Inter-Faith Relations: Survey of World Religions (Part 5)

Prayer Wheels
Japa Mala Prayer Beads (Bikrampratapsingh – Wikipedia)

Buddhism

The founder of Buddhism was a royal prince born in 624 BCE in northern India – now a part of Nepal – who was given the name Siddhartha. He lived in the royal palace but when he was 29-years-old he moved into the forest to follow a life of meditation. According to Buddhist belief he attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree which grew in Bodh Gaya, India. It was requested of him to teach fellow pilgrims who were attempting to attain enlightenment. The Buddha as he was now called proceeded to teach the first Wheel of Dharma which included the Four Noble Truths. Later he taught the second and third Wheels of Dharma including the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras and the Sutra Discriminating the Intention. The teachings of the Buddha included 84,000 teachings with the intention of leading mankind to permanent liberation from suffering and finding nirvana.23 The First Council was convened after the Buddha’s death in order to preserve his teachings.24 The Second Council was convened about 100 years after the Buddha’s death when conflicts began to arise amongst the Buddhists. It is unclear what happened during this Council but a split occurred within the Buddhist community. The group who felt they were keeping the original spirit of the Buddha’s teachings became known as the Elders and eventually evolved into Theravada Buddhism. Those who taught a more lenient form of Buddhism in ways they felt were in tune with the Buddha’s intentions broke off from the others and became known as the Great Community. This break-off group eventually became Mahayana Buddhism. “Within 200 years of the Buddha’s death, there were 18 schools of Buddhism in India. … Moreover, Buddhism had now spread to places with different languages and customs, and therefore different perspectives on the dharma.”25

The Buddha’s teachings as well as those of Theravada Buddhism are in reality atheistic. However, the Buddha and Theravada Buddhism do not necessarily deny the existence of beings that could be called “gods.” Mahayana Buddhism on the other hand believes in a universe that is populated with celestial buddhas and bodhisattvas who are worshipped by followers as gods and goddesses. Included in this pantheon of gods and goddesses is the Buddha himself. Most of the Mahayana Buddhist deities are adapted from indigenous religions of Tibet, China, and Thailand as well as the deities of Hinduism.26

The First Council was convened after the Buddha’s death in order to preserve his teachings. It was at this Council that the Buddha’s teachings were divided into three categories known as pitaka. These categories include discourses, discipline, and higher knowledge. “The Tripitaka that was formed at this meeting is the same canon used by Buddhists today.”24

Evil according to Buddhism comes from the choices that mankind makes. The three basic roots of evil are greed, hatred, and delusion. It is the choices made by mankind from these roots that is the cause of suffering and evil in this world.27 The Buddha taught a doctrine that rejected the idea of a soul and instead taught a doctrine of reincarnation (often called transmigration) in which one takes on a new body in the next life. Nirvana is the final liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth according to Buddhism and it is the end of all suffering. Nirvana was described by the Buddha as “incomprehensible, indescribable, inconceivable, unutterable. … [In his teachings] the Buddha describes Nirvana as the place in which it is recognized that there is nothing but what is seen of the mind itself; where, recognizing the nature of the self-mind, one no longer cherishes the dualisms of discrimination; where there is no more thirst nor grasping; where there is no more attachment to external things.”28

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23“History of Buddhism.” aboutbuddhism.org. About Buddhism, 2007. [http://www.aboutbuddhism.org/history-of-buddhism.htm/]
24“The first Buddhist council.” religionfacts.com. Religion Facts, n.d. [http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/history/first_council.htm]
25“The second Buddhist council.” religionfacts.com. Religion Facts, n.d.  [http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/history/second_council.htm]
26“Do Buddhists believe in God?” religionfacts.com. Religion Facts, n.d.  [http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/deities.htm]
27Nyanaponika Thera. “The Roots of Good and Evil.” Penang, Malaysia: Inward Path, 1999. [http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/roots_goodevil.pdf]
28“Buddhist beliefs about the afterlife.” religionfacts.com. Religion Facts, n.d.  [http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/beliefs/afterlife.htm]

Inter-Faith Relations: Survey of World Religions (Part 3)

Bahá'í Book of Prayers
Bahá’í Book of Prayers (Caspiax – Wikipedia)

Baha’i

The Bah’ai Faith grew out of Shi’ite Islam and the belief in a 12th Imam – a successor of Mohammed – who would renew religion and guide the faithful. In 1844 Mirza Ali Mohammed proclaimed an imminent appearance “of a new messenger of God who would overturn old beliefs and customs and usher in a new era.”13 He himself declared that he was the forerunner of this coming prophet and took upon himself the title “Bab” (Persian for “Gateway”). The Bab’s teachings spread quickly but ultimately led to his imprisonment and execution as well as the persecution and death of about 20,000 of his followers in Iran. Mirza Hoseyn Ali Nuri was an early ardent follower of the Bab and took on the name of Baha’u’llah (Persian for “Glory of God”). He was arrested in 1852 and jailed in Tehran where he came to realize that he was in fact the prophet that the Bab had spoken about in his teachings. He was released in 1852 and exiled to Baghdad where he assumed leadership over the Bah’ai community. In 1863 he was relocated to Constantinople where he declared to his fellow believers that he was the prophet foretold by the Bab. He was accepted by the overwhelming majority of the followers and declared the prophet. Before his death in 1892, he appointed his eldest son Abd ol-Baha to be the leader of the Bah’ai Faith and authorized interpreter of his teachings. The Bah’ai Faith spread rapidly through North America and Europe as well as other points around the globe.13

The followers of the Bah’ai Faith believe in only One God, the creator of the universe. God has absolute control over His creation and has complete knowledge of His creation. Bah’ai emphasizes the fact that God is entirely self-sufficient and is above and separate from His creation. God is not in need of worship “so the obedience he asks of humankind is entirely for the benefit of individuals and motivated only by his love for them.”14 Bah’ai teaches that even though mankind has different concepts of God’s nature and call Him by various names we are all speaking about the same unique Creator. God is ultimately unknowable but to help assist mankind in understanding Him He has sent messengers to humanity.14

The holy text of the Bah’ai Faith is the Kitab-i-aqdas which is a book of laws written by Baha’u’llah. It is comprised of 100 volumes which cover a wide range of topics “including laws and principles for personal conduct and the governance of society, as well as mystical writings dealing with the progress of the soul and its journey towards God.”15 Bah’ai also recognize the Bible, Qur’an, and revealed holy texts of other religions.15

