Also Sprach Zarathustra

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5 Responses

  1. Micha says:

    Actually, the “two form” idea is exactly right: Zoroastrianism originally (in the Persian period) taught of a Creator which they called Ahura Mazda. Mazda supposedly created two demiurges, Spenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu — the sources of good and evil.

    (Angra Mainyu is also called Hariman, and is associated by the Gra in his Peirush al Kamah Agados with Hermon ben Lillis, a figure in a number of stories in the Talmud. See R’ Feldman’s The Juggler and the King — Hermon is “the juggler” in the “medrash” that gives the book its title.)

    There was a period of time, culminating around the time of Koreish (Cyrus), when Ahura Mazda and Spenta Mainyu were identified as one deity, which raised Angra Mainyu to the role of second deity of evil. This is a direct parallel to how idolatry originally emerged, as per Maimonides’ Laws of Foreign Worship; people started by worshiping the forces He put into place, and then forgot that these were not rulers in their own right.

    However, that fizzled out. Possibly because Hashem’s message to Koreish, which He left to Yeshaiah (Isaiah), and Rav Adlerstein refers to in his post.

    Since the days of Madai (the Medes), there emerged two schools: One returned to the idea of two intermediaries. I would think that the Tosafists’ ruling that such beliefs are permitted to non-Jews under the laws of Noah would apply to the two Mainyus more clearly than the Christian trinity.

    The larger school believes that these demiurges are part of the human condition, and do not exist “out there”. This would be their nearest equivalent to our yeitzer hatov (inclination which is good) and yeitzer hara (inclination which is evil). I would think that therefore the majority of contemporary Zoroastrians are unquestionable monotheists.

    Hindu monotheism is only true among those who are sufficiently educated to know that all those gods are different perceptions of the same deity. The Hinduism of the masses is polytheistic, and certainly so in the Rambam’s day, before universal education. There is no proof he was refering to Ghandi’s belief system in the text cited. However, since the Rambam does consider the trinity to be prohibited to non-Jews (in opposition to the Tosafists), the Rambam would still prohibit the intelligensia’s Hinduism.

    And yet, the watered down monotheism of Christianity earned Maimonides’ praise (despite the prohibition) of being a step in the right direction.

    As for whether Ms Goodstein says the berakhos (blessings) before Shema, she isn’t obligated to.

  2. Nachum says:

    A few points are called for:

    1. The article fails to acknowledge that Zoroastrianism is surging in Iran. To a certain extent, it’s more of a cultural heritage thing than a religious one (it’s also celebrated in Afghanistan), involving, for example, the celebration of the Zoroastrian New Year, but it points to a real disatisfaction with Islam, and it doesn’t make the mullahs happy. As with Christianity and Hinduism, our best allies against Muslims may well be people less palatable from the view of strict Hilchos Avodah Zara. (More on that in a bit.)

    2. Zoroastrians may believe in two equal gods, but they only worship one. In their eyes, therefore, they are monotheists.

    3. Zoroastrianism has had a great influence over Judaism, in a number of ways. When the Talmud Bavli speaks of Avodah Zara, it is almost always speaking with Zoroastrianism in mind, as that was the overwhelming culture and religion in the area in which the Bavli was written. The argument is made that there is a necessity of understanding at least this point- and maybe even some more about the religion- to truly understand what the Gemara means, and how it affected the halacha as practiced there. (The famous line in Bameh Madlikim about “Ovdei Kochavim” and their fire rituals almost certainly refers to a Zoroastrian practice.)

    Furthermore, while it’s certainly unlikely, to say the least, that Jews got the idea of monotheism from Zoroaster, there are certainly arguments to be made that some other ideas that arose in Judaism at this time and in that place- ideas about Satan, about the afterlife, and more- were percolating back and forth between the two religions. I’m certainly not coming down on either side, and I’m hardly qualified to do so, but that’s usually what’s meant when these arguments are made.

    4. R’ Adlerstein, I’m sure you realize that the Rambam takes a strict position on the status of Christianity, stating that alleging a “partner” for God is Avodah Zara even for non-Jews. The general Jewish practice these days, based on Ashkenazic Rishonim, is to say that while it’s certainly forbidden for Jews, it’s not quite Avodah Zara (even if it is, of course, not ideal) for non-Jews. Interestingly, Christianity, strictly speaking, does not believe in “partnership” as much as three parts of one god, whatever that means. Hinduism, too (in some schools), believes that all of the millions of gods (and, in some schools, the whole universe) are aspects of one divine being. Is that Avodah Zara for non-Jews? It’s simply multiplying Christianity by a few factors.

    Zoroastrianism seems closest to the “partnership” idea, even though, as said, only one god is worshipped.

  3. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “I’m certainly not coming down on either side, and I’m hardly qualified to do so, but that’s usually what’s meant when these arguments are made.”

    I am also not qualified to discuss the Haskala/Wissenchaft approach. However offhand, I would say that perhaps in some cases, one might speculate that Chazal might have used certain language to respond to contemporary ideas. However, they certainly did not engage in what Rabbi Adlerstein termed in a previous post as “theological kleptomania”.

    I made a similar point in a discussion elsewhere regarding the Me’iri on the Halachic status of Christianity. I don’t think that one can plumb the depths of a Rishon’s thoughts(“shikul hadaas of the Meiri”) and say that his ultimate decision(ie, his attitude in evaluating differing facts in different countries) was influenced by the country in which he lived in.

  4. joel rich says:

    Rabbi Yaakov Elman has done a lot of work in this area. I attended a lecture series he presented concerning understanding the historical impact of Babylonian culture on the Talmud. NOTE: I AM NOT SAYING THAT HISTORICAL UNDERSTANDING IMPACTS CURRENT HALACHA (this is a debate that is well beyond a layperson) but one begins to understand certain aggadic stories as well as why certain issues were burning:-)

  5. Baruch Horowitz says:

    I would also add to my previous comment, that today, as in every generation, we need to concentrate on studying Gemara and other areas of Torah with the proper feelings of reverence and kedushah(holiness). I read that Rabbi Shlomo Miller made this point when addressing the gathering in honor of the recent visit of Rav Shteinman and the Gerrer rebbe in Toronto.

    A commentator on a previous thread wrote of his presumption, while yet in 7th grade, that the reason “we stopped singing[Ahavah Rabba] out loud right before “ahava” was because in the Conservative minyan they didn’t want to encourage us to study Torah with love or passion but rather with dispassionate academic distance and criticism.”

    I have no idea, based on his single anecdote and interpretation, if his understanding is accurate and indicative of a trend in education, but if it would be, then it would indeed be tragic and poignant.

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