Volume 25 Number 11
                       Produced: Sun Nov 10 17:04:26 1996

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Creatio Ex Nihilo and Charity
         [Russell Hendel]
Creation Ex Nihilo
         [Michael Frankel]
Dogma in Judaism
         [Ronald Cohen]
         [Rafi Stern]
G-d's Abilities
         [Akiva Miller]
Psychology of Belief
         [Solomon Schimmel]


From: <rhendel@...> (Russell Hendel)
Date: Thu, 3 Oct 1996 20:36:06 -0400
Subject: Creatio Ex Nihilo and Charity

I am adding a comment on the recent discussion on creation ex nihilo
(e.g.  MJ 25n6).  I was priveleged to hear the Rav (Rabbi Soloveitchick)
speak about AGADAH and learn EYN YAAKOV for a year (we did Berachoth).
During that time I learned many principles which I would enjoy sharing
with others.

The Rav made the following general claim about statements about GOD:

***  All statements about God should be interpreted in light of the
***  Mitzvah that man must resemble God (..lehidamoth bidracauv..just as
***  he is merciful so you must be merciful...). Thus any statement of
***  the form "God did X" should really be translated as "Man should do
***  X because God did X; X is a moral norm." For example, the
***  statement, "God buried people (e.g. Moses)" would be translated as
***  "Man should bury people; burial is a Mitzvah or moral norm."

Before proceding let us recall the Rambams famous ladder of Charity
according to which e.g. giving someone a job is the highest form of
charity and is superior to e.g. openly giving a person money. (Charity
Laws) There are 6 other "rungs" on this latter but we suffice with the
general idea.

"Openly giving money" emphasizes my self negation of my own ownership
for a fellow human being.  "Giving a job" on the other hand emphasizes
helping a person creating wealth and resources without my loosing
anything.  It seems in Jewish charity the important point is not whether
I lose anything but whether I enable a person to create for himself
(money given is once only ; a job on the other hand enables a person to
continuously create for himself)

One other concept from economic theory will prove useful.  If I give
alms to a person then I have *transferred* wealth...the gross national
product remains the same, but transferred. On the other hand if I give a
person a job then I have actually created wealth (out of almost nothing)
since the person is producing things that were not there before...in
such a case the gross national product increases.

We can now tie this with the Ravs ideas: To assert that "God created the
world ex nihilo" is translated that "It is a mitzvah to help create
(wealth) out of nothing since God himself did so; such enabling of
existence is imitatio Dei and a moral norm."

I believe that this gives moral insights into what might otherwise be an
obscure metaphysical point.  Incidentally, the idea of creation as
CHESED towards the world is explicitly mentioned in Ps 89.

Russell Jay Hendel, PH.D, ASA, rhendel @ mcs drexel edu


From: Michael Frankel <FRANKEL@...>
Date: Thu, 03 Oct 1996 18:42:45 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: Creation Ex Nihilo

1. To complement the brief list of rishonim who did not support creatio
ex nihilo we, most likely, ought add Ibn Ezra.  See Biresishis 1:1. His
"hamaskil yovin" closing to his interpretation of "boroh" has been
interpreted by many as a wink at his true feeling that substance was
eternal.  Of course his interpretation of bireishis boroh in si'michus
(In the beginning of creation of shomayim and eretz, when...) like Rashi
and a number of modern translations, as opposed to the
Trop/Rambam/lihavdil/King James (In the beginning, God created..) is
consistent with such an interpretation - though hardly sufficient, since
no one has suspected Rashi of rejecting ex nihilo.

2.  An even more controversial potential addition (though more so in
much earlier generations than lately) is the Rambam himself.  Despite
his apparently emphatic declarations to the contrary, Rambam
esoreticians have always believed that this is one of the instances
where he deliberately concealed his true feelings (we know there are
such instances, because he tells us he's done that).  For a review of
such perspectives in Rambam from an esoteric vice exoteric proponent see
A. Nuriel, "Chidush Ho'olom Oa Kadmuso Al Pi Harambam" in Mikro'oh
Bicheker Harambam, Magnes Press (a reprint of Tarbitz articles).

3. The original question however concerned potential sources for the ex
nihilo doctrine prior to the middle ages.  There is an interpretation
due to Auerbach (Chazal, Emunos Vida'os", Magnes Press, 1969, pp 164-66)
that the somewhat opaque discussion between Ben Zomah and R. Yehoshua
recorded in Bireishis Raba 4:4-6 implied B. Zomah's entertainment of
aspects of dualistic doctrine (i.e.  that something other than God might
be eternal) as one of B. Zomah's many diroshos which tended to
scandalize the chachomim, while R. Yehoshua hastened to turn aside any
such suggestion (i.e. by implication a Tanaitic ex nihilo proponent,
See, however, S. Lieberman for other Gnostic interpretation of this

4.  It seems the publically explicit formulation of this doctrine is due
more to the early church than the early jews.  Tertullian (3rd cent.)
and Augustine (4-5th) pushed this mostly as a rationale for their
conception of all things (material/political) going to
hell-in-a-handbasket in this world - things which have beginnings
thought to have ends and are thus naturally corrupt.  Jewish sources
instead traditionally discouraged public discusssion of their
cosmogenetic teachings, and while ex nihilo creation per se was later
considered more phiolosophical than mystical, it is not really
surprising to see little public discussion at these earlier times.

