Between Man and God: Issues in Judaic Thought 0313319049, 9780313319044

Sicker presents a personal attempt to come to grips with the awesome question, Where was God at Auschwitz? and with it s

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Table of contents :
Contents
Introduction
1 The Judaic Conception of God
2 The Temporal or Prophetic Paradigm
3 The Experience of the Divine
4 Man, the Universe, and the Creator
5 The Meaning of Human Existence
6 Man in the Image
7 Man and Providence
8 Man’s Moral Autonomy
9 The Good and Evil Impulses
10 Divine Omniscience and Moral Autonomy
11 Resolving Rabbi Akiba’s Paradox
12 The Question of Divine Justice
13 Theodicy in Judaic Thought
14 Divine Justice and Human Justice
Bibliography
Index
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Between Man and God

BETWEEN MAN AND GOD Issues in Judaic Thought

MARTIN SICKER

Contributions to the Study of Religion, Number 66

GREENWOOD PRESS Westport, Connecticut • London

Recent Titles in Contributions to the Study of Religion Competing Visions of Islam in the United States: A Study of Los Angeles Kambiz GhaneaBassiri Bodies of Life: Shaker Literature and Literacies Etta M. Madden Toward a Jewish (M)Orality: Speaking of a Postmodern Jewish Ethics S. Daniel Breslauer The Catholic Church in Mississippi, 1911–1984: A History Michael V. Namorato Holocaust Scholars Write to the Vatican Harry James Cargas, editor Bystanders: Conscience and Complicity During the Holocaust Victoria J. Barnett The Death of God Movement and the Holocaust: Radical Theology Encounters the Shoah Stephen R. Haynes and John K. Roth, editors Noble Daughters: Unheralded Women in Western Christianity, 13th to 18th Centuries Marie A. Conn Confessing Christ in a Post-Holocaust World: A Midrashic Experiment Henry F. Knight Learning from History: A Black Christian’s Perspective on the Holocaust Hubert Locke History, Religion, and Meaning: American Reflections on the Holocaust and Israel Julius Simon, editor Religious Fundamentalism in Developing Countries Santosh C. Saha and Thomas K. Carr

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Sicker, Martin. Between man and God : issues in Judaic thought / Martin Sicker. p. cm.—(Contributions to the study of religion, ISSN 0196–7053 ; no. 66) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0–313–31904–9 (alk. paper) 1. God (Judaism) 2. Man (Jewish theology) 3. Judaism—Doctrines. I. Title. II. Series. BM610.S485 2001 296.3′11—dc21 00–069127 British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data is available. Copyright © 2001 by Martin Sicker All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, by any process or technique, without the express written consent of the publisher. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 00–069127 ISBN: 0–313–31904–9 ISSN: 0196–7053 First published in 2001 Greenwood Press, 88 Post Road West, Westport, CT 06881 An imprint of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc. www.greenwood.com Printed in the United States of America

The paper used in this book complies with the Permanent Paper Standard issued by the National Information Standards Organization (Z39.48–1984). 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Contents

Introduction

vii

1.

The Judaic Conception of God

1

2.

The Temporal or Prophetic Paradigm

21

3.

The Experience of the Divine

41

4.

Man, the Universe, and the Creator

57

5.

The Meaning of Human Existence

75

6.

Man in the Image

89

7.

Man and Providence

97

8.

Man’s Moral Autonomy

109

9.

The Good and Evil Impulses

129

10.

Divine Omniscience and Moral Autonomy

149

11.

Resolving Rabbi Akiba’s Paradox

165

12.

The Question of Divine Justice

189

13.

Theodicy in Judaic Thought

201

14.

Divine Justice and Human Justice

229

Bibliography

239

Index

255

Introduction

More than a half-century after the Holocaust, the theological reverberations of that horrendous intrusion of evil into the course of human history remain with us unabated. “Where was God at Auschwitz?” is a cry that continues to be heard. Satisfactory answers to this heartrending question seem to elude us, as we continue to witness the horrors that men are capable of inflicting on one another. This work was written in part as a personal attempt to come to grips with that awesome question and with it some of the related central issues of Jewish thought and belief. In recent years a number of disturbing books and articles by Jewish authors on the subject of theodicy, the justification of divine acts, most of them written with the Holocaust as their point of reference, have appeared. These works attempt to deal with the philosophical and theological implications of the Holocaust and therefore necessarily touch upon some of the crucial issues that have troubled Jewish thinkers for millennia. I have found some of these works to be particularly disconcerting primarily because I believe them to be fundamentally ill conceived as well as socially and psychologically counterproductive. In a sense, this book is my response to those authors. There seems to be a tendency among many writers of such contemporary works to argue that the very fact of the Holocaust invalidates traditional Jewish theology, and that its long-held ideas about God must therefore be revised radically. An example of this approach is the position taken by one such writer, Steven Jacobs, who rejects traditional conceptions of God as being out of touch with the real world. “What is demanded in the realm of theological integrity is a notion of God compatible with the reality of radical evil at work and

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INTRODUCTION

at play in our world, a notion that, also, admits of human freedom for good and evil—without the fruitless appeals to a God who ‘chose’ (?) not to act because He could not act.”1 This statement implies, strongly and in my view incorrectly, that traditional thought does not deal with “the reality of radical evil,” although it is not entirely clear what the author of the statement means by the phrase “radical evil.” Its author then leaps to the non sequitur conclusion that the God of traditional Judaic theology is essentially impotent and therefore not worthy of our supplications. In other words, it appears that he has assigned to God a set of responsibilities, a sort of job description. Since these responsibilities were not carried out to his satisfaction, especially with regard to God not having prevented the Holocaust, the traditional Judaic notion of an omnipotent God who is concerned with man must therefore be discounted and His job description radically revised. However, the question is, would thinkers such as Jacobs really want a God who visibly intervened in our collective and private lives, thereby restricting our freedoms of choice and actions? Michael Lerner observed in this regard: “Although they know they could never really believe in a god of this sort, and though they don’t really believe in this god, they are angry at ‘him’ for not existing, and so won’t allow themselves to know the God that Does exist.”2 It seems clear that it was in response to this general line of argument that Emmanuel Levinas wrote: What can this suffering of the innocents mean? Is it not a proof of a world without God, where only man measures Good and Evil? The simplest and most common answer would be atheism. This is also the sanest reaction for all those for whom previously a fairly primary sort of God had dished out prizes, inflicted punishment or pardoned sins—a God who, in His goodness, treated men like children. But with what lesser demon or strange magician have you therefore filled your heaven, you who claim it is empty? And why, under an empty sky, do you continue to hope for a good and sensible world.3

With all due respect for the sincerity of the Jewish “death of God” theologians, much of this line of argument has always struck me as a form of verbal “dragon-slaying.” That is, one conjures up a conceptual “dragon,” and then proceeds to slay it, deftly and with finality. However, my own research into the traditional literature of Judaism indicates that one would be hard-pressed to find any such readily destructible theological “dragons.” This is not to suggest that one will not find some rather unsophisticated ideas about God there. But this is very different from asserting that such ideas are representative of traditional Judaic thought which, in fact, as may readily be seen in the works of its principal exponents, is hardly as naïve as the “dragon-slayers” would have us believe. The equivalent to the question, “Where was God at Auschwitz?” has

INTRODUCTION

ix

long been asked by Jewish thinkers, albeit in reference to other places and times, since the destruction of the First Jewish Commonwealth more than two and a half millennia ago. They wrestled with the possible answers then, just as we do today. The big difference between then and now is not with the enormity and uniqueness of the Holocaust when compared with all other disasters in Jewish history, but with the readiness of earlier thinkers to search for meaning without almost cavalierly discarding ideas and beliefs that were cherished throughout that history. I will argue in this book that the modern advocates of radical theological revision actually have little to add to our understanding of the ways of God and even less to a meaningful Judaic perspective on the universe and the relationship between man and God. A second concern of this work is the argument, heard rather frequently nowadays, that because there is no universally accepted theology of Judaism, one is not bound by any particular conception of God, whether of biblical or rabbinic origin, or as espoused by Jewish philosophers and theologians over the centuries. In other words, Jewish theology has come to be viewed essentially as an “equal opportunity” field of intellectual endeavor. At its extreme, the argument is made that, as long as one identifies oneself and “lives” as a Jew, whatever that is supposed to mean, it hardly matters what one believes about God, or that one even believes in or anything about God. Moreover, this approach, which most often tends to be identified with the modern movement for the reconstruction of Judaism, is also taken in essence by a not insignificant number of rabbis and thinkers from all the various streams of contemporary Judaism. And this is so, despite the frequently radical differences between these various schools of thought with regard to what constitutes an authentic Jewish approach to the dilemmas of existence and the path to be followed through them. The general approach of these thinkers, in my opinion, is fundamentally and ultimately fatally flawed. It is true that there is no generally accepted formal dogma in Judaism, notwithstanding the highly controversial efforts of some religious authorities such as the venerable Maimonides to stipulate one. However, this is by no means the same as suggesting that, as a consequence, any theology is as valid as any other is. I would argue that such a suggestion is without a basis in Jewish intellectual history, regardless of whether or not one accepts a dogmatic set of beliefs set forth by some thinkers in the past. The fact is that Judaism as it has been known for more than two millennia is predicated on a number of basic, albeit not precisely defined, assumptions and value concepts, without which it would be critically undermined. It is these crucial ideas that are currently under relentless attack, by numerous essentially agnostic and atheist rabbis and theologians of various religious persuasions, under the rubric of redefining Jewish belief as a necessary step to the preservation of Judaism in the postmodern era. There is, however, little if any evidence

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INTRODUCTION

that this freewheeling approach is likely to achieve this goal and some rather disconcerting evidence that it will not. The central argument of this book is that traditional nondogmatic Jewish thought does not require radical revision. Indeed, there are solid grounds for suggesting that the rabbinic Judaism of the last two millennia probably could not survive such revision and remain the historical force it has been since the destruction of the Second Jewish Commonwealth and its central religious shrine, the Temple in Jerusalem. Instead, what is required is a mature and sympathetic understanding of the theological assumptions and ideas of the past coupled with a sincere and respectful attempt to reformulate them in terms more attuned to the modern temper. That is, we need to build on those ideas and not simply reject them out of hand as unsatisfactory because we find their implicit explanations of how or why God let the Holocaust happen disagreeable. Even though one certainly will find in the traditional literature some rather simplistic statements of belief in a personal God, these are rarely if ever formulated as formal theological tenets, and just as rarely taken at face value by serious thinkers. The sages of old, as well as the rabbis and philosophers of later times, were acutely sensitive to the difficulties inherent in such beliefs but, generally speaking, did not attempt to simply discard them as so many seem eager to do today. They understood, as many of us appear to have great difficulty in doing, that, as Pascal once wrote, the heart has reasons that reason does not know. Enamored with our powers of deduction and reasoning, we seem to be prepared to discard anything that we cannot define or label to our satisfaction, forgetting that ideas may have meta-logical validity that transcends the conventional logic that governs what we usually consider to be rational thought. In this book I attempt to grasp and describe how some of the great issues of Jewish thought have been understood and addressed throughout the ages. Perhaps foremost among these is the question of a personal God, the idea that was universally accepted by those committed to normative Judaism, but which was understood in a wide variety of ways. No traditional Jewish thinker prior to the twentieth century would have conceived of rejecting the concept outright, as demanded by the new radical revisionists, because to do so would have undermined the entire edifice of rabbinic Judaism. Without belief in a personal God, even though that notion has never been defined dogmatically in Judaism, there can be no belief in divine providence or in divine reward and punishment, and without the latter Judaism is deprived of much of the basis for its normative content. It could, as suggested by some modern thinkers, be recast as a form of rational humanism, but one cannot but seriously doubt that this sort of vague vestige of traditional Judaism could carry the emotive power to keep it or the Jewish people alive for very long in the future. This was attempted by Felix Adler with his founding of the Ethical Cul-

INTRODUCTION

xi

ture movement in 1876, a movement that soon lost any Jewish identification, and is presently being attempted once again by the new Humanistic Judaism movement, with equally dismal prospects for success. The problem of theodicy, the rationalization of divine justice, similarly raises the closely related and extraordinarily difficult issues of God’s omnicompetence, including His omniscience and omnipotence, as well as the nature of evil, and most importantly, the matter of free will and man’s moral autonomy. Once again, without the pervasive albeit implicit belief in the latter, the entire edifice of traditional Judaism would be destabilized. Each of these topics will be examined in some depth. I cannot pretend that I have discovered new truths in the course of this venture into Judaic philosophical and theological thought. The most I can claim is to have attained a better and deeper appreciation of the wisdom and insight of the prophets and sages of Israel and their disciples throughout the ages. It will be seen that many of their ideas are directly applicable to the intellectual dilemmas that have caused so much soul searching and brain wracking in recent years. No, there is no single definitive answer to those dilemmas. But there are tentative answers that can serve as the basis for an accommodation with the inexplicable. In this work, I have found it necessary to draw a distinction between Jewish and Judaic thought and tradition, with the focus being placed on the latter. As used in this book, Judaic refers to the normative rabbinic Judaism that has dominated Jewish life for some two millennia. There is, of course, Jewish thought, that is, the ideas articulated by Jews, that traverses the bounds of traditional Judaism. However, because of the nature of the subject that is of concern here, such non-Judaic Jewish thought is of little relevance and has been ignored in all but a few instances where it helps clarify a point. Finally, I think it appropriate to include a word about perspective. Every book is in a sense autobiographical. What we include or omit, the approach we take to the collection and analysis of data and information, are necessarily reflections of the author’s point of view. I therefore feel obligated to inform the reader of some pertinent information that will clarify the perspective I bring to this study. My primary concern is with traditional Judaic thought, that is, the thought that constituted the corpus of Judaic literature from remote antiquity to modern times. However, by traditional Judaic thought, I do not necessarily refer to how the tradition is understood by those who identify themselves as Orthodox, since both Conservative and Reform scholars and theologians can also make credible claims for their understandings of the tradition and its history. In fact, this book is not at all concerned with the various streams of thought and belief within contemporary Judaism, but only with whatever insight their proponents can provide to augment and amplify our understanding of tradi-

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INTRODUCTION

tional ideas about the great issues of Judaic philosophy and theology. I should also point out that this book is not particularly concerned about the work and ideas of individual Jewish philosophers throughout the ages, even though many will be cited where their views are relevant to the issues under discussion. Although there is a tendency in writings dealing with theological questions to focus strongly on the views of philosophers, it needs to be recognized that Jewish philosophers as such have had relatively little influence on the development of Judaism. Thus, even the great medieval philosopher Maimonides, whose profound influence on the history and development of Judaism is universally acknowledged, did not attain his inestimable importance because of his formal philosophic work but rather because of his works on rabbinic law. It is those writings that were popularly accessible, works such as liturgical compositions and commentaries on biblical and talmudic texts, which had the greatest influence on the development of Judaic thought. The book will conclude with my own summary of some of the key ideas that I believe to be essential to the construction of a viable conceptual framework for the Judaism of the present and future. At a minimum, such a framework must deal directly with the problem of radical evil in a manner consistent with the teachings of the past. Because of this focus, a number of important topics that are frequently found discussed in books on Jewish philosophy and theology, but which are peripheral to my more immediate concerns in this work, will not be considered here. Finally, the reader will find extensive use of sources and direct citations. This is done in the face of editorial advice that suggests that readers generally prefer to hear a single voice. In this case, however, I feel it would be overly pretentious for me to simply summarize and paraphrase the ideas of Judaic thinkers over a period of more than two millennia without affording the reader some direct access to them that may not be readily available otherwise. It is my hope that this approach will give the reader a deeper understanding of traditional Judaic thought and a stronger appreciation of Judaism’s spiritual and intellectual heritage. NOTES 1. Steven L. Jacobs, Rethinking Jewish Faith, p. 13. 2. Michael Lerner, Jewish Renewal, p. 411. 3. Emmanuel Levinas, Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism, p. 143.

1

The Judaic Conception of God

Traditional Judaism is unequivocally predicated on a bedrock belief in the existence of God and faith in the existence of a unique relationship between God and man in general and with Israel in particular. It may therefore seem surprising to some that classical Judaic thought, that is, the ideas reflected in the writings that have come down to us from the biblical and postbiblical periods, does not appear to be at all concerned with the philosophical problem of rationally demonstrating the existence of God. Discussion of the question is entirely absent, even implicitly, from that literature. One might suggest at least three reasons for this conspicuous lack of interest in the subject. First and foremost, the point of departure for the biblical and rabbinic writers is the proposition, generally unstated but nonetheless treated by them as axiomatic, that there is in fact a God. Indeed, to suggest otherwise was considered both impertinent and absurd, as well as immoral. As the biblical psalmist wrote, The fool hath said in his heart: ‘There is no God’ (Pss. 14:1, 53:2).1 Accordingly, no demonstrable proof of divine existence was considered necessary or perhaps even desirable; a flawed or weak argument might cast doubt on the indisputable truth of the fundamental proposition. This most essential premise of Judaism is set forth implicitly in the very first sentence of the biblical canon: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth (Gen. 1:1). In this statement, the antecedent existence of God is clearly taken for granted, as is the explicit proclamation of God’s direct engagement with the material universe. Moreover, as Emil Fackenheim argues, the existence of God cannot be proven. “If there is a God, and if He is God, He embraces man’s existence with such totality as to make objective detachment altogether impossible. If a man can pass judgment on God and His existence, it is not God on whom he passes judg-

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ment. A God who can be an object is not God. Because a God who is subjected to man’s objective judgment is not God, God can neither be proven nor disproven. If God is God, He is not an object, but the Subject. He is man’s absolute existential apriori.”2 The essential truth of the implicit biblical assertion has been accepted unequivocally by adherents of Judaism throughout history, at least until modern times, and has never required philosophic confirmation. Indeed, as argued by Søren Kierkegaard, to seek such confirmation may be considered a gross impertinence. “So rather let us mock God out and out,” he wrote, “this is always preferable to the disparaging air of importance with which one would prove God’s existence. For to prove the existence of one who is present is the most shameless affront.” 3 Joseph B. Soloveitchik made this same point from an even more explicitly existential perspective. “The trouble with all rational demonstrations of the existence of God, with which the history of philosophy abounds, consists in their being exactly what they were meant to be by those who formulated them: abstract logical demonstrations divorced from the living primal experiences in which these demonstrations are rooted.” But, with regard to such real primal experiences, he argued: “Does the loving bride in the embrace of her beloved ask for proof that he is alive and real? Must the prayerful soul clinging in passionate love and ecstasy to her Beloved demonstrate that He exists?”4 The second reason for the lack of Judaic interest in the philosophical problem of God is simply that the God of the philosophers, the deity whose existence may be demonstrated by philosophic argument and analysis, is very remote from the personal living God of the Hebrew scriptures. As Judah Halevi put it, for the philosopher, speculation about the deity merely constitutes an intellectual exercise. The philosopher “only seeks Him that he may be able to describe Him accurately in detail, as he would describe the earth. . . . Ignorance of God would be no more injurious than would ignorance concerning the earth be injurious to those who consider it flat.”5 The God of the biblical and rabbinic writers, by contrast, is the God of revelation, the God of history, and the God of Israel. Will Herberg made this point in unequivocal terms: The God of Hebraic religion is not a philosophical principle, an ethical ideal or a cosmic process. The God of Hebraic religion, the God of the Bible, is a Living God. . . . When Judaism speaks of the Living God, it means to affirm that the transcendent Absolute which is the ultimate reality is not an abstract idea or an intellectual principle but a dynamic Power in life and history—and a dynamic power that is personal. The God of Judaism is thus best understood as a transcendent person whose very “essence” is activity, activity not in some superworld of disembodied souls but in the actual world of men and things.6

THE JUDAIC CONCEPTION OF GOD

3

The God of Judaism, as understood by Judaic thinkers, is indeed very far from the God of the philosophers in basic conceptual terms, even though a handful of Jewish philosophers have attempted to grapple with the philosophic problem of demonstrating the existence of God, especially during the medieval period. However, to the best of our knowledge they did so not because of any residual doubts in their minds about the answers to the questions they posed. They pursued their philosophical inquiries primarily because they were convinced that it was important, given the intellectual currents coursing through the societies in which they lived, to demonstrate philosophically that which they unreservedly accepted on the basis of Judaic tradition and belief. Their primary purpose was to strengthen the faith commitment of those who might be susceptible to external intellectual influences and thereby be led into error. A case in point is the difference in approach between the codifiers of the first and second codes of Jewish law. The first code, the Mishnah, compiled about the beginning of the third century, begins with the question “From what time in the evening may the Shema7 be recited?”8 The Mishnah takes the existence of God, which is affirmed by the prayer, for granted and is concerned only with the appropriate time for its recitation. The second codification of Jewish law, authored by Maimonides in the Middle Ages, begins very differently, asserting: “The very foundation and firm support of all wisdom is to know that there is a primary reality, which caused all to be.”9 What accounts for this rather different approach to the same subject? As explained by Marvin Fox, Maimonides thrived in an intellectual world in which serious philosophical and theological questions were being raised. Accordingly, he “could not begin simply by accepting with complete and total assurance the reality of God; he had to set down an initial principle: one must know and be able to demonstrate that God exists in order to accept His reality.”10 It is only in relatively recent times that the biblical author’s fundamental premises, no longer treated as axiomatic, have been subjected to critical scrutiny and challenge from thinkers within the Jewish faith community. One might also suggest that, in not a few instances, some modern Jewish thinkers seem to approach the subject of the philosophical problem of God for very different purposes than their medieval predecessors. The observation made by Etienne Gilson concerning those Jewish thinkers that he considered to be among the masters of modern French philosophy is particularly troubling in this regard, probably because it is so much to the point. “To be sure,” he wrote, “their Jewish education had an impact on the thinking of the masters . . . but instead of resorting to philosophy for a better understanding of their religious faith, as Christian philosophers do, the Jews I have known used philosophy to liberate themselves from their religion . . . to run away from the synagogue.”11 And to the extent that the influence of such philosophers permeated the faith

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community of Judaism, it would be difficult to characterize the results as positive. In general, however, one might go so far as to suggest that, from the standpoint of the historical evolution of Judaism, the impact of the speculations of Jewish philosophers throughout history on Judaic faith and practice has hardly been commensurate with the intellectual efforts expended by them. Finally, the lack of Judaic interest in the philosophical problem of God may stem from a sheer inability to define the subject of inquiry in comprehensible terms. Louis Jacobs has argued in this regard: “God cannot be defined for definition is genus plus differentia.” For example, if we define man as a “rational creature,” we first specify the genus—the group to which he belongs—and then propose a statement of how man differs from other members of that group, which would provide the differentia. Accordingly, we would assert that generic man is a member of the group “creatures,” and that by virtue of his possession of a rational faculty he can be shown to differ from all other members of that group. However, as Jacobs observes, “God cannot belong to a group, for this would imply that the group to which He belongs is greater, i.e., more embracing than He.”12 This presents us with an apparently insoluble dilemma. If we cannot logically define God, how can we deal in a sensible manner with the problem of demonstrating God’s existence? Moreover, it does not help to attempt to describe God in impersonal and abstract terms such as “Power,” “Force,” or “First Cause,” because one may ask with regard to each of these characterizations, what produced the power, force, or cause? It also does not help to describe these abstractions in terms of eternity or infinity, because neither provides a comprehensible answer to a human mind that is by its nature finite. Viewing the problem from a traditional Judaic perspective, it would seem best simply to assert that God is, although even this, strictly speaking, might be found unacceptable to some because it too attempts to describe that which is intrinsically indescribable. It is for this reason that the Kabbalists go so far as to speak of God as Ayin—Nothingness—as He Who Is Not. However, as Beryl Cohon wisely cautions, “Words and realities must not be confused. What botany is to plants, geology to the earth, astronomy to the heavenly bodies, theology is to God and religion. One is the discipline, the other is the object of study. Our knowledge changes with deeper insight. With our growing knowledge may come the still, small voice of wisdom. God remains constant, the Mystery. When men reject any of the ideas of God they do not necessarily repudiate the reality of God.”13 By contrast with their general neglect of the philosophical problem of deity, the biblical and rabbinic thinkers and writers were very much concerned with the collateral theological problem of God, that is, the attempt to understand and characterize how the divine is manifested in our lives. As a corollary to the biblical portrayal of God as creator of the universe is the fundamental proposi-

THE JUDAIC CONCEPTION OF GOD

5

tion, also taken as a given in traditional Judaic thought, that there exists a uniquely interactive relationship between God and man. However, the precise nature of this divine-human relationship has long been a matter of conjecture as well as contention. For some three millennia, prophets, sages, and theologians have wrestled with the problem of postulating a satisfactory theory to account for that extraordinary connection. Most of these efforts appear to have been undertaken in response to the evident need for a formulation that would have the explanatory power necessary to assuage the concerns of those who yearned to bridge the often troublesome gap between faith and reason. Such concerns have become especially profound in the contemporary post-Holocaust era. Although it may appear anachronistic to suggest that the ancient prophets and sages of Israel were engaged in the search for a theoretical formulation that would lay this issue to rest, I believe such can easily be demonstrated to have been the case. As will be seen, it is not only we in the modern era who are confounded by the need to explain in rationally acceptable terms how we as individuals can interact with an essentially transcendent God in any experientially meaningful way. After all, it is by no means self-evident how God, who is traditionally conceived of as transcending the world of human experience, can at the same time be perceived and experienced as an intimate part of it. Nonetheless, “the intimacy of the divine infinity,” as Emil Fackenheim puts it, is “the ultimate principle of Judaism.”14 In their attempts to resolve this fundamental issue, and thereby to rationalize the divine-human relationship, the universal point of departure for the prophets and sages of Israel was their understanding of God that emerged from a sympathetic and profoundly perceptive reading of the Torah. The insights garnered in this manner were further informed by the rabbinic postulation of an oral Torah presumed to be at least coeval with, if not antecedent to, the written biblical texts.15

THE ONE AND THE MANY If one were to attempt to single out the most fundamental and historically distinctive aspect of Judaic theology, I would suggest that perhaps the strongest case could be made for its pristine and revolutionary conception of God. From its very beginnings, as evidenced by the biblical writings, the literature and traditions of Judaism have propounded an unadulterated monotheism that represents an uncompromising antithesis to all other characterizations of the divine. This may be seen most clearly when one contrasts the classical Judaic conception of God with the pagan idea of deity, and the concomitant polytheism that has characterized the religious beliefs of much if not most of mankind from remote antiquity to the present day.

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In pointing out the fundamental distinctions between monotheism and paganism, Yehezkel Kaufmann noted that “the essence of paganism is the idea that the divinity is established within the framework of an existence that is meta-divine.”16 That is, the archetypal pagan conception of divinity is predicated on the presumed existence of a higher realm of divine being that is populated by a multiplicity of gods and demigods who are related to each other in some basically hierarchical configuration. The ancient Sumerians, for example, believed that the most important cosmic functions were performed by several distinct divine beings that controlled the forces and elements of nature. They conceived of these divine beings as constituting a triumvirate of principal gods. These included Anu, the god of heaven and lord of the visible universe, the highest deity in the Sumerian pantheon; Enlil, the god of wind and storm, whose domain consisted of the region between heaven and earth; and Enki, the god of the earth. These three deities were complemented by another but subordinate trinity of gods who were the masters of the celestial bodies, which in turn governed the course of all existence on earth. The latter included Nanna the moon god, Utu the sun god, and Inanna (Venus), who served both as the morning star and Mother Earth, the goddess of fertility. These, in turn, were supplemented by a plethora of lower order gods and demons that interacted more directly with the world of man. In like fashion, ancient Israel’s immediate neighbors, the Moabites, acknowledged the existence of a supreme god, El Elyon, but believed that his influence on their lives was mediated through Chemosh, the tribal or national deity whom they worshipped. Similarly, the ancient Canaanites identified El as their supreme god, but believed that they were more intimately connected to the inferior storm god Baal, who represented the cosmic force, and Astarte, the goddess of fertility, both of which were adored and served. From the outset, as clearly evidenced even in the earliest of the biblical writings, the prophets and teachers of Israel categorically rejected such pagan and polytheistic conceptions of the universe. As Kaufmann put it: “The essence of Israelite faith is the idea that there is no meta-divine existence, and that there is no meta-divine law or destiny. The divine transcends all else, its will governs everything, a rule without limit and restriction.”17 In the biblical or prophetic perspective, there exists no higher realm of divine existence populated by a host of distinct deities as well as other divine and semidivine beings. However, Kaufmann cautions, “it would be a mistake to think that a merely arithmetic difference sets off Israel’s religion from paganism. The pagan idea does not approach Israelite monotheism as it diminishes the number of its gods. The Israelite conception of God’s unity entails His sovereign transcendence over all. It rejects the pagan idea of a realm beyond deity, the source of mythology and magic. The affirmation that the will of God is supreme and absolutely free is a new, nonpagan category of thought.”18 The biblical authors

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insist that there is only one true God, the one denoted in the biblical writings by the four-consonant name YHVH, often referred to as the Tetragrammaton.19 The true God, YHVH, is the supreme sovereign of all that exists in the universe: For the Lord [YHVH] your God, He is God of gods, and Lord of lords, the great God, the mighty, and the awful (Deut. 10:17).20 But, one may object, do not biblical phrases such as “God of gods” and “Lord of lords” suggest the existence of a divine hierarchy as well as a multiplicity of divinities? Judah Halevi responded to this objection by suggesting that these formulations assume that what the pagan world worshipped as gods were the creative forces of nature, and that these phrases are therefore merely designations “for the fact that all creative forces are depending upon God, who arranges and guides them.”21 Elaborating on this theme, Elijah Benamozegh suggested that, indeed, there are passages in the Pentateuch, such as that cited above, where not only is the existence of other gods not denied, but where it appears to be affirmed. But, he asked, “can we imagine a more effective, forcible way of emphasizing the doctrine of the oneness of God than to affirm that these beings whom men worship as if they were gods are in fact so many creations, subjects, servants of the unique God, who is thus all the more exalted in proportion as these alleged divinities whose sovereign master He is are themselves elevated? Can ‘gods’ who are subordinate to God still claim to be ‘gods’?”22 Benamozegh therefore suggests that the biblical phrases, God of gods, and Lord of lords, should not be taken literally to imply the existence of a divine hierarchy. Instead, they should be understood as “an absolute expression in the form of superlative-comparative,” comparable to such phrases as, “Holy of Holies,” or “Heaven of Heavens,” which are clearly figures of speech intended to serve as superlatives and which should not be understood as suggesting anything more.23 Nonetheless, one might choose to interpret the phrases God of gods and Lord of lords as implying a biblical acknowledgment of the existence of a pantheon of lesser deities, consistent with the fundamental assumption of polytheism. The biblical text therefore assures us that such an interpretation would constitute a serious misreading of its intent. Know this day, and lay it to thy heart, that the Lord [YHVH], He is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath; there is none else (Deut. 4:39). In this passage, it is not only asserted that there are no other divine beings, but also that in the biblical view there can be no other divine beings.24 The prophet Isaiah makes this same point when he repeatedly and unequivocally proclaims the uniqueness of God. Before Me there was no God formed, neither shall any be after Me (Isa. 43:10). I am the first, and I am the last, and beside Me there is no God (Isa. 44:6). I am the Lord [YHVH], and there is none else, beside Me there is no God (Isa. 45:5). I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like Me (Isa. 46:9).

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The theological significance of an assertion of belief in a single deity, however, is not entirely self-evident, and may easily be misconstrued. Leo Baeck pointed out that “the difference between the many gods and the One God was not merely a difference in number—there could be no grosser error—but a difference in nature or essence. It is not a matter of an arithmetical, but of a significant, a religious, an ethical demarcation.”25 Steven Schwarzschild similarly addressed this point, urging that we bear in mind that a belief in one god is not necessarily equivalent to a belief in God. “Suppose,” he argued, “someone believed in five gods (= idols). Someone else convinces him that gods 1–4 are false. He now believes in only one ‘god.’ It is, however, the same one god that he believed in earlier (except that then he believed in four others as well). Does he believe in God? No—he believes in one idol.”26 In effect, belief in a single god does not itself constitute monotheism. It may merely represent a special form of paganism, monolatry or henotheism. From the Judaic perspective, the only legitimate form of belief in God is monotheism, the belief in a one and only God. The biblical writers therefore insisted that God is the sole deity, and that besides Him there simply are no other gods of any kind, great or small. Reflecting this perspective, the psalmist dismissed polytheism as being devoid of substance with the terse comment that all the gods of the peoples are things of naught (Ps. 96:5).27 But, one might object once again, does not Scripture itself imply the existence of other gods by virtue of its reference to them in a statement such as that contained in the Decalogue, Thou shalt have no other gods before Me (Ex. 20:3)? This question was raised and discussed by the sages of the talmudic period who concluded that what the biblical writer meant by “other gods” was “merely those which others called gods,” and not other gods in fact.28 As R. Judah haNasi put it, in terms intended to point up the absurdity of the notion, “other gods” refers to “gods that are later than he who was last in the order of creation. And who is it that was the last of the things created? The one who calls them ‘gods.’ ”29 In other words, to the extent that divinity is ascribed to other “gods” in pagan religions and mythologies, these so-called deities must be considered to reflect nothing more than the superstitions and other imaginings of men. Such notions about the universe and man’s place in it are the products of the misconceptions and distortions engendered by the polytheistic perspective to which their adherents have been conditioned culturally. Consistent with its polytheistic perspective, the pagan world of old tended to conceive of as many gods as it had concerns that seemed to be beyond man’s immediate control. Moreover, because these gods, as conceived by man, were projected onto the universe, they were often conjured in the images of the men who conceived them. As described by one historian of the ancient world, the results of this process of humanizing the gods have some characteristic features:

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Although they [the gods] stand for natural forces and elements, in monuments and inscriptions they are given the likeness of men. They have human figures, are sexed and have families; they dress and feed like earthly creatures, though they wear far more precious garments and dine on much rarer food; finally, they have their loves and their hates, just as men have, only much more violent. Thus, in the last resort, the only features distinguishing them from men are their immortality and their divine powers. The macrocosm is modeled on the microcosm.30

In the sharpest possible contrast to the pagan approach to characterizing the divine, Judaism conceives of mankind as having been created in the spiritual image of the transcendent God. The microcosm is thus a reflection, albeit limited, of the only true macrocosm.

JUDAISM’S STRUGGLE AGAINST PAGANISM Paganism, which is manifested in a variety of forms characterized in Judaic thought as idolatry, is necessarily the very antithesis of monotheism. Idolatry is considered to constitute the most grievous of theological errors, and is held to be the ultimate source of the wrong and evil that men do to other human beings as well as to themselves. Indeed, Menahem Meiri effectively defined idolatry as a belief system that does not impose any moral constraints on its adherents.31 Moreover, the notion of idolatry is not limited to the primitive forms of adoration of the divine excoriated in the biblical writings; it also has its far more sophisticated modern and contemporary manifestations. As pointed out by Herberg: “Idolatry is not simply the worship of sticks and stones, or it would obviously have no relevance for our times. Idolatry is the absolutization of the relative; it is absolute devotion paid to anything short of the Absolute. The object of idolatrous worship may be, and in fact generally is, some good; but, since it is not God, it is necessarily a good that is only partial and relative. What idolatry does is to convert its object into an absolute, thereby destroying the partial good within it and transforming it into a total evil.” 32 Indeed, the “absolutization of the relative,” the manifestation of contemporary paganism, seems pervasive in our time, and represents a challenge that can only be met and overcome by its antithesis—monotheism. Inspired by its monotheistic credo, Judaism has been engaged from its very inception in an unrelenting ideological struggle against paganism in all its various guises and manifestations. As Yeshayahu Leibowitz put it, “The Jewish world is and has always been the scene of a desperate, unceasing struggle between its monotheistic faith and the natural attraction of man—and the Jews are no different from others in this respect—to the worship of idols, which may even appear in the guise of monotheism.”33

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In the early biblical period, idolatry was often associated with magic, which was understood as a means of extending human control over or manipulating the gods or higher powers to produce a desirable outcome. As Kaufmann pointed out, since the gods were not conceived of as being omnipotent, they both practiced and were affected by magic. Man used magic to influence the gods and the gods enlisted man’s magic to further their own ends.34 These pagan notions were particularly associated with ancient Egypt, and are reflected in the biblical story of the contest between Moses and the magicians of the pharaoh related in the Book of Exodus. Nahum Sarna observed that Egypt “was the classic land of magic, which played a central role in its religious life. . . . The magician was an important, indeed indispensable, religious functionary. He possessed the expertise necessary for the manipulation of the mysterious powers.”35 The magician’s skills included use of the spoken word, enabling him to cast spells and to evoke utterances. He also made use of magical objects such as charms and amulets, and associated ritual practices that invoked and propitiated the gods. These pagan invocations and paraphernalia were completely rejected by Judaism, and the practices connected with them forbidden by the Torah. With a keen eye on the religious culture of the society from which they had just been extricated in the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were categorically forbidden to take its magical religious practices with them to their new homeland. They were similarly forbidden to adopt comparable practices from the peoples they would encounter there. When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son pass through the fire, one that useth divination, a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or one that consulteth a ghost or a familiar spirit, or a necromancer. For whosoever doeth these things is an abomination to the Lord (Deut. 18:9–12). Nonetheless, the lure of magic cannot be minimized, and the ancient Israelites and the later Jews were by no means immune to it. More than three millennia ago, the Israelites believed that taking the Ark of the Covenant into battle with them would assure their victory, presumably by magically enlisting God as their spearhead. But as the biblical history tells us, they lost both the war and the Ark (I Sam. 4:3–11). Similarly, the magical custom of tying ribbons and placing amulets in a baby’s crib to ward off evil spirits, as absurd as it may appear to reason, still persists among some contemporary Jews. The Judaic struggle against idolatry in the form of magic has never been completely won. Despite this, as Kenneth Seeskin argues, “the single most important contribution of Judaism to world culture is that, when it is properly understood, no article or ritual has any magical power. Lighting candles on Shabbat will not ensure a prosperous week, eating matzah on Passover will not improve one’s health,

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wearing a yarmulke will not ward off evil spirits, putting a mezuzah on the doorpost of one’s house will have no effect on floods, fire, theft, or vandalism. Rather than good luck charms, these implements serve as symbols or reminders” of Israel’s covenant with God, and the events leading thereto.36 Israel’s prophets and teachers directed their special attention to idolatry in its literal sense, a particularly pervasive expression of paganism in the ancient world. The image worshippers usually considered the idol they fashioned to be infused with the spirit of the god it represented, which was itself but a reflection of the men who made it. Erich Fromm wrote in this regard: Man transfers his own passions and qualities to the idol. The more he impoverishes himself, the greater and stronger becomes the idol. The idol is the alienated form of man’s experience of himself. In worshipping the idol, man worships himself. But this self is a partial, limited aspect of man: his intelligence, his physical strength, power, fame, and so on. By identifying himself with a partial aspect of himself, man limits himself to this aspect; he loses his totality as a human being and ceases to grow. He is dependent on the idol, since only in submission to the idol does he find the shadow, although not the substance, of himself.37

This same thought is captured in Seeskin’s notion of “idolatry as narcissism.” He suggests that it does not take much imagination to conclude that, if god looks, acts, and thinks like us, making obeisance to an image of god is actually a form of self-adoration, an exercise in narcissism.38 Stuart Rosenberg emphasizes another related aspect of the prophetic approach to the problem of idolatry. “The idolatry of the Canaanites is not so much denounced as a theological sin as it is considered to be misplaced love. . . . To lose one’s love in the search for total union with the gods—this was immoral. How so? It was a sin against the law of God because it was a sin against oneself.” Thus, Jeremiah asserts that idolatry is not a challenge to God, but rather an assault on the integrity of the idolator. Do they provoke Me? saith the Lord; do they not provoke themselves, to the confusion of their own faces? (Jer. 7:19). Therefore, Rosenberg continues: “To spend oneself in a futile craving for erotic union with the gods was to waste one’s love. . . . Love like this turns into lust. It does not enhance but rather reduces one’s integrity as a morally responsible person.”39 The Judaic rejection of such idolatry is reflected most clearly in the second commandment of the Decalogue. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them (Ex. 20:4–5). Scripture is unequivocal in its categorical repudiation of any corporeal conceptions of divinity and any visual representations or symbols of deity, including those intended to symbolize the true God.

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In this same vein, the prophets ridiculed the patent absurdity of those who worshipped visual representations of gods fashioned by the hands of man. In Isaiah’s opinion, such persons were intellectually incompetent, blinded to reason. They know not, neither do they understand; for their eyes are bedaubed, that they cannot see, and their hearts, that they cannot understand (Isa. 44:18). Jeremiah similarly derided those who worshipped material objects that were the work of the hands of the workman with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold, they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. . . . Be not afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good (Jer. 10:3–5).40 In the prophetic view, idolatry reflected man’s fertile but perverse imagination and his intellectual degradation. As Louis Jacobs remarked: “Idolatry is not the worship of false gods (for such do not exist), but the worship of a figment of the human imagination.”41 Notwithstanding the emphasis on tangible objects of worship in these prophetic passages, the biblical concept of idolatry, as already indicated, was subsequently understood as encompassing more than the adoration of physical representations of gods and demigods. Kaufmann Kohler thus wrote, “From the very first the God of Judaism declared war against them all, whether at any special time the prevailing form was the worship of many gods, or the worship of God in the shape of man, the perversion of the purity of God by sensual concepts, or the division of His unity into different parts or personalities.”42 Scripture not only prohibited the production of the “graven image” of any living creature for the purpose of worship; it also forbade the adoration of natural phenomena. Particular attention in regard to the latter was directed to the celestial bodies, which were expressly singled out, presumably because of their location in the distant heavens. The biblical concern was unequivocal, lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun and the moon and the stars, even all the host of heaven, thou be drawn away and worship them, and serve them, which the Lord thy God hath allotted unto all peoples under the whole heaven (Deut. 4:19). These forms of pagan worship, including idolatry in its more limited sense of adoration of artifacts, were classified in rabbinic literature as avodah zarah (strange worship), a category that also included a variety of additional forbidden devotional and related practices. It should be noted, nonetheless, that Scripture does in fact provide for some graven images, such as the cherubim that were to be placed atop the Ark of the Covenant. These were licit, however, only because God expressly sanctioned them. Avodah zarah must therefore be understood as relating to divinely unsanctioned images. Thus, Jose Faur observed: “When considering the worship of images in Israel, it is important to distinguish between ‘idolatry’—the worship of strange gods—and ‘iconolatry,’ the worship of God with images. . . . The Bible recognizes a legitimate form of iconolatry. Illegitimate iconolatry is an

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image consecrated to the worship of God but not prescribed by the Biblical ritual, e.g., the golden calf.”43 Maimonides summarized the Judaic prohibition against avodah zarah, as that category of forbidden worship is amplified and elaborated in rabbinic law and teaching. He wrote: “The fundamental imperative concerning ‘strange worship’ is that one is not to worship any created thing: not a messenger [angel], not a planet, not a star, and not any of the four fundamental elements [fire, water, air, and earth], nor anything produced from them.”44 The ban on avodah zarah therefore proscribes the apotheosis and adoration of any created thing, including the products of man’s invention as well as those things that are the handiwork of God, such as the forces and phenomena of nature. Judaism would even forbid the worship of the embodiment of divine revelation, the Torah itself. God alone may be adored by man, and not anything that purports to represent Him or His will. Thus, in his commentary on the destruction by Moses of the tablets of the Law that were written by the divine hand, Meir Simhah haKohen asserted: “In sum, there is nothing holy in the world . . . only God is holy, and it is Him who is befitting of praise and worship. . . . Holiness inheres in no created thing, except insofar as the people of Israel keeps the Torah in accordance with the will of the Creator.”45 Carrying out the will of the Creator is in itself considered the adoration and sanctification of God. A created thing may therefore be referred to as being holy only in the sense that it is somehow connected to the divine presence in a halakhically-prescribed manner. In this regard, Maimonides asserts that the biblical verses, Ye shall be holy (Lev. 19:2) and Sanctify yourselves, and be ye holy (Lev. 20:7), discussed further below, “are charges to fulfil the whole Torah, as if He were saying: ‘Be holy by doing all that I have commanded you to do, and guard against all things I have enjoined you from doing.’ ”46 In contemporary times, the content and scope of the unrelenting campaign of Judaism against idolatry or avodah zarah has been reconceptualized and further extended to encompass, in effect, not only the worship of any created thing, intellectual as well as material, but also its reification. Paul Eidelberg wrote: “Traditionally, idolatry has been defined as the worship of any created thing. We continue the tradition by equating idolatry with reification and by defining the latter as the postulation of any physical or mental existent, process, or law as self-sustaining. Reification thus applies to all philosophical and scientific monisms, dualisms, and pluralisms which attempt to explain the totality or any part of existence in terms of one or more self-subsisting entities.”47 From this perspective, true belief in any of the popular “isms” of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, from socialism and communism to secular humanism, brings one within the proscribed bounds of avodah zarah. The uncompromising position of Judaism regarding avodah zarah is well captured in a rabbinic homily based on a play of words connected to the name

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of the mountain upon which the Torah was revealed to Moses. “What is [the meaning of] Mount Sinai? The mountain whereon there descended hostility [sin’ah] toward idolaters.”48 The sages considered the total rejection of paganism in all its forms as an absolute prerequisite of Judaic society. To makes this point unequivocally clear, they composed the prayer, “May it be Thy will, O Lord our God, that avodah zarah be rooted out everywhere in Israel and that the hearts of those who practice it be returned to Your worship.”49 Indeed, one sage asserted that “Idolatry is so heinous that he who rejects it is as though he admits [the truth of] the whole Torah.”50 Others went so far as to insist that “anyone who acknowledges idolatry [avodah zarah] denies the entire Torah, and anyone who denies idolatry [avodah zarah] acknowledges the entire Torah.”51 R. Johanan went even farther, declaring that “anyone who repudiates idolatry is called a Jew.”52 In general, the sages attributed such importance to the struggle against idolatry in all its forms that they considered it to be equal in weight to all of the other precepts of the Torah.53 Reflecting this traditional perspective in his restatement of the law proscribing the worship of any created thing, Maimonides declared: “Whoever adopts idolatry denies the entire Torah and all the prophets, and all that the prophets have ordained from the days of Adam to the end of the world.”54 Traditional exponents of Judaism throughout history have thus zealously sought to guard its unadulterated and unsullied monotheism from contamination or compromise. It is considered to be a principal and continuing task of the teachings of the Torah to serve as a bulwark against the morally corrupting influences of avodah zarah in any of its numerous guises and manifestations. That bulwark is also reflected in the concept of holiness. Scripture tells us: Ye shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy (Lev. 19:2). But what does it mean to be holy? According to Judah Halevi, “Holy expresses the notion that He is high above any attribute of created beings, although many of these are applied to him metaphorically.”55 It is noteworthy that the root of the Hebrew term for holy, kadosh, refers to something that is set apart. The biblical adjuration, then, would be for one to be set apart from other men, just as God is set apart from his creation, including the forces of nature. As Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin put it, the biblical phrase, Who is like unto Thee, glorious in holiness (Ex. 15:11), means that “He is set apart from the processes of nature, which is not the case with all the forces that are under the sway of nature.”56 Put another way, the holiness of God may be understood as equivalent to the transcendence of God. The idea of divine transcendence is reflected in the midrashic statement, “The Lord is the dwelling-place of His world but His world is not His dwelling-place.” Perhaps because this statement could be misunderstood as suggesting that, as God is absolutely transcendent, there is no immanent divine presence, R. Abba b. Judan offered a clarification of the

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metaphor. “He is like a warrior riding a horse, his robes flowing over on both sides; the horse is subsidiary to the rider, but the rider is not subordinate to the horse.”57 That is, Judaic thought considers the universe to be suffused with the divine presence, creating the paradox of a concept of God who is simultaneously both absolutely transcendent and immanent. This paradox is clearly reflected in Isaiah’s vision in which the seraphim call to one another, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory (Isa. 6:3). This passage, according to Soloveitchik, reflects “the awesome dichotomy of God’s involvement in the drama of creation, and His exaltedness above and remoteness from this very drama.”58 Perhaps because the biblical passage adjuring us to be holy follows the detailed proscription of improper sexual relationships, Solomon ben Isaac (Rashi) understood holiness in that particular text to mean primarily separation or abstinence from improper sexual behavior, effectively equating holiness with morality.59 It should be noted, however, that Rashi also interpreted the later verse, Sanctify yourselves and be ye holy, for I am the Lord thy God (Lev. 20:7), in a more comprehensive sense. He understood this adjuration to mean that one should separate oneself from idolatry, which presumably includes within its practices those behaviors deemed abhorrent to God.60 Nahmanides similarly extended the scope of holiness to circumscribe the entire range of human experience.61 Reflecting the tradition in an even broader prospect, Warren Z. Harvey understands the biblical teaching to mean that “the command to be holy . . . sets us apart from the worship of the world, even as the Holy One is set apart from the world.”62 In a sense, Judaism may therefore be perceived as representing a liberating approach to life and human progress—it challenges the essential validity of any concept, belief, or ideology that serves to dehumanize man by subordinating his spirit to any created thing, including one’s own primal urges. Nonetheless, the sages were acutely sensitive to the reality that most of the world was in fact pagan and polytheistic. They found themselves continually challenged to explain why an all-powerful one and only true God permitted the pervasiveness of non-monotheistic beliefs. Thus, the Mishnah relates that when Rabbis Gamaliel, Eleazar b. Azariah, Joshua b. Hananiah, and Akiba visited Rome on behalf of the Judaean community toward the end of the first century, these elders were asked: If your God has no desire for idolatry, why does he not abolish it? They replied: If it was something unnecessary to the world that was worshipped, He would abolish it; but people worship the sun, moon, stars and the planets; should He destroy His universe on account of fools! They [the Romans] said: If so, He should destroy what is unnecessary for the world and leave what is necessary for the world! They [the elders] replied: [If He did that,] we should merely be strengthening the hands of the worship-

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pers of these [i.e., the essential things that were spared], because they would say: Be sure that these are deities, for behold they have not been abolished!63

But, one may ask, if Judaism has always been so adamantly opposed to avodah zarah, why are there so many references in its literature that encourage one to conjure mental images of God to take the place of the tangible ones proscribed by Scripture? Thus, we read that Noah walked with God (Gen. 6:9), and that Isaiah saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple (Isa. 6:1). In his vision of God, Ezekiel went even farther, seeing what appeared to be a throne, and upon the likeness of the throne was a likeness as the appearance of a man sitting upon it above (Ezek. 1:26). Ezekiel envisioned God in the likeness of a human being! Such imagery is found in even greater abundance in the rabbinic literature, where God is envisioned as doing a variety of mundane acts ranging from wearing a robe to putting on phylacteries. The answer, as Seeskin suggests, may be that “the tradition does not always face the enemy and move forward. Sometimes it makes compromises, sometimes it moves laterally, sometimes it appears to take a step backwards. . . . Whether we like it or not, the battle against idolatry appears to be fought with two steps forward and one step backward.”64 The fact is that all humans are fallible creatures, including those imbued with the teachings of the Torah. The occasional backsliding, whether by prophet or sage, may be seen as a tribute to the power of the visual imagery that conditions our thinking so much. In the final analysis, then, avodah zarah is entirely a human problem, one that is created by man and which must be resolved by man. How can we account for the radical difference in perspectives between paganism and Judaism, and the similarly wide disparity in the conceptions of divinity that they reflect? I would suggest that the key to answering this question may be found in the unique intellectual prism of classical Judaic thought, through which its knowledge of the universe is apprehended. That perceptual framework may be characterized as a time-based conceptual model that is reflected in a temporal or prophetic paradigm. This contrasts sharply with the space-based model, or spatial paradigm, that conditions the pagan conception of the universe. In the discussion that follows, we turn to a consideration of the character of these different paradigms and their theological implications. NOTES 1. The term naval, translated here as “fool,” and as “benighted” in the new Jewish Publication Society translation, implies one who is morally degenerate. For further discussion, see Samson R. Hirsch, The Psalms, ad loc. 2. Emil Fackenheim, Quest for Past and Future, p. 43. 3. Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1944), p. 485.

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4. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “The Lonely Man of Faith,” Tradition, vol. 7, no. 2, p. 32, note. 5. Judah Halevi, Book of Kuzari 4:13. 6. Will Herberg, Judaism and Modern Man, pp. 58–59. Similarly, and referring somewhat disparagingly to philosophic conceptions of God, Simon Greenberg wrote: “The God of Judaism is not the unmoved Mover, but the uncreated Creator of everything and so there is absolutely nothing independent of His will. Hence any belief or practice which would imply that there is anything independent of God in the universe, whether it be Satan or fate, or eternal matter, or irrevocable eternal natural laws, is foreign to Judaism” (Foundations of a Faith, p. 7). 7. The section of the liturgy that begins with the declaration, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One (Deut. 6:4). 8. M. Berakhot 1:1. 9. Maimonides, Hilkhot Yesodei haTorah 1:1. 10. Marvin Fox, “Can a Modern Jew Believe in God?” in Alfred Jospe, ed., The Jewish Heritage and the Jewish Student, p. 40. 11. Etienne Gilson, The Philosopher and Theology (New York: Random House, 1962), pp. 31–32. 12. Louis Jacobs, We Have Reason To Believe, p. 14. See also Jacob B. Agus, Guideposts in Modern Judaism, p. 228. 13. Beryl D. Cohon, Judaism in Theory and Practice, p. 58. 14. Fackenheim, What Is Judaism?, pp. 282–283. 15. It has been asserted by Harry C. Schimmel that “it is possible to show that the written law could never have stood alone and that at the same time as the written law was given at Sinai, it must have been accompanied by an oral law.” The Oral Law, p. 21. 16. Yehezkel Kaufmann, Toledot haEmunah haYisraelit, vol. 1, bk. 2, p. 418. 17. Ibid. 18. Kaufmann, “The Genesis of Israel,” in Leo W. Schwarz, ed., Great Ages and Ideas of the Jewish People, pp. 12–13. 19. Because the original Hebrew text of the Torah scroll is written without diacritical marks indicating vowels, the correct pronunciation of these four consonants is unknown. And, because according to tradition the Tetragrammaton was to remain ineffable, there is no transmitted oral tradition regarding its pronunciation. The common use by many writers of such forms as “Jehovah” and “Yahweh” represents mere conjecture and is without a solid basis. The convention adopted in Judaism is therefore to render YHVH orally as Adonai, meaning Lord. Thus, except where the biblical Hebrew text actually uses the word Adonai, the English term “Lord” may be assumed to be the equivalent of YHVH. 20. Obadiah Sforno sought to eliminate any implication of pantheism in the biblical statement by suggesting that when the text speaks of “God of gods,” it should be understood to mean the “infinite above all infinities, which derive their infinitude from His infinity.” Moreover, when the text speaks of “Lord of lords,” it refers to God’s mastery over the constellations and their motive powers, “whose functioning is intended to achieve His purpose” (Biur al haTorah on Deut. 10:17). 21. Halevi, Book of Kuzari, 4:3, p. 179.

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22. Elijah Benamozegh, Israel and Humanity, p. 90. 23. Ibid., p. 95. 24. Steven S. Schwarzschild suggests that the intent of the biblical author would be better served if the last clause of this text were translated as “besides whom there can be none else.” See his “On the Unique God,” in Eugene B. Borowitz, ed., Ehad: The Many Meanings of God Is One, p. 74. 25. Leo Baeck, The Essence of Judaism, p. 93. 26. Schwarzschild, op. cit., p. 73. 27. The Hebrew term elilim, translated here as “things of naught,” usually refers to idols or false gods. Thus, Sforno takes the passage as meaning that the gods of the peoples are idols that are fashioned to convey the false image that they have the capacity to render good or evil (Perush al Sefer Tehillim on Ps. 96:5). 28. Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, “Bahodesh” 6, vol. 2, p. 239. 29. Ibid., p. 241. 30. Sabatino Moscati, The Face of the Ancient Orient (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1962), pp. 26–27. 31. Menahem Meiri, Bet haBehirah al Massekhet Avodah Zarah, p. 39. Because of their lack of moral constraints, Meiri asserts that one may not permit one’s children to study with them for fear of pederasty as well as the possibility of their perversion. 32. Herberg, Judaism and Modern Man, pp. 93–94. 33. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, “Idolatry,” in Arthur A. Cohen and Paul MendesFlohr, eds., Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought, p. 446. 34. Kaufmann, Toledot haEmunah haYisraelit, vol. 1, bk. 2, p. 301. 35. Nahum M. Sarna, Exploring Exodus, p. 58. 36. Kenneth Seeskin, No Other Gods: The Modern Struggle Against Idolatry, p. 41. 37. Erich Fromm, You Shall Be As Gods, p. 37. 38. Seeskin, No Other Gods, pp. 33–34. 39. Stuart E. Rosenberg, More Loves Than One, p. 40. 40. See also the apocryphal Letter of Jeremiah included in the Book of Baruch, ch. 6. 41. Louis Jacobs, “God,” in Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr, eds., Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought, p. 295. 42. Kaufmann Kohler, Jewish Theology, p. 53. 43. Jose Faur, “The Biblical Idea of Idolatry,” Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, vol. 49, p. 13. 44. Maimonides, Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim 2:1. Maimonides’ reference to the four fundamental elements, which include fire, air, water, and earth, reflects the early belief that the physical universe is compounded of these. 45. Meir Simhah haKohen, Meshekh Hokhmah, “Ki Tissa,” on Ex. 32:19, pp. 94–95. 46. Maimonides, The Commandments, Part 2, “The Fourteen Principles,” 4th principle, p. 381. 47. Paul Eidelberg, Jerusalem vs. Athens, p. 10. 48. Shabbat 89a. 49. Tosefta Berakhot 6:2 (7:2 in some editions). See also M. Berakhot 9:1. 50. Kiddushin 40a.

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51. Sifre Deuteronomy, Piska 54. An alternate version of this teaching states: “Anyone who acknowledges avodah zarah denies the Decalogue and all that was commanded by Moses, the Prophets, and the Elders, and anyone who denies avodah zarah acknowledges the entire Torah” (Sifre al Sefer Bamidbar, Piska 111). 52. Megillah 13a. 53. Horayot 8a. 54. Maimonides, Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim, 2:4. 55. Halevi, Book of Kuzari, 4:3, p. 179. 56. Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin, Ha’Amek Davar on Exodus 15:11. 57. Genesis Rabbah 68:9. 58. Soloveitchik, “The Lonely Man of Faith,” p. 31. 59. Rashi, Perushei Rashi al haTorah on Lev. 19:2. 60. Rashi, Perushei Rashi al haTorah on Lev. 20:7. 61. Nahmanides, Perushei haRamban al haTorah on Lev. 19:2. 62. Warren Z. Harvey, “Holiness: A Command to Imitatio Dei,” Tradition, vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 18–19. 63. Mishnah Avodah Zarah 4:7. 64. Seeskin, No Other Gods, pp. 27–28.

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In the course of a lecture on “Spain and the Jews,” delivered prior to the creation of the modern state of Israel, the Spanish writer Salvador de Madariaga set forth what he saw as the complementary cultural bases for a future symbiotic relationship between the Jewish and Spanish peoples. To underpin his argument, Madariaga offered the intriguing assessment that “the Jews have no roots in space. Their roots are in time; their soil is made up of twenty centuries of tradition. They differ from all the peoples of the earth in that their fatherland is history itself.”1 One may take issue with Madariaga over this rather extreme formulation of his thesis regarding the spatial rootlessness of the Jewish people. Nonetheless, his remark, which was intended to draw a sharp contrast between the primarily historically-rooted Jews and what he described as the primarily geographically-rooted Iberians, reflects a profound insight into the essentially time-related or temporal character of that which distinguishes one as a Jew. This same notion of a greater Jewish affinity for the temporal than for the spatial may also be seen in the assertion of political historian Hans Kohn that “the Jew lived more in the realm of time than in space. The world as time does not know of separation into a plurality of dimensions. It is one-dimensional: it points to the past, surges toward the future, and overcomes the tension of various directions in the forceful unity of its stream.”2 Pursuing this notion a bit farther, I would suggest that monotheism might be viewed as a theological manifestation of the one-dimensionality of time, in contrast to polytheism, which draws its inspiration from the more easily perceived and more readily comprehended multidimensionality of space.

