Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Reward and Punishment – Now You See It Now You Don’t


[Hans Frank, governor of German occupied Poland from October 26, 1939 until January 1945. Photographed here after being hanged at Nuremberg, Germany on October 1, 1946]

One question many people have about God is “If there exists a universal judge, who rewards good people and punishes bad people, then why don’t we see more evidence of this in the world around us? Why do we not see immediate divine reward and punishment?”

I think that one answer is that God wishes the human race to continue to exist. If reward and punishment would be immediate, this would most likely be impossible. Considering the rebelliousness and lack of discipline of most people, very few people would survive long enough to produce and raise children if they were struck down dead the moment they first sinned.

Based on this principle, punishment and reward can be more immediate the higher a spiritual level people are on. During Biblical times, the Israelites were often quickly punished for sin, although as the Biblical era continued this seems to have been delayed further and further. Korah, for example, was destroyed on the spot. Centuries later, the punishment for the sins of Manasseh was delayed for about 60 years (see II Kings 21:12). The Talmud begins referring to reward and punishment after death, for example in Avos 5:29. In recent centuries, kabbalists have taken this a step further and taught that reward and punishment may be in future lives.

We now live in a time when reward and punishment may (or may not) be very remote from the act that caused them. They may occur in this life, the after life or a future life. The one fact, which has not changed, is that everything will be fairly settled eventually. And, as we see from the above photograph, even today reward and punishment may be fairly prompt.

16 comments:

Skeptodox said...

Excellent and thoughtful post, although I do take issue with the idea that punishment will occur in the afterlife. It's a bit too much of a cop-out given the scant evidence for olam haba in the Torah.

jewish philosopher said...

You see that's my point. The prophets made little mention of the next world because they knew that reward and punishment would be more immediate. In later times, the Talmudic sages began referring more often to the afterlife.

Joebaum said...

And it will be soon like that when `Mushiach` will come!

badrabbi said...

Reward and punishment is well described in the Torah. Nowhere is the concept of punishment more clear than the following passages in the Torah:

Exodus 24:22 "You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. 23 If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; 24 And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless."

This passage is extremely clear in the kind of sin and in the punishment inflicted. Specifically, God is saying that he is listening to the orphans and widows who are oppressed. When they cry out to God, he listens. He comes down personally, and with his sword, he kills the oppressor.

The passage is not referring to “the world to come”. We know this since in “the world to come” wives becoming widows and children becoming fatherless do not make sense.

Is anything clearer than this? The trouble is, to our knowledge this has never happened. Never in the recorded history of the world has God ever come down to kill an oppressor with a sword. The question is why not?

You see, it is this kind of stuff that has forced the rabbis to take a more abstract approach. When the rabbis see that indeed sometimes people oppress others, murder – when it is clear that sometimes orphans and widows are oppressed and the oppressors get away with it, the rabbis invent punishments in "the other world". Conveniently, there is not way of checking the veracity of such claims.

Yet the Torah is explicit. The punishment aught to have taken place in this world. It is written in black and white in the Torah. Yet the rabbis have substituted “in the next world”, removing any means of fact checking.

In any case, if this supposed reward and punishment in the “olam Haba” so efficient and so perfect, why do we need to bother with police, with prisons and with a justice system? Why don’t we simply shrug at the rapists and murderers and say that there comeuppance will come in the next world?

Josh said...

I honestly don't know how to respond in a kind way to badrabbi. If you honestly are reading that verse 100% literally where G-d himself comes down with a flaming sword and decapitates people then you are just the type of guy President Bush needs on the Supreme Court.

badrabbi said...

Josh;
If I am not supposed to read Exodus 22 literally, please tell me how to read it. I am not certain why such clear writing as is found in passages I quated should somehow be suddenly made to be read abstractly.

You see, in the same Chapter (Ex 22), it says in verse 16 that "you shall not allow a sorcerer to live". You see Josh, people have and do take this verse VERY literally. Thousands of women have been killed because of this verse as witches over the centuries. Have you responded "not in a kind way" to the authorities that took this verse literally?

Or, perhaps, when in verse 20 it says "Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed", we should also not take this seriously. The trouble is, that, again, history is rife with people being put under the sword for transgressing this verse.

So, Josh, what signal do you employ to take some passages literally and some abstractly? What is your read on this passage anyway?

Josh said...

I was referring to G-d himself decapitating people with an actual sword.

badrabbi said...

I was referring to that also!

jewish philosopher said...

You see guys, when it comes to how to interpret the Torah, I look to the traditions of that nation which has received and observed the Torah since time immemorial - Jews. What does Jewish tradition say about Biblical literalism?

According to the Talmud, when the Bible, Exodus 13:9 states “you will bind them as a sign on your hand” that is literal. Therefore this morning I put on tefillin . According to the Talmud, when the Bible, Deuteronomy 21:24 states “an eye for an eye” that is not literal and the victim may merely sue the damager for monetary compensation, not cut his eye out.

In regards to Exodus 22:23 , it is perfectly clear to me that Torah is stating that if anyone maliciously oppresses poor, helpless people, he will meet a violent, premature death. Bad, what makes you think that doesn’t happen? Take a look at the new photo I have attached to this post – what do you call that? And even if you can document a case where someone obviously maliciously oppressed poor, helpless people yet lived to a ripe old age and died peacefully, then perhaps in a future incarnation he will suffer a violent death. You have proof that this verse is not true only if you can establish that there is no afterlife. How do you establish that?

“In any case, if this supposed reward and punishment in the “olam Haba” so efficient and so perfect, why do we need to bother with police, with prisons and with a justice system? Why don’t we simply shrug at the rapists and murderers and say that there comeuppance will come in the next world?”

Basically we could, however for some reason I feel a little uncomfortable having rapists and murderers running around loose in my neighborhood. Therefore I strongly support law enforcement.

badrabbi said...

There is so much self-delusion on your part that I marvel at ability!

Let's see...Where to begin?

JP: According to the Talmud, when the Bible, Exodus 13:9 states “you will bind them as a sign on your hand” that is literal. Therefore this morning I put on tefillin.

Good for you. Now suppose that oral tradition stated that “bind them as a sign…” was merely symbolic – that in fact you do not have to do anything at all. You seem to be saying that if this were so, well then you would not put on the tefillin. Notice here that what you are doing is to subordinate the word of the Torah for the interpretation of rabbis. If in fact this is what you are doing, I suggest that instead of kissing the Torah scroll when it is paraded in front of you, you should kiss the rabbi instead!

JP: Deuteronomy 21:24 states “an eye for an eye” that is not literal and the victim may merely sue the damager for monetary compensation, not cut his eye out.

Here, again, you see the problem. I have a hard time thinking that a being so full of wisdom who deigns to write a book for us, would write a phrase that seems to say that we should take an eye for an eye. Couldn’t God written things a bit more clearly? How is it that the rabbis have to come along and clarify something as important as this? God’s error in writing this way is especially egregious given that in that time, eyes were in fact gauged in reprisal for damage done! When we see a phrase a coarse as “an eye for an eye”, it becomes obvious that God did not write the phrase. Not a god worth worshipping at least!

JP: In regards to Exodus 22:23 , it is perfectly clear to me that Torah is stating that if anyone maliciously oppresses poor, helpless people, he will meet a violent, premature death.

LOL, have you forgotten how to read? The Torah does not say “violent malicious death”. It says that God will come down and murder the oppressor with his sword! How much more clear can this be?

JP: Bad, what makes you think that doesn’t happen? Take a look at the new photo I have attached to this post

First, in your own legend, you have written that the ones hanged are for their involvement in the murder of Lincoln. Unless I am mistaken, Lincoln was neither a widow nor an orphan at the time of his death! He was a murder victim. What does this have to do with what I am saying?

Second, unless you are saying that the picture is showing that those being hanged are actually being decapitated (by God at that) this picture does not at all refer to the subject at hand!

JP: …then perhaps in a future incarnation he will suffer a violent death.

Again, JP, for the thousandth time, nowhere in the Torah is mention made of future punishments. Clearly, God is referring to the oppressor and states that his children will become orphans and his wife will be a widow. How can this happen in a future world? The passage makes sense only in terms of the present world.

JP: I feel a little uncomfortable having rapists and murderers running around loose in my neighborhood. Therefore I strongly support law enforcement.

As well you should, as God’s supposed justice is non-existent. Without the police, jails, and justice system, we might as well wait for Moshiach to come before we get justice, as God’s justice is long in coming.

Josh said...

I have never seen a single biblical minimalist, skeptical scholar, anyone with any degree or prestige ever attempt to claim that such a verse of G-d coming down with an actual sword would ever be considered literal. It's called anthropamorphism. (aka I cannot spell this word and am watching NFL and don't want to google it) The eye for an eye thing, you have some nice reasonable kefira there that I could buy into if I wasn't a frum jew. This verse about the sword though give me a break. Please re-read the curses in Leviticius and Deuteronemy.

jewish philosopher said...

