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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3


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GENESIS — 1:27 image

The biblical doctrine of man is based on the presumption that man is the creature of G-d, and as such must acquire the proper perspective of his place in the world. While the uniqueness of man in the Divine order is constantly emphasized, it is equally made clear that the besetting sin of man is pride.  Man the creature forgets his status and arrogates for himself the prerogatives of his Creator. The Scriptures express their estimate of man by affirming that he was created in the image of G-d [this verse, 5:1, 9:6]. This judgment implies that there is a similarity, in some profound sense, between man and his Maker. Yet ultimately man resembles G-d no more than a shadow resembles a real person. [The Hebrew word tzelem is derived from tzel (“shadow”). Cf. Mandelkern’s Concordance, s.v. tzelem. See, however, the Lexicon of Gesenius-Brown (Oxford, 1959), where tzelem is derived from the root meaning “To cut out.” Cf. Also commentary of Sampson Rafael Hirsch to Genesis 1:26 who derives the word from salmah, meaning an external frame or cover.] In the first chapter of Genesis the creation of man in G-d’s image is narrated. The second chapter relates how man succumbed to the temptation of striving to be like G-d. The serpent persuades man that G-d is envious of him, for if he were to eat of the forbidden fruit he will become like G-d, knowing good and evil (ibid. 3:5). Man is enjoined to walk in G-d’s ways Deut. 10:12; 11:22; 26:17 and to be like Him: “Holy shall ye be, for holy am I the Lord your G-d” Leviticus 19:2.  But the path trodden by those who aspire to holiness is fraught with grave hazards and disastrous pitfalls. See Mahsheboth Harutz by Rabbi Tzadok ha-Kohen of Lublin, No. 1. This paradox constitutes the terrible predicament of man’s life and the tragedy of his history. Cf. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, passim and his other works. The doctrine of man as created in the image of G-d is the ground for the mandate of imitatio Dei. Simultaneously, imitatio Dei defines the extent to which the doctrine of the image of G-d can be applied. While the image of G-d describes the essential nature of man, its relevance is restricted to the sphere of action. Man is not G-d, he cannot become G-d, but his behavior can be G-dlike.  It is thus clear that holiness to which man is called is not so much a holiness of essence as a holiness of conduct. This distinction clarifies the chasm that obtains between Judaism’s imitation of the ways of G-d and pagan concepts of apotheosis and identification with, and absorption in, Deity. [The attempt to relate the imitatio Dei of Judaism to pagan notions, as is done by Israel Abrahams (Pharisaism and the Gospels, II, pp. 138-139), appears to this writer to be misleading. The imitation of the ways of G-d is the very antithesis of man’s striving to be G-d. The first is man’s great virtue, the second his greatest blasphemy. See the direct contrast in Exodus Rabbah 8:1-2: G-d shares His greatness with men; but there have been men who, because they have been divinely endowed with great gifts, proclaim themselves G-d! It is just as likely that man’s striving to become G-d is a distortion of the imitatio Dei which enjoins man to follow in the ways of G-d as that imitation Dei is an emergent of the former.] KELLNER 127-8

