially informed by Michael Fishbane’s discussion of traditum and traditio. See Michael Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), 13. 106.  Alston, Perceiving, 193. 107.  My discussion of this point is informed by Julius Guttmann,“Establishing Norms for Jewish Belief,” in Studies in Jewish Thought: An Anthology of German Jewish Scholarship, ed. Alfred Jospe (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1981), 54–69. That is not to say that Guttmann would have endorsed the way that I am working out the problem here. 108.  Ibid., 68. 109.  Ibid., 69. 110.  On this point see Alston, Perceiving, 203, and 236, n. 15. 111.  Alston faces similar difficulties regarding internal inconsistency in that Christian mystical perception produces equally, if not more, diverse outputs than JTP. One argument that Alston makes in defense of CMP is that there may just be aspects of reality that are exceedingly difficult to cognize and so individuals will inevitably hold divergent beliefs about them. Alston states, Why shouldn’t there be realms, modes, or dimensions of reality that are so difficult for us to discern that widespread agreement is extremely difficult or impossible to attain, even if some veridical cognition of that realm is achieved. It is a familiar fact that the more difficult the task, the more widely dispersed the attempts to carry it out. This

Notes to Chapters 2 and 3    holds in areas as diverse as mathematical exercises and target practice. Why should it be surprising that attempts to discern the Ultimate Source of all being should vary so much, even if some of those attempts get it straight? (Ibid., 267)

112.  Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2nd rev. ed., trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (New York: Continuum, 1989), 364.

Chapter 3: Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael 1. There is a second early rabbinic commentary on the book of Exodus called the Mekhilta of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai. Without getting into the complex relationship between these two texts, let the present remark serve as a reminder that when, for convenience sake, I speak about the Mekhilta in what follows that it is the Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael to which I am referring. The sections of Exodus that Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael comments on are: Exod. 12:1–23:19, 31:12–17, and 35:1–3. Two complete manuscripts of the Mekhilta are extant. The first, MS Oxford 151, dates from 1291, and the second, MS Munich, Cod. Hebr. 117, is from 1435. Also extant are numerous partial manuscripts, fragments from the Cairo Genizah, and quotations of the Mekhilta in later rabbinic compilations. The text was first published in 1515 in Constantinople and a second corrected edition was published in 1545 in Venice. At present, there are two modern critical editions of the text. H. S. Horovitz and I. A. Rabin produced, Mechilta d’Rabbi Ismael cum variis lectionibus et adnotationibus (1931; repr., Jerusalem: Shalem Books, 1997), which follows the Venice edition. Shortly after the publication of this volume, Jacob Lauterbach published his edition of the text with an English translation, under the title Mekilta de Rabbi Ishmael: A Critical Edition on the Basis of the Manuscripts and Early Editions, with an English Translation, Introduction, and Notes, 3 vols. (Philadelphia, 1933–35; repr., Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2004). For Saul Lieberman’s criticisms of the Lauterbach edition, see Saul Lieberman, Studies in the Teachings of the Land of Israel, ed. David Rosenthal (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1990), 541. Genizah texts from the Mekhilta are collected in Menahem Kahana, ed., The Genizah Fragments of the Halakhic Midrashim (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2005). 2.  The discussion in this section follows closely the standard reference work on rabbinic literature, H. L. Strack and Günter Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash, trans. Markus Bockmuehl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992). 3.  Saul Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1994), 78. 4.  See Azzan Yadin’s discussion of this issue in Azzan Yadin, Scripture as Logos: Rabbi Ishmael and the Origins of Midrash (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), ix–xii and passim. 5.  For a more nuanced discussion of the relationship between halakhah and aggadah see Barry Scott Wimpfheimer, Narrating the Law: A Poetics of Talmudic Legal Stories (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press). Wimpfheimer suggests abandoning the distinction between halakhah and aggadah. While I would not wish to go that far, I support his central claim that we need a more sophisticated account of the relationship between law and narrative. 6.  Lauterbach, Mekilta, xxv.

Notes to Chapter 3   250 7.  Strack and Stemberger, Introduction, 255. Stemberger points the reader to an important controversy on the dating of the Mekhilta that began with Ben Zion ­Wacholder’s essay “The Date of the Mekilta De-Rabbi Ishmael,” in Hebrew Union College Annual 39 (1968): 117–44, where Wacholder argues that the Mekhilta, while drawing on older traditions, was in fact written in the eighth century and is of Alexandrian provenance. Menahem Kahana’s article “The Critical Editions of the Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael to Exodus in Light of the Genizah Fragments,” Tarbiz 55, no. 4 (1986): 489–524, to which Stemberger directs his reader, largely dismantles Wacholder’s argument. In any event, the matter of the dating of the Mekhilta is essentially moot for the present study, insofar as Wacholder, the strongest critic of the Mekhilta, can say the following: “The Mekilta of Ishmael and its variant, the Mekilta of Simeon ben Yohai, may be regarded as works which utilize masterfully the hermeneutics of the tannaim and amoraim to summarize the talmudic halakhah and aggadah pertaining to the Book of Exodus.” Wacholder, “Date,” 144. All that the present study requires is that the Mekhilta genuinely reflect the theological language of rabbinic Judaism, and on this point there is general agreement among scholars. Jacob Neusner, for instance, confirms Wacholder’s assessment of the Mekhilta by calling it “the first genuinely traditional document in the Judaism of the Dual Torah.” Jacob Neusner, Mekhilta According to Rabbi Ishmael: An Intro­ duction to Judaism’s First Scriptural Encyclopedia (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988), 99. 8.  By speaking of God’s “maximal greatness,” I do not mean to commit myself, or the rabbis for that matter, to notions of the divine perfections as they have been variously worked out from philosophical perspectives. Rather, I am using this phrase to emphasize the fact that when we speak of God, we are referring to that being that we hold to be greater (or more perfect, if we can stave off the philosophical associations) than all other beings. I am borrowing the term maximal greatness from Paul Griffiths. Paul J. Griffiths, “Buddha and God: A Contrastive Study in Ideas About Maximal Greatness,” Journal of Religion 69, no. 4 (1989): 502–29. 9.  I am using the term tradent in an expansive sense that includes not only one who passes along a traditional interpretation or comment, but also an individual who actively participates in the building up of tradition by creating new interpretations or comments.Tradent, in my usage, is then synonymous with “exegete” or “commentator.” 10.  MdRI,Vayassa 6, 175; Lauterbach, 1:253. 11.  This is not to say that there is no exegetical basis for the assertion. The interpreter builds upon the use of the participle ‫ עומד‬in Exod. 17:6, suggesting the possibility of continuous action in God’s standing. 12.  For a number of different perspectives on this issue, see April D. DeConick, ed., Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism: A Collage of Working Definitions, Society of Biblical Literature 2001 Seminar Papers, no. 40 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2001). On the issue of first-person reports see Alan Segal, “Paul and the Beginning of Jewish Mysticism,” in Death, Ecstasy, and Other Worldly Journeys, ed. John J. Collins and Michael Fishbane (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), 109. 13.  Max Kadushin, A Conceptual Approach to the Mekhilta (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1969); Judah Goldin, The Song at the Sea: Being a Commentary on a Commentary in Two Parts (New Haven, Conn.:Yale University Press, 1971).

Notes to Chapter 3    14.  In addition to the work currently under discussion, Kadushin initiated and developed this project in three earlier studies: Max Kadushin, The Theology of Seder Eliahu: A Study in Organic Thinking (New York: Bloch Publishing, 1932); The Rabbinic Mind (New York: Bloch Publishing, 1952): Worship and Ethics: A Study in Rabbinic Judaism (New York: Bloch Publishing, 1963). 15.  Kadushin, Conceptual Approach, 5. 16.  Kadushin, Rabbinic Mind, 15. 17.  Kadushin, Conceptual Approach, 28. 18.  Ibid., 69. 19.  Kadushin’s analysis of the Mekhilta covers roughly two hundred pages of Lauterbach’s edition, the full text of which Kadushin provides as an appendix. Kadushin’s method is to cite a fragment of the Mekhilta and then to elaborate upon the value-­concepts that appear in the text. In reading Kadushin’s work it is often impossible to understand the Mekhilta passage under discussion without referring to the text in the appendix. 20.  Goldin, Song, xi. 21.  See ibid., 101 and 131. 22.  See ibid., 103 and 192. 23.  See ibid., 38, 80, 115, 129, and 197. 24.  Kadushin does not consider the divine epithets, which one would think have some bearing on the topic of God’s perfections. Oddly, he argues that “collective nouns may be conceptual terms but not proper nouns; since a proper noun designates but a single specific individual entity it is not a generalization and therefore not a concept.” Kadushin, Rabbinic Mind, 56. In fairness to Kadushin, it should be said that his method is motivated by a hermeneutic sensitivity that seeks to avoid imposing the scholar’s own values or beliefs on to the rabbis. Ibid., 1–3. See Peter Ochs, “Max Kadushin as Rabbinic Pragmatist,” in Understanding the Rabbinic Mind: Essays on the Hermeneutics of Max Kadushin, ed. Peter Ochs (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990), 170–72. 25.  Kadushin, Conceptual Approach, 98 ff. Richard Sarason gives a helpful discussion of “otherness” and an illuminating discussion of Kadushin in general, in Richard S. Sarason, “Kadushin’s Study of Midrash: Value Concepts and their Literary Embodiment,” in Understanding the Rabbinic Mind, ed. Ochs, 48, n. 10. 26.  James Kugel uses the term omnisignificance to speak of the idea that Scripture is a divinely authored and thus perfect document, every feature of which is meaningful. James L. Kugel, The Bible as It Was (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997), 21. 27.  Azzan Yadin is skeptical that these ideas accurately reflect the attitude toward Scripture in the midrashim associated with Rabbi Ishmael. He says “The Rabbi Ishmael midrashim are not so much motivated by the assumption that Scripture is perfect as by the assumption that Scripture is an intentional teacher, a view that ultimately leads back to the attempt to establish Scripture as the lead agent of interpretation.”Yadin, Scripture as Logos, 50; see also 55, 61. While Yadin’s insights regarding the role of Scripture in the halakhic reasoning of Rabbi Ishmael and his school are as fascinating as they are important, were he also treating the aggadic material within these midrashim, he would likely have more recourse to traditional notions of the role of Scripture in midrash, that is, that Scripture is perfect.

Notes to Chapter 3   252 28.  For a discussion of the traditions surrounding Joseph’s bones, see James L. ­Kugel, In Potiphar’s House:The Interpretive Life of Biblical Texts (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990). 29. Throughout Contemplative Nation I will cite Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael from the Horovitz-Rabin edition and I will also provide page numbers to the newly republished Lauterbach edition. Using the current citation as a model, “MdRI” stands for Mekhilta of (de-) Rabbi Ishmael; “Beshallah. petih.ta” is the section (masseket) and chapter in which the text is found; “79” is the page number in the Horovitz-Rabin edition; “Lauterbach, 1:121” indicates the volume and page number where the text and its translation can be found in the new two-volume Lauterbach edition. All translations of biblical and rabbinic texts are my own. I will often translate biblical verses in a manner that makes explicit the basis of the rabbinic interpretation as I do here in my translation of Deut. 34:6. 30.  For more developed traditions on Moses’ burial see Pseudo-Jonathon, Deut. 34:6; Sifrei Deuteronomy, § 305, 326; § 337, 386. 31.  While the rabbis do not always provide the testimony and critical reflection on their own beliefs and practices that scholars would like, there is much to learn about their religious lives from what they project onto the biblical text. For instance, the fact that the Mekhilta envisions the Israelites at Sinai interpreting each of God’s words as it comes forth is a clear indication of the importance of scriptural interpretation within their religious lives. For an illuminating and persuasive discussion of these issues, see Steven D. Fraade, “Rabbinic Polysemy and Pluralism Revisited: Between Praxis and Thematization,” AJS Review 31, no. 1 (2007): 24–29; Steven D. Fraade, “Hearing and Seeing at Sinai: Interpretive Trajectories,” in The Significance of Sinai: Tradi­ tions About Sinai and Divine Revelation in Judaism and Christianity, ed. George J. Brooke, Hindy Najman, and Loren T. Stuckenbruck (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2008), 262. Azzan Yadin makes a similar point: “For midrashic interpretation to be ultimately justified, it must become Scripture, and Scripture must become its own interpreter—it must become midrash.”Yadin, Scripture as Logos, 33. 32.  Michael Fishbane formulates this point in a helpful way when he says: “From the viewpoint of historical Judaism, the central task of exegetical tradition is to demonstrate the capacity of Scripture to regulate all areas of life and thought. However, this capacity is not at all manifest or self-evident. As a result, traditional Jewish exegesis first assumes the comprehensive adequacy of Scripture to be an implicit feature of its contents, and sets its task as one of explication, as one which makes the comprehensive pertinence of Torah explicit and manifest.” Michael Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 3. 33.  In the parallel version of this tradition in Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon a similar point is made. Through an exegetical turn, Moses’ speech is likened to that of God thus conveying honor and trustworthiness to him. J. N. Epstein and E. Z. Melamed, ­Mekhilta D’Rabbi Sim’on b. Jochai (Jerusalem: Sumptibus Hillel Press, 1955), 140; henceforth MdRS. See also Leviticus Rabbah 1:8. 34.  This is an instance of the hermeneutical principle called ribbui, which literally means “increase” but as a technical term refers to an expansion of the meaning of the biblical text through interpretation of verbal repetitions in Scripture or interpretation

