Thursday, January 12, 2012

New Torah? Chaunivistic Tannaim? Free Prayer?

I have three items for today's write-up on Justification and Variegated Nomism, Volume 1: The Complexities of Second Temple Judaism:

1. On page 280, Philip Alexander states: "The question of whether or not there will be a new Torah in the messianic age is raised in some rabbinic sources, but in general the idea is rejected. See W.D. Davies, Torah in the Messianic Age (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1952)...The subject became important, however, in later Jewish mysticism. The Zohar raises the question of whether the Torah, which, as it stands, addresses a broken, imperfect, sinful world can apply to the world to come when the fractured state of the broken world will be mended (see Isaiah Tishby, The Wisdom of the Zohar: An Anthology of Texts, vol. 3 [London: Littman Library, 1991], 1078-1121). It looks forward to a new Torah for the new age, as do, apparently, some form of modern Hasidism..."

I wrote some about this topic here, but I'd do well to read more about it. In my reading yesterday, I came across a Second Temple Jewish idea that the evil inclination will be destroyed in the eschatological era, but I did not jot down in my notes the exact reference. Does a change of circumstances entail a change in the Torah? If people will be inherently good in the Messianic era, will they need a Torah to tell them what to do and to punish them for infractions? I think that there are some rabbinic references that indicate that the Messianic era and the World to Come will be different from life today, and so the Torah will be different. But many contend that this opinion is marginal within rabbinic Judaism.

2. On page 291, Alexander states: "See also Pisqa 31, 'The name of God rests upon Israel in greatest measure'; Pisqa 344, God loved Israel more than the nations. Further Pisqaot 345 and 315, 'I am going to make you dwell alone in the age to come, and none of the nations will benefit from you in any way.' There is an ongoing tension in rabbinic thought over the role of Israel as an elect people within humanity as a whole. One chauvinistic strand of thought stresses the idea that Israel alone is benefitted by her election. Another strand, however, sees Israel's election as ultimately benefitting humanity as a whole. She plays a priestly role within humanity, bearing divine revelation and the knowledge of God. Tannaitic literature tends to take the more chauvinistic line."

This is of interest to me, since I have been reading a lot about Judaism's view on the salvation of the Gentiles and the question of whether or not Gentiles had to observe the Torah. I have read that Tannaitic literature, such as the Mishnah, expresses skepticism about proselytes. But then there was Hillel, who welcomed proselytes. It would be interesting to trace chauvinism and universalism in Second Temple and rabbinic Judaism----both Tannaitic and also Amoraic rabbinic Judaism----and to seek to account historically for whatever phenomena is found.

3. On page 287, Alexander quotes Mishnah Avot 2:13, which exhorts Jews not to make their prayers a fixed form, but rather to plea for mercy and to supplicate God. But my experience of Judaism is that it has fixed prayers. If I want to hear extemporaneous, free-flowing prayer, I'd go to a Pentecostal service, not a synagogue or temple.

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