Saturday, 22 January 2011

Deifying Rabbis

Humans are selfish and when it comes down to it they won't do anything unless they perceive some sort of reward. (Of course the definition of a "reward" can be quite fluid)

Why follow halacha? What practical benefits will halacha bring to my life?
A. It will keep God happy and failure to keep halacha will make him mad
B. It will make my life better. After all God knows what actions lead to a good life.
C. God said so and he's really smart. Presumably he had a good reason.

All these reasons and variations thereof are all great reasons to keep the Torah. However there is the slightly inconvenient issue that most of Rabbinical Judaism is Rabbinical. In other words most of the rituals, blessings, and celebrations we practice did not come straight from God but rather were instituted by Rabbis.

And that brings us to a problem of incentive. It's all well and good to dedicate ones life to GOD's word. Because God knows best. But unfortunately this reason will only suffice to explain a small fraction of the large corpus of mostly Rabbinical halacha. What of the rest? Why keep it?

Well from a legal standpoint we have the famous derasha לא תסור מן הדבר אשר יגידו לך ימין ושמאל . This verse, according to the Gemara is a commandment from God to listen to the Rabbis. Their word is His word.

But perhaps that just doesn't cut it. Still Rabbis are humans. Correct? What if they make a mistake? Why would a wise God command us to follow a mistaken pesak, or takana? And why should I follow a halacha made up by a mortal man if I don't agree with that halacha? What makes Rabbi So and So cleverer than me?  

Perhaps it is these "dangerous" questions which led to another doctrine. A doctrine that makes the words of the Rabbis equivalent to God's not just legally but also literally.

Perhaps the Rabbis were more than human. Perhaps they were actually infallible "angels" with a direct line to God. They weren't speaking as humans but rather through Ruach Hakodesh. The Gemara is just as much the word of God as the Torah because the Rabbis were but mouthpieces for the almighty.

It follows that we should take the miraculous stories about them literally. After all people with a direct line to God surely can perform miracles. And it also follows that people with a direct line to God not only knew Torah but also knew all of science, history, and everything. If the Rabbis are but God's proxies on Earth then their word is God's word. And God can't be wrong.

The Chareidi "deification" of Chazal is not just naivete or literalism. It serves a fundamental purpose in religious incentive. We want to follow the dictates of the All-knowing Almighty - not the interpretations of mortal men - no matter how clever they are. Because man can be wrong but God cannot. Therefore a new "species" of men must be invented. Men who are angels is the most literal sense - literal messengers of God. Following these people is analogous to following God himself. 

And then one can sleep safely at night knowing that not only do the Rabbis want you to say Keriat Shma Al Hamitta. But also God בכבודו ובעצמו

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The Zohar

There's been some recent talk recently on the blogosphere about how old the Zohar is. Jewish mysticism and the Zohar in particular happen to be personal interests of mine so i thought I'd add some thoughts.

Before one even looks at Isaiah Tishby's impressive array of arguments against Tannaitic authorship of the Zohar (Introduction to Mishnat HaZohar) one has to ask a more basic question. Which is why did a book which was purportedly written in the 2nd century not get quoted directly or even mentioned until the late 13th century?

Unless there was an incredible consensus, on the level of a conspiracy, to keep a well known work out of any written work for hundreds of years, then its fairly safe to assume that no one or almost no one knew about the Zohar until the days of Moshe De Leon.

Which would make sense if it weren't written until his days. 

But no fear. There are various stories about how Moshe De Leon obtained the heretofore forgotten book. And it's even accepted among various mekubalim that the Zohar was "revealed" after a period of being "lost". I forget who said it but it was something to the extent of "How fortunate I am to be born in a generation when the Zohar was revealed"

This is all well and good but one should generally not trust mysterious texts found in caves and delivered by ship to Spain. How did Moshe De Leon know that the text he "revealed" was written by Rashbi? How did anyone know that it was written by Rashbi? Mesora? But we've already pointed out that there was clearly a long period of time when the book was generally not known as attested to by its absence in hundreds of Rabbinic texts over a time span of almost a thousand years. (Again I mean direct quotations, books have been written trying to find "Zoharic" concepts in earlier Rabbinic literature)

Is it possible that the ideas of the Zohar were always around from the times of Rashbi and that it was merely put in writing in the 13th century? Is it possible that a chain of secret mekubalim handed down the Zohar secretly over thousands of years only "revealing" it in the 13th century?

Anything is possible. But I find it quite unlikely.

Perhaps more discussion to follow.....