Saturday, May 29, 2010

"Mori v'Rebbi Professor Moshe Greenberg"

Professor Moshe Greenberg, long-time professor of Hebrew Bible at Hebrew University passed away late March 15th, I only just learned of it. R. SZ Leiman wrote a tribute to him some 10 years ago, from which the above quote is derived, the transcript is here. Menahem Butler's post, and R. Alan Yuter on Prof. Greenberg;

Prof. Greenberg purchased Rabbenu Tefilin when the Dead Sea Tefilin were found. Here is a critical scholar who cares deeply and introspectively about what God asks of him. For R Breuer, Greenberg not is not totally outside the pale precisely because Greenberg believes in the Commander and observes the commandments. If we wish to inspect everyone's theology, we must ask about the Bible Criticism in Rashbam, Sefer Hasidim, and Ibn Ezra. We must explain why the Hummash that Rashi quotes appears to be different from our own. We would do well to examine the relationship between prescriptive and descriptive statements in our Torah canon, and define the actual parameters of legitimate Orthodox diversity. Professors Menahem Kellner and Marc Shapiro are probing this issue in their fine scholarship.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Prophecy, BibCrit & Philosophical Arguments for The Divine
R. Yoel Finkelman has proposed that though;

"Other nations may not have been present at Sinai, [God]...might, in some way, communicate with them".

He bases this on Moreh Nevukhim II:40 as inclusive of laws and statutes outside the Jewish canon as 'prophetic' for being true and reasoned, and spoken by an ethical and morally sound person. This is also proposed more forcefully by Nathanel Bar Fayummi in his Bustan al Ukul. Neither of them would deny, and both would most certainly affirm both Torah from Sinai and the utterly unique status of Moshe Rabbenu's nevuah among all other revelations (we do not discount the revelation received by other prophets before or after); “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).

So far as I can tell, they are both unique in proposing some kind of status for non-Jewish prophecy, before, during and after the closure of the Biblical Canon. Here I hope to say something useful about the nature of these forms of prophecy and the implications for Jewish prophetic experience prior to and after Moshe. Regarding Neviut other than that of Moshe, R. Finkelman notes;

"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".

This way describing nevuah generally is upheld by Abarbanel, [potentially] R. Hirsch, R. Kook and more recently R. Shlomo Fisher; it is not a recent, rationalistic formulation. R. Finkelman continues;

Yet, explains Rambam, different people in different times and places respond to different metaphors and images. Hence, all prophecy is focused on a particular time, place, and audience. This implies that there is something transitory about prophecy [aside from works entered into Nakh, which was 'closed' under nevuah?], 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 element to his prophecy. Moshe’s prophecy – the very Torah given at Sinai – is eternal, and not time bound (Guide II:35-39; Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Yesodei HaTorah 7:6). Only the Jewish people have been worthy of such an eternal and purely intellectual revelation, making their revelation unique and distinctive.

In some ways we already know this, as there are prophets mentioned in Tanakh, works mentioned in Tanakh - that are not in Tanakh - as their work was not of lasting import for the Jewish people (even, on occasion, works not necessarily deemed prophetic are accounted in Tanakh). But chew on these words; prophecy [aside from that which was transmitted to Moshe Rabbenu] is provisional, contingent, time-bound, and its transmission depends on the imaginative faculties of the receiver, by the will of God. This is heavy! It should reverberate with people who adamantly hold beliefs such that anything from God must itself be radically-non-contingent since God is - or that prophetic material is predictive or intended as an exhaustive account of temporal events and considered an exhaustive source of data about God - perennial, universal, "flawless" and in accord with human-accounted reason, without the 'taint' of human imagination (even if the prophecy of Moshe itself is described as mashal?...). Rambam and others have explicitly stated otherwise, claiming reason and imagination when at their most thoroughly integrated are prophetic. Rambam in R. Finkelman's primary source text;

