Jewish Theology Systematically and Historically Considered (1918) [Chapter 7]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

The Torah – The Divine Instruction

(pp.42-47)

A) About the author of the chapter:

Kaufman Kohler “… was educated at the Universities of Munich, Berlin and Leipzig, (1865-69), and received the degree of Ph.D. from the University of Erlangen in 1868.” [1]

“Feb. 26, 1903, he was elected to the presidency of Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati.” [2]

[1] https://www.jta.org/1926/01/29/archive/dr-kaufmann-kohler-president-emeritus-of-hebrew-union-college-dies

[2] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9419-kohler-kaufmann

B) Chapter Summary:

“During the Babylonian Exile the prophetic word became the source of comfort and rejuvenation for the Jewish people. Now in its place Ezra the Scribe made the Book of the Law of Moses the pivot about which the entire life of the people was to revolve. By regular readings from it to the assembled worshipers, he made it the source of common instruction.”[1]

“Upon the Pentateuch was built up the divine service of the Synagogue as well as the whole system of communal life, with both its law and ethics.”[2]

“The prophets and other sacred books were looked upon only as means of “opening up” or illustrating the contents of the Torah.  These other parts of the Mikra (“the collection of books for public reading”) were declared to be inferior in holiness, so that, according to the Rabbinical rule, they were not even allowed to be put into the same scroll as the Pentateuch.”[3]

“… neither the number, order, nor the division of the Biblical books was fixed. The Talmud gives 24, Josephus only 22.96 Tradition claims a completely divine origin only for the Pentateuch or Torah, while the rabbis often point out the human element in the other two classes of the Biblical collection.”[4]

“The traditional belief in the divine origin of the Torah includes not only every word, but also the accepted interpretation of each letter, for both written and oral law are ascribed to the revelation to Moses on Mt. Sinai, to be transmitted thence from generation to generation. Whoever denies the divine origin of either the written or the oral law is declared to be an unbeliever who has no share in the world to come, according to the Tannaitic code, and consequently according to Maimonides also.”[5]

“Originally, no doubt, Torah signified the instruction given by the priests on ritual or juridical matters. Out of these decisions arose the written laws (Toroth), which the priesthood in the course of time collected into codes. After a further process of development they appeared as the various books of Moses, which were finally united into the Code or Torah. This Torah was the foundation of the new Judean commonwealth, the “heritage of the congregation of Jacob.”[6]

“Judaism has the two factors, the priest with his regard for the law and the prophet with his ethical teaching; and the Jewish Torah embodies both aspects, law and doctrine. These two elements became more and more correlated, as the different parts of the Pentateuch which embodied them were molded together into the one scroll of the Law. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah, in denouncing the priesthood for its neglect of the principles of justice, and rebuking scathingly the people for their wrongdoing, pointed to the divine law of righteousness as the one which should be written upon the hearts of men.”[7]

“In a still larger sense the Pentateuch as a whole contains priestly law and universal religion intertwined. In it the eternal verities of the Jewish faith, God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and moral government of the world, are conveyed in the historical narratives as an introduction to the law.”[8]

“Thus the Torah as the expression of Judaism was never limited to a mere system of law. At the outset it served as a book of instruction concerning God and the world and became ever richer as a source of knowledge and speculation, because all knowledge from other sources was brought into relation with it through new modes of interpretation. Various systems of philosophy and theology were built upon it. Nay more, the Torah became divine Wisdom itself, the architect of the Creator, the beginning and end of creation.”[9]

“While the term Torah thus received an increasingly comprehensive meaning, the rabbis, as exponents of orthodox Judaism, came to consider the Pentateuch as the only book of revelation, every letter of which emanated directly from God. The other books of the Bible they regarded as due only to the indwelling of the holy spirit, or to the presence of God, the Shekinah. Moreover, they held that changes by the prophets and other sacred writers were anticipated, in essentials, in the Torah itself, and were therefore only its expansions and interpretations. Accordingly, they are frequently quoted as parts of the Torah or as “words of tradition.”[10]

“Orthodox Judaism, then, accepted as a fundamental doctrine the view that both the Mosaic Law and its Rabbinical interpretation were given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai.”[11]

“To them and to us the real Torah is the unwritten moral law which underlies the precepts of both the written law and its oral interpretation. From this point of view, Moses, as the first of the prophets, becomes the first mediator of the divine legislation, and the original Decalogue is seen to be the starting point of a long process of development, from which grew the laws of righteousness and holiness that were to rule the life of Israel and of mankind.”[12]  

[1] p.42

[2] Ibid.

