04 December 2014

What would Amos do?

This is just a quick follow-up to my "What would Isaiah do?" post.

I was struck by an excerpt from chapter 5 of Amos that I saw in "A Lament for Eric Garner" on Aryeh Cohen's Justice in the City blog.

Two selections from Amos made it into the prophetic lectionary (haftarot), but not this one.

Nonetheless, I thought it was great, and it felt very much in line with the excerpt I used from chapter 58 of Isaiah in my post.

Here's the JPS translation:

[21] I loathe, I spurn your festivals,
I am not appeased by your solemn assemblies.

[22] If you offer Me burnt offerings—or your meal offerings—
I will not accept them;
I will pay no heed To your gifts of fatlings.

[23] Spare Me the sound of your hymns,
And let Me not hear the music of your lutes.

[24] But let justice well up like water,
Righteousness like an unfailing stream.

The JPS is a bit different, in its details, from the (unidentified) translation Aryeh Cohen uses, but not different in spirit.

The Isaiah of chapter 58 is generally agreed to have lived far after and far away from the Isaiah of chapter 1, who identifies himself as the son of Amos. Nonetheless, we see here that this Deutero-Isaiah is a worthy literary heir to Amos.

Note that this passage from Amos, like the one from Isaiah, could be interpreted as a rejection of the ritual aspects of Judaism in favor of its ethical aspects. In my opinion such an interpretation is neither reflective of the past nor is it helpful for the present. In other words, Isaiah and Amos railed against rituals as meaningless when practiced in isolation from Jewish ethics. This criticism is as relevant in our time as it was in theirs.

Perhaps more interesting, though, is the question, is ethical behavior any less meaningful when practiced in isolation from ritual? Or, more generally, what is the relationship, if any, between the ritual and the ethical? Does ritual somehow inform, motivate, or amplify our ethical behavior?

All I can say is that these questions are important to struggle with rather than dismiss.