I will, however, fully explain this to you, so that no doubt be left to you on this question, and that you may have a test by which you may distinguish between the guidance of human legislation, of the divine law, and of teachings stolen from prophets. As regards those who declare that the laws proclaimed by them are their own ideas, no further test is required: the confession of the defendant makes the evidence of the witness superfluous. I only wish to instruct you about laws which are proclaimed as prophetic. Some of these are truly prophetic, originating in divine inspiration, some are of non-prophetic character, and some, though prophetic originally, are the result of plagiarism. You will find that the sole object of certain laws, in accordance with the intention of their author, who well considered their effect, is to establish the good order of the state and its affairs, to free it from all mischief and wrong: these laws do not deal with philosophic problems, contain no teaching for the perfecting of our logical faculties, and are not concerned about the existence of sound or unsound opinions. Their sole object is to arrange, under all circumstances, the relations of men to each other, and to secure their well-being, in accordance with the view of the author of these laws. These laws are political, and their author belongs, as has been stated above, to the third class, viz., to those who only distinguish themselves by the perfection of their imaginative faculties.
You will also find laws which, in all their rules, aim, as the law just mentioned, at the improvement of the material interests of the people: but, besides, tend to improve the state of the faith of man, to create first correct notions of God, and of angels, and to lead then the people, by instruction and education, to an accurate knowledge of the Universe: this education comes from God; these laws are divine. The question which now remains to be settled is this: Is the person who proclaimed these laws the same perfect man that received them by prophetic inspiration, or a plagiarist, who has stolen these ideas from a true prophet? In order to be enabled to answer this question, we must examine the merits of the person, obtain an accurate account of his actions, and consider his character. The best test is the rejection, abstention, and contempt of bodily pleasures: for this is the first condition of men, and a fortiori of prophets: they must especially disregard pleasures of the sense of touch, which, according to Aristotle, is a disgrace to us: and, above all, restrain from the pollution of sensual intercourse.

There are fruits of reason and imagination that are technically in a category of prophetic, based on personal credentials that qualify one as a "prophet" but demand no direct communication from God - such works achieve a level prophecy.

I would like to suggest that if prophecy outside of the Jewish canon can be considered divine in the latter sense, "merely" for being true and reasoned and spoken by an ethical and morally sound person (no small thing by Rambam) - then it could follow that such a standard of prophecy could apply internally to certain events of Jewish Neviut as well - but being "Jewishly" rational, ethically and morally sound (and thus binding to "Israel"), according to specifically Jewish norms and standards.

Aside from comporting with current demands of "rationalism", and also almost an ancient theory of "emergence" within Judaism - it could have implications for claims of pre-Mosaic (and here), sources in Torah and post-Mosaic 'editing' of Torah (as accounted within our mesorah by midrashim and [others] and Bonfils [and others] respectively). If our mesorah is inclusive of such modes of Neviut, it could render mute certain challenging assumptions and/or conclusions of Biblical Criticism (though they may be in significant error on their own mortally-reasoned grounds for accepting it, it would be error of less pivotal detail). The nevuah of Ezra haSofer in "clarifying" the text could be this very sort of nevuah, and this could be what is indeed claimed by the sources offered by R. Halivni - his particular theories aside.

Following R. Kook's proposals (p. 3, source 6), about the evolution of even spiritual matters over time, if Judaism (which is to say the produce of the interaction betweeen Israel, Torah and Hashem's revelation ), evolved to a certain state, a certain form in it's isolation from covenantal texts, Torah text/oral Torah, perhaps the nevuah he received as an emissary of the Persian rulers was an 'intervention' to re-affirm and restablish oral/written Torah to be what and where it needed to be from that point on; Torah she b'Ktav had in a sense been set aside, existing but hidden in the world, even at times dispersed as texts of narratives and laws - but not as a singular, unified Divine presence and voice, outside of the dynamic relationship of the Jewish Trinity of Hashem-Torah-Israel; and it's place was of prime importance, being both the intermediate and cement of communal faith, communal access to God's Will and word to man about man.

The application of this "rational prophecy" assertion to our text of Torah doesn't seem to strongly contradict the doctrine that Moshe's initial prophecy and its fruits were unlike anyone before or after; "rational/ethical" prophecy applied to transmission of the physical text of Torah doesn't seem any more threatening than post-Mosaic Biblical prophecy in general. After Moshe's revelation, which was unique, Torah, the artifact itself was among the Jewish people - it was no longer in heaven, most certainly not when among the Jewish people, the people of history, who sinned, and sinned again; again, neither a peculiar or eccentric assertion.

Arguments made on behalf of the world of religious convictions, religious rubrics, which must be based on the works of religions to be considered valid - would ultimately be similarly contingent, similarly provisional as non-Mosaic prophecy - but still have a level on which they are considered "divine". On this level, irreconcilability can also not be presumed simply because of their disparate temporal settings.

See also in this vein my post "Sinai, Moshe Rabbenu and Revelation to [Members of] The Nations".

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

R. Shlomo Riskin, Coercion and Ecumenicism
[I hope to work on this after Shavuot; this is an unedited compilation of my thoughts, not organized yet]

In a fund-raising CD he sent out Pesach 07 called "Pour Out Your Wrath on the Gentiles (Who Do Not Know You)", R. Shlomo Riskin interprets Rambam as believing that there is an obligation for Jews to seek the conversion of non-Jews to Judaism. Elsewhere, he presents (in a defense of his interfaith work with Evangelical Christians), the claim that Rambam mandates the coercion of non-Jews to keep Sheva Mitzvot;

Even Maimonides legislates that it is incumbent upon the Jewish people even to coerce the rest of the world if necessary to accept the Noahide laws (Mishneh Torah , Laws of Kings 8,10)

What is left out of his defense is the penalty on non-Jews (Rambam seems quite specific in speaking of Eretz Israel), who refuse to "convert"';

If one does not accept these commands, he should be executed.

As I said, R. Riskin in his CD defends the notion of a specific mission of Jews to seek the Conversion of non-Jews - not simply to accept converts. I also believe that, in seeking more than the acquiescence of non-Jews to Noachide Laws - with the not-insignificant threat of execution - his view (shared by others), can be understood as nothing less than seeking the destruction of non-Jews qua non-Jews in converting them to Judaism. If an obligatory "mission to the Goyim" motivates his engagement with Christians, I believe it is faulty on both religious and historical lines, and I hope in this post and in a later one to explain exactly how.

A not-dissimilar "Missionary" theology is also shared by Chabad, who see conversion of the Nations to the Noachide Laws as waging war against them (as propounded by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as indicated in Persico's "Chabad's Lost Messiah" piece). It seems suspicious enough to me that he bases his interfaith dialogue on a mandate that's backed up by capital punishment - but in understanding Rambam to believe we should go further than propounding Noachide Laws to non-Jews, R. Riskin essentially believes we should seek the destruction of non-Jewry as such; it is not possible to "kasher" non-Jews beyond the 'hashkaha' of the Noachide Laws without doing so - their national identity cannot be anything but as "Israel".

Historically, his is not merely claim that at various times, groups of Jews (not necessarily mainstream groups at that), took upon themselves to encourage or compel conversion of specific gentiles - which was the case, at times. His claim is that Rambam saw an obligation and that we accept this as normative - despite the difficulty of finding a clear mandate for such an epic demand in halacha.

As I'm sure he is not ignorant of the lack of an organized, stated mandate from what is authoritative for Judaism - but the only source for mandate left seems to be historical occurrences themselves - not even systematized and coordinated; sporadic episodes in history are precedent - but are not halacha (I might add that this is not even Conservative approach to history's capacity as authoritative - which demands that any historical mandate deriving from practice/belief be shown as systematic and widespread within Israel)?