The Bah’ai Faith does not teach that there exists a “Satan” or a “Devil” or an “Evil Force.” Bah’ai teaches that evil does not have an independent existence but is really defined as the absence of good. The teachings of Bah’ai reject the concept of “original sin” or any other doctrine that teaches that people are at their base evil or have evil elements within their nature. According to Bah’ai teachings pride is one of the greatest hindrances to spiritual progress. Accordingly it is only revealed religion that can save mankind from their imperfections because God has “sent his Manifestations to show us the path to spiritual development and to touch our hearts with the spirit of God’s love. … Salvation means drawing nearer to God and progressing on the path to a deep and satisfying happiness.”17

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15“Do the Bah’ai’s have a holy book?” bahai.org. Bah’ai International Community, 2013. [http://www.bahai.org/faq/beliefs/writings]
16“Bah’ai beliefs about sin, Satan, and evil.” religionfacts.com. Religion Facts, n.d. [http://www.religionfacts.com/bahai/beliefs/evil.htm]
17“Bah’ai beliefs about sin, and salvation.” religionfacts.com. Religion Facts, n.d.  [http://www.religionfacts.com/bahai/beliefs/salvation.htm]

Inter-Faith Relations: Survey of World Religions (Part 1)

Russian Orthodox Communion
Russian Orthodox Communion (Olga.Mach – Wikipedia)

If one is to truly understand where one stand in the world regarding religion it is important to have at least some working knowledge of the various other religions of the world. It is also important to understand the basic concepts of other religions so one may logically and factually defend one’s own Jewish/Torah faith. In this five-part blog I will be exploring the five largest and most well-known religions: Christianity, Islam, Baha’i, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

Religions can be divided into seven general categories based upon historical origin and mutual influence. Abrahamic religions originated in the Middle-East, Indian religions in the Indian subcontinent, East Asian religions in East Asia, and Afro-American religions in Central and West Africa.1

Abrahamic religions are the largest group and consist mainly of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Baha’i and are named after the patriarch Abraham. Indian religions tend to share key concepts such as dharma and karma and consist mostly of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. East Asian religions are dominated by Taoism and Confucianism and make use of the concepts of Tao or Dō. Afro-American religions were imported as a result of the Atlantic slave trade and are built upon traditional African religions from Central and West Africa. Indigenous religions have formed on every continent and include such religions as Native-American religions, Australian-Aboriginal religions, Chinese folk religions, Shinto, etc. Iranian or Persian religions have their origins in Persia and include Zoroastrianism and Gnosticism. There are also new religious movements – those that emerged since the 19th-century – that often reinterpret or revive aspects of older traditions. These religions include Hindu reform movements, Eckankar, and Wicca.1

This video will be focusing upon the five religions that are followed by a large part of the world population – Christianity, Islam, Baha’i, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Please remember that this is a general overview and there are many varied beliefs and practices within each of these religions just as there is within Judaism.

Christianity

Christianity grew out of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in the first-century CE during the time of Augustus. The teachings generally urged a purification of Judaism which would allow for a free Israel and the establishment of a kingdom of God upon earth. The faithful were asked to follow the moral code of love, charity, and humility forsaking the worldly matters. Many of the early followers believed in the coming of the messiah which would usher in a final judgment. Initially converts to this sect of Judaism were Jewish by birth and followed Jewish law. The growing belief in Jesus as divine however caused hostility with the Jewish world and many believers were forced to leave Israel. Paul converted to the new early Christian religion and he helped to establish a new set of laws that insisted on abandoning the “old laws” of Judaism. Under his guidance missionaries were sent out across the Middle-East and Europe to spread the message of this new universal religion. Over the next 250 years Christianity won over many converts and by the fourth-century CE about 10-percent of the residents within the Roman Empire were Christian and there were flourishing Christian communities in the Middle-East and Ethiopia.2

Christianity believes in the unity of God and that He is infinite – infinite in perfection and infinite in time and space. God is also considered a “simple” being for He cannot be made up of finite parts nor can He possess accidental imperfections. God is also free, intelligent, and distinct from His creation. God is considered eternal and immutable in Christianity. God is also “omniscient or possesses the most perfect knowledge of all things … [and] possesses the perfection of free will in an infinitely eminent degree.”3 Christianity believes that God is part of a “Trinity” and this doctrine is central to the Christian religion. The Trinity represents a unity of the Godhead which is made up of three persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and these three persons are distinct from one another – all being co-eternal and co-equal. This is taught in the Athanasian Creed: “the father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God.”4

The holy text of the Christian religion is the Bible. The Christian Bible includes the Tanakh – what Christianity refers to as the “Old Testament” – and the Christian texts known as the “New Testament.” Book lists of acceptable biblical books had been in existence since 170 CE but they did not always agree with each other. The Old Testament canon was derived from the books of the Septuagint – or Greek – version of the Tanakh. The New Testament canon was derived from the biblical book list of an influential bishop named Athanasius.5 The official cannon was adopted at the Council of Trent.

The source of evil in Christian tradition is attributed to the free-will choices of man. The willful disobedience to God by mankind causes evil and suffering.6 Christianity teaches that “Satan” or “The Devil” is a tormentor and tempter that can lead one to sin. The Christian religion teaches a theology of “original sin” whereby all mankind is tainted by the original sin of Adam. Mankind is born into a state of sin and is a slave to sin according to Christian doctrine. The use of baptism as well as accepting Jesus as one’s “Lord and Savior” are the only options for bringing about forgiveness of sin.

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1“Major Religious Groups.” wikipedia.org. Wikipedia, n.d. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_religious_groups]
2Robert Guisepi (ed.). “A History of Christianity.” history-world.org. History World International, n.d. [http://history-world.org/origins_of_christianity.htm]
3Patrick Toner. “The Nature and Attributes of God.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06612a.htm]
4George Joyce. “The Blessed Trinity.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15047a.htm]
5Michael Marlowe. “A Brief Introduction to the Canon and Ancient Versions of Scriptures.” bible-researcher.com. Bible Research, n.d. [http://www.bible-researcher.com/canon1.html]
6Alfred Sharpe. “Evil.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05649a.htm]

 

Jewish Literacy – Biblical Era: Creation (Part 5)

creation of the sky - Genesis chapter 1
Creation of the Sky – Genesis Chapter 1 (Howcheng – Wikipedia)

“…and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so” (Genesis 1:15). These lights shall also function to provide light to the earth. Rashi explains that the earth itself does not need light. These lights are to provide light for the world which “includes those beings that need light.”1

“And God made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; and the stars. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth…” (Genesis 1:16-17).

These lights were not created “from the body of the firmament, rather, they were bodies set into it.”3 Rashi explains that these lights were created equal in size but God reduced the size of the moon. Why was the moon reduced in size?

