Harold M. Schulweis

American rabbi and theologian

Harold M. Schulweis (April 14, 1925 – December 18, 2014) was an American rabbi and author.

The God of the sages does not merely ordain; God also listens.


Conscience: The Duty to Obey and the Duty to Disobey (2008)Edit

  • For Moses, that God should "visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation" (Exod. 20:5) is an unacceptable form of group punishment akin to the morally indiscriminate punishment of Sodom. Challenging God's pronouncement of the punishment of the sons for the sins of the fathers, Moses argues with God, against God, and in the name of God. Moses engages God with fierce moral logic:
Sovereign of the Universe, consider the righteousness of Abraham and the idol worship of his father Terach. Does it make moral sense to punish the child for the transgressions of the father? Sovereign of the Universe, consider the righteous deeds of King Hezekiah, who sprang from the loins of his evil father King Achaz. Does Hezekiah deserve Achaz's punishment? Consider the nobility of King Josiah, whose father Amnon was wicked. Should Josiah inherit the punishment of Amnon? (Num. Rabbah, Hukkat XIX, 33)
Trained to view God as an unyielding authoritarian proclaiming immutable commands, we might expect that Moses will be severely chastised for his defiance. Who is this finite, errant, fallible, human creature to question the explicit command of the author of the Ten Commandments? The divine response to Moses, according to the rabbinic moral imagination, is arresting:
By your life Moses, you have instructed Me. Therefore I will nullify My words and confirm yours. Thus it is said, "The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers." (Deut. 24:16)
  • The God of the sages does not merely ordain; God also listens.
  • God's openness to human critique is reiterated throughout the rabbinic stories of disputations between God and Jewish religious heroes. For example, in protest against God's threatening imprecations toward those who worshipped the golden calf, Moses argues against God's punitive intent: "Sovereign of the Universe, how can Israel realize what they have done, seeing that they have been raised in Egypt?" Moses reminds God that the Ten Commandments were not given to the Children of Israel, but to Moses himself, and that therefore the Children of Israel should not stand in violation of the law. It is Moses alone who may be judged culpable. Hearing the argument, God concedes, "By your life, Moses, you have spoken well."
  • Where conscience finds moral fault in purportedly divine imperatives, the imperatives need to be reexamined.

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