The Red Heifer, Simply Explained

 

The Torah is full of symbolism that cries out for explanation. As always, the answers are found in the text itself – if we read it carefully.

One of the most famous rituals is that of the red heifer (Num: 19). The problem is how to rid someone of the spiritual effects of having been in contact with the dead. Spiritually, a person who has touched the dead is unable to fulfill their potential, to resume a full relationship with G-d.  Death taints us. And the Torah tells us how to wash that taint away.

In order to make this as easy as possible to explain, I am going to cheat by giving you the punchline first: the ritual of the red heifer is a way to symbolically travel back in time, to before there was death on the earth, to essentially recreate man just as G-d created Adam.  Thus reborn, we can rejoin the living world and strive once again for holiness.

Here is the recipe summarized from the Torah.

Ingredients:

1: A red female cow who has never been yoked.

2: Cedar wood, grass, and something often translated as “crimson yarn”

3: Water of Life

Recipe: Slaughter the cow, burn it, and add the cedar wood, grass, and crimson yarn. Collect the ashes.

Mix the ashes with the Water of Life and then sprinkle it on a person who has touched a corpse. Do it on the third day, and then again on the seventh day.

Voila! One spiritually reborn Jew.

How is this symbolic time travel back to the time of Adam?  I’ll explain each element in turn, and how they connect.

1: The red heifer is, in Hebrew, a “parah adumah.” She is a heifer, because women are capable of incubating and birthing new life. And the word for “red” shares its root with the word for “earth”, “Adam,” and “blood.” All are connected to the concept of enormous potential to create and foster life. The red heifer is the antithesis of death.

She also can never have been yoked – because mankind yoked animals only after death existed. We are going back in time, remember, before animals were used as tools.

2: The cedar wood and grass represent the two opposites of the plant kingdom. The cedar is the oldest and tallest flora in the ancient Middle East, fixed in place. The grass, on the other hand, is small and rapid-growing, short-lived and adaptable. And both were created on the third day of creation – the day G-d made life itself.  They are book-ends to represent the entire vegetable kingdom, everything created on that day when G-d made life.

Together the cow and the plants combine the items created in the first creation: all plants and animals, save only for mankind.

2b: The stuff described as “crimson yarn” is trickier. It is used together with the cedar and grass in another ritual, the one cleansing a person of another spiritual ailment; these three go together. But why?

The answer is found in the words themselves. The crimson yarn contains within its first root word the same root as the word in Hebrew for “time.” (Gen. 8:11, 24:11) And the second root word comes from the word for “second” – as in, “a second chance.” The crimson yarn is “Another/a second time.” Together with the plants, it represents time travel back to the birth of life on the earth. The person who receives the ritual is given a second chance, a do-over.

3: The Water of Life. The priest mixes the ashes with this water and puts it on a person. The language is very similar to the way G-d made Adam: the whole earth was watered. He took ashes from the earth, and infused man with life. (excerpted from Gen 2:6,7). The living water symbolically mirrors the creation of man.

The entire ritual then, is one of rebirth, calling us back to the time before there was death, to undo the contact we had made with the dead and allow us to once again move forward among the living.

This is done on the third day – the day G-d created life. And again on the seventh day – the day G-d first set an example for man to follow, keeping the Sabbath. The combination is what any would-be holy person needs: life, and a good role model to set us on our way.

P.S. The combination of cedar, grass, and crimson yarn is also found in Lev. 14, and it denotes symbolic time travel in that case as well, to the time before the first murder, to before Cain’s slaughter of Abel.

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  1. notmarx Member
    notmarx
    @notmarx

    Utterly beautiful.  

    • #1
  2. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    iWe: the ritual of the red heifer is a way to symbolically travel back in time, to before there was death on the earth, to essentially recreate man just as G-d created Adam.  Thus reborn, we can rejoin the living world and strive once again for holiness.

    When you say “the ritual is a way…we can” do you mean “according to the Law, by performing the ritual, we can…”?

    This doctrine is what Christians call “salvation by works”.  Paul says that it is being judged by the Law, and he says that God’s only purpose and the only function of the Law is to show to man that he can never earn salvation by ritual obedience to the Law. Abraham received salvation, but according to the Law, he never earned it.

    It’s where Jews and Christians part.  We believe that the era of the Law proved that the only means available to man for salvation is God’s grace (his completely unearned favor), which can never be earned by the performance of ritual (by “acts”).

    • #2
  3. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    This doctrine is what Christians call “salvation by works”.  Paul says that it is being judged by the Law, and he says that God’s only purpose and the only function of the Law is to show to man that he can never earn salvation by ritual obedience to the Law. Abraham received salvation, but according to the Law, he never earned it.

