In his article he attempts to address the perfection of God.
The familiar view to orthodox Jews today is that God is All-Knowing, All-Powerful, and All-Good. Hazony makes two primary arguments against this view. One is that it’s fairly evident Jewish thought on this has evolved. The God the Bible seems to be more limited than the God we talk about today (and have talked about for at least 2000 years). Second, there are philosophical problems with calling God “All-Everything”.
The great rabbis of post-Biblical Judaism have done an incredible job of interpreting the passages in the Bible that seem to limit God. Yet, even some of the medieval commentators were comfortable with an anthropomorphic God. This idea has completely fallen out of favor and is now considered heresy almost unanimously.
But we are less adept at dealing with the philosophical concerns of an “All-Everything” God. Here there are newer issues that arise out of a better understanding of the world. Perfect is now understood in terms of balances. It is not understood as unlimited quantities of stuff. Further, to assert perfection requires us to have a complete vision of God. We don’t. God obscures Himself and even God’s favorite prophet Moses only caught a glimpse of God from the rear.
So Hazony proposes that we resurrect the idea of an imperfect God. The idea is that we hope that God will deal with us faithfully and there is justice. This creates a more true relationship with a more realistic God.
But the reason this idea has fallen out of favor, Hazony proposes, is because philosophers and religious leaders recognize that it is much more powerful to believe in the “All-Everything” God than the imperfect God. Hazony concludes:
Instead, they have preferred to speak to us of a God consisting of a series of sweeping idealizations — idealizations whose relation to the world in which we actually live is scarcely imaginable. Today, with theism rapidly losing ground across Europe and among Americans as well, we could stand to reconsider this point. Surely a more plausible conception of God couldn’t hurt.
This is the core issue of contemporary orthodox Judaism. Is plausibility and minimalism a better weapon against atheism or is mysticism and maximalism a better tool? The ultra-orthodox camp firmly believes that the key is insularity and an expansion of required beliefs. It asks that their adherents shield themselves from the outside world and empirical evidence. The more progressive orthodox groups embrace the challenges of modernity by looking for less familiar views on God and Judaism that are more compatible with modern thinking. It asks their adherents to work through any potential conflict and accept scientific inquiry and some of its conclusions.
The question raised by Hazony is which track is more likely to produce the desired result of devout believers. It’s a good question. It’s a different question that what is most comfortable, or what is easier, or what is more intellectually honest. He is simply asking which track has a better chance of survival.
I think he is correct that eventually it will be nearly impossible to ignore the outside world and the conflicts between it and the more maximalist positions. Granted, there will be contradictions to the minimalist positions as well, but it is easier to swallow a small pill than to swallow a beach ball.
Read Hazony’s article and join the conversation.
Link: NY Times