Category Archives: Theology

Rav Kook’s Secret Writings

Rav Kook’s Secret Writings: A Drama In Several Parts
The Jewish Press, By Hillel Fendel – 19 Tishri 5773 – October 4, 2012

Rav Kook Painting

Clandestine photocopying of tucked-away documents in Israel’s National Library, hurried text messages of selected passages verifying their pristine, unpublished condition, and question marks surrounding the editing and possible censorship practices of trusted editors from eighty years ago.

These are some of the fascinating aspects of what many assume to be a straightforward phenomenon but that in fact has turned out to be a mysterious, complex and ongoing enterprise – the publication of the writings of the ultimate inspiration of the religious-Zionist camp, Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, zt”l.

Up until the mid-1980s, things were simple. One could barely find a self-respecting religious-Zionist home in Israel without at least some volumes of the “White Wave” or the “White Shas” – i.e., the fundamental works of Rav Kook, so named because they all featured a simple white dust jacket with a light-green border.

The books, such as Orot (Lights), Orot HaKodesh (Lights of Holiness), and the Siddur commentary Olat R’iyah became staples not only of philosophical yeshiva study for thousands of students but also the very basis for understanding the rich, profound and novel thought of the saintly and scholarly Rav Kook.

It was common knowledge that these books had been edited by Rav Kook’s two prize students: his son Rav Tzvi Yehuda and the Nazir, Rav David Cohen. The latter had been entrusted with eight of Rav Kook’s notebooks, from which he culled and edited the gems that would later comprise Orot HaKodesh.

Meanwhile, Rav Tzvi Yehuda was doing the same with some twelve other notebooks his father had given him, and produced from them (and partly from the other eight as well) many of his father’s other famous works – Orot, Orot HaTorah, and more.

Rav Kook barely wrote any books as complete, unified entities. Rather, he wrote in an almost stream-of-consciousness format on any and all topics, and he filled many little notebooks with short paragraphs of his deepest and most profound musings.

When Rav Tzvi Yehuda died in 1982, whatever hashkafic material remained in manuscript (not including writings such as commentary on the aggadic passages of Tractates Berachot and Shabbat, which became the four-volume Ein Ayah) appeared to be fated for oblivion. This, because the newly-established Rav Tzvi Yehuda Institute (RTYI) did not go out of its way to convince the Raanan family – direct descendants of Rav Kook and the owners of his papers – to allow them to be published.

Though it was known that Rav Kook had left many manuscripts behind, no publication date appeared on the horizon.

And yet, contrary to expectations, many books of Rav Kook’s hidden writings have been published over the past several years. Just last month, for instance, in honor of Rav Kook’s 77th yahrzeit on Elul 3, a work entitled Yesh Lach Kanfei Ruach – You Have Wings of Spirit – was made available to the public. Named after a line in one of Rav Kook’s poems, it is a compendium of his writings – some of which had not before seen print – on the topic of the confidence a believing Jew must have in himself and his ability to do good.

In short, with the holy writings apparently under permanent wraps, an entire series of Rav Kook’s writings have now seen the light of day. How did this occur?

The answer, it seems, is a man named Boaz Ofan.

Ofaz was learning in Yeshivat Ramat Gan a decade and a half ago when, he said, “we were a bunch of chutzpadik youths who decided the papers should no longer remain concealed.”

Though he is now willing to divulge much of how he came to fulfill this goal, he does not want to say how he actually received his first copies of some of the secret manuscripts. He collected a fair amount but then got stuck: He had too many to ignore, but too few to actually publish.

Knowing RTYI was reticent to publish, he unceremoniously informed the rabbis there, “I have photocopies of all Rav Kook’s writings. Either you publish what you have – or I will.”

They did – and thus was born the first “unedited” volume of Rav Kook’s works, known as Shemoneh Kvatzim, or Eight Collections – the unabridged series of manuscripts from which Rav Kook himself actually commissioned publication. (Another version of the story has it that Rav Yitzchak Shilat, the editor, was actually at work on the project before Ofan appeared on the scene.)

Asked to explain the source of his daring, Ofan told Neta’el Bandel of Olam Katan, “Mostly from the enthusiasm of the many who were thirsty to learn Rav Kook exactly as he wrote his thoughts. The books were grabbed up immediately upon being printed.”

