Fred A Levy Haskell (fredcritter) wrote,
Fred A Levy Haskell

A Nation of G-d-Arguers

This seems to me to so fully express an important part of being Jewish....

"Tevye is a God-arguer: as such he belongs in a long Jewish tradition that starts with Abraham and runs prominently on through Moses, through Job, through the Tannaitic rabbi Yehoshua ben Levy (who refused to accept a heaven-backed interpretation of Scripture even though it was supported by divine miracles), through Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, the saintly Hasidic master who is said to have held a trial at which God was the absentee defendant, accused of having inflicted undeserved suffering on His people. Other religions many have their folktales about men who debate with and even rebuke God, but only in Jewish tradition, I believe, are such stories taken with high seriousness, the behavior in question being regarded -- provided, of course, that it comes from a spiritually ripe individual -- as the highest form of religions service. Though it is Job's friends who keep telling him to accept God's judgment and Job who insists that he will not because that judgment is unjust, God Himself, after finally speaking to Job from the whirlwind, turns to his friends and says, 'My wrath is kindled against you ... for you have not spoken of Me what was right, as My servant Job has." And what is right, apparently, is to hold God to the highest standards of a man's conscience, even if He does not seem to behave by them.

"It is worth considering this for a moment, for it presents an oddly paradoxical alternative, and by no means the main one adopted by Judaism either, to what have commonly been the standard responses of advanced cultures to the problem of innocent suffering in the world. Basically there have been three of these:

"1. God exists, is good, and is all-powerful; what appears to us His injustice is either a legitimate testing of our character, a just retribution for our sins, or an illusion created by our inability to understand the workings of the Divinity.
"2. God exists, is good, but is not all-powerful; beside Him are other, evil forces that contend with and sometimes best Him, thus gaining power over the world.
"3. God does not exist and suffering is the result either of blind chance or of immutable laws working themselves out in the lives of men.

"The first of these answers has been the one most often given by the major monotheistic religions; the second by Manichaeism, Gnosticism, Zoroastrianism, and various other dualistic beliefs; the third by modern science and, essentially, by Buddhism.

"But there is also, as we have seen, a fourth possible response: God exists; He is good; He is all-powerful; therefore He must be just; but He is not just; therefore He owes man an explanation and man must demand it from Him.

"This is Job's response. And it is also Tevye's."

--Hillel Halkin, in the Introduction to his translation of Sholem Aleichem's _Tevye The Dairyman_, Schocken Books, New York, 1987. pp.xxiv-xxv

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