By Israel Drazin
A reader of this website sent me three questions. Here are
the questions and my responses.
(1) I note your pure blue eyes and
wonder: how do some Jews have such? Do
these features prove that Jews were breeding with non- Jews way back in
I THINK THAT JEWS, LIKE ALL OTHER
PEOPLE INTERMINGLED WITH NON-JEWS THROUGHOUT THE MILLENIA. I AM NOT BOTHERED BY
THIS. PEOPLE WHO ARE BOTHERED ARE BOTHERED BECAUSE THEY LIKE TO THINK, AS THE
MEDIEVAL POET YEHUDA HALEVI INSISTED, THAT JEWS ARE A PURE RACE THAT IS
BIOLOGICALLY FAR SUPERIOR TO OTHER PEOPLE. HE THOUGHT THAT CONVERTS TO JUDAISM
DID NOT HAVE THIS RACIAL SUPERIORITY. I THINK THAT JEWS ARE PART OF A
CIVILIZATION THAT INCLUDES RELIGIOUS PRACTICES AND IDEAS. ANYONE CAN JOIN IN IF
THEY LIKE AND BE AS GOOD AS THE PEOPLE BORN INTO IT.
(2) How do Rabbis accept the profound
ideas in The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain?
MARK TWAIN MOCKED THE NOTION OF THE
EXISTANCE OF ANGELS AND AN OMNIPRESENT GOD WHO IS EVER HELPFUL, A DEITY WHO IS
NOT ONLY RSPONSIVE TO PRAYER, BUT RUSHES TO COMPLY WITH THE HUMAN WISHES AS A
CHILD RUSHES TO HIS MOTHER’S CALL. MOST PEOPLE, JEWS INCLUDED, DISAGREE WITH
TWAIN BECAUSE THEY ARE FEARFUL AND WANT SOMEONE OR SOMETHING ALWAYS AVAILABLE
TO HELP THEM. VERY FEW PEOPLE, AND I AM ONE OF THEM, DO NOT AGREE WITH THE
GENERAL POPULATION. I THINK, AND I THINK THAT THE GREAT PHILOSOPHER MOSES
MAIMONIDES (1138-1204) THOUGHT, THAT GOD CREATED OR FORMED THE UNIVERSE WITH
GOOD WORKING LAWS OF NATURE, AND THEN BECAME TRANSCENDENTAL, NO LONGER INVOLVED
WITH THE WORLD AT ALL. WE DON’T KNOW WHY GOD CREATED THE WORLD. IT IS MOST
LIKELY A MISTAKE TO IMMAGINE THAT GOD DID IT FOR THE SAKE OF PEOPLE.
(3) And how can anyone find a loving God
in the face of natural pain and misery for humans, especially babies? Is there anyone or any book that answered
I THINK THAT MAIMONIDES ANSWERED THIS
QUESTION WELL. PEOPLE ARE BOTHERED WITH THIS QUESTION BECAUSE THEY ARE
CONVINCED THAT GOD IS LOVING AND ALWAYS INVOLVED WITH HELPING PEOPLE. IF THIS
IS TRUE, THEY ASK, HOW COME BAD HAPPENS TO GOOD PEOPLE. HOWEVER, AS I WROTE
ABOVE, I UNDERSTAND MAIMONIDES TO SAY THAT THIS PREMISE IS WRONG: GOD IS NOT
IMMANENT, GOD IS TRANSCENDENTAL; GOD IS NOT INVOLVED IN THIS WORLD; THE WORLD
FUNCTIONS ACCORDING TO THE LAWS OF NATURE. THESE LAWS ARE GOOD FOR THE WORLD AS A WHOLE,
BUT MAY NOT BE GOOD IN CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES FOR PEOPLE. MAIMONIDES SAID THAT
BAD THINGS OCCUR TO PEOPLE FOR ONE OF THREE REASONS. A PERSON MAY HARM HIM OR
HERSELF, AS WHEN THEY WALK ACROSS THE STREET INTO TRAFIC WHEN THE LIGHT IS RED.
SECOND, A PERSON OR PERSONS MAY HARM THEM, AS WHEN HITLER INVADED AUSTRIA TO
EXPAND GERMANY. THIRD, PEOPLE MAY BE INJURED OR KILLED BY THE REGULAR LAWS OF
NATURE, SUCH AS A HURRICANE, WHICH IS GOOD FOR THE EARTH, FOR IT HELPS CLEAN
THE AIR, BUT IT KILLS PEOPLE WHO DO NOT AVOID IT.
I HOPE THESE ANSWERS HELP. I REALISE
THEY ARE THE VIEWS OF ONLY A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE. I THINK THAT EVERYONE SHOULD
BELIEVE WHAT HE OR SHE WANTS TO BELIEVE AS LONG AS THEY DO NOT HURT OTHERS.
THEY SHOULD FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH THEMSELVES AND ENJOY LIFE. MAIMONIDES NEVER
TRIED TO PERSUADE THE GENERAL POPULATION THAT HE WAS RIGHT, AND I DON’T EITHER.
If God created the Earth and mankind and then became non-active in mankind’s affairs I would ask: 1. What role then would religion play? and 2. Why pray to God? 3. The Torah stories can only be made-up child stories since God is not interaction with mankind?
You ask good questions. Most people like to think that God is always present in a person’s life, and that God is loving and helpful. Maimonides, as I understand him, and many others such as Abraham ibn Ezra, Gersonides, and Spinoza, did not think that God has a “hands on” involvement with this world. He created or formed the world, put into it the laws of nature, and is no longer involved. Most people turn to religion, which they understand and do in different ways, to help them learn how to cope with the world. Others use mysticism, and still others their intelligence, science, and philosophy. Still others, like Maimonides, combined religion and philosophy. Maimonides taught that science is very important, and so too is the Torah. Both teach people some understanding of the truth, and both help people improve themselves and society. This last sentence describes the role of religion. Prayer does not affect God. It does not persuade God to do anything. Anyone with open eyes can see this. Maimonides wrote that God does not want or need sacrifices and prayer. We had sacrifices and still have prayer because they help people who feel a need for them. A good use of prayer is to spend the time trying to understand the world and self and try to think of ways to improve one’s self and society. Most of the Torah stories are parables to help people understand themselves and others. Maimonides explains the stories in his Guide 2:48. I do so in my book: Maimonides and the Biblical Prophets. I realsie that this is not the common understanding of life, but it is Maimonides’ view, as I understand him.