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Rabbi (now and then)

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A rabbi [Hebrew: my master, my teacher] is a religious leader, scholar or instructor of the Torah (first five books of the Jewish Bible) in Judaism.

Orthodox Judaism usually does not permit women to be rabbis. But other variants of Judaism do and, as we see in “Related articles” below, the situation is changing.

Jesus Christ came out of the Jewish tradition, so it’s hardly surprising that some of his disciples periodically called him “Rabbi.”

What Does “Torah” Mean To You?

Do You Have your Ticket to Heaven-The Importance of the Blood of Jesus Christ

Why I Learn Torah Daily

Blaming the Romans for the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ

Fasting, Ritualism and Repentance

Female rabbi at Shira

Salvation Is His Name. Selah.

An Eyeopening Book The Redemption Of Israel


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What’s a synagogue?

Pope Francis arrives at the Rome’s synagogue, flanked by leaders of the local Jewish community Ruth Dureghello (L) and Renzo Gattegna (R) on January 17, 2016 in Rome, Italy. The visit marks the third time a pontiff has been invited to the synagogue, following on from the visit by Benedict XVI in January 2010 and the historic encounter of Pope John Paul II with former Rabbi Elio Toaff there in 1986.

A synagogue [Greek synagoge: assembly] is a Jewish house of worship and center for religious education. The synagogue has ancient roots. Today it is often synonymous with “temple” and “shul.” But there are differences, outlined here >>

Related » Hebrew, Judaism, Spinoza, Torah


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1911 Italian-French film

1911 Italian-French film (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shylock is a Jewish money-lender in William Shakespeare‘s play The Merchant of Venice.

Shylock ruthlessly insists on receiving a previously agreed on “pound of flesh” from the character Antonio, whose expected fortunes have vanished. This forced Antonio to default on the loan he received from Shylock.

Some critics suggest that Shakespeare paints a dangerous, anti-Semitic picture. Others defend Shakespeare, citing Shylock’s cutting speech as evidence that he presents not a one-dimensional but, rather, a complex human character:

Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?..If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?

Later, Shylock is outwitted by Portia disguised as a lawyer. After unsuccessfully appealing to Shylock’s humanity, Portia insists that he be allowed to remove Antonio’s flesh on the condition that not one drop of blood is carved from his body. “This bond doth give thee here not a jot of blood” (Act 4 Scene 1).

Realizing he has been outsmarted, Shylock lightens up and the potentially grisly tale ends happily.

Portia and Shylock

Portia and Shylock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The fact that Portia is a woman points to Shakespeare’s progressiveness in refuting sex-role stereotypes. But again, many do not see Shakespeare as a progressive when it comes to the Jewish situation in Elizabethan England.

Shakespeare’s play reflected the anti-semitic tradition. The title page of the Quarto indicates that the play was sometimes known as The Jew of Venice in its day, which suggests that it was seen as similar to Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta. One interpretation of the play’s structure is that Shakespeare meant to contrast the mercy of the main Christian characters with the vengeful Shylock, who lacks the religious grace to comprehend mercy. Similarly, it is possible that Shakespeare meant Shylock’s forced conversion to Christianity to be a “happy ending” for the character, as it ‘redeems’ Shylock both from his unbelief and his specific sin of wanting to kill Antonio. This reading of the play would certainly fit with the anti-semitic trends present in Elizabethan England.¹

Polski: Kopia zaginionego obrazu Maurycego Got...

Polski: Kopia zaginionego obrazu Maurycego Gottlieba “Shylock i Jessica” z 1887 roku. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Instead of branding Shakespeare as antisemitic, one could argue that, had he portrayed Jews as we see them today, the play would have failed and no positive message whatsoever would have gotten out (because nobody would have gone to see it).

This point brings to mind the whole idea of activism in context, as opposed to idealist activism. Activism in context is a bit by bit, progressive stance. It nudges things forward only as far as the activist believes the audience will be receptive to and, hopefully, act upon.

On the other hand, idealist activism would be more in line with the life of Jesus Christ—and we know what happened to him. Basically, Christ was killed for trying to help people get into heaven. However, idealist activism does have its place. It is necessary to point out long range goals. But contextual activism is also necessary, I would argue. Otherwise, not too much would change for the better.

At any rate, contemporary revisionists who harshly judge those who lived in past centuries seem oblivious to the debate between contextual and idealist activism. They take a hard line. Shakespeare is antisemitic. End of story (for them). Myself, I’m not convinced a true genius like Shakespeare was all that simple.²


² See, for instance, Here we see a very different Shakespeare—one educated in, appreciative of and influenced by Jewish religious texts.

Related » Reincarnation

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Baruch Spinoza

Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) was a Jewish philosopher of Spanish-Portuguese parentage who was barred from his synagogue in 1656 on the charge of expounding “atheism.”

This prohibition compelled Spinoza to delve even deeper into philosophy, in which he devised a metaphysical system that envisions God as one substance with a kind of dual nature.

  • The first nature is called natura naturata (“nature natured”), this being the whole of reality that necessarily comes from God’s nature
  • The second nature is called natura naturans (“nature naturing”), an infinite and eternal essence out of which God freely creates
Spinoza Letter to Leibniz

Spinoza Letter to Leibniz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spinoza’s popular metaphysic is something of a Western parallel to the Hindu notion of an manifest and unmanifest aspect of Brahman. It also has affinities with the Taoist idea of the named and unnamed aspects of the Tao. Some might also say that there is also a parallel with Immanuel Kant’s distinction between the phenomenon (that which can be apprehended by the senses) and the noumenon (the unknowable thing in itself).

However, we would be unwise to generalize beyond this hasty comparison because each religious and philosophical system contains elaborations that differentiate them from one another in important ways. By way of analogy, we can say that Coke and Orange Crush are both soft drinks largely based on water. But anyone who has actually tasted these drinks know that they are very different from one another. This might not be a perfect analogy but I think it suffices to make the point.

Benedict de Spinoza: moral problems and our em...

Benedict de Spinoza: moral problems and our emotional responses to them should be reasoned from the perspective of eternity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the question of free will, Spinoza argues that mankind’s thoughts and actions are determined by myriad causes—we only believe we’re free to make choices when, in fact, we’re not.

In 1673 Spinoza declined an offer for a teaching position in philosophy at Heidelberg. He is often upheld as a forerunner to the Enlightenment, and his approach influenced several modern disciplines, ranging from deep ecology, postmodernism,¹ and biblical criticism.

Wikipedia notes: His philosophical accomplishments and moral character prompted 20th-century philosopher Gilles Deleuze to name him “the ‘prince’ of philosophers”. See

Related Post » Pantheism

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English: A view of Alexandria harbour in Egypt...

A view of Alexandria harbour in Egypt during February 2007. The new Alexandria library can be seen in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alexandria was a major port in Lower Egypt by the Mediterranean, founded by Alexander the Great (331 BCE). Alexander wanted to combine the best of ancient Egypt with his vision for a new Hellenistic empire. His new city became the second largest in the Roman Empire, with a primary language of Greek.

The city was of mixed population (Greek, Egyptian, Roman, Jewish) and an exporter of foods, tapestries, metal products and books. It imported wine, silk and horses. Many Jews came to the city as slaves or settled there as free men. When pressured to set up pagan deities in their monotheistic temples, the Jews held fast to their beliefs and protested to the Emperor Caligula.¹

Lighthouse on the small island of Pharos, just opposite Alexandria at the Nile Delta.

Alexandria was home to several famous scholars, philosophers and scientists (like Ptolemy, Euclid and Archimedes), and had a university modeled after that of Athens. In its heyday the Alexandrian library contained some 400,000 to 900,000 books and scrolls. And the lighthouse on Pharos was one of the seven wonders of the world.

For Christianity, the city is especially important because it’s where the apostle Mark is said to have founded the first Christian Church, which then spread outward.

¹ Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, ed. Allen C. Myers, 1987, p. 38-39.

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Own photo (well, made by someone else, obviously).

Own photo (well, made by someone else, obviously) via Wikipedia

Judaism [Latin Juda: a son of Jacob] The religion of the Jewish people, which like most other world religions, has many variations.

Its core belief is monotheism. For believers, God created the world and delivered the chosen people, the Israelites, out of captivity in Egypt. God then revealed the holy law of the Torah to the Isaelites and ordained them to be the light of the world.

The Hebrew Bible is the source of orthodox Judaism, called the Tanakh. The term Tanakh is an acronym based on the first letters of the three distinct parts of the ancient scrolls: Torah (Teaching), Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings).

The family is important to Jewish religious practice but the synagogue has become more prominent in modern times.

The Sabbath, the day of rest, runs from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. Synagogues contain the hand-written scrolls of the Pentateuch, known as the ark of the covenant made between God and his people.

Orthodox Judaism arose in the 19th century, maintaining what it sees as the core or ‘true’ Jewish religion from antiquity.

Reform Judaism, also from the 19th century, incorporates influences from contemporary scriptural scholarship.

Liberal Judaism has an open, debate-style format, based on diverse scholarly opinions and interpretations of Jewish scripture.

Conservative Judaism differs from orthodox Judaism with its concern for the historical and archaeological elements of the Jewish faith.

The Jews have long been a persecuted and marginalized people but not without periods of great financial prosperity. In medieval times Christians paradoxically borrowed money from Jews yet drove them out of towns for not practicing the Christian faith. Along these lines, Shakespeare‘s depiction of the character Shylock in The Merchant of Venice remains controversial. Shylock is both unmerciful but, at the same time, laments that Jews are just like anyone else. From this, Shakespeare has alternately been charged with racism but also lauded as humanizing Jews.

The powerful ancient Romans occupied Judea at the time of Christ, and more recently, the German Nazis persecuted the Jewish people on a scale and with a cold ruthlessness that boggles, nay scandalizes, the imagination.

On this last issue C. G. Jung believed that the dark side of the Wotan archetype had been activated in the German people who endorsed the horrific and utterly barbaric treatment of the Jews in WW-II.

Related Posts » Adam, Angels, Eve, Gabriel, Genesis, Kabbala, Rabbi, Shadow, Talmud

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An illuminated page from Abraham Abulafia's Li...

An illuminated page from Abraham Abulafia's Light of the Intellect (1285) via Wikipedia

Kabbala is a group of Jewish teachings about mysticism that arose in 13th century Europe.

Abraham Abulafia (born 1240) says that unlike Old Testament prophets, who passively experience different degrees of God‘s light through grace, the meditating Kabbalist consciously ascends through levels of light to the final realization of God.

Not unlike the Hindu mystics and their beliefs about Sanskrit, Kabbalist mystics believe that the Hebrew letters are both physical and spiritual. The three primordial Kabbalist letters (aleph , mem and shin) are said to contain all of the potential elements of the universe.

Because all Kabbalist letters are ruled by angels, when pronounced properly, a single letter is said to evoke its corresponding angel. And merely writing a Hebrew character apparently can transport the mind to a higher sphere.

While the Zoharic school of Kabbala advocates contemplation of various spheres within a ‘cosmic tree,’ Abulafaria says this is only a prelude to the contemplation of Names, leading to the Divine Name.

Abulafaria openly defies the chain of secrecy that has been maintained for centuries by previous Masters. In the Light of Intellect he claims to have been the first to bring this wisdom to the ordinary person (to include non-Jews), making him popular among Jews and Christians alike.

He also warns his students against the false meditation manuals found in the Middle Ages, which aimed at worldly power through magic.

The most prominent Kabbalist, Israel ben Eleazer, a.k.a. the Baal Shem Tov (Master of the Holy Name), further popularized Jewish-based mysticism, making it universally accessible.

The Baal Shem Tov founded what is now called Hasidic mysticism. Following his example, the Hasidim democratized the Torah, delivering it from privileged scholars to the ordinary person.

As for the dangers of the Kabbalist mystical quest, Perle Epstein is worth quoting at length:

Kabbalists who uttered God’s Names and altered their breathing patterns were making use of the third rung of the soul’s ladder, the breath which tied them to the spiritual world. By binding himself mentally to a specific ‘spiritual being,’ the Kabbalist could either elevate himself further (as Abufalia taught) or he could obtain significant information about the future. This second practice was dangerous, for it often resulted in making contact with shedim, demonic beings who altered and confused the meditator’s mind. Along this path lay the danger of insanity. The ‘breath,’ or third level of soul, was therefore regarded as a two-edged sword. Only utmost purity of purpose assured the Kabbalist safe passage to the next rung. But spontaneous ecstasy would occur here, too-a condition in which the mystic, without any conscious effort, might find himself flooded with a rush of divine bliss. Yet even this level of ‘divine inspiration’ was not really considered true ‘prophecy.’¹

¹ Perle Epstein, Kabbalah: the way of the Jewish mystic, Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1978, p. 143.

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