Radical Reverence: A Fulcrum against Fanaticism

By Kaplan, Edward K. | Tikkun, March 1996 | Go to article overview

Radical Reverence: A Fulcrum against Fanaticism


Kaplan, Edward K., Tikkun


The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and the justification of this outrage by some Jews, threatens the integrity of Judaism as a source of morality. As the Jewish world tries to cope with the fact that some "religious" Jews perceive their devotion to the Land of Israel as an imperative to murder, we may find some guidance in Abraham Joshua Heschel's spiritually radical interpretation of rabbinic Judaism.

Drawing on classical Jewish sources (particularly Bevakhot 43b) to establish the primacy given in the tradition to the sanctity of each and every human being, Heschel insisted that attacking a person's inward dignity presents an even graver violation than physical death. In "Religion and Race," he wrote: "The law demands: one should rather be killed than commit murder. Piety demands: one should rather commit suicide than offend a person publicly. It is better, the Talmud insists, to throw oneself into a burning furnace than to humiliate a human being publicly."

I believe that Heschel's radical approach to religious morality, which affirms the absolute dignity of every human being, can be an antidote to the shrinking of biblical faith into ideology and dogma characteristic of some segments of the contemporary Jewish world. A dynamic "piety" of the sort Heschel prescribed can help alleviate the cultural wars now raging within our fragmented communities. Piety (hasidut), in Heschel's terms, includes both a prayerful intimacy with the Divine and a fervent sense of human responsibility, emulating the "God of pathos" evoked by the Hebrew prophets. hen approached in this way, Jewish observance--study of Torah, prayer, and the quest for purity of heart--can bring light to the practical difficulties of achieving justice and peace with security between Israel, the Palestinian people, and their neighbors.

Religion is a powerful force, either sublime or perverse. Even those who deem themselves "observant" Jews--such as the American-born assassin of Hebron and the Israeli fanatic who killed Rabin--are capable of interpreting their vision of Greater Israel as God's call to massacre other children of Abraham, Jew or Muslim. And the non-observant among us wonder how Jews who cherish Torah can slaughter devout Muslims at prayer or murder the Prime Minister of Israel.

How can we penetrate the minds of these "righteous" criminals We tend to consider such ideological fanatics to be "fundamentalists," people who take certain statements in the Bible for literal truth, while ignoring the text's complexity and plurality of interpretations. It is easy to lift proof texts from holy books, Jewish, Muslim, or Christian, to provide support for dangerous political movements. The religious Zionists, out of whose community Rabin's assassin came, embrace a literal interpretation of God's territorial promises in the Bible. But the problem is not the Bible or any sacred text per se. Rather, it is the ease with which leaders and followers join "revealed dogma" with totalitarian politics, relegating opponents to demonic or subhuman status.

But while dogmatic interpretations can sanction violence, they do not propagate actions. Anger, hatred, and fear, not ideology as such, motivate fanatics and drive their programs. Extremist thinking is defensive, an acting out of rage that one's idealized world--for instance, the subsidized settlements of "Greater Israel"--may be dismantled.

Heschel's conception of Judaism may ripen religious emotions stronger than the hatred that fires zealots. hat he calls "depth theology' considers the consciousness of prayer and intuitions of divine presence to be distinct from, and prior to, statements of belief or dogma. The first step is to view social struggles from the vantage point of humanity's preciousness to God. For Heschel, the energy of Judaism does not derive from Torah principles alone, but from a person's encounter with the mystery of existence, with God, with "the meaning beyond the mystery.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Radical Reverence: A Fulcrum against Fanaticism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.