Minutes of Retreat

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July 11, 1999

Location: Bergamo Conference Center

Retreat Topic: Book of Job

Facilitator: Rabbi Shmuel Klatzkin

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PRESENT: Robin Smith and Felix Garfunkel, Cochairs; Arthur Auster, Judy Auster, Joanne Beirise, Bert Buby, Shirley Flacks, Erika Garfunkel, Marie-Louise Handal, Bette Jasko, Bob Jasko, Jack Kelley, Shmuel Klatzkin, Eleanor Koenigsberg, Harry Koenigsberg, Jim Martin, Regina Martin, Eileen Moorman, Donald Ramsey, Ken Rosenzweig, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Lawrence Scrivani, Bob Silverman, Mary Ann Sunshein.

Robin introduced Rabbi Klatzkin at about 2:00 PM. Rabbi Klatzkin stated that his topic is the Book of Job. The theme of the day's discussion is providence and the governance of the world. Rabbi Klatzkin's teacher taught him that humans must be aware of God's providence. Human beings are able to use language to address the divine reality. Rabbi Klatzkin's teacher's prime point is not just history or theology, but the concrete reality of people coming together and seeking understanding, and helping to make this world a place of Godly peace. Rabbi Klatzkin said that he invites input from everyone. He pulled his chair in front of the head table to show that this is an open discussion.

Rabbi Klatzkin noted that people came with their Bibles. He said that the Book of Job is one of the most difficult biblical texts to read. It is one of a set of three books known as Sifrei Emet-- books of truth. These three books have a unique system of cantilation (method of chanting in religious services), different from that of other parts of the Bible. The Sefrah Emet are located together at the beginning of the Ktuvim, writings. At this point, Rabbi Klatzkin explained that the Hebrew letter yud is generally transliterated into English as "j." Therefore in English we say Jerusalem or Book of Job whereas in Hebrew the sound is more like the letter "y", Yerushalayim or Yob. Rabbi Klatzkin said that there are many good English translations of the Book of Job; he will use the Jewish Publication Society translation for today's retreat.

At the beginning of the book, Job is portrayed as a righteous person who is having good fortune. Job expresses his praise of God. The scene then shifts to heaven where the angels and God are discussing Job. The angel, Satan, says that Job would not be so good if Job were not enjoying good fortune. As a result of this discussion, Job is entrusted to the power of Satan except that Satan cannot take his soul. Satan then takes all Job's worldly possessions and family away from him. Job is afflicted in his body as well, suffering painful boils. Four of Job's friends visit him and try to help him to come out of his depression. The words of the first three friends do not convince Job to come out of his depression. The fourth friend, Elihu, rebukes the other three and Job finally accepts the recommendation of the fourth friend.

How does a person accept the problem of evil? Many of the Greek philosophers would say that evil is a function of chance. One of Klatzkin's teachers at Brandeis had a helpful diagram of the problem.

  1. God knows.
  2. God is good.
  3. God has power.
These things make God's role with respect to evil a real problem.

Rabbi Klatzkin asked the group, how does the Book of Job address this problem? Eileen responded that Job must accept the fact that he has sinned against God. The common theme of the three comforters is that, "there is something wrong with you, Job." The book sets us up for the dilemma by saying that Job is a righteous man. Harold stated that he assumes that Job is pre-Jewish. Erica replied that even if Job were pre-Jewish, he would have been subject to the Noahide Laws. These include six negative laws, one of which is a prohibition on cursing God. There is one positive law: make yourself a "court of justice." The consequence of the Noahide Laws is that all righteous people can go to heaven. Rabbi Klatzkin said that even at the beginning of mankind in the Garden of Eden, there was a concept of right and wrong. God made instructions that human beings were expected to follow. He explained that a fundamental principle of Jewish law is that it is superior for a person to do something that is commanded by God over doing something that is not commanded. One is also expected to love God with all of ones heart, soul, and might. Another commandment is, "You be holy because I your God am holy." If this commandment did not exist, it would be allowable for a person to be a boor with God's permission so long as the person complied technically with the law (Reb Zusya of Annipoli). One could "pig out on kosher food." The rabbis taught that greater is the person who is addressed and does, than one who is not addressed. Sushe said that when he goes to heaven he will not be asked why he was not Moses or King David. Rather, he will be asked why he was not a good Sushe. The idea that a human being could be put into the world without the possibility of divine happiness is inconceivable.

