Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Minchas Asher on Vaccinations

"A person is obligated to make sure he and his family are properly vaccinated." the opinion of HaRav Asher Weiss shlita.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

An Arbitrary Patchwork

Originally Posted on Sept. 1, '09:

Please do not point, in reply, to the current efforts to reform Judaism. There indeed, everything that does not harmonize with today's concepts of the destiny of man or the needs of the time is being pared away little by little. But its this not itself a step outside Judaism? Would it not be better, then, to adopt and implement these current concepts consistently, on their own, instead of tying them to ideas that are at variance with them which can only produce an arbitrary patchwork.("Benjamin", The Nineteen Letters, letter 1)

While Reform has become a distinct movement, the reform which Rav Hirsch zt"l dismisses still shows its head in our own communities.

While Orthopraxy is hard enough for me to understand, I find it even harder to understand the mindset of those who identify as believers yet seem un-deterred from rejecting any traditional belief which they find too hard to swallow. As long as the denial doesn't lead to the rejection of one of the principles of faith (or even if it does for many people) then it's fair game. Little thought is given as to whether one is left with a coherent religious philosophy when one is done.

In truth though, while the logic of this approach is dubious, it can serve as a powerful answer to the yetzer hara. One's evil inclination will try to attack one's resolve for learning Torah and doing mitzvos by asking "what if"? What if it's not true, what if you're wrong, etc? One should simply remind oneself of all those yidden who frequent Orthodox blogs which primarily discuss halachic and hashkafic topics yet when the topic comes up they don't really believe the Torah is from Sinai etc. Those people don't believe it is true, yet they still lehrn! Why shouldn't I, who only has fleeting doubts provoked by my yetzer hara, do likewise?

This illustrates the attraction of a Yid's neshamah to Torah. A Yid may have succumbed to heretical or erroneous beliefs c'v, but in the end he is happier at least maintaining an arbitrary patchwork than entirely abandoning Yiddishkeit.

*The Nineteen Letters translated by R. Joseph Elias, page 6.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tvunah: Slavery in the Torah

An interesting question and answer from HaRav Asher Weiss shlita via his interesting new project Tvunah:

Shalom Aleichem,

From a comparative standpoint the laws of the Torah regarding slavery (both those explicitly in the Torah sh’bichtav and those in the Torah shebaal peh) are superior to those of the other nations of the day and even those practiced in the United States less than two hundred years ago. Indeed the value placed on freedom in the Torah helped influence the modern world to prohibit the practice.

Nevertheless while I can understand why the Torah may not prohibit the practice outright (since we see from the Navi even the halachos that were given were not observed and ‘one who grasps too much grabs nothing’) yet I find it very difficult to understand why the Torah allows someone to own another person as personal property the way one would own a kli or a behamah (כי כספו הוא)?

Furthermore I find it difficult to understand why the emancipation of slaves (עבד כנעני) is prohibited, even if there are a variety of leniencies in this regard.

These ideas seem to be very difficult to reconcile with דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד ? Does the Rav have any thoughts that can help me understand these issues?

The answer can be found here.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Has Amalek been Destroyed?

While I have been ruminating on the following idea and its consequences for a number of years, particularly around Purim, a question over at Mi Yodeya about whether or not Amalek has been destroyed prompted me to present the idea in its basic form:

While I haven't seen it spelled out per say, presumably because the mitzvah still has a very real relevance, it seems clear from the sources that while it wasn't preformed in the "lechatchila"/optimal manner the mitzvah in its primary manifestation was fulfilled by Shaul (or more correctly Shmuel):
From the Gemara in Sanhedrin (20b, see also Rashi) we see the mitzvah of cutting off Amelek was a prerequisite for the building of the Temple:
סנהדרין כ:ב תניא רבי יוסי אומר שלש מצות נצטוו ישראל בכניסתן לארץ להעמיד להם מלך ולהכרית זרעו של עמלק ולבנות להם בית הבחירה ואיני יודע איזה מהן תחילה כשהוא אומר כי יד על כס יה מלחמה לה' בעמלק הוי אומר להעמיד להם מלך תחילה ואין כסא אלא מלך שנאמר וישב שלמה על כסא ה' למלך ועדיין איני יודע אם לבנות להם בית הבחירה תחלה או להכרית זרעו של עמלק תחילה כשהוא אומר והניח לכם מכל אויביכם וגו' והיה המקום אשר יבחר ה' וגו' הוי אומר להכרית זרעו של עמלק תחילה וכן בדוד הוא אומר ויהי כי ישב המלך דוד בביתו וה' הניח לו מסביב וכתיב ויאמר המלך אל נתן הנביא ראה נא אנכי יושב בבית ארזים וגו'
“It has been taught: R. Jose said: Three commandments were given to Israel when they entered the land; [i] to appoint a king; [ii] to cut off the seed of Amalek; [iii] and to build themselves the chosen house and I do not know which of them has priority. But, when it is said: The hand upon the throne of the Lord, the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation ,(Exodus 17:16) we must infer that they had first to set up a king, for ‘throne’ implies a king, as it is written, Then Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as king (1 Chron. 29:23). Yet I still do not know which [of the other two] comes first, the building of the chosen Temple or the cutting off of the seed of Amalek. Hence when it is written, And when He giveth you rest from all your enemies round about etc., and then, Then it shall come to pass that the place which the Lord your God shall choose, (Deut. 12:10) it is to be inferred that the extermination of Amalek is first. And so it is written of David, And it came to pass when the king dwelt in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from his enemies round about, and the passage continues; that the king said unto Nathan the Prophet: See now, I dwell in a house of cedars etc. [Soncino]
Which is brought down as halachah in the Mishneh Torah:
משנה תורה: הלכות מלכים ומלחמותיהם א:ב מנוי מלך קדם למלחמת עמלק, שנאמר: "אתי שלח ה' למשחך למלך עתה לך והכיתה את עמלק". והכרתת זרע עמלק קודמת לבנין הבית, שנאמר: "ויהי כי ישב המלך בביתו וה' הניח לו מסביב מכל איביו. ויאמר אל נתן הנביא, אנכי יושב בבית ארזים וגו'"
The appointment of a king should precede the war against Amalek. [This is evident from Samuel’s charge to King Saul] (I Samuel 15:1-3): “God sent me to anoint you as king . . . Now, go and smite Amalek.” Amalek’s seed should be annihilated before the construction of the Temple, as [II Samuel 7:1-2] states: “And it came to pass, when the king dwelled in his palace, and God gave him peace from all enemies who surrounded him, the king said to Nathan, the prophet: Look! I am dwelling in a house of cedar, . . . [but the ark of God dwells within curtains]. [Moznaim]
This seems consistent with the peshuto shel mikra (plain meaning) of 1 Samuel 15 where it is related that King Saul destroyed the nation of Amalek, only sparing King Agag and animals (although he was not supposed to spare either). King Agag, however, was executed by Shmuel after he rebuked Saul for his disobedience. That this commandment found its historical fulfillment doesn't detract from its status as a commandment. Yet it seems to me that although Amalek was destroyed in a literal sense, a prerequisite for building the Temple as we have seen, by failing to do so as commanded Saul allowed the ["disembodied"] spirit of Amalek to live on. It is in this sense that we find the primary significance of Haman's descent from Amalek regardless of how literal we should take the midrashim about Agag siring offspring during his brief period in custody. Haman is called Agagi, not Amalaki, he carries on the "spirit" and "mission" of Amalek not as Amalek strictly defined but because the Bnei Yisrael failed to preform the mitzvah as commanded even though the end result was equivalent.

Of course there is still a lot to be said about this, but a recognition that the mitzvah in its primary sense was fulfilled already means that the more disturbing particulars were, l'maaseh, relevant only when a)there was open prophecy and miracles and b)when the norms of war made it easier for such things to qualify as necessary. In contrast we can anticipate that the future and final rectification of Shaul's error in the Messianic era will address the spiritual root cause.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Rivevos Ephraim: On is required to imagine as if the Shechinah is before him the entire day.

רבבות אפרים חלק א סימן א
צריך לחשוב כאילו שכינה כנגדו כל היום

נראה במה שכתב המחבר בסימן צ"ח המתפלל צריך שיכון וכו' ויחשוב כאילו שכינה כנגדו דיש לכון כל היום  אפילו שלא בשעת תפילה דהשכינה כנגדו, והוא ממה שכתב הרמ"א בסימן א' סעיף א' כשישים האדם אל לבו שהמלך הגדול הקב"ה אשר מלא כל הארץ כבודו עומד עליו ורואה במעשיו. הרי דהרמ"א הביא דין זה אפילו שלא בשעת התפילה וכמו שכתב הרמב"ם במורה נבוכים ח"ג פנ"ג (ומ"ש ברמ"א וכן בדרכי משה בשינוי פרק ל"ב ט"ס וצ"ל נ"ב.) כשניעור משנתו בבקר מיד יחשוב בלבו לפני מי הוא עומד. ועיין עוד במורה נבוכים ח"א פי"ט. וא"כ כל היום יחשוב כאילו שכינה כנגדו וזה יועיל שלא יתנהג שלא כהוגן. ועיין בספר אשדת הפסגה לידידי הרב שמואל אברהם מלצר שליט"א בסימן א', ועיין בשו"ת יין הטוב סימן א' להגר"י ניסים שליט"א דהעיר דמגמרא דסנהדרין כ"ב משמע דיחשוב דשכינה כנגדו כל היום ולא רק בשעת תפילה. ועיין מה שביאר הדברים בטוב טעם בשו"ת חמדת צבי להגרמ"ר וולנר שליט"א בסימן ב'. וכתב לבאר דיש ג' מעלות בכונת התפילה. ועיין חיי אדם כלל כ"ב אות י"א בשמו"ע ויעמוד באימה ויראה כי השכינה נגד המתפלל וישים אל לבו אף שבלאו הכי מלא כל הארץ כבודו מ"מ עכשו עומדת לנגדו.

On is required to imagine as if the Shechinah is before him the entire day.

It appears from what the Mechaber has written in chapter 98 [of the Shulchan Aruch] that one who prays must have the intent… and imagine as if the divine presence is before him. Nevertheless there is basis throughout the entire day to consider that the divine presence is before him and not only during the times of prayer.  This is what is written by the Rema in chapter 1, seif 1, [of the Shulchan Aruch] that a person should place upon his heart that the Great King, the Holy One blessed be He (whose Glory fills the entire world) stands before him and observes his actions.  Note that the Rema applies this ruling even when it is not during times of prayer, just as was written by the Rambam in the Moreh Nevuchim 3:53 (….) that when one awakes from his sleep in the morning he should immediately contemplate in his heart before Whom he stands, and see further in the Moreh Nevuchim 1:19. Therefore one should consider as if the divine presence stands before him throughout the day, and this will assist him avoid impropriety. And look in the first chapter of Sefer Ashdot HaPisgah of my friend haRav Shmuel Avraham Meltzer shlita, and also in the first chapter of Sh’ut Yayin Tov by haRav haGaon Yitzchak Nissim shlita who stated from the Gemara Sanhedrin 22 that we can infer that one should consider it as if the divine presence stood before him the entire day and not only during prayer.  And see how the matter is clarified with good reasoning in the second chapter of Sh’ut Chemdas Tzvi by haGaon Rav Moshe Dov Vilner shlita, and he writes that there are three levels of preparation for prayer.  And see Chayei Adam: klal 22:11 that during Shemoneh Esrei one stands in fear and awe since the divine presence is before one who prays. One must take it to heart that even though His Glory fills the earth in any case, nevertheless now he is standing before Him.

