Notes for Religious Studies 369:
Introduction to Judaism
God and the World
- Biblical belief in one God outside of nature was radically different from prevailing Near Eastern religions.
Divine Transcendence and Immanence
Traditional Judaism perceived God as both exalted beyond human comprehension-- and intimately involved in the world and in human affairs.
- Rabbinic concept of Shekhinah--the divine presence in the world.
- Philosophical concepts of an intermediary power between God and the material creation: Logos (Philo); "Glory of God" (Saadiah, Hasidei Ashkenaz); etc.
- Kabbalistic depiciton of Shekhinah as the lowest of the Sefirot--the Princess exiled from the Prince.
- Fundamental biblical belief in a God who preceded the universe and brought it into being.
- Philosophical reformulations: Time only exists as a measure of physical motion, and therefore the concept makes no sense before the creation.
- Question of the eternity of matter.
- God as outside of time.
Ancient sources express a naive confidence in God's absolute control over all things and events, including the ability to suspend the laws of nature: Miracles.
- Medievals dealt with limitations of that belief; e.g., can God do things that are logically impossible? Most said not.
- Maimonides believed that God can be known largely through the eternal laws of nature-- Therefore he was reluctant to acknowledge miracles that weakened the natural laws.
- Traditional sources assume that God knows everything, including future events and human thoughts.
- Medieval philosophical problem: If God know all the details of the creation, does this violate the principle of divine unity?
- Maimonides: God know the creation only insofar as he is the source of all existence.
- Gersonides: God knows only in general terms--but not the details of the universe or human decisions.
God and the World
- Biblical premise: God's absolute control over creation, nature and human affairs--unlike idols.
- Special character of the Land of Israel: Dependance on seasonal rainfall promotes consciousness of God, need to obey commandments, etc.
- Close connection between religious practices and the Israeli ecological conditions.
Science and Creation
- Medieval philosophic proof of God based on harmony and eternity of the universe and the laws of nature: Prime Mover, First Cause, Ground of Being, etc.
- Biblical account of "creation out of nothing" seemed to contradict Aristotelian doctrine of the eternity of the universe.
- Maimondes: Preferred biblical view, but was prepared if necessary to reinterpret Genesis to conform with science.
Healing and the Sanctity of Life
- Illness and healing under God's control--> problematic status of scientific medical treatment.
- "Permission has been granted for the physician to heal."
- Halakhic treatment of bio-medical ethics. Basic assumption: absolute sanctity of human life.
- Some isssues discussed:
- therapeutic abortion,
- definition of death-->organ transplants.
Kabbalistic Views of Creation
- Complex theories of emanation.
- Lurianic myths of:
- Zimsum (Contraction)
- Breaking of the Vessels
Differing Views of Miracles
- Prevalent attitude: miracles confirm God's greatness, ability to suspend the laws of nature.
- Rationalist view (Maimonides): If God's existence is proven by eternal laws of nature and science, then suspensions of those laws would weaken the proof.
--> Miracles "pre-programmed" into creation.
- Biblical description of God creating the universe out of nothing in six days, by declaration: "Let there be..."
- Rabbis speculated on question of whether there were pre-existant materials from which God created the world.
- Medieval philosophy: Aristotle was understood to have proven that matter had existed from eternity, and could not have been created out of nothing.
Maimonides: The question cannot be proven scientifically, so the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo should be preferred tentatively, because it affirms God's control over the creation. If the contrary were to be proven, then the Bible's account can be reinterpreted accordingly.
- Angels: Belief in invisible creatures and divine messengers was almost universal in pre-modern times, as in biblical and rabbinic literature.
- Medieval rationalists interpreted angels as Aristotelian "separate intelligences."
- Modern Jews tend to understand them as metaphors.
Providence and Divine Justice
- Biblical and rabbinic religion presumed that God takes an active personal interest in guiding all of creation.
- Both nature and history are governed by divine providence.
- Historical providence guides Israel and the world to a future redemption: Messianic era.
- Maimonides and other philosophers adopted Aristotelian view that distinguished between a general providence over species (preventing them from extinction) and individual providence over humans.
Maimonides: the extent of the providence is proportional to the person's intellectual attainments. Crescas and others disagreed.
- Medieval philosophers discussed the apparent contradiction between divine foreknowledge and human free will. Most insisted that the two principles are not really contradictory.
Post-Holocaust theologians have generally avoided attempts to explain evil, especially in terms that would place blame on the victims.