Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson: ‘Coming To Know The God We Already Love’

Did you get that phrase — “Coming To Know The God We Already Love”?

What Jew talks like this? This is Christian talk.

What is primary in Christianity — faith, hope, love, humility — is secondary in Judaism and what is primary in Judaism — mitzvot, study, this world — is secondary in Christianity.

As any regular reader of mine already knows, I am a lot like God. I am slow to anger and abundant in kindness. But when I read this headline on page 22 of the latest Jewish Journal and looked at the following photo, my kindly gentle heart began to buzz:

What kind of rabbi publishes photos of himself wearing jeans and a tie-dye t-shirt? I have a hard time picturing the Rav or the Rebbe or Reb Moshe doing this.

Rabbi Artson runs American Jewish University’s rabbinics school. Well, heck, let me quote the self-description beside the article — it’s the longest for any writer in the Jewish Journal in my memory:

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson (bradartson.com) holds the Abner and Roslyn Goldstine dean’s chair of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University, where he is vice president. He teaches Jewish theology and philosophy as well as homiletics, and is the author of more than 200 articles and nine books, most recently “The Everyday Torah: Weekly Reflections and Inspirations” (McGraw-Hill). Rabbi Artson just received his doctorate from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Philosophy & Theology. He and his son, Jacob Artson, are co-authoring a popular book on process theology through the life journeys that brought them to these liberating insights.

It looks to me like Rabbi Artson also composed his own glowing Wikipedia profile.

His self-regard apparently knows no limits.

Rabbi Artson writes in this week’s Jewish Journal: “When my beautiful son, Jacob, was diagnosed with autism as a child, some 14 years ago at the age of 3, I stopped putting on my tallit and tefillin.”

So when other people’s children were diagnosed with autism, this did not affect Rabbi Artson’s ability to put on tallit and tefillin. The murder of six million Jews in the Shoah did not affect Rabbi Artson’s ability to put on tallit and tefillin. When my mother died of cancer before I turned four years of age, this did not affect Rabbi Artson’s ability to put on tallit and tefillin. But when Rabbi Artson suffered, it changed his whole view of God.

Rabbi Artson writes: “I had been taught that God was all-powerful, which would mean God could have prevented JacobÂ’s autism but didnÂ’t.”

Other people must not be real to Rabbi Artson. Their suffering made zero impact on his theology. But when Rabbi Artson suffered, he threw out the traditional view of God.

The self-absorption of this rabbi boggles the mind.

When Rabbi Artson abandoned tallit and tefillin for 18 months, he was presiding over Congregation Eilat in Mission Viejo. What kind of message is that to send to your shul? That if you don’t get what you want in life, you don’t have to keep the commandments.

Rabbi Artson writes: “I now advocate what is called process thought, which was first articulated by mathematician/philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, enhanced by philosopher Charles Hartshorne and applied by theologian John Cobb, among a growing circle of thinkers. According to process thought, everything is in the process of becoming, and every process — you, me, the world, the cosmos, God — is not a substance, a thing, but rather a distinctive pattern of energy that retains some measure of constancy in the midst of change and growth.”

This view of God is not a Jewish one. Such an energy is not God but god. God by definition created the universe and rules it.

In the beginning of his article, Rabbi Artson writes: “…I began to articulate what I believe is a revolutionary way of loving God…”

Yet, a few paragraphs later, he admits there is nothing revolutionary about his thinking. Many goyim thought this before Rabbi Artson was born. His thought is revolutionary only in the sense that it contradicts the traditional teachings of Judaism.

Neither Jews nor non-Jews will give their lives for a process of energy in the universe.

Rabbi Artson writes: “God doesn’t judge or condemn us.”

This is not the God of Torah. That God does judge and does condemn.

What makes Rabbi Artson so obnoxious is that when it serves his purposes, he’s very quick to invoke a judging God.

In 2003, Rabbi Artson suggested that Rabbi David Wolpe ask author Stephen Fried the following question: “If you believed in a God and a Final Judgement, would you have written the book the same way?”

