Teacher’s Guide and Worksheets One Jew, Two Opinions: Rabbinic Theology through the Lens of Abraham Joshua

Heschel1

A Course on Rabbinic Theology Intended for High School Students, Grades 9-12, Prepared by Ariel Beery

1

Note: These topic summaries are based upon lecture and reading notes from the class on Rabbinic Theology taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker at the Jewish Theological Seminary in the Fall of 2005.

About the Course One Jew, Two Opinions: Rabbinic Theology through the Lens of Abraham Joshua Heschel, is an adaptation for a High School audience of the argument made by Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book Torah min-Shamayim, and of the issues discussed in the class taught about the book by Rabbi and Professor Gordon Tucker at the Jewish Theological Seminary in the Fall of 2005. The goal of the course is similar to the goal we can assume Heschel himself set concerning his book: to challenge readers and participants in Jewish life to reappraise their assumptions pertaining to the foundations of rabbinic Judaism, and to rediscover the dissonance within. The materials included in this packet draw on the sources cited by Heschel as he made his arguments concerning competing rabbinic worldviews, and at times the sources are also drawn from Prof. Tucker’s translation of Heschel, Heavenly Torah (cited later as HT), since Heschel’s argument is often made best in his own words.

Methodology: The teacher begins the class with a quick review of the topic for the day, distributes the worksheets (included after every lesson overview), and goes over the contents very briefly. Students are broken into chevrutot, groups of two being best, and given ten to fifteen minutes to review the sheets. Each chevruta is assigned responsibility for presenting one text on the sheet in reference to the questions framing the lesson and in relation to the other readings on the sheet. Multiple groups may be assigned the same text. After their group study time is over, the class reconvenes, and groups are asked to present their readings of the texts. The teacher’s role in the ensuing discussion is to continually reconnect the discussion to the competing theologies that Heschel identifies,

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

2

and the perspectives they bring to bear, with the help of the introduction to each class and the sources provided.

Order of Syllabus: Lesson 1: Finding Meaning in the Text – Connecting to God through Exegesis Lesson 2: For God or For Human – The Purpose of Worship Lesson 3: God in Search of Man or Man in Search of God Lesson 4: God and Pain – Suffering While Believing Lesson 5: The World to Come – Death and Reunion or Life in the Now Lesson 6: I Want to Be Like God – The Power of Intention Lesson 7: Seeing the Unseeable – Experiencing Revelation Lesson 8: Wisdom from Beyond – The Torah and Creation Lesson 9: Human as Partner in Revelation Lesson 10: Censored or Uncensored, Edited or Unedited: Prophecy and Man Lesson 11: Law as an End or a Means – Halakha and the Jewish Way

*A Note on Citations: In order to provide students with as much information possible for follow-up after class, I have attempted to include as much citation information as possible on the sheets. Since there are space restrictions, however, I was forced to make certain abbreviations which should be simple enough for students to remember. Thus, BT is Babylonian Talmud, HT refers to Gordon Tucker’s translation of Torah Min’Shamayim, entitled in English Heavenly Torah, and so on. Translations have been taken from the Socino edition of the Babylonian Talmud, Jacob Neusner’s translations of Avot and the Psikta d’R’Kahane and the Mekhilta d’R’Ishmael—with minor modifications as based on my personal understanding of the passages.

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

3

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

4

General Background: In the second century C.E., a number of factions in the Jewish community of the Land of Israel wrestled with ways to adapt the Jewish way of life to a world without a Temple, which had been destroyed by the Roman legions in 70 C.E. One of these groups, the Pharisees, had grown in strength during the end of the Second Temple period and developed theological tools to grapple with both the metaphysical and physical ramifications of the Temple’s loss. Abraham Joshua Heschel, who served as Professor of Jewish Ethics and Mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America from 1945 to 1972 and was one of the foremost Jewish figures of the last century, identified two paradigms of theology amongst the Pharisaic movement, one represented by Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph and the other by Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha. To these two Heschel gives the title “avot ha-Olam,” or “eternal paradigms.” The Akivan and Ishmaelian paradigms–which will be explored throughout the course of this course–are based on opposite understandings of God’s place in the universe, on a human being’s access to God, what the ideal relationship a human being can have with God is, and what is the bottom-line for Judaism. For Akiva, human beings were to have a more personal relationship with their Creator. “Love God with all your Heart and with all your Soul” (Deut 6:5) was Judaism’s bottom line, leading him to follow the classic teaching of Rabbi Hillel that the “Torah on one foot” is to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” in recognition that both your neighbor and yourself are creations of God. Moreover, God loved Israel so much that God decided to join them on earth and dwell among them. Thus, God became immanent – that is, entered the world of human comprehension – and granted Israel God’s own instruction manual and partner in

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

5

creation, the Torah, which is a perfect book with each dot and preposition indicating infinite wisdom to be searched out by thoughtful exegesis. Ishmael, on the other hand, taught that God was an infinite being, incomprehensible to humans. In a word, transcendent. God was to be loved, but that love was only a pale reflection to God’s own, incomparable to God’s love–completely different. The Torah was God’s gift to humans, a translation of the eternal truths into human tongue intended to be understood by the Children of Israel at a specific date and time, that is upon the Exodus from Egypt as Israel stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Thus, the Torah speaks in human language, and is meant to convey specific rules and understandings to enable humans to live good lives. At the basis of this system is Ishmael’s bottom line assumption: all of the commandments were given in order to prevent Israel from sliding into idol worship. Believing in one God, with no other gods before God, is, to Ishmael, the key to living a Jewish life. And since all of the commandments have this one unified purpose, there is no way to teach the Torah on one foot; Jewish life is to be lived, and respect is to be paid to the Creator. It is with these two paradigms as tools that Heschel takes on the major theological questions of the ages, and shows how traditional Judaism can answers each in more than one way.

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

6

Lesson 1: Finding Meaning in the Text -- Connecting to God Through Exegesis

Questions to guide discussion: Is the Torah divinity itself or the communication of the divine to humans in human tongue? How does that affect how we read it? difference does it make? What

Background: Exegesis as a mode of connecting with the divine is a Second Temple era development. The word doresh, at the root of the exegetical style of rabbinic Judaism known as midrash, originally meant “to beseech” or “to inquire,” as exemplified in the story of Rebekah: “She went to inquire [l’drosh] of the Lord, and the Lord answered her” (Gen 25:22). This usage persisted throughout the early history of Israel, and was especially prevalent during the time of the Prophets. By the return of the Children of Israel to the Land in the time of Ezra, however, the Voice of God was no longer apparent, leading to those who would inquire of God’s will to search for hints in the Torah. Ezra was the first in the Jewish tradition to transfer the luminosity of God into the text: his exegesis, and the exegesis he inspired, is a confrontation with the infinite. Akiva and Ishmael, inheritors of this tradition of access to the divine, had different styles of confrontation. Akiva taught that there was no superfluous word or letter or dot in the Torah. If the Torah is a stand-in for God, it is perfect in all of its ways, and ever apparent contradiction or grammatical irregularity was planned by the divine to pass on a message that the plain-reading of the text itself could not contain. For example, a repetition of a word such as “cut” (l’krot) in the phrase “the man will be cut off…” (in Hebrew, “krot ikaret ha-Ish”) is read by Akiva as indicating that the person will be cut off in this world and in the world to come. By seeing the Torah in this light, students of
Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

7

Akiva saw the Torah as a timeless entity, independent of the time and place given, each letter bearing metahistorical significance. The Torah was a divine being, each word an angelic messenger. Ishmael, on the other hand, tended to teach that the Torah was written in the language of the people, to be understood by them as simply read. Ishmael say that sometimes the doubling of a word is just the doubling of a word—a style of speech that is used to make the information easier to understand by humans. He did allow for certain types of deeper reading into the text, but such deeper reading had to correspond to thirteen rules he developed, and the use of the rules led to a straight-forward and rather logical system of reading. This worldview, therefore, saw the Torah as a document of laws given to a society with specifically set conceptual categories that were to be first understood before the text itself could be mined for meaning. His rules helped those in future times to understand the way the Torah was intended to be read by those same historically-bound people who received it. For Ishmael, Torah was prose; for Akiva, Poetry. These different cognitive styles had very real effects. While Ishmael allowed for there to be Halakhot (religious laws) that were not justified by the text of the Torah, Akiva insisted that all customs were inherently holy, given by God, and traces of them can be found through an exegetical reading of the text.