Notes to Chapter 3    of words like “and,” “also,” “so” or the direct-object marker, ‫את‬. Ribbui is generally associated with Rabbi Akiva and it has been a matter of contention whether Rabbi Ishmael utilizes this hermeneutic principle. See Yadin, Scripture as Logos, 45–47. 35.  A closely related exegetical technique centers on phrases including an infinitive absolute followed by a finite verb. One example is the following: “‘God will surely attend to you (Exod. 14:19)’: He attended to you in Egypt, He will attend to you at the Sea of Reeds. He attended to you at the sea, He will attend to you in the desert. He attended to you in the desert, He will attend to you beside the banks of the Arnon. He attend to you in this world, He will attend to you in the world to come.” MdRI, Beshallah. petih.ta, 80; Lauterbach, 1:123. 36.  Horovitz and Rabin note that Targum Onkelos translates the verse in a manner similar to the interpretation in the Mekhilta. MdRI, 137, n. 21. 37.  Cf. MdRI, Beshallah. 4, 218; Lauterbach, 2:312. MdRS, 145 ff. 38.  This passage is commonly read as part of an exegetical tradition on the polysemic nature of the Torah that culminates in b. Sanhedrin 34a and b. Shabbat 88b. This exegetical tradition has been a topic of much discussion in contemporary rabbinic studies on account of the interest in polysemic discourse in postmodern thought. For recent discussions of the topic of polysemy in rabbinic discourse, see Steven D. Fraade, “Rabbinic Polysemy and Pluralism Revisited: Between Praxis and Thematization,” AJS Review 31, no.1 (2007): 1–40; Azzan Yadin, “The Hammer on the Rock: Polysemy and the School of Rabbi Ishmael,” Jewish Studies Quarterly 10, no. 1 (2003): 1–17. For an account of the prerabbinic origins of polysemy see Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation, 263 ff. 39.  Exod. 39:1, which discusses the fringes on the high priest’s garments, indicates that the fringes are a mix of wool and linen; b. Yebamot 4b addresses the topic of the fringes more fully. 40. Yadin argues that the passage is not in fact about God’s ability to speak contradictory but true statements. He undertakes a radical reconstruction of the passage that removes the additional scriptural contradictions as well as Jer. 23:29. On the basis of this reconstruction, Yadin states, “Clearly, then, the issue underlying the Mekhilta’s derashah is not God’s ability to speak contradictory statements. Rather, I suggest, it concerns the unique status of these verses in terms of the sinaitic context of their enunciation.”Yadin, “The Hammer on the Rock,” 11. When Yadin goes on to spell out what he means by this, he ends back where he started, with an exegetical problem based on contradiction. 41.  Ibid., 11. 42.  Sifrei Deuteronomy, § 333, 265. 43.  See MdRS, 92 ff. for an alternative formulation of this tradition. 44.  On the middot see Saul Lieberman, Greek in Jewish Palestine/Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1994), 68 ff. David Daube, “Alexandrian Methods of Interpretation and the Rabbis,” in Essays in Greco-Roman and Related Talmudic Literature, ed. Henry A. Fischel (New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1977), 165– 82. For a brief introduction to these three lists of hermeneutic principles see, Strack and Stemberger, Introduction, 15–30. To the degree that it is possible to speak about a consensus on matters as contentious as attribution and dating, most scholars are likely

Notes to Chapter 3   254 to agree that the attribution of the three lists to the respective sages is tenuous at best, and that the lists are most likely the construction of later editors. 45.  The thirteen middot of Rabbi Ishmael have become so central to the Jewish tradition that they have been incorporated into the morning prayer service. See Philip Birnbaum, Daily Prayer Book: Ha-Siddur Ha-Shalem (1949; repr., New York: Hebrew Publishing, 1997), 42. 46.  Exodus Rabbah 7:3 makes clear that by using the demonstrative pronoun “these,” Moses speaks in an indirect and deferential manner to Pharaoh. 47. The seven figures cited in the text are Joseph, Jacob, Elijah, Hananiah, Mishael, Azzariah, and Daniel. 48.  For an example of inner-biblical exegesis that also places words in God’s mouth see Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation, 134. 49.  Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-disciplinary Studies of the Creation of Mean­ ing in Language, trans. Robert Czerny (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977), 239. 50. The idea that one should consider oneself as having been redeemed from Egypt has both biblical and rabbinic precedents in Exod. 13:8, 14 and m. 10:5. 51.  Ishay Rosen-Zvi gives a helpful expression to this point in his discussion of the Mekhilta’s commentary on the Song of the Sea: “Thus it is the verses alone that bear the responsibility, not only for telling the divine potency, but for actually revealing it. It is these verses which allow the homilist to experience divine presence, as well as potency, in a post-revelatory era.” Ishay Rosen-Zvi, “Can the Homilists Cross the Sea Again? Revelation in Mekilta Shirata,” in The Significance of Sinai: Traditions About Sinai and Divine Revelation in Judaism and Christianity, ed. George J. Brooke, Hindy Najman, and Loren T. Stuckenbruck (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2008), 240. 52.  Rabbi Mattya ben Heresh selects an alternative semantic possibility for the root ‫ס‬-‫ו‬-‫ ב‬of resting safely in “‘I passed over you and I saw you resting safely in your blood.” Whereas in the biblical text the root meant to tread or kick, Rabbi Mattya ben Heresh understands it midrashically as meaning to be based or established. 53.  Interpreting the Bible according to the proximity of verses or passages is a pervasive rabbinic exegetical technique called semuchin. 54.  One telling example of this point is the numerous reasons given for why God parted the sea for the Israelites. At least twelve such reasons are cited: (1) for the sake of Adam; (2) for the sake of Jerusalem; (3) on account of the promise to the patriarchs; (4) in order to sustain the seed of Israel; (5) on account of Abraham’s merit; (6) on account of the merit of circumcision; (7) for God’s own sake; (8) on account of the faith of Israel; (9) on account of the faith of Abraham; (10) for the sake of the tribes; (11) for the sake of the bones of Joseph; and (12) because God is like a brother to Israel. MdRI, Beshallah. 3, 97; Lauterbach 1:143. 55.  Alexander Samely makes a somewhat similar argument: “Of the many midrashic readings which, to the modern historian, look anachronistic or far-fetched, most did not appear thus to the rabbinic interpreter. That much is clear from their sheer number, their roughly even distribution, and the intense effort of thought that has gone into them.” Alexander Samely, Forms of Rabbinic Literature and Thought: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 71.

Notes to Chapter 3    56.  For what strikes me as an effective way of circumventing the problem of “authorial intention,” see Nicholas Wolterstorff ’s discussion of “authorial-discourse interpretation,” in which he emphasizes illocutionary acts rather than the author’s intentions. Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Resurrecting the Author,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 27, no. 1 (2003): 22. 57.  Michael Fishbane has shown that theological conflicts of this sort occur even within the Bible. For some relevant examples see Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation, 320, 341, 410. 58.  Ibid., 81. 59.  Elisha ben Abuya, the infamous apostate sage, is known as “” On Elisha, see Alon Goshen-Gottstein, The Sinner and the Amnesiac:The Rabbinic Invention of Elisha ben Abuya and Eleazar ben Arach (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000); Yehuda Liebes, The Sin of Elisha: Four Who Entered Pardes and the Nature of Talmudic Mysticism (Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University Press, 1987). 60.  The biblical verse in MT has ‫ אף‬for “Behold” rather than ‫הן‬. Additionally, the verse quoted in MdRI is Isa. 46:7 and not 47:7. 61.  C.f. Sifrei Deuteronomy, § 43, 96 and MdRS, 146. 62.  Arthur Marmorstein, The Old Rabbinic Doctrine of God (London: Oxford University Press, 1927). Ephraim Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs, trans. Israel Abrahams (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975). 63.  Max Kadushin undervalues this element of rabbinic thought: “Even in ­Haggadah there is effortful, if not exactly inferential thought. Haggadah employs various forms for combining what are primarily discrete statements; devising and utilizing those forms of composition called for effortful thought, although of a type characteristic of art rather than of analytic reason.” Kadushin, Rabbinic Mind, viii. For Kadushin’s view that religious concepts are not inferential or deductive see Rabbinic Mind, 48 ff. 64.  See John Macquarrie, God-talk: An Examination of the Language and Logic of Theol­ ogy (New York: Harper and Row, 1967), 18. 65.  Goldin, Song, 80. 66.  A genizah fragment has Rabbi Meir advocating for “praise and thanksgiving ( ­hodayyah).” Kahana, Genizah Fragments, 48. 67. This is not to say that praise was an exclusively rabbinic concern. It is also an important feature of worship in the Dead Sea Scrolls. On this topic see Ra’anan Boustan, “Angels in the Architecture: Temple Art and the Poetics of Praise in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice,” in Heavenly Realms and Earthly Realities in Late Antique Religions, ed. Ra’anan Boustan and Annette Yoshiko Reed (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 195–212; Elisha Qimron, “Times for Praising God: A Fragment of a Scroll from Qumran (4Q409),” Jewish Quarterly Review 80, nos. 3–4 (1990): 341–47. 68.  For a positive comparison between Moses’ praise in Deuteronomy and that of the advocate who first praises the king before defending his client, see Sifrei Deuteron­ omy, § 343, 394. For a discussion of how Adam was uniquely positioned to praise God’s perfection see t. Sanhedrin 8:5 (Zuckermandel). 69.  Gerald Blidstein comments on this, “The song of praise was sung by the Israelites, then, not after the splitting of the sea and the drowning of the Egyptians, but before

Notes to Chapter 3   256 these, an act of faith in the impending salvation!” Gerald Blidstein, “Prayer, Rescue, and Redemption in the Mekilta,” Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period 39, no. 1 (2008): 84; original emphasis. 70.  MdRI, Shirata 8, 141; Lauterbach, 1:207. For a discussion of the giving of the Torah as a “cosmic” event in MdRI see Marc Hirshman, Torah for All the World’s People (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1999), 95. 71. Taken together, the following comments give evidence of a universalist and inclusivist tendency that surfaces throughout the Mekhilta and that has recently drawn the attention of scholars. See Marc Hirshman, “Rabbinic Universalism in the Second and Third Centuries,” Harvard Theological Review 93, no. 2 (2000): 101–15. Hirschman has also produced a book-length study of the topic in which he discusses this formula at length: Hirshman, Torah for All the World’s People, 64 ff.; see also Alan F. Segal, “Universalism in Judaism and Christianity,” in Paul in His Hellenistic Context, ed. Troels EngbergPedersen (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 1–29. For an insightful discussion of the rhetorical impact of the shift to first-person see Rosen-Zvi, “Can the Homilists Cross the Sea Again?” 226–28. For a discussion of the Mekhilta’s use of second-person in a halakhic context see Yadin, Scripture as Logos, 27. 72.  MdRI, Shirata 3, 126; Lauterbach, 1:184. 73.  MdRI, Shirata 5, 133; Lauterbach, 1:193. Urbach sees this phrase as indicative of the “universal character of repentance.” Urbach, Sages, 466. Interpreting the text in this manner conceals the theological point of God’s power to save. 74.  MdRI, Beshallah. 5, 107; Lauterbach, 1:158. 75.  MdRI, Shirata 3, 126; Lauterbach, 1:184. 76.  MdRI, Shirata 4, 131; Lauterbach, 1:190. 77.  MdRI, Shirata 4, 131; Lauterbach, 1:190. 78.  MdRI, Kaspa 20, 334; Lauterbach, 2:484. 79.  Steven Fraade speaks to this point when he says “If hermeneutics is an interpretive shuttle between a scriptural text and a scriptural community situated in a different historical and cultural setting, then hermeneutics cannot exist apart from having one foot planted in that setting.” Steven D. Fraade, “Moses and the Commandments: Can Hermeneutics, History, and Rhetoric Be Disentangled?” in The Idea of Biblical Interpreta­ tion: Essays in Honor of James L. Kugel, eds. Hindy Najman and Judith Newman (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2004), 421. See Moshe Halbertal, Interpretative Revolutions in the Making:Values as Interpretative Considerations in Midrashei Halakhah (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1997), 185. 80.  MdRI, Shirata 5, 133; Lauterbach, 1:194. 81.  MdRI, Beshallah. petih.ta, 85; Lauterbach, 1:129. The point here is that God’s punishments are carried out with exceeding precision. Furthermore, this fact is transformed by means of an a fortiori argument to indicate that those who do good are rewarded first. 82.  MdRI, Beshallah. 6, 110; Shirata 5, 133; Shirata 6, 137; Lauterbach, 1:161, 193, 201. For a discussion of God’s measure for measure justice in the Mekhilta see Rosen-Zvi, “Can the Homilists Cross the Sea Again?” 229; and Elaine Phillips, “The Tilted Balance: Early Rabbinic Perceptions of God’s Justice,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 14, no. 2 (2004): 228–33. For a discussion of measure for measure in the Targumim, see Michael Maher,

