In Sacred Attunement Michael Fishbane talks about the Jewish sense of place and space in the world. He talks about home, synagogue, and homeland.
Jewish thinking begins right where one is standing rooted in a place in this world. The actual house is the family’s center. According to Deuteronomy 6:9 people were to inscribe the law’s teachings on the doorposts and gates of their houses. This makes the home a religious center as well as just a dwelling place.
I was struck by his claim that this makes privacy a special Hebrew value. He points to Deuteronomy 24:10-11:
When you make any kind of loan to your neighbor, you may not go into his house to claim what he is offering as security. You must stand outside and the person to whom you are making the loan will bring out to you what he is offering as security (NET Bible).
By implication, this same kind of concern for privacy can apply to personal space. Boundaries in space imply other more mental and spiritual boundaries as well.
The synagogue is a spiritual enclave that both includes and excludes. The synagogue excludes by virtue of shared language and memory as well as tradition and social bonds. But it must always be in preparation to become something more universal. He applies to the synagogue the idea from Isaiah 56:7 that the Temple will become a house of prayer for the nations. This broadening of the boundaries corresponds to the nature of God as the one who fills heaven and earth.
You can say something similar of the homeland. The homeland, of course, corresponds to the land promised to the patriarchs and Moses. But in actual history Jews have often lived in exile and have made other places their homes. So now the homeland may appear as a world-spanning community of communities.
Yet exile is still an important concept. It is a temporary condition thought of as dwelling in tents in the wilderness. True homeland has a utopian and ideal aspect even though it is rooted in a specific place, Israel. Thus, the powerful idea of restoration has spiritual force.
In the Bible, Israel had to settle the land. That is, they did not grow out of the land or soil. They had to cultivate the land both literally and in terms of values. Fishbane does not specifically mention the modern state of Israel except to say that the whole people of Israel bear this value-cultivating task “whether it takes place in the national homeland or someplace else.”
One of the spatial orientations he deals with is that of “near and far”. Culturally, near refers to what is native to the homeland and far refers to exile and outland. But when Isaiah 57:19 speaks of “peace, peace to those far and near”, it now should be interpreted beyond its original meaning of peace for both homeland and exile communities. It should now be extended to world peace and the offering of the Torah’s concept of shalom to the whole world.
The only other Jewish theology I have read is Michael Wyschogrod’s (I am not sure how to pronounce this name, having only seen it in print) The Body of Faith. Wyschogrod makes much of the doctrine of the election of Israel. So I notice that this doctrine does not play too much of a role in Fishbane’s theology. Oh, I think some kind of an election of Israel is assumed. But Fishbane usually moves on quickly to say that there is also an aspect to Jewish theology that speaks to the world beyond Israel.