Pious Irrev­er­ence: Con­fronting God in Rab­binic Judaism

Dov Weiss
  • From the Publisher
December 22, 2017

Judaism is often described as a reli­gion that tol­er­ates, even cel­e­brates argu­ments with God. Unlike Chris­tian­i­ty and Islam, it is said, Judaism endors­es a tra­di­tion of protest as first expressed in the bib­li­cal sto­ries of Abra­ham, Job, and Jere­mi­ah. In Pious Irrev­er­ence, Dov Weiss has writ­ten the first schol­ar­ly study of the pre­mod­ern roots of this dis­tinc­tive­ly Jew­ish the­ol­o­gy of protest, exam­in­ing its ori­gins and devel­op­ment in the rab­binic age.

Weiss argues that this par­tic­u­lar Jew­ish rela­tion­ship to the divine is root­ed in the most canon­i­cal of rab­binic texts even as he demon­strates that in ancient Judaism the idea of debat­ing God was itself a mat­ter of debate. By elu­ci­dat­ing com­pet­ing views and explor­ing their the­o­log­i­cal assump­tions, the book chal­lenges the schol­ar­ly claim that the ear­ly rab­bis con­ceived of God as a moral­ly per­fect being whose good­ness had to be defend­ed in the face of bib­li­cal accounts of uneth­i­cal divine action. Pious Irrev­er­ence exam­ines the ways in which the rab­bis searched the words of the Torah for hid­den mean­ings that could grant them the moral author­i­ty to express doubt about, and frus­tra­tion with, the bib­li­cal God. Using char­ac­ters from the Bible as their mouth­pieces, they often chal­lenged God’s behav­ior, even in a few remark­able instances, envi­sion­ing God con­ced­ing error, declar­ing to the pro­tes­tor, You have taught Me some­thing; I will nul­li­fy My decree and accept your word.”

Discussion Questions