Monday, April 12, 2010

Sinai, Moshe Rabbenu and Revelation to [Members of] The Nations
R. Yoel Finkelman;
"What is often downplayed in understanding the notion of revelation is the universalistic element that accompanies the particularistic aspect of Sinai. For a great many Jewish thinkers, it is a mistake to focus exclusively on the fact that only the Jewish people received the Torah. Other nations may not have been present at Sinai, but they, too, are cared for by God, who might, in some way, communicate with them.

Take Rabbi Yehudah Halevi (Rihal) as an example. In his seminal work of Jewish thought, Sefer HaKuzari, he earns himself a well-deserved reputation for focusing on the particularistic side of the coin...Sefer HaKuzari emphasizes the revelation at Sinai as the linchpin of Jewish uniqueness, and as the ultimate source of faith. The Jewish people experienced a mass revelation at Sinai, the kind of revelation that could not be easily denied, either by the people who experienced it or their descendants, who have heard the story of that revelation passed from parent to child over the generations (I:83-86). Other nations have not experienced such revelation, and must make due either with the weaknesses of philosophy or the ineffective rituals they have invented for themselves. And it is not accidental that only the Jewish people experiences such a mass revelation, since only Jews have been blessed with the Inyan HaElohi, the psychological predisposition for spirituality and revelation (I:95). This Inyan HaElohi is passed on genetically from parent to child, and is present only among the Jewish people, who are the only ones who have the potential to receive divine revelation (even if that potential is not always actualized) (I:31-43).
Still, it would be a mistake, I think, to view Rihal as a strict particularist...examine the way Rihal constructs the story in which Sefer HaKuzari is embedded. The text of the book tells us that only Jews can experience prophecy and a genuine attachment to God [revelation does not militate for covenant...]. Yet, the frame story of the book involves a pagan king who receives a prophetic dream and finds himself searching for the truth of God and for higher spiritual meaning. How does that story fit with the claim that only Jews can achieve revelation? One might offer a technical answer to this question. There are extremely low levels of prophecy [why not say "other levels"?..."extremely low" may be R. Finkelman depicting the attitude of the Kuzari, but do texts describing levels of nevuah even speak this way about what comes from God?..], cast-off leftovers of genuine prophecy, that can, on occasion, accidentally [? ] make their way over to [?] gentiles. This is undoubtedly partially correct, but one also gets the impression that Rihal – the poet and master of irony – is hinting at a more universalistic approach in the subtext than he declares in the text.

Rambam, know to be much more of a universalist than Rihal, suggests a similar dialectic, in which some sources about revelation in general, and Sinaitic revelation in particular, point to the uniqueness of the Jewish people, while others point to something more universal...Rambam shares with Rihal the tension between universalism and particularism when analyzing the notion of revelation. Rambam works hard to distinguish Moshe’s prophecy from that of other [Jewish] prophets, which is why “there never has been a Law and there never will be a Law except the one that is the Law of Moses our Master” (Guide II:39) The revelation at Sinai is different from all other ones; it is unique and irreplaceable [this speaks of content, stipulations of a covenant; again, covenant, law prophetic expectations do not exhaust Divine/Human interaction]. In particular, Rambam explains that all other prophets experience prophecy with both their intellects and their imaginations. The intellect allows them to apprehend truths at a higher level, while the imagination allows them to express those truths in a metaphorical or symbolic language that can inspire, educate, and motivate the masses. Yet, explains Rambam, different people in different times and places respond to different metaphors and images (I, II, III). Hence, all prophecy is focused on a particular time, place, and audience. This implies that there is something transitory about prophecy, a position that if applied to the Torah would be in violation of Rambam’s own ninth principle of faith. Hence, explains Rambam,
Moshe prophesied only with his intellect; there was no imaginative [transitory, historicist] element to his
prophecy. Moshe’s prophecy – the very Torah given at Sinai – is eternal, and not time bound (Guide II:35-39; MT, Yesodei HaTorah 7:6).

Furthermore, Rambam (like Rihal) distinguishes between the experience of the Jewish
people at Sinai and the experiences of others who experienced miracles under other circumstances. One never accepts the validity of a self-proclaimed prophet based on his ability to perform miracles. Miracles are a weak proof indeed, since using slight of hand it is so easy for a charlatan to fool others into believing that he has performed a miracle...(Hilkhot Yesodei Hatorah 8:1-2)...
But, in another place, Rambam provides a radically different definition of divine law, one that opens the door for a much more expansive conception of God’s commandments, a conception that could apply even to the traditions of the gentiles. He explains that one can distinguish a divine law from a human law not in terms of its source, but in terms of its function. A human law serves to maintain a stable, safe, and equitable society. This is no easy task, but even when it is achieved successfully it elevates that legal system only to the status of a good and worthy human law. However, when a legal system not only succeeds in maintaining a well-ordered society, but also succeeds in teaching people true beliefs about God and the universe, then it gains the status of a divine law (Guide II:40). There is nothing in this definition that limits the notion of divine law to one particular tradition or nation. Since, according to Rambam, the basic truths of physics and metaphysics can be determined largely by human reason, there is no reason to believe that there is only one law that succeeds in teaching those truths, thereby qualifying as divine, even if that law never reaches the unique level of the revelation to the Jewish people at Sinai.