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Throughout history, man has been preoccupied if not obsessed with the apparently inherent need to assert his mastery over space. The biblical writer implicitly acknowledges this in his report of the divine instruction to man to replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creepeth upon the earth (Gen. 1:28). And, indeed, from the primeval past to the present day, much if not most of human activity has been directed at subduing and controlling or managing the forces and products of nature which abound within man’s spatial environment. Moreover, the spatial paradigm through which one normally apprehends that environment is intimately linked to the visual sense. It is the human eye that serves as the principal instrument of the spatial paradigm through which man perceives and interprets the world about him, including his relative position within it. As a result, even man’s reach for the divine has been conceptualized and articulated in terms of spatial, that is, vision-based concepts. This helps account for the pervasiveness of vestiges of pagan beliefs and practices in one form or another throughout history, even among many of those who consider themselves to be monotheists, or identify themselves, at least nominally, with one or another of the monotheistic religions. Steven Schwarzschild has suggested that it is its employment of the “spatial model” that most fundamentally distinguishes Christianity from Judaism in conceptualizing the relationship between the transcendent God and the immanent world of creation. The former conceives of transcendence as being, so to speak, spatially above immanence. However, Schwarzschild cautions that we must remember that ‘space’ is being used here only as a metaphor for this notion. “The relationship between transcendence and immanence is believed to be on the pattern, not in the actual form, of spatial relationships.” This approach applies the idea derived from physics that two spatial entities cannot occupy the same space, but can only be adjacent to one another and connected. According to the so-called Chalcedonian formulation, Christianity asserts that it is primarily through the process of divine incarnation that the realm of transcendence is connected to that of immanence. In the connecting link, the God-man, both transcendence and immanence each retain “all of their original natures. They merely occur together, in one phenomenon, event, or person.” A consequence of this is that the world of immanence becomes divided into two discrete spheres. One “becomes identified with transcendence and thereby loses its previous immanentist character in toto (remember that the two retained their natures and did not intermix), while the other remains behind, unaffected one way or the other by the event.” Judaism, by contrast, does not make use of the spatial paradigm at all in its endeavor to conceptualize the relationship between God and the world. Instead, it utilizes the idea of “will” to explain that relationship. The will as such

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cannot be characterized in spatial terms. Accordingly, as long as there is some way that God communicates His will to us, we are “in relationship to one another not spatially but volitionally. The explication of the will of God for humanity we call ‘law’ or Halakhah,” and it serves as the link between the transcendent and the immanent. There is thus an essentially paradigmatic distinction between the approaches taken by the two faiths. “Whereas Christianity requires some sort of quasi-physical, quasi-spatial relationship between transcendence and the world, Judaism conceives of this relationship by keeping God absolutely separate and different from the world but attributing to God ethical concern for it: the God of Israel is absolutely different from the world and absolutely concerned with it.”3 Considered from the perspective characteristic of the spatial paradigm, the notion of a completely invisible and incorporeal deity, a totally dimensionless being, would appear to be quite unimaginable. Unless the gods are or can be made visible, unless they can be perceived as occupying space, they do not exist; where there is no image, there can be no deity. Thus, the ancients sought to understand the world they perceived in mythological fashion, personifying the forces of nature as the gods that they portrayed with visual imagery. The powerful sun that dominated the Egyptian landscape, and which conditioned the lives of the Egyptian people, was conceived as being the first king of Egypt, thereby making it necessary for the myth-makers to explain why the sun was to be found in the sky rather than on the earth. One explanation given was that the sky-goddess Nut, who gave birth each day to the sun and was therefore depicted as a cow, the Egyptian symbol of fertility and procreation, had removed the sun from the earth and raised it up to the heavens where it now appeared. And, as has been pointed out, “When the bearing of the sun by Nut was the center of attention, the sun was called the ‘calf of gold’ or ‘the bull.’ ”4 It seems likely that it was to the worship of this “calf of gold” that a substantial number of Israelites turned when they felt abandoned and helpless during the extended absence of Moses from their camp soon after their exodus from Egypt (Ex. 32:1–5). These Israelites evidently had not completely discarded the mythological beliefs of the Egyptian society from which they had been emancipated. Unable to conceptualize an unseen God, they reverted to the use of the familiar spatial paradigm and produced a visible and tangible representation of deity with which they could establish a more intimate affinity. Having made a molten calf of gold that they could worship, they proclaimed blasphemously: This is thy God [Elohim], O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt (Ex. 32:4). As David Wolpe observed: “What the children of Israel could not do, what this band of slaves had not yet learned, was to believe in the invisible. They were trapped by sight.”5 Presumably, it was in recognition of this deficiency that even the theophany experienced by the Israelites at Mount Sinai is described as having taken place

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in a manner that clearly took into account the powerful influence of the visual on the imagination. But, the biblical text makes it quite clear that the revelation itself was entirely aural. And ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the heart of heaven with darkness, cloud, and thick darkness. And the Lord spoke unto you out of the midst of the fire; ye heard the voice of words, but ye saw no form; only a voice (Deut. 4:11–12). This theme is sounded again several verses later. Out of heaven He made thee to hear His voice, that He might instruct thee; and upon earth He made thee to see His great fire; and thou didst hear His words out of the midst of the fire (Deut. 4:36). A visual event was evidently deemed necessary to capture the attention of the people so that they would become primed to hear and internalize the divine message. However, and the point is made repeatedly and emphatically, ye saw no manner of form on the day that the Lord spoke unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire (Deut. 4:15). Indeed, the recounting of the aural revelation is accompanied by recurrent admonitions by the biblical writer against any attempt to symbolize the divine by means of any form of visual representation, all of which are considered anathema. Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves . . . lest ye deal corruptly, and make you a graven image, even the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast . . . of any winged fowl . . . of anything that creepeth on the ground . . . of any fish that is in the water under the earth; and lest thou lift thine eyes up to heaven, and when thou seest the sun and the moon and the stars, even all the host of heaven, thou be drawn away and worship them and serve them. (Deut. 4:15–19)

In stark contrast to the pristine approach taken by classical Judaism, most religions have incorporated the adoration and reverence for sacred images, objects, monuments, and places, both natural and man-made, into their sacramental practices. The legitimacy accorded by the spatial paradigm to such tangible sacral manifestations has become so ingrained in man’s thought that the veneration of visible representations of intellectual abstractions has also been adopted by modern civic cultures for political purposes. For example, it is generally considered appropriate to pay solemn homage to flags and emblems, national shrines and monuments, and other tangible or visible symbols of state and society. Such objects of adoration constitute essential components in the armory of modern politics, without which it would be difficult for governments to rule without constant and excessive displays of force to coerce public compliance with their commands. The political scientist Charles Merriam termed this social phenomena the “miranda of power,” that is, the visible symbolism of political power. He noted that even “artistic design has contributed much to the miranda of politics.” It is “summoned to weave a halo around authority and give it beauty as well as force. . . . Thus in the most subtle fashion the power

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purpose and the aesthetic sense are blended, and the power process is identified, not with blood and cruelty but with harmony and beauty.”6 But, one may object, does not Judaism itself concern itself with a wide variety of miranda in the form of tangible objects ranging from the biblical Tabernacle and Temple and their elaborate paraphernalia to phylacteries and prayer shawls, from ornate synagogue trappings to household candelabra and other ritual objects? Indeed it does. However, and this is the crucial point, it does not impute intrinsic holiness to these objects. The Torah scroll is sacred because of the writing it contains that is inscribed in the precise manner required by tradition. Should those traditional requirements be violated, the scroll becomes simply a roll of parchment without intrinsic sacral value. Similarly, the often elaborate mezuzah that adorns the doorpost of the traditional Jewish home has religious value only because of the miniature scroll contained therein that is prepared and written in the prescribed manner. Without the proper script within, it has no inherent religious significance, although it may have sociological importance as an identity symbol. In other words, these objects have symbolic religious value because they refer to and remind us of matters that are not by their nature tangible. They do not have an intrinsic sacral character. Objects become holy in Judaism only when man imputes holiness to them by transforming them into religious symbols that conform to criteria established by religious law and tradition. But, is this not a risky approach, one that may easily lead to misconception and misunderstanding? There seems to be a rather fine line between an object that has sacredness legitimately imputed to it and an object that is merely perceived to be so endowed. Given Judaism’s concern about the adoration of things, why does Judaism not only abet religious objects, but also prescribe them? Here again, the answer usually offered is that Judaism must of necessity make certain concessions to human frailty, to make it easier for its adherents to express their devotion to God in culturally familiar modes. As Kenneth Seeskin put it, “It’s all very well to say that people should acknowledge God’s uniqueness, but it is impossible for anyone to exist on a diet of abstraction alone. From time to time we all need tangible symbols such as artwork, jewelry, special clothing, monuments, or official residences to remind us of the values we stand for. . . . We can imagine a religion completely devoid of art, but it would be so barren that only an extraordinary person could be drawn to it.”7 There is, of course, a persistent danger of reversion to a pagan perception of the sacred that is inherent in this approach, and this is one of the great internal challenges that Judaism is committed to confront and that its teachers and exponents must overcome. Man’s infatuation with space and the things that fill it tends to condition his perception of reality. What is considered real is that which occupies space, that which is tangible; in short, that which possesses “thinghood.” What is

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without this attribute is no thing, is indeed nothing. And, although we are acutely conscious of time, it nonetheless appears to be just such a non-thing. It is a dimension seemingly beyond human comprehension, but nonetheless one that threatens man’s enduring capacity to revel in the space he so adores, by subjecting him to the ravages of time as he progresses through his natural life course. The passage of time is therefore often perceived as an evil, one that exposes our vulnerability to powers beyond our comprehension and control. The philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev gave anguished expression to this latent fear: “Time is an evil, a mortal disease, exuding a fatal nostalgia. The passage of time strikes a man’s heart with despair, and fills his gaze with sadness.”8 Still, one cannot escape the influences or effects of time, nor can it be successfully subordinated to space no matter how hard one may try. Perhaps the beginning of wisdom is to understand that, although space and time are inextricably interrelated, it is time that gives ultimate importance to things. As Abraham J. Heschel put it, “We appreciate things that are displayed in the realm of Space. The truth, however, is that the genuinely precious is encountered in the realm of Time rather than in Space.”9 It is Judaism’s uncompromising challenge to the dominance of the spatial paradigm in shaping man’s beliefs and values that makes it unique among religions and civilizations, ancient as well as modern. This is not to suggest that Judaism harbors some irrational antagonism to the concept of space or that it undervalues the inherent importance of visual perception. On the contrary, Judaism seeks to appropriate that which has intrinsic and enduring value in the spatial paradigm and incorporate it into a new prophetic paradigm that is principally temporal in character and action-oriented in emphasis. Heschel observed in this regard, “Pagans exalt sacred things, the Prophets extol sacred deeds.”10 In another place he wrote, “God manifested himself in events rather than in things, and those events were never captured or localized in things.”11 Similarly, Norman Lamm asserts: “The drama of existence in Judaism is essentially temporal. The encounter between man and God is captured not so much in holy places as in sacred moments. . . . Holiness is more a temporal than a spatial quality.”12 Heschel elaborated further on this theme, arguing that “the Bible is more concerned with time than with space. It sees the world in the dimension of time. It pays more attention to generations, to events, than to countries, to things; it is more concerned with history than with geography. To understand the teaching of the Bible, one must accept its premise that time has a meaning for life which is at least equal to that of space; that time has a significance and sovereignty of its own.” In Heschel’s formulation, “Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time.”13 This temporal dimension of Judaism is given full expression in the biblically ordained observance and celebration of the Sabbath, a weekly twenty-four-hour

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period in which time itself is sanctified, that is, set aside for a sacred purpose. And God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it (Gen. 2:3); Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy (Ex. 20:8). What is of particular interest at this point is the fact that the very first stated biblical example of holiness in the universe is this sanctification of time. The seventh day is set apart from the other days of the week to which it is identical in nature but not in consciousness, divine and human, a condition that is not reflected in the six days of creation in space.14 As Lamm points out: “A man may conceivably live a whole life in one room and never have access to a holy place. But he cannot live a week without experiencing, or being subjected to, the holiness of time.”15 It is very important, however, to place the idea of the “sanctification of time” in its proper context. As argued by David Shapiro, who is ill at ease with Heschel’s articulation of the notion, “Holiness per se is neither in the grain of time nor in the grain of matter. The holiness of Biblical religion inheres neither in time nor in space as such. Duration and matter are holy either because whatever God has created is infused with some degree of His holiness, or because they point to the Divine for which they serve as media. This holiness is not fetishistic. It does not inhere in objects, nor does it inhere in space. It is God who endows both space and time with His holiness.”16 It is noteworthy that the manner in which time is perceived in Judaism and incorporated into its essence is significantly different from the treatment it receives in other ancient religions and cultures. Olivier Revault d’Allonnes wrote of Judaism’s uniqueness in this regard. “Despite some stray impulses toward spatial power, the fact remains that this culture’s vision of itself and of the people it affects is a thoroughly temporal vision, where the essential is the past beginning with the creation and the future until its fulfillment. God is a god who endures, perhaps He is duration itself; whereas the other great gods of antiquity, in this same region of the world, are gods of space, linked to a land, and are explicitly situated outside of time.”17 In other ancient cultures, the idea of historical time is subsumed by the myth of eternal return, a conception common to both the Hindu scriptures and Greek philosophy. According to this myth, the universe is subject to an eternally repeated cosmic cycle of creation-destruction-creation, or as the Platonists would have it, an endless succession of cycles of generation and corruption that follow immutable patterns. Thus, as noted by the historian of religions Mircea Eliade: “Compared with the archaic and palaeo-oriental religions, as well as with the mythic-philosophical conceptions of the eternal return, as they were elaborated in India and Greece, Judaism presents an innovation of the first importance. For Judaism, time has a beginning and will have an end. The idea of cyclic time is left behind. Yahweh no longer manifests himself in cosmic time (like the gods of other religions) but in a historical time, which is irreversible.”18

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Indeed, one might suggest that it is only within the context of a temporal paradigm that the biblical concept of prophecy can be properly understood. Prophecy is in effect, to use the terminology employed by Paul Eidelberg, “time-ingression.” Eidelberg argues, in essence, that the process of prophetic time-ingression permits the transformation of the present in a manner that can actualize an alternate future. We defined the future as consisting, in part, of an infinitude of virtual or unactualized and contingent existences. Prophecy may be regarded as privileged information about a set of these existences; the prophet, we may say, is cognitively projected into the “future.” By revealing this future to his people, relating it to their present conduct, he confronts them with world-historical alternatives. . . . If they have fallen into evil ways, his prophecy facilitates their repentance. . . . Repentance nullifies the set of virtual existences that was in store for them in the “future.” . . . While time-reversal, which is logically absurd and existentially impossible, would enable every individual to change the present by altering the past, repentance, which is very possible indeed, enables one to change the present by altering the “future.”19

The prophetic paradigm thus provides a rather different vehicle for perceiving the universe and assessing man’s place in it. The resulting perception may differ radically from that yielded through the ubiquitous spatial paradigm, as reflected in the vast conceptual gap between monotheism and polytheism or paganism. PROPHETIC TRUTH The dramatic implications of the prophetic or temporal paradigm of Judaism may, perhaps, best be seen with regard to the issue of the compatibility of science and theology in Judaic thought. We begin consideration of the issue with a brief digression on the nature of truth as understood from the perspectives of both the spatial and prophetic paradigms. The classic definition of truth, formulated within the context of a spatial paradigm, is reflected in the assertion of Aristotle that, “to affirm what is and to deny what is not are true.”20 This assertion underlies what has become known as the Correspondence Theory of truth, which is generally reformulated to state, “To say that something is true is to say that there is a correspondence between it and a fact.”21 In other words, in a spatial paradigm, truth is analogical—we consider a statement to be true if it can be correlated with some known fact or with some system of reference such as a standard, which may in fact be entirely arbitrary. The problematic character of the analogical determination of truth becomes evident when one attempts to understand the Torah from the perspective of a spatial paradigm. For those who accept the Torah as the word of God, everything stated therein must necessarily be true. That is, whatever informa-

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tion is conveyed must reflect a correct description of the fact or event. But, there clearly are instances where what is stated in the biblical text seems to contradict the facts as established by science. How do we reconcile the truth of the Torah with the truth of the objective facts? One approach to such reconciliation is that proposed by Eli Munk. Where we seem to find a divergence between the text and natural “fact,” then either we have misinterpreted the text, or the “fact” has been misinterpreted. For Science does not presume to tell the absolute truth. It observes nature as best it can, with the means currently at its disposal, describing and interpreting it, until a mistake is found through new observations that shed a different light on the “facts.” Furthermore, although the natural facts mentioned in the Torah are “true,” they are invariably described as man sees them. A deeper study of those facts might lead us to different conceptions of their nature, which may all be hinted at in the text.22

A case in point is the creation narrative of Genesis, which has engendered an ostensibly irreconcilable conflict between a literal reading of the biblical text and the evidence of modern science. Of particular interest in this connection is the manner in which the biblical text, employing the prophetic or temporal paradigm, deals with the concept of time as compared to how time is viewed within a spatial paradigm. Since time does not constitute a static dimension, as do the spatial dimensions, it must be measured dynamically. That is, to measure time we first select a process of change within which the amount of change is assumed to be constant between equivalent intervals. Following this, we draw a comparison between the rate of change in the process to be measured and the reference process that serves as a standard. Thus, for a long period, time was measured against the regular movement of the celestial bodies, the rising and setting of the sun, the waxing and waning of the phases of the moon, the periodic recurrence of rain, and other phenomenal repetitions. The problem arises when we consider the biblical text, which appears to stipulate unequivocally that the universe as we know it was created during a period of six days, a notion that was until recently completely rejected by modern science. In the discussion that follows, we set aside the question of creation itself, previously dismissed out of hand but today a matter of growing consensus among contemporary cosmologists. We will confine ourselves to a consideration of the biblical concept of time, a concept that reflects a temporal rather than a spatial perspective. The notion that the universe was created in six twenty-four hour periods clearly seems to be contradicted by the convincing evidence of astronomy and geology, which suggests that the process of formation of the celestial bodies and the earth most probably took millions of years. It is noteworthy that some apologetic commentators on the biblical text have urged that a distinction

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should be drawn between the twenty-four hour “day” by which man measures time and the “days” of creation, which may be understood to constitute indeterminate periods of divine time. The biblical prooftext adduced in support of this argument is the poetic assertion of the psalmist, For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past and as a watch in the night (Ps. 90:4). Accordingly, it has been suggested that one day for God is equal to a thousand years for man.23 Some suggest that the notion of a thousand-year day should be understood as a poetic way of expressing an indeterminate but extended period of time.24 It evidently is the hope of those who make such an assertion that it will serve to sustain the truth of the biblical account against its critics. However, these metaphorical approaches have been rejected categorically by other commentators, including Benno Jacob. He insisted that “all efforts to understand these ‘days’ as world periods of indefinite length are vain; this has been claimed in order to achieve conformity with the millions of years assumed by modern science for the origin of the universe. The Bible means by the word ‘day’ only a day like ours. This is established for all six days as the seventh as a day of rest naturally means a period of 24 hours.”25 Nonetheless, the precise meaning of the relevant passages of the creation narrative is not quite as obvious as might be assumed by a cursory reading. The very first words of Scripture exemplify the complexity surrounding the biblical concept of time. The text begins: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth (Gen. 1:1). But to what does “the beginning” in this passage refer? Does it mean the beginning of the process of creation, or, does it refer to the beginning of time? If one assumes that the text intends to convey the latter notion, then it should be read as stating, “In the beginning of time God created the heaven and the earth.” However, one must also bear in mind that time, as understood within the context of the spatial paradigm, is measurable only by relating it to observable changes in some reference object. In other words, time itself is a nonexistent. As pointed out by the nineteenth-century biblical commentator, Meir L. Malbim, “Time by itself is nil. It is a condition of the perception of existing objects through our perception of all objects that are associated with a segment of time. The instant the tangible object returns to nil, time also becomes nil because time is but the measure of the continued existence of that which is in a state of movement, and not something that truly exists in itself.”26 Accordingly, for those who argue that the creation spoken of in the opening verse of Genesis refers to creatio ex nihilo, the creation of something from nothing, the act of creation itself is necessarily beyond time. There is nothing in existence against which the time taken for creation could be measured. Thus, Maimonides wrote: “I have already made it known to you that the foundation of the whole Law is the view that God has brought the world into being out of nothing without there having been a temporal beginning. For time is created, being consequent upon the motion of the sphere, which is created.”27 In other

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words, time does not begin until the initial act of creation is completed. It is only at that point that it first becomes possible to measure time. As Obadiah Sforno, writing in the sixteenth century, put it: “He made the non-existing exist, and time does not apply to this act at all.”28 In this same regard, Jacob Kamenetzky suggested that the idea that the opening verse of the Torah also describes the creation of time is clearly implicit in the cantillation or musical notation that accompanies the biblical Hebrew script. It thus reflects the understanding of the masters of the Masorah, the textual tradition of the Torah, which dates back to the 8th to 9th centuries.29 Kamenetzky points out that the end of the clause, In the beginning God created, is marked by an etnahta, the equivalent of a semicolon, indicating a completed action. The remainder of the sentence depicts what was created, the heaven and the earth. This, Kamenetzky suggests, reflects the view that “the beginning,” that is, time, was itself created at the beginning of the process.30 This linkage of time to creation has led some commentators to suggest that, with regard to the six days of creation, the universal clock started running with the events described in the third verse of the narrative dealing with the making of light. And God said: Let there be light. And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day (Gen. 1:3–5). But, given that a “day,” as we understand and use the term, is defined as a period of time determined by the full rotation of the earth on its axis relative to the light of the sun, what can the term mean in this biblical verse? The sun, according to the biblical account, was not brought into being until the fourth day of creation. Sforno had already acknowledged this problem, and attempted to deal with it by arguing that the successive periods of light and darkness, spoken of in the biblical text as occurring prior to the activation of the sun, were the result not of the earth’s rotation but of a supernatural intervention.31 Amplifying this argument within the context of modern science, Elihu Schatz suggested that the meaning of these verses is that “God created electromagnetic energy, which manifests itself visibly as light. Next, wave motion was created which allows the distinction to be made between the presence and absence of electromagnetic energy, and thus allows the existence of darkness. The concept of time was then introduced—light was called day, and darkness was called night.”32 It seems rather evident that the days of creation are not necessarily days in the sense that we normally intend when we use the term. In any case, certainly not the first three “days.” Another contemporary response to this problem insists that what is meant by the assertion that something took place during the course of a day is that some event took place over the same time frame as the reference process. According to Mordecai Plaut, “we can evaluate the truth or falsity of the sen-

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tences at the beginning of the Bible that describe the events of the early days of creation (before there was a sun) as having taken place in one day. The somewhat surprising result is that they all turn out to be false, since the full description of the amounts of change which took place on the early days (and the later ones) is clearly far more than is subtended by successive appearances of the sun at the horizon.”33 That is, all the evidence of geological and astronomical science, at its current state of understanding, argues against the possibility of the heavens and the earth having come into being in a matter of several twenty-four-hour days. Faced with this unsatisfactory result, Plaut argues, “we are forced to revise an unstated hypothesis, namely, that ‘day’ is always an accurate translation for the word yom, as it occurs in those sentences.”34 The import of this argument is that the Hebrew term yom, when used in reference to the six days of creation, refers primarily to qualitative changes relative to what man, functioning to the full extent of his innate capacities, might be able to achieve in a “day.” In this view, yom becomes translatable as “day” only after man is brought into being. “Without the presence of man,” Plaut concludes, “when natural processes are of a completely material nature, a much larger amount of change is necessary for it to be spoken of as a qualitative equal to a human day.”35 Considered from this temporal perspective, the creation narrative may now be understood to be quite compatible with the evidence of the sciences regarding the estimated length of time required for the universe to have evolved to its current state. The six days of creation are not “days” at all in the quantitative sense of the term. Accordingly, the biblical calendar is not presumed to start with the duration of the acts of creation. Biblical time begins only subsequent to the appearance of man, which is coincidentally the beginning of history. As a result, the analogical truth test of the spatial paradigm is held to be inapplicable to the biblical creation narrative. In other words, to comprehend the meaning of Scripture, an alternate temporal or prophetic paradigm must be employed. The temporal or prophetic paradigm considers time qualitatively as well as quantitatively. It takes into account that, although we measure time quantitatively, we experience time qualitatively. It is a common experience that when one finds oneself in an uncomfortable situation moments seem like hours and, conversely, hours may seem like moments under more congenial circumstances. From the perspective of a quantitative spatial paradigm, either assertion would be nonsensical. However, considered from the perspective of the temporal paradigm, both assertions will be seen to make sense, and to reflect truth as well. The distinctions between the conceptions of truth deriving from the spatial and temporal paradigms may perhaps best be understood by contrasting their reflections in the Greek and Hebrew perceptions of the universe. Thorlief

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Boman wrote in this regard: “We can conclude that for the Hebrew the most important of his senses for the experience of truth was his hearing (as well as various kinds of feeling), but for the Greek it had to be his sight; or perhaps inversely, because the Greeks were organized in a predominantly visual way and the Hebrews in a predominantly auditory way, each people’s conception of truth was formed in increasingly different ways.”36 To the Greeks, knowledge was spatial, visual. It was derived from what one saw. Thus, the Greek word oida, which means “I know,” is derived from the root id, which means “to see.” It is one of the curiosities of Jewish intellectual history that many of the most prominent Jewish philosophers of the Middle Ages, under the clear influence of Greek thought which dominated the intellectual scene, similarly gave precedence to the visual above all other senses. Solomon ibn Gabirol wrote: “The chief of the senses and the most important among them is the sense of sight,” with the aural sense next in importance.37 Abraham ibn Ezra asserts: “We have known that the perception of the eye is superior to that of the ear.”38 Maimonides,39 Judah ibn Tibbon,40 Gersonides,41 and Simeon ben Zemah Duran all held similar views.42 However, as Duran pointed out, notwithstanding the prominence attached by the philosophers to the visual sense, it is not capable of perceiving the higher truths. Accordingly, when Scripture speaks of man seeing, it must be understood as using the term to refer to intellectual and not physical perception.43 In this way, it became possible for these thinkers to create a bridge from the spatial to the prophetic paradigm, the latter focusing on the preeminence of the aural experience. For the traditional Hebrew way of thinking, the impressions made through the visual sense are unreliable data, and do not necessarily produce objective information and true knowledge. Accordingly, from the prophetic perspective, truth is communicated principally through the aural sense; truth is heard, not visualized. Incline your ear, and come unto Me; hear, and your soul shall live (Isa. 55:3). For the Jew, the revelation of divine truth was acoustic, not optic. Thus, the prophet declares, And the Lord of hosts revealed Himself in mine ears (Isa. 22:14). As Hans Kohn remarked: “God personified himself to the Jews, not in image, but in the call. . . . The name and the sound, not the image, conjured and created.”44 Reflecting the prophetic paradigm that shaped their thinking, the great moralists of the Middle Ages, in contrast to their philosophic compatriots, declared the superiority of the acoustic to the visual. It was the former that was associated with wisdom. The ear that hearkeneth to the reproof of life abideth among the wise (Prov. 15:31). Thus, Jonah Gerondi declared that “the ear is more valued than the rest of the organs.”45 Similarly, Bahya ibn Pakuda gave priority to the acoustic,46 as did Bahya ben Asher.47

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Somewhat later, Joseph Jabez was to argue that “the life of the spirit depends upon the acoustic sense.”48 This theme is picked up by Adolf Altmann, who wrote: “Sound stands nearest to the purely spiritual among the phenomena of the world of the senses. Therefore, God has chosen it to be the medium of sensory revelation. Since what is heard is the least dimensional, it is easier to imagine it as something unlimited, and extendible into infinity, than what is visible or tactile. Sense and spirit mutually interact in hearing.”49 The essentially aural character of revelation became a point of significance in the nineteenth-century Judaeo-Christian polemics on this critical theological issue. Hans J. Schoeps, in summarizing the view of Salomon Ludwig Steinheim (1789–1866), wrote that in the religious history of mankind one may see the conflict of two hostile, mutually exclusive principles at work. One is the pure principle of divine revelation, which compels “human reason to recognition and faith even in spite of its actual intention. The other is the primitive human principle of mythophilosophy, which, within human history, has brought to light the aprioristic philosophical dogmas constructed by speculative reason in their manifold possibilities and variants.” Thus, according to Steinheim, “true revelation is invariably audible (precept and doctrine), not visible (incarnation). Thus its organ is the ear, while the eye is connected with covetousness.”50 The perceptive Catholic lay theologian Theodore Roszak wrote of the Jews, “They hear as no one else has ever heard. They became history’s most alert listeners. Their God was pre-eminently a voice, one who revealed His magisterial presence by speaking into the world from beyond it. . . . Manifested in the image of sound, the divine presence may span all space, be at once in all places, penetrate all barriers.” Moreover, unlike the hypnotic murmers of the mantras of the Eastern religions, “the word of God instructs; it is intelligible speech.”51 It is noteworthy that there is some contemporary scientific evidence in support of the notion that the aural sense may indeed be a more reliable vehicle for recording accurate information than the visual. According to at least one prominent researcher in the field of modern communications theory: “In contrast to the aural field which has no well-defined point of view, the visual field does in fact have a personal point of view for each individual viewer.”52 This suggests that among a group, people are more likely to hear the same thing than they are to see the same thing. The implication is that an individual may put more trust in the objective reality and truth of what he hears as opposed to what he sees or perceives through his other senses. In the biblical view, it is the ear that is the principal organ of the faculty of reason, enabling us to discern truth from falsehood. Doth not the ear try words, even as the palate tasteth its food (Job 12:11)? That is, just as the palate can differentiate between the sweet and the sour, so the ear can distinguish between that which conveys truth and that which is without merit. This notion is particu-

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larly important with respect to the apprehension of divine truths. Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote: “Seeing, the eye brings the actual material object to the consciousness of the mind. Hearing, the ear brings to the perception the inner relations of what we see. What we hear are shemot [names], the inner truth of things. Our whole comprehension of God lies in the shemotav shel haKadosh barukh Hu [the names of the Holy One, blessed be He]. Everything that we are to know of God, which God has revealed of Himself to us, is not for our eyes but for our ears and mind.”53 The idea that aural perception is the principal means of ascertaining inner or ultimate truth seems to be at least one underlying theme of the biblical story of Isaac’s blessing of Jacob. It will be recalled that Jacob’s mother Rebecca becomes determined that he should receive the blessing that his father Isaac intended to give to his brother Esau. To achieve her purpose, the matriarch takes a series of steps to enable Jacob to deceive the aged and ailing patriarch into believing that he is Esau. And Rebecca took the choicest garments of Esau her elder son . . . and put them upon Jacob her younger son. And she put the skins of the kids of the goats upon his hands, and upon the smooth of his neck. And she gave the savory food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob (Gen. 17:15–17). Rebecca did these things because she knew that Isaac’s senses had become dull with advanced age. The ailing patriarch had asked his older son to hunt a deer and prepare a meal of venison for him. Rebecca, however, knew that Isaac’s sense of taste was such that he would be unable to distinguish between game and any other kind of meat. Moreover, since Isaac’s vision was dim, he would not be able to discern the deceit through his sense of sight. Jacob’s donning of Esau’s clothes would deceive the patriarch’s sense of smell, and the goatskins on Jacob’s hands would fool Isaac’s sense of touch. Nonetheless, Isaac’s suspicion evidently became aroused the instant Jacob identified himself as his brother Esau, and he wished to reassure himself that he was not being deceived. He called Jacob to him so that he might touch his skin to determine if this was indeed his hirsute son Esau. And Jacob went near unto Isaac his father; and he felt him, and said: “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau” (Gen. 17:22). Isaac appears to have accepted the evidence of his several senses. But, only the information gathered through his aural sense revealed the truth. Judaism, predicated as it is on a temporal or prophetic paradigm, is concerned principally with the dynamic of existence. It calls for a radical reconceptualization of the divine and its manner of manifestation in the life of man, which is realized through a process of aural rather than visual revelation. This idea is reflected in the early pseudepigraphical literature, where it is noted, with regard to the seven basic spirits given to man at the creation, “the second is the spirit of seeing, with which comes desire. The third is the spirit of hearing, with which comes instruction.”54 This is not to suggest that Judaism seeks to deni-

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grate the evidence of the senses. On the contrary, the author of Proverbs assures us: The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made even both of them (Prov. 20:12). Nonetheless, that author also asserts the inherent superiority of the aural over the visual: The ear that hearkeneth to the reproof of life abideth among the wise (Prov. 15:31). Aural perception, what one hears, is dynamic whereas the visual, what one sees, is essentially static. This is because the eye acts as a camera that can record only momentary pictures in which movement at any instant is virtually imperceptible. Moreover, aural perception engages one in a different manner than does visual perception. As observed by the philosopher John Dewey: “The connections of the ear with vital and out-going thought and emotion are immensely closer and more varied than those of the eye. Vision is a spectator; hearing is a participator.”55 The clarion call of Judaism to recognition of ultimate truth is “Hear O Israel.” Divine instruction is to be heard, not visualized. Indeed, as Israel Eldad pointed out, “The power of the aural is greater than that of the visual . . . the aural is more accessible to the spirit.” Accordingly, there is a tradition that when one recites the “Hear O Israel” with sincerity, “he covers his eyes so that what he sees does not distract him from capturing the piercing sound that emanates from then, from the days of Moses.”56 As already suggested, there is an intimate connection between desire and appetite and visual perception. Accordingly, the biblical authors drew a rather clear albeit implicit distinction between the probable consequences of aural and visual perception, the former serving as the vehicle for moral guidance and the latter as the vehicle for the aesthetic subversion of morals. The basic biblical message in this regard is unequivocal; reliance upon the eyes may lead one to immorality and sin, whereas dependence on the ears will more likely lead one to carry out the divine will. The Bible provides clear textual support for this view when God promises to be with Isaac because Abraham hearkened to My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws (Gen. 26:5). Considered from this latter perspective, the story of the Garden of Eden is both fascinating and highly instructive. The very first explicit commandment given to man unequivocally forbids him to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). The serpent, however, challenges divine authority by substituting his own. He assures the woman that what she has heard does not reflect the truth, because God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil (Gen. 3:5). In essence, the serpent is arguing that one who follows the heavenly voice has thereby blinded himself to the real truth, which can only be realized through one’s eyes, that is, through rejecting the temporal and adopting the spatial paradigm.

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Instead of relying on the truth as revealed aurally, the woman succumbed to the perverse teaching of the serpent. Having made the proposed paradigm shift, she erred. When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise (Gen. 3:6), she violated the divine instruction and convinced her husband to do so as well. As a result, the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew they were naked (Gen. 3:7). They had trusted their eyes rather than their ears, and came to understand that they had thereby made themselves vulnerable. What they did not realize was that as a result of their adoption of the spatial paradigm, their perception of truth was now seriously flawed. Thus, although they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden, they hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden (3:8). They reacted visually to the presence of the divine; assuming that God was spatially delimited, they thought they could obscure themselves from His view. When it became obvious that they had erred in their perception of reality and truth, they became defenseless before the voice that continued to pursue them. They had permitted themselves to be led astray and would now have to pay for their transgression. However, the biblical narrative leaves it unclear as to whether they fully recognized the fallacy of expecting the spatial paradigm to provide access to ultimate moral truth. The biblical authors understood well the power of the spatial paradigm and the lure of the visible, and sought to subordinate it to the temporal paradigm and the ultimate moral truth that can only be heard, both literally and figuratively. The faithful of Israel were instructed to place a sign unto thee upon thy hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in thy mouth (Ex. 13:9). This sign and memorial (which is not even visible to the wearer) are to consist of the words of the teaching, placed in the static form of the phylacteries, as visible reminders of the invisible. Moreover, the people are instructed to write them upon the door posts of thy house, and upon thy gates (Deut. 6:9). Another visible reminder of Israel’s relationship to the divine was the tzitzit (fringes) they were instructed to tie to the corners of their garments. These were to be worn so that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that ye not go about after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go astray (Num. 15:39). The biblical concern regarding the potential of the visual for moral corruption is echoed in the teaching of the sage Rabbah: “We have it on tradition that the evil inclination moves a man only towards what his eyes see.”57 In the prophetic paradigm, the visible, unless placed in the service of the invisible, tends to lead one into moral error. In the biblical story of Samson, the hero’s downfall begins with his fatal attraction to a woman from among the enemies of his people. When his parents remonstrate with him, Samson retorts,

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Get her for me, because she is pleasing in my eyes (Judg. 14:3). Because of this, the rabbis of the Talmud taught: “Samson rebelled [against God] through his eyes . . . therefore the Philistines put out his eyes.”58 Given the importance attached to the aural faculty in Judaic thought, it should come as no surprise that loss of hearing is considered as a substantially greater disability than loss of sight. According to the rabbinic law developed by the sages, if one accidentally caused another the loss of an eye, he must compensate him for the “value of his eye.” However, if one should cause another to become deaf, “he must pay for the whole value of him.”59 That is, deafness is considered equivalent to total disability. This perception of the relatively greater importance of hearing has other important ramifications in classical rabbinic law. Thus, in contrast to one who is blind, a deaf person is placed juridically in the same general category as a minor and one who is mentally incompetent. That is, all three are deemed legally incompetent and cannot be held responsible and accountable for those precepts of the Torah, or for the transactions of ordinary commerce, which are predicated on a presumption of adult competence.60 The blind do not fall under the same constraint because they can hear, and are therefore presumed to be competent and capable of receiving instruction.61 Recognizing and acknowledging the prophetic or temporal paradigm employed by Judaism is thus critical to a full understanding of its teachings, to which we shall now return. NOTES 1. Salvador de Madariaga, Essays with a Purpose (London: Hollis & Carter, 1954), p. 135. 2. Hans Kohn, The Idea of Nationalism (New York: Macmillan, 1951), p. 35. 3. Steven Schwarzschild, “The Lure of Immanence—The Crisis in Contemporary Religious Thought,” in Menachem Kellner, ed., The Pursuit of the Ideal, pp. 62–64. 4. Henri Frankfort et al., Before Philosophy (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1967), p. 28. 5. David Wolpe, In Speech and in Silence, p. 89. 6. Charles E. Merriam, Political Power: Its Composition and Incidence (New York: Whittlesey House, 1934), pp. 106–107. 7. Kenneth Seeskin, No Other Gods, pp. 52, 61. 8. Nicholas Berdyaev, Solitude and Society (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1976), p. 134. 9. Abraham J. Heschel, The Earth Is the Lord’s, p. 13. 10. Ibid., p. 14. 11. Heschel, Man’s Quest for God, p. 121. 12. Norman Lamm, Faith and Doubt, pp. 194–195. 13. Heschel, The Sabbath, pp. 6, 8.

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14. See a discussion of holiness in time and space in Warren Zeev Harvey, “Holiness: A Command to Imitatio Dei,” Tradition, vol. 16, no. 3. 15. Lamm, Faith and Doubt, p. 195. 16. David Shapiro, “God, Man and Creation,” Tradition, vol. 15, nos. 1–2, p. 33. 17. Olivier Revault d’Allonnes, Musical Variations on Jewish Thought, p. 58. 18. Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), p. 110. 19. Paul Eidelberg, Jerusalem vs. Athens, p. 278. 20. Aristotle, Metaphysics (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1960), p. 1011b. 21. Alan R. White, Truth (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970), p. 6. 22. Eli Munk, The Seven Days of the Beginning, pp. 13–14. 23. Midrash Bereshit Rabbati, p. 10. 24. David Z. Hoffmann, Sefer Bereshit, vol. 1, p. 48. 25. Benno Jacob, The First Book of the Bible: Genesis, p. 4. 26. Meir L. Malbim, Mikra’ei Kodesh on Isa. 38:10. 27. Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, Part 2, ch. 30, pp. 349–350. 28. Obadiah Sforno, Biur al haTorah on Gen. 1:1. 29. The cantillation consists of a number of signs that accompany the biblical text and assist the reader to grasp the proper sentence structure. 30. Jacob Kamenetzky, Emet leYaacov, p. 14. 31. Sforno, Biur al haTorah, on Gen. 1:4–5. 32. Schatz, Proof of the Accuracy of the Bible, p. 4. 33. Mordecai Plaut, At the Center of the Universe, p. 99. 34. Ibid. 35. Ibid., p. 104. 36. Thorlief Boman, Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek, p. 206. 37. Solomon ibn Gabirol, Tikkun Middot haNefesh, pp. 7–8. 38. Abraham ibn Ezra, Perushei haTorah on Ex. 20:1, vol. 2, p. 127. 39. Maimonides, Pirkei Moshe, Sixth Essay, p. 88; Seventh Essay, p. 107. 40. Judah ibn Tibbon, Ruah Hen, ch. 2, p. 5b 41. Gersonides, Perush haTorah al Derekh Biur, “Terumah,” p. 105a. 42. Simeon ben Zemah Duran, Magen Avot, Part 3, pp. 51–52. 43. Ibid. 44. Kohn, The Idea of Nationalism, p. 32. 45. Jonah Gerondi, Shaarei Teshuvah, 2:12. 46. Bahya ibn Pakuda, Torot haNefesh, p. 62. 47. Bahya ben Asher, Kad haKemah, No. 7, p. 165; Biur al haTorah on Ex. 3:7. 48. Joseph Jabez, Perush al Massekhet Avot, 6:2, p. 143. 49. Adolph Altmann, “The Meaning and Soul of ‘Hear, O Israel,’ ” in Levi Meier, ed., Jewish Values in Jungian Psychology, p. 61. 50. Hans J. Schoeps, The Jewish-Christian Argument, pp. 117–118. 51. Theodore Roszak, Where the Wasteland Ends (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972), p. 112. 52. Gordon Thompson, “Moloch or Aquarius,” THE (Ottawa: Bell Northern Research), No. 4, February 1970, p. 32.

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53. Samson R. Hirsch, The Pentateuch on Ex. 3:13. 54. Testament of Reuben 2, in James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1, p. 782. 55. John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems (Chicago: Gateway Books, 1946), pp. 218–219. 56. Israel Eldad, Hegyonot Mikra, p. 240. 57. Sanhedrin 45a. 58. Sotah 9b. 59. Baba Kamma 85b. 60. See article, “Heresh Shoteh veKatan,” in Talmudic Encyclopedia (Hebrew), Vol. 17, p. 538. 61. It should be noted, however, that the halakhic definition of the heresh was subsequently held to include only the deaf-mute and excluded anyone who had previously heard or spoken, thereby considerably reducing the scope of the restriction.

3

The Experience of the Divine

One may assert with some confidence, notwithstanding the efforts of philosophers and theologians over millennia, that there are and can be no satisfactory logical proofs of the existence of God. The presence of the divine can only be experienced. Accordingly, as one writer put it, it is for this reason that man may, in his own mind, justifiably demand of God that he be given the capacity to apprehend the divine in his experience. Man thus turns to God for help when all human effort is to no avail—he seeks miracles that defy the order of nature as a sign of the divine presence. This approach, however, is fatally flawed for it presumes that God somehow needs man to apprehend Him and will therefore grant such a brash request. “Only those are able to feel the presence of God who are capable of perceiving Him in the wonders of existence which hint at wonders which transcend existence.”1 The crucial distinction between monotheism and polytheism as it affects man may perhaps be best understood in terms of the problem of how one experiences the presence or sense of the divine. In the pagan universe, it is assumed that each category of interaction with the divine reflects the involvement of a distinct deity, a god that specializes in a particular sphere of activity. In the monotheistic conception of divinity, there is only the one God who relates to the universe of His creation in the multifarious ways that man becomes aware of the divine presence. It is important to note, however, that man never directly experiences God, despite the contrary assertions of some with pretensions to mystical insight, because to do so would be equivalent to claiming that God is real in the sense that He exists within time and space. It would imply that God is some “thing” that man is capable of actually experiencing. But, as Steven Schwarzchild

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has pointed out, “Authentic, Jewish mystics know that God is ayin— ‘nothing’—‘no-thing.’ One cannot experience nothing, or, if you please, when one experiences God one experiences nothing. Experience is itself always in time and space, and so are its objects.”2 What one does or may experience, at most, is an inner sense of awareness of the divine presence. In outlining the classical kabbalistic approach to the issue, David Cooper emphasizes that we tend to get tripped up by the very language we use to discuss the divine, language that is itself conditioned by our utilization of the spatial paradigm and thus leads to both miscommunication and misunderstanding. His words merit citation at length: God is not what we think It is. God is not a thing, a being, a noun. It does not exist, as existence is defined, for It takes up no space and is not bound by time. Jewish mystics often refer to It as Ein Sof, which means Endlessness. Ein Sof should never be conceptualized in any way. It should not be called Creator, Almighty, Father, Mother, Infinite, the One, Brahma, Buddhamind, Allah, Adonoy, Elohim, El, or Shaddai. . . . When we call It God, what are we talking about? . . . Giving a name to the nameless creates a stumbling block that trips most people. We think that if something has a name, it has an identity. An identity comes with attributes. So we think we know something about it. This is a mistake. For thousands of years this mistake has become ingrained in the human psyche. The word “God” suggests an embodiment of something that can be grasped. We have given a name to the Unknown and Unknowable and then have spent endless time trying to know it. We try because It has a name; but we must always fail because It is unknowable. Judaism is so concerned about this misunderstanding that it goes to great lengths to avoid naming God. Yet various names seep through because our minds cannot work without symbols.3

Rabbinic concern about misguided attempts to unveil the essence of God led them to oppose vigorously any excessive use of the name of God, or elaboration of His attributes, even in prayer. This notwithstanding that Moses himself used elaborate terms of adoration such as the great God, the mighty, and the awful (Deut. 10:17), and that Nehemiah subsequently employed phrases such as our God, the great, the mighty, and the awful God (Neh. 9:32). The sage R. Hanina stated that he would have prohibited the use of such language, had Scripture not evidently sanctioned it. In his view, such praise represented a slight to God because it did not begin to reflect His true greatness. He likened it to praising a very rich person by dramatically understating his wealth.4 Arnold Wolf writes about this extraordinary talmudic text: “Such principled suppression of theological originality is fascinating. Not only may we not add information about God, but even the attributes we presume to apply are allowed only because we have been so instructed. We have no right to go beyond Torah (written or oral) because we have no new data. What is more, we know what we may say of God not from direct contact but only from authoritative

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tradition. If Moses had not told us, we should not even be able to say God is great.”5 Although the sages had little choice but to deal with the theological issues implicit in the biblical writings, their clear preference was to severely limit theological analysis and discussion. This probably accounts for the curious interpretation placed by them on the prophetic verse, They have forsaken Me and have not kept My law (Jer. 16:11). According to R. Huna and R. Jeremiah, this text should be understood as asserting, “would that they had forsaken Me but kept My law, since by occupying themselves therewith, the light which it contains would have led them back to the right path.”6 That is, it is more important that Israel concern itself with ethical issues than with theological ones. In fact, the sages went so far as to construct a new list of names of God for their use in place of those found in the biblical texts.7 The latter names were designed to differentiate between the God of Israel and the gods of the surrounding peoples. Accordingly, the biblical names refer to the undiluted lordship, power, and sovereignty of God. It is noteworthy that these designations are not used in the talmudic literature except when citing Scripture. In their place, the names created by the sages and rabbis are almost all related to the providential relationship between God and the people of Israel. The most common of these, “the Holy One, blessed is He,” makes no reference to God as creator and master of the universe. Instead, it implies that God is holy to us, blessed to us. This, of course, must not be misconstrued as reflecting any lack of belief in God the creator. It merely reflects a change in focus, away from basic theological issues that cannot be resolved satisfactorily, to the more prosaic issues of building the society required by the Torah, the divine guidance to Israel, to which the Talmud and its sages were dedicated.8 Even in the classic midrashic or homiletic literature of Judaism, where free range is given to speculation about theological issues, the use of the biblical names of God is confined to biblical citations. The sages considered the variegated manner in which man experiences the presence of the divine to be reflected in the distinctive biblical names attributed to God, names which are held to correspond to the specific character of His varying interventions in the universe. In this regard, the sage R. Abba bar Mammel taught: The Holy One, blessed is He, said to Moses: You wish to know My name—I am called according to my Work; sometimes I am called “God Almighty [El Shaddai]”, “Lord of Hosts [Zevaot]”, “God [Elohim]”, “Lord [YHVH]”. When I judge created beings, I am called “God [Elohim]”, and when I wage war against the wicked, I am called “Lord of Hosts [Zevaot]”. When I suspend judgment for a person’s sins, I am called “God Almighty [El Shaddai]”, and when I am merciful towards My world, I am called “Lord [YHVH]”, for YHVH refers to the attribute of mercy.9

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Moreover, the biblical text makes it quite clear that these different names reflect but a single essence and reality. And God [Elohim] spoke unto Moses, and said unto him: I am the Lord [YHVH]; and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty [El Shaddai], but by My name YHVH I made Me not known to them (Ex. 6:2–3). Within this single biblical verse, three distinct characterizations of deity are seen to coalesce into one. The sages also dwelt on this same point, that the different names and perceptions of God all reflect a single essence and reality. “R. Hanina bar Papa said: The Holy One appeared to Israel with a stern face, with an equanimous face, with a friendly face, with a joyous face. . . . Therefore the Holy One said to them: Though you see Me in all these guises, [I am still One]—I am the Lord thy God [Ex. 20:2].” Moreover, according to R. Jose bar R. Hanina, the divine word was spoken to each person in a manner compatible with each one’s individual capacity for comprehension, implicitly raising the question as to whether all these diverse voices were from a common source. “Therefore the Holy One said: Do not be misled because you hear many voices. Know ye that I am He who is one and the same: I am the Lord thy God.”10 It seems certain from this that, in the view of the biblical text describing the different names of God vouchsafed to the Patriarchs and to Moses, man’s full comprehension of the multidimensional unity of the divine can only be achieved through some process of cognitive or spiritual development. Thus, it appears that the patriarchs of Israel were not considered to have reached the stage of enlightenment that would have permitted them to grasp fully the concept of a single universal god. Their conception of God was evidently less comprehensive than that revealed to Moses.11 Judah Halevi wrote in this regard, “The meaning of Elohim can be grasped by way of speculation, because a Guide and Manager of the world is a postulate of Reason. . . . The meaning of Adonai [YHVH], however, cannot be grasped by speculation, but only by that intuition and prophetic vision which separates man, so to speak, from his kind . . . imbuing him with a new spirit.”12 Pursuing this theme, Halevi argued further: “Man yearns for Adonai as a matter of love, taste, and conviction; whilst attachment to Elohim is the result of speculation. A feeling of the former kind invites its votaries to give their life for His sake, and to prefer death to His absence. Speculation, however, makes veneration only a necessity as long as it entails no harm, but bears no pain for its sake.”13 Approaching the same issue from a somewhat different perspective, Samson R. Hirsch argued that to know the name YHVH is “to understand God’s methods of planning and ordering which are implied in this Name. An understanding that can only be completely achieved out of the collective experience of all the ages, and the Patriarchs stood at the beginning of the ages.”14 In essence, to probe the monotheistic conception of God to its depths is to grapple with a subject the full comprehension of which has proven to be well

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beyond the range of man’s intellectual reach. Nonetheless, this consideration has only rarely served as a deterrent to those who cannot help but wonder and speculate about such issues. The difficulties to be overcome in attempting to penetrate to the heart of the matter are perhaps nowhere better exemplified than in the opening text of Scripture, in which the biblical author first introduces the idea of deity. The Bible begins with the words: In the beginning God [Elohim] created the heaven and the earth (Gen. 1:1). Throughout history, this passage has troubled serious students of the biblical writings who have been puzzled by the biblical terminology. The Hebrew word employed in this text to denote God, Elohim, is rendered in the plural form of the generic term for deity, El or Eloha.15 The sage R. Simlai was challenged to explain why this verse should not be understood as referring to multiple deities. His response was simply that the Hebrew verb for “created” is written in the singular, and by the rules of grammar must refer to a singular subject.16 A similar challenge was raised with regard to the biblical passage: Did ever a people hear the voice of God [Elohim] speaking out of the midst of the fire? (Deut. 4:33). Once again, the response was grammatical. The Hebrew verb for “speaking” is written in the singular and therefore must refer to a singular subject. The sage’s students, however, were dissatisfied with the answer because it did not explain why the plural form of the name of God was used in the first place. R. Levi attempted to allay their concerns about the latter biblical passage by suggesting that the voice of God was so powerful that none could actually hear it and that it was therefore made to sound like many voices so that each could hear it according to his individual capacity. Accordingly, it was to reflect this circumstance that the plural name of God is used to describe the event, as though there were multiple voices. But, the sage cautioned, “God said to Israel: ‘Do not believe that there are many deities in heaven because you have heard many voices, but know ye that I alone am the Lord thy God.’ ”17 It is not at all certain that R. Levi’s attempt at an explanation of the particular passage succeeded in satisfying the disciples of the sage; it surely does not resolve the more generic problem with which we are presently concerned. That is, given the general monotheistic purpose of the biblical text, why would it make use of a name for God the form of which seems to hint at, if it does not clearly suggest, divine plurality or polytheism? One answer, suggested by Hermann Cohen, is that “God was thought of as a unity, with such energy and clarity that the grammatical plural form could not impair this new content of thought. On the contrary, the preservation of the plural form testifies to the vigor of the new thought, which simply took no offense at all at the plural form.”18 The problem, however, is further compounded by the fact that there are a number of passages which employ the name Elohim in which the verbs, adjectives, or pronouns (pronominal suffixes attached to the Hebrew nouns) for

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God are unambiguously plural. An example of this is the verse that reads: And Elohim said: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness (Gen. 1:26). Here the use of the plural, the meaning and significance of which will be explored in some depth later, is patent and was considered highly troublesome by the sages.19 “R. Samuel b. Nahman said in R. Jonathan’s name: When Moses was engaged in writing the Torah, he had to write the work of each day. When he came to the verse, And God said: Let us make man, etc., he said: ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Why dost Thou furnish an excuse to heretics?’ ‘Write,’ replied He; ‘whoever wishes to err may err.’ ”20 It would be an error because, regardless of the fact that the terms “let us” and “our” are clearly plural, the terms for “image” and “likeness” are just as clearly singular. However, since the choice of terms must be assumed to have been deliberate, what did the biblical writer intend to convey to the reader by the use of the evidently plural Elohim as a name for God? The response of some medieval commentators to these troubling questions is that the plural form of the Hebrew term for deity was employed by the biblical text to emphasize God’s “all-encompassing power.”21 Or, that its purpose is to remind one that “there is nothing that exists that does not derive from His being,”22 or that Elohim denotes “one who has power to produce all things.”23 That is, according to these commentators, the use of the plural form Elohim is intended to signify the multidimensional character of the one God, and not that the supreme deity may be conceived as consisting of a multiplicity or aggregation of diverse divine beings or powers. By contrast, Judah Halevi explained that the reason why the term Elohim is in the plural is because it was adopted by the early Israelites from the civilization they were to supplant. “The word has a plural form, because it was so used by gentile idolators, who believed that every deity was invested with astral and other powers. Each of these was called Eloha; their united forces were, therefore, called Elohim.”24 Abraham ibn Ezra, on the other hand, eschewed attributing any particular theological significance to the plural form of Elohim. In his opinion, it merely reflected the linguistic traditions of the region to use the plural form of appellations to signify respect and honor. In other words, Ibn Ezra may be understood as suggesting that, notwithstanding its plural form, Elohim should not be considered as the plural of Eloha. Instead, it should be considered as a singular root with a special form to reflect conventional linguistic usage.25 In modern times, David Z. Hoffmann suggested that the designation Elohim derived from a variant meaning of el, “to be strong.” “This name therefore refers to the powerful, the omnipotent.”26 Similarly, Samuel D. Luzzatto suggested that the ancient Hebrews adopted the plural name for God to emphasize that, unlike the surrounding peoples who identified their gods with individual aspects or forces of nature, their God encompassed all those aspects

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and forces.27 Taking a very different approach to the question, Samson R. Hirsch applied his original and unique method of speculative etymology to the biblical text. He suggested that the key to understanding the true significance of the plural form of the commonly employed name of God was to be found in the three-letter root eleh, meaning “these,” which is imbedded in the term. He took note that, “the demonstrative plural ‘these’ always looks at a plurality of things as being in some way joined together to form a unit. And so, whereas eleh in general points to the visible plurality of objects in the world, the name of God Eloha could designate the One Whose might and will encompasses all these objects together in unity.” Accordingly, Hirsch suggests that the use of the plural form of the name of God at the very outset of Scripture should be understood as a literary device designed to call our attention to the complex nature of the divine. God is “the One through Whom all the plurality, by everything being related to Him, becomes one union, one whole, one world.”28 However, scholars of comparative religion and advocates of the higher biblical criticism have disputed such interpretations. Some suggest that the biblical author’s use of a plural form for the name of God is merely a reflection of the long evolution of Judaism. In this view, Judaism underwent a transition from polytheism, the worship of multiple gods, through henotheism, in which the existence of many gods was taken for granted even though only a single deity was worshipped, to monotheism, the worship of the one and only God. The evident implication of this approach is that even though the plural form of the divine name was subsequently understood to refer to the one God proclaimed by Judaism, this does not necessarily reflect the original significance and meaning of the name. Understandably, this approach has been found to be quite unacceptable from a traditional Judaic perspective. I would also suggest that it does not pass the test of reasonability, because it implies that the biblical author either did not fully comprehend the significance of the terms he employed, or that he deliberately introduced a polytheistic word symbol into the biblical text. Moreover, there is little if any real evidence to support the hypothesis about the evolution of biblical theology and good reason to dispute it. As Robert C. Dentan writes: There are two objections to this interpretation of the development of theology in Israel. The first is that the idea of henotheism is an artificial construction, there being no evidence that cultures do actually and inevitably pass through such a stage. The second is that, even if henotheism existed, it would be far too pallid a word to describe the attitude of Israel toward its God. Even the term “monolatry,” the worship of only one God, sometimes suggested as a substitute, is too anemic and theoretical a term to express the vividness of Israel’s sense that one God had laid an absolute claim upon her.29

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Indeed, a traditionalist reading of the biblical text might suggest that the changes in man’s understanding of the divine implied therein do not comport at all with the evolutionary thesis propounded by the scholars of comparative religion. Considered from this perspective, the biblical texts may be read as lending literary support to the notion that man’s conception of deity did not first lead him to polytheism, and then only gradually to monotheism, but rather that the course of development was the reverse. In essence, the biblical author may be understood as rejecting out of hand the assumption that the primal notion of deity is pagan in character. Whether or not this view is considered ultimately susceptible to anthropological corroboration, it is clearly supportive of the idea that the intent of the biblical text is to emphasize the point that it is monotheism rather than polytheism that is natural to man. From this standpoint, the text may be read as starting out with the pristine monotheism implicit in the creation narrative, a true conception that is later perverted into a plethora of polytheistic beliefs. Maimonides, who clearly understood it in this way, wrote: In the days of Enosh [grandson of Adam] the children of mankind erred grievously and rejected the advice of the wise men of that generation. Their mistake was to say that because God made the stars and planets to rule the universe and placed them on high to share honor with them . . . they are worthy of praise, glory and honor. Because of a wrong belief they bowed down before the stars in order to reach the will of the Creator. This is the basis of idolatry. . . . After a long time there arose among the children of men false prophets who said that God commanded them to serve such and such a star, or all the stars. They brought offerings and libations . . . built a temple and made an image for all the people, men, women and children to bow down before it.30

Whether Maimonides’ anthropology is correct is of little importance here. What is clear is that it reflects the idea of an inherent tendency in men to prefer the more congenial spatial paradigm to the temporal or prophetic paradigm as the prism through which to perceive the universe and man’s place within it.31 From this perspective, the essential purpose of Judaism, as the embodiment of the prophetic paradigm, may therefore be understood to be that of pointing the way toward a reversion to the original and true conception of the divine and its relationship to man and the universe. The latter idea may be seen reflected in the traditional prayer, repeated three times daily as part of the synagogue liturgy, that declares: “We, therefore, hope in You, O Lord our God, that we shall soon see the triumph of Your might, that idolatry shall be removed from the earth, and false gods shall be utterly destroyed. . . . Then all the inhabitants of the world will surely know that to You every knee must bend, every tongue must pledge loyalty.”32 Irrespective of whether one can devise a completely satisfactory explanation of the use of the plural name of God in the opening verse of Scripture,

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there can be little doubt about the ultimate commitment of the biblical authors to the unadulterated monotheistic concept of deity. That commitment is articulated most emphatically in the resounding biblical proclamation of Israel’s faith, usually translated as Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One (Deut. 6:4). This declaration was eventually incorporated into the daily synagogue liturgy as a supplement to, and ultimately as a replacement for, the recitation of the Ten Commandments, or Decalogue, as the essential credo of Judaism.33 The reason this was done is instructive. The first two sections of the Decalogue set forth the monotheistic credo and categorically reject any form of idolatry. I am the Lord thy God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, even any manner of likeness, of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them (Deut. 5:6–9). These statements served to demarcate clearly the distinctions between Judaism and paganism, particularly the traditional forms of idolatry. However, as the credo of Judaism, these assertions were not sufficiently unequivocal to cope fully with the challenges presented by the ancient religion of Iran, which became widespread almost concurrently with the destruction of the First Jewish Commonwealth and its religious center in Jerusalem. Zoroastrianism made use neither of idols nor images, and therefore did not fit the traditional model of avodah zarah or “strange worship.” Instead, it posited the existence of a supreme deity, Ahura Mazda, in whom the primordial powers or principles, Spenta Mainyu, the Beneficent Spirit, and Angra Mainyu, the Evil Spirit, converge. And, by postulating the independent existence of evil, the Iranian prophet Zarathustra gave what appeared to many to be merely a dualist aspect to an ostensibly monotheistic religion, a dualism that might be accommodated within traditional Israelite religion.34 Norman Lamm has suggested that Isaiah specifically sought to counteract the Zoroastrian teachings that posited the existence of a god of light and goodness as well as a god of darkness and evil. The prophet therefore characterized Israel’s God as proclaiming I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil.35 In essence, he implicitly argued that Zoroastrian dualism does not reflect the true and all-encompassing complexity of the one and only God. Even though the dualist conception of the divine seemed inimical to the pristine monotheism of Judaism, the biblical injunction, Thou shalt have no other gods before Me, appeared somewhat ambiguous. As discussed earlier, it could be interpreted as suggesting that, although there might be other gods, that is, primordial powers, they were not to be given precedence or even equivalent status. With the conquest of the entire Middle East by the Persians and the consequent spread of Iranian culture and religious beliefs, it became imperative to make Judaism’s popular affirmation of strict monotheism much stron-

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ger. Accordingly, the biblical declaration, Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One, was added to the daily liturgy.36 However, the reading of the Decalogue as part of the daily liturgy was discontinued during the early rabbinic period. This occurred primarily because schismatics argued, apparently to some effect, that the Decalogue contained the entirety of Judaism’s beliefs and practices, thereby impugning the authority of the oral tradition as reflected in the teachings of the sages. R. Levi explained the discontinuance of the Decalogue as part of the liturgy on the basis that the “Hear, O Israel” declaration and its associated texts37 are recited twice daily and that “the Decalogue is encompassed by them,” thereby rendering the recitation of the Decalogue in the daily liturgy superfluous. 38 Notwithstanding the centrality of the biblical formula in the Judaic worldview, there is some ambiguity concerning the exact message that the biblical author intended to convey by the “Hear, O Israel” declaration. It is noteworthy that the rabbis did not as a rule concern themselves with its theological content. Instead, they designated recitation of the formula as kabbalat ol Malkhut Shamayim (acceptance of the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven).39 As Simon Greenberg suggests, as far as the rabbis were concerned, “It is not a confession of belief in God’s existence, His unity, or His incorporeality, but rather an expression of our allegiance to God and our readiness to obey Him.”40 In any case, Eliezer Berkovits took strong issue with the usual English rendition of the biblical verse cited above, which he considered tautological. Moreover, he argued, it obscures the deeper theological meaning of the statement. Berkovits maintained that the biblical declaration is concerned principally with affirming that YHVH, the transcendent sovereign of the universe, is identical with Elohim, the immanent deity more familiar to man. Accordingly, Berkovits would translate the verse as, “Hear, O Israel, Y[HVH] is our Elohim; Y[HVH] is one.” Rendered in this fashion, it becomes “a vital statement about God in which every word counts. Hear, O Israel, Y[HVH] is identical with our Elohim. The transcendent Creator is also the immanent Preserver. God who in his absoluteness is far removed is also near; the King and Ruler is also the Father and Sustainer. But notwithstanding that Y[HVH] is also Elohim, Y[HVH] is yet One.”41 This declaration, which is generally held to be the preeminent faith affirmation of Judaism, has also been understood as conveying two different albeit closely related and compatible concepts of deity. In the opinion of some medieval commentators, the declaration should be interpreted as propounding the idea of God’s uniqueness. Thus, after reviewing the implications of the grammatical structure of this declaration of faith in the original biblical Hebrew, Abraham ibn Ezra concluded that it should be understood as if it stated: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God alone is the Lord,” thereby emphasizing the absolute uniqueness of God.42 Others, such as Solomon ibn Gabirol, suggested that

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the intent of the declaration was to proclaim God’s essential unity. Ibn Gabirol wrote eloquently of the Judaic belief in the absolute unity of God in his religious poetry: “You are One; the wise wonder at the mystery of Your unity, because they do not know what it is. You are One; and Your unity cannot be detracted from or added to. You are One; not like the one of dimension or number, because neither multiplication nor change, neither attribute nor quality, can be predicated of You.”43 Similarly, writing in a later period, Leone Modena understood the verse to mean that God, in Himself, is an irreducible reality, without any form of plurality, whether of substance or attribute.44 Or, as Ben Zion Bokser put it more recently, the concept of unity, of irreducible reality, is inapplicable to material things, which are infinitely reducible. “Only what is above the physical can be truly one. And when we say God is one, we declare that He is outside all the considerations which govern the realm of the physical.”45 Maimonides sought to bridge these interpretations with his assertion that the unity of God is unique. In his view, the application of the idea of unity with respect to God is necessarily distinct from any other possible use of the concept of unity to describe particular aspects of the universe. This position is reflected to some degree in the work of Philo, who wrote more than a millennium earlier: God is alone, a single being: not a combination: a single nature: but each of us, and every other animal in the world, are compound beings. . . . But God is not a compound Being, nor one which is made up of many parts, but one which has no mixture with anything else; for whatever could be combined with God must be either superior to Him, or equal to Him. But there is nothing equal to God, and nothing superior to Him, and nothing is combined with Him which is worse than himself; for if it were, He himself would be deteriorated; and if He were to suffer deterioration, He would also become perishable, which it is impious even to imagine. Therefore God exists according to oneness and unity.46

In similar fashion, Maimonides suggested that the intrinsic unity of God should be conceived as radically different in character from the unity of a species that is composed of discrete members, or from the unity of an organism that is made up of interrelated yet relatively distinct elements. The unity of God cannot be conceived as either an aggregate or a synthesis, because the absolute singularity of God does not allow for the coexistence of other divine beings. If one were to conceive the existence of other divinities, they would have to be delimited in some manner since it would be possible to differentiate one from another only if each were considered to be inherently finite in form, dimension, or quality. But, Maimonides insisted, such constraints cannot apply to the true God since He is, by definition, boundless. It is therefore logically impossible, in his view, that God should be conceived as anything other than a

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unique infinite unity.47 J. David Bleich has recently recapitulated the essence of Maimonides’ argument in the following formulation. G-d is a unity, and His unity is singular in nature. His unity, however, is not to be construed as a unity composed of separate entities or powers; He is not to be viewed as a genus composed of distinct beings. The unity of G-d is not the unity of collectivity. Similarly, the unity of G-d is not the unity of an aggregate. G-d is not a compound that may be separated into discrete elements; His unity is not the unity of a composite divisible into its component parts. G-d’s unity is not the unity of a magnitude. It is a unity that cannot admit of any division whatsoever. Clearly, G-d’s unity is unique and unparalleled.48

Expanding somewhat on Maimonides argument, Aron Barth suggests that the unique infinite unity of God is a logical necessity when considered from a Judaic theological perspective. “Two, or more, gods cannot be absolute. Two, according to the nature of the concept, are relative. . . . Two, or more, cannot be incorporeal, because there must be limits separating one from another, and limits belong to the world of corporeality. If there are two, or more, there can be no basis for the concept of omnipotence, because each must necessarily be limited in power and activity.”49 Hermann Cohen takes the argument a step farther by asserting that the idea of divine uniqueness incorporates the concepts of both God and existence. That is, “only God has being. Only God is being. And there is no unity that would be an identity between God and the world, no unity between world and being. The world is appearance . . . only God is being. There is only one kind of being, only one unique being: God is this unique being. God is the Unique One.” In Cohen’s view, this idea is of fundamental theological importance and is given expression in the “Hear, O Israel” proclamation. Moreover, he suggests that “throughout the development of religion unity was realized as uniqueness, and this significance of the unity of God as uniqueness brought about the recognition of the uniqueness of God’s being, in comparison with which all other being vanishes and becomes nothing. Only God is being.”50 The affirmation of the unique unity of God may justifiably be considered the pivotal doctrine of Judaism because virtually everything else in Judaism derives from it. It is, as characterized by Claude Montefiore, “a rich idea,” one that means and implies a great deal. “The Unity of God may be said to range over, and include, almost all the parts of our faith respecting God’s dealings and relations with mankind. Everything seems to turn upon it; all goes back to it; all flows out from it. No wonder, then, that our forefathers felt that this doctrine of God’s unity was so central and so sacred that sooner than abandon it, sooner than admit any weakening or impoverishment of it, they would suffer, and they would die.”51 The idea of the unity of God was given perhaps its most poignant and most popular expression in the beautiful Song of Glory (Shir haKavod), attributed to

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the twelfth-century Judah heHasid, and subsequently incorporated into the Sabbath liturgy. “I shall relate Your glory, though I see You not; I shall allegorize You, though I know You not. Through the hand of Your prophets, through the counsel of Your servants; You allegorized the splendrous glory of Your power. . . . They allegorized You, but not according to Your reality, and they portrayed You according to Your deeds. They symbolized You in many varied visions; yet You are a Unity containing all the allegories.”52

NOTES 1. L. Peretz, Al Elohim ve ’al haNefesh, p. 76. 2. Steven S. Schwarzschild, “On the Unique God,” in Eugene B. Borowitz, ed., Ehad: The Many Meanings of God Is One, p. 75. 3. David A. Cooper, God Is a Verb, pp. 65–66. 4. Megillah, 25a. 5. Arnold Jacob Wolf, “On God and Theology,” in Bernard Martin, ed., Contemporary Reform Jewish Thought, p. 41. 6. Lamentations Rabbah, Proem 2. 7. There is a tradition recorded in the Talmud that there was also a twelve-lettered name of God that was originally entrusted to all the people, but was subsequently confided only to “the pious of the priesthood,” and these swallowed it when chanting to make its pronunciation indistinct. Another tradition suggests that there was also a forty-two lettered name that was “entrusted only to him who is pious, meek, middle-aged, free from bad temper, sober, and not insistent on his rights. And he who knows it, is heedful thereof, and observes it in purity” (Kiddushin 71a). 8. See discussion of the rabbinic names of God in A. Golomb, Iyyunim beYahadut Zemanenu, pp. 130–131. 9. Exodus Rabbah 3:6. 10. Pesikta de-Rab Kahana, Piska 12, pp. 249–250. 11. For further discussion of the meaning of this passage, and its misconstrual by advocates of the Higher Critical Theory of biblical interpretation, see Joseph H. Hertz, ed., The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, “Additional Note C,” p. 397. 12. Judah Halevi, Book of Kuzari 4:15. 13. Ibid., 4:16. 14. Samson Raphael Hirsch, The Pentateuch, on Ex. 6:3. 15. As pointed out by M. H. Segal, the linguistic relation of these names to each other is uncertain. The usual plural of El is Elim, and the singular form Eloha, which is used only in poetry, first appears in the Pentateuch in Deut. 32:15. See his The Pentateuch, Its Composition and Its Authorship, and Other Biblical Studies, p. 104. 16. Genesis Rabbah 8:9. 17. Exodus Rabbah 29:1. 18. Hermann Cohen, Religion of Reason out of the Sources of Judaism, p. 38. 19. For a full discussion of divine plural self-references, see Ari Mark Cartun, “When God’s References Are Plural: A Look at Gen. 1:26, 3:22, 11:7 in an Overarching Context,” CCAR Journal: A Reform Jewish Quarterly, (Fall 1996), pp. 51–70.

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20. Genesis Rabbah 8:8. 21. Bahya ben [Asher] Hlava (Rabbenu Bahya), Biur al haTorah on Gen. 1:1. 22. Sforno, Biur al haTorah on Gen. 1:1. 23. Joseph Albo, Sefer Ha’Ikkarim, Vol. 1, p. 103. 24. Judah Halevi, Book of Kuzari, 4:1, p. 175. 25. Abraham ibn Ezra, Perushei haTorah on Gen. 1:1, p. 12. 26. David Z. Hoffmann, Sefer Bereshit, p. 16. The word el is used in this sense in Gen. 31:29: It is in the power [el] of my hand, and also in Deut. 28:32: and there shall be naught in the power [el] of thy hand. 27. Samuel D. Luzzatto, Perush Shadal al Hamisha Humshei Torah on Gen. 1:1. 28. Samson Raphael Hirsch, The Pentateuch on Gen. 1:1. 29. Robert C. Dentan, The Knowledge of God in Ancient Israel, pp. 134–135. 30. Maimonides, The Book of Knowledge, “Idolatry,” ch. 1–2, pp. 71–72. 31. This should not be construed as asserting that Maimonides would necessarily have subscribed to the paradigmatic distinctions suggested here, which give the temporal paradigm precedence over the spatial paradigm of the Greeks. 32. Weekday Prayer Book, pp. 97–98. 33. Norman Lamm writes: “So central is this commandment to recite the Shema [Hear] that R. Judah the Prince, redactor of the Mishnah, chose the Shema as the opening halakha of the entire Talmud” (The Shema, p. 9). 34. For a discussion of the relation between Judaism and Zoroastrianism, and misconceptions about the latter, see Rustom Masani, Zoroastrianism: The Religion of the Good Life (New York: Macmillan, 1968), ch. 1 & 10. 35. Norman Lamm, The Shema, p. 28 36. E. E. Urbach, Hazal-Pirkei Emunot veDeot, pp. 15–16. It is noteworthy that Josephus implies that the twice-daily recitation of the Shema has its origins in Mosaic legislation (Antiquities of the Jews IV.8.13.), a view that is reflected in a rejected minority opinion cited in Berakhot 21a. 37. Deut. 6:4–9, 11:13–20, and Num. 15:37–41. 38. J. Berakhot 1:5; Berakhot 12a. 39. “R. Joshua b. Karha said: Why does the section Hear, O Israel precede And it shall come to pass if ye shall hearken?—so that a man may first take upon him the yoke of the kingdom of heaven and afterward take upon him the yoke of the commandments” (M. Berakhot 2:2). 40. Simon Greenberg, Foundations of a Faith, p. 2. See also Lou H. Silberman, “God and Man,” in Abraham E. Millgram, ed., Great Jewish Ideas, p. 151. 41. Eliezer Berkovits, Man and God, p. 29. 42. Abraham ibn Ezra, Perushei haTorah on Deut. 6:4. See also Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam), Perush haTorah, ad loc., who adopts this interpretation of the text. A biblical example in support of Ibn Ezra’s interpretation is I Chron. 29:1, where the word ehad (one) is clearly used in the sense of “alone.” 43. Solomon ibn Gabirol, Keter Malkhut 2, pp. 8–9. See also translation by Israel Zangwill in Selected Religious Poems of Solomon ibn Gabirol, pp. 83–84. 44. Leone Modena, Magen vaHerev, p. 22. 45. Ben Zion Bokser, Judaism: Profile of a Faith, p. 43. 46. Philo, “Allegorical Interpretation,” The Works of Philo, II, 1:2–3.

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47. Maimonides, Hilkhot Yesodei haTorah, 1:7. See also The Guide of the Perplexed, 1:57, 2:1. 48. J. David Bleich, “One G-d, One People,” in Eugene B. Borowitz, ed., Ehad: The Many Meanings of God Is One, p. 5. 49. Aron Barth, The Modern Jew Faces Eternal Problems, p. 30. 50. Hermann Cohen, Religion of Reason, p. 41. 51. Claude G. Montefiore, Outlines of Liberal Judaism, p. 54. 52. The Complete ArtScroll Siddur, p. 485.

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Man, the Universe, and the Creator

The emergence, in the first half of the nineteenth century, of the modern movement to reform or reconstitute Judaism engendered a major reappraisal of traditional beliefs and practices. Previously, typical responses to questions concerning the divine-human relationship would have been in consonance with the traditional perspective. It would have been taken for granted that God was intimately engaged with mankind, both collectively and individually, because this was His wish as a caring divine personality, a notion that is expressed repeatedly, both explicitly and implicitly, in the traditional literary corpus of Judaism.1 Even a cursory examination of the biblical narratives reveals a concerned God who clearly is intimately involved with mankind, a God who repeatedly intervenes providentially in the lives of peoples and individuals. Traditional responses to the question of the nature of the divine-human interaction would have reflected the high degree of confidence that can be expected to accompany unqualified acceptance of the truth of the teachings of Scripture, as they are elaborated upon by the sages and scholars of later periods. However, over the course of the last two centuries the responses offered by many Judaic thinkers to questions about the nature of the purported relationship between man and God have become increasingly hesitant and ambivalent. They are often clouded with doubts and articulated with circumlocutions, and frequently can be found to be quite incompatible with long-held views on the subject. In modern times, a growing number of thoughtful people seem to have found themselves no longer able to accept what they perceived to be overly simplistic biblical and rabbinic notions about a God who is directly concerned with and attentive to our individual and collective lives. This is especially un-

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derstandable in light of the seemingly inexplicable horrors of the systematic dehumanization and annihilation of European Jewry in the Shoah. As Richard Rubenstein put it, “The real objections against a personal or theistic God come from the irreconcilability of the claim of God’s perfection with the hideous human evil tolerated by such a God.”2 This has led some modern theologians, even prior to the Shoah, to attempt to replace the traditional concept of a personal God with a variety of virtually or completely depersonalized notions of deity such as the “Wholly Other,” “the power that makes for salvation,” and “the ground of being.” However, Louis Jacobs has pointed out the serious pitfall of this line of reasoning. “Admittedly,” he wrote, “God cannot be described by humans but if we are to speak of Him at all we must perforce use the highest terms we know to do that work, always with the mental reservation that He is more than that which we are saying He is. To speak of God as ‘Power’ or ‘Force’ or ‘Process,’ without reference to mind or will, is to make Him less than we are ourselves for we do possess minds and wills and consciousness.”3 Moreover, these rather vague abstractions have failed to gain much popular acceptance, primarily, I would suggest, because they are far removed from the divine personality depicted in the biblical and rabbinic literature to whom one could relate and aspire to communicate with in some fashion. As Abraham J. Heschel remarked: “The God of the prophets is not the Wholly Other, a strange, weird, uncanny Being, shrouded in unfathomable darkness, but the God of the covenant, Whose will they know and are called upon to convey. The God they proclaim is not the Remote One, but the One Who is involved, near and concerned.”4 Indeed, one can hardly establish much of a personal and intimate relationship with the God that Mordecai Kaplan characterized as the “power that makes for salvation.”5 Writing early in the twentieth century, educator Julius Greenstone cautioned in this regard about the use of such abstractions with regard to the divine. “Care should be taken in dwelling upon the spiritual character of God’s being, not to identify God with an impersonal power or influence, but to regard Him as life, consciousness and personality. We cannot worship a power whose actions are impersonal; we cannot worship a power, an influence, a blind force. The human heart craves for a reality, for a life-possessing and life-giving being, and this yearning is not satisfied by the belief in an abstraction.”6 This is not to argue, however, that God is in fact a person. He clearly is not, even though we may speak of Him as though He were. Norman Lamm asserts in this regard: “God is never to be conceived of as a person, yet He does possess personality; who can deny Him the very attribute that distinguishes His creatures created in His image?”7 We refer to God as having personality because, as Ben Zion Bokser put it, “the qualities of personality are the highest marks of perfection we know . . . but God is above personality as He is above everything else that is part of the world.”8 Bernard Casper expanded on this theme by as-

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serting that “every statement we make about God is bound to be, in a certain sense, misleading and vague—even paradoxical. . . . In whatever way we speak of God, whether as a cosmic force or as a transcendent Being, we are necessarily making use of symbols which are familiar to us from ordinary human experience. We thus express what is beyond and above nature in terms of the natural, what is unconditional in terms of the conditioned, what is eternal in terms of the temporal, what is absolute in terms of the relative and finite.”9 The traditional Judaic approach to characterizing God is perhaps best summarized by Jacobs: “The best Jewish thinkers, mystics, saints and scholars have tried to avoid, when thinking of God, the extremes of both anthropomorphism and ‘de-personalization.’ God as apprehended in traditional Judaism is the Supreme Being, Who is known through His deeds, never comprehended as He is in Himself, Who is more than personality not less, and Who, because this is so, can be worshipped by His creatures who will find Him if they seek Him.”10 Nonetheless, given the concerns that have underpinned the tendency on the part of some contemporary theologians to depersonalize God, it seems appropriate to undertake an objective albeit cursory reconsideration of the traditionalist approach to the issue of the divine-human relationship. The challenge is to determine if that approach can be reframed in a manner that would permit reconciliation with some typically modern perspectives on the nature of man and the universe. Viewed from the standpoint of Judaic tradition, the fundamental relationship between God and man is first established with the emergence of the latter. This threshold development, as is made quite clear in the biblical narrative, is the direct result of divine intervention in the natural order of the universe. It is through this supernatural intrusion that the seemingly unbridgeable chasm between the human and the divine is spanned, bringing man into intimate connection with his Creator. This approach to the problem understandably presents the modern traditionalist with a number of serious conceptual difficulties.11 Perhaps foremost among these is the need to come to grips with the idea of man as a created being. One must work out the theoretical and practical implications of this concept for the divine-human relationship in a manner acceptable to the rationalist perspective that is presumed to characterize most, if not all, modern thought. The difficulty of this task is exacerbated by the rather explicit manner in which the divine creation of man is depicted in the scriptural account, a description that leaves little if any room for doubt about the intent of the biblical author. The biblical text states quite clearly: And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them (Gen. 1:27). The implications of this seemingly redundant passage have been understood in a variety of ways. However, there is no getting away from its emphatic and repeated assertion that man’s very existence derives in the first instance

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from divine engagement and intervention in the natural order of things, an order which is itself considered to be a direct result of God’s creative activity. Maimonides clearly affirms the significance of this fundamental proposition. “The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of the sciences is to know that there is a First Being, and it is He who caused all that exists; and all existing things in heaven and earth, and that which is between them could not exist except for the truth of His being.”12 Maimonides’ formulation was later rephrased for liturgical purposes and incorporated into the traditional prayer book as the first of the thirteen basic principles of the once highly controversial Judaic creed that he enumerated. The formula that the faithful Jew is expected to affirm, declares: “I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be his Name, is the Author and Guide of everything that has been created, and that He alone has made, does make, and will make all things.”13 Traditionalists have long considered themselves to be under an obligation to accept the thesis of this fundamental declaration of faith as the critical premise underlying any conception of the relationship between man and God within the context of Judaism. This would seem to place the modern traditionalist in the uncomfortable position of being forced to make a decisive choice between the explicit creationism of the biblical narrative and the theory of the natural evolution of man generally accepted by modern science. However, as Maimonides long ago made clear, a traditional reading of Scripture does not necessarily imply a literal reading of the text. “Those passages in the Bible, which in their literal sense contain statements that can be refuted by proof, must and can be interpreted otherwise.”14 Accordingly, some modern traditionalists have taken the position that the stark characterization of the alternatives facing the contemporary Judaic thinker is quite overstated. They suggest that the presumed need to choose between these incompatible explanatory hypotheses is arbitrary and unnecessarily restrictive, because the alternatives of creationism or evolutionary theory do not exhaust all the available conceptual options. They argue, in effect, that accepting the traditionalist affirmation of creation need not necessarily compel one to reject categorically the scientific perspective. Abraham Isaac Kook wrote in this regard: “It is proper for every right-thinking person to understand that, even though there is no compelling truth to the assertions of science [with regard to the content of the biblical narratives], we are under no obligation to deny or oppose such opinions. The primary objective of the Torah is not the simple [scriptural] recounting of the sagas and events that transpired. The principal concern [of the Torah] is with the content, the inner meaning, of these matters.”15 That is, although Kook personally rejected the theory of evolution because it clearly contradicted the biblical account, he did not find it a matter of conceptual urgency that one need choose definitively between creationism and evolutionism. In his view, the principal concern of the Torah is with regard

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to the theological and ethical implications of the idea of creation and not with its objective scientific verifiability. This perspective permits one to defer rendering a final judgment on the apparent incompatibility between the two approaches to understanding the origins of man and the universe. Writing from the perspective of a religiously orthodox biologist, David W. Weiss asserts: Evolutionary theory is not, and cannot conceivably be, in conflict with any tenet of Judaism. Its articles pertain to an analytic description of the tangible, of material phenomena as they are; they posit a rational perspective of the living world as it exists, and they endeavor to reconstruct the history of life as it was in the past. Evolutionary theology does not address itself to inchoation or eschatology, to ultimate questions of beginnings, ends, and the purpose of the universe and its biosphere. These questions fall within the purview of philosophy and religion, and methods other than those of the natural scientist are demanded for their study.16

It need also not be taken as a given that evolutionism necessarily offers a more intellectually compelling approach to understanding the origins of the universe and man than creationism. As Weiss puts it, “the origin and maintenance of the universe, and of life within it, cannot be explained by any postulate of inclusive randomness. Mathematical consideration dismisses as wholly improbable the proposal that chance concatenations of physical and chemical forces can account for the origin and diversity of matter, for the beginning of life and its unfolding, and for persistence.”17 In this same regard, Elihu Schatz writes: “In general, the evolutionary theory taxes one’s logical faculties by assuming that complicated living organisms could be created by pure chance, though from our own experiences we know that even such a relatively simple item as a chair does not arise spontaneously.”18 Moreover, in addition to being subjected to a variety of scientifically grounded challenges, contemporary theories of natural evolution may be considered seriously deficient in that they cannot satisfactorily account for the unique intellectual attributes of man, something that the biblical account seems to do far more successfully. The approach of Kook to finding a practical accommodation between the conflicting demands of tradition and science was recast in a most persuasive manner by Jacobs, who wrote: “Modern scientific theories regarding the origin of the universe are not strictly relevant to theology. They are interesting in themselves but have nothing to say one way or the other on the theological doctrine of creation. They are attempts at describing how the universe came into being, whereas theology’s concern is with the fact that it came into being by the divine fiat.”19 That is, it is conceivable that one could argue that, although the universe was created by God, the actual processes by which it came into its present observable form are best described by one or another of the scientific theories currently in vogue. Arno Penzias, the Nobel laureate physicist,

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has made this same point. “I see science as describing the world. Science has no way of explaining the world. Religion attempts to explain it. When religion tries to get into the description business, it gets into trouble. On the other hand, when scientists are trying to explain things, they get in trouble.”20 Given the fundamental distinction drawn by Jacobs between the approaches appropriate to theology and to science, it should be readily acknowledged by modern traditionalists that the biblical text was not intended to serve as a treatise on natural science. It therefore should not be read and interpreted as such, even if it were possible to do so. Samuel D. Luzzatto made this point explicitly a century ago. At the outset of his commentary on the Bible he wrote: “Enlightened people will understand that the intent of the Torah is not to inform us about the natural sciences. The Torah was not given for any purpose other than to guide people to the path of righteousness and justice, and to sustain in their hearts belief in the unity of God and in divine providence.”21 Some traditionalist Jewish scientists continue to attempt to demonstrate that the biblical account of the first day of creation is consistent with the “big bang” theory currently favored by cosmologists. However, it should be recognized that the ultimate truth of biblical propositions cannot be made contingent upon the conclusive results of empirical testing and evaluation. It is true, nonetheless, that the currently available scientific evidence seems to support the biblical idea of creation; and that there simply is no longer any scientific reason for asserting that the universe could not have come into being as a direct consequence of the exercise of the divine will. All leading cosmologists now accept the idea that the cosmos came into being as an act of creation.22 In this regard, the renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking has stated: “The actual point of creation lies outside the scope of presently known laws of physics.”23 There is, however, a certain intellectual danger in becoming overly enamored with correlating the biblical text with the views of contemporary cosmologists. The theories of the latter are always subject to modification and reformulation as science progresses. The biblical author surely had a different purpose in mind than to pen a description of the creation of the universe that would be shown to be consistent with cosmological science more than three thousand years later, even though it would have been scientifically meaningless until that time. Moreover, such explanations may become meaningless once again if the “big bang” theory should fall into disfavor at some point in the future. Although modern science attempts to describe the probable process and course of the evolution of our universe, the nature of the event or cause that initiated the evolutionary process, setting it in motion, may remain forever a matter for either acceptance of the divine role or continuing metaphysical speculation. With regard to the issue of how the universe as we know it actually came into existence, it is noteworthy that many traditionalists, ancient as well as

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modern, have questioned whether the creation process described in the scriptural account should be understood figuratively, or perhaps even allegorically, rather than literally. There can be little doubt that the early sages were quite sensitive to the conceptual difficulties that inhere in a straightforward reading of the biblical narrative. But it seems that they were even more troubled about the potentially negative outcomes of premature attempts to probe the deeper mystery of God’s engagement with the universe by those who were spiritually unprepared for the task. The rabbis appeared to be especially concerned about the disappointment that inevitably awaited most of those who might seek to attain such esoteric knowledge. It was feared that the resulting frustration might engender a desultory skepticism about the ultimate truth of the traditional teachings of Judaism and thereby lead to neglect of its prescribed practices and guidelines for morally appropriate conduct. To illustrate their concerns in this regard, the rabbis invoked the symbol-laden story of the four prominent sages who entered the “garden,” that is, who sought to explore the esoteric realm of theosophy. “Ben Azzai cast a look and died. . . . Ben Zoma looked and became demented. . . . [Elisha b. Abuya] mutilated the shoots [i.e., became an apostate]. R. Akiba departed unhurt.”24 Of the four sages involved, only one was able to engage in the attempt to penetrate the veil shrouding the divine mysteries and emerge spiritually intact. The others were overwhelmed to one degree or another by their experience, with the indicated consequences.25 The rabbis therefore intimated that a true understanding of the “Account of the Beginning” (Maaseh Bereshit), among other major mysteries, required the acquisition of extraordinary esoteric insights that were within the spiritual capabilities of only a very few especially gifted individuals in any given generation. The extent of their concern was such that they went so far as to proscribe the exposition “of the Account of the Beginning in the presence of two.”26 That is, notwithstanding the exceptionally high value they normally assigned to gregarious study and open scholarly discourse, the rabbis sought to mitigate the spiritual dangers they saw as inherent in the study of such extraordinary matters by seeking to restrict access to this particular kind of knowledge. The “Account of the Beginning” was to remain a closely guarded teaching. It was to be transmitted very selectively and only individually to those few elite disciples of the sages deemed to possess the requisite spiritual and intellectual qualities to grasp what they believed would be quite incomprehensible to those less qualified. The rabbinic proscription of the public study of the mystical doctrine concerning the divine process of creation was explained as having been necessary because “it is impossible to convey to people the power of the Account of the Beginning in a manner that they will understand. Therefore, Scripture is [deliberately] obscure [about its meaning].”27 The final clause of this assertion

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seems to suggest that the wording and descriptive detail of the biblical narrative should be neither read too literally nor understood too simplistically. Not surprisingly, traditional commentators have offered a wide variety of possible approaches to the interpretation of the creation saga. There also have been numerous attempts, some of them highly imaginative, to expound the seemingly unlimited homiletic implications of the narrative, even though it was generally assumed that the true nature of the creative process itself probably would remain forever an impenetrable enigma. It is noteworthy that none of these endeavors to unravel the great mystery questioned the essential truth of the biblical proposition that man is a being created by God. Of this there was no doubt whatever. Following in the footsteps of his rabbinic predecessors, the modern traditionalist similarly feels bound to ground his speculations regarding the origin and nature of man in the fundamental biblical premise that posits the existence of the Creator and a divinely created universe. It makes no difference whether one attempts to find a plausible accommodation or synthesis between the seemingly incompatible belief in creation and the teachings of modern science, or whether one considers the biblical account to be valid in its essentials even though, in the final analysis, it is scientifically unverifiable. The modern traditionalist should not find this to be especially unsettling since even the most scientifically oriented must be prepared to acknowledge that the answers to some questions will continue to lie beyond man’s present and perhaps even future intellectual horizons. Accordingly, until the time when more certain answers can be provided to such questions, the modern traditionalist may reasonably be expected to suspend judgment on the matter. At the least, one should treat the biblical account of creation as if it reflected a scientifically acceptable theory of the origins of the universe and man.

THE PLACE OF MAN IN THE ORDER OF CREATION The special role of man within the divine scheme of things has been inferred by some from the manner in which his emergence into existence is depicted in the biblical narrative. Man is portrayed as having been brought into being as the culmination of the divine process of creation. A number of rabbinic commentaries on the biblical text have suggested that this specification of his relative position in the sequence of creation is intended to emphasize man’s uniqueness and his special role among the products of divine creativity. That is, by being created last, man is presented as the capstone of the Creation, its final and highest stage, transcending in cosmic importance everything in the order of nature that preceded his emergence. As Heschel put it, “Man is man because something divine is at stake in his existence. He is not an innocent bystander in the cosmic drama.”28

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Some commentators further elaborated this thesis, suggesting that the principal function of the natural world was merely to provide the material environment within which man is destined to play out his divinely appointed role. By describing man as having been brought into existence only at the culmination of the creation of the natural order, the biblical text is understood by them to be intimating that all other created beings and things are intended to be subordinate to the inherent and evolving needs of man. Perhaps nowhere in the literature is this view stated more explicitly and expansively than in a medieval ethical tract of uncertain authorship. It is incumbent upon man to gaze upon the Creator’s works, and the heaven and the earth and all their host, and to know that all were created for the sake of man. He should gaze upon the sun and the moon and the stars, and he should know that these were created only to provide light for man. . . . He should consider every plant, and the fowl and the animals of the earth, and the sheep and the cattle, and he should know that all were created in order to provide for man, for his benefit and enjoyment, both as food and as medicine.29

In this unequivocally anthropocentric perspective, the purpose of the universe is to serve as the physical abode for man. And it is because this residence had to be adequately prepared in anticipation of the arrival of its designated tenant, that the emergence of man necessarily came last in the order of creation.30 That this is not an unreasonable interpretation of the creation narrative may be inferred from the biblical recounting of the story of Noah and the Deluge. We are told that the primeval society in which he lived was steeped in moral corruption and oppression, and that as a direct consequence of this God decided that all of mankind was to be annihilated with the sole exception of Noah and his immediate family. Yet, it is not only morally culpable humanity that is destroyed by the great flood, but most of the animal world as well. And the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart. And the Lord said: “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and creeping thing, and fowl of the air; for it repenteth Me that I have made them” (Gen. 6:5–7). How is this passage to be explained? Why destroy the animal world when the clearly stated divine intent was to wipe the slate clean of humankind? It does not seem plausible to suggest that the other creatures of the natural world would be made to suffer the consequences of man’s transgressions if they had been created for some purpose unrelated to man. One may therefore reasonably conclude that, in the biblical view, the intrinsic significance of the animal world is critically related to the manner in which it serves the ultimate needs and interests of man. Accordingly, the biblical text may be understood as inti-

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mating that without man all other living things lose their reason for being. Since the animal world serves no other purpose, and all created things are presumed to have a purpose, it becomes superfluous and its destruction along with mankind becomes comprehensible.31 This thoroughly anthropocentric reading of the biblical text may also be seen reflected in a number of classic rabbinic teachings: “R. Eleazar says: The Holy One, blessed be He, says: The whole world was created for his [man’s] sake only. R. Abba b. Kahana says: He [man] is equal in value to the whole world. R. Simeon b. Azzai says: The whole world was created as a satellite for him.”32 It should be noted, however, that this anthropocentric approach to understanding the world and man’s place in it was not universally accepted as valid by later Judaic thinkers. Some saw in such an approach the potential for fostering an unbridled and counterproductive egocentricity in man. Maimonides, for one, rejected such blatant anthropocentrism and cautioned: “It should not be believed that all the beings exist for the sake of the existence of man.”33 David Shapiro elaborates on this adjuration: “The earth was given to man and created as his habitation. But we may not conclude from this fact that the earth has no self-sufficient value. When God decided to wipe man from the face of the earth, He did not include the earth itself in the decree of destruction. Everything that God created, besides serving as a means, has a self-subsistent reason for its existence, beyond and above its functional character.”34 However, the overwhelming weight of subsequent rabbinic opinion appears to favor the more traditional interpretive approach, one that seeks to give the greatest possible force to the idea of the centrality of man in the divine scheme of things. This latter notion was reaffirmed and further rationalized by Kook: “The center of the Creation is Godhood, but since the idea of Godhood rests with man, and to the best of our knowledge only with man, we therefore consider man to be the center of the Creation.”35 Consistent with this traditional approach to understanding the place of man in the divine plan for the universe, the creation narrative has been considered by some as giving dramatic expression to the uniqueness of man by emphasizing his radical distinctiveness from the rest of the natural world. Highlighting this idea, the emergence of man is described in the biblical text as the outcome of a deliberate inversion of the natural processes that govern the rest of animate creation. Thus, while the universal experience of the reproductive process is birth by the female of the species, in the biblical retelling of the origins of man it is the reverse that occurs; primal man gives “birth” to primal woman as a consequence of God’s direct intervention in the natural order. This is in stark contrast to the creation of the other animal species, which are brought into existence in pairs, male and female, presumably to ensure their natural reproduction and perpetuation. Man is clearly depicted in the second of the two creation narratives as having been created alone, his female coun-

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terpart being brought into existence at a later point in time, notwithstanding the self-evident fact that without a mate he would be incapable of ensuring the perpetuation of humanity.36 The sages derived a vital moral teaching from this biblical attribution of radical uniqueness and solitude to man. They suggested that the reason why man is depicted as having been created alone is to give special prominence to a central principle of universal morality that they considered implicit in the creation narrative. “Therefore but a single man was created in the world, to teach that if any man has caused a single soul to perish Scripture imputes it to him as though he had caused a whole world to perish.”37 The individual human being is thus considered as representing inestimable, indeed infinite, value. As Heschel put it: “Human life is the only type of being we consider intrinsically sacred, the only type of being we regard as supremely valuable.”38 The elaboration of this idea will suggest important implications for the Judaic conception of the moral foundations of society.

THE IDEA OF DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY The seminal importance of the idea of a created universe in traditional Judaic thought cannot be overemphasized. It is crucial because the fundamental nature of the relationship between God and the world is predicated on it. In the biblical view, the macrocosm, which is clearly described as the direct outcome of God’s creative activity, represents what is perhaps the most dramatic tangible manifestation of ultimate divine power. As the psalmist put it: The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork (Ps. 19:2). Moreover, as the Creator of the universe, God is also conceived as being its ultimate sovereign, the supreme lord of all that exists. The great psalm-singer David is reported to have made an explicit assertion to this effect in a passage that was later incorporated into the liturgy. Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine; Thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and Thou art exalted as head above all (1 Chron. 29:11). This text was adduced as evidence that whatever legitimate human authority exists must be based solely and entirely upon a grant from the Creator, who alone exercises sovereignty in the universe. Some sages went so far as to insist that “even a superintendent of a well is appointed in heaven.”39 That is, although other men may appoint a person to such a minor communal position, the legitimacy of his authority ultimately derives from the indivisible sovereignty of God, and no other source.40 The affirmation of God’s sovereignty is equivalent to asserting that God alone is absolute. As Will Herberg put it: “It implies immediately that everything which is not God is ‘relativized.’ Nothing but God possesses any value in its own right. Whatever is not God—and that means everything in the world,

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every society, institution, belief or movement—is infected with relativity and can at best claim only a passing and partial validity.”41 The concept of divine sovereignty over the universe is stressed repeatedly in the classical literature of Judaism and may be seen to have practical moral and behavioral consequences for its adherents. An example of this is the normative halakhic requirement that a person offer praise to the Creator before partaking of any of those things of the world that nourish and provide us with pleasure. The sages taught: “It is forbidden to a man to enjoy anything of this world without a benediction, and if anyone enjoys anything of this world without a benediction, he commits sacrilege.”42 And, indeed, every such blessing begins with an acknowledgment of divine sovereignty: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Sovereign of the Universe.” The routine recitation of the appropriate liturgical formula thus constitutes an expressed acknowledgment by the individual that everything in the universe ultimately belongs to God and may be enjoyed by man only at His discretion. In the words of the psalmist: The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof (Ps. 24:1).43 Elaborating on the implications of this passage, Samson R. Hirsch wrote: “The earth and the fullness thereof are the Lord’s, therefore the world of men and its inhabitants are also His. . . . The earth and the fullness thereof belong to the Lord Himself, Who is also . . . the God of the Torah, the God of history. The earth must serve His Sovereignty.”44 In antiquity, Philo gave special attention to the concept of absolute divine sovereignty, and emphasized man’s complete dependence on the will of God for the privilege of exploiting the bounties of nature. No mortal is positively and assuredly the master of anything whatever (and they who are called masters are so in appearance only, and are not called so in truth), it follows of necessity, as there is a subject and a slave, so there must also be a ruler and lord in the universe, and he must be the true real ruler and lord, the one God, to whom it was becoming to say, that “All things belong to Him.” . . . And of the supreme authority of the living God, the sacred scripture is a true witness, which speaks thus: And the land is not to be sold in perpetuity, for all land is Mine, because ye are strangers and sojourners before Me. (Lev. 25:23)

This biblical passage was considered by Philo to provide an explicit prooftext for the idea that “all things belong to God by virtue of possession, but to created things only inasmuch as they have the use of them.”45 Philo’s conception of divine sovereignty therefore clearly places man in the role of tenant rather than master with regard to the universe within which he lives. It also suggests some potentially far-reaching implications for man’s proper relationship to the natural environment, a subject that surely merits serious study from a Judaic perspective.

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The scope of the idea of human tenancy in the universe has been extended by some to encompass the intimate relationship between man and his very own body. Life itself has been viewed as a divine deposit held in trust by man, a deposit that is subject to withdrawal at any time at the sole discretion of the depositor.46 Samuel Belkin attempted to describe the significance of this concept for the divine-human relationship in terms of man’s self-enlightenment. “Only when man realizes that he does not possess permanent and real ownership over either himself or created things in general, and that all created things belong to the Creator, can he begin to commune with God and establish an intimate relationship with Him.”47 The moral implications of this concept are stunning, and touch directly upon some of the most troubling ethical and social issues confronting modern society. A person’s moral judgment on irrevocable acts like suicide, euthanasia, and abortion cannot but be affected dramatically by one’s acceptance of the comprehensive doctrine of divine sovereignty. Indeed, acceptance of this doctrine would obviously negate the applicability of the principle of individual self-determination to such irreversible decisions. It seems clear that this must necessarily be the case if one cannot assert a natural right to absolute authority over his own body. Without possession of such authority, on what moral grounds could a person legitimately elect to terminate one’s own, not to speak of another’s, life? From the traditional Judaic perspective, the appropriate moral guidance for dealing with such awesome issues must derive from Torah-based norms that are predicated on the concept of divine sovereignty, rather than from any individual’s autonomous moral judgment that is presumed to be based on reason alone. Herberg writes in this regard: “Pretensions to self-sufficiency and attempts to measure himself against his Maker can only lead, as they have always in the past, to utter chaos within the soul of man and the community he attempts to create. Denial of the divine sovereignty leads directly and inexorably to the disruption of human life. No one should know this better than the man of today who is heir to all the devastation that the fatal Prometheanism of the modern age has brought upon the world.”48 Moving from the individual to the community, particularly the community of Israel, the idea of divine sovereignty takes on a significant political dimension. In exchange for Israel’s compliance with the precepts set forth in the Torah, God is committed by the covenant to reward it with peace and prosperity in the land in which it is to establish its unique civilization and political society. However, the covenant also contains a severe penalty clause. A failure by Israel to fulfill its duties and obligations will result in its political decline and ultimate dispossession from its patrimony. This theme is sounded repeatedly in the Torah. One of the more explicit examples being the adjuration by Moses in his final address to the people, both collectively as well as individually, in

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which he effectively assigns responsibility for the welfare of the whole to every one of its constitutents. I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances; then thou shalt live and multiply, and the Lord thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest in to possess it. But if thy heart turn away, and thou wilt not hear, but shall be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; I declare unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish; ye shall not prolong your days upon the land, whither thou passest over the Jordan to go in to possess it. (Deut. 30: 16–18)

It hardly need be stressed that each of the parties to a covenant or contract must have the inherent ability to fulfill the agreed-upon conditions. In the biblical covenant between God and Israel, the assurance that if Israel fulfills its obligations it will receive its due reward in tangible forms of compensation is predicated on the fundamental concept of divine sovereignty over the universe. That is, God can unquestionably fulfill his part of the bargain because the ultimate disposition of the universe, its peoples, lands, and resources, is under divine jurisdiction and control. This political concept of divine sovereignty is exemplified in traditional rabbinic thought, where every aspect of Scripture, including the order and sequence of the texts, is assumed to be purposive and significant. One of the rabbinic sages, R. Isaac, raised the rhetorical question of why Scripture did not begin with the story of the Exodus, instead of starting with the story of the creation of the universe. After all, it was the Exodus that laid the basis for Israel’s national covenant with God, the primary purpose of which was to transmit the constitution by which Israel is to live and thrive in accordance with the divine promise. His response was that the Torah began with the story of creation in order to make clear to all the extent of God’s ultimate power over the universe and all that it contains. God is the sovereign of all that exists, and is therefore free to do with it whatever He pleases. For the kingdom is the Lord’s; and He is the ruler over the nations (Ps. 22:29). Accordingly, if it pleased God to award a particular portion of it to Israel in fulfillment of the covenant, His will is not to be contraverted. He hath declared to His people the power of His works, in giving them the heritage of the nations (Ps. 111:6).49 R. Isaac’s teaching was later elaborated upon by Rashi in what proved to be a remarkably prescient interpretation of the sage’s opinion. He suggested that R. Isaac’s teaching was intended to provide a response to the challenge that would be levied by Israel’s enemies against the legitimacy of its claim to the Land of Israel, a charge that continues to be made by Israel’s enemies to this very day.50 Anticipating the assertion that Israel originally usurped the land from its previous owners, R. Isaac insisted that Scripture makes it unmistakably plain that this was not the case. The entire universe is under the sovereignty of its Maker, and it was He who gave the land to Israel after revoking the tenancy of the na-

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tions that occupied it, thereby validating their ultimate dispossession. Viewed from this perspective, Israel’s claim to the land is not vulnerable to legitimate challenge. The biblical text takes a somewhat different approach to the issue, although arriving at the same conclusion. It asserts, in effect, that the so-called original owners of the land at the time of the Mosaic covenant were themselves but temporary occupants who conquered and absorbed or displaced the people they found there who had earlier displaced others. This turns out to be an essentially accurate assessment of the demographic history of the territory in ancient times. It also suggests implicitly that the Mosaic covenant itself should be considered as the culmination of a covenant formation process that began centuries earlier with Abraham. It was the divine promise to the patriarch that originally established the basis for Israel’s ultimate claim to the land, which could not be asserted at the time because, as the biblical text puts it, the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full (Gen. 15:16). NOTES 1. See an exhaustive study of this in Joshua Abelson, The Immanence of God in Rabbinical Literature. 2. Richard L. Rubenstein, After Auschwitz, p. 89. 3. Louis Jacobs, We Have Reason to Believe, p. 16. 4. Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets, p. 227. 5. Mordecai M. Kaplan, The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion, ch. 2. 6. Julius H. Greenstone, The Jewish Religion, pp. 200–201. 7. Norman Lamm, The Shema, p. 27. 8. Ben Zion Bokser, Judaism: Profile of a Faith, p. 53. 9. Bernard M. Casper, Judaism Today and Yesterday, pp. 101–102. 10. Jacobs, We Have Reason to Believe, p. 22. 11. For a general discussion of the encounter between tradition and modernity, see Norman Lamm, Torah Umadda: The Encounter of Religious Learning and Worldly Knowledge in the Jewish Tradition. 12. Maimonides, Hilkhot Yesodei haTorah, 1:1. See also an earlier version of this teaching in his preface to Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1, in Hakdamot lePerush haMishnah, pp. 136–37. 13. Joseph H. Hertz, The Authorized Daily Prayer Book, p. 249. 14. Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, 2:25, p. 199. Note that, as a rule, we have utilized the translation given in the Pines edition of the Guide. However, in this particular instance the passage is rendered more coherently in the Friedlander edition. 15. Abraham I. Kook, Iggorot HaRayah, vol. 1, p. 163. 16. David W. Weiss, “Judaism and Evolutionary Hypotheses in Biology: Reflections on Judaism by a Jewish Scientist,” Tradition, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 8–9. 17. Ibid., pp. 9–10. 18. Elihu A. Schatz, Proof of the Accuracy of the Bible, p. 15. 19. Louis Jacobs, A Jewish Theology, pp. 96–97.

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20. Cited by Joshua O. Haberman, The God I Believe In, p. 179. 21. Samuel D. Luzzatto, Perush Shadal al Hamisha Humshei Torah, on Gen. 1:1. 22. Nathan Aviezer, “On Contradictions Between Torah and Science: The First Day of Creation—The Origin of the Universe,” Tradition, vol. 24, no. 4 (1989), p. 66. 23. Cited by Aviezer, ibid. 24. Hagigah 14b. See also J. Hagigah 2:1; Tosefta Hagigah 2:2; and Song of Songs Rabbah I.4.#1, pp. 46–47. There has long been some scholarly controversy over precisely how this passage should be understood. However, this argument does not materially affect the manner in which it is used in the present work. For scholarly analysis of this tradition, see Gershom G. Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition, pp. 14–19. 25. See a discussion of the psychological implications of this story in Mortimer Ostow, “Four Entered the Garden: Normative Religion versus Illusion,” Conservative Judaism, Vol. 40(4), Summer 1988. 26. Hagigah 11b. 27. “Midrash Sheni Ketubim,” in J. D. Eisenstein, ed., Otzar Midrashim, p. 560. See a discussion of this issue in Maimonides, “Introduction to the First Part,” The Guide of the Perplexed, pp. 6–9. 28. Heschel, The Insecurity of Freedom, p. 160. 29. Sefer haYashar 31a. This work, which has been reprinted numerous times, has been erroneously attributed to Jacob ben Meir Tam (Rabbenu Tam), who authored a work of the same name in the twelfth century. 30. See Saadia Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, p. 181 and David Kimhi, Perush Radak al haTorah on Gen. 1:26. 31. See Obadiah Sforno, Biur al haTorah on Gen. 6:12; Naftali Zvi Berlin, Ha’Amek Davar on Gen. 6:6. 32. Berakhot 6b. See also The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan, ch. 31. 33. Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, 3:13. 34. David Shapiro, “God, World and Man,” p. 35. 35. Kook, HaMakhshevet haYisraelit, p. 25. 36. See Gen. 2:7 and 2:21–22. 37. Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5. 38. Heschel, Who Is Man?, p. 33. 39. Baba Batra 91b. See commentaries of Gersonides and David Kimhi on 1 Chron. 29:11 for a discussion of this concept of derived authority. 40. For a discussion of political authority in Judaic thought, see Martin Sicker, The Judaic State: A Study in Rabbinic Political Theory, ch. 5. 41. Will Herberg, Judaism and Modern Man, p. 65. 42. Berakhot 35a. 43. The idea that all of creation belongs to God is also expressed in the Mishnah: “Rabbi Eleazar of Bertotha said: Give unto Him from His own, for you and what you possess are His” (Avot 3:8). 44. Samson R.Hirsch, The Psalms, vol. 1, p. 173. 45. Philo, “On the Cherubim,” The Works of Philo, Part 2, 24:83, 31:108–109.

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46. This notion is clearly reflected in the classical literature in the form of stories related to the consolation of mourners. See The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan, ch. 14, and Midrash Mishlei, ch. 31, on “Eshet Hayyil.” 47. Samuel Belkin, In His Image, p. 21. 48. Herberg, Judaism and Modern Man, p. 66. 49. Midrash Tanhuma, Buber ed., “Bereshit,” 11. Cited with some modification in Yalkut Shimeoni, No. 187. 50. Rashi, commentary on Gen. 1:1.

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The Meaning of Human Existence

It seems reasonable to assume that whatever is consciously and deliberately brought into being must be intended to serve some preconceived end. The validity of this assumption has generally been borne out by human experience. While one cannot speak with any authority about matters that transcend the domain of such experience, there seems to be no self-evident reason why the assumption should not be considered equally applicable to the biblical supposition of a created universe. This raises the question of the divine intention and purpose in the creation of the universe in general and man in particular. It is perhaps the most significant question a person may ever ask since it concerns the reason for human existence. It is also a question to which no one has as yet formulated a convincing or even generally acceptable answer. It would seem that the question of the divine intent was clearly also a matter of some concern to the biblical authors, even though they generally did not attempt to deal with it explicitly in their works. One biblical writer did seek to respond to it, albeit somewhat evasively, by suggesting that, the Lord hath made every thing for His own purpose (Prov. 16:4). The implication of this statement is that, irrespective of whether or not we can ascertain and comprehend it, we are justified in assuming that everything that exists in a divinely created universe must have an intrinsic purpose. Accordingly, the sages of the Talmud taught: “Of all that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He did not create a single thing without purpose.”1 In effect, as Moses Luzzatto argued, they were asserting quite unequivocally that each and every created thing, no matter how seemingly insignificant, was brought into being because divine wisdom deemed it essential to the fulfillment of God’s overall purpose in the creation of the universe.2 The truth of this fundamental proposition was con-

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sidered by Maimonides to be so self-evident that he saw fit to insist that “a man endowed with intellect is incapable of saying that any action of God is vain, futile, or frivolous.”3 Although we may not be able to assert with any confidence just what ultimate purpose or meaning there is in our often troubled lives, we are reassured that they do have transcendent value and significance in the grand divine scheme. Leo Baeck wrote in this regard, “Only an existence which is not content with the mere fact of existence can have any value,” and that value can be nothing else than “the good, the ethical, which is revealed to every man in his innermost being.” Accordingly, the belief that there is meaning to human existence necessarily reflects a belief in the existence of the good, which is the same as the ethical. Moreover, Baeck points out: The origin of this good, of the ethical, is not to be found in finite and limited man; it demands an unconditional, absolute foundation which is the basis of all, just as its meaning is the meaning of everything. Its basis is therefore to be found only in the One God, the outcome of whose nature is the moral law. It finds in Him its guarantee, the certainty of its eternal reality. . . . The peculiarity of Judaism, which it possesses and has passed on to the rest of mankind, is based upon the fact that it is the religion of this ethical affirmation of the world, the religion of ethical optimism.4

Taking a comparable approach to the question, Isaak Heineman argued that the belief that a specific theoretical or practical conduct is prescribed for us as the purpose of our being appears wherever an “ought,” a general human obligation, is acknowledged and its content discovered through reflection. The question of the purpose for which we were created is predicated on the premise that such an “ought” does not originate in our own subjective will, “but that it corresponds to the goals of that power to which we owe our existence and, above all, our particular disposition. Its special premise, besides the general premises of every theory of obligation, is the acknowledgment of an ultimate ground, conceived as goal-directed, for the existence and thusness [Sosein] of man.”5 Nonetheless, it is one thing to assert that there is a divine purpose underlying all of creation, and therefore human existence, and it is quite another matter to set forth definitively just what that ultimate purpose might be. It would seem to be an insuperable task to postulate with any certainty in what way the universe and its innumerable constituent elements are intended to serve such a divine end, rather than merely a human end. Moreover, to complicate further an already overwhelmingly complex problem, we do not know with any confidence how to go about discovering the answers to such ultimate questions, assuming that the subject even lends itself to rational inquiry. One might conjecture that a likely point of departure for such an inquiry would be the divine word believed to be faithfully reflected in the Torah. However, on closer examination, the biblical writings do not appear to be of much

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direct help in the attempt to uncover the purpose behind God’s creation of the universe and humankind. Although the creation narrative, within the limits imposed by the biblical design, purports to provide a general description of the process and sequence of creation, it does not indicate or even hint at the underlying divine motive or intention. It tells us, in mythological fashion, how the universe and the world of man were brought into being, but remains completely silent about the purpose of these tangible manifestations of divine power. The traditionalist who turns to the Torah for insight into the question of divine purpose is therefore challenged from the outset of his search for understanding by a seemingly insuperable difficulty. Before one can speculate meaningfully about the essential nature of man and his place within the divine scheme of things, one must first attempt to come to grips with the daunting questions concerning the purpose of creation. Then, one must endeavor to characterize the divine master plan of which man is presumably a critical component. But, as already noted, it is far easier to stipulate the need for an intellectually acceptable theory of cosmic purpose than to postulate one. Throughout the ages, innumerable Judaic thinkers and writers, biblical commentators and rabbinic scholars, philosophers and theologians, as well as mystics, have wrestled with this problem. And, until modern times, most Jewish investigators sought to resolve the issue in a manner compatible with the essential teachings of the Torah as they have been interpreted and understood in the rabbinic tradition for some two millennia. These seekers after divine wisdom employed a variety of approaches and methodologies, ranging from systematic textual exegesis to purely intuitive mystical speculation. They endeavored to construct plausible hypotheses and theories to explain in whole or in part the cosmic scheme of creation, and the special role set aside for mankind within that framework. Perhaps not surprisingly, such efforts have all proven rather barren, their results remaining inconclusive at best and never quite sufficiently convincing to lay the issue to rest. Worse yet, there is some anecdotal evidence that the consequences of this failure have proven morally troublesome in more than a few instances.6 The frustration, if not despair, of those determined souls who have exhausted themselves in the fruitless search for such esoteric and evidently unattainable knowledge may be seen as underlying the anguished meditation in which the psalmist effectively confesses his inability to comprehend man’s role in the divine scheme of things. When I behold Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast established; what is man, that Thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that Thou thinkest of him? (Ps. 8:4–5).7 This passage would seem to suggest that the answer to the fundamental question about the ultimate purpose of human existence may remain forever beyond

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man’s grasp. And, if such is indeed the case, any future attempts to penetrate this mystery will surely also be made in vain. It may have been as part of an effort intended to help dissuade people from undertaking such a predictably unproductive if not counterproductive effort that Maimonides wrote: “We are obliged to believe that all that exists was intended by Him, may He be exalted, according to His volition. And we shall seek for it no cause or other final end whatever. Just as we do not seek for the end of His existence, may He be exalted, so do we not seek for the final end of His volition.”8 In other words, Maimonides is advising us that we must learn to accept our inherent human limitations. We simply cannot, solely through the application of our unaided reason, attain any certain knowledge of that which by definition transcends our innate powers of comprehension. An important moral implication of this argument is that we must not permit such theological concerns to distract us from concentrating our intellectual energies on the more immediate and practical question of how best to carry out our assigned role in life. We are therefore urged by Maimonides to abandon the vain search for understanding of matters that are by their nature beyond man’s reach. In a restatement of Maimonides’ fundamental argument, David Shapiro writes: “Since God has created the world, He has invested it with meaning. But this ultimate meaning can be known to none but God. Since God is by His very nature unknowable, and Divine ultimates cannot be translated into human terms, it is futile to attempt to discover the purpose of existence which He has brought into being. . . . The ultimate nature of God can never be known. To know God one must be God.”9 Given the evident difficulty, if not impossibility, of dealing successfully with what is perhaps the most fundamental of all theological questions confronting us, how do we proceed with the attempt to comprehend and describe the relationship between man and God from a Judaic perspective? Far from being primarily a modern dilemma, this problem was one that also greatly troubled the sages of the early rabbinic period, when it became a subject of extensive and profound deliberation. Their discussions, which unfortunately are not recorded in any detail in the rabbinic literature, apparently focused sharply on the most disturbing question of the ultimate significance of human existence. According to a very brief note in the talmudic record, there was a major philosophical dispute over this question between the academies of the sages Shammai and Hillel that endured for some two and a half years. The issue was framed in terms of whether or not it was in man’s best interest to have been created in the first place. The position taken by the disciples of Shammai asserted that “it were better for man not to have been created than to have been created,” while the disciples of Hillel insisted that “it is better for man to have been created than not to have been created.”10

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Although we do not know with any certainty what precipitated the dispute, it would appear that these discussions took place during the tumultuous period immediately following the destruction of the Second Jewish Commonwealth by the Romans in the first century. This was a time of extreme turbulence and despair, which would have given the deliberations great contemporary relevance and poignancy. Under such historical circumstances, consideration of the issue probably took on a degree of urgency that such speculative discussions would not normally have engendered. Many among the people surely felt lost and abandoned by God, and looked to the sages and their disciples for an explanation of the unwarranted suffering they experienced. An earlier example of this sense of despair is found in the biblical literature. Kohelet was deeply troubled by all the oppression that goes on under the sun. He declared: I accounted those who died long since more fortunate than those who are still living; and happier than either are those who have not yet come into being and have never witnessed the miseries that go on under the sun (Eccles. 4:1–2). Presumably, the discussions in the rabbinical academy reflected the collective inability of the sages to conceive of an ultimate purpose for human existence that could reasonably justify the trials and tribulations that most people experience in the course of their lives. After protracted debate of the issue, the sages found themselves to be no closer to a satisfactory resolution than they were at the outset of their deliberations. Having reached an impasse, we are told, “they finally took a vote and decided that it were better for man not to have been created, but now that he has been created, let him investigate his past deeds or, as others say, let him examine his future actions.”11 The sages involved in the dispute evidently concluded that there simply was no reasonable expectation that they would eventually reach consensus on a rationally acceptable explanation of the underlying purpose of creation that would account satisfactorily for the misery of so many people. Nonetheless, it also seems clear that the sages were convinced that their intellectual limitations in this regard should not be permitted to unduly influence the way they actually conducted their lives. They remained fully committed to the principle of giving priority to performance over understanding of the written and oral precepts and traditions of Judaism, guidance they unequivocally accepted as normative.12 They thus came to the same conclusion as the editor of the work of Kohelet. The sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Revere God and observe His commandments! For this applies to all mankind: that God will call every creature to account (Eccles. 12:13–14). The conclusion they reached may therefore be viewed as thoroughly pragmatic in character. The sages were convinced that they had no choice other than to accept the world as it is, including man’s obviously less than desirable situation within it, as the foundation upon which they would proceed to build the moral and intellectual edifice of Judaism that became their principal preoccupation. To achieve this

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objective, they were fully prepared to subordinate intellectual conviction to moral necessity. As a rule, the sages were predisposed to be content, or at least to appear to be satisfied, with the belief that true understanding of divine matters was beyond man’s intellectual capacity.13 Man was deemed to be constitutionally incapable of apprehending certain knowledge of the divine through the use of reason alone, and God evidently had not seen fit to grant him the necessary insight through direct revelation. But, the sages insisted that, whether or not man was capable of comprehending it, there surely was some purpose behind the divine creation of the universe. They therefore declared: “Whatever the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory.”14 Although precisely what the sages had in mind by their use of the term “glory” in this assertion is a matter of conjecture, the general implications of the teaching seem reasonably clear. Man should not be misled by his inability to determine the purpose of his existence into concluding that it is therefore intrinsically without meaning. On the contrary, he should accept that there is a divine purpose to his life even though he is unable to comprehend its ultimate significance. Since such matters are beyond his grasp, man is well advised to devote his intellectual energies exclusively to those matters that are within his reach. Notwithstanding the inability of the sages to ground their acceptance of the transcendent significance of human existence in reason, the essentially pragmatic approach they took to coping with the vexing question of divine purpose appears to have effectively laid the issue to rest during the remainder of the classical era. Their reliance on faith and tradition rather than reason with regard to this issue was deemed generally acceptable to the community of the faithful. This is not to suggest that no further attempts were made to imagine what the divine purpose in the creation might have been. Sporadic efforts in this regard continued throughout the period, although these contributed little to resolving the problem and in some instances succeeded in further compounding it. Thus, R. Samuel bar Abba taught: “While the Holy One, blessed be He, was alone in His world He yearned to dwell with His creatures,” suggesting that the purpose of creation, and most especially that of man, was to alleviate God’s radical loneliness.15 Needless to point out, the notion that God could be lonely, in the same sense that a human might experience loneliness, is itself a proposition fraught with substantial theological problems. This exemplifies the difficulty in speaking of God in terms that do not lead into conceptual blind alleys. Similar efforts to uncover the reasons for the creation of the universe in general, and of man in particular, continued to be made throughout the medieval period. These speculations were engendered to a significant degree by the intellectual ferment in the Christian and Muslim worlds that resulted from the revival of the classical Greek learning that Jewish scholars and translators had

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helped advance. These endeavors yielded a variety of possible explanations that their authors considered, for reasons which are not clear, to be more intellectually acceptable than the traditional approach of the sages to the problem. Saadia Gaon, for example, asserted that “it must be recognized that His creation of all things was purely an act of bounty and grace on His part.” That is, the creation of the universe and all that is in it is to be understood as a unilateral act of divine altruism. “Now His first act of kindness toward His creatures consisted in giving them being—I mean calling them into existence after a state of nonbeing.”16 Bahya ibn Pakuda, in an imaginary dialogue between the human soul and reason, has the soul ask reason to explain why man was brought into the world. The response given is that “God created you out of the same nothingness the spiritual beings were created out of. And He placed you, in His kindness, on the level of His treasured, chosen, and elected ones, those closest to the illumination of His Glory.”17 In a similar vein, Hasdai Crescas later suggested that the fundamental purpose of creation was to provide man with a tangible manifestation of God’s “eternal love [devekut].”18 This idea would seem to have its roots in the classical teaching of R. Akiba: “Beloved is man, for he was created in the image of God.”19 It is noteworthy that these views continue to exert a powerful influence even in contemporary times. Thus, Aryeh Kaplan, a contemporary exponent of Hasidic mystical thought, wrote: “God has absolutely no need to create the world. God Himself is absolute perfection, and has no need for anything, even creation. When He created the world, He therefore performed the most perfect possible act of altruism and love.”20 Perhaps not surprisingly, such explanations tend to generate more questions than they answer. Indeed, the propositions put forth by Saadia, Bahya, and Crescas evoke but do not answer the obvious question of why such a manifestation of altruism or divine love was needed in the first place. Are we to conclude from these statements, notwithstanding Aryeh Kaplan’s demurrer, that God had an intrinsic need to manifest His love, and therefore created man so that there would exist an autonomous intelligence to perceive and appreciate that love? David Wolpe suggests that the answer to this question may be discovered through consideration of the intrinsic nature of love, which to be truly meaningful must be given outward expression.21 This perception would seem to lend strong support to Crescas’ position by intimating that not only human love requires such external manifestation, but divine love as well. However, it must be recognized that this thesis is critically dependent on the unstated assumption that it is meaningful to characterize the attribute of divine love in terms of human experience, a proposition that is itself highly contentious. A comparable objection may be raised with regard to the classic response of the sages, cited earlier, that the universe was “created solely for His glory.” This statement also could be understood as implying that God derived some unspeci-

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fied benefit from a source external to Himself, that is, from His own creation. However, the acceptance of such a possibility would be rather problematic from a theological standpoint. It would be tantamount to asserting that there is a basic flaw or deficiency in the divine constitution that can somehow be ameliorated by means of that which was itself divinely created, just as a person may create something from which he may later benefit. Such a notion would be completely at odds with the traditional Judaic conception of God’s ultimate and absolute perfection, which precludes the possibility of such amelioration. It should be noted, however, as we are reminded by Abraham J. Heschel, that “the notion of God as a perfect being is not of biblical extraction. It is the product not of prophetic religion but of Greek philosophy; a postulate of reason rather than a direct, compelling, initial answer of man to His reality.” Thus, while God’s work is described as perfect (Deut. 32:4), as is His “way” (2 Sam. 22:31) and His Torah (Ps. 19:7), nowhere in Scripture is God per se explicitly described as perfect. Heschel suggested that the idea of divine perfection is ultimately an expression of human praise, “which we may utter in pouring forth our emotion; yet for man to utter it as a name for His essence would mean to evaluate and to endorse Him.” Who, he asked, are we to appraise God? Moreover, what criteria would we apply to a determination of divine perfection? Nonetheless, Heschel wrote: “To the speculative mind God is the most perfect being, and it is the attribute of perfection and its implication of wisdom which serve as a starting point for the inquiries into the existence and nature of God.”22 As a consequence, even though the idea of divine perfection cannot be said to derive directly from any biblical source, it has long been accepted as a fundamental axiom in traditional Judaism. This makes any suggestion of divine imperfection highly contentious and problematic, even though this tenet has come under increasing challenge in modern times. Joseph Albo, writing in the medieval period, pointed out the basic logical problem with the notion that God might derive some benefit from His own creations. Speaking of God as the perfect good, he observed: “Perfect good can not change nor receive diminution or increase. For if it can change, it must change either to evil or to good. If it changes to evil, it is not a perfect good if it can so change, and if it changes to good, then it was not a perfect good in the first place.”23 Accordingly, there is substantial theological risk in tampering with the traditional concept of divine perfection. Employing a radically different approach to dealing with the seemingly intractable problem of divine purpose, the kabbalist Isaac Luria proposed that the underlying reason for the creation of the universe was to be found in the inherent perfection of God in all His attributes and actions. Luria, in effect, turned the preceding argument concerning divine perfection on its head. He insisted that God could not be considered to be perfect if He did not energize

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His capacities and give them external manifestation in creative activity. From this perspective, the act of creation itself constituted a necessary aspect of divine perfection. Taking the argument a step farther, Luria also suggested that, “if the universes and all that is contained in them were not created, it would not be possible to see the truth of the teaching about His eternal blessed existence in the past, present and future.”24 One implication of this proposition is that divine perfection is itself a matter of cosmic significance only if it is appreciated as such by man. It would therefore seem that man is considered by Luria to play a crucial role in what amounts to a process of divine self-realization. This same theme appears in the explanation offered by Moses H. Luzzatto. “The blessed Creator is the very essence of good. It is the nature of good to bestow good. This is why the Lord created men—so that He could bestow good upon them. For where there is no receiver, there is no bestowal of good.”25 Interestingly, these arguments seem to be reflected in the assertion by Emil Fackenheim that, “the divine Presence requires the self and its freedom in the very moment of its presence. There is no abiding astonishment unless men exist who can be astonished.”26 Nonetheless, the implicit notion that God’s perfection is somehow contingent upon human perception remains problematic. Parenthetically, it seems evident from Luria’s argument that even those steeped in mysticism felt compelled to find a rationally comprehensible explanation of the purpose behind creation and human existence. Apparently drawing to some extent from Luria’s teaching, Joshua Falk introduced a novel argument concerning what he believed the sages really had in mind with their assertion about creation having taken place for the sake of God’s own glory. He suggested that it was their intention to draw a fundamental distinction between the relative significance of something that actually exists and what merely has a potential for existence. Pursuing this thesis, he observed that “something that is in active process is more perfect than that which merely has potentiality.” Therefore, even though it was surely within God’s power to reveal His glory whenever He so wished, as long as He did not do so “everything that had gone uncreated would have remained mere potentiality. However, after it was actually created and made active there was the possibility for greater glorification and perfection than there would be under conditions of potentiality.” Accordingly, Falk concluded, “because God wished that His glory be revealed in actuality, it was necessary to create the human species so that, in this way, His glory should be revealed.”27 This argument raises some additional issues that would have to be resolved before it could be accepted as a plausible explanation of the divine purpose in the creation of the universe and man. Not the least of these is Falk’s crucial assumption that the distinction he makes between potential and actual bears the same significance with respect to God as it does for man and the physical

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universe, a proposition that is by no means self-evident. One highly problematic implication of such an assumption is that, since there is a time differential that spans the transition from the potential to the actual, God too would in some way be subject to the passage of time. This supposition is quite incompatible with the traditional conception of God that clearly places Him completely outside the temporal dimension, which is considered to come into existence only with and as a direct consequence of the divine act of creation. Moreover, one could also argue that the application of the proposed distinction between the potential and the actual to God is highly inappropriate, to say the least. That is because it too suggests that God’s presumed intrinsic perfection must somehow be deficient since it can be augmented or improved through the process of His active creativity. Finally, the distinction proposed by Falk, which in essence differentiates between man’s appreciation of the known and his speculative anticipation of the unknown, can only be significant once man is created. It does not in itself constitute a self-evidently rational justification for the creation of man in the first place. For the most part, as already indicated, Judaic thinkers have long despaired of finding, or even actively seeking, a satisfactory answer to this vexing question. Most have accepted the practical impossibility of ever ascertaining certain knowledge or even a coherent understanding of the divine purpose in the creation of the universe and man. This sense of utter resignation to the inability of man to comprehend the ultimate significance of human existence is well captured in the following frequently cited midrashic parable: “For nine months the infant dwelled in the mother’s womb. When the time arrived for it to emerge into the light of day, the angel came and said: The hour for you to emerge has come! The infant answered: Why do you wish to bring me out into the light of day? The angel answered: My child, know that perforce were you created, and now know further that perforce you are born, and perforce you die, and perforce you will have to render account before the King of Kings.”28 Although the author of this parable cannot answer the question of why man was created, he considers himself to be justified in insisting that we conduct our lives in a manner that comports with the conviction that each of us has a special role to play in the cosmic drama. Moreover, he wishes us to recognize that we will be held accountable for the quality of our performance. In other words, although we may never know with any confidence why we were created, we must nonetheless pursue the moral course of our existence as though we were certain of the answer, an approach that seems eminently sensible and pragmatic.

MAN’S ROLE IN THE UNIVERSE Although man does not know the reason for which he was created, or why he was endowed with the unique faculties that distinguish him from the rest of

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the natural order of created beings, he is or at least should be consciously aware of his special status in the universe. Such self-consciousness is a direct consequence of his having been endowed with the attribute of intellect, a faculty that by its very nature compels man’s self-awareness. This notion may be seen as underlying the teaching of R. Akiba: “Beloved is man that he was created in the image of God. It is a mark of even greater love that it was made known to him that he had been created in the image of God.”29 The evident implication of this statement is that man should accept that there is a higher purpose behind his having been granted this awareness, even though knowledge of that purpose may remain beyond his grasp. R. Akiba seems to be suggesting that it is man’s consciousness of his special place in the divine scheme that should provide him with the inspiration to carry on with the struggle to fully realize his humanity in the course of his mundane existence. What are some of the singular characteristics of man’s humanity? Once again the traditionalist will turn to the biblical text for edification. There we find that man is told to “subdue” the earth and “have dominion over” it (Gen. 1:28). Presumably, man is expected to assert his superiority and mastery over the natural world to which he is irrevocably bound for as long as he lives. But having dominion does not only imply the exercise of authority. It also implies that man has responsibility for that which comes under his sway. Joseph B. Soloveitchik expanded on this notion by suggesting that man’s humanity is intimately related to his sense of dignity. But, he asserts, that “dignity is unobtainable as long as man has not reclaimed himself from co-existence with nature and has not risen from a non-reflective, degradingly helpless instinctive life to an intelligent, planned, and majestic one.” Man must therefore take the necessary steps to free himself from subordination to his natural drives and appetites. Moreover, Soloveitchik insisted that there can be no human dignity without a sense of responsibility. “Only when man rises to the heights of freedom of action and creativity of mind does he begin to implement the mandate of dignified responsibility entrusted to him by his Maker. Dignity of man expressing itself in the awareness of being responsible and of being capable of discharging his responsibility cannot be realized as long as he has not gained mastery over his environment. For life in bondage to insensate elemental forces is a non-responsible and hence an undignified affair.”30 Mankind is thus broadly conceived in traditional Judaic thought as having been brought into being, at least in part, to serve as the divine surrogate in the governance of the universe. Moreover, the responsibility to carry out this mission is not only collective in nature, assigned to man generically as a species. It is also deemed to be the individual responsibility of each and every person, an intrinsic component of one’s humanity. The sages therefore suggested that this was another reason for man having been created alone. This served, in effect,

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“to proclaim the greatness of the Holy One, blessed is He; for man stamps many coins with the one seal and they are all like one another; but the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed is He, has stamped every man with the seal of the first man, yet not one of them is like his fellow. Therefore every one must say, ‘For my sake was the world created.’ ”31 The implications of this notion are rather dramatic and far-reaching. It suggests that each individual may justifiably view the universe as having been brought into being for the principal purpose of enabling him personally and individually to fulfill his assigned role in the divine scheme. But adoption of this perspective also imposes an enormous burden of responsibility on man for the well-being of the universe and its inhabitants. Moreover, if man, individually as well as collectively, is to act as the divine surrogate on earth, the nature of the relationship between man and his Maker must be more fully elaborated. This is essential in order that he may clearly understand what is expected of him by virtue of his being a reflection of the divine image. NOTES 1. Shabbat 77b. 2. Moses H. Luzzatto, Derekh Adonai, 2:1:1. 3. Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, 3:25. See also Menahem Meiri, Perush haMeiri al Sefer Mishlei, p. 159, on Prov. 16:4. 4. Leo Baeck, The Essence of Judaism, pp. 78–79. 5. Isaak Heineman, “The Purpose of Human Existence as Seen by Greek-Roman Antiquity and the Jewish Middle Ages,” in Alfred Jospe, ed., Studies in Jewish Thought: An Anthology of German Jewish Scholarship, p. 117. 6. For a talmudic example, refer to the discussion of the “four who entered the garden” in the preceding chapter. 7. The same thought is found in the passage: Lord, what is man, that Thou takest knowledge of him? Or the son of man, that Thou makest account of him? (Ps. 144:3). 8. Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, 3:13. 9. David S. Shapiro, “God, World and Man,” Tradition, vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 38, 46. 10. This issue is reflected in the Zohar (1:23a): “Would it not have been better that he should not have been created and so not have sinned, thereby causing so much mischief . . . and that he should have had neither punishment nor reward?” 11. Eruvin 13b. 12. The sages derived this principle from the biblical verse, All that the Lord hath spoken will we do, and obey (Ex. 24:7), taking the word “obey” to mean “understand” or “study.” Thus, R. Hanina ben Dosa taught: “He whose works exceed his wisdom, his wisdom shall endure; but he whose wisdom exceeds his works, his wisdom shall not endure: as it is said, ‘We will do, and study [thereafter]’ ” (The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan, ch. 22). 13. This predisposition may be seen as reflected in the otherwise enigmatic teaching cited in the name of the sage Rab: “The Holy One, blessed be He, has a place and

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its name is ‘Secret’ [mistarim]” (Hagigah 5b). This is based on a unique reading of the text, But if ye will not hear it, My soul shall weep in secret for your pride (Jer. 13:17). 14. Avot 6:11. This statement appears to be based on an extrapolation from Isa. 43:7: Every one that is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, I have formed him, yea, I have made him. 15. Numbers Rabbah 13:6. 16. Saadia Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, III, Exordium, p. 137. 17. Bahya ibn Pakuda, The Duties of the Heart, Gate 3, p. 157. 18. Hasdai Crescas, Or Adonai, 2:6:4. 19. Avot 3:14. 20. Aryeh Kaplan, If You Were God, p. 41. 21. David J. Wolpe, The Healer of Shattered Hearts, p. 71. 22. Abraham J. Heschel, Man Is Not Alone, p. 101. 23. Joseph Albo, Sefer Ha’Ikkarim, vol. 4, part 2, pp. 485–486. 24. Isaac Luria as cited by Avraham Korman, Musagim beMahshevet Yisrael, p. 101. 25. Luzzatto, Daat Tevunot: The Knowing Heart, p. 17. 26. Emil L. Fackenheim, God’s Presence in History, p. 17. 27. Joshua Falk, Perisha to Tur Hoshen Mishpat, I:1. 28. Midrash Tanhuma, “Pekudei” 3. Also cited in part in Avot 4 (end). These citations reflect the biblical passage: Follow the desires of your heart and the glances of your eyes—but know well that God will call you to account for all such things (Eccles. 11:9). 29. Avot 3:14. 30. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “The Lonely Man of Faith,” p. 14. 31. Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5.

