Kitab al Khazari/Part Three
THE RABBI: According to our view a servant of God is not one who detaches himself from the world, lest he be a burden to it, and it to him; or hates life, which is one of God's bounties granted to him, as it is written: 'The number of thy days I will fulfil'; 'Thou shalt live long' (Exod. xxiii. 26). On the contrary, he loves the world and a long life, because it affords him opportunities of deserving the world to come. The more good he does the greater is his claim to the next world. He even reaches the degree of Enoch, concerning whom it is said: 'And Enoch walked with God' (Gen. v. 24); or the degree of Elijah, freed from worldly matters, and to be admitted to the realm of angels. In this case he feels no loneliness in solitude and seclusion, since they form his associates. He is rather ill at ease in a crowd, because he misses the divine presence which enables him to dispense with eating and drinking. Such persons might perhaps be happier in complete solitude; they might even welcome death, because it leads to the step beyond which there is none higher. Philosophers and scholars also love solitude to refine their thoughts, and to reap the fruits of truth from their researches, in order that all remaining doubts be dispelled by truth. They only desire the society of disciples who stimulate their research and retentiveness, just as he who is bent upon making money would only surround himself with persons with whom he could do lucrative business. Such a degree is that of Socrates and those who are like him. There is no one nowadays who feels tempted to strive for such a degree, but when the Divine Presence was still in the Holy Land among the people capable of prophecy, some few persons lived an ascetic life in deserts and associated with people of the same frame of mind. They did not seclude themselves completely, but they endeavoured to find support in the knowledge of the Law and in holy and pure actions which brought them near to that high rank. These were the disciples of prophets. He, however, who in our time, place, and people, 'whilst no open vision exists' (1 Sam. iii. 1), the desire for study being small, and persons with a natural talent for it absent, would like to retire into ascetic solitude, only courts distress and sickness for soul and body. The misery of sickness is visibly upon him, but one might regard it as the consequence of humility and contrition. He considers himself in prison as it were, and despairs of life from disgust of his prison and pain, but not because he enjoys his seclusion. How could it be otherwise? He has no intercourse with the divine light, and cannot associate himself with it as the prophets. He lacks the necessary learning to be absorbed in it and to enjoy it, as the philosophers did, all the rest of his life. Suppose he is God-fearing, righteous, desires to meet his God in solitude, standing, humbly and contritely, reciting as many prayers and supplications as he possibly can remember, all this affords him satisfaction for a few days as long as it is new. Words frequently repeated by the tongue lose their influence on the soul, and he cannot give to the latter humbleness or submission. Thus he remains night and day, whilst his soul urges him to employ its innate powers in seeing, hearing, speaking, occupation, eating, cohabitation, gain, managing his house, helping the poor, upholding the law with money in case of need. Must he not regret those things to which he has tied his soul, a regret which tends to remove him from the Divine Influence, which he desired to approach?
2. Al Khazari: Give me a description of the doings of one of your pious men at the present time.
3. The Rabbi: A pious man is, so to speak, the guardian of his country, who gives to its inhabitants provisions and all they need. He is so just that he wrongs no one, nor does he grant anyone more than his due. Then, when he requires them, he finds them obedient to his call. He orders, they execute; he forbids, they abstain.
4. Al Khazari: I asked thee concerning a pious man, not a prince.
5. The Rabbi: The pious man is nothing but a prince who is obeyed by his senses, and by his mental as well as his physical faculties, which he governs corporeally, as it is written: 'He that ruleth his spirit [is better] than he that taketh a city' (Prov. xvi. 32). He is fit to rule, because if he were the prince of a country he would be as just as he is to his body and soul. He subdues his passions, keeping them in bonds, but giving them their share in order to satisfy them as regards food, drink, cleanliness, etc. He further subdues the desire for power, but allows them as much expansion as avails them for the discussion of scientific or mundane views, as well as to warn the evil-minded. He allows the senses their share according as he requires them for the use of hands, feet, and tongue, as necessity or desire arise. The same is the case with hearing, seeing, and the kindred sensations which succeed them; imagination, conception, thought, memory, and will power, which commands all these; but is, in its turn, subservient to the will of intellect. He does not allow any of these limbs or faculties to go beyond their special task, or encroach upon another. If he, then, has satisfied each of them (giving to the vital organs the necessary amount of rest and sleep, and to the physical ones waking, movements, and worldly occupation), he calls upon his community as a respected prince calls his disciplined army, to assist him in reaching the higher or divine degree which is to be found above the degree of the intellect. He arranges his community in the same manner as Moses arranged his people round Mount Sinai. He orders his will power to receive every command issued by him obediently, and to carry it out forthwith. He makes faculties and limbs do his bidding without contradiction, forbids them evil inclinations of mind and fancy, forbids them to listen to, or believe in them, until he has taken counsel with the intellect. If he permits they can obey him, but not otherwise. In this way his will power receives its orders from him, carrying them out accordingly. He directs the organs of thought and imagination, relieving them of all worldly ideas mentioned above, charges his imagination to produce, with the assistance of memory, the most splendid pictures possible, in order to resemble the divine things sought after. Such pictures are the scenes of Sinai, Abraham and Isaac on Moriah, the Tabernacle of Moses, the Temple service, the presence of God in the Temple, and the like. He, then, orders his memory to retain all these, and not to forget them; he warns his fancy and its sinful prompters not to confuse the truth or to trouble it by doubts; he warns his irascibility and greed not to influence or lead astray, nor to take hold of his will, nor subdue it to wrath and lust. As soon as harmony is restored, his will power stimulates all his organs to obey it with alertness, pleasure, and joy. They stand without fatigue when occasion demands, they bow down when he bids them to do so, and sit at the proper moment. The eyes look as a servant looks at his master, the hands drop their play and do not meet, the feet stand straight, and all limbs are as frightened and anxious to obey their master, paying no heed to pain or injury. The tongue agrees with the thought, and does not overstep its bounds, does not speak in prayer in a mere mechanical way as the starling and the parrot, but every word is uttered thoughtfully and attentively. This moment forms the heart and fruit of his time, whilst the other hours represent the way which leads to it. He looks forward to its approach, because while it lasts he resembles the spiritual beings, and is removed from merely animal existence. Those three times of daily prayer are the fruit of his day and night, and the Sabbath is the fruit of the week, because it has been appointed to establish the connexion with the Divine Spirit and to serve God in joy, not in sadness, as has been explained before. All this stands in the same relation to the soul as food to the human body. Prayer is for his soul what nourishment is for his body. The blessing of one prayer lasts till the time of the next, just as the strength derived from the morning meal lasts till supper. The further his soul is removed from the time of prayer, the more it is darkened by coming in contact with worldly matters. The more so, as necessity brings it into the company of youths, women, or wicked people; when one hears unbecoming and soul-darkening words and songs which exercise an attraction for his soul which he is unable to master. During prayer he purges his soul from all that passed over it, and prepares it for the future. According to this arrangement there elapses not a single week in which both his soul and body do not receive preparation. Darkening elements having increased during the week, they cannot be cleansed except by consecrating one day to service and to physical rest. The body repairs on the Sabbath the waste suffered during the six days, and prepares itself for the work to come, whilst the soul remembers its own loss through the body's companionship. He cures himself, so to speak, from a past illness, and provides himself with a remedy to ward off any future sickness. This is almost the same as Job did with his children every week, as it is written: 'It may be that my sons have sinned' (Job i. 5). He, then, provides himself with a monthly cure, which is 'the season of atonement for all that happened during this period,' viz. the duration of the month, and the daily events, as it is written: 'Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth' (Prov. xxvii. 1) He further attends the Three Festivals and the great Fast Day, on which some of his sins are atoned for, and on which he endeavours to make up for what he may have missed on the days of those weekly and monthly circles. His soul frees itself from the whisperings of imagination, wrath, and lust, and neither in thought or deed gives them any attention. Although his soul is unable to atone for sinful thoughts--the result of songs, tales, etc., heard in youth, and which cling to memory--it cleanses itself from real sins, confesses repentance for the former, and undertakes to allow them no more to escape his tongue, much less to put them into practice, as it is written: 'I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress' (Ps. xvii. 3). The fast of this day is such as brings one near to the angels, because it is spent in humility and contrition, standing, kneeling, praising and singing. All his physical faculties are denied their natural requirements, being entirely abandoned to religious service, as if the animal element had disappeared. The fast of a pious man is such that eye, ear, and tongue share in it, that he regards nothing except that which brings him near to God. This also refers to his innermost faculties, such as mind and imagination. To this he adds pious works.
6. Al Khazari: Dost thou refer to deeds generally known?
7. The Rabbi: The social and rational laws are those generally known. The divine ones, however, which were added in order that they should exist in the people of the 'Living God' who guides them, were not known until they were explained in detail by Him. Even those social and rational laws are not quite known, and though one might know the gist of them, their scope remains unknown. We know that the giving of comfort and the feeling of gratitude are as incumbent on us as is chastening of the soul by means of fasting and meekness; we also know that deceit, immoderate intercourse with women, and cohabitation with relatives are abominable; that honouring parents is a duty, etc. The limitation of all these things to the amount of general usefulness is God's. Human reason is out of place in matters of divine action, on account of its incapacity to grasp them. Reason must rather obey, just as a sick person must obey the physician in applying his medicines and advice. Consider how little circumcision has to do with philosophy, and how small is its social influence. Yet Abraham, in spite of the hardship the very nature of this command must have seemed at his age, subjected his person and children to it, and it became the sign of the covenant, of the attachment of the Divine Influence to him, as it is written: 'And I will establish My covenant between me and thee and thy seed after them in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee . . .' (Gen. xvii. 7).
8. Al Khazari: You accepted this command in a proper manner indeed, and you perform it publicly with the greatest zeal and readiness, praising it and expressing its root and origin in the formula of blessing. Other nations may desire to imitate you, but they only have the pain without the joy which can only be felt by him who remembers the cause for which he bears the pain.
9. The Rabbi: Even in other instances of imitation no people can equal us at all. Look at the others who appointed a day of rest in the place of Sabbath. Could they contrive anything which resembles it more than statues resemble living human bodies?
10. Al Khazari: I have often reflected about you and come to the conclusion that God has some secret design in preserving you, and that He appointed the Sabbath and holy days among the strongest means of preserving your strength and lustre. The nations broke you up and made you their servants on account of your intelligence and purity. They would even have made you their warriors were it not for those festive seasons observed by you with so much conscientiousness, because they originate with God, and are based on such causes as 'Remembrance of the Creation,' 'Remembrance of the exodus from Egypt,' and 'Remembrance of the giving of the Law.' These are all divine commands, to observe which you are charged. Had these not been, not one of you would put on a clean garment; you would hold no congregation to remember the law, on account of your everlasting affliction and degradation. Had these not been, you would not enjoy a single day in your lives. Now, however, you are allowed to spend the sixth part of life in rest of body and soul. Even kings are unable to do likewise, as their souls have no respite on their days of rest. If the smallest business calls them on that day to work and stir, they must move and stir, complete rest being denied to them. Had these laws not been, your toil would benefit others, because it would become their prey. Whatever you spend on these days is your profit for this life and the next, because it is spent for the glory of God.
11. The Rabbi: The observant among us fulfils those divine laws, viz. circumcision, Sabbath, holy days, and the accessories included in the divine law. He refrains from forbidden marriages, using mixtures in plants, clothes and animals, keeps the years of release and jubilee, avoids idolatry and its accessories, viz. discovering secrets only accessible by means of the Urim and the Thummim, or dreams. He does not listen to the soothsayer, or astrologer, or magician, augur or necromancer. He keeps the regulations concerning issue, of eating and touching unclean animals and lepers; abstains from partaking of blood and forbidden fat, because they form part of the 'five offerings of the Lord.' He observes the sacrifices ordained for intentional and unintentional transgressions; the duty of redeeming the first-born of man and beast. He brings the offerings for every child born to him, and whenever he is purged from issue and leprosy; pays the various kinds of tithes, visits the Holy Land three times in the year; observes the rules of the Paschal lamb with all accessories, as it is 'a sacrifice of the Lord' incumbent upon every freeborn Israelite. He observes the laws of the tabernacle, the palm branch and Shofar, and takes care of the holy and pure implements required for the offerings. He observes the sacrifices for his own purification, as also the regulation of the corner, the 'Orlah,' and [the fruits] holy to praise the Lord therewith. In short, he observes as many of the divine commands as to justify him in saying: 'I have not transgressed one of Thy commands, nor forgotten' (Deut. xxvi. 13). There are further to be added vows and free gifts, peace offerings and self-denials. These are the religious laws, most of which are performed in connexion with the priestly service. The social laws are such as the following: 'Thou shalt not murder,' 'Thou shalt not commit adultery, steal, give false testimony against thy neighbour,' 'Honouring thy parents,' 'You shall love the stranger,' 'You shall not speak untruth and not lie'; such as concern the avoidance of usury, the giving of correct weights and measures; the gleanings to be left, such as the forgotten grapes, the corners, etc. The ethical laws are: 'I am the Lord thy God,' 'Thou shalt have no other God,' and 'Thou shalt not take the name of thy God in vain,' with its corollary that God is all present, and penetrates all the secrets of man, as well as his actions and words, that he requites good and evil, and 'that the eyes of the Lord run to and fro' (2 Chron. xvi. 9), etc. The religious person never acts, speaks or thinks without believing that he is observed by eyes which see and take note, which reward and punish and call to account for everything objectionable in word and deed. In walking or sitting he is like one afraid and timid, who is at times ashamed of his doings; but on the other hand he is glad and rejoices, and his soul exults whenever he has done a good action, as if he had shown some attention to the Lord in enduring hardships in obedience to God. Altogether he believes in and bears in mind the following words: 'Consider three things, and thou wilt commit no sin; understand what is above thee, an all-seeing eye and a hearing ear, and all thine actions are written in a book' (Abōth. ii. 1). He further recalls the convincing proof adduced by David: 'He that planted the ear, shall He not hear; He that formed the eye, shall He not see?' (Ps. xciv. 9). There is also the Psalm beginning: 'O Lord, Thou hast searched me and knowest me' (Ps. cxxxiv.). [When reading it,] he remembers that all his limbs are placed with consummate wisdom, in proper order and proportion. He sees how they obey his will, though he know not which part of them should move. If, for example, he wishes to rise, he finds that his limbs have, like obedient helpers, raised his body, although he does not even know [the nature of] these limbs. It is the same when he wishes to sit, walk, or assumes any position. This is expressed in the words: 'Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising . . . Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways' (ver. 2-3). The organs of speech are much finer and more delicate than these. The child, as thou seest, repeats everything he hears, without knowing with which organ, nerve, muscle he must speak. The same is the case with the organs of breathing in singing melodies. People reproduce them quite harmoniously without being aware how it was done; as if their Creator produced them ever anew and placed them in man's service. Such, indeed, is the case; at least it nearly approaches it. One must not consider the work of creation in the light of an artisan's craft. When the latter, e.g. has built a mill, he departs, whilst the mill does the work for which it was constructed. The Creator, however, creates limbs and endows them continually with their faculties. Let us imagine His solicitude and guidance removed only for one instant, and the whole world would suffer. If the religious person remembers this with every movement he first acknowledges the Creator's part in them, for having created and equipped them with the assistance necessary for their permanent perfection. This is as if the Divine Presence were with him continually, and the angels virtually accompanied him. If his piety is consistent, and he abides in places worthy of the Divine Presence, they are with Him in reality, and he sees them with his own eyes occupying a degree just below that of prophecy. Thus the most prominent of the Sages, during the time of the Second Temple, saw a certain apparition and heard a kind of voice [Bath Qōl]. This is the degree of the pious, next to which is that of prophets The pious man derives from his veneration of the Divine Influence, near to him, what the servant derives from his master who created him, loaded him with gifts, and watches him in order to reward or to punish him. Thou wilt not, then, find any exaggeration in the words he utters when retiring into a private chamber: 'With your permission, O honoured ones,' in reference to the Divine Presence! And when he returns he recites the blessing: 'He that has created man in wisdom.' How sublime is this formula of blessing; what deep meaning is in its wording for him who considers it in the right spirit? Beginning with 'wisdom' and concluding with the words: 'Healer of all flesh and doer of wonders,' it furnishes a proof for the miraculousness visible in the creation of living beings, endowed with the faculties of expelling and retaining. The words 'all flesh' encompass all living beings. In this way he connects his mind with the Divine Influence by various means, some of which are prescribed in the written Law, others in tradition. He wears the phylacteries on his head on the seat of the mind and memory, the straps falling down on his hand, where he can see them at leisure. The hand phylactery he wears above the mainspring of his faculties, the heart. He wears the Zīzith lest he be entrapped by worldly thoughts, as it is written: 'That ye may not go astray after your heart and after your eyes' (Num. xv. 39). Inside the phylacteries are written [verses describing His] unity, reward, punishment, and 'the remembrance of the exodus from Egypt,' because they furnish the irrefutable proof that the Divine Influence is attached to mankind, and that Providence watches them and keeps record of their deeds. The pious man, then, examines his sensations, and devotes part of them to God. Tradition teaches that the smallest measure of praise which it is man's duty to offer to God, consists in a hundred blessings daily. First among these are the ordinary ones, then he supplements them in the course of the day by the blessings which accompany the savouring of odours, eatables and things heard and seen. Whatever he does beyond those is a gain, and brings him nearer to God, as David says: 'My mouth shall show forth Thy righteousness, Thy salvation all the day, for I know not the numbers thereof' (Ps. lxxi. 15). He means to say: Thy glory is not comprehended by numbers, but I will devote myself to it all my life and never be free from it. Love and fear no doubt enter the soul by these means, and are measured with the measure of the law, lest the joy felt on Sabbaths and holy days outstep its bounds and develop into extravagance, debauchery and idleness, and neglect of the hours of prayer. Fear, on the other hand, should not go so far as to despair of forgiveness, and make him spend all his life in dread, causing him to transgress the command given him to feel pleasure in all that sustains him, as it is written: 'Thou shalt rejoice in every good thing' (Deut. xxvi. 11). It would also diminish his gratitude for God's bounties; for gratitude is the effect of joy. He, however, will be as one alluded to in the words: 'Because thou didst not serve the Lord thy God in joy . . . thou shalt serve thine enemies' (Deut. xxviii. 47, 49; Lev. xix. 17). Zeal in reproving 'thy neighbour,' and in study should not pass into wrath and hatred, disturbing the purity of his soul during prayer. He is deeply convinced of the 'justice of God's judgment.' He finds in it protection and solace from sorrow and the troubles of life if he is convinced of the justice of the Creator of all living creatures; He who sustains and guides them with a wisdom which the human intellect is only capable of grasping in a general way, but not in detail. See how wonderfully conceived is the nature of the creatures; how many marvellous gifts they possess which show forth the intention of an all-wise Creator, and the will of an omniscient all-powerful Being. He has endowed the small and the great with all necessary internal and external senses and limbs. He gave them organs corresponding to their instincts. He gave the hare and stag the means of flight required by their timid nature; endowed the lion with ferocity and the instruments for robbing and tearing. He who considers the formation, use and relation of the limbs to the animal instinct, sees wisdom in them and so perfect an arrangement that no doubt or uncertainty can remain in his soul concerning the justice of the Creator. When an evil thought suggests that there is injustice in the circumstance that the hare falls a prey to the lion or wolf, and the fly to the spider, Reason steps in warning him as follows: How can I charge the all-Wise with injustice when I am convinced of His justice, and that injustice is quite out of the question? If the lion's pursuit of the hare and the spider's of the fly were mere accidents, I should assert the necessity of accident. I see, however, that this wise and just Manager of the world equipped the lion with the means for hunting, with ferocity, strength, teeth and claws; that He furnished the spider with cunning and taught it to weave a net which it constructs without having learnt to do so; how He equipped it with the instruments required, and appointed the fly as its food, just as many fishes serve other fishes for food. Can I say aught but that this is the fruit of a wisdom which I am unable to grasp, and that I must submit to Him who is called: 'The Rock whose doing is perfect' (Deut. xxxii. 4). Whoever reflects on this will do as did Nahum of Gimzō, of whom it is related that no matter what happened to him, he always said: 'This, too, is for the best.' He will, then, always live happily, and all tribulations will fall lightly upon him. He will even welcome them if he is conscious of having transgressed, and will be cleansed through them as one who has paid his debt, and is glad of having eased his mind. He looks joyfully forward to the reward and retribution which await him; nay, he enjoys affording mankind a lesson of patience and submission to God, not less than gaining a good reputation. Thus it is with [his own troubles, and also with] those of mankind at large. If his mind is disturbed by the length of the exile and the diaspora and degradation of his people, he finds comfort first in 'acknowledging the justice of the decree,' as said before; then in being cleansed from his sins; then in the reward and recompense awaiting him in the world to come, and the attachment to the Divine Influence in this world. If an evil thought make him despair of it, saying: 'Can these bones live?' (Ezek. xxxvii. 3)--our traces being thoroughly destroyed and our history decayed, as it is written: they say: 'our bones are dried' (ibid 11)--let him think of the manner of the delivery from Egypt and all that is put down in the paragraph: 'For how many favours do we owe gratitude to God?' He will, then, find no difficulty in picturing how we may recover our greatness, though only one of us may have remained. For it is written: 'Worm of Jacob '--what can remain of a man when he has become a worm in his grave?
