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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
The science that treats of God and of His relation to the world in general and to man in particular; in a less restricted sense, the didactic representation of the contents and essence of a religion. Jewish theology, therefore, denotes the doctrinal representation of the contents and essence of Jewish religion, the principles on which it rests, and the fundamental truths it endeavors to express and to realize.
Judaism a Revealed Religion.
Orthodox, or conservative, Judaism, from the standpoint of which this article is written, regards the Jewish religion as a revealed religion, the teachings of which were made known by God to man by supernatural means. These supernatural, divine communications of religious truths and doctrines took place, however, only at certain times in the past; and they were made only to chosen people (the Prophets, among whom Moses was preeminent). With the cessation of prophecy they were discontinued altogether. Through these supernatural manifestations God revealed to human beings all the religious truths essential to their guidance through life and to their spiritual welfare. These religious truths it is not necessary for man to supplement with human doctrines; nor may any of them be annulled. They are mainly contained in the Holy Scriptures, written by men who were inspired by God; and in part they are among the teachings and manifestations revealed by God to Moses which were not written down, but were preserved to the nation by oral tradition.
Connection with Natural Theology.
Although the source of all religious truths within Judaism is to be found in revelation, Jewish theology is not solely revealed theology: natural theology has received recognition also. It is considered a fundamental maxim among almost all Jewish theologians and religious philosophers that the teachings and religious truths contained in the Scriptures as emanating from God can not be in direct contradiction to human intellect, which is itself of divine origin. The truths, understood and accepted by the human mind, which constitute the sum of natural theology are therefore taken into consideration in the determination of revealed religious truths. And, besides, the human mind has been allotted a general right to judge of the value and importance of the divine teachings; this it could do only by using as a standard the fundamental truths recognized by itself. The theological system binding on every Orthodox, conservative Jew, and containing his confession of faith, is therefore a composition of natural and revealed theology. Revealed theology, however, is the preponderating element; for even such teachings and principles as might have been set up by human intelligence are considered, when embodied in the Holy Scriptures, as revealed by God. This theological system is not, however, simply a system of abstract truths and articles of faith in which the Jew is merely required to believe; for it contains the fundamental theological teachings and religious principles on which is based the Jewish conception of the world and of life; and it requires not only a belief in and approval of these principles, but also, as a necessary adjunct to such approval, the doing of deeds which are in keeping therewith. It imposes upon the believing Jew duties by which his life must be regulated.
Connection with Jewish National Customs.
It must be admitted that Judaism—that is, thesum total of the rules and laws, ideas and sentiments, manners and customs, which regulate the actions, feelings, and thoughts of the Jews—is more than a mere theological system, inasmuch as many of its rules and customs are of national character. It is not easy, however, to differentiate strictly between the national and the theological elements in Judaism. Several national customs are also divine precepts, whose observance is recommended in the Scriptures. And, besides, there exists between the Jewish religion and its supporters, the Jewish nation, a connection so intimate that Jewish nationalism and Jewish theology also are closely allied. National customs have become formulas expressing certain theological ideas and doctrines, while, on the other hand, theological rules have come to be considered characteristics of the nation, because they have become habitual to the people. Thus, for example, the customs and habits observed in commemoration of the most important national event—the delivery from Egypt—at the same time convey an idea of God's providence and of His influence upon the history of the nation which found such glorious expression in the Exodus. On the other hand, the theological system, with its precepts and requirements, has become a national bond which keeps the Jews together as one people. Without denying the partly national character of Judaism, it may therefore be said that Judaism is a peculiar theological system which, among other purely theological doctrines and religious principles, also sets up as articles of faith the belief in the imperishability of the Jews as a nation and the hope of a revivification of their independence. It imposes also the duty of preserving the nationality of Israel by observing the prescribed customs.
The Dogmas of Judaism.
The present article gives a representation of this theological system: the individual religious truths and fundamental teachings—the dogmas of the Jewish faith—will be cited and explained; and their importance for the practical religious life, as well as the moral and religious duties deduced from them, will be referred to. This imposition of moral and religious duties is characteristic of the dogmas of the Jewish religion, which, however, are not dogmas in the sense that belief in them alone insures the salvation of the soul; for mere belief in them, without action in accordance with such belief, is, according to the Jewish theological conception, of no value. The dogmas of the Jewish faith must not only be believed and acknowledged, but they also demand that one act in accordance with their logical requirements. In this sense the dogmas of the Jewish religion are not only those truths and fundamental doctrines with the denial of which Judaism would cease to be a religion, but also such teachings and articles of faith as are obligatory upon each individual. With these doctrines and articles of faith the most enlightened spirits and the most prominent thinkers of the Jewish nation have at all times occupied themselves. This being the case, it is not to be wondered at that differences of opinion have arisen with regard to details of individual points, one scholar having interpreted a particular sentence at variance with another. In all such cases where the most enlightened men of the nation have disagreed in the interpretation of a doctrine or an article of faith, the authoritative opinion of the majority is used as a basis in the following discussion (see see Authority). Such views and teachings as were at all times considered obligatory on adherents of the Jewish religion are the fundamental doctrines of Judaism. Any interpretation of an article of faith which was at any time advocated by only one or a few persons is to be regarded merely as his or their individual opinion; it is not obligatory upon all followers of Judaism and will therefore not be considered here.
The fundamental dogma of the Jewish religion, without which such faith would be inconceivable, is the belief in the existence of God. This is also the fundamental principle of all other religions; but the conception of God taught by the Jewish faith is in essential points different from the conceptions voiced by other creeds. This peculiarly Jewish conception of God regards Him as the Creator of the world and of all creatures; and it bestows upon Him, therefore, the name "Ha-Bore yitbarak shemo" (The Creator whose name is glorified).
God as Creator.
The conception of God as the Creator of the universe, which is taught in the history of the Creation (Genesis 1), finds expression in the Decalogue also (Exodus 20:11), and is often repeated in the prophetic books. "I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded," says God through the mouth of the prophet (Isaiah 45:12). Nehemiah says: "Thou, even thou, art Lord alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all" (Nehemiah 9:6); and the Psalmist calls God the Creator "which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is" (Psalms 146:6). The creation of the world by God, as the Jewish religion teaches, was a "creatio ex nihilo," since God, the Creator, merely through His will, or His word, called into existence the world out of absolute nothingness (Maimonides, "Yad," Teshubah,; "Moreh Nebukim," 2:27; Albo, "'Iḳḳarim," 1:12). God, as the Creator of the world, is its preserver also; and the creation is not a completed act, but a continuous activity. The laws which, with great regularity, rule the world have been instituted by God, and remain valid only through the will of God, who in this way "repeats every day the work of creation through His goodness." But "whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places" (Psalms 135:6); and He is able to abolish the laws which govern nature. At certain times in the world's history, when it was necessary for higher purposes, He has done this, and caused events and phenomena to happen which were contrary to the usual laws of nature (MIRACLE). All the miracles recorded by the Scriptures happened in this manner. The naturallaws are nevertheless to be regarded as valid forever; for they were introduced by God in His wisdom as permanent rules for the order of nature, and He never has cause to change the plans once made by Him, nor to change the arrangements made according to these plans. Even the miracles, although taking place during a temporary suspension of natural laws, were not due to changes in the divine plans; for they were embodied in the original plan. For from the very creation of the world and the establishment of natural laws, God, in His prescience, realized that at certain times a deviation from this order would be necessary for the welfare of humanity, in order to show it that the laws of nature had no independent power, but were subject to a higher being, their Creator. It was therefore prearranged that these deviations should take place at the times decided upon. In the personificative language of the Midrash this teaching is expressed as follows: "When God ordered Moses to cleave the sea, the latter wondered, and said, 'Thou, O Lord, hast said it Thyself, and hast instituted it as a natural law, that the sea should never become dry.' Whereupon the Lord said, 'From the beginning, at the time of creation, when I decided the laws for the sea, I have stipulated that it should divide itself before Israel, and leave a dry path through its midst for that nation'" (Ex. R. 21:6). What has here been said concerning the phenomenal division of the water refers also to every other phenomenon which is a deviation from the natural order of things.
God in History.
Even as God is recognized as the Creator and Upholder of the world, so is He regarded as its Ruler. God's rulership over the world is secured through His creatorship (Psalms 24:1-2). The doctrine of recognizing in God not only the Creator of the world, but also the Arbiter of its destiny, was revealed by God Himself upon Mt. Sinai when He declared to the Israelites that it was He who had freed them from Egyptian bondage and made them an independent nation (Exodus 20:2). Nehemiah, after having recognized God as the Creator and Upholder of the world, enumerates His marvelous deeds, thereby acknowledging Him also as the Arbiter of its destiny (Nehemiah 9:7-13). In Psalms 136 God is praised and acknowledged both as the Creator of the world and as the Author of all events. The direct result upon man of this belief in God as the Creator and Upholder of the world and as the Arbiter of its destiny, is to make him dependent upon and responsible to God who created him. According to Genesis 1, God's creation of the world culminated when He created man in His own image. This resemblance of man to God refers to his spiritual qualities, which raise him above the animals, and enable him to rule the world. It also enables man to commune with God, to acknowledge Him, and to act according to His will. It therefore becomes the duty of man to exercise his God-given rulership of the world only in accordance with divine precepts. He may not follow his own inclination, but must in all things do according to the will of God. And in order to make it possible for man to do according to the divine will, God has, through a revelation, communicated His will to man (see REVELATION).
The belief in God as the sole Creator of the world and of all living creatures necessitates also a belief in the eternity of God. He is the Cause which has called all things into existence. But He needed no outer cause for His own existence, He Himself being the cause thereof. From this it follows that no limit can be placed upon His existence, that He has existed from all eternity, and that He will continue to exist forever. "I am the first, and I am the last," says the Lord through the mouth of the prophet (Isaiah 44:6). He is called, therefore, "the eternal God" ("Elohe ḳedem"; Deuteronomy 33), and the Psalmist calls Him the God who "from everlasting to everlasting is God" (Ps. xc. 2). This God, teaches the Jewish religion, is no carnal being; no carnal attributes may be assigned to Him, nor do earthly conditions apply to Him; and there exists, moreover, no other being that resembles Him. This doctrine is especially emphasized by Jewish theologians, because several Biblical expressions apparently favor a conception of God as a carnal being, and many teachers take these expressions literally. It is the nature of a carnal body that it is limited and defined by space. God, as a non-corporeal being, is not limited by space; and Solomon says, therefore, "behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens can not contain thee" (1 Kings 8:27). The sages expressed this conception thus: "God arranges the whole universe and sets its limits: but the universe has not sufficient room for Him; it can not contain Him" (Midr. Teh. to Ps. xc. 1 [ed. Buber, 195b-196a]). God is thus omnipresent. When expressions occur in the Holy Scriptures mentioning God as dwelling at a certain place, or when a house of God is spoken of, it is not to be understood that God is subject to limitations of space. For the heavens and the entire universe can not contain Him; how much less can a temple built by human hands? All such expressions are only means to convey the idea that certain places are fitted to bring human beings into such a frame of mind that they may approach God and find Him. In like manner do the Holy Scriptures warn against the attribution to God of any definite shape, and the conception of Him in any given likeness. "Ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude. . . . Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb" (Deuteronomy 4:12,15). All the Biblical expressions which mention God in anthropomorphic terms are to be understood figuratively. God's "hand" signifies His power; His "eye" and His "ear," His omniscience, through which He sees and hears everything. His "joy" signifies His satisfaction; His "anger," His disapprobation of human acts done against His will. All these expressions are merely metaphorical, and were selected in order to make the power of God comprehensible to human beings, who are accustomed to see every action done through a human agency. When the Bible wishes to explain anything that has taken place on earth through divine intervention, it uses the same expressions as are employed in thecase of human acts. But in reality there is no comparison whatever possible between God, the absolute, spiritual being, and man, or between God's acts and man's. "To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him? . . . To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One" (Isa. 18, 25). "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord" (ib. 55:8; comp. Maimonides, "Moreh," 1:48; Albo, c. 2:14-17).
