After an act of deep betrayal, the children were about to
reconcile with their Father. They gathered for what was to be the culmination
of a month-long effort to rehabilitate their loving relationship, yet one
important question remained: could the children reunite with their father
before they healed the division between themselves?
The opening verse of this week’s parshah, Shemini, describes
How would the reconciliation take place?
how the Jewish people finally completed the construction of the Tabernacle
after months of tremendous devotion and effort. The Tabernacle was the place
where the Divine presence would dwell, and where the people would see that the
terrible betrayal—the sin of the golden calf—was forgiven, and that G‑d would
once again dwell in their midst as He had at Sinai.
How would the reconciliation take place?
And it was on the eighth day that
Moses summoned Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. And he said to Aaron,
“Take for yourself a bull calf as a sin offering.”1
Moses told Aaron to offer a calf for atonement. It was clear
to all that the Divine presence could not return to the Jewish people before
the betrayal was finally and completely healed. But why a calf? We may need to
consult with Rashi for that explanation, but to the people of Israel at the
time it was apparent: the calf would atone for the sin of the golden calf.
But Moses continued:
And to the children of Israel, you
shall speak, saying, “Take a he-goat as a sin offering…”2
What now? Why a goat? What other “unfinished business” did
the people have to attend to before the glory of G‑d would appear before them?
While the calf immediately evokes the story of the golden
calf, finding the meaning of the goat is a bit harder. We must turn back to the
book of Genesis to discover that indeed the goat played an important role in
the most tragic sin of the family of Israel: the sale of Joseph.3
After the brothers tore their family to shreds by selling Joseph into servitude
in Egypt (a sale which ultimately led the entire family to relocate to Egypt
and descend into slavery), instead of showing remorse they used a goat for
And they took Joseph’s coat, and
they slaughtered a he-goat, and they dipped the coat in the blood. And they
sent the fine woolen coat, and they brought [it] to their father, and they
said, “We have found this; now recognize whether it is your son’s coat or not.”
He recognized it, and he said, “[It is] my son’s coat; a wild beast has
devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn up.”4
As the people gathered at the Tabernacle waiting for a sign
What now? Why a goat?
of the Divine presence, Moses taught them that in order to heal the
relationship with their Father, the children must first heal their relationship
with each other. He explained that the jealousy and division which led to the
sale of Joseph, was, in fact, the precise character trait which led to the
division and separation from G‑d at the golden calf, and in order to find harmony
with G‑d, it must be eradicated from their midst.
For indeed, the only way children can be in complete harmony
with a parent is when they are in complete harmony with each other.5
A short guide to the history and strategic value of the Golan Heights.
The Golan Heights are Israel’s buffer against its northern neighbor Syria. In Israeli hands since 1967, the Golan Heights are back in the news today, after President Trump signed a proclamation recognizing Israel’s sovereignty. Here are five facts about the Golan Heights to provide some background at this historic moment.
The Golan is the site of some of the Torah’s most vivid histories. When Jewish tribes first settled in the land of Israel, the tribes of Gad and Reuben, and half of the tribe of Manasseh, asked Moses for permission to settle east of the Jordan River. Moses agreed, and Jews from the tribe of Manasseh settled in “Golan in the (region called) the Bashan” in the modern-day Golan Heights (Deuteronomy 4:43).
Jews built a busy and pious community there, but the area was under constant attack from the Aramean kingdom to the region’s north. The Book of Kings describes the monumental battle in the 9th Century BCE when the combined forces of the Jewish tribes of Judah and Israel defeated the Aramean armies in the Golan: “It happened…that (King) Ben-Hadad counted Aram, and he went up to Aphek to wage war against Israel….the battle was joined, and the Children of Israel struck down Aram – a hundred thousand foot soldiers in one day” (I Kings 20:26-29).
Remains of a Byzantine bathhouse, in Kursi National Park, Golan Heights
Jewish communities in the Golan flourished. Many of the battles against the Syrian Greek army that we celebrate during the holiday of Hanukkah took place in the area. Judah Maccabee led Jewish troops against the Greeks in the area, and his grand-nephew, the Jewish King Alexander Jannai, who ruled from 103-76 BCE, annexed the Golan region, adding it to his territory.
When the Roman Empire crushed the Jewish kingdom of Judah, the Golan was one of the very last areas to fall, only defeated in the year 67 CE. While Jewish autonomy ended, Jewish life in the Golan continued to flourish. Archeologists have uncovered the remains of 34 ancient synagogues in the area, dating from the end of the Judean kingdom in 70 CE. Throughout the Roman period, Jewish life in the Golan flourished, with synagogues and centers of learning sustaining a literate, pious Jewish community.
That came to end in the 7th Century when Islamic tribes crushed the Jewish communities in the territory. The last battle against the Islamic conquest, fought in the Yarmouk Valley in the year 636, took place in the Golan Heights. After that, Jews were driven out of the area for centuries.
Zionist Farmers in the Golan
Jewish life briefly returned to the Golan in 1891 when Jewish pioneers began to purchase and farm land in the region. Baron Edmond de Rothschild bought 18,000 acres in the area of Ramat Magshimim, in the Golan. Jews built five small farms in the Golan area’s verdant hills.
The Jewish pioneers’ farming experiment came to an end in 1898 when local Turkish authorities evicted the Jews and seized their land. At the end of World War I, Britain took control of the area; in 1923 they gave the Golan to France, along with the territories of present-day Syria and Lebanon. In 1947, Syria forced Jews out of the Golan Heights, and used the area to shell Israeli towns and farms that were in the sights of the towering hills of the Golan instead.
The Golan Heights are so often in the news that one might be forgiven for thinking the area is a large one, full of people. In fact, the area of the Golan Heights that’s held by Israel is only about 1,200 square km., or about 500 square miles. About 40,000 people live in the Golan; most of these residents are members of the Druze and Alawite minorities who inhabit several villages and small towns in the hills. In addition, there are 32 Jewish towns and Jewish farming communities across the Golan.
Mount Hermon in the north of the Golan is about 2,800 meters, or 9,300 feet tall, and is a popular skiing destination. A few miles south, the hills along the Yarmuk River, which flows through the southern part of the Golan, are about 400 meters, or 1,300 feet tall. It’s a beautiful region, and several Israeli national parks and protected areas now dot the area.
Between 1948, when the state of Israel was established, and 1967, when Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria, Syrian artillery batteries regularly shelled the entire region of northern Israel. They also allowed Fatah, the PLO’s political arm, to carry out attacks from the region. Haifa is only about 60 miles from the Golan Heights, and the Golan affords an excellent view of the Hula Valley in Israel’s north, which is Israel’s most fertile agricultural region.
For years, Israeli children were forced to sleep in bomb shelters. Many roads in Israel’s north could only be driven along after mine-detection trucks cleared the streets. Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir recalled the misery that Syrians created for Israelis in the crosshairs of the Golan Heights. “The Syrians seemed bent on an escalation of the conflict; they kept up an endless bombardment of the Israeli settlements below the Golan Heights, and Israeli fishermen and farmers faced what was sometimes virtually daily attacks by snipers. I used to visit those settlements occasionally and watch the settlers go about their work as though there was nothing at all unusual in ploughing with a military escort or putting children to sleep – every single night – in underground air-raid shelters” (quoted in My Life by Golda Meir).
Recognizing that Syria was using the Golan Heights to attack Israel, the UN sent troops to police the border between Israel and Syria. In 1966, Israel appealed to this body, the UN Mixed Armistice Commission, asking them to stop Syria from allowing PLO troops to bomb Israel from the Golan. The UN refused to condemn Syria, though it did condemn Israel when Israeli troops dared fire upon Syrian positions in the Golan.
The Six Day War
After years of provocation, Israel gained the Golan Heights during the Six Day War of 1967. Fighting started on June 5, 1967, when Israel launched a preemptive strike on Egypt. Syria used the Golan Heights to shell villages and farms in the Hula Valley, and also sent planes to bomb Haifa. On June 9, Israel engaged Syrian fighters in the Golan and captured the area with seemingly miraculous speed, by the afternoon of June 10.
Archeologists soon found reminders of the area’s historic ties to Israel: coins dating from the 2nd Century CE inscribed with the words “For the Redemption of Jerusalem”.
Syria tried to regain the Golan six years later, in 1973, when they, along with Egypt, and supported by nine other Arab nations, staged a surprise attack on Israel on Yom Kippur. They were unsuccessful and Syria later signed a disengagement agreement as part of their armistice with Israel that left the Golan in Israel’s hands. UN troops were stationed at the border of the now Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and Syria, though Israel never used the Golan Heights to shell Syrian territory the way Syria used the commanding hills to terrorize Israel.
In 1981, Israel effectively annexed the Golan Heights, reflecting the key security importance of the area. Syrian continues to demand its return. In 1999, during peace talks with Yasser Arafat that many Israelis thought might lead to a permanent peace with the PLO, Syria disclosed its position: they would only agree to peace with Israel if Israel returned the entire Golan Heights. They wanted to be able to reestablish military positions on the hills, and also control the freshwater sources of the area. Given their experience with Syrian aggression in the area, Israelis refused to even consider this outrageous demand.
Humanitarian Aid in the Golan
With the humanitarian disaster of Syria’s brutal civil war now in its eighth year, Israelis have used the Golan region to provide life-saving humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees. In June 2016, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) launched Operation Good Neighbors, which coordinates massive amount of medical and material aid in the Golan area.
Under Operation Good Neighbors, Israel has distributed over 1,500 tons of food, over 250 tons of clothes, about a million liters of fuel, dozens of generators, and about 25,000 containers of medical equipment and medicine. In one week in 2018 alone, the IDF’s Bashan Brigade carried out six risky operations in the Golan Heights, delivering hundreds of tons of aid, including clothing and children’s toys, to civilians in Syria.