    Jews are not all about salvation. We are about finding ways to pick ourselves up and get on with moving on. That is what the Law is all about.

    • #3
  4. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

     

    It’s where Jews and Christians part.  We believe that the era of the Law proved that the only means available to man for salvation is God’s grace (his completely unearned favor), which can never be earned by the performance of ritual (by “acts”).

    I am pretty sure there are some Christians that believe Good Works can change outcomes…. I seem to recall some on Ricochet making this point. 

    • #4
  5. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    iWe (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    This doctrine is what Christians call “salvation by works”. Paul says that it is being judged by the Law, and he says that God’s only purpose and the only function of the Law is to show to man that he can never earn salvation by ritual obedience to the Law. Abraham received salvation, but according to the Law, he never earned it.

    Jews are not all about salvation. We are about finding ways to pick ourselves up and get on with moving on. That is what the Law is all about.

    Actually, you spurred me into looking. The word for “salvation” is not very common in the Torah. Here are the examples:

    וְהֶ֨בֶל הֵבִ֥יא גַם־ה֛וּא מִבְּכֹר֥וֹת צֹאנ֖וֹ וּמֵֽחֶלְבֵהֶ֑ן וַיִּ֣שַׁע יְהוָ֔ה אֶל־הֶ֖בֶל וְאֶל־מִנְחָתֽוֹ׃ and Abel, for his part, brought the choicest of the firstlings of his flock. The LORD paid heed [saved] to Abel and his offering (Gen. 4:4)

    Then Gen 49:18, and Ex 2:17

    וַיָּבֹ֥אוּ הָרֹעִ֖ים וַיְגָרְשׁ֑וּם וַיָּ֤קָם מֹשֶׁה֙ וַיּ֣וֹשִׁעָ֔ן וַיַּ֖שְׁקְ אֶת־צֹאנָֽם׃ but shepherds came and drove them off. Moses rose [saved] to their defense, and he watered their flock.

    Ex 14:13

    וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֣ה אֶל־הָעָם֮ אַל־תִּירָאוּ֒ הִֽתְיַצְב֗וּ וּרְאוּ֙ אֶת־יְשׁוּעַ֣ת יְהוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־יַעֲשֶׂ֥ה לָכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם כִּ֗י אֲשֶׁ֨ר רְאִיתֶ֤ם אֶת־מִצְרַ֙יִם֙ הַיּ֔וֹם לֹ֥א תֹסִ֛יפוּ לִרְאֹתָ֥ם ע֖וֹד עַד־עוֹלָֽם׃ But Moses said to the people, “Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance [salvation] which the LORD will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again.

    Ex 14:30 

    וַיּ֨וֹשַׁע יְהוָ֜ה בַּיּ֥וֹם הַה֛וּא אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִיַּ֣ד מִצְרָ֑יִם וַיַּ֤רְא יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ אֶת־מִצְרַ֔יִם מֵ֖ת עַל־שְׂפַ֥ת הַיָּֽם׃ Thus the LORD deliveredIsrael that day from the Egyptians. Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the shore of the sea.

    Ex. 15:2

    עָזִּ֤י וְזִמְרָת֙ יָ֔הּ וַֽיְהִי־לִ֖י לִֽישׁוּעָ֑ה זֶ֤ה אֵלִי֙ וְאַנְוֵ֔הוּ אֱלֹהֵ֥י אָבִ֖י וַאֲרֹמְמֶֽנְהוּ׃ The LORD is my strength and might; He is become my deliverance. This is my God and I will enshrine Him; The God of my father, and I will exalt Him.

    Num 10:9

    וְכִֽי־תָבֹ֨אוּ מִלְחָמָ֜ה בְּאַרְצְכֶ֗ם עַל־הַצַּר֙ הַצֹּרֵ֣ר אֶתְכֶ֔ם וַהֲרֵעֹתֶ֖ם בַּחֲצֹצְר֑וֹת וֲנִזְכַּרְתֶּ֗ם לִפְנֵי֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם וְנוֹשַׁעְתֶּ֖ם מֵאֹיְבֵיכֶֽם׃ When you are at war in your land against an aggressor who attacks you, you shall sound short blasts on the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the LORD your God and be delivered from your enemies.

    Deut: 20:4

    כִּ֚י יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם הַהֹלֵ֖ךְ עִמָּכֶ֑ם לְהִלָּחֵ֥ם לָכֶ֛ם עִם־אֹיְבֵיכֶ֖ם לְהוֹשִׁ֥יעַ אֶתְכֶֽם׃ For it is the LORD your God who marches with you to do battle for you against your enemy, to bring you victory.”

    Deut 22:27 

    כִּ֥י בַשָּׂדֶ֖ה מְצָאָ֑הּ צָעֲקָ֗ה הנער [הַֽנַּעֲרָה֙] הַמְאֹ֣רָשָׂ֔ה וְאֵ֥ין מוֹשִׁ֖יעַ לָֽהּ׃ (ס) He came upon her in the open; though the engaged girl cried for help, there was no one to save her.

    Deut 28:29

    וְהָיִ֜יתָ מְמַשֵּׁ֣שׁ בַּֽצָּהֳרַ֗יִם כַּאֲשֶׁ֨ר יְמַשֵּׁ֤שׁ הָעִוֵּר֙ בָּאֲפֵלָ֔ה וְלֹ֥א תַצְלִ֖יחַ אֶת־דְּרָכֶ֑יךָ וְהָיִ֜יתָ אַ֣ךְ עָשׁ֧וּק וְגָז֛וּל כָּל־הַיָּמִ֖ים וְאֵ֥ין מוֹשִֽׁיעַ׃ You shall grope at noon as a blind man gropes in the dark; you shall not prosper in your ventures, but shall be constantly abused and robbed, with none to give help.

    Deut 28:31

    שׁוֹרְךָ֞ טָב֣וּחַ לְעֵינֶ֗יךָ וְלֹ֣א תֹאכַל֮ מִמֶּנּוּ֒ חֲמֹֽרְךָ֙ גָּז֣וּל מִלְּפָנֶ֔יךָ וְלֹ֥א יָשׁ֖וּב לָ֑ךְ צֹֽאנְךָ֙ נְתֻנ֣וֹת לְאֹיְבֶ֔יךָ וְאֵ֥ין לְךָ֖ מוֹשִֽׁיעַ׃ Your ox shall be slaughtered before your eyes, but you shall not eat of it; your ass shall be seized in front of you, and it shall not be returned to you; your flock shall be delivered to your enemies, with none to help you.

    Deut: 32:15

     

    cont… 

    • #5
  6. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Deut. 33:29

    אַשְׁרֶ֨יךָ יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל מִ֣י כָמ֗וֹךָ עַ֚ם נוֹשַׁ֣ע בַּֽיהוָ֔ה מָגֵ֣ן עֶזְרֶ֔ךָ וַאֲשֶׁר־חֶ֖רֶב גַּאֲוָתֶ֑ךָ וְיִכָּֽחֲשׁ֤וּ אֹיְבֶ֙יךָ֙ לָ֔ךְ וְאַתָּ֖ה עַל־בָּמוֹתֵ֥ימוֹ תִדְרֹֽךְ׃ (ס) O happy Israel! Who is like you, A people delivered by the LORD, Your protecting Shield, your Sword triumphant! Your enemies shall come cringing before you, And you shall tread on their backs.

    Here are the simple conclusions: Salvation in the Torah is limited to help in this world (not in any afterlife), and it is measured in things that we can perceive. 

    The very first use, regarding Abel’s offering, is most instructive: “Salvation” is G-d giving positive feedbackIt is simply about having a close and positive relationship with G-d.

    Yes, Jews believe that G-d craves a relationship with mankind. And that seeking to do G-d’s will is naturally helpful in G-d returning the favor. But this is surely not the same “salvation” the way Christianity means it.

    Of course, the above is just my first-pass review. Your review of these examples may well lead to a different conclusion, and I would gladly read and consider it!

    • #6
  7. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    iWe (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

     

    It’s where Jews and Christians part. We believe that the era of the Law proved that the only means available to man for salvation is God’s grace (his completely unearned favor), which can never be earned by the performance of ritual (by “acts”).

    I am pretty sure there are some Christians that believe Good Works can change outcomes…. I seem to recall some on Ricochet making this point.

    All Christians believe that.

    • #7
  8. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

     

    It’s where Jews and Christians part. We believe that the era of the Law proved that the only means available to man for salvation is God’s grace (his completely unearned favor), which can never be earned by the performance of ritual (by “acts”).

    I am pretty sure there are some Christians that believe Good Works can change outcomes…. I seem to recall some on Ricochet making this point.

    All Christians believe that.

    I’ll be clearer: are there any Christians who believe that good works (or their absence) can hasten or delay salvation?

    • #8
  9. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Excellent! Looking more closely at one of the texts you cite (Ex 14:30) supports your thesis:

    iWe (View Comment):
    Salvation” is G-d giving positive feedbackIt is simply about having a close and positive relationship with G-d.

