Archive for the ‘Judaism’ Category

“That science, which, despairing of itself and aware of its own weak mind, denies the existence of a spirit, shows up with triumphant mien the apparatus of a system of bones, and thereby believes to have given an explanation of man, will with shame retire: it will yield to the healthful science which respects the spirit, and has a presentiment of the Spirit of all spirits. This science will anew enliven the world, and go hand-in-hand with Judaism, which has ever been permeated and quickened by such ideas.”
           -Abraham Geiger, Judaism and its History, p. 295

An Unlikely Advocate

Posted: February 3, 2016 in History, Judaism, Mussar (Ethics)
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“[Judaism] has been assailed not alone with carnal weapons, with fire and sword, with expulsion and oppression, but also with spiritual weapons… Judaism has nevertheless preserved itself, has saved its eternal treasures, and not allowed itself to be dimmed; it has not permitted its belief in God to be disfigured by, and commingled with extraneous elements; it has… clung to the conviction that man has been invested by God with the power of free self-destination and self-ennoblement; that despite the sensual propensity innate in man’s nature, he is, at the same time, vested with the power of conquering it, to reach, by means of his own exertions, the goal of ennoblement and elevation.”

-Abraham Geiger, Judaism and its History, pp. 265-266

The Greeks had no teachers or patterns in Art and Science, they were their own teachers and masters, — they speedily appeared with such perfect accomplishment, as makes them the teachers of mankind for all times. It is as though a higher, more vivid taste for the Beautiful, the Harmonious, the Symmetrical and the Pleasing had been innate in the Greek nation, — we observe a National Genius that enabled it to produce masters in every art and science. Therefore, even later centuries willingly listened to the words of this nation, hastened thither where they could see the works of the plastic arts, where they could enjoy, as it were, a rejuvenating bath in the spiritual fountain that springs thence and carries its waters through the streams of centuries. Is not the Jewish people, likewise, endowed with such a Genius, with a Religious Genius? Is it not, likewise, an aboriginal power that illumined its eyes, so that it could penetrate the higher life of the spirit, understand more vividly, and feel more intensely the close relation between the spirit of man and the Supreme Spirit, would more distinctly and clearly behold the innermost nature of Human Morality, and then present the result to the world as its native-born knowledge. If this be so, we may speak of a close contact between the individual spirit and the Supreme Spirit, of an illumination of individual spirits by the Power that fills everything, so that they could break through their confining limits: it is — let us not hesitate to pronounce the word — Revelation, and this, too, as it was manifested in the whole people.

          -Abraham Geiger, Judaism and its History, Lecture III: Revelation, pp. 59-60

For it is not alone nature around him that he (Man) must explain, — he himself must be explained together with it; he is part and parcel of nature, and to search himself is a task which he cannot avoid. But man becomes the greatest enigma even to himself, the more he reflects upon himself. It is true, it has been essayed to connect man very closely with similar beings; species of apes have been spoken of that are but very little different from man. It has been said, there are some species of apes appearing as sunk in profound sadness, as pervaded by a longing desire to be freed from that narrowed confinement; ’tis a contemplative sentiment that man attributes — merely attributes, indeed!— to the soul of an animal, when he regards and represents animal stupor as profound sadness. The distance between the most perfect animals and man himself will remain a gap that can never be filled. To draw a parallel, even only very distantly, between man who, despite his inconsiderable bodily strength, notwithstanding he is greatly inferior, with regard to corporeal attributes, to other animals which are more powerful and more adroit, has nevertheless become the lord of the earth, of the whole creation, who more and more subjects to himself everything in inanimate and animate nature; who accommodates himself to, and controls all places, conditions and circumstances: to draw even the most distant comparison between man and any one animal that lives secluded — remains fixed in the same state, is limited to a certain part of the world; that, without exercising the least influence upon the rest of creation, dies away and leaves no trace behind — such a comparison, it must be confessed, looks like the reasoning of a child that fondles — then throws away and destroys its own little mimic toys! No, man is of an entirely different genus. Man, who is bound to time and space like all other corporeal and earthly creatures; individual man, who is tied to a certain extent of soil, moves within a small particle of time, nevertheless, on the other hand, conquers time and space within him, can transpose himself into the most distant regions, can place the past before him, pre-suppose the future, has a conception of what is beyond the present. Such faculty cannot be the attribute of the body; the body is circumscribed by space and time, — nothing can proceed therefrom that conquers space and time. Let us pronounce the word which would not exist if the thing did not exist: it is the Spirit. Man has a spirit, a faculty within him which is connected with his body in so far as it moves, animates him, but which is still far more, because it impels him towards rational contemplation, opens for him an insight into objects which his physical vision is unable to perceive or to attract… For language, the most faithful reflector of the spirit, constitutes the connecting link between man’s inmost thoughts and the outer world ; language most decidedly distinguishes him from all other created beings — language, born, as it were, from inward clearness, renders, in its turn, thought intelligible, and gives it full and entire clearness… How ever far a single man may progress, he will nevertheless remain merely a part of mankind, mankind itself only a part of creation, and creation, in its turn, is but the work of a greater, higher Spirit.

