The love of God is perhaps the most essential element in Judaism—but also one of the most confounding. In biblical and rabbinic literature, the obligation to love God appears as a formal commandment. Yet most people today think of love as a feeling. How can an emotion be commanded? How could one ever fulfill such a requirement? The Love of God places these scholarly and existential questions in a new light.
Jon Levenson traces the origins of the concept to the ancient institution of covenant, showing how covenantal love is a matter neither of sentiment nor of dry legalism. The love of God is instead a deeply personal two-way relationship that finds expression in God's mysterious love for the people of Israel, who in turn observe God’s laws out of profound gratitude for his acts of deliverance. Levenson explores how this bond has survived episodes in which God’s love appears to be painfully absent—as in the brutal persecutions of Talmudic times—and describes the intensely erotic portrayals of the relationship by biblical prophets and rabbinic interpreters of the Song of Songs. He examines the love of God as a spiritual discipline in the Middle Ages as well as efforts by two influential modern Jewish thinkers—Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig—to recover this vital but endangered aspect of their tradition.
A breathtaking work of scholarship and spirituality alike that is certain to provoke debate, The Love of God develops fascinating insights into the foundations of religious life in the classical Jewish tradition.
Jon D. Levenson is the Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard University. His many books include Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel, which won the National Jewish Book Award, and Inheriting Abraham and Creation and the Persistence of Evil (both Princeton).
"Our debt to Levenson is enormous. Here we receive the benefit of his attentive perception, which permits both Jewish and Christian readers of the Bible to see how much is shared, even given our formidable differences."--The Christian Century
"Jon Levenson's explication of these ideas is a miracle of organization, precision, and clarity. He writes accessibly and conversationally, belying his immense scholarship. The Love of God can be read for its original point of view, as a history of ideas, or as a way of finding new meaning in familiar ways of talking about God. It succeeds brilliantly on all counts."--Jewish Book Council
"An important, sober, and rewarding work that will find an audience among academic readers."--Library Journal
"A profound and erudite book that made me think about the love between God and the Jewish people in a whole new way. Prayers that will be familiar to most observant Jews--the Shma, Lekha Dodi, Yedid Nefesh, the phrase from Hosea that is said when wrapping tefillin on one's finger--take on deeper meaning with Levenson's guidance. . . . Exquisitely crafted. . . . If you are Jewish and/or interested in what the biblical commandment to love God means, go read it!"--Ira Stoll, former Washington correspondent and managing editor, The Forward, and author of Samuel Adams: A Life and JFK: Conservative
"[Levenson] skillfully weaves together a wealth of biblical passages that demonstrate that love of God entails a mutual relationship between God and Israel. . . . This book admirably demonstrates the impact of changing social realities, on Israel and on the Jewish people, amid which affection for God perseveres."--Choice
Table of Contents:
A Note on Transliteration from Hebrew xi
ONE A Covenantal Love 1
TWO Heart, Soul, and Might 59
THREE The Once and Future Romance 90
FOUR The Consummation of the Spiritual Life 143
FIVE "Because He has sold Himself to us with the Torah" 180
Index of Primary Sources 227
Index of Modern Authors 233
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Jon D. Levenson:
Cosponsored by the Tikvah Fund