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

8

Finding Meaning in the Text -- Connecting to God Through Exegesis

‫איש הפשט ואיש המסתורין‬
Is the Torah divinity itself or the communication of the divine to humans in human tongue? How does that affect how we read it? What difference does it make? Bag-Bag Isaac pleaded For Ezra had dedicated himself to study [l’drosh] the Teaching of theBen with the Lord on Lord so as to observe it, and to teach laws and rules to Israel. [Ezrasaid: Turn it over and over again, her behalf, 7:10] because she was for all is therein; barren; and the and Look into it; Lord responded Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin and become grey to his plea, and upon you this day is not too baffling for and old therein; his wife Rebekah you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in neither move conceived. But away from it, for the children the heavens, that you should say, you have no better struggled in her “Who among us can go up to the lot than that. womb, and she heavens and get it for us and impart it [Avot 5:22] said, “If so, why do I exist?” She to us, that we may observe it?” Neither went to inquire is it beyond the sea, that you should (l’drosh) of the say, “Who among us can cross to the When Rabbi Eliezer Lord, and the Ben Hyrcanus, a Lord answered other side of the sea and get it for us teacher of Rabbi her. (Gen 25:21- and impart it to us, that we may Akiva, expounded a 22) in a observe it?” No, the thing is very close verse nonstandard way, to you, in your mouth and in your Rabbi Ishamel said to him: “Why, you are heart, to observe it. [Deut 30.11-14] saying to Scripture: ‘Be silent until I expound your Moses received the Torah on Sinai, and conveyed it to Joshua; Joshua to the Elders, meaning!’” And and the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets conveyed it to the Men of the Great Rabbi Eliezer replied, Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, develop many “Ishmael, you are a disciples, and make a protective fence for the Torah. [Ethics of the Fathers, 1:1] mountain palm” (which, because of its What is the distinction between the language of Torah and human language? Humanaltitude, bears few beings distinguish between form and content. There are words that add nothing to theand inferior fruits; similarly, you seem substance of a thought but are uttered because the conventions and rules of languageunable to bear fruitful so dictate; their contribution is aesthetic rather than instructive. God’s ways, however,exegesis). [Sifra Tazri’a are not human ways. With God, form is nonexistent; there is only content. Every68b, HT 54] letter, every word, whether expanding or limiting a subject, is intended to teach a lesson. Each idiom instructs and clarifies. There is no form here; all is content, all is instruction. Just as heaven is loftier than earth, so the language of Torah is loftier than the language of human beings. And our rational powers are insufficient to grasp the esoterics of Torah; they cannot be handled with the tongs of logic alone. [Heschel, HT
55-56]

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

9

Lesson 2: For God or For Human -- The Purpose of Worship

Questions to guide discussion: Is God immanent or transcendent? How does this question influence our relationship with God? What is the purpose of worship?

Background: Akiva and Ishmael’s perspectives on the character of the Torah are part of their larger theological understanding of God’s relationship to the world. Akiva, who saw God’s will in every dot and preposition in the Torah, stressed God’s immanence—God’s actual presence among the people of Israel, in the Torah of Israel. Ishmael, who viewed God as the giver of law to a particular community of people, saw God as a transcendent being. Akiva taught that the immanent God is a present God whose fate is tied to that of the Children of Israel. Ishamel, on the other hand, taught that the transcendent God is infinite and above the world, and therefore cannot be bound by the text. Thus, the Torah is the communication of God’s commandments in human language aimed specific to a time and place, and should be understood in context. Whether God is immanent or transcendent directly affects the purpose and method of worship. Those who believe in God’s immanence are essentialists who believe that rituals are essential to the functioning of the universe—God, who is present in this world, requires certain rituals be done. Those who believe in God’s transcendence, on the other hand, are conventionalists who believe that rituals are conventions that serve human ends and nothing more; a transcendent God does not need rituals, not will the universe be affected if, say, the Temple of God is destroyed.

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

10

Akiva was an essentialist. He believed, according to Heschel’s paradigm, that the entire universe was based on Torah and is upheld through the commandments given to the Israel in the Torah. Since God is love, the highest of all commandments is to love your neighbor as you love yourself—and all commandments stem from that central value. Just as pure and true love is timeless, Torah too is timeless and context-less. Rituals, therefore, are ways we humans can partner with God and aid in the upkeep of the world. Physical acts, according to Akiva, had explicit metaphysical and even cosmic significance. Ishmael was a conventionalist. He believed that the commandments are conventions set up to ensure Israel remain moral and stay clear of idolatry. Even the Temple itself was not inherently holy to Ishmael—it was but a vehicle, a means, to ensure Israel remains loyal to God and not slip back into the ways of its youth. The rituals, therefore, are no more than sets of actions serving this purpose of ensuring loyalty—they have no magical or self-justifying characteristic other than their prevention of idolatry.

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

11

For God or For Human -- The Purpose of Worship

‫לשם שמיים‬
Is God immanent or transcendent? How does this question influence our relationship with God? What is the purpose of worship?
Behold the heavens and see; Look at the skies high above you. If you sin, what do you do to Him? If your transgressions are many, how do you affect him? If you are righteous, what do you give Him; what does He receive from your hand? Your wickedness affects men like yourself; your righteousness, mortals. (Job 35:5-8)

The Lord said to Moses: Thus shall you say to the Israelites: You yourselves saw that I spoke to you from the very heavens: With Me, therefore, you shall not make any gods of silver, nor shall you make for yourselves any gods of gold. Make for Me an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your sacrifices of well-being, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come to you and bless you. (Ex 20:19-21)

With what shall I approach the Lord, do homage to God on high? Shall I approach Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Would the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with myriads of streams of oil? Shall I give my first-born son for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for my sins? He has told you, O man, what is good, And what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God; then will your name achieve wisdom [Micah 6:6-8]

The Rabbis distinguished between commandments that overarch and encompass all of Torah and commandments that are specific. This led them to speculate: Can one find a general principle that all the mitzvoth serve? Rabbi Eleazar the Moad’ite suggested one that would support all the mitzvoth: “’…Heed the Lord your God’ (Exodus 15:26) – This is a principle that encompasses all of Torah.” Rabbi Eleazar was not suggesting a principle from which the contents and justifications of all mitzvoth follow by logical deduction. On the contrary, he was telling us not to rely on reason. Rather, wisdom begins with the acceptance of the yoke of mitzvoth. What does God want of you? To attend to His voice, to obey. On the other hand, there is a tendency among other Rabbis to view the mitzvoth and their moorings through a moral and rational lens. For example, Rabban d’Rab Kahana 6] Johanan ben Zakkai explained logically why the Torah dealt more stringently with the burglar than with the robber (the burglar must return twice what he stole). Rabban Johanan’s explanation is both moral and logical: the robber who steals openly demonstrates brazenness before God and human beings, while the burglar who enters stealthily demonstrates brazenness before God and fear of human authority. [HT, 73]

R. Judah bar R. Simon said in the name of R. Johanan: From the Divine Power, Moses heard three commandments which startled him and took him aback. First, when He decreed: “Let them make Me the Sanctuary, and I shall dwell among them” (Ex 25:8), Moses said bluntly to the Holy One: Master of the universes, “Behold not even heaven and the heaven of the heavens can contain Thee” (I Kings 8:27), and yet Thou sayest, “Let them make Me the Sanctuary.” Thereupon the Holy One reassured Moses: Moses, it is not as thou thinkest; though the Sanctuary is to be only twenty boards wide in the north and twenty boards wide in the south and eight wide in the west, yet I shall go down to the earth below and shrink My presence into their midst, as it is said “And there I will meet with thee’ (Ex 25:22) [Psika

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

12

Lesson 3: God in Search of Man or Man in Search of God

Questions to guide discussion: Does God need humans in order to exist? Is God interdependent with humans or independent of us? Where is God? Is God within the world or above it? Can God be both?