This was not particularly good news for everyone. The students and rabbis represented by the Rav Tzvi Yehuda Institute felt the proper way to understand Rav Kook was by learning passages in the proper context, not free-style. Some say the order was given to buy out the entire printing so that it would not be widely disseminated.

Ofan and his colleagues at Yeshivat Ramat Gan did not hesitate. It took them four years to get it together, but in 2003 they re-published the work – in two volumes instead of three, with the same size and look. The new edition became known as the Ramat Gan Eight Collections.

The ball was now in RTYI’s court, and it published the heretofore unknown “Notebook 13.” However, several important passages – such as those on Spinoza, secular learning, the Divinity of Torah – had been omitted.

Meanwhile, Ofan and a friend, Matanya Shai, had discovered yet another collection of Rav Kook’s writings; what it was doing in the National Library is a mystery in itself. Shai made his way to the library archives, where a librarian stood guard to make sure he wouldn’t photocopy them.

“When the librarian finally left,” Shai related, “I quickly texted my brother entire passages, one after another, and asked him to check if they appeared in any of the books, including the Eight Collections. Each time he said no, it wasn’t there. We had discovered a real treasure, larger than the previous one – and never before published!”

Much of what had been understood of Rav Kook’s philosophical and Kabbalistic thought was based on what he had written during a seven-year period (1912-1919) and which became Orot HaKodesh and other works – but it turns out he wrote in this style well before and after that, for more than three decades. The lion’s share of these spiritual riches had never before been available to scholars or students.

Without transgressing any laws – it is doubtful the National Library has the legal right to prevent photocopying – Shai prepared look-alike documents to keep in the archives while he photocopied one original after the other. Even with the help of friends, it took months.

They again proposed that RTYI publish the new material instead of them but were turned down, and once again a “pirate” version of Rav Kook’s writings was published. Titled Ktavim Mikhatv Yad Kadsho – Writings from His Holy Hand – it too has ignited the interest of Torah scholars and students of Rav Kook around the world.

The end of the story? There is none. Ofan says there are still more writings, but not enough to publish; some argue that the personal musings of even a great sage are not public property; and meanwhile the study of Torah continues, from generation to generation.


The Face of God: Thoughts on the Holocaust

Many Orthodox rabbis from the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) have rejected the view that the Shoah (Holocaust) was God’s judgement, including Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, Norman Lamm, Abraham Besdin, Emanuel Rackman, and Eliezer Berkovits. Their works have been collected in “Theological and Halakhic Reflections on the Holocaust” Ed. Bernhard H. Rosenberg and Fred Heuman, Ktav/RCA, 1992


The Face of God: Thoughts on the Holocaust, Dr. Norman Lamm

In my attempt to formulate a Jewish approach to the Holocaust, it should not be expected that I will venture an answer to the ancient question of zaddik ve-ra to (“the righteous whom evil befalls”) the vexing problem of the suffering of the innocent and the prosperity of the wicked, one that puzzled such biblical giants as Samuel, David, and Jeremiah.

The problem of theodicy – “justifying” the ways of God to man, offering rational explanations for the ethical and philosophical dilemmas presented by the disjointedness and inappositeness of conduct and circumstance, the quality of one’s moral life and his fortune or misfortune — has a long and honorable history. But there is no one theodicy in Judaism. From jJb to the sages of the Talmud, from Maimonides to Luria to the Besht, there is only one constant, and that is the queshon of zaddik ve-ra lo, the righteous who is afflicted with evil. The number of answers varies with the number of interpreters. No one approach has official, authoritative, dogmatic sanction in Judaism, although each has something of value to contribute. And the question remains the Question of questions for Judaism, as it does for every thinking, believing human being.

How, then, shall we approach the problem? Let us begin by dividing it into two parts: first, the universal problem of suffering, the cry of zaddik ve-ra to, why should the innocent suffer, intensified in the Holocaust by its unprecedented magnitude and cruelty. In kind, the Holocaust mystery is a continuation of the ancient question of evil and suffering – more urgent perhaps, but essentially the same.

The second part is not universal-metaphysical but national-theological. The Holocaust is not only a human challenge to God’s justice and goodness, but a Jewish challenge to His faithfulness and promise. The absolute novelty of the Holocaust lies in its threat to the continuity of the Jewish peopte as such. It not only outrages man’s ethical sensibilities but it throws into disarray most of our notions of the philosophy of Jewish history.

