Monthly Archives: November 2015

Does the Zohar (Kabbalah) include Trinity?

Kabbalah Sefirot Tree

he Zohar: Pritzker Edition

* Does the Zohar (main text of Kabbalah) include the (Christian) Trinity? If so, in what way?
* Kabbalah goes beyond saying that God is Three… there are said to be ten divine emanations (sefirot) through which God interacts with the world. So how much of Kabbalah can we reconcile with traditional (non-Zohar) rabbinic Judaism?
* How did Christians recognize the Zohar as possibly Christian? (Christians took the lead in sparing the Zohar from book burnings of the Talmud, for precisely this reason, see the article)
* Are rationalist philosophers correct, or incorrect, in not only disagreeing with Kabbalah, but in radically denying all attributes to God, on order to prove God’s one-ness? In this view, perhaps Jewish rationalists like Maimonides, Ibn Tibbon and Gersonides are simply mistaken, and God does indeed have multiple attributes?

Because of reasons like this, religious rationalists reject the Zohar, and Kabbalah, as being incorrect. See Judaism as opposed to Zohardoxy

However, other Jews see the Zohar as being compatible with Judaism; for an example, see “Three Is Not Enough: Jewish Reflections on Trinitarian Thinking”, by David R. Blumenthal, Professor of Judaic Studies, Emory University
An excerpt:
….The historical interlude of the Christian reception of the Zohar in counterreformation Italy aside, it seems to me that a more profound theological question has arisen: If God can, indeed, have personalist dimensions as part of God’s own inner being, why should there be only three such dimensions? If God can, indeed, encompass different levels of being, all of which are equal within God’s inner-ness, why should there not be as many such levels as necessary? To put it clearly: If God’s being is plural, why only Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Why not Ineffability, Knowability (Father), Intuition (Mother), Grace (male), Judgment (female), Compassion (Husband), Eternity, Awe, Fecundity (male), and Providence (Bride, Mother) — all of which are equally integral to the divine whole?
To put it in declarative form: The zoharic dialogue with the trinity leads to the statement: Three is not enough! God, in God’s fullness, is more than three. God, in Whose Image humanity is created, has more than three dimensions. The awesome complexity of the human personality — in which Image humanity is created — suggests that there are many more than three basic dimensions to God’s personhood. Indeed, if we, humans, are more than trinitarian, certainly God is more than three.
Jewish readers of the Zohar and its related literature knew all this. The non-philosophers were struck by the very depth of its insight into God, and into humanity, and made the Zohar into a holy book, probably the third holiest in Judaism after the Bible and the Talmud.[26] Jewish rationalists of philosophic or halakhic bent were struck by the almost heretical pluralism within the divine and objected strenuously to teaching, publishing, and translating the Zohar. In fact, the charge of the Zohar being a book that aids and abets trinitarian thinking precisely because the sefirot are integral elements of God Godself, was first made by Jews[27] and it is surely one of the reasons why the Zohar may not be taught to Jews who are too young or uneducated, or to Christians.
Jewish rationalist hesitations notwithstanding, the question remains: If God’s being is plural, why only Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Why not Ineffability, Knowability, Intuition, Grace, Judgment, Compassion, Eternity, Awe, Fecundity, and Providence — all of which are equally integral to the divine whole? If we, who are complex beyond three, are created in God’s Image, God must be complex beyond three.


Coexist Muslim Jew

Change begins with just a few people. There is no denying that the predominant voice in Islam today is Wahhabism and Salafism – two closely related, violent, fundamentalist Muslim ideologies. They are the basis of all Islamist regimes across the middle east. Although many peope (like Obama) incorrectly claim that Al Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban “are not Islamic”, they most certainly are Islam, specifically Islamist .

But the good news is that only about 8% to 15% of the Islamic world is Islamist – that is very dangerous, but not the majority.

So what can we do? Give up? Continue to reach out to Muslims. When Muslims and Jews spend time together, eat and learn together, we see each other as human beings.

