Divine Retribution in Rabbinic Literature

by Solomon Schechter, from Jewish Quarterly Review, vol. 3 (1891) pp. 34-51


“Blessed be he who knows." These are the words with which Nachmanides, in his classical treatise on Retribution ("Shaar Hag­gemul"), dismisses a certain theory of the Geonim with regard to this question; after which he proceeds to expound another theory, which seems to him more satisfactory. This mode of treatment im­plies that, unsatisfactory as the one or other theory may appear to us, it would be presumptuous to reject either entirely, there being only one who knows the exact truth about the great mystery. But we may indicate our doubt about one doctrine by putting another by its side, which we may not affirm to be more absolutely true, but more probable. This seems to have been the attitude, too, of the compilers of the ancient Rabbinical literature, in which the most conflicting views about this grave subject were embodied. Nor did the synagogue in general feel called upon to decide between these views. There is indeed no want of theodicies, for almost every important expounder of Job, as well as every Jewish philosopher of note, has one with its own system of retribution. Thus Judaism has no fixed.-doctrine on the subject. It refused a hearing to no theory, for fear that it should con­tain some germ of truth, but on the same ground it accepted none to the exclusion of the others.

These theories may, perhaps, be conveniently reduced to the two following main doctrines that are in direct opposition to each other, whilst all other views about the subject will be treated as the more or less logical results of the one or other doctrine.


1. There is no death without (preceding) sin, nor affliction without (preceding) transgression (Sabbath, 5 5a). This view is cited in the name of R. Ammi, who quoted in corroboration verses from Ez. xviii. 20, and Ps. lxxxix. 33. Though this Rabbi flourished towards the end of the third century, there is hardly any doubt that his view was held by the authorities of a much earlier date. For it can only be under the sway of such a notion of Retribution that the Tannaim, or doctors of the Mishnah, were so anxious to assign some great crime as the antecedent to every serious calamity by which mankind was visited. The following illustrations of my meaning will suffice:­ "Pestilence comes into the world for capital crimes mentioned in the Torah, which are not brought before the earthly Tribunal. . . . Noisome beasts come into the world for vain swearing and for profanation of the Name (of God). Captivity comes upon the world for strange worship and incest, and for shedding of blood and for (not) giving release to the land."[1] As an example of the misfortune befalling the individual I will merely allude to a passage in Arachin, 16a, according to which leprosy is to be regarded as the penalty for immorality, slander, perjury and similar sins.

If we were now to complement R. Ammi's view by adding that there is no happiness without some preceding merit-and there is no serious objection to making this addition-then it would resolve itself into the theory of measure for measure, which forms a very common standard of reward and punishment in Jewish literature. Here are a few instances:-"Because the Egyptians wanted to destroy Israel by water (Exod. i. 22), they were themselves destroyed by the waters of the Red Sea, as it is said, Therefore I will measure their former work into their bosom (Is. lxv. 7)." Whilst, on the other hand, we read, "Because Abraham showed himself hospitable towards strangers, pro­viding them with water (Gen. xviii. 4), God gave to his children a country blessed with plenty of water (Deut. viii. 1)." Sometimes this form of retribution goes so far as to define a special punishment to that part of the body which mostly contributed to the committing of the sin. Thus we read, "Samson rebelled against God by his eyes, as it is said, Get her (the Philistine woman) for me, for she pleases my eyes (Jud. xvi. 21); therefore, his eyes were put out by the Philistines (ibid. xviii. 9)"; whilst Absalom, whose sinful pride be­gan by his hair (2 Sam. xiv. 25) met his fate by his hair (ibid. xviii. 9).[2] Nachum of Gamza himself explained his blindness and the maimed condition of his arms and legs as the consequence of a specific offence in having neglected his duty of succouring a poor man. Addressing the dead body of the suppliant who perished while Nachum was delaying his help, he said, "Let my eyes (which had no pity for your pitiful gaze) become blind; may my hands and legs (that did not hasten to help thine) become maimed, and finally my whole body be covered with boils" (Taanith, 21a). "This was the hand that wrote it," said Cranmer at the stake; "therefore it shall suffer first punishment."

