God s mind, or to return to God if they want God to return to

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God s mind, or to return to God if they want God to return to

Transcript Of God s mind, or to return to God if they want God to return to

The pivotal texts which call on the Israelites to change their minds if they want God to change God’s mind, or to return to God if they want God to return to them, come from the period from the beginning of the Assyrian exile around 732 BCE, till the return from the Babylonian exile in 538 BCE. Jeremiah and Ezekiel are the major prophets working at the time of the Babylonian exile, and second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55), Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are the major prophets prophesying after the return from Babylon, when the Temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt and sacrifice begins to be offered again. It is significant that none of the prophets after Babylon seek to intercede for the Israelites when they sin. Rather, they call on the Israelites to return to the Lord, so that the Lord may return to them. We saw this last week with the readings I included from Zechariah and Malachi. According to the rabbis, prophecy comes to an end with the prophet Malachi (c. 450 BCE).
The Judeans who return from Babylon definitely took the point that the prophets had made before and during the exile about obedience to the law being more important than sacrifice, and they seek to make the study and observance of the law of Moses central to their life in Judea, and in the lands to which they have been dispersed, as many of the exiled Jews do not return to Judea, but continue to live in Babylon (present day Iraq), Egypt, and elsewhere throughout the Mediterranean world. We see the importance of the study of the law of Moses in Ezra, who was a priest in the lineage of Aaron, who brought the law of Moses back from Babylon and taught it to the people of Jerusalem.
Nehemiah 8:1 All the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel. 2Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 8So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
The study of the law is not limited to Jerusalem, but rather becomes central in the institution that was created in all areas where the Jews lived, which is the synagogue, which is created during the second temple period. We know from various sources that the Jews would gather in the synagogue every Sabbath to hear a reading from the Torah of Moses as well as a reading from one of the prophets. We see this in Jewish historian Josephus, in his writing Against Apion, when he describes the way Jews would come together each week on the Sabbath to hear and study Scripture in the synagogue.

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[God] demonstrated the law to be the best and the most necessary instruction of all others, permitting the people to leave off their other employments, and to assemble together for the hearing of the law, and learning it exactly, and this not once or twice, or oftener, but every week.
We see a similar description of this practice in the Acts of the Apostles:
Acts 13:13 [O]n the Sabbath day [Paul and his companions] went into the synagogue and sat down. 15After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, ‘Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it.’ 16So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak.
As we can see, there were no formal teachers at this time, only “the officials of the synagogue” who were lay leaders. It would take several centuries for the rabbinic movement to take over the leadership of synagogues.
After the return from Babylon, the Jews lived under Persian, Greek, Seleucid, and Roman occupation, and only had a brief period of independence in the Hasmonean period, which is celebrated by the festival of Hanukah. The Romans installed a client king in Judea, King Herod, and he undertook a massive building campaign throughout Judea and Galilee, culminating in the expansion and rebuilding of the Second Temple, making it one of the wonders of the ancient world. It was this Temple in which Jesus taught during his final Passover in Jerusalem. At the time of Herod there were several schools of Jewish thought, revolving around the Torah of Moses. The Pharisees were the most influential of these schools, and they were likely the school that later developed into rabbinic Judaism. The Pharisees were laypeople who took upon themselves the rigorous study of the Torah of Moses and its application to all aspects of daily life. Their two major contributions have to do with the application of priestly law to all Israelites (such as washing hands before meals the way priests would wash their hands before offering sacrifice), and the appeal to the oral law of Moses, which they considered to be as authoritative as the written Torah of Moses. We see evidence of this both in the gospels in the New Testament, and in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus.
What I would now explain is this, that the Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers, which are not written in the laws of Moses (The Antiquities of the Jews XIII.10.6).
As we know from the gospel of Matthew, Jesus objects to the way the Pharisees adhere to the oral traditions of their ancestors, as he does not see these laws as being as authoritative as the written law of Moses (Matthew 15). And the Sadducees, who were primarily the priests in Jerusalem, agreed with Jesus that only the written law of Moses is authoritative. One of the major reasons we think that the

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rabbis grew out of the Pharisees has to do with the central role the oral law of Moses plays in rabbinic thought.
Another school of thought among the Jews at the time of Jesus held that the freedom of the Jewish people from all external domination is the highest value of all, and so liberation from Roman rule must be achieved by any means necessary. This led to two revolts against the Roman Empire. The first Jewish revolt ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 CE, and the final suppression of the revolt at Masada in 73 CE. However, many Jews continued to resent the subjection of Judea to Rome, and in 132 CE the Jews, led by the charismatic figure called Bar Kochba, whom some saw as the Messiah, successfully led a revolt against Rome that created an independent Jewish state for a few years, and handed the Roman Empire yet another defeat at the hands of the Jews—indeed, the Jews were the only people ever to defeat Rome during the whole time of their empire. The suppression of this revolt in 135 CE, led by the Roman forces under Emperor Hadrian, was disastrous for the Jews. Over half a million Jews were killed or enslaved, and Jews were banished from the land of Judea in perpetuity, beginning the long exile of the Jews from their homeland, which only ended in 1948. The land of Judea was renamed Syria Palaestina, after the Philistines (inveterate enemies of the Jews), and Jerusalem was transformed into a Roman city with a new name, Aelia Capitolina, and a temple to Jupiter was built on the Temple Mount. In other words, Hadrian sought to eradicate both the Jews and all memory of a Jewish presence from Jerusalem and the land of Judea. However, a vibrant Jewish community continued to thrive in Galilee, including a new rabbinic school in Usha, and diaspora communities of Jews existed throughout the Roman Empire, including in Babylon, which became one of the most important centers of rabbinic thought in the coming centuries.
The destruction of the Temple in 70 CE meant the cessation of the offering of sacrifices by the priests in the Temple. These sacrifices were at the heart of the worship of the Lord by Israel. The most important annual sacrifice was that of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which atoned for and expiated the sins of all the Israelites, and during which all of Israel was purified. One of the major concerns for the rabbis has to do with how to understand and observe Yom Kippur once there is no longer a Temple in which the High Priest could offer the sacrifice, and what the relationship is between repentance and atonement or forgiveness, as this relationship was not discussed in Leviticus. This is a major theme of the readings for this week, and the solution they find has to do with the power of the day itself: it is the day that atones for sin, not the sacrifice or the placing of the sins on the head of the goat. But must the Day of Atonement be observed with repentance on order for its atonement to be efficacious?
The texts that we are studying tonight are the fruit of rabbinic academies that developed from the time of the revolts against Rome until about 700 CE. During the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai was smuggled out of Jerusalem in a coffin, and the Roman Emperor Vespasian allowed him to start a rabbinic academy in Yavne, south of current-day Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean coast. This academy lasted from 80-120 CE. After the Bar Kochba Revolt (132-35 CE) and the