6

Man in the Image

The infinite value attributed to human life in Judaic thought is given dramatic expression by the biblical text in its characterization of man as having been created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Its intent in the use of this highly significant and evocative metaphor should be estimated in light of the language in which the text was originally composed. Biblical Hebrew is inherently constrained by a limited capacity for giving direct expression to abstract ideas. The text therefore articulates the radical conception its author wishes to convey through the use of an anthropomorphic metaphor, which should be taken in a figurative rather than a literal sense. To do otherwise, as has sometimes been the case with certain interpreters of the biblical text, is apt to lead one to gross misconceptions and misunderstandings.1 It should be noted in this regard that the traditionally accepted Judaic approach to the literary use of such anthropomorphisms and other metaphors follows the teaching of R. Ishmael, that “the Torah employs human phraseology.”2 That is, the principal concern of the biblical author is to make the text comprehensible to all and he strives to achieve this through the use of commonly understood forms of expression which, therefore, need not always be taken literally. In essence, Plotinus took this same approach as he wrestled with the difficulty of discussing the attributes of The Good. He asserted that “failing more suitable terms, we apply to it the lesser terms brought over from lesser things and so tell it as best we may: no words could ever be adequate or even applicable to that from which all else—the noble, the august—is derived.”3 According to this interpretive approach, when Scripture speaks of man being created in the “image of God” its intention is that this expression should be treated as a figure of speech and not as an assertion of literal fact. But, to what

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does this figure of speech allude? It is generally assumed that it is intended to elevate man in the order of creation, to distinguish him from the rest of nature as having a special affinity to the divine. However, even this is too much for some radical monotheists who reject the notion of such a substantive affinity. In their view, the term “image” suggests too much, conveying the notion of what one sees when looking into a mirror. They would prefer that it be understood in a much vaguer sense, relating the Hebrew term for “image (tselem)” to that for “shadow (tsel).”4 Yeshayahu Leibowitz writes in this regard, “Man is nothing but an image of God, i.e., man in himself and of himself lacks all essence and all meaning; for he is nothing but the image or the shadow of the true Essence and Meaning.”5 Reflecting a rather different perspective, Abraham J. Heschel wrote: Man is man not because of what he has in common with the earth, but because of what he has in common with God. The Greek thinkers sought to understand man as a part of the universe: the prophets sought to understand man as a partner of God. It is a concern and a task that man has in common with God. The intention is not to identify “the image and likeness” with a particular quality or attribute of man, such as reason, speech, power, or skill. It does not refer to something which in later systems was called “the best in man,” “the divine spark,” “the eternal spirit,” or “the immortal element” in man. It is the whole man and every man who was made in the image and likeness of God. It is both body and soul, sage and fool, saint and sinner, man in his joy and in his grief, in his righteousness and wickedness. The image is not in man; it is man.6

Viewed from an existential perspective, it has been argued that the biblical statement about man having been created in the image of God is not intended as a statement about the intrinsic nature of man. It is rather, as one contemporary writer puts it, an assertion about “the unique situation of man vis-à-vis God,” a unique position relative to God that is granted to man in order that there may be a direct and vital relationship between God and man. This Divine-human relationship not only determines the meaning of human existence, but, also, drastically alters God’s relationship to the world. The Creator God who has, heretofore, radically separated Himself from the created world, now opens up the possibility of entering the world through His relationship with man. A Divine-human dynamic has been set in motion which enables the transcendent God to enter the time-space constructs of worldly existence and provides man with the means to transcend the finite and limited structure of creaturely existence. This is the uniqueness of man. In all other areas of creation, essence determines existence. The limits and boundaries of every created object have been incorporated into its very essence and determine its life and destiny. . . . In contrast to nature, the Divine-human relationship is not defined by preordained inevitability, for the meaning of human existence is not a matter of essential necessity, but, rather, the

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outcome of an ongoing encounter between man and God within the existential context of human life and history.7

Nonetheless, the biblical creation narrative is indeed understood by most commentators as being a statement about the intrinsic nature of man. It is held to teach that man was created in the “image of God” in the sense that he is considered to reflect certain aspects of the divine personality. The metaphor employed by the biblical author is taken to imply that just as God, who created the natural order, must of necessity transcend it, so too must this be the case with man. At the least, this is held to apply with respect to those attributes of his being that, however faintly, are considered to be reflections of the divine. Thus, as the early medieval writer Shabbatai Donnolo argued: This image and likeness, of which the Blessed One spoke, is not the form of the appearance of the countenance, but the form of the work of God and His activity in the Universe. As God is supreme and rules over man and over all the world, beneath and above, so is man; as God knows and discerns things that happened and foresees things to come, so man, whom God has granted wisdom to know . . . and in most things man is likened in small measure to God, in accordance with the limitations of the strength and the short span of the life which God has given him.8

Man is unquestionably a part of the natural order of the universe and fully subject to its physical and biological laws. However, he must simultaneously be conceived as a being whose essential nature is qualitatively different from the rest of the creatures of the universe, which he therefore necessarily surpasses in several critical respects. This fundamental idea is given vivid expression in the biblical description of the creative process which, as already suggested, is traditionally understood as employing “human phraseology.” In this portrayal, a sharp distinction is drawn between man and other living beings. Animal life is depicted as evolving from the earth in direct response to the divine imperative, Let the earth bring forth the living creature (Gen. 1:24). The creatures of the earth are thus brought into being as an immediate and natural extension of the inanimate. The creation of man, however, is described as following a rather different course, pointedly emphasizing his distinctiveness from all other creatures. Because man is intended to reflect the image of God, he must be differentiated from the rest of creation even in the process by which he comes into existence. This complex being, who is to be endowed with special attributes or faculties that will enable him, at least in some respects, to emulate the divine power of creativity, does not emerge into the universe as the result of a natural generative process. Nature itself cannot engender that which by definition transcends its domain. The creation of man therefore mandates further direct divine in-

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volvement in the process, an intervention that is described in some detail in the biblical narrative. We are informed that the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (Gen. 2:7). The process described involves two distinct stages. First, the text relates, man is compounded of material that is completely lifeless and devoid of generative potential, the dust of the earth, and is shaped into a form that is yet to be transformed into a vital human being. As a mere product of the earth, man remains a lifeless object. Vitality comes to him from a power that transcends the realm of created nature. It is the Creator who, through direct intervention in the established natural order, supplies man with the vital life force, “the breath of life,” thereby transforming the molded frame of insensate matter into a living personality. As suggested by the great medieval commentator Moses ben Nahman (Nahmanides), “In the composition of his body he will be similar to the earth from which he was taken, and he will be similar in spirit to the higher beings that are neither material nor mortal.”9 Man, as a person, is thus a unique synthesis of the material and the spiritual. However, it is exclusively with regard to certain aspects of his spiritual dimension, his soul, that man is considered by Judaic tradition to have been fashioned in the image of God. It is important to digress for a moment to consider the notion of a “soul” in Judaic thought, for here we find a significant distinction between how it is conceived by the biblical authors and by later tradition. In the Bible, the soul, identified by the terms ruah, nefesh, neshamah, or nishmat hayyim, is always considered bound to the body to which it gives life. There is no articulated biblical idea of a disembodied soul whose existence is independent of the body. Although it is not spelled out, it seems fairly clear that, in the biblical view, the soul expires with the body. Neil Gillman suggests two possible reasons why biblical religion insists upon the absolute finality of death for humans. The first is the biblical struggle against avodah zarah, whose idolatrous practices included worship of the dead and attempting to consult with dead spirits. The second reason, and the theologically more significant, “might lie in the biblical insistence on preserving a sharp demarcation between God and human beings: Only God is immortal; humans die. That is precisely the difference between the two.”10 The notion of a soul that exists independently of the body is an idea that appears to have its origin in classical Greek thought. The soul is viewed as an entity that preexists the life of the person it animates, and continues to exist in some supernal realm after it departs from the person at the latter’s bodily death. A first biblical inkling of the possible intrusion of the Greek idea of the soul into Judaic thought may be considered to appear in Ecclesiastes which, in the opinion of most modern scholars, is influenced to some extent by Hellenistic views. And the dust returns to the ground as it was, and the lifebreath [ruah] returns

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to God who bestowed it (Eccles. 12:7). Here, perhaps for the first time in Judaic literature, we find a possible suggestion that the lifebreath is a distinct entity with an independent existence. This text appears to be an extension of Gen. 2:7, which as we saw describes how God brings man into existence by breathing into his nostrils the breath of life [nishmat hayyim]. It is only much later in the postbiblical period that the Greek concept of the soul apparently became transformed into its Judaic form and became widely adopted, for reasons that we cannot go into here. But, whether we speak of the soul in the biblical sense, or as it was generally understood in the later tradition, the idea that the spiritual aspect of man’s being reflects a spark of divinity clearly sets him apart from the rest of creation. Some commentators suggest that this exalting conception of man is clearly implicit in the biblical text, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness (Gen. 1:26), which introduces the passage describing his actual creation. To whom, it was asked, does the “us” and “our” in this passage refer? Applying the interpretive principle discussed earlier, namely that Scripture employs “human phraseology,” Saadia Gaon took the position that this usage represents nothing more than a mere figure of speech, what is often referred to as the “royal We.” That is, “the language of the children of Israel gives a distinguished person license to say: ‘Let us do,’ and ‘Let us make,’ although he is singular in number.”11 In this view, the imagery of the text reflects nothing more than the use of a conventional metaphor. Saadia’s rather straightforward linguistic approach to the understanding of this passage has had a certain resonance among some modern commentators who have adopted it as well.12 By contrast, suspecting that there was a more profound meaning to be found imbedded in the text, the medieval commentator Joseph Kimhi appears to have been the first to propose that the troublesome pluralisms refer to God and the earth from which man was to be fashioned.13 That is, in his view the text should be understood as suggesting, in effect, God and the earth working in tandem bring man into existence. Put another way, the earth may be conceived as the maternal element in the process of the birth of man, the mother from whom man emerges. This notion seems to be reflected in the lament of Job: Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither (Job 1:21). An alternate approach to understanding the biblical passage is suggested by Harold Kushner: Having created the animals and beasts, He says to them: “Let us arrange for a new kind of creature to emerge, a human being, in our image, yours and Mine. Let us fashion a creature who will be like you, an animal, in some ways—needing to eat, to sleep, to mate—and will be like Me in other ways, rising above the animal level. You animals will contribute his physical dimension, and I will breathe a soul into him.” And so, as the crown of Creation, human beings are created, part animal, part divine.14

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What are the salient characteristics of a divine-like personality that man alone, of all living creatures, is considered to possess? Judaic thinkers have offered a variety of possible answers to this question. Donnolo, a contemporary of Saadia, suggested that the critical attribute possessed by man is a limited or conditional sovereignty. That is, “just as God is supreme and rules man and the universe . . . so is it with man for as long as he carries out the will of his Creator.”15 In Donnolo’s view, man is to be understood, analogously, as God’s deputy in the universe, a role that is contingent upon his continued appropriate behavior. While there is broad agreement with the aptness of this characterization, most traditional commentators nonetheless tend to explain the idea of “the image” principally in terms of either “intellect” or “will,” or some combination or synthesis of the two. In the opinion of Philo, man has been granted one extraordinary gift, his intellect. “For that is the only quality in us which the Father, who created us, thought deserving of freedom; and, unloosing the bonds of necessity, he let it go unrestrained, bestowing on it that most admirable gift and most connected with himself, the power, namely, of spontaneous will, as far as he was able to receive it.” It is in respect of man’s capacity for exercising that autonomous will that he “has been made to resemble God.”16 Maimonides, placing his emphasis on the former of these two attributes, suggested that it was “on account of the Divine intellect with which man has been endowed, he is said to have been made in the form and likeness of the Almighty.”17 Judah Loew ben Bezalel (Maharal of Prague), on the other hand, considered the principal attribute that exemplified the divine in man to be that of volition. “Man, who was created in the image of God,” he wrote, “has this distinguishing characteristic, that by virtue of his own volition he is as the Blessed Name who does as He pleases; and thus man has the power to do as he desires. He is one who wills.”18 Hirsch takes a similar stance, asserting that “it is not intellect which raises man above the rest of Creation or elevates him to the level of ‘the image of God.’ . . . What makes him similar to God is the ability to say ‘no’ to evil despite all its glamour. . . . It is this free personal mastery over his physical sphere of influence on earth which makes man similar to God and which implants in his breast the realization that he was indeed created in the image of God.”19 These two theses are combined to some extent in the writings of Manasseh ben Israel. In one place, he interpreted the statement, Let us make man in our image (Gen. 1:26), to mean: “Until now I have formed creatures, which, as natural agents, cannot avoid doing that which they were made for. Fire cannot avoid burning, the sun to give light, water to cool, etc., but man I desire to form in our image, free, and master of all his actions.”20 In another work, Manasseh ben Israel suggested that “it cannot be denied that man resembles God . . . in

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intellectual perception and by his being one who acts by virtue of his choice and will.”21 Meir Simhah haKohen of Dvinsk subsequently sought to synthesize these different positions by proposing that “the divine image refers to ‘free choice,’ [an attribute] not under the compulsion of nature but rather derived from a free expression of will and intellect.”22 The implications of understanding the image of God as intrinsic human freedom are rather far-reaching, suggesting that man has a moral obligation to act in a way that enhances the freedom of all persons so endowed without distinction. In this regard, Eugene Korn argues that, on the basis of this conception, “coercion or manipulation of others for ideological, political, or personal reasons becomes morally prohibited and theologically wrong. Since human freedom is divine, political and individual liberties become sacred and inalienable rights, not accidental products of political sufferance.”23 An alternative perspective on the matter is offered by Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who considers creativity, which in his view encompasses both will and intellect, to be the critical attribute that defines humanity. He asserts that there can be no doubt that the term, “image of God,” as employed in the creation narrative, “refers to man’s inner charismatic endowment as a creative being. Man’s likeness to God expresses itself in man’s striving and ability to become a creator. Adam . . . who was fashioned in the image of God was blessed with great drive for creative activity and immeasurable resources for the realization of this goal, the most outstanding of which is the intelligence, the human mind.”24 Accordingly, it is the possession of one or more of these distinctive and divinely granted faculties that determines and defines the essential humanity of this creature compounded out of the dust of the earth and the “breath” of the Creator.

NOTES 1. M. D. Cassutto points out that a literal understanding of such phrases was no longer taken as such by the time the biblical text was composed (MeAdam ad Noah, Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1969, pp. 34–35). 2. Sifre Numbers Piska 112; Baba Metzia 31b; Kiddushin 17b. It should be noted that there is a fundamental disagreement between the schools of R. Ishmael and R. Akiba with regard to the appropriate approach to biblical exegesis as it applied to the determination of the halakhah, or traditional Jewish Law. R. Akiba argued, in essence, that because the Torah is perfect, every letter and expression has a unique exegetical meaning, which may often supplant the simple rendering of the text. R. Ishmael, on the other hand, appears to have insisted that the Torah was intended to be read by the common people and not only by scholars, and therefore was written in a manner to make it accessible to the average person. While, as a rule, the opinions of R. Akiba are given halakhic precedence over those of R. Ishmael, the latter’s views on the issue

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at hand has generally prevailed among later Bible commentators and interpreters engaged in expounding the common sense of the biblical text. For a more detailed discussion of the disagreement between these two major sages, see Abraham J. Heschel, Torah min haShamayim beAspeklariah shel haDorot, pp. 3–4. 3. Plotinus, Six Enneads 8:8. 4. This derivation is uncertain. Some scholars derive the word from a root meaning “to cut out.” 5. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Yahadut, Am Yehudi uMedinat Yisrael, p. 74. 6. Abraham J. Heschel, The Insecurity of Freedom, p. 152. 7. Bernard Och, “The Garden of Eden: From Creation to Covenant,” Judaism, vol. 37, no. 2, Spring 1988, pp. 146–147. 8. Cited from Donnolo’s Perush Naase Adam beTzalmenu by Isidore Epstein, The Faith of Judaism, pp. 210–211. 9. Nahmanides, Perushei haTorah on Gen. 1:26. This same point is made by Jehiel Anav, who states that man, as a creature, is composed of two components, “his body from the lower orders, his soul from the upper” (Maalot haMiddot, p. 202). See also Midrash Tanhuma, “Tazriah,” 1. 10. Neil Gillman, The Death of Death, p. 78. 11. Saadia Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, p. 107. 12. Samson R. Hirsch, The Pentateuch on Gen. 1:26. Samuel D. Luzzatto (Commentary on Gen. 1:26) suggests that the usage reflects a common way of speaking, particularly in Aramaic, and is not a form of the “royal We.” 13. Cited by David Kimhi, Perush Radak al haTorah on Gen. 1:26, as well as by Nahmanides, Perushei haTorah on Gen. 1:26. The same theme is expanded on further by Isaac Abravanel, Perush haTorah, “Bereshit,” p. 12a. 14. Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, pp. 72–73. 15. Cited by Avraham Korman, Musagim beMahshevet Yisrael, p. 163. See also I. Epstein, The Faith of Judaism, pp. 210–211. 16. Philo, On the Unchangeableness of God, pp. 47, 48. 17. Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, 1:1. In discussing “in what man is superior to the rest of the animal creation,” Philo asserts that man “has received this one extraordinary gift, intellect, which is accustomed to comprehend the nature of all bodies and of all things at the same time” (“On the Unchangeableness of God,” in The Works of Philo, 10:45). 18. Judah Loew ben Bezalel, Derekh Hayyim, p. 112. 19. Hirsch, The Psalms, on Ps. 14:1, p. 91. 20. Manasseh ben Israel, The Conciliator, vol. 1, p. 113. 21. Manasseh ben Israel, Nishmat Hayyim, p. 2a. 22. Meir Simhah haKohen, Meshekh Hokhmah, p. 3. 23. Eugene Korn, “Tselem Elokim and the Dialectic of Jewish Morality,” Tradition, vol. 31, no. 2, p. 13. 24. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “The Lonely Man of Faith,” Tradition, vol. 7, no. 2, p. 11.

7

Man and Providence

The extraordinary relationship between man and God, as it is generally understood in traditional Judaic thought, is grounded in the biblical description of the creation of man. In that account, man is portrayed as a complex being endowed by his Maker with a multidimensional nature that differentiates him from all other living things. He is a being compounded of natural elements leavened with the divine “breath of life,” a spiritual infusion that makes him quite unique. Physically and biologically, man is obviously a creature similar in many respects to the rest of the animal world; he is fully subject to the laws of the natural order of the universe, what Jeremiah referred to as the ordinances of heaven and earth (Jer. 33:25). These laws of nature are considered to reflect divine management (hanhagah) of the universe and to have been instituted by God for the routine governance of the natural world. To the extent that such natural laws are discernible and deemed comprehensible, they are generally thought to be fixed and unchangeable barring some extraordinary perturbation, perhaps the result of a deliberate supernatural intervention in the natural order. Moreover, natural laws are held to be morally neutral. Thus, the sage R. Zadok spoke of God as the provider “who gives to every one his wants and to everybody according to his needs. And not to good people alone, but also to wicked people and even to people who are worshipping avodah zarah (idolatry).”1 In his spiritual dimension, however, man is believed to be capable of transcending the bounds of the world of nature. It is the endowment of man the animal with supra-natural spiritual characteristics that transforms him into man the human. The extent and character of his humanity is manifested in the

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manner in which man employs his divinely granted attributes of will and intellect. It is with particular reference to these spiritual aspects of his existence that man is believed to come within the special domain of divine providence (hashgahah), a realm that is far less comprehensible to us than that of hanhagah or divine management. Although hanhagah is sometimes considered an essential component of general hashgahah, under a broad definition of divine providence, our principal concern in the discussion that follows is with the idea of hashgahah in a more limited sense. That is, by hashgahah, we refer to that special aspect of divine providence that is directly relevant to the moral life of man, collectively as well as individually.2 As will be seen, some writers tend to confuse these very different aspects of divine providence, and because of this their work occasionally yields some rather awkward conceptual results. The concept of hashgahah or special providence is clearly biblical in origin, even though the word itself does not appear in the traditional literature before the medieval period.3 The term, if not the essence of the concept, appears to derive from the imagery of the psalmist: From the place of His habitation He looketh intently [hishgiah] upon all the inhabitants of the earth; He that fashioneth the hearts of them all, that considereth all their doings (Ps. 33:14–15). Hashgahah is therefore understood to refer to God’s guidance and concern for the character and consequences of human behavior. As intimated by the psalmist, God takes note of how men dispose of the divine attributes with which they are endowed. Thus, Jeremiah speaks of the Lord of Hosts, whose eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of man, to give every one according to his ways, and according to the fruits of his doings (Jer. 32:19). As Samson R. Hirsch put it, God “measures the worth of their deeds by the criterion of the purpose for which man was created.”4 Because the divine interest in human affairs is held to be active rather than passive, hashgahah is considered to encompass the idea of divine justice as well as the corollary notions of divine reward and punishment, concepts that play a major role in traditional Judaic thought and belief. The providential relationship between God and man is therefore predicated on the presumption that if man, individually as well as collectively, measures up to the behavioral standards that have been set for him, he will be suitably rewarded. Like as a father hath compassion upon his children, so hath the Lord compassion upon them that fear Him. . . . To such as keep His covenant, and to those that remember His precepts to do them (Ps. 103:13, 18). However, should one fail to meet these expectations to the extent required, or expected, there are penalties to be incurred. An example of this concept that applies specifically to the individual is the traditional interpretation of the biblical precept that commands one to honor his parents, that thy days may be long (Ex. 20:12). According to Solomon b. Isaac (Rashi), this text should be understood as establishing a reward and punishment relationship with respect to compliance with the biblical precept: “If you

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honor them, your life will be extended; if you do not, it will be shortened.”5 Similarly, and stated even more explicitly, the nation of Israel is admonished to keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, to walk in His ways, and to fear Him (Deut. 8:6). If it complies with this demand, Israel is promised that it will be blessed in a variety of ways. However, if thou shalt forget the Lord thy God, and walk after other gods . . . I forewarn you this day that ye shall surely perish. As the nations that the Lord maketh to perish before you, so shall ye perish (Deut. 8:19–20). The assessment of the relative success or failure of man to live up to what God requires of him is therefore a critical aspect of the process of divine justice. However, comprehending the substantive nature of divine justice may well prove to be beyond man’s intellectual capacity. Notwithstanding the crucial importance of the concept of hashgahah and the related idea of divine reward and punishment to traditional Judaic thought, the precise manner in which divine providence is manifested in the universe remains a matter of some contention. Among the several perspectives on this issue to be found in the classical literature there is one that also touches directly upon the central question of the fundamental character of the relationship between God and man. This is the view that the course of one’s life is guided by an unseen hand, a notion clearly articulated by one biblical writer who suggests that providence directs man, even against his will, toward the destiny that has been ordained for him. The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord (Prov. 16:33). That is, although we may conceive of an individual having the freedom to draw from the lots that are cast by fate, it is providence alone that will determine which lot one actually selects. Thus, Menahem Meiri specifically relates this biblical passage to the rabbinic teaching, “Everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven”6 to be discussed at length in a later chapter of this work.7 During the early talmudic period, strong support for this viewpoint came from the disciples of R. Ishmael who insisted that man’s destiny was not in his own hands. They derived textual corroboration for this point of view from their interpretation of the biblical injunction: When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a parapet for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thy house, if any man fall from thence (Deut. 22:8). As recorded in the Talmud, “The School of R. Ishmael taught: ‘If any man [ha-nofel] fall from thence’: this man was predestined to fall since the six days of Creation, for lo! he has not [yet] fallen, and the Writ [already] calls him nofel [one who falls]. But reward is brought about through a person of merit, and punishment through a person of guilt.”8 That is, the person who builds a house without a parapet is guilty of having violated a precept of the Torah but is nonetheless employed as the divine instrument for fulfilling the destiny of the other person who is to be punished with the injuries resulting from the fall. A similar belief in predestination was propounded by the sage Simeon b. Azzai, who declared in this regard: “By

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your name you will be called, to your place you will be restored and from what belongs to you will you be given.”9 To paraphrase a familiar saying, man may propose, but it is ultimately God who will dispose. Similarly, R. Hanina b. Hama later adopted this approach, insisting: “No man bruises his finger here on earth unless it was decreed against him in heaven.”10 This deterministic conception of hashgahah engenders the obvious need to find a means by which one can reconcile the belief in predestination with the traditional assertion that man possesses free will and moral autonomy. Thus, even R. Hanina may be seen as hedging, because of the moral implications of a denial of free will, when he cites with approbation the biblical verse, Thorns and snares are in the way of the froward; he that keepeth his soul holdeth himself far from them (Prov. 22:5). This passage implicitly rejects the general deterministic rule that “everything is from heaven,” and suggests that man can avoid “thorns and snares” by taking appropriate steps.11 The inherent paradox one finds in these beliefs greatly troubled the sages, who were unable to reach a consensus on the question of free will and determinism and therefore left the issue unresolved. Needless to say, their inability to resolve the paradox did not dispose of the matter. It came to the fore once again during the Middle Ages, when it became an issue of intense debate among theologians and religious philosophers, and continues to challenge us to this day. In a brief but highly relevant discussion of the question of whether the concepts of divine providence and freedom of choice are contradictory, Aron Barth argues that they are fully compatible because, as he attempts to demonstrate, the Holy One does not force men to carry out His mission against their will. Some place themselves at His command of their own free will, or by the influence of education and other factors. There are others who do not reach that stage but who, nevertheless, devote themselves to a special mission. And so He acts through them and assists them. In this way Divine Providence acts within the framework of cooperation. In other cases, even where there is no cooperation, God works through men. He makes use of men whose intentions are far removed from His own. Their actions are carried out for the achievement of their goals. But they tally with the divine plans and so He uses them.12

THE HUMAN INFLUENCE ON PROVIDENCE An alternate approach to the question of how providence is manifested in the world considers hashgahah not only as governing the general course of events, but also as occasionally requiring the direct intervention of God in human affairs, numerous instances of which are to be found in Scripture. Some advocates of this perspective went farther and asserted that there was a reciprocal relationship between man and heaven in this regard, intimating that the

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very nature of direct divine engagement with humanity could be made dependent on the changing moral state of mankind. They suggested that providential intervention in the course of history might be induced as a reaction to certain modes of human behavior. The manner in which hashgahah was manifested would thus become contingent upon the extent of man’s ability to influence divine activity in the world. By contrast with the concept of hanhagah, according to which the regularity of the laws of nature are divinely ordained and therefore believed to be immutable, the imperatives that govern the domain of hashgahah are not similarly regarded as fixed. That is, even if one maintains that as a rule the course of human history is preordained by divine fiat, the efficacy of that imperative is deemed to be under the control of man and subject to modification at his initiative. The providential relationship between man and God is thus conceived as involving an extraordinary process of divine-human interaction. This complex notion is reflected in the work of Philo, whose views on this matter are recapitulated by Harry Austryn Wolfson. “God, who in His own case has reserved for himself the power of freedom to upset the laws of nature which He established in the world at the time of its creation, has endowed man with a similar power of freedom to upset the laws of nature to which he is subject. This is a sort of miracle which man can work in the economy of his own life analogous to the miracles which God can work and does work in the economy of the world as a whole.”13 This thesis was taken a step farther by the sage R. Abbahu, who applied it more directly to the matter of the human-divine interaction. He taught: “The God of Israel said, . . . I rule man; who rules Me? [It is] the righteous: for I make a decree and he [may] annul it.”14 This statement explicitly asserts that the righteous person, through his actions and supplications, is capable of affecting the workings of providence and therefore of decisively altering the course of otherwise predetermined historic events. This idea is elaborated further in the influential teaching of R. Eleazar: “Three things nullify the harsh decree, and they are prayer, righteousness [charity] and repentance.”15 The belief that an individual, by undertaking such acts of piety, could thereby exercise a greater degree of control over his personal destiny gained such popular acceptance that, by the eleventh century, R. Eleazar’s dictum was incorporated into the liturgy of the High Holy Days in a slightly modified form. It would seem that the notion that a heavenly decree could be nullified entirely by the pious acts of man, as asserted by R. Eleazar, was considered by the hymnist to be an unacceptable overstatement. This is understandable, given the substantial numbers of pious Jews and the harsh conditions of medieval life under which they struggled for survival. A more realistic and under the circumstances more appropriate approach was to suggest that, although the divine decree would necessarily be carried out as originally ordained, the harshness of its consequences might be mitigated by appropriate acts of piety.

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Accordingly, Kalonymus b. Meshullam of Mayence altered the formula of R. Eleazar to state: “Repentance, prayer and charity avert the evil of the decree.”16 This teaching about an interactive historical process in which man engages the divine was extended from the individual to apply to the community as a whole. Some traditional commentators suggested that it was just such acts of piety that engendered a providential dispensation that enabled Israel to avert a number of the disasters that had been ordained to be visited upon it on account of the transgressions of the people against the divine will.17 They asserted, in effect, that the influence of the pious on the divine was such as to mitigate the collective punishment otherwise merited by the nation in accordance with the demands of divine justice. In talmudic times, the notion that the decrees of providence were susceptible to modification by the pious acts of man was also drawn into service by the sages. They employed this idea in their efforts to cope with the widespread popular belief concerning the alleged influence of the celestial bodies on the course of human existence. This astrological belief reflected a confusion of the concepts of hanhagah and hashgahah. Thus, even some relatively sophisticated people came to accept the idea that the motion of the planetary system and the stellar constellations, which are governed by the immutable “ordinances of heaven and earth,” also determine the course of human history, for peoples and nations as well as individuals. By permitting man to be conceived of as being completely subject to the immutable laws of nature, this belief blurred the critical distinction between the material and spiritual dimensions of human existence. The idea of astrological predetermination of historic circumstances and events had, and in some circles continues to have, considerable popular appeal. There were at least two reasons for this. First, it offered a plausible explanation of the human condition that seemed otherwise quite inexplicable. Second, it offered relief from the enormous burden of moral responsibility placed on the individual by biblical and rabbinic teaching. It was and indeed remains comforting for many people to believe that their problems are principally or entirely the result of factors and circumstances beyond anyone’s, and most especially their own, conscious control. Moreover, maintaining such a belief relieved the individual of any ultimate personal responsibility for his fate. The prophet Isaiah had already railed against astrology as an alien belief and scoffed at the “star-gazers”: Let now the astrologers, the star-gazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from the things that shall come upon thee (Isa. 47:13). And Jeremiah urged that we be not dismayed at the signs of heaven (Jer. 10:2). The later apocryphal literature compliments the Jews, who “do not worry about the cyclic course of the sun or the moon. . . . Neither do they practice the astrological predictions of the Chaldeans. . . . For all these things are

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erroneous.”18 Another apocryphal work depicts the patriarch Abraham as overcoming the belief in astrology: “Abram sat up during the night . . . so that he might observe the stars from evening until daybreak so that he might see what the nature of the year would be with respect to rain. And he was sitting alone and making observations; and a word came into his heart, saying, ‘All of the signs of the stars and the signs of the sun and the moon are all in the hand of the Lord. Why am I seeking?’ ”19 Nonetheless, Josephus reports that the belief in celestial signs and oracles was so pervasive in his time that their misinterpretation contributed in part to the outbreak of the great rebellion against the Romans that led to the destruction of the Holy Temple.20 The popular appeal of astrology became so great that it evidently infected a large number of the sages of the talmudic era. This notwithstanding that such deterministic beliefs seemed to be quite incompatible with the essential teachings of Scripture and directly challenged the concept of hashgahah as it was understood by most of the sages. As indicated earlier, one of the sages who clearly was inclined towards a belief in astrological predetermination was R. Hanina b. Hama, who taught: “The planetary influence gives wisdom, the planetary influence gives wealth, and Israel stands under planetary influence.”21 Other sages, however, were deeply disturbed by the fatalistic implications of such beliefs, which they correctly considered inimical to the fundamental Judaic teachings concerning the moral autonomy of man. Perhaps for tactical reasons, given the popularity and pervasiveness of these deterministic beliefs and doctrines, the sages appear to have elected not to directly challenge the validity of their underlying premises. Instead, they sought to minimize the significance that one might attribute to the influence of the heavenly bodies on human affairs by promoting the argument that astrological predetermination did not apply to the Jewish people in any case, because, as they asserted, “Israel is immune from planetary influence.”22 Their evident intention in making this assertion was to claim that, by virtue of the special relationship with God that was established by acceptance of the Torah as its national constitution, Israel was rendered capable, collectively and individually, of warding off the consequences of the astrological influences that affected others.23 For Israel and Israel alone, they insisted, there was effective freedom of choice. Astrology continued to be ubiquitous throughout the medieval period, and numbered a great many of the major Judaic thinkers of the time among its adherents. Although thinkers such as Judah Halevi, Hasdai Crescas, and Joseph Albo expressed skepticism about whether astrological events actually governed human events, Maimonides and a handful of his disciples were the only Jewish thinkers of the period who completely rejected astrology, considering it utter nonsense. Maimonides wrote: You should realize that all the assumptions of the astrologers with regard to the forecasting of impending events, or the determination of one’s destiny by the constel-

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lation at the time of one’s birth are irrational superstitions devoid of any scientific basis. I have clear and flawless proofs invalidating their essential theories. For one thing, we should take note of the fact that none of the Greek thinkers, who were surely authentic scientists, ever engaged in such notions or wrote any treatises on the subject. They never made the mistake of calling astrology a science as did the Chaldeans, Egyptians and Canaanites who even regarded it as a fundamental doctrine of their religion. . . . The reason we do not believe the proponents of this theory is not simply because their concepts lack sufficient evidence for validation but rather because we possess such clear and flawless proofs to the contrary that their notions are utterly repudiated. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us not to accept their beliefs which only a simpleton who believes anything or the person who wishes to deceive others adheres to.24

Despite Maimonides’ enormous influence on subsequent Judaic thought, his assault on astrology failed to dissuade later thinkers and writers. Astrology thus became an important ingredient in kabbalistic speculations and teachings. But given the improbability that the rabbinic formula of prayer, repentance, and acts of righteousness would actually alter the course of nature, how could the undesirable consequences of the astrological influences be mitigated in practice? Abraham ibn Ezra was one of the many Judaic thinkers of the medieval period that fully accepted the idea that the events that took place in the sublunary world were somehow guided if not governed by the movements of the heavenly bodies and the constellations of the zodiac. He argued that it was quite feasible for a person to escape the influence of his planet, without actually altering its natural course and thereby diverting the necessary consequences of its motion. One could do this, he suggested, by invoking the special providential relationship with God by means of the progressive improvement of the individual’s spiritual and intellectual qualities. Ibn Ezra illustrated this point with the following example. Let us assume, he says, that it is predestined that a particular river should overflow its banks, inundating a city and drowning its inhabitants. Then, before the natural cataclysmic event takes place, a prophet appears on the scene and warns the people of the city to repent of their ways and return to God. Because his warning has the desired effect on the people, they sincerely repent, signaling their confidence in the prophet, and he then urges them to leave the city in order to pray to God outside its confines. Let us assume further that the people follow his suggestion and, while they are away from their homes and shops, the anticipated flood inundates the city. In such an instance, Ibn Ezra points out, it is clear that there was no change in the influence of the planets on the course of natural events, yet the people were permitted to escape its awesome consequences.25 It hardly needs to be pointed out that in the scenario presented by Ibn Ezra, extraordinary conditions would have to be fulfilled before the alleged influ-

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ence of the planets could be escaped. First, it required, through whatever process it entailed, that someone become elevated to the level of prophecy. Second, the people too would have to reach a stage of critical self-examination that enabled them to recognize prophetic truth when they heard it and to respond affirmatively to the prophet’s message. But, if these very difficult conditions were to be satisfied, one would be able to assert, in accordance with the claim of R. Abbahu, that God issues a decree, and the righteous are capable of mitigating or nullifying its originally intended consequences. In other words, it would become possible to give practical effect to the liturgical formula: “Repentance, prayer and charity avert the evil of the decree.” A later writer, Samuel Katzenellenbogen (Maharshik), elaborated further on the general notion that man has the ability to mitigate the effects of the heavenly decrees, and even to modify the manner in which they are applied. However, he too does not appear to have drawn any significant distinction between the operation of the physical laws of nature (hanhagah) and the moral imperatives of providence (hashgahah). “It is well known in the sayings of our sages that the righteous that are in Israel have in them the capability of changing nature . . . and this power and authority are given to them because of the elevation and brilliance of their spirit.”26 Katzenellenbogen evidently was well aware of the logical and other philosophical problems that are inherent in the latter proposition. Accordingly, his argument in defense of his understanding of the rabbinic view amounts to the assertion that it should not be surprising that men cannot rationally understand that which by its intrinsic nature transcends the bounds of that order. The reason is because man’s rational faculty is inherently constrained by the limits imposed on it in the natural order of things. Katzenellenbogen wrote: I am fully aware that when a person examines this matter rationally it will be difficult for him to accept the idea that man, whose origin is in the dust, could ascend to such a marvelously elevated state; one in which his very being becomes a dwelling place for the Divine Presence, enabling him to alter nature and nullify its decrees, as mentioned before. Of course, the intelligent man will have the ability to know and understand that matters touching on the divine transcend nature and therefore are not to be brought within the scope of an examination based on man’s understanding of the natural.27

In other words, one cannot hope to rationally comprehend that which, by virtue of its essential character, transcends human understanding. Katzenellenbogen would argue, ultimately, that the only satisfactory approach to dealing with this dilemma is to place one’s complete faith and trust in the divine wisdom guiding the universe. An alternate approach to the problem is the route taken by the kabbalists, who propound the principle that man exerts influence, consciously as well as

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unconsciously, on the entire universe as a consequence of his cooperative relationship with God. Elijah Benamozegh suggests that it could not be otherwise, since, from the theological point of view, freedom, the will, the soul itself, seem to us in their origin and substance to be divine—like a ray, a part, but also a limitation, of the omnipotence of God. Being in so intimate a relation to the Universal, the Eternal, it is impossible that what the soul wishes and does should be inconsequential for the totality of creation. If human thought has its sole source in an unending communion with the Absolute, it is inconceivable that this cause and continuous intercourse should not vastly enlarge the sphere in which man’s action has significance.28

Given the remarkable advances in scientific knowledge that have taken place in modern times, there seems to be little doubt about man’s capacity to introduce some deliberate and possibly even permanent changes in the natural order of the physical world. However, there do not seem to be any solid grounds for assuming, as some have, that this is what R. Abbahu or Katzenellenbogen had in mind when registering their views. It seems far more likely that their principal concern was to find a means of coping with the popular beliefs in the astrological determination of man’s character and personal destiny. Putting aside any possible esoteric implications of these notions, it seems more plausible to relate their formulations exclusively to the question of the ultimate mutability of the processes and patterns of human nature and history, which fall within the realm of special providence (hashgahah). It seems evident that there is no necessary correlation between the scientific knowledge needed to affect or alter the physical processes of nature, and the human qualities and actions deemed necessary to affect the practical manifestation of providence in history. Most recently, Adin Steinsaltz attempted to approach this question of historical causation from a contemporary scientific perspective. He sought to provide support for the traditional rabbinic perspective on the issue by drawing an analogy from the “uncertainty principle” of modern physics. That principle states, in essence, that no underlying causality can be discerned in nature beyond that affecting a certain macrocosmic order of existence. That is, to the extent that the laws of nature can be determined, their application may be considered as inherently applicable only to the functioning of the universe in the broadest possible sense. By contrast, in the subatomic universe, the microcosmic order, there is no basis whatever for postulating any causal certainty. Applying the “uncertainty principle” to the realm of providence, Steinsaltz writes: “Broadly speaking, in the context of Jewish thinking we may suggest that predestination, when it is dependent on the causality of natural laws and their processes, works in a very general way and applies only to the macrocosm. In relation to the microcosm, the individual has a certain leeway to act as he

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chooses. His actions may not alter the general, overall picture, but within the confines of the fixed ordinances, matters can to some degree be redirected.”29 Steinsaltz is obviously concerned about making a too-sweeping assertion regarding man’s personal autonomy. One may indeed be confronted by a variety of circumstances that are beyond an individual’s control, circumstances that may involve factors that condition one’s response or constrain one’s freedom to make independent and effective choices.

NOTES 1. Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, “Amalek” 3, vol. II, p. 178. 2. There is a school of classical rabbinic thought that would extend God’s special providence to all of His creatures: “The Holy One, blessed be He, sits and sustains [all creatures], from the horns of wild oxen to the eggs of vermin” (Shabbat 107b). The traditional Hasidic view would take this a step further and extend God’s special providence to all of creation, inanimate as well as animate. Thus, Phineas of Koretz (1726–1791) stated: “A man should believe that even a piece of straw that lies on the ground does so at the decree of God. He decrees that it should lie there with one end facing this way and the other end the other way” (Pe’er laYesharim, #38, cited by Louis Jacobs, A Jewish Theology, p. 115). 3. According to Alexander Altmann, the term hashgahah was first coined by Samuel ibn Tibbon (c.1160–c.1230). See article, “Providence,” in Encyclopedia Judaica. 4. Samson Raphael Hirsch, The Psalms, vol. 1, p. 238. 5. Solomon ben Isaac, Perushei Rashi al haTorah on Ex. 20:12. 6. Berakhot 33b. 7. Menahem Meiri, Perush haMeiri al Sefer Mishlei, p. 168. 8. Shabbat 32a. For other examples of the views of the disciples of R. Ishmael in this regard, refer to Abraham J. Heschel, Torah min haShamayim beAspeklariah shel haDorot, vol. 1, pp. 177–179. 9. Yoma 38a–38b. 10. Hullin 7b. 11. Baba Metzia 107b. 12. Aron Barth, The Modern Jew Faces Eternal Problems, pp. 99–100. 13. Harry Austryn Wolfson, Philo, vol. 1, p. 457. 14. Moed Katan 16b. See also J. Taanit 3:10: “The Holy One, blessed be He, nullifies His decree because of the decree of a righteous person.” 15. J. Taanit 2:1. A variant version of this teaching reads: “R. Yudan said in the name of R. Eleazar: Three things—prayer, charity, and turning in repentance to God—avert a harsh decree” (Pesikta De-Rab Kahana, Piska 28:3). 16. This formula is found in the prayer, Unetane Tokef, in the Ashkenazic, Polish, and Italian liturgies. 17. Hananel ben Hushiel, Perush Rabbenu Hananel on Moed Katan 16b. See also Samuel Eliezer Eidels (Maharshah), Hiddushei Aggadot, ad loc. 18. Sibylline Oracles 3:221–228. 19. Jubilees 12:16–19.

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20. Josephus, Wars of the Jews 6. 5. 3–4. 21. Shabbat 156a. R. Hanina is also the author of the statement: “No man bruises his finger here on earth unless it was so decreed against him in heaven” (Hullin 7b). Nonetheless, R. Hanina was not a complete determinist, and is credited with the important teaching: “Everything is in the hand of heaven except the fear of heaven” (Berakhot 33b). 22. Shabbat 156a–b; Nedarim 32a. 23. Sukkah 29a. 24. Maimonides, “Letter to the Jews of Marseilles,” in Letters of Maimonides, pp. 120–121. 25. Abraham ibn Ezra, Excursus on Exodus 33:21, Perushei haTorah, vol. 2, p. 218. 26. Samuel J. Katzenellenbogen, Shnaim Assar Derushim, #2, p. 12. 27. Ibid., #10, p. 55. 28. Elijah Benamozegh, Israel and Humanity, p. 195. 29. Adin Steinsaltz, The Strife of the Spirit, p. 30.

8

Man’s Moral Autonomy

Regardless of the extent to which one’s capacity for autonomous action is constrained by externally imposed physical, social, and economic circumstances, most traditionalist Judaic thinkers insist that the sphere of moral conduct remains substantially within the individual’s field of control. In this view, no matter how limited one’s options, each competent person remains in a position to make effective moral choices. This emphasis on individual moral autonomy is clearly biblical in origin. See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil. . . . I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life (Deut. 30:15–19). The biblical message is clear. Man has the autonomous capacity to choose his moral course, and will be held accountable for his choice. The extent of his humanity is reflected in the use he makes of that moral autonomy. Ben Sira elaborated on this theme by arguing: “It was He, from the first, when He created humankind, who made them subject to their own free choice. If you choose, you can keep His commandment; fidelity is the doing of His will. There are poured out before you fire and water; to whichever you choose you can stretch forth your hands. Before each person are life and death; whichever he chooses shall be given him.”1 Man alone of all created beings is conceived in Judaism as endowed with the unique capacity to commit a conscious and deliberate act of will. Accordingly, he is not and should not be viewed as a merely passive participant in a cosmic drama over which he can exert no influence. As Eliezer Berkovits put it: “We do not find ourselves in a universe of puppets, dangling from strings held by the Almighty and automatically obeying every one of His commands, but rather in

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a universe in which moral freedom makes the deliberate deed possible.”2 Man is held to be at liberty to structure his world either in accordance with his instinctual predilections or with his intellectually and morally informed choices. He is free to be creative and to enhance and elevate the domain of mankind through the progressive development of his essential humanity. He is also capable of being destructive, and therefore of diminishing that which is distinctively human in the universe. Indeed, if he so wishes, man can reduce the higher realm of humanity to an approximation of its natural counterpart in the animal world. Abraham J. Heschel remarked in this regard: “Just as death is the liquidation of being, dehumanization is the liquidation of being human.”3 Man is therefore depicted in Scripture as a limited reflection of divine personality, endowed by his Creator with the attributes of free will and reason. So equipped, each person is ultimately held accountable for his own moral state, at least for as long as one remains in conscious control of these critical faculties. This message is delivered in the biblical literature in a variety of forms, and may be considered as the central theme of the Garden of Eden narrative. In that story, Adam is commanded by God to refrain from eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). But, unless he possessed innate moral autonomy, the freedom to choose whether or not to comply, the divine imperative would have been quite pointless. As Morris Joseph observed: “The fetters of obligation are unmeaning except to bind those who are free. Only he who has the power to choose the evil can be commanded to choose the good.”4 Without man possessing such freedom to choose, the subsequent biblical recounting of the consequences of Adam’s transgression of the divine injunction would have been both superfluous and irrelevant. Moreover, it is worth noting that the literary context within which the episode is presented is that of an introduction to the biblical account of the early moral history of mankind, and should be considered in that light. Accordingly, the essence of the tale is to be found in its moral implications. Indeed, to be created in the image of God means to have knowledge of good and evil. And implicit in having such knowledge is the ability to discern between them and to choose one or the other. This capacity is deemed by the Torah to be a divine-like quality. Thus, when the serpent tries to convince Eve to eat from the forbidden tree, he argues that no harm will befall her because in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil (Gen. 3:4). Afterward, God says, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil (Gen. 3:22). In the ancient Aramaic paraphrase of this passage, Onkelos renders this last verse as “Behold, man is become singular (or alone, yehid) in the world by himself, knowing good and evil.”5 Pursuing this approach to the passage, Solomon b. Isaac (Rashi) explains the verse as stating, “Behold, he is become unique among the terrestrial beings just as I am unique among the celestial beings—and what does his uniqueness consist of?

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To know good and evil, that which is not the case among the animals and beasts.”6 In other words, man, created in the image of God, alone among living beings knows the meaning of good and evil, because only man is capable of moral choice. It seems evident that the ultimate significance of the scriptural account derives from its unequivocal demonstration that man is not only capable of choosing to disobey the divine command, thereby offering unmistakable evidence of his autonomy of will and intellect. He also has the ability to translate his moral choices into practical activity. At the same time, because he has this intrinsic moral freedom of choice and action, man can also consciously elect to conduct himself in conformity with divine guidance and instruction. He can choose freely to follow the morally appropriate course of action, one that will contribute to the enhancement of the distinctive aspects of his humanity. Indeed, as Maimonides suggested, it is precisely because man has the freedom to choose the good or the bad that “he can be instructed in the good ways and be commanded, forbidden, punished, and rewarded.”7 Ephraim of Luntshits elaborated this point in an intriguing homily on the Garden of Eden story. After his creation, God placed man in the Garden of Eden and showed him the two paths that lay before him. The one, alluded to by the “tree of life,” is the path of Torah, which is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her (Prov. 3:18). The other is the “tree of knowledge,” from which he could obtain the knowledge of good and evil, and which has the capacity to give one too much wisdom in material matters. God sought to deny man access to the latter, For as wisdom grows, vexation grows; to increase learning is to increase heartache (Eccles. 1:18).8 Man was nonetheless free to choose the path he would pursue, and in the biblical view, he chose poorly. By means of the revelation of His guidance to man in the form of the injunction to desist from the forbidden fruit, God informs him of what behavior is morally desirable and appropriate. But the decision to act or not to act in compliance with the divine direction is left entirely up to the individual. Man is therefore held to be fully responsible and accountable for his conduct. This is the price of his moral autonomy, the cost of his humanity. And, it is a price that man must pay. As Heschel put it: “We are free to choose between good and evil; we are not free in having to choose. We are in fact compelled to choose. Thus all freedom is a situation of God’s waiting for man to choose.”9 This fundamental idea has also been considered by some commentators to be implicit in the biblical story of Cain and Abel. The text relates, And Cain spoke unto Abel his brother. And it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him (Gen. 4:8). What did Cain say to Abel that precipitated a struggle between them that resulted in Abel’s death at his hands? According to Targum Yerushalmi, an ancient fragmentary Aramaic paraphrase of the Bible, the issue between them was essentially theologi-

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cal, perhaps reflecting the issues that the author of the paraphrase had to deal with in Roman times. The theological discussion was the result of Cain’s dissatisfaction that his offering to God was rejected whereas that of his brother was found acceptable. Cain asserted, “There is no judgment and there is no judge, there is no other world, and there is no good reward that is given to the righteous and no vengeance taken from the wicked.”10 In other words, there is no accountability to God for one’s actions. Abel, on the other hand, took a diametrically opposite stance on these issues. The quarrel between them led Cain to act on his belief and slay his brother. After being questioned by God concerning the whereabouts of Abel, following the latter’s death at the hands of his brother, Cain responds with the infamous rhetorical question: Am I my brother’s keeper? (Gen. 4:9). Cain’s retort has been interpreted by some as representing not so much a denial of fraternal responsibility as an argument over the question of man’s free will and moral autonomy. In effect, it is suggested, Cain is not attempting to deny that Abel died at his hands. He is prepared to admit his involvement in his brother’s death but not any personal liability for his actions. Cain’s response should therefore be understood as an attempt to absolve himself of any responsibility or accountability for the attack on his brother and fellow human, and to shift the blame to God. To drive this point home, the midrashic author offers the following paraphrase of Cain’s implicit argument: “Am I my brother’s keeper? You are the guardian of all created beings, and You are holding me accountable! . . . Cain said, I killed him, but You created within me the evil impulse; You are the guardian of all, and You left him for me to kill—[therefore,] You are the one who killed him.” That is, once God decided to remove His protective shield from Abel, it was inevitable that Cain should slay him since he was under the control of the divinely instilled impulse to do so. But, the midrash continues, “God responded at once: What have you done?”11 The implicit moral lesson of the episode seems clear. Even if providential protection was withdrawn from Abel, that of itself did not absolve Cain from direct responsibility for his own actions. Because man is morally autonomous, he cannot claim to be acting involuntarily as a mere instrument of the divine will.12 Nonetheless, as argued by Eliezer Berkovits, “one can never consider the deed alone, unrelated to the man who performs it. One may transgress a law intentionally or unintentionally, as an act of defiance against the lawgiver or in spite of full acknowledgment of the law’s authority, giving in to human weakness and placing one’s own wishes ahead of a divine command.” Because of this, Judaism traditionally distinguishes between the unintentional sin (het), the intentional sin or iniquity (avon), and the act of deliberate rebellion or transgression (pesha).13 The actual deed may be the same in each case, however, the intrinsic nature of the sin is considered to differ. “The determining factor is the attitude in which it is executed.”14 It should be noted, however, as

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pointed out by Adin Steinsaltz, the notion of sin is not in itself fully developed or clarified in Judaism. Moreover, “Despite the existence of so many definitions of an endless variety of sin, and despite the stern reproof voiced against sin and sinners, concern with sin itself occupies an insignificant place in Jewish thought.”15 A further implication of the affirmation of man’s capacity for free moral choice is the corollary notion, discussed earlier, that man has the inherent ability to influence, to a significant degree, providence itself and the manner in which it is manifested in human history. Taking this idea a step farther, some traditionalist thinkers have also conceived of morally autonomous man as a covenanted partner with God in the creative process. This suggests that creation, or at least those aspects of it that most directly impact on human affairs, is not yet complete or even in its final stage, but is an ongoing dynamic process. It therefore represents a field of endeavor in which man can truly reflect the image of his Creator through his own creativity. According to Meir L. Malbim, man’s primary role in this partnership with God becomes that of perfecting that which is already created, most especially mankind itself. In his commentary on the biblical account of the covenant concluded between God and Abraham (Gen. 17:2), Malbim notes that the wording of the pact implies “that the binding obligation rests on both parties to the covenant.” This is because “Abraham also obligated himself to be a partner with God in the act of creation, by perfecting what was created and participating in its improvement.”16 The question of how the perfection or at least the substantial improvement of man can be brought about has long been a matter of contention among moral philosophers. The essence of the controversy is perhaps best exemplified in the two diametrically opposite approaches that represent the extremes of the spectrum of opinion on the issue. One, championed by the early Christian philosopher Augustine, asserts that the corruption and evil one finds in society is the consequence of the evil that is inherent in human nature. The second, argued by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, claims that the evil one finds in man is a consequence of the evils of the society in which he lives. According to those who accept the first approach, there is no effective way for man to radically reform society or even himself. According to those who argue for the second approach, society and its institutions can and should be reformed and only by so doing can we bring about a substantial improvement in man. Judaism, however, finds both of these extreme views unacceptable. It emphatically rejects the notion that man is inherently evil as well as the idea that the improvement of man can only begin with the reconstruction of society and its institutions. Instead, as argued by Malbim, “the beginning of improvement will take place in the microcosm that is the individual person.”17 That is, each person constitutes a virtual self-contained universe, and therefore has the autonomous

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moral capacity to perfect himself. The Judaic vision is that the progressive perfection of individuals will lead ultimately to the perfection of society. To recapitulate, the traditionalist view maintains that because man is held accountable for his conduct he must necessarily be ethically autonomous. He must be endowed with the innate capacity to choose those courses of behavior and action that are morally desirable, or at the least morally acceptable, and to reject those that are deemed to be ethically odious. But, how is a person to determine which courses of action are the morally appropriate ones to pursue? How is one to know what kind of activity enhances an individual’s essential humanity and what type of behavior diminishes it?

IMITATION OF GOD A corollary to man’s essential moral freedom is his moral perfectibility, that is, because he is free, man must necessarily be capable of moral improvement. Indeed, his very freedom places at his disposal the means to acquire those attributes and qualities in which he is deficient. Elijah Benamozegh writes in this regard, “Belief in human perfectibility has given birth to a great ethical principle of the Bible and rabbis: the imitation of God. Man, created in God’s image, should recognize as a practical rule of conduct the imitation of his Creator, that is, a drawing ever closer to his divine model, an effort ceaselessly increasing to reproduce in himself that image which is the law of his being.”18 From the perspective of traditional Judaic thought, then, man’s highest aspiration, as suggested by Moses Hayyim Luzzatto, should be to approximate the moral likeness of God, who constitutes the supreme good.19 Accordingly, the most fundamental ethical principle by which a person is to be guided in his relations with others is that of the conscious emulation of his Creator. As Charles B. Chavel noted: “Judaism pronounced the doctrine of man made in the image of God, insisting, moreover, upon the supreme duty of man to make his ways like those of his Creator.”20 Given the centrality of this principle in Judaism, it seems rather surprising that there is no standard or commonly accepted rabbinic term that fully encompasses the concept, which is most conveniently captured in the medieval Latin phrase imitatio Dei (imitation of God), a phrase that is essentially untranslatable into Hebrew. However, it has been pointed out by David Shapiro that the rabbinic term halakhah may be understood as actually serving this purpose: “The attainment of imitatio Dei is not merely a pious desideratum. It is an imperative of the Halakhah, and as such is embodied in Jewish Law. . . . The relationship of Halakhah to the concept of imitatio Dei seems to be so close that the very word Halakhah (from the root halokh, meaning ‘walk’) may be nothing other than the technical term for walking in the ways of God, which is imitatio Dei.”21

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The notion of man being urged to imitate God strikes one as rather problematic, given that we have virtually no knowledge of God or His nature, which may explain why there is no rabbinic term equivalent to imitatio Dei. Indeed, Martin Buber suggested that the concept of imitatio Dei “is the central paradox of Judaism. A paradox, for how should man be able to imitate God, the invisible, incomprehensible, unformed, not-to-be-formed? One can only imitate that of which one has an idea—no matter whether it be an idea springing from the imagination or the memory; but as soon as one forms an idea of God, it is no longer he whom one conceives, and an imitation founded on this conception would be no imitation of him.”22 Nonetheless, the idea of imitatio Dei can be found throughout the literature of Judaism, in one form or another, since its scriptural beginnings. Solomon Schechter points out that the most frequently used name for God in rabbinic literature is “the Holy One,” thus emphasizing the centrality of the idea of “holiness” in rabbinic theology. “In its broad features holiness is but another word for Imitatio Dei, a duty intimately associated with Israel’s close contact with God.”23 Divine insistence on such imitative behavior has been seen as implicit in the biblical teaching, Ye shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy (Lev. 19:2). This verse was interpreted by the talmudic sage Abba Saul as proclaiming: “What is the duty of the household attendants of the king? To imitate the king!”24 However, Leon Roth vigorously challenged this identification of imitatio Dei with “holiness.” He points out that the biblical adjuration, Ye shall be holy, as may be seen from the thirty-five verses of Scripture that follow it, is entirely negative in character—they relate to what a holy person should not do, and not to what one should do in imitation of God. Indeed, even where the biblical phraseology appears to be positive, what it refers to is negative. Roth suggests that the erroneous identification of imitatio Dei with holiness is the result of a fundamental misconception of the nature of the holy. The holy, in the biblical view, refers to the absolute transcendence of God, His wholly otherness, which is inimitable. But, in this case, what does the biblical author mean by the statement, Ye shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy? It means, according to Roth, that by abjuring the negative behaviors specified in the biblical text, one separates oneself from all others, thus making oneself holy in the sense that just as God is separate and holy so too may man be separate and holy. It does not mean that man thereby becomes God-like. This point is made clear by the sages in the passage that immediately precedes the teaching of Abba Saul cited above. The sages interpreted the biblical text as stating, in effect: “If you sanctify yourselves, I count it in your favor as though you sanctified Me; and if you do not sanctify yourselves, I count it against you as though you did not sanctify Me. It does not mean to say that only if you sanctify Me, I am sanctified, and if not, I am not sanctified. One learns from this: For I [the

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Lord your God] am holy—I am in My holiness, whether you sanctify me or do not sanctify Me.” That is, God’s absolute transcendence represents an impassable divide separating God from man. Accordingly, while imitatio Dei constitutes the foundation of Judaic ethics and morality, it is not predicated on the theologically impossible aspiration to imitate God’s holiness.25 In another source, Abba Saul interpreted the statement, This is my God, and I will glorify Him (Ex. 4:2), as meaning, “and I will be like Him: be thou like Him: just as He is gracious and compassionate, so be thou gracious and compassionate.”26 Another biblical teaching demands: Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy; for I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 20:7), from which a midrashic author infers, “when they are holy, He is a God unto them. What is written afterwards? And keep ye My statutes, and do them: I am the Lord who sanctify you (Lev. 20:8). When does the Holy One, blessed be He, sanctify Israel? When they observe His statutes.”27 Similarly, the teaching: “When you perform the commandments you are sanctified. . . . But if you part from the commandments you become profaned.”28 Accordingly, the holiness of Israel, bearing in mind how this phrase should be understood, depends on the extent to which they act in God-like ways, which the sages identified with carrying out of the divinely ordained statutes and commandments. One kabbalistic source also considers the biblical demand for man’s conscious and self-willed emulation of the divine to be implicit in the manner in which the creation of man is described in Scripture. Before the event, God says, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness (Gen. 1:26). But, when the creation of man actually takes place, we are advised by the text only that God created man in His own image (Gen. 1:27). What, we may ask, happened to the “likeness?” Has something been omitted from the account? The explanation offered is that man was created “in His image alone, and not in His likeness, because [creating] the likeness rests in the hands of man.”29 The implication of this interpretation is clear. Man is endowed with those faculties that enable him to begin to approximate the moral likeness of God. How close he comes to this goal is left entirely up to him. How does one characterize the moral likeness of God so as to permit man to emulate it? The concept of imitating God has traditionally been understood to refer to man’s imitation of the acts of divine beneficence, as these are presented both explicitly and implicitly in Scripture. Thus, the sages taught: “The Holy One, blessed be He, who is called righteous and upright, created man in His image only that he might be righteous and upright like Him.”30 In another source, the sages elaborated further on this theme by identifying additional divine attributes for emulation: “As God is called merciful, so should you be merciful; as the Holy One, blessed be He, is called gracious, so too should you be gracious. . . . As God is called righteous . . . so too should you be righteous. As God is called kind . . . so too should you be kind.”31

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In a number of biblical texts, Israel is told to walk in all His ways (Deut. 10:12, 11:22, 26:17). What are those ways? An explicit scriptural example is the text, He doth execute justice for the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment (Deut. 10:18). It would seem self-evident that man too should behave in this manner. The sages observed that Scripture also offers implicit examples of providential deeds that merit emulation by man. Hama bar Hanina taught: What means the text, Ye shall walk after the Lord your God [Deut. 13:5]? Is it, then, possible for a human being to walk after the Shekhinah; for has it not been said, For the Lord thy God is a devouring fire [Deut. 4:24]? But the [meaning is] to walk after the attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He. As he clothes the naked, for it is written, And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife coats of skin, and clothed them [Gen. 3:21], so do thou also clothe the naked. The Holy One, blessed be He, visited the sick, for it is written, . . . [Gen. 18:1], so do thou also visit the sick. The Holy One, blessed be He, comforted mourners, for it is written, . . . [Gen. 25:11], so do thou also comfort mourners. The Holy One, blessed be He, buried the dead, for it is written, . . . [Deut. 34:6], so do thou also bury the dead.32

The clear implication of all this is that man should aspire to emulate those divine deeds which by their very nature will contribute to the enhancement of man’s moral stature and the further enrichment of his essential humanity. By making such imitation of God a principal teaching of Judaism, the rabbis effectively established it as a foundation of Israel’s moral law.33 It is especially noteworthy, as Moritz Lazarus put it, that “the moral law does not exist by virtue of a divine act or an authoritative fiat; it flows from the essence of God’s being, from his absolute and infinite moral nature.” We are bidden to be holy, not on the basis of an arbitrary divine imperative but because God is holy, and we are enjoined to imitatio Dei. “In a word, the fundamental doctrine of Judaism reads: Because the moral is divine, therefore you shall be moral, and because the divine is moral, you shall become like unto God. It may be said that the highest form and ultimate purpose of human life is likeness to God, and the ethical ideals are conceived as attributes of God, in whose image man was created, and whose copy and image it is man’s task to strive to become.”34 Nonetheless, from a traditional Judaic perspective, as discussed above, one must be cautious about identifying Judaism with ethics and ethics with holiness, notwithstanding the popularity of this approach with numerous humanist-oriented religious thinkers. As Eliezer Berkovits argued, Holiness does not originate in what a man does but in the fact that he does it in fulfilling the divine will or intention; that what is done is done for the sake of God. Holiness is not ethics, for instance. Holiness is a specifically religious category. The highest form of ethics may be unrelated to holiness. It is a noble thing to do the good for its own sake, but it is not holiness. Holiness is being with God by doing God’s will. Now, it is the will

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of God that man should act ethically. But if he acts ethically for the sake of the good, he is an ethical man; if he does so for the sake of God, in order to do God’s will, he is striving for holiness.35

Another approach to the idea of imitatio Dei is to associate it with the divine imperative, And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might (Deut. 6:5). The question, of course, is what does it mean to love God? How is such love manifested? The answer, perhaps, is to be found in the words of the prophet Hosea, words that are repeated each day by traditional Jews as they don their phylacteries for the morning prayers. The prophet alludes to the events at Mount Sinai, when God entered into a spiritual marriage with Israel, the Torah effectively serving as the dowry. And I will betroth thee unto Me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in justice, and in lovingkindness, and in compassion. And I will betroth thee unto Me in faithfulness; and thou shalt know the Lord (Hos. 2:21–22). Note that Hosea does not repeat the Mosaic command to love the Lord. Instead, he substitutes the phrase, know the Lord. That is, the prophet seems to be saying that to know God is to love God. Taking a somewhat different approach, R. Judah haNasi asserted: “I do not know just how one is to love God. Hence Scripture goes on to say, And these words which I command thee this day shall be upon thy heart [Deut. 6:6], meaning, take these words to heart, for thus will you recognize Him who spoke, and the world came into being, and you will cling to His ways.”36 Maimonides, as does the prophet, also identifies love of God with knowledge of God. He asks how one learns to love the Lord, and offers the following response. “When man contemplates God’s works and His great and marvelous creatures (by thorough study), he sees from them wisdom that is without estimate or end, and is immediately filled with love and praise and longs ardently to know the Holy Name even as David said, ‘my soul thirsteth for God’ (Ps. 42:2).”37 Once again, we must deal with the question of what it means to “know” the unknowable. For Maimonides, it is primarily an intellectual endeavor. “I explain great things,” he wrote, “from the works of the Lord of the universe so that there may be an opening for one who wants to understand to love God.”38 In another work, in which he uses the citation from R. Judah haNasi as a prooftext, he explains the precept demanding love of God. It requires that we “dwell upon and contemplate His Commandments, His injunctions, and His works, so that we may obtain a conception of Him, and in conceiving Him to attain absolute joy. This constitutes the Love of God. . . . We have thus made it clear to you that through this act of contemplation you will attain a conception of God and reach that stage of joy in which love of Him will follow of necessity.”39

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Others, however, were wary of the overly intellectual approach exemplified by Maimonides, because it was too limiting and would effectively restrict true love of God exclusively to those with the requisite intellectual capabilities, thereby excluding perhaps the majority of the people. Accordingly, commentators such as Elijah Mizrahi took Maimonides to task and rejected his interpretation of the words of R. Judah haNasi. Mizrahi argued that the meaning of the phrase used by the sage, “take these words to heart,” is that “these words” clearly refer to the entire corpus of precepts revealed through Moses. Accordingly, the way to fulfill the precept to “love the Lord” is by carrying out and fulfilling the range of precepts taught in the Torah, and not merely by contemplation of divine activity in the universe.40 This, in effect, democratizes the biblical demand, enabling every person to demonstrate the love of God through one’s acts throughout one’s life. Taking a middle position, the talmudic sage Abaye interpreted the precept to “love the Lord,” as meaning, “that the Name of Heaven be beloved because of you.” That is to say, he explained, if someone was studious but at the same time was honest in business and courteous to people, he would serve as a model to the community. “Of him does Scripture say: And He said unto me: Thou art My servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified [Isa. 49:3].” On the other hand, those who are studious but dishonest and discourteous, serve to disgrace the Torah.41 In other words, intellectual activity, as important as it is, is not in itself sufficient and must be augmented by appropriate deeds and behavior to fulfill the expectations of the precept. A similar but more complex approach to the question is taken by the Hasidic master Schneur Zalman of Liadi in reference to the biblical injunction, I command you to do it, to love God (Deut. 11:22). He writes: “It is necessary to understand how an expression of doing can be applied to love, which is in the heart. The explanation, however, is that there are two kinds of love of God. One is the natural yearning of the soul to its Creator. When the rational soul prevails over the grossness [of the body], subdues and subjugates it, then [the love of God] will flare and blaze with a flame which ascends of its own accord.” This too, however, is rather elitist, and Schneur Zalman acknowledges that “not everyone is privileged to attain this state, for it requires,” echoing the sage Abaye, “a great deal of Torah and good deeds.” The second kind of love “is a love which every man can attain when he will engage in profound contemplation in the depths of his heart on matters that arouse the love of God which is in the heart of every Jew.”42 In other words, the second kind of love, consistent with general Hasidic thought, can be achieved by all without regard to intellectual attainment. This approach, however, is rejected by Stuart Rosenberg on the basis of the criteria provided by the prophet Hosea, that one knows God, as Rosenberg puts it, “by realizing His moral will through our own will. God is righteous, just,

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merciful and compassionate and man ‘connects up’ with God, knows Him, loves Him, when he willingly partakes of the divine nature.” Moreover, Rosenberg argues that the biblical idea of the love of God never intended to encourage an asocial, amoral, mystical union with the Godhead. “Imitation of God, by partaking of His moral law—not absorption into God—was the way in which the ‘knowledge of God’ became the ‘love of God.’ ”43 It is especially noteworthy that the focus in many of these teachings is on man’s affective behavior, his practical activity that directly and positively touches the lives of others. There is neither implication nor suggestion that one should seek to imitate those attributes of God that may have other evidently less favorable consequences for man. As Ben Zion Bokser observed: “The teachers of Judaism set bounds to this call to imitate God. We may only imitate His mercy and His love, not His sternness. The sterner aspects of God’s providence, those deriving from His role as Judge, are not invoked by the Rabbis as models for man’s imitation.”44 Moreover, Solomon Schechter pointed out that “it is distinctly taught that man should not imitate God in the following four things, which He alone can use as instruments. They are jealousy, revenge, exaltation, and acting in devious ways.”45 With regard to jealousy, it is written: For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God (Ex. 20:5). This was interpreted by the sage R. Judah haNasi as meaning: “A God above jealousy: I rule over jealousy, but jealousy has no power over me.”46 The evident implication of this is that it is only God, and not man, who can remain unaffected by jealousy.47 Accordingly, this is one divine attribute that man is not to emulate. With regard to revenge, the divine proscription is patent: Vengeance is Mine (Deut. 32:35). Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people (Lev. 19:18). Although Schechter does not elaborate on “exaltation” and “acting in devious ways,” their implications seem self-evident. Similarly, with respect to the divine exercise of stern judgment, it is God alone who has unerring knowledge of the universe and can truly judge the merits of the men He has created.48 Because of man’s basic limitations in this regard, he is adjured to function in strict accordance with the concepts of justice that are set forth for him in the Torah, and not on the basis of any self-styled analogy to his Creator. As Eliezer Berkovits put it, the idea that the ways of God become the laws of God for mankind “applies only to the extent to which those ways may be projected to the human scene. Insofar, however, God’s way is God’s mishpat [justice] as the cosmic order of God envisaged appropriateness, no imitatio Dei is possible.”49 The principal concern of Judaism with respect to the concept of the imitation of God is exclusively with fostering the attributes of positive morality and ethical conduct towards one’s fellow man. This perception is reflected quite clearly in prophetic teaching. Thus saith the Lord: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his

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riches; But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth, and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord who exercises mercy, justice, and righteousness, in the earth, for in these I delight (Jer. 9:22–23). Maimonides suggested that, “In this verse He makes it clear to us that those actions that ought to be known and imitated are loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness.”50 It would seem that Maimonides is implying that the only kind of conduct that is appropriate for man to imitate is that in which God might reasonably be understood to take “delight.” This would preclude emulating those stern characteristics that may be necessary to the workings of divine justice, but which we do not view as something in which God could reasonably take pleasure. Maimonides also enumerates imitatio Dei as one of the positive commandments of the Torah (eighth in the list), explaining that “we are commanded to be like God (praised be He) as far as it is in our power.”51 In his ethical teachings, Maimonides generally advocates pursuing the “middle way,” which has been identified with the Aristotelian doctrine of the golden mean or moderation in all things. It is interesting to note, however, that he conspicuously avoids relating that idea to imitatio Dei when he defines this commandment in his enumeration of the precepts of Judaism. To the contrary, as pointed out by Steven Schwarzschild, “he places heavy emphasis on the infinite, unattainable, radical character of imitatio Dei.”52 The apparent inconsistency of the ethical guidance implicit in these two approaches has generated substantial controversy among scholars for centuries up to the present. Thus, Joseph Klausner writes: “The characteristics of the divine ethic, that man is obligated to become one with, are certainly not characteristics of the ‘mean.’ The Lord is a ‘jealous God’; a ‘Consuming Flame’ . . . the Lord is the source of truth, righteousness and mercy, which are absolutely perfect; and for the one who attaches himself to His attributes, it is impossible that he should follow the ‘golden rule’ of Aristotle. He follows the path of the absolute ethical perfection of the prophets of truth and righteousness.”53 Nonetheless, the notion of pursuing the “middle way” has become so ingrained in traditional Jewish thought since talmudic times that numerous writers have incorporated the Maimonidean teaching in this regard into their recapitulations of the precept of imitatio Dei. 54 Thus, Aaron haLevi of Barcelona concludes his elaboration of the precept by stating that, “a person should choose, in all his affairs and actions . . . the good and the median way, and never to deviate to extremes.”55 Similarly, Eleazar Azikri writes in his sixteenth-century manual for the pious that it is a duty derived from the Torah “to resemble God . . . and that a person should conduct himself in all his affairs with moderation and not to go to extremes. This is the straight and good path that is called the ‘way of the Lord,’ with regard to which Abraham was commanded concerning his children. As it is written: that he may command his chil-

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dren and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the Lord” (Gen. 18:19).56 It is also noteworthy that, although the children of Israel are bidden to be holy just as God is holy, they are nowhere encouraged to attempt to become wise like God. Why is such the case? Would it not be desirable for man to seek ultimate wisdom? David Shapiro has suggested that “the wisdom Biblical man is commanded to seek is that which directs him to Imitatio Dei. That wisdom is synonymous with the knowledge of God which leads to mercy and righteousness.” However, man cannot attain to the wisdom of God, which is of another order. Divine wisdom, in the biblical perspective, is related to God’s creation of the universe. The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens. By His knowledge the depths were broken up, and the skies drop down the dew (Prov. 3:19–20). Therefore, “as a creative attribute, wisdom applies to God and not to man.”57 This would also seem to suggest that the search for “divine wisdom” would equate to the search for knowledge of the Maaseh Bereshit (The Account of the Beginning), esoteric knowledge that the rabbis sought to restrict to a limited group of adepts. Consequently, Judaism encourages man to emulate God in certain but not all respects. He is not to impersonate Him, nor is he to delude himself into believing that he too is in any sense omnipotent and omnicompetent. Man is admonished to avoid the temptation to such self-aggrandizement and self-delusion. Indeed, the very notion of man even aspiring to transcend his humanity is totally unacceptable, a point which the biblical author also makes unmistakably clear in the Garden of Eden narrative. It will be recalled that the central events of the episode in the garden revolve around the two trees that are found in its midst, the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” and the “tree of life” (Gen. 2:9). The principal drama initially concerns only the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a knowledge that is categorically forbidden to man and the acquisition of which brings in its train the threat of oblivion. Yet, notwithstanding the mortal consequences of his reaching for such knowledge, man is induced to defy the divine imperative and to take the fateful step. The biblical text leaves no doubt as to his motive in this. And the serpent said unto the woman: Ye shall not surely die; for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil (Gen. 3:4–5). Man is not satisfied merely to reflect the divine image; he wishes to be “as God.” What is at issue here is nothing less than the self-apotheosis of man. It is only at this point in the biblical narrative that the “tree of life” takes on critical significance. That is, it is only after man has defied God, by eating the fruit of the forbidden tree of knowledge, that we begin to understand the dramatic purpose of the tree of life. And the Lord God said: Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also

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of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever. Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:22–23). We are being told, in effect, that man must be prevented from setting himself up as a divine being, which is what presumably will happen if he is permitted to eat from the tree of life after having partaken of the tree of knowledge. Suddenly, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the dramatic focus of the narrative has shifted decisively to the tree of life, which previously had been ignored entirely. The reason for this begins to come clear when we ask ourselves why the man did not eat from the tree of life before he ate from the tree of knowledge. That is, why did he not do so before he consciously risked his life through his defiance of the divine imperative to desist from eating of the forbidden tree? It surely would have been most prudent on his part to do so. The tree of life would have served as a veritable insurance policy for him against the prospect of his own mortality. However, it would seem that it is precisely because he could have taken advantage of the protection provided by the tree of life at any time prior to his transgression of God’s will, but did not choose to do so, that he had to be prevented from doing so afterwards. And this notwithstanding that it necessitated his expulsion from the safe haven that had been established exclusively for his benefit in the first place. Why then did the man not eat of the tree of life, even if only as a strictly prophylactic measure, before he risked death by eating from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil? One rather intriguing possibility is that he failed to take advantage of the opportunity because he had already cultivated an unmistakable disdain for divine authority. Let us assume, for instance, that he did not believe that anything would or could happen to him as a result of his deliberate violation of God’s instruction. If he was convinced that he was in fact immortal, why should he bother to take any preventive security measures? This approach to understanding the biblical narrative is suggested by Ben-Zion Firer, who interpreted the story from the standpoint of the traditional rabbinic understanding of the fundamental nature of the sin of apostasy.58 In essence, the rabbis conceived of apostasy as taking one of two basic forms: mumar lete’avon (one whose apostasy is a consequence of an uncontrollable urge) and mumar lehakhis (one whose apostasy is calculated and deliberate, or as Solomon Schechter put it, for “the purpose of showing his rebellious spirit”59). Firer suggested that if Adam had been merely a mumar lete’avon, a man in command of his senses but driven by an uncontrollable urge, he would have eaten from the tree of life first. In this way he would have protected himself against the punishment that had been ordained for transgressing the command against eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Such a prudent defensive move on his part would clearly have indicated that he acknowledged and accepted the authority of the Creator, and that his transgres-

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sion of the divine imperative was due to a passion that he simply could not control. While this would in no way make such behavior on the part of man acceptable to God, it would nonetheless also render his transgression forgivable. On the other hand, the fact that he did not attempt to eat first from the tree of life suggests that Adam may have consciously rejected the ultimate authority and sovereignty of the Creator. His deliberate failure to take any protective measures beforehand effectively denigrated the divine capacity for intervention in the universe. By the very pattern of his conduct, Adam marked himself as a mumar lehakhis, as a conscious and free-willed apostate, one who aspired to elevate himself to the same level as his Creator.60 This interpretation of the biblical narrative helps explain why some of the sages went so far as to categorize Adam as a heretic.61 In effect, man sought to challenge God’s sovereignty and supplant it with his own. As a contemporary writer puts it, “eating from the Tree of Knowledge is the symbolic expression of man’s desire to cross over the line which separates man from God, creature from Creator. Through disobedience, man separates his will from the will of God as he seeks to become Lord and Master of his destiny, thereby replacing God as the source of ultimate knowledge and authority.”62 The biblical author relates that it was only after his conscious and deliberate violation of the divine prohibition that Adam suddenly became troubled by a sense of his own vulnerability and mortality. He recognized his calamitous error in judgment and attempted to hide from the wrath of God (Gen. 3:8), but it was already too late. As Samson R. Hirsch put it: “God had left it for him to decide, of his own free will, whether he would defer to the Will of God in determining what was good, what bad, and thereby tread the path of life, or decide himself what was good or evil and thereby have to be fated to death. Now he had decided that he would know himself what was good and evil.” But this was a wholly inappropriate and unacceptable role for him to attempt to play.63 It is therefore because of man’s moral failure that the tree of life takes on its new and critical importance in the narrative. The focus of divine concern at this point in the drama is the likelihood that man may falsely perceive the tree of life as actually offering a reprieve from the human condition engendered by man’s decision to opt for his own sovereignty in lieu of God’s. This would constitute an act of supreme hubris. Any attempt by man to eat of its fruit at this juncture would be for the sole purpose of enabling him to persist in his defiance of God’s will by effectively annulling the divine edict of punishment and reaffirming man’s self-exaltation. But we are informed that man was not going to be permitted to labor under such an illusion, which is why it became necessary for him to be expelled from Eden. Man must be compelled to acknowledge and confront the reality of the conditions he helped create through his actions. He is morally autonomous, but God is sovereign. Man must understand that he will be held accountable by that higher authority for the choices he makes.

