In Praise of the Judeo-Christian Idea

Is there a “Judeo-Christian” tradition, or is the very notion an insult to zealous believers in each of those two faiths? Is there a common platform of real substance, or was the idea invented by advocates of all-religious-roads (at least the well paved ones, that pass through the right neighborhoods) -lead-to-the-same-place school of theology?

Years ago, I firmly believed in the latter choice in the couplets above. That changed, the more I examined the increasingly hostile Western attitudes towards traditional religions. What have people gained by loosening the shackles of restraint on behavior and thought? What have they lost? As I considered these questions, the reality of a Judeo-Christian legacy firmed up in my thinking.

Working as I do with Christian communities, the differences between Christianity and Judaism have grown ever sharper in my mind. At the same time, however, the ideas and values we share have also emerged in sharp focus. These are notions that others reject, not platitudes that everyone can applaud. In my mind, the particular accomplishments of Western civilization relative to others[1] owe an immeasurable amount to them.

Those values are being baled out faster than water from a leaking rowboat. With so many joining the new AA (reviling Absolutes while deifying Autonomy), religions that make normative demands and claim Divine insight are feeling the crunch.

The values that I would include in this Judeo-Christian platform all derive from the Bible. The continued place of the Bible and the esteem in which it is held will determine the projected life-span for these values for the hundreds of millions of people who still believe in them. Orthodox Jews, therefore, have two reasons to know about them, and to promote them.

First, an inordinate number of our allies in the non-Jewish world support the State of Israel because of their belief in the Bible. Where belief in the Bible wanes, so does support for Israel. The reality of a Judeo-Christian tradition is an important tool in keeping a Jewish-Christian conversation going, which strengthens non-Jewish friendship for Israel.

Second, people of other faiths are looking to us for friendship and guidance in riding out the tempest together. (While this assertion never fails to raise eyebrows in frum crowds, I ask people how they understand Devarim 4:6. “For it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the peoples, who shall hear all these decrees and who shall say, ‘Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation.’” Really? Does anyone remember hearing that in the last, say, twenty centuries? They are saying it today! But that’s another essay. Apparently, though, the Torah expected that at some point non-Jews would find wisdom in the way Jews observed and cherished the Torah.) A good starting point is showing non-Jews who take G-d seriously that following His expectations leads to better living. That is a good part of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

A few weeks ago, the New Republic published a piece critical of the very idea of a Judeo-Christian history. I thought it important enough to respond, and recruited the Rev. Johnnie Moore, a good friend and prominent evangelical leader. We co-authored an op-ed. It was published in the Christian press. We came up with two versions of a list of items that we thought comprised much of the Judeo-Christian legacy. One listed the items as theological constructs. The other spoke of them in secular terms – takeaways, if you will, from the theological ideas that impacted all of society, believers or not.

My preference was to publish the second. By a confluence of errors, that didn’t happen. It is the version that will be more interesting to our readers, and I offer it below. The article contains a link to the original New Republic piece.

University of Illinois Professor Kevin Schultz, writing in the New Republic about the “Judeo-Christian legacy,” reminds us of the story of the Jewish atheist couple who sent their child to a Christian school for a better education.

The child comes home the first day full of enthusiasm for what they learned about the virgin birth, resurrection, and the Trinity.

“Nonsense,” respond the shocked parents. “The G-d we don’t believe in is One, not three.” Similarly, Schultz claims that “theologically… ‘Judeo-Christianity’ doesn’t make much sense,” arguing that this phrase was conjured up only to serve the purposes of the Right. And the concept which he doesn’t believe in, he argues, properly belongs to the Left.

“The term ‘Judeo-Christian’ arguably only makes sense … as a descriptor for the members of the original Christian church,” writes Shultz, who believes that some of whom cobbled together an amalgam of Jewish practice and Christian belief that did not survive the opening centuries of Christianity. Clearly. Arguably. At least to him.

But we are not persuaded.

We detect the faint whiff of the similar argument that there is no anti-Semitism in the Arab world, because Arabs, too, are Semites. Come on. Words and phrases take on meanings to those who speak them and listen to them, sometimes over the objections of the linguistic purists. “Anti-Semitism” means hatred of Jews. And “Judeo-Christian” means something very definite to those who use it, even if that meaning evades Mr. Schultz.

To be specific, Schultz argues that in the mid-twentieth century the term “Judeo-Christian” signified something very different than the way it is used today. Back then, it meant “a tolerant, pluralistic faith [that] enshrined the American value of putting others above the individual…In the absence of any clear theological accord on its meaning, the term lived a more fruitful life as a civic arrangement.” Schultz is therefore much distressed that some today are using “Judeo-Christian” to differentiate themselves (in his opinion) from the very people who wore its mantle and espoused its (invented) values. All this revisionism has – to Schultz – aimed to bring the “the alt-right into the mainstream conservative movement.”

We believe that Schultz overlooked a different alternative.

The term has very definite meaning, a much older meaning and it was, in fact, the mid-century and more-pluralistic usage that “appropriated” it for its own purposes, not the present one, which is richer, more consistent, and more historically accurate.

Actually, we would be more charitable and argue that people previously used an approximation of something that they sensed, that recently has become clearer as much of American society has moved away from – and gradually opposed – what it stands for.

We, the authors, are well-suited to trying our hand at capturing its essence. Although good friends, we would run – not walk – from any proposal that we find a compromised faith half-way between ours. One of us is an evangelical Christian; the other an Orthodox Jew. We are well aware of the theological differences that separate us. And between the two of us, we do not share a molecule of sympathy for the alt-right. On the contrary, we oppose, unwaveringly their hatred and bigotry.

Nonetheless, we can – as Jewish and Christian clergy – agree about the specific content of our shared Judeo-Christian legacy.

While the differences between the two faiths were particularly disastrous to centuries of Jews persecuted for those differences, they do not detract from the reality that beliefs and values were shared by both. Those shared positions, we believe, did indeed animate much of the progress of Western civilization as others have argued, including Ben Shapiro who Schultz dismisses as an example of “right-wing culture adjudication [led by a] preppy talk-radio host Ben Shapiro.”

Sometimes, we disagree with Shapiro too, as we do with Schultz, but it would be hard for us to imagine Schultz writing with the same passion to remember the great contributions of traditional religious communities in history, and certainly not with the same passion we hear in Shapiro’s defense of free speech for those who oppose him.

