Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Some additional instances of divergence on doctrine between Roman Catholicism and the Kabbalah...

In Catholicism time is linear. It begins with the Garden of Eden and ends with the Second Coming. Man's life is linear as well. Birth, growth, maturity, death. We do not regress or repeat our lifespan. We live once and then encounter judgment.

In Judaism, however, time is circular, or perhaps spiral. Steinsaltz writes:

The concept of time in the Jewish way of thinking is not one of a linear flow. Time is a process, in which past, present, and future are bound to each other, not only by cause and effect but also as a harmonization of two motions: progress forward and a countermotion backward, encircling and returning. It is more like a spiral, or a helix, rising up from Creation. There is always a certain return to the past; and the past is never a condition that has gone by and is no more, but rather one that continually returns and begins again at some significant point whose significance changes constantly according to changing circumstances. There is thus a constant reversion to basic patterns of the past. (p. 55)

In Judaism attributes are not defined as good or bad:

As the sages have said, there is no attribute that lacks its injurious aspect, its negation and failure, just as there is no attribute--even if connected with doubt and heresy--that has not, under some circumstances, its holy aspect. From this point of view, the good and bad qualities are not set opposite one another, with love always on the side of the good and the other qualities always on the side of the bad. Rather all the attributes, all the emotions, and all the potentialities of the heart and personality are set on the same level and considered good or bad, not according to some judgment of their intrinsic worth, but according to the way they are used. (p. 77)

Contrast that with the beatitudes, with the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. Does it not introduce a hint of relativism? If you are not convinced that it does represent relativism, what about the following passage:

What the Jewish sages recommend is not only a middle way, it is a rejection of extremes in terms of a clear knowledge of how to keep everything, including the extreme, in its proper place. Consequently, in general, there are no preconceptions about what is the correct conduct for all situations, since the correctness of a way of being is itself only measurable in terms of a specific set of circumstances that may or may not recur. There is therefore no possibioity of fixing a single standard of behavior. If anything is clear, it is that a rigid, unchanging way is wrong. (p. 78)

Does Judaism take the Ten Commandments to be ten suggestions? What of the need to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength? Can you think of a more extreme position than that?

One further instance of what appears to be relativism:

To remain in any one condition of being, above or below, represents a cessation of effort, a dying, and therefore an evil. At times the yearning for Heaven is great enough to make one leave behind the world and everything in it; at other times the clutching at the earthly realities of action and the fulfillment of desire make one forget all else. This is not only a matter of periods in one's life; it is the very nature of life itself: in both the ascent to God and the descent to matter there is holiness. Never is any one way wholly sufficient unto itself, and it is only when they exist together that they constitute a real passage between Heaven and earth. (p. 79)

Our Pope is constantly condemning an attachment to materialism.

There is the contrast between the Catholic position on the human image and the Jewish position:

One of the things that shaped the ritual forms of Judaism is the absolute prohibition against fashioning a statue or a mask. This prohibition goes back to the Second Commandment, forbidding the making of an image. It should be emphasized that this commandment was interpreted not as prohibiting the creation of any and every kind of picture or figure, but only as prohibiting an image that could in any way be used in ritual. The prohibition, then, covered not only the fashioning of a false god or an idolatrous object of worship but also any statue or image of the true God himself or of any of His angels, or even a statue (but not a painting) of the human figure. (p. 83)

And further evidence of the rejection of images:

...there is no Jewish iconography to speak of. True, in the Holy Temple there were a few symbolic elements--not images of the Holy One, Blessed be He, but of the cherubin who bear the Chariot. Even these symbols were hidden away in the inner recesses of the Temple, so that they should not become part of the ritual--for it has often happened in history that things once having no more than a symbolic or reminiscence value have been turned into ritual objects or idolatrous worship. That is why throughout the generations Jewish tradition has stringently resisted anything like defined iconographic imagery. (p. 90)

Contrast that with the typical Roman Catholic church interior prior to the current iconoclastic period since Vatican II.

While considering those passages, give some thought to the Noachide Law forbidding idolatry under pain of death by beheading, remembering as you do so that Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz heads up the newly formed Sanhedrin.

And another thought...it is claimed by some of those promoting Rosslyn Chapel that it is a recreation of the Jewish Temple. The chapel is filled with iconography in the form of green man, for example, though there are other images. How does that square with this Jewish prohibition against iconography?

I'm still trying to decide what to make of the following:

In Judaism, sex is never looked on as something wrong or shameful; it is, on the contrary, considered to be a high level of action potentially capable of bringing out the noblest attributes, not only in the realm of individual feeling, but also in the realm of holiness. (p. 123)

Does that introduce the possibility of sex magic?

There is a practice of sharing a cup contained in the Kiddush ritual:

After the recital of the Kiddush the one who has performed the ceremony himself drinks from the cup, thereby participating in that communion of the physical with the spiritual which is the essence of all ritual. And from the same cup drink all those gathered at the table. In this way everyone participates in the meaningful act of introducing the Sabbath, represented by the flowering of the rose, which is the cup of redemption of the individual and of the nation and of the world as a whole. (p. 158)

Does this Jewish belief have anything to do with the changes in our Communion practice since Vatican II? Probably not, but it still causes me to wonder.

Steinsaltz speaks of "thesis, antithesis, and synthesis" in describing the groupings of the sephirot on the Tree of Life--the left-hand attribute representing thesis, the right-hand attribute representing antithesis, and the center attribute located just below these two as the synthesis. (p. 170-172)

I have saved the first chapter of the book for last, and will unpack it in one final blog. It deserves to be treated separately.

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