12. Al Khazari: In this manner he lives a happy life even in exile; he gathers the fruit of his faith in this world and the next. He, however, who bears the exile unwillingly, loses his first and his last rewards.
13. The Rabbi: His pleasure is strengthened and "Can these bones live?" enhanced by the duty of saying blessings over everything he enjoys or which happens to him in this world.
14. Al Khazari: How can that be, are not the blessings an additional burden?
15. The Rabbi: Is it not beseeming that a perfect man should find more pleasure in that which he partakes than a child or an animal; even as an animal enjoys it more than does a plant though the latter is continually taking nourishment?
16. Al Khazari: This is so because he is favoured with the consciousness of enjoyment. If a drunken person were given all he desires, whilst being completely intoxicated, he would eat and drink, hear songs, meet his friends, and embrace his beloved. But if told of it when sober, he would regret it and regard it as a loss rather than a gain, since he had all these enjoyments whilst he was incapable of appreciating them.
17. The Rabbi: Preparing for a pleasure, experiencing it and looking forward to it, double the feeling of enjoyment. This is the advantage of the blessings for him who is used to say them with attention and devotion. They produce in his soul a kind of pleasure and gratitude towards the Giver. He was prepared to give them up; now his pleasure is all the greater, and he says: 'He has kept us alive and preserved us.' He was prepared for death, now he feels gratitude for life, and regards it as gain. Should sickness and death overtake thee, they will be light, because thou hast communed with thyself and seen that thou gainest with thy Lord. According to thy nature thou art well fitted to abjure enjoyment, since thou art dust. Now He has presented thee with life and desire; thou art grateful to Him. If He takes them away, thou sayest: 'The Lord has given, the Lord has taken.' (Job i. 21). Thus thy whole life is one enjoyment. Whoever is unable to pursue such a course, consider not his pleasure a human pleasure, but a brutish one, which he does not perceive, any more than the drunkard alluded to above. The godly person fully grasps the meaning of each blessing, and knows its purpose in every connexion. The blessing, 'He who created the lights,' places before his eye the order of the upper world, the greatness of the heavenly bodies and their usefulness, that in the eyes of their Creator they are no greater than worms, though they appear to us immense on account of the profit we derive from them. The proof that He is their Creator may be found in the circumstance already mentioned, that His wisdom and power observable in the creation of the ant and bee is not less than in that of the sun and its sphere. The traces of this providence and wisdom are finer and more wonderful in the ant and bee, because, in spite of their minuteness, He put faculties and organs into them. This he bears in mind lest the light appear to him too great, and an evil genius lead him to adopt some views of worshippers of spirits, and make him believe that the sun and moon are able to help or injure independently, whilst they can only assist to do so indirectly, like the wind and fire. It is written: 'If I behold the sun when it shines . . . and my heart has been secretly enticed' (Job xxxi. 26, 27). At the blessing beginning: 'with eternal love,' he, in a similar manner, bears in mind the attachment of the Divine Influence to the community which was prepared to receive it, as a smooth mirror receives the light, and that the Law is the outcome of His will in order to establish His sway on earth; as it is in heaven. His wisdom did not demand of Him to create angels on earth, but mortals of flesh and blood, in whom natural gifts and certain characteristics prevail according to favourable or unfavourable influences, as this is explained in the 'Book of Creation.' Whenever some few, or a whole community, are sufficiently pure, the divine light rests on them and guides in an incomprehensible and miraculous manner which is quite outside the ordinary course of the natural world. This is called 'Love and joy." The Divine Influence, however, found next to the stars and spheres none who accepted his commands and who adhered to the course He had dictated, with the exception of a few between Adam and Jacob. When they had become a people, the Divine Influence rested upon them out of love, 'in order to be a God unto them.' In the desert he arranged them in the manner of the sphere in four standards, corresponding to the four quarters of the sphere, and in twelve tribes, corresponding to the twelve signs of the zodiac, the camp of the Levites being in the centre, just as it is stated in the 'Book of Creation.' 'The holy Temple is exactly in the centre, but God carries them all.' All this points to 'love' for the sake of which the blessing is recited. In the reading of the Shema, which then follows, he accepts the obligations of the Law, as in the piece beginning 'True and certain,' which expresses the firm resolution to observe the Tōrāh. This is as if, after having clearly and unmistakably imbibed all that preceded, he binds his soul and testifies that the children should submit to the Law for ever, just as the forefathers had done, according to the words: 'Upon our fathers, and upon us, and our children and our (coming) generations . . . a good word, firmly established, that never passes away.' To this he attaches these articles of creed which complete the Jewish belief, viz. the recognition of God's sovereignty, His eternity, and the providential care which He bestowed on our forefathers; that the Tōrāh emanated from Him, and that the proof for all this is to be found in the delivery from Egypt. This is alluded to in the words: 'It is true that Thou art the Lord our God; truly from everlasting is Thy name . . . the help of our fathers . . . from Egypt didst Thou redeem us.' He who unites all this in pure thought is a true Israelite and worthy of aspiring to the Divine Influence which among all nations was exclusively connected with the children of Israel. He finds no difficulty in standing before the Divine Presence, and he receives an answer as often as he asks. The prayer of the 'Eighteen Benedictions' must follow the blessing 'He has redeemed Israel' immediately and promptly, standing upright for this prayer in the condition described previously, when we discussed the blessings which relate to the whole Israelitish nation. Prayers of more individual character are voluntary and not incumbent, and they have their place in the paragraph ending, 'He who hears the prayer.' In the first paragraph, entitled, 'Fathers,' the worshipper remembers the piety of the Patriarchs, the establishment of the covenant with them on the part of God for all times, which never ceases, as is expressed in the words: 'He brings the Redeemer to their children's children.' The second blessing, known as 'Mighty Deeds,' teaches that God's is the eternal rule of the world, not however, as natural philosophers assert, that this is done by natural and empirical means. The worshipper is further reminded that He revives the dead' whenever He desires, however far this may be removed from the speculation of natural philosophers. Similar ideas prevail in the words: 'He causes the wind to blow, and the rain to descend.' According to His desire He 'delivers those in bondage,' as may be established by instances from the history of Israel. Having read these paragraphs which enlighten him in the belief that God keeps up a connexion with this material world, the worshipper extols and sanctifies Him by the declaration that no corporeal attitude appertains to Him. This is done in the paragraph beginning: 'Thou art holy,' a blessing which inculcates belief in the attributes of sublimity and holiness commented upon by philosophers. This paragraph follows the others in which the absoluteness of God's sovereignty is laid down. They convince us that we have a King and Lawgiver, and without them we had lived in doubt, the theories of philosophers and materialists. The paragraphs of 'Fathers' and 'Mighty Deeds,' must therefore precede that of the 'sanctification of God.' After this the worshipper begins to pray for the wants of the whole of Israel, and it is not permissible to insert other prayers except in the place of voluntary supplications. A prayer, in order to be heard, must be recited for a multitude, or in a multitude or, for an individual who could take the place of a multitude. None such, however, is to be found in our age.
18. Al Khazari: Why is this? If every one read his prayers for himself, would not his soul be purer and his mind less abstracted?
19. The Rabbi: Common prayer has many advantages. In the first instance a community will never pray for a thing which is hurtful for the individual, whilst the latter sometimes prays for something [to the disadvantage of other individuals, or some of them may pray for something] that is to his disadvantage. One of the conditions of prayer, craving to be heard, is that its object be profitable to the world, but not hurtful in any way. Another is that an individual rarely accomplishes his prayer without slips and errors. It has been laid down, therefore, that the individual recite the prayers of a community, and if possible in a community of not less than ten persons, so that one makes up for the forgetfulness or error of the other. In this way [a complete prayer is gained, read with unalloyed devotion. Its blessing rests on everyone] each receiving his portion. For the Divine Influence is as the rain which waters an area (if deserving of it), and includes some smaller portion which does not deserve it, but shares the general abundance. On the other hand, the rain is withheld from an area which does not deserve it, although some portion is included which did deserve it, but suffers with the majority. This is how God governs the world. He reserves the reward of every individual for the world to come; but in this world He gives him the best compensation, granting salvation in contradiction to His neighbours. There are but few who completely escape the general retribution. A person who prays but for himself is like him who retires alone into his house, refusing to assist his fellow-citizens in the repair of their walls. His expenditure is as great as his risk. He, however, who joins the majority spends little, yet remains in safety, because one replaces the defects of the other. The city is in the best possible condition, all its inhabitants enjoying its prosperity with but little expenditure, which all share alike. In a similar manner, Plato styles that which is expended on behalf of the law, 'the portion of the whole.' If the individual, however, neglects this 'portion of the whole' which is the basis of the welfare of the commonwealth of which he forms a part, in the belief that he does better in spending it on himself, sins against the commonwealth, and more against himself. For the relation of the individual is as the relation of the single limb to the body. Should the arm, in case bleeding is required, refuse its blood, the whole body, the arm included, would suffer. It is, however, the duty of the individual to bear hardships, or even death, for the sake of the welfare of the commonwealth. He must particularly be careful to contribute his 'portion of the whole,' without fail. Since ordinary speculation did not institute this, God prescribed it in tithes, gifts, and offerings, etc., as a 'portion of the whole' of worldly property. Among actions this is represented by Sabbath, holy days, years of release and jubilee and similar institutions; among words it is prayers, blessings and thanksgivings; among abstract things it is love, fear and joy. The first place [of the second group of blessings] is very appropriately given to the prayer for intelligence and enlightenment to obey God. Man prays to be brought near to his Master. He, therefore, says first: 'Thou graciously givest reason to man,' which is immediately followed by 'He who takes delight in repentance.' Thus 'wisdom,' 'knowledge' and 'intelligence' move in the path of the Law and worship in the words: 'Restore us, O our Father, to Thy Law.' Since mortal man cannot help sinning, a prayer is required for forgiveness of transgressions in thought and deed. This is done in the formula ending: 'the Merciful who forgiveth much.' To this paragraph he adds the result and sign of forgiveness, viz. the redemption from our present condition. He begins: 'Behold our misery,' and concludes: 'Redeemer of Israel.' After this he prays for the health of body and soul, and for the bestowal of food to keep up the strength in the blessing of the 'years.' Then he prays for the reunion of the scattered, in the paragraph ending: 'He who gathers together the scattered of His people of the house of Israel.' With this is connected the re-appearance of justice and restoration of the former condition [of the people] in the words: 'Rule over us Thou alone.' He, then, prays against evil and the destruction of the thorns in the paragraph of the 'heretics.' This is followed by the prayer for the preservation of the pure essence in: 'The just.' He, then, prays for the return to Jerusalem which again is to form the seat of the Divine Influence, and with this is connected the prayer concerning the Messiah, the son of David. This concludes all worldly wants. He now prays for the acceptance of his prayer, as well as for the visible revelation of the Shekhinah, just as appeared to the prophets, pious, and those who were delivered from Egypt, in the paragraph ending: 'O Thou who hearest prayer.' Then he prays: 'Let mine eye behold,' and concludes: 'He who restores His Shekhinah to Zion.' He imagines the Shekhinah standing opposite to him and bows down with the words: 'We give thanks,' which contain the acknowledgment and gratitude for God's mercy. The whole concludes with the paragraph: 'He maketh peace,' in order to take leave from the Shekhinah in peace.