So, we’ll help everyone who struggles to appropriate the phrase “Judeo-Christian” by helping define it here. We as, Christians and Jews, believe that the wide-spread belief in the G-d of Scripture conveyed a message that animated much of the success of Western Civilization, and the growth of the United States in particular. Those assumptions and values persist in much of the world today, even among those who commit to no particular faith.  They were all initially based upon belief in a G-d who is the source of all existence, a perfect Being who does not need Man, but reaches out to him with instruction and expectations because of the spark of divinity that He makes reside in the humans He created. Some of what flowed from those beliefs are that:

●        Man, as the pinnacle of deliberate creation, has special significance and special responsibility

●        There are ideas that are timeless and immutable. Not all matters are up for grabs and redefinition

●        There is wisdom in things that are old, and obligation to the past as well as to the future.

●        The demands that G-d makes upon Man are for Man’s benefit, not for G-d’s.

●        Human civilization is perfectible, and will indeed be perfected

●        The nuclear family is the best incubator for the next generation, and correlates with success, happiness, and achievement.

●        Man’s greatest happiness comes from giving, rather than receiving.

Prof. Schultz may accept all or none of these premises. But tens of millions of Americans – even in times of declining affiliation – do accept them. That acceptance is ample testimony to the historical reality of what we call the Judeo-Christian legacy.

  1. Yeah, that line just cost me any future faculty appointment at US academic institutions. Except for the few that still believe in a Judeo-Christian legacy. So be it. Been there; done that.

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88 Responses

  1. SteveBrizel says:

    Excellent article. FWIW Ben Shapiro is a conservative an Orthodox Jewand brave advocate of facts not feelings on college campuses but not a 100% complete see no evil supporter of the President.

    • Charlie Hall says:

      Ben Shapiro came to YU and embarrassed himself with his lack of understanding of Judaism. He tried to discuss medical halachah but had to admit that he had never hear of the Tzitz Eliezer z’tz’l. Would that he spend more time learning.

      • dr. bill says:

        I don’t expect that many people know much about Rav Waldenberg ztl or his pesakim. The halakhot relative to medical halakha are not widely understood by non-professionals and sadly even by some professionals who should know better. Frankly, there are even very fundamental issues that have not yet received adequate attention in this fast-changing area.

        Broad statements about understanding Judaism are effectively meaningless; the term Judaism is relatively modern and my suspicion is that there is a wide level of disagreement about who understands what with respect to such a broad term.

        I take it you do not see eye to eye with Ben Shapiro on more than a few issues. I’m surprised 🙂

      • Shades of Gray says:

        This is the link(1:22:00) to Ben Shapiro being asked by a Stern student following his speech about the Tzitz Eliezer and the Democratic Party position. He humorously told the student that they would need to discuss specifics further with Rabbi Sobolofsky.

        I think there was criticism following his speech from Richard Joel and other faculty for a different reason–because his comments about transgenders drew laughter from students.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Ben Shapiro never said that he was a posek. The views of the Tzitz Eliezer ZL especially a certain teshuvah on abortion on Tay Sachs are considered not a Daas Yachidm but must be weighed together with the views of RSZA and other great Poskim on such issues. What Shapiro did say is that any lenience on abortion within Halacha as stated by RMF cannot be conflated into some sort of support for what the left calls unlimited reproductive rights

      • Charles B. Hall says:

        Dr. Bill,

        The crowd was frum students at Yeshiva University. It is possible that Shapiro was the only person in the room who had never heard of Rav Waldenberg ztl.

      • dr. bill says:

        charlie hall, I daven in an orthodox shul and many/ some people do not know of Rav Waldenberg ztl. some know the tzitz eliezer appelation but cannot name rav Waldenberg. neither of us has conducted a valid study, I suspect

        steve brizel, abortions for tay-sachs babies is a wee bit above your pay grade. you clearly have not had the benefit of discussing this topic with individuals close to both Rav Waldenberg ztl and RSZA ztl; I have.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Ben Shapiro in his most reecent book gave a special thanks to one of his chavrusas. His other chavrusa is a son of dear friends of ours.

  2. Bruce says:

    A great list. I agree with everything on it.

    One possible addition?

    Something about community. Contemporary secular Western culture focuses to a really large degree on individuals and individualism. ( I think this is entirely correct as a political matter — I don’t want the government encouraging people to form particular communities.) But as a religious and social matter, both Jews and Christians believe that a good life in one lived in a community of people who share one’s values.

    • Charlie Hall says:

      Hillary Clinton talked about this in her famous “it takes a village” remarks and was widely derided for it — by people who claimed to be religious. In fact she is a deeply religious member of the United Methodist Church and their teachings influenced this attitude. Significantly, the United Methodist Church is a rare Christian church that has both rejected the traditional supercessionist theology but so far has not jumped on the anti-Israel bandwagon; it rejected divestment at its 2016 conference after Clinton wrote a letter opposing it.

      • Bob Miller says:

        She’ll have ample jail time (without Huma Abedin) to deepen her religious sensibilities.

  3. Shades of Gray says:

    “The demands that G-d makes upon Man are for Man’s benefit, not for G-d’s”

    I never explored this, but I wonder if there are differences regarding this, specifically in Chabad philosophy, as compared to Ramchal in beginning of Derech Hashem(התכלית בבריאה היה להטיב מטובו ית׳). For example, in an Ami interview the beginning of this month about Chabad, R. Manis Friedman tells R. Yitzchok Frankfurter that “The Eibershter created the world, so He’s the One Who needs us… And we are here to serve His needs.” He says in the interview that one of the things he gets the most pushback on, which he loves, is for saying that the “Eibershter is more desperate, if we can use that word, than we are”.

    See online R. Friedman’s videos “Top 5: G-d Needs Your Mitzvos Conversations” and “Does G-d Need Our Mitzvot?”, responding to the seemingly contrary pasuk in Iyov 35:7 אִם־צָ֖דַקְתָּ. I also found on Chabad’s “Interview With Professor Lawrence Schiffman: Does G-d Need Your Mitzvos?”(which I haven’t fully listened to).

    • I remember the first time I heard this. It was also from R. Manis Friedman, and I am proud that I was one of those who provided considerable pushback. While I’ll go with Ramchal over most, I must concede that I have come across seeming parallels in the world of kaballah (of which the Ramchal himself was certainly no novice!). They are of the form “While A is usually a limitation, HKBH is so great that he can A without it being limiting.” I hope to be zocheh one day to understand it. To me, it sounds like gobbledegook and fully dismissive of human rationality. Moreover, it allows for c”v Trinitarian belief. We usually dismiss it by pointing out that turning G-d into flesh is a contradiction in terms. The Infinite CANNOT become finite, because that is a limitation, not a distinction. It does not limit Hashem to say that He cannot create a triangle with four sides, or a rock so heavy that He cannot lift it. If these contradictions are allowed, and G-d can become “needy,” why cannot He also not decide to become flesh and walk among us?

