God’s First Love: The Theology of Michael Wyschogrod

In an age when Jews must reject relativism on the one hand and instinctive anti-Christianity on the other, Michael Wyschogrod has shown us the way.

Paradox attends the influence of Michael Wyschogrod, perhaps the most original Jewish theologian of the past half century. An unapologetic defender of Israel’s particularity and God’s special love for the Jewish people, he has often found a warmer reception among Christian thinkers than among traditional Jewish ones. Twenty years ago, the appearance of his book  The Body of Faith transformed the way many leading Christian theologians understand Judaism. Perhaps this is not surprising”for, over his long career, this American thinker, born in Germany in 1928, has proved extraordinarily willing to draw on Christian theologians: Karl Barth, for instance, whom Wyschogrod deploys in his efforts to free Judaism from dependence on such extraneous philosophical influences as Aristotle and Kant. For that matter, in his emphasis on the uniqueness of Jewish revelation, Wyschogrod has found surprising commonalities with Christians. 

As an Orthodox Jew, Wyschogrod insists that his work rises and falls with the ability of traditional Jews to be moved by it: “Ultimately it is the Torah-obedient Jewish community that judges a work of Jewish thought,” he wrote in his 1989 masterwork,  The Body of Faith . At the same time, it is precisely the Orthodox community that has failed to appreciate his work, perhaps because of his criticisms of Maimonides, one of the most beloved thinkers in Jewish history. 

Maimonides, Wyschogrod insists, introduced extraneous influences into Judaism, partly in an attempt to reconcile Jewish religion with Aristotelian philosophy. Wyschogrod argues that Judaism concerns not a philosophical doctrine but rather God’s unique and preferential love for the flesh-and-blood descendants of Abraham. The election of the Jewish people is the result of God’s falling in love with Abraham and founding a family with him. And, out of passionate love for Abraham, God continues to dwell among the Jewish people. Maimonides, in Wyschogrod’s account, deviated from the biblical view to accommodate Aristotle’s philosophy. 

Continue reading at First Things.

How to reject relativism on one hand and anti-Christianity on the other.

How to reject relativism on one hand and anti-Christianity on the other.