“R. Simeon b. Pazzi pointed out a contradiction [between verses]. One verse says: And God made the two great lights, and immediately the verse continues: The greater light . . . and the lesser light. The moon said unto the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Is it possible for two kings to wear one crown’? He answered: ‘Go then and make thyself smaller’” (Chillun 60b).7

“[A]nd to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day” (Genesis 1:19-20). The lights are told to rule over the earth by the changes they cause in the earth and the power of “bringing about the existence and deterioration of all things in the lower world.”3

The sun rules the day and causes the sprouting, propagation, and growth of all the “warm and dry things”. The moon rules the night and causes the increases in the waters “and all liquid and cold things.”3

“Abraham ibn Ezra said: ‘By the coming forth of the sun at daytime and the light of the moon at night, they shall divide the light from the darkness.’” In Ramban’s opinion, “the light mentioned here refers to the day, and the darkness is the night.”3

“And God said: ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let fowl fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven’” (Genesis 1:20).

According to Rashi, the swarming creatures are considered any living creature that does not stand high off the ground. This would include winged creatures such as flies as well as land creatures such as ants, worms, moles, and mice as well as all fish.1

However, Onkelos translates this verse as “And the Lord said, Let the waters generate the moving creature (having) life and the fowl which flieth over the earth on the face of the expanse of heaven.”8 Here we see that swarming has the implication of movement. The creatures are called swarming “because of their constant movement.”3

According to Rashi the fowl (or winged creature) are the creatures that do not have four legs upon which it moves because its main method of movement is via flying.1

“And God created the great sea-monsters, and every living creature that creeps, with which the waters swarmed, after its kind, and every winged fowl after its kind; and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:21).

“[It is written]: And God created the great sea-monsters. Here they explained: The sea-gazelles. R. Johanan said: This refers to Leviathan the slant serpent, and to Leviathan the tortuous serpent, for it is written: In that day the Lord with his sore [and great and strong] sword will punish [Leviathan the slant serpent, and Leviathan the tortuous serpent]. … Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: All that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in his world he created male and female. Likewise, Leviathan the slant serpent and Leviathan the tortuous serpent he created male and female; and had they mated with one another they would have destroyed the whole world. What [then] did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He castrated the male and killed the female preserving it in salt for the righteous in the world to come; for it is written: And he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.”9

“And God blessed them, saying: ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day” (Genesis 1:22-23). Since these creatures will eventually be hunted and eaten they need a blessing, according to Rashi, so they would not become depleted.1

The creatures were told to be “fruitful and multiply” to fill the earth. God gave this command to ensure that the creatures would have more than one offspring so they would not become depleted in the earth.1

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1Yisrael Herczeg. The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary – Genesis. (New York: Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 2000).
2I. Epstein. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. (London: Soncino Press, 1949). [http://halakhah.com/pdf/moed/Chagigah.pdf]
3Charles Chavel. Ramban Commentary on the Torah – Genesis. (New York: Shilo Publishing House, Inc., 1971).
4I. Epstein. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. (London: Soncino Press, 1949). [http://halakhah.com/pdf/moed/Sukkah.pdf]
5Aryeh Kaplan. The Living Nach: Later Prophets. (New York: Moznaim Publishing Corporation, 1995).
6I. Epstein. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. (London: Soncino Press, 1949). [http://halakhah.com/pdf/zeraim/Berachoth.pdf]
7I. Epstein. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. (London: Soncino Press, 1949). [http://halakhah.com/pdf/kodoshim/Chullin.pdf]
8J. W. Ethridge. On the Pentateuch With The Fragments of the Jerusalem Targum From the Chaldee (1862). [http://targum.info/targumic-texts/pentateuchal-targumim/]
9I. Epstein. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. (London: Soncino Press, 1949). [http://halakhah.com/pdf/nezikin/Baba_Bathra.pdf]

iBelieve: Thoughts on Jewish Topics II

magnifying-glass
Where do I fit? (Peggy Marco – Pixabay)

*Long post….
I am writing an update to my original post iBelieve: Thoughts of Jewish Topics after doing a lot of soul-searching and searching the Torah and Tanakh. Again, this is not meant to be a definitive statement on my beliefs/thoughts about these topics. This is simply meant to be a very shallow look into my ongoing religious-belief process.

Torah

I believe that the Torah was given to Moses. I believe part of the Torah was given on Mount Sinai and the remainder was given from God to Moses during the time in the desert. I am still ambivalent about whether the Torah is the literal word of God or if it is God’s words filtered through man (Moses). While I would very much like to believe that the Torah is the literal word of God I have a difficult time believing that God would simply put Moses in a trance-like state and guide his hand to write the Torah. If Moses did speak “face-to-face” with God and not in a trance-like state (like all the other prophets) then why would this time be any different?

I believe that the Torah was “filtered” through Moses even though God would not permit Moses to completely change God’s words. Moses may not have written exactly what God said to him but he did get the essence of the wording correct. If God spoke of a certain mitzvot (commandments) then Moses wrote them down in an understandable way. If Moses had made any mistake (such as declaring something unclean that is clean) God would not have permitted Moses to write the mistaken mitzvot – thus, the Torah is true to God’s words and not a man-made invention.

With all this being said, I am uncertain as to whether the Torah we have today is the exact same one given to Moses. While it is true that the oldest manuscripts – the Dead Sea Scrolls – agree with the Masoretic text for the most part, they do not agree one-hundred percent. In addition, we do not have a complete text of Torah from the Dead Sea Scrolls to compare to the Masoretic text. I believe that the Masoretes did the absolute best with what they had and I believe the overwhelming majority of the Masoretic text is true and complete but it is not the exact same Torah given to Moses.

The great scholar Ibn Ezra agrees (at least partially) with this theory. He believes that there were six additions to the Torah after Moses wrote the Torah given to him and the Israelites by God. “In some of his comments, he references a secret that he wishes to hint at but not disclose. Ibn Ezra’s never states his meaning explicitly, but his point and his reasoning were later explained clearly by R. Joseph ben Eliezer (Tuv Elem) Bonfils (late 14th cent.), in his commentary on ibn Ezra titled Tzafnat Pa’aneach.

In short, Bonfils explains, ibn Ezra believes that certain biblical passages were not written by Moses. In these terse comments, Ibn Ezra refers to six passages of various lengths.”

1. Genesis 12:6
2. Genesis 22:14
3. Deuteronomy  1:1-5
4. Deuteronomy 3:11
5. Deuteronomy 31:9
6. Deuteronomy 34:1-121

I in no way believe that the Torah was purposefully corrupted – all ancient texts have been changed, not just the Torah. I believe that we must use the Masoretic text as the “official” text of Judaism but we must also realize that there are some holes and some differences with the original Torah given to Moses.