      • Yossie Nemes says:

        Thank you for the article. good stuff… As far as Chabad Chassidus and the question “Does Hashem need our mitzvot?”
        This is a deep, subtle and nuanced subject. There is a well-known discourse of the Rebbe Lo Siyeh Meshakeila 5712 (Published in English under the title ‘Full Devotion’) that discusses this issue at length. He brings numerous psukim and Chaza”l that imply both one way or the other and then explains them based on the Arizal’s idea of Tzimtzum
        It is known that one of the greatest scholars of Kabbalah and Chassidus of the previous generation, Reb Moshe Gourarie, was visiting from Israel and heard this discourse. He later said that the depth and clarity of this discourse and especially the remarkable and intense lesson in Avodas Hashem, at the conclusion of this discourse, grabbed his mind and heart and made him a Chasid of the Rebbe.

        Full Devotion is out of stock but here is another translation, also quite good, available free online

      • Weaver says:

        Without getting lost in the thickets of philosophy, I have a no problem with saying that on some level God “needs” us and our mitzvos, as well as the related idea that God possess “emotions” in a Divine form. This idea becomes even more acceptable if we consider the hashkafic idea that our neshamos are almost “pieces” of God.

        We usually dismiss this argument by point to obviously silly examples like God literally having a finger or literally getting angry. Ok – but what about positive emotions (one would also have to define “emotion”)? Should we also say that God doesn’t love or care about us? To me, that leads to the dangerous Greek notion of God’s uninvolvement in this world, where God is in effect abstracted God out of practical reality. (The Rambam actually comes dangerously close to this idea when he claims that the universe could not possibly have been created solely for Man.) The lucky reality is that no one actually believes that, and Tanach and davening are replete with emotional characterizations of God (aveinu malkeinu, anyone?)

        A much more palatable ideas (to me) is that human thoughts and emotions are not utterly disconnected from anything relating to God (which incidentally would also make them insignificant and meaningless), but rather our thoughts/emotions are a human version of perfect Divine ones – a difference of degree rather of kind (e.g., that our love is a human version of a more perfect Divine love).

        See apophatic theology (“negative theology”) vs ataphatic theology (“positive theology”).

      • Nice try, but I haven’t yet found a Waze that will extricate from the “thickets of philosophy” someone who wishes to give serious consideration of these issues. There are no short cuts that I am aware of. I just can’t help on this one. Briefly noted: 1) your citation of apophatic theology vs. staphatic is associated in our literature with either using Attributes or not. You can start (as in regard to so many other questions) with the Moreh. 2) Are Hashem’s “emotions” less of an anthropomorphism than His “finger?” Start with the Chinuch on shiluach ha-kein.

      • Aharon says:

        Let’s take R’ Manis Freidman and Chassidus out of the discussion for a moment.
        We agree that logic is a construct of Hashem. Can He be limited by His own creation?
        Your question is: That being true, why can’t we say something illogical that Hashem contracted Himself and now is something finite which is avoda zara? The answer is not because of it goes against our logic and Hashem is confined to our logic , but because Torah said it’s not true.

      • If it is that simple, you will have to show me! Prove to me that if a person says that he believes in a One Borei Olam, with all the conditions attached by the Rambam in Peirush HaMishnayos to Chelek, and all those in the short list of the Ramchal at the beginning of Derech Hashem, that he is an oveid avodah zarah if he ALSO believes that this same unique Being can take on physical form. (Don’t do this without first going through the Chazon Ish’s conditions for violating the issur avodah zarah in his sefer on Yoreh Deah.) I suspect that you will have a problem, unless you run to the Rambam in the Moreh, who considers a belief in corporeality WORSE than avodah zarah! Of course, if you then want to understand the Rambam in the Moreh vs. those who disagreed, you are going to find a good deal of logic rather than direct appeal to anything explicit in the Torah.

      • Shades of Gray says:

        Leaving aside understanding Tzimtzum, it is apparently not a contradiction to say the world is both for Hashem’s honor and for man’s benefit, as there are sources in both directions, per the article below on the beracha of “Shehakol Bara Lichvodo”:

        The article also indicates that Ramchal’s idea on the reason for creation quoted above was said by Arizal and Shelah(I would add that the preface to Ruach Chaim on Avos uses a similar term when relating that R. Chaim of Volohzin would constantly tell his son that man’s creation was that he should benefit others).

        Sefer HaChinuch(Aver min Hachai), writes the following, which Yaakov Shwekey made into a song:
        וכבר כתבתי כמה פעמים התועלת הגדול לנו בקנותינו המידות הטובות ונתרחק מן הרעות, כי הטוב ידבק בטוב
        והקל הטוב חפץ להיטיב ולכן יצווה עמו לבחור בטוב
        זהו דרכי ברוב המצות על צד הפשט

        I imagine Tiferes Yisrael of Maharal, discussing the purpose of mitzvos, is one of many other relevant sources.

      • Hashem’s honor is not identical with Hashem! Therefore, the world can function to increase His honor, without Him needing either the world, or that honor. I think it is fair to say that many, many sources speak about the function of Man’s avodah, without implying in any manner or form that He needs that avodah

      • DF says:

        God needs us because אין מלך בלא עם. If we do not relate to Him as a king, He is effectively no longer a King. The Gemara itself alludes to this idea when it says God told Moshe, when he ascended to heaven, that “you could have helped me out” (היה לך עוזרני)

        I believe also, though its my own idea and have no support for it, that this is essentially the meaning of what we say every day תנו אוז לאלוקים “Give strength to God.” By proclaiming His Kingship we are effectively strengthening Him.

      • My objection is to the word “need,” which implies deficiency. Hashem cannot be deficient. He can and does set up rules for relating (from our POV) with a limited, deficient, finite world. We are indeed important/crucial to the running of that world. We don’t enhance His atzmiyus thereby, but do His ratzon. His ratzon was that He should be a King to the world. Without subjects, there is no King, as you said. His Kingship may need us; “He” doesn’t. For centuries, many seforim protected us from arriving at simplistic or borderline heretical assumptions about HKBH by the liberal use of a single word: kivayachol. That word, meaning “as if it were,” reminded us that our use of language was inexact when using anthropomorphisms, attributing emotions to Him, etc. We would be well-advised to continue that practice.

      • Weaver says:

        Yitzchok Adlerstein – Perhaps a Garmin will help : )

        You are just presenting an approach to God strictly according to the Rambam. You also didn’t really address any of the issues I mentioned with this approach.

        “Your citation of apophatic theology vs. staphatic is associated in our literature with either using Attributes or not. You can start (as in regard to so many other questions) with the Moreh.”
        (1) I know and (2) you don’t have to start with the Moreh!

        “Are Hashem’s “emotions” less of an anthropomorphism than His “finger?”
        Yes. A finger is physical; emotions are not. That’s why our thoughts are associated with the neshama; angels are even referred to as “intelligences” in Jewish philosophy, as I’m sure you know.
        And even if emotions=finger, there are many rishonim who believed God could be corporeal – the Raavad famously criticized the Rambam for stressing it so much.