    By way of introduction, there is a grammatical construction in Biblical Hebrew variously called vav (or waw) consecutive, conversive, or inversive. It’s a construction that affects verbs. Biblical Hebrew does not conjugate its verbs in tenses such as past, present, and future. One way of explaining what it does is that it has “aspects,” which designate whether the verb’s action has been completed or is still ongoing (“perfect” and “imperfect” aspects respectively.)

    The letter vav when used as a prefix is most commonly translated into English as “and” though it can also, context depending, be “but” or a few other things.

    In a vav consecutive pattern, a verb leads off a chain of events, and the subsequent verbs—which generally have the opposite aspect from the first verb—have vav as a prefix and (mostly) a dagesh hazak on the first letter of the root. A series of verbs with this inflection has tremendous narrative momentum.

    In the case of Ex. 14:30, it seems to me that the leadoff verb is all the way back in verse 18: “(The Egyptians) shall know that I am the Lord.” The first wave of vav consecutive verbs (in italics) follows in verses 19-21: The angel removed and went; the pillar of smoke removed and stood; 

    (Moses) stretched out his hand; the LORD caused the sea to go back;  made (the sea into dry land;) were divided (the waters.) Verse 22: went (the Children of Israel;) then there’s a phrase which acts almost as an opening parenthesis for the next wave of vav consecutives (note vav as “and” in verse 22 and as “but” in 29):

    And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.

    In verses 23-28, an even bigger wave of vav consecutives (and water) inundates the Egyptians.

    Verse 29 is the closing parenthesis:

    But (vav as a disjunctive prefix to a noun) the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.

    Now our verse (and vav translated as “thus”) with the next wave of vav consecutives:

    Thus the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea-shore.

    And Israel saw the great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians, and the people feared the LORD; and they believed in the LORD, and in His servant Moses.

    Positive feedback, closer relationship. The whole three wave set was put into motion with “shall know.”

    • #9
  10. Ansonia Inactive
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Fascinating post, iWe.

    When you say “something often translated as ‘crimson yarn’”, do you mean it’s some kind of thread or string that’s some shade of red ?

    • #10
  11. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Ansonia (View Comment):

    Fascinating post, iWe.

    When you say “something often translated as ‘crimson yarn’”, do you mean it’s some kind of thread or string that’s some shade of red ?

    That is the way we are commanded to perform it, yes.

    • #11
  12. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Ansonia (View Comment):

    Fascinating post, iWe.

    When you say “something often translated as ‘crimson yarn’”, do you mean it’s some kind of thread or string that’s some shade of red ?

    The phrase is תולעת שני, transliterated as tola’at shani. תולעה (tola’ah) is worm or maggot.  Tola’at (תולעת) is the word in the construct state, which connects it to the next word. Here, the next word is שני—transliterated as “shani,” so. . . “worm of crimson.” Shani (crimson) and sheni (second) are written identically: שני.

    In the language of the Torah, tola’at shani means wool dyed with crimson; this was used in the Tabernacle and the Temple. It’s used in the Yom Kippur scapegoat, and with the red heifer along with the cedar and hyssop.

    Crimson is an insect based dye. It comes from one of the species of Kermes (a scale insect) and there are at least two found in the region. In the Torah, it’s the dye that makes the insect worth mentioning. The females, their eggs (and some say the larvae) contain the dye. But in any case, the Torah doesn’t use scientific taxonomies. It has its own.

    Hyssop is what @iwe refers to as “grass,” he’s not using the precise botanical sense of “a member of the Family Poaceae.” I think he’s actually using the halachic sense: we would make the same blessing on the fragrance of mints and their relatives like hyssop as we would on a fragrant grass.

    OK, how does he get “time” out of an insect?

    עת, transliterated ‘et, is the last two letters of תולעת—as in תולעת שני.

     עת means “time.”

    • #12
  13. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    iWe (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

     

    It’s where Jews and Christians part. We believe that the era of the Law proved that the only means available to man for salvation is God’s grace (his completely unearned favor), which can never be earned by the performance of ritual (by “acts”).

    I am pretty sure there are some Christians that believe Good Works can change outcomes…. I seem to recall some on Ricochet making this point.

    All Christians believe that.

    I’ll be clearer: are there any Christians who believe that good works (or their absence) can hasten or delay salvation?

    If there is someone who believes that Christian Scripture teaches that, I’ve never heard about it.  The Bible teaches that works without faith are empty.

     

     

     

    • #13
  14. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    Mark

    I’ll be clearer: are there any Christians who believe that good works (or their absence) can hasten or delay salvation?