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It is especially noteworthy that, although man is to be expelled from Eden as punishment for his transgression, he is precluded from availing himself of the “tree of life.” He might choose to defy God further and attempt to reach the tree, but he will not be permitted to do so. Insurmountable barriers, the cherubim, and the flaming sword which turned every way, were put in place to keep the way to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24). The self-deification of man is impermissible.

NOTES 1. The Wisdom of Ben Sira 15:14–17. 2. Eliezer Berkovits, God, Man and History, p. 80. 3. Abraham J. Heschel, Who Is Man?, p. 29. 4. Morris Joseph, Judaism as Creed and Life, p. 76. 5. Targum of Onkelos to Gen. 3:22 (found in most traditional Hebrew bibles). See also J. W. Etheridge, The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan ben Uziel on the Pentateuch, with the Fragments of the Jerusalem Targum, vol. 1, p. 42. 6. Solomon b. Isaac, Perushei Rashi al haTorah on Gen. 3:22. 7. Maimonides, Hakdamah leMassekhet Avot (Shemoneh Perakim), ch. 8. 8. Ephraim of Luntshits, Ir Gibborim, p. 12. 9. Heschel, God in Search of Man, p. 412. 10. Targum Yerushalmi to Gen. 4:8 (found in most editions of Mikraot Gedolot, the Rabbinic Bible). See also J. W. Etheridge, The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan ben Uziel on the Pentateuch, with the Fragments of the Jerusalem Targum, vol. 1, pp. 170–171. 11. Midrash Tanhuma, “Bereshit” 9. See also Meir L. Malbim, HaTorah vehaMitzvah on Gen. 4:9. 12. Emil Fackenheim writes in this regard: “Cain, the first murderer, maintains that almighty God has made him a murderer. But God replies that whereas He has created Cain free to choose, and hence free to choose murder, it is Cain, not God, who has in fact chosen it” (Quest for Past and Future, p. 197). 13. These distinctions derive from the biblical verse, And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, even all their sins (Lev. 16:21). See discussion of this verse in Yoma 36b. 14. Berkovits, “When Man Fails God,” in Abraham E. Millgram, ed., Great Jewish Ideas, p. 184. 15. Adin Steinsaltz, The Strife of the Spirit, p. 110. 16. Malbim, HaTorah vehaMitzvah, on Gen. 17:2. 17. Ibid. 18. Elijah Benamozegh, Israel and Humanity, p. 159. 19. Moses H. Luzzatto, Derekh Adonai, 1:2:2. 20. Charles B. Chavel, in his note on Positive Commandment #8 in Maimonides, The Commandments, p. 12. 21. David S. Shapiro, “The Doctrine of the Image of God and Imitatio Dei,” in Menachem M. Kellner, ed., Contemporary Jewish Ethics, pp. 135–136.

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22. Martin Buber, Israel and the World, p. 71. 23. Solomon Schechter, Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, p. 199. 24. Sifra, “Kedoshim,” 19:2, Parshata 1. 25. Leon Roth, The Imitation of God and the Idea of the Holy, pp. 3–10. 26. Shabbat 133b. See commentary of Rashi ad loc. In another place, we read: “Abba Saul says: Oh be like Him! Just as He is gracious and merciful, so be thou also gracious and merciful” (Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, “Shirata,” 3, vol. II, p. 25). 27. Numbers Rabbah 9:7, p. 248. 28. Ibid. 17:6. 29. Reuben Hoeshke, Yalkut Reuveni, vol. 1, p. 42. 30. Midrash Tanhuma, “Bereshit,” 6, on Gen. 3:22. 31. Sifre Deuteronomy, “Ekev” 11:22, Piska 49. 32. Sotah 14a. See also Megillah 31a; Midrash Tanhuma, Buber edition, “Vayera” pp. 42a–43b; Genesis Rabbah 8:13; Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:2, #2–#3. 33. See Maimonides, The Commandments, Positive Commandment #8; Moses of Coucy, Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, “Aseh,” #7; Aaron haLevi of Barcelona, Sefer haHinukh #608. 34. Moritz Lazarus, The Ethics of Judaism, Part 1, pp. 112–114. 35. Berkovits, Man and God, p. 186. 36. Sifre Deuteronomy, Piska 33. 37. Maimonides, The Book of Knowledge, “The Foundations of the Torah,” 2:2. 38. Ibid. 39. Maimonides, The Commandments, Positive Commandment 3. 40. Elijah Mizrahi, supercommentary on Rashi to Deut. 6:6. 41. Yoma 86a. 42. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Likutei Amarim—Tanya, Part 2, “Hinukh Katan,” p. 283. 43. Stuart E. Rosenberg, More Loves Than One, pp. 39–40. 44. Ben Zion Bokser, Judaism: Profile of a Faith, p. 162. In this same regard, Solomon Schechter wrote: “It is to be remarked that this God-likeness is confined to his manifestations of mercy and righteousness, the Rabbis rarely desiring the Jew to take God as a model in His attributes of severity and rigid justice, though the Bible could have furnished them with many instances of this latter kind” (Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, pp. 203–204). 45. Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, p. 204. This is based on Schechter’s edition of Midrash Hagadol (Cambridge, 1902), vol. 1, p. 549. See also Samuel Belkin, In His Image, p. 30. 46. Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, “BaHodesh,” 6, vol. II, p. 244. 47. Malbim (HaTorah vehaMitzvah on Ex. 20:5) notes that the form of the term for “I” in the biblical passage under discussion is anokhi rather than the more usual ani, and argues that the distinction between the two terms is that anokhi always implies some special relationship such as, in this case, exclusivity. That is, God says, in effect, I alone, and none other, have the indicated relationship to jealousy. On the distinction between the two forms of the personal pronoun, see Malbim, Yair Or, p. 18.

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48. This position is reflected in the midrashic comment on the passage, And the Lord said: I will blot out man whom I have created (Gen. 6:7). The commentator, employing a play on words, sees this as implying that, “I can impose an interdict upon My creatures, but My creatures cannot impose an interdict upon Me” (Genesis Rabbah 28:4). 49. Berkovits, Man and God, pp. 251–252. 50. Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, 3:54. 51. Maimonides, The Commandments, Positive Commandment 8, p. 11. 52. Steven Schwarzschild, The Pursuit of the Ideal, p. 141. 53. Joseph Klausner, Filosofim veHugei Deot, pp. 66–67. 54. Maimonides, Hilkhot Deot 1:4. 55. Aaron haLevi of Barcelona, Sefer haHinukh, # 608, pp. 727–728. 56. Eleazar Azikri, Sefer Haredim, “Positive Commandments,” 1:18, p. 48. 57. Shapiro, “Wisdom and Knowledge of God in Biblical and Talmudic Thought,” Tradition, vol. 13, no. 1, p. 72. 58. The principal talmudic source for these ideas is Hullin 4a–b. See also Tosafot on Hullin 3b, 4b, and Joseph Karo, Shulhan Arukh—Yoreh Deah 2:2–5. 59. Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, p. 220. 60. Ben-Zion Firer, Hegyonah shel Torah, vol. 1, p. 16. 61. Sanhedrin 38b. 62. Bernard Och, “The Garden of Eden: From Creation to Covenant,” Judaism, Spring 1988, p. 152. 63. Samson R. Hirsch, The Pentateuch on Gen. 3:22.

9

The Good and Evil Impulses

With the ethical imperative of imitatio Dei as his moral compass, man is expected to set out on an appropriate self-correcting and ennobling lifetime course of human conduct. However, his smooth progress in traveling this road is impeded by the consequences of his having both a human and an animal nature. He is confronted by the conflicting demands of opposing impulses or inclinations struggling for ascendancy within him, motive forces that reflect the fundamentally different aspects of his dual nature. The perennial challenge for man becomes that of striking and maintaining an appropriate balance between the demands of his human nature and those of his essentially animal nature. The first reflects the divine gift of personality imbued with the attributes of reason and will. The second is manifested by man’s propensity to respond to the instinctive drives that derive from his biological and physical needs. This dual nature of man, each component of which appears to be constantly struggling for self-expression and domination over the other, was epitomized in moral terms by the sage R. Nahman b. Hisda, who taught that “God created two inclinations, one good and the other evil.”1 Presumably, the “good” inclination refers to that which is associated with man’s divine-like attributes of intellect and will, whereas the “evil” one relates to man’s instinctive animal urges, passions, and appetites. The Hebrew noun, “yetzer,” that we translate here as “inclination” or “impulse,” derives from a root with the meaning “to form” or “to fashion.” The word therefore also means “form” or “frame.” However, when used with reference to the mind, it may mean “imagination,” “device,” “purpose,” or “drive.” The significant point, as observed by Erich Fromm, is that, “the Hebrew word indicates the important fact that evil (or good) impulses are possible only on

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the basis of something that is specifically human: imagination. For this very reason, only man—and not animals—can be evil or good. An animal can act in a manner which appears to us cruel (for instance a cat playing with a mouse), but there is no evil in this play, since it is nothing but the manifestation of the animal’s instinct. The problem of good and evil arises only where there is imagination.”2 The rabbinic formulation, which has become part of the conventional vocabulary of Judaism, has proven to be somewhat problematic when taken too literally. This is because of its use of the moral terms “good” and “evil” to characterize the essentially natural and therefore morally neutral inclinations that tend to pull the individual simultaneously in different directions, each of which may have very different moral consequences. As a result, the use of the word “evil” in this and similar rabbinic teachings has been understood by some as suggesting that the inclination or impulse so categorized should be considered intrinsically bad, wicked, or immoral. However, such an inference would be quite inconsistent with the general thrust of traditional rabbinic thought. At this point, I would simply note that Maimonides and his followers categorically reject the notion that “evil” has the objectively autonomous existence that would be necessary for an inclination to be intrinsically bad. Nonetheless, Judaism’s intellectual history reveals a relatively small number of thinkers who presumably have discovered that the notion of an inherently evil impulse in man helps them comprehend the tragic dimensions of man’s seemingly natural propensity for dehumanizing or evil behavior. As noted by one writer: “The specious theme of innate evil is constantly revived (in our times by sociobiologists) as an apologue cum censure of human mores. . . . The reason for its perennial revival rests in the satisfaction of an external explanation for evil and the attendant ease of forgetting the rather subtler dynamics of moral good and evil in human freedom.”3 Some turn for scriptural support of this idea to the passage in the Noah saga that describes God’s decision never to bring another Deluge upon the world because, as the biblical author put it, the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth (Gen. 8:21). This somewhat awkward and therefore problematic formulation has been cited by a minority school of Judaic thinkers as biblical evidence for the view that man’s behavior is conditioned, if not determined, by intrinsically evil forces that may be, or that are in fact, beyond the individual’s control. The sage R. Simeon b. Lakish appears to have been an advocate of this position. “The Evil Inclination of a man grows in strength from day to day and seeks to kill him . . . and were it not that the Holy One, blessed is He, is his help, he would not be able to withstand it.”4 In the medieval period, Judah b. Moses b. Hlava advocated a similar approach to understanding the intent of the biblical text. “It is not appropriate for the God who created man from the two elements of good and evil, and who instilled in him at birth the evil inclination together

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with the good, to blame man too much for his actions because his formative nature compels them.”5 That is, since the tendency in man towards evil is a direct consequence of the divine design, it does not seem reasonable to hold him accountable in a manner that might justify such an extreme punishment as a second Deluge. Similarly, a modern commentator, Israel J. Uzzieli, explains that the message of the biblical passage is simply that “man does not have the capacity to overcome his nature.”6 The implication of this argument is that if a person’s natural inclination is toward evil, his moral culpability should effectively be limited by that fact. It also reduces to virtual irrelevance the classical Judaic insistence on man’s moral autonomy. Not surprisingly, this deterministic approach to understanding the intent of the biblical author has long been dismissed out of hand by the majority of Judaic thinkers as a fundamentally erroneous opinion. One of the earliest and most explicit repudiations of this deterministic reading of Scripture was offered by the pseudepigraphical author who wrote: “Sin has not been sent upon the earth, but man of himself has created it, and under a great curse shall they fall who commit it.”7 The biblical passage was interpreted in a similar fashion by the sages, as well as by most of the later rabbinic commentators. Leo Baeck wrote in this regard: “For Judaism there is no sin in itself, but only man’s sin, the sin of the individual. Judaism knows nothing of the myth of sin, that myth of fate—its prophets destroyed the rudiments of such a myth—nothing of original sin, the advent and coming to be of sin, of which man is effect and object. Sin is a fate which the individual man prepares for himself by disowning himself, and by making of himself a mere object. He does not fall into the sin of fate, but into his sin of fate.”8 Evidently confronted by comparable challenges to the traditional concept of man’s moral autonomy, the sages took strong exception to the deterministic notion that man can be compelled in his behavior by intrinsically evil impulses that are beyond his control. With specific reference to the biblical statement that man’s imagination is evil from his youth, it was argued: “The Holy One, blessed be He, says: It is you who make it [the impulse] evil.” An alternate version renders the text as meaning: “And if you should argue that man is unable to control himself, the Holy One, blessed be He, says: You made it evil. Why did you not sin when you were a child, but only after you grew?”9 That is, the sages called attention to the fact that the scriptural passage under discussion does not assert that man’s heart is evil from the time of his birth, but only from his youth. The biblical choice of words is presumed to imply that the evil in question is not inherent in human nature but is an acquired characteristic, a view that was accepted unequivocally by the highly influential sage R. Judah haNasi.10 More than half a millennium later, Saadia Gaon claimed to find implicit scriptural support for the rejection of the notion of innate evil in man in the statement, Behold, this only have I found, that God made man upright; but they

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have sought out many inventions (Eccles. 7:29). In an inaugural letter issued upon his assuming leadership of the Babylonian gaonate, Saadia wrote to the communities under his jurisdiction: “Children of Israel! Remember that God has created you upright and that it is you who soil your souls for wickedness . . . and this is proved by the fact that little children do not lie until they are taught to do so.”11 In essence, the argument of Saadia and the earlier sages reflects the common experience of man that, as a child, he first develops the physiological aspects of his nature, which are manifested in his bodily needs, desires, and urges. Throughout his childhood, man is preoccupied with obtaining satisfaction of such demands. He remains effectively oblivious to the potentially corrupting influences of his instinctive impulses on his future moral development. It takes both time and some degree of maturity before a person becomes meaningfully aware that not everything that appeals to one’s senses is necessarily good for him. That is to say, it is only as the child begins to mature that he also begins to develop a conscience or moral sense that will lead him to constrain and assume personal responsibility for his behavior. Perhaps ruminating on this gap between the time when one is governed entirely by physiologically driven urges and when one begins to impose self-discipline on his conduct, one midrashic author observed that “the evil inclination is thirteen years older than the good inclination.”12 This statement was evidently understood by the medieval kabbalist Joseph Gikatilla to mean that the emergence of the good impulse is associated with the arrival of the child at the critical developmental stage of puberty.13 Maimonides went farther and suggested that the good inclination is only found in man when his intellect is perfected.14 In any case, the clear implication is that once one has come under the dominant influence of his evil impulse, it becomes very difficult even for the best of men to impose the rule of reason on their appetites. This is because the appetites are constantly being aroused by the various senses, especially the visual, as well as by the imagination.15 The difficulty one faces in this regard is captured in the simile of the sage R. Assi: “The evil inclination is at first like the thread of a spider, but ultimately becomes like cart ropes.”16 The longer one remains under its influence, the harder it becomes to break loose of its hold. The sages were acutely aware of the susceptibility of man to the evil inclination and developed the following exposition to emphasize that their concern was already foreshadowed in the biblical writings: The Evil Inclination has seven names. The Holy One, blessed be He, called it Evil, as it is said, For the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth [Gen. 8:21]. Moses called it the Uncircumcised, as it is said, Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart [Deut. 10:16]. David called it Unclean, as it is said, Create me a clean heart, O Lord [Ps. 51:12], which implies that there is an unclean one. Solomon called it the Enemy, as it is said, If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat and if he be thirsty give him water to drink. For

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thou wilt heap coals upon his head, and the Lord will reward thee [Prov. 25:21, 22]; read not, “will reward thee” but “will cause it to be at peace with thee.” Isaiah called it the Stumbling Block, as it is said, Cast ye up, Cast ye up, clear the way, take up the stumbling block out of the way of my people [Isa. 57:14]. Ezekiel called it Stone, as it is said, And I will take away the heart of stone out of your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh [Ezek. 36:26]. Joel called it the Hidden One, as it is said, But I will remove far off from you the hidden one [Joel 2:20]. Our Rabbis taught . . . [this] refers to the Evil Inclination, which is constantly hidden in the heart of man.17

The insidiousness of the evil impulse, and the process by which it imposes its dominating influence on man’s mind and will, is aptly described by Moses Alsheikh: “The evil impulse deceives slowly, until it takes control of a person. That is, before a youth knows to discern between good and evil, between sin and something else, the evil impulse contrives to teach him to do evil.”18 Or, as Malbim put it, employing a political simile, from the time of his birth man is like an anarchistic city in which the desultory appetite-driven inclinations of envy, pride, vengeance, and desire come and take up residence as citizens. As one matures and his reason begins to awaken, one discovers that the evil impulses he wishes to overcome are deeply imbedded in his character and have, in effect, become his second nature.19 The resulting tendency to indulge one’s appetites without moral restraint may be reinforced or curbed in one’s youth by the mores of the surrounding society.20 The propensity for evil that may be discerned in mature men should therefore be understood as a consequence, in large measure, of the moral environment within which one is nurtured from youth, and not as a negative attribute that is inherent in man’s nature. To assume the latter would be to pose a substantive challenge to the fundamental Judaic concept of man’s moral autonomy, which insists that each person has the native capacity to impose a moral discipline upon his actions. Accordingly, the rabbis insisted that there is no valid scriptural basis for assuming that there is something inherently evil about the so-called “evil impulse,” which therefore needs to be understood in a different way. One might take this argument a step farther and suggest that it is quite inconceivable, at least from the classical rabbinic perspective, that one would seriously conclude that God might create something that was intrinsically evil. Indeed, the biblical author may reasonably be understood as unequivocally rejecting such a possibility. We are expressly informed by him that, God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good (Gen. 1:31). By insisting that everything made by God is good, the biblical statement does not appear to leave room within the universe of divine creation for anything that is essentially and inherently evil. This argument is epitomized in the terse assertion of R. Hanina b. Pazzi that “nothing evil descends from above.”21 But if evil is not something that is intrinsically bad, what is it? Maimonides sought to explain the meaning of evil by arguing that it is nothing more than

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an expression for the absence of good, and that it therefore does not have any objective existence. He likened the notion of evil to the idea of darkness, a quality or condition that describes nothing more than the absence or deprivation of light. Maimonides suggested that this concept of evil was implicit in the otherwise enigmatic scriptural assertion: I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil (Isa. 45:7). He noted that in this passage Isaiah considers both darkness and evil to be non-existents, a conclusion that may be deduced from the prophet’s choice of verbs. “Consider that he [Isaiah] does not say, who makes darkness and who makes evil, for these are not existent things with which the word making could be connected. With regard to these two things, he simply uses the expression who creates. For this word has a connection with nonbeing in the Hebrew language.”22 Maimonides therefore concluded that “it may in no way be said of God . . . that He produces evil in an essential act; I mean that He, may He be exalted, has a primary intention to produce evil. This cannot be correct. Rather all His acts, may He be exalted, are an absolute good; for He only produces being, and all being is good.”23 In other words, evil emerges as an unintended byproduct of good, to which it is inextricably linked. Evil, however, does not have an independent existence. Moreover, according to Maimonides, good and evil are categories used to describe conscious moral choices rather than acts of natural necessity. “With regard to what is of necessity, there is no good and evil at all, but only the false and the true.”24 That is, by virtue of his innate intellectual capacity, man can discern between truth and falsity. Moral judgment, the ability to distinguish between good and evil, is not natural to man. It is a capability that must be acquired through instruction and guidance. This approach to explaining the source of evil is also expounded by the kabbalist Moses Cordovero in the form of a parable. “This is like the pure wheat, which had been cleaned from every impure element, but still, when a man eats it and the food has been digested in his stomach, a great deal of dirt and excrement will remain there. Now, can we say that when he ate that food he ate that dirt and excrement? Of course not, for before it was eaten, the food was clean and pure as it could be, completely separated from dirt and excrement. But after it was eaten, the best part is separated from the food, and the excrement remains, even though it did not exist till then.”25 Although the evil may be inherent in the good, it nonetheless has no independent existence. Adin Steinsaltz argues that most traditional thinkers do not see evil as a concrete subject or entity existing in and of itself. Even in those instances where the history of the world or the inner spiritual life of man are viewed as a battle between good and evil, “evil is not grasped as an essence to be defined independently. It is but the ‘other side’ (sitra achra, in the terminology of the Kaballah) of reality, which is good, and it has no existence or essential definition of its own.”26

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It is noteworthy that a contemporary of Maimonides rejected this entire approach. In the view of Abraham bar Hiyya, Scripture itself rejects it. Who is it that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not? Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good? (Lam. 3:37–38). In other words, “everything [including evil] proceeds from Him and is established by His Divine word.”27 Bar Hiyya suggests that the evil that God produces is a consequence of divine justice. “The attribute of justice is expressed in the equitable distribution of good and evil in the world—everyone of the righteous receiving his proper due, and each of the wicked according to what God deems fit.”28 There is also at least one not insignificant semantic problem with the approach of describing evil as a non-existent. The biblical text speaks of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9). And, as we are reminded from time to time, to have knowledge of something normally presupposes the existence of that which is or can be known.29 This causes us to ask, if the existence of evil is assumed to be illusory, what is it that the biblical author meant to convey by the phrase, “the knowledge of good and evil”?30 Moreover, common sense and the experience of daily life would argue that evil is hardly an illusion, that there is in fact real evil and not only good or its absence in the world. As Louis Jacobs points out, “to argue that evil is only the absence of good is merely playing with words. The problem is just as severe that the all-good and all-powerful God permits the absence of good. A victim tortured by the Gestapo suffered no less if his pain was attributed not to positive evil but to the absence of good.”31 Indeed, Eliezer Berkovits remarked somewhat caustically, “Only the power of metaphysical thought has ever dared to deny the reality of evil in defiance of overwhelming human experience.”32 Joseph B. Soloveitchik similarly observed: “Evil is a fact that cannot be denied. There is evil, there is suffering, and there are the pangs of hell in the world. Whoever wishes to deceive himself by diverting his attention from the breach in existence . . . is but a fool and a dreamer.”33 The truth of this argument would also appear to be affirmed by the rabbinic teaching, “It is incumbent on a man to bless [God] for the evil in the same way as for the good. As it says, And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart [Deut. 6:5] etc. ‘With all thy heart’ means, with thy two impulses, the evil impulse as well as the good impulse.”34 This seems to suggest that evil may indeed have an autonomous existence, and that it is not simply the absence of good as Maimonides and other medieval philosophers insisted. After all, the sages would hardly insist that we praise God for that which is merely the absence of something which He created. Hayyim Volozhiner, one of the seminal rabbinic thinkers of the early modern era, dealt with this issue in the context of the biblical narrative. He argued that the story of Adam and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil should not be interpreted as a saga of man succumbing to the evil inclination that is

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inherent in him. He insisted that Adam was in fact the exemplar of all that was best in mankind, without a trace of evil or evil inclination in him. “The powers of evil were extrinsic and independent of him.” What occurred was that, in the free exercise of his will, Adam consciously chose to enter into the domain of evil, notwithstanding the danger, just as a person might deliberately elect to walk into a fire. But because the evil inclination was not inherent in him, it took the intervention of the “serpent,” an external force for evil to subvert Adam through guile. It was only after he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that the evil inclination became part of his internal makeup.35 But how can the proposition that there are existents that are intrinsically evil be reconciled with the biblical assertion that everything that God created is essentially good? An approach taken by some is to argue that what we perceive as evil is actually a matter of perspective, and that we must continually remind ourselves that man’s perspective is not necessarily the same as God’s. What we deem to be evil may not be so from the standpoint of the ultimate divine purpose. Thus, as suggested by Joseph Albo, “since He is absolutely good and all His works are absolutely good and perfect, we must say that any evil which we see in His works (God forbid!) is for a good purpose, though we do not understand it.”36 Taking this approach a step farther, David Z. Hoffmann proposed that “the intention of Scripture is to teach us that everything created by God is good, and nothing that is evil results from Him. . . . Therefore, whatever appears as evil to us—is just appearance, because God saw that it was good.”37 The latter arguments suggest quite clearly that, if we were able to view the universe from the divine perspective, we would recognize that what we as humans perceive to be an evil may actually be a good. Our perception of evil, therefore, is merely a consequence of the necessarily limited human perspective that constrains us. This brings us back, in effect, to the seemingly incredible notion that evil as such is a non-existent, albeit an illusion that is all too often the directly experienced cause of deep anguish and very real pain and suffering. Joseph Klausner, writing as a non-theologian, suggests a somewhat different approach to the problem, resurrecting an argument from reason first broached in medieval times. Starting with the proposition regarding the unity of God, one must account for the existence of evil in the world, and there can be no doubt that there is indeed real evil that is clearly manifested daily. However, he argues, it is logically inconceivable, that both good and evil can emanate from God, because that would negate His internal coherence and therefore His unity. This argument was originally raised by Abraham ibn Daud. “We say now that it is impossible . . . that either evil or deficiency [can] go forth from God, may He be exalted, in any way. According to the intellect [this is so] because

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the intellect denies the combination of two contraries in a single subject. If good and evil could go forth from God . . . He would be composite.”38 Moreover, Klausner argues, one cannot take the extreme position that only evil emanates from God, because men desire the good, at least for themselves if not for others. Accordingly, we must conclude that God is the “embodiment of the absolutely good.” We must therefore also conclude that evil, in both its natural form (the evils that result from natural processes) and its human form, derives from only a single source—man. We thus have a situation where God wants only the good, but man does both good and evil. However, both nature and man are in divine hands. “Therefore, when man does evil he evokes the anger of God, God of the good, and as a reward for his wickedness, God causes evil to come to him either by means of nature or through his fellow man.” In other words, God creates evil only as a punishment for the evil perpetrated by man. And because God is the source of absolute good as well as absolute justice, “by means of the evil that He does to those who are wicked, He maintains the harmony of the universe which has been disrupted by evil acts.”39 Before proceeding to take issue with these arguments as being counterintuitive or perhaps even counterfactual, let us digress for a moment to consider what the terms “good (tov)” and “evil (ra)” actually mean, particularly as they are employed in the biblical and rabbinic literature. We may begin by asking what information we seek to convey when we say that something is “good.” In this instance, we are using the word as an adjective to describe a particular quality, although we have yet to define what that distinctive quality is. Maimonides raised this question as well and suggested that “good is an expression applied by us to what conforms to our purpose.”40 That is, if we undertake some action, and the results meet our expectations or desires, then we would consider the outcome to be “good.” Presumably, if the result of a particular action does not conform with the intent of its author, it would be considered by him to be “not good,” “bad,” or perhaps even “evil.” Employing the term “good” in this sense, when we say that a certain food is good for us, we mean that it serves the intended purpose of contributing to our physical well-being. On the other hand, if a certain food is unhealthy for us, we say it is not good or that it is bad. This should not be understood as suggesting that the food in question necessarily is intrinsically or categorically bad, but only that it is not good for a particular consumer or class of consumers, because it does not serve the intended purpose of contributing to their well-being. Maimonides’ understanding of the connotation of the term “good” is echoed by Samson R. Hirsch, who interpreted the biblical passage, And God saw that it was good (Gen. 1:10), as meaning “that it was in accordance with His plan for the world.”41 That is, everything created is equipped with all of the essential characteristics needed to fulfill its role in the divine scheme of creation.42

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Elaborating further on this idea, Eli Munk wrote: “Tov [good] is something which complies fully with an intended state, whether physical, spiritual, moral, or in any other way. It could not be ‘better,’ namely by that standard.” Moreover, Munk notes that when we designate something as good we generally do so with a particular standard in mind, against which the “something” may be evaluated qualitatively. According to this approach, whatever is designated good can only be considered as relatively good, since the act or event in question may not turn out to be good when assessed in reference to an alternative standard. Should such turn out to be the case, Munk asserts, “it would then be called ra [bad], a term describing something which is not perfect, irrespective of the degree of deficiency. Ra is, therefore, not necessarily ‘evil’ as that term is generally understood. When Isaiah says (XLV.7): [I make peace, and create evil] uvorey ra, he means: the Creator of what was not created in its final state.” That is, evil may be understood as a term for that which still remains to be perfected in accordance with a particular standard; when such is achieved, what was perceived as evil will be transformed into good. Munk goes on to argue that, with regard to man’s behavior, the relevant standard for evaluating human conduct was established by God and promulgated to man through the process of divine revelation. “Thus, a standard of correct behavior is set for man and known to him. Compliance with this standard achieves the ‘intended state’ of man, tov. . . . Deviation from the standard would then be ra, sub-standard.”43 In similar fashion, Martin Buber spoke of evil as reflecting a “lack of direction,” suggesting that evil represented the failure to achieve an intended goal.44 He expanded on this theme by arguing: “Good and evil, then, cannot be a pair of opposites like right and left or above and beneath. ‘Good’ is the movement in the direction of home, ‘evil’ is the aimless whirl of human potentialities without which nothing can be achieved and by which, if they take no direction but remain trapped in themselves, everything goes awry.”45 This same notion was also articulated by Abraham J. Heschel, who observed that “evil is divergence, confusion, that which alienates man from man, man from God, while good is convergence, togetherness, union.”46 “Good” may therefore be understood as a term that is applied to that which leads in a desired direction, while “evil” is employed to characterize a nonconstructive deviation from that course. Moreover, Heschel pointed out, we must not forget that evil thrives so well in the disguise of the good. . . . In Jewish mysticism we often come upon the view that in this world neither good nor evil exists in purity, and that there is no good without the admixture of evil nor evil without the admixture of good. The confusion of good and evil is the central problem of history and the ultimate issue of redemption. . . . The supreme task of man, his share in redeeming the work of creation, consists in an effort to separate good from evil and evil from good. Since evil can only

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exist parasitically on good, it will cease to be when that separation will be accomplished. Redemption, therefore, is contingent upon the separation of good and evil.47

Moreover, it seems evident that from the perspective of the writers just cited that the terms “good” and “evil” may be applied to things and natural events. However, such usage confuses the issue more than it clarifies it. It is therefore more appropriate as well as useful to consider “good” and “evil” to be principally moral categories that are employed in the traditional literature to characterize and classify the intent and consequences of the consciously motivated actions of God and man. It will prove helpful to bear this in mind when we return to a further discussion of the problem of evil later on in this work. Given the meaning of “good” as conformity with intention, as suggested by Maimonides, how are we to understand the intent of the rabbis in their use of the phrases, “good impulse” and “evil impulse?” According to Munk: “Man’s ability to form a decision complying with the [divinely ordained] standard is known as yetzer hatov [the good impulse]: forming an action to standard. His ability to deviate from the standard is known as yetzer hara [the evil impulse]: forming a sub-standard action.”48 However, this explanation of the “impulses” as capabilities does not exhaust the content of these terms as they are used in the traditional literature of Judaism. The “evil impulse” also serves as a rabbinic expression that is employed to convey the idea of man’s moral potential in addition to that of his volitional capability. That is, the phrase is also used to refer to a person’s natural inclination toward certain behaviors that are likely to have undesirable or evil consequences or that, at the least, will result in conduct that is out of conformity with the guidance and norms set forth in the Torah. Viewed from this perspective, the notion of the “evil impulse” is employed by the rabbis to refer to that natural human appetite which, if indulged without restraint, will eventuate in evil in the sense that the word is ordinarily understood, as something ill-intentioned and harmful to others. This is not to suggest that the compulsion, urge, or desire under discussion is necessarily and intrinsically bad for man and therefore something to be studiously avoided or totally suppressed. On the contrary, some substantive aspects of the “evil impulse” may be inherently good for man because they are essential to his general well-being. In this regard, it was noted by the rabbis that “the Holy One, blessed be He, created the evil impulse for [the benefit of] man, who must eat and drink as does an animal.”49 What the rabbis meant by this is that without the natural animal appetites encompassed by the “evil impulse,” man might not seek the nourishment he requires for his very survival. Pursuing this notion farther, the rabbis also took note that, “If not for the ‘evil impulse’ men would not build homes, marry, have children and carry on the necessary activities of life.”50 That is, without any concession to his natural sexual drive, man would neither mate nor replenish his species. Viewed from this perspective, the “evil impulse” may be considered as inherently necessary and desirable an

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aspect of man’s complex nature as is the “good impulse.” However, as already indicated, there is also a potentially negative and counterproductive aspect to the “evil impulse.” Overindulgence of the “evil impulse” may lead to morally undesirable outcomes. For example, with regard to man’s sexual drive, too great a focus on its satisfaction may result in lust and promiscuity and the ultimately counterproductive consequences of these immoral behaviors for both the individual and society. Similarly, a natural acquisitive drive may be essential to achieving a necessary and desirable degree of economic self-sufficiency and viability. At the same time, however, any excessive self-indulgence of such a propensity may result in the promotion of the negative and socially undesirable attributes of greed and avarice. The expected result of such unrestrained indulgence of the “evil impulse” would be the repudiation of the ethical and behavioral norms of the Torah as the standards for proper human conduct. In effect, it would constitute a rejection of the fundamental principle of imitatio Dei. The moral state of each individual is thus held to be critically dependent upon the extent to which one is able to impose self-restraint on one’s natural inclination toward unlimited self-gratification. Reflecting their rather realistic assessment and appreciation of human nature and its foibles, the rabbis recognized that there would be vast disparities among people with respect to their ability to exercise the desired degree of self-control. They considered it reasonable to expect that every individual would be likely to react to the urgings of the “evil impulse” differently, each in accordance with his own natural predilections as they might be constrained or disciplined through prior moral conditioning. Nonetheless, R. Jose the Galilean suggested that people tend to fall into three general groupings, the righteous, the wicked, and everyone else: “The righteous are swayed by their good inclination. . . . The wicked are swayed by their evil inclination. . . . Average people are swayed by both inclinations.”51 Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the principal concern of the sages was not with either extreme, but rather with the average person whose moral well-being often seemed to hover precariously at the edge of a precipice. Their primary interest was in trying to help tip the moral balance of the common man in favor of the “good impulse.” Recapitulating these traditional rabbinic ideas about the good and evil inclinations, Martin Buber wrote: This important doctrine cannot be understood as long as good and evil are conceived, as they usually are, as two diametrically opposite forces or directions. Its meaning is not revealed to us until we recognize them as similar in nature, the evil “urge” as passion, that is, the power peculiar to man, without which he can neither beget nor bring forth, but which, left to itself, remains without direction and leads astray, and the good “urge” as pure direction, in other words, as an unconditional direction, that towards God. To unite the two urges implies: to equip the absolute potency of passion with the one di-

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rection that renders it capable of great love and great service. Thus and not otherwise can man become whole.52

In the traditional Judaic view, it becomes the autonomous moral responsibility of the individual to impose constraints on his natural appetites, and thereby to gain mastery over the conflicting forces and drives raging within him. He is expected to accomplish this primarily by successfully exploiting the divine attribute of reason with which he has been endowed since birth. This perspective was emphasized in medieval times by Joseph ibn Tzaddik. “In my view, the ‘good impulse’ is the intellect that is given to man for his benefit, to enable him to choose between one act and another, whereas the ‘evil impulse’ is the base appetites that the intellect must control.”53 It is significant that Ibn Tzaddik used the term “control” and not “eliminate.” As already noted, there are positive aspects of the “evil impulse” that are deemed essential to the well-being of man. The necessity of preserving what is of value in the “evil impulse,” while controlling what tends to become dysfunctional from a moral standpoint, is a recurrent theme in rabbinic literature. An interesting example is the manner in which this theme is woven into a rather complex talmudic allegory concerning Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. According to the story, people sought to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the sanctity of the day to destroy the evil impulse. They said: “Since this is a time of Grace, let us pray for mercy for the Tempter to evil.” That is, it would be a sign of divine mercy if they were to become free of the evil impulse. “They prayed for mercy, and he was handed over to them.” But, God said to them: “Realize that if you kill him, the world goes down.” That is, the perpetuation of the species depends upon the continued functioning of the sexual drive, and to destroy it is to cancel the future of humanity. Not knowing quite what to do, “they imprisoned him for three days, then looked in the whole land of Israel for a fresh egg and could not find it.” They discovered for themselves that in the absence of his sexual urge, man is not motivated to procreate. By detaining the Tempter, they found that they had interrupted the natural reproductive process that was critical to their survival as a species. “Thereupon they said: What shall we do now? Shall we kill him? The world would go down. Shall we beg for half-mercy [that the Tempter should be allowed to live but not to tempt]? They do not grant ‘halves’ in heaven.” Since it is in the nature of the Tempter to tempt, it is unreasonable to ask that his essential nature be altered to make things easy for man. They concluded that the only viable alternative was to impose limits on the Tempter’s freedom of action. “They put out his eyes and let him go. It helped inasmuch as he no more entices men to commit incest.” By keeping temptation within morally acceptable bounds through the imposition of appropriate restraints, the sexual urge could be permitted to function naturally while avoiding the excesses that may lead to moral depravity.54 It is noteworthy that

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the resolution in the allegory implicitly connects immoral excesses with the visual sense. Seen from this perspective, the great moral challenge for the average person is to establish and maintain the proper balance between the good and evil impulses that are inherent in his personality by virtue of his very being, impulses that are instilled in man for his ultimate benefit. It becomes essential that man learn to avoid the extremes of materialism and self-indulgence on the one hand and that of an exaggerated asceticism on the other, both of which can lead to moral corruption, one through decadence and the other through arrogance. In other words, man must seek to follow a middle path in life. This point is clearly reflected in the following relevant assertions recorded in the Talmud: R. Hiyya b. Ashi said in the name of Rab: A disciple of the Sages should possess an eighth [of pride]. R. Huna the son of R. Joshua said: [This small amount of pride] crowns him like the awn of the grain. Raba said: [A disciple of the Sages] who possesses [haughtiness of spirit] deserves excommunication, and if he does not possess it he deserves excommunication. . . . R. Joshua b. Levi further said: He who calculates his ways in this world will be worthy to behold the salvation of the Holy One, blessed be He; as it is said, To him that ordereth his way will I show the salvation of God [Ps. 50:23]—read not ve-sam [that ordereth] but ve-sham [that calculates] his way.55

According to the great codifier of Jewish law Joseph Karo, this passage serves as the source for Maimonides doctrine of the “middle way,” discussed earlier,56 which he sets forth as follows: “The straight way is the intermediate in every one of all the opinions that man holds. This is the opinion that is far from both extremes, equidistant and not nearer to one or the other. Therefore, our early Sages commanded that man should calculate his thoughts always, measuring them and orienting them towards the middle way so that he may be perfected in his being.”57 An essential condition for achieving the proper balance in one’s conduct is for man to be constantly alert to the distinction between what is truly good for him, and therefore something to be pursued, and what is ultimately bad and therefore to be avoided. In the rabbinic view, of course, the necessary guidance to assist man in making such assessments is to be found in the teachings and precepts of the Torah. The rabbis taught: “Even so did the Holy One, blessed be He, speak unto Israel: My children! I created the Evil Desire, but I [also] created the Torah, as its antidote; if you occupy yourselves with the Torah, you will not be delivered into his hand.”58 This thought was amplified by R. Johanan in the form of a parable of a king who in the course of his travels came across a house with a dining hall and other chambers that were unoccupied. The king entered and occupied these rooms, from which no one could subsequently dislodge him. “Whenever words

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of Torah enter to find the chambers of one’s heart vacant, they settle there and make themselves at home, and the inclination to Evil cannot prevail over them, nor can anyone dislodge them.”59 In another place, R. Johanan is reported to have taught: “Blessed is Israel; when they occupy themselves with Torah and acts of kindness their inclination is mastered by them, not they by their inclination.”60 The addition of “acts of kindness” was deemed of particular importance by some commentators because it elevates even unlearned practitioners of the teachings of the Torah to the level of the sages of the Torah, effectively democratizing the Torah-derived ability to master one’s “evil” inclinations.61 Complementing man’s moral autonomy is the burden of responsibility and accountability. The sage R. Samuel b. Nahman proposed, with regard to the latter, that anyone who wished to maintain control over his evil inclinations should keep a moral balance sheet in his head. Each person should “consider the account of the world; the loss incurred by the fulfillment of a precept against the reward secured by its observance, and the gain gotten by a transgression against the loss it involves.”62 Moses H. Luzzatto understands the sage as suggesting that a person should not undertake any course of action without first determining its ethical character and the moral consequences it is likely to have. Going a step farther, Luzzatto urged that a person should “investigate even the good actions themselves, in order to find out whether they contain any questionable admixture, or any element of evil. . . . In short, a man should be so attentive to his actions, and so watchful of his conduct, that he will not tolerate in himself any bad habit or tendency, much less any actual sin or transgression.”63 Notwithstanding the powerful influence of man’s natural appetites on his will, the predominant tendency among traditional Judaic thinkers is to insist that man is fully capable of imposing his control over them if he but choose to do so. As the sage R. Simon put it: “If your impulse seeks to incite you to frivolous conduct, banish it with words of Torah. . . . Should you say that it is not under your control . . . [God says,] I have declared unto you in the Scriptures, Unto thee is its desire, but thou mayest rule over it (Gen. 4:7).”64 The ultimate test of man’s humanity is therefore the manner and extent to which he exhibits conscious and enlightened control of his appetites and passions while seeking realization of his creative potential as one fashioned in the image of God. The degree of one’s humanity, that which distinguishes him from other beings, becomes a function of his moral autonomy and the readiness with which he assumes responsibility for his actions. However, as Berkovits points out, “Judaism has no illusion regarding man’s difficulty in gaining control over the inclination of his heart. It is a never-ending struggle, and what is gained today may easily be lost tomorrow. . . . Mastery over the evil inclination is never a condi-

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tion which a man reaches; it is an event through which he passes, a station from which he has to move on to the next phase.”65 In the biblical paradigm, man is seen as locked in a continuing struggle with the natural world for his very survival. And, it is within this contentious environment that man must strive to maintain his essential distinctiveness from the rest of creation. God’s first commandment to man is therefore to take the necessary steps to conquer raw nature and subordinate it to his will. Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and of every living thing that creepeth upon the earth (Gen. 1:28). The biblical author clearly considers man’s mastery of his environment to be a precondition for his life as a human. But, in the process of this struggle with nature, man must be careful to avoid effectively becoming one with nature. As one created in the image of God, man must never forget his special role in the universe, which requires him to struggle to transcend nature rather than to passively succumb to it. In a sense, man’s affinity to God may be considered to vary inversely with the degree of his subservience to the imperatives of his own animal nature. In this contest for supremacy, man must conquer or be vanquished and reduced to the level of the nonhuman, entirely subservient to the regime of the natural order. As an integral part of the natural world, man is of course subject to its physical and biological laws. And, in this respect, man is not very different from the other creatures of the universe. Like them, his natural appetites and urges are aroused in response to stimulation by the physiological and biochemical processes taking place within him. It is only by the extent to which man is capable of exercising his reason and will, and thereby of asserting his moral independence from the yoke of nature, that he affirms the purported reflection of divinity within him. Nature itself is morally neutral and cannot be determinative of man’s moral posture. In the biblical view, as discussed earlier, nature must be considered as intrinsically good because it serves the divine purpose. Insofar as he constitutes an element of nature, man too is conceived as essentially good. It is man’s God-given capacity to transcend the natural, to place limits upon it, to curb its powerful influences on his behavior, that creates the possibility of evil, defined as that which does not properly serve the divine intent and purpose. As Hirsch points out, man’s essential humanity is a function of how successfully he governs himself. “Moral freedom, freedom of will . . . itself is unthinkable without the ability to sin, and the ability to sin presupposes irrefutably that evil does have an attraction to our senses, and that goodness finds opposition in them. Otherwise the choice of ‘good’ and the avoidance of ‘bad’ would be instinctive in Man as it is in animals, and human beings would not be ‘men.’ In this mastering sensual urges, in this subordinating his sensual pleasure to the Will of God, human beings rise to be ‘men.’ ”66

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NOTES 1. Berakhot 61a; Genesis Rabbah, 14:7. See an extensive discussion of the “evil impulse” in Solomon Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, pp. 242–292. Yeshayahu Leibowitz suggested that “the notion ‘good impulse’ does not exist in actuality. The good impulse is a metaphoric expression [that is applied] to man’s conscious struggle with the evil impulse” (Al Olam uMelo’oh, p. 148). 2. Erich Fromm, You Shall Be As Gods, p. 126. 3. Saadia Gaon, The Book of Theodicy: Translation and Commentary on the Book of Job, ch. 15, note 26, pp. 271–272. 4. Sukkah 52b. 5. Judah bar Moses b. Hlava, Imre Shefer on Gen. 8:21, pp. 87–88. A similar interpretation is offered by Hayyim ibn Attar, Or haHayyim, ad loc., who adds that, “in any case, man will be punished because he did not listen to the voice of God,” because he nonetheless has the capacity to discern good from evil. 6. Israel Joseph Uzzieli, Binah beMikraot ubeMeforshim: Sefer Bereshit on Gen. 8:21, p. 32. 7. Enoch 98:4. 8. Leo Baeck, The Essence of Judaism, p. 163. 9. Midrash Tanhuma, “Bereshit,” 6, on Gen. 3:22. 10. “Antoninus also enquired of Rabbi, ‘From what time does the Evil Tempter hold sway over man; from the formation [of the embryo], or from [its] issuing forth [into the light of the world]?’—‘From the formation,’ he replied. ‘If so,’ he objected, ‘it would rebel in its mother’s womb and go forth. But it is from when it issues.’ Rabbi said: This thing Antoninus taught me, and Scripture supports him, for it is said, At the door [i.e., where the babe emerges] sin lieth in wait” [Gen. 4:7] (Sanhedrin 91b). See also Genesis Rabbah 34:10. 11. Franz Kobler, ed., Letters of the Jews Through the Ages, vol. 1, p. 89. See also Saadia Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, 6:4, p. 249. 12. Ecclesiastes Rabbah 9:15:8 (9:22 in Hebrew editions). David Kimhi comments that the evil impulse is present in man before the good impulse, and that the latter does not begin to exert any influence until one begins to mature (Perush Radak al haTorah on Gen. 8:21, p. 29a). 13. Joseph Gikatilla, Sefer haMeshalim, #39. See also #40–#50 for an extended discussion of the various aspects of the evil inclination in a series of similes. 14. Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, 3:22. 15. En Solomon Astruc of Barcelona commented that “the appetite overpowers him and rules him before he is able to discern between good and evil” (Midreshei haTorah on Gen. 8:21, p. 12). 16. Sukkah 52a. 17. Ibid. 18. Moses Alsheikh, Torat Moshe on Gen. 8:21. See also David Z. Hoffmann, Sefer Bereshit, ad loc. 19. Malbim, HaTorah vehaMitzvah on Gen. 8:21. 20. Aaron Marcus, Kesset haSofer on Gen. 8:21, p. 215. 21. Genesis Rabbah 51:3.

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22. The verb “create,” in Maimonides’ view, relates to creation from nothing, whereas “making” obviously relates to forming something from already existing material. 23. Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, 3:10. 24. Ibid., 1:2. 25. Moses Cordovero, Pardes Rimonim, 53c, cited by Joseph Dan, “No Evil Descends from Heaven,” in Bernard Dov Cooperman, Jewish Thought in the Sixteenth Century, p. 92. 26. Adin Steinsaltz, The Strife of the Spirit, p. 112. 27. Abraham bar Hiyya, The Meditation of the Sad Soul, Part 4, p. 119. 28. Ibid., p. 122. 29. Sidney Breitbart, The Challenge of God to Man, p. 103–104. 30. Some modern commentators maintain that the phrase “good and evil” is merely an expression meaning “everything” and does not really refer to evil as such. Thus, Nahum Sarna: “ ‘Good and bad’ [are] undifferentiated parts of a totality, a merism meaning ‘everything’ . . . [after eating the fruit] their intellectual horizons are immeasurably expanded” (The JPS Torah Commentary, Genesis [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989], p. 19). 31. Louis Jacobs, Faith, p. 115. 32. Eliezer Berkovits, “Reconstructionist Theology: A Critical Evaluation,” Tradition, vol. 2, no. 1, 1959, p. 35. 33. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “Kol Dodi Dofek,” in BeSod haYahid vehaYahad, p. 336. 34. Mishnah Berakhot 9:5. 35. Hayyim Volozhiner, Nefesh haHayyim, 1:6. 36. Joseph Albo, Sefer Ha’Ikkarim, vol. 4, Part 2, p. 485. 37. David Z. Hoffmann, Sefer Bereshit on Gen. 1:4–5, p. 26. 38. Abraham ibn Daud, The Exalted Faith, 202a2–7, p. 245. 39. Joseph Klausner, Yahadut veEnoshut, vol. 1, pp. 155–156. 40. Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, 3:13. 41. Hirsch, The Pentateuch, ad loc. See also Nahmanides, Perushei haRamban al haTorah, ad loc.; Obadiah Sforno, Biur al haTorah, ad loc. and commentary on Gen. 2:18; Samuel David Luzzatto, Perush Shadal al Hamisha Humshei Torah, ad loc. and on Gen. 2:18. 42. Bernard Och, “Creation and Redemption: Towards a Theology of Creation,” Judaism, vol. 44, no. 2, p. 229. 43. Eli Munk, The Seven Days of the Beginning, pp. 47–48. The text of Isaiah reads: I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil. The context of the passage indicates that the “evil” the prophet speaks of is intended to reflect the opposite or absence of “peace,” and therefore refers to war, just as darkness implies the absence of light. In this regard, see David Kimhi, Perush haRadak on Isa. 45:7. This question is also addressed by David Z. Hoffmann, who suggests that the prophet is referring to a deficiency that is correctable (Sefer Bereshit, p. 26). 44. Martin Buber, Good and Evil, p. 130. 45. Buber, Between Man and Man, p. 78. Steinsaltz refers to evil as “merely ‘chaos’ or ‘vanity’ ” (The Strife of the Spirit, p. 112). 46. Abraham J. Heschel, Man Is Not Alone, p. 120.

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47. Heschel, The Insecurity of Freedom, pp. 134–135. 48. Munk, The Seven Days of the Beginning, p. 90. 49. Tanna Devei Eliyahu Zuta 12. 50. Genesis Rabbah 9:9. 51. Berakhot 61b. For a variation on this theme, see The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan, ch. 32. 52. Buber, Good and Evil, p. 97. 53. Joseph ibn Tzaddik, HaOlam haKatan, p. 70. 54. Yoma 69b. 55. Sotah 5a–5b. 56. Joseph Karo, Kesef Mishne on Maimonides, Hilkhot Deot 1:4. 57. Maimonides, Hilkhot Deot 1:4. 58. Kiddushin 30b. See also Baba Batra 16a for an abbreviated version of this statement. This same thought is found in the Zohar (1:23a). “If God had not created man in this way, with good and evil inclination . . . created man would have been capable neither of virtue, nor of sin; but now that he has been created with both, it is written, I have set before thee life and death, [the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life]” (Deut. 30:19). 59. The Midrash on Proverbs, ch. 24. 60. Avodah Zarah 5b. The consensus of the classic commentaries on the Talmud, including Rashi, Tosafot, and others, is that the reference here is to the “evil inclination.” This interpretation has been disputed by Moritz Lazarus, who insists that it refers to “man’s vital and active impulse in general” (The Ethics of Judaism II, p. 107). 61. Josiah Pinto, Me’or Einayim, ad loc. 62. Baba Batra 78b. See also Avot 2:1. 63. Moses Hayyim Luzzatto, Mesillat Yesharim: The Path of the Upright, pp. 44–48. 64. Genesis Rabbah 22:15. See also Kiddushin 30b. The same theme is reflected in the teaching of R. Levi b. Hama: “A man should always incite the good impulse to fight against the evil impulse. . . . If he subdues it, well and good. If not, let him study the Torah. . . . If he subdues it, well and good. If not, let him remind himself of the day of death” (Berakhot 5a). 65. Eliezer Berkovits, “When Man Fails God,” in Abraham E. Millgram, ed., Great Jewish Ideas, pp. 187–188. 66. Hirsch, The Pentateuch on Gen. 2:16–17.

10

Divine Omniscience and Moral Autonomy

The idea of special providence, the manifestation of the divine concern with man and God’s direct involvement in his history, is intimately related to the classical Judaic conception of God as both all-knowing and all-powerful. Indeed, without the attribution of such omnicompetence to God the concept of hashgahah would be emptied of all content. Accordingly, the traditional ascription of the attributes of omniscience and omnipotence to God may be considered essential to the Judaic conception of the nature of His providential engagement with the universe and the complex relationship between God and man. Nahmanides went so far as to assert that anyone who denied divine omniscience, with regard to the past, present, and future, in effect also denied the possibility of hashgahah and therefore of the Torah in its entirety.1 Nonetheless, there has been little agreement over the centuries among Judaic thinkers with regard to the substantive nature of the essential competencies attributed to God. The principal issue in contention is whether God’s knowledge and power should be characterized as unequivocally absolute and unlimited, or as qualified, less than total and less than perfect. Despite this long-standing controversy, there is a broad consensus among Judaic thinkers that it would be intellectually difficult to sustain the crucial concept of divine providence without assuming divine knowledge of all that transpires in the universe. Moreover, one would also have to assume a divine ability to shape historical events to comport with His will and purpose. Somewhat surprisingly, given their acknowledged theological importance, the classical literature of Judaism does not devote much space to the discussion and elaboration of these divine attributes. However, one should not therefore assume that this lacuna reflects a less than significant concern with the sub-

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ject. It is far more likely that the constrained treatment it received from the biblical authors was a consequence of the difficulties they encountered in dealing with the question. Working out a satisfactory resolution of the paradoxical implications of a belief in divine omnipotence and omniscience and the equally critical belief in man’s moral autonomy was truly a mind-boggling task. As a result, one of the few explicit scriptural expressions of the idea that God is both all-powerful and all-knowing is the declaration of Job: I know that Thou canst do every thing, and that no purpose can be withholden from Thee (Job 42:2). But, despite the paucity of explicit literary references to these divine attributes, it can readily be seen that the works of the biblical authors are thoroughly imbued with unequivocal faith in the absolute omnicompetence and wisdom of God. As suggested, the very notion of divine omnicompetence engenders some major conceptual problems for Judaic thinkers. Perhaps the foremost of these is the fairly obvious incompatibility of the notion of divine omniscience with the concepts of human free will and the freedom to make morally significant choices. The latter, of course, are crucial to the traditional belief in reward and punishment, a belief that undergirds much of biblical and rabbinic teaching and legislation. REWARD AND PUNISHMENT As remarked by one modern writer: “Belief in retribution is an essential doctrine of every religion. It serves as an incentive to the worship and service of God. In Judaism, a religion of laws, instructions, and commandments given by an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God, this doctrine assumes even greater importance. The word of God, vouchsafed in Torah and reiterated through his prophetic messengers, cannot be contradicted.”2 The early biblical writers appear to have understood reward and punishment, universal, national, and individual in an imminent this-worldly sense. The Torah thus states: See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil, in that I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances; then thou shalt live and multiply, and the Lord thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest in to possess it. But if thy heart turn away, and thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; I declare unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish; ye shall not prolong your days upon the land. (Deut. 30:15–18)

In this same vein, Isaiah writes: Say ye of the righteous, that it shall be well with him; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe unto the wicked! It shall be ill with him; for the work of his hands shall be done to him (Isa. 3:10–11).

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By talmudic times, undoubtedly as a consequence of the protraction of messianic expectations to an indeterminate future, the doctrine underwent some modification, transforming it from a this-worldly notion of reward and punishment to a more spiritual otherworldly set of expectations. However, the motivation for this change was not necessarily or primarily theological in nature. The doctrine of reward and punishment was considered essential to Judaism itself. Put simply, if there is no divine reward and punishment, there is also no self-evident reason why anyone should be troubled about compliance with any of the precepts of the Torah. A legend recorded in an ancient rabbinic work relates that the rise of the Pharisees and the Sadducees resulted from a division of Judaean society in the middle of the second-century B.C.E. that began with a major controversy over the question of reward and punishment. The proximate cause of this split is supposed to have occurred over the interpretation of a teaching by the early sage Antigonus of Sokho: “Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of compensation; be rather like servants who serve their master with no thought of compensation.”3 Understood from a traditional perspective, what the sage seems to be professing is that one’s conformance with the precepts of the Torah should not be perfunctory except when there is an expectation of some special individual beneficence. On the contrary, he teaches that observance of the precepts should always be accomplished with alacrity and devotion, even if there is no expectation of a gratuitous personal reward. That is, the observance of the precepts has intrinsic merit and for that reason alone should be done faithfully. He does not suggest that there will be no individual reward, simply that it should not be a factor in the character of one’s relation to the Torah. As Joseph Albo put it, in direct reference to the teaching of Antigonus of Sokho, “this does not mean that there is no reward and punishment, Heaven forbid!” The statement should be understood as saying, “one who serves God from love must not be prompted in his service by love of reward and fear of punishment, though he believes that there is reward in store for those who believe and fear God and think on His name.”4 However, it appears that this teaching was understood rather differently by two of Antigonus’ disciples, who formed schools that differed significantly from the traditional mainstream. These argued: “Why did our ancestors see fit to say this thing? Is it possible that a laborer should do his work all day and not take his reward in the evening? If our ancestors, forsooth, had known that there will be a resurrection of the dead, they would not have spoken in this manner.” Accordingly, the Sadducees asserted: “It is a tradition amongst the Pharisees to afflict themselves in this world; yet in the world to come they will have nothing.”5 That is, although the Sadducees believed in reward and punishment, they understood it in the classical biblical this-worldly sense only,

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that, as will be discussed later, left little room for hope in the face of historical circumstances which precluded balancing the scales of divine justice in the here and now. Antigonus of Sokho may also be understood as suggesting, albeit implicitly, the idea that virtue is its own reward. The sage Simeon ben Azzai articulated this notion in more explicit terms some two centuries later, asserting that “one good deed brings another in its train, and one sin another sin; for the reward of a good deed is a good deed, and the wages of sin is sin.”6 Nonetheless, it seems rather unlikely that this virtually complete spiritualization of the doctrine of reward and punishment could inspire more than a few exemplary philosophically oriented souls. Accordingly, the more mainstream version of the doctrine continued to be viewed as essential in encouraging the people at-large to observe the precepts of the Torah. Maimonides therefore felt justified in elevating the doctrine of reward and punishment to a principal tenet of Judaism. It appears as the eleventh of the thirteen principles of faith that he enumerated, and states that “the Exalted One rewards the one who observes the commandments of the Torah, and punishes the one who transgresses its admonitions.”7 This formulation in a slightly modified form is included in the daily liturgy and thus into the consciousness of the traditional worshipper.8 Albo, who disagreed with Maimonides’ enumeration of the principles of the faith, gave even greater prominence to the doctrine in his own work: “The principles of divine law are three: existence of God, divine revelation, and reward and punishment.”9 What is the nature of the reward and punishment postulated by the doctrine? This is a question to which there can be no reasonable answer. The theories enunciated by traditional thinkers, over the course of more than half a millennium, range as far as the human imagination can take one, and will not be discussed here because they cannot be grounded in Scripture and therefore merely represent individual efforts to cope with the completely unknowable. Suffice it to note that there is no consensus whatever in this regard beyond the assertion of the centrality of the doctrine to Judaism. Indeed, once the matter is taken beyond the here and now into an unknown world beyond time it becomes a mystery that no amount of human insight or speculation can unveil. However, the fact that we cannot truly know anything about the nature of divine reward and punishment does not by any means invalidate the doctrine, at least not for traditional Judaic thinkers who have always recognized the limited dimensions of possible human knowledge. Nonetheless, if we are prepared to acknowledge the critical importance of the notion of reward and punishment in traditional Judaism, we must also necessarily accept the idea of man having free will and the moral autonomy to make the choices that would merit either reward or punishment. Maimonides therefore characterized the belief in man’s freedom to choose as “a great princi-

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ple that is the pillar of the Law and the Commandment.”10 But, how can we reconcile such moral autonomy with the notion that God is omniscient, having knowledge not only of what we do in the present, but also, as claimed by many Judaic thinkers, what we will choose to do in the future? Does this not present us with an insoluble paradox? Considering that divine omnicompetence and human freedom of the will would appear to be self-evidently incompatible and irreconcilable concepts, how, we may ask, have Judaic thinkers throughout the ages dealt with this troublesome paradox, each element of which is generally deemed equally essential to the ideological structure of classical Judaism? I propose to begin consideration of this question with a brief examination of the biblical and rabbinic concepts of divine omniscience and their implications for the fundamental Judaic belief in man’s moral autonomy and his freedom and capacity to make morally significant choices.