        In any event, our main problem with Christianity is not the claim that Jesus can represent a part of God in a tangible way, it’s their theology!

      • No idea what you mean by the first two paragraphs. If you have a competitor to the Rambam, bring him to the table. If you have other sources that deal systematically with this issue besides the Morah, bring them along as well. (There may be a few in sifrei kabbalah, but not in seforim that 99% of our readers know about.)

        I disagree. Emotions are every bit as objectionable and different from His nature than fingers. Both are contrary to His perfection and limitlessness. I don’t see the difference.

        No, there are not “many.” The jury is certainly out regarding the Raavad. His objection, moreover, was not to the Rambam “stressing it so much.” It was to his condemnation of this belief as absolute kefirah. The Raavad’s point is that many great people were taken in by the plain sense of the text, without having given sufficient thought to the theological issues. Raavad did not necessarily disagree about the bottom line.

        The iconic example of a corporealist is R Moshe Taku, one of the Baalei HaTosafos. He explicitly does support G-d having a body. What people often forget is that at the end of his discussion, he adds a caveat. He explains that of course he doesnt’t believe that G-d has a body made of the same substance as our bodies. The “material” in His body is some chomer dak, the kind of substance with which we have no experience.

        I assume that your last line was meant to be a joke.

      • Shades of Gray says:

        R. Meir Soloveichik’s article in First Things, “God’s First Love: The Theology Of Michael Wyschogrod”(November, 2009), discusses a contemporary thinker who differed with the Rambam regarding anthropomorphism. Obviously, each case of anthropomorphism is different.

        “In fact, this account of Israel’s exclusive election has not offended many orthodox Christians but reassured them, for just the reasons Wyschogrod presents: God’s special love for his first love, Israel, shows that he can love them in their own uniqueness and particularity as well.

        Maimonides, by contrast, rejects the notion of God’s passionate love for humans as an anthropomorphism. In his Guide for the Perplexed , he insists that, when the Bible describes God’s love, “of course God is not experiencing the feeling of affection or tenderness.” These are mere references to what he describes as “attributes of action.” The Bible’s message that God loves the Jewish people is merely a statement that he acts in a loving manner toward them.

        Wyschogrod starkly states that it is with Maimonides that much of Jewish thinking about God went awry: “Maimonides’ demythologization of the concept of God is unbiblical and ultimately dangerous to Jewish faith. Jewish faith cannot survive if a personal relation between the Jew and God is not possible. But no personal relation is possible with an Aristotelian Unmoved Mover.” The Bible speaks of God’s love and anger, and the religious reader is obligated to take these statements, to some extent, literally. Refusing to take literally the Bible’s accounts of an emotionally engaged Almighty, for Wyschogrod, amounts to subjugating the text of the Bible to an external agenda. “

      • WADR, I’m not going to compare Michael Wyschograd to Rambam. Period.

      • Weaver says:

        “I assume that your last line was meant to be a joke.”

        Yes. My point is that “not saying x because it sounds like, or could be used to give credence to “y” is not really an argument.

        My general point is that the many issues that flow from a strictly abstract/impersonal notion of God tend to be elided, or not acknowledged at all. Various sources have been brought by other commenters to support the notion of a more personal, less cold and abstract version of God which, again, is how we practically act and think in any event. How that ultimately fits with the philosophy of the Moreh does particularly concern me (an analysis of which is above my (our?) pay grade. If it can be reconciled with the M”N, great.

        Kol Tuv, and keep up the great writing!

      • Shades of Gray says:

        “But no personal relation is possible with an Aristotelian Unmoved Mover”

        As I was quoting R. Meir Soloveitchik’s above quotation of Wyschogrod, whose PhD thesis was on Prof. Wyschogrod’s thought, I thought of an example of the Rambam’s emotionally-engaging languauge in Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah:

        מיד הוא אוהב ומשבח ומפאר ומתאוה תאוה גדולה לידע השם הגדול

        I also thought of R. Aryeh Kaplan’s writing about both G-d being both immanent and transcendent.

      • Shades of Gray says:

        In 34:30 in the shiur linked below, R. Aaaron Lopiansky says that even in Moreh Nevuchim, the Rambam wrote with passion, “Kol Hashem B’koach”, in his words. I will have to take R. Lopiansky’s word on the Moreh Nevuchim.

        I was able to look up on Shabbos R. Adlerstein’s reference to the Sefer Hachinuch on Shiluch Hakein, which is directly relevant(I imagine R. Manis Friedman would respond with the Chabad take on it). The Chinuch seems to be based on the fundamental Ramban in Ki Teitzei, which in turn is further discussed in Tiferes Yisroel 6th perek, also linked below:

      • Weaver says:

        I stumbled upon another source on this – David P. Goldman’s review of a reissue of “Judaism’s Encounter with Other Cultures: Rejection or Integration?” in a recent issue of Hakirah. Again, the sources aren’t completely traditional, but it explicates the problems with Rambam-style negative theology very clearly. I present to you, without Waze, the thickets of philosophy.


        “Under the influence of Greek metaphysics, the Rav observed, Maimonides advances a kind of pantheism. As Kaplan writes, “In terms of essence and existence, God and the world constitute one order. The world is thus ontically dependent upon God. It is rooted in him as a tree is rooted in soil. Indeed, the Rav concludes, Maimonides would agree with Malebranche that ontically the world exists in God.” But an enormous danger lurks in Greek metaphysics, in which man himself strives to attain unity with God. In the Greek metaphysical framework, the Rav adds, “The simplest solution would be to say that, indeed, on this highest level there is no room left for fear.”

        “Michael Wyschogrod attended the Rav’s Talmud shiur at Yeshiva University during 1946-1952. I do not know whether he heard the Rav’s lectures on Maimonides, but his 1984 essay offers a complementary account of incompatible, contending elements in the Guide. Wyschogrod argued
        that both Saadia Gaon and Maimonides applied Parmenides’ argument to the Oneness of the biblical God, with self-contradictory results. Wyschogrod added that “Saadia’s polemic against causing any increases or mutability in God’s essence” is a paraphrase of Parmenides. And: “For
        Maimonides, as for Saadia, the absolute internal oneness of God is critical.” But absolute oneness in Greek understanding eliminates all differentiation, which means that we are unable to speak of any attributes of God. The difficulty, Wyschogrod adds, is that “if no attributes can be predicated of God, then we simply cannot say anything about him, not even that he exists and that he is one, for existence and oneness are also attributes. Maimonides concedes this. Speaking of God, he writes that ‘His essence does not have an accident attaching to it when it exists, in which case its existence would be a notion that is superadded to it.’ Similarly, God is one without possessing the attribute of unity. Pushed to its logical conclusion, we arrive at a position that denies the possibility of any speech about God.”

        “Wyschogrod detects a deep paradox in Maimonides’ argument. Whereas the Rav speaks of the Rambam’s pantheism, Wyschogrod contends that Greek metaphysics put the Rambam at risk of agnosticism: If God is everything and everything is in God, then God is nothing in particular and nothing can be said of him. But Wyschogrod adds that Rambam “saves himself from agnosticism by advancing that view that while it is not possible to say what God is, it is possible to say what he is not…When we say that he is living, we mean that he is not dead and when we say that he is eternal, we mean that there is no cause that has brought him into being.”

        “Wyschogrod’s critique of Maimonides complements R. Soloveitchik’s. The Rav emphasizes the danger that unity with God through love will make superfluous divinely mandated commandments. Wyschogrodemphasizes the risk that a Greek understanding of the Oneness of God leaves us incapable of any thought or speech about God. Both approaches point to a common conclusion. Greek ontology fails to account for differentiation, a problem that plagues Western philosophy from Parmenides through to modern set theory. The Greek concept of Oneness is alien to the rabbinic understanding of the unity of God. Finally, in reading Tanakh through the lens of Greek metaphysics, Rambam applied Greek ḥokhmah to a task for which it was ill suited. R. Soloveitchik and Prof. Wyschogrod suggest, Rambam himself did not fully grasp the implications of this error.

        As they say, read the whole thing.

    • Gavriel M says:

      This conversation misses the point. Let’s say it’s hypothetically possible for G-d to become a human being or whatever and that to worship this human being would not be idolatry.

      There is, however, one more condition that needs to be met: that you have the correct human being. Let’s say some fringe Christian sect decides that G-d was not incarnated as Yeshu, but as his brother James and started praying to him instead. According to Christians such a person is an idolater. Their sincerity in their beliefs would be irrelevant.

      Christians are therefore idolaters, by their own definition, because the man they worship was not in fact G-d incarnate, regardless of whether it is theoretically possible for the doctrine of incarnation to be reconciled with monotheism. I believe Paul actually says this (hypothetically) in one of his epistles, but I’m not baki in this field.

    • Shades of Gray says:

      Weaver wrote above:

      “but rather our thoughts/emotions are a human version of perfect Divine ones”

      Distinct from the issue of describing Hashem as “needy”, Rav Gifter writes similarly in the Hebrew preface to the Artscroll Shir Hashirim based on the Hakdamah of the Shelah and on essays in R. Yosef Leib Bloch’s Shiurei Daas (“Nishmas Hatorah” and “Ki Chol BaShomyaim U’vaartez”).

      R. Nosson Scherman, in the Shir Hashirim Overview, acknowledges that the usual way many commentators understand anthropomorphism is different than the Shelah, and summarizes Shelah that “God does have an ‘ayin’(eye)—not an organ with a cornea, retina, and lens, but an ‘ayin’ in the true sense of the word: the ability to perceive what occurs. ”

      R. Gifter begins his Shir Hashirim comments by first mentioning the purpose of creation/mitzvos as I quoted from Ramchal and Sefer Hachinuch on Ever min HaChai(without mentioning their names). A very interesting part of the preface is R. Gifter’s quotation of Reishis Chochmah(end of Shaar Ahavah), in the name of R. Yitzchak d’min Akko , that someone who doesn’t desire a woman is “less than a donkey”, ie, is missing understanding in Avodas Hashem!(while appropriate for understanding Shir Hashirim, I imagine R. Gifter would contextualize this today when counseling someone with SSA).

      I’ve read that R. Akivah Tatz in Worldmask follows a similar approach to the Shelah(perhaps an extension of the Worldmask approach of “this-world-as-a-parable” is Beis HaLevi in Parshas Bo regarding the relationship between reasons and mitzvos and the Brisker Rav on the relationship of month of Nissan to freedom, ie, this physical world is a reflection of truer, higher concepts). In a discussion on his blog(“ Was Rashi A Corporealist? “, July, 2009), R. Slifkin quoted “I have heard people claim that there is no way to effectively resolve R. Tatz’s view (which is presumably R. Moshe Shapiro’s view) without effectively contradicting the unity of God.” I suppose one needs to hear firsthand from students of R. Moshe Shapiro; R. Tatz also has shiurim online.

  4. mb says:

    I grew up as an admirer (still am) and very much under the influence of Chief Rabbi Dr.Hertz, Zt’l. He bristled just at the mention of a Judeo-Christian culture. To him Christianity was just contemporary idolatry and barbarianism dressed in fancy clothing and Edwardian manners. He was brutal in his criticism of it. Then in 1941, in Europe’s darkest hour, along with Archbishop of Canterbury he founded The Council of Christians and Jews, a remarkable occurrence and the first national interfaith organisation in Britain, and the model for the many subsequent similar groups. Not sure if this is relevant to your post, but I thought you might like to know that.

    • You can’t let it go with that, Martin! Too much of a teaser! Nu – did he have a change of heart, of was it just a strategic alliance that was needed at the hour?

      • mb says:

        I will research further but, within a few years, Rav Hertz was nifter. and those years in between were consumed with the war. I would expect, by definition, it did soften his approach, especially when this happened.
        “For Jews and Christians to come together both sides had to overcome deeply entrenched attitudes of suspicion and fear. Yet they did. The Arch Bishop of Canterbury, Temple, used the BBC World Service to make a broadcast to the Hungarians to rescue Jews wherever they could. He delivered an impassioned address in the House of Lords in 1943, saying that Christians stood before the bar of history, of humanity and God.”
        Good enough so far?

      • DF says:

        I grew up on the Hertz Chumash, have read every one of the Essays printed in it, and still consult it regularly. (The explanation he, and only he, cited last week for Numbers 23:10 is a tremendous insight I’d never heard before, worthwhile looking up.) I find it very hard to believe the writer of that Chumash – which was published between 1927 and 1937 – thought Christianity was just “contemporary idolatry and barbarianism” until 1941. The book cites more Christian expositors than Jewish ones (prompting Soncino to later release a different Chumash citing only Jewish commentators.) The commentary is packed with comments highlighting the common beliefs of Judaism and Christianity. I would like to know on what basis mb [Martin] makes his claim.

    • Weaver says:

      “To him Christianity was just contemporary idolatry and barbarianism dressed in fancy clothing and Edwardian manners. He was brutal in his criticism of it.”

      Judging from his Chumash commentary, I have a hard time believing that. He quotes voluminously from Christian sources and one ‘s overall impression an attitude of respect and admiration where our beliefs overlap.