    If there is someone who believes that Christian Scripture teaches that, I’ve never heard about it. 

    OK. Not my area of expertise, but I figured I could google it:

    1: 

    Roman Catholicism, which teaches that in order to gain enough merit for salvation, we must add our good works to what Christ did on the cross. Under this view, you can never know for sure whether or not you are saved, because there is no way to check your “merit balance” to see if you’ve stored up enough. So you have to keep adding good works in the hope of gaining eternal life.

    2: 

    Erroneous ideas on the relationship between deeds and salvation are many. Some claim that deeds matter to the point that one must work in order to “earn” salvation. There are others who teach the exact opposite: that good deeds do not matter at all when it comes to salvation, in fact, they even teach that a person can make a profession, can intellectually believe the facts of Christ’s sacrifice and then expect to be sealed unto the day of redemption without the accompanying good deeds. Others teach a nuance that good works are simply a product that passively flows from the moment of salvation and that obedience is not something that the believer must actively work at doing. These teachers go so far as to maintain that a true believer has no ability to please God and that all striving to work at obedience to God is actually a form of self-righteousness. None of these ideas are consistent with the biblical data.

    3: 

    For Catholics, good works preserve and increase their personal righteousness for their final justification.

    “If any one saith, that the justice [righteousness] received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.” (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification).

    4: 

    …a larger number of professing Christians believe good works will get them into Heaven, a new survey has found.  …

    The study also found that “huge proportions of people” associated with churches whose official doctrine says eternal salvation comes only from embracing Jesus Christ as savior “believe that a person can qualify for Heaven by being or doing good.” That includes close to half of all adults associated with Pentecostal (46%), mainline Protestant (44%), and evangelical (41%) churches. A much larger share of Catholics (70%) embrace that point of view. 

     

    My conclusion seems to stand: at least some Christians believe that good works changes the qualification for Heaven. Which I think is what Christians mean by the word “Salvation.”

     

     

    • #14
  15. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    iWe (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    If there is someone who believes that Christian Scripture teaches that, I’ve never heard about it.

    OK. Not my area of expertise, but I figured I could google it:

    1:

    Roman Catholicism, which teaches that in order to gain enough merit for salvation, we must add our good works to what Christ did on the cross. Under this view, you can never know for sure whether or not you are saved, because there is no way to check your “merit balance” to see if you’ve stored up enough. So you have to keep adding good works in the hope of gaining eternal life.

    2:

    Erroneous ideas on the relationship between deeds and salvation are many. Some claim that deeds matter to the point that one must work in order to “earn” salvation. There are others who teach the exact opposite: that good deeds do not matter at all when it comes to salvation, in fact, they even teach that a person can make a profession, can intellectually believe the facts of Christ’s sacrifice and then expect to be sealed unto the day of redemption without the accompanying good deeds. Others teach a nuance that good works are simply a product that passively flows from the moment of salvation and that obedience is not something that the believer must actively work at doing. These teachers go so far as to maintain that a true believer has no ability to please God and that all striving to work at obedience to God is actually a form of self-righteousness. None of these ideas are consistent with the biblical data.

    3:

    For Catholics, good works preserve and increase their personal righteousness for their final justification.

    “If any one saith, that the justice [righteousness] received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.” (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification).

    4:

    …a larger number of professing Christians believe good works will get them into Heaven, a new survey has found. …

    The study also found that “huge proportions of people” associated with churches whose official doctrine says eternal salvation comes only from embracing Jesus Christ as savior “believe that a person can qualify for Heaven by being or doing good.” That includes close to half of all adults associated with Pentecostal (46%), mainline Protestant (44%), and evangelical (41%) churches. A much larger share of Catholics (70%) embrace that point of view.

    My conclusion seems to stand: at least some Christians believe that good works changes the qualification for Heaven. Which I think is what Christians mean by the word “Salvation.”

    And some Jews do not believe in God.  How does that affect your interpretation of the Torah?

    • #15
  16. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Flicker (View Comment):
    And some Jews do not believe in God.  How does that affect your interpretation of the Torah?

    What’s your point, @flicker? How should Jews who don’t believe in G-d affect an interpretation of the Torah? No one can force them to believe otherwise, right? Just curious . . .

    I had a friend who considered herself a Christian but took umbrage when I made the comment that every Christian believed that Jesus was the Messiah! Couldn’t figure that one out.

    • #16
  17. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Flicker (View Comment):

    My conclusion seems to stand: at least some Christians believe that good works changes the qualification for Heaven. Which I think is what Christians mean by the word “Salvation.”

