Friday, October 23, 2009

The Idolators

Abodah Zarah?” you ask, “Isn’t that from the Talmud?” Yes it is. “But isn’t it about idolators?” you continue. And once again I say, “Yes it is.” But more importantly it is using what the Rabbanites have given us to support our beliefs as Karaites and to understand that all along the Rabbis acknowledged that Karaism was the correct path but they knew to say so would be to write themselves out of a profession that had proven to be very lucrative for themselves. After all, where can you sit around, debate the Torah so that you can write volumes of material on how God didn’t really mean what He said and be paid for it through the community purse so that you never have to really work a day in your life?

Talmudic Truths

So what does it say in Abodah Zarah? Well in it Rabbi Levi says, “He who discontinues [learning] words of the Torah and indulges in idle gossip will be made to eat glowing coals of juniper, as it is said, They pluck salt-wort with wormwood; and the roots of juniper are their food.” That sounds an awful lot like he’s condemning his fellow Rabbis for what they’re doing in regards to their writing the Talmud. Arguing that the words of the Torah are wrong in some cases and therefore have to be discontinued then engaging in years and years of debate which took on the form of idle gossip. So well said Rabbi Levi, you are in agreement with our Karaite point of view.

And let’s not forget what Resh Lakish had to say. “ To him who is engaged in the study of the Torah by night, the Holy One extends a thread of grace by day, as it is said, By day the Lord will command his loving kindness, and in the night his song shall be with me.” No mention of studying the Talmud because it’s only the Torah that the Holy One recognizes. Well put, Resh Lakish.

Now Rabbi Hinena b. Papa pointed to the following contradiction he claimed existed in the Torah. He said, “Scripture says, as to the Almighty, we do not find him [exercising] plenteous power, yet it says, Great is our Lord and of abundant power and also, Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power!” In their self proclaimed wisdom the Rabbis declared that there was no contradiction as the former referred to the time of judgment, while the latter referred to a time of war. This is amazing that this group of men could actually fixate when God was omnipotent and when he wasn’t. Personally I think they would have been far wiser to proclaim that God exercises His glorious power at His own discretion. We are not privileged in knowing the time nor place that will be. But not these Rabbis for they see themselves on a level far above the rest of us and they know these things. Idolatry, as Abodah Zerah refers to, perhaps they were thinking this in respect of worshipping their own greatness.

But this is not the only example of their own arrogance. Rabbi. Hama b. Hanina pointed to another contradiction that he found in the scripture saying, “Fury is not in me, yet it also says, the Lord revengeth and is furious!” Once again his fellow rabbis declared that there was really no contradiction as the former referred only to Israel and the latter to idolaters or in this case the rest of the world. Personally, I thought it was always the opposite. God could be more forgiving of the rest of the world because they did not have the Torah, whereas Israel did and therefore should know better before it transgressed. Did they really believe that Israel could misbehave and God would not respond? Any parent know that you will discipline your own child far more harshly than you would someone else’s child left in your care. Firstly because your own child should know better and secondly you can’t expect someone else’s child to know your rules.

Of course this belief that we will not be punished for our sins like other nations is part of the teaching of Rabbi Alexandri who explained, “The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, ‘When I judge Israel, I do not judge them as I do the idolaters concerning whom it is said, I will overturn, overturn, overturn it, but I only exact payment from them [little at a time] as the hen does her picking.’” This is confirmed by what R. Abba said, “Though I would redeem them, yet they have spoken lies against Me? I thought I would redeem them by depriving them of monetary possessions in this world, so that they be worthy to merit the world to come.” You would think by now today’s rabbis would admit how wrong these sages of the past were. In fact Israel suffers far more at the hand of God because we are intended to be God’s instrument to show the rest of the world what He expects. When we falter in that purpose we actually are creating a far greater sin than those that do not have the benefit of his guidance.

And let us not forget what benefits these sages of the past expected for their show of holiness. As it is recorded in the Talmud, Rabbi Abbahu commended Rabbi Safra to the Minim as a learned man, and he was thus exempted by them from paying taxes for thirteen years.” That sounds like quite the benefit. Considering all the suffering the prophets endured in order to pass on God’s words, it’s not too shabby a deal these rabbis were expecting. But what is even more interesting is when the men of the Minim encountered Rabbi Safra on the road. The Talmud records, ‘One day, on coming across him, they said to him; ‘It is written: You only have I known [or loved] from all the families of the earth; therefore I will visit upon you all your iniquities; if one is in anger does one vent it on one's friend?’ But he was silent and could give them no answer; so they wound a scarf round his neck and tortured him. When R. Abbahu came and found him [in that state] he said to them, Why do you torture him? Said they, ‘Have you not told us that he is a great man? he cannot explain to us the meaning of this verse!’ Said he, ‘I may have told you [that he was learned] in Tannaitic teaching; did I tell you [he was learned] in Scripture?’ And there you have it! An admission that the sole purpose of the recommendation was to receive a tax break. Rabbi Abbahu concealed the fact that Rabbi Safra didn’t even know or understand the Torah. This shameful behaviour was typical, yet the Jewish populace were led to believe that these men held the future of Judaism in their hands. How can those that don’t even know scripture be placed in a position to lead? As you have come to realize, only Karaite Jews have never abandoned the Torah and preach that the wiseman’s reward for teaching the Torah is God’s love; not tax breaks as was obviously the motivation in this story.

