Monday, August 1, 2016

Zealotry Leads to Shalom with a Broken Leg -A Further Reflection on Dealing with Difficult texts.


Pinhas   Zealotry leads to Shalom with a Broken Leg  -A Further Reflection on Dealing with Difficult texts.



July 30, 2016





We seem to have no end of people who are taking on the mantle of self-appointed judge, jury, prosecutor and executioner. The terrorists in Dallas and Baton Rouge who undertook single-handedly to wipe out police officers to avenge what they were told by many public officials was a campaign of racism by the police. The terrorists in a village in Northern France who decided that an elderly Catholic church priest had to be slaughtered because they were told it was an act of jihad to wipe out an adherent of a false religion.

There is political extremism and there is religious extremism. For the political extremism, here in the US, we can only say, to leaders who have stirred up the public, “ Chachamim, hizharu—Wise men, be careful what you say, lest you bring upon us exile and you drink from bitter waters.”( Pirke avot)

What about the religious extremists, who are also political extremists, in the case of ISIS or Al Qaeda?  As I stated in a previous sermon, we all have to deal with difficult texts. I can’t tell the Kadis at Al Azhar or the Imams in Qom how to define their laws and standards, but I can talk about how we Jews have handled it.

We also have our despicables, but I can say, they are few and rare. It is so because the our history has forced us to understand our teachings in the face of reality and not to bend reality to match our teachings.

We are in the period of ”Beyn hameytzarim”—Between the Straits- the period that leads up to the 9th of Av. This period marks the tragedies surrounding the fall of the first and second Temples .                   

We know that this was the period of the “Kanaim”, the zealots, and one of Jesus disciples, Simon the Zealot or the Kanaii, was a member of this movement. ( Some scholars suggest that he too may have been a member of such a movement at one point in his life).This movement led the revolt against Rome and eventually to the very destruction of the Temple. They were also known as “ Biryonim” in Rabbinic sources, which means, despite their noble aspiration, they were ,very simply, boors and ruffians. Biryonim was actually reborn in the 1930’s as a Jewish fascist movement, Brit Biryonim, modelled on Mussolini’s fascism. You may also have seen a movie that came out last year, called “ Sicario”, about the hitmen of the drug cartels. That very term is the one used in our own sources for these same vigilantes, “Sicarii”, which means “ dagger men”, as they were,  we are told, won’t to mingle in the crowds and assassinate anyone they suspected of collaborating with the Romans.

            Now, it would seem, from some passages in our sources, that this is a legitimate movement. Here is the wording of the Mishnah, written as if the Temple, destroyed over a century before, still stood: 

“ If one steals the utensils of the Temple  or curses by enchantment( with intent to  kill), or cohabits with a heathen woman( in other words, to have children that would become pagans) he is punished by zealots, Kanaim.( Mishnah sanhedrin 9:6)

            From whence this word, “ Kanaim”, especially in regard to the third offense, cohabiting ( the Hebrew word used is blunter)?

 It is directly from our Torah portion

            At the end of the previous portion, the children of Israel, after their blessing by Balaam, are now defeated by their weakness for exotic women who lead them in pagan revelry. One of the leaders, Zimri, takes up with a Midianite princess, Cozbi, right in front of Moses and a terrible plague breaks loose. Notice that this is not a matter of a private peccadillo but a flagrant act of defiance, not just sexual but religious, causing a plague, a physical disaster.

             Moses and the leaders are dumbfounded; their only response is to burst out in tears as they see the community as a whole backsliding.

            Something must be done. God calls for action; Moses calls for action. But no one does anything. Suddenly, Pinhas(Phineas), alone, rushes into action, and single-handedly slaughters the chief Israelite and his temptress.

            That was at the very end of last week’s portion. This week, as we open Pinhas, we have words of praise and blessing from God to Pinhas, for he “turned My wrath away from the people of Israel, for he was very jealous ( bekano et kinati)  for my sake.” Kano”-being jealous- is of the same root as “ Kanaii”, a zealot.

                         Pinhas is rewarded with a great prize: Behold, I give you my Briti-shalom, G-d’s covenant of peace. It would seem to be an ideal prize.

Now, it may well be that the Rabbis are describing a fact: we aren’t ordering the Zealots to do this.Rather, it’s a fact, that they exist, whether as individuals or as a movement, and don’t expect us to stop them. We can’t.

Or, is this an active instruction, a positive commandment, to act?

            From whence did the rabbis, draw this dictate? Maimonides ascribed the principle of kana’im pog’im bo to the laws handed down by Moses at Sinai (halakha l’Moshe mi’Sinai) noting that “if zealots attacked and killed [the transgressor] they are praiseworthy and energetic.” (Mishne Torah/Yad haHazaka: Hilkhot Issurei Bi’ah, 12:4. )

            Are there Jews who still follow this? Just last year, a Charedi, Yishai Schlissel, believed he was in the mold of Pinchas and murdered someone at the Gay Pride parade in Israel. Fortunately, he was apprehended and this year the parade passed through peacefully. Is this the final word for us, this act of a deranged Chasid?

            (I found a halakhic discourse which covered the sources in this murder account very well and I am indebted to the author for summarizing the key arguments. It was written by the U S Under Secretary of Defense (2001–2004)( and Deputy Under Secretary of Defense ,1985–1987).   Dov Zakheim. He also happens to be an ordained Rabbi, something that doesn’t show up in his official resumes. You didn’t know that a Rabbi could serve as Under Secretary of Defense?)

            The Rabbis of the Talmud take a second look at this dictate. They look back on the previous centuries of rebellion against Rome and recognize that reality precedes zealotry.

             R. Hisda said: If the zealot comes to take counsel [whether to punish the transgressors enumerated in the Mishnah], we do not instruct him to do so. It has been stated likewise: Rabbah b. Bar Hana said in R. Johanan's name: If he comes to take counsel, we do not instruct him to do so. What is more, had Zimri forsaken his mistress and Phinehas slain him, Phinehas would have been executed on his account; and had Zimri turned upon Phinehas and slain him, he would not have been executed, since Phinehas was a “rodef” a murderous pursuer .( Sanhedrin 82 b on Mishnah 9). In other words, we certainly don’t encourage the act of zealotry, and the zealot is in danger of his own life, considered as if he were a murderer, while the sinner certainly may defend himself without impunity or danger of penalty.

The same Maimonides who praised the act also placed tight restrictions on it, based on the instructions of the Talmud:

The sin must take place before 10 or more witnesses; that the act of zealotry could only be undertaken during the transgression; that a court could not authorize such an act; that the zealot would be guilty of a capital crime should he kill the transgressor after having sought the court’s approval; and that should the zealot himself be killed, the transgressor would not be prosecuted for murder. Another great codifier of Jewish law, Rabbi Moses of Coucy ( Sefer Mitzvot Gadol)  added a key word to this list of restrictions: laShamayim—for Heaven—indicating that the zealot’s motives had to be pure. If his motives were mixed then he was no better than any murderer.

In our days, Rabbis have added that this act could only take when there is a Sanhedrin that is sitting in Jerusalem with the power to apply capital punishment. (Dr Itamar Warhaftig, "Go'el Hadam" (The Blood Avenger), Techumin 11(5750/1990), 354)

Chief Rabbi R. Avraham Shapira took a similar view. He was asked about the individual taking up acts of zealotry, and stated “gedola aveira lishma”— greatly severe is a sin committed to achieve positive outcomes.In other words,  the ends don’t justify the means.

He looked at one of the few cases of Jewish zealotry during the rise of Nazism :the case of Herschel Grynszpan . To keep you up to snuff on history, Grynspan  in  1938 murdered German  diplomat, Ernst vom Rath in Paris.

             Grynszpan’s motive was noble: to avenge the suffering of Polish Jews who had been dumped by the Germans on the Polish border but refused entry by their own country, Poland. What was the consequence? It was used as the pretext for Kristallnacht,  just the kind of provocation the Nazi leadership were hoping for. The violence that arose confirmed for them that the German peoples were behind them in their war on the Jews.

             Rabbi Shapira then pointed out that just as the murder ignited Kristallnacht, so similar acts of individual zealotry could have far reaching negative consequences. He therefore posited that an individual could not reach his or her own judgment in such "complicated matters," as he put it, particularly those affecting the Jewish people as a whole, but instead should seek guidance from leading rabbinical authorities. We can assume their answer would be a blunt” No.”(  Interview with Rabbi Abraham Kahane Shapira, “Geula uMikdash” (“Redemption and The Temple,” Techumin 5 (5756/1996), 432).