Background: An understanding of God as immanent implies a commitment to worship: humans have a responsibility to prop-up God through worship and ritual. A transcendent reading of this same passage has it that if one does not worship God, God will be no longer be one’s protector—thereby seeing God above ritual and yet affected by it enough to return the favor. God’s relationship to ritual is related to God’s location in the world. According to rabbinic terminology, one of God’s names is HaMakom, literally translated as “the place.” An immanent understanding of God takes this to mean that God can be located in a specific place: God has an address. A transcendent understanding of God has it that God is everywhere and nowhere at once: God is the address. God is the ultimate coordinate system, framing the world and our understanding of it yet not being limited by any aspect of our understanding. Thus, in reference to the Temple, a believer in the immanence of God like Akiva believes that God’s presence physically rests in the Temple, in the “Holiest of Holies.” Ishmael, on the other hand, says that God is by the alter—by the people, the worshippers—just as much as he is by anywhere else; God is where God is called and invoked (“call my name and I will be there”), but is also everywhere else at once.

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

13

The Akivan tradition has it that the Temple on earth was created before the creation of the universe, along with the Torah, and is a reflection of the heavenly Temple above. Every action, every pebble in the Temple has cosmic significance, and must be held to the highest standard of holiness. Ishmael, while also committed to the holiness of the Temple, sees the Temple holy insofar as it serves as a tool for accessing the transcendent. But the Temple also poses a danger for the transcendental school—the holier one holds the Temple, the more likely the Temple will serve as an idol, diverting one’s eyes from the moral teachings of the tradition. It is possibly for this reason that Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai, when asked for his wish by the conquering Roman general, opted for Yavneh and her wise men over the Temple. Akiva, who viewed the Temple as a holy being in its own right, remarked furiously, “thus it is said that God, turns wise men backwards and makes their knowledge foolish (Isaiah 44:25)” [BT Gittin 56b]

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

14

God in Search of Man or Man in Search of God

‫ויקרא י"י ה' אל-האדם ויאמר לו איכה‬
Does God need humans in order to exist? Is God interdependent with humans or independent of us? Where is God? Is God within the world or above it? Can God be both? So the Holy One, blessed is He, said to Israel, “My children, I have created in you anR’Nahman said to R’ impulse to do evil, than which nothing is more evil. Sin crouches at the door and to you Isaac: What is the is its desire (Gen 4:7). Keep yourselves occupied with the teachings of the Torah, and meaning of the [sin] will not control you. But if you leave off studying words of the Torah, lo, it willscriptural verse, The control you, as it is said, and to you is its desire (Gen 4:7). [Sifre Ekev, 45] Holy One in the midst of thee and I will not Scripture indicates that whoever rises up How was the right of the Willow- come into the city (Hosea 11:9)? [Surely it against Israel is as branch fulfilled? There was a place cannot be that] because though he rose up against the One who below Jerusalem called Motza. There the Holy One is in the spoke and brought they came and cut themselves midst of three I shall the world into being. young willow-branches. They came not come into the city! So Scripture says, He replied: Thus said Do not forget the and set these up at the sides of the R’Johanan: The Holy voice of your Altar so that their tops were bent One, blessed be He, adversaries, the over the Altar. They then blew [on said, “I will not enter tumult of those who the heavenly Jerusalem rise up against you, the shofar] a sustained, a quavering until I can enter the who rise up and another sustained blast. Each earthly Jerusalem.” Is continually. For lo day they went in procession a single there a heavenly your enemies are in Jerusalem? Yes, for it is an uproar (Ps time around the Altar, saying, Save written, Jerusalem, 74:23). And whoever us we beseech thee, O Lord! We thou art builded as a helps Israel is as if beseech thee, O Lord, send now city that is compact he helped the One who spoke and prosperity! R’Judah says, I and You! together (Ps 122:3) [BT
brought the world Save us! I and You! Save us! [Mishna into being, for it is Sukkah 4:5] said, Curse Meroz, said the angel of the Lord, curse bitterly Does not this doctrine [of Rabbi Akiva] diminish our image of the divine and limit our the dwellers therein, belief in the Creator’s omnipotence? Moreover, shall we say that the God of Israel, because they did not Who is the nation’s source of power and courage, needs Israel to give Him strength? come to the help of The true nature of this standpoint cannot in truth be grasped by a person who can the Lord, to the help calmly look in from the outside. The Rabbis in the generation we are considering of the Lord against experienced things that others have not seen: the sacking of Jerusalem, the humiliation the mighty! (Jud of the House of Israel, and the profanation of the Holy Name in the sight of the whole 5:23). [Mekhilta d’Rabbi world. Stormy eras filled with human agony also harbor troubling thoughts; even the Ishmael, Shirata 6] pillars of heaven shudder. And a nation that has been belittled by the nations of the world is likely to verge on belittling the great presumptions: that God is merciful and compassionate and that God is the great and the powerful. If there is mercy, there surely is no power; and if there is power, there surely is no Mercy! For could one maintain that the Holy and Blessed One empathizes well but does not carry through? [HT, 118]
Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

Ta’anit 5a]

15

Lesson 4: God and Pain – Suffering While Believing

Questions to guide discussion: Does God feel our pain? If so, why does God do nothing to stop it? Are God’s powers limited? If not, is God really merciful?

Background: The question of why bad things happen to good people is central to any theological tradition, so it is no surprise that the paradigms represented by Akiva and Ishmael take different positions on the issue of suffering. Common to both traditions is the assumption that God cares about the affairs of humans. Otherwise, why would God give Israel the Torah and its commandments? But what happens after that point of contact is up to interpretation based upon the different paradigm’s takes on the immanence or transcendence of God. For Akiva, since God is immanent, God feels Israel’s pain. When Israel suffers, God suffers along with them. When Israel was in Egypt, the presence of God went down to Egypt with them. This is to say that God is not solely empathetic—God actually, literally, feels Israel’s pain. Ishmael, believing in a transcendent God, does not accept this view. God might hear the cries of the people, and those cries might move God to take mercy upon Israel and remember the covenant God made with the forefathers, but God as God cannot feel human pain or be affected by worldly events. The theological problems posed by this dichotomy are acute: either God’s power is limited according to the Akivian paradigm (is God powerless to end the pain afflicted against both God and Israel?) or God’s mercy is limited according to the Ishmaelian idea (could God really be so heartless to allow Israel to continue to suffer—As Abraham

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

16

asked, does not the judge of the world act justly? [Gen 18:25]). In the context of the time, with the Temple’s ruins still smoldering in the minds of Israel, the nation and each individual had to decide whether they would rather view God as omnipotent and yet merciless or merciful and, somehow, limited. A powerful God is feared but not loved, and a merciful God is loved but is vulnerable, and this vulnerability reinforces Israel’s commitment to God in times of need. Rabbinic Judaism, choosing to believe in God’s love rather than God’s coldness, followed Akiva. These ideologies are reflected in the stories about the deaths of Akiva and Ishmael. While Ishmael cried on the way to his execution, Akiva was happy—he was partaking in God’s suffering, loving God with all of his heart and all of his soul, sacrificing his physical Temple just as God had sacrificed his own.

