Judaism, Christianity and « their Indissoluble Difference ».


« Jacob Taubes »

Jacob Taubes wrote an article, The controversy between Judaism and Christianity, whose subtitle reads: « Considerations on their indissoluble difference« i, in which he densely summed up what he views as the essence of the « impossible dialogue between « the Synagogue » and « the Church » ».

This non-dialogue has been going on for two millennia, and will only end at the end of time, in all probability.

The popular expression « Judeo-Christian tradition » is often used. But it is meaningless. Above all, it impedes a full understanding of the « fundamental » differences in the « controversial questions concerning the Jewish and Christian religions » that « continue to influence every moment of our lives ». ii

From the outset, Jacob Taubes asserts that no concession on the part of Judaism towards Christianity is possible. The opposition is frontal, radical, absolute, irremediable.

In order for two parties to begin any kind of debate, at the very least, they must recognize each other’s legitimate right to participate in that debate.

However, these really basic conditions are not even fulfilled…

One party does not recognize the other. Christianity means nothing to Judaism. Christianity has absolutely no religious legitimacy for the latter:

« For the Jewish faith, the Christian religion in general and the body of the Christian Church in particular have no religious significance. For the Church, there is a Jewish « mystery, » but the Synagogue knows no « Christian » mystery of any kind. For Jewish belief, the Christian Church cannot have any religious significance; and the division of historical time into a « before Christ » and an « after Christ » cannot be recognized by the Synagogue. Moreover, it cannot even be recognized as something that, though meaningless to the Jewish people, represents a truth to the rest of the world. » iii

The denial of Christianity by Judaism is implacable, definitive. Christianity is not « recognized » by Judaism. It has intrinsically no « religious significance ». This absence of « religious significance » is not limited to the « Jewish people ». Nor does Judaism recognize any religious « significance » for religions from « the rest of the world ».

It is useless to expect from Jacob Taubes scholarly comparisons and fine analyses comparing Jewish and Christian theological elements in order to try to deepen the terms of a common questioning.

A major element of the Christian faith is only « blasphemy » from the Jewish point of view:

« But, from the Jewish point of view, the division into « Father » and « Son » operates a cleavage of the divine being; the Synagogue looked at it, and still looks at it, simply as blasphemy. » iv

In theory, and in good faith, for the sake of the « controversy », Jacob Taubes could have evoked, on this question of the « Father » and the « Son », the troubling passages of the Zohar which deal with the generation of Elohim following the « union » of the One with Wisdom (Hokhmah)v.

Is the « Father-Son-Holy Spirit » Trinity structurally analogous to the Trinity of « the One, Hokhmah and Elohim »?

Does it offer points of comparison with the revelation made to Moses under a formal Trinitarian formula: « Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh » (Ex. 3:14) or with the strange Trinitarian expression of Deuteronomy: « YHVH, Elohenou, YHVH » (Deut. 6:4)?

Maybe so. Maybe not. But this is not the bottom line for Taubes: he is not at all interested in a thorough confrontation of texts and ideas on such opaque and metaphysical subjects.

This lack of interest in comparative hermeneutics is all the more striking because Taubes immediately admits that Judaism, in its long history, has in fact fallen back a great deal on its supposed « rigid monotheism »:

« The recent insistence on rigid monotheism as the defining characteristic of Jewish religious life is contradicted by a fact that contemporary Jewish thinkers tend to dismiss: the centuries-long predominance of the Lurian Kabbalah in Judaism. The Kabbalah has developed theological speculations that can only be compared to Gnostic (and pagan) mythologies. The mythical unity of the divine King and the divine Queen, the speculation on Adam Kadmon, the mythology of the ten sephirot, which are not attributes but manifestations of the divine, of different essences, poses a challenge to any historian of religion who claims to judge what is Jewish and what is not according to the criterion of a « rigid monotheism ». The Jewish religion would not have been able to cope with the explosion of Kabbalistic mythologization if its fundamental and determining characteristic had been a rigid monotheism. » vi

Even more astonishing, Jacob Taubes, after having denied any kind of « religious significance » to Christianity, affirms however that « Christianity is a typically Jewish heresy »:

« Christian history, Jesus’ claim to the title of Messiah and Pauline theology of Christ as the end of the Law are not at all « singular » events for Judaism, but are things that regularly recur in the fundamental Jewish frame (Grundmuster)of religious existence. As I have already said, Christian history does not constitute a « mystery » for the Jewish religion. Christianity represents a « typical » crisis in Jewish history, which expresses a typically Jewish « heresy »: antinomistic messianism – the belief that with the coming of the Messiah, what is decisive for salvation is not the observance of the Law, but faith in the Messiah. » vii

But if Christianity is, for Judaism, a « typically Jewish heresy », does this not recognize it as a form of « significance » in the eyes of Judaism, if only because of its antinomic opposition? The fact that forms of heresy, at least formally analogous to Christianity, may have appeared in a recurring manner within Judaism itself, does not this imply the presence of a subterranean question, always at work, in the darkness of the foundations?

