Between Man and God: Issues in Judaic Thought

By Martin Sicker | Go to book overview
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The Judaic Conception of God

Traditional Judaism is unequivocally predicated on a bedrock belief in the existence of God and faith in the existence of a unique relationship between God and man in general and with Israel in particular. It may therefore seem surprising to some that classical Judaic thought, that is, the ideas reflected in the writings that have come down to us from the biblical and postbiblical periods, does not appear to be at all concerned with the philosophical problem of rationally demonstrating the existence of God. Discussion of the question is entirely absent, even implicitly, from that literature. One might suggest at least three reasons for this conspicuous lack of interest in the subject.

First and foremost, the point of departure for the biblical and rabbinic writers is the proposition, generally unstated but nonetheless treated by them as axiomatic, that there is in fact a God. Indeed, to suggest otherwise was considered both impertinent and absurd, as well as immoral. As the biblical psalmist wrote, The fool hath said in his heart: ‘There is no God’ (Pss. 14:1, 53:2). 1 Accordingly, no demonstrable proof of divine existence was considered necessary or perhaps even desirable; a flawed or weak argument might cast doubt on the indisputable truth of the fundamental proposition. This most essential premise of Judaism is set forth implicitly in the very first sentence of the biblical canon: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth (Gen. 1:1). In this statement, the antecedent existence of God is clearly taken for granted, as is the explicit proclamation of God’s direct engagement with the material universe. Moreover, as Emil Fackenheim argues, the existence of God cannot be proven. “If there is a God, and if He is God, He embraces man’s existence with such totality as to make objective detachment altogether impossible. If a man can pass judgment on God and His existence, it is not God on whom he passes judg-


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Between Man and God: Issues in Judaic Thought


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