It is worth noticing that this retribution does not always consist in a material reward, but, as Ben Azai expressed it in the Mishnah (Aboth, iv. 5): "The reward of a command is a command, and the reward of a transgression is a transgression." So again: "Because Abraham showed himself so magnanimous in his treatment of the King of Sodom, and said, I will not take from thee a thread; therefore, his children enjoyed the privilege of having the command of Zizith, consisting in putting a thread or fringe in the border of their garments" (Hulin, 8 8b ). In another passage we read, "He who is anxious to do acts of charity will be rewarded by having the means enabling him to do so" (Baba Bathra, I 9b). In more general terms the same thought is expressed when the Rabbis explained the words, Ye shall sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy (Lev. xi. 44) to the effect that if man takes the initiative in holiness, even though in a small way, Heaven will help him to reach it I to a much higher degree (Yoma, 3 9a) .

Notwithstanding these passages, to which many more might be added, it cannot be denied that there are in the Rabbinical literature many passages holding out promises of material reward to the righteous as well as threatening the wicked with material punishment. Nor is there any need of denying it. Simple-minded men-and such the majority of the Rabbis were-will never be persuaded into looking with indifference on pain and pleasure; they will be far from thinking that poverty, loss of children, and sickness are no evil, and that a rich I harvest, hope of posterity, and good health, are not desirable things. It does lie in our nature to consider the former as curses and the latter as blessings; "and if this be wrong there is no one to be made responsible for it but the Creator of nature." Accordingly the question must arise, How can a just and omnipotent God allow it to happen that men should suffer innocently? The most natural suggestion toward solving the difficulty would be that we are not innocent. Hence R. Ammi's assertion that affliction and death are both the outcome of sin and transgression; or, as R. Chanina ben Dossa expressed it, "It is not the wild beast but sin which kills" (B Berachoth, 3 3a).

We may thus perceive in this theory an attempt "to justify the ways of God to man." Unfortunately it does not correspond with the real facts. The cry wrung from the prophets against the peace enjoyed by the wicked, and the pains inflicted on the righteous, which finds its echo in so many Psalms, and reaches its climax in the Book of Job, was by no means silenced in the times of the Rabbis. If long experience could be of any use, it only served to deepen perplexity. For all this suffering of the people of God, and the prosperity of their wicked persecutors, which perplexed the prophets and their immediate followers, were repeated during the death-struggle for independence against Rome, and were not lessened by the establishment of Chris­tianity as the dominant religion. The only comfort which time brought them was, perhaps, that the long continuance of misfortune made them less sensible to suffering than their ancestors were. Indeed, a Rabbi of the first century said that his generation had by continuous experience of misery become as insensible to pain as the dead body is towards a prick of a needle (Sabbath 13b). The anesthetic effect of long suffering may, indeed, help one to endure pain with more patience, but it cannot serve as an apology for the deed of the in­flictors of the pain. The question, then, how to reconcile hard reality with the justice of God, remained as difficult as ever.

The most important passage in Rabbinical literature relating to the solution of this problem is the following (Berachoth, 7a) :-With reference to Exod. xxxiii. 13, R. Jochanan said, in the name of R. Jose, that, among other things, Moses also asked God to explain to him the method of his Providence; a request that was granted to him. He asked God, Why are there righteous people who are prosperous, and righteous who are suffering; wicked who are prosperous, and wicked who suffer? The answer given to him was according to the one view that the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous are a result of the conduct of their ancestors, the former being the descendants of righteous parents and enjoy their merits, whilst the latter, coming from a bad stock, suffer for the sins of those to whom they owe their existence. This view was suggested by the Scriptural words, "Keeping mercy for thousands (of generations). . . . visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children" (ibid. xxxiv. 7), which were regarded as the answer to Moses' question in the preceding chapter of Exodus. Prevalent, however, as this view may have been in ancient times, the Rabbis never allowed it to pass without some qualification. It is true that they had no objection to. the former part of this doctrine, and they speak very frequently of the "Merits of the Fathers" (zekhut avoth) for which the remotest posterity is rewarded; for this could be explained on the ground of the bound­less goodness of God, which cannot be limited to the short space of a lifetime. But there was no possibility of overcoming the moral ob­jection against punishing people for sins they have not committed. It will suffice to mention here that with reference to Joshua vii. 24, 25, the Rabbis asked the question, If he (Achan) sinned, what justification could there be for putting his sons and daughters to I death? And by the force of this argument they interpreted the words of the Scriptures to mean that the children of the criminal were only compelled to be present at the execution of their father.