Why Karaism, you might ask once again. Because as I will continue to show you, everything in the Talmud supports that it is truly God’s direction to believe so.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Moses's Beautiful Black Wife

The Rabbis say that we Karaites don't have the oral traditions to sustain ourselves through the changes of society and civilization. I've always had difficulty accepting that comment considering that we are still here almost 1300 years after our establishment as a distinct entity. True, we never bothered to incorporate what Rabbinical Judaism called the "oral" or unwritten laws into our faith, primarily because when God told Moses to assemble 70 judges to write the laws down, he presented them as complete and immutable, so anything referred to as the "oral laws" were not from God but the interpretations of men. Men who would bend the laws to suit their own purpose. So the accusation that we are lacking the oral laws is most definitely true but I can assure you that we are certainly not lacking our oral traditions, legends and history. This we have meticulously preserved for countless centuries. The story I'm about to present is one of these. It is an ancient tale, that even though Rabbinical Judaism is aware of it, they have strived to make it vanish because in many ways it is contrary to what they wish their followers to believe. It is about a very beautiful princess that followed her husband along the Exodus from Egypt to the land of Canaan. For the most part she has been obliterated from the Five Books of Moses except for the rare reference but there were other books and these existed outside the control of the Rabbis and they have survied. And together they tell a story that is well worth reading.

The Background

Over the years I have had the pleasure of rabbinical detractors saying to me, "Where's your proof?" Their implication being that the stories and tales that I either blog about or write in my series of novels known as the Kahana Chronicles are the fabrication of a very fertile mind. Even though you will notice that many of the hubs that I produce on this site have pictures of the books and pages that I cite my material from, they still find it difficult to accept that the world is not as they have grown up to believe but that history is filled with many paradoxes and editors that have been quite brutal in removing what they did not find suitable to their own tastes. Probably the greatest of the editors was Ezra the Scribe because he was arrogant enough to edit the Torah to suit a political agenda. Now that's a comment that might even offend my Karaite brethren because as you know, we built our entire faith on the Tanakh and to now have its authenticity questioned is paramount to being blasphemous. Let me qualify my statement by saying that he only dared to make minute changes to suit his agenda and that these changes suited more the Pharasaic movement that developed two centuries later than it did the Saddukim upon which we base much of our belief structure. Returning from exile in Persia, Ezra and the aristocrats that accompanied him wished to exert control over a population that for roughly two generations had continued in their absence to live and thrive in Israel and Judea. And as we know from our own past couple of centuries the best way to control a population is at first to divide it so that various factions are set one against the other. The unification that follows is stronger because the dominant faction has removed the dissenters and those politically opposed to the new order. It was no different back then. The population that had never been exiled to Babylon, the poor and lower class Judeans, the Samaritans, the native Canaanites, Edomites and other mixed races would never fully be unified with a re-emergent Judean state. It would take years, perhaps generations before they would be fully integrated and in the process Ezra feared they would dilute the Judaism that he wished to reinstitute; A Judaism that had been "purified" by the rivers of Babylon and coincidentally where he had asserted himself as the Kohen Gadol or the Chief High Priest.

And herein lies the great division of Rabbinates and Karaites. In order to remove the element of society that he feared in his mind would be the greatest proponent of moral and religious decay he forbade anyone that had taken a foreign bride to belong to the Jewish community. Inheritance of faith had become maternal to the exclusion of paternal lineage by the reading of a single edict. But who's edict was it? God's? Certainly not. It was Ezra's and the Pharasiac party that followed and the Rabbinical parties that followed that. As strange as it seems Ezra as a Kohen, a distant relative of my own blood actually passed an edict that ultimately fragmented Judaism centuries later and turned it away from its primary goal, to be a light unto the world encouraging others to seek that light and convert them to what was the only monotheistic religion at that time. And his decision most certainly had a political overtone that outweighed its religious motivation. There already was a ruling class left behind in Judea and Samaria. They were the House of Sanballet and the Tobiads. Families that had a historic right to claim leadership of the land. And there was a priesthood as well; the descendants of Mehsullam who were also legitimate Kohenim from the 24 families chosen by King David. But there was one element this pre-existant leadership all had in common; according to Ezra Chapter 9 they had all taken wives from the various people that inhabited the land who were not Jewish. Coincidentally it was the princes that had returned to Jerusalem with Ezra that lodged the initial complaint. What better way to eliminate the ruling class that had remained behind. As we know from Ezra Chapter 7:26, Ezra had been given ultimate power by the King of Persia. He had been given the authority to put any man that wouldn't follow his edicts to death or banishment or the confiscation of his property or imprisonment. A lot of power that could be abused. And as we see in Chapter 10 he sent out a message through the land that everyone had three days to gather in Jerusalem which would be the 20th day of the 9th month and whomever didn't show up was no longer part of the Jewish community and all his substance was forfeited. Imagine losing your home, your possessions, your business because you didn't come when summoned by a group of men that haven't been around for 70 years and now say that they're in charge. And to those that showed up in Jerusalem they were told that they had to divorce themselves from their foreign wives and any children of those wives if they wished to keep their status and property. It would appear that many did so, as harsh and as cruel as this edict was.

And so was born the law of inheritance that separates Karaites from Rabbinical Jews. But was the edict by Ezra a true rendering of the laws from the Torah? Was this God's ruling or as I have mentioned a political device utilized by a returning elite to gain dominance over the land and the people? Certainly not according to Numbers 12:1 a single line that has sent Rabbis and many Christian leaders scrambling in their attempts to try and explain in a hundred other ways than accept it as a clear statement that the foreigness of a wife or the colour of her skin is not the determinant of one's being Jewish but it is the faith of the father that does so.