Notes to Chapter 3    “God as Judge in the Targums,” Journal for the Study of Judaism: In the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period 29, no. 1 (1998): 49–62. For a discussion of measure for measure as a hermeneutic principle in tannaitic literature see Ishay Rosen-Zvi, “Measure for Measure as Hermeneutic Tool in Tannaitic Literature: The Case of Tosefta Sotah,” Journal of Jewish Studies 57, no. 2 (2006): 269–86. See also Urbach, The Sages, 371–73, 436–61. For a similar discussion of the Egyptians being punished measure for measure see Avot de-Rabbi Natan, A:33, 95. Avoth de-Rabbi Nathan, ed. Solomon Schechter (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1997); henceforth Avot de-Rabbi Natan. On the relationship between measure for measure and ancient medicine and magic, see Meir Bar-Ilan, “Between Magic and Religion: Sympathetic Magic in the World of the Sages of the Mishnah and Talmud,” Review of Rabbinic Judaism 5, no. 3 (2002): 383–99. 83.  MdRI, Shirata 2, 123; Lauterbach, 1:179. 84.  MdRI, Shirata 5, 133; Lauterbach, 1:194. 85.  MdRI, Shirata 1, 118; Lauterbach, 1:172. 86.  For a completely different perspective on these events see the account in Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, 7 vols. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1947), 3:25 ff. 87.  Immediately following this passage is an account of a discussion between Antoninus and Rabbi Judah in which the same reasoning is applied to the punishment of the body and the soul. The Mekhilta’s account of this tradition is fragmentary. For the tradition in its entirety see b. Sanhedrin 91b. See Urbach, Sages, 223. 88. This reading is in agreement with Judah Goldin’s. See Goldin, Song, 103. Goldin points out the similar concern in m. Sanhedrin 7:4 about the biblical injunction to stone a beast with which a human has had sex (Lev. 20:15–16). 89.  For a justification for the killing of the first-born of cattle, see MdRI, Pish.a 13, 44; Lauterbach, 1:69. On the claim that God does not withhold the reward of any creature, see MdRI, Kaspa 20, 321; Lauterbach, 2:466. 90.  David Flusser speaks to the centrality of divine justice in Judaism: “In Christianity also the terms ‘just’ and ‘sinner’ rate significantly, and the idea of attending compensation has not been eliminated. However, in the structure of Judaism this is located at the core: the concept that the just are rewarded and the sinners are meted out their desert constitutes the testimonial to its veracity. How else would divine justice manifestly rule in the world?” Further on he states: “The message of Judaism seemed to be founded on the concept of a just God who meted out to each and everyone what he deserved for observing or disobeying the divine commandments.” David Flusser, “A New Sensitivity in Judaism and the Christian Message,” Harvard Theological Review 61, no. 2 (1968): 108, 120. 91.  See Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2nd rev. ed., trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (New York: Continuum, 1989), 269. 92.  I am borrowing this terminology from Alvin Plantinga, Does God Have a Nature? (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1980). 93.  MdRI, Pish.a 7, 24; Pish.a 11, 38 ff.; Lauterbach, 1:39, 61. 94.  MdRI, Beshallah. 4, 102; Lauterbach, 1:151. 95.  MdRI, Shirata 3, 127; Lauterbach, 1:185.

Notes to Chapter 3   258 96.  MdRI, Shirata 4, 131; Lauterbach, 1:190. For a detailed discussion of this motif, see Fishbane, Rabbinic Mythmaking, 231 ff., 238. 97.  MdRI, Bah.odesh 7, 230; Lauterbach, 2:330. 98.  On prophetic critiques of sacrifice, see Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation, 304 ff. 99.  Menahem Kahana in his critical edition of the parashah Amalek prefers a reading of the divine epithet Makom throughout this passage, rather than “Holy One Blessed Be He.” Menahem Kahana, The Two Mekhiltot on the Amalek Portion:The Originality of the Version of the Mekhilta d’Rabbi Ishma’el with Respect to the Mekhilta of Rabbi Shim’on ben Yohay (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1999), 166. Kahana’s other corrections to this section are minor and do not affect the meaning of the text. 100.  On other occasions in the Mekhilta the problem associated with the blood on the doorpost is that it suggests that God is not omniscient. See MdRI, Pish.a 7, 24; Pish.a 11, 38 ff.; Lauterbach, 1:39, 61. See Philo, Leg. All. II, 80 for a discussion of the brass serpent and Philo, Quaest. Ex., 12 for a discussion of the blood on the doorpost. 101.  Cf. b. Shabbat 57a where the Israelites are referred to as “believers who are children of believers.” 102.  Menahem Kister touches upon a related set of theological concerns in his essay “Some Early Jewish and Christian Exegetical Problems and the Dynamics of Monotheism,” Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period 37, no. 4 (2006): 548–93. In the essay, Kister explores questions of God’s sovereignty, wisdom, justice, and divine independence. 103.  The text goes on to amplify the above point by arguing that the splitting of the waters was not just a terrestrial act, but in fact a cosmic one, as even the upper and lower waters were divided. 104.  MdRI, Beshallah. 4, 102; Lauterbach, 1:151. Michael Fishbane discusses the exegetical and mythic background to this aggadic narrative and the issue of agency in Bib­ lical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 48, 226–28. Daniel Boyarin also analyzes this pericope, in Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 93–104. 105.  Hadot notes a similar dynamic in ancient philosophy when he says that “philosophical problems were expressed in exegetical terms.” Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, ed. Arnold Davidson and trans. Michael Chase (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), 73. 106.  MdRI, Pish.a 7, 24; Pish.a 11, 38 ff.; Lauterbach, 1:39, 61. In one particularly interesting passage the Mekhilta wonders whether the Israelites deceived God at Sinai by promising to fulfill the commandments. MdRI, Nezikin 13, 295; Lauterbach, 2:429. For Urbach’s views on the origins of the idea of divine omniscience see Urbach, Sages, 802, n. 8. 107.  MdRI, Bah.odesh 8, 232; Lauterbach, 2:333. 108.  B. Berahkot 3b preserves an alternative solution to the exegetical problem in this passage. Rejecting the idea that God would use imprecise language like the word around, this interpretation claims that the wording of Exodus 11:4 reflects Moses’ uncertainty about the middle of the night and not God’s. The passage also contains an assertion of God’s omniscience. On God’s knowledge of time see Bereshit Rabba, Bereshit,

Notes to Chapter 3    par. 10:9 (Julius Theodor and Chanock Albeck, ed. Midrash Bereshit Rabba: Critical Edition with Notes and Commentary, 3 vols. [1965; repr., Jerusalem: Shalem Books, 1996], 1:85). 109.  Because divine perfection is not a rabbinic “value-concept” for Max Kadushin, his reading of the passage emphasizes the theme of redemption in the text rather than God’s perfection. “Not represented by conceptual terms in rabbinic literature, the idea of God’s omnipotence and of His omniscience are not rabbinic value concepts but auxiliary ideas. Here those ideas are employed in order to make vivid the concept of Ge’ullah as concretized in the redemption from Egypt by God at midnight. The redemption was precisely at midnight. There was not even a moment of transition between slavery and freedom.” Kadushin, Conceptual Approach, 129. 110.  For an account of the ma‘aseh in the Mishnah, see Arnold Goldberg, “Form und Funktion des Ma’ase in der Mischna,” Rabbinische Texte als Gegenstand der Auslegung (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1999). 111.  This appears to be an ancient epithet as the only other use of the phrase in classic rabbinic literature is associated with Shimon ben Shetach, cf. b. Sanhedrin 19b. God’s knowledge is a central theme in the Dead Sea Scrolls, particularly the Hodayot. Hymn 23, for instance, speaks of God as a “God of knowledge” and as a “fountain of knowledge” (1QH col. 20). Interestingly, God’s knowledge is here linked to knowledge of time as in the derashah I discussed earlier. Hymn 21 bears on the subject of this entire section: “I know that truth is in your mouth and that righteousness is in your hand; that in your thoughts is all knowledge and that in your power is all might and that all glory is with you” (1QH col. 19). See also 1QS 3:15 ff. 112.  Although it is by no means the norm, one does find theological claims in the Mekhilta that are not built upon Scripture. Two theological claims that do not have scriptural proof and are directly related to God’s perfection are the following: (1) It is said that on account of God’s knowledge Moses did not have to bring the people’s reply but that the Torah is, in this instance, teaching ethical behavior (derekh ’eretz). MdRI, Bah.odesh 2, 209 ff.; Lauterbach, 2:299. (2) God is likened to the sun, which is effective from its place. MdRI, Bah.odesh 9, 239; Lauterbach, 2:344. 113.  MdRI, Beshallah. 6, 111; Lauterbach, 1:163. 114.  This is not to deny the existence of critiques of God in rabbinic literature. As important as such critiques are, they are far less central to rabbinic theology than claims about God’s goodness. 115.  Urbach uses this passage as an example of God’s providence as directed toward “the government of the world, the control of nature, and the provision of the needs of all mankind.” Urbach, Sages, 256, n. 6. In the parallel to this passage in Sifrei Deu­ teronomy, Rabbi Zadok’s interjection has a somewhat different tone that gives equal weight to God’s power as to God’s providence: “Rabbi Zadok said to them ‘You have laid down the glory of God [ha-Makom] and instead engaged in the glory of flesh and blood. If the One Who Spoke and the World Was causes the winds to blow, clouds to ascend, rains to come down, sprouts to grow and arranges the table of each and every individual, should not Gamaliel son of Rabbi serve us?” Sifrei Deuteronomy, § 38, 74. See Hirshman, Torah for All, 65 ff. For a discussion of the talmudic parallel to this story in b. Kiddushin 32b see Barry Scott Wimpfheimer, Narrating the Law, 73 ff.

Notes to Chapter 3   260 116. The suggestion that there is some rabbinic reflection on God’s perfection that is independent of Scripture should not be pushed too strongly.The religious lives of the rabbis were, of course, suffused with Scripture. Furthermore, in respect to this particular statement, it is transmitted within a biblical commentary and is part of a literary unit explicating a specific verse. 117.  I think it would go too far to argue, with Daniel Boyarin that “by a kind of theological askesis, the Rabbis, in their nativism and their rejection of Christian platonism, denied themselves virtually all of the forms of abstraction that enable the production of philosophical texts and of interpretation in the senses in which we understand those terms.” Daniel Boyarin, “Midrash and the ‘Magic Language’: Reading Without Logocentrism,” in Derrida and Religion: Other Testaments, ed. Yvonne Sherwood and Kevin Hart (New York: Routledge, 2004), 135. As I have sought to argue, the rabbis’ theological reflection is a theoretical activity that is deeply grounded in practice. In other of Boyarin’s writings, he maps out positions that are far more similar to JTP. For instance: “Institution (Yeshiva), founding and instituting text (Talmud), theological innovation (indeterminacy of meaning and halakhic argument), and practice (endless study as worship in and of itself) all come together at this time to produce the rabbinic Judaism familiar to us down to the present day.” Daniel Boyarin, “Talmud and ‘Fathers of the Church’:Theologies and the Making of Books,” in The Early Christian Book, ed. William E. Klingshirn and Linda Safran (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2007), 71. 118.  William Alston, Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991), 34. 119.  For one recent discussion of this topic that centers upon the Mekhilta, see Lieve Teugels, “Holiness and Mysticism at Sinai According to the Mekhilta de-Rabbi ­Ishmael,” in Sanctity of Time and Space in Tradition and Modernity, ed. Alberdina Houtman, Marcel Poorthuis, and Joshua Schwartz (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1998), 113–33. 120.  There is no commentary in Mekhilta on Moses’ vision of God’s backside in Exod. 34. 121.  MdRI, Shirata 3, 126 ff.; Lauterbach, 1:184. 122.  MdRI, Bah.odesh 2, 207; Lauterbach, 2:296. 123.  MdRI, Bah.odesh 2, 210; Lauterbach, 2:300. See Elliot Wolfson, Through a Spec­ ulum That Shines: Vision and Imagination in Medieval Jewish Mysticism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994), 33 ff. 124.  MdRI, Bah.odesh 2, 210; Lauterbach, 2:300. The point that witnessing for oneself is more persuasive than testimony is also repeated at the end of the narrative in reference to Exodus 20:19 in which God tells Moses to say to the Israelites: “You have seen that I spoke with you from the heavens.” On rabbinic and other early Jewish perspectives on the auditory and visual experiences at Sinai including discussions of the texts from Mekhilta, see Steven D. Fraade, “Hearing and Seeing at Sinai: Interpretive Trajectories,” in The Significance of Sinai:Traditions About Sinai and Divine Revelation in Ju­ daism and Christianity, ed. George J. Brooke, Hindy Najman, and Loren T. Stuckenbruck (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2008), 247–68. 125.  For the related theme of God blessing with the light of his face, see “Sim Shalom,” the final blessing of the “Amidah,” Birnbaum, Ha-Siddur Ha-Shalem, 96.