Halakhah

I believe that the mitzvot of the Torah are indeed binding but I also believe that the interpretation of these mitzvot do (and must) change. God gave us all brains and common sense so as our understanding of the Torah and the world in which it was written grows, we must readjust our interpretations. We also must understand that nobody reads and understands Biblical Hebrew fluently.

Halakhah (rabbinic law) is not binding upon any Jew. Halakhah is the human interpretation of Torah mitzvot. I do not believe that an “Oral Law” was given to Moses at Mount Sinai. Yes, there were oral instructions that were later written down but these are not an “Oral Law.” Also, there were oral instructions – such as how to make the Tabernacle – that were not written down. These oral instructions were for a specific task at a specific time and are therefore also not part of an “Oral Law.” The Mishnah – which is really what the term “Oral Law” refers to – is the human interpretation of the Torah mitzvot.

The Mishnah may or may not be the rulings of the Sanhedrin (the court that developed out of the elders from Moses’ time) and therefore may or may not be binding. Since we cannot be sure what is and what is not from the Sanhedrin the Mishnah is not binding upon any Jew. The Gemara (commentaries on the Mishnah) is absolutely not binding upon any Jew. These commentaries are simply human interpretations from men who were not part of the Sanhedrin and, for the most part, did not even live in the Land of Israel.

I believe that the oral arguments and decisions of the Sanhedrin and the latter Rabbis are a form of reformation within Judaism. The decisions and answers were made as a response to specific issues that needed a Torah-based answer while not necessarily directly answered within Torah. These were wise men and men of God but they were not infallible. I believe that modern-day rabbis have the obligation and right to continue in the reformation of halakhah as long as the decisions are based upon Torah and do not deviate from the basis of Torah. I believe that halakhah can be followed as one chooses but it is not binding upon any Jew. I believe that the commentaries from the rabbinic sources are important for background and historical information. They can be valuable when determining how to follow a Torah mitzvah but they are only commentaries and nothing more.

Divorce

A man takes a wife and possesses her. She fails to please him because he finds something obnoxious about her, and he writes her a bill of divorcement, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house… (Deuteronomy 24:1)2

If a man for whatever reason he chooses decides to divorce his wife he must give her a divorce document (get). The Talmud and other rabbinic writings have written extensive halakhah regarding how the get must be written and how it must be given to the wife. If the man refuses to give his wife a get the wife becomes an agunah – a chained woman.

According to Karaites either the man or woman can go to the beit din (Jewish court) and request a divorce. Also, if a man refuses to give a woman a get the beit din can give the woman the get and release her from the marriage.

The Reform Movement does not believe that a get is required – a legally-binding civil divorce document is acceptable. However, in the Rabbi’s Manual there is an option for a “Document of Separation.”3 Reconstrucionist Judaism follows the belief that some sort of Jewish Divorce Document should be used in addition to the civil divorce decree.4 Conservative Judaism, like Orthodox Judaism, requires a traditional get in order for a divorce to be recognized. However, in the Conservative-styled ketubah (marriage document) there is generally a clause – known as the “Liberman Clause” – where the beit din can intervene and give a get to a woman whose husband is refusing to give her a get.5

I believe that according to the Torah, a civil divorce document is completely acceptable and should be considered a fulfillment of the Torah mitzvah. However, I also believe that as a Jew I must also be sensitive to the Jewish community. Even though a civil divorce is completely acceptable according to Torah I also believe that, for the sake of peace within the Jewish world, a get should also be obtained.

Conversion

While conversion is not spoken of – at least not directly – in the Torah or Tanakh it was always an option for the non-Jew. I have already written about the conversion process in an article on my site so I will not go into this extensively.

I believe just as some within the Karaite world believe, based on Exodus 12:48-49, that all one needs to do to convert to Judaism is:6,7

  1. Believe in the Eternal One as the only God and renounce all others.
  2. Believe in the Tanakh as the words of the Eternal One and the only religious authority – renounce all other writings, doctrines, and creeds as words of men.
  3. Study and keep the Tanakh while striving to interpret the Tanakh according to its peshat (plain) meaning.
  4. All males must be circumcised.
  5. All converts must purify themselves and their homes.
  6. A period of learning must take place.
  7. Conversion candidates must refrain from celebrating Passover until their conversion is complete.
  8. Upon finalizing the conversion the candidate must make a public declaration of his/her intent to convert and leave all other faith systems.

However, since I am also part of the wider Jewish community I think that there, out of necessity, must be a longer and more formal process of conversion. I do not believe that one must take a year in order to convert but I also think this should be up to the rabbi and the individual.

According to Rabbinic Judaism conversion includes three things:

  1. Circumcision for the male.
  2. Ablution (immersion) for both male and female.
  3. Proper witnesses as to the conversion.8

Rambam (Maimonides) also speak of these requirements and adds more specifics to them in his Mishneh Torah (M.T. Issurei Biah 14:1-6):

  1. Make sure the person has no ulterior motives.
  2. Remind the person that the Jews are persecuted.
  3. Tell the person the fundamentals of the faith.
  4. Teach the person some of the easy mitzvot and some of the more difficult mitzvot.
  5. Teach the person the curses and blessings of following the mitzvot.
  6. The male must be circumcised.
  7. The male and female must immerse before a Beit Din.9

I see absolutely no problem with either the view of the Talmud or Rambam. This doesn’t mean that the process needs to take an excessive amount of time or money. I also believe that we as Jews must be very open to potential converts and not push non-Jews into the man-made “Noahide Laws.”

We as Jews are commanded to be a “light unto the Nations” and as such we must be actively teaching Torah. We as Jews must be open and welcoming toward those interested in Judaism. We as Jews must actively seek out those who are interested in conversion. I believe that we as Jews should not be shy about spreading Torah to the Nations. I am absolutely for spreading the knowledge of Torah and the beauty and truth of Judaism. I am pro-proselytizing just as our forefathers were in times past. We need to welcome non-Jews into the fold and making sure that those interested in conversion are given the option without undue burdens of time and/or money.

Non-Jews

I reject the idea of the man-made “Noahide Laws.” However, I do completely accept the idea of the Ger. Ger is often translated as “convert” but the vast majority of the term Ger (according to the peshat meaning) in the Torah and Tanakh point not to a convert but to a non-Jew. Most of these passages refer to non-Jews who cling to the Israelites and follow the God of Israel. The term Ger really means stranger or sojourner. Remember that once a person converts, he or she is fully a Jew with all the rights and responsibilities of a Jew.

I realize that in reality this is a matter of semantics but I prefer to use the Torah/Tanakh term “Ger” rather than the man-made term of “Noahide.” The ideas behind Ger and Noahide and all the rules surrounding these statuses are in flux at this point in history. The reasons for this are varied but it is mostly due to the fact that non-Jews and Jews were separated physically and culturally until very recently. The idea of a non-Jew who doesn’t convert yet clings to God, Torah, and the Jewish people was an ancient idea before Israel was destroyed. However, once Rome destroyed Israel and expelled the Jews this interaction was also destroyed. After the Enlightenment, there was an opening for non-Jews and Jews to come together to learn and worship together.

I believe in the Ger but not the term – or restrictions applied to – Noahide. Yes, there must be restrictions in order to keep the Ger from becoming too strict and potentially falling away from God, Torah, and the Jewish people. There are also certain mitzvot that are strictly for the Jewish people (such as Tefillin). However, I believe that the Ger can follow the Torah and perform most of the mitzvot contained therein. I believe that we Jews have a command (a mitzvah) to spread the light of Torah to the world which also includes bringing more non-Jews under the umbrella of the Ger.

What does it all mean?

I started my process toward becoming a Jew in the Reform Movement. I ended up converting under the Masorti (Conservative) Movement after two years of study. After a few years I came to realize that the “Oral Law” was in fact not divine. It was not given to Moses at Sinai alongside the Written Torah. In all honesty, this broke my heart and my will to follow Rabbinic law. Thus, I began my search anew within Judaism.

I spent the last two years loosely attached to the Karaite Movement. While I have learned a tremendous amount from the Karaite Movement I just do not see the reformation that I believe must be a part of the Jewish world. I do not want to just attach myself to the Karaite Movement simply because the Karaites reject the idea of an “Oral Law.” This is not right or fair to me or the Karaites. So my journey continues.

I have approached the idea of returning to Reform Judaism. The Reform Movement is the largest sect of Judaism and offers many great things to Jews and non-Jews. The Reform Movement is part of the Rabbinate world as opposed to the Karaite world. However, this sect also rejects the idea of a divine “Oral Law.” But, this sect also rejects the idea of a divine Written Torah as well. I am also frustrated with the idea that Tikkun Olam/Social Justice seems to have taken over the Movement to the detriment of the Torah. So my journey continues.

I have also thought about becoming affiliated with the Reconstructionist Movement. The Reconstructionist Movement is part of the Rabbinate world as opposed to the Karaite world. However, this sect like the Reform Movement also rejects the idea of a divine “Oral Law.” But, this sect also rejects the idea of a divine Written Torah. While I find a lot of commonality in my own beliefs and this Movement I also have a problem with the Tikkun Olam/Social Justice emphasis and the lack of a personal relationship with God. So my journey continues.

I have also thought of returning to Masorti/Conservative Judaism. Most of my beliefs and actions would still fit in with the Masorti Movement but there is still the issue of the “Oral Law.” Masorti teaches that the halakhah of the Rabbis is binding but this is something I completely reject. On the other hand though, Masorti does teach the divinity of the Written Torah. So will I be satisfied with the Masorti Movement? I am not sure so my journey continues.

I reject Orthodoxy for a multitude of reasons but the beliefs I would accept in Orthodox Judaism are beliefs that I can find across all the non-Orthodox Movements. So, where does this leave me? I am a Jew without a home. The only thing I can absolutely decide is that I do not follow Orthodox Judaism and I am a mix of all of non-Orthodox Judaism. I find myself in need of a community but I do not know where to start looking for my community. Do I go to the Reform shul and make that my community? Do I go back to my Masorti/Conservative shul and once again become a member of that community? I am not sure where I belong – or if I belong – at this point. All I know is that I want to follow Torah and live as God wants me to live.

——————–

1Zev Farber. Seven Torah Passages of Non-Mosaic Origin According to Ibn Ezra and
R. Joseph Bonfils.
The Torah, n.d. [http://thetorah.com/non-mosaic-torah-passages-ibn-ezra-and-bonfils/]
2
David Stein (ed.). JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1999.
3Central Conference of American Rabbis. A Reform Get. CCAR, 1988. [http://ccarnet.org/responsa/narr-369-374/]
4Richard Hirsh. Progressive Approaches to Jewish Divorce: A Reconstructionist Perspective. Ritualwell, n.d. [http://www.ritualwell.org/ritual/progressive-approaches-jewish-divorce-reconstructionist-perspective]
5Sanford Seltzer. The Jewish Way of Divorce. Reform Judaism. n.d. [http://www.reformjudaism.org/jewish-way-divorce]
6Nehemia Gordon. Conversion FAQ. Karaite Korner, n.d.  [http://www.karaite-korner.org/conversion_faq.htm]
7al-Qirqisani Center. An Introduction to Karaite Judaism: History, Theology, Practice, and Custom. Troy, NY: al-Qirqisani Center for the Promotion of Karaite Studies, 2003.
8Halakhah.Com. Yevamoth. Halakhah.Com, n.d. [http://halakhah.com/pdf/nashim/Yevamoth.pdf]
9Eliyahu Touger. Mishneh Torah: Issurei Biah. Chabad, n.d. [http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/960662/jewish/Issurei-Biah-Chapter-Fourteen.htm]

Jewish Literacy – Biblical Era: Creation (Part 4)

Creation of Earth - Genesis Chapter 1
Creation of Earth – Genesis Chapter 1 (GFreihalter – Wikipedia)

“And God said: ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night…” (Genesis 1:14).

Rashi explains that there is an allusion to the creation of these lights on the first day of Creation but God commanded them to be suspended in the heavens. This teaching is corroborated by the Rabbis.1

“But was the light created on the first day? For, behold, it is written: And God set them in the firmament of the heaven, and it is [further] written: And there was evening and there was morning a fourth day — This is [to be explained] according to R. Eleazar. For R. Eleazar said: The light which the Holy One, blessed be He, created on the first day, one could see thereby from one end of the world to the other; but as soon as the Holy One, blessed be He, beheld the generation of the Flood and the generation of the Dispersion, and saw that their actions were corrupt, He arose and hid it from them…” (Chagigah 12a).2

Ramban taught that light was created on the first day but when the firmament was created on the second day it intercepted the light thus preventing it from illuminating the lower entities that had been created. This is why the earth was dark. On the fourth day, God decided to place luminaries in the firmament to shed light upon the Earth.3

All the created entities generated from heaven and earth, Rashi goes on to explain, were created on the first day. Each of these entities were fixed in their permanent positions and functions on the day that it was decreed by God.1

“[A]nd let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years; …” (Genesis 1:14). From this passage we learn that when solar or lunar eclipses occur it is a bad sign for the world.

“Our Rabbis taught, When the sun is in eclipse, it is a bad omen for the whole world. This may be illustrated by a parable. To what can this be compared? To a human being who made a banquet for his servants and put up for them a lamp. When he became wroth with them he said to his servant, ‘Take away the lamp from them, and let them sit in the dark’” (Sukkah 29a).4

We are called upon to not “fear the signs of heaven, even though the nations fear them, for the ways of the nations are nonsense” (Yirmiyahu 10:2-3).5 If Israel performs the will of God the people need not worry about the punishments that are portended by the eclipse.1

“But when Israel fulfil the will of the Omnipresent, they need have no fear of all these [omens] as it is said, Thus saith the Lord,’ Learn not the way of the nations, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the nations are dismayed at them, the idolaters will be dismayed, but Israel will not be dismayed” (Sukkah 29a).4

These lights were set in the firmament to be used as signs for the seasons for Israel will be commanded in the future to celebrate the festivals in their fixed times. The times of the festivals are fixed by the signs of the moon since Israel calculates months by the sign of the new moon.1

These lights are also set in the firmament to be used by mankind to calculate the length of the day and the length of the night. The lights are set in a consistent course so the lunar month lasts approximately 30 days and the solar year lasts 365 days.3

“[T]welve constellations have I created in the firmament, and for each constellation I have created thirty hosts, and for each host I have created thirty legions, and for each legion I have created thirty cohorts, and for each cohort I have created thirty maniples, and for each maniple I have created thirty camps, and to each camp I have attached three hundred and sixty-five thousands of myriads of stars, corresponding to the days of the solar year” (Berachot 32b).6

——————–

1Yisrael Herczeg. The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary – Genesis. (New York: Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 2000).
2I. Epstein. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. (London: Soncino Press, 1949). [http://halakhah.com/pdf/moed/Chagigah.pdf]
3Charles Chavel. Ramban Commentary on the Torah – Genesis. (New York: Shilo Publishing House, Inc., 1971).
4I. Epstein. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. (London: Soncino Press, 1949). [http://halakhah.com/pdf/moed/Sukkah.pdf]
5Aryeh Kaplan. The Living Nach: Later Prophets. (New York: Moznaim Publishing Corporation, 1995).
6I. Epstein. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. (London: Soncino Press, 1949). [http://halakhah.com/pdf/zeraim/Berachoth.pdf]

Jewish Literacy – Biblical Era: Creation (Part 3)

creation - day 1
Creation of Earth – Genesis Chapter 1 (Wikipedia)

And God said: ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters’ (Genesis 1:6). Rashi explains that “Let there be a firmament” means to let the firmament become strengthened. Even though the heavens were created on day one, they were still moist and therefore congealed on the second day.1

This idea was expressed in the Tanakh as it says “The pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at His rebuke” (Job 26:11). Due to God’s roar of “Let there be a firmament,” the heavens stiffened.1

“R. Zulra b. Tobiah said that Rab said: by ten things was the world created: By wisdom and by understanding, and by reason, and by strength, and by rebuke, and by might, by righteousness and by judgment, by lovingkindness and by compassion. …By rebuke, for it is written: The pillars of heaven were trembling, but they became astonished at His, rebuke” (Haggai 15a).2

“[A]nd let it divide the waters from the waters” refers to the center of the waters. The distance between the firmament and the waters upon the earth is the same as the distance between the firmament and the higher waters.3

“And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so” (Genesis 1:7). It was at this point in Creation, according to Rashi, that God fixed the firmament into its position. By stating “and it was so,” God was telling mankind that this part of Creation would be so forever.1

Unlike day one when God created light and “saw that the light was good,” God does not reveal that the creation of day two – the firmament – was “good.” Why is this? According to Rashi, the work of the creation of the waters was not yet completed on the second day. Since it was incomplete it was not “in its state of fullness and goodness.”1

“And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day” (Genesis 1:8).

“What does ‘heaven’ [Shamayim] mean? R. Jose b. Hanina said: It means, ‘There is water’. In a Baraitha it is taught: [It means], ‘fire [אש] and water [מים];’ this teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, brought them and mixed them one with the other and made from them the firmament” (Haggai 15a).2

“The word shamayim is thus as if it said shem mayim, meaning that ‘heaven’ is the name given the waters when they took on a new form.” On the second day God called for a firmament to be made from the waters that were already made on the first day.3

“These spherical bodies He also called ‘heavens’ by the name of the first upper heavens. This is why they are called in [these verses] ‘the firmament of the heaven’ rather than ‘heavens’ … in order to explain that they are not the heavens mentioned by that name in the first verse but merely the firmaments called ‘heavens’.”3

“And God said: ‘Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so” (Genesis 1:9).

God called for the waters to be gathered into one place for the water at this point was spread across the entire face of the earth.1
The deep that was referenced in verse two according to Ramban consisted of both water and sand. When God called for the waters to be gathered, He decreed that they be gathered into one place surrounded on all sides by the rising sand.3

“And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters called He Seas; and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:10).

This verse states that the proper name for the earth is “yabashah” (יַּבָּשָׁה) which means dry land because the sand dried as the waters separated.3

However, the earth is called “Eretz” (אֶרֶץ) because this name includes the four elements that were created on the first day. These four elements were created for the sake of the earth “in order that there be a habitation for man, since among the lower creatures no one but man recognizes his Creator.”3

The gathering together of the waters were called “yamim” (יַמִּים) – that is, seas. Ramban declares that it is as if the words yam and mayim were combined. The bottom of the ocean is called yam, as it is written “…as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9) and a large gathering of water is called the sea (mayim), as it is written “…and took down the sea from off the brazen oxen that were under it…” (II Kings 16:17).3

God declared that the Earth and the Seas were “good.” This is the first instance of the third day’s Creation being declared “good.” Why is this? The creation of the waters and land began on day two and is now completed. Now that the creation of the waters and land is completed, it can be called “good.”3

“And God said: ‘Let the earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit-tree bearing fruit after its kind, wherein is the seed thereof, upon the earth.’ And it was so” (Genesis 1:11).

God calls for grass and herbs to fill and cover the Earth and grow seeds within the herbs and the fruit of the trees so they may be seeded in other places.1

“And the earth brought forth grass, herb yielding seed after its kind, and tree bearing fruit, wherein is the seed thereof, after its kind; and God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day” (Genesis 1:12-13).

By God declaring that the grass, herb, and trees which He created were “good” He was declaring that the existence of these portions of Creation are to exist forever.

——————–

1Yisrael Herczeg. The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary – Genesis. (New York: Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 2000).
2I. Epstein. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. (London: Soncino Press, 1949). [http://halakhah.com/pdf/moed/Chagigah.pdf]
3Charles Chavel. Ramban Commentary on the Torah – Genesis. (New York: Shilo Publishing House, Inc., 1971).

