Exploring Jewish Ontology

Exploring Jewish Ontology June 5, 2024

Tales from the Holocaust 

How does a Jewish Ontology inform our Christian faith? This semester, I had my students look at Victor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning to explore the meaning of life using a Jewish Ontological lens. In Frankl’s book, he describes his journey of suffering and his endurance to survive. In his exploration and in his writings, he demonstrates to the reader how we have the power to make meaning no matter even in the worst situations. In Frankl’s writings, we see him lean heavily on his Jewish culture, existentialist philosophy, and his clinical understanding of suffering to demonstrate this point. According to Victor Frankl, his Jewish ontological position became an impetus for a unique way of looking at camp survival.  I introduced this in last week’s post https://www.patheos.com/blogs/loveopensdoors/2024/06/is-non-duality-the-key-to-liberation-from-ego/

Jewish Ontology – Tikkun Olam and Kiddish Hashem 

Jewish existentialism is a category of work by Jewish authors dealing with existentialist themes and concepts (e.g. debate about the existence of God and the meaning of human existence) and intended to answer theological questions that are important in Judaism. The existential angst of Job is an example from the Hebrew Bible of the existentialist theme. Theodicy and post-Holocaust theology make up a large part of 20th century Jewish existentialism (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_existentialism ).  

I want to focus on two concepts from Frankl’s book, tikkun olam and kiddish hashem.  

A careful reading of the Gospels will not reveal to us that we are not to dominate our neighbors by force. Deeper study of the faith of Jesus will reveal that we are instead compelled to stand in solidarity with the poor and oppressed and speak “prophetically against the powers of evil at great personal cost.” (Dr. Tripp Fuller) Jesus was a Jewish man who would have in his own historical Judaism embodied these following principles. When we ask the question, “what would Jesus do?” we must consider these as answers.  

“Tikkun olam ” (Hebrew for “world repair”) has come to connote social action and the pursuit of social justice. The phrase has origins in classical rabbinic literature and in Lurianic kabbalah, a major strand of Jewish mysticism originating with the work of the 16th-century kabbalist Isaac Luria. (My Jewish Learning https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/tikkun-olam-repairing-the-world/ 

Kiddush Hashem defines the nature of the Jewish community at large. Jewish (Jesus was a Jew) people “believe they are on this planet to serve a purpose, and that is to fulfill God’s vision for society as one of justice, righteousness, and compassion for all. (see https://colelchabad.org/kiddush-hashem/) 

Reading the Bible from a Jewish Ontological Perspective 

The term Tikkun Olam would not have been known to Jesus as it was formerly first used in the phrase mip’nei tikkun ha-olam, “for the sake of repairing the world”, which appears in the Mishnah (Gittin 4:2–9) with the meaning of amending the law in order to keep society well-functioning. This could be read as a mitzvot or a commandment by God as a religious duty.  

By performing the mitzvot, it is believed that the Jewish people will become a model society. This idea sometimes is attributed to Biblical verses that describe the Jews as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5–6) and “a light of the nations” or “a light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6 and Isaiah 49:6). 

It is felt that Jesus’ actions and his preaching style embody this commandment.  

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, you will find accounts where we are instructed to honor God’s name, the community. We can turn to Leviticus 22:31 – 32 where we will find, “You shall keep My commandments and do them: I am the Lord. You shall not profane My holy Name; but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel; I am the Lord who hallow you.” This command for the Jewish people is part of their 613 commandments that make up what is known as mitzvot (see https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/756399/jewish/The-613-Commandments-Mitzvot.htm ). The entire people were subject to these principles, although the priests were especially cautioned to avoid ḥillul ha-Shem (Lev. 21:6; 22:2). 

Again, here, you can see the teachings ascribed to Jesus in these words.  

Closing Thoughts 

We put a lot of emphasis on “what the bible says”. Too often what we think it says reflects our beliefs around some topic and the bible then acts as a confirmation bias based on proof texting. When one reads the bible critically, historically and multi –traditionally, we get a different picture and depth.  

If we consider the Gospels being written up to seventy years after Jesus’ death and some of the letters ascribed to Paul before, we understand that this was not a “Christian” world as we would experience it today. One of the more interesting facts I learned recently is that Seneca, the Stoic philosopher was a contemporary of Paul and may have even known him.  

There is a depth to the scriptures that can only be seen when we deeply engage with it in a thoughtful way. It is important to understand that these scriptures were not recorded or written for us. They were recorded as stories for the people living at the time of their writings, thousands of years ago.  



(n.d.). Kiddush Hashem: Embodying Charity and Compassion. Cole Chabad. Retrieved June 3, 2024, from https://colelchabad.org/kiddush-hashem/ 

(n.d.). Tikkun Olam: Repairing the World. My Jewish Learning. Retrieved June 3, 2024, from https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/tikkun-olam-repairing-the-world/  

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