            [This topic ignited a discussion with my members, who disputed any attempt to lay blame on Grynszpan. What the Germans and their fellow travelers did what ultimate of their own choice.]

Dov Zakheim sums up the discussion on Schlissel:

            “Far more worrying is that in the absence of forceful admonitions by Haredi rabbis, there may be other Yishai Schlissels  lurking in the background, taking the law into their own hands, while grotesquely fantasizing that they are sanctifying God's holy name. “https://www.jewishideas.org/articles/zealotry-and-its-consequences-case-yishai-schlissel

Now, let’s get back to Pinchas and our Rabbis understanding of this portion.

            .           The Sages ask, though, why should he have been given this “Covenant of Peace” from God on high? Because he had earned the anger, not the approval of the leaders. He had taken the law into his own hands and they were ready to expel him for it.  That is the explanation for God’s intervention. But it is an unusual intervention and an unusual blessing for an act of killing!

            The sages note that the word Shalom is written in the Torah-text in an odd manner—the letter Vav in Shalom is cut in the middle! The peace is, so to say, incomplete

            Thus, the Ktav Sofer ( Rabbi Shmuel Benyamin Schreiber) explained it: It is true that sometimes, we must take drastic action to save a situation; nevertheless,  we must very quickly step back from it to a secure and solid basis, which is peace, the foundation and secret of all blessings.

            The Haftarah that is normally associated with this portion is that of the account of Elijah after his victory over the priests fo Baal. He runs for his life to Mt. Sinai. He describes himself to God as, in the mold of Pinchas, ”Kano Kaneti:-I have been exceptionally zealous for you. The Rabbis, attuned ot the nuance of the words, see that he is instructed to turn over his office to another and step down.  

            The commentators note: he has not learned his lesson- and “ Are you here still with the spirit of revenge.”

            That is G-d’s response to zealotry. God appears in the still small voice, not in the fire and earthquake: G-d was in the silent voice, because, again as Metzudat David states, Chaftez  Chesed Hu, He seeks lovingkindness!

            True, extraordinary times call for extraordinary acts—but beware of zealotry for the sake of zealotry!  Pinchas must be tamed by the covenant of peace.

            As I mentioned before, we all have to deal with difficult texts- in Christianity, in Islam,in Hinduism, in Buddhism, you name it. A text can easily be read in many ways. It is the community of faithful that give it its meaning, not the author of the text.

            There is an old Jewish joke of two scholars discussing wealth as the root of all evil. The wealthy have too much, and they are corrupted for it, while the poor have too little, and suffer for it. Surely, says the first scholar, we need only convince the rich to give up their wealth, and convince the poor to accept it. All would be perfect.

An excellent idea, the second scholar replied. Let’s start now. I will convince the poor people to accept the wealth—You try to convince the wealthy to give it up.

I and  other Rabbis can convince our Jews not to be zealous. It is up to the Kadis and Imams to convince the faithful ( and the many unemployed and failed souls that often become the fanatic perpetrators) in the banlieues of France or the war-torn neighborhoods of Syrian, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere to turn against zealots and zealotry. For our sakes, I wish them success.

           

             

              

Friday, July 22, 2016

Free download of Courage of the Spirit August 1-5

UPDATE:

I have been informed by several people outside the US that they had trouble with the download..

First, be sure that you have clicked on the button in the middle of the page that says "kindle", not "paperback." If its till shows a fee, then go to the bottom of the page, look for a link to Amazon USA and then enter the book and my name in the search. It may work from the USA version only.
Best wishes,
Regards, Norbert



In honor of my parent's memory, I am making my book, Courage of the Spirit, available for free eBook download through Amazon Kindle from August 1-August 5.

August 1 is the date, according to the Jewish calendar, of the passing of my mother, Irene Weinberg, who survived Nazi persecution while hiding in the open in Lwow and Warsaw. I am doing this special offer in honor of her and of my father, Rabbi William Weinberg, who served as the first State Rabbi of the German State of Hesse after the Shoah .

To download your copy, please go to Amazon.com Click here to go to the page at Amazon.(Or copy and paste this link   https://www.amazon.com/Courage-Spirit-Norbert-Weinberg/dp/098466856X?ie=UTF8&qid=1398150275&ref_=tmm_pap_title_0&sr=8-1) Select Kindle version. Then click on the "Buy Now" button  ( not the "Read for Free" which is for Kindle subscribers only). The "buy now" will cost $0.00 if you chose to do so during the Free Giveaway Time. Please feel free to pass this on to your contacts, as I want to make my father’s incredible story available to a broad public.
You don’t need a Kindle to read it. The Amazon website has a link for information  for reading Kindle on any device. 

My book, Courage of the Spirit, tells of my father’s saga in the decades up to and through the years of the Shoah. It is a story that spans thousands of physical miles, by freight train and on foot, from the Galician Shtetl to cosmopolitan Vienna and Berlin, and to Stalingrad and central Asia and back as my father kept one step ahead of the Nazi armies. It is a story that spans the mental and emotional journey from the medieval Shtetl, the great empires, and the weak democracies and totalitarian regimes that followed, and finally, to freedom.
          
We are shown a window into life in a Nazi prison and concentration camp, the day-to-day life of Jews in Nazi Berlin, and the vagaries of survival under Stalin’s totalitarianism.

It is my plan to ​tell  my mother’s ​story  as well as the story of the rebuilding of Jewish communal life in Frankfurt in the post-war years. I will be basing my work on documents now archived at the United States Museum of the Holocaust( recently placed on-line by the Museum).
        
Please download the ebook from Amazon from August 1 through August 5,
and forward this email to your friends and contacts as a way of helping me honor my parents and spreading the message of Courage of the Spirit..

Shalom and regards,
Norbert


Rabbi Dr. Norbert Weinberg

Link for information on Courage of the Spirit

******************************************

Comments on Courage of the Spirit:

I'm so glad my book reached you. I just finished reading Courage of the Spirit and I'm simply overwhelmed by the extraordinary story you relate! Your book is an extraordinary contribution to Jewish thought, as well as the triumphant story of survival in the face of unimaginable odds. I'm not sure where to begin. I'm actually speechless at the moment. As a writer, I can appreciate the painstaking research, which went into this book. Every page was an emotional and intellectual revelation to me. Your writing style is not only inviting and accessible, but also intellectually engaging. It's as if you consciously set out to engage those who have a passive interest in the Jewish narrative of the twentieth century, as well as the intellectual who is well grounded in the history, but may lack an appreciation for the unfolding human drama. (Ralph Georgy, author of Absolution: A Palestinian Israeli Love Story)

Congratulation on getting the first volume of your trilogy published! It´s great that the book is finally available for researchers. I will definitely recommend the book for the Jewish Museum´s library, other institutions and some Czech historians/researchers who are interested, especially in the aftermath of the Shoah and the postwar time.(Mgr. Monika Hanková, The Archives of the Jewish Museum in Prague)

In Rabbi Norbert Weinberg’s reckoning of his father’s tumultuous, tragic past, history is no arid enterprise, no bloodless recording of facts and figures.  Interspersing personal reminiscence with detailed historical rendering, Courage of the Spirit brings the horrific twentieth century to life  through the story of Rabbi Wilhelm Weinberg, and his journey through Nazi camps and Soviet terror.(Saul Austerlitz, author of Sitcom: A History in 24 Episodes from I Love Lucy to Community)

 “Courage of the Spirit” by Rabbi Norbert Weinberg is a major contribution to the literature of the Shoah by transcending the cold facts of those dark days into a personal account of the experiences of the author’s father.   Rabbi Weinberg meticulously traces his father’s arrest by the Nazis in 1939 and brings us full circle to his being named the first State rabbi of Hesse. Throughout those terror-filled days, the rabbi retained his faith and determination to survive.The book is a must reading to all those who want to capture and be inspired by the inner strength and resilience of the Jewish people as reflected in the life of Rabbi William Weinberg.  (Rabbi Norbert Weinberg, Rabbi of the Adams Street Shul and author of A Time to Tell: Stories and Recollections of a Rabbi from Kristalnacht to the Present , ''and When The Rabbi Laughs'': A Delightful Compendium Of Contemporary Rabbinic Humor,and numerous other books.)
Courage of the Spirit was recently featured on “Advocacy Heals You”, with Joni Aldrich on W4CS.com, the Cancer Support Network, as themes from the book offered moral and spiritual courage in life’s struggles; the interview can be heard at: http://www.iheart.com/talk/show/Joni-Aldrich-SOS-Supporter-of/?episode_id=26932481

Rabbi Weinberg was interviewed by Phil Blazer, JLTV.TV:This is a link to the conclusion:  http://youtu.be/DC2YDnxbM8E   . The full interview is at http://www.jltv.tv/videos.php?id=3&play=1881 at 29:30 seconds into the program



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Leadership through the Lens of the Bible's King Saul

This week, the Torah portion, Korach, told was the account of the double rebellion against Moses and Aaron. The tribe of Reuben led the rebellion of the political parties against Moses, while Korach led the rebellion within the inner circle of the party elites, Aaron and sons. In tandem, the Haftarah records the Samuel, who defends his record and integrity to the people while giving in to their demand for an authoritarian leader, a king. That king, Saul and his comparison to David, became the subject of my investigation into his personality and leadership strengths and flaws in Biblical, 2nd Temple and Midrashic texts.
Is the better leader the one who stands "from his shoulder and above, taller than all" or the flawed one who bore the sin of Bath Sheva?