[3] pp.42-43

[4] p.43

[5] Ibid.

[6] p.44

[7] pp.44-45

[8] p.45

[9] Ibid.

[10] pp.45-46

[11] p.46

[12] Ibid.

Jewish Theology Systematically and Historically Considered (1918) [Chapter 6]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

Revelation, Prophecy, and Inspiration

(pp.34-41)

A) About the author of the chapter:

Kaufman Kohler “… was educated at the Universities of Munich, Berlin and Leipzig, (1865-69), and received the degree of Ph.D. from the University of Erlangen in 1868.” [1]

“Feb. 26, 1903, he was elected to the presidency of Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati.” [2]

[1] https://www.jta.org/1926/01/29/archive/dr-kaufmann-kohler-president-emeritus-of-hebrew-union-college-dies

[2] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9419-kohler-kaufmann

B) Chapter Summary:

“Divine revelation signifies two different things: first, God’s self-revelation, which the Rabbis called Gilluy Shekinah, “the manifestation of the divine Presence,” and, second, the revelation of His will, for which they used the term Torah min ha Shamayim, “the Law as emanating from God.””1

“Scripture ascribes such revelations to non-Israelites as well as to the patriarchs and prophets of Israel,—to Abimelek and Laban, Balaam, Job, and Eliphaz. Therefore the Jewish prophet is not distinguished from the rest by the capability to receive divine revelation, but rather by the intrinsic nature of the revelation which he receives. His vision comes from a moral God.”2

“In speaking through them, God appeared actually to have stepped into the sphere of human life as its moral Ruler. This self-revelation of God as the Ruler of man in righteousness, which must be viewed in the life of any prophet as a providential act, forms the great historical sequence in the history of Israel, upon which rests the Jewish religion”3

“The divine revelation in Israel was by no means a single act, but a process of development, and its various stages correspond to the degrees of culture of the people. For this reason the great prophets also depended largely upon dreams and visions, at least in their consecration to the prophetic mission, when one solemn act was necessary.”4

“The story of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai is in reality the revelation of God to the people of Israel as part of the great world-drama of history. Accordingly, the chief emphasis is laid upon the miraculous element, the descent of the Lord to the mountain in fire and storm, amid thunder and lightning, while the Ten Words themselves were proclaimed by Moses as God’s herald. As a matter of fact, the first words of the narrative state its purpose, the consecration of the Jewish people at the outset of their history to be a nation of prophets and priests. Therefore the rabbis lay stress upon the acceptance of the Law by the people in saying: “All that the Lord sayeth we shall do and hearken.” From a larger point of view, we see here the dramatized form of the truth of Israel’s election by divine Providence for its historic religious mission.”5

“The rabbis ascribed the gifts of prophecy to pagans as well as Israelites at least as late as the erection of the Tabernacle, after which the Divine Presence dwelt there in the midst of Israel. They say that each of the Jewish prophets was endowed with a peculiar spiritual power that corresponded with his character and his special training, the highest, of course, being Moses, whom they called “the father of the prophets.””6

“The medieval Jewish thinkers, following the lead of Mohammedan philosophers or theologians, regard revelation quite differently, as an inner process in the mind of the prophet. According to their mystical or rationalistic viewpoint, they describe it as the result of the divine spirit, working upon the soul either from within or from without. These two standpoints betray either the Platonic or the Aristotelian influence. Indeed, the rabbis themselves showed traces of neo-Platonism when they described the ecstatic state of the prophets, or when they spoke of the divine spirit speaking through the prophet as through a vocal instrument, or when they made distinctions between seeing the Deity “in a bright mirror” or “through a dark glass.””7

“Except for the five books of Moses, the idea of a mechanical inspiration of the Bible is quite foreign to Judaism. Not until the second Christian century did the rabbis finally decide on such questions as the inspiration of certain books among the Hagiographa or even among the Prophets, or whether certain books now excluded from the canon were not of equal rank with the canonical ones.89 In fact, the influence of the holy spirit was for some time ascribed, not only to Biblical writers, but also to living masters of the law. The fact is that divine influence cannot be measured by the yardstick or the calendar. Where it is felt, it bursts forth as from a higher world, creating for itself its proper organs and forms. The rabbis portray God as saying to Israel, “Not I in My higher realm, but you with your human needs fix the form, the measure, the time, and the mode of expression for that which is divine.””8