(Any comments on how to improve this rough translation are welcome)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Olive Seedlings on Emunah Peshuta

After checking out the Blog of someone whose comments I found refreshing I was pleased to come across the following post at Olive Seedlings on Emunah Peshuta:

While we, today, no longer have that degree of direct knowledge, we do have the historical tradition of that experience, which (among other things) provides a rational basis for our belief in God and the Divine origin of the Torah. With that basis, we can then have faith, of the rational kind, that even when we do not understand why God does something, there must be a good reason for it.
It is only in this context that the concept of emuna peshuta - simple faith - comes into play. We trust God because we have simple faith in Him. But before we can trust him, we must first know that He exists. That initial knowledge cannot be based upon "simple faith." 

It touches  upon some of the same issue as I discuss here

Monday, April 15, 2013

"Who is the "son unto Me"?

2 Samuel 7:14, 1 Chronicles 17:13

--Hebrews 1:5

"I shall be a Father unto him and he shall be a son unto Me"

The first chapter of Hebrews is the only place in the Christian Scriptures which makes a serious attempt to prove the Nazarene is divine using the T’nakh.

In these parallel passages from Samuel and Chronicles, God is speaking to David telling him that he is not the one to build the Temple, his son is. Christians argue that this refers to David's "greater son", the Nazarene. However the reference is clearly to Solomon as you can tell by reading the passages.

"And Hashem informs you that Hashem will establish a dynasty for you. When your days are complete and you lie with your forefathers, I shall raise up after you your offspring who will issue from your loins, and I shall make his kingdom firm. He shall build a Temple for My sake, and I shall make firm the throne of his kingdom forever. I shall be a Father unto him and he shall be a son unto Me, so that when he sins I will chastise him with the rod of men and with afflictions of human beings." (2 Samuel 7:11-14, Stone Edition, emphasis added)

"I will raise up after you your offspring who will be from among your sons, and I shall make his kingdom firm. He shall build a Temple for Me, and I shall make his throne firm forever. I shall be a Father unto him and he shall be a son unto Me, and I shall never remove My kindness from him, as I removed it from the one who preceded you." (1 Chronicles 17:11-13)

Solomon is the one who built the Temple for Hashem. Nineteen of his descendants ruled over Judah on the throne of David. The true Mashiach will be a descendant of Solomon, the legitimate heir to David’s throne (notice that Luke records the Nazarene as having descended from Solomon's brother Nathan who was not the royal heir). If these passages referred to the Nazarene, why does it say, "when he sins"? Christianity can't even say, "if he sins" because it is impossible for the perfect Nazarene to sin. "In the famous prophecy of 2 Samuel 7 where Christ is prefigured in terms of Solomon, the expression "if he commit iniquity" cannot refer to Christ." (Protestant Biblical Interpretation, page 252).

The T’nakh itself tells us that these word were said regarding Solomon. David made many preparations for the building of the Temple and told Solomon. "My son, I had in mind to build a Temple for the Name of Hashem, my God, but the word of Hashem came to me, saying, You have shed much blood and have made great wars; you shall not build a Temple for My Name's sake, for you have shed much blood upon the ground before Me. Behold, a son will be born to you; he will be a man of rest, and I shall grant him rest from all his enemies all around. His name will be Solomon, and I will bestow peace and tranquility upon Israel in his days. He will build a Temple for My Name's sake; he will be a son to Me and I will be a Father to him. And I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever." (1 Chronicles 22:6-10)

These verses clearly identify Solomon as the "son of God", not the Nazarene. Many Christian apologists automatically suggest that this is a dual prophecy, referring to Solomon in its plain sense but alluding to the Messiah. But if the passage applies to the Messiah and Solomon equally then it cannot show it is appropriate to worship the Messiah unless it also shows it is appropriate to worship Solomon as well, they are the same words after all. "The interpreter should take the literal meaning of a prophetic passage as his limiting or controlling guide." (Protestant Biblical Interpretation, page 253). You do no more to demonstrate that you can worship Messiah, whom the passage refers to secondarily at best, than to show you can worship Solomon (חו״ש). Even if you wished to argue, ignoring the context, that it could be understood in such a manner it certainly doesn’t predict that the Messiah is divine. You can only infer such an idea if you already accepted it. It is the result of belief in the Nazarene, not it’s cause.

Solomon, like Israel in Hosea 11:1, is described as God's son because of the unique relationship they have. Israel is God’s chosen people and Solomon is the leader of that people. He is the one who reigned after David and it is he whom David himself identifies as the subject of the prophecy according to the T'nakh itself.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Who is "David's Fallen Sukkah"?

On that day I will raise up the fallen booth [i.e. sukkah] of David; I will repair their breaches and raise up its ruins, and i will build it up as in days of old so that they upon whom My Name is called may inherit the remnant of Edom and all the nations--the word of Hashem, Who shall do this (Amos 9:11-12, Stone Edition).
According to Christian Scriptures (Acts 15:16), James cites this verse, albeit conjoined to entirely separate verses, in connection with their topic of the role on non-Jews in their new faith. It would seem from the line of reasoning James is presenting, as well as the general tenor of the Christian scripture's use of verses in the T'nakh, that James understood that David's booth (which had fallen but was risen) was a reference to the Messiah whom they believed to be the Nazarene. Indeed Herbert Lockyer (All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible) understands it is such a manner (as do many other missionaries, no doubt).

