What is the Best Jewish Account of the Grounds of Worship of God?


  • Michael J. Harris London School of Jewish Studies




This paper brings contemporary debate in analytic philosophy of religion regarding the notion of worship into conversation with Jewish sources and attempts to identify the most promising philosophical grounds for a Jewish account of the putative obligatoriness of worship. Some philosophers have recently debated the notion of worship, focusing in particular on the claim that human beings have an obligation to worship God and on whether and how such an obligation might be adequately grounded. I first canvass the major bases for worshipping God that have featured in this debate. I then turn to some relevant liturgical and philosophical sources of Jewish tradition, identifying grounds for the obligatoriness of (exclusively) worshipping God that have been advanced in those sources. I next consider which grounds of the putative obligatoriness of worship are the most promising for a Jewish account in terms of both philosophical cogency and rootedness in Jewish tradition. I argue that a version of a divine command grounding of prayer in a Soloveitchikian mode is both well-rooted in Judaism and also plausibly surmounts philosophical objections to divine command accounts. In the final section, I briefly raise the issue of whether the concept of worship is truly well-suited to a Jewish context, suggesting that the rich Hebrew notions of avodah and tefillah are perhaps more appropriate in articulating a fully adequate Jewish understanding of the pertinent issues. In particular, I argue that these notions fit well with the Soloveitchikian divine command grounding of the obligation to worship God.






Jewish Analytic Theology