Monday, 24 September 2007

An Enlightened View From a Traditional Jew

Originally published 9/24/07, 11:22 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
From the Avodah List. Posted with Daniel Eidensohn's permission

On 9/24/07, Daniel Eidensohn wrote:
I just came across an interesting article written 30 years ago by Blu Greenberg - "Judaism 27:3 1978 p. 351-363."
Rabbi Jacob Emden:
The views of an enlightened Traditionalist on

page 358 "In his commentary Eitz Avos (40b-41a) on Pirkei Avot (4:11), Emden describes Christianity as a "religion in the service of God," a religion which God sees as good and, therefore, He sustains it; it came to spread the word of God to those 'who, until then, had worshipped wood and stone, who denied the existence of God altogether, who did not believe in good and evil, or in the afterlife. Christianity spread the notion of one God, one Ruler of all the universe who metes out justice to His creations. Christians accept the seven Noahide Laws and many other mitzvot which they voluntarily take upon themselves. In addition to these good qualities, God also gave them prophecy through their righteous ones, and through these prophets gave them laws and commandments by which to live. Because of all this - because they met these tests of a holy community-their religion was upheld and maintained by God. Emden continues: these two families, Christianity and Mohammedanism, which God selected as vehicles to bring faith into the world, were never brought under the yoke of mitzvot of the Torah; their fathers never gave it to them, nor did they stand at Sinai; neither were they slaves in Egypt; therefore, they are not obligated for the 613 mitzvos and are thus exempt from the prohibition of shittuf. Emden concludes with the repetition of a previous theme: though some of their evil ones cause us sorrow with their violent actions and false accusations, there are righteous ones who protect us from those who rise up against Jews, and wise ones among them who search for truth in our works and find no fault in our faithfulness to our Torah and mitzvot. "

Shailos Yaavetz (1:41):

*… *Non‑Jews who have not been acquired as slaves are not comparable to animals and have familial relations and this is surely true concerning these nations which have religion and a legal system and they believe in the Creator of the world who runs it and gives reward and punishment as well aas believing in a number of other fundamental principles. So even though they worship many deities they are not in fact prohibited to do that - as our sages have said that non‑Jews are not prohibited concerning shituf (Devarim 4:19)… They believe that there are intermediaries that G‑d uses to run this world such as stars and angels as well as many other agents for G‑d's providence over the world. Thus they include these agents in their worship of G‑d saying that it is G‑d's will that they give some honor to G‑d's servants and in a sense the servant of the king is like a king. This is the religion of most idolators in the world as is well known…

Daniel Eidensohn


Anonymous said...

Be careful who you quote. I've been told by people that the Shaalas Yaavetz also permits concubines in this day and age, something our spouses would not agree do, no matter how much we played up Rav Emden's halachic proficiency.
His statement of shituf regarding Christianity isn't, to my understanding, correct. J.C., may his name be blotted out, is not a partner of God but a physical incarnation of the Divine (complete with Mary committing adultery with God Himself to start the story off). It takes the concept of what we understand to be the Godhead and twists it into a completely pagan style.
Any morality which has developed in the Western world in the last 2000 years has developed despite Christianity, not because of it.

Rabbi Richard Wolpoe said...

Re: Concubines This is the kind of ad hominem attack to which I have referred, to on other postss. Let's stick to the issue at hand and eschew ideosyncratic views on other issues. Any poseik can have a controversial point and still be quite logical on another point. Each Point should be appeciated on its own unless we are dealing with a thoroughly flawed character.

A certain Gadol's wife did not cover her hair - should we disregard his Torah on that basis? Some say so. I reject that guilt by association mentality.

Rabbi Richard Wolpoe said...

RE: JC. My point is not the details here. The facts may indeed support your read that JC is not true shittuf but something qualitatively different and qualitatively worse. It's a very valid point and on point.

However, the point of the post was that within the Traditional Rabbinical world there were very open-minded people despite a lot of pressure to be insular. It is THAT aspect that is to be applauded. We of course have every right to question that bigger question and to quibble on details of the smaller questions - especially when those details are debatable.


Rabbi Richard Wolpoe said...

I also firmly believe that the more harmoniosly we perceive our Christian neighbors, the more likely we will be able to influence them to a more Halachically improved point of view. Of course caution is needed because influence might become reciprocal.

