Is the Torah Divine? Thoughts for Shavuot on Combustibility

Breaking Israel News - Wed, 06/12/2019 - 00:00

In memory of Nechama Rivlin z.l., wife of President Reuven Rivlin

One of the most challenging aspects in Judaism is how to relate to the concept of revelation. The uncompromising claim by (Orthodox) Judaism that the Torah is not a book written by human beings, but is the result of a revelation of God’s will, requires a formidable amount of faith in the face of today’s widespread skepticism and secularity (1).

Over the last few hundred years, a major argument has erupted concerning the divinity of the Torah’s text. Since the days of Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico Politicus (17th century), we have witnessed numerous Bible scholars dissecting the Torah in every way possible, concluding that the traditional Jewish claim of its divinity is unfounded and farfetched.

Throughout the many years, religious scholars have unsurprisingly responded with heavy artillery. They have written profound papers showing that the arguments of Spinoza and others were mistaken and often lacked intellectual objectivity (2). In our days, a sincere but problematic attempt has been made by some mathematicians and Jewish outreach programs to prove the Torah’s divinity through “Torah codes,” which presumably are found within the biblical text.

But, is this the right approach? If the Torah is indeed the ultimate divine word, as Judaism maintains, is it at all possible or even advisable to take an academic approach to verify its divinity? Wouldn’t the fact that it is divine make it totally unreceptive to academic scrutiny and proof? Isn’t this similar to studying organic matter by applying accepted criteria used by scientists when studying inorganic phenomena? Moreover, scholars, as well as teachers in outreach programs, should ask themselves if they are not violating the prohibition “You shall not test the Lord, your God, as you tested Him in Massah” when they look for definite proofs. (See Devarim6:16 and Shemot 17:7)

On the other hand, if we don’t want to use the academic approach, what approach are we able to take? Or, are we asked to just believe this claim without any verification? A kind of Credo quia absurdum (“I believe because it is absurd / impossible”), originally attributed to Tertullian in his De Carne Christi (c.203-206). The possible meaning of this statement is that what is sometimes foolish to a human being may be true to God. (See NT: Corinthians 1:17-31)The phrase inspired a celebrated bon mot by H.L. Mencken: “Tertullian is credited with the motto Credo quia absurdum—’I believe because it is impossible.’ Needless to say, he began life as a lawyer.”

This kind of approach seems to contradict Judaism’s fundamental belief that one should make use of one’s God-given intelligence and reason even when it comes to matters of belief. To believe because it is absurd is not an option.

What then are the means by which to grasp or reject the Torah’s divinity? Why are we not as convinced as our forefathers who did believe in its divinity? Is this due to the fact that we are more intellectually sophisticated than they were? Or that our studies have now proven beyond doubt the absurdity of this belief? Many of us may be of this opinion, but we should ask ourselves if we are not guilty of self-deception.

Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (1785-1865), in his monumental work HaKetav ve-HaKabbalah, seems to touch on this problem and shows us a way that is neither academic nor the result of blind faith.

Commenting on the quality of the revelation at Sinai and quoting the verse: “And the appearance of God’s glory was like a consuming fire (aishochelet) on the mountain top, before the eyes of the Israelites” (Shemot24:17), the venerable rabbi asks what is meant by the expression “a consuming fire.” Doesn’t this indicate a destructive force? Why not just say that God is like fire?

Reminding us of the fact that at Sinai the entire nation of Israel had risen to the level of prophecy immediately following a life of misery and spiritual slavery in Egypt, he continues:

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The truth is that the people of Israel were not all equal in their spiritual level. And they did not all see or perceive the same kind of revelation at Sinai. Rather, each one was able to receive this revelational experience only in accordance with the spiritual condition of their soul. Every Jew saw something, but what they experienced was directly proportional to the preparation they had put into it. When a person was less prepared, they experienced only a minimal level of revelation at Sinai; and the one who prepared more received more. This is the meaning of “a consuming fire.” The perception of God’s greatness is exactly the same as the way fire takes hold of various objects. There are materials that are intrinsically combustible, so that when you touch them with a flame an enormous fire erupts. But, there are other items that are fire-resistant, and when you put a flame to them nothing happens. Just as nature has made certain materials receptive to fire, so it is with the Sinai revelation.