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banishment of the Jews from Judea in 135 CE, the rabbinic academy moved to the town of Usha in Galilee, north of Nazareth, where they worked from 140-180 CE. These and subsequent rabbinic academies produced the two major sources of study for rabbinic Judaism, the Mishnah and the Gemara, both of which are included in the Talmud. The Mishnah is a compilation of rabbinic reflection on the oral Torah of Moses compiled by Rabbi Judah the Patriarch in 200 CE, based on the teaching of the rabbis from the era after the destruction of the Temple, who are regarded by subsequent rabbis as the Sages. The Mishnah is divided into six sections or orders, and each order is divided into tractates, with sixty-three tractates in all. The six orders of the Mishnah address agriculture; feasts and festivals; marriage and divorce; civil and criminal law; temple sacrifices and rituals; and the maintenance of ritual purity. The goal of the Mishnah is to reorder Jewish life after the destruction of the Temple for Jews living throughout the world.
As you can see, the Mishnah is not a code of law, but is rather an anthology, recording the state of rabbinic teaching and debate in the year 200 CE. This debate would continue for several centuries, and give rise to two major commentaries on the Mishnah: the Jerusalem Talmud of 350 CE, and the Babylonian Talmud of 500-700 CE. The Mishnah and the Talmud together stand at the center of Jewish life and practice from this time onward, up until the Enlightenment. The Talmud seeks to reconcile opposing opinions in the Mishnah, and also seeks to tie its rulings based on the oral law to the written law of Moses. The Talmud also vastly expands the range of topics covered, though it follows the same six sections or orders as found in the Mishnah. The Talmud contains both binding legal findings, called halakhah, as well as narrative expositions, called aggadah. We shall be reading primarily halakhic discussions of repentance this week, and discussions of repentance from the aggadah next time.
We can see the open nature of rabbinic debate in the selections I have chosen about repentance. Unlike the divisive arguments between the Essenes, the Sadducees, the Herodians, the followers of Jesus, and the Pharisees at the time of Jesus and Josephus, the rabbis did not see their disagreements as dividing them from one another. Indeed, the two earliest houses of rabbinic thought—the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel—were seen to be members of the same rabbinic community of discourse and study, even though at the time they vigorously disagreed with each other. The method of study in the rabbinic Bet Midrash, or house of study, reflects this unity amid argument and disagreement. The method used pairs two scholars together to study a text from the Mishnah or the Talmud in a havruta, with each scholar arguing for his interpretation or ruling against the other. The root of havruta is haver, or friend, and the practice comes from one of the sayings of the rabbinic sages: “Take yourself a friend, go and study.” This was the method of study that was used at the International Theology Conference at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, when Jews, Christians and Muslims would study Jewish, Muslim, and Christian texts together, and I am still part of a havruta with a rabbinic scholar in Jerusalem—indeed, we just met to study on Zoom yesterday. We can see the nature of rabbinic study in the texts we will are reading for this time, for they delight in giving different interpretations of repentance and its relationship to forgiveness, for example.

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Several questions arise for the rabbis of the Gemara out of the statements about repentance in the Mishnah, and I hope that posing some of these helps your reading:
~How many kinds of atonement are there? (it lists repentance, suffering, Yom Kippur, and death). ~Must repentance accompany each form of atonement in order for it to atone for one’s sin? ~For what kinds of sin can one not repent? ~What kinds of sin will not be forgiven on Yom Kippur? ~Does Yom Kippur atone for sins I commit against another person? If not, what must I do to be forgiven?
The Gemara also makes several distinctions in order to reconcile apparent contradictions between different positions taken by the rabbis and Sages, most notably the distinction between three kinds of repentance: repentance from love, repentance from fear, and repentance from suffering.
The Gemara also seeks to discover what kinds of sin are atoned for by different combinations of atonement.
~For what sins does repentance alone atone? ~For what sins does repentance suspend punishment and Yom Kippur atone? ~For what sins do repentance and Yom Kippur suspend punishment and suffering alone atone? ~For what sins do repentance, Yom Kippur and suffering not absolve, because such sins can only be absolved by death?
Other questions relate to the distinction between atoning for sins against God and sins against one’s neighbor:
~What is the comparison between appeasing one’s neighbor and appeasing God? ~How many times must I beg forgiveness of my offended neighbor, after which s/he has a duty to forgive me?
Finally, there are more general questions about the nature of repentance:
~How do I know that I have fully repented of a particular sin? ~For how many times can I repent of the same sin? ~What sins should be confessed publicly, and which sins should be kept private? ~How many times should I confess during Yom Kippur? By what form of confession?

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