Such passages, therefore, as would imply that children have to suffer for the sins of their parents are explained by the Rabbis to refer to such cases where the children perpetuate the crimes of their fathers.[3] The view of R. Jose, which I have already quoted, had, there­fore, to be dropped, and another version in the name of the same Rabbi is accepted. According to this theory the sufferer is a person either entirely wicked (rasha’ gamur) or not perfectly righteous (tsadiq she’eino gamur), whilst the prosperous man is a person either perfectly righteous (tsadiq gamur) or not entirely wicked (rasha’ she’eino gamur).

I It is hardly necessary to say that there is still something wanting to supplement this view, for the given classification would place the not entirely wicked on the same level with the perfectly righteous, and on a much higher level than the imperfectly righteous, who are un­doubtedly far superior. The following passage may be regarded as supplying this missing something:-"The wicked who have done some good work are as amply rewarded for it in this world as if they were men who have fulfilled the whole of the Torah, so that they may be punished for their sins in the next world (without interruption); whilst the righteous who have committed some sin have to suffer for it (in this world) as if they were men who burned the Law, so that they may enjoy their reward in the world to come (without interrup­tion) ."[4] Thus the real retribution takes place in the next world, the fleeting existence on earth not being the fit time either to compensate righteousness or to punish sin. But as, on the one hand, God never allows "that the merit of any creature should be cut short," whilst, on the other hand, he deals very severely with the righteous, punishing them for the slightest transgression; since, too, this reward and punishment are only of short duration, they must take place in this short terrestrial existence. There is thus established a sort of divine economy, lest the harmony of the next world should be disturbed.

Yet another objection to the doctrine under discussion remains to be noticed. It is that it justifies God by accusing man, declaring every sufferer as more or less of a sinner. But such a notion, if carried to its last consequences, must result in tempting us to withhold our sym­pathies from him. And, indeed, it would seem that there were some non-Jewish philosophers who argued in this way. Thus a certain Roman official is reported to have said to R. Akiba, "How can you be so eager in helping the poor? Suppose only a king, who, in his wrath against his slave, were to set him in the gaol, and give orders to withhold from him food and drink; if, then, one dared to act to the contrary, would not the king be angry with him?"[5] There is some appearance of logic in this notion put into the mouth of a heathen. The Rabbis, however, were inconsistent people, and responded to the appeal which suffering makes to every human heart without asking too many questions. Without entering here into the topic of charity in the Rabbinic literature, which would form a very interesting chap­ter, I shall only allude now to the following incident, which would show that the Rabbis did not abandon even those afflicted with leprosy, which, according to their own notion, given above, followed only as a punishment for the worst crimes. One Friday, we are told, when the day was about to darken, the Chassid Abba Tachnah was returning home, bearing on his shoulders the baggage that contained all his for­tune; he saw a leprous man lying on the road, who addressed him; "Rabbi, do with me a deed of charity and take me into the town." The Rabbi now thought, "If I leave my baggage, where shall I find the means of obtaining subsistence for myself and my family? But if I forsake this leprous man I shall commit a mortal sin." In the end, he made the good inclination predominant over the evil one, and first car­ried the sufferer to the town (Kohelet Rabba, ix.7). The only practical conclusion that the Rabbis drew from such theories as identify suffering with sin were for the sufferer himself, who otherwise might be inclined to blame Providence, or even to blaspheme,[6] but would now look upon his affliction as a memento from heaven that there is something wrong in his moral state. Thus we read in Berachoth (5a): "If a man sees that affliction comes upon him, he ought to inquire into his action, as it is said, Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord (Lam. iii. 40)" This means to say that the sufferer will find that he has been guilty of some offence. As an illustration of this statement we may perhaps consider the story about R. Huna, occurring in the same tractate (p. 7 b). Of this Rabbi it is said that he once experienced heavy pecuni­ary losses, whereupon his friends came to his house and said to him, "Let the master but examine his conduct a little closer." On this R.    Huna answered, "Do you suspect me of having committed some mis­deed?" His friends rejoined, "And do you think that God would pass judgment without justice?" R. Huna then followed their hint, and I found that he did not treat his tenant farmer as generously as he ought. He offered redress, and all turned out well in the end. Something similar is to be found in the story of the martyrdom of R. Simon ben Gamaliel and R. Ishmael ben Elisha. Of these Rabbis we are told that on their way to be executed the one said to the other, "My heart leaves me, for I am not aware of a sin deserving such a death"; on which the other answered, "It might have happened that in your function as judge you sometimes-for your own convenience-were slow in admin­istering justice."[7]

