web analytics
March 31, 2015 / 11 Nisan, 5775
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post


Philosophy or Prophecy

The biblical covenant has the same literary structure as ancient near eastern political treaties.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

These treaties usually follow a six-part pattern, of which the first three elements were [1] the preamble, identifying the initiator of the treaty, [2] a historical review, summarizing the past relationship between the parties, and [3] the stipulations, namely the terms and conditions of the covenant. The first verse of the Ten Commandments is a highly abridged form of [1] and [2]. “I am the Lord your God” is the preamble. “Who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” is the historical review. The verses that follow are the stipulations, or as we would call them, the commands. Nachmanides and the Midrash are therefore correct in seeing the verse as an introduction, not a command.

What is at stake in this difference of opinion between Maimonides on the one hand, Judah Halevi and Nachmanides on the other? At the heart of Judaism is a twofold understanding of the nature of God and His relationship to the universe. God is creator of the universe and the maker of the human person “in His image.” This aspect of God is universal. It is accessible to anyone, Jew or gentile. Aristotle arrived at it through logic and metaphysics. For him, God was the “prime mover” who set the universe into motion. Today, many people reach the same conclusion through science: the universe is too finely tuned for the emergence of life to have come into being through chance (this is sometimes called the anthropic principle). Some arrive at it not through logic or science but through a simple sense of awe and wonder (“Not how the world is, but that it is, is the mystical” said Wittgenstein). This aspect of God is called by the Torah, Elokim.

There is, however, a quite different aspect of God which predominates throughout most of Tanach, the Hebrew Bible. This is God as He is involved in the fate of one family, one nation: the children of Israel. He intervenes in their history. He makes a highly specific covenant with them at Sinai – not at all like the general one He made with Noah and all humanity after the Flood. The Noahide covenant is simple and basic. The sages said it involved a mere seven commands. The Sinai covenant, by contrast, is highly articulated, covering almost every conceivable aspect of life. This aspect of God is signaled by the use of the four-letter name for which we traditionally substitute (since the word itself is holy and could only be pronounced by the High Priest) the word Hashem (on the two aspects and names, see Kuzari IV:1-3; and Ramban to Exodus 3:13).

Maimonides, the philosopher, emphasized the universal, metaphysical aspect of Judaism and the eternal, unchanging existence of God. Judah Halevi and Nachmanides, the one a poet, the other a mystic, were more sensitive to the particularistic and prophetic dimension of Judaism: the role of God in the historical drama of the covenant. Both are true and valid, but in this case, Halevi and Nachmanides are closer to the meaning of the biblical text.

About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.”


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

One Response to “Philosophy or Prophecy”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
One-third of polled Republicans see President Obama as the biggest imminent threat to the USA.
One-Third of GOP Voters See Obama Worse for US than Assad and Putin
Latest Judaism Stories
Bodenheim-032715

Our ability to teach is only successful if done by example.

Torat-Hakehillah-logo-NEW

Outside of the High Holidays, Pesach is probably the most celebrated biblical holiday for the majority of Jews.

Business-Halacha-logo

“If I notify people, nobody will buy the matzos!” exclaimed Mr. Mandel. “Once the halachic advisory panel ruled leniently, why can’t I sell the matzos regularly?”

The-Shmuz

So what type of praise is it that Aaron followed orders?

Her Children, Her Whim
‘Kesubas Bnin Dichrin’
(Kesubos 52b)

Question: Must one spend great sums of money and invest much effort in making one’s home kosher for Passover? Not all of us have such unlimited funds.

Name Withheld
(Via E-Mail)

Yachatz is not mentioned in the Gemara. What is the foundation for yachatz?

First, the punishment for eating chametz on Pesach is karet, premature death at the Hand of God.

Why is it necessary to invite people to eat from the korban Pesach?

How was I going to get to Manhattan? No cabs were going, we didn’t have a car, and many people who did have cars had no gas.

Did you ever notice that immediately upon being granted our freedom from Egypt, the Jewish people accepted upon themselves the yoke of a new master – Hashem?

Why does Torah make the priests go through a long and seemingly bizarre induction ceremony?

Often people in important positions separate from everyday people & tasks-NOT the Kohen Gadol

You smuggled tefillin into the camp? How can they help? Every day men risked their lives to use them

Rambam: Eating blood’s forbidden because connected to idolatry;Ramban: We’re affected by what we eat

Rambam warns that a festival meal without taking care of the needy isn’t fulfilling simchat yom tov

More Articles from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Rambam: Eating blood’s forbidden because connected to idolatry;Ramban: We’re affected by what we eat

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

There is something quite distinctive about the biblical approach to time.

Why should unintentional sins require atonement? What guilt exists when requisite intent is lacking?

Like Shabbat points to something beyond time, the people Israel points to something beyond history

The Sabbath is a full dress rehearsal for an ideal society that has not yet come to pass-but will

Jewish prayer is a convergence of 2 modes of biblical spirituality, exemplified by Moses and Aaron

With the synagogue, “Judaism created one of the greatest revolutions in the history of religion”

By wisdom, we come to understand G-d via creation; By Torah we understand G-d through His revelation

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/philosophy-or-prophecy/2013/07/18/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: