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Congregation Or Zarua

Adult Education Class with Marc Ashley

May 2022//Iyar 5782

"Abominable Heresies and Monstrous Acts":

Spinoza's Jewish Roots and Legacy

Session 3:  Conception of God

Source Sheet by Marc Ashley
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Created May 22, 2022 · 120 Views נוצר 22 May, 2022 · 120 צפיות

  1. Marc B. Shapiro, The Limits of Orthodox Theology: Maimonides' Thirteen Principles Reappraised, chapter 7 at 97 (2004)


    Faced with all the textual differences, even Maimonides' son R. Abraham agreed that there was no authoritative text, and he was therefore unwilling to invalidate scrolls that differed from Maimonides' prescriptions. Maimonides' establishment of the authority of the Ben Asher Masoretic text as dogma means that the sages of the Talmud and Midrash, the Babylonian Masoretes, and countless medieval scholars stand in opposition to Maimonides' [Eighth] Principle, thus making them heretics! . . .

    It is thus impossible to speak about the Torah "found in our hands today" without clarifying that there is no such single text.

  2. Joshua Berman, Ani Maamin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth, and the

    Thirteen Principles of Faith, Afterword at 312-13 (2020)

    As early as the period of the Ba'alei HaTosafot [medieval Ashkenazic Talmudic commentators] in the twelfth century, our sages realized that an error had fallen into the transmission of the texts of the Tanakh, including the texts of the Torah.  The noticed instances in the Talmud and the Midrash in which a derasha [rabbinic interpretation] rested on a reading of a verse that was at odds with the reading of the Masoretic Text -- the text of the Torah found in our sifrei Torah [scrolls]. . . .  [I]n some cases, Sages of the Talmud derived halakhot on the basis of these variant readings. . . .

    [For example], the Talmud (Sanhedrin 4b) states that the word totafot [forehead symbol] appears three times in the Torah -- twice spelled defectively, without a vav in the suffix, and once with a vav.  From this R. Yishmael determines [as a matter of Jewish law] the number of [biblical passage] sections to be contained in our tefillin.  He reasons that the occurrences spelled without the vav could be read consonantally as singular forms, and thus count for one section apiece.  The occurrence spelled with a vav can only be read as a plural form, and thus counts for two sections, bringing the total to four sections.  However, according to the Masoretic Text found in our sifrei Torah, all three occurrences of the word totafot are spelled defectively [without a vav; i.e., in contrast to one of the spellings in the biblical text reflected in this Talmudic passage, a difference that would affect the resulting legal conclusion exegetically derived from these biblical passages].  

    Logically, these observations are nothing short of damning.  It cannot be that the Talmudic tradition of the midrashei halahkah [rabbinic legal interpretations] and the Masoretic tradition of our sifrei Torah both preserve accurate traditions of these [biblical] verses.  If the variants preserved in the midrashei halakha are correct, then our sifrei Torah do not contain an accurate record of God's word, and are not true to the original.  Conversely, if the Masoretic tradition is accurate, then the Sages of Israel have derived halakhot [Jewish laws] from texts of the Torah that, in fact, do not exist.  This could have the startling implication, at least according to the opinion of R. Yishmael, that our practice of inscribing four biblical sections for our tefillin is founded in error. 

    [T]hese observations cast a long shadow over the question of the general accuracy of our received [biblical] texts. . . .  How can we be sure that any of our [biblical] texts are true to the original wording?  How can we know that the divine word has not been corrupted by human error?

  3. Gil Perl, The Four R's: An Orthodox Educational Framework for Engaging with Biblical Criticism, The Lehrhaus (May 22, 2022)


    The work of academic Bible scholars, which spans the fields of archeology, history, anthropology, sociology, literature, linguistics, law, and more, can offer important insight into our sacred texts that a student of only traditional Torah commentary may otherwise miss. Sometimes the value is in the questions they ask: questions regarding repetitions, contradictions, changes in narrative voice, difficulties in narrative flow, thematic connections, grammatical oddities, and historical anachronisms. These include questions which earlier rabbinic commentators grappled with―but which we never fully appreciated―or questions which have no precedent in our mesorah [tradition] but which deserve to be asked nonetheless. As adherents of Orthodoxy, we may at times find that their answers are fully compatible with our mesorah. And at other times, we may be unable to accept their solutions and will instead have to search for others of our own. But in either scenario, the bottom line is the same: there can be genuine value in the study of Biblical Criticism, and recognizing that fact ought to be a distinguishing feature of Modern Orthodoxy and the first step in any Modern Orthodox student’s engagement with the material.

  4. David Weiss Halivni, Peshat and Derash: Plain and Applied Meaning in Rabbinic Exegesis, chapter 5 at 133 (1991)


    A consequence of this process of sinning and correlative neglect of the text of the Torah, therefore, was the phenomenon of a divine text whose peshat ["plain" meaning] in some places had become corrupt and thus in need of midrashic emendation. Rabbinic derash ["applied" meaning] restores the "genuine" peshat of these problematic verses, displacing the current peshat which, through the corrosive process of chate'u Yisrael [i.e., sinful neglect of the Biblical text], had become textually entrenched. These instances of problematic peshat, however, were not allowed to become exegetically canonized, primarily because of the restorative efforts of Ezra in the early Second Temple period.


    Ezra impelled the process of the "rehabilitation" of the text of the Torah, partly through a system of markers flagging certain words as spurious [i.e., the puncta extraordinaria], but more comprehensively through restorative midrashic exposition. Despite the historical process of chate'u Yisrael, which had created a faulty [biblical] text, Ezra possessed sufficient authority to render the potentially misleading peshat of certain Torah passages harmless by reinstituting their correct meaning, but he did not possess sufficient authority to actually emend the faulty [biblical] text in most instances. . . .

    And therein lies the religious Jew's guarantee that, though the Torah is, in places, textually blemished, his halakha lema'ase [body of practical law] does correspond with and express the divine will as embodied in the original revelation.

  5. (יג) נָחִ֥יתָ בְחַסְדְּךָ֖ עַם־ז֣וּ גָּאָ֑לְתָּ         נֵהַ֥לְתָּ בְעׇזְּךָ֖ אֶל־נְוֵ֥ה קׇדְשֶֽׁךָ׃


    (יז) תְּבִאֵ֗מוֹ וְתִטָּעֵ֙מוֹ֙ בְּהַ֣ר נַחֲלָֽתְךָ֔ מָכ֧וֹן לְשִׁבְתְּךָ֛ פָּעַ֖לְתָּ יְהֹוָ֑ה מִקְּדָ֕שׁ אֲדֹנָ֖י כּוֹנְנ֥וּ יָדֶֽיךָ׃ (יח) יְהֹוָ֥ה ׀ יִמְלֹ֖ךְ לְעֹלָ֥ם וָעֶֽד׃



    (13) In Your love You lead the people You redeemed;
    In Your strength You guide them to Your holy abode.

    (17) You will bring them and plant them in Your own mountain,
    The place You made to dwell in, Lord,
    The sanctuary, O my lord, which Your hands established.

    (18) The Lord will reign for ever and ever!

  6. Baruch J. Schwartz, The Song at the Sea: What Does it Celebrate?,


    The historical horizon of the hymn, the dramatic period in Israel’s history that this sublime Song celebrates, thus extends well beyond the time of the Exodus and the deliverance at the Sea. The Song indeed begins with the miraculous, terrifying annihilation of Egypt’s elite forces, devoting to it a full twelve verses. But it then goes on to recount subsequent events. It telescopes the journey through the wilderness, focusing on Israel’s unimpeded progress to, and conquest of, the land of Canaan, and it climaxes in the building of the Temple on God’s holy mountain.


    The victory at the Sea is therefore the Song’s starting-point, but it is not its object. The Song is not a hymn of thanksgiving offered at the moment of Israel’s salvation at the Sea but rather a celebration of God’s providential lovingkindness, from that time until the present day. The present day, obviously, cannot be earlier than the latest event mentioned: the establishment of God’s Temple on His holy mountain in Canaan, centuries after the time of Moses. The hymn thus celebrates God’s enthronement in His permanent abode, His Temple in Jerusalem, which, for the poet, is the climax and goal of Israel’s election and redemption, the most wondrous stages of which are described in retrospect.


    Numerous translators, and quite a number of commentaries from all periods, have obscured this fact. They have done so by interpreting verses 13–19 as though they spoke of events still in progress or yet to come. . . . Those familiar with Biblical Hebrew grammar and style, however, will immediately recognize that this is impossible. In biblical poetry, the imperfect (or prefixed) form of the verb very often indicates actions completed in the past. That this is the case here can be demonstrated conclusively. . . .


    Linguistically then, there is no justification for reading the Song as if it celebrated the miracle at the Sea as an event that had just taken place and looked forward to Israel’s future progress. The recent event that the Song celebrates is the building of the Temple, presented as the culmination of a process of uninterrupted divine providence that began with the Exodus. Of course, translators and commentators who have concealed this have not done so because of any deficiency in their command of Biblical Hebrew. Rather, the notion that the Torah might contain passages that refer explicitly to events well after the time of Moses as though they belonged to the distant past was simply unthinkable.

    The implication, that portions of the Torah did not even exist in Moses’ time and could not have been written by him, was unimaginable. And so it fell to critical scholars to realize that the author of this portion of the Torah’s narrative evidently embedded in his account of the events surrounding the Exodus a poem – most likely not of his own creation – originally designed for a different purpose entirely: to mark the completion of God’s earthly dwelling-place, the Jerusalem Temple.


    Critical scholars have taken their cue on this and similar matters from Abraham ibn Ezra who, in the twelfth century, laid down two iron-clad rules about validity in interpretation: first, that no interpretation that fails to meet the rigorous demands of Hebrew grammar is admissible; second, that no author, not even a prophet, indeed not even God, speaks or writes in the past tense of events that have not yet taken place. Ibn Ezra thus admitted that certain passages in the Torah date from, and pertain to, time periods long after the lifetime of Moses and therefore could not have been written by him – even at God’s own bidding. And while Ibn Ezra did not include the Song at the Sea among the passages he so identified, it is through our own unfailing adherence to the principles of intellectual integrity on which he insisted that we are able to gain a new appreciation for the Song at the Sea – both in its original role and in its eventual incorporation within the Torah narrative.

  7. (א) מִזְמ֥וֹר לְדָוִ֑ד יְהֹוָ֥ה רֹ֝עִ֗י לֹ֣א אֶחְסָֽר׃ (ב) בִּנְא֣וֹת דֶּ֭שֶׁא יַרְבִּיצֵ֑נִי עַל־מֵ֖י מְנֻח֣וֹת יְנַהֲלֵֽנִי׃ (ג) נַפְשִׁ֥י יְשׁוֹבֵ֑ב יַֽנְחֵ֥נִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי־צֶ֝֗דֶק לְמַ֣עַן שְׁמֽוֹ׃ (ד) גַּ֤ם כִּֽי־אֵלֵ֨ךְ בְּגֵ֪יא צַלְמָ֡וֶת לֹא־אִ֘ירָ֤א רָ֗ע כִּי־אַתָּ֥ה עִמָּדִ֑י שִׁבְטְךָ֥ וּ֝מִשְׁעַנְתֶּ֗ךָ הֵ֣מָּה יְנַֽחֲמֻֽנִי׃ (ה) תַּעֲרֹ֬ךְ לְפָנַ֨י ׀ שֻׁלְחָ֗ן נֶ֥גֶד צֹרְרָ֑י דִּשַּׁ֥נְתָּ בַשֶּׁ֥מֶן רֹ֝אשִׁ֗י כּוֹסִ֥י רְוָיָֽה׃ (ו) אַ֤ךְ ׀ ט֤וֹב וָחֶ֣סֶד יִ֭רְדְּפוּנִי כׇּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיָּ֑י וְשַׁבְתִּ֥י בְּבֵית־יְ֝הֹוָ֗ה לְאֹ֣רֶךְ יָמִֽים׃



    (1) A psalm of David.

    The Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing.
    (2) He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me to water in places of repose; (3) He renews my life;
    He guides me in right paths
    as befits His name.
    (4) Though I walk through a valley of deepest darkness,

    I fear no harm, for You are with me;
    Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me.

    (5) You spread a table for me in full view of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil;
    my drink is abundant.
    (6) Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me
    all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for many long years.

  8. Baruch Spinoza, in letters to Christian friend correspondents (1660s)


    We clearly understand that to ascribe to God those attributes which make a man perfect would be as wrong as to ascribe to a man the attributes that make perfect an elephant or an ass. . . .  When you say that you do not see what sort of God I have if I deny him the actions of seeing, hearing, attending, willing, etc. and that he possesses those faculties in an eminent degree, I suspect that you believe that there is no greater perfection than can be explicated by the aforementioned attributes.  I am not surprised, for I believe that a triangle, if it could speak, would likewise say that God is eminently triangular, and a circle that God's nature is eminently circular.  In this way, each would ascribe to God its own attributes, assuming itself to be like God and regarding all else as ill-formed.

  9. Baruch Spinoza, Ethics, part V (published posthumously in 1677)

    God is without passions, neither is he affected by any emotion of pleasure or pain. . . .  Strictly speaking, God does not love anyone.  He who loves God cannot endeavor that God should love him in return.

  10. Baruch Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, chapter 6 (1670)


    Thus they [i.e., the masses] imagine that there are two powers quite distinct from each other, the power of God and the power of Nature, though the latter is determined in a definite way by God, or -- as is the prevailing opinion nowadays -- created by God.  What they mean by the two powers, and what by God and Nature, they have no idea, except that they imagine God's power to be like the rule of some royal potentate, and Nature's power to be a kind of force and energy.  Therefore unusual works of Nature are termed miracles, or works of God, by the common people; and partly from piety, partly for the sake of opposing those who cultivate the natural sciences, they prefer to remain in ignorance of natural causes, and are eager to hear only of what is least comprehensible to them and consequently evokes their greatest wonder. . . . 


    [These common people] have no sound conception either of God or of nature.  They confuse God's decisions with human decisions, and they imagine nature to be so limited that they believe man to be its chief part. . . .  [T]he universal laws of Nature are merely God's decrees, following from the necessity and perfection of the divine nature. . . .  

    If anyone were to maintain that God performs some act contrary to the laws of Nature, he would at the same time have to maintain that God acts contrary to His own nature -- [a proposition] than which nothing could be more absurd.


    We can conclude that a miracle, whether in contravention to or beyond nature, is a mere absurdity; and, therefore, what is meant in Scripture by a miracle can only be a work of nature, which surpasses, or is believed to surpass, human comprehension. . . .  God's decrees and commandments, and consequently God's providence, are in truth nothing but Nature's order.  That is to say, when Scripture tells us that this or that was accomplished by God or by God's will, nothing more is intended than that it came about in accordance with Nature's law and order and not, as the common people believe, that Nature for some period has ceased to act, or that for some time its order has been interrupted. . . .  [W]hatsoever is contrary to Nature is also contrary to reason, and whatsoever is contrary to reason is absurd and, ipso facto, to be rejected.


    All these [biblical] texts teach most distinctly that nature preserves a fixed and unchangeable order, and that God in all ages, known and unknown, has been the same; further, that the laws of nature are so perfect that nothing can be be added to them nor taken from them; and, lastly, that miracles only appear as something new because of man's ignorance. . . .  There can be no doubt that all the events narrated in Scripture occurred naturally; yet they are referred to God because it is not the aim of Scripture to explain events through their natural causes.  It only relates to those events that strike the imagination, employing such method and style as best serves to excite wonder, and consequently to instill piety in the minds of the masses.

  11. Rabbi Norman Lamm, The Unity Theme and Its Implication for Moderns,

    Tradition (Fall 1961)


    The oneness of God is universally acknowledged as the foundation stone of Judaism and its main contribution to the world.  The theme of the Shema, "Hear, O Israel!  The Lord is our God, the Lord is One" (Deuteronomy 6:4), underlies every single aspect of Jewish life and thought, and permeates every page of its vast literature.  So powerful is this vision of God's unity that inevitably it must express the corollary that the divine unity is the source of a unity that encompasses all existence.

  12. עֲשָׂרָה דְבָרִים נִבְרְאוּ בְּעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת בֵּין הַשְּׁמָשׁוֹת, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן, פִּי הָאָרֶץ, וּפִי הַבְּאֵר, וּפִי הָאָתוֹן, וְהַקֶּשֶׁת, וְהַמָּן, וְהַמַּטֶּה, וְהַשָּׁמִיר, וְהַכְּתָב, וְהַמִּכְתָּב, וְהַלּוּחוֹת. וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים, אַף הַמַּזִּיקִין, וּקְבוּרָתוֹ שֶׁל משֶׁה, וְאֵילוֹ שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ. וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים, אַף צְבָת בִּצְבָת עֲשׂוּיָה:

    Ten things were created on the eve of the Sabbath at twilight, and these are they:

    [1] the mouth of the earth, [2] the mouth of the well, [3] the mouth of the donkey, [4] the rainbow, [5] the manna, [6] the staff

    [of Moses], [7] the shamir, [8] the letters, [9] the writing, [10] and the tablets.

    And some say: also the demons, the grave of Moses, and the ram of Abraham, our father. And some say: and also tongs, made with tongs.

  13. Maimonides, Commentary on the Mishnah, "Eight Chapters"

    (Introduction to Pirkei Avot), chapter 8


    All miracles that deviate from the natural course of events, whether they have already occurred or, according to promise, are to take place in the future, were foreordained by the Divine Will during the six days of creation, nature being then so constituted that those miracles which were to happen really did afterward take place.  Then, when such an occurrence happens at its proper time, it may have been regarded as an absolute innovation, when in reality it was not.

  14. Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed II:28 (1190)


    The works of God are most perfect, and with regard to them there is no possibility of any excess or deficiency.  Accordingly they are of necessity permanently established as they are, for there is no possibility of something calling for a change in them.

  15. Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed III:17 (1190)


    For I do not by any means believe that this particular leaf has fallen because of a providence watching over it; nor that this spider has devoured this fly because God has now decreed and willed something concerning individual creatures. . . . 

    I believe that providence [with regard to human beings] is consequent upon the intellect and attached to it.  For providence can only come from an intelligent being, from One who is an intellect perfect with a supreme perfection, than which there is no higher.  Accordingly, everyone with whom something of this overflow is united, will be reached by providence to the extent to which he is reached by the intellect.

  16. וְהֵיאַךְ הִיא הַדֶּרֶךְ לְאַהֲבָתוֹ וְיִרְאָתוֹ? בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁיִּתְבּוֹנֵן הָאָדָם בְּמַעֲשָׂיו וּבְרוּאָיו הַנִּפְלָאִים הַגְּדוֹלִים וְיִרְאֶה מֵהֶן חָכְמָתוֹ שֶׁאֵין לָהּ עֵרֶךְ וְלֹא קֵץ מִיָּד הוּא אוֹהֵב וּמְשַׁבֵּחַ וּמְפָאֵר וּמִתְאַוֶּה תַּאֲוָה גְּדוֹלָה לֵידַע הַשֵּׁם הַגָּדוֹל.

    What is the way to love and fear God?  When a person contemplates God's wondrous and great works and creatures, and from them obtains a glimpse of God's infinite and incomparable wisdom, that person will immediately love and praise and extol God, and experience an exceeding desire to know the great God.

  17. Moshe Idel, Deus Sive Natura: The Metamorphosis of a Dictum from            Maimonides to Spinoza, in Maimonides and the Sciences (2000)


    Several scholars have pointed out the possible affinity of the well-known phrase of Spinoza, "Deus sive natura" [Latin for "God or Nature"], with certain Jewish texts. 

    Some have also indicated that Jewish mystical sources were the source of Spinoza's idea, specifically the gematria [numerical value of the letters = 86] of Elohim [God] and

    ha-Teva [Nature].  I shall attempt to trace the line of development from Maimonides to the Kabbalistic sources that may have been before the eyes of Spinoza.  My major concern will be to . . . show how Maimonides was understood by his Kabbalistic followers, in order to propose the first detailed description of the history of the gematriaElohim [God] equals ha-Teva [Nature].

  18. Baruch Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, chapter 6 (1670)


    Knowing that all things are determined and ordained by God and that the workings of Nature follow from God's essence, while the laws of Nature are God's eternal decrees and volitions, we must unreservedly conclude that we get to know God and God's will best as we gain better knowledge of natural phenomena and understand more clearly how they depend on their first cause, and how they operate in accordance with Nature's eternal laws.  [F]rom miracles we cannot gain knowledge of God or of His existence and providence; these can be far better inferred from Nature's fixed and immutable order.

  19. David Biale, Not in the Heavens: The Tradition of Jewish Secular Thought,

    chapter 1 at 28 (2011)


    [Spinoza] was no atheist, if by atheism we mean the denial of God's existence. . . . 

    [H]e retained theological language for a real purpose.  His God does not act on the world from the outside, yet his immanent philosophy leads, in his view, to a surer "love of God" than does any traditional doctrine.  As unorthodox as his philosophy was, it was nevertheless, to quote the [German eighteenth-century] Romantic poet Novalis, "God-intoxicated."  Yet, in preaching the intellectual love of God, he was translating into philosophical terms that most traditional of Jewish virtues: ahavat Ha-Shem ("the love of God").  He revolted against the Jewish God but nevertheless ended up close to home.  For all his radical break with the past and heretical rejection of the Jewish tradition, then, Spinoza cannot be understood without reference to that tradition: he was at once the first secular Jew and the last medieval heretic.  In the felicitous phrase of [twentieth-century Harvard professor] Harry Wolfson, "we cannot get the full meaning of what Benedictus says unless we know what has passed through the mind of Baruch."

  20. Rabbi Marc D. Angel, Maimonides, Spinoza and Us: Toward an Intellectually Vibrant Judaism, chapter 10 at 181 (2009)


    Although the way of rejection [of traditional religion, represented by Spinoza] must itself be rejected by those who seek a healthy relationship between faith and reason, it offers important insights that must not be ignored.  Spinoza, in his way, helped advance the cause of religious and intellectual freedom.  His critiques of Judaism and Christianity, including his critiques of the Bible, challenged religionists to rethink their religious traditions and come up with responses to his attacks.  Religion actually becomes healthier and more robust if it faces challenges; otherwise, it can sink into

    self-righteous dullness.  Even as a heretic, Spinoza performed a service for religion.  Even as an excommunicated Jew, Spinoza performed a service for Judaism.

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