Is Kayin the Son of the Angel of Death?

בראשית פרק
ד
: (א) וְהָאָדָם יָדַע אֶת־חַוָּה
אִשְׁתּוֹ וַתַּהַר וַתֵּלֶד אֶת־קַיִן וַתֹּאמֶר קָנִיתִי אִישׁ
אֶת־יְקֹוָק
:

And Adam knew his wife Eve, and she
became pregnant and she bore Kayin. And she said “I have acquired a
man with God”.

Picking up on the odd formulation that Chava has “acquired a man with God”, Targum (pseudo) Jonathan1 reinterprets the beginning of the pasuk as well. It is not that Adam knew Chava in the classical sense- rather, he knew (or found out) something about her.

(א) ואדם ידע ית חוה איתתיה דהוה חמידת
למלאכא ואעדיאת וילידת ית קין ואמרת קניתי לגברא ית מלאכא
דיי
:

And Adam knew about Eve his wife that she was desired by an angel, and he [the angel] knew her, and she bore Kayin, and she said “I have acquired a man with an angel of God”.

(I hope I have translated the above exactly correctly. Please let me know if I have
not!)

Explaining this, (and you can also find this in Hebrew in your standard edition of Mikraot Gedolot), the Perush Al Yonatan2 says the following:

ואדם ידע את חוה וכו‘: על פי המדרש, פירוש ידע הבין, ממה שלא הייתה דמותו מתחתונים אלא מעליונים, לכך ידע שהמלאך סמאל נתאוה לה ובא עליה, וזהו איש את הפירוש עם המלאך

And Adam knew his wife Eve, etc.”: According to the Midrash, the meaning of “he knew” is that “he understood”, from this that his [Kayin’s] appearance was not from those below, but was from those above, therefore he knew that the angel Samael desired her [Chava] and came upon her 3.

So in this explanation, the angel who impregnates Chava was not just some angel. Rather, this was Samael, who may be identified with the Angel of Death, or the Yetzer Hara/Satan4. He could be citing Pirkei D’Rabi Eliezer, chapter 21, since his phrasing is similar to it5.

At any rate, I think this is a fascinating interpretation. In it, of course, Shet is the second son of Adam, not the third, and he and the murdered Hevel are only half brothers with Kayin, who is only half human, and may even be the son of the Satan himself (quite logical then, that he is the first to shed blood).

Further, things become even more interesting when we note that this midrash, which says Kayin is the son of Samael, also says that he is the first to do teshuva (see also Psikta DeRav Kahana Shuba 11 and Ramban and Ibn Ezra to Gen. 4:16).

Additionally, in chapter 22, the Midrash notes that all wicked generations descend from Kayin, which is easy to take in a non-literal sense (ie. they follow in his ways, though his descendants were killed out in the flood), or in a literal sense, that those who are evil are acting on the genetics passed on from Kayin (in which case, some of his descendants survived the flood6). If the latter is the true intent, then much of the world (all of it, perhaps?) is descended from Samael.

Notes:

1This commentary was apparently certainly not written by Jonathan Ben Uziel, who only wrote a commentary on Nach, or so says the Hebrew wikipedia:
2I’m not sure who the author is. I think it may have been written in the 16th century by David ben Jacob of Szcebrzeszyn, but please let me know/ comment
if you know otherwise. I won’t be looking into it at this time. See
here on this particular author:
http://books.google.com/books?id=n7w5AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA464&lpg=PA464&dq=who+wrote+the+commentary+on+pseudo+jonathan&source=bl&ots=jFVy8FwZ-e&sig=aUIlkzdxsXQ5Lt39AmM-RB2J878&hl=en&sa=X&ei=mJaDUurVNoLMsQS4sICQDw&ved=0CE4Q6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=who%20wrote%20the%20commentary%20on%20pseudo%20jonathan&f=false
3The best that I can tell from a short Bar Ilan search is that “Ba aleha” in the Mishnah appears to be consensual, though in contexts where the behavior is not approved of, or is a sin for some other reason. In Tanakh, the term appears to have to do with battle or land, so that it doesn’t appear in a context which seems to me to be directly relevant. Please let me know if I have misinterpreted, however.
4 See Abot dR. Natan hosafa b to nusach Alef, chapter 4, Bereshit Rabbah, Vayera 56, Shemot
Rabbah Beshalach, 21, Devarim Rabbah,
V’zot HaBrakhah, 21.
5 The same idea appears in chapter 22 there as well.
6 eg. through Naama, as in Midrash Rabbah, cited by Rashi on Gen. 4:22.

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Aaron, the High Priest, should have been Executed!

Aaron, Moses’ brother, should have been executed for the sin of the Golden Calf. If not through the plague that ravished the nation (Exodus 32:35) “because of what Aaron did,” then possibly when Moses rallied the Levites (Exodus 32:17) to execute 3,000 of the Golden Calf participants; if not then, there was still another chance to Divinely off Aaron when Moses forced the Israelites to drink the ground-up Golden Calf-water mixture (Exodus 32:20). In a failed attempt at exculpating his actions, Aaron throws out the disclaimer: “you know the nation is evil (Exodus 32:32), only further validating his guilt. True, Moses interceded on Aaron’s behalf (Deuteronomy 9:20), but then again, Moses himself also rebuked Aaron (Exodus 32:21-4), as Aaron was guilty of breaching the Israelite religion’s most basic proscription. As a witness to these events, the charge of nepotism must have appeared even stronger than when Aaron and his family were handed the Israelites’ eternal priesthood. Everyone actively involved in the Sin of the golden Calf is killed, save Aaron.

As Aaron survives the incident, he remains a candidate for the position of Kohen Gadol. But, when we take a step back, the fact that Aaron becomes Kohen Gadol is surprising, to say the least. Rabbinic literature assumes that the Israelite firstborns were originally intended to serve as the Israelite priests, but because of their role in the Sin of the Golden Calf, this honor was wrested away from them and handed over to the Aaronic family and the Levites. Indeed, originally Moses along with the rest of the Israelite leadership sent the “Israelite youths” (who Rashi identifies as Israelite firstborns) to enter into a covenant with God on behalf of the twelve tribes (Exodus 24:5) and later the Torah states that God sanctified the firstborns when he did not kill them in Egypt (Numbers 8). Nonetheless, eventually the firstborns are swapped for the Levites (ibid), without a reason being offered. Ironically, there is not even a whisper of firstborns transgressing by Sin of the Golden Calf (despite Rabbinic literature’s pronouncement), while Aaron is rightfully fully chastised; and yet, firstborns lose their choice status, in lieu of the least likely candidate!

