We can use as an example the myth of the sacrifice that Abraham was going to make by butchering and burning his only son at God’s command (the poor child, without knowing it, even brought the wood for the fire). Abraham should have replied to this supposedly divine voice: “That I ought not to kill my good son is quite certain. But that you, this apparition, are God—of that I am not certain, and never can be, not even if this voice rings down to me from (visible) heaven.”
Emanuel Kant, The Conflict of the Faculties (1798), trans. Mary J. Gregor and Robert Anchor, in Religion and Rational Theology, ed. and trans. Allen W. Wood and George Di Giovanni (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p 283
Soren Kierkegaard’s notion of “the teleological suspension of the ethical” and the "leap oof Faith"
The task God gave to Abraham was so horrifying that he could tell no one about it because no one would understand him. Ethics forbade it as well as aesthetics. Abraham became a knight of faith because he was willing to do what God asked of him. "He didn't trouble anyone with his suffering." Abraham was wrong as far as ethics is concerned but right as far the Absolute is concerned. Kierkegaard says, "wishing to be in the wrong is an expression of an infinite relationship, and wanting to be in the right, or finding it painful to be in the wrong, is an expression of a finite relationship! Hence, it is upbuilding always to be in the wrong-because only the infinite builds up; the finite does not!" What was the most Abraham could do in his relationship with God? Remain faithful to his commitment to God. He accomplished that by actually lifting the knife with the intention of carrying out his mission. In short, he acted. Here the intention was more important than the result. He had faith and had to go no further to please God. See
Faith is the highest passion in a person. There perhaps are many in every generation who do not come to faith, but no one goes further. Whether there are also many in our day who do not find it, I do not decide. I dare to refer only to myself, without concealing that he has a long way to go, without therefore wishing to deceive himself of what is great by making a trifle of it, a childhood disease one may wish to get over as soon as possible. But life has tasks enough also for the person who does not come to faith, and if he loves these honestly, his life will not be wasted, even if it is never comparable to the lives of those who perceived and grasped the highest. But the person who has come to faith (whether he is extraordinarily gifted or plain and simple does not matter) does not come to a standstill in faith. Indeed, he would be indignant if anyone said to him, just as the lover resents it if someone said that he came to a standstill in love; for, he would answer, I am by no means standing still. I have my whole life in it. Yet he does not go further, does not go on to something else, for when he finds this, then he has another explanation. Fear and Trembling p. 122-123
Both Levenson and Moberly have issued stern warnings to anyone who would propose a critical interpretation of the Aqedah today.
Levenson’s theory that the ritual of offering the firstborn son to God is the probable historical context of the Aqedah, along with his view that this ritual was transformed over time into a “sublime religious paradigm” relevant to both Judaism and Christianity.
This is the basis for Levenson’s distinguishing between the situation in Gen. 18 (where Abraham protests the destruction of Sodom) and Gen. 22 (where he submits to the command to kill his own son). Whereas the first is a forensic context (where ethical questions are relevant), the second is a sacrificial context (and so ethics isn’t relevant).
See also: The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity 1995 by Jon D. Levenson
Why Didn’t Abraham Receive the Torah? A Piyyuṭ by Qillir
According to rabbinic midrash, the Torah antedates the creation of the world (Gen. Rab. 8:2). Why, then, did God wait until the time of Moses to actually bestow it upon the world? In a piyyuṭ for Shavuot, R. Qilliri answers that until the time of Moses, no worthy recipient could be found.
The poem takes the form of a dialogue between two characters:
- God reviews history looking for people to whom the Torah may be gifted.
- The Torah rejects each potential recipient with a critical look at their flaws.
And thus, we hear of the great of yore, and the flaws of each. Adam was ruled out because of the sin; Cain because of his murder; Noah because of his drunkenness. Then we come to Abraham.
God begins, in Qilliri’s poem, with all the reasons to think that Abraham may indeed be deserving:
סב לסוף עשרים צץ איש עצתי
סלה למולו ששתי ועלצתי
שרף פסילים ועליו הצצתי
סובליו עזב להכנס במחיצתי
עֶלֶם אשר חננתו בכלות כֹּחוֹ
עקדוֹ על עצי מזבחו
עצור שלושה ימים עָשׂ אפרוחו
עָרַב ונרצה ניחוחו
עָצַם ובכל ארץ הפיח ריחו
עניין כְּרַחֵם אב על בנים בְּשָׁכְחוֹ
עטיפת תחִנָּה היה לו לערוך בְּשִֹיחוֹ
'עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי' שִׁימַּעְתּוֹ לשבחו
עושה ארץ בכחו.
Turning to the end of twenty he saw
Indeed, to circumcise him I rejoiced and exulted
He burnt idols, and I gazed upon him
He abandoned his family to enter my fold.
The young man with whom you graced him when his strength was spent
He bound on the wood of the altar
Arrested for three days, he offered his chick
It was pleasant, and his offering was accepted
He became great, and his reputation spread throughout the land.
But he forgot how a father is supposed to have mercy on children
A prayer or plea he should have offered!
“Now I know,” you said to him, to praise him,
The One who made the land with his strength.
See: Abraham Passes the Test of the Akedah But Fails as a Father, Prof. Aaron Koller
“The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually face crucifixion if it were suddenly necessary. Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together. I know from experience. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he’s too long over his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I hate men individually the more I love humanity.”
Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Let us now turn to an act of censorship, not of Maimonides, but of one of the standard commentaries of his Guide of the Perplexed. This particular instance is relevant to Orthodox biblical studies as it relates to the historicity of events described in the Bible. Maimonides famously declared that some of the seoccurrences actually only happened in a dream or prophetic vision.
One of these is the visit of the 'men' (angels) to Abraham in Genesis 18. Nahmanides was outraged by Maimonides' opinion, declaring, 'Such words contradict Scripture. It is forbidden to listen to them, all the more to believe in them," (commentary on Genesis 18:1)
The Akedah is in an entirely different category than the Jonah story. Long before Kierkegaard, this was regarded as a central tale of the Bible, focusing as it does on faith in God in the face of an unthinkable demand. The Sages of the talmudic period recognized the centrality of the story, and during the medieval persecutions of European Jewry, Jews turned again and again to the Akedah, drawing all sorts of messages fromn it. Maimonides himself describes the story as 'the most extraordinary thing that could happen in the world, such a thing that one would not imagine that human nature was capable of it'. Thus, Efodi's assertion that, according to Maimonides, the story of the Akedah never really happened would be regarded by traditionalists as radical and unacceptable.
Efodi was not the first to understand Maimonides as teaching that the Akedah was not a historical event." ( Among modern scholars, Maimonides was understood in this way by Nuriel, Concealed and
Revealed (Heb.), I54-7, and Y. Leibowitz, Discussions (Heb.), 8o, 86, G62. ) He was preceded in this by R. Isaac Ibn Latif (121o-80),7 R. Zerahyah ben Yitshak ben She'alti'el Hen (thirteenth century),7 R. Abraham Abulafia (thirteenth century)," and R. Joseph Ibn Kaspi (1279-1340)," Efodi's contemporary, R. Eleazar Ashkenazi ben Nathan Habavli (fourteenth century), also understood Maimonides in this fashion and agreed with this interpretation." According to him, if the Akedah had actually happened, one would have expected Abraham to question the command, much as he questioned God when informed of Sodom's coming fate.
R. Jacob Anatoli,"" R. Moses ben Joshua of Narbonne (commonly called Narboni; d. 1362),7 and R. Nissim of Marseilles (fourteenth century) also appear to have held that the Akedah was not historical. R. Nissim thought that Ibn Ezra accepted this position as well, (For others who understood the Akedah in a non-literal fashion, see D. Schwartz, Amulets, Charms, and Rationalism (Heb.), 7I-2, 73 n. I4) The thirteenth-century R. Samuel Saporto feels compelled to reject this view, which presumably means that it was held by more than a few intellectuals." Abarbanel also notes that many scholars held that the Akedah was not historical, a position he rejects."
Although there are a number of interpreters who understand Maimonides to be rejecting the historicity of the Akedah, for at least one person it was too much to have Efodi's commentary, expressing such a view, publicly available. While most of the examples of censorship we examine in this book
I thank my friend and "Hasidic Maskil of Clubhouse" Yochanan Lowen for pointing this source out to me.
Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites Its History Hardcover – May 1, 2015
by Marc B. Shapiro pp 67-70