With those Christian friends who are not so dogmatic, I have attempted to have them see JC as more of a human prophet or guru etc. in order to move them away from "avoda Zoro mamash". I think the Rambam requires us to proseltyze to Noahides re: the 2 mitzvos. If that is true, it behooves us to either make Christianity as Halchically palatble for Noahides as possible, or to have them reconsider Chsitianity completely.

I side with Ya'avetz that Christianity is a net good, even when falwed. And it is better to make a Tikkun Olam on that institution then to chuck in favor of secularism etc.

This hearkens back to the old debate - which is worse idolatry or atheism? I cannot say for sure for a Jew which is worse but for a Noahide, I would posit Idolatry, especially one that has SOME Monotheistic elements albeit not pure.

Some New Age movements [e.g A Course in Miracles see JC more as a guru who transended human limitations rather than as an actual shittuf in the Godhead. I think this less dogmatic view of JC is a step in the right direction to see JC as a positive role mode as opposed to an object of adoration. IOW just as JC transcended his human limitations to be vindictive, et.c and to teach love and forgiveness, so should we all. In that model JC is merely a pointer to being Godly [akin to our mitzva of bechol drachav do'eihu] as opposed to being a Divine Being.

I am Not basing this so much on a firm Halahcic basis but more on a concept of developing a more evolved concept or Religion for Noahides in general. And I think it makes sense for us to encourage that kind of evolution as a step to the Messianic Ideal in Isieah of "Da'as Hashem."

Of course, like any keiruv movement, there is a real risk of contamination.


Anonymous said...

I would posit that Christianity is worse that idolatry or atheism. Idolators traditionally hated Jews because we didn't worship their idols. Atheists hate Jews because we don't worship ourselves in the absence of a Godhead like them and they hate anyone who disagrees with them.
Christians, on the other hand:
a) Claim that our God dumped us like a cheap date and now hangs with them
b) Claim that, in fact, He hates us for killing Him through His incarnation as his "son"
c) Claim that everything we were supposed to inherit really belongs to them.

The reason we get along with Christians so well today is not because of anything positive in that religion. It's because they're lousy Christians who, on average, don't know the first thing about their faith and don't care passionately about it. Pogroms and Inquisitions are a sign of Christian piety, after all.

Rabbi Richard Wolpoe said...

Anonymous misses the point.
Life is not ALWAYS about bwhetehr it is GOOD for the JEWS or BAD for the JEWS. It is this fanatic Jduaeo-Centric point of view that probably breeds even MORE anti-Smitism.

Take the Holocost. jews seem to think that Hitlerwas bad ONLY to hte Jews. This is unfari and insulting. Hitler harmed a lot of non-Jews, too.

Back to our point. I would agree that idolators over history have been KINDER TO Jews than Christians. my point is what is better for the WORLD as a whiole? paganism or Chisstianity. Virtually every poseik I know would favor Christianity as introducing Scripture and other noble and evolved ideas and idelas to the world at large. See Rambam for example.

The point of Evoling Noahides to a higher level does not preclude the fact that on the way they did the Crusades and pogroms etc.

Just the facts are this. Remvoe the Jews fro mthe seen and Christians are more evolved spiritually and interpersonally than the Romans or the Visigoths. That doesn't say much but it is useful.

Even martin Luther penned that JC was a after-all a Jew - during Luther's pro-Jewish early career.

Rabbi Richard Wolpoe said...

One last point about R. Ya'kiv Emdem. Regardless of what he wrote in other places, it does not take away from having an enlightening thng to say HERE on THIS topic.

And just because Martin Luther advocated persecuting Jews late in his career does not negate that what he wrote earlier was kind to the Jews. You can hate the sinner and still admire some of his positive contributions. Look At Bil'am! We quote him daily in the davening!

I gues it boils down to this -
If you are a Red Sox fan - do you posite that your Worlds SEries Victories in 196 & 1918 should be returned because the pitching star was Babe Ruth who would LATER ON star for the Yankees as a slugger? Or do you judge it ba'asher who sham?

I think you leave emotions on and judge each case separately. That is imho the enlightened view of Rabbi Meir when it came to learning from Elisha Ben Avuya. Throw out the waste and keep the fruit.

The Right wing world opposes college on teh same grounds, guilt by association. The more "enlightened" Orthodox realize that you can learn a lot by discriminating the good aspects from the evil aspects.

If you lack such discernment, then it points to becoming more and more isolated like a hermit such as R.Shimon bar Yochai.

Discernment is the rational persons's tool for taking the good out of the bad.