1. Page 4
Brown addresses Maimonides’ statement that Jews must believe in God as
an “only one (- absolute unity): “There is no doubt that this reaction was
due to exaggerated, unbiblical, “Christian” beliefs that gave Jews the
impression Christians worshipped three gods.”
Brown would have his readers believe that Maimonides’ statement is a
“reaction. He would have his readers believe that this “reaction” was due to an incorrect understanding of Christianity.
I have a difficult time imagining a statement that would be more
offensive and insulting to Jews and to Judaism. Brown has “no doubt”
that the core belief of Judaism is a “reaction” to another belief
system. That would be like saying that there is no doubt that Christians revere Jesus as a “reaction” to the Moslem reverence of Mohammed. Or that the reason two people got married to each other was to avoid marrying someone else.
The Jewish people are married to their God. They met Him at Sinai and
their hearts are pledged to Him ever since. We know our God and we do not have
to “react” to redefine our God against other belief systems.
Another underlying misconception that needs to be cleared up is the
idea that Maimonides felt threatened in any way by Christianity, as if
Christianity is a belief system that somehow loomed large and threatening on the horizon of Maimonides’ thought-process. This is false. It is obvious from the writings of Maimonides that the theology of Christianity in no way intimidated him. He viewed a belief system that deifies a human as something that hardly deserves mention. If Maimonides ever felt the need to “react”, it was not to Christianity.
Finally, a “correct” understanding of Christianity would have done
nothing to change Maimonides’ views on the matter. Every form of Trinitarian Christianity attributes deity to a person that walked this earth. This concept, however it is presented, is the very antithesis of Judaism.
2. Page 4
Brown argues against the identification of God as an absolute unity as
if this question would somehow be tied to the distinction between the two
Hebrew words “echad” (- one) versus “yachid” (- unique, alone). Brown accuses Maimonides of inserting the word “yachid” whereas the word “echad” is the word that the Bible uses.
This argument is irrelevant. The famous thirteen principles of faith as
they are printed in the popular Hebrew were not formulated by Maimonides. Maimonides wrote a lengthy essay in Arabic, which was summarized in Hebrew by an anonymous author. When we read Maimonides’ Hebrew work that addresses these matters (Yad Hachazaka, Yesodei Hatorah 1:7) we clearly see that Maimonides did not get confused between “echad” and “yachid”. The fact is that the word“yachid” could refer to a compound unity just as easily as the word “echad”, so
changing the word would not have helped Maimonides in any case. The point that Maimonides is making is that unless we are speaking of an absolute unity, then the word “echad” (- one) is only a relative term. Maimonides understood that the Shema is not using relative terminology to speak of God.
3. Page 6
Brown argues that the Shema (-Hear O Israel…Deuteronomy 6:4) only says that God is alone and not that He is absolutely One.
This point is also irrelevant. Which God is the Shema referring to? The One that the Jews believe in, the One that took them out of Egypt and who revealed Himself at Sinai, Him alone – and no one else. Who is excluded? If someone were to take a graven image and claim that this is “one and the same” with the God of Israel, is that not excluded? When Jeroboam pointed to the calf and said “this is who took you out of Egypt” (1Kings 12:28), was that not excluded? When the Buddhists point to a stone statue of Buddha and claim that this is the incarnation of the Creator of heaven and earth, is that not excluded by the “one” of Shema? The “one” of Shema points back to the Sinai revelation. At that revelation God made clear to the Jewish people who it is that they should be directing their devotion to. It was not Jesus. Furthermore, at Sinai God gave the Jewish people to understand that everything in the heaven and earth are but His creations. Any theology that justifies worship of an inhabitant of this earth is precluded by the Sinai revelation and by the Shema.
4. Page 7
Brown claims that the Jewish rejection of the trinity is the result of a “gut
level negative reaction to anything Christian”. Where did this negative
reaction start from? According to the Christian scriptures, the Jews rejected Christianity because it did not fit with their understanding of God, an understanding that preceded Christianity.
Another point to consider is the fact that the far more likely scenario is that the Church adopted belief in the trinity as a gut level negative reaction to anything Jewish.
The same Council of Nicea that adopted the trinity as a Christian belief, was plagued with a gut level negative reaction to anything Jewish. The same Church Council that ratified the trinity also prohibited celebration of Easter in conjunction with Passover. The basis for this decision was not some scholarly calculation or an esoteric argument. I will allow Eusubius, the Church historian who was present at that Council, to speak for himself:
“And these are the words with which the Emperor addressed
the assembly at Nicea; “Why should we follow in the footsteps of these people who are scorned by God, to celebrate our holy festival together with them? Is there any greater impertinence than this, that these hated Jews should be able to say that we cannot celebrate and observe our festival unless we follow their calculations?” (De Vita Constantini 3:2).
