20 October 2009

A Medieval Changing of Judaism

This past shabbas, I read an interesting article, José Faur, "One-Dimensional Jew, Zero-Dimensional Judaism," Annual of Rabbinic Judaism 2 (1999): 31-50 after finding a bunch of articles of his and have started liking them a lot. In the aforementioned article, the following excerpt (pp. 43-45) was wildly fascinating:
Underneath the noise produced by the anti-Maimonideans rested a single issue: is Judaism a one-dimensional or a multi-dimensional system. If Judaism is one-dimensional, then any differing view ought to be repressed at all cost. The anti-Maimonideans embraced Christian ideology. They also adopted the ways of the Church. First and foremost, Judaism was to be conceived as a "religion" - a term for which classical Hebrew has no terminology-in the precise one-dimensional sense designated by the Catholic Church.49 Their triumph led to the erosion of the multi-dimensional values of Israel, converting Judaism into a religious system mirroring Christianity. Systematically, the building blocks of Judaism were vacated from their original semantic connotations and imbued with a sense originating in Christendom. A good example is Kabbalah, originally standing for "the authoritative tradition" stemming from the Talmudic Court of Justice, the geonic academies, and the Rabbinic masters of Old Sepharad. The anti-Maimonideans transformed this term to indicate the mystical and the folklore, "even in the hands of the old men and women of our people" - to the exclusion of the legal traditions of the Talmudic Court of Justice, the geonim, and the Rabbinic masters of Old Sepharad.50 Another such term is semikha. As noted by Abarbanel, it came to denote Christian "ordination" with no connection to the institution bearing this name in Rabbinic tradition.51 Similarly, "Talmud learning" - the rallying cry of the anti-Maimonideans - was nothing more than a blunt adaptation of the scholastic methodology of auctoritas (authority). In compliance with scholastic intellectual tradition, certain auctores (authors) were invested with authority; in turn, these auctores were divided into majores (= rishonim) and minores (= aharonim). Consequently, the Talmud was not to be approached directly but through a prism of interpretations and opinions expressed by a hierarchy of auctores. "Proof' consisted in citing one or more of these auctores, without having to have recourse to the subject matter itself.52 The purpose of the de-authorization of the Mishneh Torah was to convert halakhah into "canon law," in the precise Christian sense, whereby jurisprudence could be conditioned (from a legal perspective: "manipulated") to "theological" considerations.53 The ultimate roots for the model of the "ideal" Jewish ghetto are to be found Augustin's Civita Dei, not in the Talmud. Political leadership and the cultivation of mundane sciences were to be regarded as pernicious and obtrusive to spiritual life and faith.54 Faith meant, simply and plainly, obedience to the "superior." The most fundamental duty of the Jew became faith in the infallibility of the clergy (emunas hakhomim), especially in their transmission of lore professed to have been received through esoteric means. As in Christendom, it is the act of subordination that renders the individual a fidelis (faithful), "because the subject has faith in the superior's institutions."55 The source of this doctrine, continuing to shape the very soul of Judaism, was first formulated by Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century, who declared that, "the verdict of the superior-no matter whether just or unjust-had to be obeyed by the inferior subject."56 Accordingly, "rationalism," i.e., the application of critical knowledge by the fidelis, is an act of insubordination. Church policy developed along these lines. As noted by a prominent historian, "What was demanded was not criticism but credulity."57 Contrary to biblical and Rabbinic law postulating that even the Supreme Court of Israel at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem is subject to error,58 the anti-Maimonideans regarded their own rabbis as inerrant, like the head of the Catholic Church. In recent times, they were endowed with the power to penetrate the "mind of the Torah" (daas torah) and issue decisions based not on the classical texts of halakhah but on a special insight to which only they have right of entry. This doctrine was first formulated by Paul as the "Spirit of the Law," with the express purpose of abrogating the Law.59
Lots of very interesting changes happened, apparently....
Notes from the excerpt above:
49 The present Hebrew dat denoting "religion" is a neologism. In the Scripture and Rabbinic literature, dat means "law."
51 See "Texte et Société," n. 130, pp. 698-699.
52 See José Faur, "Sanchez's Critique of Authoritas, in Peter Ochs, ed., The Return to Scripture in Judaism and Christianity (Mahwah, 1993), pp. 259-260; "Texte et Société," pp. 98-99.
53 Cf., "Monolingualism and Judaism," pp. 1719-1724.
54 See In the Shadow of History, pp. 204-207.
55 Quoted ibid., p. 33.
56 Quoted ibid., p. 36. For a survey of the subject, see ibid., pp. 28-29, 32-34.
58 See "Law and Hermeneutics," 1666-1669.
59 See "Monolingualism and Judaism," pp. 1719, 1721-1724, 1732-1736. For an in depth analysis of the psychological background, see "De-authorization of the Law: Paul and the Oedipal Model," pp. 222-243. The power to penetrate the mind of God was first claimed by Balaam the pagan prophet bent on cursing Israel, see Num. 24:16.

1 comment:

Alex Schindler said...

I am a big fan of hakham faur's writings as well. I have had hte pleasure of taking classes from him in the summer time, and I wwould unflinchingly call him the greatest talmid hakham I have ever spoken to. Very down to earth, that said.

I found this post particularly fascinating in how it treats the actual usurpation of Jewish terminology by analphabetic rabbis-- "qabala", the reception of oral torah through generations. "rishonim", which refers generally to tanna'im. a modern day parallel might be "da`at torah", which would normally mean just 'knowledge of torah'... these having become jewish equivalents of "mystery", "auctores majores", and papal infallibility.