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Terms related to this article: Judaism Analysis  Midrash Analysis  Hermeneutics Analysis 

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Continued from page 2

In The Sane Society, Fromm actually readjusts the classical Jewish concept of galut (exile imposed as divine punishment) to his own thinking. Instead of the Dispersion regarded as a setback to Jewish life in the Jewish land, Fromm offers a diaspora viewed as a healthy separation from the land until such time as the Jewish people "has overcome the incestuous tie to the soil and to nature." [17]

There are many other forced characterizations of biblical thinking that Fromm presents in an authoritative manner, as though he were describing the true meaning of the Bible (whether psychological or otherwise) and not just presenting his own views. One more sample of such homiletic license that may be cited is Fromm's characterization of the biblical view of love, especially in The Art of Loving, which does violence to the ancient texts by ignoring the element of God, and the role that the Divine plays in the commandments to love. [18]

But Fromm's best insights into the bible more than compensate for any forced characterizations we might encounter. You Shall Be As Gods contains many important interpretations of biblical texts; and there is not a knowledgeable Jewish preacher who at one time or another has not cited Fromm's brilliant defense of the Sabbath in The Forgotten Language. What is most remarkable is that it is not merely the idea of the Jewish Sabbath that Fromm defends, but the rabbinic observance of it. In the Sabbath rituals, he argued, "we are dealing not with obsessive over-strictness, but with a concept of work and rest that is different from our modem concept." [19] Fromm's concept of the Sabbath comes remarkably close to that of Abraham Heschel, who was writing at around the same time. To Fromm, the Jewish Shabbat is "man's victory over time," for "by stopping interference with nature for one day you eliminate time." [20]

One could isolate many more instances of Fromm as Jewish homiletician and Bible-commentator, but we have certainly found enough of a pattern to pose a significant question: Why the preoccupation with the Bible? Is it simply that the biblical tradition was the one that Fromm knew best, the tradition that he absorbed since childhood? And why was Fromm so intent on using Hebrew words to illustrate his points? After all, why play philological word games when one does not accept a particular text as authoritative?

The temptation is, of course, to psychoanalyze Fromm, to hypothesize, with one Protestant critic, that Fromm cited the Hebrew Bible so frequently because it still wielded a certain authority over him. [21] Yet one could respond that Fromm also cited New Testament verses, and became fascinated with Zen literature in his later years. [22] Perhaps he quoted the Bible so frequently because everyone knows many of its stories, and perhaps he turned to Zen out of a conscious or unconscious desire for new disciplines, [23] or even out of dissatisfaction with psychoanalysis.

Yet, in all fairness to Fromm, it would seem that he chose to cite the Hebrew Bible because he put it in a special category. "The Old Testament," Fromm panegyrizes, "is a revolutionary book; its theme is the liberation of man from the incestuous ties to blood and soil, from the submission to idols, from slavery, from powerful masters, to freedom for the individual, for the nation and for all of mankind." [24] The prophetic tradition in particular is glorified by Fromm as a "humanist religion" which required that man "understand his situation, see the alternatives, and then decide." [25] Rabbinic tradition, too, offers worthy guides to human self-betterment. Rabbi Akiba, for example, is described as "one of the greatest humanists among the sages." [26]

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