But even if the personal actions of the righteous were blameless, there might still be sufficient ground for his being afflicted and miserable. This may be found in his relations to his kind and surroundings, or, to use the term now more popular, by reason of human solidarity. Now, after the above remarks on the objections entertained by the Rabbis against a man's being punished for the sins of others, it is hardly neces­sary to say that their idea of solidarity has little in common with the crude notions of it current in very ancient times. Still, it can hardly be doubted that the relation of the individual to the community was more keenly felt by the Rabbis than by the leaders in any other society, modem or ancient. According to the Mechilta (63a) it would, indeed, seem that to them the individual was not simply a member of the Jewish commonwealth, or a co-religionist, but a limb of the great and single body "Israel," and that as such he communicated both for good and evil the sensations of the one part to the whole. In Leviticus Rabba (ch. 4), where a parallel is to be found to this idea, the responsibility of the individual towards the community is further illustrated by R. Simon ben Yochai, in the following way: "It is," we read there, "to be compared to people sitting on board a ship, one of the passengers of which took an awl and began to bore holes in the bottom of the vessel. Asked to desist from his dangerous occupation, he answered, 'Why, I am only making holes on my own seat,' forgetting that when the water came in it would sink the whole ship." Thus the sin of a single man might endanger the whole of humanity. It was in conformity with the view of his father that R. Eliezer, the son of R. Simon (ben Yochai) said, "The world is judged after the merits or demerits of the majority, so that a single individual by his good or bad actions can decide the fate of his fellow-creatures, as it may happen that he is just the one who constitutes this majority."[8] Nor does this responsibility cease with the man's own actions. According to the Rabbis man is responsible even for the conduct of others-and as such liable to punishment-if he is indifferent to the wrong that is being perpetrated about him, whilst an energetic protest from his side could have prevented it. And the greater the man the greater is his responsi­bility. He may suffer for the sins of his family which is first reached by his influence; he may suffer for the sins of the whole community if he could hope to find a willing ear among them, and he may even suffer for the sins of the whole world if his influence extend so far, and he forbear from exerting it for good.[9] Thus the possibility is given that the righteous man may suffer with justice, though he himself has never com­mitted any transgression.

As a much higher aspect of this solidarity-and as may have al­ready suggested itself to the reader from the passage cited above from the Mechilta-we may regard the suffering of the righteous as an atone­ment for the sins of their contemporaries. "When there will be neither Tabernacle nor the Holy Temple," Moses is said to have asked God, "what will become of Israel?" Whereupon God answers, "I will take from among them the righteous man whom I shall consider as pledged for them, and will forgive all their sins"; the death of the perfect man, or even his suffering being looked upon as an expiation for the shortcoming of his generation.[10]

It is hardly necessary to remind the reader of the affinity of this idea with that of sacrifices in general, as in both cases it is the innocent being which has to suffer for the sins of another creature. But there is one vital point which makes all the difference. It is that in our case the suffering is not enforced, but is a voluntary act on the part of the sacrifice, and is even desired by him. Without entering here on the often-discussed theme of the suffering of the Messiah, I need only mention the words of R. Ishmael who, on a very slight provocation, exclaimed, "I am the atone­ment for the Jews," which means that he took upon him all their sins to suffer for them.[11] This desire seems to have its origin in nothing else but a deep sympathy and compassion with Israel. To suffer for, or, at least, with Israel was, according to the Rabbis, already the ideal of Moses: He is said, indeed, to have broken the Two Tables with the purpose of committing some sin, so that he would have either to be con­demned together with Israel (for the sin of the golden calf), or to be pardoned together with them.[12] And this conduct was not only expected from the leaders of Israel, but almost from every Jew. Thus we read in Taanith (11a), "When Israel is in a state of affliction (as, for instance, famine) one must not say, I will rather live by myself, and eat and drink, and peace be unto thee, my soul. To those who do so the words of the Scriptures are to be applied: And in that day did the Lord God of Hosts call to weeping and to mourning, and behold joy and glad­ness. . . . Surely this iniquity shall not be purged out from you till ye die (Is. xxii. 12-14)." Another passage is to the effect that when a man shows himself indifferent to the suffering of the community there come the two angels (who accompany every Jew) put their hands on his head, and say, "This man who has separated himself shall be excluded from their consolations." (Taanith, ibid.)