A further article of faith teaches the acknowledgment of God as the only God, and the belief in no gods besides Him. "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me," says God to Israel on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20:2-3). Even prior to the revelation on Sinai monotheism (the belief in one God) was an inheritance of the Jewish nation. The patriarch Jacob, in his dying hour, is filled with unrest because he doubts whether his children will preserve the faith which Abraham transmitted to him. His children, who are gathered about him, declare, however, that even as he believes in one God only, so also will they believe in the only God; and they pronounce the monotheistic article of faith: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord" (Deuteronomy 6:4; Gen. R. 98:4). This confession of faith the Jew pronounces thrice daily, and even in his dying hour he breathes it (see Shema'). With this confession on their lips, thousands of Jews have suffered martyrdom because they would not deny the unity of God. Many later religions have derived the monotheistic belief from Judaism, without, however, preserving it in the same degree of strict purity. The Jewish religion not only teaches its adherents to believe in no other god besides the One, but it also forbids the ascription to God of any attributes which, directly or indirectly, conflict with the strict belief in His unity. To ascribe to God any positive attributes is forbidden because it might lead to a personification of the divine qualities, which would interfere with the purity of the monotheistic faith. Many of the attributes ascribed to God are explained as negative characteristics. Thus, when it is said that God has a will, it implies only that He is not constrained in His actions; it must never be understood in the sense that His will is anything apart from Himself. Nor may it be taken to mean that His will is a part of His essence, for the unity of God is absolute and indivisible. Most of the attributes ascribed to God in Holy Writ and in the prayers are to be understood not as inherent qualities, but as ways and means by which He rules the world (see Middot, Shelosh-'Esreh). The emphatic mention of these divine attributes occurs so often in the Bible and in the prayers, because they exercise a great influence upon the religious and moral life of man. And for the same reason, and that its adherents may realize that they can rely only on God, does the Jewish religion impress upon them the fact that God is omnipotent. In their belief in God's omnipotence they can say with the Psalmist: "The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?" (Psalms 118:6). God, in His omnipotence, can frustrate any plans made against them; and the fear of man need therefore never lead them astray from the path of their religion. They can proudly refuse to commit any immoral act, although demanded of them by the mightiest of the earth, even as Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah refused the order of Nebuchadnezzar with the words: "If it be so, our God whom we serve, He is almighty, and He can deliver us and protect us" (Daniel 3:17, Hebr.). To the many occasions on which this confidence in the omnipotence of God has protected the Jews from denying their faith, every page of their history bears witness.
God is omniscient. This is the basis of the belief in the divine providence, of which the following is a circumstantial treatment. The belief in God's omniscience exercises great influence also on the moral and religious thoughts and acts of human beings. "Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him?" says the Lord through the mouth of His prophet (Jeremiah 23:24). All human acts are seen by God; and though they may be hidden from the eyes of human justice, they can not be hidden from Him. Therefore, no evil deed may be committed even in secret. Also the inmost emotions of the human mind are known to God, for He "knoweth the thoughts of man" (Psalms 94:11). Man may entertain no wicked feelings in his heart; for God "seest the reins and the heart" (Jeremiah 20:12).
God is omniscient and all-kind. This faith is the foundation of Jewish see Optimism. The world is the best possible world that could be created (Gen. R. 9:2), for "God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). Also in His government of the world does God exercise His loving-kindness, and "all that God does is done for the good" (Ber. 60b), even when it does not so appear to human beings. This faith, together with the belief in God's justice and never-ending love, gives man courage and strength to follow the straight path to his perfection unhindered by the adversities of life, and to endure with equanimity and with faith in God all the hardships of life. "It must not be believed of God that He would pass an unjust judgment upon man" (Ber. 5b). When, therefore, man is visited by affliction, he should first submit his entire conduct and all his actions to a severe test, to see if he has not called down his sufferings upon himself through his own misconduct. But even if, after a strict examination of his life, he can find nothing which could have been the cause of his suffering, he should despair neither of himself nor of divine justice; he should regard his afflictions as the "sufferings of love" ("yissurin shel ahabah") which God, out of His loving-kindness, has visited upon him (Ber. 5a). "For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth" (Proverbs 3:12), and He inflicts sufferings upon him in order to lead him to his salvation.
