I promised you that over Shabbat I would read Spengler’s essay from First Things, “Christian, Muslim, Jew,” and I did on Friday night after dinner. It is a very interesting and characteristically learned discourse on the religious philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig, who is described in the essay as
one of the greatest Jewish theologians of the past century. Best known for The Star of Redemption, published eight years before his death in 1929 at the age of forty-three, he began a new kind of dialogue between Judaism and Christianity when he argued that the two faiths complement each other: Christianity to propagate revelation to the world, and Judaism to “convert the inner pagan” inside each Christian.
Excerpt from the essay, including a provocative swipe at Islam:
Rosenzweig, however, requires us to see faith from the existential standpoint of the believer, who in revealed religion knows God through God’s love. For Rosenzweig, paganism constitutes a form of alienation from the revealed God of Love; Allah, the absolutely transcendent God who offers mercy but not unconditional love, is therefore a pagan deity.
I have to tell you that I’m skeptical of post-9/11 attempts by my fellow Jews to cast Christianity as Judaism’s ever true best friend while Islam is the eternal bad boy and miscreant, enemy to both. There’s something opportunist in this; as if seeking to cash in on the fact that Christian America was suddenly awakened to the potential for evil in Islamic fundamentalism from which Israel and the Jews have suffered since the founding of the state of Israel.
I understand, of course, that Rosenzweig himself wrote decades earlier than anything I’m referring to. Spengler’s essay is much more subtle than that, anyway, yet the implication that Judaism and Christianity share a conception of God as exhibiting “unconditional love” needs to be qualified.
Jewish liturgy itself suggests otherwise. On one hand, we pray in the morning blessings before the Shema
, “Lord our God, You have loved us with everlasting love.” At night we say, “With everlasting love have You loved the House of Israel.” Yet the same blessing concludes, “May your love never depart from us.” An alternative version of the same text reads, “May you never remove your love from us.”
If God’s love were not only everlastingly available to us but also unconditional, why pray that He “never remove [it] from us”?
Ask yourself. God’s love is clearly meant to serve as a model for our own. We are accustomed to speaking of love for children and spouses as being “unconditional.” Is it really? Is there truly nothing your spouse or child could do (or not do), in theory — use your imagination — that would result in a dampening or even the extinguishing of your love?
You see, this is what I meant when I opened this blog with the exhortation, whatever the conclusion you reach about classical Judaic sources such as the Siddur (prayer book) or the Hebrew Bible itself, to at least “Look there