Numbers 12:1

How much clearer can God be about the paternal inheritance of Judaism? From the Torah, this particular sentence expresses the challenge made by Aaron and Miriam to not only usurp Moses's authority but to force him, exactly as Ezra did, to divorce his wife and send her away or face being banished from the Jewish congregation. Well, God wasn't going to have a bar of it and made it perfectly clear that women were not the determining factor when he punished Miriam for raising the challenge against Moses but spared Aaron the embarassment of being punished as well.

Now I have watched and read over the years how many rabbinical authorities and Christian authorities have attempted to explain this line in Numbers as not being literal. That the wife referred to was Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro the Midianite and all that Aaron and Miriam were saying was that she was not one of the escaping slaves and therefore her thinking was as if she was "foreign" to them. Why that should even be an issue is beyond anyone with a modicum of intelligence. Then these same scholars attempt to explain another possibility by saying it was an issue of jealousy. That they wanted Moses to send her away because she had a greater influence on him than they did. The one that had the influence was her father Jethro, a priest, a chieftain and who Moses placed above all others. It wouldn't be a case of sending Zipporah away but several thousand Midianites and that wasn't going to happen. And just to set the record straight, the Midianites were Semites as we learn from Genesis, so any argument of foreigness is entirely fabricated since the Hebrew slaves were nothing but a large number of Semites from various tribal backgrounds and Zipporah was no different from any of them.

Once you've gone through all these arguments with a rabbinical student, they're willing to take the argument to the next level. A battle of semantics. The wife in Numbers 12:1 is described as a Cushite. Cush is the Semitic name for Ethiopia. But you will find this student is willing to argue that a Cushite is actually someone from Cushan. And Cushan was another name for the land where the Midianites came from in the Sinai peninsula. And they will smile and think they have you until you remind the that everywhere else in the Torah a person from Midian is referred to as a Midianite. Why would there be an exception for this one sentence.? And then you will say, but even if it was so, wouldn't someone from Cushan be a Cushanite, not a Cushite? And I always love this answer because it's one of desperation. You will hear about how one of the scribal editors that was copying the Torah made an error and wrote Cushite by accident and the mistake was carried on from every copying afterwards until the original versions wer lost through time. That would imply that there never was more than one copy being made througout all the land or that if there were multiple copies being made, then this one scribe was responsible for making all of them so that the same error appeared in all of them. We know that's not the case, that there were schools of scribes copying the Torah and all of them would have made the same error which never got picked up by any of the proofreaders throughout an entire country. I think not!

But to finish the argument the fact is that Cushan has a vuv as its second letter in the Hebrew spelling. Cush doesn't. And in the sentence of Numbers 12:1 there is no vuv as the second letter in Cushite. This woman was Ethiopian and she was very important to Moses. We don't know a lot about her from the Torah, but then again, his wife Zipporah didn't receive much press either after her marriage to Moses. We here about her joining Moses with his two sons in the desert once the exodus began and that's it. As a nation of oral traditionalists, it would be very unusual that there weren't stories about this Ethiopian wife, that wasn't Semitic, and whom God went out of his way to protect by warning both Aaron and Miriam that they were not to ever attempt to banish her from the community.

Moses's Beautiful Black Wife

Of course there are historical writing that allude to this Ethiopian Princess. And as a Karaite, it is vitally important that I can point to her existence as evidence of the correctness of paternal inheritance. If the most illustrious of our prophets, our law giver, our father of the nation can take a wife from foreign lands and in no way this diminishes his stature as a member of the congregation then it essentially confirms this basic tenant of Karaism. That is not to say that there aren't restrictions on marriage. There are and most of these apply to the Kohenim, the high priesthood, as in to which offspring would be eligible for holding the position based on the mother's background but it is not a case of whether the offspring would be Jewish or not.

The first of these historical treatises was by Artapanus in the 3rd-2nd centuries B.C. Of course depending on the age of the original versions of Yasher Shemot and Yalkut, the legend may have already been written down when Artapunus decided to release his own version. And it was Artapanus's version that played a major source for Flavius Josephus's version released in Antiquities of the Jews (Ant. II.x.2) around 91 A.D. But Josephus had other sources he used as well which would only indicate than in spite of Ezra's reformation, several hundred years later the people were still saying that it wasn't the case in Moses's day.

Artapanus provides us with a wonderful story of how Moses, as a young prince of Egypt was sent by his step father (who was not the Pharaoh but his master of the horse) Chenephres with an army to invade Ethiopia. It was designed as a suicide mission since his stepfather was jealous of his stepson's popularity. But apparently Moses had some unanticipated military talents and after battling for years he was able to conquer Ethiopia. Moses returned to Egypt where he was welcomed by Chenephres but still being jealous of him, Chenephres removed Moses's army and sent them back to Ethiopia under the governorship of Nacheros, thereby stripping Moses of his authority and protection. He then ordered Chanethothes to assassinate Moses who tried to flee but was foiled when Chanenthothes learned of his attempted escape. The two men fought and Moses killed his enemy which then leads to the story in the Torah of how he had to flee into the desert where he encountered Zipporah and her sisters. Artapanus doesn't mention an Ethiopian Princess but he does suggest that Moses spent up to nine years in Ethiopia and the Queen of Sheba when she visits Solomon provides an indication that she was a descendant of Moses. A lot can happen in nine years.