When fighting from Syria’s civil war neared the Golan in July 2018, the Israeli Golan Regional Council launched a major drive to collect items to distribute to Syrian refugees in a buffer zone just outside Israeli control. “We would love any families in the Golan to make sealed bags for a Syrian child with toys and…coloring pages, crayons and sweets…to provide them with a moment of sweet and sweet joy” the council asked. “These are our neighbors and we see this as a mitzvah to help them in times of trouble” explained Council head Eli Malka. Within hours, thousands of donations had poured in.
The brutal fighting continues to rage near to the Golan Heights, a constant reminder of how crucial it is that Israel control the historic and strategically critical area of the Golan.
The greatest satisfaction is accomplishing in a world where God is hidden.
There are two basic concepts in human existence. First, man must earn the good that God has prepared. Secondly, he must receive this good.
There is, however, a basic difference between the environment needed for these two concepts. While earning the reward, we must have the maximum possible challenge. This in turn gives us the greatest possible satisfaction in accomplishment. Such an environment must therefore be one where neither God Himself, nor the divine nature of our good deeds, is obvious. It must be a world where God is hidden, and where good is only accomplished with the greatest difficulty.
The place where man receives good, on the other hand, must be the exact opposite. In order for man to enjoy the maximum possible satisfaction from the good that he has done, the true nature of his deeds must be as obvious as possible. The existence of God must also be as apparent as possible in such a world. It must be a place where man realized the goodness of his deeds and their relationship to God.
In this world God is hidden. In the next world, God is totally apparent.
It is for this reason that God created two levels of existence. First there is this world — Olam Hazeh — a place of accomplishment and maximum challenge. Secondly, there is the World to Come — Olam Haba— the world of ultimate reward, where both God’s existence and the nature of one’s deeds are totally apparent.
Both this world and the world to Come exist on a physical plane. This is obvious in the case of the physical world. However, according to most authorities, the Future World will also be physical. This is the reason for our belief in the resurrection of the dead. It is a foundation of our faith that God will ultimately bring the dead back to life, or at least provide the souls of the dead with bodies like their previous ones. It will be in these resurrected bodies that man will partake of his ultimate reward in the world to Come.
But why is a physical world necessary at all? Since both God and His ultimate good are spiritual, what need is there for a physical body?
Before we can answer this question, we must first ask another question. What is the difference between the material and the spiritual?
We speak of the material and the spiritual as two different concepts. We know that the spiritual is not material. But precisely what is the difference?
The answer should be obvious. The main difference between the material and spiritual involves space. Physical space only exists in the physical world. In the spiritual, there is no space as we know it.
As discussed earlier, the concept of distance and closeness also exist in the spiritual world. They do not refer to physical distance, since this does not exist in the spiritual realm. As we have mentioned earlier, however, closeness in a spiritual sense involves resemblance. Two things that resemble each other are said to be spiritually close. Two things that differ, on the other hand, are far apart in a spiritual sense.
This has very important implications. In the spiritual world it is utterly impossible to bring two opposites together. Because they are opposite, they are by definition, poles apart.
Thus, for example, God and man are worlds apart — “as the heavens are higher than the earth.” On a purely spiritual plane, it would be totally impossible for the two ever to be brought together.
Two opposites can be brought together by being bound to physical objects.
It was for this reason that God created the concept of space. Spiritual things can be bound to the material, just as for example the soul is bound to the body.
Two opposites can then be brought together by being bound to physical objects. In the physical world, space exists, and two opposites can literally be pushed together. Furthermore, two spiritual opposites can even be bound to the same material object.
Thus, for example, man has both an urge for good and an urge for evil, the Yetzer Tov and the Yetzer Hara. In a purely spiritual sense, these are poles apart. Without a physical world, they could never be brought together in a single entity.
The archetype of the spiritual being is the angel. Since an angel has no body, it can never contain both good and evil in its being. Our sages therefore teach us that angels have no Yetzer Hara. It is only in a physical being that both good and evil can exist together. Although they are at opposite poles spiritually, they can come together in the physical man.
One reason why God created man in a physical world was therefore to allow him to have full freedom of choice, with both good and evil as part of his makeup. Without a physical world, these two concepts could never exist in the same being.
The fact that good and evil can exist I the same physical space also allows good to overcome evil in this world. Here again this is only possible in a physical world. In a purely spiritual arena, good could never come close enough to evil to have any influence over it. In the physical world, however good and evil can exist together, and good can therefore overcome evil. Our sages thus teach us that one of the main reasons why man was placed in the physical world was to overcome the forces of evil. The Zohar expresses it by stating that we are here “to turn darkness into light.”
The entire concept of the nonphysical is very difficult to comprehend, and may be clarified by a remarkable teaching of our sages. The Midrash (Genesis Raba 50:2) tells us, “One angel cannot have two missions. Neither can two angels share the same mission.”
This teaching brings our entire discussion into focus. The angel is the archetype of the nonphysical being. When we speak of an angel, we are speaking of an entity that exists purely on a spiritual plane. Angels can be differentiated only by their mission, that is, by their involvement and attachment to some physical thing.
Two angels therefore cannot share the same mission. It is only their different missions that make the two angels different entities. They cannot be separated by space like physical objects. Therefore, if they both had the same mission, there would be nothing to differentiate them, and they would be one.
Similarly, one angel cannot have two missions. On a purely spiritual plane, two different concepts cannot exist in a single entity. If an angel had two missions, then it would be two angels.
On a purely spiritual plane, two different concepts cannot exist in a single entity.
We can also understand this in terms of the human mind. In a sense, the mind is a pure spiritual entity, bound to man’s physical brain. Many thoughts and memories may be bound together by man’s physical brain, but the mind can only focus on one of them at a time. In simple terms, a person can only think of one thing at a time. A thought is a spiritual entity, and as such, can only contain a single concept. Since both a thought and an angel are basic spiritual entities, this is very closely related to the fact that an angel can only have a single mission.
For a similar reason, angels have no way of knowing anything that does not pertain to their particular mission. An angel may be created initially with a vast storehouse of knowledge, but it has no way of increasing it, at least, not beyond its own sphere of activity. Thus, for example, we find one angel asking another a question: “And one [angel] said to the Man dressed in linen… ‘How long shall it be until the end of these wonders?'” (Daniel 12:6) One angel had to ask the other, because he himself could not know something outside of his own domain.
HIGHER THAN ANGELS
In the physical world, we can learn things through our five senses. We can see, hear, feel, smell and taste. Our knowledge of things comes from our physical proximity to them. In the spiritual world, however, this does not exist. The only way that one can learn about a thing is to come into spiritual proximity with it. An angel cannot do this outside of his own realm.
Man therefore has an advantage over an angel. The very fact that he exists in this lower world enables him to reach up ever so higher.
There are concepts of good decreed by God, and as His decrees, they are intimately bound to Him. When a man physically involves himself with these good concepts, he literally binds himself to God. He thus achieves a closeness that no angel could ever hope to reach.
This is a major difference between a man and an angel. An angel is assigned to one spiritual station, and has no way to rise any higher. Thus, when the prophet speaks of angels, he says, “Around Him, the seraphim stood” (Isaiah 6:2). Angels are described as standing and stationary.
But when God speaks to man, He tells him, “If you walk in My ways… then I will give you a place to move among those who stand here” (Zechariah 3:7). God was showing the prophet a vision of stationary angels, and telling him that he would be able to move among them. Man can move from level to level, but angels are bound to their particular plane.
LADDER TO HEAVEN
There are many different levels in the spiritual world. The Talmud thus speaks of angels called Chayot, and says:
The distance between heaven and earth is 500 years.
The width of each heaven is 500 years.
This is true of each of the seven heavens.
The feet of the Chayot are as great as them all.
The ankles of the Chayot are as great as everything below them.
The shins of the Chayot are equally great.
The thighs of the Chayot are equally great.
The hips of the Chayot are equally great.
The body of the Chayot is equally great.
The neck of the Chayot is equally great.
The head of the Chayot is equally great.
The horns of the Chayot are equally great.
The legs of the Throne of Glory are as great as everything below them.
The throne itself is equally great.
Here we see the many levels of the spiritual world, and the Kabbalists speak of many other levels. In a purely spiritual sense, there is no way for these to come together. The only thing that in any way unifies them is their relationship to the physical world.
In order to reach the highest levels of holiness, man must therefore become part of the physical world. When he obeys God’s commandments, he attaches himself to the same physical objects as the One who commanded them. In obeying the commandments, man therefore attaches himself to God to the greatest possible degree. He is thus able to scale the highest spiritual levels.
This is the symbolism of the ladder in Jacob’s dream. The Torah tells us that Jacob saw, “A ladder standing on earth, whose top reached the heavens” (Genesis 28:12). It is only through earthly deeds that we climb to the loftiest heights. The different levels of the spiritual world — the rungs of the “ladder” — can only be bound together when they are “standing on the earth.”
It is only through earthly deeds that we climb to the loftiest heights.
The Zohar therefore gives an interesting example explaining why the soul must descend to the physical world: “A king once had a son. He sent him to a faraway village to grow and thereby learn the way of the king’s palace. The same is true of the soul. It is sent far away to this world to learn the way of the King’s palace.”
In the light of our discussion this example becomes very clear. For it is only in this physical world that we can achieve any true closeness and perception of God.
In obeying the commandments, man brings God’s light down to this world. The Midrash thus tells us that the reason that God created the physical world is because “He wanted to have a dwelling place below.” It is through the physical that God’s light becomes connected with lower levels of creation.
