Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Where Torah’s Philosophy Comes From

Over the Sabbath, my wife and my mother-in-law and I had the chance to hear a Torah discussion by Rabbi David Lapin, visiting from Toronto. A very understated and informal lecture on Jewish marriage law, but what charisma! You can hear him too on a huge number of recorded Torah lectures available entirely free at his website,, which is a fabulous resource. He is the real thing.

He made two points that I’ll share with you. First, about the generally misunderstood significance of Jewish law. Whereas other faiths have law, e.g. church law, that emerges from religious philosophy, with Judaism it’s the exact opposite. 
The Talmud is primarily a collection of case law. In turn, the Talmud is concerned with probing laws given in their most distilled form in the Torah itself, the Five Books of Moses. There’s very little theology in the Talmud, very little abstract contemplation of the nature of God, the nature of man, and so on. Instead, the philosophy of Judaism emerges from the law. It seems to me the relationship is a little like the way people used to think (some still do) that the spiritual mind emerges from the physical brain.

His subject was the nature of betrothal, the stage of the marriage relationship that in Talmudic times preceded actual matrimony. Betrothal is designated in the Torah by a verb inadequately translated as “taking”: “If a man takes [yikach] a woman and marries her…” (Deuteronomy 24:1). What’s interesting is that the same verb is used to describe God’s “taking” Adam from wherever he was when God created him, to the Garden of Eden: “The Lord took [va’yikach] the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to work it and to guard it” (Genesis 2:15).
On that verse the classical commentator Rashi cites the Midrash in explanation that God “took him with pleasant words and persuaded him to enter.” Literally, God “seduced” Adam. In the same way, a husband has to “seduce” his wife continually over the course of their relationship. A tall order! 
But the larger philosophical point is that God was working against Adam’s instinctive reluctance to enter the Garden. Never thought of it that way, did you? I didn’t either. Maybe Adam was aware of the temptation that lay therein, to which he and Eve ultimately succumbed. But in the “fall” of man, there appears to have been a divine plan at work, part of the great educational process of human history. Our exposure to temptation, and our failure, was part of a design that God had in mind since before that original sin.
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ploni almoni

posted May 4, 2009 at 2:19 pm

As the beloved Ronald Reagan might say, “there he (Klinghoffer) goes again” – with his Christianizing agenda.
The notion of any “fall” of man – let alone original sin ! – is a Christian, not Jewish, notion, usually traced back to the Apostle Paul, but first emphasized by St. Augustine.
As a matter of fact, the word “sin” does not even appear in the Garden of Eden material.
For Judaism, “sin” is a specific misdeed, not – except, perhaps, in some stray Kabbalistic texts which have been influenced by Gnostic Christianity- a state of being. Period. For Judaism, man does not have a “nature” (sinful or otherwise), but a history.

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David Klinghoffer

posted May 4, 2009 at 5:18 pm

PA, why don’t you read that post again a little more carefully and ask yourself if I am endorsing the idea of a “fall” or purposefully calling it into question.

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Brian Beckman

posted May 4, 2009 at 6:58 pm

Isn’t it the case that in Judaism man does have an evil inclination (yatzer hara’)? Would that not be accounted as a “nature” of man?

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David Klinghoffer

posted May 4, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Hi Brian — But did man receive an evil inclination as a result of “falling”? It seems not. First, Adam and Eve were subject to temptation before sinning. Second, see Hirsch on the “yetzer”:

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Denise Thorbjornsen

posted May 4, 2009 at 10:27 pm

I’m not arguing because that’s non-productive.The whole bible tells of man’s fallen nature from the garden of Eden to Cain who slew King David who plotted to have Uriah killed so David could have Bathsheba.There are many examples of the sinful nature.there are also examples of the spiritual nature,which Jesus talked about in the new testament.All I know is Jesus will come in the clouds with the holy angels to seperate the wicked from the just.If you don’t have Jesus as your lord and saviour,you are in dire straights.Accept him into your heart ,soul and mind before the judgement seat of Christ.

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Brian Beckman

posted May 5, 2009 at 9:55 am

Thanks, David. The Hirsch comment is very thought-provoking. I had often wondered how “yetzer” could be translated as “inclination,” since it seems to come from the root YTzR, normally associated with “production” or “making.” As a passive form, though, it’s explained that such inclinations “are produced” through wandering thoughts “weaving” around our hearts. Fascinating, and the recent and current parshayot Acharei, Kedoshim, and Amar lay down lots of things it would be best to avoid weaving thoughts about.

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Adam Smith

posted May 5, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Denise is so funny…Christians always have to add their gospel to anything and everything…

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