I love opinionated non-PC people. This blog is to vent my opinions on life, the universe and everything. Which is 42 which in gematria is "My Heart" (LBY) according to Rabbi Abulafia. The Divine Heart is the centre of everything.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Spirit of the Law: A Hebrew Catholic Perspective


Certain Christians who attack those believers in Yeshuah who are devoted to the Torah (like the early Jewish Catholics of Acts 21) often use Paul's letter to the Galatians as the basis of their position. Here we read of the concepts of the 'spirit of the law' and 'freedom in the Spirit'. Paul was a great Rabbi and mystic and one cannot fully understand his ideas without knowledge of what these terms meant in Judaism. Paul also refers to Sarah and Hagar and their two sons as an allegory for what these terms mean. The Jewish term 'spirit of the law' is 'lifnim mishurat ha din'. This literally means within the line of judgment or law. It is still an important concept in Judaism today.

"...R. Yohanan said: 'Jerusalem would not have been destroyed, save that they judged Din Torah (by the letter of the Law).' Should they have judged by the brutal laws?--rather, they insisted upon the law, and did not practice Lifnim miShurat haDin (beyond the line of the law)." (BT Bava Mezia 30b). We see that the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD due to those who lived out strictly the letter of the law rather than living by the spirit of the law. We know that Paul is referring to this concept of living Torah at the higher level of lifnim miShurat ha Din as the greek word stoichomen used in Galatians 5:25 has the meaning of standing or being in line. This concept is also what Yeshuah was teaching in the beatitudes. It is to go beyond or within the Torah into the realms of joy, love, peace, harmony, mercy etc.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in "Heavenly Torah" states "The sages knew that one could be a 'scoundrel within the bounds of the Torah', that is, within the bounds of Halakhah; and thus they said: 'Jerusalem was destroyed only because they adjudicated solely on the basis of the laws of the Torah, and they did not practice lifnim mishurat hadin'. Now what distinguishes legality (din) from lifnim mishurat hadin? One can coerce compliance with the law but not lifnim mishurat hadin...The divergence of halakhic and aggadic thinking is illustrated also by the different answers given to the question: whence the principle that the danger to life overrides Sabbath laws? what are the halakhic answers? Rabbi Akiva said:' If the apprehension of a murderer supersedes the Temple service, which in turn supercedes the Sabbath, then a fortiori does a threat to innocent life override the Sabbath.'... But when essentially the same qestion was asked of Rabbi Tanhum of Naveh, while he was preaching in public: "May one extinguish a candle on Sabbath so that a sick person may get to sleep? he gave this answer: 'a candle is called ner, and the human spirit is also called ner [as in the spirit of man is the lamp (ner) of God (Proverbs 20;27)]; better that the ner of a human being [i.e. candle] be extinguished in favour of the ner of the Holy and Blessed One." This is poetic, impressionistic explanation, the product of Aggadah, which lifts the matter under consideration above the four cubits of Halakhah to sublime, heavenly heights. the conceptual category Aggadah thus should not be defined purely negatively [e.g., as scriptural interpretations that are nonlegal]; it encompasses not only a literary style but also a method of thought. It concerns itself with what lies beyond the legal line and aspires to matters of ultimate significance and meaning."
Rav Moshe Taragin

Rav Moshe Taragin in his article called "Midat Sedom" states: "A second basis for lifnim mi-shurat ha-din may stem from a gemara in Bava Metzia (30b) which initially asserts that Jerusalem was destroyed during the Second Temple era because they zealously applied Torah law. The gemara ponders, "Should they have implemented pagan law [that they were punished for exercising Torah law]?" The gemara responds that, in fact, Jerusalem's destruction was caused by STRICT application of Torah law without allowances of lifnim mi-shurat ha-din...A society cannot function solely upon justice or solely upon strict application of the law. Without readiness to sacrifice personal interest or resource for the 'other,' and especially for a needy, impoverished 'other,' society is doomed to failure...Any society is only as strong as its combined ability to respond to, and protect the needs of it weakest members. The thirtieth chapter of Avot De-Rabbi Natan begins with Rabbi Yonatan's declaration that various forms of chesed provide benefit and prosperity to society, again affirming the need for chesed within any society. In fact, the very pasuk in Vaetchanan which serves as the source of lifnim mi-shurat ha-din implies this result, when it concludes, "so that you will prosper and inherit the good land which Hashem promised your fathers." By appending to this command the promise of reward, the Torah is, in effect, underscoring the pivotal nature of extralegal ethics in building a just and sustainable society. Typically, the Torah does not record rewards for mitzva observance or avoidance of aveirot. In this instance, though, as the promise is not a reward as much as a natural consequence, social stability is highlighted. As King David himself avows, "Olam chesed yibaneh" – the world is built through chesed (Tehilim 99:3)." Chesed or Loving kindness is the key to living the Spirit of the Law and Paul in Romans 13:10 states that Love is the fulfillment (pleroma) of the law. The Greek word pleroma can mean fullness, completion, entirety.