In other words, the novelty, the demonic novelty, of the Holocaust lies not so much in the murder of six million Jews as in the decimation of one third of the Jewish people and the trauma to the remaining two thirds.

In trying to come to grips with the Holocaust and to probe, haltingly but inevitably, for some scrap of understanding of this cataclysm, we are confronted wirh an immediate dilemma: the very relevance of “meaning” to the Holocaust. Can we hope to find even a shred of meaning in the “black hole” in Jewish history? if we mainrain that we can, we are in effect asserting a zidduk ha-din, a justification for the death, torment, and suffering of one million children and five million adults. We shall come back to this later, but I will say now that the very idea is repugnant to me and bespeaks an insufferable insensitivity. Moreover, if the “meaning” we purport to discover does nor measure up to the magnitude of the suffering, then we have not only erred, but we have profaned the memory of the martyrs. However, if we then pursue the other alternative, and declare that the Holocaust had no meaning, we seem to rob their deaths of any redeeming dimension and furthermore, appear to deny a great and abiding principle of Judaism, that of hashgahah peratit, divine providence over all human individuals.

Apparently not everyone appreciates that a dilemma even exists. Thus, almost all of those (few) Orthodox thinkers who have ventured into this area at all offer variations of the mi-penei hata’einu (“because of our sins”) thesis, so-named from the initial words of the special Musaf section of the service for the new month and the festivals, declaring that we only recite the order of the sacrificial Temple service liturgical¶y, but do not actually make the offerings, for the reason that the Temple was destroyed and we were exiled “because of our sins.” They see the Holocaust as punishment for Israel’s sins.

The late Satmarer Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Moshe Teitelbaum, is clear and unambiguous. In his two hooks, “Va-Yoel Mosheh” and “Al ha Ge’ulah ve-al ha-Temurah”, he decides that the Zionists were responsible for the tragedy of the six million. The arrogance of nationalistic self-determination in trying to build a Jewish state caused the great destruction. The fact that so many Zionists were secularists, nonbelievers, only made matters worse. They violated the injunction to remain passive, refrain from interfering in the divinely preordained plans of redemption, and to await the miraculous coming of the Messiah. Hence, the Zionists are guilty, and all the Jewish people suffered because of their sins. This theme is interwoven with another, and both recur throughout the Satmarer’s writings: the power of Samael, the archdemnon, to test and seduce Israel into sin. These cruel tests with which Samael accosts us, often with the help of miracles, are characteristic of our pre-messianic tribulations. Of course, it does not occur to the Satmarer or his followers, in their anti-Zionist demonological interpretation of history, that the reverse might be true: that the Holocuast was the bitter test, and the “miracles” of statehood and military triumph and national survival were and are the reward for our sufferings and anguish.

A less well known figure (Rabbi Emanuet Hartom, writing in the Israeli journal De’ot a few years ago), takes the opposite view of the Satmarer: The Holocaust is the punishment for our neglect of Eretz Israel. Our failure to participate en masse in the Return to Zion indicated a tragic defection from Judaism, a betrayal of the Promise to Abraham, and hence the unprecedented punishment we call the Shoah. That at least a portion of our people was spared is in itself a tribute to divine compassion for, having chosen to remain in exile, we implied our readiness to assimilate and thus turn our backs on God. One wonders what this particular rabbi would answer to the criticism, leveled at him in a later issue of the same journal, that it certainly is odd that the Holocaust struck first and hardest at those very centers of Jewish life that were most intensively Jewish, pro-Eretz Israel, and anti-assimilationist.

There is a third variation of the mi-penei hata’einu thesis, this time by an American (Rabbi Avigdor Miller) a mashgiah, or spiritual supervisor, at a Brooklyn yeshiva. Let me quote a few of his precious lines:

“Because of the upsurge of the greatest defection from Torah in history, which was expressed in Poland by materialism, virulent anti-nationalism, and Bundism (radical anti-religious socialism, God’s plan finally relieved them of all freewill and sent Hitler’s demons  to end the existence of the communities.”
(“Rejoice, 0 Youth”, pp. 278—289)

One wonders at the statement that Polish Jewry experienced the greatest defection from Torah in history: more than in the days of the prophet Elijah? Isaiah? Worse than German Jewry? American Jewry?