The article in copied below,( transcribed as a word document from a pdf file)


.
Conservative Judaism, Vol. 33 No. 3 Copyright © 1980 by the Rabbinical Assembly
http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/cj/king-sauls-fortune-hand-homilists?tp=92
Reprinted from Conservative Judaism, Vol. 33, No. 3, Spring, 1980, pp.7-21 with the
permission of The Rabbinical Assembly.


KING SAUL’S FORTUNE AT THE HAND OF THE HOMILISTS
Norbert Weinberg

The image conceived of historical figures by later generations can be vastly
different from the image held by that personage s contemporaries. This can
be said easily of modern political figures, who can be successively praised or
damned; it can be shown to be so of biblical figures in the perspective of later
generations of Jewish commentators as well.

A biblical figure can be turned upside down, as it were. If Enoch
“walked with God” in the book of Genesis (4:24), in the book of Enoch he is a
divine being, but according to Genesis Rabbah (25:1), “He is not recorded in
the lists of the righteous, but of the wicked!” On the other hand, a villain the
likes of King Menassah can be sympathized with and called “Our Rabbi” in
Sanhedrin (102b).

If such is the treatment of blatant saints and sinners, how much more so
in the case of King Saul, a figure at once praiseworthy and pitiable as
described in the Bible. What happens in the writings from the close of the
Bible up until the talmudic period, in the Apocrypha, in Tannaitic and
Amoraic texts, in halakhic and aggadic discussions?

The biblical picture of Saul is favorable. “Young and goodly, and there
was none among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he; from his
shoulder and upwards, he was taller than any of the people” (I Samuel 9:2).
He is considerate of his father (9:5) and modestly tells no one of his anoint­ment
by Samuel (10:16). The spirit of prophecy enters him (10:10) and his
outstanding trait, modesty (9:21), is reflected in his hiding from the populace
on the day of his election (10:22). He is, as well, the successful unifier and
leader of his people at the start of the wars against the Ammonites and the
Philistines (chapters 11-14).

His decline is well delineated. He offers sacrifice without waiting for
Samuel (13:11) and he loses Samuel’s support, as well as God’s, for sparing
Agag, king of Amalek. He deteriorates rapidly, consumed by jealousy of his
rival, David; he regresses from depression to plotting to attempted murder to
massacre. Nevertheless, there is sympathy for the man throughout the por­trayal:
Samuel laments for him; David eulogizes him; and Saul dies nobly by
his own hand rather than falling into Philistine hands to be disgraced.

There are indirect references to Saul, as in Psalms 7 (Cush the Benja-
minite) and Esther 2:3 (the son of Kish, a Benjaminite), which are expounded
upon in later Rabbinic texts. Some Psalms are dedicated to incidents in
David s experiences with Saul (Psalms 52, 54, 57, 59). Only in Chronicles is
there an extensive block of references to Saul: chapter 10 depicts Saul s last
battle with the Philistines and his death. At no point is it mentioned that he
had been appointed legitimately by Samuel, nor are his successes in battle
recorded, and he is referred to as “king” only in retrospect by the populace
when urging David to become king (I Chronicles 11:2). We are given, instead
of the balanced view found in Samuel, a blanket condemnation.

So Saul died for his transgressions, which he committed against the Lord, because of the
word of God which he kept not; and also for that he asked counsel of a ghost, to inquire
thereby, and inquired not of the Lord; therefore He slew him and turned the kingdom
unto David, the son of Jesse. (I Chronicles 10:13-14).

Whereas the book of Samuel is a product of monarchic times, written
while popular memories may yet have been fresh and while extensive records
may have been available, Chronicles is considered to be a work of the Second
Commonwealth period, when the Davidic dynasty had ceased to be a reality
and had become an ideal. King David, forerunner of the awaited descendant
who would fulfill all the expectations of the prophets, could do no great
wrong; thus the story of Bat Sheva is missing from this collection. On the
other hand, Saul, forerunner and threat to this ideal David, could do no right.

Herein is the first revisionist edition of the life of Saul; not even the central
act, the sparing of Agag, is given as the reason for Saul s falling. For Samuel to
turn away from Saul would be to cast legitimacy on Saul up to that point.
Saul’s crime is one which in post-exilic eyes is far greater: “He asked counsel
of a ghost.” Saul does not betray Samuel s orders; he betrays the essence of
Judaism.

Saul in the Apocrypha and Second Temple Period Texts

The writers of the apocrypha follow in the school of thought of the author(s)
of Chronicles in regards to King Saul.

The Wisdom of Ben Sira, written at the beginning of the second century
b.c.e ., includes a list of heroes of Israel. In chapter 46, it is written of Samuel:
“He established the monarchy and anointed rulers over his people” (46:13).
“Even after he had gone to his rest, he prophesied and foretold to the king his
death, lifting up his voice in prophecy from the ground to wipe out the
people’s guilt” (46:20).Saul is never mentioned by name, even though he is
mentioned as “king,” while David, Solomon, Hezekiah, and Josiah are directly
included as positive figures. No reference is made to his acts of heroism
or greatness. Ben Sira’s interests are pedagogical, not political; he presents to
the reader the ideal type; he mentions Jeroboam as an example of iniquity,
and Solomon is included, despite his faults, since “He will not wipe out the
children of his chosen servant” (47:22). For Ben Sira, Saul is at best of
doubtful caliber and has no place in a portrayal of model figures.

The Ethiopian book of Enoch follows in this tradition of denigrating Saul.
Using the vehicle of animal metaphors for Jewish history, the author writes:
The dogs, jackals, and wild boars began to devour the flock until the lord o f the flock
appointed another sheep, a ram, from their midst, to lead them. The ram began to butt
on all sides at the dogs and jackals and boars, until he destroyed them completely. Then
that sheep opened his eyes and saw that the ram, in the midst o f his flock, abandoned his
glory and began to butt his own flock, trample them and go wild. The lord o f the flock
sent the first sheep to another one to be ram in place o f the ram that had desecrated its
glory. (9:42-46)3

The story of the ram, Saul, had been turned completely around; first,
Saul goes mad and kills his own, and only then does Samuel remove him. The
accusation of Saul oppressing his own people is unknown in the Bible.

If Ben Sira writes as a pedagogue, the author of Enoch is an es-
chatologist. The pedagogue seeks an ideal model and therefore exludes Saul.
Enoch is a product of apocalyptic circles, wherein the world is black or white,
saint or sinner; presumably this outlook developed during Antiochene perse­cutions,
not much after the time of Ben Sira, and continued to be significant
into the years following the fall of the Second Temple.4 The book of Enoch is
assumed to have been written at the time of John Hyrcanus; if so, the author
envisions Saul as a prototype of the Hasmonean rulers who turned from
defending against the oppressors to being the oppressors. As they await a
Davidic deliverer, they can have no patience for any contender to the throne
of Israel, before or after David.

There is a work , Liber Antiquitatem Biblius, whose author is referred to as
Pseudo-Philo.5 The dating is in dispute, posited as early as Hasmonean times
or as late as the fall of Jerusalem in 70 c.E . Biblical history is intentionally
rewritten; Saul in particular suffers from this revisionism. According to this
text, Saul spares Agag and his wife for purposes of greed, as they promise to
reveal to him the wherabouts of Amalekite wealth. Therefore Saul is pun­ished
in the following manner: that night of captivity, Agag is allowed to be
with his wife, who then conceives; she is spared while Agag is slain. The fruit
of that union becomes the armor bearer to Saul; Saul does not commit
suicide, but is killed by the son of Agag. From this young man is Haman
descended. Lest one think that Saul s motive in killing all diviners was noble,
Pseudo-Philo charges him with doing this only to attain glory (Pseudo-Philo
55:58, 59:64).6

During this period, is there no voice favorable to Saul?
In the scroll of Esther, Mordecai is described as “the son of Kish, the
(Ben)jaminite,, and Haman as “the Agagite.” What the first Benjaminite,
Saul, failed, his descendant Mordecai achieves, an early example of a mid-
rashic tit for tat (midah keneged midah).

