PESC-1: Religious and inter-religious education
1.1 Prof Dr Howard I. Bogot : 
Pursuing an Ethical Foundation: The Significance of God-Talk
(Nuremberg Forum, 25 September 2000)

 
Rabbi Prof. Dr. Howard I. Bogot, author of many books, had just published „a non-political, trilingual invitation for children to discover that peace requires caring for all peoples while accepting the challenge of making the world a better place“: Shalom, Salaam, Peace, New York CCAR Press. In his lecture he explains the principles of his approach.

Perhaps the best way I can create a landscape through which we can travel together during this presentation, is to tell you the story of Mendele. There was once a young man named Mendele. He belonged to his small town orchestra, but was not a very popular musician. Indeed, no matter what music was being played, Mendele was always two beats behind. Whether the orchestra was doing Beethoven, Bach, or Mozart, Mendele was always two beats behind, and when the music ended, he was still playing. It was announced that the Crown Prince was going to pay a visit to the town where Mendele lived, and everyone got very excited. Of course, the orchestra would play some very special music for the occasion. The big question was would Mendele play in time with the others? The big day came, and the Crown Prince arrived. The orchestra struck up a fanfare, and began to play the special music. And sure enough, Mendele was two beats behind. No matter what the conductor’s signals, Mendele was not with him. It was very frustrating for everyone. Then, just as the concert was coming to a close, a most wonderful thing happened. The heavens parted, and through the opening everyone could see and hear the heavenly orchestra ? and the angelic musicians and Mendele were playing together… in perfect time. He was two beats behind his friends on earth, because he was playing in time to the heavenly beat. We have come together to study the environments of thought and action in which ethics and spirituality are nurtured. For me, the challenge is to explore the ways in which learners—especially young children—can be educated to embrace Mendele’s internalised and natural sense of “sacred time”.

I suggest we begin with some assumptions concerning God-talk that reflect my study of Judaism. In classic Jewish texts, I find two authentic ways to describe the essence of God. Although significantly different, both types of God-talk promote a unified ethical mandate.
Designative usage is best classified as the traditionally, predictable theological point of reference. Designative God-talk relates to a definition of God’s nature as an entity; an otherliness. It is the foundation for the style of believing in established faith communities. Believing, in this frame-of-reference, reflects an assumption that a given proposition is informationally valid.[1] The designative use of the word God is, understandably, the frame-of-reference in which the atheist declares that the statement, “God exists” is informationally inaccurate. However, this is the only appropriate context for such a declaration.
Indicative, evaluative, dramatic and impressive valuing is the dominate usage of the word God in the language of contemplation, prayer and other forms of religious experience. It is connotative, in terms of expectations, rather than a denotation of fact. Thus, God is a “code-word” for the hope and trust that people have in a life (world) of optimistic options; healing not sickness, relief of want, comfort rather than tribulation, triumph instead of adversity, friendship in place of hostility and helpfulness replacing scorn. Rather than an entity, God is a process that empowers messianic strivings, personal, interpersonal, intimate and global. 
To summarise, religious Jews (including halachic, progressive, and humanist believers) describe the nature of God from two authentic but, mutually-exclusive perspectives; God-as-Entity and God-as-Process. God-as-Entity profiles an otherliness that exists beyond human (or other aspects of life) realms of control and total comprehension. [“God is the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Creator of the world.”] God-as-Process images a life-defining and alteringor phenomenon that is accessible to humankind and understandable as well. [“God is the oneness that spans the fathomless aeons of time.”]
The spiritual impact, of these divergent views, is the same on Jewish ethical education: Avoiding evil is insufficient. Each human person has the free-will to choose between right and wrong. Just as God is “involved” in affirmative action for the “good”, so should each individual. From the religious perspective, an ethical Jew attains this status when she/he “has acquired, as far as this is possible for the human person using intelligence honed by reason, the knowledge of God.” (Maimonides) 