Of course those familiar with the Biblical narrative immediately recognize that the "fallen booth of David" is a reference to the Davidic dynasty which ceased to reign over most of the tribes of Israel after the reign of Solomon. As highlighted by Rabbi David Kimchi 's commentary, "Since [Amos] stated the kingdom of Ephraim would fall, he now states that, in contrast, the kingdom of David would be raised up. It is symbolized by the tabernacle [sukkah] because it affords shelter to the people." (transl. by Rabbi A.J. Rosenberg, Twelve Prophets, vol. 1, Judaica Press). The Moshiach, the Messiah, is not "the fallen booth of David" but just the opposite, he is its rectification.

In line with our previous observations, this straight-forward and obvious interpretation is also the one favored by Evangelical scholars applying normal and sound exegetical principals:

David's dynasty, which had been a protective canopy over all the people of Israel, had "fallen" with the great schism o the 10 Northern tribes from the 2 Southern tribes (1 Kings 12). This booth [i.e. sukkah] had been broken in two. But God promised to unite the two kingdoms once again under Davidic rule (cf. Jer. 30:3-10; Ezek. 37:15-28; Hosea 3:4-5). He will restore the sheltering tend, repair its broken places, building it as it used to be. ( J. F. Walvoord, R. B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, page 1451)

 While this passage is, it would seem, legitimately messianic in its meaning this does not mean that the Messiah would be "fallen".  The Messianic aspect of this passage is the reversal of this fallen state.  There is simply no need, nor any basis, to understand "David's fallen booth" as being the Messiah. Instead the Messiah will be the first king to reign over a united kingdom of Israel since the days of Solomon.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Why would a Good Person make a Bad Argument (Supporting a True Conclusion)? (Recycled)

Originally posted  9/5/08 5:20 PM:

We encounter a similar situation in poetry. The goal of those who teach mechanics and construction of poetry is to implant in their students the ability to compose poetry that is as perfectly balanced and technically correct as that of a born poet. Those who are naturally gifted poets, however, compose beautiful poetry without instruction; they would be stifled by the technical terms and mechanical concepts of formal instruction. (Metzudah Kuzari, page 7)

To say [that only the student of logic can reason well or correctly] would be as mistaken as to say that to run well requires studying the physics and physiology involved in that activity. Some excellent athletes are quite ignorant of the complex processes that go on inside themselves when they perform. And, needless to say, the somewhat elderly professors who know most about such things would perform very poorly where they to risk their dignity on the athletic field…But given the same native keenness of intellect, a person who has studied logic is more likely to reason correctly than one who has never though about the general principles involved in that activity. (Introduction to Logic, Copi, page 4)

Quite often, on any number of issues, a person may believe something that is true for reasons which are faulty or insufficient. It should not be too surprising that some of these individuals prove gifted in presenting their “arguments” in a persuasive manner influencing others to accept their fallacious reasoning. While it is obvious that one presented with such an argument need not accept it, it is quite another thing to dis-affirm the conclusion.

Often the difficulty with various arguments for the existence of God (or other conclusions) is that they are presented in a form that they are not. An argument which the arguer believes to be persuasive is presented as a deductive argument when it is really inductive. Rather than correctly presenting an argument as sufficient reason to accept the existence of God ,the arguer over reaches and implies that God’s existence is the only possible conclusion. Implausible alternatives are deemed impossible. I believe that this tendency is found among the Philosophers who sought absolute proof of the existence of God, and I believe that this is one of the reason the great Sages of Israel largely abandoned the philosophical approach in favor of Emunah Peshuta. Our world is one of concealment of God, and anything else would negate free will. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t reason to believe in God, but that there must be room for an unbeliever to equivocate.

I cannot claim that I am an intellectual purist who would always protest against someone for holding a correct view for the wrong reasons. I suspect that in many instances everyone involved may benefits from turning a blind eye to such logical transgressions. Nevertheless when it comes to defending our faith I think we must be extremely cautious with our choice of arguments. If someone becomes a Ba’al Teshuvah based on reasoning that they latter find to be faulty, then there is great potential for them to become despondent and forsake observance (ח״ו) when they learn of their error. At very least it can become a nagging doubt which the yetzer hara will exploit.

And when we see someone great offer up a problematic argument I suggest that we should approach it the same way as is done in halachah, with a polite צ״ע and a recognition of the Rambam's admontion that, "whenever the words of a person can be interpreted in such a manner that they agree with fully established facts, it is the duty of every educated and honest man to do so."(The Guide for the Perplexed, 3:14, transl. Freidlander page 279)

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Who is Chemdath?

A few days back a user going by the name of Ali posted a series of leading questions over at Mi Yodeya one of which seemed to be an attempt at arguing Muhammad was predicted in the book of Haggai.  This line of argument is stated more explicitly (if not more cogently) over at www.answering-christianity[dot]com/adeel_khan/Prophet_Muhammad.htm:

Haggai 2:7
I will shake all nations, and the Muhammad of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD Almighty.
 This prophecy in Haggai not just says [sic] that Prophet Muhammad (s) is to come but also confirms that Prophet Muhammad (s) has been prophesied in various scriptures as he will be the desire of all nations.
 Translators have used incorrect words to translate the word Muhammad.
 Ben Yehuda's Hebrew-English Dictionary defines Muhammad as praised one.
This is the correct word to use but it better that the translations use the original word “Muhammad”.

We have already discussed this passage in our post How was the Glory of the Second Temple Greater than that of the First? but this argument takes a wildly divergent (though to some degree parallel) direction from the arguments we discussed there.

