David Novak, one of the most distinguished Jewish theologians in the world, offers a new interpretation of how the Jewish people and the Jewish tradition talk about God. What does the Torah say about God? How does the God of the Torah talk about Godself? And how does the God of the Torah talk about human beings? The book traces the history and theology of God-talk in Judaism, and how it remains relevant, now more than ever, and speaks directly to contemporary issues such as human rights.
David Novak is the author of nineteen books, the latest being Athens and Jerusalem: God, Humans, and Nature which received the Canadian Jewish Literary Award in 2020. His 2000 book, Covenantal Rights received the American Academy of Religion Award in 2000 for Best Book in Constructive Religious Thought. He is also the author of The Sanctity of Human Life (2009) and Zionism and Judaism: A New Theory (2016). He had edited four books and authored over 300 articles and reviews in numerous scholarly and intellectual journals. He is also one of the co-authors of the 2000 manifesto, Dabru Emet: A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity, which has been translated into eight languages. In 2019 he received the James Q. Wilson Award from the Association for the Study of Free Institutions at Princeton University; and Prix Philippe Pinel in Rome from the International Academy of Law and Mental Health, and L’Académie International d’Éthique, Medécine et Politique Publique.
Chapter 1: God-Talk: An Introduction
Chapter 2: What is Jewish Theology?
Chapter 3: The Inner Life of God
Chapter 4: Seeing God
Chapter 5: Natural Law and Natural Theology
About the Author
Jewish theology, “God-Talk,” as it’s sometimes called, lies at the heart of Judaism, as David Novak tells us in the title he has chosen for this latest of his many books. Yet, despite the centrality of theology, many who are entrusted with developing, sharing, and passing on to new generations the religious commitments so central to Jewish belief and practice shy away from speaking, writing, or teaching about God. Some prefer to focus on Talmudic study. Others choose to sublimate by airing their ideological/political commitments, as though the unique teachings of Judaism had no more to tell us than we might have absorbed almost passively from the ambient atmosphere of familiar nostrums, or garnered from the passing wagons of the peddlers of exotic elixirs. David Novak has the learning and the courage to voice his Judaic commitments clearly here: Long immersed in the Aggadic literature that is the vehicle of Judaic theology, he is ready to elicit from its texts, classical and modern, what he finds (and is prepared to argue) that Judaism calls on Jews to see and hear and think about God. He invites his readers on a journey of discovery guided by the recognition that God speaks to us through the Torah, and that we in turn are called to speak to God in turn, through prayer. Perhaps the richest part of his book lies in its extensive references to the rabbinic literature that it cites. Readers who take the trouble to follow up on the extensive notes that enrich this text will find themselves in the great midrashic woodlands where Novak has traveled for decades. With him as a guide, they too will find themselves at home and will gain a judgment like his, that will enable them to journey and grow all the stronger and more independent spiritually.
What might be involved in a truthful universal discourse about God – God-talk, theo-logy in the best sense? David Novak here integrates major themes from his previous explorations of natural law, public ethics, interreligious dialogue, Zionism, theology, and halakhah. This learned but eminently accessible volume speaks from the heart of orthodox Jewish tradition. Yet it also offers a public-facing approach to fundamental theology that is philosophical, rational and eminently accessible to other expressions of faith. Respectfully answering secular atheological perspectives, Novak articulates religious God-talk in a manner that is clear but winsome and engaging, even to those who will disagree. His twentieth book is vintage Novak: a masterful theological synthesis of his work that surely deserves to become a classic.
David Novak’s God-Talk is at once timely and needful to any soul that hungers for meaning, as the body hungers for bread. Beautifully written and profoundly insightful, this book demonstrates that silence on God reduces God to an empty silence. His deft outline of the history of God in Jewish tradition opens the way to a future not only for the Jewish tradition but also for the light that the Jews are to the nations. This book is, indeed a light unto the nations and a testimony to the depth and the beauty of the Jewish tradition, without which all of humanity is turned over to darkness.
David Novak’s God-Talk presents a sophisticated Jewish philosophical theology by a premier Jewish thinker. Throughout his career, Novak has written influentially about Jewish law, ethics, and political theory. God-Talk provides the theological underpinnings for these practical endeavors, arguing for a particular methodology and deploying it to understand what can now be said about God, what experience of God can be anticipated in the future, and its practical implications for Jewish law and human rights in the present. Instead of substituting philosophy for theology, it utilizes philosophy to interpret the word of God. God-Talk is the complete statement of Novak’s theology, which should be of interest to professional theologians and philosophers as well as by thinking believers in both the Christian and Jewish faiths.
David Novak, in God-Talk, places theology at the heart of Judaism by construing it on covenantal terms that link theology to Jewish practice. Understanding theology as a normative enterprise that arises out of revelation and provides its cognitive support, Novak demonstrates the important contribution theology makes to Jewish religious observance. The clarity and erudition of his argument will benefit those interested in Jewish theology from the rabbinic to the modern period.