Jewish Review of Books

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Wonder and Indignation: Abraham's Uneasy Faith


The book of Genesis never tells us why God fell in love with Abram. Jewish tradition has often tried to fill in the blanks, to tell us something about the patriarch that would explain God's embrace of him and his descendants. Surely, at least some of the rabbinic sages seem to have thought, Abram must have done something to earn God's affection? The most famous answer is that Abram fearlessly destroyed his father's idols, exposing the theological bankruptcy of idolatry. So celebrated and widespread is this story that many Jews are shocked to learn that it is not found in the Bible itself.

But there is another, less well-known rabbinic story of covenantal beginnings that is worth reading closely. As it has often been translated, the midrash reads as follows:

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About the Author

Shai Held is co-founder, dean, and chair of Jewish thought at Mechon Hadar. His book, Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call of Transcendence, is forthcoming from Indiana University Press in fall of 2013.

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