Do Jews, Muslims, and Christians worship the same God?

prayer
Prayer (mrehan – Flickr)

The simple answer is no. Jews and Muslims worship the same God but according to Torah and Jewish teachings Christians (Trinitarians) are idol worshipers.

Judaism teaches: Hear, O Israel: the Eternal One our God, the Eternal One is one. (Shema Yisrael: Adonai Elohainu, Adonai Echad) (Deuteronomy 6:4)

Islam teaches: There is no god but God. (lā ʾilāha ʾillā-llāh) (Shahada – first part)

Trinitarian Christianity teaches: For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. (ὅτι τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ὁ πατὴρ, ὁ λόγος, καὶ τὸ ἅγιον πνεῦμα καὶ οὗτοι οἱ τρεῖς ἕν εἰσιν) (1 John 5:7)

As can easily be seen, Judaism and Islam teach the belief in ONE God whereas Trinitarian Christianity teaches the belief in THREE gods. Even one of the Names of God in the Tanakh – Eloh – is exactly the same Name as the God of the Quran – Allah.

“The closeness of Islam and Judaism was always understood by Biblical Scholars up until recent years. The close relationship between Jews, the ten lost tribes, the Arabs and Rachabites was all assumed. With the advent of German revisionists, Wellhausen and Büchler, and others, this all changed. They introduced ideas that Islam started with Moon or rock worship, or a falling asteroid. Devout Jews know that this is not true.

It is a fact of Jewish Law that we believe that Muslims are perfect monotheists. They worship the same God that we do.” (http://www.thesanhedrin.org/en/index.php/Hachrazah_5769_Kislev_15b)

“With regard to any gentile who does not serve false deities, e.g., the Arabs: It is forbidden to drink his wine, but it is permitted to benefit from it. Christians, by contrast, are idolaters. It is forbidden to benefit from their wine.” (Maimonides Ma’achalot Assurot 11:7)

I as a former Christian was an idol worshiper but since I have embraced Torah and Judaism I have come to worship the One True God – the God of Abraham Isaac, and Jacob.

Chanukah

Chanukiah in Jerusalem
Chanukiah in Jerusalem (Djampa – Wikipedia)

Chanukah, the festival of lights, is a Rabbinic celebration that begins on 25 Kislev. Chanukah celebrates the miracle of the oil in the Temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabees’ defeat of the Greek army as well as the Jew’s freedom in the current time.

Chanukah is not mentioned in the Tanakh but is related in the book of Maccabbees, which Jews do not accept as scripture. The only religious observance related to the holiday is the lighting of candles in a chanukiah.

Antiochus III, the King of Syria, reigned from 222 to 186 BCE. After waging war against King Ptolemy of Egypt, Antiochus annexed the Land of Israel to his empire. In the beginning his reign was favorable toward the Jews and they were accorded some privileges. However, after being defeated by the Romans, he was compelled to pay heavy taxes. These taxes were levied against the people of his empire – including the Jews. Upon Antiochus’ death, his son Seleucus IV took over and further oppressed the Jews.

The influence of the Hellenists was increasing which prompted Yochanan, the High Priest, to foresee the danger to Judaism. Yochanan opposed attempts to bring Greek and Syrian customs into the Land of Israel.

Eventually, a Hellenistic Jew told the King’s commissioner about the great deal of wealth that was in the Temple treasury. This wealth was for the general maintenance of the Temple, sacrifices on the altar, and a fund for the orphans. Seleucus sent his minister Helyodros to take the Temple treasure. After ignoring Yochanan’s pleas to not take the money, Helyodros entered the Temple gate. Upon doing so, he became very pale with fright and he fainted and fell to the ground. After reviving, he refused to enter the Temple again.

In 174 BCE Antiochus IV began his reign over Syria after his brother Seleucus was killed. Antiochus IV was brutal and tyrannical with contempt for religion. He suppressed all the Jewish Laws and removed Yochanan as High Priest – placing Yehoshua (Yochanan’s brother) in his place. Yehoshua was a Hellenist and preferred to be called by his Hellenistic name, Jason. He used his office to spread the Hellenistic culture among the priesthood.

Menelaus later replaced Joshua, promising Antiochus that he would bring even greater riches to the king. Menelaus, tiring of hearing Yochanan protesting against the spread of Hellenistic ideas, hired people to assassinate Yochanan.

In Jerusalem, a rumor spreads that Antiochus was dead. The people rebelled against Menealus who eventually fled Jerusalem. When Antiochus learned what had taken place in Jerusalem, he ordered his army to slaughter the Jews. He enacted harsher rules outlawing Jewish worship, Shabbat rest, circumcision, kashrut, and confiscating the Torah Scrolls. Anyone who was caught breaking these new laws were under penalty of death.

Phillip, the governor of Judea, decided to begin his campaign of enforcing the king’s edicts by arresting the High Priest Elazar. Elazar chose martyrdom over submission leaving Philip to arrest Elazar’s wife Hannah and their seven sons who were brought before the king.

Antiochus tried to convince the eldest son to abandon Torah. The son refused and spoke out against the king. Antiochus had the eldest son’s tongue, hands, and feet severed and placed in the fire. The soldiers proceeded to torture him in front of Hannah and her other six sons. After the eldest was murdered, the king brought the next five sons before him. All stood resolute in their stand against submission and they were all tortured and murdered.

Antiochus then turned to the youngest son (seven years old) who again refused to submit. He was also tortured and murdered before Hannah’s eyes. Hannah prayed, exalting God then threw herself from a roof and died beside her martyred sons.

Antiochus’s men went from town to town and from village to village to force the inhabitants to worship foreign gods. The only partial refuge that remained was the hills of Judea and the caves within that land.

Antiochus’s men came to the village of Modin where the priest Mattityahu lived. The Syrian officer built an altar in the square and demanded that Mattityahu offer sacrifices to the Greek gods. Mattityahu refused. A Hellenistic Jew approached the altar to offer a sacrifice, whereupon Mattityahu took a sword and killed the man. Mattityahu’s sons and friends attacked the Syrians – killing many and chasing the rest away from Modin. They then destroyed the altar and fled the village with Mattityahu. Many loyal Jews joined them and formed legions to destroy pagan altars and attack the Syrians.

Before his death, Mattityahu told his sons to continue to fight in defense of God and the Torah. He told them to follow the counsel of their brother Shimon the Wise and in warfare to follow their brother Yehuda the Maccabee.

Antiochus attempted to defeat the Maccabees but twice, the Syrians were defeated. Antiochus sent an army of 40,000 men under the leadership of Nicanor and Gorgiash to defeat Yehuda and his followers. The Maccabees assembled to Mitzpah where the Prophet Samuel offered prayers to God. After a series of battles, the Maccabees won the war against the Syrians.