    And some Jews do not believe in God.  How does that affect your interpretation of the Torah?

    The two are not analogous. I was told that NO Christians believed X. I pointed out that many do – including Roman Catholicism, which is hardly an invisible fringe group, or a group of unbelievers.

     

    • #17
  18. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):
    And some Jews do not believe in God. How does that affect your interpretation of the Torah?

    What’s your point, @ flicker? How should Jews who don’t believe in G-d affect an interpretation of the Torah? No one can force them to believe otherwise, right? Just curious . . .

    I had a friend who considered herself a Christian but took umbrage when I made the comment that every Christian believed that Jesus was the Messiah! Couldn’t figure that one out.

    I wasn’t making a specific point, I was asking a broad and open ended question. And I was uncomfortable with making this comment when I made it, partly because I hadn’t thought it all out, but thought it was benign and would make for a good bit of conversation.

    But to begin with, iWe is a highly intelligent, educated, experienced and worldly (in the good sense) person, and I would think that he would know that some Christians believe in Scripture alone as the source of divine truth, and that other Christians believe in Scripture and extra-Scriptural sources (including tradition) as sources of divine truth; this is the subject of the Reformation, and the fundamental difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants.  It also shows itself within Christianity in the argument between salvation by faith alone and salvation by faith-plus-works.  Whether of not iWe knows this was not my point, but I think that knowing it is preceptually important to discussion of salvation, either by works or apart from works.

    I am of the understanding that there are Jews who do not believe in the existence of God: they are Jews — and atheists.  In Christianity, I think that most Christians believe that atheist Christians are not actually Christians.

    So, when iWe put forth a non-scriptural response to a comment about Scriptural interpretations, this seemed to me similar to how a Jew who believes in God might argue the Torah to an atheist Jew.  This would seem to me to be an unreasonable and confusing discussion.

    Furthermore, this leads to a number of interesting questions; beginning with what he thinks Scripture is, what its source is, is it authoritative, is some of it true and other parts not, and why God gave it to mankind.  Things like that.  I had mildly hoped that this might lead to a discussion in which iWe’s might speak of his fundamental or basic understanding of the nature of God — particularly regarding his views on what Christians hold, that God is Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnipresent, and Immortal, as well as how and to what extent things like Love, Truth, Goodness, Justice, and Sovereignty are within His character.

    He has touched on may of these things in the past, but they seem fundamental to the discussion of the Torah with non-Jews.  Or on the other hand, maybe they are just of my own personal interest.

    • #18
  19. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Flicker (View Comment):
    I am of the understanding that there are Jews who do not believe in the existence of God: they are Jews — and atheists.  In Christianity, I think that most Christians believe that atheist Christians are not actually Christians.

    I will comment on this particular point; the rest seems a bit too big to tackle in this space. 

    Jews are either born Jews or are converts. Orthodoxy says that a Jew must be born of a Jewish mother. Whether or not he or she believes in G-d is not relevant. I’m not sure of this, but even if a Jew converts to another religion, he or she is still a Jew. But @iwe will straighten out both of us if I’m wrong.

    • #19
  20. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Flicker (View Comment):

    I am of the understanding that there are Jews who do not believe in the existence of God: they are Jews — and atheists.  In Christianity, I think that most Christians believe that atheist Christians are not actually Christians.

    For many centuries Judaism was the national religion of a people mostly living in exile. Conversion to Judaism was simultaneously adopting that religion, “immigrating” to that nation, and taking up citizenship in it. Those are, among other things, legal proceedings, leading to a status which cannot be acquired solely by a profession of faith, even a sincere one. The only other way to get citizenship is for your mother to be a citizen.

    You probably won’t get that citizenship if you profess atheism, but if you’re already in, you probably won’t be formally excommunicated.

    That was the status quo for a very long time. The theological, halachic, social, and cultural ramifications of the existence of the State of Israel are still being worked out.

    • #20
  21. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    iWe (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    Mark

    I’ll be clearer: are there any Christians who believe that good works (or their absence) can hasten or delay salvation?

    If there is someone who believes that Christian Scripture teaches that, I’ve never heard about it.

    OK. Not my area of expertise, but I figured I could google it.

    My conclusion seems to stand: at least some Christians believe that good works changes the qualification for Heaven. Which I think is what Christians mean by the word “Salvation.”

    Yes, I am very aware  that most professing Christians believe that they can earn personal salvation by works.  (The red heifer Scripture refers to the salvation of mankind, what Christ called the kingdom of heaven; that was the context in which I brought up salvation. I wasn’t talking about personal salvation at that moment).