The story by Flavius Josephus definitely has similarities to that by Artapanus but in Josephus's version, he is sent by his adopted mother Thermutis to Pharoah to recieve the honour of generalship over the army being sent against Ethiopia. He apparently catches the Ethiopians by surprise as they were thinking he would attack by floating down the Nile but instead Moses took an overland route. Moses took city after city, chasing the Ethiopians back into their capital city Saba (Sheba). Saba was surrounded by the Nile and other rivers and had a great wall around it. The battle raged outside the walls but Moses could not press the advantage. The daughter of the Ethiopian king would watch the battle from the walls and overtime fell in love with Moses as she watched him do battle. It was then that Tharbis thought of a way to end the battle, save the city and stop the slaughter. She sent out her servant with a message to Moses. If he would agree to marry her then the city would surrender and pay tribute to the Egyptians. Moses accepted and consummated his marriage to Tharbis before returning with his bride and army to Egypt. Upon his return Pharaoh feared the success and popularity that Moses enjoyed and began worrying that he would become a threat to his throne. Moses became aware of Pharaoh's plot to have him killed and he flees into the desert.

There is a very similar story to that of Josephus written by Lucius Cornelius Alexander Polyhistor who was given his freedom by Sulla which therefore places him in the early 1st century B.C. The fact that a slave in Rome would be writing of this story makes you appreciate just how popular and well circulated it was, even though there are no old rabbinic sources that either mention Moses conducting wars against the Ethiopians nor his marriage to the Ethiopian princess. One can only assume that this oversight by rabbinical authors was intentional. Either they did not want it well known that Moses had taken a foreign wife, and this was acceptable to God which undermines the entire rabbinical premise of inheritance of faith through maternal lines only, or else they were embarassed by the fact she was black and therefore contrary to the concept of the children of Ham, she was neither cursed nor considered unworthy.

On the other hand, as a Karaite I look at it from the perspective of how wonderful that God has sent a clear message regarding the law of inheritance and who can be a Jew. It is not restricted by sex or colour or even point of origin. It only requires faith and adherence to the original scriptures

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Rabbi And The Emperor

Although I probably could have written this article under the 'Why Karaism' banner I decided that it warranted to be placed separately under some other category that had as little association with Karaism as possible because it represents everything that is abhorred amongst Karaites. You see, the story I'm about to relate comes directly from the Talmud and commits so many sins that it actually casts Judaism in a bad light in its entirity. Of course as Karaite we would say, "what would you expect, after all it is the product of Rabbanites," but even Rabbanites have a 'modus decorum' by which they must operate and this is dictated by the Torah which still governs how Jews must behave. The fact that this story concerns Rabbi Judah ha Nasi should not be that great a surprise to Karaites. The presumption of his title, 'The Prince' considering he had no government or population to actually rule over I do not hold against him. As a descendant of Hillel, I have to believe his claim to be from the House of King David in the same way that I believe the lineage in my own family to be accurate as being from the House of Phiabi. These claims were passed down from father to son and were intended to be preserved, so I do not doubt his claim to be a Prince of Israel. What I do take exception to is possibly his warranting of the title based on the story to follow. A Prince must act with honour; a Prince must preserve the truth; a Prince must not commit murder; and a Prince must not be boastful when his own people are made to suffer. These would all appear to be lessons that Judah ha Nasi failed to learn, yet he is extolled above all other by the Rabbis through the Talmud. So perhaps the banner for this article rather than 'Why Karaism' would more correctly be 'Why not Rabbinic Judaism'.

From The Abodah Zerah
The Following Story is taken from the Talmud; Abodah Zerah. I have placed my comments and explanations in brackets so I do not alter the original verse.
[Emperor] Antoninus [Pius] once said to Rabbi [Judah ha Nasi], "It is my desire that my [adopted] son Asverus [Marcus Verus] should reign instead of me and that Tiberias should be declared a Colony [Self governing Sartrapy]. Were I to ask one of these things [from the Senate] it would be granted while both would not be granted. Rabbi thereupon brought a man, and having made him ride on the shoulders of another, handed him a dove bidding the one who carried him to order the one on his shoulders to liberate it. The Emperor perceived this to mean that he was advised to ask [of the Senate] to appoint his son Asverus to reign in his stead, and that subsequently he might get Asverus to make Tiberias a free Colony.

[On another occasion] Antoninus mentioned to him that some prominent Romans were annoying him. Rabbi thereupon took him into the garden and, in his presence, picked some radishes, one at a time. Said [the Emperor to himself] his advice to me is: Do away with them one at a time, but do not attack all of them at once. But why did he not speak explicitly? — He thought his words might reach the ears of those prominent Romans who would persecute him. Why then did he not say it in a whisper? — Because it is written: For a bird of the air shall carry the voice.

The Emperor had a daughter named Gilla [Anna Galina] who committed a sin, so he sent to Rabbi a rocket-herb, and Rabbi in return sent him coriander. The Emperor then sent some leeks and he sent lettuce in return.

Many a time Antoninus sent Rabbi gold-dust in a leather bag filled with wheat at the top, saying [to his servants]: 'Carry the wheat to Rabbi!' Rabbi sent word to say. 'I need it not, I have quite enough of my own', and Antoninus answered: 'Leave it then to those who will come after thee that they might give it to those who will come after me, for thy descendants and those who will follow them will hand it over to them.'