There is an ambiguity in most people’s memory of the narrative which stands at heart of this matter: when does Aaron become a Kohen? On the one hand, one sedra earlier (Exodus 28 & 29), the process prescribing the sanctification of the Aaronic family for priestly service is found. As this sedra appears before the Sin of the Golden Calf, if one assumes the Torah is written in chronological order, it would be impossible to defend the premise that the Aaronic family only became the priestly family after the Sin of the Golden Calf. On the other hand, if the Aaronic family only became the priestly caste right before the erection of the Tabernacle, then we revert to the question of why: why would they be deserving after Aaron sinned so heinously?!

The worship in the Tabernacle is the Israelite religion’s way to worship God. Most other forms of worship were completely unacceptable. But, the commentators argue over whether it had to be that way. Ramban argues that humans have a natural drive to serve God, and depending upon a society’s resources, humans will serve the Deity however they can. Ramban offers the example of Cain and Abel’s offerings. Never was Adam or his two sons Divinely ordered to serve or praise the Divine Being: Don’t eat some fruit: yes, serve God through sacrifices: never prescribed. Accordingly, when Cain and Abel decided to offer animal and fruit offerings (Genesis 4), they were tapping into an underlying psychological drive to worship God through physical means. Or maybe, they just felt like it was the right thing to do. Either way, the Ramban cites this example as proof that sacrifice and offerings always existed, and would have existed had the Israelites sinned by the Golden Calf or not.

Rashi, on the other hand, offers a different understanding of offerings.  Rashi contends that the existence of the Tabernacle, of priesthood, prescribed offerings and times, etc. are a consequent of the Israelites failing by the Sin of the Golden Calf. Without that mistake, the Israelite firstborns would have been the sole priests for the nation. Every family would have its own personal priest, instead of one family owning all the priestly positions.

When one understands the fundamental reasons behind the two positions, it becomes clear that Rashi and Ramban are not that far apart from a worship perspective. Rashi would agree that Cain and Abel brought free will offerings. Indeed, even after the Tabernacle’s erection, free will offerings still existed. But, that should not undermine the obligatory elements of Temple service. Priesthood, in its ‘post-sin of the Golden Calf incarnation’ actually incorporates both elements: obligatory and free-will offerings. Originally, firstborns would have offered whatever offerings they chose, but after the sin of the Golden Calf, only the Aaronic family could offer these offerings on behalf of families. Unhindered religious expression is too dangerous a tool for most people, so it was taken away from the Israelites and handed over to one people. According to Rashi, this was the necessary consequent of the Sin of the Golden Calf. The sin was rooted in the people’s false belief that anyone can access God however they want (through whatever means they want), so God had to repudiate such a juvenile notion.

Aaron is already wearing his priestly clothes in this picture

Aaron is already wearing his priestly clothes in this picture

But why was Aaron chosen for this role? According to Rashi, the Tabernacle only existed as a consequence of the Sin of the Golden calf. As Aaron lead the Israelite towards the Sin of the Gold Calf, he should not have even been a candidate for the position. Really, he should’ve been killed with everyone else who sinned with the Golden Calf! In truth, the choice of Aaron as the High Priest was his punishment. He took it upon himself to lead the Israelites down the road of arbitrary (idolatrous) worship. Instead of insisting that the worship of God be underscored by basic monotheistic principles, he allowed for arbitrary worship to take place: worship that was authentic and genuine, but misguided. His punishment was that he would have to be on top of one of the most fussy, nitpicky and meticulous systems of worship ever prescribed. This is no coincidence. This is the exact punishment that one would expect for Aaron and his family considering his sin was creating an idolatrous vehicle for the worship of God.

So, the Aaronic Priesthood is a mixed blessing. It has both positive and negative elements. First, it took on all the positive elements of a human’s natural desire to serve. Through the priest, people can offer free will offerings. But, those offering are limited in scope, in times, in how they have to be eaten, killed, burnt, etc. These regulations are the punishment (or the tikun) for the misguided belief that caused the creation the Golden Calf.

When Aaron’s two sons (Leviticus 10:1) die because they offer an unauthorized offering in the Tabernacle, Aaron remains silent. He understood that he was originally spared by God for the sole reason to teach others that worship of God cannot be about themselves. Of course, he could not comment upon their deaths and took their deaths as a fact of life. It is not without irony that we note that Aaron’s firstborn, Nadav, died in this incident. It would be disingenuous had God permitted Aaron’s firstborn to serve in the Tabernacle in lieu of all the Israelite firstborns, considering that Nadav’s father, Aaron, is the one that brought about this change. He had to die.

(1) The only mention of this swapping process is found in Numbers (chapter 8) where it states: “[The Levites] are given to me from among the Israelites in place of the firstborns.” While Aaron is never singled out as earning his status in place of firstborns, the Torah states that God is “giving the Levites to Aaron and his sons” to work in the Tabernacle. Not only is he now High Priest, but all priests and Levite families are his admins!

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Kill the Copts… No Kill the Syrians… No Kill the Jews!

;SDLKdnkf;wkng'ksjddg'askdjfThis past month a church in Minya, Egypt was forced to cancel Mass for the first time in 1600 years. While over the past two millennia the Coptic Church has experienced no shortage of anti-Christian sentiment and persecution in Egypt, the lawlessness towards Christians hit a zenith recently. For Copts, distancing themselves from their holy sites – if those edifices still happen to stand – was the only reasonable course of (in)action considering the utter brutality carried out against the Copt’s infrastructure. In fact, in the last two weeks, 37 churches have been destroyed, scores of Christian businesses ransacked and several worshipers have been killed by Muslim Brotherhood members. As the Brotherhood represents the pro-Morsi Islamicist side of Egyptian politics, Copts – as Christians – are (rightfully so) seen as siding with the army and pushing for a strong, secular Egyptian government. While Copts make up about ten percent of the Egypt’s ninety million strong population, this nine million person minority clearly experiences the daily pangs of Islamicist persecution.

While Egypt experiences a taste of civil war, Syrian civilians – especially around Damascus – suffer the real thing daily. With China and Russia obstructing the UN from taking a unified stance against Assad’s regime’s killing of civilians, most Western powers feel chained by the specter of Iraq and the belief that unilateral action is unfavorable, and must be shelved as the preferred method of a true world power.

