Itzhak Shapira continues with the heroic defense of his book. In this eighth video presentation http://youtu.be/4BLrmn5txds Shapira addresses objections #21 and #22 from my article “The School of Matthew” (https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/the-school-of-matthew/ ). We are already accustomed to Shapira’s failure to inform his audience where they can find my article so that they can read it in context – all in the name of integrity and truth.
In this presentation Shapira claims: 1) That his rendition of the Metzudat David on Zechariah 4:7 is correct. 2) That the chapter and verse he cited when he quoted the Abarbanel’s comments to that same verse is actually correct (and I stand corrected on this one, as we shall see). 3) He presents a “new” argument for the “divinity” of the Messiah from the writings of “Rabbi Yarhi.” 4) He claims that he never said that the Abarbanel believed in a divine Messiah.
Let us deal with each of these, one at a time.
1) Some Jewish teachers (i.e. Midrash Tanhuma, Abarbanel) saw the great mountain mentioned in Zechariah 4:7 as a reference for the Messiah. Other teachers, however, did not. These teachers (i.e. Targum, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Radak, Metzudat David) actually saw the great mountain as a reference to great wickedness. Shapira tell his readers that the great mountain is “identified as none other than the Messiah” (page 86 TROTKP). Shapira fails to tell his readers that this identification is far from unanimous. But more importantly, he actually lists the Metzudat David who opposes the interpretation that he is promoting as one who agrees with him.
In his defense Shapira claims that he was “paraphrasing” the words of the Metzudat David and that he was not attempting to provide a literal word-for-word translation.
This is simply false. He misrepresented the words of the Metzudat David. He told his audience that the Metzudat David says the very opposite of what the Metzudat David actually says.
2) In my critique of Shapira’s work I made a technical error. I assumed that Shapira was quoting one paragraph from the Abarbanel (page 211) when in reality Shapira was quoting a similar statement of the Abarbanel (that appears on page 210). On the basis of my error I pointed out that the chapter citation that Shapira had presented is wrong. I said that the Abarbanel had quoted Isaiah 11 (which he does on page 211) and not Isaiah 2. So I stand corrected on this peripheral point.
3) Rabbi Shlomo Ashtruk (who resided in Luneil, which is Hebraized as “Yarhi”) speaks of the greatness of the Messiah. He tells us that the Messiah will be granted dominion over the forces of nature. Shapira jumps to the conclusion that the Messiah must then be “divine.” The fact that Rabbi Shlomo did not attribute divinity the Messiah is irrelevant to Shapira. Rabbi Shlomo clearly states that when the prophet speaks of Israel the Messiah is included and when he speaks of the Messiah then the nation is included. So in this Rabbi’s dictionary the Messiah does not attain his greatness alone but together with the nation of Israel.
This does not stop Shapira from using the words of this monotheistic rabbi to support his paganism.
4) In a similar vein; when I argue that the Abarbanel did not believe in the divinity of the Messiah, and as such cannot be rightly quoted in support of a thesis that he vehemently opposed, Shapira responds with: “I never said that the Abarbanel believed in a divine Messiah.”
Shapira’s disingenuous response raises two issues. The entire thesis of his book is that “Judaism has taken a sharp and violent turn against the idea of a divine Messiah” (page 35 TROTKP). In other words, Shapira is claiming that the belief in divine Messiah was a legitimate stream of thought within Judaism. In order to support this thesis he presents these quotations by teachers such as Abarbanel and Rabbi Shlomo. But if these quotations do not prove that the writers of these statements believed in a divine Messiah (because they did not) then where does Shapira pick up the idea that the belief in a divine Messiah is a legitimate opinion within Judaism? All of the quotations that he presents say nothing about the beliefs of the author of the quotations. They only tell us about the conclusions that Shapira himself has jumped to when he read these quotations. What does this have to do with legitimate Judaism?
Let us take this one step further. What is Judaism? In what way was the monotheism that Israel was taught by God different than the attitude of the pagan nations that surrounded them?
The pagans allowed themselves to be overawed by qualities that they found in finite beings. When they saw a river that was beautiful and mighty they would allow their hearts to bend in devotion to that river. They would say: how could the river possess such beauty and power without being divine? When the pagans saw a mighty mountain or a charismatic person they could not fathom how the mountain or the person could possess these superlative qualities without being divine. When the pagans saw a person that possessed spiritual qualities (be they positive or negative) they would see this as “proof” to the divinity of this person.
God taught the Jewish people that the fact that a finite entity possesses any given quality does not make that entity divine. Divinity only belongs to the One Creator of all finite existence. Any quality that a finite entity possesses, no matter how extreme, can only be a gift from the One who created us all.
The entire thrust of Judaism is that we not be overawed by the qualities that are inherent in any finite being. And that we should recognize that all finite beings are equally subject to the One Author of all existence.
Here comes Shapira and he applies the pagan dictionary to the writings of Judaism. In the dictionary of the pagans, an entity that possessed extreme qualities was defined as divine. According to Shapira’s dictionary, when we see that God grants someone dominion over nature, (as God granted Joshua, and as He will grant the Messiah), then that defines that person as “divine.” Shapira takes this even further and when he sees that someone is granted sovereignty or the authority to judge then that renders the king and the judge as legitimate objects of worship (TROTKP pages 277 and 171 respectively).
What Shapira fails to understand is that the writers of Judaism (such as Rabbi Shlomo Ashtruk and Abarbanel) did not subscribe to the pagan dictionary. To these teachers, any quality that a finite being possesses only makes that being so much more beholden to the One who granted those gifts.
Shapira’s pagan dictionary has nothing to do with Judaism. All of the teachers of Judaism, starting from Abraham and Moses defined Shapira’s dictionary as the deepest rebellion against God.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal