I wonder if to be Jewish is to be by definition lonely in the world - not as a result of the history, but on account of the theology. If ardent young men attending the yeshiva have traditionally engaged each other in intense arguments nagging at the nicer points of interpreting the Torah, it is surely because the Jewish God is notorious for evading questions directed at him. Was there ever such a one for sliding out of an argument as Jahweh? The last time he responded to a direct question must have been when the blameless Job, suffering a foreshadowing of the 20th century with the loss of his children, his worldly goods and afflicted with all manner of physical ills, demanded - quite politely under the circumstances - to know why of his maker. 'Where,' boomed the Lord, 'wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? ... Hath the rain a father? ... Out of whose womb came the ice? ... Canst thou draw out leviathan with a hook?' All interesting questions, but not really to Job's point. God does not seem to be a good communicator. Too busy with the overall scheme of things, perhaps. He'll give out ten blanket rules, but he won't tell you why your life seems to be so bloody difficult lately. The problem of the senior executive without the common touch. Catholicism seems to have understood the Almighty's failing and provided its faithful with a bevy of more approach-able under-managers, each with their own speciality, willing and able to intercede with on high on behalf of the baffled individual. A Catholic knows exactly who to apply to when hoping for better health, safe travel, release from drudgery or persecution. There is a saint for almost everything that ails you. For the Jews, however, there is only a single very busy, self-important and fractious God. So it seemed to me when I was young. I was troubled by the unreliability of prayer, rather as one feels anxious about sending important letters to large organisations.
LRB 6 March 1997 | PDF Download