Allow me to raise the following hypothetical: if Jews still remained in Egypt or Syria, what would be their plight? As we can be certain our imagined Jewish minority would have voted against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in post-Mubarak elections last year, would their plight be any different from the Copts? Could we even suppose that this Jewish minority – representing significantly less than the ten percent of the Egyptian population that the Copts claim – would not have been persecuted? Indeed, we could be sure that a mini-Kristallnacht would have been perpetrated against the Jews over the last month. On the Syria front, what if Jews had not trickled out of Syria since 1948? In truth, the world cannot even protect Sunni Muslims from the Shiite and Alawite ruling party of Syria. As Assad kills thousands of innocent civilians, gases cities and brutally tortures traitors to his cause, what would be the plight of the 2013 Syrian Jew had they not fled over the last six decades? Ought we to believe that the world would intervene if these Syrian Jews were genocidally killed during the Syrian revolution? Syrians cannot even protect themselves from their own cruel regime with over 100,000 murdered and counting, and as pointed out above, Russia and China obstruct world efforts to intervene. Would the world, today, intervene to save the Syrian Jew? The Christians of Egypt can claim over a billion Jesus followers worldwide who can do nothing for them but watch in horror. Sunni Muslims also enjoy over a billion adherents, but no one intervenes. So, would someone stand up for our hypothetical Jew? The only reason that a Holocaust does not occur today is because there are no Jews left in all those Arab lands, and those Jews happen to be reasonably safe in Israel already. Let not one of us lie to ourselves and believe that in 2013, our contemporaneous Human Rights Council or the world’s sense of morality and ethics would prevent a Holocaust against Middle Eastern Jewry in Arab lands if not for the safe haven that is State of Israel. Only through Israel is there life for these Jews!

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How Many Biblical Authors?: Rabbi Emanuel Rackman

Rabbi Emanuel Rackman received smikha from Rabbi Moses Soloveitchik, and an LLB and doctorate of philosophy from Columbia University. He was the rabbi of the 5th Avenue Synagogue, the provost at Yeshiva University, and the chancellor of Bar Ilan University for many years.

I’ve started reading Rabbi Emanuel Rackman’s very interesting and well written One Man’s Judaism (Philosophical Library, NY 1970) with the goal of summarizing some of his fundamental views of Halakha, and I want to share a fascinating point he makes at the beginning of the book. The book begins with two short essays, one a general overview of how he understands Judaism, and the second a short description of some more personal stances, including the following:

“In my commitment, what matters is the fact that God did actually contact man- patriarchs and prophets- and covenant with them. How he did it will continue to be the subject of both conjecture and interpretation, but that He did it in history is the crucial point for me. As creation is a fact for me, though I cannot describe the how, so is revelation a fact, though its precise manner eludes me.” (p. 18)

In this short expression of faith, Rabbi Rackman tells us that revelation is a historical fact, its historical reality is crucial to his faith, and that he’s not sure how it took place. This presumably means that like most of us, he does not know how prophecy works.

He continues:

“The most definitive record of God’s encounters with man is contained in the Pentateuch. Much of it may have been written by people in different times, but at one point in history God not only made the people of Israel aware of His immediacy but caused Moses to write the eternal evidence of the covenant between Him and His people. Even the rabbis in the Talmud did not agree on the how.”

I’m not sure what Rabbi Rackman’s intent is in this comment. Does he mean that God encountered man, who wrote down or preserved pieces of prophecy, before Moses rewrote it from scratch through his own prophecy? Or when he suggests that “much of it may have been written by people in different times”, does he simply mean that indeed, the Bible may have multiple authors, because the patriarchs wrote down their prophetic experiences which were supplemented and perhaps edited by Moses, who wrote the “eternal evidence of the covenant between” God and the Jewish people?

The latter understanding, controversial as it is, seems to better explain his note that “Even the rabbis in the Talmud did not agree on the how.”

Crucial to our understanding of this point is another quote from Rabbi Rackman, which I saw in a guest post by Rabbi Michael Broyde on Hirhurim:

“The sanctity of the Pentateuch does not derive from God’s authorship of all of it, but rather from the fact that God’s is the final version. The final writing by Moses has the stamp of divinity-the kiss of immortality.” (Judaism, Spring 1969, page 153)

As R. Broyde explains it, This is a sort of “Orthodox version of the documentary hypothesis”, allowing for “claims that there might have been a J, P, E or D, but the R (who the secularist call “the redactor”) really is Moshe Rabbenu mipi haGevura.”

This view seems to imply something which our first quote did not: perhaps when God, through prophecy, instructed Moses to write and edit the Torah, the instruction was to include materials which were not originally prophetic at all!

At any rate, Rabbi Rackman writes that while the mode and details of prophecy are subject to some disagreement, there is something the Rabbis all agreed on:

“But all agreed that the record was divine and they cherished it beyond description, even as they cherished a manner of exegesis which Moses simultaneously transmitted to his colleagues and disciples. In their ongoing relationship with God they sought to fathom the meanings- apparent and concealed- of every word and letter of His revelation. And that quest has not yet ended.”

This being the case, Rabbi Rackman seems to emphasize in two short paragraphs that the importance of revelation is that it occurred in history, but not how exactly it occurred in history, which may seem to fly in the face of Rambam’s seventh and eighth principles, which we have summarized elsewhere. However, Rabbi Michael Broyde, in the article noted above, writes explicitly that he does not consider Rabbi Rackman’s views to be in violation of the 13 principles. In his opinion, Rabbi Rackman doesn’t contradict the Jewish dogma that “each and every word” was given to Moses at Sinai; “He just speculates as to where God got the original material for the Torah from.”

Returning to Rabbi Rackman, it is also important to note that in his opinion,  the “definitive record” of God’s meetings with man (ie: the Written Torah) was accompanied by an Oral Torah, which included rules to understand every word of its written counterpart.

Does Rabbi Rackman’s overall position, if I understand it correctly, open up the possibility for the kind of vision Rabbi Zev Farber shared in his controversial essay on TheTorah.com?

I don’t know, and as I continue to read the book, I’ll revise this post if I find important supplementary points or something which contradicts what I’ve said here.

To close, we’ll allow Rabbi Rackman to finish his thought as he does in the book:

“Even as He willed that man be His partner in the conquest of the earth, so He willed that man proclaim His holiness and help history ultimately to vanquish nature. For this purpose the Law was given.”

Related:

What Are Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith?

Is Modern Biblical Scholarship a Danger to Traditional Belief? (Part 1): Rabbi Menachem Leibtag

Is Modern Biblical Scholarship a Danger to Traditional Belief? (Part 2): Dr. James Kugel

Is Modern Biblical Scholarship a Danger to Traditional Belief? (Part 3): Q&A session with the two authors above

Was the Whole Torah Given to Moses at Sinai?: Rabbinic Sources That Say No

Is Modern Biblical Scholarship a Danger to Traditional Belief? (Part 5): Dr. Nahum Sarna

Revelation, Tradition, and Scholarship: A Response (Guest post by Ben Elton)

Modern Orthodoxy and Modern Bible Study (Guest post by Ben Zion Katz)

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Authority with Autonomy- R. Emanuel Rackman

“…Moses prayed that the entire congregation might consist of prophets. In periods of overwhelming Jewish illiteracy -as when the Hasidic movement emerged and today- there was and is an undue amount of unquestioning reliance upon “Rebbes” or so called Gedolim (great men). I regard this phenomenon as unfortunate. When Jews become more knowledgeable in their Jewishness, I hope they will recapture in their personal lives a great amount of autonomy, interpreting and applying cherished source materials even as they continue to rely on centralized authority in most matters affecting persons other than themselves.”- Rabbi Emanuel Rackman in his One Man’s Judaism page 19-20 (Philosophical Library, NY 1970)

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by | August 18, 2013 · 5:09 pm

How Does Halakha Work? (R. J.D. Bleich)

Rabbi J. David Bleich is a Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, an expert in Jewish law and medical ethics, and the author or editor of some 15 books.

I thought I might write a little bit about the theories behind Halakha as a system according to Rabbi J. David Bleich, who is the author of the Contemporary Halakhic Problems series, a prominent Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, and the head of its advanced Kollel Le-Hora’ah. Less known are his short book on Ralbag’s theory of providence and his work on Jewish belief entitled With Perfect Faith, of which I have only read the first. At any rate, he’s a genius and expert in Judaism, so he’s a person in a good position to tell us not just how Halakha might be applied in specific situations (or general theoretical ones), but also what the theoretical underpinnings of Halakha are. The reason I mention his knowledge of Jewish philosophy is because this indicates we can rely on him to be expert in Jewish belief, which cannot be separated from Jewish Law.

Anyway, in his introduction to the fourth volume of Contemporary Halakhic Problems, Rabbi Bleich writes a little bit about the nature of Jewish Law, and I thought I might summarize a few of his points from there. If I recall correctly, this introduction describes Halakha in a way which is quite similar or the same as the introduction to the first volume of the series, and I think we can assume R. Bleich is consistent. However, I encourage you not to take my word for it, which is really something you can only do on a blog, since there’s basically no accountability. This, of course, is one of the reasons no one respects blogs.

On to some important points from Rabbi Bleich:

1:

 “Halakhah is an intellectual discipline, but its pursuit is accompanied by awesome moral and religious responsibility…halakhic error or laxity is as dangerous to the soul as other forms of error may be to the body.” (p.xi)

This demonstrates, as we noted, that Jewish Law and belief are tied to each other. Our values have to accompany our legal pronouncements. Additionally, Halakha is not just a cultural treasure or expression. Rather, the “mitzvot…are a matter of spiritual life…”

2:

“There is nothing in these volumes…that is innovative in the true sense of that terms, just as there is nothing innovative in a treatise on physics. Both disciplines have as their subject a closed, immutable system of law-physical in the case of the latter, regulative in the case of the former.” (p.xii)

Here Rabbi Bleich describes Halakha as a closed system, with internal and set rules which guide it as a process. New rules aren’t invented, and what looks like new is really something old being exposed in a new way. Like physics, the world hasn’t changed just because we now know that the world isn’t flat. Rather, our understanding of the old immutable laws has expanded. So too in Jewish law, old rules are understood in a new way, though they have never actually changed.

This being the case, we should now note Rabbi Bleich’s position that Halakha is a totally objective system “in its pristine form”. Thus, subjectivity may creep in, but this is not ideal. Rather, it should be treated as math is, with set rules to be followed.

So too, like science, the Halakhist acts “on the basis of the canons of his discipline as understood by his quite fallible intellect, not on the bassis of subjective predilections.” (p.xiii)

If we put this idea together with the notion that Jewish Law and belief should not be separated from one another, perhaps we might come to the conclusion that Jewish Belief is objective, at least in some ways, and within certain limits. For instance, we might say that it is an objective Jewish belief that the Torah is Divine, but that there is no objective position regarding rationalism or mysticism. This is just an example, but if Jewish law is to remain objective, and it cannot be separated from the fear of Heaven (p. xi), then the fear of Heaven must have an objective understanding in some way.

3:

“Leniencies and permissive rulings exist in abundance. The point is to seek neither the stringent nor the lenient, but the view that is most authoritative. Moreover, there usually is a view which has been accepted in practice by the majority of poskim as the accepted standard. Thereupon, such a ruling becomes normative and deviation cannot be considered other than by virtue of  compelling reasons.” (p.xiii)

R. Bleich tells us that his above point is obvious to anyone with a complete instruction in Jewish Law, but that some need to be reminded. These people try to reconcile Halakha with the outside world or outside norms, when, as R. Bleich has already told us, Halakha is a closed and independent system. Therefore nothing new can be brought into it, even though there lenient positions available to be relied upon if we do in fact allow ourselves to influenced by the outside world.

An example of this might be the question of women who wish to be called up to the Torah. This is permitted according to the strict law (in Rabbi Yehuda Henkin’s opinion1), and we might wish to call for equality and institute this practice. Should we do it? No Halakha will be broken. R. Bleich tells us that the answer to this sort of question should be sought by turning to the authoritative positions in Jewish law, and measured according to its own norms.

4: While Halakha is objective, there is disagreement, since no two minds are the same, and even the same formal rules can be interpreted differently or given different weights by competing authorities (p.xiv). These authorities must be more than computers who can spit back relevant sources, and their understanding of the “art” of Halakhic decision making entails the ability to identify relevant issues and questions, and apply the principles they’ve learned. Additionally, there are policy calls, even though policy cannot judge between competing theories or precedents (p.xv). I’m not exactly sure where the line is drawn in Rabbi Bleich’s opinion. He does tell us public guidance may need policy considerations, even though the law may be clear. For instance, if a rabbi is afraid that a group will misapply a permissive ruling, he may tell them it is not permitted.

However, Rabbi Bleich makes the following important point:

“Unfortunately or otherwise, it has become the practice in some highly erudite and respected rabbinic circles for halakhic authorities to issue pronouncements decrying certain practiced without indicating that those statements are prompted by policy concerns rather than by immutable halakhic standards. This has given rise, in the eyes of some, to the entirely erroneous perception that Halakhah itself is policy driven and hence, in the final analysis, subjective in nature.” (p.xvii)

Suffice it to say that this problem is widespread, and it creates a terrible ignorance of actual Halakhot, beyond convincing people that Halakha is whatever rabbis want it to be, according to their own policy considerations. If Rabbis can do whatever they want to push what they see as Jewish values, then there is no end to how they can change our religion, whether by adding to the law or getting rid of it entirely. Even more informal interpretations of Halakha therefore must admit the strong objective elements that are present in it which guide it.

5: Lastly, this may be clear already, but I’ll note it anyway. Halakha deals with new modern questions, in Rabbi Bleich’s opinion, but it has clearly formulated rules as to how to deal with these questions. It does not pay attention to modernity or modern philosophies on their own merit then, but merely examines the new situations which arise due to them, and then independently asserts what the rule is (p.xvii).

I think I summarized the gist of Rabbi Bleich’s approach as portrayed in his introduction to his fourth volume of Contemporary Halakhic Problems. I hope I haven’t misled you in regards to his opinions, but I recommend you check out the book and his essays in Tradition anyway, so you can make the call then. At any rate, Rabbi Bleich is a tremendous Talmid Chakham, but suffice it to say that his opinion is not the only one around. It is however,  fairly clear, though I’m still left with questions regarding policy and subjectivity in making judgement calls. If Halakha is supposed to be totally objective, what exactly is the missing piece which keeps Halakha from being like math? Why is the fear of Heaven required, so long as as the clear and formal guiding rules of Jewish law are followed? And if the fear of Heaven is required, what exactly does it mean to be a qualified ya’re shamayim?

R. Bleich answers the latter that “In its most fundamental sense yir’at shamayim, fear of Heaven, is the reflection of a conviction that halakhic error or laxity is as dangerous to the soul as other forms of error may be to the body” (p. xi), but I’d like to read more about this point. What are the non-fundamental elements to the fear of Heaven? And why does “fear of Heaven” seem to mean a fear for one’s soul when Rabbi Bleich knows that yir’at shamayim is best translated as “awe of Heaven”, which would most likely be more akin to recognizing God’s greatness and then desiring to serve him because He is God, not because our souls may be damaged if we do not? How important are the answers to these questions, and what if someone gives the “wrong” answer? Perhaps Rav Bleich addresses this elsewhere; I don’t know. If you do, please send me the reference or a link.

1Understanding Tzniut: Modern Controversies in the Jewish Community, page 101-105 (UrimPublications, 2008)

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An Animal’s Right to the Pursuit of Happiness…. in Poland

shmu-gha    This month Poland’s parliament rejected a government-backed bill that would permit slaughterhouses to ritualistically slaughter (shechitah) livestock. Lawmakers who opposed the bill said that shechitah is cruel to animals. This stance proved interesting for the wider Jewish world for several reasons: first, it singles out Jews (and other co-religionist minorities) who will only eat meat that is killed in a specific way, and second, as the stance ostensibly was made in the name of morality, indirectly the Polish government was rejecting Jewish morality.  Of course, governments limiting the rights of Jews to practice their own religion are commonplace; but, one of the reasons that this headline was so special is because of its location: Poland. Since the Holocaust, world Jewry, rightfully so, has been extra sensitive to anything that can even be construed as anti-Semitic from the former largest hub in the world of Jews. Many feel that Poland has lost the right to single out Jews, even if said hounding fits within the country’s present moral compass. Putting aside the feelings of anti-Semitism Jews experience throughout Europe by their European brethren (according to many recent polls), the Polish Parliament insists it is acting out of a sense of moral responsibility. They believe one ought inflict as little pain upon the animal victim as possible. To an outsider, this viewpoint sounds down right righteous. It could even lead ethically minded Jews to asssert that Jews should also ban shechitah if it is deemed immoral. ‘Morality over choice of food’ has to be a mantra somewhere. In fact, even according to Jewish law, there is a proscription to unnecessarily pain an animal (Tza’ar Ba’al Chaim), so far the traditional community there is also reason to fret. Israel even proposed a ban on the import of foie gras because of the force-feedings geese endure to produce these large livers. Similarly, one can may make the argument that shechitah should be banned even according to Jewish law and that the Polish government are acting righteously (as in fact they believe).

Several years ago, I watched a video of some Philippine locals, who happened to live in a forest, killing a cow at a festival. As I watched, I realized how hard it is to kill a cow. This is something that most Westerners do not appreciate. Cows are big and don’t want to die. The aborigines group repeatedly stabbed at the cow with spears, but only after piercing it several dozen times did it finally die (or at least fall to the ground). When Jews started slicing at a cow’s jugular and letting it bleed out several thousand years ago, I promise that was an improvement from what many other Ancient peoples were doing to kill their dinner (or their children). By far, it was the most humane, and safest way (for humans) to kill the cow. Today, the world believes that it has found the next stage of evolution in the most ethical method of killing animals, namely stunning. Just as Jews all switched to shechitah several thousand years ago, perhaps Jews should get with the times and, at least add stunning to the shechitah process.

There are several types of stunning that, depending on the type and size of the animal are used throughout slaughterhouses today. A) The pneumatic stunner delivers a blow to the animal’s head. B) The captive bolt pistol shatters the brain of the animal. C) The electric water trough delivers an electric shock to poultry. D) The electric brain stunner is generally used on sheep. The actual act of killing the animal usually takes place after one of these actions has been carried out on the animal. The animal may be passed out, or on the verge of death anyways when it is killed. Accordingly, it will not feel the pain of death.

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Unfortunately, stunning has been met with halachic concern from rabbis worldwide. For the purposes of shechitah, one of the key factors that must be taken into consideration is whether the stunning porcess is reversible; in other words, if we were to leave the animal alone after it has been stunned, would it recoup from the blow/shock or would it eventually succumb. When the process is irreversible, the animal becomes a treifa, and even if the neck is slit subsequently according to Jewish Law, it still remains un-kosher. As many stunning processes are irreversible, it has proved a sticky moral area for Jews living in countries that mandate stunning. While we are not here to question the moral center of these countries with stunning legislation, let’s take a step back and figure out why stunning became the political norm for livestock and poultry.

Even Jews know the best way to cook a lobster is to drop it live into boiling water. In fact, crustaceans can develop bacteria that would be dangerous for human consumption soon after its death. So, for health reasons (and in the name of freshness), this has long been the desired method of killing lobsters and crabs. Many of us have heard rumors (or possibly high pitch whispers) that lobsters scream when they are lowered into the boiling pot, but as they have no vocal cords, this appears reasonably impossible (even if we do hear something). On the other hand, some have tried to show that lobsters do not feel pain when put directly into boiling water. Indeed, a 2005 study financed by the Norwegian government concluded as much. Others have concludes that they do feel pain (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pain_in_animals ). Interestingly however, it appears that the only area of debate for most political institutions is whether these animals feel pain. But when we speak of treating animals justly, I believe we can list several additional issues that we might take into consideration, aside from causing unnecessary pain.

  1. Freedom: Impinging on the animal’s right to life, to be happy, to prosper.
  2. Fear: Scaring the bujeezes out of the animal by allowing it to watch other members of its species executed right before its own death.
  3. Egalitarianism: why do cows have special rules for a fun execution that lobsters, fish and millions of other species do not. Ought we not take the same care and consideration when we kill a small animal with that when we kill a large animal? Does size (or pain receptors) dictate how we treat others. If a human had no pain receptors, would that direct us in the way that we deal with that person, or execute that person?
  4. Heroism: some would prefer to look death in the face; live those extra last seconds with pride and contemplation of the present reality; stunning the animal pilfer this right.
  5. Dignity: Stunning an animal is not a dignified death. Defending its own life as a leopard or lion tries to rip out its jugular: that’s a dignified death. Some would rather take their chances on nature’s circle of life instead of mankind’s ego of commercialism.
  6. Individuality: a specific reason (aside from freshness) why one animal is killed instead of another
  7. Respect: should we not regulate the way that the carcass is dealt much in the same way that do for humans; it is unbecoming to just toss or disregard certain parts of the carcass; maybe, if a piece of the carcass is not used, it ought to be buried.
  8. Unnatural: the cow is not naturally part of the human’s food chainsdfdsffds

Was this exercise ridiculous? Did you feel I should’ve stopped already by #2? Did you feel that you’re wasting your time as you read about caring for animals a bit more than usual? Indeed, some may feel I’m anthropomorphizing the animal victims’ situation; after all, animals don’t have the same exact feelings as humans! They don’t complain about rights or demand justice. Well that’s myopic of you, to care only about your perspective. Nonetheless, this biased starting point – that animals feel pain like humans, and therefore they should die in the way that a human would want to die if s/he was going to be eaten by someone higher on the food chain – is the reason, and the sole reason for the Polish legislation and much of the animal legislation worldwide. Simply put, according to most governments, animals have no rights. Humans have rights, and when animals remind us of humans, then those animals have rights as extensions of human rights. Animal pain reminds us of human pain; therefore, we must care about it. But, a pack of wolves roaming a forest freely do not remind us of a group’s right to self-determination, so that pack lacks the ability to determine its own sovereignty. Or, to speak of an animal’s rights of equality or pursuit of happiness, in and of itself, appears silly. But, when we speak about the way that an animal ought to experience death, politicians immediately assume a parallel to humanity: humans would prefer being stunned before death (or at least politicians would); humans would prefer pain-free deaths; therefore, that consideration is what we must take into account when slaughtering animals. Similarly, humans don’t like small houses, or limiting our range of motion. Hence, California’s 2008 proposition 2 legislated the minimum cage size for chickens. Nonetheless, regarding the basic underlying issues, we remain silent and uncaring for any other rights animals might be thought to enjoy.

Judaism never endorsed this ‘most pain-free’ model. In no Rabbinic text is it ever claimed that ritualistic slaughter is the most pain-free method of killing an animal. Recently, many Rabbis and Imams have spilled way too much ink trying to justify Judaism or Islam in the eyes of Western values on this topic. In fact, there’s a surprising, little known rule in Judaism that demonstrates Judaism’s unique perspective. If a calf fetus is found in an already slaughtered cow, the fetus has the status of ‘already slaughter.’ It does not need to be ritualistically killed again to be eaten and can be killed however one chooses, even though that calf is technically 100% alive, just not halachicly alive. In such a case, the Rabbis added that one must kill the animal in a spectacular way so that onlookers know that this is a special case, a case in that shechitah is unnecessary. The Talmud recounts that, in such a situation, a Rabbi once decapitated two cows (who had ‘already slaughtered status’) in one fell swoop of his arms. Apparently, this Rabbi (still bound by the proscription of not unnecessarily paining animals) deemed decapitation a fine way to end livestock’s life. Indeed, given the option to kill the animal however he wanted, he chose decapitation over countless other ways of killing the cows. From this account, we can conclude that shechitah is not necessarily the best way to kill an animal. Shechitah was chosen, I believe, because it is the method that kills the animal in a safe way for the human, in a reasonably pain-free way for the animal that appears dignified and shows respect for the victim and its blood.

At the function, given the status of the two cows (that need not shechitah), the Rabbis legislated that respect is not the most important function of killing these animals. Instead, making people aware that the animals have a special halachic status was paramount. The fact that the Sages chose to redefine the parameters of the how to halachicly kill an animal given some situation itself shows the subjective nature of these laws and that Judaism was not specifically overly preoccupied with the most pain free death. (And we should note that the Rabbis had no problem positing lo ploogs - that we do not differentiate a case even though some of the variables are different – thereby they could have madated that shechitah is still necessary on these two calves.)

Where Poland goes wrong, where the world goes wrong is in not dignifying the animals’ death. Everyone must die: every animal, every plant, every living thing. All we ought to wish for those deaths is a dignified death, one that shows respect for the sacrifice that living organism has made towards the circle of life. But, when we speak of rights, we simply speak of the way that humans would want other humans to deal with him. There is no reason that this should be the litmus test for the treatment of animals. It is certainly not how other animals treat each other, yet the Polish government sees no reason to infringe upon the way that one animal mutilates another.

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Solving the Tuition Crisis: a Proposal

Problem: As with most ills in the universe, one is hard-pressed to care or put forth the mental effort to ameliorate an issue before the problem personally impacts one’s own life. Looking down the barrel of a $30,000+ bill for my three children’s Jewish Day school tuition has swiftly led me to look at the crisis under new light. I stand ready to propose an answer. I have laid out this proposal to many friends, parents, educators, and professionals, and have received mixed reactions. Like most issues that affect the Jewish community as a whole, my proposal will not solve the whole kit and caboodle, but it should lead us on the right track towards lowering Day School tuitions, lessen the need for financial assistance, and further concretize the realization that only an integrated and systematic communal approach to this issue will resolve the problem.

Proposal: Upon the completion of Day School (generally either 8th grade or 12th grade depending upon the Day school), the parent agrees to offer a small annual gift, say $100, towards the school indefinitely.  The parent would agree to this donation before his/her child is accepted to the school, and it would be a pre-condition of the child’s acceptance to the Jewish institution. If the parent refuses to accept this additional philanthropic stipulation, then the child will not be accepted to the school.

