Arthur green – Radical Judaism #3 of 5 parts

Continued from here and here.

Chapter three is about the evolution of the Biblical God from a sky-god in heaven vertically above us to the 1960’s when we cannot accept that metaphor anymore. Other problems of this primordial Biblical God that need to be overcome is the existence of dark forces to overcome and the maleness of God.
For Green, Biblical myth consists of “ancient and powerful narratives that contain deep truths reverberating through human life.”The Divine personhood is presented as royal and paternal. But in later ages we have the bridal Song of Songs imagery, which becomes the hieros gamos of kabbalah.

Green states that Maimonides removed the anthropomorphic metaphors, but Maimonides’ religion of III 51 is limited to an elite.
Green credits kabbalah as the best thing to overcome Biblical theism by using mythic language of passion and intimacy combined with philosophic abstraction. Green see the Enlightenment as unfortunately overly rational and that it ignored our best stuff.. Hence, the time is now to recover Jewish panentheism. We need a Neo-Hasidic approach to see holiness in all things; we need to educate our lesser selves to the true (or is it just useful?) nature of reality. The Shema teaches us that there is no being other than God.

On the topic of the image of God, he quotes as to be expected Fishbane, Levinson, Liebes, Muffs, Boyarin, but Green’s approach is entirely about intereriorization, the linguistic turn of the aforementioned authors did not reach him. Green’s treats the Bible as basically one voice and then he breifly presents rabbinic and medieval imagery before presenting his own view does not leave a thick and resonant view of the Jewish God through the ages. Just reading Jack Miles, God: A Biography would be more helpful as a start.

Green regrets that Mordechai Kaplan could not appreciate Kabbalah. But from where I sit, First, Kaplan was a skeptic and rationalist not a homo religious of myth and symbol. Second, Kabbalah for Kaplan would have been its traditional magical approach of trying to effect higher worlds. Green’s poetic kabbalah was not invented yet.

Jay Michaelson who advocated a non-duality had a keener understanding that the God imagery will always be Oedipal and based on our psychology. Green seems to have the simple psychology where one moves beyond the psychoanalytic. One would find it hard to go from Green to the complex God poetry of Rilke, Levertov, or even Allen Ginsburg.

Closer to my tastes was the wonderful recent book by Julia Kristeva- The Incredible Need to Believe (Sept 2009) Kristeva looks at religion in the major psychological and philosophical literature (e.g., Freud, Arendt, Winnicot), fiction (e.g., Proust) and in private life (Kristeva makes wonderful use of Saint Teresa of Avila’s writings). She deals with the tension of the possibility of sharable knowledge of the inner religious experience. For Kristeva, God as father figure is the logos of civilization, on mysticism she follows Freud and finds a sensual autoeroticism of merging into the id. (One wishes for such unrepressed passion from Green’s Kabbalah.) “The problem of this beginning of the third millennium is not the war of religions but the rift and void that now separates those who want to know that God is unconscious and those who would rather not know this, the better to enjoy the show that proclaims He exists.”She as many others takes the Habermas and Ratzinger debates as religiously significant. And she notes that in the new millennium many are content with the mere promise of goods within their lives.

To return to Green’s original point about the loss of the Biblical God or for most of us, the loss of the God as King metaphor of rabbinic liturgy, What do we do when a metaphor fails? Green offers his kabbalistic pantheism – here is your God!

R. Shalom Baer, the Rebbe Rashab, is reported as lamenting on the overthrow of the Czar, saying “We have lost a metaphor.” The actual protagonist of the story is probably Rabbi Dovid Horodoker who wept when Czar Nicholas II was overthrown in the Russian Revolution of 1917. “Why do you shed tears over the fall of a tyrant?” he was asked. “I weep,” replied the hassid, “because a metaphor in Chassidut is gone.”
The question becomes: if we no longer have kingship then does that mean that all hierarchy, patriarchy, projected Father figures and authority is lost? For Green, it is lost. Yet from my perspective, do we not have situations of hierarchy in education and business? Or to use a non-personal metaphor of chi, in karate and Tai chi do we not have a clear hierarchy from white to multi-tiered black belts? I am not sure of the need to flatten everything to a pantheistic God of the self. I am not sure what happens to transcendence and aspiration without only Green’s pantheism As Kristeva points out, does transcendence become a mere promise of goods?

To be continued in part 4 here

2 responses to “Arthur green – Radical Judaism #3 of 5 parts

  1. From

    …When the Czar was overthrown, a teacher of Chassidism wept. To live as a subject of the Czar was, in many ways, a great hindrance to living as a Jew. But Reb Dovid was thinking of the deeper, more basic implications of authoritarianism: not of the blatant ways that a tyrant’s authority intruded upon one’s life, but in the particular mindset and psychological make-up it cultivated in a person. How, agonized this mashpia, will a kingless generation possibly understand the utter surrender of self that the king-subject relationship epitomized? How will they comprehend the awe accorded one whose rule is absolute and incontestable? What model would they have for a “king”–a figure who transcends the personal to embody the soul of a nation? Never mind that most kings of history were unworthy metaphors of the Divine sovereignty; central to our relationship with G-d is something that only one who has been subject to a king can truly appreciate….

  2. A nice example of how our historically-determined metaphors take over our entire understanding of God. This notion of authoritarian God is not normative for Tanakh, not, to this extant, to Hazal.

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