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Religion Library: Judaism

Ultimate Reality and Divine Beings

Written by: Marc A. Krell

title: Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (2nd from right) in the Selma Civil Rights March with Martin Luther King, Jr. (4th from right). Source: by religious existentialism, the 20th-century American Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel responded to the essentialist philosophy of the modern period by arguing that people had become so used to perceiving God as the object of their reflection, they were unable to realize God's transcendent nature as the ineffable subject and source of ultimate reality who is in search of humanity. Following the Holocaust, Heschel argued that human beings had to recover the sense of wonder at divine transcendence in order to hear the "still small voice" (1 Kings 19:12) of God drowned out by human domination.

Yet a new group of post-Holocaust theologians emerged in the late 1960s that were unable to countenance a transcendent and omnipotent God who would allow the death of six million of God's people to perish in Nazi death camps. While some rejected the biblical God entirely, even the most radical theologians were unable to completely abandon all theological speculation after the Holocaust. Instead, they shifted the theological pendulum back to divine immanence, arguing that after the Holocaust, the biblical God had become hidden, fractured, or even powerless, providing comfort rather than protection for the Jews of the post-Holocaust period who were now called upon to take control of their destiny and reclaim their Judaism on their own terms.

Study Questions:
1.     How are different images of God held in tension? What text supports each view?
2.     How did Judaism's understanding of God change with the destruction of the temple? Why?
3.     Why did the image of God change as modernity developed?
4.     What was the effect of the Holocaust on Jewish theology?


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