20. Al Khazari: There is nothing to criticise, as I see how settled and circumspect all these arrangements are. There was one point to be mentioned, viz. that your prayers say so little of the world to come. But thou hast already proved to me that he who prays for attachment to the Divine Light, and the faculty of seeing it with his own eyes in this world, and who, nearly approaching the rank of prophets, is thus engaged in prayer--and nothing can bring man nearer to God than this--has without doubt prayed for more than the world to come. He gains it with the other. He whose soul is in contact with the Divine Influence, though still exposed to the accidents and sufferings of the body, it stands to reason that it will gain a more intimate connexion with the former, when it has become free and detached from this unclean vessel.
21. The Rabbi: I can explain this better to thee by a parable. A man visited the king. The latter accorded him his most intimate friendship, and permitted him to enter his presence whenever he wished. He became so familiar with the king that he invited him to his house and table. The king not only consented, but sent his noblest veziers to him and did to him what he had done to no one else. Whenever he had neglected something, or had done something wrong, and the king kept aloof from him, he only entreated him to return to his former custom, and not to forbid his veziers to come and see him. The other inhabitants of the country only craved the king's protection when they undertook a journey, against robbers, wild beasts, and the terrors of the road. They were confident that the king would assist and take care of them during their journey, although he had never done so as long as they remained at home. Each of them boasted that the king cared for him more than for anybody else, thinking he had honoured the king more than anybody else. The stranger, however, thought little of his departure, nor did he ask for a guard. When the hour arrived he was told that he would perish in the dangers of the journey since he had no one to take care of him. 'Who gave you companions?' asked he. 'The king' said they, 'whom we have petitioned for assistance ever since we have been in this city;' but we have not seen thee do likewise.' 'You fools,' answered he; 'is a person who called on him in the hour of safety not more entitled to expect his assistance in the hour of danger, though he did not open his mouth? Will he refuse his assistance to a man in the time of need after having responded to him during his prosperity? If you boast that he takes care of you because you have shown him honour, has anyone of you done so much in this respect, took so much trouble in the execution of his commands, in keeping aloof from dishonour, in respecting his name and code as I did? Whatever I did, I did at his command and instruction. As to you, you honour him according to your own conception and fancy, yet he fails you not. How can he, now, leave me, if I am in need, during my journey, because, trusting his justice, I did not speak to him of it as you have done.' This parable is only meant for those who depart from the right course, and do not accept the words of the Sages. But apart from this, our prayers are full of allusions of the world to come, and the utterances of the Sages, which are handed down from the Prophets, are studded with descriptions of Paradise and Gehinnōm, as explained before. Now I have sketched out to thee the conduct of a religious person in the present time, and thou canst imagine what it was like in that happy time and that divine place amidst the people whose roots were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They represent the essence of the latter, men and women distinguished by virtue, suffering nothing unbecoming to pass their lips. The godly man moves about among them, but his soul is not polluted by the improper words which he may hear, nor does any impurity adhere to his garment or dress from issue, or vermin, or corpses, or leprosy, etc., because they all live in holiness and purity. This is in a greater measure the case in the land of the Shekhinah, where he only meets people who occupy the degree of holiness, as Priest, Levites, Nazirites, Sages, Prophets, Judges and Overseers. Or he sees 'a multitude that kept holiday with the voice of joy and praise' (Ps. xlii. 5), on the 'three festivals in the year.' He only hears the 'Song of the Lord,' only sees the 'Work of the Lord,' particularly if he is a priest or Levite who lives on the bread of the Lord and, like Samuel, lives in the 'House of the Lord' from his infancy. He need not seek any livelihood, as his whole life is devoted to the 'Service of the Lord.' How does his work and the purity and excellence of his soul appear to thee?
22. Al Khazari: This is the highest degree, above which there is none but the angelic one. Such a mode of life entitles man to the prophetic afflatus, particularly there where the Shekhinah dwells. A religion of this kind can do without ascetic or monastic retirement. Now I request thee to give me an outline of the doctrine of the Karaites. For I see that they are much more zealous believers than the Rabbanites, and their arguments are, as I perceive, more striking and in harmony with the Tōrāh.
23. The Rabbi: Did we not state before that speculation, reasoning and fiction on the Law do not lead to the pleasure of God? Otherwise dualists, materialists, worshippers of spirits, anchorites, and those who burn their children are all endeavouring to come near to God? We have, however, said, that one cannot approach God except by His commands. For he knows their comprehensiveness, division, times, and places, and consequences in the fulfilment of which the pleasure of God and the connexion with the Divine Influence are to be gained. Thus it was in the building of the Tabernacle. With every item it is said: 'And Bezaleel made the ark . . ., the lid . . ., the carpets . . .,' and concerning each of them is stated: 'Just as the Lord had commanded Moses.' This means neither too much nor too little, although our speculation cannot bear on works of this kind. Finally it is said:
'And Moses saw the whole work, and behold they had performed it just as the Lord had commanded, thus they worked, and Moses blessed them' (Exod. xxxix. 43). The completion of the Tabernacle was followed by the descent of the Shekhinah, the two conditions which form the pillars of the Law having been fulfilled, viz., firstly, that the Law originated with God; secondly, that the people conformed with it in a pure mind. God commanded the building of the Tabernacle, and the whole people obeyed--as it is said 'Of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart, shall ye take My offering' (chap. xxv. 2)--with the greatest zeal and enthusiasm. The result was equally perfect, viz. the appearance of the Shekhinah, as it is said: 'And I will dwell in their midst.' I gave thee the example of the creation of the plant and animal, and told thee that the form which distinguishes one plant from another and one animal from another is not a natural force [but a work of God, called nature by philosophers. As a matter of fact the powers of nature] are capable of favouring such a development according to the proportion of heat and cold, moisture and dryness. One thing would, then, become a plant, another a vine, this a horse, that a lion. We are unable to determine these proportions, and could we do it, we might produce blood or milk, etc. from liquids mixed by our own calculations. We might, eventually, create living beings, endowed with the spirit of life. Or we might produce a substitute for bread from ingredients which have no nourishing powers, simply by mixing the right proportions of heat and cold, moisture and dryness, and particularly if we knew the spherical constellations and their influences which, in the opinion of astrologers, assist to bring forth of anything that is desired in this world. We have seen, however, that all alchymists and necromancers who have tried those things, have been put to shame. Do not raise the objection that these people are able to produce animals and living beings, as bees from flesh and gnats from wine. These are not the consequences of their calculations and agency, but of experiments. It was found that cohabitation was followed by the birth of a child; man, however, does but plant the seed in the soil prepared to receive and develop it. The calculation of proportions which give the human form belongs exclusively to the Creator. In the same manner is the determination of the living people worthy to form the seat of the Divine Influence God's alone. This calculating and weighing, must be learnt from Him, but we should not reason about His word, as it is written: 'There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord' (Prov. xxi. 30). What dost thou think we should adopt in order to become like our fathers, to imitate them, and not to speculate about the Law?
24. Al Khazari: We can only accomplish this through the medium of their traditional teachings, by the support of their deeds, and by endeavouring to find one who is regarded as an authority by one generation, and capable of handing down the history of another. The latter generation, however, cannot, on account of the multitude of its individuals, be suspected of having made a general agreement to carry the Law with its branches and interpretations unaltered from Moses downward either in their memories or in a volume.
25. The Rabbi: What wouldst thou think if difference were found in one or two copies?
26. Al Khazari: [One must study several copies,] the majority of which cannot be faulty. The minority can, then, be neglected. The same process applies to traditions. If the minority differs, we turn to the majority.
27. The Rabbi: Now, what is thy opinion if in the manuscripts a letter were found which is in contrast to common sense, e.g. ṣādū (Lam. iv. 18), where we should expect ṣārū, and nafshī (Ps. xxiv. 4), where we should read nafshō?
28. Al Khazari: Common sense would in these and other cases alter in all volumes, first the letters, then the words, then the construction, then the vowels and accents, and consequently also the sense. There are many verses to which the reader can give an opposite meaning by altering the place of any of these appositives.
29. The Rabbi: In which form did Moses leave his book to the Israelites in thy opinion?
30. Al Khazari: Undoubtedly without either vowels or accents, just as our scrolls are written. There was as little agreement possible among the people on this point, as on the unleavened bread, or Passover, or other laws which were given as a 'remembrance of the delivery from Egypt.' These laws confirm in the minds of the Israelites the historical truth of the exodus from Egypt by means of the recurring ceremonies, which could not possibly be the result of common agreement without causing contradiction.
31. The Rabbi: There is, therefore, no doubt that the Book was preserved in memory with all its vowels, divisions of syllables and accents: by the priests, because they required them for the Temple service, and in order to teach the people; by the kings, because they were commanded: 'And it shall be with him and he shall read therein all the days of his life' (Deut. xvii. 19). The judges had to know it to enable them to give judgment; the members of the Sanhedrion, because they were warned: 'Keep therefore and do them, for this is your wisdom and understanding' (Deut. iv. 6); the pious, in order to receive reward; and, finally, the hypocrites, to acquire a good name. The seven vowels and accents were appointed as signs for forms which were regarded as Mosaic tradition. Now, how have we to judge those persons who first divided the text into verses, equipped it with vowel signs, accents, and masoretic signs, concerning full or defective orthography; and counted the letters with such accuracy that they found out that the gimel of gāḥōn (Lev. xi. 42) stood right in the middle of the Tōrāh, and kept a record of all irregular vowels? Dost thou consider this work either superfluous or idle, or dutiful zeal?
32. Al Khazari: The latter no doubt. It was to serve as a fence round the law in order to leave no room for alterations. Moreover, it is a great science. The system of vowel signs and accents reveals an order which could only emanate from divinely-instilled notions, quite out of proportion to our knowledge. It can only have been received from a community of favoured ones or a single individual of the same stamp. In the latter case it must have been a prophet, or a person assisted by the Divine Influence. For a scholar who lacks this assistance can be challenged by another scholar to adopt his views in preference.
33. The Rabbi: The acknowledgment of tradition is therefore incumbent upon us as well as upon the Karaites, as upon anyone who admits that the Tōrāh, in its present shape and as it is read, is the Tōrāh of Moses.
34. Al Khazari: This is exactly what the Karaites say. But as they have the complete Tōrāh, they consider the tradition superfluous.