But let us not quibble about such trivial matters as facts. Is there any validity to the mi-penei hata’einu, the Holocaust as punishment explanation on which the various responses we have mentioned are based? Of course there is. The thesis is a corollary of the whole principle of sakhar ve-onesh, reward and punishment. It is a theme found throughout the Prophets and the Talmud.

And yet — I reject the cavalier invocation of this theme as a way of “explaining” the Holocaust. Indeed, in these special circumsstances of such unprecedented butchery and unequaled suffering and unimaginable danger to our survival, recourse to mi-penei hata’einu is massively irrelevant, impudent, and insensitive.

Why so? First, there are many approaches to suffering, as I indicated at the outset, and sin is not the only one. Indeed, the whole brunt of the Book of Job is to reject the simplistic recourse to mi-penei hata’einu in any and all circumstances: Job was not guilty of any sin — that is the premise of the whole book — and yet he suffered. It was the friends of Job, who insisted he must be guilty of some hidden sin, who were rebuked by God.

Hence, for us who live in comfort and security years after the event to point an accusing finger at European Jewry — probably one of the greatest and most creative and most beautiful in all Jewish history — and castigate them for shortcomings of one kind or another ostensibly deserving of such horrendous suffering, is an unparalleled instance of criminal arrogance and brutal insensitivity. How dare anyone even suggest that any “sin” committed by any significant faction of European Jewry was worthy of all the pain and anguish and death visited upon them by Hitler’s sadistic butchers? How dare anyone, skiing in the American or British or Israeli Paradise, indict the martyrs who were consumed in the European Hell?

Second, whoever undertakes to expound the thesis of mi-penei hata’einu for any specific event, in the gory detail we mentioned earlier, risks violating a most heinous sin of his own — that of zidduk ha-din, justifying the punishment and travail of the people of Israel. The sages did not take to this too kindly.

According to the rabbis, Moses himself was punished for making offensive statements about his people. Moses told the Israelites: “Listen, ye rebels” (Numbers 20:10). His punishment: “…you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them” (ibid v.12). Elijah complained to God that “the children of Israel have forsaken Thy convenant” (I Kings 19:10).

Shortly thereafter, we read of God’s command to appoint a successor, Elisha, in his place. Isaiah, too, used offensive language. In the course of a prophetic revelation, he confessed his feeling of worthlessness by saying “Woe is me, for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips.” But he erred by adding the significant words: “and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). Soon afterwards we read of how one of the angels of God, “with a glowing coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar,” touched the mouth of the prophet and said: “Lo, this hath touched thy lips and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin expiated” (Isaiah 6:7).

According to a Midrash, this was in atonement for the sin of criticizing his fellow Jews as “people of unclean lips” (Yalkut Shimoni, Isaiah chap. 6). The Talmud tells us that King Manasseh killed Isaiah, who died when the sword reached his mouth — which had uttered the defamation of Israel (Yevamot 49b).

The sages’ aversion to condemning one’s fellow Jews and justifying their suffering, no matter how terrible their behavior, is taught in a famous tale of two great amoraim (Midrash Shir ha-Shirim 1): R. Abbahu and R. Simeon ben Lakish entered the city of Caesarea. R. Abbahu said to R. Simeon: “Why did we come here, into this country of abusers and blasphemers?” Whereupon R. Simeon dismounted from his donkey, took some sand in his hand, and pushed it into R. Abbahu’s mouth. “What is this?” asked R. Abba-hu. R. Simeon replied: “The Holy One does not approve of one who slanders Israel.” (I am indebted to Prof. Eliezer Berkovits for this reference.)

So let all those who are quick to interpret the Holocaust as punishment for Jewish sins be warned that they risk running afoul of the sages’ anger at whoever undertakes the sordid task of blaming his fellow Jews — and especially if such accusations are unjust.