DIVINE OMNISCIENCE The classical concept of divine omniscience, although nowhere stated as a formal proposition, is clearly suggested in a number of places and contexts in the biblical literature. Thus the biblical author relates that when the matriarch Sarah, who had already long passed her childbearing years, was told that she would nonetheless give birth to a child, she laughed within herself, saying: After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? (Gen. 18:12). However, her private thoughts were revealed to God, and the Lord said unto Abraham: Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying: Shall I of a surety bear a child, who am old? Is anything too hard [hidden] for the Lord? (Gen. 18:13–14).11 In this passage, the biblical text makes it absolutely clear that God has intimate knowledge of what transpires even in the inner recesses of a person’s mind. The biblical historian, who cites a prayer that was offered by Solomon, makes the same point more explicitly. Then hear Thou in heaven, Thy dwelling place, and forgive and do, and give to every man according to all his ways, as Thou knowest his heart; for Thou, Thyself alone knowest the heart of all the children of man (I Kings 8:39). The theme of God’s omniscience is perhaps most exquisitely expressed in the words of the psalmist: O Lord, Thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, Thou understandest my thought afar off. . . . For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, Thou knowest it altogether (Ps. 139: 1–4). This idea may also be seen reflected in the prophet Jeremiah’s characterization of the Lord as one whose eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men, to give everyone according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doing (Jer. 32:19). The same theme is sounded in Job’s assertion that His eyes are upon the ways of a man, and He seeth all his goings (Job 34:21). It is also evident in the scriptural assertion that the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the

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imaginations of the thoughts (1 Chron. 28:9). From the repeated use of the inclusive “all” in these texts, one may reasonably conclude that in the biblical view divine omniscience is absolute, and encompasses not only knowledge of all overt conduct and events but also of one’s most intimate inchoate thoughts. Notwithstanding the evident concern of the various biblical authors with the issue, the subject of divine omniscience does not appear to have played a significant doctrinal role in Judaism until the postbiblical period. It was only then that it began to receive substantially increased attention in the literature and oral traditions. As Arthur Marmorstein argued, “There must be a cogent reason for repeating and emphasizing this idea so often. We notice even in the apocryphal and pseudepigraphical writings that great stress is being laid on this doctrine. The writers of these books, with very few exceptions, do not get weary of repeating God’s omniscience. This was surely due to some mighty opposition to this theological conception.”12 It seems reasonable to suggest that this heightened focus probably became necessary because of the very substantial opposition to the concept of a providential God in Hellenistic thought, which began to exert a very strong influence on Jewish life in the postbiblical period. Introduced into the Jewish heartland in the wake of its conquest by Alexander of Macedon, Greek religion and culture, as well as its offshoots, posed a serious challenge to the traditional beliefs and practices of Judaism that could not be permitted to go unanswered. Perhaps the first of the postbiblical thinkers to reaffirm the classical Judaic perspective on the question of divine omniscience was Simeon ben Sira, whose work is generally assigned to the early part of the second century B.C.E. Ben Sira proclaimed: “Copious is the wisdom of the Lord; He is mighty in act, and all-seeing. The eyes of God behold His handiwork; He perceives a person’s every deed.”13 Another ancient work, the Letter of Aristeas, probably dating from the same period, asserts that “none of the things on earth which men do secretly are hidden from Him, but rather that all the deeds of any man are manifest to Him.”14 This same theme continued to be reiterated in the subsequent teachings of the talmudic sages, which will be discussed further below, and ultimately found a prominent and permanent place in the liturgy of the synagogue. A prayer composed during the second to third century beseeches, “Our eternal Savior . . . to whom every heart is seen, appearing naked, and every hidden thought is uncovered . . . the One who knows the petitions unspoken.”15 Another prayer, attributed to the third-century sage Rab, which serves as an introduction to the Zikhronot (Remembrance) section of the liturgy recited on the holy day of Rosh Hashannah, declares: “Thou rememberest what was wrought from eternity, and art mindful of all that Thou hast created from of old. Before Thee is revealed all that is hidden and the multitude of concealed things from the beginning of time. . . . All things are manifest and known unto

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Thee, O Lord our God, who lookest and forseest to the end of all generations.”16 The same theme is carried forward in a prayer composed in the seventh century by the hymnist Yannai that is commonly recited as part of the liturgy for both Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. It affirms: “He trieth and searcheth into the most hidden secrets; and all believe that He knoweth the innermost thoughts.”17

THE PROBLEM OF DIVINE FOREKNOWLEDGE There is, however, one aspect of the traditional conception of divine omniscience, as it is expressed implicitly or explicitly in the biblical and later rabbinic literature, that has proven to be particularly disturbing to many thinkers throughout the ages and that still begs for a rationally acceptable explication. It is one thing to insist that God can penetrate the heart and mind of man and know what is taking place there. But it is quite another matter to assert that God’s knowledge in such regard is also anticipatory. This latter more troubling notion appears to be strongly suggested in Ben Sira’s assertion that “the One who knows all things before they exist still knows them all after they cease to be.”18 Similarly, the other ancient document referred to above asserts, “all the deeds of any man are manifest to him, as well as that which is to come to pass.”19 This suggestion of a divine prescience was subsequently given far more definitive expression toward the beginning of the common era. In a work that is couched in terms of a universal history, Moses is depicted as telling his disciple Joshua: “All the nations that dwell in the universe hath God created, and us also. Them and us did He foresee from the beginning of the creation of the universe even unto the end of the world, and He overlooked nothing, even down to the smallest, but He at the same time foresaw and foredoomed everything. All that was to happen in this universe did God foresee and foredoom, and lo! it cometh to pass.”20 Similarly another first-century work portrays the non-Israelite prophet Balaam saying to God: “Why, Lord, do you try the human race? They cannot endure it, because You know well what is to happen in the world, even before you founded it.”21 The idea of God’s prescience subsequently became a staple of rabbinic thought. It is articulated most clearly and explicitly in the following midrashic assertions: “R. Haggai [said] . . . Even before a thought is born in a man’s heart, it is already revealed to Thee. R. Judan said . . . Before even a creature is created, his thought is already revealed to Thee.”22 That is, according to these rabbis, God knows the thoughts of men before they are even conceived, and foresees the actions that men will take even before they are contemplated. This theme is elaborated further in the form of a benediction in another classic of the homiletic literature. “Blessed is He who knows from the beginning what

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will be at the end, who foretells what follows from what precedes before the act takes place, and who knows what has occurred and what is to occur.”23 Such a sweeping doctrine of divine foreknowledge obviously has highly significant implications for the fundamental concept of man’s moral autonomy. That concept asserts, in essence, that man has an inherent capacity for free choice, an idea that would seem to be quite incompatible with the implicitly deterministic notion that God knows what an individual will do before that person even decides to do anything. This incompatibility, as suggested above, constitutes one of the great paradoxes of Judaic thought, namely, the self-evident inconsistency between the concepts of divine omniscience and man’s moral freedom of choice, both of which are critical to Judaic teaching. For reasons that will become clear in a moment, we will refer to this problem as Rabbi Akiba’s paradox. We should also bear in mind that it would be misleading to assume that this dilemma may be of concern only to someone interested in religion and theology. The fundamental issue under discussion poses a challenge to every thinking person, notwithstanding that it has been framed here in religious rather than in secular terms. As Robert Gordis noted: “Basic to the classical conception of scientific law is the principle of causality that declares that every phenomenon is the result of an antecedent cause. Since man is part of nature, his very being and acting are the effect of an infinite number of prior factors, which determine what he is and does today. But if this principle operates inevitably and universally, how can it be maintained that a man is free to act and to decide on any course of action?” Gordis therefore concluded that “instead of the religious dilemma of Divine foreknowledge and man’s freedom, we thus have the philosophic contradiction of determinism versus free will.”24 The basic dilemma remains the same, regardless of whether the frame of reference is theology or philosophy. If man’s actions are predetermined, how can he be held accountable for their consequences? Nonetheless, classical Judaism insists that man must be held accountable because he is in fact divinely endowed with the attribute of free will, and he is therefore personally responsible for his conduct.

RABBI AKIBA’S PARADOX It seems beyond dispute that the proposition that man possesses intrinsic freedom of moral choice, as well as the corollary capacity to take action in conformity with his autonomous decisions, is perhaps the critical underlying premise of all Judaic religious and ethical thought. According to Adin Steinsaltz, “one can say that this essential recognition of free will is so fundamental to Jewish thinking that it has come to be a test of the authenticity of the Jewish approach. Almost without exception, a philosophical or religious system of thought that does not accept the axiom of man’s free will does not prop-

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erly belong to the truly Jewish sphere—even if it is totally orthodox in every other respect.”25 However, as already indicated, this blanket assertion of man’s moral autonomy also raises a very substantial conceptual dilemma when it is considered in light of the presumption of absolute divine omniscience. On the one hand, it is argued that man is morally accountable for his conduct because he is endowed with the attributes of free will and reason, which enable him consciously and deliberately to select the course of action he may choose to pursue. On the other hand, it is asserted simultaneously that God is absolutely omniscient and therefore knows what choices a person will make before he makes them. The two propositions would appear to be completely antithetical. If God possesses the postulated perfect foreknowledge of what a person will choose, how can that individual’s decision conceivably be characterized as free and autonomous? Indeed, is it at all meaningful to insist that a person may freely choose one of two options, if an omniscient God knows beforehand which of them will be selected? In such a case, do we imagine that the individual in question could possibly have chosen otherwise? And if we should insist that a person could so choose, would that not indicate a serious flaw in the classical concept of absolute divine omniscience? The attempt to respond to these difficulties in an intellectually acceptable manner has engaged the attention of Judaic as well as other philosophers and theologians throughout the ages, and continues to be an issue of substantial concern up to the present day.26 The issue was posed in rather explicit theological terms in the fourth century by Augustine of Hippo, who wrote: “I have a deep desire to know how it can be that God knows all things beforehand and that, nevertheless, we do not sin by necessity. . . . Since God knew that man would sin, that which God foreknew must necessarily come to pass. How then is the will free when there is this unavoidable necessity?”27 In the literature of Judaism, the same problem has been raised and deliberated for more than two millennia. Although Philo does not deal directly with this question and its implications, his writings clearly reflect the traditional Judaic perspective on the issue of divine prescience. This may be seen in his discussion of the biblical passage that describes how God paraded all the animals before Adam to see what he would call them (Gen. 2:19). Philo wrote: “Not that He was in any doubt—for to God nothing is unknown—but because He had formed in mortal man the natural ability to reason of his own motion, that so He himself might have no share in faulty action.”28 Philo may be understood as arguing that, even though God is omniscient and knows what a person thinks and what acts he will elect to do, an individual nonetheless remains free to act as he chooses. Accordingly, should the choice prove ill-considered, the error in judgment must be attributed exclusively to man. It would be completely unacceptable to assign the

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fault to God, predicating such a claim on the argument that since He knows beforehand what a person will elect to do, one is thereby precluded from acting differently. Philo thus presents his reader with what may be considered a characteristically Pharisaic or early rabbinic approach to defining the relationship between human free will and divine omniscience, an approach that makes no overt attempt to resolve the obvious paradox. The Pharisees evidently were prepared to accept a high degree of ambiguity with regard to such theoretical issues, the resolution of which was deemed by them to be of only secondary importance. Their primary concern was with what they considered to be matters of more practical import, namely how to ensure the observance of the precepts of the Torah in the daily life of the people, a position echoed by many of their intellectual heirs today. Nonetheless, the apparent inconsistency between maintaining a belief in man’s inherent capacity for free choice and simultaneously insisting upon God’s absolute omniscience presented a problem for some Judaic thinkers that could not simply be pushed aside and ignored. They demanded a more intellectually satisfactory solution. In this regard, Josephus pointed out that the approach taken by the Pharisees in dealing with the dilemma was one of the significant issues of religious doctrine that distinguished them from their fraternal antagonists, the Sadducees. The latter, in effect, extricated themselves from the necessity of having to wrestle with the problem by simply rejecting entirely the traditional belief in divine providence as it applied to questions of moral choice. As Josephus observed, they “suppose that God is not concerned in our doing or not doing what is evil.” If one concludes that God is essentially uninterested in the issues of human morality, the question of man’s freedom of choice as opposed to his acting by divine compulsion becomes moot. In the Sadducean view, the domain of human morality was entirely beyond the scope of God’s engagement with the universe. Man could therefore be considered completely autonomous, and impervious to any divinely directed constraints on his actions. He is entirely free to do as he pleases, and need not harbor any concern about how his moral conduct may be viewed by heaven. In contrast to the Sadducees, the Pharisees, according to Josephus, “ascribe all to fate [providence] and to God, and yet allow, that to act what is right, or the contrary, is principally in the power of men, although fate [providence] does cooperate in every action.”29 He summarized the Pharisaic position by pointing out that “when they determine that all things are done by fate, they do not take away the freedom from men of acting as they think fit; since their notion is, that it hath pleased God to make a temperament, whereby what He wills is done, but so that the will of men can act virtuously or viciously.”30 In other words, the Pharisees, who saw themselves as bearers of the mantle of the prophets, affirmed the existence of a providential relationship between God and man and insisted upon the simultaneous validity of the traditional con-

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cepts of human moral autonomy and divine omniscience, notwithstanding their apparent mutual inconsistency. The Pharisaic position was recast subsequently by R. Akiba in a concise formula that has come to represent the classic rabbinic teaching on this issue. R. Akiba asserted: “All is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is given.”31 The Pharisaic perspective, particularly in the terse manner in which it is recapitulated in R. Akiba’s dictum, seems to be truly paradoxical, directly challenging the tenets of a conventional logic that can neither abide nor cope with such self-evidently conflicting premises. Yet the essential validity of R. Akiba’s formulation, perhaps unacceptable from the standpoint of propositional or conventional logic because it appears to do violence to the law of contradiction, seems to have been considered by the sages as fully vindicated within the context of a higher meta-rational logic of faith. The sages were evidently quite prepared to accept the proposition that there are some things that man simply is incapable of grasping intellectually, and that the paradox of divine omniscience and human freedom is one of them. This is not to suggest that the sages and their disciples throughout the ages were oblivious to the problematic nature of the classic Pharisaic position as reflected in R. Akiba’s teaching. In fact, there is some evidence that at least several medieval commentators on the mishnaic text in which it appears attempted to eliminate the inherent problem with R. Akiba’s dictum. They interpreted the first clause, usually translated as “All is foreseen [hakol tzafui],” in a manner that does not necessarily imply divine foreknowledge. Instead, they understood it to refer to the comprehensiveness of God’s knowledge of that which is in being, even though hidden. Thus, Solomon b. Isaac (Rashi) understood the clause to mean: “Everything that a person does even within the recesses of his home is observed and revealed to God.”32 Similarly, Menahem Meiri interpreted the clause as meaning that “all of man’s actions are known to God, and that he cannot hide them.”33 Nonetheless, since the time of Maimonides, who interpreted the teaching as clearly exemplifying the paradox of foreknowledge and free will, R. Akiba’s dictum has generally been understood in this manner.34 And, notwithstanding its obviously problematic character, the presumed truth of the assertion has been treated as axiomatic in traditional Rabbinic Judaism for nearly two millennia. One of the more expressive examples of this is the meditation of Jedaiah Bedersi: O God! Is there any thing that transpires, the secret of which thou knowest not before it begins to exist? Is there any act, ever so great, or minute, that passes in my thought, however secret, of which thou hast no knowledge. . . . All things, which are not yet in being, but which will come to pass, thou knowest with unerring knowledge. Whether the effect will follow the cause, or assume an unexpected change, thou knowest. The remote contingencies of all things, and the actual termination of every event, without

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infringing on the election of man, thou comprehendest, with the most perfect knowledge.35

In antiquity, the sages, who were acutely aware of the logical difficulties with R. Akiba’s formulation, sought to mitigate the problem by arguing that the apparent contradiction between the dictum’s two premises, which we find so troubling, was more formal than substantive. The perceived difficulty, they suggested, was primarily a reflection of our inherently limited capacity for comprehending and adequately characterizing God’s engagement with mankind. They produced prooftexts in support of this argument from the teachings of the prophets, who cautioned that it was essential that a radical distinction be drawn between man and God in this regard. God’s ways, they insisted, would remain forever a mystery to us. Isaiah declared: For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts (Isa. 55:8–9). And the psalmist, awed by his intuitive awareness of divine omniscience, confessed to his inability to comprehend it: Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; too high, I cannot attain to it (Ps. 139:6). Viewed from this standpoint, what we perceive to be a clear contradiction in terms appears to be such only because of the limitations of our modes of thought and expression. Accordingly, the rabbis insisted that one’s understanding of what truly constitutes reality should not be construed as dependent in any way upon man’s ability, or lack thereof, to describe it in categories and terms that are considered acceptable within a framework of rational discourse. They simply would have us acknowledge that despite his having been created in the image of God, man is still something quite different and far removed from being a true analogue of his Creator. It should therefore not become a matter of overwhelming concern to man that he cannot resolve the paradox of divine omniscience and man’s freedom to choose. Because he is unable to do it does not necessarily mean that it cannot be done by a higher intelligence. Given their conviction that there are divine matters that will always transcend man’s comprehension, the rabbis concluded that there was little to be gained by squandering one’s time and energy on metaphysical speculations that would inevitably prove inconclusive. To do so, in their view, was merely to engage in a vain attempt to give intellectual legitimacy to a reality that was unquestionably independent of and beyond the limits of man’s rational faculty. They found support for this argument in the advice of Ben Sira. “Do not seek for what is too hard for you, and do not investigate what is beyond your strength; think of the commands that have been given you, for you have no need of the things that are hidden. Do not waste your labor on what is superfluous to your work, for things beyond man’s understanding have been shown you.”36

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Adopting Ben Sira’s teaching as an authoritative expression of their own views, the sages sought to limit if not completely discourage metaphysical and theological speculation among their disciples. They did this primarily because of their deep concern about the potentially harmful effects such necessarily inconclusive speculation might have on the moral well-being of those who succumbed to the temptation to immerse themselves in such matters. The sages were confident that extreme frustration was the only reward that awaited those who expended their intellectual capital on the pursuit of that which by its very nature was most assuredly beyond man’s capacity for comprehension. Their fear was that such an exercise in futility might prove morally debilitating by nurturing doubts about the truths presented in the Torah. This overarching concern caused them to declare: “Whoever reflects on four things, it were a mercy if he had never come into the world, viz., what is above, what is beneath, what is before and what is after.”37 In this teaching, man is counseled not to engage in the search for knowledge that is unquestionably beyond his reach. He is urged, by implication, to devote his energies to those matters over which he can exercise some degree of control. The cultivation of his own humanity and that of the society in which he plays out his divinely apportioned role should be the foremost among his interests instead of a pursuit of the esoteric. This basically pragmatic and common sense approach to dealing with ultimately unanswerable questions, such as that which has concerned us in this chapter, gained broad popular acceptance among Judaic thinkers throughout the centuries. And, with some notable exceptions, it characterizes the manner in which most proponents of Rabbinic Judaism have dealt with such troublesome theological questions since the days of Ben Sira. NOTES 1. Nahmanides, Perush leSefer Iyov, the opening sentence of the preface to his commentary on Job, in Kitvei Rabbenu Moshe ben Nahman, p. 17. 2. Ephraim Rottenberg, “Reward and Punishment,” in Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr, eds., Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought, p. 827. 3. Avot 1:3. 4. Joseph Albo, Sefer Ha’Ikkarim, vol. 4, ch. 29, p. 273. 5. The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan, ch. 5. 6. Avot 4:2. 7. Maimonides, Commentary on the Mishnah: Tractate Sanhedrin, ch. 10, p. 156. Maimonides’ prooftext for this teaching is Ex. 32:32–33, which he understands as alluding to the doctrine. 8. “I believe with complete faith that the Creator, Blessed is His Name, rewards with good those who observe His commandments, and punishes those who violate His commandments,” The Complete ArtScroll Siddur, p. 181. 9. Joseph Albo, Sefer Ha’Ikkarim, vol. 1, ch. 10, pp. 96–97.

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10. Maimonides, Hilkhot Teshuvah 5:3. 11. The Aramaic Targum of Onkelos renders the last verse as: “What word is hidden from before the Lord” (The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan ben Uzziel on the Pentateuch, translated by J. W. Etheridge [New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1968], vol. 1, p. 69). 12. Arthur Marmorstein, The Old Rabbinic Doctrine of God, vol. 1, p. 153. 13. The Wisdom of Ben Sira 15:18–19. 14. Letter of Aristeas 132. 15. Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers, No. 2, in James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 2, p. 677. 16. Morris Silverman, High Holiday Prayerbook, p. 164. 17. Ibid., pp. 150, 360. 18. The Wisdom of Ben Sira 23:20. 19. Letter of Aristeas 132–133. 20. The Assumption of Moses 1. 21. Pseudo-Philo 18:4. 22. Genesis Rabbah 9:3. For parallel statements, see Midrash on Psalms 45:4 and Exodus Rabbah 21:3. 23. Tanna Devei Eliyahu Rabbah 1:3. 24. Robert Gordis, A Faith for Moderns, p. 205. 25. Adin Steinsaltz, The Strife of the Spirit, p. 27. 26. For a thorough contemporary analytic discussion of the question, see Linda Trinkaus Zagzebski, The Dilemma of Freedom and Foreknowledge (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991). 27. St. Augustine, De Libero Arbitrio Voluntatis, Book III, ch. 2. 28. Philo, “On the Creation,” in The Works of Philo, pp. 52, 149. In this instance, the translation cited is that of Colson and Whitaker (Loeb Classical Library) which seems clearer than the C. D. Yonge translation that I use in the remaining citations from the works of Philo. 29. Josephus, Wars of the Jews, II.8.14. Also Antiquities of the Jews, XIII.5.9. Harry Austryn Wolfson asserts that Josephus employs the term “fate” here in the sense of providence, and consequently “the statement here means that despite man’s free will God has a knowledge as well as a foreknowledge of his actions” (Philo, vol. I, p. 456). 30. Josephus, Antiquities, 18.1.3. 31. Avot 3:15. An alternate version of this teaching is given in The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan: “He used to say: Everything is foreseen and everything is revealed, yet everything happens according to man’s will” (ch. 39, p. 161). 32. Rashi, commentary on Avot, ad loc. Found in numerous editions of the tractate. 33. Menahem Meiri, Bet haBehirah: Avot, ad loc. 34. Maimonides wrote: “He [R. Akiba] said, everything that is in the world is known before Him, may He be blessed, and He is conscious of it. . . . Subsequently, he said, do not think that since He is cognizant of deeds that predetermination would be [logically] imperative; that is to say that man would be coerced in his deeds with regard to any deed. Such is not the case; rather, the authority is in the power of man in what he may do” (Commentary on the Mishnah, pp. 56–57).

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35. Jedaiah Bedersi, Behinat Olam, pp. 37–38. 36. The Wisdom of Ben Sira 3:21–23. This text is cited with approval in Hagigah 13a. 37. Mishnah Hagigah 2:1.

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Beginning in the Middle Ages, many philosophically inclined Judaic thinkers felt pressured by the force of objective circumstances to reopen the question of finding an intellectually more satisfying solution to the dilemma posed by the classical rabbinic position on divine omniscience and human freedom. For one thing, the widespread revival of classical Greek philosophy and other learning had also made significant inroads into Jewish intellectual life, posing new challenges to traditional teachings. Renewed confidence or, perhaps more to the point, renewed faith in the absolutely rational ordering of the universe once again inspired a call for a logically acceptable solution to the problem of reconciling the apparently contradictory premises of Rabbi Akiba’s paradox. Moreover, there was also an increasingly pressing need, at least in part a result of the desultory impact of feudalism on European social and economic life, to deal effectively with a growing popular belief in predestination. The belief that one’s destiny was predetermined by forces beyond an individual’s control evidently helped many people to come to terms with their personal, social, and economic disabilities, the prospective amelioration of which seemed rather hopeless under the prevailing circumstances. It was consoling to consider oneself a victim of implacable external forces. However, one serious and quite unintended consequence of the acceptance of the popular belief in predestination was a growing tendency to challenge the traditional rabbinic teachings regarding man’s moral autonomy, as well as other important aspects of Judaic faith and practice. After all, so the argument goes, if one’s fate is deemed to be predetermined, exhortations about moral accountability are not likely to be considered particularly compelling.

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Finally, there was the problem of coping with an increasingly aggressive proselytizing Christianity. This generated a growing need for Jewish scholars and teachers to be able to deal with the theological implications of the church’s trinitarian doctrine, which posed challenges to the traditional Judaic conception of God’s essential unity that could no longer be ignored. In response to these pressures, those preparing to undertake the public defense of traditional Jewish beliefs on the basis of reason reverently set aside the classic talmudic approach to dealing with the divine omniscience-free choice dilemma and sought once again to find an intellectually more compelling resolution of the problem. The Judaic philosophers and rabbinic thinkers of the medieval period attacked the problem from so many different angles that they appear to have exhausted virtually all possible lines of argument. As will be seen later, the few modern Judaic thinkers who have even addressed the problem found little to add to the ideas of their medieval and renaissance period predecessors. For the most part, they have adopted the perspective of one or another of these earlier approaches to dealing with the dilemma, in some instances recasting them in more modern idiom.

SAADIA GAON One of the earliest of the medieval Jewish philosophers to take up the challenge was the great rabbinic authority Saadia Gaon. He asserted unequivocally: “I have found by means of logical speculation proofs of God’s vitality and His omnipotence and omniscience.” He then categorically rejected the notion that, on the basis of these three attributes, one could postulate the existence of distinctions in God’s personality that might justify a trinitarian conception of the divine. On the contrary, he argued, God and His attributes constitute an absolutely indivisible unity. “For it is not to be imagined that the Eternal, blessed and exalted be He, possesses several distinct attributes. All these attributes are rather implied in His being a Creator. It was only our need to transmit it that impelled us to formulate this concept in three expressions, since we did not find in existing speech an expression that would embrace all of the ideas.” In other words, because our ability to articulate complex ideas is limited, we may not legitimately extrapolate from such a constraint and impute a similar intrinsic limitation to that which is being described. Saadia therefore insisted: “Our application to Him of the epithets ‘living,’ ‘omnipotent,’ and ‘omniscient’ . . . does not produce any increase in His essence.”1 For Saadia, God and His attributes are one, perfect and eternal, and can neither be augmented nor diminished in any manner. By extension, God’s knowledge, which is necessarily identical with His essence, is therefore also perfect and beyond supplementation or improvement.

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In effect, then, divine omniscience must be absolute by definition. At the same time, however, Saadia also argued an uncompromising brief for man’s free will and moral autonomy. He insisted that “man cannot be considered as the agent of an act unless he exercises freedom of choice in performing it, for no one can be held accountable for an act who does not possess freedom of choice and does not exercise this choice.”2 Consequently, we are brought back to the classic dilemma. Even though we assert that the individual has complete freedom of choice, by virtue of His absolute omniscience God must nonetheless have complete foreknowledge of what that person will choose to do. According to Saadia, we cannot argue, as some suggest, that the scope of God’s knowledge extends only to man’s actions as they are carried out, and not to the time before they are undertaken. In his opinion, such a position is quite incompatible with the fundamental premise of God’s perfect knowledge. The view that God only knows things as they occur naturally implies that such knowledge could only come into existence at a specific point in time. But the acquisition of that knowledge at a particular instant would necessarily augment the extent of God’s knowledge, as it was constituted immediately prior to that moment. However, if God’s knowledge can be supplemented it cannot be perfect, which it must be by definition. As a result of Saadia’s articulate restatement of the fundamental dilemma, the need to resolve the paradox of divine omniscience and human freedom of choice gained new intellectual urgency. In his own attempt to deal with the problem, Saadia began by affirming the classic view that the difficulty was more formal than substantive, and adopted what amounted to a semantic approach to resolving the dilemma. In essence, Saadia sought to dispose of the issue by redefining the fundamental premises that appeared to be in conflict. The basic problem, as he saw it, was the proposition that God’s foreknowledge of what a person is going to do is itself the cause of that act taking place. Saadia suggested that this view reflected a gross theological misconception. If it were true, he argued, then by definition everything now in existence would have to be eternal since God is presumed always to have known of them by virtue of His perfect omniscience. “What we profess, therefore, is that God has a knowledge of things as they are actually constituted. He also knows before anything happens to them that it will happen. Furthermore He is cognizant of what man’s choice will be before man makes it.” But is this not a contradiction in terms? If God knows that someone will act in a particular manner, can that person act otherwise? Saadia’s response to this was, in effect, that it is a meaningless question. He insisted that if a human acted in a manner that we presumed to be contrary to God’s foreknowledge of his actions, we would merely have to modify our original presumption by stating that God knows that the person will act in the way he does in fact behave. In other words, it would be improper to suggest that God could be mistaken, “because what God foreknows is the final denouement of man’s activity as it

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turns out after all his planning, anticipations, and delays.”3 Accordingly, Saadia insisted that God’s foreknowledge of an individual’s actions does not compel that person to act in a particular way in order to vindicate the divine prescience. The individual in question could change his mind a dozen times without affecting or being affected by God’s foreknowledge of his ultimate decision. Saadia’s proposed solution of the divine omniscience-free choice dilemma appears to rest principally on an implicit distinction that he draws between the meaning of “knowledge” as the term is applied to God and as it is used in reference to man. The latter can “know” only what has already transpired, while the former can “know” the future, a form of knowledge that transcends the capabilities of man’s rational faculty. Although we casually employ the same term with regard to both, God’s knowledge is fundamentally different from that of man, as was clearly indicated by the prophetic declaration of Isaiah that was cited in the preceding chapter. The fact that we use the same term to describe things that are radically different does not in itself constitute a compelling reason to assume that divine foreknowledge of man’s actions necessitates their actualization. Saadia argued, in effect, that it would be reasonable to conclude that divine omniscience superseded man’s freedom to choose only if there were no significant qualitative distinctions between divine and human knowledge, an assumption that he would have rejected out of hand.

JUDAH HALEVI The essence of Saadia’s approach to the issue was adopted later by Judah Halevi, who also argued that “the knowledge of events to come is not the cause of their existence, just as is the case with the knowledge of things which have been.”4 But Halevi does not appear to have been completely satisfied with the essentially semantic solution proposed by his predecessor. When Halevi confronted the problem of reconciling man’s freedom to choose with the contradictory implications of divine omniscience, he preferred to assume the existence of inherent constraints on the individual’s autonomy. He chose not to rely on any vague distinctions in definition that might be drawn between the use of the term “knowledge” as applied to God and to man. Halevi seems to have based his approach to the problem on a reconceptualization of the fundamental biblical notion of man reflecting the image of God, an image that is manifested in man’s reason and free will. “My opinion,” he wrote, “is that everything of which we are conscious is referred to the Prime Cause in two ways, either as an immediate expression of the divine will, or through intermediaries.”5 Halevi considered free will to belong to the class of intermediary causes, which could be traced back in a continuous chain to the Prime Cause. “One might justly say that everything is ordained by God, and another is equally right in making man’s free will or accident responsible for it,

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without, however, bringing it outside the divine providence.” In other words, since man’s free will is itself providential in nature, having been granted to enable him consciously to serve the divine purpose, man’s freedom of choice in his actions is in a sense a reflection of the divine will. But, Halevi observed, “This course [which through a process of reduction ultimately arrives at the Prime Cause] is not compulsory, because the whole thing is potential, and the mind wavers between an opinion and its opposite, being permitted to turn where it chooses. The result is praise or blame for the choice.”6 That is, a person’s capacity to choose to act in a particular manner at a particular point in time derives, through a chain of intermediate causes, from the divine will of which it is a reflection. Nonetheless, Halevi insisted that such an act represents a truly autonomous choice, even though God has complete foreknowledge of the specific decision a person will make. Divine foreknowledge itself is not compelling; it does not predetermine one’s choices. In Halevi’s view, the dilemma is thereby resolved. Notwithstanding God’s omniscience, man may be presumed to have an inherent capacity for free choice and therefore may justly be held morally accountable for his deliberate acts. Upon reflection, there would appear to be significant flaws in the approaches to the issue taken by Saadia and Judah Halevi. Contrary to their intent, which evidently was to protect the integrity of the belief in God’s omniscience, their arguments fall short of achieving that goal. Saadia relies very heavily on the presumption of a fundamental distinction that needs to be drawn between the nature of divine and human knowledge, but fails to indicate precisely what distinguishes one sort of knowledge from the other. Halevi, on the other hand, suggests that the whole issue is moot because man’s free choice is itself ultimately providential, at the same time insisting that God’s foreknowledge of what a person will choose does not affect the autonomy of his decision. But, as noted by Joseph Albo in his critique of these ideas, “this is not satisfactory, for it is very much like saying that God does not know possible things. For if He knows them, and yet their existence is not determined by His knowledge, it might turn out that His knowledge would be different than the actual result, and this would not be knowledge but ignorance.”7 In Albo’s view, which reflects the opinion of other medieval writers as well, arguments such as those presented by Saadia and Halevi tend to cast shadows of doubt on the traditional conception of God’s perfect knowledge instead of dispelling them, and are therefore quite unsatisfactory.

BAHYA IBN PAKUDA A rather different approach to resolving the problem was proposed by Bahya ibn Pakuda, one that essentially constitutes a reversion to the classic position of the talmudic sages. Bahya argues, in effect, that our concerns about

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the difficulty of reconciling divine omniscience and man’s freedom of choice may be exaggerated. In his view, the dilemma posed by Rabbi Akiba’s paradox is a clear indication of the imperfection of human reason as an instrument for discerning ultimate truth. The mystery of God’s omniscience, he suggested, remains unapproachable by man for basically the same reason that one cannot peer directly into the sun, but must do so through a filter. Although this imposes an external constraint on his behavior, it clearly serves man’s best interests. For Bahya, the means through which we may approach this great mystery is the filter of faith. Moreover, Bahya urged that even if a person cannot resolve the apparent paradox of free choice and divine omniscience to his satisfaction, one should nonetheless pursue the course of his life as if he possessed complete moral autonomy. He concluded his discussion of the issue with the recommendation that one adopt the attitude of the psalmist: Lord, my heart is not haughty, not mine eyes lofty; neither do I exercise myself in things too great, or in things too wonderful for me (Ps. 131:1). In his view, a definitive resolution of the dilemma clearly involved things too great and wonderful for man.8 Bahya was not offering a philosophical argument but an appeal on the basis of faith, the trust that one should have in God’s providence. This approach to dealing with the problem was subsequently also recommended several centuries later by one of the masters of the Hassidic movement, Barukh of Kossov. He urged that “man should accept the apparently contradictory aspects of the problem of free will and recognize the existence of choice, while at the same time believing that the Hand of the Creator guides him in making that choice. If, however, a person cannot accept both Divine providence and free will, he had better opt for the latter.”9 That is, if a choice between the two became necessary, it was more important, and presumably more in accordance with the divine will, that man assume undiminished moral responsibility for his actions. This position reflects a common sense approach to coping with the difficulty that had considerable popular acceptance, even though it did not offer a logical solution to the problem. However, this approach could not satisfy those who felt the need to resolve the matter in more theologically and philosophically acceptable terms.

ABRAHAM IBN DAUD Using Saadia’s view regarding the special character of divine knowledge as a point of departure, Abraham ibn Daud offered a substantially different solution to the dilemma. He agreed with the proposition that what God knows will happen must of necessity come to pass. But, Ibn Daud suggested, this was unequivocally the case only when a particular event constituted an intrinsic element of the divine scheme; that is, when it was God’s “primary intention” that

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the specific event take place. However, he argued, God also permits certain events to happen in the form of contingencies or unintended occurrences, the causes of which are not derived from His “primary intention.” Because of their secondary character, God does not know the outcomes that result from such contingent causes in the same definitive sense as those outcomes that result from His “primary intention.” In the case of the latter, the outcomes are necessary and certain. This is not the case with regard to those events that arise as contingencies. “Some of them are entrusted to nature by the will of God, may He be exalted, so that they benefit him who properly uses them and they harm him who uses them in [a way that is] less or more than what is proper.”10 It is with respect to these contingent circumstances that the individual has been granted a significant degree of discretion over the manner by which his life is affected by them. Although God knows that a certain contingency will arise, the nature and extent of man’s involvement in it is subject to his autonomous decision-making. Man’s ultimate choice of a course of action is not predetermined by God’s foreknowledge of the contingency that will emerge. To illustrate this concept, Ibn Daud referred the reader to the biblical episode (I Sam. 23:10–13) in which David is informed that he will be betrayed by the people of the city in which he had taken refuge. He is told that they will feel compelled to turn him and his followers over to King Saul who threatened to destroy the city, should they refuse to surrender David. As a consequence of this forewarning, David elected to avoid the impending disaster by fleeing from the city. But, Ibn Daud argued, if the capture of David and his men had not been a contingent matter to God, David would not have been able to evade the fate that awaited him.11 Recasting Ibn Daud’s argument in terms of R. Akiba’s formula, everything is foreseen, including contingencies, but in the case of the latter man is given the leeway to influence the manner and extent to which he is affected by such contingent events. In other words, as one modern commentator puts it, “there is a category of future events such that while God may know that they may or may not happen, He does not know that they will or will not happen. To this extent at least divine knowledge would be deficient in that there is something that is in principle knowable but for some reason God does not in fact know it.”12 Although this postulated deficiency in God’s knowledge represents a significant modification to the traditional notion of divine omniscience, in Ibn Daud’s view it does not suggest any imperfection in the essential nature of God, since He presumably chooses not to know what man will elect to do under contingent circumstances. Thus, Hayyim ibn Attar, who explicitly identifies with the approach to the problem taken by Maimonides, to be discussed below, nonetheless argues that when God so wishes, “He can negate the knowledge apprehended by His knowledge so that He does not know it.”13 Accordingly, even though God is absolutely omniscient and therefore, of necessity, knows the fu-

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ture, if He nonetheless chooses not to know something, nothing can compel Him to do otherwise. ABRAHAM IBN EZRA A somewhat different approach to coping with the problem was taken by Abraham ibn Ezra. He affirmed the traditional view that God’s knowledge is all-encompassing because, as stated by the psalmist, it is He that teaches man knowledge (Ps. 94:10). That is, He who teaches man knowledge cannot reasonably be conceived as lacking knowledge.14 However, Ibn Ezra also implicitly suggested that divine omniscience could be defined in a manner that would preserve the critical principle of human free will. This may be seen in some of his comments on the nature of divine knowledge. In one place he observed: “The truth is that the All knows each part in general but not in particular.”15 He amplified this notion in another commentary where he wrote that God “knows the general, that which perseveres; but the elements thereof, which are the particular and change over time, these God does not know because they do not persevere.”16 As noted by Julius Guttmann, Ibn Ezra held that God’s knowledge “extended only to the general essence, to the formal laws, flowing from God, which govern all substances; the particular was included in this knowledge only insofar as it was a link within this chain of formal causality.”17 The implication of Ibn Ezra’s conception of divine knowledge is that God has knowledge not only of matters that are essential elements of the divine plan but also of contingent events within the “chain of formal causality.” It may therefore be argued that God knows what individuals will do in response to contingent circumstances, but that He knows this only by virtue of His knowledge of the universal, of which the individual is a particular. Ibn Ezra may thus be understood as denying or, at the least, constraining God’s immediate and direct knowledge of the particular, thereby bolstering the doctrine of man’s moral autonomy. Simon Bernfeld went so far as to argue that Ibn Ezra maintained that God only has knowledge of what exists and thus has no knowledge of the future. Man therefore has the freedom to act as he chooses, although Ibn Ezra clearly assigns such freedom of choice exclusively to the religiously and morally enlightened. The ordinary person, in his view, remains subject to the influences of the constellations.18 MAIMONIDES AND HIS FOLLOWERS These approaches to reconciling the notions of free will and divine omniscience, involving a variety of optimizing solutions as the best of all possible alternatives, proved to be quite unsatisfactory to other Judaic thinkers of the medieval period. They simply would not accept any conceptual limitations

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whatever on the absolute perfection of God’s knowledge. Maimonides, for one, seems to have reverted, at least in part, to Saadia’s proposed resolution of the dilemma, although presenting it in a more fully developed argument. He too proposed what amounted to a semantic solution that, in essence, constituted a reformulation of the classic argument of the sages. It has been postulated by at least one writer that, although Maimonides may have had other personal and perhaps more esoteric views regarding the resolution of the problem, he took this approach in his writings for didactic reasons. His concern, it is suggested, was that raising complex theological issues to which there are no clear or definitive answers could prove to be disconcerting to those who were not philosophically inclined. Accordingly, Maimonides preferred to undercut the discussion entirely by pointing out the critical conceptual weaknesses of the very manner in which the dilemma was presented.19 In Maimonides’ view, the universe is ordered in a rational manner. However, the very language with which we describe and analyze that order is a human construct subject to the limitations of its inventors. Consequently, while for purposes of general communication we speak of God in human terms, reason itself cannot demand that God’s powers or capacities be constrained by the inherent limitations of human language. According to Maimonides, the apparent contradiction between everything being foreseen and a capacity for simultaneous freedom of action by man is therefore merely a formal one. When we speak of the inherent conflict of divine omniscience and human freedom, we do so from the standpoint of man’s understanding, which precludes the simultaneous validity of such contradictory propositions. However, in speaking of divine omniscience we also implicitly make the logically unwarranted assumption that this term describes an explicit attribute of the deity that corresponds to an accepted universal definition of knowledge.20 This, Maimonides argues, we may not do without committing violence to reason itself. We do not and cannot know God’s nature. Consequently, we cannot meaningfully ascribe any humanly defined attributes to Him. “All this [discussion of attributes] is according to the language of the sons of man. For they predicate of God what they deem to be a perfection in respect to Him and do not predicate of Him that which is manifestly a deficiency. When, however, the true reality is investigated it will be found . . . that He has no essential attribute existing in true reality, such as would be superadded to His essence.”21 At most, Maimonides asserts that we can suggest that certain attributes that may be predicated of man cannot reasonably be applied to God. We cannot say with any confidence what God is, but only what reason dictates that He is not. Consequently, when we speak of God’s knowledge, we are necessarily using the term in a sense that is qualitatively different from what it means with respect to man. By contrast with man, whose intelligence is separate from his being, “He is unity in every aspect. You must say that He is the knowledge and the knower

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and intelligence itself all in one. The mouth has no power to describe this nor the ear to perceive this, nor can the heart of man understand this perfection. . . . Therefore He does not recognize created things or know them as we creatures do, but He knows them as He knows Himself. Thus He knows all and all depends on His existence.”22 The distinction drawn by Maimonides is analogous to that between the knowledge of the creative artist and that of the observer-critic. The artist has an intimate knowledge of his creation that is denied to the critic, who necessarily must view it from the outside. The artist, in effect, is at one with his creation, while the outsider derives his knowledge of the work from information received and conveyed to him by his senses, a process that influences how he perceives it. Moreover, in clear deference to the traditional talmudic view, Maimonides reasserted that it is beyond man’s power to achieve any true understanding of God, and he explicitly adduced the prophetic teaching of Isaiah as evidence of this. Maimonides concluded that “it is not in our capacity to know how the Holy One—blessed be He—knows all His creations and their doings, but it is known beyond doubt that the deeds of man are in his own hands, and the Holy One—blessed be He—does not compel or decree how he acts.”23 His position on this question was later strongly reaffirmed by Joseph Albo: “The result of all this is that God’s knowledge, being infinite, embraces everything that happens in the world without necessitating change in God, and without destroying the category of the contingent.” Moreover, he asserted that Maimonides’ view was a true reflection of the views of the sages, which was summarized in R. Akiba’s paradox. “This is the truth in reference to this matter, though our knowledge is not sufficient to understand the possibility of this thing.”24 Isaac Arama subsequently adopted this approach to the problem as well, and similarly insisted on the absolute perfection of God’s knowledge: “The Most High knows all things past, present and future in one complete and true knowledge in every respect.”25 To argue otherwise, in Arama’s view, would of necessity imply an imperfection in the divine, something that he would have considered an unacceptable contradiction in terms. Nonetheless, he insisted that the postulate of God’s perfect knowledge should not be viewed as being in irreconcilable conflict with the idea of man’s free will. On the contrary, Arama argued that the belief in divine perfection should be considered an affirmation of man’s moral autonomy. This is so because the fundamental proposition asserting God’s perfect knowledge necessarily obligates us to reject the validity of any notion that would imply the contrary, regardless of the manner in which it is formulated. This in itself must lead us to a belief in human freedom and its truth. Because if you were to say that God’s knowledge determines our actions, it would amount to a defi-

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ciency in His perfection since He has concerned Himself with us through His prophets and has given us the Torah and the precepts, and informed us about reward and punishment regarding them, even though He knows that we are not permitted to do anything, great or small, other than that which has been determined by divine decree.26

That is, if man must follow a predetermined course in his acts, then the promulgation of injunctions and promises of reward and punishment must necessarily be superfluous and irrelevant. This would make the precepts and teachings of the Torah itself incompatible with the idea of God’s perfection, since only an imperfect deity would issue pointless decrees and admonitions. Arama ultimately concludes that the paradox of divine omniscience and free will must remain insoluble. Accordingly, the course of greatest intellectual prudence is to adopt the position of Maimonides with regard to the inability of the unaided rational faculty to penetrate the mystery of divine omniscience and human freedom. A rather different approach is taken by Isaiah Horowitz, whose point of departure is also the Maimonidean position regarding divine omniscience. Horowitz, however, makes the novel argument that the very nature of God’s perfect knowledge should dispel any doubts raised about the compatibility of divine omniscience and man’s freedom to choose. Given Maimonides’ argument that God “is the knowledge and the knower and intelligence itself all in one,” His knowledge must of necessity be sui generis. That is, such divine knowledge must be intrinsic to God and not derived from any external source. Accordingly, “How can we say that He knows what man will choose, since that choice is not in the hands of heaven but is given to man . . . therefore His knowledge is not firm until after the choice has been made and makes an impression above. Then God knows it.” But, in that case what do we mean by divine foreknowledge of what a person will choose to do? Horowitz suggests that such foreknowledge consists of knowing what a person should do according to the inclinations natural to him from his formation. However, it is not predetermined that he must follow such tendencies. Man has it in his power to choose an alternate course of action.27 RABAD OF POSQUIERES Dissatisfied with the thrust of Maimonides’ argument, Abraham ben David of Posquieres (Rabad) sought to reassert, in part and perhaps somewhat hesitantly, the views reflected in the earlier work of Saadia and Judah Halevi that God’s prescience was not in itself determinative of human behavior. Rabad, however, attempted to deal with the fundamental problem by linking this idea, probably unwittingly, to the essentially Sadducean notion, described earlier by Josephus, that God had effectively withdrawn from any direct intervention into the moral life of man.

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I say that if the righteousness or wickedness of man were dependent on the decree of the Creator, blessed be He, we would conclude that His knowledge is His decree and then the question would be very difficult for us. Now that the Creator removed this power from His hand and put it in man’s own hand, His prescience is not a decree but may be compared to the foreknowledge of the astrologers who conclude the character of a man from the stars. It is known that whatever happens to man, great or small, God turned over to the power of the stars. He bestowed upon man, however, a mind which gives him the strength to avert the influence of the stars. That is the possibility given to man to be good or bad. The Creator knows the power of the stars and can judge whether the mind has the strength to overcome it.28

According to Rabad, then, God’s foreknowledge is not determinative in itself of man’s behavior since man has the inherent God-given capacity to liberate himself from the influence of the stars and to chart his own moral course through life. Rabad’s approach to resolving the problem is reminiscent of the approach taken earlier by Abraham ibn Ezra. However, Rabad’s proposed resolution of the dilemma of divine omniscience and human freedom was found by others to be no more acceptable than were the arguments of Maimonides, to which it was proposed as an alternative. This was principally because of his tacit acceptance of the popular determinist belief in the profound influence of the planets. Nonetheless, as will be seen later, Rabad’s argument concerning the withdrawal of God from intervention in the moral life of man is highly relevant to the troublesome issue of theodicy in Judaic thought. GERSONIDES Maimonides’ approach was subsequently also rejected by Gersonides on strictly philosophical grounds. Gersonides argued that it was unacceptable to summarily dismiss the dilemma of R. Akiba’s paradox because of the fundamental qualitative distinction drawn by Maimonides between the meanings of the term “knowledge” when applied to God and to man. After all, if the latter distinction was deemed acceptable, by extension it could be applied to other terms as well, effectively precluding meaningful theological discussion. He therefore insisted that, if the apparent contradiction between divine omniscience and human freedom of choice were to be resolved, it would have to be done on some basis other than semantics. Gersonides considered it imperative that man be conceived as completely unbound in his moral life if he is to be held accountable for his ethical conduct. But, in order to reconcile this stance with the classic omniscience-freedom dilemma, he was faced by the stark necessity of either placing some constraints on the absoluteness of God’s knowledge or on man’s moral autonomy. Following the precedents set by Ibn Daud and Ibn Ezra, even though he clearly rejected the views of the latter, Gersonides elected to posit certain limitations on the traditional concept of divine omniscience.

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God’s all-knowingness, Gersonides argued, does not extend to the individual choices made by man. He adduced biblical support for this position from the passage, And the Lord said: Verily, the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and, verily, their sin is exceedingly grievous. I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto Me; and if not, I will know (Gen. 18:20–21). This text, he argued, evidences a view concerning the matter of divine omniscience that is inconsistent with all previously received opinion. It makes clear that God’s foreknowledge does not extend to the acts of man. That is, God knows what the acts of men should be according to the order of providence that has been in place since their creation. “But, man’s free choice dominates this order . . . therefore it is possible that the acts of men fall outside the knowledge that God has of them, that He knows their acts from the standpoint of the knowledge about them that is possible—the extent to which they are ordered and delimited [by providence]. However, where such acts are freely determined, it is not possible for there to be foreknowledge of them, for should we concede that such knowledge is possible, there cannot be free choice.” Gersonides understood the biblical author as attempting to elucidate this difficult point metaphorically, by having God “go down” to ascertain what the people are actually doing, suggesting that He does not have absolute knowledge where man has the capacity for free choice.29 In terms strongly reminiscent of the argument presented by Ibn Daud, Gersonides concluded: “God knows particulars insofar as they are ordered and that He knows them as contingent insofar as human choice is involved.”30 That is, God has comprehensive knowledge of discrete events to the extent that they reflect a natural cause-and-effect relationship, where the outcome is essentially predetermined once the causal sequence is initiated. This same sort of knowledge does not necessarily apply, however, in those instances where the causal nexus is susceptible to interruption and the outcome may be affected by man’s autonomous action. Accordingly, “God’s knowledge does not imply that a particular event will occur to a particular man, but that it may occur to any man who falls under this [general] ordering of events, insofar as these events are ordered; in addition, God knows that this event may not occur because of human choice.”31 As was the case with Ibn Daud, Gersonides refused to consider this limitation on the scope of God’s knowledge as an encroachment on the idea of divine perfection. ISAAC BAR SHESHET BARFAT Gersonides’ proposed limitation of the scope of divine knowledge was considered completely unacceptable to some thinkers such as Isaac bar Sheshet Barfat, who saw it as undermining the fundamentals of the faith. Bar Sheshet insisted that, even though it was essential that the concept of man’s moral au-

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tonomy should be preserved intact and undiluted, this should not be done at the expense of the idea of God’s knowledge being perfect and absolute. He therefore suggested, apparently adopting the basic argument of Saadia, that the relationship between divine omniscience and man’s freedom to choose be understood as follows: “It is established that man has free choice, and that it was possible for him to act otherwise. Thus, when God knows that he will perform a particular act, He knows that he does this by his free choice, and that it was possible for him to act differently. Accordingly, God’s knowledge is not compelling.”32 That is, God’s absolute knowledge of the event incorporates the awareness that an individual’s specific decision to act in a given manner resulted from his free choice. Since God knows that the decision was made freely, the person must have been free to act otherwise; an assertion to the contrary would contradict the certainty of God’s knowledge. However, as pointed out earlier in connection with Albo’s rejection of Saadia’s approach to the problem, the validity of this argument is predicated on an implicit distinction in the way we apply the term “knowledge” to God and to man. But, as already indicated, Gersonides explicitly rejected such a distinction in his critique of Maimonides. HASDAI CRESCAS Contrary to the approach taken by Gersonides, given the choice between restricting God’s omniscience or man’s free will, for Hasdai Crescas there was no alternative other than to limit man’s moral autonomy if such were necessary to ensure the integrity of the traditional belief in God’s perfect knowledge. It was inconceivable to him that one could imagine that the ultimate and absolute cause of all existence might possibly be ignorant of any of the consequent effects of His engagement with the universe. At the same time, Crescas attempted to salvage the essential concept of man’s moral freedom in light of Gersonides’ critique. After all, if by insisting on the absoluteness of divine omniscience one effectively denied the individual’s freedom to choose, how can the crucial concept of divine reward and punishment, which is critically dependent on man’s moral autonomy, be sustained? Crescas sought to deal with this dilemma through what amounted to a defense of the distinction drawn by Maimonides between divine and human knowledge; namely, that the only thing the two concepts truly have in common is the terminology they employ. He argued that, in a manner reminiscent of the approach taken by Bar Sheshet, although God’s omniscience was unquestionably absolute and perfect, and included complete foreknowledge of the causes that will lead to specific effects, the individual choices made by man nonetheless remain relatively free. He asserted, in a barely decipherable formulation, that “the nature of the possible is found in relation to themselves but not in relation to their causes.” That is to say, an event may be perceived as a

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necessity if it is considered to be a consequence of its causes, and as a possibility if considered alone, without reference to any external causative factors. Crescas thus drew a distinction between external compulsion and inner causation. Acts that are compelled by an external force clearly negate the essential idea of man’s freedom of decision and action, whereas those natural and environmental factors that condition and influence a person’s ultimate decision in any particular instance should not be construed as effectively denying his freedom of choice. Thus, while each decision that a person makes is free insofar as the individual is concerned, God already knows the factors that will cause him to make a particular choice. But Crescas insisted that such foreknowledge does not in itself compel man’s behavior.33 It has been suggested that Crescas’ argument may be viewed as offering a compromise solution to the problem. From this standpoint, according to Isaac Husik, it is possible to understand Crescas as arguing that the act of will is in a sense contingent, in a sense determined. It is contingent with respect to itself, it is determined by its cause, i.e., the act is not fated to take place, cause or no cause. If it were possible to remove the cause, the act would not be; but given the cause, the effect is necessary. Effort is not in vain, for effort is itself a cause and determines an effect. . . . Reward and punishment are not unjust, even though antecedent causes over which man has no control determine his acts, any more than it is unjust that fire burns the one who comes near it, though he did so without intention.34

Within these constraints, man not only has the capacity to choose freely, his very choice becomes that of which God has complete foreknowledge. In effect, Crescas may be understood as suggesting, so to speak, that God desired what man chooses. The difficulty with Crescas’ approach, as pointed out by Albo, is that while it succeeds in preserving the idea of God’s perfect knowledge, it effectively eliminates the concept of man having an inherent capacity for autonomous decision-making. “For since the things are necessary considered in relation to their causes, if God knows the causes, they are actually necessary. What good is there then in saying that they are possible considered by themselves, as long as they are determined and necessary from that side which brings them into existence, namely the causes? For they cannot come into existence in any other way. . . . But in reality the effect is necessary when the causes are there and God knows them.” Moreover, as Albo argued, it would seem that according to the view articulated by Crescas, “There is no thing that may equally be or not be when considered in relation to its causes. For if the causes determining the two opposite alternatives are equal, the question arises again, what is it that determined one of the alternatives in preference to the other? If it is the knowledge of God that determines, the category of the possible is done away with; and if we retain the possible, God’s knowledge is taken away, unless indeed we say

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that the possible exists only logically and conceptually, but not actually.”35 In essence, then, Crescas’ resolution of the problem, according to Albo, would seem to be no more satisfactory than that of his philosophic predecessors. ABRAHAM SHALOM AND HIS FOLLOWERS Notwithstanding the force of Albo’s critique, the essence of Crescas’ position appears to have been adopted by Abraham Shalom, who elaborated on it in important respects. Shalom considered the question of the nature of God’s knowledge from the perspective of time, that is, from the standpoint of the Neoplatonic idea of the “eternal now” in which past, present, and future converge. This approach to the problem was adopted by a number of non-Jewish writers of the Middle Ages such as Boethius in the sixth century and Anselm in the eleventh. However, there is little if any evidence that the opinions of the medieval Jewish thinkers who grappled with the dilemma were influenced directly by their writings. The notion of time convergence, which fits well with the temporal or prophetic paradigm discussed earlier, was also adopted in the thirteenth century by Bahya ben Asher. “All times, past and future, are in the present for God, since He was before time and is not circumscribed by it.”36 Shalom took this argument a step farther and suggested that since God is “eternal and not subject to time . . . for Him all things are in an eternal present which contains all of the parts of time.” As a consequence, God knows future events in the “same way that we know present events. . . . But inasmuch as everything future is really present in respect to God, He also has an accurate knowledge of events without His knowledge compelling them in any way.”37 Moses Almosnino also adopted this same approach, writing: “God always knows men’s actions in the present, because there is no future with respect to Him who transcends time.”38 Therefore, he insisted that it is no contradiction to assert that God is perfectly omniscient at the same time that man is free to choose his course of conduct, even if it is difficult for us to imagine how the future may be seen as the present. Shalom suggested that one might illustrate the point by drawing an analogy to the observation of a person running. Prior to the act, the individual concerned had the choice to run or not to run. Once he elected to run and comes within range of my vision, I know that my knowledge, which may prove to be infallible in this instance, is surely not what caused the person to choose to run. Similarly, Shalom argued, the individual’s decision to run is not affected by God’s certain knowledge that he will so choose, even though the entirety of the deliberative process from option to decision is known by God simultaneously. The consequence of this is that, as already argued centuries earlier by Saadia Gaon, whatever man chooses in fact reflects God’s non-compelling knowledge of his choice.

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Almosnino suggested further that it was this concept that R. Akiba evidently had in mind when formulating his classic dictum. This would account for its peculiar grammatical construction. By asserting that “all is foreseen,” according to Almosnino, the sage implied that God sees everything, including what lies in the future for us, as though it were already the past.39 Similarly, Joseph Jabez emphasized that R. Akiba’s choice of terminology evoked the image of a person standing on a tall tower who takes due note of those who approach the city, but who does not actually cause them to come. “But, because he is positioned at an elevated location, he knows that they will come unless they have a change of heart; those who come have the freedom to choose to turn around, but this will seldom happen.”40 Evidently building on these arguments, Manasseh ben Israel rejected the notion that God’s knowledge does not extend to contingent events. On the contrary, he insisted, “God knows all contingencies; not only in the constitution of their causes, but also in the combination of the effects of each, when brought into action.” Moreover, he noted with regard to the question of God’s foreknowledge, that “although contingencies are only brought successively into operation, God is not, therefore, ignorant of them before they occur . . . he knows them collectively; for his cognizance can only be measured by eternity . . . and eternity unites and comprehends all time; so that all things being comprised within time, are eternally present before him.” God’s knowledge of contingencies is therefore immediate and infallible, and to the extent that we speak of future contingencies, they “are only future contingencies when compared with their causes. Thus the First Cause not only sees the actions of man as future, but as present, and already performed.”41 Shalom, Almosnino, Jabez, and Manasseh ben Israel are all arguing, in effect, that God’s perfect knowledge does not preclude, or even necessarily limit, man’s freedom of choice and action because they operate on distinct temporal planes. Since what constitutes past, present, and future for man is known simultaneously by God, His omniscience does not pose any constraint on man’s freedom to choose and to act on that choice. It would therefore appear, according to these writers, that the omniscience-freedom dilemma reflected in R. Akiba’s paradox derives primarily from our confusion over the meaning and application of the idea of “foreknowledge.” When used with respect to man, foreknowledge implies temporally prior knowledge of what a person may elect or do. If such knowledge is presumed to be infallible, the individual clearly has no freedom to act differently. However, the very notion of foreknowledge as temporally prior knowledge is not meaningful when applied to God, because for Him the past, present, and future all converge into an eternal continuum. God’s knowledge is neither sequential nor incremental; it is simultaneous, total, and perfect. As the Roman philosopher Boethius put it:

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Since then all judgment apprehends the subjects of its thought according to its own nature, and God has a condition of ever-present eternity, His knowledge, which passes over every change of time, embracing infinite lengths of past and future, views in its own direct comprehension everything as though it were taking place in the present. If you would weigh the foreknowledge by which God distinguishes all things, you will more rightly hold it to be a knowledge of a never-failing constancy in the present, than a foreknowledge of the future.42

ISAAC ABRAVANEL While this solution to the dilemma of divine omniscience and human freedom appears to meet most of the objections raised with regard to earlier approaches, it too evidently failed to receive the degree of acceptance necessary to lay the matter to rest among those concerned with the problem. The issue therefore continued to intrude upon Jewish philosophical and theological thought into modern times. Perhaps because of its more unambiguous affirmation of human moral autonomy, even at the expense of diminishing the scope and nature of divine omniscience, the argument of Gersonides gained increased recognition as one of the more plausible and intellectually acceptable of the several proposed solutions to the dilemma. But, given Gersonides’ radical limitation on God’s foreknowledge, how can his approach be reconciled with the basic propositions propounded by the rabbis regarding God’s unrestricted omniscience, propositions deemed so fundamental to Judaism? Those who adopted and further developed Gersonides’ basic ideas asserted that God is indeed omniscient, but only in the sense that He foresees the final outcome of the totality of events. However, the particulars of the component elements of a cause-and-effect sequence in human affairs are held to be under the discretionary control, as if by divine delegation of authority, of man’s free will. The general and ultimate outcomes in history are therefore conceived as corresponding faithfully to the divine plan and cannot deviate therefrom. The actual course of events thus reflects purposive providential manipulation of general historical circumstances and conditions, in response to which men freely make their individual choices of action. But, the final outcome of a particular historical process is not necessarily contingent upon any unique set of events or circumstances that may occur as a direct result of the deliberate decisions taken by particular individuals. In other words, a predetermined effect may be engendered by more than any one particular set of causes. As argued by Isaac Arama: “God’s intention with regard to a general matter does not compel people with regard to the particular aspects of the act; each follows his own ends and does as he desires and wills. And if one fails to act, such will not prevent attaining the desired end by means of others.”43 Under this conception of man’s moral freedom, God’s omniscience remains necessarily constrained and delimited in that He does not know what choice a man will make in any given circumstance, even if the probable decision seems certain. From this perspec-

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tive, R. Akiba’s dictum would have to be reformulated as follows: All is foreseen insofar as the central course of history is concerned; yet the freedom to shape discrete contingent events is granted to the individual. Isaac Abravanel subsequently adopted this approach as a means of explaining certain aspects of the biblical story of Joseph and his brothers. He indicated his basic disagreement with those traditional commentators who suggested that the entire episode was historically necessary as the means for ultimately bringing Jacob and the Israelites to Egypt, thereby setting the stage for the signal event of the Exodus. Abravanel argued that the adoption of such an interpretation would completely undermine the fundamental and critical concept of free choice and moral responsibility. For if the events portrayed in the biblical narrative concerning the behavior of Jacob’s sons toward their brother Joseph were necessary to achieve God’s purpose, then the brothers must be considered as having acted as agents of the divine. In this case they would not bear any individual liability for their ill treatment of Joseph and the suffering they caused to their father by deceiving him with regard to the fate of their brother. But, considered from a moral standpoint, their actions were surely reprehensible and deserving of strong condemnation. Consequently, Abravanel argued that the entire episode should be viewed from a rather different perspective. In Abravanel’s view, there should be no doubt that the ultimate outcome of the affair was preordained. But the means for bringing about the desired result remained entirely optional. Jacob and his family could have been persuaded to go to Egypt by a variety of causes other than the sale of Joseph into servitude. Indeed, if it were essential that Joseph somehow be brought to the household of the pharaoh, he could as readily have been captured by slavers as having been sold by his brothers, with the same net result. Therefore, Abravanel argued, “the acts perpetrated against Joseph by his brothers were optional rather than compulsory.” As a result, even though what they did ultimately served the divine purpose, they must be held accountable for their transgression of the moral law. They are fully liable for their actions because God’s compelling foreknowledge of events does not extend to those contingent circumstances that present a range of opportunities for autonomous human choice and intervention.44 Abravanel’s argument was echoed some three hundred years later by Meir L. Malbim in his own commentary on the Joseph saga. He wrote that “even though a person has no control over those matters that are divinely ordained, that are beyond man’s capacity to change, the particulars remain fully subject to man’s power of choice, because the ultimate end could be achieved through a variety of means.” Therefore, even though it was providentially necessary for the Israelites to relocate to Egypt, the means by which this was to be achieved were entirely the free choice of Joseph’s brothers, who should not be viewed as

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agents of the divine in the matter. Although what they did ultimately served a higher purpose, that was not the intent of their actions and it therefore does not mitigate their culpability.45 THE MODERN REVERSION TO EARLIER VIEWS Perhaps not surprisingly, there is no greater consensus on the issue among modern Judaic thinkers than there was among those of the medieval period. For the most part, the moderns have merely adopted and further expounded the positions of one or another of the earlier thinkers discussed above. In this regard, Aron Barth identified with the position taken by Saadia Gaon and argued that the basic question itself is ill conceived. He insisted that the foreknowledge of what a person will do in the future does not imply that the one who has such foreknowledge necessarily imposes his will on that person. According to Barth, God’s knowledge does not compel man’s behavior because God has decided that it should not do so. To have fore-knowledge and to compel action are not identical and have no logical connection. The fact that the Holy One, blessed be He, knows everything in advance is a logical and necessary consequence of the fact that He is not bounded by time and place. . . . But this does not mean that He uses His powers to impose His will upon His creatures. He decided not to do so when He resolved to create man in His image. There would have been no point in creating in the Divine Image puppets who must do everything that is decreed.46

Israel Mattuck took a similar approach, noting that “it would seem, at first sight, that if an act can be foretold, even before the occasion for it arises, it is determined.” However, he goes on to argue that the paradox, in accordance with the rabbinic view, which affirms at the same time man’s freedom and divine omniscience, can be explained realistically though not logically. Men act according to their nature. They are not constrained from without but impelled from within. But the direction of the inner impulsion is not unalterably fixed. The doctrine of free will implies that men have in their natural endowment the power to choose their way of life, and to decide on single actions so as to make them accord with righteousness or to violate it. . . . There is no ultimate and insuperable restriction on men’s moral freedom.47

Nonetheless, it is difficult to see how such modern reformulations of longstanding responses help resolve the basic problem, unless we also accept the argument that there is a fundamental distinction between the intrinsic nature of divine knowledge and that of human knowledge. By contrast, Joseph Z. Viner adopts, albeit without attribution, the arguments of the school of thought that finds its roots in the work of Abraham Shalom.

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Viner begins by arguing that the notion of time is inapplicable to the Eternal, who is of necessity beyond time. The temporal categories of past, present, and future are therefore of no relevance when speaking of God’s knowledge. Accordingly, the Eternal Sovereign’s knowledge of the general and particular acts that may be done, and of the events that may occur under the sun, do not come under the category of knowledge of the future, but rather that of seeing the present. For as we have said, with regard to the Eternal there is no past or future—only the present, even though it is difficult for us to visualize and grasp intellectually. But if this is so, then there is no contradiction between God’s knowledge of all the details of the acts and occurrences that take place and the freedom to choose that is given to man.48

Viner suggests that this is analogous to the situation in which someone is eating while another watches him. The fact that someone observes him in no way affects his freedom to eat or not to eat. Nonetheless, the observer has perfect knowledge of what is happening in the present. Similarly, since past and future are part of the eternal present for God, His knowledge of what a person will do is not compelling, and is therefore compatible with man’s freedom of choice. Joseph H. Hertz seems to be making the same point with regard to R. Akiba’s dictum. He notes that “everything past, present and future is seen by God, even as a watchman in a lighthouse tower sees ships in the distance coming and going, and can in a tempest foresee which among them must dash itself to destruction.”49 The fact that the watchman knows with great certainty that a given action will have a particular result in no way affects the decision-making autonomy of the ship’s captain. Robert Gordis also adopted this argument. He reasoned that the paradox of divine prescience and the freedom to choose “arises only because of our incurable human tendency to conceive of God in anthropomorphic terms,” construed broadly. Thus, he argued, “the concept of time has meaning only for finite beings, for whom there is a past which they did not know, a present which they now experience, and a future still beyond their ken. For God who is eternal, past, present, and future have no separate existence. . . . Hence the term ‘foreknowledge,’ which means knowledge of the future, is really meaningless when applied to God, for to Him all events are simultaneous. The ancient paradox therefore dissolves.”50 Perhaps surprisingly, some modern thinkers have found it desirable to return to an earlier less philosophical rabbinic approach to dealing with the enigma of divine omniscience and moral autonomy. Thus, Morris Joseph felt compelled to acknowledge that there are matters that simply are beyond the powers of the human intellect. We may speak of divine omniscience, God’s foreknowledge, and the like; but he asks what these are other than mere figures of speech for us. What do we really know of God’s nature?

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If, then, we experience any difficulty, it is because we ourselves have made it, owing to our inability to think of the Divine save in human terms. When we understand the nature of the majestic Being who is the Lord and the life of the boundless universe, then we can hope to solve these problems, or venture to formulate them. But, as things are, we must be satisfied not to know. The truth that man is free is too well-founded to be gainsaid. And if our conception of the Divine nature conflicts with it, we must school ourselves to lay the antagonism at the door of our faulty conception. . . . Nor ought we to chafe under our disabilities. . . . If we cannot comprehend some of the phenomena that constitute our most familiar experiences, if there are realms in the universe which we can never behold save with the eye of the imagination, is it wonderful that we cannot penetrate into the recesses of the universal Mind?51

This may prove ultimately to be the most satisfactory approach to the dilemma, notwithstanding its complete lack of congruence with the modern temper. As moderns we are inculcated with the conviction that all truths should be amenable to rational comprehension. However, we must not forget that this assertion in itself is merely a statement of belief and not a demonstration of its truth. It may well be that there are some things, as suggested by the rabbis, that are and may always be simply beyond our grasp.