Saul of Tarsus, later to be known as Paul, addresses his audience (Romans 11:7; Phillipians 3:5) and emphasizes his descent from the tribe of Benjamin. Presumably, by this time Saul was an
acceptable name, and his intentional choice of the tribe of Benjamin was,
according to Klausner, in order to associate himself with the lineage of King
Saul, just as Jesus was of the lineage of King David. 7

Josephus is the first to attempt an analysis of Saul s personality; he is
perhaps the first Jewish historian to attempt “psychohistory.” In Antiquities
of the Jews (Book 6, chapters 4-14) he follows the general outline of the
biblical account, embellishing it with his insights for the Roman readership.
Saul's comprehension and wisdom are described as greater than his beauty,
and his hiding during his election as king was sign of his outstanding modesty
(chapter 4). Even his initial intention in the war with Amalek was good; in
order to show his zeal for God, he speedily made all arrangements for warfare
and set out to totally destroy Amalek (chapter 7).

It is, up to this point, the most favorable description of Saul. It must be
remembered that Josephus, unlike the authors of previously cited works, is
writing for a non-Jewish audience; he wishes to portray his people in as noble
a light as possible to the Romans, who had been in a violent conflict with the
Jews.8 In describing Saul’s downfall, he suggests the following: “He also took
Agag, the enemy’s king, captive; the beauty and tallness of whose body he
admired so much, that he thought him worthy of preservation” (Book 6,
chapter 7, section 2).

Saul s ultimate degeneration, Josephus writes, is common to many lead­ers:
While they are private persons, and in a low condition . . . they are equitable, moder­ate,
and pursue nothing but what is ju st and bend their whole minds and labors that way
. . . but when once they are into power and authority, then they cut off all such notions;
and as if they were actors upon a theater, they lay aside their disguised parts and
manners, and take up boldness, insolence, and a contempt o f both human and divine
laws. (Chapter 12, section 7)9

It is common for Josephus, writing for a Roman audience, to find erotic
motives for human behavior. It is very likely that Josephus is also interjecting
his own experiences as a leader in the war against Rome, on the one hand,
and as insider to the Roman court, on the other; perhaps it is Josephus’ own
confession of his behavior during the war.

A comparable attempt at using psychology to understand Saul can also be
found in the period between the times of Ben Sira and Josephus.
Abot d’Rabbi Nathan preserves material attributed to the Zugot, the sages from
Alexander’s conquest till the time of Hillel and Shammai. In a statement
attributed to Judah ben Tabbai:

Whoever would have told me that I would arise to a position of authority would have
been physically attacked by me. Now that 1 have attained office, I would pour a kettle of
boiling water upon whosoever would tell me “Get d ow n” Just as it is difficult to rise to
greatness, so is it difficult to descend therefrom. Just so was it with Saul, that when he
was told he would become king, he hid, as it is written, “He hid behind the vessels ” but
when he was told to get down, he pursued David with intent to kill. (version A 10:1 )

A similar statement is made in the name of Joshua ben Perachya, the
predecessor of the above-quoted sage; it is recorded in Menahot 109b. The
two are often interchanged in various texts, but, whoever the speaker, the
time frame is the turn of the second century b .c .e .

Midrashic Texts Critical of Saul

Unlike apocryphal texts or Josephus' works , which are extended discourses, the
writings of the Midrash are a verse by verse and sometimes word for word
exposition of the text. In this process, the author is freed from the context of
the Bible to derive his desired conclusion about the text. It is this style of
literature which is associated with the major Jewish works in the last years of
the Second Temple and in the generations following: Mekhilta, Sifra,
Tal­mud, Midrash Rabbah, for example. Some of this material continues in the
antagonistic vein of the apocalytpic and apocryphal writers.
There is an attempt to restructure the text of Chronicles on Saul’s
downfall to correspond with details in the book of Samuel:

For five sins Saul died, as it is written, “So Saul died for his transgressions which he
committed against the Lord” (I Chronicles 10:13). As Samuel said to him, “Seven days
shall you tarry, till I come unto thee” (I Samuel 10:8), which he failed to do; “I forced
myself therefore and offered the burnt offering” (13:12) (1). “Because o f the word of the
Lord, which he kept not” (I Chronicles 10:13) - that he spared Agag (2). That he
destroyed Nob, city o f priests (3). “That he asked of a ghost” (Ibid.) (4). “And did not
inquire o f the Lord” (Ibid.) - that refers to Saul telling the priest, “Withdraw your
hand’’ (I Samuel 14:19) (5). (Midrash Shmuel 24:7)

The author is committed to the number five; he therefore adds to the
items in Chronicles the slaying of the priests of Nob, even though no textual
ground is given. The author of the midrash is also pressed to explain when it
was that Saul did not inquire of the Lord, so he has interpreted the reference
to Saul s order to the priest to withdraw his hand from the ephod
as failing to ask God’s advice before entering into combat, whereas the original text
demonstrates, instead, the urgency of the situation, not a failure on Saul s
part. (Indeed, Targum  translates this phrase as “bring the ephod," which has
the opposite connotation.)

Another version is recorded in Vayikra Rabbah 26:7, and Shlomo Buber,
in his comments to Midrash Shmuel, suggests that the original version
associated “which he committed” in Chronicles with the death of the priests
at Nob. The opening note to Psalms 7 refers it to “the matter of Cush Ben-
yamini,” and Midrash Tehilim 7:18 presumes this to be Saul, the son of Kish,
the Benjaminite:

Was Saul indeed an Ethiopian (Kushi)? “He did not wait” (for Samuel's return at Gilgal)
and “God gave him another heart” (when Saul joined the band o f prophets). Thus
Samuel said to him, “What have you done?” He answered, “Because I saw that the
people were scattered from me and thou came not within the days appointed . . . and 1
offered burnt offering” (13:12). To prove the spiritual blackness of Saul, as implied by “Ethiopian,” a
verse is taken out of context. Whereas Saul s change of heart is implied to be
for the better, it is here interpreted to mean for the worse, for failing to wait
for Samuel.

Saul is depicted as arrogant and quarrelsome before God in the text of Kohelet Rabbah
7:33 (and, similarly, in Yoma 22b and Midrash Shmuel 18:3-4):

“Be not righteous overmuch; neither make thyself overwise” (Ecclesiastes 7:16). Don’t be
more righteous than your Creator; this refers to Saul, as it is written, “And Saul came to
the city of Amalek” (I Samuel 15:5). The continuation o f the text is “and laid in wait in
the valley. ” Rav Huna and Rav Banayah12 say, “He began to question the judgment o f
his creator, and said, ‘The Holy One said to attack Amalek. I f the men sinned, what did
the women do, or the children, or the cattle?’ A heavenly voice announced, ‘Be not more
righteous than your Creator¡”’ The Rabbis said, “He began to dispute about the calf of
the broken neck. He said, ‘The text tells us, “They break the neck o f the calf in the valley”
(in case o f an unsolved homicide) (Deuteronomy 21:4). This one is killed and the other
one has its neck broken. This one sinned, what did the other do? A heavenly voice
announced, ‘Be not righteous overmuch! ” Rav Shimon ben Lakish said, “Whoever is
merciful instead o f cruel will in the end be cruel when it is time to be merciful; from
whence do we know that he will be cruel instead of merciful? It is stated, ‘He struck Nob,
city o f the priests, with the sword from man to woman, child to babe, ox, donkey, and
sheep, by sword’ (I Samuel 22:18). Let not the fate o f Nob be as that of the seed of
Amalek!” The Rabbis said, ‘Whoever is merciful instead o f cruel (at the necessary
moment) is struck by the attribute o f law (middat hading as is stated, ‘Saul and his three
sons died”’ (I Samuel 31:6).

The text revolves around several key words. The following verse in
Ecclesiastes chimes in, “Why die before your time” (verse 17) and Saul is an
appropriate example of someone who died in his prime. The Hebrew for “laid
in wait” is vayarev, which is lacking the necessary letter aleph for vayaarev.13
It is read as meaning “riv” for quarrel, and hence the question of
the nature of the quarrel. One interpretation reflects the malaise with the
severity of the punishment inflicted upon Amalek but is placed in the mouth
of Saul and thereby discredited. The use of a negative character to phrase
problems of conscience is similarly done in the account of Korach and the
widow s plight as a consequence of Moses’ taxation in
Midrash Tehilim 1:15. 14
The other version responds to the reference to “valley”; if the text in
the Bible is understood as “He quarreled about the valley,” then the associa­tion
of murder, a trait of Amalek, with valley, finds its complement in the law
of the calf whose neck is to be broken in a valley in the case of an unsolved
homicide.

Saul’s meeting with the Witch of Ein-dor incorporates a touch of irony:
“A man or a woman that has a familiar spirit” (Leviticus 20:27). Rav Joshua o f Sichnin
said in the name o f Rav Levi: A man - that is Saul. . . To what can Saul be compared?
To a king who has ordered all the roosters to be slaughtered. He then asks, “Bring me a
rooster to crow!” They answer, “Did you not proclaim, ‘Execute all roosters! ” Thus Saul
removed diviners and those familiar with spirits from the earth. (Vayikra Rabbah 26:7)

The accusation in Chronicles that Saul did not inquire of the Lord is
dealt with in depth in two other references. The first is a continuation of the
above material from Vayikra Rabbah:

"I am sore distressed . . . and God is departed from me, and answers me no more,
neither by prophets nor by dreams” (I Samuel 28:15). Why did he not add Urim and
Thummim? Said Rabbi Isaac b. Hiya: “You brought it on yourself. You destroyed Nob,
city of the priests. ” Because he sinned against the priests (in charge of the oracles) so he
was punished with this sin as well. Just as he killed the priests, so he incurred death for
this sin of the oracle and diviner.

The second sheds light on the passage quoted above, from
Midrash Shmuel, in which this sin is associated with I Samuel 14:16-23:

“Thy word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light to my path” (Psalms 119:105). When did
David recite this verse? When he went to the Valley o f Refaim; even then he did not
proceed to fig ht until he inquired o f the Urim and Thummim. When Samuel proceeded
to anoint David, the angels contested it before God, saying, “Lord of the World, why
have you taken the kingdom from Saul and given it to David?” He answered, “1 will tell
you the difference between Saul and David. Saul began to inquire o f the oracle, but
when he saw the Philistines approach, he ordered the priest ‘hold your hand.’ But
David, when he saw the Philistines approach at Refaim, immediately inquired o f the
Urim and Thummim, as it says, The Philistines made another attack . . . David inquired
of the Lord ” (II Samuel 5:23). (Midrash Tehilim 27:2)

One last example of critical midrash utilizes Saul s physical traits in
contrast with his spiritual faults:

The Rabbis taught (in baraita): Five were created in the heavenly pattern, and all were
injured on that account: Samson - with his strength; Saul - with his height; Absalom -
with his hair; Zedekiah -w ith his eyes; Asa - with his fe e t. . . Saul, with his neck, as it is
written, “And Saul took his own sword and fell on it” (I Samuel 31:4). (Sotah 10a).
In Sotah 1:8 there is a comparable thought:

“He had a son whose name was Saul, and there was no one o f Israel who was better than
he” (1 Samuel 9:2). Could this mean in all respects better? We are taught, “from his
shoulders and above, taller than his fellow” (Ibid.). (Also see Midrash Shmuel 13:7.)
For these critics, Saul s virtue started and stopped at his neck.


Drashot Offering Benefit of the Doubt

Just as the text attributed to Judah ben Tabbai some three centuries or more
before the editing of the Mishnah attempted to understand Saul from the
standpoint of human emotion, so do later statements, in accord with the
concept: “A man does not sin, unless the spirit of foolishness has entered
him.”

Blame is placed on Doeg, the advisor, as the cause of Saul s harsh
downfall. Doeg, along with Balaam, Ahitophel, and Gehazi, has no place in
the world to come (Sanhedrin 10:2). Why is he called “Doeg the Edomite,”
the reddish one?:

Bar Kapara said, “That he withheld the blood o f Agag from Saul, by quoting, ‘You shall
not slaughter it and its calf on the same day (Leviticus 22:28). You would kill child and
elder, babe and woman on the same day!’ Hence he was called the red one, since he
caused Saul to be held liable on his account.” (Midrash Tehilim 32:4)

Bar Kapara takes the doubt which was attributed to Saul in Kohelet Rabbah
by Rav Huna and moves it to Doeg. He is also attributed with the following statement: “‘And Saul and the people had pity on Agag (I Samuel 15:9) — that is Doeg, who was equal to all Israel”
(Midrash Shmuel 18:4).15

The blame is placed upon Doeg for the massacre at Nob as well:

“He told Saul” (Psalm 52:2, about Ahimelech). What is “He told”? Thus he said, “David
has made himself king in your lifetime, since one does not inquire o f the Urim and
Thummim unless one is king or court or where the public weal depends upon it.
However, David has inquired o f them. . . . ” (Saul) said to Doeg, “You struck them with
your speech, now strike them with the sword.” (Midrash Tehilim 52:5)

The biblical text makes it clear that inquiring of the oracle was Doeg’s fabrication; the midrash clarifies its impact:

“You love evil over good, a lie above a word of righteousness” (Psalm 52:5). David said to
Doeg, “You prefer the harm to Saul over his well-being, for had he not heard slander
from you, he would not have been punished!” (Midrash Tehilim 52:7)

Responsibility is likewise placed upon Abner for not protesting to Saul and thereby stopping him
(Yerushalmi Peah 1:1 and Babli Sanhedrin 20a). It is even thrust upon the shoulders of David and Jonathan by Rav, quoted by Rav Yehudah:

Said the Holy One, Blessed be He, to David, “How long will this sin be buried in your
hands” (referring to the massacre) - “by your hands Saul and his three sons were
killed!” (Sanhedrin 95a). Had David not sought refuge, the massacre would not have
taken place.

Said Rav Yehuda in the name o f Rav, “Had Jonathan only given David two loaves o f
bread, the priests o f the city would not have been killed, Doeg would not have been
condemned, and Saul and his three sons would not have been killed.” (Sanhedrin 104a)

The Rabbis are always eager to teach the power of confession and
repentance. Thus again, in the name of Rav, quoted by Rabbah bar Haninah
Saba: Whoever transgresses and is then ashamed o f it has his sins forgiven. . . . Samuel said to
Saul, “Why have you disturbed me and brought me up?” Saul said, “I am in great
trouble. The Philistines are pressing upon me and God has turned away from me. He no
longer answers me through dreams or prophets, and I have summoned you to tell me
what I should do” (I Samuel 28:15). Why did he not mention the Urim and Thummim?
Because he had killed the people o f the priestly city o f Nob (an act o f which he was
ashamed). Whence do we know he was forgiven in the eyes o f Heaven? “Tomorrow you
and your sons are with me” (verse 19). Said Rav Yochanan, “With me -o n my side.” The
Rabbis said it is learned from this verse, “We shall put them to death at Gibeah o f Saul,
chosen o f the Lord” (II Samuel 21:6). It was a heavenly voice that announced the words,
“chosen o f the Lord. ” (Berakhot 12b) 15

Doeg is head of the court (Midrash Tehilim 3:4) and a great scholar (Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 15:2). In
this period, in Rabbinic retrospect, every child studied halakhah (Vayikra Rabbah 26:7).
Rabbi Shimon bar Lakish adopts a similar theme in regard to Saul’s atonement, which can be contrasted with the criticism recorded in his name on the theme of “merciful instead of cruel” mentioned above:

At that moment, the Holy One, Blessed be He, called to his angels and said: “See my
creation. In the normal way o f the world, a man goes to the house o f drink and does not
take his sons with him fo r fear that it would be unseemly. But this one knows that he is to
be killed, takes his three sons with him, and rejoices in accepting the decree that strikes
him. (Midrash Shmuel 24:6 and Vayikra Rabbah 26:7)

A common theme of Rabbinic doctrine is the assumption that all the figures of the Bible were engaged in halakhic discussion in the same manner carried out in the academies of Yavneh or Sura. Since all Oral Law was interpreted as dating back to Moses, there was the assumption that what was
being taught as new had been said before. Someone as prominent as Saul could only be seen in the pattern of a talmudic sage.

Saul gave the hand of his daughter Michal to another man, when by rights she was the wife of David; Saul, as scholar, could not possibly create an adulterous situation. There is an attempt to find a legal rationale, as in the following text, which transfers the blame, again, to Doeg’s malicious advice:

This one permitted adultery. Said Rav Nachman, son o f Shmuel bar Nachman: “He
permitted his wife because he is a rebel against the government; hence, he is like a dead
man, his blood is free (to be shed) and his wife is free (to be married).” (Bereshit Rabbah
32:1)

The Tosefta deals in strictly halakhic terms:

How can it be that Michal was given to Adriel? Wasn’t she given to Palti ben Laish, as it
says, “And Saul gave Michal, his daughter, the wife o f David, to Paltiel ben Laish of
Gallim ’ (I Samuel 25:42)! Rather they compared the marriage o f Michal to the marriage
o f Merav. Just as the marriage o f Michal to Adriel was a sin, so was the marriage o f
Merav a sin. The students of Rabbi Yose asked, “How can it be that David married his
wife’s sister? He married her after the death o f Merav.” And Rabbi Joshua b. Karha
said, “The marriage was not correctly carried out, hence they were not considered
married.” (Sota 11, p. 316, Zuckermandel ed.)

The error involved in the original marriage is developed in full in Sanhedrin
19b:

What marriage took place in error? It is written, “Whoever slays (Goliath) will the king
make rich and give his daughter’ (I Samuel 17:25). David killed him and came to Saul,
“You have a promisory loan from me. ” But a woman engaged by a loan is not engaged.
Therefore, he gave her to Adriel, as it is written, “At the time that Merav, Saul’s
daughter, should have been given to David, she was given to Adriel the Mecholite as
wife” (I Samuel 18:19). He then said, “I f you wish that I give you Michal for a wife, bring
me a hundred Philistine foreskins. ” David did so, and said, “You have both a loan and a
prutah’s worth (minimum sum) from me!” Saul was o f the thought, “Loan and prutah,
the intent is on the loan, ” and David was of the thought, “Loan and prutah, the intention
is on the prutah. ” But what if all the world agrees that intent is on the prutah? We can
explain that Saul believed that it had no value, and David believed that it was of value at
least to dogs and cats.

What would seem, in the biblical text, a case of double-dealing, has been
reduced, in Rabbinic discourse, to a halakhic dispute between two scholars of
great rank.

Drashot that Idealize Saul

There is yet a third category of exegesis, fully removed from either the
severe denunciation of a Pseudo-Philo or the psychologizing of a Josephus.
These texts try to portray Saul, even with his faults, as one of the great saints
of the Bible.

A text in Midrash Shmuel, cited earlier, speaks of Saul s five sins. In front of the text of an alternate version, found in Vayikra Rabbah, also quoted earlier, is the caption: “The Rabbis taught: For five sins did this righteous man die" 16 Similarly, the text of Berakhot12a, mentioned above, empha­sizes
that a heavenly voice declared Saul “the chosen of the Lord.”

When David is contrasted to Saul, it is David who is found wanting by comparison:
Zutra bar Tubia taught in the presence o f Rav Judah. He asked, “What is the end o f the
verse, ‘These are the last words o f David?” (II Samuel 23:1). “Last.” “What are the
first?” . . . “And David spoke the words o f this song on the day God saved him from the
hand o f his enemies, from the hand o f Saul” (II Samuel 22:1). God told David, “David,
you sing a song on the fall o f Saul! I f you were Saul, and he David, how many times
would I have destroyed Davids for him!” Therefore in Psalms 7, he wrote shigayon  (17 ) of
David, which he sang unto the Lord on the matter o f Kush ben Yamini. Was Kush his
name? Rather Saul was his name; but, just as an Ethiopian is exceptional for his skin, so
was Saul exceptional for his deeds. (Moed Katan 16b)

The same word, Kush, used in Midrash Tehilim to discredit Saul, is used herein to his glory.

Yet the following text, from Midrash Tehilim, also carries the theme of the contrast between Saul and David, to Saul’s credit:

Said the Holy One to David, “Why do you curse my anointed one? You say, ‘All my
enemies will be frustrated and stricken with terror(Psalm s 6:11). Do you call Saul an
enemy! As it says, *On the day God saved him from the hand o f his enemies, from the
hand o f Saul ” (II Samuel 22:1). He said to him, “Lord o f the world, intentional sins are
before you as mere errors, as you said, ‘Errors, who can understand?’” (Psalms 19:13).
(Midrash Tehilim 7:1)

David is forced to ask forgiveness for his arrogance. The theme is then continued in the text:

Rav Shmuel bar Nachman: “You compare yourself to Saul! Saul freed his possessions to
the use of the wars o f Israel, as it says, ‘He took a pair of oxen and cut them (1 Samuel
11:3) and you would compare yourself to Saul! “Lighter than eagles, stronger than
lio ns” (II Samuel 1:23). Rabbi Levi said: “Saul could walk sixty miles in a day.”
The text continues with a discussion of Saul s physical speed, discusses
the statement, “Do not rejoice at the fall of your enemy,” and concludes, in
the words of Rav Aha, “If your luck were the luck of Saul, how many Davids
would I have destroyed for him!”

This concept of man s fortune dependent upon God’s grace and providence is echoed in the following text, the theme of which is strikingly different from the assumed Rabbinic stance, “Everything
is foreseen, but the choice is fully within human hands”:

Said Rav Huna: “How little does a person suffer if the Lord helps him. Saul committed
one sin, and was held accountable; David committed two sins, but was not held liable!
Saul with one sin - the incident o f Agag. But what o f the incident o f Nob? It is after the
incident of Agag that the text says, I repent that 1 have anointed Saul to be King’ (I
Samuel 15:11). What were David s two? The killing of Uriah and the incitement (to
census, according to Rashi). Is there not also the incident o f Bat Sheva? He paid for it.”
(Yoma 22b)

The text of Yoma deals exclusively with Saul, including in it the
aforementioned debate on “Be not righteous.” After listing more of the sins of
David, and realizing that not for David’s greater saintliness was he promoted
but by virtue of Divine fiat, the text continues to examine the reason for
Saul’s removal:

Said Rav Judah in the name o f Samuel, “Why did the house o f Saul not continue to
reign? Because he had no faults, ju st as Rav Yochanan in the name o f Rav Shimon bar
Yehozedek said, One does not appoint an individual to the position o f leader o f the
public unless a box o f lizards hangs behind him (a history o f sin in the family), so that if
his mind errs, they can say, Look behind you. ” Said Rav Judah in the name o f Rav:
“Why was Saul punished? Because he forewent the honor due to him, as it is written,
‘Certain base fellows said: How shall this man save us? And they despised him, and
brought him no present. But he held his peace’ (I Samuel 10:27) and immediately
following, it says, ‘Then Nahash the Ammonite came up and encamped against Jabesh-
Gilead” (a sign o f reproval) (I Samuel 11:1). (Yoma 22b)

What are the characteristics that made Saul a leader in the first place?

Many texts emphasize the obvious picture, in the Bible, of his modesty:

Saul did not merit kingship for any reason other than his modesty, as we are told, “Let
us turn back, or my father will stop worrying about the asses and begin to worry about
us” (I Samuel 9:5). But Samuel responded, “Your father has stopped being worried
about the asses and is worrying about you, saying, ‘What shall I do about my son?’”
(Tosefta Berakhot 4:18)

It is implied herein that Saul, in modesty, included in his father’s concerns his servants as much as himself, an assumption which Samuel repudiates.
His modesty is itself part of a family trait:

“He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous; but with kings upon the throne, He
sets them forever, and they are excited” (Proverbs 36:7). Said Rav Elazar: For the merit
o f modesty, Rachel deserved that Saul be descended from her. For the merit o f modesty
in him, Saul deserved that Esther be descended from him . . . What was SauYs modesty?
“Concerning the matter of the kingship, whereof Samuel spoke, he told him not” (I
Samuel 10:16). Consequently, he was meritorious, and Esther was his descendant.
(Megillah 13a)

Saul s modesty is exemplified in a text dealing with famous models of
modesty, including Moses, which states:

Thus says the text, “A mans pride shall bring him low, but he that is o f humble spirit
shall attain honor” (Proverbs 29:23). Whoever pursues high office, high office flees from
him, but whoever flees high office, the high office pursues him. Saul fled from his office
at the moment they wished to anoint him king. Said the Holy One to Samuel, “He has hid
himself among the baggage” . . . Baggage refers to Urim and Thummim (Midrash
Aggadah, ed. Buber, Vayikra 1:1 )(T he implication is that Saul let the pronouncement o f
fitness come through divine oracle, not through his own choosing.)