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

17

God and Pain – Suffering While Believing

‫איכה ישבה בדד העיר רבתי עם‬
Does God feel our pain? If so, why does God do nothing to stop it? Are God’s powers limited? If not, is God really merciful?
Elijah said to Bar He-He, and others say, to R. Eleazar, What is the meaning of the verse: Behold I have refined thee but not as silver; I have tried thee in the furnace of affliction (Isa. 48:10)? It teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, went through all of the good qualities in order to give [them] to Israel, and He found only poverty [or affliction]. [BT Hagigah 9b]

Had not the verse said it, the tongue uttering it would have deserved dismemberment. But the ancients have set the precedent. It is analogous to a young prince who attempted to life a heavy rock. As he lifted it, it fell and crushed him. When the king heard that his son had been crushed, he began to cry “I’ve been crushed!” The palace guard, [Ex 3:7-8] uncomprehendingly, said to Berakot 63a] him: “Your son has been crushed. Why do you say that you have been Among the fundamentals of the faith is the idea that he Holy and Blessed crushed?” Such was the One participates in the sufferings of Israel. Conversely, when Israel “dwells reaction of the Holy and in joy, there is joy for God.” This concept of the divine pathos, as expressed Blessed One, as it were: by the prophets of Israel, bestirred hearts to participate in the pain of the Holy Because My people is and Blessed One and shaped the inner character of the prophet as one who shattered I am shattered; I empathizes with the divine pathos…But along came Rabbi Akiva, who taught am dejected, seized by that the participation of the Holy and Blessed One in the life of Israel is not desolation. (Jeremiah 8:21) merely a mental nod, a measure of compassion born of relationship to God’s
R’Huna ben Berekiah said in the name of R’ Eleazar ha-Kappar: Whoever associates the name of heaven with his suffering will have his sustenance doubled, as it says, And the Almighty shall be in thy distress, and thou shalt have double silver (Job 22:25). R’ Samuel ben Nahmani said: His sustenance shall fly to him like a bird, as it says, And silver shall fly to thee. [BT

And the Lord continued, “I have marked well the plight of My people in Egypt and have heeded their outcry because of their taskmasters; yes, I know their pain. And I will go down to rescue them from the Egyptians and bring them out of that land to a good and spacious land…”

[Lamentations Zuta people. The pain of compassion amounts to pain only at a distance; it is the quoted from HT, 117] pain of the onlooker. But the participation of the Holy and Blessed One is that of total identification, something that touches God’s very essence, God’s majestic being. As it were, the afflictions of the nation inflict wounds on God. [HT, 105-106]

1:18,

“When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male [or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free on account of the eye. If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free on account of the tooth’s sake” (Ex 21:26)…But if his master persecuted him, knocked out his tooth, blinded his eye, or any of the other major limbs that are visible to the eye, lo, this one has acquired possession of himself through his own suffering. And, lo, this yields an argument a fortiori: if from the power of a mortal, one acquires possession of himself through his own suffering, all the more so from the power of Heaven. And so Scripture says, “The Lord has chastened me sore, but he has not given me over to death” (Ps. 118:18) [Mekhilta D’Rabbi Ishmael, Nezikin 9:14]

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

18

Lesson 5: The World to Come – Death and Reunion or Life in the Now

Questions to guide discussion: Is this world no more than a prozdor before the Worldto-Come? Is there another way of understanding the idea of a World-to-Come? Why is the World-to-Come not described in the Torah?

Background: The Torah seems on the surface to have known only this world—not once does it mention an afterlife directly, although some have been able to read an afterlife into the larger Biblical text.1 The Akivan paradigm, on the other hand, wholeheartedly believes in an afterlife, which, being closer to God, is a truer reality than the one we experience on this earth. Much like the Platonic concept of the “World of Shadows,” the Akivian view holds that the world is illusory—a reflection of the infinite world in the heavens. By rejecting the world and seeking to come closer to God through the commandments no matter the consequences, one can break-free of this-worldly illusions, and the best way to do so is through accepting the suffering with love. Suffering for God’s sake bonds the finite with the infinite. It is the ultimate act of identification with the God who suffers along with Israel. In this vein, it is said that when the Romans decreed that Torah could no longer be taught in the Land of Israel, Akiva persisted in teaching. Ishmael, on the other hand, lives in this world. It is not for nothing, he taught, that God looked over creation and saw “it was very good” (Gen 1:31). The law was to be lived by and not died for—life being the ultimate aim of God’s law. Unlike Akiva, who

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

19

saw this world as a prozdor or waiting room for the World-to-Come, Ishmael held that this world was the ultimate aim of creation. Is there a way for us to understand the idea of the World-to-Come as a this-worldly possibility? If one would overlay the Ishmaelian worldview over the rhetoric of the World-to-Come, one finds that many of the things hoped for are political goals that can occur only in worldly reality. The hope for the Messiah, in the context of the turn-of-theCommon Era, could have been more of the hope for a this-worldly political leader to win independence from the Romans. The dream of the Lion laying by the Lamb can be construed to indicate a hope for a day without war, one where Israel isn’t fighting constantly for its right to exist among the great empires of its day.

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

20

The World to Come – Death and Reunion or Life in the Now

‫לא-ידון רוחי באדם לעולם‬
Is this world no more than a prozdor before the World-to-Come? Is there another way of understanding the idea of a World-to-Come? Why is the World-to-Come not described in the Torah?
Rabbi Jacob says: This world is like an antechamber before the World-to-Come. Get ready in the R’Chiya bar Abba said antechamber, so that you can go into the great hall. He would say: Better is a single moment spent in in the name of R’ penitence and good deeds in this world that the whole of the World-to-Come. And better is a single Yohannan: All the moment of inner peace in the World-to-Come than the whole of a lifetime spent in this world. [Avot
4:16-17]

“Then the Lord said, My spirit shall not abide in man forever for he is flesh, but his days shall be numbered a hundred and twenty years (Gen 6:3),” said Rabbi Ishmael, “What he meant is this: “I shall not put my spirit in them when I am engaged in bestowing a reward on the righteous.” [Genesis
Rabbah 6:3]

The next day [after the Gold Calf] Moses said to the people, “you have been guilty of a great sin. Yet I will now go up to the Lord; perhaps I may win forgiveness for your sin.” Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people is guilty of a great sin in making for themselves a god of gold. Now, if You will forgive their sin [well and good], but if not, erase me from the record which You have written!” But the Lord said to Moses, “He who has sinned against Me, him only will I erase from My record. God now, lead the people where I told you. See, My angel shall go before you. But when I make an accounting, I will bring them to account for their sins.” Then the Lord sent a plague upon the people, for what they did with the calf that Aaron made. [Ex 33:30-35]

prophets prophesized only about the Messianic era, but as for the World-to-Come, No eye except yours, O God, has seen (Isaiah 64:3). And he disagrees with Shmuel, for Shmuel said: There is no difference between this world and that of the Messianic era, except for Jewish independence from the dominion of foreign kingdoms, for it says, For the poor shall not cease from the land (Deut 15:11). [BT Berachot
34b]

All Israel has a share in the World-to-Come, for it s written, Thy people also shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the land for ever; the branch of my planting, the work of my hands that I may be glorified (Isaiah 60:21). And these are they that have no share in the World-to-Come: he that says that there is no resurrection of the dead prescribed in the Law, and [he that says] that the Law is not from Heaven, and an Epicurean. R’Akiva says: Also he that reads heretical books, or that utters charms over a wound and says, I will put none of the diseases upon thee which I have put upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee (Ex 15:26). Abba Saul says: Also he that pronounces the Name with its proper letters. [Mishna Sanhedrin 10:1]

R’Yannai and R’Simeon ben Laqish say, “Gehana in point of fact is nothing other than a day which will burn up the wicked. What is the scriptural evidence? For lo, a day comes, it burns as a furnace (Mal 3:19). Rabbis say, “In point of fact there is really such a thing, as it is said, Whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem [so Gehanna is in Jerusalem] (Isaiah 31:9). R’Judah b. R’Ilai: “Gehanna is neither a day nor a real place. But it is a fire that goes forth from the body of a wicked person and consumes him. What is the scriptural evidence for that proposition? You conceive chaff, you shall bring forth stubble, your breath is a fire that shall devour you (Isaiah 33:11) [Genesis Rabbah 6:3]

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

21

Lesson 6: I Want to Be Like God – The Power of Intention

Questions to guide discussion: Why should one follow the commandments? Can one commit a thought-crime? Which is greater, good thoughts or good deeds?