Just as there are different levels in the spiritual world, so are there different levels in the human soul. These levels extend to the highest spiritual domains. It is only through the body, however that these different levels are united. Without the body, each would remain separated in its own level.
The main concept here is that spiritual unity is mainly a result of the physical. The Zohar expresses this concept, saying, “One who wishes to understand the concept of the holy unity should look at the flame rising from a coal or from a burning lamp. The flame is only unified when it is attached to a physical object.”
A flame also contains numerous levels. As in the case of the human soul, these parts can only be united when they are attached to a physical entity.
When a person dies, the different levels of the soul therefore separate. Death not only involves the separation of body and soul, but also the separation of the various parts of the soul. When they are not bound together by the body, each level acts as a separate entity.
Death not only separates the body and soul, but also separates various parts of the soul.
This is one reason why the World to Come will bring body and soul back together. A soul alone has no connection to its higher parts, and moreover, has no way of elevating itself. As such, it is no better than an angel. Between death and the resurrection, it remains in the “World of Souls” in what is primarily a static state. It is only when it is reunited with the body that it can once again elevate itself.
Of course, there is no challenge in the Future World, and therefore this elevation is more tenuous than in this physical world. It therefore depends to a very large extent on the individual’s previous preparation.
The Talmud therefore teaches us that the righteous have no rest, neither in this world nor in the next. They are constantly rising from one level to the next, as it is written, “They go from strength to strength, every one appearing before God…” (Psalms 84:8)
Although all this may seem very deep and complex, it is all really something very simple. It is merely a simple expression of God’s love for us. It is for this reason that He gave us the Torah and it’s commandments. These too are an expression of His love. Our sages thus teach us that “God wanted to do good to Israel, and therefore gave them Torah and commandments in abundance.”
When we realize this, we also know that our ultimate goal in life is to fulfill God’s purpose. We must study God’s Torah, and then follow its teachings. Only then can we find meaning in life.
This entire concept is expressed most beautifully in the prayer “Ahavat Olam,” part of the evening service:
With an infinite world of love,
You loved Your people Israel;
You taught us Your Torah, your mitzvot,
Your code, Your way.
Therefore, O Lord our God,
When we lie down and wake up
We will think of Your teachings,
Find happiness in Your Torah’s words.
For they are our life and length of days.
We will follow them day and night,
And Your love will never be taken from us.
Reprinted with permission, from “If You Were God” (NCSY-OU)
¿Cuál es la diferencia entre Torá, Talmud, Mishná, Guemará y Midrash?
Hay algunos términos que me resultan confusos. ¿Cuál es la diferencia entre Torá, Talmud, Mishná, Guemará y Midrash? Si la Biblia es la es la ley escrita, ¿entonces el Midrash es el comentario?
Asistí a una escuela hebrea y realicé mi Bar Mitzvá, pero nunca me explicaron nada de esto. Siento que me ahogo en un mar de términos desconocidos. ¡Por favor, ayúdenme!
Respuesta del Rabino de Aish
Lo primero que tienes que saber es que la Torá consta de dos partes: la Torá Escrita y la Torá Oral.
La Torá Escrita tiene un total de 24 libros e incluye los Cinco Libros de Moshé y los escritos proféticos (como Isaías, Jeremías, Salmos, Proverbios, etc.).
Los Cinco Libros de Moshé son: Génesis, Éxodo, Levítico, Números y Deuteronomio. Estos fueron escritos por Moshé en el año 1273 AEC e incluyen los 613 mandamientos (mitzvot).
Quizás parte de tu confusión se debe a que los Cinco Libros de Moshé reciben muchos nombres. Nos referimos a ellos como la Biblia (que significa libro en griego), Jumash (quinto, en hebreo), Pentateuco (cinco rollos, en griego) o genéricamente Torá, que en hebreo significa ‘instrucciones’, porque su objetivo es instruir. (Los judíos consideran ofensivo el nombre “Viejo Testamento”, porque eso implica que hay un “Nuevo Testamento”, algo que los judíos rechazan).
De todos modos, más allá del nombre que se use, nos referimos al libro más vendido de la historia de la humanidad y con mayor cantidad de impresiones.
Entonces, ¿qué es la Torá Oral? Su nombre deriva del hecho de que no estaba permitido escribirla formalmente, sino que debía transmitirse de forma oral. Ella contiene las explicaciones de la Torá Escrita. No se puede entender a una sin la otra.
En el año 190 EC, la persecución y el exilio del pueblo judío pusieron en peligro la transmisión correcta de la Torá Oral. Por eso Rabí Iehudá Hanasí compiló notas escritas sobre la Torá Oral y las llamó la Mishná (enseñanza en hebreo). Rabí Iehudá organizó la Mishná en seis secciones: Leyes de Agricultura, Festividades, Daños, Matrimonio, Pureza y Ofrendas. Rabí Iehudá escribió la Mishná en forma codificada, para que los estudiantes continuaran necesitando la explicación de un rabino, porque esa información debía permanecer oral.
En el año 500 EC, el pueblo judío sufrió nuevamente el desarraigo de sus comunidades, y dos rabinos de Babilonia, Rav Ashi y Ravina, compilaron un registro de 60 tomos de discusiones rabínicas sobre la Mishná, al que llamaron Guemará. En conjunto, la Mishná y la Guemará comprenden lo que se conoce comúnmente como el Talmud.
La Torá Oral también incluye el Midrash, una explicación de la Torá Escrita que posee tanto componentes legales como éticos. Una buena parte de este material también está dentro del Talmud.
La Torá Oral también incluye las obras de Cábala, una tradición de secretos místicos sobre el universo metafísico que Moshé recibió en el Monte Sinaí. Fue publicado inicialmente como El Zóhar, de Rabí Shimón bar Yojai (170 EC) y elucidado por el Arizal (1572 EC).
Sin embargo, la Torá no debe considerarse un campo de estudio académico. Debemos aplicarla a todos los aspectos de nuestra vida cotidiana: cómo hablamos, comemos, rezamos, etc. A lo largo de la historia, grandes rabinos compilaron resúmenes de ley práctica basados en el Talmud. Algunas obras fundamentales en este sentido son Mishné Torá (Maimónides, siglo XII, Egipto), Shulján Aruj (Rav Iosef Caro, siglo XVI, Israel), Mishná Brurá (Jafetz Jaim, siglo XX, Polonia).
Espero que esto ayude a resolver tu confusión. Ahora sólo te queda una cosa: ¡Estudiar toda la Torá!
Exploring three major themes from the popular and controversial Netflix series.
“Ruchi,” the voicemail played, “please call me back, a fellow Shtisel watcher is insisting that ultra-Orthodox people don’t say I love you to their spouses – she’s wrong, right? Okay, call me back.”
This is the phenomenon known as Shtisel, the viral show on Netflix about an Israeli ultra-Orthodox family that has gripped the attention of, well, everyone. Educators like me are tickled pink: for the first time fellow Jews are pursuing us with curiosity-driven, Netflix-fueled questions about Jews, observance, Judaism, Israel, and yes, Michael Aloni’s green eyes.
The Jewish themes emerging from the Shtisel phenomenon are many, and while the show is meticulously researched and executed, it’s not perfect. Part of my job, I feel, in my new favorite time-suck Facebook group (“Shtisel – Let’s Talk About It”) is to helpfully answer questions on those themes, like Q. Do ultra-Orthodox women really wear stockings to bed? A. Rarely, unless they’re on TV.
Below, I explore some of these major themes. There are spoilers, so you’ve been warned.
Judaism and the Role of Art
One of the themes that cuts through both seasons is the role of art and music in the family, and more broadly, in the ultra-Orthodox world. The viewer senses the tension between these two poles and one can almost feel the familiar Footloose-style trope: ultra-religious young adult breaks away from religious constraints to pursue artistic dreams (typically, screenplay written by just one such character). But the truth, and the show, are not that simple and not that lazy.
In truth, the “Jewish answer” to that question may not be the same as the cultural answer to that question, and that is a universal interest with Shtisel: where do the cultural and the religious truths converge and diverge? The Shtisels are deliberately not any specific sect of Judaism. They’re not Chasidic, they live in the Geula neighborhood, they’re anti-Chabad, anti-Zionist, but what are they? We don’t know.
Many other ultra-Orthodox groups would embrace artists, like the Breslov group depicted by Akiva’s spiritual-seeking friends, or even the Chabadniks so hatefully rejected by his father. Art itself as a Jewish form is celebrated, and as Libbi tells Akiva, God-given talent must be used. In fact, King David himself wrote in the book of Psalms (35:10), “All my limbs will say, G-d, who is like you?” Whatever talents or gifts you have, you must use them to glorify God – whether that means to make an honest living, bring joy to others, or glorify themes of truth and beauty.
The climax of the art conflict comes at the very end when Akiva finally does use his considerable talent to paint his best painting ever – of a woman, vaguely linked to his own mother figure, sitting with a baby, with her modest hair-covering slipping and showing strands of softly flowing gray hair. The painting is beautiful. It’s a tribute to his long-emerging grief over his mother’s passing, and a statement of his mother’s support of his art.
But her hair is not fully covered. And Shulem, his father, erupts.
So what would Torah say here? Is Akiva’s magnum opus a glorification of God? Or a desecration thereof? And the beauty of Shtisel is that the answer is as vague as the painting. There actually aren’t clear answers because that’s just life.
If you ask me, the painting is beautiful, and I think the moment is perfect as is. I also think that art, even in the ultra-Orthodox world, can leave room for the imagination and have fluctuations within each community.
But to use your talents for God – which has strains in Gitti’s accordion and Tzvi Arie’s voice – is a must. Everyone agrees on that.