Antoninus had a cave which led from his house to the house of Rabbi. Every time [he visited Rabbi] he brought two slaves, one of whom he slew at the door of Rabbi's house and the other [who had been left behind] was killed at the door of his own house. Said Antoninus to Rabbi: When I call let none be found with thee. One day he found R. Haninah b. Hama sitting there, so he said: 'Did I not tell thee no man should be found with thee at the time when I call?' And Rabbi replied. 'This is not an [ordinary] human being.' 'Then', said Antoninus, 'let him tell that servant who is sleeping outside the door to rise and come in.' R. Haninah b. Hama thereupon went out but found that the man had been slain. Thought he, 'How shall I act now? Shall I call and say that the man is dead? — but one should not bring a sad report; shall I leave him and walk away? — that would be slighting the king.' So he prayed for mercy for the man and he was restored to life. He then sent him in. Said Antoninus: 'I am well aware that the least one among you can bring the dead to life, still when I call let no one be found with thee.' Every time [he called] he used to attend on Rabbi and wait on him with food or drink. When Rabbi wanted to get on his bed Antoninus crouched in front of it saying. 'Get on to your bed by stepping on me.' Rabbi, however, said, 'It is not the proper thing to treat a king so slightingly.' Whereupon Antoninus said: 'Would that I served as a mattress unto thee in the world to come!' Once he asked him: 'Shall I enter the world to come?' 'Yes!' said Rabbi. 'But,' said Antoninus, 'is it not written, There will be no remnant to the house of Esau?' 'That,' he replied. 'applies only to those whose evil deeds are like to those of Esau.' We have learnt likewise: There will be no remnant to the House of Esau, might have been taken to apply to all, therefore Scripture says distinctly — To the house of Esau, so as to make it apply only to those who act as Esau did. 'But', said Antonius, is it not also written: There [in the nether world] is Edom, her kings, and all her princes.' 'There, too,' Rabbi explained, '[it says:] 'her kings', it does not say all her kings; 'all her princes', but not all her officers!

True History
From the Talmudic tale we would be led to believe that there was a very close and personal relationship between the Emperor of Rome and the self-titled, Prince of the Jews. Furthermore, the Emperor would seek Judah ha Nasi's wise counsel repeatedly to the point that it even extended into how he should run his affairs and control the Senate. But what do we really know of the relationship between these two men? The answer is that they simply didn't have a relationship. In fact, Antoninus Pius, though not as intolerant as his predecessor Hadrian towards the Jews still had an axe to grind. It is stated that during Antoninus' reign that the Jews were deprived of the right to have their own courts, which prerogative was by the Pharisees considered essential to religion (Yer. Sanh. vii. § 2, 24b). This certainly doesn't sound like the Empror would come to the Nasi seeking legal advice. Furthermore, those that dared to criticize the measures of the emperor were banished or put to death (Shab. 33b). What we also know is that as a result of his harsh treatment of the Jews, the Jews attempted once again to overthrow the Roman domination ("Scriptores Historiæ Augustæ, Antoninus Pius," ch. v.) but there was so little fight left in them after the Bar Kochba revolt against Hadrian that this rebellion was put down quickly and barely rated a mention. The strained relations existing between the Parthians and the Romans may have led the Jews to believe as well as encouraged them to revolt with the expectation of assistance from the Parthians but such assistance was never realized. Whereas the biography of Antoninus Pius in Historia Augusta speaks of this revolt the Jewish sources in the Talmud do not even allude to it and instead provide this fairy tale relationship between the Rabbinic leader and the Emperor of Rome.

But it wasn't all bad news as Antoninus did repeal some of the edicts of Hadrian —such as the prohibition of circumcision which prevented the Jews from exercising their religion—on the condition that they should not receive proselytes (Meg. Ta'anit, xii.; "Digesta" of Modestinus, xlviii. 8, 11). Moreover, they were forbidden, on penalty of death, to enter Jerusalem which hardly sounds like the edict of a man whom according to the Rabbis had approached Judah ha Nasi on how he would be able to best grant the city of Tiberias independent status. Those Jews who had fled to foreign countries in order to escape the persecutions of Hadrian gradually returned to their homes but by then most of the land and homes had become the possessions of non-Jewish populations.

The actual edict of Antoninus Piusread as follows: ‘By a rescript of the divine Antoninus the Jews are allowed to circumcise only their own sons. If anyone performs the operation on a national of another race, he is liable to the same penalty as for castration’. The penalty being referred to was death so this is hardly the words of an Emperor that would let himself be a stepping stool for the Rabbi. Antoninus was still determined to restrict and control the spread of Judaism and thus would have no interest in God's preservation of a place in the world to come for him. In fact he would have had no interest in the Jewish God at all for it was well documented that he was faithful to the traditonal Roman pantheon of gods and no others.

History also records that Hadrian before Antoninus Pius visited Judea and Septimus Severus after Antoninus Pius visited Judea but Antoninus Pius himself did not visit the Roman province. That being the case then there was no house with an undergound passage that led to Rabbi Judah's house that the Emperor ever used. The story is a fabrication with no other purpose to portray the Emperor as a man with a compulsion to murder his slaves, an act which the Nasi obviously tolerated and to portray Rabbi Hanina ben Hama as having the ability to raise the dead even if he was inferior to Rabbi Judah ha Nasi. In their efforts to record themselves as being far greater than they really were, these sages of Rabbinic Judaism were obviously not adverse to lying.

So Why Lie?
I asked myself that question repeatedly. What was to be gained? What were the Rabbis seeking with this story? I could understand why Rabbi Judah was mute for much of the story, performing actions that the Emperor had to interpret rather than speaking to him directly. It provided the Rabbis with the ability to say that their Prince never actually spoke to the Emperor if they were ever challenged. Plausible denial I think we call it now.