All it takes are a few who learn about Judaism, here and there – and perhaps some of them will become influential in repairing Islam.

All Islamist groups grew from a small group. Similarly, future groups based on peace, tolerance and kindness will be the same – growing from a small group of committed Muslims.

Events like this cooperation between a synagogue and a mosque may be where peace starts.

– – –

A synagogue in Canada has opened its doors to the local Muslim community this week after a nearby mosque was set ablaze in a hate crime following the terror attacks in Paris earlier this month. The heads of the Beth Israel synagogue in Peterborough invited Muslim worshipers to pray at the synagogue after Molotov cocktails were thrown into Masjid Al-Salaa (Mosque of Peace).

….Synagogue president Larry Gillman said that when he heard of the arson, he reached out to the synagogue’s board of directors and asked them if they were willing to share their prayer space with the Muslim community. They unanimously voted in favor. “As Canadians we have to stick together,” Gillmantold CBC’s Metro Morning. “It’s not about religion, it’s not about race. Canadians do this.”

“Even though it came out of a tragedy, we are working together,” said Kenzu Abdella, the president of the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association. “We have more similarities than differences… At the end of the day, it’s a house of God.”  This week, the Muslim worshipers came to pray at the synagogue twice, and the two communities held a dinner party together.

Canada synagogue opens doors to Muslim worshipers after mosque arson

Do Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

We’re an egalitarian Jewish community doing Torah Lishmah – תורה לשמה – study for it’s own sake. We learn Torah (תּוֹרָה), Bible (תַּנַ”ךְ), Mishnah (מִשְׁנָה), Midrash (מדרש) and Jewish philosophy (פילוסופיה יהודית) – without politics or fundamentalism.Join our Facebook group, Coffeehouse Torah Talk

Theology C S Lewis

Do Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Most people say yes, but others say no. How would we even know?

Carson T. Clark writes “I’m distrustful of simplistic answers and am inclined to reply, “No, but they’re theological, historical, cultural, geographical, and ethnic cousins in their origins…” –  Are Islam’s Allah and Christianity’s God the Same Deity?

Stephen Prothero, professor of religion at Boston University, has written “God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run The World”  He writes:

“For more than a generation we have followed scholars and sages down the rabbit hole into a fantasy world where all gods are one … In fact this naive theological groupthink – call it Godthink – has made the world more dangerous by blinding us to the clash of religions that threaten us worldwide.”

The subject is explored in this set of thoughtful essays, The Same God?

Given that, from a theological perspective, God is central to human flourishing, what difference does the fact of religious diversity make to such a perspective? Do even the three Abrahamic religions worship the same God?
Do we worship the same God? Yale Center for Faith and Culture


Do We Worship the Same God? Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Dialogue
Miroslav Volf, 2012, ISBN: 978-0-8028-6689-9

Do We Worship the Same God? Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Dialogue: Miroslav Volf

Book from Emory University

That troubling and enduring question is the title of a new book co-authored by Emory Islam scholar Vincent Cornell. For Cornell and co-authors Bruce Chilton and Jacob Neusner of Bard College and Baruch Levine at New York University, the answer is: It’s complicated. And that, says renowned theologian Martin Marty in the book’s epilogue, is a good thing.

Published by this month by Abingdon Press, “Do Jews, Christians & Muslims Worship the Same God?” is intended to appeal to a broad audience, but is aimed particularly at United Methodist ministers and other Christian denominational and lay leaders, to help them understand some of the theological differences among the three Abrahamic faiths. –

Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims Worship the Same God?: Neusner, Levine, Chilton, Cornell

Whose life was changed by The Jewish Catalog?

We’re a community where Jews  discuss Torah, Mishnah, Midrash, etc. without partisan politics or fundamentalism.  Think Open Orthodoxy, Conservative Judaism, Havurah movement, and the friendly-to-tradition wing of Reform.  Click here to see our Facebook group. Join in the conversations!

Whose life was changed by this? “The Jewish Catalog”It expanded to a series of 3 books. I wish that the authors or publisher would re-edit/update this series 🙂

The Jewish Catalog

Andrew Silow-Carroll writes:

For my first sukka, which I built in the early 1990s, I used two-by-fours for the frame and cinder blocks for the “foundation.” The “walls” were billowing bed sheets, and I bought cornstalks for the roof. … the result had a laid-back charm, it mostly looked like a fixer-upper in Hooverville. I’d gotten the plans out of The First Jewish Catalog, which even then was a bit of an artifact of the hippy-dippy ’70s, when it was published. The Catalog, edited by Michael Strassfeld, Sharon Strassfeld, and Richard Siegel, was subtitled “A Do-It-Yourself Kit.” It was ostensibly a product of the Jewish counterculture, although most of its editors and contributors could boast excellent Jewish and even rabbinic educations.

Its inspiration was The Whole Earth Catalog, a source of “tools and ideas” compiled by writer, activist, tech visionary and eco-warrior Stewart Brand. In Walter Isaacson’s new book, The Innovators, he places Brand at the center of a “loose alliance of community organizers, communal-minded hippies, do-it-yourself hobbyists, and homebrew hackers, most of whom were suspicious of centralized authority.”…

The Jewish Catalog combined Whole Earth’s DIY ethos and antiauthoritarian spirit with a strong dose of Jewish tradition. Its tone was liberal and egalitarian, but it respected the Halacha. … it had instructions on how to make a seder, craft your own tallit, and bake a challah. Its target audience seemed to be young Jews who wanted to return to the traditions of their grandparents, but weren’t exactly sure how.

… I consulted the Catalog when I didn’t know a blessing, was confused about kashrut, or needed a reminder about this thing called “Shemini Atzeret” (which was not, as it turned out, Sholom Aleichem’s less talented brother)….

….The Jewish Catalog empowered an influential generation of Jewish leaders and lay people…. You see its DNA in various projects that aim to provide new “tools” for under-educated or under-“engaged” Jews:

the PJ Library of free Jewish books for young families, environmental organizations like Hazon and Urban Adamah, alternative spiritual communities like Ikar and Hadar, and how-to resources like MyJewishLearning and G-dcast. Even large temples have havurot and alternative minyanim meant to personalize the suburban synagogue experience….

Miracles in Rambam’s Thought—a Function of Prophecy

Maimonides (Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon) is quite the religious rationalist – instead of hewing towards the mystic or supernatural, he prefers philosophical rationalism. To the point where he holds that – even in the Torah, properly read – supernatural miracles do not exist.  If someone were to write this today, much of the Orthodox community would likely view him as Reform, or as a kofer; yet Maimonides is the philospher-rabbi par excellance, and is generally considered one of Judaism’s greatest authorities,

In Ḥakirah, the Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought, David Guttman writes:


Rambam sees a connection and a parallel between Moshe’s apprehension of God and his performance of miracles. Moshe’s ability to perform the necessary miracles was dependent on the same understanding of God that was required for giving the Torah.

It is our goal in this article to try and understand how these two attributes of Moshe, prophecy and miraculous deeds, are linked and hopefully get a picture of Rambam’s understanding of Moshe’s miracles and miracles in the Torah in general.

….”Following our understanding of Rambam we have defined miracles as properties present in nature that require certain convergences of cause and effect to occur. They are seen as miracles because of the way they occur either rarely or fortuitously. In reality they are preset and would occur with or without human (prophetic) intervention. It is up to the prophet to learn about them and use them where necessary. Depending on the circumstances and stakes involved, the level of certainty allows the prophet to act on his information. Moshe’s level of prophecy afforded him the courage and certainty to act even when the stakes involved put the future of the nation at risk.”

Miracles in Rambam’s Thought—a Function of Prophecy
By: DAVID GUTTMANN, Ḥakirah, the Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought

Miracles in Rambam’s Thought— a Function of Prophecy

All articles from Ḥakirah, the Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought

Jewish views of miracles – an overview

Including People With Disabilities in the Jewish Community

Jewish Disability awareness
Excerpted from “Opening the Gates of Torah:” by Lenore Layman


Maimonides teaches in Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Berakhot 10:12:

“One who sees…people with disfigured faces or limbs, recites the blessing, “Blessed are You, Holy One our God, Majesty of the universe, who makes people different.” One who sees a person who is blind or lame, or who is covered with sores and white pustules recites the blessing, “Blessed are You, Holy One our God, Majesty of the universe, who is a true judge.” But if they were born that way one says, “…who makes people different.”

Why is it that our Jewish tradition, which affirms social justice, inclusiveness and the obligation to treat all people with respect, singles out individuals with disabilities in such a way? How can it be that Judaism teaches that we are to highlight differences between human beings in a negative manner by saying these two blessings?

As we think carefully about these two blessings, we may struggle to find the positive messages in these words. Our tradition teaches that the purpose of saying berakhot is to help us, on a regular basis, to step back and appreciate all that God has created. The first blessing, “…who makes people different” is easier to interpret in a positive way. Being aware that this blessing is an integral part of our tradition creates the opportunity for us to appreciate differences among people.

Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 teaches that, “A human being mints many coins from the same mold, and they are all identical. But the Holy Blessing One strikes us from the mold of the first human, and yet each one of us is unique.” This well- known teaching highlights the fact that God created differences. It is our responsibility as a community to both celebrate these differences and to welcome those with differences into our midst.

But what about the second blessing? It is traditionally recited when we hear that someone has died, and has traditionally been interpreted as an acceptance of God allowing suffering to happen. Why would Judaism guide us to feel pain when we see someone with a disability? Can we discern the mandate of respect and welcoming at first glance when we look at this text?

Perhaps, though, we can incorporate both these blessings into our world today in the following way. The first blessing can remind us that as Jews, we always need to be thinking about ways in which we can create caring communities, so that all people will be valued and part of our spiritual families, despite their differences. The second can serve as a call to action: it can remind us that individuals who are included in an integral way in our school communities, synagogue communities and Jewish community organizations will no longer be seen as “suffering” but instead will have an opportunity to play a central role in the growth of our Jewish community….

…An inclusive community includes both an understanding of who people with disabilities are, and an understanding of how to talk about and communicate with someone that has a disability. It is important to realize that anyone can become a person with a disability. Some people are born with disabilities, while others acquire one later in life….

….Many of our great leaders and teachers in the Bible are thought to have had various disabilities. Isaac became blind in his later years – “When Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see…” . Jacob had difficulty walking and also became blind. Our matriarchs were also not portrayed as being perfect; Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel were all barren and Leah is described as having had weak eyes. Even Moses, the leader of the Jewish people, is portrayed as having some type of speech disability:

Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that you have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”

In the next verse God answers him: Who gives man speech? Who makes him unable to speak or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, The Holy One? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and will instruct you what to say.”

God encourages Moses to be successful in leading the people of Israel, even with his disability, a powerful example of how individuals with disabilities can not only be included but can make significant contributions to our community. These are just a few of the many Biblical references which serve to highlight God’s positive attitude toward people with disabilities. They emphasize that a great leader does not need to be seen as physically perfect…..

…Having synagogues, schools and agencies participate in Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month on a yearly basis can make all of us more aware… Adult education programs can be planned to focus on text study of biblical and rabbinical literature in this area. …Synagogues can establish a disability taskforce or inclusion committee that can be made up of staff members of the synagogues, people with disabilities, family members of people with disabilities and professionals in the field to assess the congregation’s current
level of accessibility including programmatic and attitudinal areas and to focus their efforts in taking concrete steps to become more welcoming and accommodating. …An example of such a statement can be found on the website of Adath Israel, a Conservative congregation in New Jersey:

Adath Israel is especially committed to being an innovative and “open congregation” accessible to all. Facilities are on a single floor, special education needs are addressed in our educational system; we have an
augmented sound system for the hearing impaired, a wheelchair seating area, a ramp to access the bimah, and large-print and Braille prayerbooks.

What other concrete steps can your synagogue take to make your community accessible to all Jews? Include information about accommodations that your synagogue can provide on each piece of literature that is sent out to the congregation. Place second mezuzot at wheelchair height on doorways throughout the synagogue. Have a preschool or religious school class lead and sign a prayer that they have learned with the help of a qualified interpreter at a Shabbat service. Have teens and pre-teens serve as buddies to youngsters with disabilities in the congregation….


Mishaneh Ha-Briyyot: A New Jewish Approach to Disabilities

by Rabbi Elliot Dorff

I want to suggest a virtual Copernican revolution in how the Jewish tradition, and Jews along with it, should understand and treat disabilities…. the idea struck me because of what a disabled person told me long ago – namely, that from the point of view of the disabled, all the rest of us are “temporarily abled”! How do you like that description of yourself? But we all know, of course, that they are right: Even Olympic athletes will, in the course of life, most likely lose at least some of their vision and hearing, and even the most nimble and those who exercise regularly will not escape the slowing down and the aches and pains that age inevitably brings. We nervously joke about it, but even our mental processes may dull; you do not have to have full-blown Alzheimer’s to become increasingly forgetful — and yes, often more crotchety — as time goes on….Second, one is not just abled or disabled; there are degrees of disability. I, for example, have worn glasses since I was 17, and it was also during that year that I had my first asthma attack. Ever since then I have lived with these disabilities. The asthma, in particular, prevents me from engaging in fast sports…. I mention these things not to seek your sympathy, but just to indicate that each one of us is disabled in some ways — physical, mental, interpersonal, or all of the above — and even if we learn to cope with these problems, they do change our image of ourselves and what we can do….In such a world, then, in which the norm is being disabled and the unusual thing is to have full control of one’s physical and mental faculties and full ability to interact socially with people without any psychological problems whatsoever, how would we want Judaism to treat disabilities? I guarantee you that our whole attitude would change. Instead of thinking about humane treatment for the disabled as being motivated by our own compassion or God’s commandment, we would see it as simply caring for ourselves – much as we see any of the services that we Americans expect the government or others to provide for us.

Mishaneh Ha-Briyyot: A New Jewish Approach to Disabilities


Inclusion of People with Disabilities


Our Jewish values teach us that each of us is created in God’s image and each of us is to be valued. The United Synagogue’s Commission on Inclusion of People with Disabilities’ mission is to sensitize and educate professional and lay leadership to the profoundly important responsibility of ensuring that the synagogue and all its programs are accessible to those who would otherwise be denied the opportunity to participate in all aspects of synagogue life, and to assist congregations in meeting the needs of members with disabilities by creating an inclusive and welcoming environment.  Inclusion of People with Disabilities USCJ


Pirkei Avot, Ethics of our Fathers, 4:3:

“Ben Azzai taught: Do not disdain any person. Do not underrate the importance of anything for there is no person who does not have his hour, and there is no thing without its place in the sun.”


“… Who Makes People Different: Jewish Perspectives on the Disabled”

By Carl Astor, with Stephen Garfinkel

The title of the book refers to a Jewish blessing over a person with a handicap or disfigurement. “This tefila has been viewed by some to be a negative assessment of those with disabilities. However, the wording, taken from the blessing recited upon seeing someone with a disability, is neutral. Being different is inherently neither good nor bad. The very nature of the topic, considering Jewish attitudes toward those with disabilities, is a complicated matter.”

” If our modern sensitivities sometimes differ from the attitudes or definitions assumed by early Jewish literature such as the Talmud, how do we react to it, and how can we apply the principles of our tradition to our current views and actions? Rabbi Carl Astor provides a wealth of material from a wide spectrum of sources. No one chapter of this volume stands on its own; together they contribute to our overall understanding of the topic.”

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