FOR THOSE WHO CAN'T BELIEVE by Harold M. Schulweis


Overcoming the Obstacles to Faith
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 A sincere but largely unconvincing attempt to answer the questions posed by Jewish skeptics and nonbelievers. As spiritual leader of Congregation Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, Calif., Schulweis (In God's Mirror, not reviewed) is perturbed by the indifference--often bordering on hostility--that characterizes so many Jews' relationship to their faith. To his credit, he does not dismiss their complaints but sees them, in fact, as justifiable and even ``honorable.'' He insists that debating the existence of a supreme benevolent omnipotent being is firmly rooted in Jewish tradition. For those who question God's ability to answer prayers, the rabbi responds that we cannot expect magical answers from God. The purpose of prayer is ``to open a two- way bridge,'' and to ``depend on miracles is to belittle our divinely given intelligence as well as our moral responsibility.'' In grappling with the Jobian-Kushnerian question of why bad things happen to good people, Schulweis suggests that there are two dimensions of divinity representing two complementary faces of the one God, as represented by two of God's Hebrew names: Elohim is the source of nature, while Adonai is the source of morality. Inexplicable tragedies are the work of Elohim. By accepting these events and transforming them, he argues, we express the wholeness of one God. Schulweis is more successful in responding to the universalists' charge that Judaism is parochial. Rather than betraying humanity with loyalty to the Jewish people, he argues, commitment to one's own family allows one to be more generous to others. Schulweis also scores points in defense of ritual, which he credibly presents as providing a ``rooted connection between the ache and emptiness of the present, the reverence for the past, and the promise of the future.'' Though there is some inspiration here, the book is, in the end, too logically sophisticated (as in sophistry) to reach the heart of the nonbeliever.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-06-018241-5
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1994