      • mb says:

        Weaver and DF,
        Then you are not reading the his commentary very carefully. And I don’t have time to quote the many examples. Here’s but one.
        Just take a look at his comment on the Deut 13, 13-19, the idolatrous city, for example.. Suggested reading, The Vindication of Judaism, The Polemics of the Hertz Pentateuch, Harvey Meirovich.
        And don’t forget, the Chumash is only a small part of his published works.

      • mb says:

        Also, C.R.Hertz’s chumash was originally 5 volumes, (that didn’t sell very well.) It became condensed into 1 and naturally heavily edited. Frankly, I’m quite surprised that you are surprised by this. For 20 year he was on an anti Christian and anti Reform rampage, especially as the Reform leader, Claude Montefiore, so trumpeted Christian achievements.

      • DF says:

        Mb – Montefiore never spoke of “Reform”, the cause he championed was called “Liberal Judaism.” And R. Hertz’s disagreements with him concerned his evisceration of Judaism and Jewish practice, nothing at all to do with Christianity.
        You are basically saying R. Hertz thought Christianity was idolatry and barbarianism, and went on rampages against them, until it became expedient for him in 1941 to work with them. That’s a serious charge, a quite mistaken one, and it needs to be stated as such. I see Weaver says the same thing as well. I am happy to be educated otherwise if I’m wrong, but you’ll have to prove that with directly-on-point citations, and you would look for such citations in vain.

      • Ben Bradley says:

        Perhaps it’s also worth noting that Prof Marc Shapiro has pointed out the multiple authorship of the Hertz chumash indicated in the original edition. He was as much editor as author. Subsequent editions removed the names of the other authors, to their chagrin. So perhaps it’s not clear how far the opinions in his Chumash can be solely attributed to him

      • Charles B Hall says:

        Given what was happening in Christian Europe in the 1930s and early 1940s it is hard to argue that Christianity wasn’t idolatry and barbarism.

  5. Bob Miller says:

    We ought to be pleased that many groups of non-Jews have absorbed certain Jewish concepts and ways of thinking over many centuries. Clearly, that process is not as complete yet as it should ultimately be. Our stake in this is not just our own well-being, but also that of all humanity. This applies to Christians, Muslims, and other non-Jews.

    But what about their influence on us? We have Jewish thinkers in the academic and media worlds whose primary ideology is American-conservative, American-liberal, socialist, etc. Among them, some of the strongest public Jewish supporters of Israel and enemies of antisemitism venerate the US Constitution over the Torah and freely intermarry and eat treif. This can’t be good.

  6. Mycroft says:

    Theologically we have much more in common with Islamic world than the Christian world. Obviously, due to current political disputes in practice we may have closer relations with the Christian world
    In many respects we don’t even share a Bible with the Christian world, even the books of Tanach that they essentially have the same as ours. Torah she beal peh is an essential element of our belief in what Tanach means they obviously reject it.
    In addition the framework in how they read the books of our Tanach that are part of their canon they read it starting from an entirely different theological premises than we do

    • I used to think we had more in common, till 9/11. Now I have my doubts. At some point, I would have thought, the conduct that you attribute to G-d should be a reflection about what you think He is. I’m not sure if we believe in the same Deity as some of the Islamists. (For the record, when I discussed this with R Shmuel Kamenetsky shortly after 9/11, he sided with you.) / I don’t care where they got it from. Christians now share it. And it makes a difference. Rambam had a very dim view of Christianity (although it is unlikely he ever met a Christian in his lifetime), and a more appreciative view of Islam, from which he suffered terribly. Nonetheless, in a few teshuvos, he paskened that while we don’t teach Torah to non-Jews, we may teach some of it to Christians. Why? Because they share belief in Tanach, and when faced with the truth, may change their views. (The Sridei Aish pointedly says about this that the Rambam does NOT mean that they will convert to Judaism. He only means that they will emerge with a better understanding of Hashem and His expectations of us.)/ Entirely different premises? My experience is that evangelicals are divided. Some value Tanach ONLY for prefiguring Jesus, c”v. The popularity of NT Wright is a big boost to them. Many others – in my experience, far more – reject that, and respond to the text according to its plain meaning. Do they need Torah She b’al peh for that? Nope. If they did, there would have been no point to the stones the Yehoshua set up in crossing the Yarden. (I think the Netziv makes this point in his hakdamah to Chumash. See as well Maharal on the gemara in Sotah that talks about the stones. He explains one opinion in the gemara as holding that non-Jews have a great affinity for the plain sense and message of the words of Torah.)

      • rkz says:

        The Rambam met quite a few of them. There is an Egyptian church that existed from the time of the Byzantine Empire until our time.

      • Weaver says:

        Yes – that he gave them “binah yeserah” to “uncover” the plaster from the stones. Great post!

      • mycroft says:

        Thanks for the thoughtful response.
        IMO one must distinguish between pragmatic behavior that we engage in and theological truths.
        It may well be that reactions of some in the Islamic Community to 9/11 may well justify a different approach to dealings with the Islamic world but that has nothing to do with the nature of Islam as theological sets of beliefs versus ours and those of Christians versus our. There certainly have been many times in our history when Christians treated us worse than the Islamic world did.
        The Rambam believed that Christians essentially taught the same Bible that we have unlike Islam where they change things such as instead of Akedat Yitzchak they have stories of binding of Ishmael. Of course, as you point out the Rambam did not know many Christians and thus may not have realized how they teach their book of Genesis for example entirely differently than we do, thus not knowing Christians can work both ways in analyzing the RAMBAM.
        You write that “. I’m not sure if we believe in the same Deity as some of the Islamists.” may well be true but we certainly don’t believe in the same conception of the Deity that Christians believe in.
        Wherever or not a religion is AZ is irrelevant to the way we Jews act as any non Jewish religion is completely assur to Jews.
        FWIW there is certainly strong evidence that RYBS did not believe that Christianity is AZ for non Jews. There is evidence of actions of his towards non Jews which would not make sense if he believed it was AZ for non Jews. As an Ish halacha he could not encourage a non Jew to b e a follower of AZ, thus the stories of his encouraging non Jews to go back to their faith only makes sense in that context.
        This whole area is one requiring precision, where sadly pragmatic actions can influence theological discussions.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Jewish life Islamic countries was hardly a religious paradise

      • Mycroft says:

        Agreed, but irrelevant to a theological discussion of Islam. It may well be relevant to how we deal pragmatically with Islam.

  7. emet le'amito says:

    helping a relative prepare a lecture, I reminded him where the Rav ztl first spoke about the Lonely Man of Faith. It was St. Johns, a Catholic seminary that trained Priests. This is the same Rav that said one cannot watch JFK’s funeral in a Catholic church.

    we share much with our Christian brethren. Gedolai Olam thought of Christianity in its positive light bringing the ultimate Geulah closer; of course, it had a horrific side as well that led to mass murder, expulsion, forced conversions and the holocaust.