“[Judaism] claims its own prophetic truth as the revelation, admits the title Books of Revelation (Bible) only for its own sacred writings, and calls the Jewish nation alone the People of Revelation. The Church and the Mosque achieved great things in propagating the truths of the Sinaitic revelation among the nations, but added to it no new truths of an essential nature. Indeed, they rather obscured the doctrines of God’s unity and holiness. On the other hand, the people of the Sinaitic revelation looked to it with a view of ever revitalizing the dead letter, thus evolving ever new rules of life and new ideas, without ever placing new and old in opposition, as was done by the founder of the Church. Each generation was to take to heart the words of Scripture as if they had come “this very day” out of the mouth of the Lord.”9

 

Jewish Theology Systematically and Historically Considered (1918) [Chapter 5]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

Man’s Consciousness of God and Belief
in God

(pp.29-33)

A) About the author of the chapter:

Kaufman Kohler “… was educated at the Universities of Munich, Berlin and Leipzig, (1865-69), and received the degree of Ph.D. from the University of Erlangen in 1868.” [1]

“Feb. 26, 1903, he was elected to the presidency of Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati.” [2]

[1] https://www.jta.org/1926/01/29/archive/dr-kaufmann-kohler-president-emeritus-of-hebrew-union-college-dies

[2] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9419-kohler-kaufmann

B) Chapter Summary:

“Holy Writ employs two terms for religion, both of which lay stress upon its moral and spiritual nature: Yirath Elohim—“fear of God”—and Daath Elohim—“knowledge or consciousness of God.”10

“… in the Biblical and Rabbinical conceptions [fear of God] exercises a wholesome moral effect; it stirs up the conscience and keeps man from wrongdoing.”2

See Exodus 20:20

“God-consciousness, or “knowledge of God,” signifies an inner experience which impels man to practice the right and to shun evil, the recognition of God as the moral power of life”3

See Hosea 4:1, 6; Jeremiah 9:23

“Wherever Scripture speaks of “knowledge of God,” it always means the moral and spiritual recognition of the Deity as life’s inmost power, determining human conduct, and by no means refers to mere intellectual perception of the truth of Jewish monotheism, which is to refute the diverse forms of polytheism. This misconception of the term “knowledge of God,” as used in the Bible, led the leading medieval thinkers of Judaism, especially the school of Maimonides, and even down to Mendelssohn, into the error of confusing religion and philosophy, as if both resulted from pure reason. It is man’s moral nature rather than his intellectual capacity, that leads him “to know God and walk in His ways.”4

“It is mainly through the conscience that man becomes conscious of God. He sees himself, a moral being, guided by motives which lend a purpose to his acts and his omissions, and thus feels that this purpose of his must somehow be in accord with a higher purpose, that of a Power who directs and controls the whole of life.”5

“The object of revelation … is to lead back all mankind to the God whom it had deserted, and to restore to all men their primal consciousness of God, with its power of moral regeneration.”6

“In the same degree as this God-consciousness grows stronger, it crystallizes into belief in God, and culminates in love of God.”7

“The highest triumph of God-consciousness, however, is attained in love of God such as can renounce cheerfully all the boons of life and undergo the bitterest woe without a murmur.”8

See Deuteronomy 6:5

“… throughout all Rabbinical literature love of God is regarded as the highest principle of religion and as the ideal of human perfection, which was exemplified by Job, according to the oldest Haggadah, and, according to the Mishnah, by Abraham”9

Jewish Theology Systematically and Historically Considered (1918) [Chapter 4]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

The Jewish Articles of Faith

(pp.19-28)

A) About the author of the chapter:

Kaufman Kohler “… was educated at the Universities of Munich, Berlin and Leipzig, (1865-69), and received the degree of Ph.D. from the University of Erlangen in 1868.” [1]

“Feb. 26, 1903, he was elected to the presidency of Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati.” [2]

[1] https://www.jta.org/1926/01/29/archive/dr-kaufmann-kohler-president-emeritus-of-hebrew-union-college-dies

[2] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9419-kohler-kaufmann

B) Chapter Summary:

“… the word used in Jewish literature for faith is Emunah, from the root Aman, to be firm; this denotes firm reliance upon God, and likewise firm adherence to him, hence both faith and faithfulness. Both Scripture and the Rabbis demanded confiding trust in God, His messengers, and His words, not the formal acceptance of a prescribed belief.”10

“Only when contact with the non-Jewish world emphasized the need for a clear expression of the belief in the unity of God, such as was found in the Shema, and when the proselyte was expected to declare in some definite form the fundamentals of the faith he espoused, was the importance of a concrete confession felt.”2

“… Judaism lays all stress upon conduct, not confession; upon a hallowed life, not a hollow creed.”3

“To the rabbis, the “root” of faith is the recognition of a divine Judge to whom we owe account for all our doings. The recital of the Shema, which is called in the Mishnah “accepting the yoke of God’s sovereignty,” and which is followed by the solemn affirmation, “True and firm belief is this for us” (Emeth we Yatzib or Emeth we Emunah), is, in fact, the earliest form of the confession of faith. In the course of time this confession of belief in the unity of God was no longer deemed sufficient to serve as basis for the whole structure of Judaism; so the various schools and authorities endeavored to work out in detail a series of fundamental doctrines.”4

“3. The Mishnah, in Sanhedrin, X, 1, which seems to date back to the beginnings of Pharisaism, declares the following three to have no share in the world to come: he who denies the resurrection of the dead; he who says that the Torah—both the written and the oral Law—is not divinely revealed; and the Epicurean, who does not believe in the moral government of the world.”5

“Rabbi Hananel, the great North African Talmudist, about the middle of the tenth century, seems to have been under the influence of Mohammedan and Karaite doctrines, when he speaks of four fundamentals of the faith: God, the prophets, the future reward and punishment, and the Messiah.”6

See Rappaport; “Biography of R. Hananel,” in Bikkure ha Ittim, 1842.

“4. The doctrine of the One and Only God stands, as a matter of course, in the foreground. Philo of Alexandria, at the end of his treatise on Creation, singles out five principles which are bound up with it, viz.: 1, God’s existence and His government of the world; 2, His unity; 3, the world as His creation; 4, the harmonious plan by which it was established; and 5, His Providence.

Josephus, too, in his apology for Judaism written against Apion, emphasizes the belief in God’s all-encompassing Providence, His incorporeality, and His self-sufficiency as the Creator of the universe.”7

“Abraham ben David (Ibn Daud) of Toledo sets forth in his “Sublime Faith” six essentials of the Jewish faith: 1, the existence; 2, the unity; 3, the incorporeality; 4, the omnipotence of God (to this he subjoins the existence of angelic beings); 5, revelation and the immutability of the Law; and 6, divine Providence.

Maimonides, the greatest of all medieval thinkers, propounded thirteen articles of faith, which took the place of a creed in the Synagogue for the following centuries, as they were incorporated in the liturgy both in the form of a credo (Ani Maamin) and in a poetic version. His first five articles were: 1, the existence; 2, the unity; 3, the incorporeality; 4, the eternity of God; and 5, that He alone should be the object of worship; to which we must add his 10th, divine Providence.”8

“[Samuel David Luzzatto] holds that Judaism, as the faith transmitted to us from Abraham our ancestor, must be considered, not as a mere speculative mode of reasoning, but as a moral life force, manifested in the practice of righteousness and brotherly love. Indeed, this view is supported by modern Biblical research, which brings out as the salient point in Biblical teaching the ethical character of the God taught by the prophets, and shows that the essential truth of revelation is not to be found in a metaphysical but in an ethical monotheism.”9

“The Jewish conception of God thus makes truth, as well as righteousness and love, both a moral duty for man and a historical task comprising all humanity.”10

“5. The second fundamental article of the Jewish faith is divine revelation, or, as the Mishnah expresses it, the belief that the Torah emanates from God (min ha shamayim). In the Maimonidean thirteen articles, this is divided into four: his 6th, belief in the prophets; 7, in the prophecy of Moses as the greatest of all; 8, in the divine origin of the Torah, both the written and the oral Law; and 9, its immutability.”11

“6. The third fundamental article of the Jewish faith is the belief in a moral government of the world, which manifests itself in the reward of good and the punishment of evil, either here or hereafter. Maimonides divides this into two articles, which really belong together, his 10th, God’s knowledge of all human acts and motives, and 11, reward and punishment. The latter includes the hereafter and the last Day of Judgment, which, of course, applies to all human beings.”12 