Even when the story of his picking radishes would be challenged as his advising and approving that the Emperor eliminate his enemies which in that day and age meant killing them off one by one, an act which according to the Torah made Rabbi Judah as guilty of murder as the man that perpetrated it, the Rabbis could deny such a thing was ever suggest by saying, "he was only picking radishes. Why would you ever think he was condoning murder?"

The entire story is to express the superiority the rabbis held for themselves above their Roman masters. The fact that one of their own, Rabbi Akiba not only anointed a false messiah in Simon Bar Kochba, but spurred him on to fight a second war against Rome in which close to half a million Jews died should have taught them modesty, restraint and recognition that their beliefs were faulty. But they could not see the truth in that regard. Rome was still beneath them. A foot stool for their Prince to step upon when climbing into bed. A story of how Rome could kill them but they held the power to resurrect the dead so they had no fear of Rome's threats. Sadly the half million that died following their instruction they could not resurrect but they survived and that would appear to be all they cared about. After all, just as Judah ha Nasi replied when given the gift of gold by the Emperor, he had no need of it, he had plenty of his own. Only the Emperor was wise enought to suggest he hold on to it, not for his sake but for those less fortunate that might need it after he passed on. Perhaps the rabbis should have been thinking of the people all along!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Karaism and Resurrection

Even amongst Karaites this concept of life after death as well as the return to life is hotly contested. There have always been those that have taken the Tanach literally, derived from passages in Isaiah and Ezekiel in particular, and others that have assumed the works were metaphorical. The debate was so embittered that it threatened to break apart Karaism almost as soon as it was formed. But Anan ben David was quite astute when he was acquiring his Karaite followers and he knew that differing opinions existed within the community and he found a way to cleverly deal with the issue and thus ensure the integrity of the Karaite community during his time. Those of his followers that were descendants of Boethians and Zadokites would not even consider the possibility of an afterlife nor the resurrection whereas those that were Jews dissatisfied with the Talmudic philosophies of their Rabbinical leaders had been ingrained into the Rabbanite belief system from an early age were not prepared to give up their hopes for an afterlife. Because Anan had built Karaism around the principle of however you read and interpreted the Torah was correct for that individual, then he found it acceptable to have both beliefs within Karaism and ensured that it would not sprout into persistent conflicts by finding the common ground. Though it was never recorded, he most likely did it through a simple teaching that would have reflected his philosophy. He would have said something to the effect, “Whatever we do in this life we must do with the understanding that there is no return from death promised to any of us. Therefore it is beholding to us that we live a good life, a charitable life and follow God’s commandments because we may not have an opportunity to correct our errors or be forgiven for our sins if no afterlife exists. But should we die and find that there is a resurrection, how glorious that we can live it without any regrets of passed deeds.”
Personally as a Zadokite, there is no promise of an afterlife or resurrection in my future but I’m still in total harmony with the wisdom of Karaism which accepts this as a definite possibilty. Furthermore, should I find that I’m wrong; I will not be disappointed for I would have lived my life to the fullest, done the good deed and followed God’s commandments. Therefore it would be nothing more than a bonus to a life that had already provided me with happiness and contentment. Karaism accepts these two possible outcomes and rather than try to persuade those of one set of beliefs to adopt those of the other, it readily admits, we don’t actually know the ways of God. We don’t understand everything that he told us because we are like children trying to comprehend the workings of the universe. Or as is often asked, “Mee Camochah YHWH” (Who is like you God)? Definitely not us and we certainly don’t pretend to have some secret skills that permit us to interpret God’s words with the stamp of authority in the manner that our Rabbanite brothers have done. To do so would bear the hallmarks of egotism and false pride of which they have abundance. But alas, they consider it their divine prerogative to define and interpret God’s words.

The Rabbanite Resurrection

In the Rabbinic world there are no ifs, ands, or buts. The great Rabbis have decided that they are fully cognizant of God’s meanings in the prophetic references to resurrection. They claim to know it for a fact and therefore failure to accept their interpretations is a fundamental sin against their Judaism. So positive are they that 1 Samuel 2:6 refers to the resurrection when it says, “The Lord killeth and maketh alive; He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up,” that they fail to see that the expressions are figurative, speaking of man sinking into the depths of despair, only to be raised up by God in his mercy. In my youth I had to learn the hard way that the Rabbanites will not brook any dissension in regard to their resurrection beliefs. As some of you have read in my earlier articles, I attended a Rabbinical Hebrew School since there weren’t exactly a lot of Karaite families in my vicinity. But like the Karaites of old, many that sat at the feet of Rabbinical teachers in order to learn Torah, I did not consider it too great a sacrifice. Sure, one suffered a few indignities, a number of snide comments, and a concerted effort to break my Karaite spirit, but it could not be done. There was one rabbi in particular that had an amazing ability to make contact with a yardstick no matter how far physically you may have been from him. All these years later I still remember his name; Wurtzberger. He was lethal with that piece of wood. Like so many rabbis he loved his parables and apocrypha. He told the class of the final days of King David. Apparently David didn’t want to die, so having known the hour of his death, he ensured that he would always study the Torah at that time since the Angel of Death was powerless to take anyone if they were reading the Torah at the time of his visitation. This went on for weeks until one day the Angel of Death shook the tree outside David’s window. As soon as David looked up to see why the tree was shaking the Angel snatched his soul away. Wurtzberger then asked me what I learned from the story hoping to make a point. With sincerity I answered, “It would appear that King David had similar beliefs to my own. Firstly, that only the Torah was the word of God and nothing else mattered and secondly that he knew there was no afterlife, no heaven or hell, so he tried desperately to hang on to his existence like a true Zadokite.” I had to take one strike of the stick over my outstretched fingers for that but it was well worth it.
So certain are the Rabbis that resurrection is a promised tenet of Judaism that they insist that after God banished Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden and removed man’s initial immortality he made a promise that should Adam lead a pious life then he would be given the fruit from the Tree of Life on the day of resurrection and then once again he would live forever. But how this exactly relates to the subsequent Rabbinic belief that all the pious that have ever existed will all be seated on thrones which are reserved for them after the resurrection, I cannot figure. . Of course there’s some confusion as to the seating arrangements since the Midrash states that the greatest of all these thrones is Abraham’s whereas in the Zohar I:97, that distinction is given to Jacob. Already we can see that in the Rabbinic resurrection there is already conflict brewing. Though we might not be able to witness this fight over the prime seats because according to the kabbalah which sources its statement from Midrash Tannaim 58, Mishle 17, Ketubot 111a, as well as a entire host of other rabbinic literature, it claims that the resurrection of those that lived in Israel will take place forty years prior to the rest of the world. Considering that these same learned Rabbis also claim that the reign of the Messiah will only last forty years according to Sanhedrin 99a and Tehillim 90: 393, which once again they authored, I guess the rest of us are going to miss out on everything, so why even bother worrying about thrones to sit on. Our resurrection is just too late! That is if we believe in such a thing.

