Love and Fear of God

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In Jewish thought the love and fear of God areoften understood as complementing one another. Fear without love can easily result in a too rigorous and ultimately stultifying approach to the religious life. Love without fear can just as easily degenerate into sheer sentimentalism.

There is no single Jewish understanding of the concept of the love of God. On the whole, two distinct tendencies emerge. On the one hand, there are Jewish teachers, represented particularly in the Rabbinic tradition, who prefer to speak of the love of God in terms of the practical details of the religious life. For them, to study the Torah and keep its precepts is the love of God. On the other hand, there are those who understand the love of God in its mystical sense of intense longing for the nearness of God and for communion with Him. But even this latter group of teachers emphasize the great difficulties in the way of attainment of their ideal and teach that in its highest reaches it is only for a few very rare souls.

In medieval Jewish thought a distinction is drawn between two kinds of fear: fear of punishment and fear in the presence of the exalted majesty of God. The latter comes very close to the feelings of awe and dread described in Rudolf Otto's phrase as the ‘numinous’.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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