Another theme that crops up throughout the show is what Nachmanides describes while explaining the Torah’s commandment to “be holy” as “naval b’rshut ha-Torah” – being despicable within the permitted boundaries of Torah. Loosely defined, Nachmanides is telling us that being holy is not just about abiding by the letter of the law as the Shtisels do – dress modestly, pray, say your blessings, observe the Sabbath. It also means following the spirit of the law and not engaging in disgusting behaviors that are within one’s legal limits.
For example, the men’s perpetual smoking, to the point where Akiva measures distance in “two-and-a-half cigarettes,” is not explicitly outlawed in the Ten Commandments, but is it compatible with a holy life? This is “legally disgusting.” How about Shulem and even more so his brother Nuchem’s constant machinations and schemes to get people to do what they want?What about Fuks, the unscrupulous religious art dealer? What about the cursing, money-laundering Rebbetzin (I love her)? Menucha, the rude matchmaker, full of insults for others? The show is full of these characters.
This is one of the reasons some of my close religious friends won’t watch the show past the pilot. They are so horrified by these scheming “religious” characters, and so burned by bad press about the religious, that they see this as just another way to hurt our communities. But I don’t see it that way.
Yes, sometimes these people act disgusting within the bounds of Torah. And sometimes out of those bounds. Nuchem uses his charisma and clout to force conditions on his daughter’s engagement. That’s not even legally kosher in Judaism; the young couple has to be in total agreement and have total consent about the match. The smoking is hardly in sync with the command to be “very watchful of your health” (Deuteronomy 4:15), but is more cultural than anything else. Yes, they mess up. They are human. And religious people are still people.
We religious people do look to the Torah to cure us of these all-too-human frailties. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail. When we fail, it looks uglier because of the religious package. But I think the message of Shtisel, that even the “despicable within the permitted boundaries of Torah” is really just about the humanness we all share, is arguably worth the potential bad press.
Forgiveness is a Jewish theme that likewise persists across the show. Lippe needs forgiveness for his breakdown in Argentina and co-opting baby Zelig’s name. Ruchami has to forgive Hanina and his father for disappearing, and Gitti has to forgive Ruchami for her shotgun marriage. Libbi learns to forgive Akiva for going against his promise to cease and desist from painting, and Akiva has to learn to forgive Shulem – for so much. Shulem has to forgive Akiva for being who he is. All of them must learn what forgiveness really means.
In Judaism, forgiveness is something that must be actively sought, something no one in this family is very good at, except Lippe and he’s an in-law child. He tries and tries to ask but no one will even hear him out. None of the other characters ask for forgiveness.
Maimonides teaches how forgiveness ought be attained:
Even if a person only upset a colleague by saying [certain] things, he must appease him and approach him [repeatedly] until he forgives him.
If his colleague does not desire to forgive him, he should bring a group of three of his friends and approach him with them and request [forgiveness]. If [the wronged party] is not appeased, he should repeat the process a second and third time. If he [still] does not want [to forgive him], he may let him alone and need not pursue [the matter further]. On the contrary, the person who refuses to grant forgiveness is the one considered as the sinner.
So I must’ve missed that episode on Shtisel, where all this communication was happening, and family members were appeasing each other and begging for forgiveness. Yet, forgiveness sometimes happens in time. Maimonides continues:
It is forbidden for a person to be cruel and refuse to be appeased. Rather, he should be easily pacified, but hard to anger. When the person who wronged him asks for forgiveness, he should forgive him with a complete heart and a willing spirit. Even if he aggravated and wronged him severely, he should not seek revenge or bear a grudge.
So we see that the Shtisels are maybe a little more spiritual than we thought. Despite not having forgiveness sought, they forgive in time. Despite so much mistreatment and misunderstanding, they find room in their hearts for more love and more acceptance. Despite all the angst they come to better understand Shulem’s redemptive traits, Akiva’s overarching goodness, Lippe’s loving and generous nature, Ruchami’s young love, Hanina’s searing yet immature spirituality. This is true forgiveness: when you haven’t been asked, simply because you come to understand that the person is much more than his missteps.
So do ultra-Orthodox people say “I love you?” Recall Tevye’s petulant question to Golde on Fiddler on the Roof: “Do you love me? Do I love you? For 25 years I’ve washed his clothes…”
We laugh at the characters, and my instinctive, indignant response is: “Of course they do!” But Shtisel doesn’t let us off so easily. Some don’t. Some are culturally inhibited. This is the cringe-worthy magnifying glass into a world that I at one identify with and also don’t. And it’s precisely these conversations on these themes that make Shtisel totally worth it.
Si la magia y las artes ocultas existen, ¿Por qué son tan malas?
La mayoría de los niños se emociona con las historias de brujas y demonios, con Harry Potter y Lord Voldemort. En un mundo seco y racional, esas fuerzas misteriosas le agregan un toque de diversión y excitación a la vida, además de estimular la imaginación. Les permiten a los niños sentir que hay una forma de vencer a un despiadado e insensible sistema.
¿Naciste pobre y no tienes la culpa? No hay problema: un hada mágica vendrá a tu puerta y te dará la fortuna que tanto deseas. ¿Un matón te está atormentando sin piedad? Alguien hará un hechizo que lo convertirá en ardilla por el resto de su vida.
Las películas de terror les dan una inyección momentánea de excitación y terror a los adolescentes junto con una fatídica ilusión de que quizás hay algo de cierto en la trama.
Tres enfoques generales
Cuando una persona madura, comienzan a surgir tres enfoques generales respecto a lo oculto y otras fuerzas extrañas.
Primero están las mentes serias y racionales que se ríen de todo. Para ellas, el mundo es racional y cuantificable y todo lo demás es una absoluta basura.
El mundo tiene una dimensión espiritual con misterios que no podemos comprender.
Hay un segundo grupo de personas, que tienden a ser espirituales, artísticas, poéticas, etc., las cuales sienten que el mundo tiene una dimensión espiritual y que existen todo tipo de fuerzas y misterios que la razón no puede comprender. El mundo de esta gente incluye la lectura de las hojas de té, el tarot, las bolas de cristal y las predicciones psíquicas.
El tercer grupo corresponde a las personas profundamente religiosas, cuyo entendimiento es que hay una gran batalla en el mundo entre dos fuerzas: el bien y el mal. El capitán del equipo bueno es Dios, y es ayudado por una muchedumbre de ángeles, santos, mártires, etc. El capitán del equipo malo es el diablo, y es ayudado por demonios, espíritus malvados y políticos. Su mundo se ve particularmente amenazado por los libros como Harry Potter, principalmente por la severidad con que la Biblia trata a la hechicería.
La visión judía
Ninguna de esas tres formas de ver el mundo se alinea con el judaísmo. ¿Cuál es la opinión de la Torá respecto a la hechicería?
La Torá tiene una actitud muy negativa respecto a la hechicería en sus varias formas. Como está escrito:
“A una hechicera no dejarás vivir” (Éxodo 22:17).
“Cuando vengas a la Tierra que te da Hashem, tu Dios, no aprenderás a actuar de acuerdo con las abominaciones de esas naciones. No se hallará entre ustedes… ningún brujo, nadie que lea presagios, ningún hechicero… o que consulte a los muertos. Pues todo el que hace esto es una abominación para Dios, y a causa de estas abominaciones Dios expulsa a las naciones de ante ti” (Deuteronomio 18:9-12).
Pero, ¿por qué? ¿Qué tienen de malo estas cosas?
El enfoque denominado el “diablo vs. Dios” es aborrecido por el judaísmo por causa de su inherente dualismo. Dios es Uno, y sólo Uno. Actúa de diferentes maneras, pero no hay dos bandos.
El judaísmo sí habla del Satán/diablo, pero considera que el Satán es un emisario de Dios que pone a prueba la sinceridad de las acciones del hombre, la fortaleza de sus convicciones y el vigor de su moral. Si bien este diablo pareciera tentar al hombre para que haga lo equivocado, no es inherentemente un ser malvado, sino que realiza una operación encubierta en la que aparenta tentar hacia el mal, pero en realidad está trabajando para Dios. Una lectura rápida del comienzo de Job transmite este mensaje: Dios envía al Satán para poner a prueba la rectitud de Job.
Tal como un dentista o un doctor ponen a prueba la firmeza de un hueso o de la carne y como un ejército pone a prueba la integridad y fidelidad de sus agentes de inteligencia, de la misma manera Dios pone a prueba al hombre. Una prueba tiene el poder de revelar el valor real de las acciones de una persona, demostrando cuál es su verdadero nivel.
Entonces, si la magia y lo oculto existen, ¿por qué son tan malos?
Magia buena, magia mala
También encontramos la mención de muchos tipos de “magia buena” en las fuentes talmúdicas, como las bendiciones, los amuletos, etc. ¿Cómo podemos distinguir entre los dos tipos de fuerzas espirituales?
El enfoque más aceptado es el de Najmánides, el gran pensador del siglo XII. Trataremos de adaptar y explicar su enfoque.
Si bien Dios fue el único creador del universo, Él creó un sistema autónomo que llamamos ‘naturaleza’, el cual sirve de intermediario entre Dios y el hombre.
El sistema de la naturaleza es independiente y tiene sus leyes, sus causas y sus efectos. Dado que este sistema puede utilizarse sin la asistencia directa de Dios, permite una especie de ateísmo: es fácil pensar que el sistema funciona por sí mismo, independiente de Dios. La gravedad, la inercia, el electromagnetismo, etc., funcionan tanto si la persona es recta como si es pecadora. Una persona que se deja engañar por el fenómeno de la naturaleza sin preguntarse sobre su causa, es engañada por el sistema y termina creyendo que Dios no existe.
El mundo de lo casi espiritual puede quebrar las reglas de la naturaleza por medio de los milagros y la magia.
Entre Dios y este mundo de la naturaleza hay otro puente, al cual llamaremos lo ‘oculto’ o lo ‘casi espiritual’, el cual tiene la capacidad de cambiar y torcer las reglas de la naturaleza por medio de milagros, magia, etc. Si bien este mundo casi espiritual es más elevado que la naturaleza, sigue sin ser Divino. También tiene sus reglas y leyes operativas. Quizás sea más poderoso que el mundo físico, pero con certeza no es omnipotente.
¿Podemos utilizar este mundo de la misma manera que podemos hacer uso del mundo físico?
Najmánides dice que por lo general Dios no quiere que utilicemos este mundo. Dios quiso que tomemos conciencia de Su existencia dentro del mundo natural y por medio de sus fenómenos. Quien subvierte el sistema natural utilizando constantemente el mundo sobrenatural está yendo en contra de la voluntad de Dios.
En las ocasiones en que algunas personas santas han utilizado fuerzas sobrenaturales, siempre han enfatizado que los milagros sólo demuestran la omnipotencia de Dios para pasar por sobre los fenómenos naturales. Esto es similar (aunque ciertamente no lo mismo) a los milagros que hizo Dios para Israel en Egipto con el objetivo de establecer ciertas verdades Divinas. Cuando una persona justa utiliza ocasionalmente la intervención Divina, refuerza esas grandes verdades.
Peligro de equivocarse
Es en este punto que existe el peligro de las grandes equivocaciones. Quien se da cuenta que las leyes de la naturaleza son insuficientes por sí mismas para explicar el mundo, se encontrará con este mundo más espiritual y conocerá una variedad de ‘seres espirituales’. Si entiende que son agentes de Dios, entonces la experiencia se volverá verdaderamente espiritual. Pero si se equivoca y cree que son independientes de Dios, ¡entonces comenzará a hacer idolatría! Por lo tanto, esas fuerzas se convierten en una fuente para el mal cuando son vistas como un poder alternativo a Dios.
Quizás la mejor ilustración de este enfoque dual es inherente a la historia de la serpiente de cobre:
“El pueblo habló en contra de Dios y de Moshé… y Dios envió a las temibles serpientes en contra del pueblo y éstas mordieron al pueblo. Una gran multitud de Israel murió… y Dios le dijo a Moshé: “Hazte una serpiente temible [de cobre] y ponla sobre un mástil, y ocurrirá que todo el que fue mordido la mirará y vivirá”. Moshé hizo una serpiente de cobre y la colocó sobre el mástil; y ocurría que si una serpiente había mordido a un hombre, éste miraba a la serpiente de cobre y vivía” (Números 21:5-9).
La Mishná (Rosh Hashaná 29a) pone esto en perspectiva:
¿La serpiente curaba o mataba? [La verdad es que] cuando Israel miraba hacia el Cielo y dirigía su corazón hacia su Padre Celestial [eran sanados]; cuando no, eran eliminados.
Aquí tenemos ambas facetas de lo sobrenatural: al principio, la naturaleza milagrosa de la serpiente hacía que las personas se dieran cuenta de que la plaga provenía de Dios y trataban de mejorarse a sí mismas. En ese caso, fue una experiencia espiritual positiva.
Posteriormente las cosas empeoraron y la serpiente, en lugar de ser un medio para el reconocimiento de Dios, se convirtió en un punto focal, es decir, en la maravillosa serpiente curadora independiente del poder de Dios. Eso es idolatría. Por esta razón, muchos cientos de años después, el Rey Ezequías hizo que esta serpiente de cobre fuera destruida: porque la gente la trataba como un ídolo.
Entendiendo la idolatría
La idolatría es la percepción de que hay muchas fuerzas con muchos poderes sobre la humanidad que podrían actuar incluso sobre Dios. El idólatra cree que puede llegar a utilizar estos poderes en contra de Dios si tan sólo supiera cómo arrebatárselos.
Es como si el poder de Dios yaciera en una pistola que Él tiene en Su mano. El idólatra cree que si pudiera sacarle a Dios la pistola de la mano, entonces tendría ese poder; equipara los hechizos de la brujería con la capacidad de doblegar a Dios.
El mejor ejemplo de este pensamiento es el malvado profeta Bilam, a quien la Torá denomina hechicero. Él era una persona muy sabia en esta área. Se la pasaba tramando usar el mundo de la magia en contra de Dios. Creyó que entendía la mente de Dios y que, con suficiente manipulación, ¡podría superarlo!
En un aspecto, esta es la peor forma posible de idolatría. Por un lado, la persona tiene algo real. No es una roca extraña que una mente primitiva fantaseó que era un dios, sino que es un poder que realmente funciona. Pero de todos modos es esencialmente falso, porque nada es independiente de Dios.
La prueba de fuego de la espiritualidad es la moralidad. Sin moralidad, toda espiritualidad es falsa o malvada.
Para nosotros, la prueba de fuego de la espiritualidades la moralidad. Toda forma de espiritualidad que no le presenta exigencias morales a la persona, que no busca acercarlo a Dios ni materializar el potencial Divino del hombre, es falsa o malvada.
Si una persona practica ritos ocultos cuyo contenido es un mascullo de palabras extrañas, costumbres bizarras o ritos insólitos, entonces estos ritos o bien son falsos o bien son malvados. Por lo general son falsos, pero en los casos en que ha aprovechado esos poderes, son malvados porque la persona los ha divorciado de Dios.
Los grandes rabinos que realizaron actos sobrenaturales los utilizaron para transmitir un mensaje sobre Dios. Les ordenaban a las personas reconocer al Creador, desarrollar su carácter, ser amables con los demás, ser honestos y fieles, gobernar sus instintos, etc. En el contexto amplio de Dios, la Torá y la moralidad, esos inusuales milagros fueron realmente revelaciones Divinas.
Clockwise from lower left:’No. 44 Le baron James,’ France, 1900 (Courtesy USHMM); Rembrandt, ‘Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver,’ 1629, (Courtesy National Gallery London); ’11th Commandment: Get all you can, keep what you get, give away nothing,’ England, 1830 (Courtesy Jewish Museum London)
LONDON — If there were ever two words that sound toxic when put together, they would be “Jews” and “money.” But add the word “myth” into the mix, and you’ve got the daring exhibition. “Jews, Money, Myth” opened March 19 at London’s Jewish Museum and examines the tortured and tangled relationship between the words.
The timing couldn’t be more appropriate, with a trending rise of Jewish stereotyping by both the far right and far left in the United Kingdom.
Prof. David Feldman, director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at London University’s Birkbeck College, says the idea was “to examine the deeply entrenched anti-Semitic stereotypes and myths relating to Jews and money, and the malignity which has affected Jews in that context.”
The Pears Institute worked closely with the Jewish Museum to develop the narrative of the exhibition.
But as Abigail Morris, the Jewish Museum’s energetic director, explains, “Jews, Money, Myth” was an idea she had more than three years ago, following a cutting-edge exhibition the museum did about blood and its place in both uniting and dividing Jews.
“I think there’s something very exciting for a museum to tackle difficult subjects, but also to take the long view,” Morris says.
Abigail Morris, director of The Jewish Museum, London. (Courtesy JML)
“Exciting” barely describes the vicious anti-Semitic material that is on display in this exhibition, guaranteed to both draw crowds and shock them. British Jews, in particular, once used to the casual, easygoing tolerance of British society at large, are likely to be horrified at the entrenched anti-Semitism of 19th century Great Britain.
‘The New and Fashionable Game of the Jew,’ 1807. (Courtesy Jewish Museum of London)
Perhaps the most dramatic of the exhibits is “The New and Fashionable Game of the Jew,” a children’s dice game made in London in 1807. It features a stereotypical Jewish banker in the middle of the board, hoarding money. This game is from the Jewish Museum’s own collection, but the composer Steven Sondheim, who owns a copy, says “this is a game which taught kids to be anti-Semitic.”
The anti-Semitic tropes on display are not only confined to history, but are right up to date. One image on display famously triggered an uproar against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn — a street art mural in which obviously Jewish bankers sit around a board game balanced on the backs of the oppressed poor.
The image, by the American artist Mear One (born Kalen Ockerman), was entitled “Freedom for Humanity,” and appeared in East London in 2012. As the Jewish Museum exhibition says, “The stereotypically Jewish features of the bankers recycled age-old tropes positioning Jews as exploitative and motivated by greed. The artist denied any antisemitic intent, saying the mural was a critique of ‘class and privilege.’”
But it was the initial response of Corbyn, who disagreed with the local council’s plan to remove the mural, which led to a recent upsurge in both claims of anti-Semitic abuse from the far left, as well as counterarguments that those accusations are unsubstantiated and motivated by politics. Jewish MP Luciana Berger, who raised the issue of the mural with Corbyn, quit the party last month, citing “a culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation.”
Kalen Ockerman’s mural ‘The Enemy of Humanity,’ which uses anti-Semitic imagery. (photo credit: YouTube screen shot)
Despite its impact on Britain’s contemporary politics, the Mear One image is situated in a section devoted to 19th century anti-Semitism. Also scattered through the gallery are some thought-provoking works by the British artist Ryan Gander, including a bronzed wallet and phone which are stuck to a bench, intended as a comment on the ties between morals and money.
Without doubt this is the Jewish Museum’s most ambitious show to date, and its importance can be judged by the quality of the loans on display.
There is a stunning Rembrandt, “Judas Returning the 30 Pieces of Silver,” painted when the artist was just 23. It has been loaned by a private collector and has not been on public show for 40 years. The lender, says Morris, is not Jewish but believed it was important to discuss the subject.