The Jewish faith in the absolute unity of God necessarily implies His immutability, the unchangeableness of His resolutions, and the constancy of His will. This doctrine of God's immutability is often emphasized in the Scriptures: "For I am the Lord, I change not" (Malachi 3:6); "God is not aman, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent" (Numbers 23:19); "And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent" (1 Samuel 15:29). It is also said with reference to His ordinances that they are everlasting and unchangeable: "He hath also stablished them for ever and ever: He hath made a decree which shall not pass" (Psalms 148:6; comp. Maimonides, "Moreh," 3:20; Albo, c. 2:19).
This doctrine of the immutability of God and the constancy of His will is in apparent conflict with two other important teachings of Judaism; namely, the doctrines of the power of repentance and the efficacy of prayer. These doctrines will therefore be briefly treated here; and it will be shown how Jewish theologians view this apparent contradiction. Almost all the prophets speak of the power of REPENTANCE to avert from man the evil which threatens him, and to procure for him the divine grace. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon," says the prophet Isaiah (55:7); and in the same spirit speak Hosea (14:2), Joel (2:12-14), Amos (4:6-11), Jonah (3:8-10), Zephaniah (2:1-3), Jeremiah (3:22, 4:1-2), and Ezekiel (18:21-32). And in like manner speak the sages of the Mishnah and the Talmud, comparing repentance to a shield which protects man from the punishment decreed upon him (Ab. 4:13), or to a mediator who speaks to God in man's defense and obtains for him divine grace (Shab. 32a), or to a medium which brings salvation to the world (Yoma 86a). The question arises: How can God, on account of man's repentance, change His resolve, and avert the unfavorable judgment passed upon him; and does not such action conflict with the doctrine of the immutability of His plans? The answer to this question is that God never changes His will; and when man is able, through conversion, to escape the unhappy fate which would otherwise have been his, such escape is due to the fact that it was included in God's original plan. "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?" (Ezekiel 18:23,32). Sufferings and misfortunes were preordained for man on account of his sins; but it was also preordained that they should afflict him only as long as he persisted in his ungodly life and evil ways—the cause of his sufferings. And it is preordained, also, that when man through repentance removes the original cause of his sufferings, these and his misfortunes shall leave him (comp. Albo, c. 4:18). The sages of the Talmud expressed this as follows: "Even before the world was created repentance ["teshubah"] was called into existence" (Pes. 54a); which means that before God created the world and human beings, before He decreed any fate for man, and before He made any resolutions, He had "teshubah" in mind; ordaining that through penance, which changes man's attitude toward God, God's attitude toward man should also become more favorable. Man's repentance, therefore, causes no change in God's will or decisions.
Power of Prayer.
What has been said above in regard to the power of penance applies likewise to prayer. The belief in the power of prayer to obtain God's help and grace finds expression in the Bible, where it is said of the Patriarchs and the Prophets that they prayed; and the Biblical examples of prayers that have been answered are numerous (PRAYER). The most conspicuous examples are the prayers of Hannah (1 Samuel 1:10 et seq.) and Jonah (Jonah 2:2 et seq.). But the efficacy of prayer does not necessitate a change in the divine plans. The only way in which to pray so that the prayer may be heard and answered is for man to turn to God with all his heart and with all his soul (comp. 1 Kings 8:48-50), to repent all his sins, and to resolve henceforth to live in such a way as will be pleasing to God, from whom he solicits aid and grace. A prayer uttered in such a frame of mind and with such intention is not only a desire spoken to God, but it is an expression of the inner transformation which has taken place in the one who prays. His thoughts and his intentions have become entirely changed, and pleasing to God; and he deserves, therefore, the divine grace which has previously been withheld from him only because he lacked the sentiments to which his prayer has given expression (comp. Albo, c. 4:18). The Talmudists express this teaching as follows: "How can a prayer help any one who is sick? If it be the divine intention that he die from his disease, no prayer can help him, since the divine resolution is unchangeable. But if it be the intention of God that he recover, why then should he pray?" The answer is: "Prayer can help man, even if the divine decree be not in his favor" (R. H. 16a). The unfavorable decree has been rendered conditionally and is to be fulfilled only if the man remains in his original frame of mind. But if he repents, and through prayer expresses the change that has taken place in him, then the decree is annulled; for thus was it preordained by God.
Besides the belief in the efficacy of prayer, the Jewish religion teaches also another sentence regarding prayer which distinguishes it from other creeds. This doctrine is that prayer may be directed only to God; and that, besides Him, there is no other being worthy of prayer (Maimonides' commentary on Sanh. 11:1). This doctrine is, of course, only a consequent result of the doctrine of God's omnipotence, and that He alone is the Creator and the Ruler of the world, so that He alone can grant men their desires. But in this inhibition against praying to other beings, the Jewish religion includes also the invocation of angels or aught else as mediators between God and man. The Jew needs no agent whatever when he prays to his God: "When men will approach God," says the Talmud (Yer. Ber. 9:13a), "they need seek out no mediator, nor need they announce their arrival through a doorkeeper. God says to them, 'When ye are in need, call upon none of the angels, neither Michael nor Gabriel, but call upon Me, and I will hear ye at once, as it is written (Joel 3:5 [A. V. 2:32]): "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lordshall be delivered."'" Every man can reach his God through prayer, without any mediation; for even though God is elevated high above the world, when a man enters a house of God and utters a prayer, even in a whisper, He hears it immediately (Yer. Ber. c.). "The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth" (Psalms 145:18). He is equally near to all: to the highest as well as to the lowliest. If a prayer be uttered in the right frame of mind and with right intentions, it is efficacious whether pronounced by a Moses or by the lowliest one in Israel (comp. Ex. R. 21:3).