First we must ask what is the word that is claimed to be, in the "original word", Muhammad?  The word there is חמדת--chemdath. Although I do not have a great library on Arabic, to my ear (and somewhat supported by Wikipedia) the root in our verse is cognate with the root of the name Muhammad. Nevertheless our verse does not say Muhammad any more than any Arabic text mentioning the word "praise" mentions Muhammad. Here too our method to analyzing such claims is relevant.  We must look at the context and determine its normal implication based on an informed reading. To illustrate the difficulty of the above interpretation, surely even though the shoresh (root) חמד is used no one would accept "I am Muhammad and I took them, and behold they (the stolen goods) are hidden in the ground within my tent" as a legitimate interpretation of Joshua 7:21!! Such an interpretation would be false and offensive. Yet the only way to avoid such abuses is to make certain that our interpretations are grounded in solid exegesis of Scripture or to understand that a statement's connection to the verse is only illustrative while its veracity is subject to a different authority, and of course a true predictive prophecy can practically only be of the former.

It is clear that chemdath is not equivalent to Muhammad simply by enunciating the words. Furthermore it is patently false that the words used to translate it are "incorrect".  Whether or not there is justification for transliterating the word chemdath, the major translations I have encountered use appropriate translations that accurately reflect the words meaning. As we will see this is more than can be said for its citation in the quote above.

To identify our subject it is best to look next door to its predicate, specifically the verb. Adapted from above we see that "chemdath of all nations will come". Yet  if we look in the original we see that while the translation "will come" may be acceptable but it is an imprecise rendition of the Hebrew ובאו which means "and they will come". We are dealing with a plural subject here, there is more than one חמד that will come! Indeed that chemdath is plural is seen from the Hebrew word itself which is the plural construct form.

This of course leads us to consider the construct itself "chemdath kol hagoyim" Although associating Muhammad with "the nations" would be appropriate insofar as he was a gentile, to call him "Muhammad of all the nations" makes little sense whatsoever.

And we mustn't forget to ask where chemdath "comes" to? As we discussed in our previous article this passage, as most of Haggai, is expressly about the Second Temple.  The verse explains that the chemdas of all the nations will come "and I [G-d] will fill this House with glory!" The house is the Temple, as is clear from the usage of the word through Haggai as well as other places in Bible. And this passage makes it clear at the outset that we are discussing the Second Temple. The chemdath would come and the Temple would be filled with glory, yet Muhammad came many centuries after the Temple was destroyed.  He clearly was not the chemdath of our verse.

So what was the chemdath of our verse?  Chemdath can be translated by a number of different words but it essentially means valuables.  The valuables of all the nations would be brought to the Temple of Jerusalem and fill it with splendor. Those who had seen the Temple of Solomon were disappointed by the more modest  replacement (Haggai 2:3) but G-d reassured them that this was only temporary and it would eventually be more grandiose.  This was fulfilled by the famous renovations of the Herod.   The valuables of all the nations would be brought to glorify G-d's house because "Mine is the sliver and mine is the gold" (Haggai 2:8).

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Circular Fulfillment

There was once a novel infamous among Evangelical Christians for portraying the Nazarene and his disciples as orchestrating events to fulfill his messianic ambitions. I have not bothered reading it because its plot seems implausible and seemed to presume more historical accuracy to the Christian Bible than I am willing to concede. Needless to say Christians were not at all impressed with the suggestion that the Nazarene fulfillment of Messianic prophecies where contrived.

Nevertheless there is at least one instance where the Nazarene did just that, as recorded in the account of the Nazarene's "Triumphal Entry" which he did so specifically to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. This is despite there being no significance to the event other than symbolic. The sole purpose was to make the Nazarene appear to be fulfilling the role of Mashiach.

There is another way this concept is significant. Take a moment to reflect on a typical chart of "Messianic Prophecies Fulfilled by the Nazarene". On the left side is usually a column with verses from the T'nakh of "prophecies". What is on the right side to indicate how the Nazarene fulfilled them? Quotes cited from the Christian Bible! Absent are independent sources to provide evidence of fulfillment. And even a very liberal acceptance of the extra Christian sources which "prove" the Nazarene existence could only provide the most general support for less than a handful of the "hundreds" of Messianic prophecies cited by Christians.

The “New Testament” is not independent document; it is the document which defines Christianity. What we have is missionaries and apologists telling us that we should believe in Christianity because Christianity says the Nazarene fulfilled the Messianic prophecies, not because he is objectively shown to have fulfilled them. So supposedly Messiah was predicted to be born in Bethlehem, the Nazarene was born in Bethlehem! How do we know? Christianity tells us!

And it is not that we aren't without reason to be suspicious that the accounts of the Nazarene fulfillment are fabricated.  Take the example of Zechariah 9:9 mentioned earlier.  As we will look at when we examine this verse Luke has the Nazarene riding in on a donkey in accordance with this verse. However Matthew has him riding two donkeys!! Apparently Matthew misunderstood the verse and adjusted the story accordingly. Or consider the case of Jeremiah 31:14(15) which Matthew uses as a proof text for Herod’s murder of all the infants in the area around the birth of the Nazarene. Yet despite this claim of widespread massacre, the account is totally missing from non-Christian accounts of Herod written around the time (or before) the Christian Bible that are not otherwise lacking in their description of Herod's atrocities.