We might now characterize this sort of suffering as the chastisement of love (of the righteous) to mankind, or rather to Israel. But we must not confuse it with the chastisement of love (yissurin shel ‘ahavah) often mentioned in the Talmud, though this idea also seems calculated to account for the suffering of the righteous. Here the love is not on the side of the sufferer, but proceeds from him who inflicts this suffering. "Him," says R. Huna, "in whom God delights he crushes with suffer­ing." As a proof of this theory the verse from Is. liii. 10 is given, which I words are interpreted to mean: Him whom the Lord delights in he puts to grief. Another passage, by the same authority, is to the effect that I where there is no sufficient cause for punishment (the man being entirely free from sin), we have to regard his suffering as a chastisement of love, for it is said: "Whom the Lord loveth he correcteth" (Proverbs I iii. 11).[13] To what purpose he corrects him may, perhaps, be seen from the following passage: "R. Eleazar ben Jacob says: If a man is visited by affliction he has to be thankful to God for it: for suffering draws man to, and reconciles him with God, as it said: For whom God loveth he correcteth."[14]

It is in conformity with such a high conception that affliction, far from being dreaded, becomes almost a desirable end, and we hear many Rabbis exclaim, "Beloved is suffering," for by it fatherly love is shown to man by God; by it man obtains purification and atonement, by it Israel came in possession of the best gifts, such as the Torah, the Holy Land, and eternal life.[15] And so also the sufferer, far from being con­sidered as a man with a suspected past, becomes an object of venera­tion, on whom the glory of God rests, and he brings salvation to the world if he bears his affliction with joyful submission to the will of God.[16] Continuous prosperity is by no means to be longed after, for, as R. Ishmael taught, "He who passed forty days without meeting ad­versity has already received his (share of the) world (to come) in this life."[17] Nay, the standing rule is that the really righteous suffer, whilst the wicked are supposed to be in a prosperous state. Thus, R. Jannai said, "We (average people) enjoy neither the prosperity of the wicked nor the afflictions of the righteous,"[18] whilst his contemporary, Rab, declared that he who experiences no affliction and persecution does not belong to them (the Jews).[19]

2. The second main view on Retribution is that recorded in the tractate Sabbath (56b) as in direct opposition to that of R. Ammi. It is that there is suffering as well as death without sin and transgression. We may now just as well infer that there is prosperity and happiness without preceding merits. And this is, indeed, the view held by R. Meir. For in contradiction to the view cited above, R. Meir declares that the request of Moses to have explained to him the mysterious ways of Providence was not granted, and the answer he received was, "And I will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy" (Ex ad. xxxiii. 19), which means to say, even though he to whom the mercy is shown be unworthy of it. The old question arises how such a procedure is to be reconciled with the justice and omnipotence of God. The commen­taries try to evade the difficulty by suggesting some of the views given above, as that the real reward and punishment are only in the world to come, or that the affliction of the righteous is only chastisement of love, and so on. From the passages we are about to quote, however, one gains the impression that some Rabbis rather thought that this great problem will indeed not bear discussion or solution at all. Thus we read in a Baraitha: "The angels said to God, Why have you punished Adam with death? He answered, On account of his having transgressed my commandment (with regard to the eating of the tree of knowledge). But why had Moses and Aaron to die? The reply given to them is in the words, Ecc. ix.2: 'All things come alike to all, there is one event to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and clean and unclean' " (Sabbath, 55b). In Tractate Menahoth, 29b, we again find a pas­sage in which we are told how, "when Moses ascended to heaven, God showed him also the great men of futurity. R. Akiba was sitting and interpreting the law in a most wonderful way. Moses said to God: Thou hast shown me his worth, show me also his reward: on which he is bidden to look back. There he perceives him dying the most cruel of deaths, and his flesh being sold by weight. Moses now asks: Is this the reward of such a life? whereupon God answers him: Be silent; this I have determined."