Rabbi Harold Kushner has the same sort of theology as Rabbi Artson. Rabbi Kushner’s famous book When Bad Things Happen To Good People was stimulated by his son’s terrible illness (though the rabbi says he held his lack of belief in the traditional conception of God long before he had a son).

Only non-Orthodox Judaism with its lack of standards could produce such rabbis who devote their lives to destroying the rock of Israel.

This bit in Rabbi Artson’s bio about “He and his son, Jacob Artson, are co-authoring a popular book on process theology through the life journeys that brought them to these liberating insights” gets me.

How many people want to read books on theology by autistic teenagers?

I know I’ve got a whole wing of the hovel devoted exclusively to these tomes.

Autistic children deserve our love and attention, but this showy “co-author” stuff is just obnoxious. The New Testament counsels that we should come to God like children but there’s nothing in 4,000 years of Judaism that says that (notes Dennis Prager).

I often find American parents over-indulgent but this is the first time I’ve heard an invite to “come look at my autistic son’s book on process theology.”

PS. I emailed Rabbi Artson a link to my blog post and this inquiry:

I am curious why the diagnosis of autism for other people’s children had no effect on your ability to put on tallis and tefillin but when this diagnosis happened to your child, it destroyed your ability to do these mitzvot for 18 months?

Either other people’s suffering is not real to you or you do not think clearly.

Which is it?

PPS. The two biggest rabbis at American Jewish University apparently do not believe in God — Rabbi Artson and Rabbi Eliot Dorff.

PPPS. I did not enjoy writing this article. I think I must be losing touch with the devils that have been driving me for 40 years.

PPPPS. Joe emails:

I will not go into his University of Judaism (or whatever it is called now) profile and his “principles” but I would point out one thing about his reaction to his son’s autism and the correct “non-philosophical” way to deal with it.

There is no question that autism is a very bad situation and the parents of an autistic child bear a huge burden raising an autistic child. One could say that there are worse fates, e.g., having a child die, but that does not help you bear the burden with tranquility.

The bottom line is that the Artson boy, to use a terrible but very good analogy, is like a computer with a virus. Unfortunately for him, he did not come with the factory software. That would upset the buyer of the computer. After all, somebody screwed up and gave you lousy software.

The question is how upset can you be as a parent. One of the things that drives Artson’s upset-ness, I think, is that he is this high achiever and has a pretty high opinion of himself. How did he end up with a kid with the wrong program. I think lots of up-stat (this is a scientology term for people who do well in life) parents react very poorly to having disabled children – the lack of congruence between Artson scoring in the high percentiles versus his kid not being able to sit in class is too much to bear and leads to the type of breakdown that Artson went through.

So, that is a part of his reaction. But did his reaction help him deal with it – i doubt it. What got hime there was this ideology that is expressed in ten dollar words, as follows:

“According to process thought, everything is in the process of becoming, and every process — you, me, the world, the cosmos, God — is not a substance, a thing, but rather a distinctive pattern of energy that retains some measure of constancy in the midst of change and growth.”

This is hooey of the Elena Kagan level.

The bottom line is that life is not perfect and no where in the Torah does it say that God created a perfect world or that God is perfect. None of Rambam’s thirteen principles even state that God is perfect. God created evil, sickness, autism, etc. I do not know why and neither does Artson. I do know that there is no batter that bats close to 1.000 and there are no parents who bat 1.000 with their kids.

What I do know is that life is life, and the only thing that life gives you is that you are not dead. And because you are alive, you can get pleasure out of things. Did Artson get pleasure from not putting on tefilling for a year? probably not. Does Artson get pleasure from seeing his kid smile? I bet more pleasure than reading the works of Buber and whoever else he reads.

I actually read Artson’s article, bereft of the ridiculous use of philosophy, to state “I have learned to love life, even though life has dealt me less than I believed it should have, I probably should have realized that setting expectations of life, god, and my children probably was not worth it, because that is not how life works.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
This entry was posted in Judaism, R. Bradley Shavit Artson and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.