Third, I am also troubled by a certain moral deficiency in those who seek to apply the mi-penei hata’einu philosophy to the Holocaust, and that is their sense of utter self-confidence, their dogmatic infallibility. They *know* that six million Jews were killed because there were Zionists among them, or because there were non-Zionists among them, or because there were assimilationists or apikorsim or whatever among them. While the rest of us poor benighted souls cannot begin to fathom, today, some forty years after the event, that it happened, how humankind could have degenerated so as to permit it, what all this pain and torture did to the martyrs and to their survivors — all this while, these smug interpreters of the Holocaust have no questions, no doubts, no problems, no uncertainties. They just know everything about the Sho’ah, especially why it happened. The enormity of this callousness, the outrageousness of such insensitive arrogance in elaborating this zidduk ha-din is mind-boggling. It is to my mind, unforgivable.

One last comment about the advocates of applying mi-penei hata’einu to the Holocaust: this is the first time in Jewish history, to my knowledge, that supposedly pious and learned Jews — a rebbe, a rav, a mashgiach — have made so colossal an error in elementary grammar. They use the words u-mi-penei hata’einu “because of *our* sins,” when they really mean to say u-mi-penei hatae’ihem, “because of *their* sins”! In the past every case of interpreting a disaster as the result of sin was one in which the interpreter included himself in the group that was guiity; it was “our sins,” not anyone else’s, that caused us to be exiled from our land. Today, in trying to explain the greatest of all disasters ever to befall us, small-minded people blame others, not themselves. The anti-Zionists blame the Zionists, the Zionists blame the anti-Zionists, the secularists blame the Orthodox rabbis who did not encourage emigration, and the Orthodox blame the assimilationists and the socialists and everyone else not in our camp. This last point alone is enough to disqualify the whole line of reasoning from being applicable to the Shoah.

In sum, if we ask, if we may resort to the mi-penei hata’einu rationale for the Holocaust, my answer is a resounding no — indeed, six million times no!

Groups that claim to be Jewish

There are many different denominations of Judaism, from Orthodox, to Conservative, to Reform, and a wide variety of smaller groups within each larger category. There are wide differences in belief and practice between the left-wing of Reform, and the right-wing of Orthodoxy.

Chava Studios Shavuot watercolor

That being said, there are major themes which tie these Jewish groups together, so they are recognizably related to historical, rabbinic Judaism. Some of these ideas are

  • the belief in one God, who is a unity
  • the belief that God inspired the authors of the Tanakh (Bible)
  • the belief that the Tanakh must be understood within a particular cultural context – what historians call an oral tradition. This oral tradition eventually was canonized in the Mishnah, and classic rabbinic Midrash collections. It was then expounded upon in the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds.

But in recent centuries many new groups have appeared, some growing out of the Jewish community, and some coming entirely from non-Jews, who are decidedly non-Jewish in every way, yet who attempt to take the mantle of Judaism for themselves.

The mainstream Jewish community – Reform to Conservative to Orthodox – agrees that the following groups are not Judaism. Despite our differences, our monotheism, Tanakh and oral law holds our communities together:

* Humanist Judaism / Society for Humanistic Judaism (recognized as atheism)

* Jews for Jesus / Messianic Jews / “Completed Jews” (recognized as Christian)

* Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (recognized as Christian)

* Black Hebrew Israelites (recognized as Christian)

* Sabbateanism / followers of Sabbatai Zevi – a dangerous cult that split off from Judaism.

* Frankism / followers of Jacob Frank – a dangerous cult that split off from Judaism.

* Kohenet Hebrew Priestess movement (neo-pagan goddess worship, whose prayers literally mention pagan gods.)

* Messianic followers of any deceased Rebbe. Some Hasidim believe that a deceased rabbi is still alive, is the messiah; they use language which describe the rabbi as being God’s voice incarnated in a human body, and/or in charge of the Universe.

Shaking My Head


While little known to most Jewish people today, many classical texts of rabbinic Judaism taught the ancient view that the Earth is the center of the universe, and that the Sun, other planets, and stars all revolve around the Earth. This idea is called geocentrism.  Ever since Copernicus in the 1400s, and especially since galileo in the 1500s, we have known that this idea is false.


Geocentrism today is rejected by all non-Orthodox Jewish groups, and one would imagine most if not all of Modern Orthodoxy. However, some Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) groups still teach geocentrism. Here are Chabad Lubavitch essays teaching that the earth is the center of the universe:

This belief can be found in other Hasidic and non-Hasidic Orthodox groups. According to the survey a large percent of college-attending Orthodox Jews believe that the earth is the center of the universe, and that the Sun and other planets revolve around us.

“Of particular interest was the item “Which is true? The Sun revolves around the Earth [or] the Earth revolves around the Sun (Figure 8). Only 22 of 173 answered that the Sun revolves around the Earth. Geocentrism is fast returning as a centrist Orthodox belief, so the paucity of geocentrists among these college students is a strong indication of their (relatively) modern Orthodox status”

“…The Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists is largest organization of its type with over 1500 members. Its website is Dr. Avi Rabinowitz, a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from New York University, who defended geocentrism in “Geocentrism” in B’Or‑Ha’Torah Volume 5E 1986 spoke at its convention in August 19–21, 2005. See Rabinowitz’s article, Egocentrism & Geocentrism; Human Significance & Existential Despair; Fundamentalism and Skepticalism.”

It has been scientifically proven that geocentrism is wrong in many ways. First, within our own solar system, it is our Sun which is the center: planets, comets and asteroids revolve around it. This is called heliocentrism. Secondly, our solar system is just one of a billion star systems in the Milky Way galaxy, all of which are slowly rotating around our galaxy’s center. Beyond that our galaxy is merely one of billions of other galaxies, most of which also contain billions of stars each.

Here is a well written article from Discover Magazine about why geocentrism is wrong, and the fundamental flaw in logic that geo centrists make

Geocentrism? Seriously? Discover Magazine

It is a common error to misunderstand Einstein’s special theory of relativity. Many people believe it proves that we can never prove that the earth goes around the Sun. Therefore the ancient statements in the Bible and Talmud implying that the earth is the center of the universe are still justified.

But this is wrong on two counts. One, it contains a fundamental misunderstanding of what choosing a frame of reference means. For further discussion of this point, see the link to the essay on Discover Magazine that I posted separately. Secondly, it’s not just a matter of choosing coordinate systems. We have direct observation evidence that it is the earth revolving around the Sun, and not the other way around.

These are subtle effects that were not measured until the 1800s, but they have been confirmed time and again. Direct measurement showing what is the center, and what is not, has been possible for close to 200 years now. This is a well written summary of the evidence for Heliocentrism: Is there a proof that the Earth moves? Ask An Astronomer

From the Union of Orthodox Congregations (Modern Orthodox), see book reviews on

New Heavens and a New Earth: The Jewish Reception of Copernican Thought, By Jeremy Brown, Oxford University Press, and Torah, Chazal and Science, By Moshe Meiselman. Israel Bookshop Publications

Maimonides on resuming sacrifices

Professor Amitai E. Halevi illustrates how Maimonides (Rambam) was ultimately against animal sacrifices, even though he listed laws about them in his Mishneh Torah (12th century Code of Jewish law)

Question: I find the idea that [the Guide alone expressing Maimonides’s real views] uncomfortable in this case…  It is not so much that it is impossible that Maimonides would adopt such a position; but that I find it difficult to see why in that case he would codify the halacha of sacrifice in such positive language …given that he is (I believe) unusual among post-Talmudic halachic codifiers in treating this area at all, and that it was not of practical significance at the time.

Please remember that in Mishneh Torah Maimonides undertook to codify the entire Halakha, and make it unnecessary to consult the Talmud or later commentaries on any point of law. As he writes in the final paragraph of his introduction: “To summarize, in order that a man will need no other composition on Jewish Law whatsoever, [this work is] a compilation of the entire Oral Law: including all of the ordinances, customs and decrees that were promulgated since the days of Moshe Rabbenu and through the Gemarah, as interpreted for us by the Gaonim in all of the compositions that they wrote after the Gemara. For this reason, I have entitled my composition Mishneh Torah, so that if a man reads the written law and then this work he will know the entire Oral Law without having to read any book between the two”.

This being so, though he was no less aware than the Ro”Sh and Ba`al Ha-Turim that the halakhot of sacrifice and Temple service had no practical significance, he was obliged – unlike the other codifiers – to include them for completeness.

The Temple Altar


This engraving by Otto Elliger depicts King Solomon supervising construction of the altar outside of the Temple. At the bottom right is shown one of the movable bronze stands with a basin.

For the most part Maimonides kept his philosophical views out of the Mishneh Torah. Wherever his “real” views conflicted with those expressed in the Talmud, his reservations – stated subtly – almost invariably refer to matters that are relevant to practical life (medicine and hygiene, contemporary science, marital relations, etc…) There was no reason for him to express his reservations about  halakhot that might only become relevant “at the end of days”, so  he simply codified them faithfully without comment.

As to The Guide: I pointed out in my previous post that Maimonides does not deny that animal sacrifices are part of halakhah; having devoted an entire section to them in Mishneh Torah – to say nothing of the fact that they are spelled out in the Written Law – how could he? He explains God’s rationale as a concession to the psychological needs of a primitive people just emerging from idolatry. In Ch. xlvi of Part III he gives animal sacrifice a positive slant (for the era in which it was instituted):

“Scripture tells us, according to the version of Onkelos, that the Egyptians worshipped Aries, and therefore abstained from killing sheep … Some sects among the Sabeans worhipped demons, and imagined that these assumed the form of goats … For this reason, these sects abstained from eating goats’ flesh. Most idolators objected to killing cattle, holding this species of animals in great estimation… In order to eradicate these false principles, the Law commands us to offer sacrifices of these three kinds… Thus the very act is considered by the heathen as the greatest crime, is the means of approaching God, and obtaining His pardon for our sins”.

Maimonides leaves us in no doubt that he considers animal sacrifice to be anachronistic. Not pretending to be a prophet, he does not presume to predict whether or not the practice will be reinstituted in the days of the Messaiah. However, he cites the written law, as well as the prophets, to make the point that even in biblical days, animal sacrifice was at best a second-rate sort of mitzvah. “In addition to the teaching of truths, the Law aims at the removal of injustice from mankind. We have thus proved that the first laws do not refer to burnt-offering and sacrifice, which are of secondary importance (Part III, Ch. xxxii)”.

Maimonides is never explicit about such delicate matters in the Guide for the Perplexed; if he were, he would have been excommunicated – if not stoned – by his contemporaries.

In Chapter 32 of Part III, he writes:

“But the custom which was in those days general among men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up consisted in sacrificing animals … It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God … that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service; for to obey such a commandment it would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used; it would _in those days_ have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present [12th Century] if he called us to the service of God and told us in his name, that we should not pray to Him nor fast, nor seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve him in thought, and not by any action.”

It should be is obvious from the above that Maimonides does not deny that the various animal sacrifices are divinely ordained, but that he regards them to be a holdover from the idolatrous practices of the time. In his view, God’s decision to allow their continuation, mutatis mutandis, was no more than a concession to the conservatism of the primitive Israelites to whom the Torah was given.

Anyone who is concerned enough about the issue to read this chapter through should follow the advice proffered at its very end. Citing Psalm 50, in which animal sacrifice is trivialized, Maimonides writes “Wherever this subject is mentioned, this is its meaning. Consider it well and reflect on it”.

The last sentence is the code that author uses whenever he urges the discerning reader – the only one he cares about – to read between the lines. Such a reader may even find a hint of relief that animal sacrifice has been discontinued until the days of the Messiah, who may find the Jewish people of his day to be sufficiently sophisticated that the distasteful practice need not be reinstituted.

Abraham Isaac Kook

Are you familiar with Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935)? He was the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandate for Palestine [pre-state Israel] Simultaneously an Orthodox rabbi and an unabashed radical- today he would be considered heterdox.

Rav Kook was a mystic and Kabbalist – which usually isn’t quite my thing – but perhaps Rav Kook is the exception which proves the rule  His mysticism speaks to yearnings of the Jewish heart. Today he is highly regarded by Jews of all denominations/streams.

This book, from the Classics of Western Spirituality series, is a great collection of his thought: It includes complete English translations of Orot ha-Teshuva (“The Lights of Penitence”), Musar Avicha (“The Moral Principles”), as well as selected translations from Orot ha-Kodesh (“The Lights of Holiness”) and miscellaneous essays, letters, and poems.

The Lights of Penitence, the Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems: at

Kook The Lights of Penitence Book

* founder of the Religious Zionist Yeshiva Merkaz HaRav

* known in Hebrew by the acronym HaRaAYaH or simply as “HaRav.”

* one of the most celebrated and influential Rabbis of the 20th century.


Rav Kook’s Secret Writings: A Drama In Several Parts
By Hillel Fendel – 19 Tishri 5773 – October 4, 2012



Do Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

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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