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uni'wissen 1-2013_ENG

mission: “The rabbis replaced ‘evil’ with ‘every­ thing.’ This may only be a slight change in wording, but it causes a massive change in the content of the sentence,” explains Oberhänsli­ Widmer. Theological debates of this kind were the starting point for her study. She wanted to find out how Jewish thinkers treat the phenome- non of evil: “The distressing contradiction does not stun the priests, scholars, philosophers, and poets. It drives them on to think in new catego­ ries in order to explain the relationship between good and evil in new ways.” The researcher investigated texts representing 3,000 years of Jewish history – from theological sources in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic and phil­ osophical writings by Moses Maimonides and Moses Mendelssohn to Sigmund Freud’s psycho­ logical treatises and contemporary novels, plays, and poems. Her aim is to illustrate the range of Jewish culture, which unites a wide variety of traditions, says the researcher: “Judaism is made up of documents in countless languages from almost every country on Earth.” Despite this diversity, she discovered parallels in the ways in which Jewish thinkers have argued against God: “Criticism is allowed, but you first have to situate yourself within the lines of thought in Jewish culture.” Even non­religious modern writers cite religious thinkers and teachers before stating their opinions. “What counts in Judaism is the lines of tradition. You can’t explain the world out of nowhere like Aphrodite, born from foam.” From Plato’s Chariot of Souls to Freud’s Psychoanalysis The Jewish scholar found a similar integration of new thought into established lines of tradition in the notion of the “evil impulse,” a rabbinical concept from the 1st and 2nd century after the birth of Christ – a time in which the Jewish wise men in Palestine were greatly influenced by The Hebrew Bible introduced images of evil like chaos monsters and fallen angels. These figures have changed from century to century in the course of Jewish history – not just in theological texts. Photo: Marén Wischnewski/Fotolia “Without an evil impulse, the human race would not make any progress” century, Jewish poets, shocked by the horrors of the Holocaust, gave the figure of Cain a new twist, stylizing him as a henchman of the Nazis, a human monster created by God as the originator of evil. Absurdity Engenders New Categories A god who torments, destroys, oppresses – is that the same god children pray to, the same god who is supposed to watch over them? This absur­ dity is already present in the Bible. In Isaiah 45:7, God proclaims: “I form the light, and create dark­ ness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” This Bible verse is a theo­ logical scandal, stresses Oberhänsli­Widmer: “If the passage weren’t so prominently placed in one of the books of the Old Testament prophets, one would be inclined to simply cut it out.” The verse was always a thorn in the side for rabbis, says the Jewish studies professor. They twisted it and turned it this way and that, but they never tried to keep it from being known. After all, it enjoys a prominent place in the liturgy: Practicing Jews sing the words in their daily prayer. Perhaps this is why religious teachers took the edge off of the verse during the course of its textual trans­ 34