    That is why I was careful to distinguish between what they believe, and what they believe Scripture says. If you invite one of these  “cultural Christians” to discuss what the Bible says on the subject, the odds are high that you will find that they are only repeating what they’ve heard others say; they’ve not seriously studied or thought about what the Bible says.

    • #21
  22. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Mark Camp (View Comment):
    (The red heifer Scripture refers to the salvation of mankind, what Christ called the kingdom of heaven; that was the context in which I brought up salvation. I wasn’t talking about personal salvation at that moment).

    The Torah of the red heifer lays out the method by which it is possible to bring an individual human being into a spiritual status in which being in the presence of the most intense revelation of G-dliness possible in this world won’t endanger him or her. That danger is the nature of the state of tumah from the presence of death. Tumah is not necessarily the result of transgression. It could be inadvertent, and there are even circumstances in which it might be the inevitable consequence of performing a halachically required act (also known as bringing oneself into alignment with G-d’s will) for a person to be in contact with the dead.

    For example, when a person is teetering on the threshold of death, it is forbidden to do anything which might tip them over the edge. That might well include getting up to leave the room in order to avoid tumah. Once death occurs, the process of caring for the dead to prepare them for burial is a great mitzvah. Or consider the case of a soldier halachically required to participate in a mandatory war in defense of Eretz Yisrael, who is in the course of his duties is brought into contact with the dead. In these cases, the performance of a mitzvah would unavoidably bring the person into a state of tumah, and tumah precludes that person from full participation in the religious life of the community. It would be inhumane, to say the least, to leave such a person with no possibility of removing that tumah, and removing that tumah has nothing to do with personal salvation, let alone the salvation of mankind.

    Just as removing that tumah  is not salvation, being tahor (the opposite of tamei) doesn’t protect you from the perils of the human condition and being tamei at the time of your death wouldn’t in and of itself keep you from having a share in the world to come.

    The search for what will be the tenth red heifer since Sinai continues. May we merit being able to benefit from her ashes soon, in our days.

    • #22
  23. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    @ontheleftcoast – Thank you for such detailed and informative comments!

    It is important to stress that having a spiritual opportunity (being tahor) and being blocked from such an opportunity (being tamei) has nothing to do with the Christian notion of salvation. Thus, performing the ritual of the red heifer is not done in order to achieve salvation through works. 

    • #23
  24. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Flicker (View Comment):

    So, when iWe put forth a non-scriptural response to a comment about Scriptural interpretations, this seemed to me similar to how a Jew who believes in God might argue the Torah to an atheist Jew.  This would seem to me to be an unreasonable and confusing discussion.

    I agree that it is entirely tangential to the OP. But I cannot reasonably discuss Torah with an atheist, because we do not have a common language (I have enough trouble, as you already know, discussing Torah with people who accept Greek influences and concepts into our thinking about religion). 

    Furthermore, this leads to a number of interesting questions; beginning with what he thinks Scripture is,

    The Five Books (what I shorthandedly refer to as “Torah”) are the precise word of G-d, every jot and tittle. I believe it was all handed down while the Jews were in the wilderness.

    Everything after that is filtered or otherwise paraphrased, and is given much less importance to Jews. 

    Because Judaism is focused (possibly a bit too much) on execution of the laws, the Oral Tradition (Gemara, Mishna, all the commentaries, etc.) is usually studied in great depth to the exclusion of the parts of the biblical canon that came after the Five Books.

    what its source is,

    As above.

    is it authoritative, is some of it true and other parts not,

    Even within the Torah, there are different versions of the same events. I do not believe there is a single “true” way to look at any event while all other accounts false.  The book of Deuteronomy is Moses recapping – and his retelling has many variations on the earlier version. The simple lesson is that there are multiple legitimate facets to any story.

    and why God gave it to mankind. 

    This is easy. Because the forefathers could not improve the world themselves; they just did not make headway. The Torah is the institutionalization of the “recipe” for how to grow holy relationships with G-d and man. And this is because mankind is here to finish G-d’s work. For us, Good Works are not just a bonus feature. They are the entire reason for our existence. 

     

    • #24
  25. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Flicker (View Comment):
    I had mildly hoped that this might lead to a discussion in which iWe’s might speak of his fundamental or basic understanding of the nature of God — particularly regarding his views on what Christians hold, that God is Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnipresent, and Immortal,

    G-d does not tell us that He is Omniscient – indeed, mankind surprises G-d and changes his mind, which tells me that while G-d may be ABLE to be Omniscient, for one reason or another, he does not choose to be so in dealings with us.