          -Abraham Geiger, Judaism and its History, Lecture I: Of the Nature of Religion, pp. 10-14

Nature presents herself in a great variety of beings, according to classes and species, which, while disinct from each other, work together, and for each other, but are not transformed one into the other. Modern Natural Philosophy has ventured upon the bold step to examine the mystery, how beings of a higher order could grow out from those of a lower species; how higher organisms gradually developed themselves from the most inferior. Whether it will succeed to penetrate also into that mystery — whether such a transformation of one from another shall prove to be truth, is the office of naturalists to decide in the present or in future. But this much we see, that species do exist, that they do not change one into another, that they are and remain distinct from each other. The same Power which at the beginning created them — as is asserted, one out of the other — should necessarily continue the same process, should even this day create an animal from a plant and continuously perfect it to its higher organism. But the present world presents no such process; on the contrary, every species remains within its fixed limits, it continually begets individual beings of its own kind, but is not changed into another. Hence it is not a promoting, but ordering power that creates and preserves every kind in its individuality; not one that is blindly rushing forward without stopping, but which preserves nature as a whole, composed of different parts, so that it is unchangeable both as a whole and in its variety. Nature is arranged according to a fixed will, according to an independently ruling reason, and is preserved in this arrangement: the Universe is one system, held together by its great variety, composed of different parts, and yet forming one harmonious whole. This is wisdom, judicious and systematical order, so that even destructive powers present themselves as creative elements, producing new, nobler creations. This is the work of self-conscious Reason, — not that of a power propelling without a certain object in view. It is a bold word which an astronomer once uttered when he presented his work on astronomy to his monarch. The latter being astonished not to find God mentioned in the book, the former observed: ‘I need not that hypothesis.’ It is true, it was not necessary for him, in his explanation of the laws and their working, at the same time to state how they grew into existence, and who had fixed them everlasting and unchangeable; but what a man of profession may leave untouched, that a thinking man cannot avoid, he must seek a higher cause which creates according to rational principles.

          -Abraham Geiger (Founder of Reform Judaism), Judaism and its History, Lecture I: Of the Nature of Religion, pp. 8-10

Women and Tefillah

[NOTE: The word “tefilah” here connotes the silent meditative prayer, also called “Shemoneh Esreh” or “Amidah,” that forms the core of all Jewish prayer services.]

Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), Orach Chayim 106:1:

“Women… even though they are exempt from reciting the Sh’ma, are obligated in tefillah, because it is a positive commandment that is not time-bound.”