Notes to Chapter 3    126.  On this information alone, we would be unable to decide for or against Kadushin’s suggestion that rabbinic religious experience does not involve the senses. Where Kadushin is on stronger ground is in his claim that the commandments are the vessels of religious experience. In this case, the observance of the Sabbath imparts holiness to the practitioner. 127.  Significantly fueling the impression of a causative link between Exodus 14:31 and Exodus 15:1 is Psalm 106:12, which states: “Then they believed in his words and they sang his praise.” 128. To my mind scholars have split too many hairs (and largely for polemical reasons) over the meaning of the Hebrew root ‫ן‬-‫מ‬-‫א‬, translated here in its various forms as trust and faith. For a discussion of this matter see Norman J. Cohen, “Analysis of an Exegetic Tradition in the Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael: The Meaning of ’Amanah in the Second and Third Centuries,” AJS Review 9, no. 1 (1984): 1–25. See also Urbach, Sages, 36 ff. Cohen argues that this text is a polemic against Christianity with a strong messianic orientation. In this regard he states: It is against the backdrop of Christianity’s rejection of the law as the means of attaining salvation and its emphasis upon the faith of the pious believer in the death and resurrection of Jesus, as well as the antinomianism of its Gnostic counterparts, that our Mekhilta passage must be read.When Gentile Christians and Gnostics were claiming that salvation would come as a result of either faith or mystical knowledge, the rabbis of the second and third century had to go out of their way to emphasize that for the Jew redemption would be the reward for observance of the commandments. (Cohen, “Analysis,” 24)

129.  For a similar theological motif, see the comment of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair at the end of m. Sotah 9:15. 130.  Urbach sees Rabbi Nehemiah’s comment as an anti-Christian polemic. ­Urbach, Sages, 35. 131. There is a parallel to this text in m. Avot 3:6. See also t. Sukkah 4:3; Avot de-Rabbi Natan, A12, 55. For latter kabbalistic interpretations of this verse see Wolfson, Through a Speculum, 293, n.87. 132.  MdRI,Vayassa 6, 175; Lauterbach, 1:253. On the notion of God’s omnipresence in rabbinic thought see Urbach, Sages, 66–79. 133.  David Tracy’s view of praxis as “theory’s own originating and self-correcting foundation” reflects well the dynamic between belief and practice, here under discussion. David Tracy, “Theologies of Praxis,” in Creativity and Method: Essays in Honor of Bernard Lonergan, S.J., ed. Matthew L. Lamb (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1981), 36. 134.  Goldin sees this passage as “a take-off on imperial eulogies and panegyrics.” Goldin, Song, 80. As true as that might be, he takes no account of what the text has to say about the relationship between God’s perfection and the limits of theological language. Cf. Daniel Boyarin’s discussion of praise in Plato’s Menexenus. Daniel Boyarin, Socrates and the Fat Rabbis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009),71. 135. The view that God surpasses all praise is also a central theme in the “Kaddish.” “May his great name be blessed forever and to all eternity. Blessed and praised, glorified

Notes to Chapter 3   262 and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.” Birnbaum, Ha-Siddur Ha-Shalem, 138. 136.  Michael Fishbane makes a similar assessment of the related rabbinic phrase “to break open the ear,” Fishbane, Rabbinic Mythmaking, 8, n. 35. 137.  For a similar pragmatic use of language in Buddhism, see John Hick, Disputed Questions (New Haven, Conn.:Yale University Press, 1995), 129. 138.  Contra the belief in two powers see MdRI, Shirata 4, 129 ff.; Bah.odesh 5, 220; Lauterbach, 1:189; 2:314. This theologoumenon is taken by some scholars to be an antiGnostic polemic. There are also passages that could be read as anti-Christian polemics in the Mekhilta. For instance, regarding the phrase “I am the Lord” (Exod. 12:12), the Mekhilta states that this is something that cannot be declared by “flesh and blood.” MdRI, Pish.a 7, 24; Lauterbach, 1:39. See also Sifrei Deuteronomy, § 329, 379. See Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports About Christianity and Gnosticism (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2002); Daniel Boyarin, “Two Powers in Heaven; or, The Making of a Heresy,” in The Idea of Biblical Interpretation, ed. Hindy Najman and Judith H. Newman (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2004), 331–70; Wolfson, Through a Speculum, 34. Adiel Schremer argues against the tendency to read the “two powers” theologoumenon as an antiGnostic or anti-Christian polemic. For the purposes of my argument, it does not matter whom or what the rabbis are rejecting. All I am interested in showing is that the rabbis do have the means of eliminating beliefs they find objectionable. Adiel Schremer, “­Midrash,Theology, and History:Two Powers in Heaven Revisited,” Journal for the Study of Judaism 39, no. 2 (2008): 230–54. 139.  MdRI, Bah.odesh 5, 220; Lauterbach, 2:315. 140.  MdRI, Shirata 4, 129f; Bah.odesh 5, 220; Lauterbach, 1:189; 2:314. 141. There is an intermediate stage between disagreement and censure, in which a particular view is treated skeptically. One such instance is Rabbi Eleazar of Modi‘in’s claim that the manna was sixty cubits high. MdRI,Vayassa 3, 166; Lauterbach, 1:240. 142.  See b. Berakhot 61a. 143.  Menahem Kahana, “The Critical Editions of Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael in Light of the Genizah Fragments,” Tarbiz 55, no. 4 (1986): 489–524. 144.  Kahana argues that the proper spelling of the name is Pappias rather than ­Pappos as it is in the Mekhilta. For the claim that Pappos is a Gnostic see ibid., 504 and 513. 145.  Following Kahana’s discussion of the corrupted passages would have the benefit of raising the possibility of an additional limit on theological predication, that imposed by the editor. It may be that the texts are purposefully corrupted by the editor in order to conceal Pappos’ Gnostic leanings. Regarding the transmission of the debate between Rabbi Akiba and Pappos, Michael Fishbane says: “The positions and the language of the various topics have undergone considerable editorial tampering (to soften the positions) at various times during the transmission of these interlocutions.” Fishbane, Rabbinic Mythmaking, 239, n. 158. Unfortunately, dealing with the matter of editorial revision as a limit on theological predication would take me well beyond the limits of the present discussion. 146.  Cf. Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah, 1:9.

Notes to Chapters 3 and 4    147.  Cf. MdRS, 68. 148.  Kahana, “Editions,” 514, n. 123. 149.  Fishbane, Rabbinic Mythmaking, 233 ff. 150.  For an instance of halakhic exegesis that leads to censure see Yadin, Scripture as Logos, 45 ff., 68 ff. 151.  Paul Ricoeur, Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination, ed. Mark I. Wallace, trans. David Pellauer (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 39. 152.  The parallel to this passage in Exodus Rabbah is more complex in interesting ways. There is an additional comment attributed to the sages that further amplifies the Israelites’ concern for God’s perfection (if God can know their most inner thoughts they will serve Him).The Israelites’ theological reflection is not entirely praiseworthy as the coming of Amalek in Exodus 17:8 is said to be the consequence of their theological audacity. Exodus Rabbah, 26:2. For an even more critical reading of the events of Massah and Meribah see Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, § 3, 35. Pesikta de Rav Kahana, ed. Bernard Mandelbaum (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1987). 153.  I think Jakob Petuchowski was undoubtedly correct when he said, “Without theology, there can be no dialogue, no communication, and, therefore, no persuasion.” Jakob J. Petuchowski, Studies in Modern Theology and Prayer, ed. Elizabeth R. Petuchowski and Aaron M. Petuchowski (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1998), 58.

Chapter 4: Franz Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption 1.  Nahum N. Glatzer (presented by), Franz Rosenzweig: His Life and Thought (Schocken Books: New York, 1953), xxxvi. 2.  Ibid., xxxvi. 3.  Published as Franz Rosenzweig, Hegel und der Staat, 2 vols. (Munich: Verlag R. Oldenbourg, 1920). 4.  Paul Mendes-Flohr, “Franz Rosenzweig and the German Philosophical Tradition,” introduction to The Philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig, ed. Paul Mendes-Flohr (Han­ over, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1988), 4. 5.  The International Rosenzweig Society devoted its fifth volume of Rosenzwei­ giana to the relationship between Rosenzweig and Rosenstock. Hartwig Wiedebach, ed., Kreuz der Wirklichkeit und Stern der Erlösung: Die Glaubens-Metaphysik von Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy und Franz Rosenzweig (Freiburg:Verlag Karl Alber, 2010). 6.  For Glatzer’s account of this episode in Rosenzweig’s biography see Glatzer, Life, xvi–xx and 25 ff. Franz Rosenzweig’s son, Rafael Rosenzweig, suggests in an appendix to the third edition of Glatzer’s Franz Rosenzweig: His Life and Thought that his father’s decision to abandon his plans for conversion was the result of long and careful deliberation and not the result of a conversion experience in the synagogue on Yom Kippur 1913. Ibid., 398. On this topic, see Paul Mendes-Flohr, “Entering the Synagogue Through the Portals of the Church: Franz Rosenzweig’s ‘Conversion’ to Judaism,” Jahr­ buch des Simon-Dubnow-Instituts 3 (2004): 131–38. 7.  Key letters in the exchange between Rosenzweig and Rosenstock are collected in Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy ed., Judaism Despite Christianity: The “Letters on Christi­ anity and Judaism between Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and Franz Rosenzweig (Tuscaloosa:

Notes to Chapter 4   264 University of Alabama Press, 1969). Among the many letters to and from his cousins, one letter to Rudolf came to be known as the “Urzelle” or the germ cell to The Star of Redemption. Rosenzweig’s writings are collected in Franz Rosenzweig, Der Mensch und sein Werk: Gesammelte Schriften, 4 vols. (Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1976); henceforth GS. In citing Rosenzweig’s writings I will provide volume, part (where necessary), and page number. For example “GS, 1:1, 471” indicates that the text can be found in Der Mensch und sein Werk: Gesammelte Schriften (GS), vol. 1, pt. 1, p. 471. The “Urzelle” can be found in GS, 3:125–38. And in English the essay is collected in Franz Rosenzweig, Philosophical and Theological Writings, ed. and trans. Paul W. Franks and Michael L. Morgan (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2000). 8.  On the Lehrhaus see Ephraim Meir, The Rosenzweig Lehrhaus: Proposal for a Jew­ ish House of Study in Kassel Inspired by Rosenzweig’s “Frankfurt Lehrhaus,” Research and Position Papers of the Rappaport Center 12, ed. Zvi Zohar (Ramat Gan, Israel: Bar Ilan University, 2005). 9.  Mendes-Flohr, Philosophy, 12. 10.  Franz Rosenzweig, Die “Gritli”-Briefe: Briefe an Margrit Rosenstock-Huessy, ed. Inken Rühle und Reinhold Mayer (Tübingen: Bilam Verlag, 2002). 11.  Franz Rosenzweig, “Das neue Denken: Einige nachträgliche Bermerkungen zum Stern der Erlösung.” Der Morgen 1, no. 4 (1925): 426–51. Collected in GS, 3:139–61. There are two English translations of the essay and I will quote from both of them. One translation is collected in Franz Rosenzweig, Philosophical and Theological Writings, ed. and trans. Paul W. Franks and Michael L. Morgan (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2000), cited as “The New Thinking.” The other translation is Franz Rosenzweig’s “The New Thinking,” ed. and trans. Alan Udoff and Barbara E. Galli (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1999, cited as Franz Rosenzweig’s “The New Thinking.” Understanding the Sick and the Healthy was first printed posthumously in an English translation. Rosenzweig had pulled the “essay” from publication after writing it. The German title of the work is instructive, Das Büchlein vom gesunden und kranken Menschenverstand. What I am calling an essay is really a small book. More to the point, the “common sense” with which I will be concerned is inscribed into the title of the essay. Franz Rosenzweig, Understanding the Sick and the Healthy: A View of World, Man, and God, trans. Nahum Glatzer (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999); Franz Rosenzweig, Das Büchlein vom gesunden and kranken Menschenverstand, ed. Nahum N. Glatzer (Königstein: Athenäum, 1984). 12.  For an important discussion of common sense in Rosenzweig’s thought, see Nathan Rotenstreich, “Common Sense and Theological Experience on the Basis of Franz Rosenzweig’s Philosophy,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 5, no. 4 (1967): 353–60. 13.  Rosenzweig, “New Thinking,” 123. 14.  Ibid., 115. 15.  Rosenzweig, Understanding, 42. 16.  In “The New Thinking,” Rosenzweig further supports this point: “We know most precisely, know by the intuitive knowledge of experience, what God, what man, what world, taken for itself, is; if we did not know that, how could we talk about it, and above all, how could we ‘reduce’ some two of these to their respective other or deny