Jewish God-talk has promoted various models for ethical decision-making. Each reflects a perspective that is best expressed in Hebrew. Let’s consider six.
1)  Asher Kid’deshanu B’mitsvotav
(God) makes us unique by means of mitsvot (commandments).
For religious Jews, who believe in God-as-Entity, ethical mandates have been set forth as the revealed will of an all-knowing, ever-present, all-powerful God. They are components of the taryag mitsvot (613 commandments) in the Torah.[2]
For religious Jews, who believe in God-as-Process, ethical mandates are self-selected as obligations through the study of and confrontation with classic Jewish texts, Jewish group-life norms and Jewish historical experience, as well as the ideals and traditions of Jewishly identified loved ones and leaders.
2)  Hinei Mah Tov uMah Naim, Shevet Achim Gam Yachad 
How good and pleasant it is for people to live together in mutual respect.
In order for an individual Jew’s behaviour to reflect ethical character, that person must strive to achieve unity with God. is in the Universe as manifest in the laws of Nature. In order to condition oneself to embrace and experience the morality of God-in-the-natural-world, a Jew’s ethical decisions must promote social unity. (Spinoza)
3)  Chai Bahem
Live in the mitsvot. 
Every Jew’s response to the mandates of Torah must have a rational focus. Ethical decisions are those that negotiate a „golden mean“ between excess and deficiency. This balance is the source of true happiness. (Maimonides)
4)  V’ahavtah L’reiachah Kamochah
Love your neighbour[3] as you wish to be loved. 
It is the ethical duty of every Jew to act in ways that do not impose on others the tyrannies that the individual has rejected for her/himself. Tyrannies that are barriers to a person acquiring a consciousness of freedom are unethical. 
5) Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh BaZeh 
Each Jew is responsible for every Jew.
“The laws of morality...are an outcome of national character. They are a fruit which ripens little by little through the ages...not in accordance with a system laid down and defined at the outset. They change constantly of their own accord, reflecting change in the nation’s circumstances, character and need.” (Ahad HaAm)
A Jew’s ethics (as revealed in decision-making and behaviour) should be a reflection of Am Yisrael’s “national character”. Jewish “national character” can, at the present time, be partially understood through the study of the Basic Laws enacted by the State of Israel and the published resolutions of Jewish organisations in the Diaspora.
6) Betselem Elohim 
The human person is created “in the Divine Image.”
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh („I will be that which I will become“) profiles God as potential to be actualised. contrast to the “stage names” of God as Adonai or El Shadai, the essence of God, in Jewish thought, is existence. Thus, Jewish ethics constitute individual and group initiative, advocacy and strivings to nurture a “godly existence” for all creation. 