    Omnipotent: I see that G-d clearly limits Himself. So as above: G-d limits Himself.

    Omnipresent: Not even a little bit. The Torah tells us that G-d is in each person and in the tabernacle (when it exists). G-d is not in nature.

    Immortal: Yes. G-d says so in the Garden – “If mankind eats from the Tree of Life, he will be like me.”

    as well as how and to what extent things like Love, Truth, Goodness, Justice, and Sovereignty are within His character.

    Again, many of these ideas, as expressed in the Torah, do not mean what they mean to you or common culture. I think G-d is theoretically capable of anything.  But if he DOES whatever He is theoretically capable of, he risks eliminating the reason for the creation of the world. Our free will, for example.

    • #25
  26. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):
    I am of the understanding that there are Jews who do not believe in the existence of God: they are Jews — and atheists. In Christianity, I think that most Christians believe that atheist Christians are not actually Christians.

    I will comment on this particular point; the rest seems a bit too big to tackle in this space.

    Jews are either born Jews or are converts. Orthodoxy says that a Jew must be born of a Jewish mother. Whether or not he or she believes in G-d is not relevant. I’m not sure of this, but even if a Jew converts to another religion, he or she is still a Jew. But @ iwe will straighten out both of us if I’m wrong.

    Jewish Law is that anyone with a Jewish mother is Jewish. Jewish enforcement of that law is that we never check too deeply (not more than 2-3 generations back). And the pragmatic Jewish reality is that people who do not seek a relationship with G-d, sooner or later, will cease to be Jewish. 

    It has been said that 10% of the Roman Empire was Jewish. If true, that would imply much, much higher numbers of Jews today according to the strictest interpretation of the law. But pragmatically, someone who has no familial tradition of being Jewish is really not Jewish.

    The corollary is that people can convert to Judaism – if they really, really want to. It is not easy.

    • #26
  27. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Ontheleftcoast (View Comment):
    You probably won’t get that citizenship if you profess atheism, but if you’re already in, you probably won’t be formally excommunicated.

    I am pretty sure a great many Russians whose passports said “Jewish” on them (the USSR was very stupid to insist on making this a written ethnicity for official documents) were not Jewish from their mothers – and are not only not Jewish-Law-wise Jewish, but also have no Jewish faith, practice, or identity.

    • #27
  28. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Mark Camp (View Comment):
    (The red heifer Scripture refers to the salvation of mankind,

    I do not know why you think this. The text does not refer to it.

    • #28
  29. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    iWe (View Comment):

    Ontheleftcoast (View Comment):
    You probably won’t get that citizenship if you profess atheism, but if you’re already in, you probably won’t be formally excommunicated.

    I am pretty sure a great many Russians whose passports said “Jewish” on them (the USSR was very stupid to insist on making this a written ethnicity for official documents) were not Jewish from their mothers – and are not only not Jewish-Law-wise Jewish, but also have no Jewish faith, practice, or identity.

    My remark was based in my galus consciousness, wasn’t it? Less relevant for Israel. And you’re absolutely right. But when someone is brought up thinking that he’s Jewish even though he’s not halachically Jewish and his parents and grandparents are atheists brought up under Communism—and in many cases suffered for being Jewish—and he then puts his body between “his loved home and the war’s desolation” in the IDF, he deserves something from his people. That’s part of what I meant by “the theological, halachic, social, and cultural ramifications of the existence of the State of Israel are still being worked out.”

     

    • #29
  30. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    iWe (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):
    I had mildly hoped that this might lead to a discussion in which iWe’s might speak of his fundamental or basic understanding of the nature of God — particularly regarding his views on what Christians hold, that God is Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnipresent, and Immortal,

    G-d does not tell us that He is Omniscient – indeed, mankind surprises G-d and changes his mind, which tells me that while G-d may be ABLE to be Omniscient, for one reason or another, he does not choose to be so in dealings with us.

    Omnipotent: I see that G-d clearly limits Himself. So as above: G-d limits Himself.

    Omnipresent: Not even a little bit. The Torah tells us that G-d is in each person and in the tabernacle (when it exists). G-d is not in nature.

    Immortal: Yes. G-d says so in the Garden – “If mankind eats from the Tree of Life, he will be like me.”

    as well as how and to what extent things like Love, Truth, Goodness, Justice, and Sovereignty are within His character.

    Again, many of these ideas, as expressed in the Torah, do not mean what they mean to you or common culture. I think G-d is theoretically capable of anything. But if he DOES whatever He is theoretically capable of, he risks eliminating the reason for the creation of the world. Our free will, for example.

    Thanks for these answers.  Greatly appreciated.

    • #30