Saul s modesty extended to physical discretion, to the detriment of David s own lack of shame:
Michal said to David, “Today the honor o f my father s house was exposed” (at the time o f
David s wild dance at the return o f the ark). They said of the house of Saul that one
never saw his heel or toe. Thus it is written, “And he came to the sheepcotes by the way,
where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself a little at a time, and cover it
repeatedly. Said David, “Cursed be whoever touches that righteous one.” (Yerushalmi
Sanhedrin 2:4)

As mentioned above, the biblical figures were all seen as great talmudic lights as well. Not only did some Rabbis try to mitigate Saul’s failings on the basis of mistakes in halakhah, but they portrayed him as a devotee of sages as well. Thus, when the Mishnah (Nedarim 9:10) compares the lamentation
prescribed by David for the women over Saul, “Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet delicately” (II Samuel 1:24), the discussion in the Yerushalmi to that text is:

Hama said: Banot Yisrael (daughters o f Israel) - Bena’ot yisrael (the beautiful o f Israel)
- that is the Sanhedrin, for when he would see a group o f scholars, he would wine and
dine them. What does the text mean, “Who put ornaments of gold upon your apparel”?
That means he would listen to the lessons o f the sage and praise him. The text, in the
names o f Rav Judah and Rav Nehemiah, also compares Saul to Rav Ishmael for his
generosity, by feeding the wives o f his soldiers.

The text of Yoma 22b, which contains the extended discussion on Saul
mentioned earlier, provides an example of the Rabbis giving Saul the attri­bute of near perfection:

Said Rav Huna, “Saul was a year when he became King” (I Samuel 13:1). That means
that he never tasted the taste o f sin (like a one year old child). Rav Nachman bar Yitzhak
disagreed: “He was like your child, muddied and soiled with excrement. That night he
saw a frightening apparition in his dream, and he declared, I have disturbed the bones
o f Saul the son of Kish.The apparition returned, until he declared, I have disturbed the
bones o f Saul, the son of Kish, king of Israel!’”18

Saul is ultimately redeemed, in Rabbinic lore, by being elevated to the
greatest honor possible, to eschatological function and a place in the presence
of God. Saul is seated in the company of the Messiah and made a heavenly
defender of Israel. Thus, Rav Sheshet and Hannah bar Bisna in the name of
Rav Shimon Hasida said:

“We will set up over it seven shepherds, eight princes o f men” (Micah 5:4). Who are the
seven shepherds? David in the middle, Adam, Seth, Methuselah on the right, Abraham,
Jacob, Moses on the left. Who are the eight princes? Jesse, Saul, Samuel, Amos,
Zephaniah, Zedekiah, Messiah, Elijah. (Sukkot 52b)19

The ultimate reconciliation is effected; Saul is not only in the same row
with the Messiah, but is seated next to David’s father, Jesse, on one side, and
with Samuel, who had bemoaned Saul’s failings, on the other.

Concluding Thoughts
It is part and parcel of Rabbinic homiletics to use the figures of the Bible for
didactic ends, even though the plain meaning of the text may suffer. They
projected contemporary issues into the past, as recorded in the Bible. In
addition, there is a strong tendency in Rabbinic teaching to elevate the status
of all figures in the Bible, in line with the concept, “If our ancestors were like
angels, then we are mere mortals; if our ancestors were mere mortals, then
we are monkeys.’’ The methods and motivations are underscored in
Darkei Aggadah by Heinemann.20

It is from this perspective that it is possible to understand the radical
differences in approach of the Midrash to that of earlier works. The literature
of the Second Temple period varies from being highly critical and negative, as
in Enoch, to an attempt to understand why Saul failed, as in the works of
Josephus. These works appear as extended discourse on a theme, written as
narrative, apocalypse, or wisdom literature. Though reflecting the methods
developed centuries earlier, we find in the works recorded following the fall
of the Second Temple not only the sharp criticism but a benefit of the doubt
and even an acquittal of soul, something that is possible when, in midrashic
approach, the text becomes merely the starting point and no longer the
definite authority.

There is only one text that stands out in contrast to the favorable
pronouncements which seem to predominate in later years, and that is in the
Tanna d’bei Eliahu.

The work is radically different from the literature commonly found during this period; it reflects, in its style, a return to the extended discourse upon themes, characteristic of a Ben Sira, for example,
rather than verse by verse explication. It is only here that Saul is villified in the manner of Enoch or Pseudo-Philo. Saul is included in a discussion of those to be punished in this world and the next, after Ahitophel, the genera­tions of the flood, the people of Sodom, Sanherib and Pharaoh:

And Saul displayed crass behavior. Therefore, he was killed and the royalty taken from
him. . . . He kept jealousy in his heart and poured out vengeance upon Israel on account
o f David . . . what he was not commanded to do, he did, and what he was commanded to
do, he did it not . . . he spared Agag and slaughtered the priests of Nob . . . he was
careless in causing adultery, to give Michal, Davids wife, to Paltiel ben Laish, and
inquired o f the spirit, and repeatedly caused abominations in Israel. Therefore, he was
killed and the throne of Israel taken from him (Tanna d’bei Eliahu Rabbah, chapter 31,
Warsaw ed., chapter 21, ish Shalom ed.)21

Only Saul s sins are recorded, and he is ranked in the same list, not with
the eight princes in heaven of the Talmud, but with those who are recorded
in Midrash Sanhédrin 11 as having no place in the world to come and with the
great enemies of Israel, Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar, who also have no
share in the world to come (Shabbat 146b); Saul, too, by implication, is in the
nether world.

Which image of Saul became the acceptable one in later generations? I remember, as a child, being taught in yeshivah that the only person who came close to being perfect was Saul. He had committed only one sin. Today,it would be well to reopen the case of Saul and review the rise and fall of a
national leader. Knowing his strengths and shortcomings, we should reinter­pret
the character to fit the intricacies of modern parliamentary politics.


Notes:

1 Biblical quotations are taken from the 1917 JPS translation.
2 Taken from the New English Bible.
3 Abraham Kahana, Hasefarim Hahitzonim, vol. 1 (Tel Aviv: 5720).
4 Op. Cit. , introduction to text of Enoch.
5 “Pseudo-Philo,” Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 13. A. Spero (“Samaritans, Tobiads, & Judahites,” PAA/R, 20, 1951, p. 300) suggests that the work is old, intended as a polemic against the Samaritans and the Tobiad family. He presumes that the rewriting of the Bible could be so extensive because it was, at that time, not yet widely read.
6 Louis Ginzberg, Legends o f the Jews, vol. VI (Philadelphia), pp. 233-34, n. 62, 66.
7 Joseph Klausner, From Jesus to Paul (Boston: 1961), p. 305.
8 J. Heinemann, Darkei Haggadah (Jerusalem: 5714), p. 144. Josephus adopts a style of analysis from the literary school of Theophrastus.
9 William Whiston, trans., The Genuine Works of Flavius Josephus, rev. Sam Burder (Boston: 1849).
10 Translations of Rabbinic texts are by the author. This excerpt is based on the Finklestein edition of Aboth dRabbi Nathan.
11 Edited by Shlomoh Buber. Other Rabbinic texts are from the standard edition of the Talmud.
Midrash Rabbah texts taken from the edition printed by Levin-Epstein, Jerusalem, 5727.
12 According to the text of Midrash Shmuel, it should read, “Rav Banai in the name of Rav Huna.”
13 See Kittel, Biblia Hebraica.
14 Other examples of biblical figures expressing Rabbinic doubts can be found in Heinemann, op. cit. , p.91.
16 According to Zunz, much older material is recorded in Vayikra Rabbah under the caption, “The
Rabbis taught” (t’no rabbanan).
17 Rashi comments that shigayon be read shegagah, meaning an error rather than a musical instruction,thus clarifying the intention of the midrash.
18 This can be compared to a similar dream attributed to Rav Ashi concerning King Menasseh, recorded in Sanhédrin 102b.
19 See also Yalkut Shimoni to Micah 5:4 and Bam idbar Rabbah 14:2, under the theme “Debates about the Messiah.”
20 Leopold Zunz, Hadrashot Beyisrael, ed. Chanoch Albeck (Jerusalem: 1954), p. 54.
21 T here is also th e ten d en cy to exaggerate th e shortcom in gs o f bib lical characters for p ed agogic purposes.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Democracy, Elections, Brexit on the 4thof July- A Perspective from 90 Years Ago


Democracy, Elections, Brexit on the 4thof July- A Perspective from 90 Years Ago



 My father's Doctorate on the Collapse of Parliamentary Democracy, signed by the future Cardinal of Vienna, Innitzer.
Follow the link for the full text of the thesis
Based on the passage in my book, Courage of the Spirit. Available at Amazon


