Talmud this Shabbat: The Book of Job, And You, on the Eve of Rosh Hashanah

The Book of Job is an orphan. It has no ritual home. It has no spot on the calendar. It is associated with no holiday. Kohelet has a home—Sukkot. Megilat Ester has a home—Purim. Shir Hashirim has a home—Pesach. Megilat Rut has a home—Shavuot. But the Book of Job is left to graduate students, divinity students, and scholars, an ancient text that is sad and opaque, and for the most part unloved and unread.

Job is not just good, he is perfect. In a recent Hartman on-line lecture, Micah Goodman points out that Job is described in ways that no other person in the Hebrew Bible is described—”blameless and upright, he feared God and shunned evil.” And yet, he loses his family, his friends, his wealth, his health.

Why? Why do bad things happen to good people? The traditional reading of the Book of Job is quite pious. It is what Micah Goodman calls the big, cosmic theory. Namely, God created the world, and we humans didn’t. God is big, and we are small. God is eternal, and we are mortal. Therefore, humble mortal, accept that there are things we cannot understand. But God who created the world has a cosmic rationale which is unknowable to us.

In his lecture, Micah proves conclusively that this pious read is dramatically wrong. The Book of Job does not offer us the cosmic read, but mocks the cosmic read. The message of the Book of Job is that the reward and punishment system of the Bible is broken. It does not work. And there are no explanations or answers for that brokenness. When you examine the sources in the Book of Job itself that Micah cites, which we will do tomorrow, there is no other way to read it. It is not piety. It is a parody of piety.

All of which leads to Micah’s suggestion that perhaps the best home for the Book of Job is the high holiday season. Perhaps the message of the Book of Job is that we are to go to God with our questions that have no answers. We do not need to sacrifice our intellectual integrity to get close to God. We do not need to suppress our doubts and questions to get close to God.

Would reconceiving prayer as a mode of talking to God about our questions, our doubts, our tumult make prayer more honest, more relevant, more alive?

Shabbat shalom and shana tova,