Holy Scripture mentions several instances where a prophet or a pious man prays for another; as, for example, Abraham for Abimelech, Moses for Pharaoh, etc. These prayers, although not expressive of the improved condition of those for whom they are uttered, are nevertheless heard by God, in order to show that He is the Ruler of the world and that those who believe in Him do not call upon Him in vain. "He is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live," says God to Abimelech (Genesis 20:7). God inflicts sufferings upon unbelievers, with the intention of recalling them through the prayer of a pious one, thereby to show the unbelievers that He, the Ruler of the world, is accessible to the prayers of those that believe in Him.
As has been said above, the circumstance that man was created in the image of God imposes upon him the duty of ordering his life entirely according to the will of God; and only by doing so can he attain the highest perfection and fulfil his destiny. In order to act according to the will of God it is necessary that man should know what God wills of him. Through his God-given intellect man is enabled, in many cases, to recognize the will of God; but, in order to understand it fully, he needs a direct communication from God; that is, a divine revelation. Such a manifestation of the divine will was made even to the first human being, Adam, as well as to Noah and to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses assured Israel that God would raise after him other prophets, who would make known to the people the divine will (Deuteronomy 18:15-18); and he indicated to them the signs by which they might distinguish a true prophet from a false one (ib. 13:2-6, 18:20-22). The purpose of the true Prophets was only to enlighten the people as to the will of God, thereby bringing them to a clearer understanding of their duty: to live according to that will (Albo, c. 3:12). The seers that arose in Israel and in Judah, and whose prophecies have been preserved in the books of the Old Testament, proved themselves true prophets through their personal characters as well as through the nature of their prophecies. The Jewish religion has, therefore, established as an important doctrine the recognition, as inspired by God, of all the prophetic utterances that have been handed down (Maimonides' commentary on Sanh. 11:1). The times and places at which God bestows on a man the distinction of revealing Him to the people depends entirely upon His own will; but prophets must possess certain virtues and characteristics that make them worthy of receiving the divine communications (see PROPHETS AND PROPHECY). Those whom God found worthy of receiving such direct information regarding His will were, in a manner which seemed inexplicable and supernatural to the laity, possessed of the firm impression and the unshakable conviction that God spoke to them and apprised them of His will. They were convinced also that this impression was not a mere feeling of their souls, but that it came to them from without: from God, who revealed Himself unto them, making them His instruments through which He communicated His will to their fellow beings (see REVELATION). But in order to inspire the laity with faith in the Prophets, God considered it necessary on Mt. Sinai to let the whole Jewish people hear that He spoke to Moses, that they might believe him forever (Exodus 19:9); and when God then revealed Himself to the entire nation He convinced them "that He could commune with a human being" (comp. Deuteronomy 5:24). They thereupon renounced all desire to receive commands and teachings from God direct. They were convinced that Moses repeated God's words to them faithfully; and they declared themselves willing to hear all that he spoke in God's name, and to act accordingly (Deuteronomy 5:24).
God thereupon revealed to Moses all the commandments and all the statutes and judgments, which Moses communicated to the people (ib. 31) This revelation on Mt. Sinai is therefore the chief foundation of the Jewish faith, and guarantees the divine origin of the Law as contained in the Pentateuch. Before his death Moses wrote down the five books named after him (the Pentateuch), and gave them to the people (ib. 31:24-26); and he commanded them to observe everything therein written, and to transmit it to their children as the teaching of God. However much the succeeding generations of Israel, after the death of Moses, fell off from God and became idolaters, there has been in each generation a group of pious men who have guarded faithfully the holy inheritance and transmitted it to their children. And through this careful transmission the teachings of Moses have been preserved unchanged through all ages. It is therefore set up as one of the fundamental dogmas of the Jewish religion that the Torah contained in the Pentateuch is identical with that which was revealed by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai (Maimonides' commentary on Sanh. 11:1). No changes have been made therein except with regard to the characters in which it was written (Sanh. 21b).
The Torah contains rules and regulations which should govern the life of man and lead him to moral and religious perfection. Every rule is expressive of a fundamental ethical, moral, or religious idea. Those regulations in which human intelligence is unable to discern the fundamental idea are, through belief in their divine origin, vouchsafed the same high religious importance; and the ethical value of submission to the will of God where its purpose is not understood is even greater. In observing the Law man's good intention is the chief point (see NOMISM).
These written laws are supplemented throughoral teachings; and the interpretation of the written doctrines is entrusted to the sages and scholars, who expound them according to prescribed rules. They add to or deduct from the individual regulations; and in many instances, when it is for the good of the Law, they may annul an entire clause. In such cases, however, the whole body of scholars, or at least a majority, must agree as to the necessity and correctness of the measure (see Authority; see ORAL LAW). Aside from such minor changes and occasional annulments, which are made in the spirit of the Law, and are intended to sustain the entire Torah ("Biṭṭulah shel torah zehu yissudah"; Men. 99b), the Law is to be regarded, in whole or in parts, as unchangeable and irrevocable. It is a firm article of faith in the Jewish religion that this Law will never be changed, and that no other doctrines will be given by God to man (Maimonides, c.).
Permanence and Sufficiency of the Torah.