The Nazarene is therefore Messiah because Christianity claims he is, or so goes the Missionaries approach when you break it down to its essential logic. He can only be said to have fulfilled Messianic prophecies by accepting the accounts of his followers whose own accounts seem to be based on making the Nazarene fit their idea of the Messianic role rather than to relating historical fact. We then only have general information from non-Christian sources, lacking any evidence to support Christianity’s theological claims, and partisan accounts which have not so subtle traces of doctoring the record to assure the desired outcome. Since it is these "fulfilled" Messianic prophecies that are the main evidence for the Nazarene being Messiah, there is no reason to accept Christianity based on "facts" which are only known from the very document which defines Christianity.


Exod. 12:9 commands the Israelites: "Do not eat any of it [the Passover lamb sacrifice] raw, or boiled/cooked [bsl] in any way with water, but rather roasted over fire, its head with its legs and entrails". Deut 16:7, however, requires that "you shall boil/cook [bsl] it and eat it in the place where the Lord your God shall choose". One attempts to reconcile the two evidently incompatible verses is to translate bsl in the second verse as 'roast'. Nonetheless, this ignores the fact that however the verb is translated, one verse prohibits performing the action (of bissul) while the other requires it. (From the Article "Clearing Peshat and Derash by Stephan Garfinkel published in Hebrew Bible Old Testament: The History of Its Interpretation,I/2: The Middle Ages page 130.)

No, I'm afraid that you are ignoring the fact that Exodus 12:9 does not make an unqualified prohibition against bishul, only bishul in water. The two verses are simply not mutually exclusive. Indeed the verses need to clarify that bishul is prohibited if it is done "with water" implies that there is such a thing as bishul without water.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Would God truly dwell on earth? Behold, the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain You

Would God truly dwell on earth? Behold, the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain You, and surely not this Temple that I have built! (1 Kings 8:27)
On the surface the proclamation just cited by King Solomon as he dedicated the first Beith HaMikdash is obvious, intuitive. On the other hand, it can be seen as a little difficult insofar as it seems to limit God’s ability by saying He is unable to dwell in the Temple. In truth, it must be understood (I believe here and in other similar paradoxes) that the limitation isn’t on God, per se, but on the Universe. The Universe, the physical, was created by God, according to His will, unable to contain Him.

In a very significant passage in the Christian Bible Paul asserts the following: "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him." And "For in Christ1 all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form." (Colossian 1:19, 2:9). While the T’nakh declares flat out that even the whole Universe is unable to contain God, Christianity teaches that all God’s fullness dwells in the bodily form of the Nazarene! Christian commentators and thinkers elaborate, "In Him dwelleth all the pleroma--this is a clear-cut statement of the deity of Christ. It could not be stated any stronger that it is here. In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead-not just 99.44 percent but 100 percent."2

"In Colossians 2:9 ‘the fullness of deity’ refers to ‘the whole glorious total of what God is, the supreme Nature in its infinite entirety.’"3

Though it may be tempting for a Christian to try to soften the conflict by qualifying the intent of Colossians it would be a mistake to do so. It is argued that:
Like many other theological terms, this term can be misleading. It might suggest that the eternal Logos by the act of incarnation was confined to the body of Jesus of Nazareth. The implication of such a construction of the result of the incarnation is that God the Son, kenotically "emptying" himself, divesting himself of the attribute of being always and everywhere immediately present in the universe. But to hold such a view is tantamount to contending that he who enfleshed himself as Jesus of Nazareth, while doubtless more than man, is not quite God."4
This formulation appears to take a swipe at Kenotic Theology (which we will touch upon later), though its proponents, to my knowledge, affirm the Nazarene’s omnipresence even during the incarnation.5 Nevertheless, while it would be a mistake to interpret Colossians as asserting that God was not present except in the body of the Nazarene, confined to his body as it were, it would be mistaken both from the thrust of this verse and the thrust of Christian doctrine do deny that God’s presence in the Nazarene (His "fullness") is any less than where we to imagine God confined to the Nazarene's body. While Colossians claim that in the Nazarene dwells the fullness of God may represent a "paradox", the doctrine of Trinity itself is a "paradox". In effect Paul indirectly asserts that the Temple can contain God, the "fullness" of God no less (in the incarnated Nazarene), affirming what Solomon denies, even though he presumably and paradoxically did not mean to deny God concurrent omnipresence. Conversely we may rightly see Solomon’s words as implying or alluding to God’s omnipresence, but he does so by denying that which Paul affirms, that the fullness of God can be contained in the physical world.
Michael Brown argues,
In fact, even the concept of God’s "fullness" dwelling in the Messiah in bodily form presents no problem when properly understood. For just as the glory of God filled the Tabernacle and Temple without it in any way emptying, depleting, or lessening God, so also his glory filled his son, without in anyway emptying, depleting, or lessening him. Isaiah 6:3 also teaches that the whole earth is filled with his glory, while in the New Testament, it is written that the church—the worldwide congregation of true believers in Yeshua—is "the fullness of him who fills everything in every way" (Eph. 1:23) Does this diminish God?6
God is not diminished, yet it is a diminished view of God. Many readers will have already noted that his analogy with the Temple fails because while the Temple was "filled" with God’s glory the verses in Colossians asserts a very different idea, that the "fullness" of God lives in the Nazarene’s bodily form. This is not the difference between a cup being half empty or half full, it is the difference between the cup being filled with water and all water being in the cup! In other words the verse does not say, "For in Christ’s bodily form is filled with Deity." Again, Solomon specifically says the Temple could not contain God while Colossians says that the Nazarene’s body does contain the fullness of God. Being filled with God’s glory is not the same as containing the fullness of God.