    I am reminded of RAL ztl’s and RYYW ztl’s recollections of their Ph.D. advisors, whose piety they admired. I might quibble with the wording of items on the list, but it is a great summary of where we stand together.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      All true but the contemporary academic atmosphere is not the same that RYBS or RAL saw and views Much of what they studied as the product of dead white msles

      • dr. bill says:

        if you think that the individuals both Rav ztl and RAL ztl studied are broadly viewed as dead white males, you are sorely mistaken. Kant and More are both studied today, albeit with frequent biases that apply modern sensibilities to a different environment. that is not good scholarship.

        the way both RAL ztl and RYYW ztl viewed their thesis advisors applies to many people living today whose religious behavior is noteworthy.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      All true but today’s college campuses are far more intolerant and PC than what RYBS and RAL experienced.we have to fight today’s cultural and academic wars rooted in Marcuse Zinn and post modernism with today’s weapons not the weapons tactics and strategies that were effective in the last war

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Read what RYBS thought about Kant which he knew Baal Peh ( all head and no heart) and Heideigger , very inspiring but a Nazi in the latest book puiblished by the OU and Magid on RYBS’s views on blessings and tefilah. We err in not being aware that the whole canon of English literature that was do dear to RAL ZL is in many quarters viewed as the product of dead white males. Denial of these facts which are so common on so many college campuses is a prime exhibit of fighting today’s wars which are centered in Marcuse Zinn and post modernism with the tools of yesterday’s wars that were fought by RYBS and RAL ZL.

      • dr. bill says:

        Steve Brizel, If you know of another place where education in classical literature, philosophy, advanced mathematics or the sciences, etc. can be readily obtained outside a college environment, I am all ears. Unfortunately, most (but not all) colleges today present terrible challenges for many students, challenges that ought to be addressed/mitigated. But throwing out the baby with the bathwater is not my preferred course of action. If one looks for solutions they exist, albeit with much more diligence than in the past required.


    When I was in high school at Mesivta Torah Vodaath I learned “The Nineteen Letters” by Rav Hirsch on my own. It happened that Rav Yitzchok Chinn, zt”l, was visiting and we had a conversation that touched on my reading of the sefer. He reminded me that at one point R. Hirsch writes thoughtfully about the influence of someone who sought to bring Hashem to the masses. R. Chinn asked me what I thought, to whom was he referring? Trying to impress him with my knowledge of the history of German Jewry of the time, I suggested it was Moses Mendelssohn.
    R. Chinn shook his head and smiled. He leaned forward and said, “Jesus”.
    That was a shocker to the mind of a young yeshiva bochur.

    • mycroft says:

      dr. bill
      July 26, 2019 at 1:36 am
      Steve Brizel, If you know of another place where education in classical literature, philosophy, advanced mathematics or the sciences, etc. can be readily obtained outside a college environment, I am all ears.

      Try EDX and Coursera-there are plenty of college courses online-one by listening to lectures and doing the exercises could receive a good education. I am not sure of advanced mathematics, don’t recall number theory courses. Of course, some free courses outside the system include Dr C Hayes from Open Yale.

      • dr. bill says:

        there are many online courses from which you can learn a great deal. but as the rabbis taught, you learn most from your students and classmates in seminars and discussion groups.

        you raise a good point about what we might be able to accomplish in the future with live, interactive courses; education like many other things can be reconceptualized!

  9. Steven Brizel says:

    Every cultural war like a military conflict requires up to date tactics and strategy you don’t rely on a Cacslry or a maginot line to defeat a blitzkrieg

  10. Charlie Hall says:

    There has been an absolute revolution during our lifetimes in the attitude towards Judaism by Christians. The Nazi ideology was never Christian but just 75 years ago, Christians were aiding the Nazis, rounding up Jews in France, Hungary, and Croatia and assisting in most of the rest of continental Europe. But in 1958 Pope John XXIII became the first Pope not unfriendly to Jews since the early 16th century. Vatican II, which he called, ended formal Catholic anti-Semitism. Pope Francis rejected supercessionist theology a few years ago and has forbade conversion efforts targeting Jews. He was preceded in his rejection of supercessionism by several Protestant sects. Christian theological schools teach Jewish biblical commentaries, in particular Rashi. Churches welcome Jewish speakers on all topics. And of course many evangelicals in the US are big supporters of the State of Israel and mostly not because of the controversial Christian Zionism end times theology but because they just love the Jewish people.

    Could this have been imagined just 75 years ago? I see Divine Intervention here.

    • I do not know who these ‘Christians’ were who aided the Nazis in France, Hungary and Croatia but I do know the the homeland of my father, rescued Jews living in Copenhagen, hid them from the vile Nazis and took them to fishing boats to be sailed to Sweden for their life and liberty. Additionally, the homes deserted by their Jewish neighbors who were saved or deported by the evil Nazis to concentration camps were not broken into or destroyed but found by their Jewish neighbors to be just as if they just left.

      Recently, upon learning about the horrible shooting of Jewish worshipers in a synagogue in Pennsylvania, our Pastor began his ‘service’ with a prayer for our “Jewish Brethren”. As we prayed, I remembered the Jewish brethren of the residents of Copenhagen and tears rolled down my face.

      True Jews and true Christians have far more in common than we can suspect or even imagine and have the ability to recognize evil in our midst. This year in a Christian Bible study, we studied the Book of Daniel and Nehemiah and it was a blessing to see G-d’s compassion and love shown toward those who love Him and follow His commands.

      BTW, those Danes who saved the Jews of Copenhagen, first saw them as ‘their neighbor’.

      The “list” is something that I can understand and accept………………..with the Christian view that , with G-d’s help, we can become better people…….in His eyes. Perfect, maybe, in heaven.

  11. Gavriel M says:

    The term Judeo-Christian was invented to describe a reality that existed in America from about 1920-1962 in which most Christians belonged to Liberal Protestant denominations and most Jews belonged to Reform or Conservative ‘synagogues’ that were modelled on Liberal Protestantism in their ethics, theology, and even to some extent liturgy.

    This Judeo-Christian consensus fell apart in the 1960s. Liberalism radicalised and became anti-Christian, Reform Judaism became simultaneously less (because more radically leftwing) and more (because more interested in ethnic customs)Jewish, and the mainline denominations collapsed. Since then, conservatives have tried valiantly to resurrect the term to find a way of defending American Protestant culture without freaking out Jews and Catholics.

    But still, it’s nonsense. What’s the Judeo-Christian position on the resurrection of Jesus? What would be more honest and accurate is to call them ‘Christian values’ and admit that Jews agree with some though not all of them.