Reasoning: When a parent sends his/her child to a Day school, the parent is actively rejecting public school education (and possibly many private schools as well). In effect, the parent is claiming that I believe that the Day school is better for my child, or fits in better with my values (or has some ulterior motive). Regardless of the reason, the person is buying into the philosophy of the school, directly or indirectly. The parent may be choosing the lesser of the two evils in choosing the school, and may not fully agree with many of the school’s educational, political or philosophical decisions; nonetheless, the parent is still choosing the school, for better or worse.

While it makes sense to support an institution that will eventually benefit your family, it is harder to compel parents to start paying a percentage of tuition, or donating some nominal amount to the high school they intend to send their kids, even if they know they will send them there, before their kids come of age. On the other hand, after the fact, once their children graduated from the school, the fact that the parents entrusted their most valuable possessions in the world to this institution to teach them how to be a person, prepare them for life or even simply babysit the child all day, is reason enough to continually support the school. In truth, this is the argument that development officers makes towards alumni and parents of alumni all the time. Sometimes their arguments work; sometimes it falls on deaf ears.

Defeaters

  1. Parents will not agree to this indefinite arrangement.      Answer: They could send their kids elsewhere. There’s a public school somewhere that will be happy to accept that student. Unless a parent buys into the philosophy, financial stability and longevity of the school, why ought a school accept that kid? Let the parents find another school.
  2. Parents need to see immediate benefit to this arrangement or they will be angry and despise the school. We should not cause the parent to hate the school even before their child starts.     Answer: They will see an immediate benefit after the first graduating class. Let us imagine that half of this supplementary donation goes to the school and half towards tuition assistance. At the beginning of the year, parents will receive a letter that tuition is, in the first year possibly $2 less because of this program, and each subsequent year, the tuition will be lessened more and more. Over time, parents will see the substantial benefit that they reap from this program.  Of course, it might be a bit demoralizing to receive such a small decrease at the start, but every program has to start somewhere.
  3. Some people will agree to this arrangement and never fulfill the annual pledge upon the child’s graduation. Are we to sue them?        Answer: People are people. There are always people who will not fulfill their pledge to a Jewish organization. That is not a reason not to accept pledges or to compel people to make them.
  4. When a child graduates, the parent will still experience the hardship of High School, or even college. It is unfair to impose an additional financial burden upon the parent in this instant.     Answer: In this case, it makes sense to allow the parent to postpone the gift by four years. There are probably thousands of other examples of financial hardships that a parent may claim. First, this is why the gift is such a small amount. It shouldn’t push anyone over the edge. Second, delays in the payment in extenuating circumstances are obviously completely fine.
  5. If one is compelled to give charity, then it is not charity. In truth, it is simply an additional bill. We should call a spade a spade. Answer: First, most traditional Jews donate ten percent of their salary to charity. According to many commentaries, this is at least a Rabbinic prescription. Nonetheless, even though G-d or the religion mandates this donation (AKA it is obligatory), no one claims that it is not charity anymore. Charity can, in fact, be obligatory and still remain under the definition of charity.
  6. Schools will continually raise tuition prices, off-setting any benefit this proposal may have.    Answer: it is true that most schools raise the tuition annually, but that does not mean that supplementing the tuition would be meaningless. The financial committee who sets the annual tution price would be expected to act in good faith and set the tuition independent of this auxilary fund.

Conclusion: My three siblings and I graduated from the Samuel Scheck Hillel Community High School in North Miami Beach, Florida. My mother was never truly excited about our education there and always harbored several complaints and/or reservations regarding our education. Nonetheless, she continued to send all of her children through its system. In fact, my family has Hakares HaTov (goodwill) towards Hillel and for the good that it generated in our lives. It is our family’s alma mater after all. Nonetheless, I promise that my family has never given another penny to Hillel after my youngest sibling graduated. This is because we felt that our contractual arrangement with the school had finished. We might even reason, “Hillel got as much as it could out of us while we there with its high tuition, so why should we continue supporting Hillel subsequently? That is its current students’ parents’ job now, not ours!” As long as we do not currently gain some form of gratification from the school, they will not receive our dollars. This myopic, juvenile, self-centered approach truly destroys the financial stability of schools, and shows a lack of care for the well-being of the Jewish community as a whole. Let us contractually agree to donate! My proposal seeks to change the way that we view the institutions in that we choose to educate our children. Let us be partners with our school.

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Modern Orthodoxy and Modern Bible Study

by Ben Zion Katz

Dr. Ben Zion Katz’s  guest post is the 7th part in a series discussing whether modern biblical scholarship is a danger to traditional Jewish belief. The first 3 parts, two talks and a Q&A session from Rabbi Menachem Leibtag and Dr. James Kugel, are available herehere, and here. The fourth part, a very short list of some Rabbinic sources that do not believe Moses is the sole author of the Torah, is available here, and a short look at Dr. Nahum Sarna’s approach to the matter can be found here. Our last post, a thought provoking guest post by rabbinic student Ben Elton, is called Revelation, Tradition, and Scholarship: A Response. It is available here.

The Torah is the basis of all Judaism. In traditional Jewish thought, the Torah is considered to have been dictated by God to Moses, and the text of the Torah that we possess is considered to be a record of that revelation. It has been claimed that modern, critical biblical scholarship and traditional Judaism are irreconcilable. This book demonstrates that modern biblical scholarship is not as scientific as its proponents make it out to be, while traditional Jewish exegesis is more critical than is commonly appreciated. A synthesis of the two approaches is presented in the concluding chapter.

It has been claimed that modern, critical biblical scholarship and traditional Judaism are irreconcilable. This book demonstrates that modern biblical scholarship is not as scientific as its proponents make it out to be, while traditional Jewish exegesis is more critical than is commonly appreciated. A synthesis of the two approaches is presented in the concluding chapter. (from Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Journey-Through-Torah-Documentary-Hypothesis/dp/9655240886)

At present, the Modern Orthodox intellectual world is engaging academic Bible study with renewed vigor.  In addition to this website, there is also thetorah.com and the recent comments by Professor Marc Shapiro on the Seforim blog, for example. Perhaps the plethora of books dealing with this topic on an accessible level by authors such as Richard Elliott Friedman, James Kugel, Marc Brettler and others, or the teachings of Rabbis Bin Nun, Leibtag, or Bazak in Israel to name a few, are a factor.  Whatever the reason, I am excited by the current intellectual activity, as I have been thinking about this issue for 40 years.

