Job and Josie
One of the most challenging parts of being Jewish is learning how to struggle with stories from Jewish texts that initially seem to contradict my values. When I come across these stories, I have to decide if and how they fit into my own personal relationship with Judaism. The story I have struggled with the most is the Book of Job (Iyov).
I first heard the story from my dad. It goes like this: Job is a pious man who G-d tests by suddenly taking away his fortune, children, and health. Through this experience, Job is awakened to the harsh realities of the world. Job’s friends suggest he sinned and just doesn’t know it, but the story makes it clear that Job didn’t sin. When Job begs G-d for an explanation, G-d appears and informs him that humans simply cannot understand the ways of G-d. At the end of the story, Job is rewarded for his faithfulness by being restored to his former state of wealth and health, and is given a new family, so it ends almost as if nothing had happened.
“But why would G-d do such a thing?” I kept asking. My dad didn’t have the answer, so I began to do some research.
Job is supposed to teach us to remain faithful to G-d no matter what. But it also serves as an answer to the questions: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “Why does G-d let bad things happen?” The story seems to be teaching us that we’re supposed to accept that G-d works in mysterious ways, but in the end, it’s all for the best.
I can’t accept this answer. This interpretation suggests that all of the terrible things that have happened and still happen in the world occur for a reason. I can’t reconcile the G-d I know, much less the Judaism I know, with the idea that things like freak accidents, hate crimes, and natural disasters are okay because they’re all part of G-d’s plan. Furthermore, I can’t accept that, following this logic, humans aren’t responsible for their own actions because everything is part of “G-d’s plan.”
My research was starting to upset me. I considered simply ignoring the story of Job, but then I found another explanation, one that made me feel like embracing this story rather than writing it off. This explanation suggests that what happened to Job was G-d's way of teaching Job that it’s up to man to carry out G-d’s commandments, and that we are supposed to do it because it’s what’s right, not because we want some heavenly reward.
Once I found an interpretation of Job that felt applicable to me, it suddenly became relevant. In a way, I am Job. I grew up safe and happy, and though I’ve always been interested in social justice, I’ve never really felt that it was relevant to my own life. In the last few years, however, especially with Trump’s election, I received an awakening–just like Job did–that the world is not as it should be. And, as a Jew, a young woman, and a decent human being, it’s my job (no pun intended) to work towards a more just world, and to carry out G-d’s commandments. Job was a good person who didn’t deserve what happened to him, and I have to help ensure that bad things don’t continue to happen to good people, like they happened to Job.
Like Job, I’d love for G-d to solve this problem. I want G-d to reach out from the heavens and magically make the world a fair, safe place. But as far as I know, and as the story of Job teaches, that’s not going to happen. So we need to do the work. We need to be the ones driving the change, and pushing for justice. This isn’t an easy task, but it’s inspiring for me to know that our ancestors reached the same conclusion so long ago. I feel that I can follow in their legacy, and do the best I can to be the change I want to see in the world.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Rosman, Josephine. "Job and Josie." 10 January 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 1, 2020) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/job-and-josie>.