Proponents of the Trinity are accustomed to accepting beliefs that in other contexts would be considered mutually exclusive. They will not easily be swayed from their beliefs, particularly by theologically based arguments. We must, however, recognize that while Solomon said that the Temple cannot contain God, Paul says that the body of the Nazarene can contain the fullness of God. These are mutually exclusive beliefs. One must also note the irony that at the inauguration of the Temple, which Christians see as prefiguring the incarnation of the Nazarene, Solomon through ruach hakodesh asks "Would God truly dwell on earth?", a clearly rhetorical question whose answer is clearly "no" based on the context. Yet Christianity demands an affirmative answer, undermining the force of this verse, or more correctly out rightly contradicting it.

1 The word "Christ" does not appear here in the Greek, but is inferred from context.
2 Thru The Bible with J. Vernon McGee vol. 5, page 350.
3Quoted in Christ Before the Manger, page 50.
4Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, pages 555-556.
5While living on earth, He also was omnipresent in His deity." Cited in Christ Before the Manger, page 45.

"Bodily Form" means "Bodily Functions"

I would, straightaway, like to apologize for the following content, but I do think it is necessary for us to touch on this topic in a more serious and dignified way than is typically done:

To many people the notion of God becoming human makes the Creator seem more relatable. Certainly around the time of the holidays traditionally celebrated by Christians in the winter the mental image of their deity as a small infant can be particularly endearing to many. Yet as anyone who has been a parent knows, infants have less endearing practices...along with taking on "bodily form" means the necessity of "bodily functions."

Messianic/Christian apologist Michael Brown takes great exception to this being pointed out:

When attacking the New Testament -- that is exactly what the anti-missionaries do -- they often use a three-pronged approach: hyper-literality, alleged contradictions, and alleged misquotations.

In terms of hyper-literality, they will ask....Or, in abusing the concept of the incarnation (I doubt that many of our opponents actually try to understand the incarnation in any serious way) they will use coarse quips such as, “Does your God wear diapers?”  The overall effect of their hyper-literality is to try and make our faith seem idiotic and absurd. (http://web.archive.org/web/20041113145406/http://www.icnministries.org/Materials/Unequal_Weights/unequal_weights.htm)


Emotions run high over this, and misunderstanding is the rule not the exception. The objections raised here are sometimes crude, such as, "Your god wore diapers. Our God sits enthroned in heaven." (Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol 2, page 15).

First of all we must point out that the idea that the Nazarene had to perform such bodily functions as urination and excretion, that he wore diapers", is neither "hyper-literal" nor is it a "misunderstanding", it is a straightforward implication of the doctrine that the Nazarene was not only 100% divine but 100% human.
Because the divine Christ became a man in the Incarnation, he as our Priest is able to intercede in prayer for us. Since Jesus was truly one of us, experiencing all of the temptations and trials of human existence, he is fully able to understand and empathize with us in our struggles as human beings. (Christ Before the Manger, page 206)
The theology of the Christian Bible is dependent upon the Nazarene having a fully human life experience. There is zero basis in the Christian Bible to exclude natural bodily functions for that experience and to do so would undermine Christian teachings.

And although I can, to a degree, sympathize with Michael Brown's predicament, his complaint about "crude" and "coarse quips" isn't against man...but against what God said through His prophet:

And it was at noontime, Elijah ridiculed them [the "prophets" of Ba'al], and said "Cry out in a loud voice, for he is a god! Perhaps he is conversing or pursuing [enemies], or relieving himself; perhaps he is asleep and he will awaken! (1 Kings 18:27)

The divinely inspired prophet mocked their grossly anthropomorphic view of the divine by exaggeration. Yet for Christianity it is no exaggeration. We are expected to believe that  God put Himself in the very same position that He mocked the false gods about!?

We have already argued that in addition to being unsupported by the Hebrew Bible, and in addition to conflicting with the monotheistic view of the Hebrew Bible, time and again Christian theology under-minds the very arguments and criticism's which the Hebrew Bible makes to present and support it's vision of monotheism. Michael Brown and other's may find it distasteful to make jokes about the Nazarene wearing diapers (and I would tend to believe that such tactics are not effective ways at communicating our position in a way others will be able to hear) but the Bible itself points out the absurdity of deities who need to relieve themselves.

Monday, February 18, 2013


One of the difficulties in ascribing deity to the Nazarene is that throughout the Christian Scriptures (and indeed by simple mental reflection) we encounter a portrait of the Nazarene which appears much more of a limited and finite human than an infinite God. We are informed that the Nazarene "The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him." (Luke 2:40, NRSV).

In order to understand the instances where the Nazarene appears more human than divine, many Christians have begun turning to Philippians 2:6-7: "[Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but he emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave, being born in human likeness" The notion that the Nazarene "emptied himself" or, alternatively translated, "made himself nothing" has given rise to the "Kenotic Theology" (named after the Greek term in question). Ron Rhodes sees three aspects to this process a) the veiling of his preincarnate glory, b) taking on human likeness, and c) the voluntary non-use of the divine attributes. The first doesn’t strike me a particularly an issue, in and of itself. Nature itself is, in a sense, a veil of God’s glory allowing us to have free choice, this application is a little more problematic but because it is tied to the aspects which are being dealt with separately. The second one we will deal with more in depth later. The final one, the "voluntary non-use of the divine attributes is what concerns us here.