In The Talmud There is No Doubt

But as the Rabbis will tell you, there should be no doubt in the resurrection as the phoenix is living proof of it. Taken from the Hebrew word spelled chet, vav and lamed, they find its reference in Job 29:18 and Ben Sira 27a, and therefore assure their followers that resurrection is a certainty as much as the phoenix is a reality. Mythical birds I’m afraid don’t inspire me with confidence in their belief. I will counter it simply by saying I believe in it as much as I believe in the phoenix. When Yakov Kahana confronts Rabbi Judah Loew in Shadows of Trinity with the episode of Saadiah Gaon causing the slaughter of thousands of Karaites, an episode now hotly denied but common knowledge even just a few generations ago, it was with the knowledge that none of those killed would ever return. Neither man, not even Rabbi Loew believed they would. There was no phoenix that would erase the tremendous loss of life in the years 940 to 942 AD.
It would appear that much of the rabbinic belief in resurrection also comes from the belief in Isaiah 26:19 that God will cause a celestial dew to fall upon the earth that will act like an elixir of immortality, causing the dead to rise from their graves and sing his praises. How strange that for everything else from the Old Testament the rabbis will insist there are covert meanings that require their interpretation but in this case they espouse a belief that this verse is to be taken literally. How is it that they have forgotten the saying that God’s words are like dew upon the lips, refreshing those that thirsted? Like manna from heaven it will sustain those that partake of it. Why is it they suddenly cannot see the poetry of Isaiah’s words, the vision of God’s teaching finally uniting the people of this world and all those that had died in his name, making it worthwhile to all those that had suffered at the hands of a world that refused to accept them. The essence of those that died will live spiritually in this new generation of followers and their death’s would not have been in vain. Examine the rest of Isaiah and it becomes quite plausible if not credible that this is the resurrection he was speaking of. Not of the physical bodies of those that died, but of the spirit, strength and heart that led them to sacrifice themselves in the name of God. A virtual resurrection of the way things were intended to be had the world not turned their back on the words of God.
So Karaism, as I have explained has provided me with a choice. As Anan indicated, it was not necessary that we all agreed on the concept of an afterlife as long as we all agreed that we must make every effort to make this life we are given substantial; that we live with a purpose and strive to make this a better world. Unlike the Rabbinical Judaism which would and does brand me as a heretic for even challenging the concept of the resurrection, I can express my Zadokite heritage to my Karaite brethren without hesitation. It is not necessary that they agree with me should they be believers in the resurrection nor for their sake do I hope I’m proven right. In the end I only hope that we find that both of our beliefs have been proven correct just as Anan would have expressed his desire for it to be so. And that simply put, the freedom of expression, the tolerance to differences, the acceptance of what unites us, not divides us, is WHY KARAISM.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Saying No to the Talmud

The essential and fundamental concept within Karaism is that there was never any Oral Law or Tradition that was given to Moses on Sinai at the same time he was receiving the Written Law. This debate could go on for an eternity with my Rabbinic adversaries which it has done already for over two millennia without any end in sight. In previous arguments I have taken the more traditional course of argument and used many of the standard quotations derived from the Torah, as one can read in my hub, but this has been a debating tool that we Karaites have used for centuries without any progress in having the correctness of our stance acknowledged by Rabbanites. And the few Rabbinical scholars that have admitted that we are possibly correct in stating, “that is what the Torah stipulated” have always qualified their acknowledgement with a ‘but’ insisting that the Torah can’t be accepted literally in every particular instance. If that were true then their argument would suggest as an extension of logic that no part of the Old Testament should be taken literally; that in its entirety it is merely an incomplete guideline that has always required human intervention and interpretation. Therein is the first fallacy Rabbanites have concocted since the actual Talmud was only compiled between the second and fourth centuries AD and even then it was always under constant debate and modification, indicating that it was still conjectural. This completely ignores the fact that the Jewish people had already survived for fifteen hundred years without the Talmud. Since most of that period had been under the jurisdiction and jurisprudence of the priesthood or Sadducees, then it was only the literal Torah with its written laws that governed the people thereby proving that the written laws that were already in existence were sufficient without the human application of ‘oral laws’ the rabbis insisted upon.
But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the Torah or written law was insufficient and not intended to be taken literally or at face value. That being the case, then the extension of that Rabbinical argument would be that the Ten Commandments weren’t actually written in stone, pardon the pun, but merely suggestions that required Rabbinic interpretation as well. By casting doubt on one part of the Torah, in effect doubt is cast on all parts. By their own willingness to include a fudge factor, being the Oral Law that constitutes the Talmud, the Rabbis in fact have opened a virtual Pandora’s Box which in turn led to the eventual schisms that birthed Christianity and Islam as I will explain.

