The Rabbis and Their Conception of Evil as a Challenge – The Great Courses Daily News

Posted By on May 25, 2021

By Charles Mathewes, Ph.D., University of VirginiaThe rabbis believe that evil is a challenge that must be faced on a daily basis. (Image: greiss design/Shutterstock)Facing Evil as a Challenge to Be Overcome

Evil should be faced as a challenge whose successful overcoming on a daily basis will strengthen and deepen the person in their wisdom and their faith. The conviction the rabbis had that governed their philosophy was that evil in this sense was a challenge and a gift sent by God to mature humans in certain ways, not entirely unlike Irenaeus.

This is part of a larger understanding of the nature of Jewish suffering that the rabbis held to. Evil would serve as a challenge to people, but it would not overwhelm the people of Israel. In particular, the Jewish people would suffer repeated persecutions but, they thought, such persecutions would never become so extreme as to threaten the peoples existence.

This is a transcript from the video series Why Evil Exists. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

In seeing all this, what can really be seen is one rich and profound challenge to an over-Christianized conception of evil in light of sin. Even secular people today have a fairly thoroughly Christian conception of evil and sin; but they dont have to, there are other viable and plausible accounts out there.

And there are interestingly non-Christian, non-religious ways of conceiving evil; ways that make evil less melodramatic and more ordinary in a way parallel to the Rabbinic account as well. But this Rabbinic tradition offers a very sober religious view of malice. Its, again, profoundly non-dramatic. It doesnt play into any attempt to over-dramatize the struggles people have, which would, in a certain way, reinforce egotism.

Evil, even though it is not dramatic, it is a powerful, mundane, and worldly realitytheres no Satan of any kind of vast metaphysical density herebut theres a realism about how evil can, over time, come to shape, grip, and powerfully wrap someones inner soul.

Learn more about post-WWII Jewish thought on evil.

Indeed, some Jewish scholars think its inappropriate to call this a picture of evil at all. These thinkers argue that Rabbinic Judaism doesnt have a picture of evil, it just has a picture of badness. The category of evil itself, they say, already rhetorically gives the game away to Christianity.

Instead, the ra, the yetzer ha-ra, should be thought of as an impulse to badness, not an impulse to evil. This tradition emphasizes human responsibility and struggle, and especially struggle in living according to the Halakha, to Jewish law, in order to govern human behavior.

In this halakhic view, suffering, then, is kept within human dimensions. Jewish law teaches that suffering and evil is a human issuea challenge that humans deal with and that they must struggle to overcome. Again, this is in contrast to Christianity where suffering always threatens to overwhelm a creatures capacities to resist it; suffering always threatens to become a theological problem, and divine reality.

Learn more about the enlightenment and its discontents.

From a Rabbinic Jewish perspective, evil in Christianity always threatens to become melodrama, and it always seems to want to escape individual responsibility. Rabbinic Judaism believes thats a very large-scale way of evading the real moral challenges that are faced.

Admittedly, they say, not all evil may thus be understandablesometimes psychopaths happenbut in general, the shape of human evil is such, the rabbis thought, that it can be confronted through the practices of Halakha and the behavior of traditional Jewish religious practice.

Learn more about Freudthe death drive and the inexplicable.

The account of evil is not without its own problems, especially, for Jews living today after the Holocaust, the Shoah. The problem here is simply put: is this picture of evil too mundane and too ordinary to handle the Shoah? Ironically, the Shoah may seem to be something that threatens any account of evil that is not vastly dramatic.

The evil for the rabbis is about greed, jealously, and envy. This is a happy and relatively small-scale picture of evil.

Its a picture of evil based on the context of nasty, brutal people but not really continuous with the evil that was experienced in the Holocaust.

That kind of evil seems completely out of proportion to the character of the moral challenges that an ordinary person in an ordinary town in the eighth century somewhere in Mesopotamia, Palestine, North Africa, or any of the diasporic Jewish communities might have faced. Nothing like the challenge or evil of industrialized slaughter represented by the Holocaust.

Learn more about the Hebrew Bible and wisdom and the fear of God.

After the Holocaust, traditional Jewish understandings of evil were quite radically challenged. It seemed that the old agreement with God, the longest standing covenant between God and Gods people, had fallen apart and that the persecution of the Jews had reached beyond traditional pogroms/massacres, to become metaphysically eliminationist in character.

Somehow, God had let it happen that a people, the Germans, got it in their minds completely to annihilate the entire ethos, the entire people, of Israel. Post-Holocaust Jewish thought has struggled mightily with this challenge, and the struggle shows no signs of ceasing anytime soon. Indeed, the attempt to understand the meaning of the Shoah has been one of the most powerful inducements to Jewish thought since 1945.

According to the Halakhic conception of evil, the concepts of suffering and evil are considered human issueschallenges that humans deal with and that they must struggle to overcome.

The evil of the Holocaust could not be defined by the traditional definition of evil spoken of by rabbis, which is about greed, jealously, and envy. This is not really continuous with the evil that was experienced in the Holocaust, and after the Holocaust, traditional Jewish understandings of evil were quite radically challenged.

See more here:

The Rabbis and Their Conception of Evil as a Challenge - The Great Courses Daily News

Related Posts


Comments are closed.

matomo tracker