Hatred of Jews and Judaism was reason enough to move this Church Council to change their practices. Is it not likely that the vote against Arius (who opposed belief in the trinity) was also influenced by this hatred of Jews?
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal
Well put, Rabbi. 🙂
Reblogged this on 1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources.
Why all the drama over a statement suggesting Maimonides reacted to Christian doctrine? Logic dictates a responsible Rabbi in charge of his flock would specifically address those doctrines which seek to target his flock. In fact wouldn’t he be considered remiss in his duties as a Rabbi if he did not address and explain orthodox doctrines, which are in contrast to alluring heretical doctrines?
Is not this very blog a reaction to Christianity?
If some Jews were not being lured away from their faith by Christianity, you’d be doing something else. And perhaps Maimonides wouldn’t of gone the extra mile in explaining this particular Jewish doctrine.
(I’m not picking sides; just trying to keep it real)
CP Maimonides wrote a ton and we have a pretty clear picture and Christianity hardly makes it to his radar screen – in his days missionaries weren’t what they are today – at least not in his corner of the world – and there is no question that Judaism was a big issue on the radar screen of Christians – specifically those who met at Nicea – so for them (those who accept Nicea) to accuse Maimonides of “reacting” is out of place
1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >
If that’s the facts, then that’s the facts. But I fail to see the significance it makes (whether he reacted or not) it seems as though you think Judaism is being accused of developing new doctrine as a reaction to Christianity. Whereas I see Judaism more precisely defining already existing doctrines in response to Christianity. But either way (aside from developing new doctrine) what does it matter?
CP The reason I feel it matters is because it is important to expose the hypocrisy and/or lack of self-awareness of the Christian missionary campaign on the one hand and to exonerate the teachers of God’s witness nation on the other. Jeremiah 14:14 gives us to understand that God expects people to identify false prophets by their relationship to falsehood – a society that could burn people at the stake in the name of turning the other cheek – is not a society which is bearing God’s truth – similarly – an institution which tosses accusations against God’s witness nation when they themselves are seven-fold more guilty of those very crimes is not an institution within which you will find Godly truth
1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >
If I may add a point. Both here and a couple of weeks back when you asked a nearly identical question about whether the Rabbis would in fact be “remiss in their duties” by not hiding Isaiah 53 from their flocks you (and Dr. Brown) are feeding the age old christian missionary smear that the Jews in general and their Rabbis in particular harbor a cognitive dissonance stemming from a deep seated fear, or worse knowledge, that Christianity is the truth and as such anything that might be interpreted as the Rabbis engaging in a knee-jerk reaction to Christianity is evidence of this dissonance peeking out from the depths.
In truth, I would submit that it doesn’t really matter a whit to what extent Maimonides might have or might not have had Christianity in mind when he penned that section. Just as I don’t think it matters whether or not he had Zoroastrianism in mind or Hinduism in mind. The simple reality is that ideologies foreign to the Jewish notion of monotheism existed (and still exist) and Maimonides in the midst of a lifelong effort to codify the full breadth and width of Jewish thought and Law dedicates a few brief words to formalizing this ideological requirement and, mind you, with no great elaboration or anti-christian polemics, whcih one might have expected if he really did want to engage the subject. (Nachmanides, by contrast, a 13th century Jewish Scholar, has some long detailed anti-christian polemics published. Do you know why? They are his record of a forced debate in which he was commanded to paricipate before the King of Aragon to defend Judaism against the charges of a church official who happened to be an apostate Jew.) It has been pointed out to you, perhaps pointlessly, that the immense history of Rabbinic writing and Jewish education is notable for its virtual silence and utter disinterest in Christianity. It would take you a few trips back and forth to the book shelf to carry the full works of Maimonides in their standard published format and it would take you days or weeks to transport the contents of a well stocked rabbinic library. And yet Christians will continue to have a need to scour rabbinic writings for fleeting passages like this and see evidence that the Rabbis spend their days quaking in their caftans worrying about Christianity. Could it be that the need to react is on the part of a Christianity which simply cannot stomach the idea that the very people who preserved the Holy scripture for centuries and who gave it to them, not only don’t find their interpretation compelling but don’t even seem to find the topic to be particularly interesting. That, my friend, is the only “alluring” doctrine in play here.
And once again, lest the point be lost, this blog is NOT a “reaction to christianity” as such. It, and others like it, is a reaction to Christian efforts to preach to Jews. If one cannot appreciate the significance of that distinction, there really isn’t much to discuss.
“Quaking in their caftans,” Yehuda that is the best and funniest example of alliteration I’ve seen in a while!
CP, during Maimonides’ lifetime, the Third Crusade took place. Do you know what that meant for the Jews? I hardly think that Jews of that time found Christianity particularly alluring.
Jews had good reason to loathe both the Almohads and the Christian Crusaders.
Thank you Dina. Feel free to use it.