Confronting God in Rabbinic JudaismUniversity of Pennsylvania Press Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion
Judaism is often described as a religion that tolerates, even celebrates arguments with God. Unlike Christianity and Islam, it is said, Judaism endorses a tradition of protest as first expressed in the biblical stories of Abraham, Job, and Jeremiah. In Pious Irreverence, Dov Weiss has written the first scholarly study of the premodern roots of this distinctively Jewish theology of protest, examining its origins and development in the rabbinic age.
Weiss argues that this particular Jewish relationship to the divine is rooted in the most canonical of rabbinic texts even as he demonstrates that in ancient Judaism the idea of debating God was itself a matter of debate. By elucidating competing views and exploring their theological assumptions, the book challenges the scholarly claim that the early rabbis conceived of God as a morally perfect being whose goodness had to be defended in the face of biblical accounts of unethical divine action. Pious Irreverence examines the ways in which the rabbis searched the words of the Torah for hidden meanings that could grant them the moral authority to express doubt about, and frustration with, the biblical God. Using characters from the Bible as their mouthpieces, they often challenged God's behavior, even in a few remarkable instances, envisioning God conceding error, declaring to the protestor, "You have taught Me something; I will nullify My decree and accept your word."
Chapter 1. Confrontation as Sin
Chapter 2. From Sin to Virtue
Chapter 3. Varieties of Confrontation
Chapter 4. Confrontation as Ethics
Chapter 5. The Humanization of God
Chapter 6. Divine Concessions
"The question of God's injustice is eternal. In bringing us such a trove of sources and in laying them out in an ordered form, Weiss has provided not only a scholarly but also a theological gift." — Reviews in Religion & Theology
"Pious Irreverence is a well-conceived and highly original work that asks to what extent and in what way the human may confront divinity, considering the evident imperfections in divinely created reality. Dov Weiss makes a major contribution to the study of rabbinic literature and demonstrates remarkably wide expertise also in early Christian and Patristic texts, contemporary studies of Judaism and Christianity, and literary theory." — Marc Bregman, University of North Carolina, Greensboro
"In Pious Irreverence, Dov Weiss makes numerous important contributions: He traces the existence of an antiprotest tradition in rabbinic Judaism from the tannaitic period to the amoraic; he identifies fascinating differences between the ways Jewish and Christian antiprotestors quarantine biblical protests; and most importantly, he underscores the crucial role of the Tanhuma-Yelammedenu literature in radicalizing the protest tradition." — Tzvi Novick, University of Notre Dame
- Winner of the 2017 National Jewish Book Award for scholarship