It is impossible not to think of the beautiful lines of the German poet:­


Warum scweppt sich blutend, elend,

Unter Kreuzlast der Gerechte,

Wahrend glucklich als ein Sieger

Trabt auf hohem Ross der Schlechte?


Also fragen wir bestandig,

Bis man uns mit einer Handvoll

Erde endlich stopft die Mauler­

Aber ist das eine Antwort?


Still, when examined a little closer, one might perhaps suggest that these passages not only contain a rebuke to man's importunity in wanting to intrude into the secrets of God, but also hint at the possi­bility that even God's omnipotence is submitted to a certain law­though designed by his own holy will-which he could not alter without detriment to the whole creation. Indeed, in one of the mystical accounts of the martyrdom of R. Akiba and other great Rabbis, God is repre­sented as asking the sufferers to accept his hard decree without protest, unless they wish him to destroy the whole world. In Taanith (25a) again we read of a certain renowned Rabbi, who lived in great pov­erty, that once in a dream he asked the divine Shechinah how long he would have still to endure this bitter privation. The answer given to him was: "My son, will it please you that I destroy the world for your sake?" It is only in this light that we shall be able to understand such passages in the Rabbinic literature as that God almost suffers himself when he has to inflict punishment either on the individual or whole communities. Thus God is represented as mourning for seven days (as in the case when one loses a child) before he brought the Deluge on the world (Gen. Rabbah, c. 27); he bemoans the fall of Israel and the destruction of the Temple (see Pessikta 136b), and the Shechinah laments even when the criminal suffers his just punishment (Mishnah Sanhedrin, vi. 5). And it is not by rebelling against these laws that he tries to redeem his suffering. He himself has recourse to prayer, and says: "May it be my will that my mercy conquer my wrath, that my love over-rule my strict justice, so that I may treat my children with love" (see Berachoth, 7a). If now man is equal to God, he has never­theless, or rather on that account, to submit to the law of God without any outlook for reward or punishment; or, as Antigonos expressed it, "Be not as slaves that minister to the Lord with a view to receive recompence."[20] Certainly it would be hazardous to maintain that An­tigonos' saying was a consequence of this doctrine; but, at any rate, we see a clear tendency to keep the thought of reward (in spite of the prominent part it holds in the Bible) out of view. Still more clearly it is seen when, with reference to Ps. cxii., "Blessed is the man. . . that delighteth greatly in his commandments," R. Joshua ben Levi remarks that the meaning is that the man desires only to do his commandments, but he does not want the rewards connected with them.[21] This is the more remarkable, as the whole content of this chapter is nothing else than a long series of promises of various rewards, so that the explana­tion of R. Joshua ben Levi is in almost direct contradiction to the simple meaning of the words. On the other hand, also, every complaint about suffering must cease. Not only is affliction no direct chastisement by God in the way of revenge, for, as R. Eleazar teaches: "With the moment of Revelation (that is to say, since moral conduct became law) neither bliss nor adversity came from God, but the bliss comes by itself to those who act rightly, and conversely" (Deut. Rabba, c. 42); but even when it would seem to us that we suffer innocently, we have no right to murmur, as God himself is also suffering, and, as the Talmud expresses it, "It is enough for the slave to be in the position of his mas­ter" (Berachoth, 58b).

