Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The End is Near

December is almost over, and many of you are still missing comments (from both months)!!!

Even if you missed November, you can still post extra-comments and get partial credit. If you are unsure what you missing, email me and I will let you know.

If you see this and have already done your blog comments, remind your friends!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Do the Ends always justify the Means?
Power, Shakespeare, and the Nevim

posted by Rachael R.

I was writing an essay about Richard III (Mr. Virgilio’s class) and it got me thinking about the philosophy of holding power. I wonder how the Nevim were able to retain power, can we justify every Navi because he/she was supposedly acting on behalf of Hashem? After all, Yonah is famous for having actually run from Hashem. Moshe was considered to be the greatest Navi that ever lived, yet we know that he was a flawed too (he hit the rock etc..). Hoping to achieve Geulah traditionally means that we believe that a theocratic system, perhaps that of the Naviim, will be reinstated in Israel. Maybe we should try to define for ourselves what it means to be both a Navi and a leader.

How is it possible for a Navi to remain connected to God enough to have a nevuah, but connected to man enough to be an effective leader? I know that certain Nevim, such as Yonah, did feel desperate at times, but somehow, they turned the people around and the people did Teshuvah. If the Nevim held power, then I assume there must have been some competition, and if there was some competition, then there must have been some people who were left out. Perhaps, by holding positions of power, the Nevim caused others to feel desperate. If they caused despair in the world, however inadvertently, was this not a little sinful? How did a truly just theocratic system exist? If the Nevim were human and had human flaws, how did they manage their power effectively? Can we reconcile modern methods of leadership with those of the Nevim?

Going back to Richard III, Shakespeare portrays Richard as the ultimate villain. Yes, Shakespeare wrote from a western perspective and he wrote years after the Nevim, but even so some of his root Judeo-Christian values are the same as ours. Richard is considered to be so evil because he first sacrifices just about all of his morality to gain the throne. Likewise, when it comes down to the final battle between him and Richmond, he despairs. He listens to the ghosts of the people he murdered who come to him the night before his battle and tell him “Despair and Die”. Shakespeare considers despair to be the ultimate level of evil. Similarly, for Dante, despair is the lowest level of Hell. According to the Rambam, the ultimate form of despair-suicide is considered to be “death by the hands of heaven”. In other words, one who commits suicide has no share in the world to come (MyJewishLearning.com). Suicide obviously has a pretty severe punishment. Why do you think, from a Jewish perspective, suicide is the ultimate evil? Are attitudes relating to suicide (i.e. despair) inherently evil?

Was Machiavelli right, do the ends ( the Nevim holding power albeit L’shem Shamayim) justify the means (the way the various Nevim held the perhaps inherently evil power) ?


Posted by Tamar

Firstly I would like to apologize to everyone who is sick and tired of hearing and/or discussing the place of women in Judaism, but I found this kind of interesting.

According to tradition, we believe that there were approximately 1.2 million prophets [back in the good old days] and of that 1.2 million there are around 55 that we still know of today. About 48 of them were men while only 7 were women. According to wikipedia though, we believe that 600,000 prophets were men, and 600,000 were women. If it was such an equal distribution why do we know of so much less women than we do of men?

The female prophets: Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Channah, Avigail, Chuldah and Esther were all very prominent people in Jewish history. Without Sarah, Judaism as we know it would not exist for she was the first of the Emahot of Bnei Yisrael. Devorah, the first Shofet to be described as a prophet {Shoftim 4;4} was a strong military leader and judge. Channah was the woman who came up with the basis for the silent Shmoneh Esrei. Chuldah warned Yehuda of their impending destruction by the hand of God. Miriam, a spiritual leader along with Aharon and Moshe; Avigail, the wife of David; and Esther, who with the help of Mordechai saved Bnei Yisrael from annihilation by the hands of Haman. Despite the fact that they helped men, these three prophetesses were just as great as the former four. These women were clearly not lacking in courage, ability and faith in Hashem. Although these women were extraordinary I believe that most women of that time were great and equal in their own way to men. I don’t believe that the lack of women leaders in Jewish history come from chauvinism rather I would just like to know, what happened to the other women prophets and how come there is such a big difference between the amount of male prophets and the amount of female prophets discussed today.

The Eleventh Degree

Posted by Rebecca

In Rambam’s Guide to the Perplexed, degrees of prophecy are listed according to the “requirements of speculation” and the explanation supplied by our Law. Rambam continues to explain that not everyone who is found to have one of his eleven listed degrees is necessarily a prophet, but that all prophets possess these requirements. The eleventh degree consists of a prophet seeing an angel who addresses him in a vision as Abraham did in the binding of Isaac. “In my opinion,” Rambam writes “this is the highest of the degrees of the prophets whose states are attested by the prophetic books…and with regard to the question whether it is possible that a prophet would also see in a vision of prophecy that G-d addressed him – this in my opinion, is improbable.”

This eleventh degree came as a surprise to me. Upon further investigation I found a pasuk in Bamidbar where Hashem says “I do make myself known unto him in a vision; I do speak with him in a dream.” (12:6) Hashem assigns speech to dreams only- people cannot handle speaking with Hashem through a vision.

Upon further reflection, I remembered studying Avraham who, after making a covenant with Hashem, sat outside his tent speaking with G-d. Avraham then interrupts his conversation with G-d so that he may receive three guests. In reference to this, Nehama Leibowitz writes in her book New Studies in Bereshit that “we never find in the Torah another example of Hashem revealing Himself to His creatures unless it is for the express purpose of delivering a message, uttering a message, uttering a blessing or a promise, or issuing a command.” While this implies that Hashem never has casual conversations with His creations, it does imply that Hashem has very direct communications with them.

Furthermore, later when Hashem decides to destroy the city of Sedom, Avraham argues with Hashem in an attempt to save lives. When Hashem tells Avraham to listen to Sarah and send Hagar and Yishmael away, the Torah writes, “G-d said to Avraham” (21:12). This would be unusual language for a dream; one might expect the phrase “Hashem appeared to him,” instead. Not only did Avraham feel comfortable with Hashem that he might be able to argue with him, but so too do Adam, Eve, and Noach. In fact, Adam and Eve appear not to have felt intimidation enough by G- to have avoided violating their only commandment.

Experience has shown me that Judaism differs from other religions in that it always stresses Hashem’s power and omnipotence. Hashem does not share status with a son or spirit. The Hagaddah is proof of a text that states this outright. When commenting on the pasuk “Hashem brought us out of Egypt,” the Hagaddah says, “not through an angel, not through a seraph, not through a messenger, but by the Holy One, Blessed is He, in His glory, Himself.”

I have trouble understanding how Rambam can make such a statement in his list of degrees of Nevuot. On a wider scale, I do not understand why Hashem cannot be more approachable to His creations? Why are people fearful of being spoken to by Hashem? Why can’t Hashem calm people when He is near? Why do many people appear to obey Hashem out of a sense of fear instead of love?

The Torah

Posted by Esti

Is the Torah true? Was the Torah actually written by Hashem? According to Rabbi Ed Romm, Director of Education and the Center on Campus of the United Synagogue Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center for Conservative Judaism, the Torah is true and really did happen. He says that the Torah is a book telling us about the relationship we have with Hashem and what we must do to keep this relationship going. The Mefarshim, he says, are used to explain what the Torah means to each generation, since different generations have different problems and questions. After the Jews agreed to "Na’aseh v’nishma" ("we will do and we will hear"), we were able to know the exact written rule rather then to just guess what we believe to be morally correct. Since there are 70 ways of translating the Torah, we are still allowed to have different definitions of halachot.
But why then are their still other religions if Judaism is the correct one? Rabbi Shlomo Chein says that Judaism is correct since we have “withstood the test of time and space”. Judaism is the only religion that was not started from only one individual (since it did not start with Abraham, but rather at Har Sinai when we were given the Torah). Judaism was also started in the Middle East and spread throughout the entire Middle East, and stayed that way until present. Hinduism also may seem timeless, but only recently did Hinduism spread out to most of the world, and there is not as much ancient writing about Hinduism then about Judaism. But still, there is no proof archeologically that Har Sinai occurred.
Was the Torah real? Did the stories actually happen? Why are there still many other religions? Did Hashem actually write the Torah?

Tali's Horoscope

Posted by Tali

"For Sunday, September 3 -Today is an excellent day to gauge your progress, so take some time to look around you and assess your situation. With your flexible schedule and your impeccable sense of timing, you're able to see what's well on its way to being complete -- and what needs your extra attention right now. If one of your friends has been acting out of character, they might be a candidate for that extra attention. Give it to them generously like you always do, and you won't regret it."

That would be my horoscope. I don't really know what's up with the "flexible schedule" and "impeccable sense of timing", but I do know that many, many people read this paragraph every day in the Washington Post, get it sent to their cell phones, or go to a professional who tells it to them. But what does any of this have to do with nevuah? Here's my proposal: Horoscopes are just another way that humans today find the need to get in touch with "up there". I think we can learn a lot about another one of my subjects this year, psychology, through the need that nevuah fills. An interesting question that this also brings up is borderline free will, about our relationship with God and knowing what lies ahead of us, but trying to avoid it. Yonah might even be tied in here. Anyway, to the questions:

In human history, what other means have been pursued to achieve a sense of knowledge about our destiny?
Why do we buy into it, or have the need to buy into it?
How are horoscopes similar and different from nevuah, and why doesn't religion/God always satisfy?