Erich Fromm's Midrash on Love:
The Sacred and the Secular Forms
There is a sense in which Erich Fromm’s new book, The Art of Loving, might be said to represent a 20th-century midrash—particularly on the early chapters of Genesis. This impression is created not only by several quotations from the Bible, but also by the many echoes from Biblical and rabbinic sources one seems to discern in the book.
When we call the book a modern midrash, we are fully aware of what the function of midrash has always been: to blend new insights with ancient wisdom, to infuse old myths with modern interpretations, and—since midrash is, after all, the homiletical branch of our literature—to preach. Fromm’s book qualifies on all three counts—though Fromm the preacher falls behind Fromm the analyst and Fromm the creative thinker. But then, this judgment may be entirely subjective. In this era of Hollywood sentimentality, our ears are not easily accustomed to hearing Love preached in such an “unromantic,” clinical, and perfectly antiseptic manner. Besides, Fromm himself makes it quite clear that he does not want to preach. (The professional preacher among his readers, however, may quite legitimately feel that Fromm’s love does not extend to the preaching profession, when he can make such a clear-cut distinction—as on page 133—between “preaching” and “speaking of the ultimate and real need in every human being.”)
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