Notes to Chapter 4    the respective other two reductive possibilities!” Rosenzweig, “New Thinking,” 118. For related points, see Rosenzweig, Understanding, 46, 70. 17.  Rosenzweig, Understanding, 57. It is worth noting that in the continuation of the above quotation Rosenzweig actually singles out “realism”. He says: The real cause of the illness is not that reason assumes that “spirit” is the essence of reality; it is its assumption that it is possible for something to exist beyond reality. Reality, matter, nature, are all terms denoting “essence” and are just as unacceptable as “spirit” or “idea.” All claim to “be” either reality itself or the “essence” of reality. All abstract from life. All neglect the fact of names. Consequently all these isms fail to conciliate thought and action, which is, after all, the one thing desired. They fail precisely because they are isms, whether “idealisms” or “realisms.” (Ibid., 57)

18.  See Rosenzweig, Understanding, 43; and Nahum Glatzer’s discussion of this point in the introduction to the work. Ibid., 26. 19.  William Alston, Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991), 4. 20.  Barbara Ellen Galli, Franz Rosenzweig and Jehuda Halevi: Translating, Translations, and Translators (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1995), 210. 21.  Paul Mendes-Flohr makes a similar point in an essay on Mendelssohn and Rosen­ zweig: “By locating the meaning of revelation in the experience of God’s love, Rosen­ zweig, as it were, rehabilitated the personal God whom Mendelssohn in his eagerness to present Judaism as amenable to Deistic sensibilities tended to obscure.” Paul MendesFlohr, “Mendelssohn and Rosenzweig,” Journal of Jewish Studies 38, no. 2 (1987): 208. 22.  See Galli, Rosenzweig and Halevi, 221, for Rosenzweig’s contrastive use of horizon and world in relation to experience. 23.  Rosenzweig, “New Thinking,” 123. 24.  Ibid., 125 ff. 25.  Ibid., 135. 26.  Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, Scripture and Translation, trans. Lawrence Rosenwald (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), 26. 27.  Ricoeur has noted these continuities and has written on Rosenzweig in an essay titled “The ‘Figure’ in Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption,” collected in Paul Ricoeur, Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination, ed. Mark I. Wallace, trans. David Pellauer (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 93–107. 28.  Rosenzweig states in a discussion of creatio ex nihilo: “And indeed, this concept originated, historically, in the philosophy of religion, not in theology, the science which we are practicing here.” Star, 140/Stern, 155. 29.  Rosenzweig, “New Thinking,” 128 ff. 30.  Leora Batnitzky, Idolatry and Representation: The Philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig Reconsidered (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000); Peter Eli Gordon, Rosenzweig and Heidegger: Between Judaism and German Philosophy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003). 31.  Batnitzky, Idolatry, 4. 32.  For a discussion in which Batnitzky contends that Rosenzweig rejects Hermann Cohen’s “harmonization” of philosophy and Judaism, see Batnitzky, Idolatry, 63.

Notes to Chapter 4   266 33.  Ibid., 4. I must admit some perplexity at what Batnitzky means by “incommensurable . . . tensions.” 34.  Ibid., 41. 35.  “Philosophy is about what there is in the world, while Judaism’s truth is contained in how Jew’s worship God, rather than in what they think.” Ibid., 212. 36.  George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984). 37.  Batnitzky, Idolatry, 31. 38.  Batnitzky’s presentation of Rosenzweig as an ethical monotheist does impact how she treats his theological claims.To give one example, Batnitzky refers to the agent of revelation as an “external other,” an expression that effectively diminishes God’s unique role in revelation by making God and humans interchangeable. Ibid., 51. For related comments see ibid., 112 and 160. 39.  Franz Rosenzweig’s “The New Thinking,” 71 ff. For Batnizky’s quotation of the passage see Batnizky, Idolatry, 64. 40.  She sums up this point, saying, “I have argued that The Star of Redemption privileges the epistemological status of community over the realms of experience and logic. In the context of the structure of The Star of Redemption, this privileging of community is also a privileging of the third part of The Star of Redemption over the first two parts.” Ibid., 72. On the topic of logic see ibid., 243 and 246. 41.  Ibid., 78, 139. 42.  Ibid., 12. 43.  Gordon says in his introduction: “By dissociating Rosenzweig from his German context, one forces him into a trajectory he would not have recognized as his own.” He goes on to claim that “the original sense of Rosenzweig’s thought is best discovered by restoring him to the horizon of meaning within which his philosophy first took shape.” Gordon, Rosenzweig and Heidegger, xx. 44.  Ibid., 4. Further on Gordon provides another stunning formulation where he writes that Rosenzweig’s “philosophy of Judaism was quite far from being a belated expression of Judaism’s essence (if there is such a thing as Judaism’s essence, which one may rightly doubt), nor was it part of the ongoing process by which Judaism repeatedly intrudes upon new historical contexts; rather, it was something imagined as Jewish, but by an imagination that was itself formed in the matrix of German philosophy.” Ibid., 312. 45.  Ibid., 307. Gordon’s argument is more subtle than a brief presentation can indicate. For instance, he goes on to say, “Clearly, Rosenzweig was serious about his dedication to Judaism, but he was equally serious about his dedication to modern philosophy, and integrity forbade him from violating the imperatives of either commitment for the sake of the other.” Ibid., 307. 46. The italics represent how the passage is cited at ibid., 36. Gordon cites the passage again at ibid., 134. 47.  Rosenzweig, “New Thinking,” 110. 48.  Ibid., 131. The italics, again, highlight the passage that Gordon cites. Gordon, Rosenzweig and Heidegger, 120, n. 2.

Notes to Chapter 4    49.  Gordon, Rosenzweig and Heidegger, 120, n. 2. I have again italicized Gordon’s citation of the passage. On the Jewish character of the Star see Heinz-Jürgen Görtz, In der Spur des “neuen Denkens”:Theologie und Philosophie bei Franz Rosenzweig (Freiburg:Verlag Karl Alber, 2008), 263–71. 50.  Gordon, Rosenzweig and Heidegger, 12. 51.  Ibid., xxviii. 52.  Ibid., 164. 53.  Ibid., 181. 54.  Ibid., 183. 55.  Ibid., 138. Given this important, and I believe accurate assessment of Rosen­ zweig’s project, it is surprising that Gordon limits his discussion of religious experience to what he calls “redemption in the world.” Ibid., xxix. One would think that Rosenzweig’s account of revelation as a transformative experience would be critical to understanding his phenomenology of religion. 56.  The truth of this point can be seen from the “Index of Jewish Sources” that ­Nahum Glatzer prepared for the second edition of the Star under Rosenzweig’s direction. On this topic see Franz Rosenzweig, “The Unity of the Bible,” in Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, Scripture and Translation, trans. Lawrence Rosenwald and Everett Fox (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994). 57.  Henceforward I will cite part and book of the Star in numerical fashion so “2:2” refers to Star, part 2, book 2, which is titled “Revelation or the Ever-Renewed Birth of the Soul.” 58.  Mara Benjamin astutely observes that Rosenzweig does not so much “cite” Scripture as embed it into his argument. Supporting this claim is the fact that Rosen­ zweig rarely uses quotation marks when quoting Scripture. Mara Benjamin, Rosen­zweig’s Bible (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 42 ff. 59.  Star, 202/Stern, 225. 60.  See m.Yad. 3:5. 61.  Star, 198/Stern, 221. 62.  Rosenzweig addresses this homology earlier in the previous chapter of the Star, where he writes: “The word as heard and as spoken is one and the same. The ways of God are different from the ways of man, but the word of God and the word of man are the same.What man hears in his heart as his own human speech is the very word which comes out of God’s mouth.” Star 151/Stern, 167. 63.  Star, 199/Stern, 221. 64.  Star, 199/Stern, 222. 65.  Star, 199/Stern, 222. 66.  The literary-philosophical critique and the historical critique can be seen as different aspects of a common cultural horizon. Regarding the attempts to reinterpret the Song of Songs by nineteenth-century biblical scholars, Rosenzweig says, “Such comprehensive rearrangements or rather convulsions of the traditional text have been undertaken by biblical criticism on no other biblical book. The goal was always to transform the lyric I and Thou of the poem into an epic-graphic He and She. The language of the revelation of the soul seemed somehow uncanny for the spirit of the

Notes to Chapter 4   268 century which recreated everything in its image, as objective and worldly.” Star, 200/ Stern, 223. 67.  Star, 202/Stern, 226. 68.  Star, 202/Stern, 226. 69.  Star, 203/Stern, 227. 70.  Star, 203/Stern, 227 ff. 71.  Star, 204/Stern, 228. 72.  Glatzer, Life, 158. 73.  Star, 293/Stern, 325. 74.  Star, 244, 248/Stern, 272, 276. 75.  Star, 101/Stern, 112. 76.  Star, 371/Stern, 412. 77.  Star, 186/Stern, 207. 78.  Star, 216/Stern, 241. 79.  Rosenzweig’s assessment of Islam is consistently negative. Paul Mendes-Flohr traces this back to an effort to redirect Kant’s criticism that Judaism is heteronymous. Paul Mendes-Flohr, Divided Passions: Jewish Intellectuals and the Experience of Modernity (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991), 295. For critical reflection on Rosen­ zweig’s views on Islam, see the International Rosenzweig Society’s second Rosenzweig yearbook, Criticism of Islam, ed. Martin Brasser (Freiburg:Verlag Karl Alber, 2007). 80.  I am once again borrowing the apt phrase theological dissonance from Michael Fishbane. 81.  For a discussion of Rosenzweig’s theology of light that gives more considered attention to the relationship between Judaism and Christianity than I am able to offer here, see Martin Brasser, “Der Stern ist eine Mitternachtsonne: Zur Architektur des Sterns der Erlösung von Franz Rosenzweig mit einer Konsequenz für den jüdisch-christlichen Dialog,” in Rosenzweig Today, ed. Martin Brasser (Freiburg: Verlag Karl ­Alber, 2006), 191–217. 82.  Star, 153/Stern, 170. 83.  Earlier in the Star, Rosenzweig deploys a different strategy of linking the light of creation with the human person. He does this through an implicit association of Genesis 1:3 with Proverbs 20:27. “But the divine word is more than symbol: it is revelation only because it is at the same time the word of creation. ‘God said, Let there be light’— and what is the light of God? It is the soul of man.” Star, 111/Stern, 123. Inken Rühle discusses this passage and traces Rosenzweig’s identification of the soul with divine light back to Hermann Cohen. She rightly argues that despite Cohen’s formative influence on Rosenzweig, Rosenzweig was far from a faithful disciple of Cohen’s. Inken Rühle, Gott spricht die Sprache der Menschen: Franz Rosenzweig als jüdischer Theologe—eine Einführung (Tübingen: Bilam Verlag, 2004), 56–62. 84.  Regarding this point Rosenzweig states, The contact of revelation and redemption is of central importance to contemporary theology which therefore, to put it theologically, calls upon philosophy to build a bridge from creation to revelation on which this contact can take place. From theology’s point of view, what philosophy is supposed to accomplish for it is thus by no

Notes to Chapter 4    means to reconstruct the theological contents, but to anticipate them or rather, more correctly, to supply them with a foundation, to demonstrate the preconditions on which it rests. (Star, 107/Stern, 119)

85.  Star, 238/Stern, 265. 86.  Star, 176/Stern, 196. 87.  Star, 183/Stern, 204. 88.  Rosenzweig’s interpreters are quick to acknowledge the challenges of reading the Star. Peter Gordon, for instance, says under the heading “On the Difficulty of The Star”: “Reading Rosenzweig’s chief work of philosophy demands great patience. Those more accustomed to an analytic style will find that it does not often accord with familiar standards of rigorous argument.The book is mostly in a declamatory mode—it does not argue, it simply states—and it is written in a grand and self-confident style that does very little to encourage the reader’s confidence in Rosenzweig as a philosophical authority.” Gordon, Rosenzweig and Heidegger, 122. Mara Benjamin goes further and makes the unsupported claim that even Rosenzweig was dissatisfied with his modes of argumentation in the Star: “Yet the bombast and grandeur of Star’s structure and language were ultimately unsatisfying to Rosenzweig himself. . . . The shortcomings of his early approach—the impossibility of engaging in debate about the very issue of what revelation meant and how, if at all, it was to be perceived in scripture—led Rosenzweig ultimately to reject the rhetorical posture of Star, even as he continued to embrace scripture as a key concept for Jewish revival in his later writings.” Benjamin, Rosen­ zweig’s Bible, 63. Bernhard Casper speaks to the literary form of the Star and the difficulties it creates for discerning the purported system of the Star, in Bernhard Casper, “Theo-logie als Geschehen des Gebetes: Eine Anleitung Franz Rosenzweigs Stern der Erlösung zu lesen,” in The Legacy of Franz Rosenzweig: Collected Essays, ed. Luc Anckaert, Martin Brasser, and Norbert Samuelson (Louvain, Belgium: Louvain University Press, 2004), 220. 89.  Batnitzky, Idolatry and Representation, 69. 90.  It is worth repeating that in relying so heavily on Lindbeck, Batnitzky adopts a theoretical model that is utterly allergic to theological truth claims. One indication of this fact with respect to hermeneutics is where she places Rosenzweig between ­Gadamer and Lindbeck. In comparing the two thinkers, Batnitzky makes the surprising claim that Gadamer’s understanding of the relationship between the present and the past is “overly cognitive.” Ibid., 45. As I argued in Chapter 1, hermeneutic knowledge for Gadamer is always negative. If Gadamer is more “cognitive” than Rosenzweig, then Rosenzweig really does belong in Lindbeck’s camp. 91.  Gordon, Rosenzweig and Heidegger, 183. 92.  Benjamin, Rosenzweig’s Bible, 29, 63. 93.  Ibid., 56. 94.  Ibid., 63. 95.  Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969), 28. 96.  Two book-length studies, Richard Cohen’s Elevations: The Height of the Good in Rosenzweig and Levinas, and Robert Gibbs’s Correlations in Rosenzweig and Levinas,