GENESIS — 2:18 alone

…. the idea that the manner in which the male and female principle complete each other in the world is determined by the aggressive or active nature of the male and the passive and receiving nature of the female … is mainly reflected in the legal status of the woman. Because of the legal form of the marriage contract she was originally greatly disadvantaged. While the husband could divorce her at will and against her will, she could not, and cannot to this day divorce her husband. The husband could inherit her property, but a widow does not inherit her husband’s and has to be maintained by her children from the estate they inherit. The heirs of a man are his son, not his daughters. The daughters have to be supported and must be provided with an appropriate dowry, but they do not inherit as equals with their brothers. Women are not admitted as witnesses or as judges. Similarly, their religious status is also severely limited. They are under no obligation to fulfill the highest commandment of Judaism, to study Torah. Since they are not obligated to study, they can have no obligation to teach. Therefore, while it is incumbent upon a father to teach his son Torah, the same duty does not apply to the mother. But not only was there no obligation for a woman to study Torah, the teaching of the written law to her was actually frowned upon, while the teaching of the oral tradition was forbidden.  See T.B. Sotah 20a; Maimonides, Yad HaHazakah, Talmud Torah 1, 13; Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 246.6  Her place as a member of the religious community is strictly limited.  While she is obligated to adhere to all the negative commandments, she is exempted from the duties to practice most of the positive commandments whose observance depends on a specific time of the day or the year. She does not have to put on Tefilin (phylacteries) or to wear Zizit on the corner of her clothes, she does not have to dwell in booths during the Sukkot festival, etc. She cannot be part of a Minyan, a quorum of ten Jews required for a congregational religious service.  We may now be in a better position to understand how those negative opinions about female characteristics might have come about and might, notwithstanding their exaggerated generalization, often have been derived from experience. There is little doubt that notwithstanding these rather limiting rules and regulations, Judaism produced numberless Zadkaniyot, women who were pious, chaste, virtuous, and charitable often in a self-sacrificial sense and to an ideal degree.  Yet we have to consider what must have been the effect of the position granted to the woman on the great majority of their sex. Since education was essentially Torah education, many women had no education at all.  They were of course taught the duties appertaining to their responsibilities as wives and mothers, and also learned from the example of the living tradition that surrounded them. As compared to the education of the sons, many of the daughters of Israel must have been intellectually as well as emotionally stunted. They were largely excluded from and were often mere spectators of the drama of the creative forms of religious life.  Their legal status, too, is often that of a passively receiving, protective member of society. It should not, then, be surprising if many of them were thievish, because they might have felt that they did not have the share in the family fortune that was due to them. That they were quarrelsome is quite believable; dissatisfied people often react to their surroundings in such a manner. With our better psychological insight, we may well understand that the deeply frustrated person may seek comfort in over-eating and become gluttonous. Some of the other negative characteristics too, which were ascribed to women in Talmudic times, are better understood as psychological reactions to their condition. We need not at all be convinced that the good woman, whose goodness was said to be limitless, was indeed potentially a better human being than the bad one, whose wickedness, it was maintained, was without end. Could it not have been that a good woman was meeker by nature and because of that readily accepted her status, whereas the bad woman was more vital, more energetic, with a stronger will of her own and because of that, much more frustrated. Her “wickedness” might have been her unconscious rebellion against her inability to make meaningful use of her natural gifts.  Rabbi Eleazar, a Talmudic teacher of the early part of the third century, has an interesting comment on the creation of woman, which has a bearing on this aspect of our discussion. We read in the Bible that G-d said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a help meet (sic?) for him.” [this verse] Its rather awkward English phrase stems from the fact that an attempt is made to get as accurate a rendering of the idiosyncrasy of the Hebrew text as possible. A more literal translation of the second part of the sentence would read: I will make him a help meet (sic?) opposite him. The phrase, “opposite him,” is explained by Rabbi Eleazar to mean: If a man deserves it, she will be a help meet to him; if not, she will be “opposite him,” i.e. against him. T.B. Yevamot 63b. It may well have been the case that the numerous shrews about whom Talmudic records know were the kind of women that the society or some men deserved. All those sweeping generalizations about women may say very little about what women are, but rather about what they become and the circumstances in which they had to live.  KELLNER 359-61

GENESIS — 5:1 likeness

It was Judaism that posited love of fellowman as the guiding principle of ethics; in doing so it incidentally illustrated its concept of the relationship between religion and ethics. The religious attitude finds its ultimate source in awareness of values in life and the world. It is characterized, moreover, by the effort to transcend the self-interests of the individual.  The pragmatic attitude underlying science takes things to be the “objects” of the experience and “environment” of the individual.  It evaluates them from a utilitarian viewpoint.  Religion, on the other hand, assumes that the personality is aware of itself in relationship to that which is beyond itself and its attitude towards the latter is based on the feeling of awe.  This attitude involves an absolute not a utilitarian evaluation.  The basic achievement of Jewish ethics is it application of this absolute evaluation whose original setting is the religious situation—man confronting G-d—to the area of life where man confronts his neighbor. On the simplest level, our fellow men are objects of our experience and really constitute a part of our environment. To be sure, in social life the relationship between persons takes on a specific character, one that distinguishes it from the individual’s relationship to all other objects. Common interests bind people together; occasionally, so closely together that the other may even become part of one’s own ego. Even on this level, the relationship to the other is still based, strictly speaking, on what may be called a higher selfishness.  The emotional stance toward the other may that of affection, aversion, or indifference.  In each instance, the motivation is subjective and determined by relative considerations. The Biblical commandment of love of one’s fellow man stands on an altogether different level. In its universalistic and normative character it demands that one’s fellow man should be not merely an object of personal affection but should rather be loved for his own sake.  In this paper, we propose to establish the theoretic meaning and religious basis of this universalistic and binding commandment and to define its scope and limits in the practical realm.  Ahad Ha-Am’s efforts in this direction In his essay “Between Two Stools” in Al Parashat Derakhim, vol IV were much too cursory and the apologetic tendency that informed his famous essay led him to formulate the differences between Jewish and Christian ethics somewhat superficially. The Hebrew essayist saw the basis of Jewish ethics in the twin ideas of justice and the moral worth of man. Aside from the fact that he deliberately omits the religious source of these ideas, he contrasts the “objective” value of justice, native to Judaism, with the “subjective” value of love central to Christian ethics. This characterization does not, as we have already indicated, exhaust the full meaning of the Biblical commandment of love of fellowman. Hermann Cohen, in his early writings, Ethik des reinen Willens, vol. II, pp. 116ff. approached the problem from a not too dissimilar viewpoint. On religious grounds, he found the ethic of love inadequate since by its very nature it is subjective and selective and hence far too limited to express the universalism that must be the hallmark of ethics. He proposed instead that ethics orient itself towards jurisprudence where the relationship of the self and other is most characteristically expressed in the legal contract. Whatever validity this criticism of the ethic of love and its alternative may possess, it is hardly applicable to Judaism in which the two—jurisprudence and ethics—are brought into an intimate relationship. Both Ahad Ha-Am’s grounding of Jewish ethics in the value of justice as opposed to love and Hermann Cohen’s critique of the latter are implied in a famous Talmudic controversy between Rabbi Akiva and Ben Azzai. Sifra Kedoshim and parallel passages. Rabbi Akiba declared the biblical commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself “the great maxim of the Torah.” For Ben Azzai, the essential role of the Torah is contained in [this verse]. As did Hillel before him, Rabbi Akiva followed the lead of the prophets who asserted that love was the highest demand made on man by religion. Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:8; Zachariah 7:9  With penetrating insight, Ben Azzai discerned in the verse in Genesis a broad and firm foundation for ethics— the essential unity of mankind and the dignity of the individual. KELLNER 162-4