Mechy Frankel				H: (301) 593-3949
<frankel@...>			W: (703) 325-1277


From: Ronald Cohen <cohen@...>
Date: Thu, 3 Oct 1996 12:50:46 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Dogma in Judaism

Chapter 3 of Rambam's Hilchot Teschuvah raises some issues I have not
seen discussed much.  It follows parsha Helek in Sanhedrin 10:1 and his
commentary there as well.  Paragraph 6 says "The following individuals
do not have a portion in the world to come.  Rather they are cut off and
they are judged for their great wickedness and sins forever and ever:
cause the many to sin, those who separate themselves from the community,
those who proudly commit sins in public, those who betray Jews to
gentile authorities, those who cast fear upon people for non-religious
reasons, murderers, those who do lashon hara, and one who extends his
foreskin so as to appear uncircumcised."  Emphasis is added for those
that involve thought or faith.

Now I always heard contrasts between Judaism and Christianity, say, that
(observant) Jews serve G'd and follow the mitzvot, whereas all that
matters to Christians is faith.  Here though it seems, at least as far
as olam haba goes, what matters is faith and not actions, also.  I also
heard growing up the statements that Judaism does not have Dogma.
Clearly that is not so, but where did the modern idea come from that
Jews are free to form their own opinions on things like resurrection,
etc.  Do any gadolim argue against this statement of Rambam and the
Mishna, that seems to put many modern Jews outside the bounds of
acceptable Jewish thought?

I also find it interesting that lashon hara falls here, which is so
difficult for many to avoid, and separating oneself from the community,
which could apply to some religious people as well as to those who are

Any thoughts, comments, or references on this subject would be

Ron Cohen
Washington, D.C.


From: <iitpr@...> (Rafi Stern)
Date: Wed,  9 Oct 96 02:48:56 PDT
Subject: ex-nihilo?

Could someone explain to me what premise we could make other than
creation ex-nihilo. If nothing can exist without HaShem (see e.g. RamBam
in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah) and no powers exist alongside Him, then how
could anything else apart from Him have existed before He created it?

Rafi Stern
IITPR - The Israel Institute of Transportation Planning and Research
Tel:972-3-6873312   Fax:972-3-6872196
E-mail: <iitpr@...>


From: <Keeves@...> (Akiva Miller)
Date: Wed, 9 Oct 1996 22:51:20 -0400
Subject: G-d's Abilities

In MJ 25:08, Richard K. Fiedler asked several questions about what G-d
can or cannot do. It seems to me that these are not trivial questions,
but of deep philosophical import, and are all in the same category as
the prototype of them all: "Can G-d create a rock so heavy that He
cannot lift it?"

A long time ago, I heard what is - to me - a very satisfying answer to
this question: No, G-d *cannot* create such a rock. But the problem is
not that G-d is unable to create it. Rather, the real problem is that
the *rock* is unable to exist!

Or to put it in more abstract terms, the problem is one of changing the
rules in the middle of the game, or changing the definitions of one's
terms before answering the question. Mr Fiedler asked if G-d can be
surprised. The answer is no, because if He *could* be surprised, then
that's not what we mean by the name "G-d".


From: Solomon Schimmel <sschimme@...>
Date: Thu, 3 Oct 1996 12:27:24 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Psychology of Belief

     I will be presenting a paper at the Study of Judaism Section of the
American Academy of Religion on November 24th in which I will attempt to
analyze the reasons, primarily psychological and social, why modern
(centrist; Torah U'Madda orientation) Jews, especially scientists and
academics in Jewish Studies disciplines, continue to affirm belief in
certain traditional articles of faith, notwithstanding the fact that
they are considered to be highly implausible on the grounds of logic,
empirical data, and scholarly, academic analyses and theories. My focus
for illustrative purposes will be the belief in Torah Mi'Sinai (the
belief that God revealed the Pentateuch to Moses at Sinai sometime in
the 13th century BCE) as opposed to the predominant view of biblical
scholars that the Pentateuch is a humanly wrought document (whether
divinely inspired in whole or in part, or not at all) composed of
multiple sources, that evolved over a period of many centuries, reaching
its final form sometime after the destruction of the First Temple.

     I am interested in input to the following questions, especially
from people who see themselves as affiliating with this segment of
orthodox Judaism. I am aware that for some individuals the subject may
be "touchy" and even "dangerous". Therefore I will preserve the
anonymity of anyone who chooses to respond to me directly at my e-mail


Naturally, if you respond to the list with your name you will not be

     I would like to focus on five questions and would appreciate it if
your responses will specify which question(s) you are answering.

1. Why do you believe in Torah Mi'Sinai? (Reasons can run the gamut from
philosophical, existential, psychological and anything else you would
consider to be the grounds for your affirming this belief).

2. How do you explain the fact that that the vast majority of biblical
scholars in academia consider the Torah Mi'Sinai theory to be extremely

3. How do you deal with the evidence provided by biblical scholarship
and related disciplines that challenges the traditional Torah Mi'Sinai

4. Is there any kind of evidence that you could imagine which would lead
you to change your belief from the Torah Mi'Sinai (divine revelation to
Moses) theory to a multiple source/human authorship/post-Mosaic theory?
If there is, could you provide some examples of the kind of evidence
that would get you to change your view.

5. What do you think would be the effects, if any, of your rejecting the
traditional Torah Mi'Sinai view and accepting a variant of the multiple
source/human authorship/post-Mosaic view of the origin of the
Pentateuch, on the following areas of your life: (You might wish to
distinguish between the effects of private and public rejection).

     1- Your emotional life
     2- Your behavior
     3. Your family life and relationships with members
of your family
     4- Your peer and communal relationships
     5- Your professional life (especially if you are
involved in a Jewish Studies academic discipline).

     Thank you in advance for your assistance.

     Sol Schimmel, Ph.D
     Professor of Psychology, Hebrew College, Brookline, MA 02146
Tel: (617) 278-4946, Fax: (617) 734-9769
E-Mail: <sschimme@...>


End of Volume 25 Issue 11