Of many clauses of the Law it is expressly stated that they are meant to be eternal rules ("ḥuḳḳot 'olam"), or that they are obligatory on all generations ("le-dorot 'olam"); and there is not a single indication in the Holy Scriptures that the Law is ever to be replaced by other revealed doctrines. The new covenant of which Jeremiah speaks (31:31-33) is not to be made on the basis of a new revealed law, but on the basis of the old law, which shall take firmer root in the hearts of the believers. It was even promised to the Israelites that new prophets should arise, and they were commanded to harken to the words of these prophets (Deuteronomy 18:15-18). But the new prophets can reveal no new law, and a prophet who sets up a law which conflicts with the old doctrines is a false prophet (ib. 13:1-4). And also a prophet who declares the old law to be valid for a certain period only, is a false prophet, for his statement conflicts with the teachings of Moses, the greatest of all prophets, who plainly says in many passages (Exodus 12:14,17 et seq.) that the regulations shall be obligatory forever (Maimonides, "Yad," Yesode ha-Torah,; idem, "Moreh," 2:39; Saadia, "Emunot we-De'ot," 3:7-10). The words "It [the commandment] is not in heaven" (Deuteronomy 30:12) are explained in the Talmud (B. M. 59b) as meaning that there is nothing left in heaven that has yet to be revealed in order to elucidate the Law. A decision or a legal question based only on such a heavenly revelation is not recognized (Maimonides, "Yad," c.). The doctrine of the unchangeableness of the Law is further emphasized by another fundamental dogma of Judaism, which declares the prophecy of Moses to surpass that of any of his predecessors or successors (Maimonides, c.). That the prophecy of Moses is different from and superior to that of any other prophet is explicitly stated in Numbers 12:8. Whether this difference was one of quality, as Maimonides thinks ("Yad," c. 7:6; "Moreh," 2:35), or one of degree only, as Albo (c. 3:17) supposes, is immaterial. The fact is sufficient that the prophecy of Moses was superior to that of any other prophet. The Torah was given through Moses, of whose superior gift God Himself convinced the Israelites on Mt. Sinai. Should another prophet arise and declare the Law given by God through Moses to be invalid, then he would have to be a greater prophet than Moses; this, however, is inconceivable according to the fundamental doctrine which declares Moses to be the greatest prophet of all time. Those prophets are not to be believed who declared the old covenant to be dissolved, and that they were sent by God to make a new one; for one can not be as firmly convinced of their divine authority as of that of the old covenant, which they themselves do not deny (Abraham ibn Daud, in "Emunah Ramah,"; comp. also Albo, c. 3:19).
Freedom of the Will.
The fact that the Law was given to man, and that he was requested to observe its precepts, implies that it depends on man alone whether or not he will do so. The freedom of the human will is explicitly announced in the Bible also: "I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days" (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). The Mishnah teaches: "Everything has been foreseen by God, and yet He has given to man freedom of will" (Ab. 3:15). Also the Talmud plainly teaches of the freedom of will: "Everything is in the hand of God, with the exception of the fear of God, and piety: these alone are dependent upon the will of man" (Ber. 33b). "When any one would keep his life clean and virtuous, he is aided; but if he chooses to keep it unclean and wicked, he is not hindered," says Simeon ben Laḳish (Shab. 104a). The teachers of post-Talmudic times all regarded the liberty of the human will as a fundamental doctrine of Judaism. Although it is difficult to reconcile this doctrine with the knowledge or prescience of God, various attempts have been made to effect such a reconciliation, in order that it might not become necessary to deny either of them (comp. Saadia, "Emunot we-De'ot," 2:9; "Cuzari," 5:20; Maimonides, "Moreh," 3:20; Crescas, "Or Adonai," II. 1:4; Albo, c. 4:5). The liberty and responsibility of man justify some retribution for his acts: rewards for the observance of divine precepts and commandments, and punishment for their transgression.
A just retribution presupposes God's providence and His omniscience. The belief in God's omniscience—that is, the belief that He sees and knows everything, even the secret thoughts of man, and that nothing can take place in the world otherwise than by His will—is one of the fundamental dogmas of Judaism. Moses warns Israel not to forget that all events proceed from God: "And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:17,18). Isaiah promises that punishment shall be meted out to the Assyrian king because he flattered himself with the belief that he owed his glory to his own power and to his own wisdom, and did not realize that he was only God's instrument (Isa.10:12-16). Only the ungodly say, "The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it" (Psalms 94:7). The Psalmist reproves them, and says to them that God sees and hears everything, and that He knows the very thoughts of men, even when they are vain (ib. verses 8-11). And in another passage he thanks God for regarding even the lowliest and most insignificant of men and for caring for them (Psalms 8:5, 144:4). The words "Fear thy God" are, according to the Rabbis, added to commandments which depend upon the intentions of man; as if to say to him: "Fear God who knows thy thoughts" (Ḳid. 32b). That nothing takes place in the world without divine ordination is expressed by the Rabbis in the maxim that no man hurts his finger here on earth unless Heaven willed it so (Ḥul. 7b). Also the theologians and religious philosophers of the Middle Ages recognized the belief in divine providence as a fundamental doctrine of Judaism (comp. Maimonides, "Moreh," 3:17-18; Albo, c. 4:7-11; also Providence).