GENESIS — 5:24 walked

It has been suggested that the Platonic imitatio Dei was derived from the teachings of Pythagoras, one of whose precepts was: “Follow G-d.” J. Burnet in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics X, 526 and others.  While this phrase is identical with the Biblical “walking after G-d,” it is noteworthy that the Scriptures do not use this expression prior to the Sinaitic Revelation. The accounts of the lives of the antediluvians and the patriarchs of Israel use the expression “to walk with G-d” and “to walk before G-d.” [This verse], Genesis 6:9; 17:1; 48:15.  Enoch and Noah walk with G-d. The patriarchs walk before Him. Neither of these phrases explicitly refers to the imitation of G-d or His ways. “To walk with G-d” implies a close companionship with Him (and the reflexive form mithalech perhaps indicate the intense efforts exerted to achieve this goal), with an earthly existence in the manner described by Plato. See commentary of S.R. Hirsch to [this verse]. Perhaps for this reason the locution “walking with G-d” is not applied to Israel’s patriarchs.  “To walk before G-d” maybe note either walking before Him to be scrutinized or to herald HIs coming. Genesis Rabbah 30:10 Those who walk before the Lord serve by their lives as an exemplar of the Divine attributes before the attributes are revealed. When G-d made His attributes known, the commandment to “walk after the Lord” became an exhortation to imitatio Dei. The phrase “to walk after G-d” is also found in later writings, e.g. 2 Kings 20:3; Ps. 116:9. “To walk with G-d” is not found again.  The Divine promise that G-d will walk in the midst of Israel so that He will be a G-d unto them and they a people unto Him Leviticus 26:12 may mean just this, that G-d will once again reveal His attributes to Israel in all their resplendent glory, so that Israel will truly be His people who embody in their collective and individual lives the exalted ideals of imitatio Dei. KELLNER 141-2

GENESIS — 9:22 saw

The generation of Noah was condemned to eradication by the Flood because they had sunk so low morally that, according to midrashic teaching, they wrote out formal marriage contracts for sodomy and buggery—a possible cryptic reference to such practices in the Rome of Nero and Hadrian. Of Ham, the son of Noah, we are told that “he saw the nakedness of his father” and told his two brothers [this verse]. Why should this act have warranted the harsh imprecation hurled at him by his father? The Rabbis offer two answers: one, that the text implied that Ham castrated Noah: second, that the biblical expression is an idiom for homosexual intercourse (see Rashi, ad loc.). On the scriptural story of Potiphar’s purchase of Joseph as a slave Genesis 39:1, the Talmud comments that he acquired him for homosexual purposes, but that a miracle occurred and G-d sent the angel Gabriel to castrate Potiphar Sotah 13bLeviticus Rabbah 18:13.  KELLNER 380