Rhodes explains:

A second issue involved in Christ making himself "nothing" in the Incarnation had to do with submission to voluntary nonuse of some of his divine attributes in order for him to accomplish his objectives. Christ could never have actually surrendered any of his attributes, for then he would have ceased to be God. But he could (and did) voluntarily cease using some of them during his time on earth (approximately 4 B.C. to A.D. 29) in order to live among men and their limitations.1


"Made himself of no reputation" means to empty--the Greek word is keno. The kenosis theory derives its name from the word keno. Christ emptied Himself…He emptied Himself of something, but it was not of His deity. He was 100 percent God when He was a baby reclining helplessly on the bosom of Mary….Well, then, of what did the Lord Jesus empty Himself when He came to earth? I believe that He emptied Himself of the prerogatives of deity. He lived on this earth with certain limitations, but they were self-limitations. There was never a moment when He wasn’t God.2

Finally while Jesus Christ voluntarily refrained from exercising certain attributes of deity, he did not divest himself of a single divine attribute (John 1:14; Philippians 2:1-11; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrew 2:14-18). (Hank Hanegraaff, The Complete Bible Answer Book, page 229)

God has certain attributes, attributes which humans lack. God is everywhere, omnipresent. God is all-knowing, omniscient. God is all-powerful, omnipotent. God is un-changing, immutable. Humans do not possess those capacities so we are told that in order to become human God "toned it down" a little, willingly abstaining from his powers without giving them up. Indeed as the citation from Rhodes notes that to surrender these attributes would have been to cease being God, about which he later elaborates, "As such, it is clear that Christ, as God, cannot change in his essential being, and hence he could never give up any of his divine attributes. Indeed ‘God cannot change His nature by act of His will any more than any other being. Attributes inherent in a persona essence cannot be dismissed.’"(ibid page 196).

So when we see that the Nazarene underwent normal human development, such as growing and learning, or indicated that he was unaware of a particular matter, it was because he had voluntarily given up use of his divine attributes, he was, if you pardon the term, "keeping it real" (indeed this slang term carries a heavy overtone of maintaining artificial self-limitations in order to project a pre-conceived notion of authenticity.)

The difficulty is that while it is conceivable to possess the power to do anything without exercising that power, the parallel is not true with other divine attributes. On may be omnipotent with respect to knowledge, possessing the ability to know anything, but one is not omniscient if there are things that one does not know. One may be omnipotent with respect to place, possessing the ability to be anywhere and/or everywhere but if one has restricted himself to a single location this is not omnipresence. While it is argued "With respect to his omniscience, for example his human nature may have served as a filter limiting his knowledge as a man (e.g., Mark 13:32). Nonetheless, Jesus' divine omniscience was ever accessible at the will of the Father." (Hanegraaff, The Complete Bible Answer Book, page 229), this is a distinction without a difference. The potential to know anything is not omniscience, and if the Nazarene's "divine nature" was omniscient while his human nature was not there is no meaningful unity between those natures. Such a suggestion would at best be equivalent to saying he was part God, part man, rather than fully God and fully man.

We are not alone in this assessment; we have already encountered Christian objections to it while discussing the concept of incarnation:

Like many other theological terms, this term can be misleading. It might suggest that the eternal Logos by the act of incarnation was confined to the body of Jesus of Nazareth. The implication of such a construction of the result of the incarnation is that God the Son, kenotically "emptying" himself, divesting himself of the attribute of being always and everywhere immediately present in the universe. But to hold such a view is tantamount to contending that he who enfleshed himself as Jesus of Nazareth, while doubtless more than man, is not quite God."3

While proponents of the Kenotic Theology do not seem to understand the incarnation as implying that the Nazarene was not omnipresent, the principle remains the same. Not-knowing something, even voluntarily, is to "surrender" omniscience just as not being everywhere is to "surrender" omnipresence. Christian critics of the Kenotic Theology object, "How can Jesus Christ be God if we would simultaneously affirm that during the incarnate life he was not omniscient?"(Evangelical Dictionary of Theology page 602). Insofar as Kenotic Theologians would not say that the Nazarene was not omniscient, these critics are essentially calling them out on a merely verbal affirmation of omniscience.

It is not easy for Christians to dismiss the Kenosis Theory though:

Did Christ know or not know the time of the end (Mark 13:32)? Orthodoxy said he must know, he is the presence of the omniscient God; however for some reason he has chosen not to reveal this knowledge. Kenotic theorist insist that the text says what it says. He limited himself to his human and real development; he was genuinely dependent on his Father, he did not know. The problem of who is biblical cuts more than one way.4

Similarly, with respect to the conceptual difficulty of how the human and divine consciousness of the Nazarene interact according to the Kenotic Theology the rejoinder could be made:

However, the strain [in the Kenotic Theology] is fundamentally a relocation of the same strain orthodoxy faces when it attempts to affirm very God-very man in terms of the consciousness of the earthly Jesus. The problem cuts both ways.5

We, however, are unstirred by such counter-arguments since we do not consider the belief in the divinity of the Nazarene to be coherent or biblical. The two camps pointing out the problems in either’s solutions highlights that the real problem is the erroneous doctrine. Though it might be appealing for a Kenotic theologian to argue that the distinction between non-use of attributes and not retaining them is a mystery, this is insufficient. Such an argument would be extremely ad hoc as illustrated by their very insistence that the attributes must be retained, since by admitting logical impossibilities we could just as easily argue that, in opposition to Kenotic Theology, the Nazarene entirely divested himself of the divine attributes, yet mysteriously remained wholly divine. There is not theological hurdle which cannot be "overcome" by such reasoning.

Christian thinkers struggle with reconciling the apparent absence of divine attributes in the Nazarene with the necessity of him having them to be divine. Those who argue that while he possessed them, he did not utilize them, but particularly with respect to omniscience this distinction is verbal. Others understand him as actually being omniscient but are forced to understand certain passages in their scripture unnaturally. Either system has serious drawbacks and neither are appealing, particularly when one bears in mind how little reason there is to believe the Nazarene is divine.

1Christ Before The Manger, page 195-196.
2Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee Volume 5 page 302.
3Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, pages 555-556.
4Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, page 601.
5Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, page 602.