Background: If human was made in God’s image, can a human become like God? Neither Akivan or Ishmaelian theology taught that humans can actually attain the level of Godliness God possesses, but Akiva did teach that one can aspire to be like God by aspiring to be close to God. This yearning for closeness, the cleaving to God known as dvikut, is an aspiration for unity with God—a full love of God with all one’s heart and all one’s soul, so much so that one’s highest aspiration might be to let go of the world and join the Eternal. This holds that God loves Israel and every individual person therein, and that individuals can reciprocate God’s love, and, thereby, increase their intimacy with the eternal. The commandments, according to this view, are the way towards intimacy, but only the least one can do to maintain some sort of a relationship. For true intimacy, as in any relationship, improvisation is necessary to develop one’s love. The transcendental perspective of Ishmael teaches that such intimacy is impossible; God’s love is beyond the bounds of human comprehension, qualitatively and quantitatively different than human love. Thus Ishmael explains the story of Nadav and Aviahu, who were burnt up when they brought “alien” fire to the alter (Lev 10:1-2), as one where the two were so intoxicated by the moment that they had tried to reciprocate God’s love in kind—an impossibility due to the finite nature of their being and the infinite complexity of God.2

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

22

This difference in outlook results in a difference in outlook regarding the nature of the actions one takes during worship. Akiva, who believes in the necessity to strive towards closeness with the Eternal, concludes that simply submitting to the actions of worship is not enough: one must focus one’s intentions on the actions, so that each commandment is fulfilled with all of one’s heart and soul. A person who simply goes through the motions has not truly fulfilled the commandments, and one whose intentions were elsewhere during the act of worship is judged to be as if one had not fulfilled the commandment at all. Ishmael, on the other hand, who does not think that one can realistically ever attain an understanding or closeness of the Divine, limits the commandments to the actions performed. Intentions do not matter until they are acted upon—and if the act is fulfilled, one’s intentions are besides the point. In other words, Akiva believes that one can commit sins of thought, while Ishmael limits sin to wrong-deeds alone. Taking these views into account, one can begin to understand the debate between the Sages on whether it is better to study or to perform the actions delineated by the commandments. Rabbi Tarfon, of Akiva’s generation, taking the side of the Ishmaelian paradigm, declared that “the performance of mitzvot is greater.” Akiva, disagreeing, declared that “the study of Torah is greater.” The Sages, in an attempt to harmonize, declared that study is indeed greater because study will lead to performance.3

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

23

I Want to Be Like God – The Power of Intention

‫בכל-לבבך ובכל-נפשך ובכל-מאודך‬
Why should one follow the commandments? Can one commit a thought-crime? Which is greater, good thoughts or good deeds?
It is written, And Shechem loved the maiden (Gen 34:3). We only realize the extent of his love when we learn that he gave his life for her. That is the true meaning of love. Of Shechem we read, And his soul cleaved to Dinah, daughter of Jacob. (Gen 34:3). Now of Israel the verse says, And you who cleave to the Lord your God…” [Tanhuma Bayyishlah 20, from HT 192]

“…and holding fast to Our Rabbis taught: When a him” (Deut 11:22): Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our man prays, he should direct Now how is it possible God, the Lord is one. You shall his heart to heaven. Abba for a person to go up to love the Lord your God with all Saul says: A reminder of this the height and to the your heart and with all your soul is in their text, Thou wilt cleave to fire? And has direct heart, Thou wilt and with all your might. Take to cause Thine ear to attend (Ps it not been said, For heart these instructions with 10:17). It has been taught: the Lord your God is a consuming fire (Deut which I charge you this day. Such was the custom of R. 4:24), His throne was Impress them upon your Akiva; when he prayed with fiery flames (Dan 7:9). the congregation, he used to [But God has said,] children. Recite them when you cut it short and finish in “Cleave to sages and stay at home and when you are order not to inconvenience their disciples, and I away, when you lie down and the congregation, but when shall credit it to you as when you get up. Bind them as a he prayed by himself, a man if you had gone up to would leave him in one sign on your hand and let them corner and find him later in the height and taken it [by struggle].” And so serve as a symbol between your another, on account of his Scripture says, You eyes, inscribe them on the many genulexions and have ascended on doorposts of your house and on prostrations. [BT Berachot 31a] high, you have taken your gates. (Deut 6:4-9) captives (Ps 68:19). Those who expound lore say, “If you want to know the one who spoke and brought the R’Hama ben R’Hanina further said: what means the text, You shall walk after the world into existence, Lord your God (Deut 13:5)? Is it, then, possible for a human being to walk after the study lore. For out of Shechina; for has it not been said, For the Lord they God is a devouring fire (Deut that you will truly 4:24)? But [the meaning is] to walk after the attributes of the Holy One, blessed be know the one who He. As He clothes the naked, for it is written, And the Lord made for Adam and for spoke and brought the his wife coats of skin, and clothed them (Gen 3:21), so should you also clothe the world into existence nake. The Holy One, blessed be He, visited the sick, for it is written, And the Lord and cleave to his appeared unto him by the oaks of Mamre (Gen 18:1), so should you also visit the ways.” [Sifre Deut, 49] sick. The Holy one, blessed be He, comforted mourners, for it is written, And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed Isaac his son (Gen 25:11), so should you also comfort mourners. The Holy One, blessed be He, buried the dead, for it is written, And he buried him in the valley (Deut 34:6), so should you also bury the dead. [BT Sotah 14a]

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

24

Lesson 7: Seeing the Unseeable – Experiencing Revelation

Trigger activity: Describe on paper your idea/image/conception of God—students should be given pens, crayons and blank paper and told to describe God in any way they choose—be it in art, by words, etc.

Questions for discussion: How can one experience the infinite? Does it matter if revelation is experienced through the eyes or ears?

Background: The Torah describes two ways of experiencing the Infinite, through sight and through sound. At first, in the book of Exodus, the Torah tells us that human beings can experience the sight of God, albeit in limited fashion: “Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel ascended; and they saw the God of Israel: under His feet there was a likeness of a pavement of sapphire…they beheld God, and they ate and they drank” (Ex 24:9-11). In Deuteronomy, however, it seems to state that it is impossible to see the form of God: “You saw no shape when the Lord your God spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire” (Deut 4:15). Sound, in this later description of the revelation, was the principal way of experiencing God—one repeated throughout the ages by the dictum, “Shma Israel.” Akiva, as one who believed in the immanence of God, searched to see God—and found God in the text. In one of the more famous passages in the Talmud, Akiva and three of his collegues entered the Pardes, literally translated as “the orchard,” where one could get a glimpse of the Eternal; Akiva was the only one of the four not harmed by the

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

25

experience [BT Hagigah 14b]. Ishmael, who saw God as transcending human reality, did not believe that a human being could behold the Eternal. Sound—that is, the hearing of the Word—was the limited way we humans can behold the Infinite. Whether God can be seen or only heard directly affects the way one interacts with the Torah—Israel’s last remaining reflection of God after the destruction of the Temple. If the Torah is truly a being infused with God’s immanence, God can be seen through the Torah —exegesis becomes the act of union with the Eternal. If the Torah is simply the collection of the instructions given by God to Moses, and heard in part by the people of Israel, it is to be taught and understood in human terms; it is a record of communication and no more.

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

26

Seeing the Unseeable – Experiencing Revelation

‫כקול מים רבים כקול-שדי‬
How can one experience the infinite? Does it matter if revelation is experienced through the eyes or ears? And lo, the Lord passed by. There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind—an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake—fire; but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire —a soft murmuring sound. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his mantel about his face and went out and stood at the entrance to the cave. (1 Kgs 20.2)

You have but to inquire about bygone ages that came before you, ever since God created man on earth, from one end of heaven to the other, has anything as grand as this ever happened, or has it like even been known? Has any people heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have, and survived? Or has any god ventured to go and take for himself one nation Another time the Emperor said to R’Joshua b.from the midst of another by Hananiah, “I wish to see your God.” He replied,prodigious acts, by signs and “You cannot see him.” “Indeed,” said the Emperor,portents, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm “I will see Him.” He went and placed the Emperorand awesome power, as the facing the sun during the summer solstice and said toLord your God did for you in him, “Look up at it.” He replied, “ I cannot.” SaidEgypt before your very eyes? R’Joshua, “If at the sun which is but one of the It has been clearly ministers that attend the Holy One, blessed by He,demonstrated to you that the you cannot look, how can you presume to look uponLord alone is God; there is none beside Him. From the the divine presence!” [BT Hullin 59b-60a] heavens He let you see His great fire, and from amidst When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was ablaze with fire,that fire you heard His words. (Deut 4:32-36) you came up to me, all your tribal heads and elders, and said, “the Lord God has just shown us His majestic Presence, and we have heard His voice out of the fire; we have seen this day that man may live though God has spoken to him. Let us not die, then, for this fearsome fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, we shall die. [Deut 5:20-22]

All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blare of the horn and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they fell back and stood at a distance. “You speak to us,” they said to Moses, “and we will obey; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses answered the people, “Be not afraid; for God has come only in order to test you, and in order that he fear of Him may be ever with you, so that you do not go astray.” So the people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was. (Ex 20:15)

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel ascended; and they saw the likeness of the God of Israel: under his feet there was the likeness of a pavement of sapphire, like the very sky for purity. Yet He did not raise his hand against the leaders of the Israelites; they beheld God, and they ate and they drank. (Ex 20:9-11)

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

27

Lesson 8: Wisdom from Beyond – The Torah and Creation

Questions to guide discussion: Is the Torah the blueprint for creation or the human story of historical experiences? What are the implications of seeing Torah as a blueprint, or viewing it as a historically bound document?

