What’s a Rational Monotheist to Do with Biblical Angels?

Jan. 25 2023

Despite the image bequeathed to us by medieval Christian artists, the cherubim of the Hebrew Bible are never depicted as rosy-cheeked or childlike. In the vision of Ezekiel, which gives the only detailed biblical account of their appearance, they are described as having the faces of various creatures and four wings each. James A. Diamond explains the significance of these angelic beings in Jewish thought, and the struggle of ancient and medieval thinkers to place them into a monotheistic cosmology:

Considering their mythic overtones, the classical rabbis were . . . anxious about the possibility of angels becoming, in the popular consciousness, demigods or autonomous divine beings, sharing or competing with God’s governance. This fear resonates in a caution cited in the name of God, “If a person is in trouble, he should cry neither to Michael nor to Gabriel, rather he should cry to Me and I shall answer him immediately.” (Talmud, Brakhot 9:1). . . . It reaches its height in no less than Maimonides’ thirteen principles of faith, where the fifth admonishes worshipping only God to the exclusion of any intermediaries.

Cherubim are particularly crucial in the angelic hierarchy geographically, architecturally, and oracularly. Their debut performance on the biblical stage is as fearsome armed guardians stationed at a specific location barring re-entry to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24). Subsequently, their images adorned the ark situated in the inner sanctum of the portable desert Tabernacle and the Holy of Holies of the later-established Temples, the holiest space known to Judaism, where God Himself is thought to reside. As such, there is palpable rabbinic angst at the idea of a pagan incursion into the very heart of Jewish worship to the point where the possibility is canvassed that these icons contravene one of the cardinal Ten Commandments prohibiting the sculpting of graven images.

So dangerous is this idolatrous presence that the rabbis worry about it setting a precedent for those institutions that fill the vacuum left by the destroyed Temple. They thus prohibit their deployment in the future design of synagogues and rabbinic academies.

From the medieval theologians, Diamond goes on to examine how the image of “the iron cherub of Acra” in the Holocaust poetry of the Romanian Jewish writer Paul Celan.

Read more at Marginalia

More about: Angels, Hebrew Bible, Holocaust, Moses Maimonides, Theology


American Aid to Lebanon Is a Gift to Iran

For many years, Lebanon has been a de-facto satellite of Tehran, which exerts control via its local proxy militia, Hizballah. The problem with the U.S. policy toward the country, according to Tony Badran, is that it pretends this is not the case, and continues to support the government in Beirut as if it were a bulwark against, rather than a pawn of, the Islamic Republic:

So obsessed is the Biden administration with the dubious art of using taxpayer dollars to underwrite the Lebanese pseudo-state run by the terrorist group Hizballah that it has spent its two years in office coming up with legally questionable schemes to pay the salaries of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), setting new precedents in the abuse of U.S. foreign security-assistance programs. In January, the administration rolled out its program to provide direct salary payments, in cash, to both the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Internal Security Forces (ISF).

The scale of U.S. financing of Lebanon’s Hizballah-dominated military apparatus cannot be understated: around 100,000 Lebanese are now getting cash stipends courtesy of the American taxpayer to spend in Hizballah-land. . . . This is hardly an accident. For U.S. policymakers, synergy between the LAF/ISF and Hizballah is baked into their policy, which is predicated on fostering and building up a common anti-Israel posture that joins Lebanon’s so-called “state institutions” with the country’s dominant terror group.

The implicit meaning of the U.S. bureaucratic mantra that U.S. assistance aims to “undermine Hizballah’s narrative that its weapons are necessary to defend Lebanon” is precisely that the LAF/ISF and the Lebanese terror group are jointly competing to achieve the same goals—namely, defending Lebanon from Israel.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, U.S. Foreign policy