Friday, December 25, 2009

Judaism: A Way of Being

Really enjoyed the subject book by Davide Gelernter. Gelernter is special to me because he is a leading computer scientist teaching at Yale. He survived an attack by the Uni-bomber, and he was the Doctoral adviser for a coworker from Haifa Israel.

He opens in the preface with the great questions of human existence:
  1. How do we understand our place in the unspeakable vastness of creation?
  2. Is physical creation all their is?
  3. How do I order my life as a human being?
  4. Does life have a goal (purpose) beyond comfort, power, prosperity, survival?
He breaks Judaism into four key theme images:
  1. Separation -- From the "waters" in creation, at the Red Sea, at the Jordan, at birth, and with the Sabbath. God creates a separation for life, for holiness, for transcendence. Man is not part of nature, he is held separate and must struggle with nature. Man is made in God's image, not God in man's. That is paganism, of which the end is simply man worshiping himself. "Jews defy nature by defying its most fundamental impulse -- the onrush of chaos, reducing all things to one level, abolishing all distinctions". How profound, and how at odds with the onrush of chaos of our current political climate.
  2. The veil -- God can not be seen, imagined, named. He is "on the other side", but paradoxically, deep within. He is not nature, he is behind nature. He is not man, he is behind man -- and what sets us apart from nature is his image. Maybe that is what it means to be conscious, maybe not that simple.
  3. Perfect asymmetry -- God is one but man is two, male and female. "The force field between maleness and femaleness creates marriage and colors the whole universe. But the modern attempt to make the two sexes interchangeable, shorting out the battery that operates civilization, wiring it's poles together is an act of aggression against both sanctity and humanity."
  4. The inward pilgrimmage -- "The still small voice".
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God" (Psalms 14:1). Today the atheist publishes a book about it. Such an atheist is like an emotionally frigid philosopher who says in his heart "there is no love in the world." Should he wish to change this apparent state of affairs, he need only love someone and accept love in return. But if he chooses not to, he must understand that he has made an assertion not about the work, but about himself. If you see no God in the universe, striving to make yourself holy (or godly) will change your way of seeing.
Having read a couple atheist authors in the last couple of years (Dawkins, Harris), that particular paragraph struck me.

The book is relatively short, but also quite information dense. I recommend it highly, even if the Hebrew terms do tend to get in the way from time to time. It is infused with the core of the special nature of Israel -- that they are the only embodiment of God that exists on earth since he "withdrew his presence" after the loss of the Ark. For a Christian, one really sees the stark contrast between "God With Us" and "the veil", and it gives a whole new meaning to "the veil of the temple was rent".

I KNOW I didn't "get it all", but it is a marvelously well and lovingly written book by a highly intelligent and spiritual man.