35. The Rabbi: Far from it. If the consonantic text of the Mosaic Book requires so many traditional classes of vowel signs, accents, divisions of sentences and masoretic signs for the correct pronunciation of words, how much more is this the case for the comprehension of the same? The meaning of a word is more comprehensive than its pronunciation. When God revealed the verse: 'This month shall be unto you the beginning of months' (Exod. xii. 2), there was no doubt whether He meant the calendar of the Copts--or rather the Egyptians--among whom they lived, or that of the Chaldæans who were Abraham's people in Ur-Kasdim; or solar [or lunar months], or lunar years, which are made to agree with solar years, as is done in embolismic years. I wish the Karaites could give me a satisfactory answer to questions of this kind. I would not hesitate to adopt their view, as it pleases me to be enlightened. I further wish to be instructed on the question as to what makes an animal lawful for food; whether 'slaughtering' means cutting its throat or any other mode of killing; why killing by gentiles makes the flesh unlawful; what is the difference between slaughtering, skinning, and the rest of it. I should desire an explanation of the forbidden fat, seeing that it lies in the stomach and entrails close to the lawful fat, as well as of the rules of cleansing the meat. Let them draw me the line between the fat which is lawful and that which is not, inasmuch as there is no difference visible. Let them explain to me where the tail of the sheep, which they declare unlawful, ends. One of them may possibly forbid the end of the tail alone, another the whole hind part. I desire an explanation of the lawful and unlawful birds, excepting the common ones, such as the pigeon and turtle dove. How do they know that the hen, goose, duck, and partridge are not unclean birds? I further desire an explanation of the words: 'Let no man go out of his place [on the seventh day]' (Exod. xvi. 29). Does this refer to the house or precincts, estate--where he can have many houses--territory, district, or country. For the word place can refer to all of these. I should, further, like to know where the prohibition of work on the Sabbath commences? Why pens and writing material are not admissible in the correction of a scroll of the Law (on this day), but lifting a heavy book, or a table, or eatables, entertaining guests and all cares of hospitality should be permitted, although the guests would be resting, and the host be kept employed? This applies even more to women and servants, as it is written: 'That thy manservant and thy maidservant rest as well as thou' (Deut. v. 14). Wherefore it is forbidden to ride [on the Sabbath] horses belonging to gentiles, or to trade. Then, again, I wish to see a Karaite give judgment between two parties according to the chapters Exodus xxi. and Deuteronomy xxi. 10 sqq. For that which appears plain in the Tōrāh, is yet obscure, and much more so are the obscure passages, because the oral supplement was relied upon. I should wish to hear the deductions he draws from the case of the daughters of Zelophehād to questions of inheritance in general. I want to know the details of circumcision, fringes and tabernacle; why it is incumbent on him to say prayers; whence he derives his belief in reward and punishment in the world after death; how to deal with laws which interfere with each other, as circumcision or Paschal lamb with Sabbath, which must yield to which, and many other matters which cannot be enumerated in general, much less in detail. Hast thou ever heard, O King of the Khazars, that the Karaites possess a book which contains a fixed tradition on one of the subjects just mentioned, and which allows no differences on readings, vowel signs, accents, or lawful or unlawful matters, or decisions?
36. Al Khazari: I have neither seen anything of the kind, nor heard about it. I see, nevertheless, that they are very zealous.
37. The Rabbi: This, as I have already told thee, belongs in the province of speculative theory. Those who speculate on the ways of glorifying God for the purpose of His worship, are much more zealous than those who practise the service of God exactly as it is commanded. The latter are at ease with their tradition, and their soul is calm like one who lives in a town, and they fear not any hostile opposition. The former, however, is like a straggler in the desert, who does not know what may happen. He must provide himself with arms and prepare for battle like one expert in warfare. Be not, therefore, astonished to see them so energetic, and do not lose courage if thou seest the followers of tradition, I mean the Rabbanites, falter. The former look for a fortress where they can entrench themselves, whilst the latter lie down on their couches in a place well fortified of old.
38. Al Khazari: All thou sayest is convincing, because the Law enjoins that there shall be 'one Tōrāh and one statute.' Should Karaite methods prevail there would be as many different codes as opinions. Not one individual would remain constant to one code. For every day he forms new opinions, increases his knowledge, or meets with someone who refutes him with some argument and converts him to his views. But whenever we find them agreeing, we know that they follow the tradition of one or many of their ancestors. In such a case we should not believe their views, and say: 'How is it that you agree concerning this regulation, whilst reason allows the word of God to be interpreted in various ways?' If the answer be that this was the opinion of Anan, or Benjamin, Saul,, or others, then they admit the authority of tradition received from people who lived before them, and of the best tradition, viz. that of the Sages. For they were many, whilst those Karaite teachers were but single individuals. The view of the Rabbis is based on the tradition of the Prophets; the other, however, on speculation alone. The Sages are in concord, the Karaites in discord. The sayings of the Sages originate with 'the place which God shall choose,' and we must therefore accept even their individual opinions. The Karaites have nothing of the kind. I wish I knew their answer regarding the calculation of the new moon I see that their authorities follow Rabbanite practice in the intercalation of Adar. Nevertheless they taunt the Rabbanites, when the Tishri new moon appears, with the question: 'How could it happen that you [once] kept the fast of the day of Atonement on the ninth of Tishri?' Are they not ashamed not to know, when intercalating, whether the month is Ellul or Tishri; or Tishri or Marḥeshwān, if they do not intercalate? They ought rather to say: 'I am drowning, but fear not the wet!' We do not know whether the month is Tishri, Marḥeshwān, or Ellul. How can we criticise those in whose steps we follow, and whose teachings we adopt, and ask: Do you fast on the ninth or tenth of Tishri?
39. The Rabbi: Our law is linked to the 'ordination given to Moses on Sinai,' or sprung 'from the place which the Lord shall choose' (Is. ii. 3), 'for from Zion goes forth the Law, and the word of God from Jerusalem.' Its mediators were the Judges, Overseers, Priests, and the members of the Synhedrion. It is incumbent upon us to obey the Judge appointed for the time being, as it is written: 'Or to the judge who will be in those days . . . and thou shalt inquire, and they shall tell thee the sentence of judgment, and thou shalt do according to the word which they tell thee . . . from the place which the Lord shall choose . . . and thou shall take heed to do according to all they teach thee' (Deut. xvii. 9 sqq.). Further: 'The man who doeth presumptuously not to listen to the priest . . . this man shall die, and thou shalt remove the evil from thy midst.' Disobedience to the Priest or Judge is placed on a par with the gravest transgressions, in the words: 'Thou shalt remove the evil from thy midst.' This concludes with the words: 'And all the people shall hear and fear, and do no more presumptuously.' This refers to the time when the order of the Temple service and the Synhedrion, and the sections [of the Levites], who completed the organization, were still intact, and the Divine Influence was undeniably among them either in the form of prophecy or inspiration, as was the case during the time of the second Temple. Among these persons no agreement or convention was possible. In a similar manner arose the duty of reading the Book of Esther on Purim, and the ordination of Ḥanuccah, and we can say: 'He who has commanded us to read the Megillāh' and 'to kindle the light of Ḥanuccah,' or 'to complete' or 'to read' the Hallēl, 'to wash the hands,' 'the ordination of the Erūb,' and the like. Had our traditional customs arisen after the exile, they could not have been called by this name, nor would they require a blessing, but there would be a regulation or rather a custom. The bulk of our laws, however, derives its origin from Moses, as an 'ordination given to Moses from Sinai.' This also explains how a people obtained during forty years sufficient food and clothing, in spite of their large number. Moses was with them, and the Shekhinah did not forsake them, giving them general as well as special laws. Is it not absurd to assume that they refrained from inquiring occasionally into the details, and handing down their explanations and subdivisions? Take the verse: 'And I will make known the laws of God and His statutes' (Exod. xviii. 16), which is supplemented by the other: 'For this is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations, which shall hear all these laws, and they will say, surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people' (Deut. iv. 6). He who wishes to gainsay this verse may look at the Karaites; but he who desires to confirm it, let him behold the branches of knowledge embodied in the Talmud, which form only a small portion of the natural, metaphysical, mathematical, and astronomical studies [in which the Sages indulged]. He will, then, see that they deserve praise above all nations for their learning. Some of our laws originate, in certain circumstances mentioned before, 'from the place which the Lord shall choose.' Prophecy lasted about forty years of the second Temple. Jeremiah, in his prophetic speeches, commended the people of the second Temple for their piety, learning, and fear of God (chap. xxix. 10 sqq.). If we did not rely on men like these, on whom should we rely? We see that prescriptions given after Moses' death became law. Thus Solomon hallowed: 'The middle of the court' (1 Kings viii. 64 sq.), slaughtered sacrifices on a place other than the altar, and celebrated 'the feast seven days and seven days.' David and Samuel appointed the order of the Temple choir, which became a fixed law. Solomon added to the sanctuary built in the desert, and omitted from it. Ezra imposed the tax of one-third of a shekel on the community of the second Temple (Neh. x. 33). A stone paving was put in the place of the Ark, hiding it behind a curtain, because they knew that the Ark had been buried there.
40. Al Khazari: How could this be made to agree with the verse: 'Thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it?' (Deut. xiii. 1).
41. The Rabbi: This was only said to the masses, that they should not conjecture and theorise, and contrive laws according to their own conception, as the Karaites do. They were recommended to listen to the post-Mosaic prophets, the priests and judges, as it is written: 'I will raise them up a prophet . . . and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him' (Deut. xviii. 18). With regard to the priests and judges it is said that their decisions are binding. The words: 'You shall not add,' etc., refer to 'that which I commanded you through Moses' and any 'prophet from among thy brethren' who fulfils the conditions of a prophet. They further refer to regulations laid down in common by priests and judges 'from the place which thy Lord shall choose.' For they have divine assistance, and would never, on account of their large number, concur in anything which contradicts the Law. Much less likelihood was there of erroneous views, because they had inherited vast learning, for the reception of which they were naturally endowed. The members of the Synhedrion, as is known by tradition, had to possess a thorough acquaintance with all branches of science Prophecy had scarcely ceased, or rather the Bath Qōl, which took its place. Now, suppose we allow the Karaite interpretation of the sentence 'From the morrow of the Sabbath till the morrow of the Sabbath' (Lev. xxiii. 11, 15, 16) to refer to the Sunday. But we reply that one of the judges, priests, or pious kings, in agreement with the Synhedrion and all Sages, found that this period was fixed with the intention of creating an interval of fifty days between 'the first fruits of the harvest of barley and the harvest of wheat,' and to observe 'seven weeks,' which are 'seven complete Sabbaths.' The first day of the week is only mentioned for argument's sake in the following manner: should the day of 'putting the sickle to the corn' be a Sunday, you count till Sunday. From this we conclude that should the beginning be on a Monday, we count till Monday. The date of putting the sickle, from which we count, is left for us to fix. This was fixed for the second day of Passover, which does not contradict the Tōrāh, since it originated with 'the place which the Lord shall choose' on the conditions discussed before. Perhaps this was done under the influence of divine inspiration. It was quite possible, and it saves us from the confusion of those who endeavour to cause confusion.
