Yah­weh Ver­sus Yah­weh: The Enig­ma of Jew­ish History

Jay Y. Gonen
  • Review
By – July 30, 2012
God does not deliv­er us before afflict­ing us. This dual­i­ty of the deity mir­rors the dual­i­ty that char­ac­ter­izes many of our hol­i­days and rit­u­als and near­ly every psy­cho­log­i­cal, his­tor­i­cal, polit­i­cal, and social aspect of Jew­ish life. The plea­sure of sex is pre­ced­ed by the pain of cir­cum­ci­sion; the pain of child­birth is fol­lowed by the joy of moth­er­hood. The Passover Seder brings us bit­ter herbs before the sweet charoset, just as the Israelites in the Exo­dus sto­ry had to expe­ri­ence bondage before they earned their free­dom. Indeed, human nature could be defined by our con­flict­ing incli­na­tions, or yet­zers, toward good and evil. These impuls­es, viewed in the con­text of the all-too-famil­iar cat­a­stro­phes and the radi­ant beau­ty in the nat­ur­al world, informed our spir­i­tu­al devel­op­ment in more ways than we might real­ize, accord­ing to this pen­e­trat­ing analy­sis by Gonen, a lead­ing psy­chohis­to­ri­an. Using his own lens as well as the views of oth­er schol­ars, he deeply explores the dual­is­tic nature of God and the human psy­che in a vari­ety of con­texts, includ­ing mes­sian­ism, hol­i­days, love and fear, bereave­ment and res­ur­rec­tion, and the Holo­caust. Although his writ­ing is occa­sion­al­ly dense (sub­ti­tles would have been help­ful), Gonen min­gles wit with wis­dom often enough to keep the book acces­si­ble — and quite fas­ci­nat­ing. Bib­lio., index.
Robin K. Levin­son is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist and author of a dozen books, includ­ing the Gali Girls series of Jew­ish his­tor­i­cal fic­tion for chil­dren. She cur­rent­ly works as an assess­ment spe­cial­ist for a glob­al edu­ca­tion­al test­ing orga­ni­za­tion. She lives in Hamil­ton, NJ.

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