Creating a Historical Claim of Hearing it From Moses

Whereas my predecessors within Karaism have always taken the more confrontational stance against Rabbinical Judaism, instead I will take this opportunity to approach the argument from the Rabbinical viewpoint and in doing so, hopefully demonstrate the folly of the Oral Law. As highlighted in the previous paragraph, all dictums and laws in the Torah become susceptible to rabbinical debate and interpretation, even the aforementioned Ten Commandments. Way back when the Talmud was first being documented, the rabbinical sage, Rabbi Joshua said that he had received the laws he was expounding as a tradition from Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai, who heard it from his teacher, who heard it from his teacher and so on, all the way back to the laws given to them by Moses at Sinai. In fact you will find a lot of quotes to that effect in the Talmud. The old, “Heard it from Moses at Sinai,” thereby elevating their opinion to a level beyond dispute because they claimed Moses said it. By creating an ‘authentication history’ these Rabbis were able to enforce their dictums on people that would not go against anything Moses said. The problem with this argument was that there was no historical connection between the Rabbis and Moses. In fact prior to the development of the Pharasaic sect in the second century BC, there weren’t any rabbis at all. Any laws were passed down through the Beth Din (courts) which were institutes under the control of the priesthood. So if Moses had actually passed down traditions orally, it certainly would not have been through a chain of Rabbis that never existed. Once again this is just another fallacy being foisted upon the adherents of Rabbinical Judaism.
As an extension of the Rabbinical argument that the Torah was merely a bulletin point document that required the Talmud to explain its actual intellectual intent, I’ll return to the subject of the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 20:3 God commands that the people will have no other gods before him. In fact he confirms this in 20:5 that He is a jealous god. If this commandment was open to interpretation as the Rabbis have suggested in their justification of the Talmud, then it could be argued that God was suggesting that there were other gods in existence just that none of them were to be worshipped ahead of Him otherwise He would become jealous. After all, as I pointed out, if you argue that the Torah is incomplete and required Oral Traditions in order to provide its exact meaning, then I could equally claim that there was a rabbinical scholar that had a teacher, who had a teacher and so on that heard from Moses directly at Sinai that God did say that there were lesser gods in existence that weren’t to be worshipped. You either have to apply the concept of Oral Law to everything, or nothing at all. You can’t have it both ways. As soon as the Rabbis opened this non-negotiable issue to debate they unleashed the inevitable, which manifested itself in the concept that there could be secondary gods within Judaism and this in turn resulted in ‘the Son of God’ sect which began as a Jewish subgroup.

Even Rabbinic Legends Admit The Oral Tradition is a Fabrication

It is not as if the Rabbis themselves do not acknowledge that the claim of the Talmud being sacrosanct and passed down by Moses is a fabrication. Their own legends basically admit to this. In one of their many stories regarding the Talmudic scholars, they talk about King Manasseh who brought back idol worship into Israel. As the Rabbis discussed why he had done so, they acknowledged that it was due to his intense study of the law in which he had arrived at fifty-two different interpretations of the book of Leviticus; that in so doing he had become confused and this weakened his moral strength thus turning to idolatry. As if that is not admission enough that their own endeavors to interpret the written law of the Torah via multiple oral traditions and laws would lead to dysfunction and immorality within Judaism, they tell another story about Rab Ashi, their famous compiler of the Talmud that one day he announced to his students, “Tomorrow I shall speak about our colleague, Manasseh.” To refer to King Manasseh as their colleague by the Rabbis is definitely Freudian when analyzed. That night when Rab Ashi slept, King Manasseh came to him in a dream. The Rabbi put a question to the king regarding the interpretation of a ritual that he himself could not find the answer for. The king was able to answer without hesitation, amazing the rabbi with his fount of knowledge. Stunned by the King’s intellectual abilities, he asked how one so intelligent could have worshipped idols. To which Manasseh answered, “If you had been around at the time I lived, you would have caught hold of the hem of my garment and run after me!” Simply put, the Rabbis with this story were admitting that their great sage, Rab Ashi, compiler of the Talmud, teacher and expounder of what became rabbinical Judaism was in fact no different from the man referred to in historical legend as ‘evil King Manasseh.’ By creating and compiling the Talmud he had set Judaism on the same course that Manasseh did with his idolatry. By their own words they condemn themselves. So why Karaism if I was to put it simply? Because even the Rabbanites recognize the error of their ways. In the famous discussion between Rabbi Judah ben Loew and Yakov Kahana, as they sat on a bench together in the island park of Prague, (see Shadows of Trinity from Eloquent Books: became clearly evident that the Rabbis would say and do whatever they deemed necessary to lead the people. It is not to say that there intention was evil nor necessarily for the purpose of attaining atuhority and power, but as Yakov recognized from his meeting, merely the misguided and deluded notions of men blinded by the magnificence of their own self-agrandizement.