“The Challenge of the ‘Caring’ God: A. J. Heschel’s ‘Theology of Pathos’ in light of Eliezer Berkovits’s Critique”

Zehuyot 8:43-60 (2017)

Authors
Nadav Berman Shifman
Harvard University
Abstract
This article examines A.J. Heschel’s “Theology of pathos” in light of the critique Eliezer Berkovits raised against it. Heschel’s theology of pathos is the notion of God as the “most moved mover”, who cares deeply for humans, and thus highly influencing their prophetic motivation for human-social improvement. Berkovits, expressing the negative-transcendent theology of Maimonides, assessed that Heschel’s theology of pathos is not systematic, is anthropomorphic, and reflects a foreign Christian influence. However, when checking Berkovits’s own views as a thinker, it turns out that he formulated some immanent theological notions that were overlapping those of Heschel, for example in attributing God the personal trait of caring. Surprisingly, most Heschel’s scholars did not consider this point. This riddle addressed here in two ways: (1) Psychological and Social, on which I understand Berkovits’s critique as a way of coping with his own religious perplexities, and in a wider sense, it is asserted that trans-denominational critique may be a discursive opportunity for mutual corrigibility. (2) Theological, since Heschel and Berkovits indeed faced a similar theological challenge, of rejecting any description of God as anthropomorphism. I thus offer a constructive theological argument for providing a justification to the immanent theologies of both Heschel and Berkovits.
Keywords Modern Theology  Encounter Theology  Abraham Joshua Heschel  Eliezer Berkovits  Dispute and agreement
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