Monday, April 25, 2011
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Sheol, Gehinnom, Gehenna: Hell in Judaism
Many times on this site I have mentioned that Judaism does not teach a doctrine of eternal damnation. Now I've noticed more Christian ministers are very publicly having these same Judaic thoughts - Bishop Drew Pearson a few years back, Paster Rob Bell more recently, for example. Welcome back to Torah, guys!
What is Gehinnom? R. Joshua b. Levi stated: Gehinnom has seven names, and they are: Nether-world (or 'Sheol'), Destruction, Pit (or, 'pit of destruction'), Tumultuous Pit, Miry Clay, Shadow of Death and the Underworld. 'Nether-world', since it is written in Scripture: Out of the belly of the nether-world cried I, and Thou heardest my voice (Jonah 2.3); 'Destruction', for it is written in Scripture: Shall Thy Mercy be declared in the grave? Or thy faithfulness in destruction (Psa 88.12); 'Pit', for it is written in Scripture: For Thou wilt not abandon thy soul to the nether-world; neither wilt Thou suffer Thy godly one to see the pit (Psa 16.10); 'Tumultuous Pit' and 'Miry Clay', for it is written in Scripture: He brought me up also out of the tumultuous pit, out of the miry clay (Psa 40.3); 'Shadow of Death', for it is written in Scripture: Such as sat in darkness and in the shadow of death (Psa 107.10); and the [name of] 'Nether-world' is a tradition. But are there no more [names]? (to Gehinnom) Is there not in fact that of Gehinnom? — [This means,] a valley that is as deep as the valley of Hinnom and into which all go down for gratuitous acts. Is there not also the name of Hearth, since it is written in Scripture: For a hearth is ordered of old? (Isa 30.33) — That [means] that whosoever is enticed by his evil inclination will fall therein (Erbin 19b) Is there a duration to the punishment? Beit Shammai taught: There are three groups – one is destined for eternal life, another consigned to eternal ignominy and eternal abhorrence (these are the thoroughly wicked) while those whose deeds are balanced will go down to Gehinnom, but when they scream they will ascend fro there and are healed…but Beit Hillel taught: [God is] rich in kindness’ (Ex. 34:6) [He is] inclined toward mercy (Tosefta Sanhedrin 13:3) This argument is reiterated elsewhere in the Talmud over the most wicked people the Rabbis could imagine – the generation that drove God to undo creation: The generation of the Flood have no share in the World-to-Come (M. Sanh. 10:3) 'The judgment on the generation of the Flood was for twelve months, on Job for twelve months, on the Egyptians for twelve months, on Gog and Magog in the Hereafter for twelve months, and on the wicked in Gehinnom for twelve months. (M. Eduyot 2:10; Gen. Rabbah 28:8) In the end, Hillel’s opinion prevails (as it always does).
The punishing afterlife is temporal; there is no eternal punishment. Jewish hell is about remorse, whereas Christian and Islamic notions of hell are all about despair. Rabbi Akiba said:…The duration of the punishment of the wicked in Gehinnom is twelve months. (Shabbat 33b) If there are any unredeemable souls, their fate is annihilation and non-being, not eternal torment: After 12 months, their body is consumed and their soul is burned and the wind scatters them under the soles of the feet of the righteous (Rosh Hashanah 17a) In addition, the tradition tells us that souls in Gehenna also get Shabbat and holidays off (thanks to the reader who reminded me of that)
Barack Obama, Rapture, End of Days, Israel, prophecy, revelation
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Tsorekha Gevoha: Jewish Theurgy in Kabbalah
[For healing, apply mitzvot here - repeat as necessary. Illustration from Illan Gadol]
The TaNaKH is fickle about explaining the purpose of commandments. Sometimes an explanation of an individual command is offered (why for example, taking bribes is forbidden), sometimes the reason approaches the self-evident (why we shouldn't murder), but often, no explanation for a particular commandment is forthcoming at all (much of the sacrificial system, for example, is mandated without any clear rationale).
The Rabbis attempt to explain the rationale for many of the mitzvot, but again, there is not a lot of effort to offer a systemic theory of the mitzvot, except perhaps this: "Israel is beloved by God, for He surrounded them with mitzvot: tefillin upon their heads and arms, tzitzit upon their garments…This can be compared to a king of flesh and blood who said to his wife: 'Adorn yourself with all your jewelry [I gave you] so that you will be desirable to me” So too the Holy Blessed One says to Israel, “Distinguish yourself with mitzvot so you will be desirable to me.” (Sifrei Deut. 36) In other words, the Rabbis include the mitzvot in their erotic theology: In love God gives us the commandments as ornaments of His love. When Israel wears (performs) them, it enhances God's desire for us.
The rationalists, who generally assume God's impassiblity (God is not subject to human influence) regard the commandments to be entirely for our benefit - they mold us into virtuous people, maintain our social and unique identity, etc. Maimonides is the apotheosis of this approach. Moreover, RaMBaM believes that the rationale for every commandment is discernable. If we can't come up with a logical moral, social, or intellectual purpose for a particular commandment, we simply haven't applied enough brain power to the question. This is the attitude toward the commandments that gives birth to the 'hygiene' theory of kashrut - we separate meat from milk to make better distribution of available proteins, or we don't eat pork, shellfish, etc, because we intuit that these food contain harmful substances.
The early mystics found such rationalizations troubling, because once you figure out how to address the 'rationale" (i.e., cook your pork thoroughly and render it safe), the commandment loses its force. And they were all about keeping the fabric of the commandments a whole cloth. So they made an entirely different argument. No only is God subject to human influence, there is a tserokha gevoha - 'a need on high.' The mitzvot don't just help us, they help God. This is baldly stated in the 13th Century mystical treatise Sha'arei Orah, Gates of Light, when Joseph Gilkatilla, the author, asks rhetorically, "Doesn't one see that the lower worlds have power to build or destroy the worlds above?"
This is grabbing the other end of the stick from the radically transcendent and immutable God of much rationalist philosophy. But, rational or not, what this does, religiously, is make the commandments really compelling. It is the cosmic equivalent of Jewish mother's guilt: "So, if you don't do what I ask, it's not like the world's going to come to an end....except it will!" "Go ahead, don't worry about Me, I'm only your Creator!" Thus in Sefer Bahir we read: We learned: There is a single pillar extending from heaven to earth, and its name is Righteous (Tzadik). [This pillar] is named after the righteous. When there are righteous people in the world, then it becomes strong, and when there are not, it becomes weak. It supports the entire world, as it is written, "And Righteousness is the foundation of the world." If it becomes weak, then the world cannot endure. Therefore, even if there is only one righteous person in the world, it is he who supports the world. It is therefore written, "And a righteous one is the foundation of the world."  This logic of sustaining and healing God through righteous deeds creates great incentive for zealous, precise, even exuberant observance. On the other hand, it somewhat stifles innovation (change may diminish the potency of the ritual act) and create a certain degree of religious OCD.
1. Gates of Light, Avi Weinstein, trans. (Harper-Collins, 1994), p. 62.
Zal g'mor - To learn more consult the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050
Friday, April 08, 2011
Adam Kadmon II: The Human Cosmos, Conduit of Light
Barack Obama, Rapture, End of Days, Israel, prophecy, revelation