Saturday, May 31, 2008

Book Review: The Limits of Orthodox Theology, Chapter Two,the Existence and Unity of God

"The first principle declares that God exists, that he is perfect in every way, and that he is the cause of the existence of all things."

This is probably the lesast controversial of all the Principles. This principle includes the belief in the eternality of God and His perfection. The only objection to this is how we should understand God's perfection.

Can God do anything? Most Jewish thinkers (and Christian theologians as well) have limited what God can do to the logically possible. In other words, God cannot do what is logically nonsense because such a thing doesn't mean anything. And that doesn't imply an imperfection in God's nature.

However, Shapiro lists some Jewish thinkers who reject this line of thinking. For example, one rabbi said "I believe God can make a rectangular triangle."

Again, for the most part this principle is not controversial. Nor is it unique to Judaism, as this Principle could be affirmed by Islam or Christianity.

"The Second Principle teaches the absolute unity of God, which is unlike the unity of anything else. No Jewish teacher has openly disputed this."

Now, the second principle is Unitarianism. And since Christianity is Trinitarian, this is usually one of the major theological objections to Christianity.

The only forces that run counter to this principle are kabbalistic, but no kabbalist would say this violates the unity of God. Similarly, Christians affirm monotheism while embracing Trinitarianism.

The kabbalah has a doctrine of the Sefirot, the ten aspects of the God head. Shapiro mentions a rabbi that "whereas the Chistians believe in 'three', the kabbalists believe in 'ten'.

Now, if memory serves, the Greeks believed in the absolute unity of the One. That kept crossing my mind as I read this.

How can we, as believers in Jesus, criticize the kabbalists for ten instead of three (ignoring for the moment vast differences between Sefirot and Persons in the Trinity)?

Whether the source is Jewish tradition, Greek philosophy, kabbalah or Christian theology, we should always test everything against Scripture. Our forbearers in the Messianic faith did not come up with the doctrine of the Trinity on a whim. It was based on careful reflection on Scripture.

Maimonides' Thirteen Principles, the Apostolic Creed, and the kabbalah are not the ultimate authorities for us. Scripture is. And this book can help remind us of that. We shouldn't be basing our views on God's nature on our own idle speculations. That would be idolatry.

But, as a believer in Jesus, idea of the Sefirot arising within Judaism is quite interesting to me. Although I doubt at this point in time the origin of such ideas could be ascertained.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Book Review: The Limits of Orthodox Theology, Introduction

I'm starting my long-delayed and promised (at least I think I promised) review of Marc Shapiro's the Limits of Orthodox Theology. The book has a simple goal, but one has caused a lot of notice in Orthodox circles.

Maimonides' Thirteen Principles are considered by the greater Jewish community to define traditional Judaism. Maimonides himself wrote that anyone denies or doubts any of the Principles is a heretic and has removed himself from the Jewish people.

The central thesis of the book is that Maimonides' Thirteen Principles are not the last word in Jewish theology. By that, Dr. Shapiro means that the Thirteen Principles are considered the central truths of Orthodox Judaism. But several thinkers within the mainstream of Orthodoxy, both before and after Maimonides, disagreed with some of the Thirteen Principles. Interestingly engouh, Dr. Shapiro details where Maimonides himself disagrees with his own Principles.

Shapiro examines each of the Principles and then documents the disagreements or controversies surrounding each Principle. He also makes sure he omits scholars outside the Orthodox community. In medievel times, when there were no non-Orthodox religious denominations, he makes sure to exclude more controversial figures who weren't accepted by large segments of the Jewish community.

The book, and hence this ongoing review, may seem like a repetition of facts, quotes, and people. But, given Shapiro's thesis, this is unavoidable. If you are going to say that there has been disagreements, you are going to have to list them.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Orthodox Jews Burn New Testaments in Israel

Orthodox Jews set fire to hundreds of copies of the New Testament in the latest act of violence against Christian missionaries in the Holy Land.

Or Yehuda Deputy Mayor Uzi Aharon said missionaries recently entered a neighborhood in the predominantly religious town of 34,000 in central Israel, distributing hundreds of New Testaments and missionary material.
Israeli authorities and Orthodox Jews frown on missionary activity aimed at Jews, though in most cases it is not illegal. Still, the concept of a Jew burning books is abhorrent to many in Israel because of the association with Nazis torching piles of Jewish books during the Holocaust of World War II.

Earlier this year, the teenage son of a prominent Christian missionary was seriously wounded when a package bomb delivered to the family's West Bank home went off in his hands.

Last year, arsonists burst into a Jerusalem church used by Messianic Jews and set the building on fire, raising suspicions that Jewish extremists were behind the attack. No one claimed responsibility, but the same church was burned down 25 years ago by ultra-Orthodox Jewish extremists.

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