NOTES 1. Saadia Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, Treatise 2, ch. 4, pp. 101–102. 2. Ibid., Treatise 4, ch. 3, p. 187. 3. Ibid., ch. 4, p. 191. 4. Judah Halevi, Book of Kuzari, 5:20, p. 249. 5. Ibid., pp. 246–247. 6. Ibid., pp. 247–248. 7. Joseph Albo, Sefer Ha’Ikkarim, 4:1, p. 6. 8. Bahya ibn Pakuda, Hovot haLevavot, “Shaar Avodat haElohim,” sec. 3, ch. 8, pp. 117–119. 9. Adin Steinsaltz, The Strife of the Spirit, p. 27. 10. Abraham ibn Daud, The Exalted Faith, 206a16–206b5, pp. 248–249. 11. Ibid., 207a5, p. 249. 12. Ibid., p. 243. 13. Hayyim ibn Attar, Or haHayyim on Gen. 6:5. 14. Abraham ibn Ezra, Perush al Tehillim on Ps. 94:10. 15. Ibn Ezra, Perushei haTorah on Gen. 18:21. 16. Ibn Ezra, Perush al Tehillim on Ps. 73:12. 17. Julius Guttmann, Philosophies of Judaism, pp. 119–120. Similarly, Isaac Husik wrote of Ibn Ezra’s view: “Ordinarily, it is true, God does not know the particular individual as such. He knows him only as implied in the whole, and his destiny is determined accordingly” (A History of Mediaeval Jewish Philosophy, p. 193). 18. Simon Bernfeld, Da’at Elohim, vol. 1, p. 180. 19. Menahem Krakowski, Avodat haMelekh, p. 222.

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20. Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, 3:20. 21. Ibid., 1:47. 22. Maimonides, The Book of Knowledge, “The Foundation of the Torah,” 2:10. 23. Ibid., “Repentance,” 5:5. See also “Repentance,” 6:5. 24. Joseph Albo, Sefer Ha’Ikkarim, 3:3. 25. Isaac Arama, Akedat Yitzchak, Ser. 103, p. 135a. 26. Ibid., p. 140a. 27. Isaiah Horowitz, Shnei Luhot haBrit, vol. 1, “Beit haBehirah,” pp. 20b–21b. 28. Abraham ben David, Hassagot al Mishneh Torah, “Hilkhot Teshuvah,” 5:5. The translation of this passage is taken from Isadore Twersky, Rabad of Posquieres, p. 281. 29. Gersonides, Perush haTorah, “Vayera,” To’elet #16, p. 28b. 30. Gersonides, The Wars of the Lord, 3:4, p. 122. 31. Ibid., 3:6, p. 136. 32. Isaac bar Sheshet Barfat, Sheilot uTeshuvot Bar Sheshet, #118. 33. Hasdai Crescas, Or Adonai, Part II, 5th section, ch. 3. 34. Isaac Husik, A History of Mediaeval Jewish Philosophy, p. 397. Leon D. Stitskin explained Crescas’ argument in a similar manner. “While in terms of the chain of causality man is determined, yet man’s limited freedom expresses itself first in the fact that he does not feel the force of causality and thinks that he is free to act and, secondly, that his own inclination, endeavors, and exertions of energy are some of the mediate causes in the chain of causality that helps determine his actions” (Jewish Philosophy: A Study in Personalism, p. 192). 35. Albo, Sefer Ha’Ikkarim, 4:1, pp. 7–8. 36. Bahya ben Asher, Biur al haTorah on Ex. 15:18. 37. Abraham Shalom, Neve Shalom, 12:2:2, 209b. Translation is taken from Herbert A. Davidson, The Philosophy of Abraham Shalom, pp. 72–73. 38. Moses Almosnino, Pirkei Moshe, p. 103 (commentary on Avot 3:15). A similar approach is also taken by Samuel di Uceda, Midrash Shmuel on Avot 3:21. 39. Ibid., p. 104. 40. Joseph Jabez, Perush al Massekhet Avot, p. 73. Isaac Abravanel alludes to this point but does not develop it in his Nahlat Avot, p. 178. 41. Manasseh ben Israel, The Conciliator, vol. 1, pp. 120–121. The Kabbalist Joseph Ergas (1685–1730) also insisted that God has knowledge of contingencies: “Nothing occurs by accident, without intention and divine providence, as it is written: Then will I also walk with you in chance [be-keri] (Lev. 26:24). You see that even the state of ‘chance’ is attributed to God, for all proceeds from Him by reason of special providence” (Shomer Emunim, 2:81, cited by Louis Jacobs, A Jewish Theology, p. 115). Ergas’ interpretation of the term be-keri to mean “chance” is quite unusual. The term is generally taken to mean “rebellion” or “contrariness.” 42. Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy (New York: Random House, 1943), p. 117. 43. Isaac Arama, Akedat Yitzhak, vol. 1, sec. 28, p. 235b. 44. Isaac Abravanel, Perush haTorah, “Bereshit,” ch. 37, end. 45. Meir Leibush Malbim, HaTorah vehaMitzvah on Gen. 37:14. 46. Aron Barth, The Modern Jew Faces Eternal Problems, p. 59. 47. Israel Mattuck, Jewish Ethics, p. 37.

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Joseph Zvi Viner, Hayyei haBehirah, p. 94. Joseph H. Hertz, Sayings of the Fathers, n. 19, p. 60. Robert Gordis, A Faith for Moderns, p. 208. Morris Joseph, Judaism as Creed and Life, pp. 83–84.

12

The Question of Divine Justice

The idea of divine omniscience, discussed earlier, represents but one critical dimension of the Judaic concept of divine omnicompetence. The other, perhaps even more difficult aspect to come to grips with, is the complementary traditional belief in divine omnipotence. Examination of the several facets of this latter idea will bring us to a consideration of the concept of divine justice and its implications for the Judaic understanding of the fundamental relationship between God and man. A particular focus of the discussion will center on the question of how that relationship has been rationalized by Judaic thinkers since biblical times in the form of theodicy, the attempt to vindicate the operation of divine justice in history. The traditional concerns about theodicy have been framed in a variety of ways, all of which ultimately reduce to the central issue of how one can convincingly reconcile the apparently mutually exclusive concepts of divine omnipotence and human free will. If one conceives of God, the creator of man, as being all-powerful, can one simultaneously maintain that man is nonetheless free to oppose the divine will? If an omnipotent God wills the good, can man controvert that will and choose evil? Why, we may ask, would an omnipotent God permit evil to thrive at all? The prophet Habbakuk protested: How long, O Lord, shall I cry, and Thou wilt not hear? I cry out to Thee of violence, and Thou wilt not save. Why dost Thou show me iniquity and beholdest mischief? (Hab. 1:2–3). There was also an outcry later among the sages of the school of R. Ishmael. Thus, they concocted a pun on the biblical passage, Who is like unto Thee among the mighty (elim) O Lord? And suggested that it might be read, “Who is like unto Thee among the silent (elmim)—Who is like unto Thee who hears the suffering of Your children and remains silent?”1

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Moreover, even if man is presumed to be capable of acting in defiance of the divine will because by God’s own design his will is free and uninhibited, how can an all-powerful God permit him to benefit from deliberate violations of universal divine ordinances? Where is the justice in such an arrangement? Jeremiah, with evident anguish, voiced this fundamental question concerning the actual operation of divine justice: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? Wherefore are all they secure that deal very treacherously? (Jer. 12:1). The prophet’s cry of despair and protest has reverberated throughout the subsequent history of humankind, being especially poignant in the long troubled history of the Jewish people. Upon reflection, it may strike one as odd that Jeremiah’s outcry against the perceived inequities of divine justice is remarkably one-dimensional. He complained bitterly about the prosperity of the wicked, but said nothing about the even more egregious suffering of the innocent. How can this omission be explained? Surely Jeremiah, who had himself undergone considerable persecution and deprivation as a consequence of carrying out his prophetic mission, was acutely sensitive to the problem of the suffering righteous. Did they not merit his advocacy? Perhaps, as suggested by Menahem Frankel Teomim, there is greater subtlety in the prophet’s complaint than one might assume at first reading. After all, he pointed out, one could make the argument that an apparently righteous person might be made to suffer because of some hidden failing. However, one surely would not apply the same kind of argument in the case of an evidently evil person, who reaped the rewards we would expect to have been granted to the righteous. It would be strange indeed for us to suppose that an omnipotent God might permit a wicked person to benefit from his sins because of some hidden virtue. Accordingly, while the prophet may conceivably have been able to rationalize the suffering of the innocent, the thought of the wicked prospering may have been something he simply could not countenance in silence. Considered from this perspective, Jeremiah may have deliberately posed the more troubling question concerning the nature and workings of divine justice.2 The same vexing question was also raised and elaborated upon by the psalmist, who sought to offer a response that would be reiterated in one form or another through the millennia. He poignantly portrayed the anguish of a righteous person whose faith in divine justice had been shaken by observing the prosperity and well-being of the wicked: But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked (Ps. 73:2–3). He clearly was distressed that those whom he knew to be wicked appeared to thrive, while he, who had steadfastly maintained his faith in the Lord and lived righteously, was rewarded for his pains with unwarranted suffering. Surely in vain have I cleansed my heart, and washed my hands in innocency; For all the day have I been plagued, and my chastisement

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came every morning (Ps. 73:13–14). The evident injustice of it all disturbed him profoundly. Until I entered the sanctuary of God, and considered their end. . . . How are they become a desolation in a moment. . . . As a dream, when one awaketh, so, O Lord, when Thou arousest Thyself, Thou wilt despise their semblance (Ps. 73:17–20). The psalmist’s answer to the problem of divine justice is that the prosperity of the wicked is in a sense illusory, because it is transitory at best and subject to elimination at any moment. Of this he was confident: For, lo, they that go far from Thee shall perish; Thou dost destroy all them that go astray from Thee (Ps. 73:27). The clear implication of all this is that the ultimate justice of divine reward and punishment is a certainty, even though the process may seem unfair from the temporal and therefore necessarily limited perspective of the human observer. However, the psalmist’s response evidently failed to put the troubling issue to rest. Thoughtful people still wanted to understand why the innocent suffered while the wicked prospered, even if the well-being of the latter were fleeting and insecure. How could one explain or justify such seemingly selfevident injustice within the framework of a belief in divine providence? This troubling question was raised repeatedly in the classical rabbinic literature.3 In one especially significant passage, the issue was debated in the context of a disagreement between two sages over the character of the divine response to Moses’ request that he be granted knowledge of “God’s ways” (Ex. 33:13). The sages agreed that what Moses meant by this was that he wished to understand the nature of divine justice, which was not clear to him. “Moses said before Him: Lord of the Universe, why is it that some righteous men prosper and others are in adversity, some wicked men prosper and others are in adversity?” One of the disputants, R. Johanan, concluded that a direct response to this query had been given to Moses, and consisted of the following explanation: “A righteous man who prospers is a perfectly righteous man; the righteous man who is in adversity is not a perfectly righteous man. The wicked man who prospers is not a perfectly wicked man; the wicked man who is in adversity is a perfectly wicked man.” In making these assertions, R. Johanan was evidently prepared to accept what amounts to a “blame the victim” approach to understanding the application of divine justice in the universe. This approach, however, was rejected by R. Meir who insisted that there had not been any response to Moses’ query other than the answer given in Scripture. “For it is said: And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, although he may not deserve it, And I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy [Ex. 33:19], although he may not deserve it.”4 In effect, R. Meir argued that even though the workings of divine justice may well appear arbitrary to man, they are unquestionably justifiable from the perspective of heaven. God has reasons that man is incapable of grasping.

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The position of R. Meir is reflected in the parable related by the later sage R. Judah on the basis of an earlier tradition concerning the horrible death that the revered R. Akiba suffered at the hands of the Romans. After having been granted a retrospective on the great contributions of R. Akiba to the development of the Oral Torah, Moses inquired: “ ‘Lord of the Universe, Thou hast shown me his Torah, show me his reward.’ ‘Turn thee round,’ said He; and Moses turned round and saw them weighing out his flesh at the market-stalls. ‘Lord of the Universe,’ cried Moses, ‘such Torah, and such a reward!’ He replied, ‘Be silent, for such is My decree.’ ”5 The clear message of this parable is that a true understanding of divine justice is beyond man’s unaided grasp. R. Meir evidently preferred the thesis that it is beyond the capacity of human reason to comprehend the motives for God’s acts, rather than accept the argument that the righteous who suffer are afflicted because they are not completely righteous. Strong support for the position of R. Meir was articulated recently by one of the most prominent American leaders of Hasidism, Levi Isaac Horowitz. Referring to the biblical passages cited by the sages, he argued: Moses had wanted insight into the riddle of the suffering of the righteous and prosperity of the wicked. God responded, I can’t let you into the inner sanctum; I can’t let you into that which is in My domain. You as a human being are finite, and the finite and the infinite cannot mix. One cannot comprehend the other. Therefore, You shall see my back-side but not my face [Ex. 33:23], meaning that you can only understand the workings of God, by hindsight, by appreciation of that which happened after the fact, but you cannot understand it at the time it happens.6

The exchange of views among the sages over this question is particularly noteworthy. It suggests an alternative to the eschatology widely adopted by rabbinic teachers as a strategy for coping with the awesome problem of theodicy, an approach that has had great popularity throughout Jewish intellectual history because of its presumed explanatory power. The advocates of this strategy took the position that, although the wicked may prosper in this world, they will have to render account and pay for their transgressions in the world beyond history that awaits them. By contrast, while the righteous may suffer in this world, they will surely reap their just reward in the world to come.7 From this standpoint, the problem of divine justice would continue to exist for some only because of a failure on their part to view the matter from a sufficiently long-range perspective. However, if one would look beyond the horizon of the present he would soon have to acknowledge that what originally appeared to him as divine injustice could now be recognized to constitute true justice, even though it would only be rendered fully in an indeterminate future. The rabbis seem to have been drawn to this approach as a way of dealing effectively with the recurring problem that resulted from a straightforward read-

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ing of a number of biblical texts. For example, we are instructed: Honor thy father and thy mother, as the Lord thy God commanded thee; that thy days may be long, and that it may go well with thee (Deut. 5:16). It hardly needs to be pointed out that many who zealously observed this commandment have nonetheless failed to experience the fulfillment of the divine promise of longevity and prosperity. For some, their days have not been long, nor has it gone well with them. The same kind of concern was expressed by the sages in connection with the biblical injunction that is often cited as a prime example of an “act of lovingkindness.” Should one come across a nest in which the mother bird is found together with her young or with her eggs, he is admonished: Thou shalt not take the dam with the young . . . that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days (Deut. 22:6–7). With specific regard to this precept, the Talmud recounts an incident in which a parent asked his son to climb a tree and fetch some young pigeons from a nest. In complying with the request, and observing the biblical stricture, the son first drove the mother away and only then took the young birds. But, during his descent from the tree, he slipped, fell, and was killed. This event caused R. Jacob to ask: “Where is this man’s happiness and where is this man’s prolongation of days?” In the absence of a reasonable answer to this question, the sage felt compelled to conclude that there was no reward for compliance with the divine commandments during one’s lifetime. Accordingly, he suggested that the biblical phrase, “ ‘that it may be well with thee,’ means on the day that is wholly good; and ‘in order that thy days may be long,’ on the day that is wholly long.” That is, since days that are wholly long or wholly good simply do not exist in the world as we know it, the biblical promises of longevity and prosperity will surely be fulfilled, but only in a future otherworldly life and not during man’s present sojourn on earth.8 It should not be surprising that this approach to the understanding of divine justice became widely accepted since it offered the beleaguered hope for the future, albeit in a realm of being that was itself quite unknown to man. This traditional approach to resolving the troubling issue of why the righteous suffer and why the wicked prosper was elaborated further in modern times by Barukh Epstein. He suggested that there is a basic disjunction between the moral categories of righteousness or wickedness and the contingent conditions of prosperity or deprivation. As a result, according to Epstein, there is no necessary connection between an individual’s apparent well-being and his moral state. A person may be born into a set of environmental circumstances that make it highly probable that he will experience a life of dire poverty. Nonetheless, within the constraints of his social and economic condition, that same individual may pursue a life of great virtue and righteousness. While such a person might experience severe deprivation, the cause of his suffering should be seen as quite unrelated to his moral standing. Similarly, if circumstances dictated that one should be prosperous, and that person chose a life of

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immorality and evil, it would be inappropriate to suggest that God was rewarding such an evildoer for his transgressions.9 Viewed from this perspective, the social and economic or other environmental circumstances into which one is born do not dictate the course of one’s moral development. The rabbis therefore maintained that the accounting and retribution for one’s moral record is expected to take place at a future time, independently of whether or not one’s current material condition is deemed desirable. This approach, in effect, defers resolution of the dilemma to some point beyond time and history. Notwithstanding this popular rabbinic approach, it seems evident that both the righteous and the wicked suffer as well as prosper in the world of history. The arguments of R. Johanan and R. Meir cited earlier therefore force us to focus on the profound implications of these alternative conceptions of the operation of divine justice in the world that we know and experience. We are thus compelled to confront the central issue of theodicy, the persistence of evil within the context of divine providence. The ultimate and perhaps impossible intellectual challenge is to resolve the problem in rationally acceptable terms.10 In this regard, it is noteworthy that the dispute between R. Johanan and R. Meir is left unresolved in the classical rabbinic literature. This suggests that the central issue of theodicy will not yield easily to a definitive Judaic solution. THE NATURE OF EVIL Before proceeding further with a consideration of the fundamental dilemma to be dealt with in constructing an intellectually acceptable theodicy, it will prove helpful to digress for a moment to give additional attention to the meaning of evil. Of particular interest are the kinds of events or actions that we would consider to be encompassed by the idea of evil. As noted earlier, Maimonides considered evil to be a nonexistent. That is, in his view, evil is merely the negation of the good, and therefore has no independent existence. However, his philosophic position in this regard should not be understood as denying the self-evident fact that people are routinely afflicted by a number of specific circumstances or conditions, usually described as “evils,” that may wreak havoc with their lives. Maimonides expressly suggested that there are three kinds of specific evils that are of direct and vital concern to man. The first is the evil that affects man as an immediate consequence of his being “endowed with matter,” that is, the evil one experiences as a direct result of being a part of the natural physical universe. “Because of this, infirmities and paralytic afflictions befall some individuals either in consequence of their original natural disposition, or they supervene because of changes occurring in the elements, such as the corruption of the air or a fire from heaven or a landslide.” The second class of evils are those “that men inflict upon one another.” Maimonides considered both of these types of evil, as horrendous as they may be when they occur, to be relatively rare. Thus, with regard to the first

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type, he argued that most people are born healthy and cities have existed for protracted periods without ever having experienced natural disasters. As for the second class of evil, this tended to occur frequently “only in the course of great wars; and such events too do not form the majority of occurrences upon the earth taken as a whole.” In his view, the most common evils are those of the third type, the evils that are “inflicted upon any individual among us by his own action. . . . All men lament over evils of this kind; and it is only seldom that you find one who is not guilty of having brought them upon himself.”11 In the discussion that follows, the principal focus will be on the second and third kinds of evils described by Maimonides, those that are brought by man upon himself and others, rather than on those ills that plague man through the impersonal processes of nature. Although these distinctions may be of little relevance or interest to the victim, they do have great moral importance. Let us put aside for a moment the question of why God permits the innocent to suffer from the indiscriminate activity of nature, a question that certainly merits a comprehensible answer. It seems clear that there is surely a significant moral difference between the suffering and death caused by natural disasters such as earthquakes and famine, and the horrors resulting from war and persecution and other similarly oppressive acts of men. As suggested by Maimonides, the former kind of evil is a consequence of the unconscious and impersonal operation of the laws of nature, whereas the latter is the direct result of the free and deliberate choices made by other human beings. This brings to mind the distinction made earlier between divine hanhagah (management) and hashgahah (special providence), which have very different moral implications for man. Our primary concern here is with the evil that men do to one another and to themselves—the evil that is within man’s conscious control. However, it may be that the answer to the question of why the innocent are condemned to suffer the evils inflicted upon them by other human beings may also shed some light on why they are condemned to suffer the ills brought upon them through the indiscriminate processes of nature. RECONCILING EVIL AND PROVIDENCE The problem of rationalizing the coexistence of human evil and divine providence became magnified in the postbiblical period, as Judaism was forced to contend with the challenges to the validity of its precepts from those schools of Greek thought that rejected the concept of human free will. Perhaps the earliest reference to this confrontation is that found in the writings of Ben Sira. He categorically rejected the fatalist argument that man sins because he cannot do otherwise, and that his transgressions are therefore divinely ordained. On the contrary, he insisted, “It was He, from the first, when He created humankind, who made them subject to their own free choice. If you choose, you can keep His commandment; fidelity is the doing of the will.”12 The Judaic ar-

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gument for free will was reaffirmed in early Pharisaic times in the pseudepigraphical teaching: “Our actions are the outcome of the free choice and power of our own soul; to practice justice or injustice lies in the work of our own hands.” 13 Similarly, Philo asserted that “man, who has had bestowed on him a voluntary and self-impelling intellect, and who for the most part puts forth his energies in accordance with deliberate purpose, very properly receives blame for the offences which he designedly commits, and praise for the good actions which he intentionally performs.”14 This, Philo suggests, is the meaning of the scriptural teachings: I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil . . . I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life (Deut. 30:15, 19). That is, “He teaches us by this sentence both that men have a knowledge of good and of the contrary, evil, and that it is their duty to choose the better in preference to the worse.”15 This perspective was reasserted subsequently by R. Hanina, who, it will be recalled, held strongly deterministic views. Nonetheless, he too found it essential to provide room for moral autonomy in an otherwise deterministic universe. In a concise formulation that has since served as the classic statement of traditional Judaism on the subject, R. Hanina declared: “Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except the fear of Heaven.”16 It seems self-evident that this formula leaves the fundamental question posed above unanswered. That is, if God is omnipotent as well as omniscient, why does the wielder of such all-pervasive power permit deliberate defiance of His will by man? If everything is in the hands of Heaven, if the events that contribute to the shaping of a person’s life, perhaps even one’s very temperament and character, are under the direction of a superior force, how can such an individual retain an autonomous capacity to choose between good and evil? This dilemma led Emil Fackenheim to suggest that, from a philosophical perspective, “if power is among the attributes of the Deity at all, it can at most be finite or limited power. For there must be room, so to speak, for human freedom. Such freedom is morally necessary if man is to be responsible. And it is religiously necessary if God is to be a God who holds man responsible.” Moreover, with regard to the dictum of R. Hanina, Fackenheim writes, “This sage seems to leave little scope for human freedom. But he also seems to hold that what little scope it has is beyond the power of God.”17 As a result, Fackenheim concludes that this issue cannot be adequately resolved by philosophy, requiring as it does a degree of faith that is outside the scope of philosophical inquiry. There are in fact a number of explicit statements to be found in Scripture that appear to contradict the idea that man’s will is truly free and independent. Of particular importance in this regard are the repeated statements made in the Exodus narrative about God hardening the heart of Pharaoh (Ex. 7:3, 10:1, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10, 14:4). Taking these passages at face value, one may ask

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how a person may reasonably be held accountable for his actions if they result from what appears to be divine control of his will. In his work devoted to the reconciliation of apparent discrepancies between biblical passages, Manasseh ben Israel attempted to deal with this problem by proposing what amounts to an essentially semantic solution. He argued that although these and other comparable texts seem to challenge the critical presumption of human free will, they actually serve to reaffirm it. “Because if the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart signifies that he was deprived of Freewill, ergo, he was free in his actions; for to deprive, is to take away what is possessed; and as God deprived Pharaoh of Freewill, it follows, that what he possessed was taken from him.”18 However, even if one accepts the logic of this argument, there still remains the problem of reconciling divine intervention in one’s decision-making process with the purported retention by the individual of the moral autonomy that is necessary in order that one should be held accountable for his actions. Maimonides had sought to deal with this problem by employing the approach of the sage R. Simeon b. Lakish. The latter had argued in effect that “when God warns a man once, twice, and even a third time, and he still does not repent, then does God close his heart against repentance so that He should exact vengeance from him for his sins?”19 That is, because of the extraordinary redemptive power of true penitence, there is a point beyond which one’s repentance for the evils committed against his fellow man can no longer be accepted by God. Once that boundary is crossed, divine justice mandates punishment of the transgressor regardless of his contrition. In such a case, direct intervention by God may become necessary in order to preempt such belated repentance and thereby facilitate the application of divine justice. Maimonides, taking this approach, suggested that the troublesome biblical passages should be understood as indicating that Pharaoh’s crimes against the Israelites had reached the point where it became necessary for God to intervene directly in order to prevent him from repenting, and thereby gaining divine pardon of his egregious misdeeds. In the case of Pharaoh, we may assume that it was God’s wish that he and those who shared his guilt should receive the full measure of the punishment they merited because of their excesses against their fellow men. As Maimonides explained, “It would not be possible to punish them if they had repented; therefore they were prevented from doing so.”20 Presumably, then, this would account for the necessity of the divine intervention that resulted in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, an intervention that was occasioned by the unmitigated evil deriving from the unrestrained application of Pharaoh’s free will. Moreover, anticipating the general objection to this line of approach, Maimonides rejected the criticism that it would have God punish someone for not repenting at the same time that God prevented him from so doing. He argued, instead, that God “knows the sins, and the ex-

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tent of the punishment will be according to His wisdom and justice. . . . It is not necessary for us to know His wisdom to the extent of knowing why He punished this person with this form of punishment and not another.”21 Isaac Arama, however, took sharp issue with Maimonides’ approach to the problem. He insisted that the very idea that God might intervene in history to prevent a person from repenting for his past transgressions was insupportable. Offering an alternate approach, Arama argued that, although the sins one commits against God may be forgivable if there is true atonement, those committed by man against his fellow can only be absolved through satisfying the demands of human justice. Indeed, were it possible to gain divine absolution for one’s crimes against his fellow through penitence alone, the moral law would be rendered impotent. There would be little to restrain people from committing the worst sorts of evil, since one’s fear of future punishment would be mitigated by the expectation of God’s ultimate pardon once the perpetrator acknowledged the error of his ways and begged for forgiveness. The punishment meted out for a person’s transgressions against his fellow must therefore be commensurate with the crimes committed. In the specific case of Pharaoh, Arama suggested that his crimes were so great that he and those who participated in them merited multiple and severe punishments. Accordingly, when Scripture tells us that God hardened his heart, what it intends to convey is that God enabled Pharaoh to endure the punishments of the plagues that were intended to dissuade him from continuing on his chosen course of oppression.22 This intervention relieved Pharaoh of the need to relent. It permitted him to follow his true inclinations and to continue to persecute the Israelites so that he might ultimately receive the full measure of divine retribution for his sins against his fellow man. Viewed from this standpoint, the divine hardening of Pharaoh’s heart may be seen to have had no direct effect on his autonomous capacity for moral choice. It merely served to bolster his determination to pursue his desires wholeheartedly and without deference to external political pressures from his own afflicted societal elites.23 Meir L. Malbim pursued a closely related interpretive approach to the biblical story. He suggested that it was quite reasonable that Pharaoh should have succumbed to the pressures being applied to him because of the punishments inflicted upon his household and Egypt, irrespective of his personal desire to continue to subjugate the Israelites. However, Malbim argued, it was God’s wish that Pharaoh free the Israelites as a result of an autonomous act of will, and not because of compulsion by external factors. Accordingly, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not be influenced by the course of events to act against his own personal inclinations. In other words, God’s intervention did not in any way diminish his moral autonomy. On the contrary, by inuring Pharaoh to the sufferings caused by the plagues, it served to remove

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the demands of expediency from him thereby affording him complete discretion to act entirely in accordance with his own unfettered free will.24 Taking a radically different approach to the general issue, Abraham J. Heschel asserts that “hardness of heart” represents the antithesis of freedom, which presupposes an openness of the heart and mind. “Freedom is not a natural disposition, but God’s precious gift to man. Those in whom viciousness becomes second nature, those in whom brutality is linked with haughtiness, forfeit their ability and therefore their right to receive that gift. Hardening of the heart is the suspension of freedom. Sin becomes compulsory and self-destructive. Guilt and punishment become one. In other words, the ability to understand, to see, or to hear the divine significance of events, may be granted or withheld from man.”25 Although Heschel does not relate this view to the biblical passages under discussion here, his argument is obviously fraught with problems. In effect, the story of Pharaoh would have to be interpreted by Heschel as stating that, by hardening his heart, God in fact suspended Pharaoh’s freedom of choice. Moreover, Heschel would transfer responsibility for his actions from Pharaoh to God. “Hardness of heart is a condition of which the person afflicted is unaware. Not knowing what ails him, he is unable to repent and to recover. However, when hardness is intensified from above, responsibility is assumed by God. He smites and He restores, bringing about a revival of sensitivity.”26 Assuming for purposes of discussion that the approaches to explaining the difficulties implicit in the biblical texts recommended by Maimonides, Arama, or Malbim are basically acceptable, they clearly raise another perhaps even more troubling question. How can one explain the nature of a divine justice that permits the innocent to continue to suffer in order that the guilty may ultimately receive an appropriate divine punishment for their excessive crimes against their fellow man? Accordingly, one must still find a way of dealing with what is perhaps the fundamental problem of theodicy; that is, if God is all-powerful, why does He tolerate the evil perpetrated by man and the suffering it causes, particularly to the innocent? NOTES 1. Mekhilta deRabbi Ishmael, Horowitz-Rabin, ed., p. 142. 2. Menahem Mordekhai Frankel Teomim, Be’er haAvot, p. 180, on Avot 4:15. It is of interest to note the views of the Hassidic master R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi on the “suffering righteous.” In his view, by contrast with the completely righteous man, “the ‘incompletely righteous’ is he who does not hate the sitra achra [the other side] with an absolute hatred; therefore he does not also absolutely abhor evil. And as long as the hatred and scorn of evil are not absolute, there must remain some vestige of love and pleasure in it” (Likutei Amarim—Tanya, p. 41). 3. For a comprehensive discussion and detailed analysis of the various responses to suffering in the major rabbinic works of antiquity see David Kraemer, Responses to Suffering in Classical Rabbinic Literature.

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4. Berakhot 7a. 5. Menahot 29b. 6. Cited by Joshua O. Haberman, The God I Believe In, pp. 12–13. 7. “Moses said to Israel: Do you see the wicked who prosper in this world? For two or three days they will prosper, but in the end they will be full of regret, . . . On the other hand, you may see the righteous suffer in this world. For two or three days they suffer, but eventually they are bound to rejoice” (Sifre Deuteronomy, Piska 53). Similarly, R. Eleazar b. Zadok taught: “To what are the righteous compared in this world? To a tree standing in a place of cleanness, but its bough overhangs to a place of uncleanness; when the bough is lopped off, it stands entirely in a place of cleanness. Thus the Holy One, blessed be He, brings suffering upon the righteous in this world, in order that they may inherit the future world. . . . And to what are the wicked compared in this world? To a tree standing wholly in a place of uncleanness, but a branch thereof overhangs a place of cleanness; when the bough is lopped off, it stands entirely in a place of uncleanness. Thus the Holy One, blessed be He, makes them prosper in this world, in order to destroy and consign them to the nethermost rung” (Kiddushin 40b). 8. Kiddushin 39b; Hulin 142a. 9. Barukh Epstein, Barukh sheAmar: Pirkei Avot, on Avot 4:15, p. 160. 10. See Jacob ibn Habib, Ein Yaacov, on Berakhot 7a. 11. Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, 3:12. 12. The Wisdom of Ben Sira 15:14–15. For a discussion of Ben Sira’s controversy with Hellenistic liberalism on this question, see Martin Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism, vol. I, pp. 139–142. 13. Psalms of Solomon 9:7. 14. Philo, “On the Unchangeableness of God,” in The Works of Philo, 10:47. 15. Ibid., 10:50. 16. Berakhot 33b; Megillah 25a; Niddah 16b. In this regard, the sage R. Hanina b. Papa presented a homily relating that the angel who is in charge of conception takes a drop [of semen] “and places it in the presence of the Holy One, blessed be He, saying, ‘sovereign of the universe, What shall be the fate of this drop? Shall it produce a strong man or a weak man, a wise man or a fool, a rich man or a poor man?’ Whereas ‘wicked man’ or ‘righteous one’ he does not mention, in agreement with the view of R. Hanina” (Niddah 16b). 17. Emil L. Fackenheim, Quest for Past and Future, pp. 197–98. 18. Manasseh ben Israel, The Conciliator, vol. 1, pp. 116–17. 19. Exodus Rabbah 13:3. 20. Maimonides, Hakdamah leMassekhet Avot (Shemoneh Perakim), ch. 8. 21. Ibid. 22. Jonah Gerondi also offers this interpretation. See Derashot uPerushei Rabbenu Yonah Gerondi leHamishah Humshei Torah, p. 108. 23. Isaac Arama, Akedat Yitzhak, ch. 36, pp. 35a–b. See also Obadiah Sforno, Biur al haTorah, on Ex.7:3, and Isaac Abravanel, Perush haTorah, “Shemot,” ch. 7, beginning. 24. Malbim, HaTorah vehaMitzvah on Ex. 4:22–23. 25. Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets, p. 191. 26. Ibid.

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Theodicy in Judaic Thought

Judaic theologians and philosophers throughout the ages have taken a variety of approaches to dealing with the daunting problem of reconciling the existence of evil with divine omnipotence and justice. These have tended for the most part to focus on at least one of five common thematic arguments, some of which have a number of variants and some of which are mutually exclusive. The first of these thematic arguments is that the central problem of theodicy is insoluble because of our basic inability to comprehend the true nature of divine engagement with the universe. The second is that the apparently insoluble dilemma is essentially a semantic problem. The third is that God’s presumed omnipotence is less than absolute. The fourth is that the evils that befall man are acts of divine retribution. The fifth is that the evils that afflict man are a consequence of the withdrawal or absence of the divine presence from the affairs of men. As will be seen, none of these arguments is free of flaws that effectively limit their general acceptability. Perhaps because the stakes for faith and morals are even greater with regard to the question of divine omnipotence than for divine omniscience, particularly in the aftermath of the Holocaust, the concern of Judaic thinkers with the problem of theodicy remains profound and unrelenting. GOD’S WAYS ARE INCOMPREHENSIBLE The incomprehensibility argument reflects the conviction that a satisfactory resolution of the problem of theodicy lies beyond the bounds of man’s intellectual reach. It is predicated on the proposition that man is not mentally equipped to truly comprehend the ways of God, and that he is therefore also

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unable to deal cogently with the question of why the righteous or innocent may suffer without any apparent justification. This approach accords well with the teaching of the rabbis that cautions us about the futility of seeking to comprehend that which by its intrinsic nature is unfathomable by man. The incomprehensibility argument is clearly articulated in the classical rabbinic literature in the unequivocal assertion of R. Jannai: “It is not in our power to understand either the well-being of the wicked or the sufferings of the righteous.”1 In modern times, this argument was elaborated further by Samson R. Hirsch, who wrote: “To determine the relationship between the visible fate of a man and his moral worthiness or lack thereof is utterly beyond our power. . . . We do not have sufficient insight either to determine a person’s moral worth or worthlessness, or to judge whether that which befalls him is indeed a blessing or a calamity.”2 Considered from this standpoint, speculation on the critical questions that must be answered in order to formulate a rationally acceptable theodicy is quite pointless. The attempt to do so will achieve nothing more than to waste one’s time and intellectual energy. Hayim Greenberg articulated the practical implications of this argument most forcefully in an article written shortly after the onset of World War II. Reflecting on the irrationality of the havoc and destruction that was then being wreaked in Europe, Greenberg took strong exception to the attempts that were being made to discover some divine purpose or scheme in the chaos and evil that was engulfing the continent. He categorically rejected the notion of God serving as “a cosmic police magistrate who doles out reward and punishment for good deeds and for transgressions.” As far as Greenberg was concerned, there was no sound theological basis for such a view. To the contrary, he asserted: “Religious thought must, once and for all, renounce rationalist interpretation and justification of the ways of God. There exists no science of God, and no way of studying His ways. . . . If one is to be honest with himself, one must either deny the existence of God or . . . learn from Job to believe without understanding, to trust without explanations.”3 In other words, there is no role here for human reason; one must either have unquestioning faith in God’s ultimate justice and goodness or reject the idea of providence entirely. A related and perhaps more intriguing approach to the problem is that suggested by Solomon Schechter. He observed, with regard to some of the classical texts cited in support of the incomprehensibility argument, that upon close examination these passages not only seem to repudiate any attempt to intrude into the secrets of God. They “also hint at the possibility that even God’s omnipotence is submitted to a certain law—though designed by His own holy will—which He could not alter without detriment to the whole creation.”4 That is, although God is held to be omnipotent by definition, and is therefore able to intervene in the course of events at will, His readiness to do so in any particular instance may be constrained by the unintended broader conse-

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quences of His actions. Such supernatural intervention may produce undesirable effects on the lives of others or, indeed, the universe itself. To illustrate this point, the Talmud relates the story of R. Eleazar b. Pedath, who suffered from both illness and poverty. While being visited by some colleagues, R. Eleazar became faint and dozed. His visitors noticed that he was crying and laughing at the same time. “When he awoke they asked him: Why did you cry and laugh? He replied: Because the Holy One, blessed be He, was sitting by my side and I asked Him, How long will I suffer in this world? And He replied: Eleazar, my son, would you rather that I should turn back the world to its very beginnings? Perhaps you might then be born at a happier hour? I replied: All this, and then only perhaps?”5 R. Eleazar was evidently unwilling to cause God so much bother for just the possibility, not even the probability, of a better life. The essential point of this story, however, is that the fortunes of people are interlocked in a way that an intervention on behalf of one might trigger a series of effects that could destabilize the existing order of the universe. Improving the lot of one person may result in deteriorating that of another. Similarly, punishment of the wicked may have spillover effects on the righteous. As suggested by one writer: “There can be no outpouring of wrath on the wicked without a concomitant danger to others or discomfort to the one for whom or by Whom justice is dispensed. If it is the presence of the wicked which arouses the Divine wrath in the first place, it is the righteous and the innocent who suffer as well from its unfocused peripheral effects.”6 The weakness of this argument, of course, is its implicit supposition that, notwithstanding God’s omnipotence, His wrath cannot be targeted precisely enough to eliminate collateral damage. Nonetheless, from this perspective, since no person is in a position to understand adequately the unintended consequences of a divine intervention on his behalf, one should accept the circumstances and conditions of his life with equanimity. It should cause no surprise that the incomprehensibility argument represents a readily acceptable approach for those who feel more comfortable with the notion of absolute faith in a just God than with the doubts engendered by theological challenges. As the Hasidic master, Wolfe of Zhitomer is reputed to have said, “for the true believer there are no questions, for the non-believer there are no answers.”7 In essence, this perspective was reaffirmed recently by the late Yeshayahu Leibowitz who asserted that, for the person who has true faith, the problem of theodicy does not exist. He suggested that the assumption that there is such a problem is predicated on a fundamental misconception. This erroneous view derives from the tendency of many people to think of God “as though He were appointed as overseer of the affairs of the world, and as though He had a specific duty and you claim that there has been a failure to fulfill that duty.” But, he insisted, “God does not have such a duty.”8 Since God is not obligated to play the role of benefactor that we so readily ascribe to Him,

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Leibowitz considered the questioning of divine justice by man to be both inappropriate and irrelevant. Another contemporary writer who has struggled with this issue from a Hasidic perspective is Shmuel Boteach, who argues: “As human beings, it is not our role to concern ourselves with God’s affairs and to offer rationalizations for other people’s sufferings. . . . Why God brings suffering upon mankind, and especially upon the righteous, is something that we currently cannot comprehend. And the truth is, it is none of our business. The moral imperative beholden upon us when witnessing the suffering of another individual is simply to cause it to cease, not to attempt to understand it ourselves or explain it to others.”9 Nonetheless, the incomprehensibility argument has come under sharp criticism from others who take issue with it because, as David Birnbaum puts it, such an approach compromises “the moral character of God’s actions . . . in order to preserve God’s ultimately unfathomable benevolence.”10 That is, if comprehension of the nature of divine justice is beyond man’s intellectual grasp, such incapacity must also necessarily diminish the significance of man’s attribution of moral qualities to divine acts. This surely would undermine the prescriptive importance of the concept of imitatio Dei, discussed at some length earlier, and much of biblical and rabbinic teaching along with it. Viewed from this standpoint, it would seem reasonable to question whether the incomprehensibility argument, notwithstanding its foundation in the classical literature, is fully compatible with the ultimate purposes of the Torah as these are understood in traditional Judaic thought. THE SEMANTIC APPROACH The semantic approach to dealing with the problem of theodicy appears to have been first put forward in the post-talmudic period by Saadia Gaon, who attempted to resolve the fundamental issue by redefining its underlying premises. He began by posing the critical question to be answered in the following manner: If the omnipotent God does not desire the disobedience of the rebellious, how is it possible for such to occur? He responded that the notion of an inherent paradox here is meaningful only from the perspective of man, but has no relevance with respect to God. “For when a human being hates a thing, he does so usually because it harms him. Our Lord, however, does not hate anything on account of His own personality, because it is impossible that He be affected by any of the accidents appertaining to mortals. He considers them objectionable, only on our account, because of the harm they might inflict upon us.”11 According to Saadia, as far as God is concerned, man’s disobedience does not contradict the divine will or negate the idea of divine omnipotence. This is because His revealed desires are not articulated as imperatives that must be

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obeyed, as is the case with the divinely ordained laws governing the order of nature. In other words, the precepts promulgated by the Torah may be considered to be essentially normative demands that ought to be responded to appropriately and not commands that must be obeyed. Since the revelation of divine guidance to man is intended for his benefit and well-being, it should be understood as optional rather than mandatory. Man is free to choose to comply with this guidance or to disregard it at his own peril. If man should choose the latter option, such choice does not constitute a contravention of the divine will, since it is the divine will that man should have the opportunity to make the proper choice. The weakness of Saadia’s approach to the problem is that, although he deals effectively with the dilemma of simultaneously preserving divine omnipotence and man’s free will, he does not address the still unanswered question of why an omnipotent God permits the innocent to suffer. That is, since God has the ability to intervene in human affairs, why does He allow those who are guilty of rejecting the divine guidance to carry out their designs, and thereby inflict evils upon those who are guiltless? Pursuing a radically different approach, Harold Schulweis recently advocated what also amounts to a semantic solution to the problem of theodicy, essentially ending up at the same point as Saadia, but reaching it through a substantially more complex argument. Beginning with an initial assertion strongly reminiscent of the classic incomprehensibility argument, Schulweis suggested that traditional “subject theology,” an attempt to grasp the essence of divinity, is basically an exercise in futility. “By definition no unknowable God can be known. Nothing can be said of that which in itself is beyond our comprehension.” Having thus disposed of the classical subject theology, he proceeded to argue that, “Whatever is claimed as knowledge of God must therefore be relational. God as revealed to human beings is not God-in-Himself.” Schulweis therefore proposed that the traditional approach to theology be set aside in favor of “predicate theology.” The latter would consider “God” not as a substantive noun that refers to an object as it is in its essence, but rather as a functional noun that can only be understood in terms of its relation to man. “God and person are each related to and dependent upon the other. To speak of God without person is akin to speaking of parents without children or shepherd without sheep.”12 Predicate theology would therefore be concerned with understanding human attributes in terms of their godliness, rather than with the divine attributes as such. The implication of what Schulweis refers to as “predicate theodicy” is that the dilemma of reconciling the coexistence of evil with providence becomes one that is fundamentally semantic in nature. The question of why the righteous suffer, which really asks for what purpose certain events have taken place, presupposes a subject theodicy which will attempt to respond to the

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challenge in terms of how the event relates to the divine purpose. “It calls for deciphering the hidden motives of a supramoral and suprapersonal Ego.” But, Schulweis insisted, “the tragic character of an event does not imply the presence of a purposive agent lurking behind it. It does not automatically indicate that there is a ‘who’ which directs such occurrences and whose intent it is our theological task to uncover.”13 According to this approach, the suffering of the righteous at the hands of other men results from the practical application of ungodlike attributes by the latter. Seen from this perspective, “evils are not the work of a malevolent suprapersonal will, but acts and events which threaten human growth, equilibrium and fulfillment.”14 In effect, Schulweis resolves the problem of theodicy by redefining God completely out of the moral equation, thereby making the entire issue irrelevant. In so doing, however, Schulweis limits the acceptability of his approach because he finds it necessary to redefine God in a manner that bears little relation to the traditional Judaic concept of a providential deity. THE ARGUMENT OF LIMITED DIVINE POWER Notwithstanding the difficulty of arriving at an intellectually acceptable theodicy, rabbinic writers throughout the ages have affirmed the central importance of the concept of divine omnipotence as a critical element of traditional Judaic thought. Nonetheless, although the notion that God’s power might be limited in some way was never clearly articulated in classical times, there are some rabbinic texts that may be interpreted as hinting at such a possibility, as will be seen below. One may also suggest that the notion probably also was broached in medieval times, given the arguments that were made in opposition to such an idea. Thus, defending the classical Judaic position concerning the attributes ascribed to God, Joseph Albo argued that any such attributes must be considered “eternal and perpetual like God Himself,” whether viewed from a philosophical or a theological standpoint. Moreover, each attribute must be considered as infinite in value and perfection. Accordingly, “if we say that God is powerful, we must understand that His power is infinite. For if it were finite, we can imagine a greater power, and He would then be infirm, as not having the greater power imagined.”15 As a rule, however, the notion of a non-omnipotent God does not appear to have been given much serious consideration by Judaic thinkers until rather recently. In contemporary times, it has once again become acceptable for some to raise the issue of the possible finitude of God as a solution to the problem of theodicy. That is, if one argues that God is neither infinitely or absolutely omnipotent, then He obviously cannot be held accountable for permitting evil to exist in the world. Arthur A. Cohen wrote: “All that needs to be believed in order for us to allow our God to survive the Holocaust (along with a remnant of his people) is that his infinitesimal uncontrol be acknowledged to be as much a

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treasure of uncertainty to God as it is a kingdom of unknowing to man, that God can do almost everything, but not everything, that man’s freedom is not simply a gift, but an indispensable surd of the divine nature, and that man’s very existence reflects upon and corroborates God’s limit.”16 Some proponents of this idea point to the possible intimations of support for it that may be found in a few isolated instances in the classical rabbinic literature where God’s absolute omnipotence does not seem to be taken entirely for granted. One example of this is the statement that “When Israel perform the will of the Omnipresent they add strength to the heavenly power; as it is said, To God we render strength (Ps. 60:14). When, however, Israel do not perform the will of the Omnipresent, they weaken, if it is possible to say so, the great power of Him Who is above.” Similarly, another tradition taught: “When Israel perform the will of the Omnipresent they add strength to the heavenly power; as it is stated, And now, I pray thee, let the power of the Lord be great (Num. 14:17). When, however, Israel do not perform the will of the Omnipresent they weaken, if it is possible to say so, the great power of Him Who is above Him.”17 The authors of these statements seem to assume, as suggested by Byron Sherwin, “that God, not being omnipotent, relies upon human efforts to increase what power He does have. Human deeds can serve either to enhance or to reduce divine power in the world.”18 However, as Emil Fackenheim has urged, such statements should be understood as consciously formulated symbolic metaphors, “especially when in their stress on human responsibility they even make the omnipotent God dependent on impotent man.”19 Taking a rather different approach to the matter, A. Golomb argues that this rabbinic passage should not be taken out of its context. It does indeed suggest that God is not omnipotent and that His strength is dependent on the people of Israel and their observance of the Torah. Nonetheless, the intellectual context of the passage is the symbiotic relationship between God and Israel. “Therefore, our conception of God today is not the same as the Holy One, blessed be He, of our ancestors, and we cannot draw valid analogies between their issues and ours.”20 In other words, even though we use the same terms, their implications are very different today than they were more than a millennium ago. Moreover, it needs to be emphasized that statements in the traditional literature that can be interpreted as suggesting limitations on divine power are few and quite exceptional. Among modern Judaic thinkers, Mordecai Kaplan was a principal advocate of the approach that sought to modify dramatically the traditional concept of divine omnipotence. In making his case, as will become evident, Kaplan does not draw any distinction between the concepts of divine hanhagah and hashgahah, between divine management of the physical universe and special providence, and thereby effectively confuses the laws of nature and morality. In making his case, he relied heavily on the midrashic teaching that “the Holy One, blessed

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be He, does not link His name with evil, but only with good,” as the rabbinic prooftext upon which he grounded his argument.21 Kaplan insisted that modern man cannot possibly view earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, devastating storms and floods, famines and plagues, noxious plants and animals, as “necessary” to any preconceived plan or purpose. They are simply that phase of the universe which has not yet been completely penetrated by godhood. Of course, this involves a radical change in the traditional conception of God. It conflicts with that conception of God as infinite and perfect in His omniscience and omnipotence. But the fact is that God does not have to mean to us an absolute being who has planned and decreed every twinge of pain, every act of cruelty, every human sin. It is sufficient that God should mean to us the sum of the animating, organizing forces and relationships which are forever making a cosmos out of chaos. This is what we understand by God as the creative life of the universe.22

In a later work, Kaplan proposed that the dilemma of reconciling divine omnipotence with the existence of evil might possibly be resolved “by assuming that God’s omnipotence is not an actually realized fact at any point of time, but a potential fact.” In other words, Kaplan would admit the “infinite duration of Godhood,” but defer its actualization to some point in the far distant future, when “the evil that now mars the cosmos will ultimately be eliminated.”23 In both of these arguments, Kaplan clearly limits the scope and range of divine power. This approach was also adopted by Henry Slonimsky, who suggested that to assume that the universe is the product of a perfect God might turn out to be a fundamental error. “Maybe it is our task as human beings to be helpers and co-creators with a God who is still in process of gradual realization, who needs our strength to carry out his designs as we need his strength to hearten us. Maybe God and perfection are at the end and not at the beginning. Maybe it is a growing world and a growing mankind and a growing God, and perfection is to be achieved, and not something to start with.”24 In other words, Slonimsky is postulating the concept of a deity who is undergoing a process of maturation along with man, a notion that is rather remote from the traditional idea of God in Judaism. This perspective was elaborated further by Jacob Agus, who saw it as one approach to comprehending the inexplicable, namely, why a merciful and omnipotent God would permit the horrors of the Holocaust to take place. God is the name for that moral force that slowly is asserting itself in the human breast during the course of man’s evolution. In such a millennial process, occasional relapses are to be expected. On the time scale of human history, going back a million years or so to the day when the first apelike creature began to walk erect, civilization is but a few hours in a man’s life, cannibalism was the rule two hours ago, children were sacrificed to the gods or exposed to the wolves an hour ago, entire populations were massacred in the name of religion, and women were burned as witches a few minutes ago.

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Agus therefore suggests that the Holocaust should be viewed as another albeit horrendous example of man’s continuing struggle to achieve mastery over his morally base instincts. “The smoking chimneys of Auschwitz are but another atavistic outburst against the rule of God. They remind us of the constant need to combat the primitive within us.”25 Milton Steinberg, for one, took strong exception to Kaplan’s fundamental thesis, finding a “most serious deficiency in the Kaplanian theology,” a conceptual weakness that he considered as bringing Kaplan’s views perilously close to being inconsistent with the traditional Judaic concept of monotheism itself. Steinberg suggested that because Kaplan “speaks so generally of the God-idea rather than of God, the idea being by his lights what is affective and effective; because, furthermore, he shrinks God to the sum of those aspects of reality which enhance man’s life. . . . A need arises for another God beyond and in addition to Kaplan’s, who shall account for the world in which they [people] find themselves.”26 The postulation of the latter would, of course, represent paganism rather than monotheism. Nonetheless, Steinberg agreed with Kaplan to the extent that “if we deny to God responsibility for all, we must at the same time admit that His power is limited and His perfection is not complete. There are elements, therefore, of the non-Absolute conception of God which I personally require to account to myself for the reality of evil.”27 Elaborating on this theme, Steinberg asserted that man has been endowed with the capacity and “will to create . . . and aspire after ideal ends. In traits held in common with the divine, the humanity of mankind consists. In the manifestation of them lies its goal. Which is exactly what the old theologians had in mind when they insisted that man exists for the glory of God.” However, the path of man’s moral evolution towards the ideal is strewn with obstacles, some a result of the processes of nature and others the direct outcome of man’s failure to sufficiently master his passions and desires. Thus, “the nature of evil now becomes clear. It is the persistence of the circumstances of lower strata in higher; the carry-over of the limitations of the orders of being on which man’s existence is based into his personality and society.”28 The consequence of this is that man’s turbulent ascent toward God, involving his past and present inhumanity to his fellows, is an essential part of the cosmic scheme, which is still unfolding. It is in this sense that Steinberg apparently conceived of God as being non-absolute. Moreover, he suggested, by accepting this hypothesis “the essential nature of evil becomes explicable. It is the still unremoved scaffolding of the edifice of God’s creativity.”29 Taking a somewhat different approach, Gilbert Rosenthal more recently attempted to make a plausible case for the concept of a finite deity by arguing that the seeds of such a notion have always been present in the traditional literature of Judaism. Surprisingly, in producing ostensibly relevant prooftexts to buttress this thesis, he proposed some remarkably literal readings of a number

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of frequently cited biblical and midrashic passages that have generally been understood in more figurative ways. In any case, Rosenthal’s argument for a finite deity is predicated on the basic notion that God, “by His own volition, has yielded some of His prerogatives and powers to humans, much as a sovereign delegates some of his powers to a parliament in a constitutional monarchy.”30 Having done so, God is thereby absolved of any responsibility for the monstrous evils perpetrated by man. A similar approach is taken by Harold Kushner, who sought to apply it in explanation of the divine failure to intervene in the Holocaust. Why did He not intervene to stop it? Why didn’t He strike Hitler dead in 1939 and spare millions of lives and untold suffering, or why didn’t He send an earthquake to demolish the gas chambers? I have to believe . . . that He was with the victims, and not with the murderers, but that He does not control man’s choosing between good and evil. I have to believe that the tears and prayers of the victims aroused God’s compassion, but having given Man freedom to choose, including the freedom to choose to hurt his neighbor, there was nothing that God could do to prevent it.31

Rosenthal’s argument is seriously flawed, however, because it suggests that the divine delegation of power to mankind is irreversible, whereas a similar delegation of power by a human ruler is always reversible, if he has the residual power to enforce his will in this regard. Are we to conclude from this that a human sovereign is inherently more powerful than the divine sovereign, that the former may be able to regain control of his domain but that the latter cannot? And, if we grant that God has the power to rescind His delegation of authority, in what sense can one consider His power to be finite? As will be seen below, the notion of divine delegation of power suggested by both Rosenthal and Kushner is more appropriate to the concept of “divine withdrawal,” or hester panim, than it is to the notion of a finite God. In the early part of the twentieth century, one of the great exponents of Liberal Judaism, Claude G. Montefiore, took strong issue with this entire approach. “There are those who have tried or try to reconcile the goodness of God with the evils of the world by supposing that God’s power is limited: he would wish to do better for his world, but he cannot. He, the eternal spirit, has to contend with stubborn refractory material. . . . But this attempt at reconcilement and explanation will probably be found to raise greater difficulties than it relieves: at any rate, it is not, and I do not think it can or ever will be, the answer of the Jewish religion.” There is a certain irony in this position, given the troubled history of the Jewish people, since the notion of a limited God would help explain the millennia of suffering experienced by them. As Montefiore put it, “there is no race which has drunk more deeply the brimming cup of sorrows; there is no race which can chronicle more martyrs and victims for its faith. Nevertheless, there is no race which has clung more devoutly and stub-

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bornly to the doctrine of the goodness of God, and with the doctrine of the goodness it has always joined the doctrine of divine omnipotence.”32 In the hands of Ellis Rivkin, the argument about the limitations on divine power takes on a notably different level of sophistication. He argues that there are three modes through which God reveals Himself to man, intuitive insight, historical experience, and the spirit of free critical inquiry. “Metaphorically speaking, the first mode gives the heart of God, the second the ways of God with mankind, and the third the mind of God.” Never having complete access to God, each of these modes of revelation “gives us an intermixture of divine light and human shadow, and refractions, not reflections, of God and his universe.” Accordingly, we have “a revealing and concealing God, a God both knowable and unknowable . . . both all-powerful and helpless, both redemptive and damning. In a word, we have a God who was both present and absent in Auschwitz; who made the Holocaust a possibility but did not bring it about; who suffered with its victims but could not lift a finger to alleviate the pain.” In explaining why this was so, Rivkin suggests an analogy to how we approach horrendous diseases such as cancer or AIDS, or famine and other ravages of nature. In attempting to deal with the latter, scientists must pierce the mysteries surrounding them “and have recourse to those laws of nature to which we have access and which, when understood and co-opted, offer us redemption from the evil which has held us in thrall.” In effect, those scientists turn to the mind of God and seek to gain access to those laws of nature that make both the affliction and the cure possible. God ‘knows’ those laws, but cannot make them serve man’s needs before they have been discovered through free critical inquiry. “God is indeed a redemptive God, but only when the means for gaining redemption become known through the free, restless, and prying minds of men and women.” A similar situation prevails with regard to the functioning of the second mode of revelation, historical experience. The long tortuous history of the Jews is itself evidence of the operation of this mode of revelation, and may serve as a microcosmic reflection of the historical experience of mankind. However, history is not self-revealing. It must be penetrated and its lessons elucidated, absorbed, and applied as policy in the governing of human relations to rectify the errors of the past. “Significant patterns have emerged from historical experience that give us hopeful signs that although God cannot intervene directly, he has made it possible for us to attain a higher level of human possibility.” However, it is up to man to penetrate the shroud of history. Rivkin thus concludes: “God’s power was present at Auschwitz, but it was not within God’s power to use it. It was not in his power because God’s power is dependent on human choices as to how this power will be used whether for humane ends, whether they be angelic or demonic. God’s power to act in the human sphere is no different from God’s power to act in the realm of nature.” Rivkin points out

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that so long as scientists were unaware of the formula E=MC2, the divine power reflected in that formula was not at the disposal of man. However, once the secret was discovered, man became capable of exploiting it for his own purposes, beneficent or malevolent. Thus, although God was present at Auschwitz, He was rendered helpless by choices freely made by humans.”33 THE RETRIBUTION ARGUMENT The retribution or “blame the victim” argument, which is perhaps the oldest Judaic approach to dealing with the question of theodicy, asserts simply that the evil that befalls man is just punishment for his sins. In the biblical literature this position is set forth most clearly in The Book of Job by Eliphaz, a friend of Job, who argued: Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? Or where were the upright cut off? According as I have seen, they that plough iniquity, and sow mischief, reap the same (Job 4:7–8). Similarly, Elihu declared: Far be it from God, that He should do wickedness; And from the Almighty, that He should commit iniquity. For the work of a man will He requite unto him, and cause every man to find according to his ways (Job 34:10–11). The validity of this teaching, however, seems to be placed in some doubt in the conclusion of the work where God states, ye have not spoken of Me the thing that is right (Job 42:7, 8). This suggests the possibility that the author of The Book of Job ultimately rejects the retribution argument. Unfortunately, the text does not inform us clearly what the correct understanding of the problem should be. It merely urges emulation of Job’s faith and trust. As a result, the retribution argument was not laid to rest and continued to find advocates in the talmudic and later rabbinic literature. This ancient approach to theodicy appears to have been so pervasive that its application was soon extended beyond the sufferings of the individual to the collective tribulations of the nation. The communal implications of the retribution doctrine may be seen clearly reflected in the biblical confession of Ezra. Since the days of our fathers we have been exceedingly guilty unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hands of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to spoiling, and to confusion of face (Ezra 9:7). This idea, that the woes of the nation are a consequence of its collective transgressions against the divine will, was subsequently incorporated into the liturgy of the synagogue. It is still echoed by tradition-oriented Jews during the festival prayers in slightly modified form: “Because of our sins we were exiled from the Holy Land and removed far away from its sacred soil.”34 This idea also suggests that the innocent may properly suffer because of the transgressions of others, although such a view appears to have been rejected categorically by Moses himself. Thus, in response to God’s instruction to Moses and Aaron, issued in reaction to the rebellion of Korah, Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment, they replied,

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shall one man sin, and wilt Thou be wroth with all the congregation? (Num. 16: 21–22). And, indeed, according to the biblical narrative, their challenge was accepted and they were permitted to encourage the innocent to dissociate from the condemned rebels. Nonetheless, the view that the entire community, including the innocent, may suffer because of the sins of individuals is clearly reflected in the assertion of R. Eleazar, son of R. Simeon b. Yohai, to the effect that divine justice is rendered collectively in accordance with the standing of the majority. That is, if the majority sin, the whole is subject to retribution. But since it is the act of a single person that transforms a minority into a majority, each individual has the capacity to bring ruin to his society.35 In effect, the moral burden for the well-being of the whole falls on each of its members. In contemporary times, this approach has been extended by some to explain the collective suffering of a group for the guilt of an unrelated third party. Thus, Moshe Zeev Feldman suggested, with regard to the massacre of some twenty young Israelis at the hands of two Muslim fundamentalist suicide bombers in late January 1995, that the outrage was a direct consequence of the Israeli prime minister’s public desecration of the Sabbath on the preceding day. He stated that “it is impossible to separate this horrible event from what occurred the previous day, when the prime minister arrogantly trampled on the sanctity of the Sabbath.”36 A similar argument has been made with regard to the Holocaust, which has been treated by some as a clear illustration of the principle of divine retribution for the massive neglect of the Torah and the disregard of its precepts in the modern age. This suggestion has evoked cries of revulsion from a wide spectrum of commentators, including Robert Gordis who castigated this assertion as “nothing less than blasphemous. . . . Though maintained by some highly influential religious leaders, this defense of God must be pronounced a major offense to Him.”37 In fact, the argument that an individual’s sufferings should be accepted as just retribution for one’s sins, let alone for the sins of another, has always been difficult to sustain. Even if one suggests, as did R. Johanan, that even the most righteous of men have sinned and therefore merit whatever suffering they experience, what can one say with regard to the obvious innocence of infants and young children who also suffer personally unwarranted affliction and death?38 One classical attempt to explain the suffering of the innocent employed a notion of original or primal sin. That is, the idea that physical death itself represents a punishment brought upon all mankind as a consequence of Adam’s primal transgression of God’s will, described in the biblical narrative of the Garden of Eden. However, it must be emphasized that this Judaic notion of original sin should not be confused with the original sin doctrine of Christianity which involves the belief in a spiritual death that can be averted only through faith in a risen savior.39

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The Judaic concept of original sin suggested that had man not violated the divine imperative to abstain from the tree of knowledge, he would not have been made subject to the physical ravages of time and might have been immortal. But, because of Adam’s transgression, man’s continued existence was made subject to the same regime of nature as were all other living creatures. This was made clear to Adam when God told him of the punishment that awaited him. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return (Gen. 3:19). That is, at some point in time, God would withdraw the “breath of life” that caused man to be unique among the creatures, and man would then revert to the original state of inert matter from which he was fashioned. The notion of original sin thus permits the natural death of the innocent to be explained as a consequence of their genetic makeup rather than because of some presumed transgression on their part. However, this explanation still fails to account for the unnatural death and suffering of the innocent at the hands of one’s fellow man. During the talmudic period, the explanatory power of the original sin idea became a matter of substantial controversy among the rabbis. Some went so far as to reject entirely the notion that death and suffering could afflict the completely innocent person. To illustrate the point, they repeated a fabulous story told about one of the earlier sages: “Our Rabbis taught: In a certain place there was once a lizard that used to injure people. They came and told R. Hanina b. Dosa. He said to them: Show me its hole. They showed him its hole, and he put his heel over the hole, and the lizard came out and bit him, and it died. He put it on his shoulder and brought it to the Beth ha-Midrash and said to them: See, my sons, it is not the lizard that kills, it is sin that kills!”40 That is, had R. Hanina been guilty of sin the lizard’s bite would have been fatal for him too. As it was, his innocence inured him to the reptile’s venom. One leading opponent of the original sin argument, R. Ammi, found implicit support for its rejection in the writings of both psalmist and prophet. To account for the suffering of the innocent, he cited the text: If they profane My statutes, and keep not My commandments; Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with strokes (Ps. 89:32–33). The evident message of the passage is that sin begets punishment. The logical inference from this is that where there is no sin there is no retribution. Therefore, the answer to the question of how an omnipotent and just God can permit the innocent to suffer is simply that whoever experiences suffering cannot be truly or completely innocent, because suffering is the direct consequence of man’s transgressions. Making a similar argument with regard to the question concerning the death of the innocent, R. Ammi invoked the prophetic teaching: The soul that sinneth, it shall die; the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father with him (Ezek. 18:20). This passage not only seems to suggest that death is exclusively the consequence of

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sin, but also that Ezekiel rejected the notion that the primal sin of Adam was the cause of the death of his progeny and the mortality of all future generations. As pointed out by Adin Steinsaltz: “If a person is not punished with death on account of the sin of his father, he certainly would not be punished with death on account of the sin of Adam.”41 Accordingly, R. Ammi was able to assert unequivocally: “There is no death without sin, nor suffering without iniquity.”42 The essence of this classical position may also be seen reflected in contemporary times by Leo Baeck, who wrote: “In the view of Judaism, there is no sin in itself; there is only a man’s sin, the sin of the individual.” Moreover, he insisted, “Judaism knows nothing of original sin, that event in which man as mere object suffers its effects. For Judaism sin is the fate prepared by the individual when he disowns himself and makes of himself a mere object. Man does not fall into the sin of his fate, but into the fate of his sin.” The upshot of all this, according to Baeck, is that “Man, who can choose for or against God, creates the sin and thereby assumes responsibility for it. He is the victim of his own deeds.”43 But, it hardly need be pointed out, the logic of this approach is not at all compelling when applied to the suffering of those who chose for God, and even more so in the case of children who have not reached the age of responsibility. Possibly because of the inherent flaws in R. Ammi’s argument, the majority of the sages were unwilling to accept the proposition that there is no “suffering without iniquity,” and raised strong objections to the stance taken by R. Ammi. They insisted that death may indeed come upon one without his having sinned, and based their argument on the following biblical teaching. For the same fate is in store for all: for the righteous, and for the wicked; for the good and pure, and for the impure; for him who sacrifices, and for him who does not; for him who is pleasing, and for him who is displeasing; and for him who swears, and for him who shuns oaths.That is the sad thing about all that goes on under the sun: that the same fate is in store for all (Eccles. 9:2–3). Finding that the notion of original sin was helpful in explaining the death of the innocent, the sages invoked a rabbinic tradition which taught that “four persons died through the serpent’s machinations . . . which proves that there is death without sin and suffering without iniquity.”44 That is, even though these four exemplary individuals were not personally guilty of any transgressions for which they might have merited the imposition of a divine sentence of death, they nonetheless met their ends as a direct consequence of the original sin of Adam. According to the biblical account, that sin resulted from the chain of events set in motion by the actions of the serpent.45 Support for the majority position may also be seen as implicit in the midrashic commentary on the biblical statement, Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out (Deut. 28:6). R. Berekiah interpreted this passage as teaching: “Happy is the man the time of

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whose death is like unto the time of his birth; just as at the time of his birth he is free from sin, so too at the time of his death he is free from sin.”46 R. Berekiah’s assertion that man not only is born free of sin but may die free of sin clearly suggests that a person’s death may be quite unrelated to one’s moral state, thereby accounting for the death of the innocent. The talmudic discussion of the issue ultimately concluded with a categorical rejection of the position that there is no death without sin or suffering without iniquity. In an unusually definitive statement on a non-halakhic matter, the sages asserted that “the refutation of R. Ammi is [indeed] a refutation.”47 Nonetheless, it seems clear that the rabbinic position, that there is death without sin and suffering without iniquity, is not in itself an adequate response to the fundamental question of why the innocent, those free of sin, are permitted to suffer by a just God. An attempt to synthesize the conflicting approaches to the issue seems to have been made in the apocalyptic literature of the early second century, where we find the statement: “For, although Adam sinned first and has brought death upon all who were not in his own time, yet each of them who has been born from him has prepared for himself the coming torment. . . . But now, turn yourselves to destruction, you unrighteous ones who are living now, for you will be visited suddenly, since you have once rejected the understanding of the Most High. . . . Adam is, therefore, not the cause, except only for himself, but each of us has become our own Adam.”48 The author of this passage clearly accepted the argument that man’s physical mortality became inevitable because of Adam’s primal sin of having defied divine authority. At the same time, he also asserted that we are each responsible for the timing and character of our own demise, which comes about sooner or later as divine retribution for our seemingly inevitable transgressions. CHASTENINGS OF LOVE A number of the rabbis who appear to have accepted the notion of death and suffering as somehow related to the moral state of the individual were evidently uncomfortable with the extreme formulation that all human suffering reflected divine retribution for man’s sins. They therefore sought to mitigate this harsh doctrine to some extent by means of a moderating concept of yisurin shel ahavah (“chastenings of love”), an idea that they derived directly from Scripture. Employing the simile of paternal concern, the biblical text adjures man: And thou shalt consider in thy heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee (Deut. 8:5). This idea is further amplified in the adage, For whom the Lord loveth He correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth (Prov. 3:12). Accordingly, R. Eleazar b. Jacob taught: “If a man is visited by affliction, he should be grateful to God for it, because suffering draws man to God.”49