42. Al Khazari: With these broad and irrefutable declarations thou hast cut off, O Rabbi, some minor points which I had in my mind to urge on behalf of the Karaite interpretation, by which I hoped to silence thee.
43. The Rabbi: If the general principles are obvious to thee do not mind minor details. The latter are often subject to error, and owing to their wide ramification, know no bounds, and lead astray those who regard them from different points of view. A person who is convinced of the justice of the Creator and His all-embracing wisdom will pay no attention to apparent cases of injustice on earth, as it is written: 'If thou seest the oppression of the poor and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter' (Eccl. v. 1). Whoever is convinced of the duration of the soul after the destruction of the body, as well as of its incorporeal nature and of its being as far removed from corporeality as the angels are, will pay no attention to the idea that the activity of the soul is stopped during sleep or illness which submerges the mental powers, that it is subject to the vicissitudes of the body, and similar disquieting ideas.
44. Al Khazari: Yet I am not satisfied as long as I leave those details undiscussed, though I have admitted those general principles.
45. The Rabbi: Say what thou wilt.
46. Al Khazari: Does not our Tōrāh teach retaliation, viz. 'eye for eye, tooth for tooth, as he hath caused a blemish in man, so shall be done to him' (Lev. xxiv. 20)?
47. The Rabbi: And is it not said immediately afterwards: 'And he that killeth a beast shall make it good, life for life'? (ver. 18, cf. 21). Is this not the principle of ransom? It is not said: 'If anyone kills thy horse, kill his horse,' but 'take his horse, for what use is it to thee to kill his horse?' Likewise: If anyone has cut off thy hand, take the value of his hand; for cutting off his hand profits thee not. The sentence: 'Wound for wound and stripe for stripe' (Exod. xxi. 25), embodies ideas antagonistic to common sense. How can we determine such a thing? One person may die from a wound, whilst another person may recover from the same. How can we gauge whether it is the same? How can we take away the eye of a one-eyed person in order to do justice to a person with two eyes, when the former would be totally blind, the latter still have one eye? The Tōrāh teaches: As he hath caused a blemish in man, so shall be done to him. What further need is there to discuss these details, when we have just set forth the necessity of tradition, the truthfulness, loftiness, and religious zeal of traditionists?
48. Al Khazari: For all that, I am surprised that you observe the regulations of religious purity.
49. The Rabbi: Impurity and holiness are contradictory ideas; one cannot be thought of without the other. Without holiness we should not know the signification of impurity. Impurity means that the approach to holy objects, hallowed by God, is forbidden to the person so affected. Such would be priests, their food, clothing, offering, sacrifices, the holy House, etc. In the same way the ideas of holiness include something which forbids the person connected with it to approach many ordinary objects. This chiefly depends on the vicinity of the Shekhinah, which we now lack entirely. The prohibition which still holds good, of cohabiting with a woman in her period or after confinement has nothing to do with impurity, but is an independent divine law. The practice we observe to keep aloof from them as much as possible is but a restriction and hedge to prevent cohabitation. The regulations of impurity proper ceased to exist for us, because we live in 'an unclean land and in unclean air,' especially as we move about among graves, vermin, lepers, persons affected with issue, corpses, etc. To touch carrion is not forbidden on account of its impurity, but it forms a special law connected with the prohibition of eating the same to which impurity is accessory. If Ezra had not ordained a bath for certain contaminated persons, this would not be a regulation but simply a matter of cleanliness. If these persons would conceive this regulation in the sense of cleanliness, it would lose nothing, as long as it is not taken for a religious law. Otherwise they might draw conclusions from their own folly, try to improve upon the law and cause heterodoxy, I mean the splitting of opinions, which is the beginning of the corruption of a religion. They would soon be outside the pale of 'one law and one regulation.' Whatever we might allow ourselves in matters of touching even repulsive things, is out of proportion to their (the Karaites) schismatic views, which might cause us to find in one house ten persons with as many different opinions. Were our laws not fixed and confined in unbreakable rules, they would not be secure from the intrusion of strange elements and the loss of some component parts, because argument and taste would become guiding principles. The Karaite would have no compunction in using the implements of idolatry, such as gold, silver, frankincense and wine. Indeed, death is better than this. On the other hand, he would abstain from using parts of the pig, even for purposes of medicine, although this is in reality one of the lighter transgressions, and only punished with 'forty stripes.' In the same way he would allow the Nazirite to eat raisins and grapes rather than be intoxicated with mead and cider. But the opposite is true. This prohibition only refers to the products of the vine, but there was no intention of prohibiting intoxication altogether, as one might surmise. This is one of the secrets known only to God, his prophets and the pious. One must not, however, charge traditionists or those who draw their own conclusions, with ignorance in this matter, because the word shēkhār is common property. They have a tradition that the 'wine and strong drink' (Lev. x. 8), mentioned in connexion with the priests includes all kinds of intoxication, whilst the same words in the case of the Nazirite only refer to the juice of grapes. Every law has certain limits fixed with scientific accuracy, though in practice they may appear illogical. He who is zealous tries to avoid them, without, however, making them unlawful, as e.g. the flesh of an animal in peril of death, which is lawful. For it is uncertain whether this animal will die, because some one might assert that it will recover, and then be permitted. A diseased animal which externally looks in good health is unlawful, if it suffers internally from an incurable illness, with which it can neither live nor recover. Those who judge according to their own taste and reasoning may arrive in these matters at an opposite conclusion. Follow not, therefore, thy own taste and opinion in religious questions, lest they throw thee into doubts, which lead to heresy. Nor wilt thou be in harmony with one of thy friends on any point. Every individual has his own taste and opinion. It is only necessary to examine the roots of the traditional and written laws with the inferences codified for practice, in order to trace the branches back to the roots. Where they lead thee, there put thy faith, though thy mind and feeling shrink from it. Common view and assumption deny the non-existence of the vacuum, whilst logical conclusion rejects its existence. Appearance denies the infinite divisibility of a body, whilst logic makes it an axiom. Appearance denies that the earth is a globe and the one hundred and sixtieth part of the sun disc. There are also other matters which astronomy establishes against mere appearances. Whatever the Sages declared lawful they did neither in obedience to their own taste or inclination, but to the results of the inherited knowledge, handed down to them. The same was the case with what they declared unlawful. He who is unable to grasp their wisdom, but judges their speech according to his own conception, will misinterpret them in the same way as people do with the words of natural philosophers and astronomers. Whenever they settle the limits of the code, and explain what is lawful or unlawful in strictly juridical deduction, they indicate apparently unseemly points. They consider it revolting to eat the flesh of a dangerously sick animal, or to gain money by means of legal trickery, or to travel on the Sabbath with the assistance of the Erūb, or to render certain marriages lawful in a cunning manner, or to undo oaths and vows by circumvention, which may be permitted according to the paragraph of the law, but is devoid of any religious feeling. Both, however, are necessary together, for, if one is guided by the legal deduction alone, more relaxation would crop up than could be controlled. If, on the other hand, one would neglect the legalized lines which form the fence round the law, and would only rely on religious zeal, it would become a source of schism, and destroy everything.
50. Al Khazari: If this be so, I willingly admit that the Rabbanite who unites these two points of view is superior to the Karaite both in theory and practice. He would also perform his religious duties cheerfully, because they are handed down to him by trustworthy authorities who derived their knowledge from God. However far a Karaite's zeal may lead him, his heart will never be satisfied, because he knows that his zeal is but based on speculation and reasoning. He will never be sure whether his practice is God-pleasing. He is also aware that there are among the gentiles some who are even more zealous than he. Now I wish to ask thee concerning the Erūb, which is one of the licences of the law of Sabbath. How can we make lawful a thing which God has forbidden by means so paltry and artificial?
51. The Rabbi: Heaven forbid that all those pious men and Sages should concur in untying one of the knots of the divine law. Their intention was to make it tighter and therefore they said: Build a fence round the law. Part of this is the Rabbinic prohibition of carrying things out of private to public ground or vice versa, a prohibition not of Mosaic origin. In constructing this fence they introduced this licence, to prevent their religious zeal ranking with the Tōrāh, and at the same time to give people some liberty in moving about. This liberty was gained in a perfectly lawful way and takes the form of the Erūb, which marks a line between what is entirely legal, the fence itself, and the secluded part inside the latter.
52. Al Khazari: This is enough for me. Yet I cannot believe that an Erūb is strong enough to restore a connexion between two areas.