Background: The transcendence or immanence of the Torah is somewhat switched when it comes to the two paradigms’ understanding of the Torah’s relationship to history. Akiva, who sees God as immanent, views the Torah as a book that transcends history: the Torah was literally the book God read as God set upon the process of creation. Akiva explains the verse in Genesis, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen 1:26), as God consulting with the Torah as a partner. Ishmael, who thinks that God is transcendent, views the Torah as historically bound: it was simply the communication of God’s will given to Moses at Sinai—an even set in human time and human space. Heschel points out that these two views are present in the ways we have to describe the giving of the Torah. One tradition, Akivan, holds that the Torah is from the heavens: “Torah min Shamaim.” The other, Ishmaelian, holds that the Torah was given at Sinai: “Torah miSinai.” If the Torah was given from Heaven, each and every dot and preposition is holy and divinely intended. As the blueprint for creation, it includes everything there is to know about the world—all of those things seen, unseen and yet to be seen. Knowing the world can be achieved solely through learning the text and understanding its subtext, unpacking from each element infinite understandings of creation. If the Torah was given at Sinai

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

28

through the medium of a human, the text itself is certainly important—but is not all inclusive. Moses, as well as other prophets, were given additional insights and teachings not included in the original text—that is, human beings and the human experience are integral to understanding the correct way to live life according to God’s will. The first view holds that humans can know God through the text; the second that humans can know only that portion of God’s will given at the time, relevant to the time each teaching is communicated. Accordingly, whatever view one takes affects the way one views theology as a whole. If one takes the view of Akiva—that the Torah was in fact given whole and perfect at Sinai—humans can do no more than seek to understand that which has been given, and those who came before and were closer to the revelation understood God’s will best. If one takes the view of Ishmael, theology is an evolutionary process, one which develops throughout time according to the circumstances of the day. Revelation is ongoing, driven by those who question the understanding of the previous generations while maintaining a commitment to the intention of the teachings and steering clear of idolatry in all of its forms.

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

29

Wisdom from Beyond – The Torah and Creation

‫זאת התורה‬
Is the Torah the blueprint for creation or the human story of historical experiences? What are the implications of seeing Torah as a blueprint, or viewing it as a historically bound document?
R. Banayah said: The world and all the fullness thereof were created only for the sake of Torah: “The Lord for the sake of wisdom founded the earth” (Prov. 3:19) [Midrash Rabba Gen 1:5]

R’ Menachem and R’ Joshua ben Levi said in the name of R’ Levi a builder requires six things: water, earth timber, stones, canes and iron. And even if you say, he is wealthy and does not need cane, yet he surely requires a measuring rod, as it is written, And a measuring rod in his hand (Exek. 40:3). Thus, the Torah preceded [the creation of the world] by these six things… [Midrash
Rabbah, Gen, 1:8]

In the beginning God created the heaven and earth, the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water. God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. [Gen 1:1-5]

Then why does Scripture say, The one lamb you shall offer in the morning (Ex 28:39)? It is so that you will receive a reward for carrying out the religious duty. Along these same lines, And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them (Ex 25:8). Why is this stated? And does not Scripture say, The heaven is my throne…where is the house that you can build for me (Isaiah 6:1). Then why does the 8:22). [Midrash Rabbah, Gen scripture say, And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may 1:1] dwell among them (Ex 25:8)? It is so that you will receive a reward for carrying out the religious duty. [Mekhilta
D’R’Ishmael, Pisha 16]

The Torah declares, I was the working tool of the Holy One, blessed be He. In human practice, when a mortal king builds a palace, he builds it not with his own skill but with the skill of an architect. The architect moreover does not build it out of his head, but employs plans and diagrams to know how to arrange the chambers and the wicket doors. Thus God consulted the Torah and created the world, while the Torah declares, In the beginning God created (Gen 1:1), Beginning referring to the Torah, as in the verse, The Lord made me as the beginning of His way (Prov

It was said: When Moses when up on high to receive the tablets of the Commandments, which had been inscribed and put away since the six days of Creation – as it is said, And the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tablets (Ex 32:16): read not graven (harut) but freedom (herut), for whosoever studies Torah is a free man – at that time the ministering angels conspired against Moses and exclaimed, “Master of the Universe, What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that Thou thinkest of him? Yet Thou hast made him but little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor. Thou hast made him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet; sheep and oxen, all of them, yea, and the beasts of the fields; the foul of the air, and the fish of the sea, etc. (Ps 8:5-9). They kept murmuring against Moses, saying, “What is this offspring of a woman who has come up on high?” As it is said, Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive; thou hast taken gifts (Ps 68:19).

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

30

Lesson 9: Human as Partner in Revelation

Questions to guide discussion: Do humans discover unknown wisdom in Torah, or do we invent it? Does God need humans to partner in seeking out wisdom in Torah? Who decides the truth about interpretation?

Background: Is correct-action determined solely by commandments given by God, or can humans improvise based on their understanding of what is right? This question bothered the Sages when they read into a number of actions taken by Moses in seeming contradiction to direct commandments given to him by God: separating himself from his wife, shattering the tablets, and adding an extra day to postpone the revelation (BT Yevamot 62a and Shabbat 87a). One can add to this list Moses’ commanding the Levites in God’s name to “put a sword on thigh, go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp and slay brother, neighbor, and kin” (Ex 34: 27) even though no-such command can be found in the text. But Moses was not punished for any of these actions, leading the Sages to conclude that God later agreed to Moses’ actions (BT Yevamot 62a and Shabbat 87a). Akiva could not countenance this understanding: if the Torah is perfect, and includes within it all that has happened and will happen, Moses must have been explicitly instructed to take these actions when God spoke to Moses face-to-face. The Ishmaelian paradigm is more open to the idea that Moses took such action of his own authority. Moreover, by deciding to take such action independently, Moses showed that God’s will

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

31

can be changed—that events that God might want to occur on a certain day can be delayed due to the decisions of God’s representative on earth. The participation of humans in the process of determining the divine will is taken to an extreme in the story of Rabbah b. Nahmani, a Babylonian sage (Baba Mezia 86a). In it, an argument between God and the Divine Assembly over the laws of leprosy leads to their calling on a human being to settle the ruling—even though God had already pronounced an opinon. The Assembly sent the Angel of Death to summon Rabbah, and, as he was dying, “he exclaimed ‘Clean, clean!’ when a Heavenly Voice cried out, ‘Happy are thou, O Rabbah b. Nahmani, whose body is pure and whose soul had departed in purity!’ This story can be read either way: Akiva could have read into it the divine nature of Torah, and the human’s role to discover within that divinity the eternal truth. Ishmael, on the other hand, could view the importance of human opinion in determining the truth —an importance even God and the Heavenly Assembly itself recognizes.

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

32

Human as Partner in Revelation

‫כי עזרא הכין לבבו לדרוש את-תורת ה' ולעשות וללמד בישראל חק ומשפט‬
Do humans discover unknown wisdom in Torah, or do we invent it? Does God need humans to partner in seeking out wisdom in Torah? Who decides the truth about interpretation?
Now, they were disputing “…and the ox shall be in the Heavenly Academy I am brutish, less than a man; I lack stoned.” Why is this thus: If the bright spot stated? For even had common sense. I have not learned preceded the white hair, it not been made wisdom, he is unclean; if the explicit, I could have Nor do I posses knowledge of the Holy reverse, he is clean. If [the gained the contrary One. Who has ascended heaven and order] is in doubt—the result through logic… come down? Holy One, blessed be He, [a contradiction is Who has gathered up the wind in the ruled, He is clean; whilst entire Heavenly created if one would hollow of his hand? Who has wrapped the Academy maintained, He read this text the waters in his garment? What is his is unclean. Who shall according to the previous rule inferred name or his son’s name, if you know it? decide it? Said they— through logic, Every word of God is pure, A shield to Rabbah b. Nahman; for he said, I am pre-eminent in therefore] this rule those who take refuge in Him. Do not the laws of leprosy and was subject to the add to His words, Lest He indict you and tents. A messenger was encompassing rule you be proved a liar. [Proverbs 30:2-6] sent for him, but the and was singled out Angel of Death could not so as to supply approach him, because he evidence concerning a The Sages are forever bringing words of Torah in order todid not interrupt his fresh consideration. strengthen matters that they have instituted. For example: “Whystudies [even for a Now Scripture did the Torah say that we should pour water libations on themoment]. In the meantime restores it to its status Festival of Sukkot? For the Holy and Blessed One said: ‘poura wind blew and caused a as part of a general water before me on the Festival, so that you will be blessed withrustling in the bushes, rain…and recite before Me on Rosh Hashana the verses ofwhen he imagined it to be rule. [Mekhilat D’Rabbi Kingship, Remembrance, and Shofar, so that you will cause Mea troop of soldiers. ‘Let to reign over you, and that your remembrance will come beforeme die,’ he exclaimed, Me with the sound of the Shofar.” (BT Rosh Hashana 16a) Andrather than be delivered yet the Gemara very well knows that these precepts are rabbinicinto the hands of the in origin. [Nahmanides, “Critical Glosses to Maimonides’ Sefer Hamitzvot,” principle 1, citedState.’ As he was dying, HT 450] he exclaimed ‘Clean, clean!’ when a Heavenly Voice cried out, ‘Happy Four entered the Pardes: Ben ‘Azzai, Ben Zoma, the Other one, and Akiva. One are thou, O Rabbah b. glanced and perished, one glanced and was smitten, one glanced and then cutNahmani, whose body is down sprouts, and one went up whole and came down whole. Ben Azzai gazedpure and whose soul had and perished. Concerning him, Scripture says, Precious in the sight of the Lord is departed in purity! [BT
Ishmael, Neziquin 14:1]

the death of his saints (Ps. 116:15) Ben Zoma glanced and was smitten. Concerning him Scripture says, If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you be sated with it and vomit it (Prov. 25:16). Elisha glanced and cut down sprouts. Concerning him Scripture says, Let not your mouth lead you into sin (Quo 5:5). Rabbi Akiva went up whole and came down whole. Concerning him Scripture says, Draw me after you, let us make haste. [The King has brought me into his chambers] (SoS 1:4). [Tosefta Hagiga, 2:3]
Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

Baba Mezia]

33

Lesson 10: Censored or Uncensored, Edited or Unedited: Prophecy and Man Questions to guide discussion: Were Prophets vessels for God, or editors who added their own spin? Is the prophet’s reason a factor in the truth preached, or is all truth beyond reason?

Background: The Prophets played a critical role in early Israel by communicating the message of God to the people of Israel, since the people themselves, it seems, as in the case of Moses, could not bear the direct communication of God (Deut 5:24). But by the time of Ezra and Nehemiah—that is, after the first exile of Israel to Babylon—prophecy as an institution had ceased. Thus, with prophets no longer among them, the inheritors of the Jewish tradition were left with texts and recollections of the words of the prophets, but no way of knowing for sure how the prophetic experience occurred, and what elements were involved. Specifically, the division between Akiva and Ishmael revolved around whether the words of the prophets as recorded—including the words of Israel’s greatest prophet, Moses—were the words of God or were a mediated version of God— that is, a somewhat altered declaration; a censored version of God’s words. The question was posed: were the prophets always uninhibited conveyers of God’s words and will, or did they interact with God in such a way that the record we have of God’s words is in some way distorted? Akiva’s school, which believed in the divine nature of the text of the Torah, could only conclude that the words of the prophets were the exact words put in their mouths by God. That is, the prophet was no more than a vehicle for God’s expression, a shell filled by God’s spirit when God wanted to communicate with the human masses who were

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

34

themselves too fragile to hear God’s unadulterated voice. God was not only immanent in the world for Akiva, God was immanent in the body of the prophet, playing upon her vocal chords like a musician plays a harp. Ishmael, who taught that the Torah was given at Mount Sinai—a specific time and place to a specific nation with a specific language—concluded that even Moses, the greatest of the prophets, could not bear the full presence of the Divine. Even Moses had to be talked to in a language that could suit his conceptual framework—the infinite power and wisdom of God had to be repackaged in human-size bundles if it was to be accepted by the people of Israel. The prophet, therefore, would have to first process these bundles and then later relay an even more simplified version of God’s word, since the people had an even lower capacity for processing God’s communications than the prophet has. Akiva’s vision of the prophet, therefore, is one that makes the prophet no more than a tool for God’s work; an essential tool for the time, but one that has no agency of its own. Ishmael’s vision of the prophet is one of a partnership between God and a human— a joint venture between the infinite and the finite. Akiva’s conception of prophet allows for the language recorded in the scrolls of the prophets to contain the same quality of transcendence—that is, of divine quality—that the Torah itself has, even though Akiva did not teach that the books of the prophets were given to Israel from heaven. Ishmael’s conception of the prophet, on the other hand, extends the idea that the Torah forms a relationship between God and humans, one which, due to the infinite/finite mismatch requires the mediation of a human being of extraordinary qualities to ensure that the interests of both parties are addressed. The prophet, in other words, is God’s agent vis-àvis Israel, and Israel’s agent vis-à-vis God.

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

35

Censored or Uncensored, Edited or Unedited: Prophecy and Man

‫'כה אמר ה‬
Were Prophets vessels for God, or editors who added their own spin? Is the prophet’s reason a factor in the truth preached, or is all truth beyond reason? We are like those weak-eyed persons who are unable to bear the brightness of direct light and must depend on those with sharp eyes. Similarly, we rely on the prophets who lived before us and were able to receive the direct Divine light. Even a person with sound eyes can only observe the sun from certain elevated places and at certain hours of the day in order to describe it to others. So, too, can the prophet who visualizes the Divine light, do so only at specific times and places. [Kuzari, 3:2]

I started down the mountain, a mountain ablaze with fire the two Tablets of the Covenant in my two hands. I saw how you had sinned against the Lord your God: you had made yourselves a molten calf; you had been quick to stray from the path that the Lord had enjoined upon you. Thereupon I gripped the two tablets and flung them away with both of my hands, smashing them before your eyes. I threw myself down before the Lord— eating no bread and drinking no water forty days and forty nights, as before— because of the great wrong you had committed, doing what displeased the Lord and vexing Him. For I was in dread of the Lord’s fierce anger against you, which moved Him to wipe you out. And that time, too, the Lord gave heed to me. [Deut 9:15-19]

By the hands of Moses was the Torah given at Sinai, as it is said, And He wrote them upon two tablets of stone, and gave them unto me (Deut 5:19). And elsewhere it says, These are the statuettes and ordinances and laws, which the Lord made between Him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses (Lev 26:46). The Torah which the Holy One, blessed be He, gave to Israel was given by the hands of Moses only, as it is said, Between Him and the children of Israel: Moses merited becoming God’s messenger to the children of Israel. [Avot
d’R’Natan Ch.1]