This might explain in part the willingness of the Rambam to praise Nathanel bar Fayyumi (author of the Bustan al Ukul), as he did, despite the "irrational" and shockingly universalist formulations (according to conventional, 'rationalist' readings of Rambam and traditional, particularist assumptions...), he expressed;

Know then, my brother, that nothing prevents God from sending unto His world whomsoever He wishes whenever He wishes, since the world of holiness sends forth emanations unceasingly from the light world to the coarse world to liberate the souls from the sea of matter — the world of nature — and from destruction in the flames of hell. Even before the revelation of the Law He sent prophets to the nations, as our sages of blessed memory explain, "Seven prophets prophesied to the nations of the world before the giving of the Torah: Laban, Jethro, Balaam, Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar." And again after its revelation nothing prevented Him from sending to them whom He wished that the world might not remain without religion.

But no other people are obligated, via covenant with God, to be a nation like Israel was and is (with their history, from their setting, etc) - and who else had claimed such before Sinai, and who since? No one could be Israel as Israel was, anymore than any child of a parent could claim to be first, second or thirdborn when they were not - the times and contexts that helped constitute the Jewish people are gone; only Israel remains, only their relationships and meanings remain as long as their dialogue continues. No one else, individually or collectively, is obligated as they are to have a relationship like they do - no one else can, by reason or Tradition, be penalized for 'failing' to do what they are neither obligated nor historically able to do (but leave it to much contemporary Orthodoxy to do precisely that in their kiruv and adherence to earlier modes of identity formation I, II, III). This perspective on revelation may also help explain R. Zadok haKohen's views on similarities between Kabbalah, Zohar and gentile esoteric doctrines while insisting on the exclusiveness of what is Jewish and what is Torah [my emph];

The truth is that there is wisdom among the nations of the world, and this is wisdom about the truth [hokhmat ha-emet]. However, that wisdom is not felt in the [Jewish?] heart, and isn't Torah to guide the heart, unlike the Torah of the Jewish people...where the most important thing is the feeling of the heart in the light of God....The account of Creation and the Account of the Chariot and the hidden activities of creatures and all the varieties of the learned wisdom of the Jews are identical with the divine [?...], natural and learned wisdom of the nations of the world, but [the difference between them] is only their flow from the understanding of the heart...I heard that all the wisdom of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in the Zohar they...also knew from the wisdom of the Greeks which was contemporaneous, zeh le-umat zeh, and the sephirot are identical with the ma'ammarot which are known the the masters of logic, only they are perceived through externals, and they are not divrei Torah.
Likutei Amarim (Bnei Brak; 1973), p.109.

-p. 114, Sokol, Moshe. "Theoretical Grounds for Tolerance in the Jewish Tradition", Tolerance, Dissent and Democracy: Philosophical, Historical andHalakhic Perspectives, Moshe Sokol, ed. Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.


At 4/12/2010 3:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But what of the certainty of Kuzari arguments and whatnot? Why was/is there the need for this nature of argument for certainty? Was it since an entire reformulation of every facet of life was needed from Israel at the time to convince THEM of the integrity of the choice to make? Asking "Torah" of a nation is no small thing - at the time, the biggest thing yet.

But Torah gives account(s...) of an experience - it doesn't offer the proof from the Kuzari - Sefer ha Kuzari does. In post Aristotle, i.e., Greek setting, could even process and exclusivist argument of its nature, relying on the exclusion of all other possible revelations. It could be an argument that Torah is exclusive - for the West! Kuzari's argument of course presumes other revelations, but also to some degree the validity of revelation apart from Torah; others that could also be true *but not as strongly defensible*, true but *personal*, true but lacking the certain of being shared. Kuzari is an argument for more than an argument against - and potentially an argument "along side" general revelation.

Why choose based only on what is certain AND exclusionary? because it is exclusionary, you need to be certain?

But what happens to the certainty? You're certain of an event of revelation - since Torah doesn't say all the contents of the revelation were given to the Jewish people. But so many Uncertainties ensue from this proclaimed certainty that a Charedi, fundamentalist lifestyle is virtually militated for - as so many view abound within the emerged tradition and historical scholarship (Bib Crit aside) regarding the origins and 'evolution' of the contents and the people.

At 4/12/2010 4:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arguments for the specialness of Judaism are moderated by uncertainties based on the similarities and correspondences between religion and legislation contemporaneous with Israel; accusations against others on similar terms are tempered. Has any other NATION stood before God, etc...
no. Is any other nation called to become another nation based on fundamentally distinct (but not necessarily distinctIVE; see above) foundations?


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