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These teachings suggest that suffering, at least in some if not most instances, should be seen as an indication of God’s wish to reprove man and make it possible for him to purge his moral account of his transgressions. The psalmist reflected this view when he wrote: Before I was afflicted, I did err; but now I observe Thy word. . . . It is good for me that I have been afflicted, in order that I might learn Thy statutes. . . . I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness Thou hast afflicted me (Ps. 119:67, 71, 75). Another advocate of this approach, R. Simeon b. Lakish, taught that “sufferings wash away all the sins of a man.” This notion is also to be found in a midrashic teaching that suggests “chastisements may be considered more precious than offerings, for while a sin-offering or a guilt-offering atones for a particular transgression . . . chastisement atones for all transgressions.”50 This general argument was elaborated upon and amplified by Raba, who advanced the application of the notion a step farther to deal with the problem of even the evidently righteous person who was afflicted by suffering: “If a man sees that painful sufferings visit him, let him examine his conduct. . . . If he examines and finds nothing [objectionable], let him attribute it to the neglect of the study of the Torah. . . . If he did attribute it [thus], and still did not find [this to be the cause], let him be sure that these are the chastenings of love.”51 Similarly, others suggested that sufferings might be inflicted by the will of God in order to purify or refine man. This notion is reflected in the proverb, Sharp wounds cleanse away evil (Prov. 20:30). According to the rabbis, this means “that even as the refiner puts silver into the fire and gold into the furnace, but does not keep them in the fire or in the furnace beyond the time necessary to refine them, so also does the Holy One, blessed be He, refine the righteous, each one of them, according to their strength.”52 It is in this latter sense that the sages interpreted the teaching, The Lord trieth the righteous (Ps. 11:5), and applied it to the divine testing of Abraham in connection with the “binding of Isaac,” suggesting that such tribulations have an ennobling effect even upon the most worthy of men.53 This approach to the problem of theodicy was also adopted in the medieval period by Nissim Gerondi, who took sharp issue with those who questioned the value of such chastenings on the assumption that they were unrelated to a person’s transgressions and therefore served no apparent purpose. In response, Nissim argued that “it is impossible that a truly righteous person (tzaddik), even though he be without sin and fulfill all the precepts, not be affected by the temptations of the world in a manner that detracts from his bond with his Creator. . . . And it is for this reason that God occasionally visits suffering on the righteous, even though they have not succumbed to sin, so that they may increase their detachment from the affairs of this world.”54 In Nissim’s view, suffering may also serve a prophylactic purpose in anticipation of the possibility of

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sin at some time in the future, given the temptations with which even the most righteous must grapple. In contemporary times, this approach to explaining the ultimate meaning and significance of human suffering was adopted and amplified by Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who asserted that it reflected the definitive halakhic response to the question of how man should confront this challenge to his faith. “Chastenings,” he wrote, “come to elevate the person, to purify his spirit and to sanctify him, to cleanse his thought and to refine it of the dregs of superficiality and vulgarity, to improve his soul and broaden the vista of his being.” Thus, the purpose of chastening “is to correct the flaw in the personality of man.” Moreover, Soloveitchik asserted, “Suffering appears in the world in order to contribute something to man, in order to atone for him, in order to redeem him from foulness, from crudity and depression.” Finally, he observed, “suffering obligates man to return in full repentance to God.”55 According to this view, it is only one who fails to recognize the redemptive purpose of his tribulations that suffers in vain. Another related approach views suffering as a test of a person’s resolve and commitment. Thus, the biblical author has Moses declare: And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God hath led thee these forty years in the wilderness, that He might afflict thee, to prove thee, to know what was in thy heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandment, or no. . . . to do thee good at thy latter end (Deut. 8:2, 16). Saadia Gaon elaborated this concept by suggesting that some of the sufferings of the virtuous should be viewed as “incipient trials with which God tests them, when He knows that they are able to endure them, only in order to compensate them for these trials later on with good.”56 Somewhat surprisingly, this view was reaffirmed effusively in modern times by Kaufmann Kohler, who wrote: “As a father does not punish his child in anger, but in order to improve his conduct, so God chastens man in order to purify his moral nature. Good fortune tends to harden the heart; adversity often softens and sweetens it. In the crucible of suffering the gold of the human soul is purified from the dross. The evil strokes of destiny come upon the righteous, not because he deserves them, but because his divine Friend is raising him to still higher tests of virtue.”57 This approach is also reflected in the writing of Leo Baeck, who notes that “The wisdom of Judaism—its very history so devised it—is that of the experience of life, which sees in life a task which has been imposed upon man by God. Suffering is a part of that task; every choosing and creating individual experiences it.”58 It would seem, however, that Saadia sensed a basic weakness in his argument; how could he explain the suffering of innocent children in terms of a divine test of fortitude and constancy of faith? He sought to overcome this flaw by suggesting that the evidently unearned afflictions suffered by children could “be compared to the discipline that their father might administer to them in

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the form of flogging or detention in order to keep them from harm, or to the repulsive, bitter medicines that he might make them drink in order to put an end to their illness.”59 However, this attempt at formulating a reasonable and acceptable response to this vexing question appears rather strained and quite unsatisfactory from a modern perspective, although it was evidently deemed plausible by the medieval mind. Saadia even took the matter a step farther, arguing that such testing of the righteous directly served the greater divine purpose. “For the whole purpose of the suffering of the upright is that the rest of God’s creatures might know that He has not chosen the former for nothing.”60 Saadia evidently was not troubled by the possibility that the sight of the righteous person suffering might have the diametrically opposite effect on others than the one he anticipated, namely that it might be viewed as emphasizing the ultimate futility of the life of virtue. Saadia anticipated the more general challenge that it does not appear reasonable to suppose that God would deliberately inflict suffering on the innocent in order to compensate them with good afterwards. He suggested that “God was eager to grant us the greatest possible good, for the favors conferred upon man by way of compensation are more highly prized than those conferred upon him purely as an act of grace.”61 Abraham bar Hiyya, following Saadia, took the position that the interrelated arguments of retribution and chastenings of love were both equally valid approaches to dealing with the problem of suffering. “Evil comes to the world in two ways. It either comes on the wicked to requite them for their actions or it comes on the righteous to test them and to correct them, so as ultimately to increase their reward.”62 Moreover, not only did this proposition hold true for the individual, and this is the real lesson of the story of Job, but, as noted earlier, it also extended to Israel collectively as a people and nation. This idea was already propounded in the rabbinic assertion that “the chastenings that come upon Israel are only for its good.”63 In this connection, R. Johanan taught: “Why is Israel likened to an olive tree? To tell you that just as the olive produces its oil only after pounding, so Israel returns to the right way only after suffering.”64 Similarly, Bar Hiyya asserted that God tests His people “to remove from their midst any heretic who lacks faith, to pardon the sins of the sinners, and to strengthen the faith of the waverers.”65 Evil and suffering thus become part of the cosmic plan, occurrences that the truly righteous should accept with equanimity and without protest. As Morris Joseph wrote: “Far, then, from seeking to escape the Divine punishments, the wise man will welcome them. He will welcome them as a witness to God’s moral government of the world, and as the necessary condition of his own moral salvation.”66 From this perspective, the experience of suffering becomes essential if one is to have a full appreciation of life and its potentialities.67 Indeed, R. Akiba and his school sought to transform suffering into a virtue: “One should rejoice more in chastisement than in prosperity. For

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if one is prosperous all his life, no sin of his will be forgiven. What brings him forgiveness of sins? Suffering.”68 For the disciples of R. Akiba, both ancient and modern, the fundamental questions concerning theodicy are thus rendered irrelevant.69 It should be noted that forgiveness, in the latter concept, does not mitigate punishment. As pointed out by Morris Joseph, forgiveness “means not the remission of the penalty, but the removal of guilt. Punishment is too essentially just, too sacred, too gracious for the Supreme to forgo any part of it. To think of His doing so is to think of Him as breaking His own good laws. But we may picture Him as taking the sinner back to His love, as restoring the happy relations between Him and His erring child which transgression has interrupted. Forgiveness is the removal of sin, or rather sinfulness, not the remission of punishment.”70 Some have employed the notion of “chastisement” in an attempt to understand the essential meaning and theological implications of the Holocaust. In a survey of Holocaust survivors, fourteen percent of the respondents saw God’s role in the catastrophe as one of chastising His people in order to promote faith in Him and to bring about improvement in human conduct. One unnamed survivor insisted that “we mortals can understand God’s ways; God smites His people but gives them the strength and courage to endure it. When they are punished they are also being helped to understand what the punishment is for. The Jewish people are an eternal people but their mission and purpose is to keep the commandments. And they will suffer greatly in proportion to their trespasses (although we cannot always comprehend God’s calculations) when they fail to conduct their lives according to His Torah teachings.”71 It is particularly noteworthy that these Holocaust survivors viewed the destruction and its redemptive features from a collective national perspective rather than from the standpoint of an affected individual. They were prepared to accept the notion of the collective punishment of Israel being justifiable from the perspective of God’s justice. In a similar vein, it has been argued that the Holocaust should “become a source of inspiration and encouragement for us. We are assured that we do have a Father in heaven who cares for us and is concerned enough with our spiritual status to demonstrate His disfavor.”72 Not surprisingly, in view of the enormity of the destruction, the articulation of this argument evoked numerous expressions of outrage and protest from across the spectrum of contemporary Judaic thinkers, particularly when considered from the perspective of the individuals affected.73 It is understandably difficult to accept the notion that evil of such unimaginable dimensions should be considered as a sign of divine concern for man’s well-being. As one Holocaust survivor put it: “I cannot believe that the dead were intended to be the moral cannon fodder of the living. Surely their moral sense was in no way improved. They’re dead.”74

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THE DIVINE WITHDRAWAL ARGUMENT The “retribution” approach implies that the evil suffered by man is a direct result of the operation of the divine will. The theory of “hester panim” (the hiding of the face of God), or “divine withdrawal,” assumes the opposite. It suggests that such evil is the consequence of the withdrawal of the saving influence of divine providence. Martin Buber observed in this regard: “The Bible knows of God’s hiding His face, of times when the contact between heaven and earth seems to be interrupted. God seems to withdraw Himself utterly from the earth and no longer to participate in its existence. The space of history is then full of noise, but empty of the divine breath.”75 According to the divine withdrawal argument, the evils that afflict man result not from active divine retribution for his sins but rather from deliberate divine self-limitation. That is, a withdrawal of providence from the world that permits evil to run its course and leaves man to cope with it as best he can. Soloveitchik characterized the idea of hester panim as “a temporary suspension of God’s active surveillance. He turns His back, so to speak, on events and leaves matters to chance.”76 The basis of the theory is clearly set forth in Scripture. Then My anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall come upon them; so that they will say in that day: Are not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us? (Deut. 31:17).77 Maimonides, writing in reference to this text, argued that it is we who are the cause of this divine withdrawal, creating a separation between man and God that effectively abandons the former to chance. “If, however, his God is within him, no evil at all will befall him.”78 Moreover, this abandonment is presumed to be temporary in nature. Steven Schwarzschild has pointed out that in Judaism the relevant doctrine is that of the El Mistater, the “hiding God,” and not the deus absconditus, the “hidden God.” “It is a doctrine of an act, not a state of God, a present process, not a completed one.”79 God can be induced, so to speak, to resume His active engagement with the world of man. As Norman Lamm wrote: “In a state of hester panim, God and man both exist but they do not relate. . . . God who turns His face away is One who once smiled, and may yet be made to smile upon man. But while He is in hiding, man’s life is void, empty, and he cowers in terror and confusion.”80 The notion of hester panim is linked to a broader conception of the relationship between God and the universe that involves the corollary concept of divine self-limitation. If one conceives of God in terms of His infinite power, it becomes difficult to imagine the nature of a relationship between the infiniteness of the divine and the finiteness of the material universe. This is a problem that the kabbalistic school of Isaac Luria and Hayyim Vital sought to resolve with the doctrine of tzimtzum (divine self-contraction).81 As summarized by Eliezer Berkovits, the doctrine asserts: “God’s involvement with the realm of

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finite reality is imaginable only as an act of ‘self-limitation,’ as it were. God, notwithstanding His transcendence, bends down to the world of finitude. . . . He ‘reduces’ Himself so that He may enter into the narrow straits of a relationship with finite existence. . . . God creates the world of finite being by curbing the full manifestation of His essence and power. . . . Creation is only conceivable as an act of divine ‘self-abnegation.’ ”82 In this concept, the existence of evil itself is understood as the necessary and direct consequence of the contraction of the divine. Evil is what tends to fill the void that is created by the withdrawal of the presence of God. However, while perhaps providing a plausible explanation of the coexistence of divine omnipotence and human defiance, the theory of hester panim does not account adequately for the suffering of the innocent. For, as pointed out by Berkovits, hester panim has two unrelated meanings in Scripture. The first corresponds to that cited above. The second “speaks of the Hiding of the Face when human suffering results, not from divine judgment, but from the evil perpetrated by man. Even the innocent may feel himself forsaken because of the Hiding of the Face.”83 This second meaning of hester panim may be seen most clearly in the words of the psalmist: All this is come upon us; yet we have not forgotten Thee, neither have we been false to Thy covenant. Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from Thy path; . . . Nay, but for Thy sake are we killed all the day; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Awake, why sleepest Thou, O Lord? Arouse Thyself, cast not off for ever. Wherefore hidest Thou Thy face, and forgettest our affliction and our oppression? (Ps. 44:18–25). The hester panim of which the psalmist is complaining appears to be not the repudiation of men by God because of their sins but rather His seeming indifference to the suffering of the innocent. In his own attempt to grapple with the theological meaning of the Holocaust, Soloveitchik observed that, while we cannot answer the question of why it occurred, we can classify it as an instance of hester panim, demonstrating that “this is how the world appears when God’s moderating surveillance is suspended.”84 The traditional response to the inexplicable mystery of God’s absence, not only during the horrors of the Holocaust but also throughout the tortuous history of the Jewish people, has been the expression of an abiding faith that there is some justifying reason for it. In a sense, this approach acknowledges that a plausible rationalization may be beyond human ability. As Job put it: Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him; But I will argue my ways before Him (13:15). Restating this traditional conviction in modern terms, Emil Fackenheim wrote: According to Jewish tradition, God, often distant, “hides His face.” Modern secularist man regards this distance as necessary distance, if not nonexistence; and he a priori regards moments of divine presence—if per impossibile they should occur—as human self-delusion. Modern man seems incapable of accepting himself as related to a divinity beyond him. But does this seeming incapacity signify that God is dead? Or that the

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great religious demand made of this age is a radical t’shuvah—a turning and listening to the God who can speak even though He is silent? And is not, in that case, the Jew of the generation of Auschwitz required to do what, since Abraham, Jeremiah, and Job, Jews have always done in times of darkness—contend with the silent God, and bear witness to Him by this very contention?85

Zvi Kolitz poignantly articulated this unshakable faith in the ultimate justice of divine silence in the form of a fictitious document that was supposed to have been found in the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto, which was ostensibly penned by one Yossel Rakover shortly before his death. This document gives eloquent testimony that man will ever search for meaning in his life and death. God has veiled His countenance from the world, and thus has delivered mankind over to its most savage impulses. And, unfortunately, when the power of impulse dominates the world, it is quite natural that the first victims should be those who embody the divine and the pure. Speaking personally, this is hardly a consolation, but since the destiny of our people is determined, not by earthly, material, and physical calculations, but by calculations not of this earth, spiritual and divine, the believer should see such events as a fragment of a great divine reckoning, against which human tragedies do not count for much. This, however, does not mean that the pious of my people should justify the edict by claiming that God and God’s judgments are right. I believe that to say we deserve the blows we have received is to malign ourselves, to desecrate the Shem hamfoyresh [the Ineffable Name] “Jew,” and this is the same as desecrating the actual Shem hamfoyresh—God; God is maligned when we malign ourselves.86

THE DIVINE ABSENCE THESIS An approach that is similar in many respects to the divine withdrawal argument is one that suggests that God is normally absent from history, and that God intrudes in human affairs only selectively and in accordance with criteria which man is incapable of surmising. Thus, as suggested by Fackenheim, “If God is ever present in history, this is not presence-in-general but rather a presence to particular men in particular situations.”87 This approach appears to be borne out by the biblical author, who repeatedly speaks of God descending to intervene in human affairs, the implication clearly being that in the intervals between such intrusions God absences Himself, leaving the world entirely in the hands of man. Thus, the biblical author writes in the story of the tower of Babel: And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded (Gen. 11:5). Again, in the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, God says: I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto Me (Gen. 18:21). When the cry of the children of Israel in Egypt reaches heaven, God says: I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians (Ex. 3:8). And when the moment arrived for the revelation of the Torah, the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:20). The sages

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elaborated this same theme with their description of the “ten descents” that brought the divine presence to the world. The first of these took place in the Garden of Eden, following the transgressions of Adam and Eve, who heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden (Gen. 3:8). The final descent was to take place at some point in the messianic future when, according to the prophet, His feet shall stand that day upon the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4).88 The implications of this thesis are clear. History, as one writer argues, “is man’s arena and if the doctrine of moral freedom has any meaning it must imply a notion of normality in which God is not present in history.”89 God does intervene providentially on occasions of His choosing, and we are not in a position to insist that a particular occasion, regardless of how grievous or horrendous it may be, makes a divine intrusion into history necessary. Presumably, the divine interventions recorded by the biblical authors took place for reasons about which we may speculate but can never have certain knowledge. A reasonable inference in this regard may be that there is a divine intrusion when such is necessary to remove obstacles created by man to the divine plan for the universe. Under such a criterion, the degree of injustice suffered by the innocent as seen from a human perspective may not be a relevant consideration. Thus, horrendous as it was, the Holocaust may not necessarily have had any direct effect on the divine scheme for man, perhaps explaining to some extent why there was no divine intervention. THE FREE WILL HYPOTHESIS Many contemporary theologians have opted for an approach, closely related to the divine absence thesis, that argues that God permits evil so that man may exercise his free will in resisting and overcoming it, something that is essential if he is to be held accountable for his moral choices. In effect, this approach represents an alternate theory of hester panim that proposes to account for the dilemma of the suffering of the innocent by reckoning it as a matter of moral necessity. Most recently, David Birnbaum argued that divine withdrawal or “contraction of real-time consciousness,” and its consequences, is the price of human freedom. “In our schema,” he wrote, “God manifests His care and concern for humanity—His Providence—by allowing mankind to develop in freedom and reach its fullest cosmic potentialities.”90 Under this concept, God is absolved of any responsibility for the horrors committed by man, who is given free rein to do good or evil. Indeed, without this capacity man would be like the rest of nature, incapable of creativity. As pointed out by Berkovits, divine intervention in history, even to prevent something as horrendous as the Holocaust, would not only eliminate the possibility of evil, but would preclude ethical action as well. God surely is sufficiently powerful to intervene every time a wrong is committed, “but his evident intervention would destroy not only evil, but also the essence of man’s humanity, i.e., his moral responsibility.”91

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This approach to the question of theodicy reflects a radical reaffirmation of man’s moral autonomy. It suggests that there is no alternative to allowing man to be evil if he is to have the option of ethical action. Consequently, as Berkovits put it, “the possibility of man-caused sorrow and suffering, undeservedly imposed on human beings, is always present in history—as long as man, in God’s unfathomable wisdom, is permitted to seek his own fulfillment.”92 Nonetheless, Steven Katz objected to this line of reasoning. “It strikes me that the free-will defense (of God), the most often-used argument to decipher the problem of theodicy, is interesting but it’s not persuasive. The idea that God had to allow evil so that man could demonstrate his freedom of will in making his choices has a lot of theological attraction, but it’s ultimately not philosophically convincing.”93 The problem, from a philosophic standpoint, is that the free will defense is based on the supposition that, notwithstanding God’s omnipotence, He could not create a world that is morally good without at the same time permitting evil to exist. Those who would challenge this idea argue that this effectively imposes a constraint on divine power that seems inconsistent with the concept of omnipotence. Why, for example, could God not create a world in which men would have moral autonomy but would always choose the good, rather than one in which most choose the good, some or most of the time. Given divine omnipotence, it would not be logically impossible for God to have created such a world. As John L. Mackie argued: “God was not, then, faced with a choice between making innocent automata and making beings who, in acting freely, would sometimes go wrong; there was open to him the obviously better possibility of making beings who would act freely but always go right.”94 Thus, as Katz acknowledges, although the free will defense seems to resonate well with some contemporary theologians, and may be the most rationally acceptable of the theodicies we have considered here, it too may be subjected to substantial criticism.95 NOTES 1. Avot 4:19 (4:15 in some editions). 2. Samson R. Hirsch, Chapters of the Fathers, on Avot 4:19. See also Menahem Mordekhai Frankel Teomim, Be’er haAvot, ad loc., p. 180. 3. Hayim Greenberg, “In Dust and Ashes,” in Nahum N. Glatzer, ed., The Dimensions of Job, pp. 222–223. 4. Solomon Schechter, “The Doctrine of Divine Retribution in Rabbinical Literature,” Studies in Judaism: First Series, p. 228. 5. Taanit 25a. 6. Yaacov Elman, “When Permission Is Given: Aspects of Divine Providence,” Tradition, vol. 24, no. 4, p. 38. 7. Byron L. Sherwin, “The Impotence of Explanation of the European Holocaust,” Tradition, vol. 12, nos. 3–4, 1972, p. 100.

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8. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Al haOlam uMelo’oh, p. 145. 9. Shmuel Boteach, Wrestling with the Divine, p. 102. 10. David Birnbaum, God and Evil: A Jewish Perspective, pp. 21–22. 11. Saadia Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, p. 190. 12. Harold M. Schulweis, Evil and the Morality of God, p. 126. 13. Ibid., pp. 134–135. 14. Ibid., p. 136. 15. Joseph Albo, Sefer Ha’Ikkarim, vol. 2, pp. 149–150. 16. Arthur A. Cohen, in Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr, eds., Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought, p. 976. 17. Lamentations Rabbah, 1:33; Pesikta de-Rab Kahana, Piska 25:1, with some variation in language. 18. Byron Sherwin, in Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr, eds., Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought, p. 967. 19. Emil L. Fackenheim, “Self-Realization and the Search for God,” in Arthur A. Cohen, Arguments and Doctrines, pp. 237–238. 20. A. Golomb, Iyyunim beYahadut Zemanenu, p. 128. 21. Genesis Rabbah 3:6. 22. Mordecai M. Kaplan, The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion, p. 76. 23. Kaplan, Questions Jews Ask: Reconstructionist Answers, p. 116. 24. Henry Slonimsky, Essays, pp. 123–124; italics in original. 25. Jacob B. Agus, Dialogue and Tradition, pp. 265–266. 26. Milton Steinberg, Anatomy of Faith, pp. 181–183. 27. Ibid., p. 275. 28. Steinberg, A Believing Jew, p. 26. 29. Ibid., pp. 27–28. 30. Gilbert S. Rosenthal, “Omnipotence, Omniscience and a Finite God,” Judaism, vol. 39, no. 1, Winter 1990, p. 72. 31. Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, pp. 84–85. 32. Claude G. Montefiore, Outlines of Liberal Judaism, pp. 71–72. 33. Ellis Rivkin, “The Revealing and Concealing God of Israel and Humankind,” in Joseph A. Edelheit, ed., The Life of Covenant: The Challenge of Contemporary Judaism, pp. 157–168. 34. Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book, p. 150. Also found in all standard (Orthodox) prayer books. 35. Kiddushin 40b. 36. Cited by Nahum Geller in Israel Shelanu, January 27, 1995, p. 20. 37. Robert Gordis, Judaic Ethics for a Lawless World, p. 83. 38. Berakhot 7a. 39. Isidore Epstein, Judaism: A Historical Presentation, p. 142. 40. Berakhot 33a. 41. Adin Steinsaltz, Commentary on Shabbat 55a, p. 231. 42. Shabbat 55a. See a discussion of the issue in Nahmanides, Torat haAdam in Kitvei Rabbenu Moshe ben Nahman, vol. 2, p. 274. 43. Leo Baeck, The Essence of Judaism, pp. 161–162. 44. Shabbat 55b; The discussion is presented in part in Baba Batra 17a.

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45. Albo, Sefer Ha’Ikkarim, vol. 4, p. 115. 46. Deuteronomy Rabbah 7:5. See also Baba Metzia 107a, and Rashi on Deut. 28:6. 47. Shabbat 55b. 48. Baruch 54:15–19, in James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1, p. 640. 49. Midrash Tanhuma, “Ki Tetze,” 3, on Deut. 22:6. 50. Midrash on Psalms 118:16, vol. 2, p. 242. 51. Berakhot 5a. 52. Pesikta Rabbati, Piska 43:5, p. 762. 53. “R. Jonathan said: A potter does not examine defective vessels, because he cannot give them a single blow without breaking them. What then does he examine? Only the sound vessels, for he will not break them even with many blows. Similarly, the Holy One, blessed be He, tests not the wicked but the righteous” (Genesis Rabbah 55:2). 54. Nissim Gerondi, Shnaim Assar Derushim, #10, pp. 72–73. 55. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “Kol Dodi Dofek,” in BeSod haYahid vehaYahad, pp. 339–340. 56. Saadia Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, p. 213. 57. Kaufmann Kohler, Jewish Theology, p. 177. 58. Leo Baeck, The Essence of Judaism, p. 141. 59. Saadia, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, p. 214. 60. Ibid., p. 213. 61. Ibid., p. 215. 62. Abraham bar Hiyya, The Meditation of the Sad Soul, p. 122. 63. Tanna Devei Eliyahu Zuta 11. 64. Menahot 53b. 65. Bar Hiyya, The Meditation of the Sad Soul, p. 127. 66. Morris Joseph, Judaism as Creed and Life, p. 94. 67. Louis Jacobs writes in this regard: “A man who never suffered would have to be pitied rather than envied for he would have lived always on the superficial plane, not knowing life’s bitterness he could never know its sweetness, his full potentialities would remain unrealised” (We Have Reason to Believe, p. 50). 68. Sifre Deuteronomy, Piska 32. 69. See a discussion of R. Akiba’s views in Abraham J. Heschel, Torah min haShamayim beAspeklariah shel haDorot, vol. 1, pp. 93–103. 70. Joseph, Judaism as Creed and Life, pp. 94–95. 71. Cited by Reeve Robert Brenner, The Faith and Doubt of Holocaust Survivors, pp. 207–208. 72. Nisson Wolpin, ed., A Path Through the Ashes, p. 59. 73. See Eugene B. Borowitz, Choices in Modern Jewish Thought, p. 194; Emil L. Fackenheim, God’s Presence in History, p. 39; Norman Lamm, The Face of God, sec. 2. 74. Cited by Brenner, The Faith and Doubt of Holocaust Survivors, p. 211. 75. Buber, On Judaism, p. 223. 76. Cited by Abraham R. Besdin, Reflections of the Rav, p. 36. 77. This notion of hester panim is repeated numerous times by Isaiah, and its consequences were depicted explicitly by Ezekiel: And the nations shall know that the house

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of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity, because they broke faith with Me, and I hid My face from them; so I gave them into the hand of their adversaries, and they fell all of them by the sword. According to their uncleanness and according to their transgressions did I unto them; and I hid My face from them (Ezek. 39:23–24). See a discussion of the views of the Hassidic leader, Rabbi Isaac Menahem Mendel Danziger, in Efraim Shmueli, HaYahadut bein Samkhut leHashra’ah, pp. 160–164. 78. Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, 3:51. 79. Steven Schwarzschild, “The Lure of Immanence—The Crisis in Contemporary Religious Thought,” in Menachem Kellner, ed., The Pursuit of the Ideal, p. 79. 80. Norman Lamm, Faith and Doubt, p. 324. 81. See Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, pp. 260–264. 82. Eliezer Berkovits, God, Man and History, p. 64. Adin Steinsaltz states, similarly, that “the world becomes possible only through the special act of divine withdrawal or contraction. Such divine non-being, or concealment, is thus the elementary condition for the existence of that which is finite” (The Thirteen Petalled Rose, p. 37). Joseph B. Soloveitchik defines holiness as “the descent of divinity into the midst of our concrete world . . . it is the ‘contraction’ of infinity within a finitude bound by laws, measures, and standards” (Halakhic Man, p. 108). 83. Berkovits, Faith After the Holocaust, p. 95. 84. Cited by Besdin, Reflections of the Rav, p. 37. 85. Emil L. Fackenheim in The Condition of Jewish Belief, pp. 58–59. 86. Zvi Kolitz, Yossel Rakover Speaks to God, pp. 17–18. 87. Fackenheim, God’s Presence in History, p. 8. 88. The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan, ch. 34, pp. 140–141. 89. Melvin Granatstein, “Theodicy and Belief,” Tradition, vol. 13, no. 2, p. 38. 90. David Birnbaum, God and Evil, p. 146. 91. Berkovits, God, Man and History, pp. 143–144. See also Louis Jacobs, We Have Reason to Believe, pp. 48–49. 92. Ibid., p. 144. 93. Cited by Joshua O. Haberman, The God I Believe In, pp. 86–87. 94. John L. Mackie, “Evil and Omnipotence,” in The Philosophy of Religion, Basil Mitchell, ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1971), pp. 100–101. 95. For a thorough discussion of the free will defense, see Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1977).

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Divine Justice and Human Justice

The ideal society envisioned by the Torah is intended to be the institutional embodiment of the principles of justice, the pursuit of which is demanded of Israel as the very justification for its collective existence as a distinct nation. The biblical imperative in this regard is explicit and unequivocal: Justice, justice shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee (Deut. 16:20). Possession of the national patrimony is thus made contingent on the collective pursuit of justice. The overriding importance of Judaism’s concern for justice was later brought down to the individual level by one of the sages of the talmudic period. “Every judge who judges with complete fairness even for a single hour, the Writ gives him credit as though he had become a partner to the Holy One, blessed be He, in the creation.”1 But, and herein lies the nub of the problem, how does one know what is just? Is justice presumed to be self-evident, or are its basic principles stipulated or merely implied by the precepts and teachings of the Torah? Since Judaism generally encourages man to guide his conduct in accordance with the principle of imitatio Dei, the emulation of God, is it intended that we define and apply our concepts of justice by reference to how the manifestations of divine justice are presented in Scripture? However, as one ponders the idea of justice within the context of traditional Judaic thought, it readily becomes apparent that certain fundamental and possibly unbridgeable distinctions must be drawn between the concepts of divine and human justice. That the two are not necessarily commensurate or even compatible becomes rather evident as one considers the implications of the biblical narratives about the Deluge and about the destruction of the societies of Sodom and Gomorrah.

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In the story of the Deluge, we are told that the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. . . . And God said unto Noah: The end of all flesh is come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth (Gen. 6:11, 13). Only Noah and his family are to survive along with representatives of the diverse animal species, presumably those required to reestablish the environmental conditions necessary for human survival and development. Here we have an extreme example of divine justice at work. The societies of the earth are depicted as corrupt and violent and are therefore to be destroyed, because, it would seem, they had become dysfunctional within the context of the divine plan. R. Johanan understood “violence” in this biblical passage to refer to robbery, a crime against another human. Accordingly, he said: “Come and see how great is the power of robbery, for lo, though the generation of the flood transgressed all laws, their decree of punishment was sealed only because they stretched out their hands to rob.”2 In an attempt to understand the underlying reason for the harshness of the divine decree, the sages drew a comparison with the story of the tower of Babel, and the rather different outcome in that case. There, although the building of the tower was seen as a direct affront to God, the society that perpetrated it was not annihilated. The society was disintegrated and the peoples dispersed, but not destroyed. From this comparison, R. Eliezer was able to conclude that whereas God might forgive a violation of the norms that govern the relations between man and God, no such latitude would be granted to gross transgressions against the norms governing the relations between man and man.3 But, we may ask, is the biblical author to be understood as suggesting that all the people of the earth, with the exception of Noah and his family, were corrupt and violent and therefore deserving of the collective fate that awaited them? Are there no gradations of culpability? Might there not be a milder punishment for the less corrupt than for the more corrupt? In this regard, is it just to punish unequals equally? Moreover, can we even conceive of a violent and corrupt society in which there are no victims? And, if there are victims, can we conceive of a concept of justice that will condemn the victims of oppression to the same fate as their victimizers? From the standpoint of any rational conception of justice, the biblical story of the Deluge cannot but leave us bewildered. The intrinsic problem with the biblical portrayal of divine justice at work is brought into even sharper relief by the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gommorah. Although Scripture does not make clear the precise nature of the transgressions of which the two ill-fated societies were guilty, we are advised that their sin is exceedingly grievous (Gen. 18:20). Presumably, the level of corruption and violence in the cities had reached the point where their continued existence could no longer be justified as acceptable within God’s plan for the universe. Sodom and Gomorrah were therefore marked for total obliteration; a punish-

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ment that evidently was considered appropriate retribution for their crimes in accordance with the requirements of divine justice. However, before this sentence could be carried out, there was another problem that had to be dealt with first. God had entered into a covenant with the patriarch Abraham, in accordance with which he was to become the progenitor of a new nation committed to the creation and upholding of a truly just and moral society. It was therefore imperative that Abraham fully comprehends and appreciates the justice of the impending destruction of the offending societies. And the Lord said: Shall I hide from Abraham that which I am doing; seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice (Gen. 18:17–19). It simply would not do to leave Abraham wondering why such a punishment was being inflicted on Sodom and Gomorrah, to have him undertake his civilization-building mission burdened with unanswered questions regarding the nature of divine justice. The concern over how Abraham would understand the workings of divine justice was fully justified. Because in the case of the two cities the “way of the Lord” evidently included the collective punishment of their inhabitants, an approach to the rendition of justice that is inherently repugnant to human reason. Indeed, no sooner was Abraham informed of the divine intention than he directly and pointedly challenged the justice of God’s decision. He simply could not believe that all the people of the condemned cities were so irredeemably evil as to merit annihilation. By contrast with Noah, who apparently received the divine decision to totally eradicate his society with equanimity and without murmur, Abraham was deeply troubled by the news of the impending disaster. He simply was unable to reconcile the idea of collective punishment with the most elementary concepts of justice, and did not hesitate to voice his concerns to God. Wilt Thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt Thou indeed sweep away and not forgive the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from Thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked, that the righteous should be as the wicked; that be far from Thee; shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly? (Gen. 18:23–25). Abraham evidently could not conceive of how the indiscriminate collective punishment of an entire population could be justified, nor could he understand how a just God could entertain imposing and executing such a sentence. Collective punishment causes the innocent to suffer along with the guilty, and therefore seems self-evidently incompatible with the most basic notion of justice as equitable treatment. Nonetheless, God’s decision remained intractable. For reasons known only to God, divine justice demanded the collective punishment that was about to be inflicted on the condemned cities.

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Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the biblical text implicitly suggests that God was quite pleased with Abraham’s irrepressible sense of justice, one that drove him to challenge perceived injustice regardless of source, even when it had explicit divine sanction. We may assume that this is why God patiently permitted Abraham to negotiate with Him concerning the threshold at which the collective punishment would take effect, progressively reducing it from fifty righteous persons to ten as the critical number, but no lower. That is, God agreed that if there were to be found at least ten righteous people in the cities, He would forego the collective punishment of their entire populations. But, as God surely knew beforehand, not even that small number of righteous persons were to be found there, and the cities were subsequently destroyed along with their inhabitants, except for Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family. It may be that they were the only righteous persons in the city, and were therefore permitted to flee in time to avoid being caught up in its destruction. However, the biblical text does not even suggest implicitly that their survival was the result of an act of divine justice. It may as easily have been an unmerited act of divine lovingkindness, which is considered in Judaic thought to be an act of beneficence that transcends the requirements of justice. It is noteworthy that the biblical author did not have Abraham argue that collective punishment is unjust even if there were only a single righteous person who would unjustifiably be affected by it. Presumably, Abraham agreed, from the standpoint of divine but not necessarily human justice, that if a community did not have a critical mass of good people it might be considered irredeemable. Without at least a given minimum of virtuous people upon which to build, the essential basis for progressive improvement of the society simply would not exist. Under such circumstances divine collective punishment of the offending societies could conceivably be justified, even though it might inadvertently subject some innocent persons to unwarranted suffering. Notwithstanding the biblical treatment of this issue in these two instances, and in others that could be cited as well, the notion of an innocent person suffering for the sins of others evokes moral outrage in most of us. It is something we are inclined to condemn out of hand as fundamentally unjust. But, unless we are prepared to assert that God is unjust, we must concede that a fundamental distinction needs to be drawn between the essential principles of divine and human justice. What may be appropriate for God, even assuming that it is possible to ascertain what that may be, is not necessarily proper for man. From a Judaic perspective, by attempting to set forth the essential principles and parameters of divine justice one also begins to define the limits of human authority and responsibility, a delimitation that is crucial to the formulation of a theory of the just society. The question of the nature of divine justice, as formulated in the biblical author’s sympathetic presentation of Abraham’s challenge, has troubled

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thoughtful people from biblical days to the present. In our own time, “Where was God at Auschwitz?” is a cry that haunts us still more than half a century after the liberation of the death camps of Europe. How, it is asked, could a just and caring God have permitted the horrors of the Holocaust to take place? As one writer recently put it: “Among the dramatis personae of the Holocaust, not the least noticeable was God—if only because of his conspicuous, much noticed absence. In vain is the persistent question asked, where was he? He must have been somewhere. Such terrible things cannot happen without him being involved. But what was he doing?”4 What kind of justice is it that condemns the innocent, indeed, even the righteous devoted to God’s service, to unspeakable suffering? We may indeed ask with deep anguish, as did Elie Wiesel for more than half a century, “Where were You, God of kindness, in Auschwitz? What was going on in heaven, at the celestial tribunal, while your children were marked for humiliation, isolation and death only because they were Jewish?” But then, Wiesel himself ultimately began to suspect that his anger at God might have been displaced. “At one point,” he wrote, “I began wondering whether I was not unfair with You. After all, Auschwitz was not something that came down ready-made from heaven. It was conceived by men, staffed by men. And their aim was to destroy not only us but You as well.”5 Indeed, the true answer to these questions may well lie in the response to another: “Where was humanity at Auschwitz?” The first question betrays either a naive or a disingenuous conception of God as one’s personal guardian. As one survivor put it: It never occurred to me to question God’s doings or lack of doings while I was an inmate of Auschwitz. . . . It just never occurred to me to associate the calamity we were experiencing with God, to blame Him, or to believe in Him less or to cease believing in Him at all because He didn’t come to our aid. God doesn’t owe us that. Or anything. We owe our lives to Him. If someone believes that God is responsible for the death of six million because He didn’t somehow do something to save them, he’s got his thinking reversed. We owe God our lives for the few or many years we live.6

The second question represents a more mature conception of divinity, the one that is reflected in the traditional literature of Judaism, the idea of God as guide. From the Judaic perspective, for human existence to be meaningful, man must be left free to err, inadvertently or deliberately. He must have the moral autonomy to choose freely between accepting and conducting his life in consonance with divine guidance or rejecting it in favor of self-proclaimed behavioral norms. In choosing the latter course, there can be no doubt, as corroborated daily by newspapers throughout the world, that one will likely trample on the life and space of his fellow man. Robert Gordis points out: Each human being, particularly in an age when individualism has run riot, likes to think of himself as a discrete entity, an independent soul, sharply demarcated from all

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his fellows. The fact is, however, that by a thousand individual threads, each human being is associated, for weal or woe, with the entire human race. He is organically linked in time with all the generations of his ancestors before him and his descendents after him. He is inescapably joined in space with all men and women who are his contemporaries. The wicked sin and the innocent suffer—that is a consequence of the interdependence of mankind.7

When that happens, should we really expect God to intervene? What role does mankind play and what responsibility does it bear in this regard? Can we identify even a single historical act of calculated violence and oppression that could not have been prevented by men responding appropriately? And, if mankind has the capacity to intervene in its own behalf but does not, for whatever reasons, why should the burden be shifted to God? Indeed, why would God accept such an assignment? Understood from this perspective, the answer to the question of “Where was God at Auschwitz?” may well be that He surely was there, suffering along with His people,8 perhaps regretting that He had granted man the moral autonomy to inflict the horrors they experienced. This notion is consistent with the classic assertion of R. Simeon b. Yohai, who taught: “Come and see how beloved are Israel in the sight of God, in that to every place to which they were exiled the Shekhinah went with them.”9 Notwithstanding the unmitigated evil of the Nazis and the demonic reign of horror they inflicted on mankind within just a few years, who can honestly say that there was no way to stop it before it had already reached horrendous dimensions. Was it not possible for man to have prevented the Holocaust and the decimation of whole populations throughout Europe? The tragic reality is that the statesmen and leaders of the nations of the world really didn’t care about what was emerging as long as it posed no clearly foreseeable threat to their own narrow interests. It was only when they began to understand that there was indeed a clear and present danger to their national well-being that they reacted with sufficient force to bring the travesty to an end. However, while in their sanctimonious hypocrisy they acknowledged that the corruption of evil deepens with every tangible success, they nonetheless turned a blind eye to the perpetuation of calculated evil on a grand scale. From Eastern Europe to Eastern Asia, they complacently witnessed the slaughter and degradation of millions of people, all the while proclaiming the virtues of their free, tolerant, and humane societies. Who would dare arise and claim that all of the latter violence and oppression was inevitable and therefore necessary, that there was nothing that could have been done to prevent it? As suggested earlier, the appropriate question is not, “Where was God?” but “Where was man?” Man enters the world equipped with innate intelligence and the capacity to apply that intelligence to his actions. He has free will and the capacity to make choices. He is morally autonomous and must bear the consequences of both his

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sins of commission and omission. How dare he attempt to render himself unaccountable by transferring responsibility for his actions, or failure to act, to God! But, one may ask, given that the difference between one who commits evil and one who could prevent it but does not is not as great as we would like to believe, how does God permit the innocent to suffer from such pervasive oppression and passive complicity? How can a just God tolerate such evil? Where is divine justice? Ironically, if we search the Bible for the answer we discover a response that is hardly likely to be the one we would like to receive. We need only recall the story of Noah. We are told that the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence (Gen. 6:11). Did God respond by intervening on behalf of the innocent? Quite clearly, He did not. God’s reaction was: The end of all flesh is come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth (Gen. 6:13). In His infinite and inscrutable wisdom, God concluded that humanity was not worth preserving. Divine justice did not dictate intervention on behalf of the innocent, but instead planned their destruction along with the guilty. The text does not tell us why, but we may reasonably infer that it was because there was not sufficient outcry and action taken against the pervasive oppression in the society; Noah was preserved only in order to allow humanity to make a fresh start. Is this the divine intervention we are soliciting? The simple truth is that we cannot absolve humanity of the responsibility for the suffering of the innocent that derives from its own actions or failure to act. We cannot have the freedom to live as we please and at the same time refuse to be held accountable for the consequences of our behavior. The biblical guidance is clear: Justice, justice shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live (Deut. 16:20). The problem of justice on earth is ours and not God’s. Abraham J. Heschel put his finger on the crux of the problem when he wrote: “God is not silent. He has been silenced. . . . We have trifled with the name of God. We have taken ideals in vain, preached and eluded Him, praised and defied Him. Now we reap the fruits of failure.”10 Judaism stresses man’s responsibility for the moral state of humanity, and man’s inability to invoke divine justice to save him from himself. Man’s principal concern should be with making human justice conform to the divine guidance made available to him. In this regard, the hester panim theorists seem to have it right. As Heschel observed: “The will of God is to be here, manifest and near; but when the doors of this world are slammed on Him, His truth betrayed, His will defied, He withdraws, leaving man to himself. God did not depart of His own volition; He was expelled. God is in exile.”11 Heschel therefore insists that “the cardinal issue, Why does the God of justice and compassion permit evil to exist? is bound up with the problem of how man should aid God so that His justice and compassion prevail.”12

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We conclude this discussion as we began it with reference to Abraham’s challenge to God concerning the demands of justice. Abraham should have been delighted by the news that God intended to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, cities that exemplified the baseness and depravity to which corrupt societies can descend, cities that represented the very antithesis of the ideals to which Abraham had committed his life. But Abraham’s commitment is to justice and, as pointed out by Shmuel Boteach: For a human being, who is not all-knowing, to accept that something dreadful is happening in Sodom and not have this bother him because he has faith in God, is an insufficient and flawed response. As far as faith, his faith is perfect, but where is his pursuit of justice? God may have his reasons and thus for God it is just to afflict Sodom. . . . [But] God’s commandment to man is to establish justice, and always to promote life, not to trust that God is just. The question of God’s justice is a non sequitur. Of course He is just. But this is not the issue. Are we just? is the real question. . . . God created us with a mind and a heart and told us to pursue justice until we actually achieve justice. God did not instruct us to believe that He is just. When it comes to issues of life and death God wishes for us to affirm life and challenge those who would deny it.13

And so Abraham, the prince of faith, challenges the justice of God, essentially demanding that divine justice reflect standards acceptable to human reason. There is, however, another aspect to the biblical story of Abraham that merits consideration at this point. Subsequent to his confrontation with God over the question of justice, the patriarch is put to the supreme test of faith. He is instructed: Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I shall tell thee of (Gen. 22:2). In the sharpest possible contrast with his earlier reaction to the news of the impending destruction of Sodom, Abraham accepts with equanimity the instruction to slaughter his own son, offering not a murmur in protest. How is this to be explained? Some commentators suggest that a distinction must be drawn between submission to faith when an impending tragedy affects oneself, and doing so when others are affected. Thus, Boteach writes, “if it is happening to someone else our reaction must be that although we believe that God is good, and although we know that God is causing this misfortune and that God certainly has his reasons, nevertheless we are commanded by God to pursue justice. And justice cannot be pursued on a level of faith.”14 But, upon reflection, it will be seen that this distinction does not really hold. It may be a great personal tragedy for Abraham to lose his beloved son, but how dare he accept it as a matter of his faith in God’s justice—it is not his life that is to be snuffed out. It is Isaac, an innocent, who is to be killed, and the justice of this cannot simply be accepted, as Boteach puts it, “on a level of faith.” Abraham should have challenged God in this instance as well, but did not. Why?

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Perhaps the answer is that this biblical story of the testing of Abraham has long been misread and misunderstood. It has traditionally been read as a test of Abraham’s faith, which he passed with flying colors. But the biblical narrative nowhere states that Abraham passed this ultimate test. Perhaps the story should be read instead as a contest between Abraham’s sense of justice and his faith, a test the patriarch ultimately failed by subordinating the search for justice to blind faith. This counterintuitive point is driven home in an anecdote related by Emil Fackenheim about a young Hasid who insisted on an appointment because he had something to teach him. “What I remember was this question: ‘Did it ever occur to you that the God who asks Abraham to do the akeda [binding of Isaac as a sacrifice] sends an angel to stop it?’ And he said, ‘God was fed up with Abraham; when He asked him to sacrifice his son—that was the test—He wanted Abraham to say no!’ ”15 In other words, the lesson of the biblical story may well be that it is unacceptable to both God and man to subordinate the obligation to do justice to blind faith. Judaic thought is unyielding in its demand that man recognize that he is morally autonomous and accountable for the man-made evil in the world as well as the good. Accordingly, it was not God who was missing at Auschwitz but humanity that was hiding from its responsibilities. Indeed, man has been hiding from God ever since Adam originated the practice after committing the primal transgression against the divine guidance in the Garden of Eden. Even Job the righteous declared: Only do not two things unto me, then will I not hide myself from Thee (Job 13:20). The Judaic vision of the just society was intended to provide mankind with a paradigm to assist it in finding the moral courage finally to come out of hiding. Unfortunately, that ideal society still remains to be founded even though its basic parameters are clearly discernible in the religious heritage of Judaism.

NOTES 1. Shabbat 10a. 2. Sanhedrin 108a. 3. Genesis Rabbah 38:6. 4. C. C. Aronsfeld, “God in the Holocaust,” Midstream, June/July 1994, p. 17. 5. Elie Wiesel, “A Prayer for the Days of Awe,” New York Times, October 2, 1997. 6. Cited by Reeve Robert Brenner, The Faith and Doubt of Holocaust Survivors, p. 102. 7. Robert Gordis, Judaic Ethics for a Lawless World, p. 91. 8. A. Golomb, Iyyunim beYahadut Zemanenu, p. 137. 9. Megillah 29a. 10. Abraham J. Heschel, Man is Not Alone, pp. 152–153. 11. Ibid., p. 153.

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12. 13. 14. 15.

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Heschel, A Passion for Truth, p. 298. Shmuel Boteach, Wrestling with the Divine: A Jewish Response to Suffering, p. 196. Ibid. Cited by Joshua O. Haberman, The God I Believe In, p. 43.

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Index

Aaron haLevi, of Barcelona, 121 Abaye, 119 Abba Saul, 115–116 Abraham bar Hiyya, 135, 219 Abraham ben David, 175–176 Abravanel, Isaac, 183 Adler, Felix, x Agus, Jacob, 208–209 Albo, Joseph, 82, 103, 136, 151–152, 169, 174, 178–180, 206 Almosnino, Moses, 180–181 Alsheikh, Moses, 133 Altmann, Adolf, 34 Altmann, Alexander, 107 Anav, Yehiel, 96 Anselm, 180 Antigonus of Sokho, 151–152 Arama, Isaac, 174–175, 182, 198–199 Aristotle, 28, 121 Astrology, 102–104, 106 Attar, Hayyim ibn, 145, 171 Augustine, 113, 157 Avodah zarah, 12–14, 16, 49, 92, 97 Azikri, Eleazar, 121 Baeck, Leo, 8, 76, 131, 215, 218 Bahya ben Asher, 33, 180

Bahya ibn Pakuda, 33, 81, 169–170 Barth, Aron, 52, 100, 184 Barukh of Kossov, 170 Bedersi, Jedaiah, 159 Belkin, Samuel, 69 Benamozegh, Elijah, 7, 106, 114 Ben Sira, Simeon, 109, 154–155, 160–161, 195 Ben Zoma, Simeon, 63 Berdyaev, Nicholas, 26 Berkovits, Eliezer, 50, 109, 112, 117, 120, 135, 143, 221–222, 224–225 Berlin, Naftali Zvi Yehudah, 14 Bernfeld, Simon, 172 Bible. See Scripture Biblical, ix, 1, 4, 10, 12–15, 27, 30, 32, 34, 36–37, 43, 45, 49–50, 57, 62, 64, 67, 77, 82, 89–93, 97–99, 102, 109–110, 115–116, 119–120, 122, 130, 136, 144, 150–151, 153–154, 193, 198, 212, 215, 229, 232, 235; author(s), 1–3, 6, 8, 22, 24, 36–37, 45–50, 59, 62, 75, 89, 92, 124, 133, 135, 144, 150, 153–154, 218, 223–224, 230, 232; literature, 5–7, 9, 43, 45, 58, 76, 79, 110, 132, 137, 150, 153, 155, 212; text (narrative),

256

5, 24, 29–31, 37, 43–48, 50, 57, 59–60, 62–66, 71, 85, 89, 91–93, 99, 113, 117, 124, 131, 133, 135, 153, 157, 171, 183, 189, 192–193, 197, 199, 209, 213, 215–216, 229 Birnbaum, David, 204, 224 Bleich, J. David, 52 Boethius, 180–181 Bokser, Ben Zion, 51, 58, 120 Boman, Thorlief, 32–33 Boteach, Shmuel, 204, 236 Buber, Martin, 115, 138, 140, 221 Cartun, Ari Mark, 53 Casper, Bernard, 58 Cassutto, M.D., 95 Chavel, Charles B., 114 Cohen, Arthur A., 206 Cohen, Hermann, 45, 52 Cohon, Beryl, 4 Cooper, David, 42 Cordovero, Moses, 134 Covenant, 11, 58, 69–71, 113 Creation, 29–32, 48, 59–66, 75, 77, 80–81, 83, 90–91, 93–94, 97, 99, 101, 111, 113, 116, 122, 137, 144, 202, 222 Crescas, Hasdai, 81, 103, 178–180, 187 Decalogue, 8, 11, 49–50 Dentan, Robert C., 47 Dewey, John, 36 Donnolo, Shabbatai, 91, 94 Duran, Simeon ben Zemah, 33 Eidelberg, Paul, 13, 28 Eldad, Israel, 36 Eliade, Mircea, 27 Elisha b. Abuya, 63 Ephraim of Luntshits, 111 Epstein, Barukh, 193 Ergas, Joseph, 187 Evil, vii-viii, xi-xii, 9, 26, 36, 58, 82, 110–111, 113, 122, 124, 130–131, 133–139, 143–144, 189–190, 194–199, 201–202, 205–206,

INDEX

208–210, 212, 218–219, 221–222, 224–225, 234–235, 237 Evil inclination (impulse), 129–133, 135–136, 139–143 Ezekiel, 16, 133, 214–215, 227 Ezra, 212 Fackenheim, Emil, 1, 5, 83, 125, 196, 207, 222–223, 237 Falk, Joshua, 83–84 Faur, Jose, 12 Feldman, Moshe Zeev, 213 Firer, Ben-Zion, 123 Fox, Marvin, 3 Free choice (will), xi, 100, 103, 107, 110–113, 124, 136, 144, 150, 152–153, 156–160, 165–170, 172–186, 189–190, 195–199, 205, 210–212, 224–225, 234 Fromm, Erich, 11, 129 Garden of Eden, 36, 110–111, 122–125, 213, 224 Gerondi, Jonah, 33 Gerondi, Nissim, 217 Gersonides, 33, 176–178, 182 Gikatilla, Joseph, 132 Gillman, Neil, 92 Gilson, Etienne, 3 God: existence of, 1–4, 41, 50, 202; immanence of, 15; name(s) of, 42–43, 45–48; transcendence of, 2, 5–6, 9, 14–15, 22, 222; uniqueness of, 25, 50–52; unity of, 51–52, 62, 166 Golomb, A., 207 Good, viii, 36, 76, 82–83, 89, 110–111, 114, 122, 124, 130, 132–139, 144, 189, 194, 196, 210, 218–219, 224–225, 232, 237 Good inclination (impulse), 129, 131–132, 139–142, 145 Gordis, Robert, 156, 185, 213, 233 Greenberg, Hayim, 202 Greenberg, Simon, 17, 50 Greenstone, Julius, 58 Guttmann, Julius, 172

INDEX

Habbakuk, 189 Halevi, Judah, 2, 7, 14, 44, 46, 103, 168–169, 175 Hama bar Hanina, 117 Harvey, Warren Z., 15 Hawking, Stephen, 62 Heineman, Isaak, 76 Henotheism, 8, 47 Herberg, Will, 2, 9, 67, 69 Hertz, Joseph H., 53, 185 Heschel, Abraham J., 26–27, 58, 64, 67, 82, 90, 110–111, 138, 199, 235 Hillel, 78 Hirsch, Samson Raphael, 44, 47, 68, 94, 98, 124, 137, 144, 202 Hoffmann, David Zvi, 46, 136 Holocaust (Shoah), vii-x, 5, 58, 201, 206, 208–211, 213, 220, 222, 224, 233–234 Holy (holiness), 13–15, 25–27, 43, 115–118, 122 Horowitz, Isaiah, 175 Horowitz, Levi Isaac, 192 Hosea, 118–119 Husik, Isaac, 179, 186 Ibn Daud, Abraham, 136, 170–171, 176–177 Ibn Ezra, Abraham, 33, 46, 50, 104, 172, 176, 186 Ibn Gabirol, Solomon, 33, 50–51 Ibn Tibbon, Judah, 33 Idolatry, 9–15, 48–49 Image of God, 85, 89–95, 110, 114, 117, 143–144, 160, 168 Imitatio Dei (emulation of God), 114–118, 120–122, 129, 140, 204, 229 Isaac bar Sheshet Barfat, 177–178 Isaiah, 7, 12, 15–16, 49, 102, 133–134, 138, 146, 150, 160, 168, 174 Jabez, Joseph, 34, 181 Jacob, Benno, 30 Jacobs, Louis, 4, 12, 58–59, 61–62, 135, 227

257

Jacobs, Steven, vii-viii Jeremiah, 11–12, 97–98, 102, 153, 190, 223 Job, 93, 150, 153, 202, 212, 219, 222–223, 237 Joseph, Morris, 110, 185, 219–220 Joseph ibn Tzaddik, 141 Josephus, Flavius, 54, 103, 158, 175 Judah heHasid, 53 Judah Loew ben Bezalel, 94 Judaic (Jewish), vii-ix, xi, 2–4, 8–9, 11, 13, 25, 33, 47, 50–52, 59–60, 68–69, 78, 80, 82, 89, 93, 103, 114, 117, 131, 133, 141, 149, 153, 156–157, 165–166, 189, 194–195, 206, 209, 212, 232–233, 237; law, 3, 95, 114, 142; literature, xi, 1, 5, 43, 68, 93, 209; thinkers, vii, ix-x, 3, 57, 59–60, 62, 66, 77, 84, 94, 103–104, 109, 130–131, 143, 149–150, 152–153, 157–158, 161, 165–166, 172, 180, 184, 189, 201, 206–207, 220; thought, viii, x-xii, 1, 5, 9, 15–16, 28, 38, 67, 85, 89, 92, 97–99, 104, 106, 113–114, 121, 156, 176, 182, 204, 206, 209, 229, 237 Judaism, viii-xii, 1–5, 9–10, 12–16, 22–28, 36, 38, 43, 47–50, 52, 57, 59–60, 63, 68, 76, 79, 82, 109, 112–115, 117, 120–122, 130–131, 139, 143, 149–154, 156–157, 159, 161, 182, 195–196, 208–209, 215, 221, 229, 233, 235 Justice, divine, 189–194, 197, 199, 201–204, 214, 220, 229–232, 235–237 Kalonymus b. Meshullam, 102 Kamenetzky, Jacob, 31 Kaplan, Aryeh, 81 Kaplan, Mordecai, 58, 207–209 Karo, Joseph, 142 Katz, Steven, 225 Katzenellenbogen, Samuel, 105–106 Kaufmann, Yehezkel, 6, 10 Kierkegaard, Søren, 2

258

Kimhi, David, 145 Kimhi, Joseph, 93 Klausner, Joseph, 121, 136–137 Kohelet, 79 Kohler, Kaufmann, 12, 218 Kohn, Hans, 21, 33 Kolitz, Zvi, 223 Kook, Abraham Isaac, 60–61, 66 Korn, Eugene, 95 Kushner, Harold, 93, 210 Lamm, Norman, 26–27, 49, 54, 58, 221 Lazarus, Moritz, 117, 147 Leibowitz, Yeshayahu, 9, 90, 145, 203–204 Lerner, Michael, viii Levinas, Emmanuel, viii Luria, Isaac, 82–83, 221 Luzzatto, Moses Hayyim, 75, 83, 114, 143 Luzzatto, Samuel David, 46, 62, 96 Mackie, John L., 225 Madariaga, Salvador de, 21 Maimonides, Moses, ix, xii, 3, 13–14, 18, 30, 33, 48, 51–52, 54, 60, 66, 76, 78, 94, 103–104, 111, 118–119, 121, 130, 132–135, 137, 139, 142, 146, 152, 159, 162, 171, 173–176, 178, 194–195, 197–199, 221 Malbim, Meir L., 30, 113, 126, 133, 183, 198–199 Man (humanity), 1–2, 5–6, 10–11, 16, 22, 29–30, 32, 41, 57, 60, 64–69, 75–86, 90–94, 97–102, 105–106, 109–111, 113–114, 116, 120, 122–124, 130–131, 137–139, 143–144, 156, 160–161, 168, 171, 189–191, 195–196, 201, 204–205, 207–209, 212, 215, 221–225, 230, 233–235, 237 Manasseh ben Israel, 94, 181, 197 Mattuck, Israel, 184 Meiri, Menahem, 9, 18, 99, 159 Meir Simhah haKohen, 13, 95 Merriam, Charles, 24

INDEX

Mizrahi, Elijah, 119 Modena, Leone, 51 Monolatry, 8, 47 Monotheism, 6, 8–9, 14, 21–22, 28, 41, 47–49, 90, 209 Montefiore, Claude G., 52, 210 Moral autonomy, xi, 69, 100, 103, 107, 109–114, 124, 131, 133, 143, 150, 152–153, 156–157, 159, 167, 174, 177–178, 182, 185, 197, 225, 233–234 Moses, 10, 13–14, 23, 36, 42–44, 46, 69, 119, 155, 191–192, 212, 218 Munk, Eli, 29, 138–139 Nahmanides, Moses, 15, 92, 149 Nehemiah, 42 Omnicompetence (divine), xi, 149–150, 153, 189 Omnipotence (divine), xi, 15, 46, 52, 106, 135, 149–150, 166, 189–190, 196, 199, 201–208, 210, 214, 222, 225 Omniscience, (divine), xi, 149–150, 153–160, 165–185, 189, 196, 201, 208 Onkelos, 110, 162 Pagan(ism), 5–12, 14–16, 22, 26, 28, 41, 48–49 Paradigm: prophetic (temporal), 16, 26, 28–29, 32–33, 36–38, 48, 180; spatial, 16, 22–24, 26, 28, 30, 32–33, 36–37, 42, 48 Penzias, Arno, 61 Philo, 51, 68, 94, 96, 101, 157–158, 196 Phineas of Koretz, 107 Plaut, Mordecai, 31–32 Plotinus, 89 Polytheism, 5–8, 15, 21, 28, 41, 45, 47–48 Providence (Hashgahah), x, 43, 62, 98–103, 105–106, 112–113, 117,

INDEX

149, 158, 169–170, 177, 191, 194–195, 202, 205–207, 221, 224 Psalmist, 1, 8, 30, 67–68, 98, 153, 160, 170, 190–191, 217, 222 R. Abba bar Mammel, 43 R. Abba b. Judan, 14 R. Abba b. Kahana, 66 R. Abbahu, 101, 105–106 R. Akiba, 15, 63, 81, 85, 95, 156, 159–160, 165, 170–171, 174, 176, 181, 183, 185, 192, 219–220 R. Ammi, 214–216 R. Assi, 132 R. Berekiah, 215–216 R. Eleazar, 66, 101–102, 107 R. Eleazar b. Azariah, 15 R. Eleazar b. Jacob, 216 R. Eleazar b. Pedath, 203 R. Eleazar b. R. Simein b. Yohai, 213 R. Eleazar b. Zadok, 200 R. Eleazar of Bertotha, 72 R. Eliezer, 230 R. Gamaliel, 15 R. Haggai, 155 R. Hanina, 42 R. Hanina b. Dosa, 86, 214 R. Hanina b. Hama, 100, 103, 108, 196 R. Hanina b. Papa, 44, 200 R. Hanina b. Pazzi, 133 R. Hiyya b. Ashi, 142 R. Huna, 43 R. Huna b. R. Joshua, 142 R. Isaac, 70 R. Ishmael, 89, 95, 99, 189 R. Jacob, 193 R. Jannai, 202 R. Jeremiah, 43 R. Johanan, 14, 142–143, 191, 194, 213, 219, 230 R. Jonathan, 46, 227 R. Jose bar R. Hanina, 44 R. Jose the Galilean, 140 R. Joshua b. Hananiah, 15 R. Joshua b. Karha, 54 R. Joshua b. Levi, 142

259

R. Judah, 192 R. Judah haNasi, 8, 54, 118–120, 131 R. Judan, 107, 155 R. Levi, 45, 50 R. Levi b. Hama, 147 R. Meir, 191–192, 194 R. Nahman b.Hisda, 129 R. Samuel bar Abba, 80 R. Samuel b. Nahman, 46, 143 R. Simeon b. Lakish, 130, 197, 217 R. Simeon b. Yohai, 234 R. Simlai, 45 R. Simon, 143 R. Zadok, 97 Rab, 86, 142, 154 Raba, 142, 217 Rabbah, 37 Rabbinic, ix-xii, 5, 42, 50, 57, 64, 66, 77–79, 106, 114–115, 123, 133, 139, 142, 153, 158, 184, 192, 194, 206–208, 215, 219; law, 13, 38; literature, 12, 16, 58, 78, 115, 137, 155, 191, 194, 202, 207, 212; teaching (thought), 13, 65–66, 70, 99, 102, 105, 130, 135, 150, 155, 159, 165, 216 Rabbis, x-xi, 5, 14–16, 38, 43–45, 50, 57, 63, 67–68, 70, 75, 78–80, 83, 100, 103, 114–117, 120, 122–123, 131–133, 139–140, 142–143, 154–155, 159–160, 169, 173, 182, 192–194, 202, 214–217, 229–230 Rashi. See Solomon ben Isaac Repentance, 28, 102, 104–105, 197–198, 218 Revault d’Allonnes, Olivier, 27 Revelation, 24, 33–34, 80, 138, 152, 211 Reward and punishment, x, 98–99, 112, 150–152, 175, 179, 191, 202 Rivkin, Ellis, 210 Rosenberg, Stuart, 11, 119–120 Rosenthal, Gilbert, 209–210 Roszak, Theodore, 34 Roth, Leon, 115 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 113

260

Rubenstein, Richard, 58 Saadia Gaon, 81, 93–94, 131–132, 166–170, 173, 175, 178, 180, 184, 204, 218–219 Sages. See Rabbis Samson, 37–38 Sarna, Nahum, 10, 146 Schatz, Elihu, 31, 61 Schechter, Solomon, 115, 120, 123, 126, 202 Schimmel, Harry C., 17 Schneur Zalman of Liadi, 119, 199 Schoeps, Hans J., 34 Schulweis, Harold, 205–206 Schwarzschild, Steven, 8, 18, 22, 41, 121, 221 Scripture, 2, 8, 11–12, 16, 26, 30, 32–33, 36, 42–43, 45, 47–48, 57, 60, 62–63, 67, 70, 82, 89, 92,100, 103, 110, 114–119, 131, 135–136, 143, 152, 191, 196, 198, 216, 221–222, 229–230, 235 Seeskin, Kenneth, 10–11, 16, 25 Segal, Moses H., 53 Sforno, Obadiah, 17–18, 31 Shalom, Abraham, 180–181, 184 Shammai, 78 Shapiro, David S., 27, 66, 78, 114, 122 Sherwin, Byron, 207 Simeon b. Azzai, 63, 66, 99, 152 Sin, 36, 112–113, 131, 144, 152, 195, 198–199, 212–217, 220, 230, 235 Slonimsky, Henry, 208

INDEX

Solomon ben Isaac (Rashi), 15, 70, 98, 110, 159 Soloveitchik, Joseph B., 2, 15, 85, 95, 135, 218, 221–222, 228 Steinberg, Milton, 209 Steinheim, Salomon Ludwig, 34 Steinsaltz, Adin, 106–107, 113, 134, 156, 215, 228 Stitskin, Leon D., 187 Teomim, Menahem Frankel, 190 Theodicy, 189, 192, 194, 199, 201–206, 212, 217, 220, 225 Torah, 5, 10, 13–14, 16, 25, 28–29, 31, 38, 42–43, 46, 60, 62, 68–70, 76–77, 89, 95, 99, 103, 110–111, 119–121, 140, 142–143, 149–152, 158, 161, 175, 192, 204–205, 207, 213, 217, 220, 229 Truth, 28–29, 31–34, 36–37, 83, 121 Uzzieli, Israel J., 131 Viner, Joseph Z., 184–185 Vital, Hayyim, 221 Volozhiner, Hayyim, 135 Weiss, David W., 61 Wiesel, Elie, 233 Wolf, Arnold, 42 Wolfe of Zhitomer, 203 Wolfson, Harry Austryn, 101, 162 Wolpe, David, 23, 81 Yannai, 155

About the Author MARTIN SICKER is a private consultant and lecturer who has served as a senior executive in the U.S. government and has taught political science at American University and The George Washington University. Professor Sicker has written extensively in the fields of political science and international affairs, with a special focus on the Middle East. He is the author of sixteen earlier books and is presently associated with the Denver Institute for Jewish Studies.