Rembrandt, ‘Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver,’ 1629, (Courtesy National Gallery London)
Or there is an extraordinary public treasury roll dating from 1233, an unprecedented loan from Britain’s National Archives.
“It’s one of the most iconic images of Christian-Jewish relations of medieval times. Someone has effectively doodled onto the roll a drawing of a three-headed demon Jew,” says Morris.
The sketch shows Isaac of Norwich, one of the wealthiest men in England, who appears at the top as a crowned, three-faced anti-Christ figure. A devil touches the noses of Isaac’s agent Mosse Mokke, who wears a spiked hat, and a Jewish woman called Avegaye. A figure on the left may be weighing coins on a pair of scales. Isaac and Mokke were both accused of charging excessive interest.
The writing on the document shows the sums that the Exchequer of the Jews, a tax institution set up by the Crown, received from individual Jews in each county.
Feldman, the historian who has worked closely with the museum on developing the narrative for the exhibition, says its twin aims were to “confront and debunk — and to explore the real historical relationship between Jews and money, and between wealth and poverty.”
Prof. David Feldman, director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at London University’s Birkbeck College. (Courtesy)
The central overarching myth, of course, is what has fed into the stereotype of the rich, grasping Jew — from medieval times all the way to George Soros — that all Jews have money and control the world.
But the truth, as the exhibition shows, is that there were uncountable numbers of Jewish poor, particularly in Britain, and that many made their living selling old clothes and rags, and, interestingly, as the main sellers of dried rhubarb — though nobody seems clear as to the reason for the latter.
Dr. Dave Rich, head of policy at Britain’s Community Security Trust (CST), who has run scores of education and training seminars about Jew-hatred, says that he has “definitely realized how little knowledge and recognition of anti-Semitism there is.”
Rich is the author of “The Left’s Jewish Problem, Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Antisemitism.”
“I think that the exhibition can only be a good thing in talking about such things, because we need that education. So much of what is going on in the Labour Party at the moment is people using language they don’t understand,” he says.
Dave Rich, head of policy at Britain’s Community Security Trust. (Courtesy CST)
One of the repeated tropes of current-day anti-Semitism, says Rich, is the invocation of the Rothschild name as a sort of catch-all to represent the greedy Jew.
“I think the Rothschilds are a classic case,” he says. “They have no profile in public life. They are not an important bank, they are not involved in big public works — and yet the name Rothschild resonates over and over again. It is remarkable how the name still has a cultural meaning, completely detached from what the Rothschilds actually are.”
In research released by the CST in January this year, Rich says they found that Google searches for Rothschild were up by 39 percent in the last three years.
“It’s virtually all people looking for conspiracy theories and negative stereotypes that Jews are both rich and mean, and that they use their money to pull strings,” says Rich. The constant subtext, he says, is that Jews “will use their money for underhanded purposes.”
‘No. 44 Le baron James,’ France, 1900 (Courtesy USHMM)
Nowhere is this better illustrated than in some of the depictions of Nathan Mayer Rothschild, the legendary founder of the bank, who made his home in London in the early 19th century. What the Jewish Museum calls “probably the most obscenely antisemitic of all” is a repellent carved figurine dating from Paris in 1833, on loan from the French capital’s Musee Carnavalet. Rothschild is shown as a writhing, demonic figure, teeth bared and grasping at piles of cash.
Intriguingly, Morris and the show’s curator, Jo Rosenthal, have chosen to highlight what would normally be behind-the-scenes conversations about the design of the show, by putting those conversations on display.
For the Carnavalet Rothschild, there was intense discussion. The exchange is recorded:
Rosenthal: “I’m worried about the ethics of showing this much anti-Semitic material. The Rothschild sculpture is so gruesome I wonder if we should even show it.”
Morris: “I know what you mean. That sculpture is really upsetting. I wonder if we should find a different way to display it. How about using a mirror in the showcase and displaying the object with its back to us? That way it won’t be clearly on show, people will have to make a particular effort to look at it and will see themselves looking back as they look.”
Not everything in “Jews, Money, Myth” is related to anti-Semitism. There is fascinating material from the Jewish Museum’s own collection relating to positive relationships between Jews and money, from the special coins used at a Pidyon HaBen (redemption of the first-born) ceremony, to a section on the importance of charity in Jewish life.
’11th Commandment: Get all you can, keep what you get, give away nothing,’ England, 1830 (Courtesy Jewish Museum London)
But again and again the exhibition returns to difficult themes, from Judas to Shylock and Fagin, or to what Feldman calls the “utterly mainstream” conspiracy theories such as “a widespread belief that the Boer War was fought for Jewish financial interests through their alleged control of the press.”
Feldman, who was vice chair of the 2016 Chakrabarti inquiry into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, says he hopes the exhibition has a message for Jews and non-Jews alike. But he acknowledges that there might be a particular message for the leadership of the Labour Party.
“The problem that part of the Labour leadership face is that of recognizing what is in front of them, and their expectation of the form that racism takes,” he says.
“For them, racism is about the poor, people of color and victims of colonialism. It is difficult for them to recognize people coded as white and possibly affluent [as victims of anti-Semitism]. This exhibition ought to help people understand how to recognize anti-Semitism,” says Feldman.
It is, agrees Morris, probably the first time such material has been assembled in one place by Jews, rather than by anti-Semites. She says a number of people have asked her whether the Jewish Museum should be staging such an exhibition.
“We have been incredibly careful. But [anti-Semitism] is not going away, and I feel it is incredibly important for us to build bridges, and not retreat into our echo-chamber silo,” she sighs.
If hanging Haman in effigy was a stand-in to mock Jesus’ crucifixion, it was in the Jews’ best interest to tone it down
Every year before Purim, my inbox and social media fill up with dire exhortations from rabbis and yeshivas warning against the dangers of celebratory excess – as if drunkenness on the holiday were something new.
In reality, the after-Purim regrets have been part of the discourse ever since Rabbah drunkenly attacked and inadvertently killed his dear friend Rabbi Zeira in the Talmud (don’t worry – he was revived in the end). Rabbis and communal leaders across the religious spectrum have condemned drunken revelry on a holiday dedicated to excess and carousing, noting it often leads to harming life and limb. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, leader of the Hasidic Chabad movement, outlawed more than four drinks at a time for anyone younger than 40.
But even before all of that, it turns out that the ancient Romans — who weren’t exactly known for their sobriety — attempted to control wild Purim parties as early as the year 408.
An unusual bit of the Theodosian Code (16.8.18) is apparently the first non-Jewish source to document the phenomenon of Purim parties that get out of hand. Specifically, the law prohibited Jews from burning Haman in effigy. For Jews, the practice of symbolically destroying the notorious villain of the book of Esther, the paradigm of anti-Semitism, was considered an aspect of the Purim commandment to “erase the name of Amalek,” Haman’s Jew-hating ancestor.
The Romans weren’t especially discomfited by the idea of vicariously punishing enemies, or even maintaining fire safety. They were, however, concerned that drunken Jewish celebrants might use the opportunity to mock Christians by portraying Haman as a sacrilegious stand-in for Jesus. This is especially true because the favored method of representing Haman’s death in the ancient world wasn’t hanging by the neck – he was crucified on a wooden cross.
The biblical passage that literally describes Haman’s “hanging on a tree” (Esther 7:10) was rendered as “crucified” in the ancient works of the Jewish historian Josephus, the early translations of the book of Esther into Greek (Septuagint) and Latin (Vulgate), and all through the Middle Ages in literary classics like Dante’s “Purgatory.” Artistic representations also depicted Haman on the cross, such as the 15th-century Azor Masters and even by Michelangelo, who painted a muscular Haman on a cross on the Sistine Chapel.
It’s not hard to imagine how public Purim execrations of Haman, conducted by an inebriated crowd of Jews, could easily be misperceived by Christian observers, especially if the effigy of Haman is bound to a wooden cross. In fact, only a few years after the law in the Theodosian Code was promulgated, a Church historian named Socrates Scholasticus tendentiously described an event that sounded very much like a drunken Purim celebration gone horribly wrong: In Inmestar, Syria, a group allegedly seized a Christian child, bound him to a cross and scourged him until he died.
Socrates Scholasticus is not especially reliable as a source for Jewish history, but as the historian Elliot Horowitz has demonstrated in his masterful studies of Purim violence, it didn’t take much to convince Christian audiences that Jews were in fact bent on committing acts of horrific violence. From Inmestar to Norwich to Nazi Germany and beyond, the noxious lie of the blood libel continues to plague innocent Jewish communities. It’s too awful to think that it might in some way be connected to misunderstood, misapprehended, “harmless” Purim festivities.
The blood libels were just that. But because the Christian majority was so quick to feel threatened by Jewish revelry, violent or just intemperate, it was better for the Jews’ own sake that they tone it down.
Some might be tempted to argue that drunken revelry is essential to the celebration and that non-Jewish viewers should develop a sense of humor about the holiday. Yet isn’t that the same argument recently made by Bram De Baere, the designer of a carnival float in Aalst, Belgium, that depicted Jews in stereotypically ugly ways? De Baere told a Belgian newspaper that “Carnival is a time when everyone and everything can be laughed at. If you were to forbid that, you would be attacking the DNA of Aalst at its core.”
Not everything is fair game for mockery, even on Purim. True, there’s a big difference between a tiny, relatively powerless community poking fun at the dominant people on one day of the year on the one hand, and the majority population using their position of power to demean a hapless minority on the other.
But I have to give this one to the Romans: The law of 408 wasn’t anti-Purim – it was anti-poor taste.