53. The Rabbi: In this case the whole law is inefficient in thy opinion. Dost thou consider the release of money, property, persons, and slaves valid by assuring the right of property or last will? Likewise the divorce of a woman, or a second marriage, after having been single, by means of the formula: 'Write, sign and hand her the letter of divorce;' or her singleness after having been married? All these matters depend upon a ceremony or a formula and are laid down in the Third Book of Moses. The leprosy of a garment or house [officially] depends upon the declaration of 'clean' or 'unclean' by a priest. The holy character of the Tabernacle was subject to its being erected by Moses and anointed with the anointing oil. The consecration of the priests depended upon the initiatory sacrifices and wave offerings; that of the Levites upon purifying and wave offerings. Unclean persons were purified by means of 'water of separation' (Num. xix.) to which were added ashes of the red heifer, hyssop, and scarlet. The redemption of a house required two birds (Lev. xiv. 49). All these ceremonies, the remission of sins on the Day of Atonement, the cleansing of the sanctuary from impurities by means of the he-goat of Azāzēl, with all accompanying ceremonies; the blessing of Israel through Aaron's uplifted hands and the reciting of the verse: 'the Lord bless thee'; upon every one of these ceremonies the Divine Influence rested. Religious ceremonies are, like the work of nature, entirely determined by God, but beyond the power of man. Formations of nature, are, as thou canst see, composed of accurately measured proportions of the four elements. A trifle renders them perfect and gives them their proper animal or plant form. Every mixture receives the shape beseeming it, but can also lose it through a trifle. The egg may be spoiled by the slight accident of too much heat or cold, or a movement, and become unable to receive the form of a chicken which otherwise the hen achieves by sitting on it three weeks. Who, then, can weigh actions upon which the Divine Influence rest, save God alone? This is the error committed by alchymists and necromancers. The former thought, indeed, that they could weigh the elementary fire on their scales, and produce what they wished, and thus alter the nature of materials, as is done in living beings by natural heat which transforms food into blood, flesh, bone and other organs. They toil to discover a fire of the same kind, but are misled by accidental results of their experiments, not based on calculation, just in the same manner as the discovery was made that from the planting of seed within the womb man arises. When those necromancers heard that the appearance of the Divinity from Adam down to the children of Israel was gained by sacrifices, they thought it was the result of meditation and research; that the prophets were but deeply learned persons who accomplished these wonders by means of calculation. Then they, on their part, were anxious to fix sacrifices to be offered up at certain times and astrological opportunities, accompanied by ceremonies and burning of incense which their calculations prescribed. They even composed astrological books and other matters the mention of which is forbidden. Beside these, the adepts of magic formulas, having heard that a prophet had been spoken to in this or that manner, or had experienced a miracle, imagined that the words were the cause of the miracle. They, therefore endeavoured to accomplish a similar feat. The artificial is not like the natural. Religious deeds are, however, like nature. Being ignorant of their designs one thinks it but play till the results becomes apparent. Then one praises their guide and mover, and professes belief in him. Suppose thou hast heard nothing of cohabitation and its consequences, but thou feelest thyself attracted by the lowest of female organs. If thou considerest the degradation of a woman's surrender, or the ignominy of surrendering to a woman, thou wouldst say wonderingly: this is as vain as it is absurd. But when thou seest a being like thyself born of a woman, then dost thou marvel and notice that thou art one of the preservers of mankind created by God to inhabit the earth. It is the same with religious actions fixed by God. Thou slaughterest a lamb and smearest thyself with its blood, in skinning it, cleaning its entrails, washing, dismembering it and sprinking its blood. Then thou arrangest the wood, kindlest the fire, placing the body on it. If this were not done in consequence of a divine command, thou wouldst think little of all these actions and believe that they estrange thee from God rather than bring thee near to Him. But as soon as the whole is properly accomplished, and thou seest the divine fire, or dost notice in thyself a new spirit, unknown before, or seest true visions and great apparitions, thou art aware that this is the fruit of the preceding actions, as well as of the great influence with which thou hast come in contact. When arrived at this goal care not that thou must die. Thy death is but the decay of thy body, whilst the soul having reached this step, cannot descend from it nor be removed. This will shew thee that the approach to God is only possible through the medium of God's command, and there is no road to the knowledge of the commands of God except by way of prophesy, but not by means of speculation and reasoning. There is, however, no other connexion between us and these commands except truthful tradition. Those who have handed down these laws to us were not a few sporadic individuals, but a multitude of learned and lofty men nearly approaching the prophets. And if the bearers of the Law had only been the priests, Levites and the Seventy Elders, the chain beginning with Moses himself would never have been interrupted.
54. Al Khazari: I only know that the people of the second Temple forgot the Tōrāh, and were ignorant of the law of Succāh till they found it written. A similar thing happened with the law that 'an Ammonite shall not enter the congregation of God' (Deut. xxiii. 3). With regard to these two points it is said: 'They found written.' (Neh. viii., 4; xiii. 1). This proves that they had lost the knowledge of the law.
55. The Rabbi: If this be so we are to-day more learned and erudite than they, since we think we know the Tōrāh.
56. Al Khazari: That is what I say.
57. The Rabbi: Should we be commanded to bring a sacrifice, would we know how and where to slaughter it, catch its blood, skin and dismember it, and into how many pieces, how to offer it up, how to sprinkle the blood, what to do with its meal and wine offering; with what songs to accompany it; what duties of holiness, purity, anointment, clothing, and demeanour the priests had to observe; how, when and where they should eat the holy meat, and other matters which it would lead us too far to commemorate?
58. Al Khazari: We cannot know this without a priest or prophet.
59. The Rabbi: See how the people of the second Temple were engaged many years in the construction of the altar, till God assisted them to build the Temple and the walls. Dost thou think that they brought offerings in a haphazard fashion?
60. Al Khazari: 'A burnt offering' cannot be 'an offering made by fire a sweet savour' (Lev. i. 9)--being a law not dependent on reasoning--except if all its details are arranged on the authority and command of God. The people were also well acquainted with the regulations of the Day of Atonement, which are more important than the regulations of the Succāh. All these things required the detailed instruction of a teacher.
61. The Rabbi: Should a person versed in these minute regulations of the Tōrāh have been ignorant of the way how to construct a hut, or of the law concerning the Ammonites?
62. Al Khazari: What can I say, then, about 'they found written '?
63. The Rabbi: The compiler of the Holy Writ did not pay so much attention to hidden matters as to those generally known. He, therefore, mentions nothing of the wisdom Joshua had received from God and from Moses, but only the days when he stood at the Jordan, the day when the sun stood still, and the day of the circumcision, since these matters concerned the whole people. The tales of Samson, Deborah, Gideon, Samuel, David and Solomon contain nothing about their own learning and religious practices. In the history of Solomon we find an account of his luxurious table, great wealth, but of his great wisdom nothing except the case of the two women (1 Kings iii. 16), because this took place in public. The wisdom he displayed in his intercourse with the Queen of Sheba and elsewhere is not mentioned, because it was not the author's intention to relate anything that did not concern or interest the whole people. Special records referring to special individuals only, are lost with the exception of a few, besides the magnificent prophetic speeches which everyone took a delight in learning by heart on account of their lofty contents and noble language. Even of the history of Ezra and Nehemiah nothing is related except that which concerned the whole people. The day of the building of the tabernacles was a public affair, because on that day the people set out to ascend the mountains and gather olive, myrtle and palm branches. The words: 'they found written,' mean that the whole people gave attention to them and commenced to build their tabernacles. The erudite were not unacquainted with the details of the law, and still less with the general tenor of it. The author's intention was to single out this day, as well as the other one on which the Ammonite and Moabite wives were divorced. This was a remarkable day, when men had to divorce their wives and the mothers of their children, a grave and painful matter. I do not believe that any other people than the chosen would give a similar proof of their obedience to their Lord. It is on account of this public affair that the words: 'they found written,' were said. It means that, when the public Reader read the words: 'An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter . . .' the people was moved, and a great perturbation arose on that day.
64. Al Khazari: Give me an example of the manner of tradition which proves its verity.
65. The Rabbi: Prophecy lasted about forty years during the second Temple among those elders who had the assistance of the Shekhinah from the first Temple. Individually acquired prophecy had ceased with the removal of the Shekhinah, and only appeared in extraordinary times or on account of great force, as that of Abraham, Moses, the expected Messiah, Elijah and their equals. In them the Shekhinah found a worthy abode, and their very existence helped their contemporaries to gain the degree. of prophecy. The people, after their return, still had Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra and others. Forty years later these prophets were succeeded by an assembly of Sages, called the Men of the Great Synode. They were too numerous to be counted. They had returned with Zerubbabel and inherited their tradition from the Prophets, as it is said: 'The prophets handed [the law] down to the Men of the Great Synode' (Aboth, I. i.). The next generation was that of the High Priest Simon the Just and his disciples and friends. He was followed by Antigonos of Sōchō of great fame. His disciples were Ṣādōk and Boethos who were the originators of the sects called after them Saddōcaeans and Boethosians. The next was Jōsē b. Jō‘ēzer 'the most pious among the priests,' 33 and Josef b. Jōḥānān and their friends. With regard to the former it was said: 'At the death of Jōsē b. Jō‘ēzer the grapes ceased' as it is said: 'No grapes to eat;' (Mic. vii. 1), for no sin of his was know from his youth to his death. He was followed by Joshua b. Peraḥyāh whose history is known. Among his disciples was Jesus the Nazarene, and Nittāi of Arbela was his contemporary. After him came Judah b. Tabbāi and Simon b. Shētaḥ, with the friends of both. At this period arose the doctrine of the Karaites in consequence of an incident between the Sages and King Jannai who was a priest. His mother was under suspicion of being a 'profane' woman. One of the Sages alluded to this, saying to him: 'Be satisfied, O king Jannai, with the royal crown, but leave the priestly crown to the seed of Aaron.' His friends prejudiced him against the Sages, advising him to browbeat, expel, and scatter or kill them. He replied: 'If I destroy the Sages what will become of our Law?' 'There is the written law,' they replied, whoever wishes to study it may come and do so; take no heed of the oral law.' He followed their advice and expelled the Sages and among them Simon b. Shētaḥ, his son-in-law. Rabbanism was laid low for some time. The other party tried to establish a law built on their own conception, but failed, till Simon b. Shētaḥ returned with his disciples from Alexandria, and restored tradition to its former condition. Karaism had, however, taken root among people who rejected the oral law, and called all kinds of proofs to their aid, as we see to-day. As regards the Sādōcaeans and Boēthosians, they are the sectarians who are anathemised in our prayer. The followers of Jesus are the Baptists who adopted the doctrine of baptism, being baptized in the Jordan. The Karaites turned their attention to the fundamental principles, deducing the special laws from them by means of arguments. The damage often extended to the roots, through their ignorance rather than intention. The next generation was that of Shema‘yāh and Abtaliōn, whose disciples were Hillēl and Shammāi. Hillēl was famous for his learning and gentleness. He was a descendant of David and lived a hundred and twenty years. He had thousands of pupils. The following was said about the most select of these: Hillēl the elder had eighty disciples. Thirty were worthy of association with the Shekhinah; thirty were fit to declare embolismic years, and twenty stood between the two former groups. The greatest of them was Jōnāthān b. Uzzi‘ēl, the least of them was Joḥānān b. Zakkāi, who left unstudied no verse in the Bible, nor Mishnāh, Talmud, Halākhā, Agādā, explanatory rules of the Sages and Scribes, nor any word of the law code. It was said concerning him, that he never held a profane conversation, was always the last and first in the house of study, never slept there even for a few minutes, never walked four yards without a word of Tōrāh or phylacteries, never sat idle, but studied deeply. No one lectured to his pupils but he, said nothing but what he had heard from the mouth of his teacher, and never said that it was time to leave the house of study. This was also characteristic of his disciple R. Eliezer. R. Jōḥānān b. Zakkāi lived a hundred and twenty years like his master, and saw the second Temple. Among his disciples was R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanos, the author of the 'Chapters of R. Eliezer,' a famous work on astronomy, calculation of the spheres and earth and other profound astronomical subjects. His pupil was R. Ishmael b. Elisha, the High Priest. He is the author of the works entitled 'Hēkhālōth', 'Hakhārath Panim,' and the 'Ma‘asē Merkābāh,' because he was initiated in the secrets of this science, being worthy of a degree near prophecy. He is responsible for the following utterance: 'Once I entered [the Holy of Holiest] in order to burn the incense, and I saw Akhterīēl Yāh, the Lord of Hosts,' etc. Another pupil of his was the famous R. Joshua between whom and Rabbān Gamaliēl occurred the well known affair; further R. Jōsē, and R. Elāzar b. Arākh. Of the last named it was said: 'If all Sages of Israel were placed on one scale and Elāzar b. Arākh on the other, he would outweigh them ' Beside those famous men and many Sages, priests and Levites whose calling was the study of the law, there flourished undisturbed in the same period the seventy learned members of the Synhedrion on whose authority officials were appointed or deposed. With reference to this it is told: R. Simon b. Joḥāi said: 'I heard from the mouth of the seventy elders on the day when R. Eliezer b. Azariāh was appointed President of the Academy.' These seventy had a hundred followers, the latter -thousands; for, seventy such accomplished men can best be selected from hundreds standing beneath them and so on by degrees. In the next generation after the destruction of the Temple, there lived R. Akībāh and R. Tarfōn and R. Jōsē of Galilee with their friends. R. Akībāh reached a degree so near prophecy that he held intercourse with the spiritual world, as it is said: Four persons entered paradise; one of them peeped in and died, the other did the same and was hurt; the third did likewise and cut the plants down, and only one entered in peace and left in peace. This was R. Akībāh. The one who died was unable to bear the glance of the higher world, and his body collapsed. The second lost his mind and whispered divine frenzy without benefiting mankind. The third fell into bad ways, because he ascended above human intelligence and said: 'Human actions are but instruments which lead up to spiritual heights. Having reached these I care not for religious ceremonies. He was corrupt and corrupted others, erred and caused others to err.' R. Akībāh conversed with both worlds without harm, and it was said of him: He was as worthy of associating with the Shekhinah as Moses, but the period was not propitious. He was one of the ten martyrs, and during his torture enquired of his pupils, whether the time of reading the Shema‘ had arrived. They answered: 'O our master; even now?' 'All my days,' he answered, 'I endeavoured to practise the words: "with all thy heart and all thy soul--even if it costs thee thy life"; now, when the opportunity has arisen, I will make them true.' He protracted the ēḥād till his soul fled
66. Al Khazari: In this way one may spend a happy life, and die a happy! death, and then live an eternal life in never-ceasing bliss.
