Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Self Fulfilling Prophecy

Posted by Eliana

Hello everyone,
So I decided to talk about the concept of a “Self Fulfilling Prophecy”. This concept, also known as the Pygmalion Effect, is the idea that when you or someone else makes a judgment about your character, you tend to adapt that character. Wikipedia defines it a little more clearly: “The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behaviour which makes the original false conception come true.”
Obviously, it’s a tad odd that the concept is a self fulfilling Prophecy. There’s clearly a reason for this name. What I want to propose is that perhaps all prophecies are self-fulfilling prophecies. A prophet will have a “vision” from “God”, he will tell everyone this vision and then one of two things could happen. One, everyone would adjust their behaviors to ensure the Nevuah comes true. Or, B, they will attribute an event that has no apparent connection to the prophecy.
I’ll give a few examples.
1) Essentially every prophecy by which a nation was saved. We can take Yonah. Yonah was told that Ninveh was evil and was going to be destroyed unless they repent. Yonah goes through the whole fish thing, goes to Ninveh, tells them the prophecy, and they repent! Ninveh is saved!! But what if the prophecy didn’t really happen, at least not from “God”. Yonah goes to Ninveh, claims to have a prophecy that they’ll be destroyed unless they repent, they repent, nothing happens, and there’s absolutely no way for them to know that the prophecy never happened. They heard the prophecy, therefore they repented, and therefore they can attribute their not being destroyed to the prophecy. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy because they believe it and make it so that it is true.
2) So when thinking about example one, the obvious counterexample would be Yirmiyahu, who prophesized that unless Bnei Yisroel repent, they will lose the Beit Hamikdash and be hurt very badly. Bnei Yisroel, apparently, doesn’t repent, and they are in fact hurt and the Bit Hamikdash is taken away. This one seems to be pretty irrefutable. However, take the political scene of the time. Jeremiah reigned from about 628 BCE to 586 BCE when the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed. By 605, when Yirmiyahu was 23 years old, Babylonia had already overtaken Jerusalem and had begun to take Jews captive (various web sites). Tensions were high, who knew what Babylonia was planning to do? It was pretty clear, however, that they were hostile, and it’s not such a far stretch to suspect that they would soon do something drastic. So Jeremiah comes along and starts blaming the Jews actions for Babylonia. Babylonia does exile the Jews and the Beit Hamikdash is destroyed. Obviously, the Jews DIDN’T REPENT and that’s why that happened. But, what if Babylonia decided not to destroy the Beit Hamikdash and left Jerusalem, the reaction would have been like all the other ones; GOOD JOB GUYS YOU REPENTED! The point is the prophecy is dependent on the actions of Babylonia. No matter what Babylonia chose to do, it could be spun in such a way that it would fit Yirmiyahu’s prophecy.
3) The 70 years prophesy. This was essentially the prophecy that said once we were exiled to Babylonia, we would be redeemed in 70 years. The book of Esther, in which the Jews are still in exile, takes place during the time of XERXES I, who ruled from 485-465 BCE. Even if Esther took place at the beginning of his reign, that still about 100 years, 30 years longer than 70. Now, we learned with Mrs. Krestt all these different ways to interpret the prophecy, and Rabbis and commentators come up with all sorts of explanations. They force the prophecy to come true. They interpret it in ways that fit with history so that it can’t be disputed. A prophecy is told, therefore it is true. A self-fulfilling prophecy.

Rabbi A.J. Rosenberg in his forward to Trei Asar in the Judaica Press version of the book writes, “The latter prophets, however, are mostly prophetic, and consequently, poetic, leaving much leeway for various interpretations” (vii) When I think about this statement, I immediately think about horoscopes. A horoscope is “prophetic” and very poetic, “leaving much leeway for various interpretations”. That’s why horoscopes work, and sell for so many uneducated people. How many times have you read a fortune from a fortune cookie, and you’re like “THAT’S SO TRUE!” or later, something happens and you’re like “MY FORUTNE COOKIE SAID THAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN”. I read an article online at that said: “Astrology offers a number of things which many people find very desirable: information and assurance about the future, a way to be absolved of their current situation and future decisions, and a way to feel connected to the entire cosmos.” Nevuot offer a number of things which many people find very desirable: information and assurance about the future, a way to be absolved of their current situation and future decisions, and a way to feel connected to the entire cosmos.