This sixth and final model for spiritually enriched Jewish ethics is the educational foundation for the children’s book, Shalom, Salaam, Peace. Although nurtured by the universal application of many models of Jewish ethics, the impact of Betselem Elohim is the most poignant. Thus, an overview of the book’s textual imagery, as related to a “godly existence” is appropriate as an example of an educational strategy for connecting spirituality and ethics. Hopefully, this book will help every learner to discover the Mendele within. I’ll quote the text and then share a very brief comment relating the words to God-image ethics. 
1) “rainbow highways in the sky”
Just as the biblical rainbow signifies God’s promise to refrain from destroying the earth, regardless of its evil doers, as an act of CHESED (dependable lovingkindness), so every individual must establish a covenant with self and others. of us must promise to nurture, rather than destroy, protect rather than endanger, promote rather than discourage and, in all ways, be optimistic. 
2) “joy-filled eyes that once saw only sadness”
GEULAH (redemption) reflects the image of God as redeemer. Every individual can be a redeemer: another to feel good about him/herself self and others cope with stress weakness and sustaining self-esteem vulnerability and dealing with fear.
3) “when love is everywhere, a hug, a kiss, a handshake, a smile, a gentle touch” 
“When a stranger settles with you in your land, you shall not oppress the individual. That person shall be treated as a native born among you, and shall love (AHAVAH) that man or woman as yourself, because you were strangers in Egypt...I am Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh.” (Lev. 19:33-34) Love is not an indiscriminate expression of affection. Love requires empathy, an ability to be sensitive enough to one’s own needs that it is possible to intuit the needs of others. 
4) “happy children feeling sometimes sacred, surprised and angry, but always safe” 
The implication that people can have EMUNAH (confidence) in God is profiled in the reference to God as Tsur Yisrael (Rock of Israel). is the gift of confidence. Our sensitivity to others, the willingness to be a loyal friend, the readiness to forgive and the capacity to be a thoughtful and trusting confidant are all attributes that foster feelings of safety.
5) “when dreams become workers working, hungry tummies fed” „when daffodils, cactus, oak trees, palms, wheat and raspberries grow in fertile soil” „when all enjoy unlettered landscapes with fresh air, clean lakes and sparkling streams” “when there’s always time for reaching, resting, healing, climbing, playing, writing, painting, hammering, rhyming, dancing”
God is responsible for MAASEI V’REISHIT (works of creation). People must take responsibility (as in the relationship between a lessor and lessee) to care for all Creation. Caring for the environment is an aspect of TIKKUN OLAM (repairing the world). TIKKUN implies “repairing” the quality of human life; emotional, psychological, social, political and economic aspects. 
6) “when fences with unlocked gates encircle bows, arrows, swords, tanks, land mines, missiles and hand-guns recycled to playground toys”
“Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor experience war anymore.” (Isaiah) is the God-inspired, anti-militaristic peace message expressed as prophetic idealism. This concept of Olam HaBa (world-to-come) is the ethical SHELICHUT (mission) which qualifies every individual as an Eved Adonai (servant of the Unique One).
7) “when friends are short, tall, thin or chubby, light skinned or dark with straight or curly hair”
ADONAI ECHAD (God is a Unique One) is described as using a single mold to “mint” the creation of all humanity. This midrashic allegory profiles the common denominator that is shared by all humankind, the God-image inheritance. The ethical implication is each person’s responsibility (guarantorship) and embrace of every person (Kol B’nai Adam Areivim Zeh LaZeh).
8) “when wishes come true for those who want to live in houseboats, tents, apartments, mud huts, palaces, tree houses, homes of stone, brick or wood” “when grandmas, grandpas, infants, toddlers learning how to walk, men, women, girls,  boys, college students carrying books and folks with disabilities like those in wheelchairs, treasure life and are treasured too”
The prayer Baruch Atah Adonai Elohenu, Melech HaOlam; Shehecheyanu, Vekiy’manu, Vehegiyanu, Lazman HaZeh challenges humanity to exalt God’s giving of life, providing support and enabling us to pursue messianic time. The categorical imperatives that are implicit for the realisation of sacred time provide the context for transforming moral commitment into ethical realities. 
9) “we know what peace means”
The fact that “God’s name is Peace” and the verbal root of the Hebrew word SHALOM expresses fulfilment and completion, as in the drawing of a circle, challenges the religious ethicist to pursue both microcosmic and macrocosmic messianism. Peace is, obviously, not just the absence of conflict. Peace, as a Jewish ethical concept, is Divine Images imitation mobilised within each person. acknowledged, these images of God become the canvas on which all peoples, families, religions, governments and societies paint a landscape of perfection. 

When I finished preparing these musings for you, I really felt that we had the chance to educate a global generation of Mendeles. But, there is one more story to consider. According to Jewish legend, when the angels discovered that human beings would be created with the Divine Image, they were very disturbed. The angelic Board of Directors decided to hide the Divine Image to sustain their unique relationship with the Holy One. An angel suggested that the Divine Image be hidden on the top of the world’s highest mountain. This was countered with the observation that explorers in hot air balloons would easily discover that hiding place. But the reality of jet planes ruled out hiding the Divine Image on the wind and, when it was suggested that the Image be hidden in the deepest part of the sea, the angels received a little reality therapy when reminded that submarines were quite efficient. The angels became very depressed. Now they were convinced that human beings would soon take away their political clout in the heavenly realms., joy returned, when one of the most perceptive angels proclaimed: “Let’s hide the Divine Image inside each human being. They’ll never look for it there!”

[1] Example: So as not to even suggest that information related to Moses in the Chumash supports the assumption that he (Moses) redeemed the Hebrews from slavery, Moses is not mentioned in the halachic Haggadah. God is the designated Redeemer. Indeed, the first of the Ten Commandments states this designative information, explicitly.
[2] Note: From the perspective of the Orthodox Jewish philosopher, Samuel Raphael Hirsch, the ultimate realisation of Torah results from a Jew’s response both to God-generated teaching and the natural revelation of an individual’s moral consciousness.
[3] Please note that rabbinic commentaries suggest that the neighbour is a person who is contributing to the welfare of society. 

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