Divine Providence

According to some thinkers, God only watches over people in a general way; according to others, divine providence extends to the minute details of life.

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The later master, Hayyim Halberstam, similarly states: "It is impossible for any creature to enjoy existence without the Creator of all worlds sustaining it and keeping it in being, and it is all through divine providence. Although the Rambam [Maimonides] has a different opinion in this matter, the truth is that not even a bird is snared without providence from above."

There are tales of Hasidic masters rebuking disciples who idly plucked grass as they walked along, since each blade of grass has its own particular place in the divine scheme.

Providence Today

Contemporary theologians, Jewish and non­-Jewish, have grappled with the problem for divine providence posed by the greater realiza­tion, through scientific research, that everything proceeds by cause and effect. If God's providence extends to particulars, what pre­cisely is the relationship of this type of providence to the perceived (and predictable) natural processes?

Some have argued that scientific explanation employs probabilities in place of certainties. There is still a random element, acknowledged by the Jewish thinkers mentioned earlier, even in the picture of nature provided by scientific theories and it is in this area of "chance," as Ergas has said, that divine providence comes into operation.

Others have approached the subject from the point of view of existentialism. For the religious existentialist, God's providence does not consist in affecting the outcome of natural processes but in the way we relate to them. The problem is acute, but then so is the problem, of which it is a part, of how God can be both transcendent and immanent.


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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.