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Reviewed by:
  • Sacred Attunement: A Jewish Theology
  • Donald J. Dietrich
Sacred Attunement: A Jewish Theology, by Michael Fishbane. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. 238 pp. $30.00.

This book began as an attempt by the author to provide his family with a spiritual discourse on his values and perspectives. Over time his horizon of concern and the maturity of his audience developed. Thus, Fishbane's scholarly and reflective work serves as a father's view of truthfulness and tradition as well as an analysis of the contemporary meaning of Jewish theology. He has effectively distilled his years of immersion in the Jewish scriptures, worship, and practice into this relatively brief overview, and in doing so he has shown how the Jewish scriptures can serve as a lens for contemporary faith and moral practice.

Fishbane has succeeded in "doing" theology for those adhering to modernity and post-modernity with its refusal to accept universal values and modes of thought. His path into theology is marked by concrete human experiences. These religious traditions, the articulated thoughts of the dead vibrating in our communal society, help create an experiential web of thoughts and expressions swirling in our minds and are connected to thoughts about God. Each person's everyday consciousness is permeated by traces of transcendence in such a way that theology can reappropriate these mundane reflections on God for use in daily life. Jewish theology, according to Fishbane, is based in the natural and supernatural realities, but with an eye to maintaining human experiences and yet not delimiting God by human language and consciousness. Jewish theology stresses that the study of scripture is not just the retrieval of historical data by looking hermeneutically at the text as the theological expression of primordial concrete truth. The history of interpretation builds on the notion that the study of the scriptures is a nearly sacred spiritual discipline that has produced [End Page 156] a multi-dimensional systemic biblical interpretation. Thus, textual study has emerged as a discipline of ethical and spiritual self-cultivation.

Scripture, therefore, ceases to be simply a corpus of received laws and beliefs, but now becomes an authorizing schema for ongoing meditative reflection and action. In Fishbane's view, Jewish theology is multiple and pluralistic as well as a living practice, while not being life itself. In essence, Jewish theology is an attunement for the message of revelation. Such a theology is not merely a type of thinking, but is actually a type of living, a refashioning of the self through the connection, according to the Frankfurt School, of theorie and praxis.

This living theology, according to Fishbane, is a continuous attempt to speak of the reality of God and is involved in the deliberate directing of the self toward this truth. In this act of theologizing no evasions are permitted as we search for the sense of God as a living reality in our lives. Such a living theology should seek to integrate the various intentions and behaviors in our lives. This ongoing process of adaptation and clarification is conversely a signifier of living theology. Dead theology occurs when the tradition becomes an object of veneration in its own right.

The task set out by Fishbane is to investigate whether theology is even possible, since we hardly have a cohesive worldview to which it can be attached, and have to observe from the current perspective that each human seems to be seen as the "measurer" of all things, since we are beset by competing forms of cognition as well as by diverse sources of cultural values and memories. Yet, to sense the unfolding of the Godhead into the world, we have to return to our ordinary experiences and process these into a theology. In brief, divine truth and human truth are correlated, and so the vastness and pluralism of the world becomes the arena for human habitation as well as a sphere for instruction. By nurturing an attentive consciousness, theology enlivens the soul toward God.

Fishbane centers much of his speculation on religious practice. One central task of theology is to bring its ideas, historically layered through the ages, into everyday life to test them out. Theology and life go...


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pp. 156-158
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