What Does God Have to do With It? (pp. 60-62)
The Jewish tradition identifies God as the Creator of the world, the Redeemer from Egyptian bondage, the Author of the covenant at Sinai, the One who brought the Jewish people into the promised land, fulfilling a promise first made to Abraham. The first of the Ten Commandments proclaims God’s centrality to the Jewish story: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt” (Ex. 20:2
). One could make the case that the fulfillment of every commandment is an affirmation of the One who issued the commandment.
The contemporary Jew is torn between a world of science and rationalism and a tradition that makes God central to Jewish history. Some see it as an either/or proposition. Either you believe in God and dismiss, or at least compartmentalize, the world of science and reason, or you embrace science and reason and reject the notion of God. Many non-Jews who are people of faith look to the Bible and to their own religious teachings for inspiration and direction when thinking about their personal conduct and the stewardship of the society in which they live.
Often Jews feel uncomfortable with those who use theological and religious language as an impetus for their actions in the realm of social justice. Part of this feeling is driven by an instinctive reaction against an approach made popular by the Christian right, whose positions are often anathema to Jews. In addition, many Jews feel that they come to their values via the universal values embraced by Western civilization, not aware that many of those values derive from the Bible and are ascribed to God’s teachings. For many Jews, rejecting God also requires rejecting Judaism because they cannot separate belief in God from the imperative to adhere to Jewish tradition.
It is sad that some Jews abandon Judaism because they see themselves as too sophisticated to believe in the miraculous Bible stories. What makes it sad is that it is avoidable. There is a rich literature of Jewish theology that takes us far beyond the either/or equation. There are many theological options available to the person who cannot accept a literalist reading of the Bible or believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing God…
…It is clear that it is difficult to make any statement about God that will achieve wide agreement or consensus in a pluralistic Jewish world. We are simply too diverse a people to be of one mind on the God question.
Perhaps, however, we can say that Jews and the Jewish people are in relationship with God, however we understand that word, from Abraham until the present day. Abraham is called by God, or believes that he is, and acts accordingly. Inspired by his example, we are his heirs in pursuing righteousness and justice. The Hebrews are redeemed by God from Egypt, or believe that they are, and act accordingly. We use that historical lesson as an inspiration for how we relate to other oppressed minorities. The children of Israel enter into a covenant with God at Sinai, or believe that they do. As a result, we are a people that place tremendous value on law, in good deeds, and in building societies that uphold justice.
It may well be that, despite our theological differences, we do not need to say any more than this.