Judaism seems indeed to suffer from certain structural « weaknesses », at least according to the opinion of Jacob Taubes :

« The weakness of all modern Jewish theology – and not only modern – is that it fails to designate Halakhah, the Law, as its alpha and omega. Since the period of Emancipation, the Jewish religion has been in crisis because it lost its center when Halakhah lost its central position and binding force in Jewish thought and life. From the moment Halakhah ceases to be the determining force in Jewish life, the door is open to all the anti-halakhic (antinomistic) and disguised Christian assumptions that are prevalent in secularized modern Christian society. » viii

On the one hand, Christianity has no « religious significance », according to Jacob Taubes.

On the other hand, Christianity threatens Halakhah in its very foundation, which is of the order of the Law, and in its « ultimate » principle, justice:

« Halakhah is essentially based on the principle of representation: the intention of man’s heart and soul must be manifested and represented in his daily life. Therefore the Halakhah must become « external » and « legal », it must deal with the details of life because it is only in the details of life that the covenant between God and man can be presented. (…) Halakhah is the Law because justice is the ultimate principle: ecstatic or pseudo-ecstatic religiosity can see in the sobriety of justice only dead legalism and external ceremonialism, just as anarchy can conceive law and order only as tyranny and oppression. » ix

Here we are at the core. For Taubes, Judaism has as its essential foundations Law and Justice, which are radically opposed to the « principle of love »:

« The controversy between the Jewish religion and the Christian religion refers to the eternal conflict between the principle of the Law and the principle of love. The « yoke of the Law » is challenged by the enthusiasm of love. But in the end, only the « justice of the Law » could question the arbitrariness of love. » x

Let’s summarize:

-Judaism does not give any religious significance to Christianity, nor does it recognize any meaning for the « rest of the world ».

-In reality Christianity is only a « Jewish heresy », as there have been so many others.

-Judaism is threatened by Christianity in that it deeply undermines Halakhah in a modern, secularized Christian society.

-The two essential principles of Judaism are the Law and justice.

-The essential principle of Christianity is love, but this principle is « arbitrary », -Judaism must question the « principle of love » through the « justice of the Law ».

Logically, the above points are inconsistent with each other when considered as a whole.

But logic has little to do with this debate, which is not, and probably cannot be « logical ».

Therefore, one has to use something other than logic.

But what? Vision? Intuition? Prophecy?

One reads, right at the very end of the Torah, its very last sentence:

« No prophet like Moses has ever risen in Israel, whom YHVH knew face to face. »xi

Let’s presume that the Torah tells the ultimate truth about this. How could it be otherwise?

Then, maybe, « He » could have risen out of Israel?

The Masters of Israel, from blessed memory, also testified, according to Moses de Leon:

« He has not risen in Israel, but He has risen among the nations of the world.» xii

The Masters cited the example of Balaam. He is a prophet, undeniably, since « God presented Himself (vayiqar) to Balaam » (Num. 23:4), but Balaam still is a « sulphurous » prophet.

However Balaam « stood up » before the end of the Torah. Which leaves open the question of other prophets « standing up » after the Torah was completed…

It is up to us, who belong to the nations of the world, to reflect and meditate on the prophets who may have risen – no longer in Israel, since none could possibly have « risen » in Israel since Moses – but among the « nations of the world ».

And this according to the testimony, not only of the Torah, but of the illustrious Jewish Masters who commented on it.

Vast program!

___________________

iJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009.

iiJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference. « Time is running out. From worship to culture. Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. p.101

iiiJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. p. 105

ivJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. . p. 104

vSee my article on this blog: How the Elohim Were Begotten | Metaxu. Le blog de Philippe Quéau.

viJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. . p. 111

viiJacob Taubes. »The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. p. 113

viii« The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. p. 114-115

ix« The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. p. 115

xJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. Seuil. 2009. p. 117

xiDt. 34,10

xiiQuoted by Moses de Leon. The sicle of the Sanctuary (Chequel ha-Qodesh). Translation Charles Mopsik. Ed. Verdier. 1996. p. 103