  12. Ben Bradley says:

    There’s a collection of other values and attitudes which I think should be part of the list. Two for starters:
    1. Value of speaking truth and avoiding falsehood. That’s been extended in Christian culture even beyond its application in Jewish thought where often shalom takes precedence to emes. I think Protestant mores emphasise it even more than Catholic thought. That’s given us a Western attitude to probity and honesty, including public expectations of leaders, which has shaped all sorts of aspects of life and probably helped shape the development of modern democracy. I don’t think there’s equivalent value in the various non-Western cultures.

    2. Expectations of leaders. The Western tradition has a ideal of selfless leadership for the good of the masses rooted on Jewish and Christian values. The ideal was obviously not so widely adopted historically but it’s existence has been a force behind a lot of positive development in the Western world and probably part of the rise of the Western world over the rest of of the world in the last few centuries. Again I don’t know of an equivalent ideal in the historical East and elsewhere.

    I realise the list in the essay was ideas/principles rather than specific moral values but if we’re talking about the Judeo-Christian tradition then these are very much part of the conversation I think

    • Charles B. Hall says:

      FWIW a much more common theme in the Western tradition has been Divine Right of Absolute Monarchs. Prior to that we had the Absolute Authority of the Church. We didn’t fare so well under either system. The idea that the Masses matter is much more recent and stems from the Enlightenment which was anti-Christian in many respects. Of course the idea of selfless leadership for the good of the Masses is and has always been a Jewish value.

      • …and according to some like Eric Nelson at Harvard in The Hebrew Republic, the emerging political theories that ultimately unseated Divine Right monarchies were firmly rooted in both the Bible and Chazal. The invention of the printing press and the Protestant Reformation contributed to these coming to the attention of European thinkers.

      • Bob Miller says:

        A friend who’s a rabbi once asserted that the Pharaoh who engaged Joseph as viceroy was then a unique ruler in those times, who was really concerned for the public good. That’s why his experts couldn’t interpret his dreams properly; they thought the dreams had to revolve around Pharaoh’s person.

  13. mb says:

    To DF,
    I don’t know what else to say.
    You wanted a source, I gave you a source and it’s ignored. I give you a book to read, it has many citations.
    And as for Claude Montefiore. His passion was melding
    Athens and Jerusalem, so to speak, and Judaism with Christianity. He
    said, for instance, Gospel teaching deepened, refined and amplified
    Old Testament teaching (sic!).
    How’s that for supercessionist theology? Hertz countered that nonsense
    with examples of Greek and Christian barbarianism.
    True, Montefiore was the Liberal leader and not Reform, but that’s a difference
    without distinction to us British Jews. (BTW, the English Reform movement began wirh Spanish and Portuguese breaking away from their flagship, Bevis Marks. German Reform was quite a recent addition.)
    And Bill Bradley, Hertz was solely responsible for his criticism of Christianity.

  14. Allan Katz says:

    not a word about helping the underpriveleged , the have-nots in society. Conservative values of rugged individualism , blaming the individual , promoting an economic order of winners and losers , racism ,unfortunately is the platform of the so-called religious . Our God is prepared to forgo his honor if we are compassionate people supporting each other.

    • rkz says:

      Tzedeka and Gemilut Chasadim are very important in halakha. However, coerced redistribution of wealth by the govt. is gezel.

      • Bob Miller says:

        Especially when the beneficiaries are government cronies, etc, as opposed to the most deserving. Politicians, being what they are, are probably the least willing to make objective decisions.

  15. mycroft says:

    There have been in Jewish history many different types of compulsory payments required by it members.
    Don’t know if still in print, but in 1987 I bought from the Israeli Tax Museum in Jerusalem a book called Misim Bmekorot and described in short pieces various different types of taxes found in Tanach and Chazal.
    For obligation of society to its less fortunate can be easily illustrated in Rashi in eglah arufa yadeinu lo shafchu

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Were not such payments instituted and authorized by the representatives of the community? That is not the same as forced redistribution of wealth

      • Mycroft says:

        As are our payments from taxes are instituted under programs authorized by our laws.

      • Bob Miller says:

        Is a community with power to levy taxes different from a small, representative government? Only if one can opt out of membership.

      • rkz says:

        Mycroft. The relevant distinction is the purpose of the tax system. In Halakha, taxes exist to finance the govt.’s tasks. redistribution is not a permitted reason for a tax.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Eglah Arufah IIRC has very limited Halachic definitions boundaries applicability and IMO should not and cannot be grafted into some hadhkafic basis for Tikun Olam .Even Tzedaka And Chesed have priorities which are rooted in how ones time and money are allocated

      • mycroft says:

        We learn proper behavior from Chazal. When ziknei hair must swear yadeinu lo shafchu, it is quite clear what the obligation of a city is to people in its midst.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      I stand by my prior post that you are conflating the halachically defined and limited mitzvas aseh of Eglah Arufah into a rationale for tikun Olam

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Halevai that society at large had a sense of Chesed in aiding the less fortunate such as Gmachim, and other means of helping the poor such as Tomchei Shabbos, Misaskim and the like

    • Steve Brizel says:

      There are many discussions in the Rishonim and Acharonim as to how far a government may ask shle lehadin especially in the criminal area but it is a mistake to state that the same is an example of taxation as authorized by halacha. a A local knas also may be authorized but was done so to finance the goals of governemt, not to confiscate and redistribute income

  16. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that instead of fixating on whose rhetoric is more inappropriate that the Torah community which begins with the family headed by a father and mother most basic unit in all of society has much to teach a society where either cohabitation or single parent families have been most recently analyzed by Kay Hymowitz JDVance and others as lacking the emotional and sociological elements of a family in transmitting its values and expectations to the next generation

  17. Steve Brizel says:

    Mycroft wrote :

    “As are our payments from taxes are instituted under programs authorized by our ”

    Ask any tax lawyer or CPA and you will learn that minimizing one’s taxes or tax avoidance is as American as apple pie. Tax evasion is what is determined to be a violation of the IRS code by a jury and can result in jail time to say the least. OTOH, weaponizing of the IRS leads to litigation settlement agreements and real for imkpeachment

    • mycroft says:

      I don’t understand why you addressed the comment to me. I agree it is fundamental in American taxation that:
      “Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes.
      Over and over again the Courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everyone does it, rich and poor alike and all do right, for nobody owes any
      public duty to pay more than the law demands.”

      my statement ” payments from taxes are instituted under programs authorized by our laws.” has nothing to do with what is or is not proper compliance with taxes.

      -Judge Learned Hand, Helvering v. Gregory, 69 F.2d 809, 810 (2d Cir. 1934), aff’d, 293 U.S. 465 (1935)

  18. Steve Brizel says:

    No one is questioning the constitutional or legislative basis of taxes, rather the use of the tax system as a means to either suppress political dissent and as a means of redistribution of wealth

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