Mishnah Berurah, ad loc, 4:

“All this is according to the Rambam (Maimonides), that only the times for tefillah are from the Sages, but the principle commandment of tefillah is from the Torah, as it says, ”and to serve Him with all your heart’ — What is the service that is with the heart? This is tefillah,’ but that there is no known formula (i.e. wording) from the Torah, and one may pray with any wording that one desires and at any time that one desires. And once one prays, either by day or by night, one has fulfilled one’s obligation from the Torah. And Magen Avraham wrote that according to this reasoning it is the practice of the majority of women that they do not pray Shemoneh Esreh consistently by day or night, since they say in the morning, immediately after washing, some request (‘bakashah’), and they fulfill their obligation from the Torah with this, and it is possible that even the Sages did not obligate more. But the opinion of the Ramban (Nachmanides) is that the principle obligation of tefillah is from the Sages, that is, the Men of the Great Assembly, who established the eighteen blessings in their order, as obligatory to pray them morning (‘Shacharith’) and afternoon (‘Minchah’), and as optional in the evening (‘Arvith’). And even though this is a positive commandment from the Sages that is time-bound, and women are exempt from all positive time-bound commandments, even those from the Sages… even so [the Sages] obligated them to pray Shacharith and Minchah like men, since tefillah is a request for mercy, and this is the principle opinion, for this is the opinion of the majority of authorities… therefore it is correct to instruct the women to pray Shemoneh Esreh… All this is as regards Shacharith and Minchah, but the tefillah of Arvith which is optional, even though now all Israel has accepted it upon themselves as obligatory, nevertheless, the women did not accept it upon themselves, and the majority of them do not pray Arvith.”

See this earlier post for a primer on Lilith.

More on Lilith:

After the murder of Adam’s son Hevel (Abel) by Adam’s older son Kayin (Cain), Adam and Chavah (Eve) do not have any more children until they are 130 years old, at which time they procreate once again “in their image,” having a son they name Sheth (Seth). See Genesis (B’Reshith) 5:3.

Why the gap between their first two children and the third? According to Jewish tradition, the murder of one of their sons by the other caused Adam and Chavah to reconsider having children, and therefore separated from one another for an extended period.

Jewish tradition further asserts that while Adam did not procreate “in his image” during that time, he did procreate in a diminished image, namely creating ‘shedim’ — demons.

How so? Some sources indicate that during this period of separation from Chavah, Adam cohabited with a spirit or spirits (against his will), and from this union came the race of demons.

In Samuel (Shemuel) II 7:14, G-d tells Nathan the prophet to announce to David that he will have a son who will sit on the throne after him, and that his dynasty will be everlasting:

“I (G-d) will be for him a Father, and he will be for Me a son, that when he sins, I shall rebuke him with the rod of men, and with the blows of the sons of man (ובנגעי בני אדם).”

According to Rashi, the sons or “children” of “man” here refer to the non-human (demon) offspring of Adam produced during the 130-year separation from Chavah during which time “spirits” engaged with Adam and reproduced from him. The prophet’s words here foreshadow when a powerful demon named Ashmedai will dethrone David’s son Shelomoh (Solomon) for a time, as recounted in the Talmud in Tractate Gitin.

According to those commentaries that understand Lilith to be the mother of the demons (see earlier post), she was the being with which Adam cohabited during this period.

A reference to this is seen by Rabbi Avraham Aharon Friedman in his commentary to the Passover Hagadah, Chochmath Aharon.

He cites the verse in Amos 2:6, “For their sale of the righteous for silver, and the destitute because of [a pair of] shoes,” a reference to the sale of Joseph (Yoseph; “the righteous”) by his brothers, and the accompaniment of the Divine Presence (“the destitute”) in Yoseph’s descent to Egypt.

R’ Friedman explains, according to the Arizal, that the central reason for the descent of Israel to Egypt was to “harvest” the “holy sparks” that “fell” from Adam during the aforementioned 130 years. The sale of Yoseph initiated the eventual descent of Israel to and subsequent exodus from Egypt, thereby redeeming the holy sparks that had been trapped there.

Rabbi Friedman explains the verse in Amos in this light. The sparks are the “silver” for which Yoseph was sold. The numerical value of “because of [a pair of] shoes” (בעבור נעלים) is 480, the same as “Lilith” (לילית), hinting that she was the cause of Adam’s “fallen sparks” that necessitated the sojourn in Egypt.