The God of vengeance and the God of mercy

The Pharisees are strict legalists.

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December 13, 2017 17:09
Illustration by Pepe Fainberg

Illustration by Pepe Fainberg. (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)

 LAST SPRING I saw an excellent play on Broadway called “Indecent,” which related the history of a 1907 Yiddish play by Sholem Asch entitled “The God of Vengeance.”

That play told the story of a Jewish family in which the overly strict and demagogic father called down the wrath of an unforgiving God upon his own daughter for her transgression. I’m not sure what Asch was trying to imply, but it occurred to me that the very title seemed to play into the hands of antisemites who revile Judaism as a religion of vengeance, governed by a cruel God. The title is undoubtedly taken from the first line in Psalm 94 – el nekamot Hashem – translated in the new Jewish Publication Society translation as “God of retribution” but in older versions as “God of vengeance.” Ironically the psalm itself does not depict a cruel and unjust God, but rather a God who is called upon to save the innocent, the helpless, the stranger, the widow, the orphan from evildoers who oppress and kill them.

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