In close relation with the doctrine of divine providence stands the doctrine of retribution: that God rewards those who keep His commandments, and punishes those who transgress them. The doctrine of retribution is one of the fundamental teachings of Judaism, and was revealed to the Jews on Mt. Sinai when God said to them that He would visit the sins of the fathers upon the children, and show mercy to those who loved Him and kept His commandments (Exodus 20:5-6). In many commandments the reward given for their observance is indicated (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 22:6-7). This doctrine, however, contains also a difficulty; for if nothing can take place in the world without God's will, and since He rewards the pious and punishes the transgressors, how does it come to pass that so many pious suffer while the ungodly prosper? This problem, which engaged the prophets Jeremiah (12:1) and Habakkuk (1:13, 2:4), the author of Job, and the psalmist Asaph (Psalms 73:2 et seq.), has also in post-Biblical times held the attention of the most prominent spirits of each generation; and in Talmudic, as also in post-Talmudic, times several attempts were made to solve and explain it (comp. Ber. 7a; Albo, c. 4:7,12-15). Most of the solutions and explanations have been based on the following two ideas: (1) Man, with his limited intellect, is not able to determine who is in reality a pious man ("ẓaddiḳ gamur") or who is in reality a sinner ("rasha' gamur"). Man can mistake a pious one for a transgressor, and vice versa. Nor can man correctly determine actual good and actual evil. Much which appears evil to man proves to be productive of good; while, on the other hand, many things which are seemingly good have evil results for human beings. Short-sighted man, therefore, able to judge from appearances only, may not pretend to judge the acts of God. (2) The other idea which endeavors to reconcile the doctrine of divine retaliation with the fact that pious men suffer while transgressors prosper, is the idea of the immortality of the soul.
Immortality of the Soul.
When man dies his soul does not die with him, but returns to God who gave it to man (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The soul is immortal, and after the death of man, separated from the body, it continues its existence in another world; and in this other world does complete retaliation take place. The doctrine of the immortality of the soul and of a future life is not definitely stated in the Holy Scriptures; but it is implied in many passages, especially in the Psalms (comp. "Cuzari," 1:115; Albo, c. 4:39-40; Wohlgemuth, "Die Unsterblichkeitslehre in der Bibel," in "Jahresbericht des Rabbinerseminars in Berlin," 1899). The doctrine of the soul's immortality, and of a future life in which retribution shall take place, is set forth plainly and emphatically in post-Biblical Jewish literature—in the Mishnah and in the Talmud. "Let not thy imagination persuade thee that the grave is to be a place of refuge for thee," says the Mishnah (Ab. 4:22); "Thou wert born against thy will, and against thy will livest thou. Against thy will shalt thou die and be compelled to account for thy life before the King of Kings, the Holy One, praised be He." In Deuteronomy 7:11 it is said with reference to the commandments: "which I command thee this day, to do them," and these words are explained by the Rabbis as meaning: "Today—that is, in this world—shall man observe the commandments; but he should not expect his reward in this world, but in another" ('Ab. Zarah 3a). "Reward for good deeds should not be expected in this world" (Ḳid. 39b). By the promise of a long life for those who honor their parents (Exodus 20:12) is meant eternal life in the hereafter. The reward and punishment for good and evil deeds respectively to be meted out in the other world, can be of a spiritual nature only, since they apply entirely to the soul. "In the future world are to be found no material pleasures; but the pious ones, with their crowns of glory, enjoy the splendor of God," says the Talmud (Ber. 17a). As the object of doctrines and commandments is to lead man to the highest degree of perfection, so also is the reward for his observance of the Law an eternal enjoyment of the presence of God and true knowledge of Him. The punishment of the transgressor consists in his being excluded from all the divine splendor. This causes the soul to experience the greatest agony and remorse for its ungodly life. Although the belief in divine retribution is a fundamental doctrine of the Jewish religion, the latter teaches at the same time that neither the expectation of a reward nor the fear of punishment should influence the mind of man in his observance of the divine precepts. Judaism sets it up as an ideal that the commandments be kept through love of God (Soṭah 31a; 'Ab. Zarah 19a; see Immortality; NOMISM).
Resurrection of the Dead.
The belief in the resurrection of the dead is closely connected with the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and of retribution in the hereafter. This belief in resurrection is conceived in various manners by Jewish theologians. Some hold that, since retribution in the world to come can fall upon the soul only, bodies will, upon the day of resurrection, rejoin their souls so that both may be rewarded or punished together for the deeds done in common (comp. Albo, c. 4:35).This conception is expressed also in the parable of the lame and the blind (Sanh. 91a, b). Maimonides, on the other hand, understands resurrection figuratively only, and believes it refers to the immortality of the soul, which, after death, awakens to a new life without incarnation ("Ma'amar Teḥiyyat ha-Metim," passim).
But no matter how differently the theologians view the doctrine of resurrection, they all firmly believe that God can quicken the dead, and that He will do it when He so chooses (Maimonides' commentary on Sanh. 11:1). As to when, in what manner, and for what purpose resurrection will take place; who will participate therein, whether the Jewish nation alone, or even only a part thereof; and whether the resurrected dead will thenceforth live forever or die anew—all these questions can not be answered. Explanations bearing on them have been made by various teachers (Saadia, "Emunot we-De'ot," ), but they are all mere conjectures (comp. Albo, c. 4:35).
The Chosen People.