“7. Closely connected with retribution is the belief in the resurrection of the dead, which is last among the thirteen articles. This belief, which originally among the Pharisees had a national and political character, and was therefore connected especially with the Holy Land (as will be seen in Chapter LIV below), received in the Rabbinical schools more and more a universal form. Maimonides went so far as to follow the Platonic view rather than that of the Bible or the Talmud, and thus transformed it into a belief in the continuity of the soul after death. In this form, however, it is actually a postulate, or corollary, of the belief in retribution.”13

“8. The old hope for the national resurrection of Israel took in the Maimonidean system the form of a belief in the coming of the Messiah (article 12), to which, in the commentary on the Mishnah, he gives the character of a belief in the restoration of the Davidic dynasty. Joseph Albo, with others, disputes strongly the fundamental character of this belief; he shows the untenability of Maimonides’ position by referring to many Talmudic passages, and at the same time he casts polemical side glances upon the Christian Church, which is really founded on Messianism in the special form of its Christology. Jehuda ha Levi, in his Cuzari, substitutes for this as a fundamental doctrine the belief in the election of Israel for its world-mission.”14

“9. The thirteen articles of Maimonides, in setting forth a Jewish Credo, formed a vigorous opposition to the Christian and Mohammedan creeds; they therefore met almost universal acceptance among the Jewish people, and were given a place in the common prayerbook, in spite of their deficiencies, as shown by Crescas and his school.”15

“10. Another doctrine of Judaism, which was greatly underrated by medieval scholars, and which has been emphasized in modern times only in contrast to the Christian theory of original sin, is that man was created in the image of God. Judaism holds that the soul of man came forth pure from the hand of its Maker, endowed with freedom, unsullied by any inherent evil or inherited sin. Thus man is, through the exercise of his own free will, capable of attaining to an ever higher degree his mental, moral, and spiritual powers in the course of history. This is the Biblical idea of God’s spirit as immanent in man; all prophetic truth is based upon it; and though it was often obscured, this theory was voiced by many of the masters of Rabbinical lore, such as R. Akiba and others.”16

“11. Every attempt to formulate the doctrines or articles of faith of Judaism was made, in order to guard the Jewish faith from the intrusion of foreign beliefs, never to impose disputed beliefs upon the Jewish community itself. Many, indeed, challenged the fundamental character of the thirteen articles of Maimonides. Albo reduced them to three, viz.: the belief in God, in revelation, and retribution; others, with more arbitrariness than judgement, singled out three, five, six, or even more as principal doctrines; while rigid conservatives, such as Isaac Abravanel and David ben Zimra, altogether disapproved the attempt to formulate articles of faith.”17

“The present age of historical research imposes the same necessity of restatement or reformulation upon us. We must do as Maimonides did,—as Jews have always done,—point out anew the really fundamental doctrines, and discard those which have lost their holdup on the modern Jew, or which conflict directly with his religious consciousness. If Judaism is to retain its prominent position among the powers of thought, and to be clearly understood by the modern world, it must again reshape its religious truths in harmony with the dominant ideas of the age.” 18 

“Many attempts of this character have been made by modern rabbis and teachers, most of them founded upon Albo’s three articles. Those who penetrated somewhat more deeply into the essence of Judaism added a fourth article, the belief in Israel’s priestly mission, and at the same time, instead of the belief in retribution, included the doctrine of man’s kinship with God, or, if one may coin the word, his God-childship.”19

Jewish Theology Systematically and Historically Considered (1918) [Chapter 3]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

The Essence of the Religion of Judaism

(pp.15-18)

A) About the author of the chapter:

Kaufman Kohler “… was educated at the Universities of Munich, Berlin and Leipzig, (1865-69), and received the degree of Ph.D. from the University of Erlangen in 1868.” [1]

“Feb. 26, 1903, he was elected to the presidency of Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati.” [2]

[1] https://www.jta.org/1926/01/29/archive/dr-kaufmann-kohler-president-emeritus-of-hebrew-union-college-dies

[2] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9419-kohler-kaufmann

B) Chapter Summary:

“There can be no disputing the fact that the central idea of Judaism and its life purpose is the doctrine of the One Only and Holy God, whose kingdom of truth, justice and peace is to be universally established at the end of time.
This is the main teaching of Scripture and the hope voiced in the liturgy; while Israel’s mission to defend, to unfold and to propagate this truth is a corollary of the doctrine itself and cannot be separated from it. Whether we regard it as Law or a system of doctrine, as religious truth or world-mission, this belief pledged the little tribe of Judah to a warfare of many thousands of years against the hordes of heathendom with all their idolatry and brutality, their deification of man and their degradation of deity to human rank.”20

“Judaism is in a true sense a religion of the people. It is free from all priestly tutelage and hierarchical interference. It has no ecclesiastical system of belief, guarded and supervised by men invested with superior powers. Its teachers and leaders have always been men from among the people, like the prophets of yore, with no sacerdotal privilege or title; in fact, in his own household each father is the God-appointed teacher of his children.”2

“Neither is Judaism the creation of a single person, either prophet or a man with divine claims. It points back to the patriarchs as its first source of revelation. It speaks not of the God of Moses, of Amos and Isaiah, but of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, thereby declaring the Jewish genius to be the creator of its own religious ideas.”3

“[Judaism is] a religion of life, which it wishes to sanctify by duty rather than by laying stress on the hereafter. It looks to the deed and the purity of the motive , not to the empty creed and the blind belief.”4

“Nor is it a religion of redemption , contemning this earthly life; for Judaism repudiates the assumption of a radical power of evil in man or in the world. Faith in the ultimate triumph of the good is essential to it.”5

“Judaism sets forth its doctrine of God’s unity and of life’s holiness in a far superior form than does Christianity. It neither permits the deity to be degraded into the sphere of the sensual and human, nor does it base its morality upon a love bereft of the vital principle of justice.

Against the rigid monotheism of Islam, which demands blind submission to the stern decrees of inexorable fate, Judaism on the other hand urges its belief in God’s paternal love and mercy, which educates all the children of men, through trial and suffering, for their high destiny.”[footnote]pp. 17-18

“Judaism denies most emphatically the right of Christianity or any other religion to arrogate to itself the title of “the absolute religion” or to claim to be “the finest blossom and the ripest fruit of religious development” …

The full unfolding of the religious and moral life of mankind is the work of countless generations yet to come, and many divine heralds of truth and righteousness have yet to contribute their share.”6

“In this work of untold ages, Judaism claims that it has achieved and is still achieving its full part as the prophetic world-religion. Its law of righteousness, which takes for its scope the whole of human life, in its political and social relations as well as its personal aspects, forms the foundation of its ethics for all time; while its hope for a future realization of the Kingdom of God has actually become the aim of human history.”7

“As a matter of fact, when the true object of religion is the hallowing of life rather than the salvation of the soul, there is little room left for sectarian exclusiveness, or for a heaven for believers and a hell for unbelievers. With this broad outlook upon life, Judaism lays claim, not to perfection, but to perfectibility; it has supreme capacity for growing toward the highest ideals of mankind, as beheld by the prophets in their Messianic visions.”8

Jewish Theology Systematically and Historically Considered (1918) [Chapter 2]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

What is Judaism?

(pp.7-14)

A) About the author of the chapter:

Kaufman Kohler “… was educated at the Universities of Munich, Berlin and Leipzig, (1865-69), and received the degree of Ph.D. from the University of Erlangen in 1868.” [1]

“Feb. 26, 1903, he was elected to the presidency of Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati.” [2]

[1] https://www.jta.org/1926/01/29/archive/dr-kaufmann-kohler-president-emeritus-of-hebrew-union-college-dies

[2] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9419-kohler-kaufmann

B) Chapter Summary:

“Religion and race form an inseparable whole in Judaism. The Jewish people stand in the same relation to Judaism as the body to the soul.”[1]

“The national or racial body of Judaism consists of the remnant of the tribe of Judah which succeeded in establishing a new commonwealth in Judæa in place of the ancient Israelitish kingdom, and which survived the downfall of state and temple to continue its existence as a separate people during a dispersion over the globe for thousands of years, forming ever a cosmopolitan element among all the nations in whose lands it dwelt. Judaism, on the other hand, is the religious system itself, the vital element which united the Jewish people, preserving it and regenerating it ever anew. It is the spirit which endowed the handful of Jews with a power of resistance and a fervor of faith unparalleled in history, enabling them to persevere in the mighty contest with heathenism and Christianity.”[2]

“Judaism is nothing less than a message concerning the One and holy God and one, undivided humanity with a world-uniting Messianic goal, a message intrusted by divine revelation to the Jewish people.”[3]

“On the one hand, it shows the most tenacious adherence to forms originally intended to preserve the Jewish people in its priestly sanctity and separateness, and thereby also to keep its religious truths pure and free from encroachments. On the other hand, it manifests a mighty impulse to come into close touch with the various civilized nations, partly in order to disseminate among them its sublime truths, appealing alike to mind and heart, partly to clarify and deepen those truths by assimilating the wisdom and culture of these very nations.”[4]

“Its priestly world-mission gave rise to all those laws and customs which were to separate it from its idolatrous surroundings, and this occasioned the charge of hostility to the nations.”[5]

“… Israel’s prophetic ideal of a humanity united in justice and peace gave to history a new meaning and a larger outlook, kindling in the souls of all truly great leaders and teachers, seers and sages of mankind a love and longing for the broadening of humanity which opened new avenues of progress and liberty.”[6]

“Judaism … far from being the late product of the Torah and tradition, as it is often considered, was actually the creator of the Law. Transformed and unfolded in Babylonia, it created its own sacred literature and shaped it ever anew, filling it always with its own spirit and with new thoughts. It is by no means the petrifaction of the Mosaic law and the prophetic teachings, as we are so often told, but a continuous process of unfolding and regeneration of its great religious truth.

True enough, traditional or orthodox Judaism does not share this view. The idea of gradual development is precluded by its conception of divine revelation, by its doctrine that both the oral and the written Torah were given at Sinai complete and unchangeable for all time.”[7]

“Nevertheless, tradition says that the Men of the Great Synagogue themselves collected and partly completed the sacred books, except the five books of Moses, and that the canon was made under the influence of the holy spirit. This holy spirit remained in force also during the creative period of Talmudism, sanctioning innovations or alterations of many kinds. Modern critical and historical research has taught us to distinguish the products of different periods and stages of development in both the Biblical and Rabbinical sources, and therefore compels us to reject the idea of a uniform origin of the Law, and also of an uninterrupted chain of tradition reaching back to Moses on Sinai.”[8]

“It [i.e. Judaism] adopted the Babylonian and Persian views of the hereafter, of the upper and the nether world with their angels and demons; so later on it incorporated into its religious and legal system elements of Greek and Egyptian gnosticism, Greek philosophy, and methods of jurisprudence from Egypt, Babylon, and Rome. In fact, the various parties which arose during the second Temple beside each other or successively—Sadducees and Pharisees, Essenes and Zealots—represent, on closer observation, the different stages in the process of assimilation which Judaism had to undergo. In like manner, the Hellenistic, Apocryphal and Apocalyptic literature, which was rejected and lost to sight by traditional Judaism, and which partly fills the gap between the Bible and the Talmudic writings, casts a flood of light upon the development of the Halakah and the Haggadah.”[9]

“Instead of representing Judaism—as the Christian theologians do under the guise of scientific methods—as a nomistic religion, caring only for the external observance of the Law, it is necessary to distinguish two opposite fundamental tendencies; the one expressing the spirit of legalistic nationalism, the other that of ethical or prophetic universalism. These two work by turn, directing the general trend in the one or the other direction according to circumstances.”[10]

“At one time the center and focus of Israel’s religion is the Mosaic Law, with its sacrificial cult in charge of the priesthood of Jerusalem’s Temple; at another time it is the Synagogue, with its congregational devotion and public instruction, its inspiring song of the Psalmist and its prophetic consolation and hope confined to no narrow territory, but opened wide for a listening world. Here it is the reign of the Halakah holding fast to the form of tradition, and there the free and fanciful Haggadah , with its appeal to the sentiments and views of the people. Here it is the spirit of ritualism , bent on separating the Jews from the influence of foreign elements, and there again the spirit of rationalism , eager to take part in general culture and in the progress of the outside world.”[11]

“An impartial Jewish theology must therefore take cognizance of both sides; it must include the mysticism of Isaac Luria and Sabbathai Horwitz as well as the rationalism of Albo and Leo da Modena.”[12]

“As a safeguard against arbitrary individualism, there was the principle of loyalty and proper regard for tradition, which is aptly termed by Professor Lazarus a “historical continuity.” The Midrashic statement is quite significant that other creeds founded on our Bible can only adhere to the letter, but the Jewish religion possesses the key to the deeper meaning hidden and presented in the traditional interpretation of the Scriptures. That is, for Judaism Holy Scripture in its literal sense is not the final word of God; the Bible is rather a living spring of divine revelation, to be kept ever fresh and flowing by the active force of the spirit.”[13]

“To sum up: Judaism, far from offering a system of beliefs and ceremonies fixed for all time, is as multifarious and manifold in its aspects as is life itself. It comprises all phases and characteristics of both a national and a world religion.”[14]

 

[1] p.7

[2] pp.7-8

[3] p.8

[4] pp.8-9

[5] p.9

[6] Ibid.

[7] p.11

[8] pp.11-12

[9] pp.12-13

[10] p.13

[11] Ibid.

[12] p.14

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

Jewish Theology Systematically and Historically Considered (1918) [Chapter 1]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

The Meaning of Theology

(pp.1-6)

A) About the author of the chapter:

Kaufman Kohler “… was educated at the Universities of Munich, Berlin and Leipzig, (1865-69), and received the degree of Ph.D. from the University of Erlangen in 1868.” [1]

“Feb. 26, 1903, he was elected to the presidency of Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati.” [2]

[1] https://www.jta.org/1926/01/29/archive/dr-kaufmann-kohler-president-emeritus-of-hebrew-union-college-dies

[2] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9419-kohler-kaufmann

B) Chapter Summary:

“The name Theology, “the teaching concerning God,” is taken from Greek philosophy. It was used by Plato and Aristotle to denote the knowledge concerning God and things godly, by which they meant the branch of Philosophy later called Metaphysics, after Aristotle.”[1]

“In the Christian Church the term gradually assumed the meaning of systematic exposition of the creed, a distinction being made between Rational, or Natural Theology, on the one hand, and Dogmatic Theology, on the other.”[2]

“In common usage Theology is understood to be the presentation of one specific system of faith after some logical method, and a distinction is made between Historical and Systematic Theology. The former traces the various doctrines of the faith in question through the different epochs and stages of culture, showing their historical process of growth and development; the latter presents these same doctrines in comprehensive form as a fixed system, as they have finally been elaborated and accepted upon the basis of the sacred scriptures and their authoritative interpretation.”[3]

“Theology and Philosophy of Religion differ widely in their character. Theology deals exclusively with a specific religion; in expounding one doctrinal system, it starts from a positive belief in a divine revelation and in the continued working of the divine spirit, affecting also the interpretation and further development of the sacred books. Philosophy of Religion, on the other hand, while dealing with the same subject matter as Theology, treats religion from a general point of view as a matter of experience, and, as every philosophy must, without any foregone conclusion. Consequently it submits the beliefs and doctrines of religion in general to an impartial investigation, recognizing neither a divine revelation nor the superior claims of any one religion above any other, its main object being to ascertain how far the universal laws of human reason agree or disagree with the assertions of faith.”[4]

“… we have learned to distinguish between subjective and objective truths, whereas theology by its very nature deals with truth as absolute. This makes it imperative for us to investigate historically the leading idea or fundamental principle underlying a doctrine, to note the different conceptions formed at various stages, and trace its process of growth.”[5]

“Judaism is a religion of historical growth, which, far from claiming to be the final truth, is ever regenerated anew at each turning point of history. The fall of the leaves at autumn requires no apology, for each successive spring testifies anew to nature’s power of resurrection.”[6]

“The object of a systematic theology of Judaism, accordingly, is to single out the essential forces of the faith.”[7]

Jewish theology differs radically from Christian theology in the following three points:

“A. The theology of Christianity deals with articles of faith formulated by the founders and heads of the Church as conditions of salvation , so that any alteration in favor of free thought threatens to undermine the very plan of salvation upon which the Church was founded. Judaism recognizes only such articles of faith as were adopted by the people voluntarily as expressions of their religious consciousness, both without external compulsion and without doing violence to the dictates of reason.”[8]

“Christian theology rests upon a formula of confession , the so-called Symbolum of the Apostolic Church, which alone makes one a Christian. Judaism has no such formula of confession which renders a Jew a Jew. No ecclesiastical authority ever dictated or regulated the belief of the Jew …”[9]

“The creed is a conditio sine qua non of the Christian Church. To disbelieve its dogmas is to cut oneself loose from membership. Judaism is quite different. The Jew is born into it and cannot extricate himself from it even by the renunciation of his faith, which would but render him an apostate Jew.”[10]

“The truth of the matter is that the aim and end of Judaism is not so much the salvation of the soul in the hereafter as the salvation of humanity in history …

It [i.e. Judaism] does not, therefore, claim to offer the final or absolute truth, as does Christian theology, whether orthodox or liberal. It simply points out the way leading to the highest obtainable truth.”[11]

 

[1] p.1

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] pp.1-2

[5] pp.3-4

[6] p.4

[7] Ibid.

[8] p.5

[9] Ibid.

[10] pp.5-6

[11] p.6