Bad, first of all, I'm sorry about the photo attached to this post. I changed it a few hours ago. I should have made that clearer.

As far as why do I believe "the rabbis", well, if the Jewish interpretation of the Torah is a forgery, then who said the Torah itself is not a forgery? Why do you believe that the written Torah handed down by Jews since Sinai is more valid than how those same Jews interpret it? Whom should we go to to interpret and explain the Torah - the Pope?

It's interesting that in every case that I can think of where the Talmud contradicts the Torah, it something like the "eye for an eye" situation. The Torah states some brutal punishment and the Talmud comes along and says "yes, it says that, but we actually don't do that". My feeling is that God is telling the sinner "You know, imbecile, you really deserve to have that eye gouged out but, in fine print, I'm giving you a break".

badrabbi said...

Rabbinic Jewish interpretation is not necessarily a forgery. In my opinion, Rabbinic modification of Judaism takes several forms as outlined below:

1. Standard Interpretation: Rabbis read the Torah and make straight forward rules. For example, the Torah asks that Shabbat be a holy day and the rabbis comply.
2. Standard Interpretation with additions: Rabbis read the torah, see that rules need to be made more stringent or elaborated upon and they do so. For example, the Torah states “you shall bind them on your heads” and the rabbis invent phylacteries together with their elaborate rules to comply. Another example is the rules of Shabbat observance and what constitutes ‘work’.
3. Negation of the Torah rules: Here, the rabbis either minimize or negate altogether the dictates of the Torah. For example, some 30% of the Torah deals with animal sacrifices. The rabbis came along and basically said that this is unnecessary. Another example is the Torah allowing polygamy and the rabbis’ banning it. The negation of “eye for an eye” rule probably falls into this category as well.
4. Invention of new concepts: Here, the rabbis essentially make up stuff either out of thin air, or they borrow from other religions or cultures. Examples of this include reincarnation, resurrection, redemption, Messhiah, etc.

It is my opinion that the percentages of rabbinic modification as outlined above are roughly 10%, 15%, 30%, 45%. Thus, the Judaism that orthodox Jews practice bears little resemblance to the Judaism prescribed by the Torah.

As far as the interpretation of the Torah is concerned, I admit that there are large parts of it that are open to interpretation. Forgetting about the competence of a diety who would write a book open to such interpretation errors, it is reasonable to concede that rabbis are as good as any to interpret the Torah. The caveats, though, are several fold: 1) There are portions of the Torah that are plainly said and clear. They are not open to interpretation. For example, when the Torah states that Homosexuality is an abomination, so it is. One need not resort to a rabbi for a re-interpretation; 2) One has to recognize that rabbis are human and thus fallible. Their word aught not be the last. Should logical errors be found in their logic, one aught to have every right to modify their edicts. Thus, eruvs, sheytels, and banning the use of electric devices on Shabbat, for example, should be done away with on these grounds; 3) Rabbis should not be allowed to add to the oral tradition. Thus, when they come and talk about the importance of astrology in Judaism, we should object. When they talk of resurrection because their Christian brothers are doing so, we should say no. When they transform a military celebration into the religious holiday of Chanukah, we should mindful.

Blogging is so much fun!

jewish philosopher said...

I’m not quite sure I follow you Bad. You’re speculating that there was originally some sort of religion practiced by the Israelites in Iron Age Palestine called “Biblical Judaism”. This religion was actually taught to Moses at Sinai. It involved no phylacteries, a lot of animal sacrifices, gouging eyes out, no afterlife, etc.

Following the Babylonian exile, a group of Jewish leaders got together and created a new religion called “Rabbinical Judaism” which bore little resemblance to Biblical Judaism. The Temple and sacrifices were out. Phylacteries and synagogue were in. The afterlife and the messiah were invented. No more eye gouging or hand amputating. Rabbinical Judaism quickly caught on and Biblical Judaism quickly died out.

There are a few problems with this theory.

First of all, the rabbis considered the Temple to be of huge importance. A large section of the Talmud is devoted to the laws of the already defunct Temple service. Four fast days each year are to this day devoted to “mourning for the destruction of the Temple”.

Second of all, it is clear that Jews in Biblical times believed in an afterlife; see for example I Samuel 28:15 where Saul has a meeting with the ghost of Samuel.

Also, we see that even in Biblical times, Jews accepted new practices upon themselves which were then considered to be binding. See for example Esther 9:27.

As conditions have changed, Jewish practices have had to change as well. When the Temple disappeared, the synagogue became more important. When women became less submissive, polygamy had to be discontinued. We must be flexible, according to the guidance of great Torah scholars who are totally devoted to Torah ideals. However there is no new, fraudulent Judaism as you suggest.

badrabbi said...

It is hard to know the exact "evolution" of Judaism, as we are talking about a span of over 3000 years. I am not sure how things began. I do not think there was a 'revelation' at Sinai, but that discussion is for another day.

There was probably a group of people who called themselves Jews who believed in having Hashem as their personal God. Over a period of time, a collection (or perhaps all at once – I just don’t know) of writings were put together and came to be known as the Torah. It is probable that the Jews substantially followed the edicts of the Torah, though again, not knowing the provenance of the Torah makes it difficult to say so for sure.

Once the Beth Hamighdash was destroyed, necessarily Judaism had to be modified substantially. There was no longer a forum in which to sacrifice animals, a central theme of the religion at that time. It is important to mention that even while the Beth hamigdash was around, the latter was not the exclusive location for ritual animal slaughter. It seems that kingdoms of Judea and Israel each had at least one (see for example Shiloh). I must admit I am not that familiar with Jewish history yet.

I imagine that human civilization - Jews amongst it - being more advanced at the time of the Romans, had begun to grumble about routine animal ritual slaughter. If you read the New Testament, as well as portions of the Tenakh, people were talking about the importance of purity of heart rather than necessity of animal slaughter. When the Beth Hamisghdash (BH) was destroyed, there was a very large dilemma: The Jews could not sacrifice animals in the BH. If they did not sacrifice at all, they ran into trouble since Hashem told them to do so. If they sacrificed elsewhere, then they ran into trouble since Hashem told them only to sacrifice at BH. What to do?

As I mentioned, there was already grumblings going on about so many sacrifices. I believe that the rabbis could have simply said that they would build another Mishkan, such as Shiloh, such as the ones our forefathers had built and continue the sacrifices. However, these sacrifices were unpopular and the rabbis chose to do away with them.

Now, the Jews were under foreign rule. They had to adjust. The rabbis went on to continue to modify Jewish life in order to keep up with the times. At times, they got rid of laws. At times they added new ones. At times, they modified them. At one point they wrote some of this in the Mishnah. But not even they went so far as to claim that this stuff was given to them at Mount Sinai.

So, yes, JP. Judaism is substantially different now compared to the biblical times. You would be a fool to claim otherwise. And I am not necessarily criticizing that Judaism is different today. It is good to change with the times. My issue is that Orthodox people claim that all rabbinic thought is a product of Sinai revelation, which it clearly is not. But a corollary of a claim of Sinai revelation is that once the rabbi set these rules, they can no longer be changed. What I am saying is that there is no reason why Judaism can not continue to evolve. If the rabbis changed the religion 2000 years ago, why can the religion not be changed now? This is the thrust of my gripe about Judaism and its rules.

jewish philosopher said...

Bad, although I would have to vehemently disagree with your assessment of Jewish history, I’ll try to answer your question.

“If the rabbis changed the religion 2000 years ago, why can the religion not be changed now?”

The answer is: Because no one today convincingly has the authority to do so.

I’m a rabbi. Let’s say I publish a book tomorrow claiming to have reinterpreted the Torah to permit cooking on the Sabbath or reinstituting animal sacrifices in Wesley Hills, NY or changing how phylacteries are made or some other radical innovation. People who do not believe in Torah won’t care anyway. People who do believe in Torah, for example all the Hassidic Jews of Brooklyn and so on, will read this and say, “Who does this guy think he is? How does he know all this while all our leaders for the past 3,000 years did not?” My book will go straight into the trashcan. It would have no audience.

This is one reason why I find it implausible that “the rabbis changed the religion 2000 years ago”; innovations would not have been accepted then either.

Having said that, certain relatively minor changes are continually being made. The first Jewish girls’ school opened in 1918 in Krakow, Poland. Hassidic tisches and Lithuanian kollelim are relatively recent innovations. These innovations however are all attempts to preserve the essence of Judaism in a changing world. They are not changes for the sake of making things easier or making Judaism more fashionable.