This thought of the compassion-in its strictest sense of suffering­ with-of God with his creatures becomes a new motive for avoiding sin. "Woe to the wicked," exclaims a Rabbi, "who by their bad actions turn the mercy of God into strict justice." And the later mystics ex­plain distinctly that the great crime of sin consists in causing pain, so to speak, to the Shechinah. One of them compared it with the slave who abuses the goodness of his master so far as to buy for his money arms to wound him.[22] But, on the other hand, it becomes, rather in­consistently, also a new source of comfort; for, in the end, God will have to redeem himself from this suffering, which cannot be accom­plished so long as Israel is still under punishment,[23] Most interesting is the noble prayer by a Rabbi of a very late mystical school: "O God, speedily bring about the redemption. I am not in the least thinking of what I may gain by it. I am willing to be condemned to all tortures in hell, if only the Shechinah will cease to suffer. "[24]

If we were now to ask for the attitude of the Synagogue towards these two main views, we would have to answer that-as already hinted at the opening of this paper-it never decided for the one or the other. . R. David Martika dared even to write a whole book in defence of Adam (zekhuthadam) proving that he committed no sin in eating the fruits of the tree of knowledge against the literal sense of the Scriptures, which were also taken by the Rabbis literally.[25] By this he destroyed the pros­pects of many a theodicy, but it is not known to us that he was se­verely rebuked for it. It has been said by a great writer that the best theology is that which is not consistent, and this advantage the theology of the Synagogue possesses to its utmost extent. It accepted with R. Ammi, the stem principle of divine retribution, insofar as it makes man feel the responsibility of his actions, and makes suffering a disci­pline. But it never allowed this principle to be carried so far as to deny the sufferer our sympathy, and by a series of conscious and unconscious modifications, he passed from the state of a sinner into the zenith of the saint and the perfectly righteous man. But, on the other hand, the Syna­gogue also gave entrance to the very opposite view which, abandoning every attempt to account for suffering, bids man do his duty without any hope of reward, even as God also does his. Hence the remarkable phenomenon in the works of later Jewish moralists that whilst they never weary of the most detailed accounts of the punishments awaiting the sinner, and the rewards in store for the righteous, they warn us most emphatically that our actions must not be guided by these unworthy considerations, and that our only motive should be the love of God and submission to his holy will.[26]

Nor must it be thought that the views of the Rabbis are so widely divergent from those enunciated in the Bible. The germ of almost all the later ideas is already to be found in the Scriptures. It only needed the progress of time to bring into prominence those features which proved at a later period most acceptable. Indeed, it would seem that there is also a sort of domestication of religious ideas. On their first association with man there is a certain rude violence about them which, when left to the management of untutored minds would certainly do great harm. But, let only this association last for centuries, during which these ideas have to be subdued by practical use, and they will, in due I time, lose their former roughness, will become theologically workable, and turn out the greatest blessing to inconsistent humanity.

[1] Aboth (ed. C. Taylor), v. 12-15. See also Sabbath, 32 seq., and Mechilta (ed. Friedman), 95b.

[2] See Mechilta, 259a, 32b. Gen. Rabbah, ch. 48, and Tosefta Sotah, IV. 7 and parallels.

[3] See Mechilta, 68b and parallels. Sifra, 112b. Pessikta of R. Kahana, 167b. Cp. Sanhedrin, 44a.

[4] Aboth de R. Nathan, 40a, 59 b, and 61b. Pessikta of R. Kahana, 73a, and parallels.

[5] Baba Bathra, 10a. See Bacher, Hagada der Tannaiten, I., 295.

[6] See Aboth de R. Nathan, 65b and notes.

[7] See Mechilta, 57b, and parallels.

[8] See Kedushin, 40b.

[9] See Sabbath, 54a.

[10] See Exodus Rabbah, c. 35 and parallels.

[11] See Negaim, ii. I, and compare Aruch, S.IV.

[12] Exod. Rabbah, c. 46.

[13] See Berachoth, 5a.

[14] Tanchuma, ki tetze § 2.

[15] See Sifre, 73b, and parallels.

[16] See Taanith, 8b.

[17] See Arachin, 16b.

[18] Aboth, iv. 15.

[19] See Hagigah, 5a.

[20] Aboth, i., 3., p. 27, ed. Taylor. See also note 8.

[21] Abodah Zarah, 19a. See also Sifre, 79b.

[22] See Reshit Hokhma I, 9.See Lev. Rabbah, xxiii, end.

[23] See Exod. R., 30, and parallels.

[24] See Ramatayim Tsofim 33 b.

[25] See Sabbath, 55 b and Sifra, 27 a

[26] See for instance, Menotat hama’or (Amsterdam, 1720), p. 4, seq., and 94 seq., and much more in the Reshit Hokhma, in the two chapters – fear and love, where also the views of other authors are given