Talking about God is newer to many Jews than working with God.
it comes to “God talk” in the form of verbal, academic theology, most Jews
lack the experience and expertise of most Christians.
Indeed, the whole realm of theological discussion is relatively new for
Jews and, for the most part, more of a non-Jewish than a Jewish enterprise.
Peruse a Christian – or a secular - bookstore, and you will see
shelves-upon-shelves of books dealing with Christian theology. You will not see
a similarly large selection dealing with Jewish theology - even in a Jewish
bookstore (although the number of books on the subject is increasing).
is not to say that Judaism is completely devoid of theological discussion. A
number of major medieval, modern and contemporary Jewish thinkers have written
on God’s attributes or on God’s roles in the world,19
however, most Jews are unaware of these writings. Most Jews figuratively stutter
when it comes to God-talk. Rabbi
Gillman has suggested that one of the reasons that Jews are beginning to speak
and write about theology now is to be able to dialogue with non-Jews who have
more verbal facility with the subject. However, we ask you to keep in mind that
most Jewish CPE students - including clergy and seminarians - are only just
beginning to discover Jewish language in this area.
most Jews, talking about the good deeds that we have offered the world is in
fact, synonymous with talking about God. Often, the significance of this
cultural and theological conversational pattern escapes the attention of our
non-Jewish supervisors and peers20.
This is especially true of those non-Jews who place a high value on “humility”.
Often, they label Jews “competitive” or “boastful”. Certainly, it is
possible that individual Jews may be competitive or boastful, but it’s more
probable that in those contexts, they have been sharing what they have been
culturally taught to share with each other, namely what they have been doing.
In Judaism, discussing deeds is normal and expected and it constitutes a
theological statement of where they are vis-à-vis God.
match this to a CPE philosophy that teaches students not “to do” but “to
be” - and a conflict develops. Jews who feel discouraged from talking about
what they do - by CPE supervisors who simultaneously ask them to talk about God
- are placed in a contradictory and often, an untenable situation. It is just
this conflict which many Jewish students are unable to articulate, but which
they feel. And often, it makes them
feel defensive in a CPE environment that then responds pejoratively.
about turning the matter on its head.
If you are a non-Jew, how would you have felt if your CPE supervisors had
repeatedly told you that “You have too much ‘faith’, stop believing so
much!” How many of you would have
felt disconcerted – and even defensive - at that repeated admonition?
Similarly, telling Jews to “be” and not to “do” runs contrary to Jewish
© 2004 , Bonita E Taylor & David J. Zucker
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