A scholar by temperament, I cannot shut off my academic brain when I study Jewish texts.  On the other hand, as a practitioner of evidence-based medicine, I require hard data to change my practice.  With this outlook, I believe that Orthodoxy today is less broad than the Rabbinic Judaism of centuries past, but also that modern, academic Bible scholarship is not the hard science its practitioners claim it to be.

As most people reading this blog are undoubtedly aware, the leading academic theory as to how the Bible came to be written is the documentary hypothesis (DH), often associated with the name of Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918).  The DH claims that the Torah was preceded by 4 separate sources (or “documents”), each of which told the history of Israel in its own way.  These purported documents were later edited together, thus accounting for some of the apparent duplications and contradictions found in the Torah.  Of course, these discrepancies had been known for centuries, but were by and large dealt with by the rabbis on a case-by-case basis, rather than with a single, over-arching theory.

There have been attempts to deal with the DH by serious Orthodox Jewish thinkers for over a century.  David Zvi Hoffmann (1843-1921) wrote Biblical commentaries that attacked the DH on its own terms, as well as an entire book Ra-ayot Machriot Neged Wellhausen (Convincing Proofs Against Wellhausen, Jerusalem, 1928; available at Hebrewbooks.org).  Professor Umberto Cassutto also attacked the DH on its own merits in his famous Eight Lectures (translated by Israel Abrahams, Jerusalem 1961).  Rabbi Dr JH Hertz in his monumental English commentary on the Pentateuch also attempted to deal with the DH, mainly in the Additional Notes at the end of each book of the Torah.  The late Rabbi Mordechai Breuer essentially accepted the conclusions of the DH but placed them in a religious context by claiming that they were all authored by God (see for example the chapters related to Rabbi Breuer’s approach in Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah: Contributions and Limitations, ed. By S Carmi, Jason Aaronson, 1996).  David Weiss HaLivni, in his books Peshat and Derash (Oxford, 1991) and more fully in Revelation Restored (Westview Press, 1998) argues that the Torah was improperly preserved during the Babylonian exile and had to be restored as best as it could be by Ezra after the return to Judah in the mid 5th century BCE.

In the first 2 chapters of my recent book A Journey Through Torah: A Critique of the Documentary Hypothesis (Urim, 2012), I critically examine the linguistic and literary evidence for the DH.  In chapters 3-8 I demonstrate that traditional Bible exegetes can be quite analytical.  In the concluding chapter I provide a synthesis that I believe to be both traditional and academically sound.

Since my book appeared, Dr. Joel Baden published The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documentary Hypothesis (Yale, 2012), which focuses solely on the literary aspect of the DH, arguing that the latter is primarily a literary solution to a literary problem.  Dr. Baden also assumes that there was a single, minimalist compiler who edited the disparate sources.  However, as I point out (Jewish Bible Quarterly, in press) there are literary difficulties with Dr Baden’s admittedly clever solutions.  The “documents” that Dr. Baden isolates are not as complete or consistent as claimed, nor is the compiler as consistent or minimalist as advertised.

On the other hand, it is not as if modern scholarship has nothing to teach even the most Orthodox of Bible students.  For example, the tragic story of Yiphtach and his daughter (Judges 11:29-40) cannot be understood without realizing that houses in ancient Israel were constructed on 3 sides of a courtyard, where the animals were kept; thus when Yiphtach rashly vowed that he would sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house after his battle with the Ammonites (Judges 11:30-31), he undoubtedly thought the first thing that would come out to greet him would be an animal  from his courtyard, not his daughter.  Egyptologists explain that Joseph’s Egyptian name Tzaphnat Pa-aneah means “sustainer of life” an apt name for the one who saved Egypt from famine, and that Moses’ name means born of (water), just as Ramses’ name means born of Ra.

Academic Bible scholarship offers the same serious challenges to traditional Judaism as did evolution.  The latter, however, was backed by hard evidence (fossils, DNA, etc., etc.) and most of the intellectual Modern Orthodox world has accepted evolution in some manner and Torah as two different manifestations of truth.  Until such hard evidence becomes available to support the DH (eg finding an ancient scroll in the Judean desert resembling one of the purported Pentateuchal sources, for example), I do not believe we need to swing open “the gates of figurative interpretation” (Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, Book II, chapter 25) quite that far.

Ben Zion Katz M.D. is author of A Journey Through Torah: A Critique of the Documentary Hypothesis [Urim, Jerusalem, 2012]

If you’d like to submit a guest post or response, please contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

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Why Is There Evil in the World?

“It is the function of the righteous, the saintly ones in the world, to recognize that the pure light is too strong for the world to endure. Yet it must somehow illuminate the world. Therefore it is necessary for there to be many veils to soften the light, and these veils are what we know as evil and its causes….we who possess a limited perception of the light, do not have the ability to see that all evil is but a veil needed in order to adjust the flow of light.”

-from Lights of Return (Orot HaTeshuva) by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook

Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook showed the above passage, taken from his father’s Lights of Return, to Rabbi Herbert Weiner, when the latter asked him about evil in the world.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook was the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British controlled Mandatory Palestine. Sadly, he never lived to see the foundation of the State of Israel. In Religious Zionist circles in Israel, he is commonly referred to as HaRav, or simply, “the Rabbi”. A passionate genius, he was expert in Talmud, Halakha, Jewish mysticism and philosophy, and was well versed in many areas of secular culture and thought. Unusually, his writings on all of these topics are often in poetry, as opposed to prose.

How can we reconcile apparent evil with an all-powerful and all-good God?

This is one suggested answer.

Notice, as Rabbi Weiner points out in his fascinating 9 1/2 Mystics, that according to this understanding, evil is not really bad. Rather, what seems to be evil is really a veil which allows good into the world. It is an integral part of the divine plan, and it accomplishes a good thing.

It only seems bad from a limited human perspective.

What do you think of this?

I’ve often heard students of R. Soloveitchik say that their attraction to his teachings came from the fact that he considered evil real.

On the other hand, it’s very difficult to account for evil in the world when it comes from a good God. Kol Dodi Dofek, the Rav’s  famous essay on the value of contemporary Zionism, emphasizes that we should react to evil and try and repair the damage from it. However, in his opinion, we should not focus on the “why” of evil, since it is beyond us. He therefore doesn’t really deal with the question that Rav Kook seeks to answer. This being the case, perhaps he would ultimately agree.

 

If you’d like to submit a guest post or response, please contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Related Posts: Does God Protect Us? The Boy Who Fell from the Tree

 

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by | June 10, 2013 · 8:35 am