Response to Verma and Saxena

-Avi Gold,
Ben-Gurion University, Be'er Sheva, Israel
Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 11 (2001), 156-157.

The possibilities of global dialogue in matters of belief and faith are increasing as never before. Interaction in multiple directions brings about important questions about the nature of religion, and how understanding can be developed among members of different religions, even though their expressions of belief may be quite different from each other. It was in this context that I began to write about Bioethics from my own background, Judaism, and this was my starting point for attempting to clarify the meaning of the Jewish technical term "shittuf" and its implications in Jewish theology/law. Admittedly, I had concerns that it would be difficult for me to convey these ideas to an international audience, and so I tried to describe the subject without assuming previous knowledge on the part of the reader. It is therefore, with great happiness that I read Verma & Saxena's comment. It seems my goal was successful. Indeed, I was trying to demonstrate how 'shittuf' can bridge the gap between monotheistic and polytheistic approaches. It is particularly interesting to see how Verma & Saxena interpret the concept of 'shittuf' in the context of Hindu tradition. This is likely the first time anyone has done this! Inclusion of examples from the shlokas of the Geeta were greatly appreciated. Although Hindu tradition and Jewish tradition have developed along different lines historically, it is important to note that both traditions are deeply connected with Scripture. Through the examination of Jewish and Hindu sacred texts, we may reveal many important points of similarity, as well as important topics for debate.

Chapter 7, shloka 21 demonstrates the acceptance of multiple paths to the Infinite One in Hindu tradition. This basic acceptance that multiple paths exist and that there is not "only one path to salvation" certainly gives Hinduism a great deal of flexibility in international settings. From a monotheistic startingpoint, this is a more difficult challenge. I believe I have demonstrated the possibility of accepting multiple paths from a Jewish perspective. It remains to be seen how 'shittuf' might be viewed in Christian or Muslim frameworks. The shloka quoted from chapter 25 should be especially emphasized, as it is an affirmation of a belief that is very important to Jewish tradition, i.e. that God is limitless and that attempts to view God in human terms are at best imperfect and at worst gravely mistaken. We use human-like expressions refering to emotions of God or viewing God as a king or a father, but these are all secondary to the basic realization that actual comprehension of who/what God is is beyond human capacity. Finally, Verma & Saxena in their summary state: "Thus idol worship is not so widely different from the worship of a formless God. Idols are actually 'shittufs'. Religions, only superficially understood, have led to a lot of conflict in human history. But, if correctly comprehended, they may help developing a universal ethics." To this I reply: First, I agree, idols are basically shittuf. The theological difficulties that arise from this in a Jewish context result mainly from how the worshipper views the idol. If the worshipper is aware that the idol is shittuf, then the worshipper's perception is close to that of monotheism, although not identical. If however, the worshipper is unaware that the idol is shittuf, and ascribes power to the idol itself as an independent power, then such a perception is quite distant from monotheistic perception.

Second, there is certainly a very great need to increase understanding and deepen the dialogue among the traditions of the world. Too often the approach to the 'other' has been superficial and has resulted in extreme misunderstandings. We should strive to cause the light of understanding to shine. Comments by members of other traditions are also greatly welcomed.

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