The doctrine of resurrection is expressed by Daniel (12:2): "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." The sages of the Talmud hold that resurrection is alluded to also in various passages of the Pentateuch (comp. Sanh. 90b), one of which is as follows: "I kill, and I make alive" (Deuteronomy 32:39). The Mishnah sets up this doctrine as an important article of faith, and holds that those who do not believe therein, or who do not believe that it is embodied in the divine teachings of Judaism, and indicated in the Law, can have no share in the world to come (Sanh. 11:1). By the Talmud, and by the theologians and religious philosophers of medieval times also, the doctrine of resurrection was recognized as an important article of faith (comp. "Albo," c.). The supporter of the Jewish religion and of all the ethical and moral ideals therewith connected is the Jewish nation, which God chose from among all peoples (Deuteronomy 7:6). The selection of the Jewish nation is evidenced in the fact that God found it worthy of a direct manifestation on Mt. Sinai, that He revealed to it religious truths, and that He bestowed upon it the peculiar grace of causing prophets, who should explain these truths, to arise from its midst.
This choice of the Jewish nation was not, however, made arbitrarily by God; it was based upon special merit which the Jews possessed above other ancient peoples. Abraham, the progenitor of the Jewish nation, possessed a true knowledge of God; and he commanded his children and descendants to "keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment" (Genesis 18:19). But of all the descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people is the only one which has kept the legacy of its progenitor (comp. "Cuzari," 2:6).
This knowledge of God which the Jews inherited from Abraham made them more religiously inclined than other nations; it made them fit to receive revelation, and to acknowledge the value of the laws and accept them. R. Johanan expresses this as follows: "God offered the Torah to all the nations, but none could or would accept it, until He offered it to the Israelites, who were both willing and qualified to receive it" ('Ab. Zarah 2b). Israel, however, may not keep these teachings for itself alone; they were not given it for its own exclusive property. The doctrines were given to Israel only because it was the only one among the nations which was qualified to accept them and to live according to them. And through Israel's example the other nations will be led to a true knowledge of God, and to the acceptance of His teachings. In this way will be fulfilled the promise which was given to Abraham (Genesis 22:18), that "in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." With the exception of such laws and precepts as are based on national events, the whole Law is intended for all of humanity, which, through observance of the divine doctrines, may acquire a true knowledge of God and of His will.
With reference to Leviticus 18:5, the sages say that by the statutes of the Law are designated not the law for the priests or the Levites or the Israelites, but the statutes of the Law which man has to observe, and according to the regulations of which he must live (Sifra, Aḥare Mot, [ed. Weiss, p. 86b]). Israel has acted according to this principle, and has not withheld the laws of God from the nations. Most civilized nations owe their knowledge of God to these teachings. But the nations have not yet attained to a correct understanding of these doctrines, and neither in their political nor in their social lives have they reached the ideals of justice and brotherly love. The Jews, in possession of the revealed doctrines, and peculiarly gifted to comprehend the same and to realize their ideals, have been called upon, as they once taught the nations the knowledge of God, so in future to teach them other religious ideals. But this they can not do as long as they live in exile, dependent and persecuted and despised, and regarded as the reprobate sons of God. They can do this when they again attain political independence, settling in the land of their fathers, where they, in their political and social life, can realize the ideals of justice and love taught by the Jewish religion. The belief that this will some time happen constitutes an article of faith in Judaism which reads as follows: "A redeemer shall arise for the Jewish nation, who shall gather the scattered Jews in the land of their fathers. There they shall form an independent Jewish state and reawaken to independent national life. Then all nations shall go often to Palestine to study the institutions of a state founded on love and justice. From Zion the peoples shall be taught how they, in their own state institutions, may realize the ideals of justice and brotherly love; and the highest religious doctrines shall go forth from Jerusalem" (comp. Isaiah 2:2-4; Mic. 4:1-4).
The Restoration of Israel.
The mission of salvation to be accomplished through the redemption of Israel is, however, only an indirect and remote aim. The direct and first aim is to compensate the Jewish nation for all the sufferings it has endured through its years of exile. God's relations to a nation are similar to those toward an individual.The Jewish nation lost its political independence on account of its sins and failings, and was sent into exile for that reason. This punishment, however, is not calculated to annihilate the Jewish people; for as God does not wish the death of the individual transgressor, but rather his conversion, neither does He wish the destruction of a nation which has sinned. God has promised the Jews that He will not cast them away even while they are in the lands of their enemies; neither will He break His covenant with them (comp. Leviticus 26:44).
God has promised to redeem them when they repent of all the sins which caused the loss of their national independence. "And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath driven thee, And shalt return unto the Lord thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; That then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine be driven out unto the utmost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee: And the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers" (Deuteronomy 30:1-5). When and in which manner this redemption will take place is not explained by any reliable tradition; and the many descriptions given by various teachers are only personal conjectures. When will the redemption take place? That is a question which can not be answered. And all calculations regarding the time of the advent of the redeemer are only conjectures. But it is a traditional belief among the Jews that it may take place at any time when the people are properly prepared to receive him (Sanh. 98a). The natural consequence of this belief is the demand for good acts. The nation must uphold its national and religious endowments, and not, through ill conduct, irreligious actions, and antinational endeavors, frustrate or make difficult its redemption. When the Jewish people believe in their redemption, when they desire it with all their hearts, and when with all their actions they strive to deserve it—then the redeemer may at any time arise from among them (ib.).
- Besides the works cited throughout the article see also: Baḥya b. Joseph, Ḥobot ha-Lebabot;
- Samson Raphael Hirsch, Nineteen Letters of Ben Uziel, transl. by Drachman, New York, 1899;
- S. Schechter, Studies in Judaism, Philadelphia, 1896;
- M. Friedländer, The Jewish Religion, London, 1891;
- Morris Joseph, Judaism as Creed and Life, ib. 1903.
These files are public domain.
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Theology'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/t/theology.html. 1901.