How the Rabbis Put God Back in Divine Law

April 12 2018

In the Bible, “divine law” means laws conveyed by God to man, usually via Moses. To ancient philosophers like Cicero, the phrase meant what we would now call natural law—laws in keeping with the world as God Himself (or the gods) designed it. The 1st-century-BCE Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, perhaps reflecting the attitudes of numerous Hellenistic Jews, sought to synthesize these views. At least, this is the schema put forth by Christine Hayes in her book What’s Divine about Divine Law? In her understanding, things proceed to become more complicated when we get to the apostle Paul, and even more so when it comes to the talmudic rabbis, who are her book’s main concern. Richard Hidary writes in his review:

Ironically, Philo’s defense of Torah as natural law opened a path toward dispensing with it altogether. If one could access and internalize the laws of nature directly as Abraham [supposedly] did, then what need was there for the external rituals? Paul’s answer to Professor Hayes’s question is that divine law isn’t the Torah. Mosaic law was a temporary set of rules promulgated at Sinai to keep the sinful Jews in check until Jesus’ redemption by faith.

Finally, [the 2nd-century-CE sage] Rabbi Joshua exclaims, “The Torah is not in heaven!” Divine law is not immutable natural law, [as Cicero or Philo would have it]. It was given from heaven at Sinai, but it is now in the possession of the sages to interpret as they best see fit. . . .

Hayes’s encyclopedic and nuanced study shows how this biblical model was distorted by Second Temple-era Jewish writers who accepted a Greek dichotomy of divine-versus–human law. The biblical vision, however, found continuity in the Talmud, only to be crossbred again with Hellenistic notions of divine law by later philosophers, kabbalists, and halakhists—though this last medieval and modern part is not really part of the story.

Hayes’s conclusion that the rabbis were the primary inheritors of the biblical notion of divine law will be certain to provoke many scholars of classical Judaism who take for granted that the rabbis moved farther away from biblical religion than did other Second Temple groups. The common assumption is that in their struggle to create a version of Judaism that would help them survive the trauma of the loss of the Temple, the rabbis turned to various forms of midrash to reinterpret the Bible radically, while incorporating at least some Greek terms and notions. . . . Yet Hayes convincingly shows that although the rabbis often deviate from biblical law in its details, their fundamental understanding of the divinity of the Torah’s laws directly continues that of the Bible itself. . . . In fact, the rabbinic willingness to modify the Torah’s laws follows from precisely the biblical understanding of law as the expression of the divine will that can change and that, in any case, must be interpreted.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Halakhah, Hebrew Bible, Judaism, Natural law, Paul of Tarsus, Philo, Religion & Holidays, Talmud

 

While Pursuing a Thaw with Israel, Saudi Arabia Foments Anti-Semitism at Home

July 18 2018

For the better part of this century, Jerusalem and Riyadh have cooperated clandestinely to contain Iran’s growing power. The kingdom has also increasingly aimed its diplomatic and propaganda efforts against Qatar, whose funding of Islamist groups—including Hamas—has damaged both Saudi Arabia and Israel. But, writes Edy Cohen, there’s a dark side to Riyadh’s efforts against the enemies of the Jewish state:

The [Saudi cyberwarfare agency’s] Twitter account tweets daily, mostly against Qatar and Iran. It uses anti-Semitic terminology, referring to Qatar as “Qatariel,” a portmanteau of Qatar and Israel, and claiming the [Qatar-sponsored] Al Jazeera network “belongs to the Israeli Mossad.”

“‘The deal of the century’ is a Qatari scheme to sell Palestine to the Zionist entity,’” one tweet reads, while another alleges that the “Zionist” Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the father of [Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, is scheming to divide the Arab states to fulfill the dreams of the “Zionist entity” and Iran. Yet another tweet alleges that Qatar is “trying to destroy the Arab world to serve the enemies of the Muslim world: Israel and Iran.” These statements penetrate deep into the Arab consciousness and increase existing hatred toward Jews and Israel.

The Saudis, then, are playing a double game. Behind the scenes, they send the Israelis the message that Iran is a common enemy and goad them to fight Iran and Hizballah. At home, however, they say the enemy is first and foremost the state of Israel, followed by Iran. Their formula is clear: covert ties with Israel coupled with overt hostility to the Jewish state to satisfy the people, a majority of whom hate Israel.

The Saudi double game is reminiscent of the Egyptian model under President Gamal Abdel Nasser in that dozens of anti-Semitic articles are published daily, while the Israeli populace is not exposed to the phenomenon and the politicians close their ears. Following the signing of the 1994 Oslo Accords, the Palestinians asked Israel for permission to incite “moderately” against the Jewish state for “domestic needs.” This incitement turned deadly and was used as live ammunition for the boycott, sanctions, and divestment movement (BDS). We must not give in and accept the incitement against us, and that is also true when Saudi Arabia is concerned. Incitement translates into action, and that action comes at a price.

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More about: Iran, Israel & Zionism, Qatar, Saudi Arabia