A flame grows or diminishes depending on the combustibility of the material it comes in contact with. So it is with the Jew, and with all people. Their receptivity to the divinity of Torah is proportionate to the condition of their soul

I would suggest that the reason we are nowadays confronted with so much skepticism concerning the Torah’s divinity is not only because of intellectual sophistication and academic biblical studies (which are often very subjective), but also because of lack of spiritual receptivity, which is developed through labor of the soul. This may seem like a convenient escape when dealing with the issue at hand. But in truth, it touches on the very essence of people’s spiritual condition. As with music and art, the Torah cannot be approached from the perspective of academic learning. It is the soul’s language that is at stake. Fire cannot penetrate where no spark burns. Or, as the common expression goes, “Like attracts like.”

Aristotle once said, “The slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge of lesser things” (3).

It would be wise for all parties concerned to stop trying to affirm or deny the Torah’s divinity and first ask: Are we or are we not made of material that is combustible with the inner world of the Torah which could possibly open the way for us to recognize the divinity of Torah? Only when we have transformed ourselves and our souls into spiritual fire can we ask questions concerning the Torah’s divinity and come up with honest answers. As long as our souls are not open to the possibility that we couldrecognize its divinity, we cannot reject or accept this claim. This is the fundamental question we need to ask ourselves on Shavuot.

Chag Sameach!

Reprinted with author’s permission from The Times of Israel

FIFA to probe Rajoub for glorifying terror, inciting

Jerusalem Post - Middle East News - Tue, 06/11/2019 - 22:52

In the leaked letter, Nagoga said Rajoub had been accused of “personally” promoting and glorifying terrorist in an “active and... passive manner.”

Ambassador Friedman, please be more specific

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"Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank," Friedman said.

'Nightlife' banned in Tehran

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Nightlife in Tehran consists of a few restaurants, coffee shops and tea houses which stay open until 3 a.m.

Syrian air defense responds to Israeli attacks - report

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Material damage was reported without casualties.

Danon pens letter in response to Palestinian complaint to UN Security Council

Jerusalem Post - Middle East News - Tue, 06/11/2019 - 19:08

"This 52-year, illegal occupation has caused immense suffering and misery for the Palestinian people."

When Palestinian Arabs and Jews fought the Nazis side by side

Jerusalem Post - Middle East News - Tue, 06/11/2019 - 18:30

Less known, however, is the story of the thousands of Palestinian Arabs who disregarded the mufti’s pro-Axis policies and instead opted to fight against Adolf Hitler’s henchmen.

U.S. pushes for Saudi progress on Khashoggi probe before anniversary of killing

Jerusalem Post - Middle East News - Tue, 06/11/2019 - 18:11

"There will be increased sensitivity around the anniversary," the official said. "It would be in everyone's best interest to have some tangible progress by then."

Iranian Military: The rumors of fleeing or arrested commanders are false

Jerusalem Post - Middle East News - Tue, 06/11/2019 - 17:28

At first the IRGC paid the rumors no mind until Wednesday when their spokesman, Ramezan Sharif, officially acknowledged these reports, responding publicly that the rumors are allegedly false.

Iranian regime paper prints cartoon of German FM as 'Zionist Nazi'

Jerusalem Post - Middle East News - Tue, 06/11/2019 - 16:20

Supreme Leader's paper says "Germany is slave of Israel."

U.S. imposes sanctions on Syrian businessman with ties to Assad

Jerusalem Post - Middle East News - Tue, 06/11/2019 - 14:54

The US Treasury claimed that Foz has made millions by developing properties on land seized from those who have fled the Syrian war.