After all of this my questions to you, my dear friends, are:
a. Are prophecies really “self fulfilled prophecies”? A false statement that, after hearing, becomes true because one wants it to be true? A horoscope in disguise?
b. If not, why is there all this discrepancies in the interpretations of Nevuot? Why do the Rabbis interpret it differently? Why is there so much unclearness?
c. This is kind of an entirely different discussion but its thought provoking: Is RELIGION a self fulfilled prophecy? One that one observes because one want it, needs it, to be true?


Blogger Yoni Krestt said...

Great post, Eliana, but I have a few comments:

First of all, the purpose of prophecy is to change a person’s behavior. If it accomplishes that, then it is successful. Asking “what if” questions is generally not useful in discussing history.

Secondly, with the possible exception of Matan Torah (which we’ll discuss in class in the next few weeks), no one argues that prophecy is a legitimate foundation for faith. In fact, the contrary is true: if you don’t have faith – in Hashem and his prophets – then of course prophecy is pointless. To put it differently, a person or group of people, need to have very strong faith in Hashem for prophecy to make sense. You’ll note that as people’s faith wanes, prophecy goes away. Even in Sefer Melachim, prophets are generally only sent to people who are likely to believe them.

Third, why is there discrepancy in people living thousands of years after the prophecy trying to interpret it back into a historical context of which we know little? I think the question answers itself. Every true prophet understood his prophecy. Whether everyone around him believed him or if we can go back in time to retrieve his perception is another issue?

November 29, 2006 8:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok, im not gonna ly im a lil confused by the blog-either bc its so long and i have a short attention spand or bc its the end of the week or both. but i think that despite what the prophecy is, it will come true, in some sort of way(given that the prophecy is given by a valid prophet). Hashem communicates a prophecy, in order to send a message. Yet clearly, not all messages are heard or really cared for. Whether or not people respond to this navi's prediction, the nevuah will happen because nevuah is divine. Though there is such a thing as divine intervention in which Hashem breaks through the norm of nature and shows his presence more clearly, the opposite is not true. We humans, despite freewill, can change the course of divine plans. Though we might think we are becuase we have freewil, freewill, in my opinion is PART of our destiny-meaning it is the choises we make through freewill that play out in our predetermined destiny. Therefore, i personally think that there really is no such thing as a self-fulfilling prophecy. I'm prob sayin this bc 1. My horoscopes dont usually work and 2. I rarely understand fortune cookies....anywho....thats the story-gnight-arella

November 30, 2006 8:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, I think the blog is really interesting. We learned in psych class about this story that a doctor told a girl than she was going to die before her 23rd birthday and her mom would die a few days before, and they both ended up dieing. What the doctor told the mom and daughter was a self fulfilling prophecy. Both theh mom and daughter ended up living their life in fear, anticipating that their death was getting closer and so they died. I think that it is similiar with the self fulfilling prophecy in tanach. In tanach, when the jews received a nevuah they either followed it (aka did teshuvah) or didn't follow it and didn't do teshuvah. But either way, if the nevuah did not come true I think the Jews first thought that the nevi was not qualified as a navi since the nevuah was wrong or Hashem was going to reward/ punish them later on. I think that at a time when it was common for navis to receive nevuahs (since we know there were many, many navis) the Jews believed in Hashem and had more faith in Him than we do today becuase they could witness the rewards and punishments. And when Hashem didnt punish or reward them, I dont think they thought the naviu concocted the nevuah, rather Hashem was saving the outcome for later on.


November 30, 2006 11:07 PM  
Anonymous Suz said...

Ok, heres my thing with it. I can totally see where you're coming from. Like, prophecy will be spun such a way that things that may not fit will suddenly fit. and I think that is because the people who are commentating on the prophecy need it to be true, similar to point "c". like, the people commenting are religious folks. they believe that because it is written in tanach and it says it came true, even if its vaguely ambigious (redundant), it did come true! therefore, the rabbis need to make it fit. not necessarily a "self fufilling prophecy" because it would be true to the comentators no matter what but there are always discrepancies that need mending. and i think when those discrepancies are mended, it can appear as if they are a self fufilling prophecy, even though its not.

November 30, 2006 11:55 PM  
Blogger tali said...

