Studies in Bible and Feminist Criticism

By Tikva Frymer-Kensky | Go to book overview

25 / The Emergence of Jewish
Biblical Theologies

2000

At one time, not too long ago, writing on “Jewish biblical theology” would have been considered unthinkable. It was a truism that Jews don't do theology, and the long roster of distinguished Jewish theologians of the twentieth century, Hermann Cohen, Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Mordecai Kaplan, and Emanuel Levinas (to name only the most prominent), did nothing to dispel this axiomatic understanding. Somehow, each of these theologians was considered an aberration and, at any event, more a “philosopher” than a “theologian.” Jews, after all, didn't do theology.

As strange as the concept of Jewish theology may have seemed, at least there were some writers who wrote “Jewish philosophy.” The enterprise made some sort of sense, and the negative Jewish reaction to the concept of Jewish theology was mostly an issue about the definition of “theology.” Theology was narrowly understood as the study of God, and writing about God was not considered a Jewish activity. But Jews did write about religious dimensions of life and had a long history of serious contemplation of the universe, life, and humanity. Most Jews preferred to call such contemplation “Jewish philosophy” or even

, “Israel's thinking,” but there was a tradition of reflection on such issues. On the other hand, Jewish biblical theology was simply incomprehensible. The Bible was simply not the axis around which “Israel's thinking” revolved.

The Bible plays an enormous role in Jewish ritual life. Many psalms from the Book of Psalms have been incorporated into the synagogue liturgy, forming an essential component of the regular daily, Sabbath, and festival services. A group of psalms forms the core of the special service for Sabbath eve (

), and another group of psalms is the core

-365-

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