67. The Rabbi: In the next generation lived R. Mēīr, R. Judah, R. Simon b. Azzāi, and R. Ḥananyāh b. Teradiōn and their friends. They were followed by Rabbi, viz. R. Judāh Hannāsi, 'our Teacher.' His contemporaries were R. Nāthān, R. Joshua b. Korḥāh, and many others who were the last teachers of the Mishnāh, also called Tannāim. They were followed by the Amōrāim, who are the authorities of the Talmud. The Mishnāh was compiled in the year 530, according the era of the 'Documents,' which corresponds to the year 150 after the destruction of the Temple, and 530 years after the termination of prophecy. In the Mishnāh were reproduced those sayings and doings which--few out of many--we have quoted. They treated the Mishnāh with the same care as the Tōrāh, arranging it in sections, chapters and paragraphs. Its traditions are so reliable that no suspicion of invention could be upheld. Besides this the Mishnāh contains a large amount of pure Hebrew which is not borrowed from the Bible. It is greatly distinguished by terseness of language, beauty of style, excellence of composition, and the comprehensive employment of homonyms, applied in a lucid way, leaving neither doubt nor obscurity. This is so striking that every one who looks at it with genuine scrutiny must be aware that mortal man is incapable of composing such a work without divine assistance. Only he who is hostile to it, who does not know it, and never endeavoured to read and study it, hearing some general and allegorical utterances of the Sages deems them senseless and defective, just as one who judges a person after meeting him, without having conversed with him for any length of time. The following saying of R. Nahum the Scribe will show how the Sages based their learning on that of the prophets: 'I have heard from R. Mayyāshā, who learnt from the "pairs," who had it from the prophets as an ordination given to Moses from Sinai.' They were careful not to hand down the teachings of single individuals, as is shown by the following saying uttered on the deathbed of one of them, to his son: 'My son, retract thy opinion on four subjects which I have taught thee.' 'Wherefore,' asked the son, 'didst thou not retract thine?' 'I learnt,' answered the father, 'from many who, in their turn, had learnt from many. I kept to my tradition, and they to theirs. Thou, however, didst learn only from one person. It is better to neglect the teachings of a single individual, and to accept that of the majority.' These are a few sayings, like a drop from the sea, showing the excellence of the traditions of the Mishnāh. To give thee a sketch of the traditions and traditionists of the Talmud, and its methods, sentences and aphorisms, would lead us too far. And if there is in it many a thing which is considered less attractive to-day, it was yet held proper in those days.
68. Al Khazari: Indeed, several details in their sayings appear to me inferior to their general principles. They employ verses of the Tōrāh in a manner without regard to common sense. One can only say that the application of such verses once for legal deductions, another time for homiletic purposes, does not tally with their real meaning. Their Agadās and tales are often against reason.
69. The Rabbi: Didst thou notice how strictly and minutely the comments on the Mishnāh and Boraithā are given? They speak with a thoroughness and lucidity which do equal justice both to the words and meaning of them.
70. Al Khazari: I am well aware to what perfection they brought the art of dialectics, but this is an argument which cannot be refuted.
71. The Rabbi: May we assume that he who proceeds with so much thoroughness should not know as much of the contents of a verse as we know?
72. Al Khazari: This is most unlikely. Two cases are possible. Either we are ignorant of their method of interpreting the Tōrāh, or the interpreters of the Rabbinic law are not identical with those of the Holy Writ. The latter point of view is absurd. It is seldom that we see them give a verse a rational and literal rendition, but, on the other hand, we never find them interpret a halākhā except on the lines of strict logic.
73. The Rabbi: Let us rather assume two other possibilities. Either they employ secret methods of interpretation which we are unable to discern, and which were handed down to them, together with the method of the 'Thirteen Rules of Interpretation,' or they use Biblical verses as a kind of fulcrum of interpretation in a method called Asmakhtā, and make them a sort of hall mark of tradition. An instance is given in the following verse: 'And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat' (Gen. ii. 16 sq.). It forms the basis of the 'seven Noahide laws' in the following manner:
- ['He] commanded' refers to jurisdiction.
- 'The Lord' refers to prohibition of blasphemy.
- 'God' refers to prohibition of idolatry.
- 'The man' refers to prohibition of murder.
- 'Saying' refers to prohibition of incest.
- 'Of every tree of the garden,' prohibition of rape.
- 'Thou mayest surely eat,' a prohibition of flesh from the living animal.
There is a wide difference between these injunctions and the verse. The people, however, accepted these seven laws as tradition, connecting them with the verse as aid to memory. It is also possible that they applied both methods of interpreting verses, or others which are now lost to us. Considering the well-known wisdom, piety, zeal, and number of the Sages which excludes a common plan, it is our duty to follow them. If we feel any doubt, it is not due to their words, but to our own intelligence. This also applies to the Tōrāh and its contents. We must ascribe the defective understanding of it to ourselves. As to the Agādās, many serve as basis and introduction for explanations and inunctions. For instance: the saying, 'When the Lord descended to Egypt,' etc. is designed to confirm the belief that the delivery from Egypt was a deliberate act of God, and not an accident, nor achieved with the assistance of human plotting, spirits, stars, and angels, jinn, or any other fanciful creation of the mind. It was done by God's providence alone. Statements of this kind are introduced by the word kibejākhōl, which means: If this could be so and so, it would be so and so. Although this is not to be found in the Talmud, but only in a few other works, it is to be so understood wherever it is found. This is also the meaning of the words of Micaiah, when he said to Ahab: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne . . . host of heaven. And the Lord said, who shall persuade Ahab. . . . And there came forth a spirit,' etc. (1 Kings. xxii. 19 sqq.) As a matter of fact all that he intended conveying was: Behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets. Verses of this kind serve as a fulcrum and induction, rendering a subject eloquent, apposite, and showing that it is based on truth. To the same category belong tales of visions of spirits, a matter which is not strange in such pious men. Some of the visions they saw were the consequence of their lofty thoughts and pure minds, others were really apparent, as was the case with those seen by the prophets. Such is the nature of the Bāth Qōl, often heard during the time of the second Temple, and regarded as ranking next to prophecy and the Divine voice. Do not consider strange what R. Ishmael said: 'I heard a voice cooing like a dove, etc.' For the histories of Moses and Elijah prove that such a thing is possible, and when a true account is given, it must be accepted as such. In a similar sense we must take the words: 'Woe unto me that I have destroyed my house' (Gen. vi. 6), which is of the same character as: 'And it repented the Lord, . . . and it grieved Him at His heart.' Other Rabbinic sayings are parables employed to express mysterious teachings which were not to be made public. For they are of no use to the masses, and were only handed over to a few select persons for research and investigation, if a proper person suitable--one in an age, or in several--could be found. Other sayings appear senseless on the face of them, but that they have their meaning, becomes apparent after but a little reflection. The following is an instance: Seven things were created prior to the world: Paradise, the Tōrāh, the just, Israel, the throne of glory, Jerusalem, and the Messiah, the son of David.' This is similar to the saying of some philosophers: 'The primary thought includes the final deed.' It was the object of divine wisdom in the creation of the world to create the Tōrāh, which was the essence of wisdom, and whose bearers are the just, among whom stands the throne of glory and the truly righteous, who are the most select, viz. Israel, and the proper place for them was Jerusalem, and only the best of men, viz. the Messiah, son of David, could be associated with them, and they all entered Paradise. Figuratively speaking, one must assume that they were created prior to the world. Seemingly against common sense is also the saying: Ten things were created in the twilight, viz. the opening of the earth, the opening of the spring, the mouth of the she ass, etc., as otherwise the Tōrāh were out of harmony with nature. Nature claims to pursue its regular course, whilst the Tōrāh claims to alter this regular course. The solution is that ordinary natural phenomena are altered within natural limits, since they had been primarily fixed by the divine will, and clearly laid down from the six days of creation. I will not deny, O King of the Khazars, that there are matters in the Talmud of which I am unable to give thee a satisfactory explanation, nor even bring them in connexion with the whole. These things stand in the Talmud through the conscientiousness of the disciples, who followed the principle that 'even the commonplace talk of the Sages requires study.' They took care to reproduce only that which they had heard from their teachers, striving at the same time to understand everything they had heard from their masters. In this they went so far as to render it in the same words, although they may not have grasped its meaning. In this case they said: 'Thus have we been taught and have heard.' Occasionally the teacher concealed from his pupils the reasons which prompted him to make certain statements. But the matter came down to us in this form, and we think little of it, because we do not know its purport. For the whole of this relates to topics which do not touch on lawful or unlawful matters. Let us not therefore trouble about it, and the book will lose nothing if we consider the points discussed here.
74. Al Khazari: Thou hast pleased me greatly, and strengthened my belief in tradition. Now I should like to learn something of the scientific pursuits of the Sages. But previously give me a discourse on the names of God. On this subject thou canst speak at greater length.
END OF THE THIRD PART.
Next: Part Four