This completely reminds me of Harry Potter!! Ok, for those foolish few who have not yet been enlightened to the all encompassing greatness of JK Rowling, prophesies in the magical world are a big deal. However, Professer Dumbledore (genius headmaster wizard), explains that the only reason prophesy comes true is because the person who its about has to buy into it. The same with the Grim (a big, black door that's supposed to be a death omen). The reason Hermione (Harry's friend) believes Harry doesn't die after seeing the Grim is because he didn't believe he was going to die.
However, this is not Hogwarts, I think that although JK Rowling might be agreeing with Eliana, I don't necessary agree to her postulation.
I think that even if you don't buy into the prophesy and disregard it as metaphysical garbage, the punishment will still happen. B'nei Yisrael can trash the neviim all they want, but fate is fate, and God doesn't back down because no one trusts in the prophesy. Rather, God follows though on the negative side. The self-fulfilling prophesy is true because God is on the side of the navi, but I don't agree with the "false" situation part.

December 01, 2006 9:55 AM  
Anonymous Kelllll said...

woww this is a good blog its very thought provoking. I never thought of nevuahs this way and i actually kind of do think that prophecies are self fulfilled prophecies it actually makes total sense especially with elianas examples. but then again saying that all prophecies are self fulfilled prephecies leads to the make me thnk that ha-shem doesnt make miracles or make the prophecies come true because otherwise there would not be any explantaion as to how the prophecies come true. if one looks at the prophecy in the self fulfilled prophecy way, then it leads to answering elianas 3rd question. Religion is kind of a self fulfilled prophecy one doesnt necesarily observe just because they belive it but because they NEED to belive it, they need it to be true in order to make accomplishments or do things in life because one needs religion as a guideline for living. If one takes the path that they belive prophecies are self fulfilled prophecies it doesnt really seem like they belive in god, as it is basically an excuse for prophecies happening, youre ruling out the possibility that hashem makes prophecies come true. In addition to that, if that person is religious chances are that to them,religion is a self fulfilled prophecy and they just do it because they need that kind of leadership and guide to live by.

December 03, 2006 6:16 PM  
Anonymous Lisa Amy said...

Hey this was really cool. But, im going to say, and i think other people have touched on this, that asking this question is like questioning the power of god. if you know that God is all-powerful and that neviim are the messengers of God, you will undestand that no matter what way historical events go, or no matter what time period it is, God can make prophesies either come true or not come true, depending on wether the subjects of the profesy listen to him or if they do not.

Now, going to some of the questions. I think the horoscope/ fortune thing is really true. If someone reads their fortune or horoscope and believes in that type of thing, they will find something/ anything to relate to it and say it was true. Not because they were desperatly looking , but because if something is on your mind you will subconciously notice things that have to do with it. In that way i think that small things like horoscope and fortunes are self fulfilling. Also, on your question about religion, certain people need something to rely and depend on, a steady subject in their lives, a community to fall back on. In that way, i think religion is self fullfilling. If someone finds those qualities they need in religion, they will subconsiously find a way to make religion make sence to them or to connect to it. That way they will have a comfortable life and they will be all into their religion just because they need it. (Not everyone, just certain people.)Some people may think that this way of becomeing involved in religion in bad, but i think any way to become connected to god is good. Just an thought i just came up with....
rock on eliana!

December 04, 2006 9:54 PM  
Anonymous eLIANA said...

o.k. I have a long list of comments to make.
First, to Rabbi Krestt's and Rebecca Leval's and a couple others: You touched on the fact that the goal of prophecy is to work- to change people's behaviors. Does it matter whether it was real or imaginary?!
I mean to ask taht questino is essentially going back on everything we've been discussing to this point. We believe Nevuah is divine, a message from god. If they are imaginary, regardles of whether they work, they're clearly not divine. Essentially, if they are imaginary you have a bunch of people who happen to be really good actors and psychologists who manipulate people into doing waht they want. Additionally, what, then is a Navi Sheker? the whole system is actually false and makes no sense.

Second, Rabbi Krestt, you talked about how people have faith and then get Nevuah. Along the lines of the self fulfilled prophecy this works perfectly. Obviously, if you're going to believe in a Nevuah enough to cause it to be true, or to believe that it was true, you have to buy into the system. If you don't have faith in God then obviously you won't believe in the prophecy anyway, and what does or does not happen to you won't be attributed to the prophecy anyway. Its the same thing as superstitious people. If a person is superstitious and buy into the idea of horoscopes, forutne tellers, etc. they're more likely to believe what they hear is true and then change actions to make it true.

Third, to LIsa's about religion. I wanna make it clear that i think its totally cool if people buy into the system because its wat they need... i just wonder whether people think about it and actually understand thats what theyre doing. theres nothing wrong with doing something (such as religion) just to go through life. everyone needs their thing. i also am just speculating here. I AM NOT A HERETIC!

December 04, 2006 11:11 PM  
Anonymous RayDott said... that is a sick blog. props eliana (AND BRING ME MY SHOES!!!)...ok that aside, I sort of have a different take on this, and it might be incorrect, but it was what came to mind (not that its defiently legit...its 1 am):

If you look exactly at the peshat of Hashem's instructions to Yonah, the exactly worded "prophecy", that is, you will notice that Hashem just says (the 2nd time, the real deal) "Go at once to Ninveh, and proclaim to it what I tell you". Once yonah got to mid-town, he proclaimed, "forty days more, and ninveh shall be overthrown". So literally, the prophecy didnt say anything specifically about teshuva. it just foreshadowed the event of ninveh's destruction in 40 days, under the conditions (chamas) of ninveh at the time. It was ninveh who took out of the prophecy that this means to do teshuva. They clearly knew deep down that they were sinning, and they got scared. The king of ninveh even said to change ninveh's ways because "who knows but that God may turn and relent?". So ninveh got scared of yonah's omen of destruction, so they did teshuva in hope of escaping destruction. Baisically- the LITERAL prophecy didnt happen--ninveh wasnt destroyed. but the overall goal was accomplished---ninveh revursed their evil ways. So i wouldnt call this a self fulfilling prophecy, because it wasnt the actual-literal prophecy that came true. it was the overall goal of Hashem that was accomplished. Hope that makes sense...i know its kind of twisty. and anyone who reads this please nag eliana to return my shoes to me. thanks!!

December 05, 2006 1:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok so first of all i think that prophicies are to some extent self fulfilled prophicies. by that i mean that yes, up to a certian extenent liek we see countless times in tanach you can listen to the words of the navi and change your fate (liek the example eliana used previously when ninveh repented and wasnt destroyed) however, at a certain point the nevuah is just out of your hands and there is nothing you can do (there are times in tanach bnei yesroel want to repent but it is just too late). i think this is very similar to sara's blog about wether or not Hashem controls all of our actions and decisions. Do we fullfill the prophocies ourselves? or is Hashem right off the bat just going to fullfill them? I think the answer to that is a pretty obvious one for we see many times the whole reason Hashem gives us nevuah is because He wants us to change our ways and wants us to reedem ourselves. To adress eliana's question of why there are so many discrepancies in the interpretations of nevuot and why many rabbis interpret them so differently well, just about everything in judaism is interperted differently by different rabbis and as we learned in the beginning of the year, prophicies can mean different things to later generations so i think that it is vital to the survival of the Jewish people that rabbis and scholars and students or whomever continue to interpert and create new meaning to the nevuot.
-rachel stern

December 05, 2006 1:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

youre so smart eliana- i envy u!!!
i think that in a way hashem knew that the nevuot u mentioned would become self prophecies- and he was ok w/ that b/c he knows we're humans and can be self absorbed, and only do things if it helps ourselves. ultimately, we should strive to become better ppl, so im not saying it was good of bnei israel and the nevviim to twist the nevuot the way they did, but its better than nothing. Also, as for the unclearness of everyhting, that can also be a good thing. halacha, for example, was given to us so we could use our brains and figure out how to use it and make it fit our lives, and i know that might sound selfish, but its like i said b4, we're humans, hashem knows that, and if the system works for us, we use it, even if its not perfect. also if it wasnt for the unclearness, every jew would be the same- there would be no room for variety, and if someone was different form the rest, thy'd be shunned from the jewish world. so in conclusion, we're just human

December 10, 2006 10:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i dont think that prophecises are self fulfilling because like in yona, they could clearly see that they were horrible people and causing chamas, becuase if they compaared their actions to others, they would see how bad they were really being. so instead of it being self fulfilling, it would jsut be self realization-ing

December 11, 2006 5:19 PM  
Anonymous dasi said...

The Jews are supposed to believe that all Hashem does is logical and right and that the halachic system is the best way for all of mankind to live, right? Therefore, all prophecies that Hashem gives to mankind will be logical and to the good of the people. Often the laws of nature work well with Hashem's words, but often, they do not. To this degree, many prophecies cannot be "self fulfilling". Earthquakes cannot be predicted in ancient times, for example. Religion, I agree, is to some degree a self fulfilled prophecy. Don't we all wish to believe what traditional and Halacha has imbued in us? If not, we will eventually break away form the constraints of religion. For many of us, there is some sort of will or desire to take part in reluigion, sometimes because fo logic, and often because of tradition. Either way, the prophecy becomes "self fulfilled" and a part of your character and life.

December 26, 2006 4:11 PM  

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