Jordan’s participation a key to Bahrain summit - analysis

Jerusalem Post - Middle East News - Tue, 06/11/2019 - 14:22

Egypt, Jordan and Morocco reportedly will attend summit later this month in Bahrain with other Gulf states to support Palestinian economy.

U.S. says Iran is in breach of nuclear deal but repeats offer of talks

Jerusalem Post - Middle East News - Tue, 06/11/2019 - 13:05

"Attempting to generate negotiating leverage 1 kg of uranium at a time will not bring sanctions relief," US Ambassador Jackie Wolcott said in her statement to the board.

Jordan, Morocco and Egypt to attend Bahrain workshop

Jerusalem Post - Middle East News - Tue, 06/11/2019 - 12:00

Despite Palestinian boycott of the workshop, key Arab-states announced they will attend the event.

Shurat Hadin: Fighting the Legal Battle for the Most Moral Army in the World

Breaking Israel News - Tue, 06/11/2019 - 10:10

In the battle against an enemy that uses their own people as human shields for attacking Israel, the real battle is in the international courts.

Tel Aviv Beaches Found to be Among Most Plastic-Polluted in the Region

Breaking Israel News - Tue, 06/11/2019 - 09:59

Israel was featured in a report by the World Wildlife Fund last week as home to the third most plastic-polluted shoreline in the Mediterranean, according to a report by Ynet.

The Tel Aviv coast ranked behind Turkey’s Cilicia beaches and those along the coast of Barcelona.

Not all Mediterranean coastal cities were included in the investigation.

According to WWF, 46 pounds of plastic waste wash up every day along a single kilometer of Tel Aviv beach.

Barcelona’s beaches accumulate 57 pounds of plastics a day, and Turkey’s beaches over 68 pounds.

All in all, the amount of plastic dumped into the sea equals approximately 33,800 plastic bottles’ worth every minute.

Egypt was found to be the biggest plastic waste culprit in the region, followed by Turkey.

Syria says no to restoring ties with 'terrorist-supporting' Hamas

Jerusalem Post - Middle East News - Tue, 06/11/2019 - 09:42

Hamas’s refusal to support the regime of Bashar Assad in the civil war that erupted in Syria in 2011 prompted the Syrians to cut their relations with the movement.

Rabbi Kaduri Predicted 40 Years Ago That Current Election Difficulties Presage Messiah

Breaking Israel News - Tue, 06/11/2019 - 09:40

A cryptic message by the most prominent Kabbalist of this generation has finally appeared: when there are elections but no government is selected, the Messiah is right around the corner.

Rabbi Yitzchak Kaduri (Photo by Flash90)

Forty years ago, Rabbi Eliyahu Merav was a young man and searching for his path to serve God. Rabbi Merav frequented the court of Rabbi Yitzchak Kaduri, a rabbi and Kabbalist from Baghdad noted for his utter devotion.

“It is very important to understand such things in context,” Rabbi Merav told Breaking Israel News. “Rabbi Kaduri spoke very little so it was very important to understand precisely what he intended. One day, he was taking questions and someone asked when the Moshiach (Messiah) would arrive and whether there were signs the would precede his arrival. The rabbi answered, ‘When there will be elections but there will not be a government’.”

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Rabbi Merav noted that at the time, this statement was very confusing.

“It seemed contradictory,” Rabbi Merav said. “How could there be elections but no government? If there are elections, there will be a government. That is simply the way things work. No one understood him at the time but this is really how it is with prophecy; you don’t understand it until it happens.”

Israeli soldier Yosef Cohen stepfather, Rabbi Eliyahu Merav speaks during his son funeral, at the Shamgar vigil house in Jerusalem, on Demcember 14, 2018. Yosef Cohen and Yuval Mor Yosef were killed in a shooting terror attack at the entrance to the Israeli settlement of Givat Asaf, in the West Bank, the day before. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Rabbi Merav continued in his service, taking great inspiration from the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, an 18th-century Hasidic master who emphasized faith and meditation. Rabbi Kaduri passed away in 20o6 at the age of 108, leaving Rabbi Merav to ponder the meaning of his cryptic message. For forty years, politics in Israel ran its natural course.