Rabbi Moses Movsas writes in his article "Beyond the Letter of the Law":"..."And you shall do that which is right and good in the eyes of G-d." What new instructions does this verse add? Surely, doing what is "right and good" is already a part of the numerous injunctions already presented. If one observes all the commandments and prohibitions set forth in the Torah, does he not accomplish what is "right and good in the eyes of G-d?" What new obligation does this verse apply? Both Rashi and the Ramban understand this verse to denote a level of behavior that is lifnim mishuras hadin, above the letter of the law. To appreciate the full spirit of the law, one needs to read between the lines of the Torah, and one who does this shows a sincere desire to observe Hashem's bidding...A similar precept is encapsulated in the verse, "You shall be holy, for I the L-rd your G-d am holy." It is possible, the Ramban comments, for a person to keep the letter of the law while violating its spirit, thus becoming a naval birshut hatorah--a degenerate within the confines of the Torah. The Torah commands us to be holy, to sanctify ourselves even in those circumstances that are permitted according to the strict interpretation of the law. These two verses complement each other. "You shall be holy" tells us to take a step back in order to uphold the spirit of the law. It tells us that even though a certain act seems permitted, we must nevertheless demonstrate self restraint to prevent the spirit of the law from being violated. In doing so we become holy. At the same time, "You shall do that which is right and good" tells us to take a step forward in order to promote the spirit of the law. Though we may find ourselves in situations where we feel we can sit back and not get involved, the spirit of the Torah demands that we take initiative and get involved. The Talmud states that Jerusalem was destroyed because her inhabitants failed to raise their standard of behavior above the letter of the law."

Paul in Galatians is opposing the teachings of the House of Shammai who were legalistic followers of the letter of the law. Some of the early Jewish believers were of this background. It would seem that there was a priestly faction of the Shammaites or Shamerim (observant ones) known as the Ishmaelis descended from a Sadducean High Priest Ishmael who embraced the Pharisee teachings of the House of Shammai. At the time Paul was writing this letter one such Ishmaeli was High Priest -Ishmael ben Fabi. Paul defends the Hillelite teachings on lifnim mishurat ha din and on the possiblity of Gentiles attaining to the World to come without becoming Jews in his letter to the Galatians. He links these Ishmaeli Shamerim and their ideas with Abraham's slave son Ishmael and his mother Hagar the slave woman in an allegory. Those who live according to the letter of the law are slaves to the curse of the law as there is none who is perfectly righteous without the grace of the Mashiach. However those that embraced the Mashiach Yeshuah (who lived the Torah perfectly) attain to the freedom of the Torah with its blessings. Those who live "under law" (ie legalism) follow Mt Sinai in Arabia alluding to Ishmael and Hagar whereas those that live within and beyond the line of the law are the true sons of Abraham and Sarah and the true followers of the Torah given to Moses on the Mountain in the Sinai desert.


Those laws of Mosaic Judaism that are under the category of judgment laws (din) or laws of judgment in decrees were obeyed literally before the Crucifixion and Resurrection of the Mashiach as a form of discipline and protection (see Ephesians 2:15). Yeshua ha Mashaich takes these laws with him on the Cross and transforms them into the law of freedom in the spirit. In Ephesians 2 Paul is not talking about abolishing the Torah but he abolishes or nullifies the enmity between Jews and Gentiles caused by the laws of judgment in decrees (the 18 laws or rules of the House of Shammai). He as the Messiah also takes his followers into the highest levels of observing Torah that of lifnim mishurat ha din.

Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom writes: "The Mishnah in Shabbat (1:4) relates that at one time, Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel had a particularly serious and tempestuous session in the court, in which the school of Shammai outnumbered the Hillelites and they were successful in passing a lot of legislation - 18 gezerot. The Gemara in Avodah Zarah (and Shabbat - 17b) associates some of these decrees with "measures of social distancing" - e.g. not to drink wine made by a non-Jew etc. One of the decrees was not to use non-Jewish oil (see the Gemara in Avodah Zarah for two possible rationales for this decree). The Mishna (Avodah Zarah 2:6) records that R. Yehudah haNassi and his court annulled this decree." These 18 decrees could not be annulled except by a better and superior court. That heaven instructed Peter and Paul to abolish these 18 decrees of enmity between Jews and Gentiles demonstrates that the Chair of Peter and the magisterium (Sanhedrin) of the New Covenant are a better and superior court than the Sanhedrin of the chair of Moses. Each has its role and purpose within its jurisdiction but the New covenant authorities have seniority for the baptised Jews and Gentiles.

After the destruction of the Temple and the reordering of rabbinic Judaism by the House of Hillel the principles of lifnim mishurat hadin were accepted and the 18 laws of enmity of the House of Shammai were abolished. This then brought Judaism closer to the teachings of the Jewish Catholic apostles Peter and Paul and the early church of Jerusalem. It would seem that Mohammed and the early Muslims where influenced by these Ishmaeli legalistic Jews who even existed in the Middle East two hundred years after the rise of Islam led by Ishmael of Akbara. Paul's concept of those who are bondsmen or slaves of law refers to those who limit Torah observance to a legalistic narrowness and thus invoke strict justice and the curse resulting from disobedience. Those who are freemen and live in the 'freedom of the Spirit' are those who observe in love the 'spirit of the law' (lifnim mishurat ha din)and thus invoke the blessings of obedience to the Torah and are called the 'sons of God'.