The Maccabees returned to Jerusalem to liberate it. They entered the Temple and cleared out all the Syrian idols that had been placed there. Yehuda and his followers built a new altar and dedicated it on the twenty-fifth of Kislev in the year 139 BCE.

The Menorah had been stolen by the Syrians so the Maccabees had to make another one from a cheaper metal. When they went to light it, they only found one cruse of pure olive oil which bore the seal of Yochanan. This cruse of oil was sufficient to light the Menorah for only one day. By a miracle of God, that cruse of oil burned for eight days until new oil could be made. That miracle showed that God had taken His people under His protection. In memory of this miracle, the sages appointed an annual eight-day festival for thanksgiving and lighting candles.

Source:
Antiquities of the Jews (Flavius Josephus) [http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/josephus/ant-12.htm]

Jewish Literacy – Biblical Era: Creation (Part 2)

Tetragrammaton - Genesis Chapter 1
Tetragrammaton – Genesis Chapter 1 (Wikipedia)

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

The Name of God used in this very first passage of the Torah does not use the personal Name of God (the tetragamatron – ה-ו-ה-י).1

Rashi explains that Creation really began with God contemplating the Creation with the attribute of strict judgment but He realized that the world could not last if He only used the attribute of strict judgment.2

Instead, God gave precedence to the attribute of mercy but joined it with the attribute of strict judgment. This is the meaning behind “These are the generations of the heaven and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Eternal One God made earth and heaven” (Genesis 2:4).2

In this passage we see the Personal Name (יהוה) associated with mercy followed by – and joined to – the Divine Name (אֱלֹהִים) which is associated with strict judgment.2

“Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the breath of God hovered over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2).

The Hebrew for the word “unformed” (תֹהוּ) means formlessness, confusion, unreality, or emptiness and the Hebrew for the word “void” (בֹהוּ) means emptiness, void, or waste.3 According to Targum Yonatan, the earth was “vacant and desolate” and according to Targum Onkelos the earth was “waste and empty”.4

According to the Rambam “the substance of the heavens is different from that of the earth: that there are two different substances: the one is described as belonging to God, being the light of His garment, on account of its superiority; and the other, the earthly substance, which is distant from His splendour and light, as being the snow under the throne of His glory.”5

Accordingly, we can know that “the heavens and all that is in them consist of one substance, and the earth and everything that is in it consist of one substance. The Holy One, blessed be He, created these two substances from nothing; they alone were created, and everything else was constructed from them.”6

In the Tanakh, darkness (חֹשֶׁךְ) is generally used to symbolize evil, death, oblivion, or misfortune. In this passage, darkness seems to not be just simply the absence of light but is in itself a distinct entity.7

The surface of the deep does not refer to the land underneath the water. This passage refers to the surface of the deep waters that covered the earth.2

“…and the breath of God hovered over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). The Hebrew word for breath (sometimes translated as spirit) is (רוּחַ) which means wind, breath, mind, or spirit.3

Alternatively, Targum Yonatan translates this passage as “…and the Spirit of mercies from before the Lord breathed upon the face of the waters.” Targum Onkelos similarly translates this passage as “…and a wind from before the Lord blew upon the face of the waters.”4

According to the Talmud and Midrash, breath or wind does not hover and this suggests that it was the Throne of Glory that hovered by means of the breath of God. “And the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters — like a dove which hovers over her young without touching [them]” (Chagigah 15a).8

“The creation of the throne of glory is mentioned by our Sages, though in a strange way: for they say that it has been created before the creation of the Universe. Scripture, however, does not mention the creation of the throne, except in the words of David, “The Lord [has] established his throne in the heavens” (Ps. ciii. 19), which words admit of figurative interpretation; but the eternity of the throne is distinctly described, “[You], O Lord, [dwell forever, your] throne [forever] and ever” (Lam. v. 19).”5

“And God said: ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light” (Genesis 1:3). Using the word “said” (יֹּאמֶר) there is an indication of will or thought. Therefore, the Rabbis taught that the thought which concerned what was to be created on a particular day was thought during the day and the creation was done at sunset.6

Why did the Rabbis teach this about the word “yomer” (יֹּאמֶר)? This teaching was to express the idea that Creation was thought out and there is a reason for everything that was created. Creation was not out of a mere will of God but was purposefully done.6

“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 …” (Genesis 1:4-5). According to Rashi, God saw that the light was good and He therefore separated it from the darkness.2

Light, according to Rashi, was set aside for the righteous to use in the future for the wicked did not deserve to use it. God saw that it was improper that light and darkness function together “in a jumble.”

Therefore, God assigned light to the “sphere of activity during the day” and assigned darkness to the “sphere of activity during the night.”2

“The Merciful One summoned the light and appointed it for duty by day, and He summoned the darkness and appointed it for duty by night” (Pesachim 2a).9

“…And there was evening and there was morning, one day” (Genesis 1:5). The Hebrew word for evening (עֶרֶב) connotes the idea of mingling “because shapes of things appear confused in it.” The Hebrew word for morning (בֹקֶר) also means “examines” because it is only then “a man can distinguish between various forms.”6

This passage could have easily said “And there was evening and there was morning the first day” which would have placed it within the same liturgical sphere of the subsequent days. “[T]he ‘first’ precedes a ‘second’ in number or degree but both exist, whereas ‘one’ does not connote the existence of a second.”6

Why was the passage written “And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day” (Genesis 1:5)? As Rashi explains, it is because “the Holy One, Blessed be He, was solitary in His world, for the angels were not created until the second day.”2

——————–

1Joseph Telushkin. Biblical Literacy. (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1997).
2Yisrael Herczeg. The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary – Genesis. (New York: Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 2000).
3Blue Letter Bible. Book of Beginnings – Genesis 1 – (NKJV – New King James Version). (Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2011). Web. 8 Sep 2011. [http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Gen&c=1&v=1&t=NKJV#conc/2]
4J. W. Ethridge. On the Pentateuch With The Fragments of the Jerusalem Targum From the Chaldee (1862). [http://targum.info/targumic-texts/pentateuchal-targumim/]
5M. Friedlander (translator). The Guide for the Perplexed. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1904). [http://sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/index.htm]
6Charles Chavel. Ramban Commentary on the Torah – Genesis. (New York: Shilo Publishing House, Inc., 1971).
7David Lieber. Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2001).
8I. Epstein. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. (London: Soncino Press, 1949). [http://halakhah.com/pdf/moed/Chagigah.pdf]
9I. Epstein. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. (London: Soncino Press, 1949). [http://halakhah.com/pdf/moed/Pesachim.pdf]