Notes to Chapter 4   270 helped advance that discussion. Richard Cohen, Elevations: The Height of the Good in Rosenzweig and Levinas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994); Robert Gibbs, Correlations in Rosenzweig and Levinas (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992). 97.  While I would happily concede that Levinas smuggles more theology into his philosophy than he acknowledges, there is no denying the fact that his claimed position is a complete and utter rejection of theology. For instance see Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 78; Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991), 121, 147, 149. 98.  Cf. Wolfdietrich Schmied-Kowarzik, Rosenzweig im Gespräch mit Ehrenberg, Cohen und Buber (Munich: Verlag Karl Alber, 2006), 10 ff. Norbert M. Samuelson, A User’s Guide to Franz Rosenzweig’s “Star of Redemption” (Surrey: Curzon Press, 1999), 16–17, 62. 99.  Star, 296/Stern, 329. For further discussion of this passage see Paul MendesFlohr, “Franz Rosenzweig’s Concept of Philosophical Faith,” Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 34, no. 1 (1989): 357. 100.  Star, 19/Stern, 21. William Franke takes this as the basis for his apophatic reading of Rosenzweig. William Franke, “Franz Rosenzweig and the Emergence of a Postsecular Philosophy of the Unsayable,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 58, no. 3 (2005): 167. 101.  Star, 23/Stern, 25. 102.  I am borrowing this formulation from Paul Griffiths. It speaks to the utility of defining metaphysics on these terms that a postmetaphysical thinker like Jürgen Habermas describes this branch of philosophy on similar terms when he says that metaphysics is “the science of the universal, immutable, and necessary.” Jürgen Habermas, Postmeta­ physical Thinking: Philosophical Essays, trans. William Mark Hohengarten (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992), 13. 103.  Franz Rosenzweig’s “The New Thinking,” 73. 104.  Here I am in full agreement with Benjamin Pollock, who writes: “I take the ‘nothings’ of God, world, and human being, as well as the ‘Yes’ ‘And’ ‘No’ structure through which these elements generate themselves out of their nothings ontologically and not only epistemologically.” Benjamin Pollock, Franz Rosenzweig and the Systematic Task of Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 160, n. 156. For a helpful discussion of this matter that takes seriously Rosenzweig’s description of the “elements” in “The New Thinking” as a “constructive derivation,” see Martin Fricke, Franz Rosenzweigs Philosophie der Offenbarung: Eine Interpretation des Sterns der Erlösung (Würzburg: Königshausen and Neumann, 2003), 162. Rosenzweig’s comment appears at GS, 3:147, and Rosenzweig, The New Thinking, 80. 105.  Star, 27/Stern, 29. 106.  Star, 27/Stern, 29. 107.  Star, 28/Stern, 30. Andrew Bowie discusses a similar notion of God’s “affirmation” in Schelling’s thought. Andrew Bowie, Schelling and Modern European Philosophy: An Introduction (London: Routledge, 1994), 63, 83. 108.  Star, 33/Stern, 36. 109.  Star, 43/Stern, 47.

Notes to Chapter 4    110.  Nathan Rotenstreich argues persuasively that Rosenzweig uses the prefix meta “in order to save the irreducible ontological position and thus the uniqueness of the respective sphere to which it refers (viz., God, world, and man).” Nathan Rotenstreich, “Rosenzweig’s Notion of Metaethics,” in The Philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig, ed. Paul Mendes-Flohr (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1988), 71. 111.  GS, 3:141, and Franz Rosenzweig’s “The New Thinking,” 70. 112.  Ibid. 113.  Star, 109/Stern, 121. 114.  On Rosenzweig’s conception of divine freedom see Samuelson, A User’s Guide, 32–34. 115.  See ibid., 107–8. 116.  Star, 174/Stern, 194. 117.  Star, 162, 182/Stern, 180, 202. 118.  Star, 160/Stern, 179. 119.  For a discussion of Schelling’s related concern of not conceiving of divine freedom as an attribute see Bowie, Schelling and Modern European Philosophy, 131. 120.  Star, 166/Stern, 185. 121.  Star, 169/Stern, 189. 122.  Ibid. 123.  For God’s self-perfection see Star, 238/Stern 266. Regarding the lack of change, growth or augmentation in the divine see Star, 258/Stern, 287. 124.  Cf. Samuelson, A User’s Guide, 36, 215. 125.  Star, 231/Stern, 258. 126.  Star, 272/Stern, 303. 127.  Star, 324/Stern, 360. See Emil L. Fackenheim, “The Systematic Role of the Matrix (Existence) and Apex (Yom Kippur) of Jewish Religious Life in Rosenzweig’s ‘Star of Redemption,’” in Der Philosoph Franz Rosenzweig, ed. Wolfdietrich SchmiedKowarzik (Freiburg:Verlag Karl Alber, 1988), 567-75. 128.  Star, 349/Stern, 387. 129.  Star, 381/Stern, 424 130.  Star, 403/Stern, 448. 131.  See Batnitzky, Idolatry, 78, 212. 132.  See Gordon, Rosenzweig and Heidegger, 164, and ibid., 32, 113, 143, 149. 133. That Schelling’s thought is itself metaphysical in nature is widely accepted.Terry Pinkard writes: “Through all of Schelling’s development, however, was a conviction that post-Kantian idealism required a thoroughgoing metaphysics of agency and the world, a doctrine of how we could actually be the free agents that modernity seemed to demand. Throughout his development, Schelling held fast to his youthful conviction that any such metaphysics had to be an explication of the ‘absolute’ as something that went beyond both subjective and objective points of view.” Terry Pinkard, German Philosophy, 1760–1860: The Legacy of Idealism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 325. See also Nectarios Limnatis, German Idealism and the Problem of Knowledge: Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel (New York: Springer Publishing, 2008), 7 ff., 71, 133, 160. On the metaphysical nature of Schelling’s philosophy of religion, see Edward Allen Beach, The

Notes to Chapter 4   272 Potencies of God(s): Schelling’s Philosophy of Mythology (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), 43, 95. 134.  Franz Rosenzweig’s “The New Thinking,” 81. GS, 3:148. Wolfdietrich SchmiedKowarzik argues that Rosenzweig has made good on this effort and that the Star is “probably the most significant carrying forth of Schelling’s positive philosophy that we currently possess.” Wolfdietrich Schmied-Kowarzik, Franz Rosenzweig: ­Existentielles Denken und gelebte Bewährung (Munich: Verlag Karl Alber, 1991), 56. More recently, Schmied-Kowarzik has claimed that the Star “without reference to Schelling’s late philosophy would be inconceivable” Schmied-Kowarzik, Rosenzweig im Gespräch, 50. ­Myriam Bienenstock thinks there are reasons to be cautious about Rosenzweig’s knowledge of and attitudes toward Schelling’s late philosophy. Myriam Bienenstock, “Auf Schellings Spuren im Stern,” in Rosenzweig als Leser: Kontextuelle Kommentare zum Stern der Erlösung, ed. Martin Brasser (Tübingen: Max Niemezer Verlag, 2004), 275, n. 8. 135. To Hans Ehrenberg, March 18, 1921. GS, 1:2, 701. 136.  To Adele Rosenzweig, April 15, 1918. GS, 1:1, 538. In a letter written several years later to Margrit Rosenstock-Huessy (March 18, 1921), Rosenzweig says that The Ages of the World is the kind of book that “one does not write twice.” Rosen­ zweig, “Gritli” Briefe, 739. Despite these positive comments, there is also a persistent ambiguity in Rosenzweig’s attitude toward Schelling. While Rosenzweig praises The Ages of the World in the letter above, in a letter written the next day he says that he finds Schelling’s 1827 lectures “truly weak.” To Margrit Rosenstock-Huessy, March 19, 1921. Rosenzweig, Die ‘Gritli’ Briefe, 739. Some months later he writes that he finds Schelling’s life uncompelling. To Margrit Rosenstock-Huessy, September 14, 1921 (ibid., 768). Rosenzweig also appears to downplay his expertise in Schelling’s thought, saying that it cost him a mere four weeks. This is a striking comment as it was Rosen­zweig’s identification of Schelling as the author of an anonymous text that Rosenzweig discovered and named the “Oldest System-Program of German Idealism” that marked Rosenzweig’s first scholarly success. To Margrit Rosenstock-Huessy, June 25–26, 1919 (ibid., 346). On Rosenzweig’s complex attitude toward Schelling, see Moshe Schwarcz, From Myth to Revelation (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1978), 214 ff; Fricke, Franz Rosenzweigs, 79 ff.; Paul Mendes-Flohr, “Franz Rosenzweig and German Philosophical Tradition,” 3. 137.  Julius Guttmann, Philosophies of Judaism: The History of Jewish Philosophy from Biblical Times to Franz Rosenzweig, trans. David W. Silverman (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1964), 384. 138.  Paul Mendes-Flohr’s comparison of Buber’s and Rosenzweig’s basic philosophical commitments is helpful on this point: “Buber’s metaphysical agnosticism is consistent with his abiding, albeit ill-defined commitment to philosophical idealism, which holds that nature—‘the world of appearance,’ in Schopenhauer’s parlance—is ‘structured’ by the perceiving mind, or as Buber would put it, by the I-It attitude. Rosenzweig’s philosophical position, on the other hand, is indebted to Schelling’s positive philosophy which entailed a most emphatic rejection of the Kantian concept of the noumenon, and the view that the world, including man, does not exist unto itself.” Mendes-Flohr, Divided Passions, 267.

Notes to Chapter 4    139.  For a fuller discussion of the relationship between God’s freedom and aseity see John R. Betz, “Schelling in Rosenzweigs Stern der Erlösung,” in Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie 45, no. 2 (2003): 212 ff. Like SchmiedKowarzik, Betz also argues for the influence of Schelling’s late philosophy on the Star. 140.  F. W. J. Schelling, The Ages of the World (Fragment) from the Handwritten Remains: Third Version (c. 1815), trans. Jason Wirth (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000), 11. 141.  Ibid., 18. In Rosenzweig’s lectures and writings subsequent to the Star, he frequently discusses God’s transcendence and immanence in terms of “Far” and “Near.” For instance see his lectures titled “An Introduction to Jewish Thought,” given ­January– March 1921 at the Lehrahus (GS, 3:617). Rosenzweig also addresses this theme in his commentary on Judah Halevi’s poetry. Galli, Rosenzweig and Halevi, 206. 142.  Schelling, Ages of the World, 53. 143.  GS, 3:810. 144.  Schelling, Ages of the World, 90. 145.  Star, 403/Stern, 448. 146.  On Schelling’s “metaphysical-ontological objectives,” see Limnatis, German Idealism, 162. 147.  One might counter that Rosenzweig’s position is also ontological in that he locates the contradictions in the three elements God,World, and Human, e.g., Star, 348/ Stern, 386. On my reading, the contradictions are the result of the relationships between the elements and are not a claim about the nature of their being. 148.  To pick out these different forms of experience, Rosenzweig uses the German terms Erlebnis and Erfahrung. Paul Mendes-Flohr describes the distinction between these two modes of experience in the following way: “The German language knows two distinct words for experience, Erlebnis and Erfahrung—affective experience that takes place within the precincts of emotion and consciousness, and experience that unfolds in the concrete realm of physical and historical realia.” Paul Mendes-Flohr, “The Kriegserlebnis and Jewish Consciousness,” in Jews in the Weimar Republic, ed. Wolfgang Benz, Arnold Paucker, and Peter Pulzer (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998), 225. 149.  Paul Mendes-Flohr cites two of Rosenzweig’s letters, one to his fiancée and another to his parents, to indicate the ambiguity of Rosenzweig’s own testimony. To his fiancée he wrote: “Ich habe Gottes Rutenstreiche und seine sanften Hände unmittelbar an meinem Leibe verspürt [I have felt the strike of God’s rod and his gentle hands directly on my body]” (GS, 1:2, 665). To his parents Rosenzweig expressed a very different sentiment saying “übrigens um Himmelswillen, dass ihr nicht glaubt, ich hätte Visionen etc., keine Spur davon [for heaven’s sake, you should not think that I have had visions, etc., not even a trace of them]” (ibid., 675). Mendes-Flohr, “Concept of Philosophical Faith,” 366. 150.  Ibid., 366. 151.  Glatzer is here quoting Gershom Scholem. Gershom G. Scholem, “Rosenzweig’s Star of Redemption,” in The Messianic Idea in Judaism, trans. Michael A. Meyer and Hillel Halkin (New York: Schocken Books, 1971). Wolfdietrich Schmied-Kowarzik also argues against the view that Rosenzweig was a mystic. Wolfdietrich Schmied-