Jack asked what is the meaning of pre-Jewish. Erica said that a tape she brought back from Chatauqua suggests that Job was not Jewish. Rabbi Klatzkin says the rabbis differed on who Job was. Some said he was an advisor to Pharaoh; others that he was a fictional character created for the parable. The rabbis often left issues like this open, when the issues did not have direct implications for practice. Jim Martin said that Paul also refers to people who were pre-Jewish. Bert elaborated on this; it is referred to in Chapter 5 of Romans. Bert said that his teacher explained that Job's identity had to be portrayed as ambiguous (Jewish or non-Jewish) because the Book of Job pushed the envelope with regard to our interpretation of God and was thus highly controversial. Jack asked about the definition of Satan, who appears in the Book of Job. Rabbi Klatzkin replied that Satan in the Bible may mean an angel who opposes. This identity gets reified in the Book of Job into a true character. Satan does not appear in many places in the Hebrew Bible. Arthur asked whether there is any relationship between the yetzer hara (evil inclination) and Satan. He also asked how the Angel of Death is related to Satan. Rabbi Klatzkin replied that the Talmud identifies the yetzer hara, the angel of death, and Satan as all the same. Rabbi Klatzkin explained that rabbinic psychology admits to a tendency to do good and an evil inclination (yetzer). There is no assumption of inherent evil in creation prior to the creation of man. Harold asked how there can be a yetzer hara when humanity is created in the image of God. The Bible text says the evil inclination is very good. Rabbi Klatzkin replied that without the evil inclination, there could not be human choice and freedom. Joanne said that the tension between good and evil is what is important. Eileen says that God has created us in his image which is good. We are free to choose to do evil. Mary Ann Sunshein asked what would be the meaning of good if there were no evil. Felix noted God gave us free will. If we are programmed to do good, then we do not have free will. Bert said concupiscence is another term for yetzer hara. Another term for it is irascibility. Rabbi Klatzkin replied that for any good quality, one can find a negative one. For example, relating to other people not in a good way (e.g., an incestuous relationship) is the negative side of a good thing, relating to other people. The husk can be confused for the core (Godly thing). Klatzkin says he is comfortable with digressions, but suggested a return to discussion of the text.

Job comes from the Land of Utz. We come back now to the scene in heaven with God, the angels, and Satan. The Malach Hamaved is the Angel of Death. Rabbi Klatzkin equates the term angels with force. The word for angel in Hebrew is malach which means messenger. What gives angels power is that they are doing the will of their master (God). Angels do not have a choice.

Erica asked whether God is playing a chess game with himself and Job is the pawn. God admits that Job is speaking the truth. Job complains he is a pawn. Eileen replied that God was not saying that Job was right about everything. Rabbi Klatzkin asked what kind of a truth was God affirming about Job. God says that Job does not know what he is talking about. Job cannot know God's mind. "Who is this who darkens counsel?" Why does God indict the comforters? The comforters refused to believe that Job was a good man. On a related topic, Shirley said that many people have asked what did the Jews do to bring on the Holocaust. Rabbi Klatzkin said that some Jewish commentators have said that the fact that the Jews were not religious enough brought on the Holocaust. This viewpoint raised the anger of Rabbi Klatzkin's teacher. A basic principle coming from the Mishna is to question a man's ability to weigh the balance of good and evil. Erica asked whether the message of the Book of Job is that man has a responsibility to increase knowledge and thereby make the world better. Bert affirmed the truth of this idea. Rabbi Klatzkin replied that God "made the world to do." Also, humans must have a certain humility about their ability to understand the consequences of good and evil actions. A break started at about 4:00 PM.

Discussion After the Break

The retreat reconvened at 4:25 PM. Robin asked visitors to introduce themselves. Larry Scrivani introduced himself. He is a Marianist brother and is visiting from Cupertino, California. He works at a Christian bookstore. Marie-Louise Handel is visiting from New York. She has come to one Dialogue meeting previously and said she feels that attending is an enlivening experience. Marie-Louise is a student at the International Marian Research Institute, and Bert is her advisor. Bob Silverman said he is from Yellow Springs. He is a professor of mathematics at Wright State. Mary Ann Sunshine said she is coming back to the Dialogue. Joanne Bereise introduced herself . Regina Martin introduced herself and her husband, Jim; they are visiting from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Regina is pursuing a master's degree in theology at the University of Dayton.

At this point, the discussion returned to the Book of Job. Arthur asked about the nature of angels. He commented that each of the angels seems to have a particular mission. How is it that we engage in evil? Why are angels only masculine? