Monday, August 9, 2010

St. Augustine Teaches Rabbi Aharon Feldman Authentic Jewish History




I recently decided to spend part of the morning reading through Rabbi Aharon Feldman's The Eye of the Storm: A Calm View of Raging Issues, so brilliantly skewered by Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein. Part of the book deals with messianism so I had a good excuse. (It is sort of relevant to my dissertation so it counts as work.) Central to Rabbi Feldman's claims is that he offers a Judaism untainted by outside values; he is a believer in "authentic Judaism," so to speak. As such I believe it is of interest to closely examine some of Rabbi Feldman's "authentic" Jewish beliefs.


In his discussion about messianism, Rabbi Feldman offers the following model of history:


The struggle of human history is the struggle over whether the glory of God or the glory of man will reign supreme. It is the struggle which began when the first man sinned. Adam Ha-Rishon was given the choice between serving God and making his own self "like God, who knows how to choose between good and evil." The choice which faced the first man was: Shall he worship God or shall he worship himself?

It is the struggle which took place between Yaakov and his brother Esav. Yaakov was "a man who sat in the tents [of Torah]," while Esav chose to sell his privilege of serving God in the Beis Hamikdash (the Holy Temple) for a pot of lentils.

The same struggle was replayed was replayed in the wars between Rome and the Jewish people, which ended with the destruction of the Temple. Rome, who the Sages tell us were the descendents of Esav, saw Jerusalem as the antithesis of their world-view. To Rome, man was meant to conquer lands, develop commerce, build highways – in short, to glorify man and his power. For the Jew, man was meant to subordinate his appetites and his passion for conquest to the will of God. With their diametrically divergent world-views, the Romans and the Jews could not inhabit the same world: … "when one stands upright, the other most fall." (Pg. 168-69.)

Now for someone so concerned with offering authentic Jewish beliefs, Rabbi Feldman offers little in the way of sources for this idea so it is up to us to consider where such an understanding of history could come from.

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, in his Lonely Man of Faith, famously talked about the struggle between two types of Adam. Adam One is the man of this world who seeks to conquer it; Adam Two is the spiritual man alone in this world, seeking a relationship with God. Rabbi Soloveitchik was attempting to grant some legitimacy to the pursuit of the glory of man in the hope that the two Adams could be reconciled. So we could rest assured that Rabbi Feldman was not influenced by Rabbi Soloveitchik; if anything he is responding to and denouncing such Modern Orthodox views.


The real source for Rabbi Feldman's model of history was that great authentic Jewish thinker, St. Augustine of Hippo. According to Augustine:

… two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, You are my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all. The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, I will love You, O Lord, my strength. And therefore the wise men of the one city, living according to man, have sought for profit to their own bodies or souls, or both, and those who have known God glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened; professing themselves to be wise,— that is, glorying in their own wisdom, and being possessed by pride—they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. For they were either leaders or followers of the people in adoring images, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. (Romans 1:21-25) But in the other city there is no human wisdom, but only godliness, which offers due worship to the true God, and looks for its reward in the society of the saints, of holy angels as well as holy men, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:28) (City of God Book XIV Chap. 28)

Thus Rabbi Feldman's understanding of history is about as Jewish as the Incarnation, Trinity, or, dare I say it, women's prayer groups. To be fair to Augustine, his view of the earthly city, as exemplified by the Roman Empire, was more nuanced than he is generally given credit for, much closer to Rabbi Soloveitchik's Adam One. I am interested in how Augustinian ideas of history entered Jewish thought. We see an example of this in the apocalypticism of Rabbi Abraham bar Hiyya, in the early twelfth century, and Isaac Abarbanel, in the fifteenth century, certainly read Augustine. If anyone knows anything about the issue please feel free to comment.

7 comments:

Larry Lennhoff said...

My first thought when I started reading the Ramchal in Derech Hashem about Adam is 'this is Xtianity. You have Adam pre-fall as some sort of demigod, and postfall as an ordinary human with vastly reduced power and scope.'

So did this idea enter Judaism from Xtianity, or did they both draw their ideas from a common well, or did they develop independently?

Izgad said...

There are certain “Christian” ideas, like fallen angels and angelic Messiahs, that have their roots in Second Temple Judaism as evidenced by texts like the Dead Sea Scrolls. So when one sees such ideas in medieval Judaism one assuming that Jews orally maintained these traditions or that medieval Jews took ideas from their Christian environment. I am more inclined to the latter. I would also point out that it could only help the infiltration of Christian ideas if Jews could point to Jewish sources to support it and thus make it “kosher.”

no one said...

I think most problems in the orthodox world comes from a bluring of the distinction between
classical Jewish books and great Jewish books.
I mean there are classical Jewish books that are not great. (E.G. Musar). And there are classical and modern Orthodox Jewish books that are propaganda.

On the other hand there are classical Jewish books that are great (Talmud, Rebbi Nachman, Mishna, Rambam, the Arizal.)
I think that the yeshivish world feels intuitively that they have something special in the Tenach and the Talmud bavli so they want to preserve that. They feel a special energy that comes from the Talmud babli and they don’t know how to defend it. So they get defensive and comes out with mountains of trash like all 20th century Orthodox books.
But that should not deflect us from seeing why they produced so much trash--it is because they want to defend something valuable and important--the Talmud and do not know how to do it. They see science has made it necessary to throw out beliefs that they thought (incorrectly) the Talmud was founded on and don’t know what to put it its place. So Orthodox Judaism has become a religion of intellectual and moral dishonesty. That is sad but it does not take away the grandeur a glory of books like the Talmud and the Rambam.

Izgad said...

No One

So what are you, a Liberal Chasidic Mystical Rationalist?

I think there have been some good books about Judaism written in the 20th century, for example the work of Rabbi Abraham Heschel.

no one said...

I was just pointing out that the Jewish world does have great books and those books are not in general consistent with one another. But they are great. But what does that make me. I don’t know. What if I would tell you that Plato also wrote a few great books? Does that mean I have to agree with the Republic? (Communism) I hope not.
But if you want a straight answer my orientation is as a Rationalist. But that does not cancel out the fact that I believe knowledge is available by non rational non perceptive means.
I have great respect for the Arizal and Rambam and Rebbi Nachman
But again my feeling is that when people try to mix in twentieth century authors with these great it bothers me. I can’t imagine how anyone could think anything written by twentieth century rabbis could compare with anything the Rambam wrote. In an age that rewarded conformity the rambam came with a vision that included Plato Aristotle and all the Talmud. I still have never met or heard of anyone that has the faintest idea of how to understand what the Rambam was getting at. When people try to explain the Rambam all they end up doing is insulting him.
The only hope I have seen to begin to grasp the rambam is the Chidushei Reb Chayim.

wannabenoachide said...

Augustine appears to be an influence (IFRC uncited) on Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits despite his critical view of Christianity

See this article from Judaism "Eliezer Berkovits's Post-Holocaust Theology"
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb3236/is_1_37/ai_n28810407/

Izgad said...

Thank you for pointing the article out.