This Shabbat, in  our Torah reading, we have an uprising against the leadership of Moses and Aaron by the CIA. Yes, the old version. Moses sends twelve spies to scout the land of Israel and he gets the " Majority Report"- A land that devours its inhabitants, a land of giants that make us look like grasshoppers!
Next week, we have an uprising from within the ruling party- within the Levites- the Korach faction, allied with the Reuben party.
The first uprising is met with a change of fate—the people are doomed by the report itself to wander for 40 years, until they have developed the guts to take on the giants, who seemed to have vanished.
The second uprising is put down by earthshaking force-an earthquake followed by divine fire. Moses himself does not put down the rebellion—God does it. Many years later, the Bolsheviks would perfect the massive suppression of any questions of leadership by terrorism. I will talk later about my father, but just mention that he asked one of his friends, Mannes Sperber, an active young leader of the communists in Austria, how he could justify the purges under Lenin and Stalin. His friend answered matter of factly, “Look at what Moses did to Korach."
Here we are, just before the 4th of July, and we have the threats of a loss of faith in leadership.
Anyone who watches the developments in the UK, with the Brexit vote, this last week, must surely be concerned, for of all the Europeans, the British are the closest in mentality to the Americans. It is for a great number of historical reasons, beginning with some loyal subjects of the Crown who thought the king, of German heritage, did not understand his own people. There is something of a shared concern here, as we have gone through a contentious primary campaign of both parties. We all know that as soon as the vote was announced, the stock market fell and the sky fell as well; fortunately, some voices were heard, such as Kissinger, telling us it won’t be so bad. Bad- but not so bad!
The Brexiters, the Trumpkins, the Sanderistas, for all that the issues are different, are the same in one thing. Pundits would like us to believe it is only "country-bumpkins,” “racists”, “people looking for a free hand out” who voted as they did. That is a dangerous misreading.
These divergent people all share one thing in common. They don't trust the leadership.That is the key factor.
The spies as well Korach and his fellow travelers created a situation of distrust in the leadership of Moses. Moses was lucky—God was on his side and that was the end of the uprising. Neither we nor the Brits have that guarantee.We don't expect a plague to strike down the rebels nor the earth to open up.
I bring this up because our civilization, Western, democratic, rests upon trust. There has to be trust of each other as citizens and trust in the representatives who have to manage our communal lives on our behalf.
I mentioned my father and his communist friend.  We forget that in those days, 80 and 90 years ago, to be hip, to be with it, you were in one of two extremes—communist or fascist. Much of the trends of those days repeat themselves in later generations. For example, I thought being a hippy was new. No—it was just a copy of the German youth cult of his day. I thought that Herman Hesse was the hot book. No—it was the book that inspired the German youth in his day. And so forth.
The terrorism we saw in Florida and in Ankara?  If we look back at history, we know these are nothing new. These were tools started in the French Revolution, endorsed by Marx, and perfected by Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. It is not the fall back of some primitive know-nothings, but the tools of the vanguard of history. Media savvy? Social networking? Hitler was a master of staged spectacles and had the best film-maker of his day to create a masterpiece documentary.
Back to my father, the future rabbi Dr. Wihelm( William )Weinberg. He was a young, fresh doctoral candidate at the University of Vienna, just 90 years ago, 1926, when he wrote his dissertation. It is so appropriate for us on July 4th, 2016.
Keep in mind that when he first typed his thesis, Hitler had just recently come out of prison and had not had one decent electoral victory. It was the Goldene Zwanziger- Golden Twenties- for the Weimar Republic. The Roaring Twenties for the US, and the world economy was solid. For the most part, Woodrow Wilson had succeeded in his goal: “The world must be made safe for democracy.”
 The only exceptions at the time were  Fascist Italy under Mussolini and the Communist Soviet Union under Lenin. Elsewhere, democracy was safe—or so it seemed to everyone-- but not to the young student of political science, William Weinberg. He was just 25 when he typed his thesis,  Parliamentarism: System and Crisis.
He introduced his paper with the pronouncement of how deeply rooted the parliamentary democratic system is imbedded in Europe.
“Parliamentary Idea”, that the people of a nation choose, and, wherever  direct rule is not possible, then at the minimum, the people have a marked influence on the manner and the norms by which it will be ruled; it is carried out in the leadership of the State through the representatives. It is a very ancient concept. Ancient representative councils were described in antiquity not only in Greece, but in Rome and Germany as well.
 He continues in his thesis to describe the history of the Parliamentary system in medieval England, France, and other European states, down to the forms it took in the 19th and early 20th century.
Now, the thesis comes to its crux- if parliamentary democracy is the chosen form of government, what has happened to it?
He continued:
 In the past 200 years, the Parliamentary system has become the standard form of political life in the civilized world. All the great political struggles of modern times have as their goals the shaping of Parliament. The Parliamentary system attacked and broke monarchy; it is identical with the victory of Democracy—Freedom, the rule of the people in all lands.
We are so proud of the result of the creation of our modern culture and we have become accustomed to see in the parliamentary system the last word in political culture, so that we have hardly recognized  that it has begun to degenerate, that it  is losing its original purpose. We have come to this time, when the parliamentary system has become the topic of debate, in which its flaws are widely known, and the whole world is speaking of a crisis of the parliamentary system.
The signs of this crisis can be found in all European states, not only Italy and Russia, …. We have in mind those countries with strong parliamentary constitutions—France, England, Germany, and the smaller states. Overall we find an inability of the parliamentary system to guarantee a proper and stable leadership and create a good and lasting government and provide a beneficial and orderly administration.
. . . there has been an all around failure of belief in the system.  … they have become disillusioned and mistrusting and seek other forms of political leadership. The idea of a dictator is today popular in many European states. Parliamentary rule is evermore unpopular; its existence is in danger. Many political thinkers, historians, and philosophers of history see its imminent demise. “

What are the causes of the crisis? It goes back to the two core principals which inevitably conflict:
“The parliamentary system has two key foundations. The first foundation is the principal of democracy: the people alone determine their own fate. The second foundation is the principal of representation. Since it is impossible for each citizen to directly and constantly involved with all political questions, he chooses a representative who makes decisions on his behalf.
Parliamentarism is therefore a representative democracy yet it is this very principal of representation that bears danger form its beginning.
These prophecies by the theoreticians of modern democracy have correctly predicted: the more that the parliamentary system has developed, and the greater the State has become, so richer and complicated has become the political life, so that more and more, the Parliament becomes independent, absolute, and unaccountable to the people, a world to itself.
Politics has become a science with its unique discipline, methods and secrets. Today, it is so complicated and twisted, that the common man, with average reasoning ability, cannot find his way in it.
The politician becomes a new creation. He is no longer the representative of his thousands of fellow citizens, no longer the fighter and the spokesperson for the others.
He is rather a man for whom politics is his profession, who has become an expert in the wisdom and secrets of the hidden science of politics.
It must also be added that the legal framework today is no longer managed by the parliament; instead it has become completely a matter of the state bureaucracy. This happens because of the degree of knowledge and expertise that is necessary to shape a law today.
Increasingly, the politician loses the common interest of his constituents; less and less does politics arise from the realistic needs and wants of the people.
The parliament has ceased to be a suitable apparatus for dealing with the public good, resting on the broadest foundation; it stands upon artful electioneering mathematics. These delegates no longer represent the people against the State authority and its bureaucracy and no longer adopt policies necessary for civil life; they fail to act as a vent for individual initiative and freedom of the soul. The delegates legislative effectiveness is identified with the will of the state and its political activity and his attachment is to the party organization.
It is no wonder that the people are disappointed and indifferent to parliament, to the parliamentary politics, which then loses their loyalty.
Therefore, in different countries people are looking for a new political form to inherit the role of the parliamentary system. In Europe, there are now two such systems: Fascism in Italy and Sovietism in Russia.”
He finished up his dissertation with some ideas for improving the European systems to better reflect the voice of the people. As I said, he started it in 1926, 90 years ago. In 1928 he received his doctorate, and the signature on the diploma is of the Rector of the University, Theodore Innitzer. Exactly ten years later, as Cardinal Innitzer, he welcomed Hitler into Vienna because, as he saw it, government had collapsed.
       It would be facile to equate what we have today with what was happening in the 1920’s and 30’s. Nevertheless, we need to recognize that our system of government is very delicate.  I must admit that I find trends on the far left and in the academic left that remind me of  tactics of a century ago; it is more worrisome because it is supported by tuition from wealthy parents paying $50,000 a year. It is may be just as dangerous as the tactics of the far right, or more so.
Our key concern still must be representatives who listen, and who are open, transparent, so that we can regain faith in our system. We need representatives who can reach across their lines of supporters and talk to the needs of the people who vote against them. We can’t have our leaders putting spins on things, so that failed policies are paraded as successes, or that one position is put forward to the public, while actual policies create the opposite results.
On this 4th of July, we pray that we can continue this nation on its path, believing whole-heartedly that:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed