Originally published in Common Ground, Spring 1974.
A JEWISH THEOLOGY, by Louis JACOBS (Darton, Longman and Todd, £4.75)
The difference between “a” and “the” as applied to Jewish, or for that matter any other kind of theology, is clearly a matter of very great importance. Rabbi Louis Jacobs has done well, therefore, to entitle his latest book “A Jewish Theology”. Here is no attempt to lay down the law (theologically speaking) but rather to provide, as did his mentor and proto-type in the twelfth century, Moses Maimonides, “A Guide for the Perplexed” .
For there are many today, non-Jews as well as Jews, who are not a little perplexed as to what really is Jewish theology. Indeed, there are Jews who firmly maintain that Judaism knows nothing of theology. Judaism, they affirm, is above all else “a way of life”, a matter of living in accordance with the clearly-defined principles of the Torah. Only thus, it is argued, can the unity of the Jewish people be preserved. Speculation, especially theological speculation, is, they say, divisive.
How easy it is to fall prey to over-simplification. True, the mediaeval schoolmen may have come near to bloodshed in their alleged disputations as to the number of angels who might dance on the point of a pin, but it is rumoured that differences between devoted adherents of this or that precise interpretation of one or other of the finer points of traditional Jewish observance have had hardly less disastrous effects upon family and community relations.
Truth to tell, the risk of division is always with us, whether in the speculative or more pragmatic aspects of living. But few things have been more divisive, whether between Christian and Christian, Jew and Jew, or Jew and Christian, than the attempt to force a separation between faith and works. It is for this reason that this attempt by Louis Jacobs “to think through consistently the implications of the Jewish religion” is as valuable as it is timely.
This is a splendidly comprehensive book. “The detailed topics with which Jewish theology should be concerned are: the Jewish approach to God and how it differs from the approaches of other religions; the relationship between God and man; the meaning and significance of worship; the doctrine of reward and punishment; the doctrines of the Messiah, and the Hereafter; the idea of the Chosen People and the theological implications of the State of Israel; the problem of evil and the question of divine providence and miracles.” It has no prima facie concern with the practice of Judaism as such, but he would be dull indeed who does not see that each of these great themes has its bearing upon the way in which men and communities order their lives
Then, too it impressively scholarly. In this as in other of his writings, Dr. Jacobs has followed the practice of incorporating in the body of the text passages in small type which “he who runs” may or may not read—as he chooses—without losing the sense of the argument as a whole: passages which the scholar neglects only at his peril. For here he will find a wealth of illustration and quotation of and from important source materials. Nine pages each of bibliography and index, both printed in small type, add greatly to its value for the student who, whether he be Christian or Jew, will find here just the “guide” for which so many are seeking today.