Notes to Chapter 4   274 Kowarzik, Rosenzweig im Gespräch mit Ehrenberg, Cohen und Buber (Freiburg:Verlag Karl Alber, 2006), 49 ff. 152.  Nahum Glatzer, “Was Franz Rosenzweig a Mystic?” in Studies in Jewish Reli­ gious and Intellectual History: Presented to Alexander Altmann on The Occasion of His Seventi­ eth Birthday, ed. Siegfried Stein and Raphael Loewe (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1979), 131. 153.  For the claim that Rosenzweig’s theological ideas do not originate in religious experience see Gibbs, Correlations, 20. Related to this is Gibbs’s “aim to displace the ‘Church theologian’ Rosenzweig.” Ibid., 106. For Batnitzky’s argument against personal revelation in the Star, see Batnitzky, Idolatry, 71. Gordon, as I have noted, reads Rosenzweig as providing “a systematic study of the ‘original’ structures of religious experience.” Gordon, Rosenzweig and Heidegger, 138. Pollock argues that Rosenzweig’s account of religious experience is marked by its visual component and that this feature is an outgrowth of the role that “intellectual intuition” plays in German idealism. Pollock, Systematic Task, 275. According to Pollock, Rosenzweig’s argument in the Star is meant to induce a visionary experience in the reader. Ibid., 260. 154.  Mendes-Flohr “Philosophical Faith,” 367. 155.  Star, 107/Stern, 119. 156.  Star, 167/Stern, 186. 157.  Star, 382/Stern, 424 ff. 158.  Star, 395/Stern, 439. 159.  Star, 162/ Stern, 181. 160.  Star, 183/Stern, 203. 161.  Star, 388/Stern, 432. 162.  Star, 391/Stern, 435. 163.  Star, 169/Stern, 189. 164.  Ibid. 165.  Star, 198/Stern, 221. 166.  Star, 171/Stern, 191. 167.  Star, 184/Stern, 205. 168.  Star, 171/Stern, 191. 169.  Star, 394/Stern, 438. 170.  Star, 187/Stern, 209. 171.  Star, 184/Stern, 205. 172.  Mendes-Flohr, “Philosophical Faith,” 367. Rosenzweig’s liturgical theology has received significant scholarly attention, most recently in the work of Randi Rashkover and Steven Kepnes. Randi Rashkover, Revelation and Theopolitics: Barth, Rosenzweig, and the Politics of Praise (New York: T & T Clark, 2005); Steven Kepnes, Jewish Liturgical Rea­ soning (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). See also the contributions of Rashkover, Kepnes, and Robert Gibbs, in Liturgy,Time, and the Politics of Redemption, ed. Randi Rashkover and C. C. Pecknold (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmanns Publishing, 2006). 173.  Star, 233/Stern, 260. 174.  Star, 291/Stern, 323.

Notes to Chapter 4 and Conclusion    175.  Star, 292/Stern, 325. 176.  Star, 391/Stern, 435. 177.  For extensive discussion of this idea, see Melila Hellner-Eshed, A River Flows from Eden: The Language of Mystical Experience in the Zohar (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2009), 76 and passim. 178.  Star, 380/Stern, 423. 179.  Star, 392/Stern, 436 180.  Star, 381/Stern, 424. 181.  Ibid. 182.  Galli, Rosenzweig and Halevi, 205. 183.  Rosenzweig sees these tensions as being hallmarks of the God of Judaism. In his commentary on the Halevi poems Rosenzweig states: “But it is the last thought that human thinking can grasp, and the first that Jewish thinking grasps: that the faraway God is none other than the near God, the unknown God none other than the revealed one, the Creator none other than the Redeemer.” Ibid., 204. 184.  Ibid., 200.

Conclusion 1.  Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969), 28. 2.  Inken Rühle charts one common thread in the scriptural interpretation of Rabbi Ishmael and Franz Rosenzweig, in Rosenzweig’s use of Rabbi Ishmael’s principle that “the Torah speaks in human language.” Rühle carefully sketches the development of this idea and rightfully argues that Rosenzweig’s use of this principle follows its acceptation by medieval Jewish philosophers (with the proviso that Rosenzweig affirms biblical anthropomorphism while the philosophers reject it). Rühle, Gott spricht die Sprache der Menschen: Franz Rosenzweig als jüdischer Theologe—eine Einführung (Tübingen: Bilam Verlag, 2004), 156–73. 3.  Interestingly, Rosenzweig’s later work on the Bible translation with Martin ­Buber does resemble the more communal interpretive practices of the rabbis. 4.  Bernard McGinn, The Foundations of Mysticism: Origins to the Fifth Century (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1991), xii. 5.  Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2nd rev. ed., trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (New York: Continuum, 1989), 297. 6.  David Tracy expresses this point very clearly: “Hermeneutically, I am clearly not bound to either accept or reject any religious claims prior to the conversation itself. But if I would understand that claim, I am bound to struggle critically with the fact that its claim to truth is part of its meaning. To understand the religious classic at all, I cannot ultimately avoid its provocations to my present notions of what constitutes truth.” David Tracy, Plurality and Ambiguity: Hermeneutics, Religion, Hope (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 98. 7.  It is important to emphasize that I am still speaking about “claims to truth” and not “truths.” 8.  I do not think Samuel Cohon was being melodramatic when he closed his 1935

Notes to Conclusion   276 address to the Central Conference of American Rabbis, saying, “Without God, Israel will not only lose its uniqueness, but will vanish from the stage of history.” Samuel Cohon, “The Idea of God in Judaism,” in Religious Affirmations (Los Angeles: 1983), 74. 9.  Gadamer, Truth, 484. 10.  Louis Dupré illuminates this point: “Religious disclosure occurs within a highly personal or intensely communal experience and, even when raised to the level of full and universal truth, retains this personal or communal quality in being a truth-for-me or a truth-for-us.” Louis Dupré, “Truth in Religion and Truth of Religion,” in Phenomenol­ ogy of the Truth Proper to Religion, ed. Daniel Guerrière (Albany: State University of New York, 1990), 40. 11.  David Tracy, “A Theological View of Philosophy: Revelation and Reason,” in The Question of Christian Philosophy Today, ed. Francis J. Ambrosio (New York: Fordham University Press, 1999), 148. For more on recognition see David Tracy, Plurality and Ambiguity: Hermeneutics, Religion, Hope (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 22. 12.  Edward Farley proposes a more developed view of a roughly similar position when he states that the primordial sense of truth as manifestness gives rise to multiple orders of truth. For what manifests itself is a vast variety of genres and types of reality. The sphere of faith is not simply the sphere of the sacred in some abstract sense but rather is itself a multidimensional sphere that combines a certain distinctive human erōs, redemption, traditioning, community, a symbol system, and so forth. The question of manifestness is the question whether in this gathering of genres a manifestness occurs. It is from and through this question that one poses the issue of the manifestness distinctive of the sacred. There seems, in other words, to be a manifestness occurring in connection with the sphere of faith as a sphere of freedom, of redemption. If correspondence is not destroyed by manifestness but is derivative from it, then truth in theology—faith’s reflectivity—occurs in multiple orders because of the multiple dimensions of faith’s context; thus it occurs in verifications, historical explorations, reflective and even speculative inquiries.

Edward Farley, “Truth and the Wisdom of Enduring,” in Phenomenology, ed. Guerrière, 74. 13.  Ibid., 68. 14.  David Tracy makes a similar point about the need for multiple models of truth when he says: In the case of a transformation model of truth, the following realities need to be reemphasized: the very notion of praxis is grounded in a distinction, not a separation; truth as transformation always also involves truth as disclosure; speaking truth is never separable but is distinguishable from doing the truth; cognitive claims are not simply validated through authentic praxis any more than causes are validated through the presence of martyrs; the crisis of cognitive claims does not simply dissipate when the shift of emphasis to the social-ethical crisis of a global humanity comes more clearly into central focus; the need for argument, criteria, warrants, evidence, the need for certain necessary abstractions from the concrete, the need for the ideal of conversation embodied in most forms of contemporary fundamental and systematic theologies remain in force as necessities and ideals even in a situation that is possibly systematically distorted.

Notes to Conclusion    David Tracy, “Theologies of Praxis,” in Creativity and Method: Essays in Honor of Bernard Lonergan, S.J., ed. Matthew L. Lamb (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1981), 51. 15.  Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, trans. Shlomo Pines (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), 622 ff. 16.  Moses Mendelssohn, Jerusalem; or, On Religious Power and Judaism, trans. Allan Arkush (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1983), 44. 17.  Ibid., 128. 18. Tracy, “Theological View,” 157. 19.  Leonard Saxe, “U.S. Jewry 2010: Estimates of the Size and Characteristics of the Population,” paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Jewish Studies, Boston, December 20, 2010.


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Cohen, Hermann, 155, 163, 265n32, 268n83 Cohen, Norman, 261n128 Cohen, Shaye, 8 Cohon, Samuel, 275n8 Commandments, 121, 142–43, 179–80, 223 Common sense, 157–62, 264n16 “Contemplative nation,” 221–26 Continental philosophy, 14 Creation, 177–78, 187–88

Abba Shaul, 60 Aggadah, 5–11, 102, 223, 230n9, 231n11, 233n24, 233n29, 234n32 R. Akiba, 148–50, 169, 175, 253n34 Alston, William, 19, 68–70, 80–93, 139–40, 145, 158–60, 212–13, 217–18, 219–21, 235n39 Amalekites, 132–33 Animals, 129–30, 131, 149–50, 257nn88,89 Antonaccio, Maria, 73, 75 Avot de-Rabbi Natan, 150

Divine perfection: rational reflection on, 97, 125–39, 183–95, 210, 213–14 Doxastic practices, 69–70, 86–93, 219–20; background beliefs, system of/overrider system, 85, 91, 98–100, 220; belief-forming mechanisms as constituents of, 88–89; change over time, 90, 94, 98, 171, 174–75, 181, 205–6, 208, 212–16, 219, 247n88 Dupré, Louis, 276n10

Barcelona Disputation of 1263, 11 Batnitzky, Leora, 162–65, 182, 184, 192, 196, 266n38 Benjamin, Mara, 180, 182–83, 267n58, 269n88 Betz, John, 273n139 Biderman, Shlomo, 235n47, 241n110 Bienenstock, Myriam, 272n134 Blidstein, Gerald, 255n69 Borowitz, Eugene, 231n11 Bowie, Andrew, 270n107 Boyarin, Daniel, 258n104, 260n117, 261n134 Brasser, Martin, 268n81 Buber, Martin, 272n138, 275n3

Egyptians, 113, 119–20, 129–30 Ehrenberg, Hans, 154–55 Ehrenberg, Rudolf, 154–55, 264n7 Elements, God-Human-World, 158–59, 185, 187, 189–91, 198, 200 R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanos, 58, 152 R. Eliezer b. Jacob, 143 R. Eliezer b.Yose ha-Gelili, 117 Elisha b. Abuya, 255n59