Todos los mensajes que Di-s le transmitió a Moshé fueron precedidos por un llamado
El tercer libro de la Torá recibe en español el nombre de Levítico, palabra que deriva del griego y del latín, cuyo significado es “Concerniente a los levitas”. Esto refleja el hecho de que, para el judaísmo, los sacerdotes –descendientes de Aarón– pertenecían a la tribu de Levi y de que el antiguo nombre rabínico para el libro era Torat Koanim, “La ley de los sacerdotes”. Este título resulta bastante apropiado. Mientras que Shemot y Bamidvar están repletos de narraciones, el libro que se encuentra entre ambos trata principalmente acerca de los sacrificios y de los rituales asociados, primero, con el tabernáculo y, después, con el templo de Jerusalén. Reflexiona acerca de los sacerdotes y de su rol como guardianes de la santidad, conforme lo indica su nombre, Torat Koanim.
El nombre tradicional vaikrá, “Y llamó”, parecería ser un mero accidente. Vaikrá es la primera palabra del libro, y no existe relación entre esta y la temática que se desarrolla. Sin embargo, me atrevo a decir que esto no es del todo así. Existe una conexión profunda entre la palabra vaikrá y el mensaje que subyace a todo este libro.
Para entenderlo, debemos percatarnos de que hay algo inusual acerca de la forma en la que la palabra aparece en el Sefer Torá. Su última letra, la alef, está escrita en un tamaño más pequeño, como si apenas existiera. Las letras de tamaño normal forman la palabra vaikar, que significa “Y encontró”. A diferencia devaikrá que se refiere a un llamado, una convocatoria, una reunión extraordinaria, vaikar sugiere un encuentro casual, una simple coincidencia en tiempo y espacio.
Haciendo uso de su sutileza para los matices, los sabios notaron la diferencia entre el llamado a Moshé, “Vaijkrá el Moshe”, con el que comienza el libro, y la aparición de Di-s ante el profeta pagano Balám, “Vaikar Elokim el Bilam”1 . Esto es lo que dice el midrash:
¿Qué diferencias existen entre los profetas de Israel y los profetas de las naciones paganas del mundo? R. Hama ben Hanina dijo: “El Santo, Bendito sea, se revela ante las naciones paganas de forma incompleta, como está dicho, ‘Y el Señor apareció (vaikar) ante Balám’, mientras que ante los profetas de Israel se revela completamente, como está dicho, ‘Y llamó (vaikrá) a Moshé’”.
Rashi es más explícito y dice:
“Todos los mensajes [que Di-s le transmitió a Moshé], ya sea mediante el uso de las palabras hablar, decir u ordenar fueron precedidos por un llamado, keriá,que es un término cariñoso utilizado por los ángeles cuando se refieren los unos a los otros, como está dicho, ‘Y se llamaban entre sí’, vekará ze el ze2 . Sin embargo, ante los profetas del resto de las naciones, Su aparición se describe como algo casual e impuro, como está dicho, ‘Y el Señor apareció ante Bilám’”.
Baal Ha Turim va un paso más allá en su comentario respecto de la alef pequeña y dice:
“Moshé era grande y humilde a la vez y solo quería escribir vaikar para referirse a un encuentro casual, como si el Santo, Bendito sea, hubiese aparecido ante él en un sueño, como en el caso de Balám [vaikar, sin la alef]. Sin embargo, Di-s le ordenó escribir la palabra con alef. Entonces, Moshé le dijo a Di-s, por su extrema humildad, que escribiría la alef más pequeña que todas las demás que existen en la Torá, y de hecho así lo hizo”.
Este suceso destaca un acontecimiento de gran importancia. Pero antes de desarrollarlo en profundidad, vayamos al final del libro en cuestión. Justo antes del final, en Bejucotái, se encuentra uno de los dos fragmentos más aterrorizantes de toda la Torá, conocido como tjejá3 . En él, se detalla el terrible destino que le espera al pueblo judío si no cumple con el pacto que hizo con Di-s:
“Y entre los que queden de vosotros en las tierras enemigas, enviaré debilidad en sus corazones de modo que se atemorizarán por el simple susurro de una hoja que se agita y huirán continuamente de la espada, aun cuando nadie los persiga… Y las tierras de vuestros enemigos os tragarán4 ”.
De todos modos, a pesar de lo aterrador del fragmento anterior, este termina con cierto grado de consuelo:
“Recordaré mi pacto con Iaacob, mi pacto con Itzjak y mi pacto con Abraham, y me acordaré también de la Tierra…, y aunque se encuentren en tierras ajenas, no los desecharé totalmente ni me dejaré llevar por mi ira para anular mi pacto con ellos. Yo soy su Di-s, el Eterno. Por ellos, me acordaré de mi pacto con sus ancestros, a quienes liberé de la tierra de Egipto ante los ojos de todos los pueblos para que Yo fuera su Di-s, el Eterno”5 .
La palabra clave del párrafo anterior es keri, que aparece exactamente siete veces a lo largo de la tojejá, hecho bastante significativo. A continuación, citamos solamente dos, a modo de ejemplo:
“Y si con todo continuaréis sin escucharme y desdeñándome, seguiré dando rienda suelta a mi ira e intensificaré mi castigo siete veces más”6 .
¿Qué significa la palabra keri? Aquí la hemos traducido como desdén e ira. Pero existen otras alternativas. El Targum lo expresa como “endurecerse”, Rashbam como “rehusarse”, Ibn Ezra como “sobreestimarse”, Saadia como “rebelarse”.
Pero Rambam sugiere una interpretación completamente diferente dentro del contexto halájico:
Existe un mandamiento que ordena rezar y hacer sonar las trompetas a modo de alarma cuando la comunidad se encuentra en problemas. Esto se infiere de cuando la Escritura dice: “Contra el adversario que los oprima, harán sonar la alarma con las trompetas”, que significa: Irrumpan en rezos y hagan sonar la alarma… Este es uno de los caminos hacia el arrepentimiento, ya que cuando la comunidad reza y hace sonar las alarmas por alguna amenaza o peligro, cada uno toma conciencia de que el mal ha caído sobre ellos a causa de sus errores… y que el arrepentimiento disipará los problemas.
Sin embargo, si el pueblo no reza ni hace sonar la alarma, sino simplemente acepta que ese es el modo en que se deben desarrollar los acontecimientos y que, por ende, sus problemas son pura coincidencia, entonces, ha elegido el camino equivocado que hará que siga cometiendo actos errados y, como consecuencia, habrá más desgracias. Ya que cuando la Escritura dice: “Si continúan siendo keri para conmigo, entonces, en mi ira yo seré keri con vosotros”, significa: Si cuando los problemas recaen sobre el pueblo para que este se arrepienta, lo que verdaderamente ocurre es que se cree que fue algo accidental, entonces, Di-s hará caer sobre el pueblo su ira por haber dejado las cosas libradas al azar”7 .
Rambam entiende que keri está relacionado con la palabra mikré, “azar”. Las maldiciones ‒conforme a esta interpretación‒ no son una retribución divina en sí mismas. No será Di-s quien haga sufrir a Israel, sino otros seres humanos. Lo que ocurrirá es que Di-s retirará su protección. Israel deberá enfrentar al mundo por sí solo, sin la presencia protectora de Di-s. Esto, para Rambam, es sencillamente medida-por-medida (midá kenegued midá). Si Israel confía en la Providencia divina, será bendecido con ella. Si ve la historia como puro azar –lo que Joseph Heller, autor de Catch-22, denominó “un conjunto de coincidencias azarosas traídas por el viendo”‒, entonces, sin duda, será librado al azar. Al tratarse de una nación pequeña y vulnerable, las probabilidades no les serán favorables.
Ahora sí podemos entender el mensaje que conecta el comienzo y el final de vaikrá, que es una de las verdades espirituales más profundas. La diferencia entre mikrá y mikré ‒entre la historia como un llamado de Di-s y la historia como una sucesión de eventos sin ningún significado o propósito subyacente‒ es en hebreo casi imperceptible. Las palabras suenan iguales. La única diferencia es que la primera tiene una alef, mientras que la segunda no. El significado de la alef es obvio: la primera letra del alfabeto, la primera letra de los diez mandamientos, la “I” de Di-s.
La letra alef es casi inaudible. Su aparición en el Sefer Torá al comienzo de vaikrá (la misma alef) es casi imperceptible. Por ende, la Torá nos está diciendo que no esperemos que la presencia de Di-s en la historia sea siempre tan clara y directa como lo fue durante el éxodo de Egipto y la división del Mar Rojo, ya que muchas veces, dependerá de nuestra sensibilidad que nos demos cuenta de su presencia. Para aquellos que sepan mirar, estará presente. Para aquellos que sepan escuchar, se hará oír. Pero primero, debemos ver y escuchar. Si elegimos no hacer ninguna de las dos, vaikrá se transformará en vaikar. El llamado será inaudible. La historia nos parecerá una mera sucesión de hechos azarosos. No hay nada de incoherente en dicha idea. Aquellos que creen en ella tendrán muchas herramientas para justificarla. De hecho, dice Di-s en la tojejá: “Si creen que la historia es puro azar, entonces, yo me convertiré en eso”.
Pero en realidad, no lo es. La historia del pueblo judío –incluso según la describen los no judíos, como Pascal, Rousseau y Tolstoi– da cuenta de la presencia de Di-s entre ellos. Solo así es posible entender cómo un pueblo tan pequeño, vulnerable y relativamente sin poder ha sobrevivido ‒y aún lo hace‒ luego del Holocausto. Am Israel Jai, el pueblo de Israel vive.
Y así como la historia del pueblo judío no es puro azar, tampoco es una mera casualidad que la primera palabra del libro central de la Torá sea vaikrá,“Y llamó”. Ser judío es creer que lo que nos pasa como pueblo es conforme al llamado de Di-s, quien nos insta a convertirnos en “un reino de sacerdotes y una nación santa”.
