Idolatry and Pluralism in Jewish Tradition: The Mishnah, Monotheism, and Trust in the Power of the Unique God
RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY IN EUROPE: A PROBLEM-SOLVING APPROACH IN THE PERSPECTIVE OF COMPARATIVE THEOLOGY AND CULTURAL STUDIES
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Weiss, D. Idolatry and Pluralism in Jewish Tradition: The Mishnah, Monotheism, and Trust in the Power of the Unique God. RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY IN EUROPE: A PROBLEM-SOLVING APPROACH IN THE PERSPECTIVE OF COMPARATIVE THEOLOGY AND CULTURAL STUDIES. https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.35148
In contemporary society, it could easily appear that committed religious stances represent a challenge to the goal of building a pluralistic society, as communities with strong religious commitments have often been viewed, particularly since the Enlightenment, as insufficiently tolerant of ‘unbelievers’ or those outside the religious in-group. Within this sphere of religious commitment, monotheistic stances could potentially seem even mor¬e incompatible with societal pluralism, and, in particular, the traditional monotheistic opposition to ‘idolatry’ could seem to pose a yet greater problem in this regard. In connection with Jewish tradition, the Hebrew Bible, with many quite violent-sounding condemnations of idolatry and idolaters, might seem an unlikely source for a pluralistic orientation towards religious diversity. However, as I seek to show here, the interpretation given to the Hebrew Bible by the Mishnah – a foundational text of rabbinic Judaism, alongside the Bible itself – enables us to view ‘opposition to idolatry’ in a surprisingly different manner. Rather than insisting on the unacceptability of idolatry in the broader social sphere, the Mishnah recasts relations to idolatry in ways that enable a monotheistic community to live in peace alongside practices and practitioners that rabbinic Judaism, from out of its specific theological commitments, judges to be idolatrous, while refraining from participating in those practices themselves. At the same time, the Mishnah’s critique of idolatry is not fully passive or acquiescent, as it also contains elements of social protest and resistance, which function to oppose social-political practices that negate human dignity and that annul the image of God through unjust decrees of death and capital punishment. In this way, the Mishnah can be viewed as pointing to a liberating vision of monotheistic community that simultaneously participates in society alongside religious others as neighbors, while also practically highlighting God’s distinctiveness through active non-participation in practices that violate God’s prohibitions against idolatry and unjust violence. Moreover, insofar as the Mishnah’s stance can be seen as drawing upon theological dynamics that can also be found in the Hebrew Bible itself, exploration of its distinctiveness may also have implications for biblical-monotheistic traditions beyond the specific sphere of classical rabbinic Judaism. Thus, far from merely posing a hindrance to notions of pluralism and tolerance, we will discover that the Mishnah’s approach to idolatry can provide productive fresh directions for contemporary thinking about social multiplicity and its relation to religious-monotheistic commitment.
External DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.35148
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/287833