The word of the Lord came to me: Before I created you in the womb, I selected you; Before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet concerning the nations. [Jeremiah 1:4-5]

Three things Moses did out of his own accord. He reasoned by inference and his judgment coincided with God’s: He kept away from his wife, and his judgment coincided with God’s. He kept away from the tent of meeting, and his judgment coincided with God’s. He broke the Tablets of the Commandments, and his judgment coincided with God’s….So too did Moses the righteous make an inference of his own accord. He said: “How shall I give these tablets to Israel? I shall be obligating them to major commandments and make them liable to the penalty of death, for thus is it written in the tables, He that sacrifices unto the gods, save unto the Lord only, shall be utterly destroyed. (Ex 22:19). Rather, I shall take hold of them and break them, and bring Israel back to good conduct.” … Rabbi Judah ben Bathyra says: Moses broke the tablets only because he was so told by the mouth of the Almighty, as it is said, With him do I speak mouth to mouth (Num 12:8): mouth to mouth I said to him, “break the tables.”…Rabbi Akiva says: Moses broke the tables only because he was so told by the mouth of the Almighty, as it is said, And I took hold of the two tables… and I broke them (Deut 9:17). [Avot d’R’Natan Chp 2]
Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

36

Lesson 11: Law as an End or a Means – Halakha and the Jewish Way

Questions to guide discussion: Are the laws of Halakha the building blocks of creation, or are they tools towards an end, thereby depending on context? Are Halakhic rulings timeless or practical means for the time? If everything is context, and all laws were given in a certain place and time, is Judaism still relevant? Do increased strictures—fence laws —protect the laws and thereby serve the good of maintaining the Jewish faith, or does every addition detract?

Background: One of the most argued claims against Judaism by Jews and non-Jews alike is that Judaism is a religion of Law and not spirituality. Halakha was seen as constricting by early Christians, who opted for faith over ritual, belief in the coming of the Savior over keeping kosher or restricting oneself by other non-spiritual commandments. There is some truth to the claim that Judaism is a religion of law: to be a Jewish Jew in the eyes of rabbinical Judaism—that is, to be a practicing, observant Jew— is first and foremost to act as a Jew acts. But how should a Jew act? With prophecy no longer a part of the Jewish experience, Judaism turned to the records left behind by the prophets—that is, the records of the Divine will as recorded in the Torah and the books added later, known as the Writings and the Prophets. As discussed in previous lessons, these writings were looked at differently by Akiva and Ishmael: Akiva saw all as sacred and perfect, true reflections of the divine, where every dot and preposition could justify a legal precept as understood through a creative reading of the text. Ishmael agreed that legal rulings could be justified

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

37

by the text, but not as often or as deeply as Akiva would like. While Ishmael himself developed thirteen rules for exegesis, the authoritative systematic method for interpreting the text, he accepted at times that certain laws were based upon rabbinic decision without solid scriptural basis. Beyond these two conceptions of the text, however, lays another problem for rabbinic theology: how far does one go when attempting to protect those commandments already accepted as authoritative. The Great Assembly—the successors to the Prophets according to tradition—taught that the law had to be protected by a fence, that is, that one could be justified in adding rules if those rules would protect people from breaking commandments. The most extreme followers of this mentality set up a high fence around the commandments, regulating their lives as much as possible in order to ensure that God’s will be done. But the Sages also taught that, at times, the person who adds to the amount of commandments may detract in the process; sometimes, making the burden too heavy might lead to the rejection of the entire yoke. More can at times lead to less. This led to the idea that one is only required to do the work—to follow the commandments—specifically assigned to that person, and that anyone who does more is, literally, an idiot. God, according to this view, does expect humans to fulfill every single one of the 613 commandments. Rather, humans should do the best they can under the circumstances to fulfill those commandments which apply. The great number of commandments that exist are for the good of Israel: it provides a person many paths to fulfill the will of the Divine. This view has it that it is not the quantity of commandments that matters as much as the quality: that those commandments that are fulfilled are fulfilled with a full heart and soul, with the intention of doing God’s will.

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

38

Law as an End or a Means – Halakha and the Jewish Way

‫ללכת בדרכיו ולשמור מצותיו וחקותיו ומשפוטיו וחיית ורבית‬
Are the laws of Halakha the building blocks of creation or a tool towards an end? Are Halakhic rulings timeless or practical means for the time? If everything is context is Judaism still relevant?
Our masters sat andYou must not carry false rumors; you shall not join hands with the guilty to act as a conducted an investigationfalse witness. With the majority you shall not side to do wrong – you shall not give concerning the use offalse testimony, after the majority one must not incline. [Ex 23:1-2] heathen’s oil and found that R. Berekiah, R. the prohibition [by the Hiyya, and the rabbis] had not spread Moses received the Torah on Rabbis of among the large majority of Sinai, and conveyed it to [Babylonia] in R. Israelites; they accordingly Joshua; Joshua to the Elders, Judah’s name said: relied upon the dictum of Not a day passes in Rabban Simeon ben Gamliel and the Elders to the Prophets, which the Holy One, and R’ Eliezer ben Zadok and the Prophets conveyed it to blessed be He, does who declared: We make no the Men of the Great Assembly. not teach a new law in the heavenly decree upon the community They said three things: Be Court. What is the unless the majority are able in judgment, proof? the “Hear to abide by it. R’Adda ben deliberate attentively noise Ahaba said: What Scriptural develop many disciples, and of His voice, and the verse supports this rule? Ye meditation that goeth are cursed with the curse; make a protective fence for the out of His mouth” for ye rob Me, even this Torah. [Ethics of the Fathers, 1:1] (Job 37:2). Now whole nation – i.e., when the “meditation” refers to naught but Torah, as whole nation has [accepted in the verse, “But an ordinance, then the curse which is the penalty of itsAnd Make a Protective Fence for the Torah: What led tothou shalt meditate infraction] does apply,Eve’s touching the tree? It was the hedge which Adam puttherein day and night” (Josh. 1:8). otherwise it does not. around his words. Hence it has been said: If a man puts an [Bereshit Rabba 49:2] [BT Avodah Zara 36a-b] (excessive) hedge around his words, he shall not be able to stand by his words. Hence it has also been said: let no man add to what he hears. [Avot d’R’Natan Chp 1]

We learnt elsewhere: If he cut it into separate tiles, placing sand between each tile. R’ Eliezer declared it clean, and the Sages declared it unclean, and this was the oven of Aknai. Why the oven of Aknai? Said Rab Judah in Samuel’s name, it means that they surrounded it with arguments as a snake [aknai], and proved it unclean. It has been taught: on that day R’Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument, but they did not accept them. Said he to them: “If the Law agrees with me, let this carob tree prove it!” Thereupon the carob tree was torn a hundred cubits out of its place—others say, four hundred cubits. “No proof can be brought from a carob tree,” the others retorted. Again he said to them: “if the Law agrees with me, let the stream of water prove it!” Whereupon the stream of water flowed backwards. “No proof can be brought from a stream of water,” they retorted. Again he urged: “if the Law agrees with me, let the walls of the schoolhouse prove it,” whereupon the walls inclined to fall. But R’Joshua rebuked them, saying, “when scholars are engaged in halakhic debate, who are you to interfere?” Hence they did not fall, in honor of R’Joshua, but they did not return to be upright, in honor of R’Eliezer, and they are still standing thus inclined. Again he said to them: “If the Law agrees with me, let it be proved by Heaven!” Whereupon a Heavenly Voice cried out: “Who are you to dispute with R’Eliezer, seeing that in all matters the Law agrees with him!” But R’Joshua arose and exclaimed: “It is not in Heaven!” What did he mean by this? Said R’Jeremiah: that the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice, because Thou hast long since written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, After the majority one must incline (Ex 23:2) [BT Baba Metzia 59ab]

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

39

Prepared for: Rabbinic Theology as taught by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, by Ariel Beery.

40

1

Endnotes:

See L.J. Greenspoon “The Origins of the Idea of the Resurrection of the Dead” in Traditions in Transformation ed. Halpern and Levenson (247-321) 2 Taken from 194 3 Discourse found in Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 40b. This disagreement is discussed in 205

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.