It is a difficult career choice to become a teacher, rabbi, or Jewish educator. Can you explain why you think it is important, despite the hardships, to dedicate one’s life to Jewish education?
Nathan Lopes Cardozo:
For me it is a great privilege, and I wouldn’t exchange it for anything else. But I have to admit that it’s far from easy.
On a practical level, there is almost no money in it. There were times that I taught with no compensation, because the institutions where I lectured had no money, or could only pay meager salaries. Many of us continued to teach, since teaching Torah is a mission and not an occupation.
On several occasions I had to use my own private money, or take loans, or get help from our parents.
Even today, many of the projects—such as publishing my new books, translating my books and essays into Ivrit (for which there is a great demand) and other languages, and launching weekly podcasts—are hindered by the lack of funds. This is highly unfortunate.
But surely you are asking me concerning the very teaching itself. As with everything else, I feel that a Hand from Above, which I cannot escape, gives me no say in the matter. I have a strong awareness that I owe my unusual background and life to God who asks me to become a teacher with a very special mission. Sometimes I regret that I received HeterHora’ah (rabbinical ordination) because today sadly enough it is no longer a title of absolute integrity; it carries a stigma and even closes doors.
I love teaching and sharing exciting concepts. This is closely related to my deep concern for the future of Judaism. I admit that Jewish education is much better today than it was in my younger days, but I am terribly worried that we will soon experience a backlash of huge proportions. Not much different from what happened in the days of the Aufklärung (The Enlightenment).
The reason is that we still don’t deal seriously with the real existential questions, the meaning and the experience of religiosity, and what Judaism really stands for. There’s a great amount of denial in religious circles about confronting serious questions. On top of that, since the establishment of the State of Israel, its enormous spiritual, moral and halachic challenges have not been dealt with on the level that is absolutely necessary. Often, religious communities and its leaders actually run away from them.
Many of the answers given are still embedded in a Galut (exile) mentality, as if we are still living under Galut conditions, and as if the establishment of the State of Israel has not created a radical change in the life of the Jewish people even though the Mashiach has not arrived. Ultimately, this will backfire and the price will be extremely high. One cannot fit “exile Judaism” into the modern State of Israel.
Only very few religious institutions really deal with these problems. In most places they are not taken seriously, and only lip service is offered. I taught in the introductory program of a ba’al teshuva yeshiva for many years, where “newcomers” would arrive. Some of my colleagues and I would discuss the great existential questions and the Jewish responses to them. Although I believe that the answers, including my own, were much too simplistic, at least we dealt with them in a serious way. This excited the students and they decided to stay and continue to learn more. But once they were out of the introductory program, these questions were not just ignored but actually looked down upon and sometimes even made fun of. All that counted was to fit in with the ultra-Orthodox community and to learn Talmud nearly all day long. Besides the fact that I believe it was taught the wrong way and nearly all matters of ideology were ignored, the biggest mistake was that these students never got the opportunity to give their own opinions, outside of the “yeshivisheh hashkofeh” (the ultra-Orthodox world view), which is often a complete re-writing of what authentic Judaism really is trying to convey. Instead of asking them to use their own talents, often learned at famous universities, they were told to keep silent and “just listen.” This talking down to the students (After all, what did they know?) was detrimental and robbed them of being themselves and making a contribution to Jewish learning. I think that even I was guilty of this, although less than some other teachers. I often had to deal with students who were totally put off by this and wanted to leave. Others were clever enough to see the fallacies and superficiality in the answers that some teachers gave, and just left, since they saw Judaism as a simplistic and outdated tradition. This still happens today, as I know from personal experience when I meet yeshiva students.
The mistake of the ba’al teshuva movement was that they demanded of the students to ignore their past, forget about their secular studies, and often suppress their creative talents. They had to fit into the existing ultra-Orthodox world. As such, they could not create a new spirit within Orthodoxy and were often treated as uninformed beginners who had nothing to offer and were considered failures if they didn’t become Talmudists. By making them feel inferior, Orthodoxy lost one of its great opportunities to re-create itself and bring in a new spirit, which was, and is, sorely needed, and to which these young people could have greatly contributed.
Another huge mistake was that Judaism was taught as if it had ready-made answers to all questions and nothing was left in doubt, still to be dealt with. This is completely untrue. Judaism still has many issues to deal with and to answer. In my opinion, it is still in the making. It’s an organic tradition that still has so much to discover. But it can only do so when it is prepared to change its mind and rethink its former teachings, and takes joy in the fact that it doesn’t have all the answers, but has powerful foundations and the courage to see new horizons.
Much money was wasted on the ba’al teshuva movement because it failed to live up to its potential and give Judaism a new spirit.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote:
It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion—its message becomes meaningless. (God in Search of Man, Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, NY, 1955, p.3.)
This is true to this very day. There is still too much of this malady, in which secularity is being blamed, while in truth it is commonplace Judaism that is at fault. This has done great damage. I feel, therefore, that it is my mission—probably because of my unusual background and my atypical studies—to try and turn the tide. This also explains why my teachings are unconventional and controversial. After all, I cannot fit into this kind of Judaism, which to me is obsolete and a misrepresentation. I am looking for ways to make Judaism exciting and novel.
Every generation has to do this in accordance with the times in which it lives. One cannot teach Judaism now as it was taught a few hundred years ago. When a new spirit has overtaken society and new ideas are promulgated, one needs to speak in that language. This is what Maimonides did in his days. Aristotle was the person who set the intellectual stage, and Maimonides wrote his masterpiece, the Guide for the Perplexed, accordingly. While its contents are still very powerful and worth studying, its style, use of language, and mode of argumentation are dated. And so it is true with all other great Jewish thinkers, from Saadia Gaon (882-942) to Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik (1903-1993). All of these works are dated—yes even Rabbi Soloveitchik’s!—and were written in accordance with the spirit of their times.
And so it will happen with my own ideas. And that’s the way it should be. God opens up new vistas that deepen our understanding, and we have to make full use of this, because it will give us more profound insight into what Judaism has to offer.
This is why I teach Judaism as a rebellion, because it is rebellion and autonomy that are now in the air. I strongly believe that when new ideas, ideologies and movements come about, these are God-given and have great religious meaning, even if most people see them as secular or downright atheistic. (I learned this from Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook). This means that we are religiously obligated to incorporate them into Judaism—sometimes by just accepting them and other times by reworking them. The goal is to bring everything back to Judaism (or, for that matter, to other religions.)
It is important to remember not to fall victim to using just any argument as a means to ensure that people remain committed to Judaism or become religious, if these arguments are doubtful, cheap, and untrue. That would be dishonest. This is what some outreach programs often seem to do, especially with their often outdated so-called proofs for the existence of God or the divinity of the Torah. We must protest against that sort of dishonest approach.
But because there are truthful elements in each serious philosophy, which can help us understand and deepen our insights into Judaism, we must become familiar with them as long as we don’t treat them as axiomatic.
When Maimonides used Aristotle’s ideas to explain Judaism, he did so because he honestly believed it would enrich our understanding of Judaism. He clearly believed that Aristotle was sent from Heaven to give him ideas to explain Judaism. At the time, Aristotle’s ideas were seen as representing truth. As such, it was intellectually honest for Maimonides to use his ideas to explain Judaism. Maimonides would not have used these ideas had he known that they are actually untrue.
I have no doubt that if Maimonides were alive today he would be writing a very different Guide for the Perplexed, using the latest discoveries in science and recent insights into modern philosophy.
In some way we can argue that all philosophic and scientific insights are a kind of indirect explanation and elaboration on Torah and Judaism. And so it is with all literature, even if the authors were unaware of it or had none of that in mind.
When I claim that Judaism is rebellion, as I have done in my latest book Jewish Law as Rebellion, A Plea for Religious Authenticity and Halachic Courage (Urim Publications) it is because I honestly believe it is really rebellious, and I emphasize that element within Judaism because it speaks to the generation in which I live. The next generation may see the need to use another truthful element that will speak for that generation.
For some people these ideas are sometimes considered to be fanciful, mind-boggling, implausible, and exaggerated. Occasionally, I am accused of wishful thinking and even of being superficial. There is a certain truth in this! After all, it is a thought in process! I know that I have touched on something much deeper, which I’m not yet able to verbalize on the level I would like.
Without comparing myself to Rav Kook, I have learned from him to let one’s thoughts run wild and just write down anything that comes to mind, which may not yet be at all sophisticated or properly thought through. But we know there are seeds that are planted, and we need to wait until they start growing and make a great contribution.
Sure, not everyone is able to do that. Only when people have enough knowledge and have been playing around with some of these ideas for a long time can they do that. “Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep,” said Shakespeare (HenryVI, Part 2, III, i, 53). So, I smile when people accuse me of superficiality. They’re right but they don’t understand the secret behind it. Superficial ideas are like straws that float on the surface, but the pearls are close by when one dives deeper. I risk expressing them at this moment in time, even if they are still immature, because others may develop them—as indeed sometimes happens. That I pay a certain price for that is the last thing I’m worried about. Rav Kook expressed ideas that were naive and underdeveloped, but some of these ideas were later expanded into major concepts, by him or by some of his students. I hope that the same will happen with my own ideas. Even naiveté, a kind of childish innocence, or crazy thought may one day become a major idea of great value.
I am reminded of the story about the famous scientist Wolfgang Pauli who gave a talk on elementary particle physics at Columbia University. Niels Bohr, one the greatest physicists of the twentieth century, was in the audience. After the lecture Pauli said to Bohr: You probably think that these ideas are crazy. I do, replied Bohr. Unfortunately, they are not crazy enough.
This is the secret to successful teaching, and why it is one of the greatest and most exiting missions a human being can be privileged to take on.