This should sound familiar to those who have ever been pursued by missionaries, and should raise fears since such groups who failed at "wars of love" with hugs so often turned to compelling converts (Luther is a fine example). His dialogues with other religions indicate a predilection for engaging them as they're understood on his Jewish terms ("If I am I because you are you", etc), in complete disregard of their own self-definitions - again, something that should be familiar to Jews who've ever been pursued by missionaries. His original responses to accusations against him are quite open that Jews must be followers of "true religion" (itself of debated meaning), isn't enough - all others must be made "corrected", for their own good and by divine mandate - (granted in whatever a 'nice' missionary manner possible - no need for jihad or crusades per se), precisely as Jews, and that Sheva Mitzvot are literally deemed not sufficient for Gentiles. Gentiles qua Gentiles, are, effectively, in his theology to be destroyed and made "complete" as Jews;

Generally known as a liberal nationalist, he is not of a 'liberal' disposition or pluralist where it counts, pluralism for others who fulfill a status of at the very least being assisted and treated civily by Jews - he has, in significant ways, become indistinguishable from patronizing, chauvinistic evangelical Christians and seems utterly blinded to it by his secular messianic 'war' theology, the same way Aish and similar kiruv groups argue that we are in love with Judaism, and judaism is at war, and we are in a WAR of LOVE, where ALL is twice as fair.

His talk of coming "together" in a "joint" belief is clearly as subversive as many xtian missionaries who give jews money; there is no "coming together" where one clearly seeks and STATES, as he does, to utterly subvert and effectively destroy what makes other people "Other"; they are NOT to be engaged on their or our terms - they have no halachically valid terms or deeds, they have no REDEEMABLE reality in this world except as "not yet Jews". Do people hear this?...he says such that cannot be read any other way.

I can imagine, given his adherence to the mitzvah of Yishuv Israel and Aliyah, that our planet, rich in diversity of peoples and nations should be destroyed/converted, uprooted and move to Israel rendering the Aretz Israel (a very important mitzvah for Riskin), one big resort town and the rest of the worlds diverse ecosystems should be similarly destroyed/converted (no wait..."elevated"), to field after field of soy and other destructive annual crops, considering his vegetarian doctrines. I only half-jest.

R. Riskin neglects to mention, in citing Rambam on Sheva Mitzvot observance as his prooftext (observance which, again, he believes is only a stepping stone...), that anyone who does not accept Sheva Mitzvot is to be PUT TO DEATH (hilchot melachim u'milchamot 8:10).
Of course a very normative view held by many (if not most), is that we are not obligated to compel observance on the Noachide laws, annulling much of this (well-explicated by R. Michael Broyde here and elsewhere;
and also is the view that is expressed by some about xtianity and islam, but more recently by R. Steinsaltz - that many religions actually fulfill them indirectly;
...which is considered enough by Rambam according to a famous R. Kook, presented by R. Eugene Korn;
but in short translated here;

Sunday, May 16, 2010

"Take not Thy Thunder from us - take away our pride.."

Iron Maiden/Bob Marley Mashup - "Revelations" and "Exodus"...

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Rav Aharon Soloveitchik z"l
With the pictures painted of Orthodox leadership these days, as stalwart, ever-certain and fixed in the knowledge and emunah as their disciples are of them, I have thought it worthwhile to post on this blog examples of different models of leadership. An example from Rabbi Ahron Soloveitchik;

In the summer of '75, Rav Aharon visited NCSY's Camp West in Big Bear, California. He spoke for hours to the teenagers, several of whom spoke of their personal problems practicing Yiddishkeit in not fully observant homes. After the last teenager left the room the Rosh Yeshiva began to cry. When the author asked him what was wrong he said "their courage, their strength - I don't know if I could be as brave as they are."

R. Soloveitchik has inspired and motivated thousands - and he vented tears and voiced doubt at his capacity to maintain faith and observance in the contexts so many have had to live in, the Rosh Yeshiva was empowered and inspired by the endurance of the masses who had so much less experience and knowledge in Torah lifeways, expressed self-doubt in comparison to their struggles. We can be motivated by the efforts of the students and by Rav Soloveitchik's self-consciousness and doubt in the face of the students unawareness of their strength and courage, of which in his scope and depth of lived knowledge of Judaism, he saw must be great to make such an effort.

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