In April, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party won 36 seats. The right-wing bloc was the clear majority and, as per Israeli law, President Reuven Rivlin gave Netanyahu the mandate to form a coalition that would have Netanyahu heading the Israeli government for an unprecedented fifth term. Netanyahu had 28 days to form a coalition but due to complications encountered in negotiations, he requested and received a two-week extension. Netanyahu encountered an unexpected impasse; Avigdor Liberman, the head of Yisrael Beiteinu, refused to come to terms. This development was shocking as Liberman and Netanyahu were long-time political allies with Liberman serving as the Minister of Defense until last November. For the first time in Israeli history, a second round of general elections was necessary to choose a government.

“The primary goal of every politician is to stay in power,” Rabbi Merav noted. “It goes against their nature to want to campaign a second time. What is happening now in Israeli politics is not only unprecedented, it is counter-intuitive.”

“As strange as things are, I realized that it was precisely the situation that Rabbi Kaduri described 40 years ago,” Rabbi Merav said. “There is a mitzvah (Torah commandment) incumbent upon every Jew to anticipate the arrival of the Messiah at every moment. I certainly strive to perform that mitzvah but we are not the kind of people who are always seeking signs for the end of days. There is a lot of work to do without that. Serving Hashem is not easy. If there are signs that the Messiah is imminent then these show us that even more than usual, it is time to focus on doing Hashem’s will.”

“I live the geula every moment,” Rabbi Merav said. “I live my life as a Jew, as a man, but in my consciousness, I anticipate the blowing of the final shofar at every moment. And if the Messiah doesn’t appear tomorrow, the main thing is not to become confused. The end is known and it is clear. If not tomorrow, then the day after.”

NEHEMIAH 4:11

Breaking Israel News - Tue, 06/11/2019 - 08:17

Throughout the Tanakh, God does wonders and miracles to save the Jewish people. Although perhaps one would think that a nation under Hashem’s direct protection should not need arms to defend itself, it is His will that people conduct themselves in a natural manner. Only when necessary will Hashem intervene with open miracles. This verse describes how in Nechemya’s time, those rebuilding the walls of Yerushalayim would work with one hand while holding weapons of self-defense in the other. Though they rely on their own strength for protection, they remember that the Lord is the source of their might and their success. As described earlier in verse 3, first they “prayed to our God,” and then they “set up a watch” against their enemies. Today, the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces are the ones protecting the Nation of Israel. At IDF swearing-in ceremonies, each soldier is given a Tanakh to hold in one hand, and a gun in the other. In this way, Israeli soldiers are the spiritual descendants of Nechemya’s work force who are reminded that it is not their strength alone that protects the nation, but Hashem above.

‘New York Times’ to Scrap Daily Political Cartoons Over Anti-Semitism Controversy

Breaking Israel News - Tue, 06/11/2019 - 08:12

The international edition of The New York Timeswill no longer feature daily political cartoons, according to the paper’s editorial page editor James Bennet.

While Bennet says the policy change has been in the works for a year, one of the paper’s leading cartoonists, Patrick Chappatte, said the decision was directly related to a public outcry against an April caricature of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog wearing a Star of David collar and seemingly guiding a blind U.S. President Donald Trump, who was wearing a yarmulke.

“In April 2019, a Netanyahu caricature from syndication reprinted in the international editions triggered widespread outrage, a Times apology and the termination of syndicated cartoons,” Chappatte said on his website. “Weeks later, my employers tell me they’re ending political cartoons altogether by July. I’m putting down my pen, with a sigh: that’s a lot of years of work undone by a single cartoon—not even mine—that should never have run in the best newspaper of the world.”

The paper apologized for the offensive cartoon, but then days later published another cartoon featuring Netanyahu, this time with blacked-out eyes, holding a stone tablet emblazoned with a Star of David, while appearing to take a selfie with a smartphone.

The decision to scrap the cartoons will come into effect on July 1, according to a statement by Bennet on Monday.