Cairo Genizah, 149 Casper, Bernhard, 269n88 Cohen, Arthur, 3


Index   298 Epistemology, 66, 69, 83–93, 220–21; practical rationality, 90–91, 157–60 Exegesis, 6, 71, 95–97, 109–17, 169–75, 213–14, 218–19, 242n7, 252n32, 258n105; exegesis vs. hermeneutics, 96–97, 209, 248n105; polysemic nature of Torah, 253n38, 254n54 Experience: Erlebnis and Erfahrung, 33, 195, 273n148; hermeneutic experience, 33–34, 40, 56; religious experience, 80–83, 104–5, 106–7, 139–45, 168, 170, 195–201, 214–15; religious experience as doxastic practice, 97–98, 200–201, 219; and religious language, 49, 140 Farley, Edward, 218, 276n12 Fishbane, Michael, 123, 150, 242n7, 248n105, 252n32, 254n48, 255n57, 258nn96,98,104, 262n136, 262n145, 268n80 Flusser, David, 257n90 Flynn, Thomas, 73 Ford, David, 4 Fraade, Steven, 252n31, 256n79, 260n124 Frege, Gottlob, 41, 43–44, 48, 238n76 Freies Jüdisches Lehrhaus, 156 Fricke, Martin, 270n104, 272n136 Gadamer, Hans-Georg, 7, 17, 23–41, 90, 100, 129, 176, 182, 204, 213, 216–18, 241n110 Rabban Gamaliel, 138–39 Gibbs, Robert, 196, 274n153 Glatzer, Nahum, 154, 180, 196, 267n56 God, 7; in ancient philosophy, 71–72; aseity and sovereignty, 130–33, 150, 186–87, 273n139; divine attributes, 191, 198; divine compassion, 111, 120; divine-human relationship, 52, 60, 80–81, 94, 97, 120–22, 127, 133, 141, 151–52, 159–60, 169–75, 179–81, 197–99, 201–2, 211; divine love, 169–75, 188–89, 191, 199, 202;

divine name, 54; divine perfection or maximal greatness, 104, 107–9, 114, 116–17, 123, 125–39, 146–48, 183–95, 210, 211–12, 250n8; divine speech, 114–19; and faith, 133, 142–43, 261n128; justice, 114, 128–30, 149–50, 257n90; omnibenevolence, 137–39, 188–89; omnipotence, 134–35, 152; omnipresence, 104, 134, 261n132; omniscience, 134, 135–36, 137, 258nn100,106, 259n11; and ontotheology, 14, 40, 46–47, 51, 61–62, 66; and other gods, 124–25; as personal agent, 160, 202; providential care, 126–27; 132–33, 138–39, 152, 160, 199, 259n115; as relational, 187, 190–91, 194–95; self-redemption, 186, 189–91. See also Shekhinah Goldin, Judah, 105–9, 126, 240n105, 257n88, 261n134 Gordon, Peter, 165–69, 182, 184, 192, 196, 269n88 Görtz, Heinz-Jürgen, 267n49 Griffiths, Paul, 250n8, 270n102 Guignon, Charles, 236n18, 238n67 Guttmann, Julius, 99, 193, 248n107 Habermas, Jürgen, 270n102 Hadot, Pierre, 18, 68, 70–79, 216, 225, 258n105; spiritual exercises, 70–73, 75–76, 243n17, 244n35; theory (discourse) and practice, 73–79, 244n34, 245n43 Halakhah, 5–7, 176, 230n9; metahalakhah, 6, 102, 231n11, 233n24 Halbertal, Moshe, 238n69 Halevi, Judah, 160, 202–3, 275n183 Halivni, David Weiss, 7, 95, 248n103 Hankey, Wayne, 73, 244n25 Hegel, G.W.F., 14, 33, 97, 154–55, 184, 200, 211 Heidegger, Martin, 14, 40, 52, 168, 182, 192; Dasein and understanding, 28, 45, 160, 176; truth as manifestation,

Index   299 26–27, 42, 44–45, 47–48, 56, 88, 217– 18, 236n18, 276n12 Hermeneutics, 7, 17, 21–23, 66, 160–61, 175–83, 224; aesthetic differentiation, 24, 37; aesthetics, 24; as doxastic practice, 117–25, 128–34;experience, 33–34, 40; historical and constructive thought, 38, 216–17; historicity, 28, 30–31, 36–37; horizon, 32, 35, 64, 128– 29; ontology of the work of art, 25–27; poetry as nondescriptive discourse, 44–46, 52, 56, 61–62; prejudices, 29, 31, 34, 36, 62, 65, 90, 104, 217, 225, 237nn34,51; reading, 27–28, 63–64; reference, 44, 56–58, 63–64; science and truth, 23–24, 28, 33, 42, 46; selftransformation, 34, 45, 48, 56, 120; speculative discourse, 47, 50, 61–62, 239n80; text, theory of, 27, 44, 57–61; tradition, 38, 64; truth, 26–27, 42, 44, 46, 47–48, 56, 216–18, 241n110; understanding, 31; universal nature of, 24, 32, 39, 44; world of reader, 48, 63; world of text, 44–46, 59–61, 63 Hillel, 117 Hirschman, Marc, 256nn70,71 Holy Spirit, 142–43 Hume, David, 86–87 Hyman, Gavin, 230n6 Ibn Kammūnah, 10–11 Idealism, German, 14, 36, 160, 178, 185– 86, 193, 200, 204 Idel, Moshe, 235n47 R. Ishmael, 60, 102, 117, 275n2 Israelites, 119–20, 121, 126–27, 142–43, 152 Jacobs, Louis, 230n5 James, William, 82 Jewish studies, 1–2, 36; historical and constructive thought, 38 Jewish Theological Practice, or JTP, 17, 93–100, 101, 109, 151–52, 153–54, 157–62, 183, 204–6, 207–23

R. Judah. See R.Yehudah ha-Nasi Justification, 84–85, 245n58, 246n64; system of background beliefs, 85, 91, 98–99, 100, 145 Kadushin, Max, 105–9, 145, 251nn19,24, 255n63, 259n109, 261n126 Kahana, Menahem, 148–50, 250n7, 258n99, 262nn144,145 Kant, Immanuel, 14, 40, 183, 272n138 Karaites, 10–11, 233n29 Kavvanah, 106 Kister, Menahem, 258n102 Kraemer, David, 230n7, 235n1 Kugel, James, 95–96, 251n26 Language: figurative, 233n28; limits on philosophical or theological language, 52–56, 74–75, 145–50, 189–90, 198, 201–3, 215–16; “originary” forms of biblical discourse, 50–53; religious, 49–54; subject-object dualism, 46, 51, 75 Language games, 87–88 Lauterbach, Jacob, 102, 103 Leibowitz,Yeshayahu, 14 Levinas, Emmanuel, 14, 165, 183–84, 270n97 Leviticus Rabbah, 8 Lieberman, Saul, 102, 249n1 Limnatis, Nectarios, 273n146 Lindbeck, George, 163, 182, 269n90 Ma‘aseh, 137–39 Maimonides, 9–10, 223 Marmorstein, Arthur, 125, 134 R. Mattya b. Heresh, 121, 254n52 McGinn, Bernard, 216 Measure for measure, 113–14 R. Meir, 126 Mendelssohn, Moses, 11–12, 223 Mendes-Flohr, Paul, 154–55, 156, 196, 197, 263n6, 265n21, 268n79, 270n99, 272n138, 273n148

Index   300 Metaphysics, 168, 184–86, 188, 192–95, 211, 215–16, 271n133 Middot, 117, 253n44, 254n45 Midrash, 6, 7, 10, 219; homiletic midrashim, 8, 222–23 Mittleman, Alan, 234n39 Moscovitz, Leib, 231n11 Moses: battles the Amalekites, 132–33; burial of, 110; cries out to God, 151–52; demands offering of praise, 126–28; dividing of the sea, 134–35; Israelites trust in, 111–12; Moses serves Jethro and the elders, 138–39; uses language different than God’s language, 135–36 Mysticism, 195–96, 200 Nahmanides, 11 R. Nehemiah, 142–43, 261n130 Neoplatonism, 73, 75 Neusner, Jacob, 3–4, 229n4, 250n7 “The New Thinking,” 157–62, 163–65, 166–67, 185–86, 192, 211, 213, 264nn11,16 Ogden, Schubert, 229n1 Ontotheology, critique of, 14 Pappos b.Yehudah, 148–50 Perception, 82–83; mystical perception, 83, 85, 92; sense perception, 85–86, 89, 91–92, 93 Peshat, 95–97 Petuchowski, Jacob, 263n153 Pharaoh, 113–14, 118–19, 126–27, 129 Philo of Alexandria, 16, 72–73, 152, 221–22, 235n45 Pinkard, Terry, 271n133 Plantinga, Alvin, 130, 257n92 Pollock, Benjamin, 196, 270n104, 274n153 Praise, 125–28, 134–35, 139, 146–47, 190, 214, 255nn67,69, 261nn134,135 Prayer, 181, 190–91, 199–200

Redemption, 173–74, 177, 178–79, 189–90, 200 Reference, theory of, 43–44; literary reference, 44–45, 56–58, 63–64 Reid, Thomas, 69–70, 86–87, 158, 247nn74,77 Religious studies and theology, 1–2 Revelation, 155, 163, 169–75, 176, 179–81, 188–89, 197–99, 211 Reward and punishment, 121–22, 131–32 Ribbui, 252n34 Ricoeur, Paul 17, 41–64, 100, 151, 216–18, 241nn110,114, 242n115 Rosenheim, Jacob, 174–75 Rosenstock, Eugen, 155–56 Rosenstock-Huessy, Margrit, 272n136 Rosenzweig, Franz, 14, 154–57 Rosenzweig, Rafael, 263n6 Rosen-Zvi, Ishay, 241n109, 254n41, 256n71 Ross, Tamar, 14, 234n39 Rotenstreich, Nathan, 271n110 Rühle, Inken, 268n83, 275n2 Runia, David, 235n45 Ryle, Gilbert, 244n31 Sabbath, 114–15, 141–42 Samely, Alexander, 240nn104,106, 254n55 Samuelson, Norbert, 270n98, 271nn114,115,124 Sarason, Richard, 8, 222–23, 232n21, 251n25 Satlow, Michael, 71 Schechter, Solomon, 4, 6, 11, 231n14 Schelling, F.W.J., 192–95, 270n107, 271n119,133, 272nn136,138, 273n139 Schleiermacher, Friedrich, 181, 215 Schmied-Kowarzik, Wolfdietrich, 270n98, 272n134, 273n151 Scholem, Gershom, 13 Schorsch, Ismar, 6, 13 Schremer, Adiel, 262n138 Schwarcz, Moshe, 272n136

Index   301 Semuchin, 142, 254n53 Shekhinah: buries Moses, 110; presence of, 143–44; supplies food to all, 138– 39. See also God Shimon b. Shetach, 137, 259n111 R. Shimon b.Yehudah of Kefar Acco, 141 R. Shimon b.Yohai, 141 Sifrei Deuteronomy, 9, 115, 259n115 Song of Songs, 169–75, 267n66 Song of Songs Rabbah, 8, 233n24 Sontag, Frederick, 229n1 Spiritual exercises, 70–73, 75–76, 224–25 Stammaim, 60 Stemberger, Günter, 8, 103, 232n22 Stern, David, 231n15, 232n24 Synagogue, 8, 78 Temple, Second, 131–32, 143–44 Theology, Jewish, 66–70; “dogma of dogmalessness,” 3; form and function, multiplicity of, 2–3, 54–55, 69, 78–79, 89, 94–96, 101, 122, 134–35, 150–51, 161–62, 208–10, 219–20, 225–26, 235n41, 240n98; as homiletic discourse, 2, 7–9, 37, 67, 78, 120, 130, 151–52, 208, 222–23, 232nn21,22; limits on theological language, 52–53, 55–56, 145–50, 189–90, 198, 201–3, 216; marginalized, 3–5, 215–16, 224–25, 229n4; as speculative discourse, 2, 50, 151, 208; systematic and dogmatic requirement, 2, 6–7, 17, 55, 61–62, 78–79, 98–99, 210, 218–19, 222, 223, 229n1, 231n14; term “theology,” 5, 61–62, 202–3, 229n1, 230n7; “theology” vs. “religious thought,” 4, 230n6; theology and religious practice, 69–70, 78–79, 95, 101, 133, 139, 145, 150–52, 208, 210, 218–19, 222, 224–26; Wissenschaft des Judentums and, 13–14, 216; within Jewish studies, 1–2, 13–16, 36, 216 Theurgy, 133

Tracy, David, 16, 218, 224, 240n98, 261n133, 275n6, 276n14 Truth, 87–88, 148, 185, 191–92, 201–3, 216–18, 276nn12,14; and realism, 159; See also Heidegger, Martin; Hermeneutics Underhill, Evelyn, 82 Understanding the Sick and the Healthy, 157–62, 264n11 Urbach, Ephraim, 125, 232n15, 256n73, 258n106, 259n115 Vaihinger, Hans, 159 Wacholder, Ben Zion, 250n7 Wimpfheimer, Barry, 230n9, 231n11, 249n5 Wissenschaft des Judentums, 11–14, 21 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 69–70, 75, 85, 87–88, 163, 234n39, 244n34, 247nn77,78 Wolfson, Elliot, 232n15, 240n104, 260n123, 261n131 Wolterstorff, Nicholas, 255n56 Wurzburger, Walter, 231n11 Yadin, Azzan, 115–16, 251n27, 252n31, 253n40, 256n71, 263n150 R.Yehoshuah, 138–39, 152 R.Yehoshuah b. Qorha, 150 R.Yehudah b. Bathyra, 135–36 R.Yehudah b. Ilai, 111–12 Yehudah b. Tabbai, 137 R.Yehudah ha-Nasi, 112, 126–27, 141, 257n87 R.Yose b. Halafta, 60 R.Yose the son of the Damascene, 241n108 R. Zadok, 138–39, 259n115 Zevit, Ziony, 229n4 Zunz, Leopold, 13