I Am Jewish

An Excerpt From David Hartman's Book

By David Hartman

Published February 12, 2013.
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The covenants with Abraham and later with the people of Israel at Sinai express the principle of divine self-limitation that makes room for human involvement in determining history.

RELATIONAL THEOLOGY AND INTIMACY

The God I meet in history is not an omnipotent, perfect, overwhelming presence that crushes my sense of worth and empowerment. Covenantal consciousness begins with the awareness that God has burdened human beings with the task of being the carriers of God’s vision for human history. The law and the commandments express not only God’s legislative authority but also, and above all, God’s need for human beings. In addition to the normative moral content of religious life—the pursuit of justice, love, and compassion in our personal and collective lives—the covenant at Sinai expresses the interpersonal intimacy of God’s relationship with Israel.

THE JEWISH YEAR: JEWISH IDENTITY AND COLLECTIVE MEMORIES

The notions of relationship and interdependence expressed in the Jew’s theological universe of discourse play an important role in defining the meaning of being a Jew and living a Jewish way of life. Being a Jew is first and foremost being part of the collective history of the Jewish people. In Judaism, you meet God within the framework of the collective history and practices of the Jewish people.

The individual’s journey of discovering the meaning of being a Jew begins with the collective memories of the foundational events of the Jewish people. By appropriating these memories, the individual becomes part of a Jewish “we” that precedes and shapes the emergence of his or her Jewish “I.” How you understand these foundational events determines the meaning of your individual Jewish identity within the collective life of the community. The Pilgrimage Festivals, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, filter how a Jew understands the everyday meaning of being Jewish.

Pesach (Passover) negates the idea that the ultimate purpose of being Jewish can be realized by an individual’s “leap of faith” or by fulfilling the commandments at Sinai. The conventional notion of religion as private faith and good works is incompatible with the message of Passover, which reminds me that I must first identify with my people’s struggle for freedom and security before I can pledge covenantal allegiance to God at Sinai. We begin the annual pilgrimage of Jewish self-understanding by recollecting and identifying with the enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt. We begin by retelling the story of our struggle for liberation: “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt”—with the emphasis on the fact that we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.


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