GENESIS — 18:17 shall

That G-d serves as the ideal pattern of righteousness and goodness provides the sages with a good reason to extol His scrupulous observance of the Law which He gave to His children. Kings of flesh and blood, they tell us, write laws for others, but disregard these laws themselves. The Holy One, however, sets an example of observance. Jerusalem Talmud. Rosh Hashanah I,3. He commanded that one should rise before the hoary head Leviticus 19:32, and He was the first to comply with this law. Ibid. He teaches men to pray by praying Himself. Berachot 7a. He puts on the phylacteries. Berachot 6a. He studies Torah and He teaches little children. Avodah Zarah 3b.  These imaginative and seemingly fantastic representations of G-d’s activities are, of course, not to be taken literally, and have a profound religious and ethical meaning…. They are, nevertheless, rendered in such a way as to serve the interests of imitatio Dei as well. … It is, after all, not man who is being imitated by G-d, but admirable virtues are ascribed to G-d, Who is best represented as their source an exemplar.  G-d Who is high and exalted is the paragon of humility. His concern is primarily for the lowly and humble. He is omniscient and omnipotent. Yet He consults with His angels and His prophets. The ascription of humility to G-d is intended to serve as an example for the rulers and the mighty among men. Sanhedrin 38b, [this verse]. KELLNER 134

GENESIS — 18:25 justice

The fact remains that the existence of national morality is clearly assumed in much that is quite central to our tradition. Discussion of theodicy is predicated upon it. As Benjamin Whichcote, Discourses, the seventeenth century Cambridge Platonist, pointed out, one cannot ask, “Shall, then, the judge of the whole Earth not do justice?” [this verse] unless one assumes the existence of an unlegislated justice to which, as it were, G-d Himself is bound; and which, one might add, man can at least apprehend sufficiently to ask the question. Or again, any attempt at rationalizing Halakha—an endeavor already found in Hazal, although much more fully elaborated by rishonim—presupposes an axiological frame of reference, independent of Halakha, in the light of which it can be interpreted. It makes no sense to say, with Abaye, that “the whole of the Torah… is for the purpose of promoting peace,” Gittin 59b unless the ethical value of peace can be taken for granted. The same holds true with respect to suggesting reasons for specific mitzvot. [Note: Original source Is Aharon Lichtenstein, “Does Jewish Tradition Recognize an Ethic Independent of Halakha?”] KELLNER 103.

GENESIS — 26:22 moved

Jewish pacifists rely on a number of quotations from Scriptures in order to support their view.   To Isaiah Zechariah they add Jeremiah, who urged, “Bring your necks under the yoke of the King of Babylon and serve him and live.” Support for their view is also derived from the patriarch Isaac’s non-resistance to the perpetual Philistine vandalism [Genesis 26:18-this verse]. A remarkable passage is quoted from Josephus who said that the Jewish statesman, Agrippa, pleaded with his countrymen for non-resistance to the Romans, and, in a speech, said, “Nothing so much damps the force of strokes as bearing them with patience; and the quietness of those who were injured diverts the injurious persons from afflicting” Jewish Wars II 16-351. Many quotations can be cited from Talmudic literature which reflect a spirit of non-violence. For example, “Be of the persecuted rather than the persecutors” Bava Kamma 93a.   “Who is the hero of heroes? He who transmuteth a foe into a friend.” Avot De Rabbi Nathan 23   Clearly, however, the citation of verses is inconclusive. For every illustration of an Isaac’s nonresistance to vandalism by the Philistines, there are five examples of resistance to violence, such as Abram’s war with the Kings. For every verse supporting pacifism there are five supporting war when a just peace cannot be achieved. G-d is called Shalom, “Peace”; He is also called Ish Milhamah, “A man of war.” The Psalms (33:16) say, "A mighty man is not delivered by great strength;” while Deuteronomy (13:6) says, “Thou shalt forcibly remove evil from the midst of thee.”   Although Isaiah and Micah pleaded that swords be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hoax, Joel, in bitter irony, cautioned the nations to transform plowshares into swords and printing hooks into spears. In addition, there is a “sense of the Bible” that can be derived from the spirit and the style of the whole capital and rabbinic literature. If an ideal such as pacifism were a divine imperative, a fundamental Jewish ethic, one would not need a verse here or there, an incident in Genesis, a quotation from Avot, in order to substantiate it. There would be an unmistakable literary and historical pattern. Instead, the pronouncements, even if they are pacifistic in nature, are without pathos and passion. One looks in vain, in the few declarations of pacifism, for the same intensity that we find uttered in the cause of peace (shalom), which appears some 220 times in Scripture alone, and in almost every major prayer.   The prophets preach peace, but denounce those who cry “’peace’ when there is no peace.” The greatest desire for peace cannot, by itself, avert war. “The watchman,” Ezekiel cries, “who sees the sword come, and blows not the horn so that the people may be forewarned for battle, and someone thereby dies in the vain hope for peace; his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand” (33:6).   Leading Jewish thinkers have recognized that no definitive Jewish stand can be derived from explicit statements in the Bible. It is my conviction that the Jewish tradition rejects pacifism, the comprehensive objection to all wars not only because there is no specific Biblical authority, but because the very concept contradicts, and even betrays, the Jewish spirit.   KELLNER 222-224

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