Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Patriarchal Torah, Jeremiah and Josiah, Rabbis on Proselytes, Censored, Disinterested Love

I started Texts and Responses: Studies Presented to Nahum M. Glatzer on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday by His Students. This book dates to 1973. I have five items:

1. Joseph P. Schultz has an excellent article entitled "Two Views of the Patriarchs: Noahides and Pre-Sinai Israelites". Did the patriarchs observe the laws of the Torah? According to the Book of Jubilees, the answer is that they did, to a certain extent, but the revelation that they received of those laws was incomplete and would be completed for Israel at Sinai. Philo presents Abraham as observing the natural laws that were obligatory for the Greeks, meaning that, for Schultz, he did not hold that the patriarchs kept the entire Torah. At the same time, Schultz states on page 59 that "there is a rabbinic concept found in Philo, but most likely pre-dating both Philo and the rabbis, that the patriarchs came to the observance of the law through their own powers and reasoning though aided by God." Josephus in Antiquities focuses specifically on the commands that Scripture explicitly states the patriarchs kept (i.e., circumcision), without commenting as to whether or not they observed other laws that were later given at Sinai. In Against Apion, however, Josephus refers to certain Noahide laws, which rabbinic Judaism later held were binding on Gentiles (who did not have to observe the entire Torah). Within Talmudic literature, however, we come across the view that the patriarchs knew and observed the oral and the written Torahs.

Schultz discusses variations of the Noachide commandments, such as some lists that contain honor for parents (which is absent from other lists). A question scholars have asked is why some Jewish thinkers portray the patriarchs as Noachides, whereas others affirm that they kept the entire Torah. For Schultz, the rabbis who said that the patriarchs kept the law were not trying to refute Paul's dramatic separation of God's promise to Abraham from the Torah, but rather they were seeking to connect the patriarchs with a central event of Israel's history, Sinai. Regarding the view that the patriarchs were Noahides, Schultz says that this view encouraged potential converts or coverts. He may mean that the Noahide laws were viewed as training wheels for Gentiles on the path to conversion.

2. Arnold Wider wrote "Josiah and Jeremiah: Their Relationship According to Aggadic Sources". The Babylonian Talmud asks why King Josiah consulted Huldah rather than Jeremiah after Josiah heard the Torah, with its threats of destruction for the sins of Israel. The Talmud does not maintain that Josiah failed to consult Jeremiah due to Jeremiah's youth or inexperience (as do some biblical scholars), and so it offers other proposals: that Josiah wanted a milder response, since women and more inclined towards mercy than men; and that Jeremiah was helping the ten tribes that had returned, so he was not available for Josiah to consult.

3. Jochanan H.A. Wijnhoven wrote "The Zohar and the Proselyte". Wijnhoven goes into rabbinic attitudes regarding proselytes. There was a positive attitude that affirmed that proselytes to Judaism were especially beloved by God because they received God's Torah without beholding the terrible fanfare at Sinai. But there were also negative attitudes: that proselytes were not as conversant with Torah as were the Jews, that proselytes converted out of fear rather than love, that they took too long to convert, that they delayed the Messiah's coming, and that they technically were not children of Abraham. Wijnhoven also discusses some ideas within the Zohar, and I will not describe that in detail but will only mention two things that stood out to me. First, there was a view that Sinai was cleansing for Jews, and that Gentiles are still unclean because they did not experience the events of Sinai. Second, there was an idea that the third generation from a proselyte became a genuine Israelite. A proof for this was that God called Jacob Israel, and Jacob was the third generation from Abraham, a proselyte.

4. Sidney Steiman wrote "High Holidays Liturgical Variations Among Ashkenazim and Sephardim". On page 101, Steiman refers to a part of the Aleynu prayer that drew criticism from church censors during the Inquisition. It said, "For they worship and bow before idols and vanity and pray to a God that saves not." Christian censors thought this was attacking the Christian godhead, but rabbis then responded that the Christian god was not in view here, for that prayer was written by Rav in Persia during the third century C.E., and Rav was attacking Persian religion rather than Christianity. Still, according to Steiman, that part of the prayer disappeared from prayerbooks "by the end of the sixteenth century".

5. Arthur Green wrote "Rabbi Nahman Bratzlaver's Conflict Regarding Leadership". On page 154, Green quotes Rabbi Nahman's discussion of a dream: "I then recalled the story of a Besht who, when he heard he was to have no place in the World to Come, said: 'I love God without the World to Come!'"

It's good when a person can admire God, even when he is not the beneficiary of God's goodness. Or I guess it's good. Maybe it's not good. Why would I love God, if he is not good to me? I think that people who say that they're willing to be damned for the glory of God, or that they love God even if they will not receive a reward in the afterlife, are simply blowing smoke. They're trying to show off how spiritual they are.

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