Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rami: Response to Mike's 4/21 Post

Mike you covered this well, so let me take a few detours.

Regarding the positive and negative versions of the text, Judaism has both. While Hillel states the Golden Rule in the negative, Leviticus 19:18 is positive, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” as is Rabbi Elazar ben Arach, “Let your neighbor’s honor be as dear to you as your own” (Avot 2:15). These are just two examples, but the idea is simple enough, those who make much of the positive and negative forms of the commandment are probably making too much of them.

* * *

We have been following the Gospel According to Matthew in which Jesus concludes his version of the Golden Rule with “for this is the law and the prophets." It is interesting to me that Luke’s version drops any reference to the Law and the Prophets. Since Matthew is the older gospel I assume Luke was aware of the original, but left it off since his largely gentile audience had no connection to Torah and Prophets.

From a Jewish perspective, it is the older version that is more compelling and challgneing. Matthew’s version parallels the older saying of Rabbi Hillel, “That which is hateful to you do not do to another. This is the whole of the Torah. Go and study it” (Shabbat 31a). What interests me is not so much the positive or negative articulations of the Golden Rule, but the claim that both Hillel and Jesus make that ethics is the whole of the Torah and the Prophets.

Given the overwhelming amount of text devoted to ritual, holy days, and other nonethical material in the Hebrew Bible, it is quite radical to argue, as these two great sages do, that God’s instruction (the proper translation of torah) can be encapsulated in this single call for justice and compassion. And yet that is what they have done, and rightly so.

This is what matters: doing justly, loving mercy, walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8). Hillel and Jesus are affirming this prophetic challenge to priests and priestcraft ancient and modern. How did the religion of Hillel and Jesus get highkacked by legalists and theologians? What would it take to reclaim the true message of Torah and Prophets? What would Judaism and Christianity be like if Jews and Christians actually followed the teachings of these sages rather than the myriad rabbis and theologians who try to complicate matters?

No comments: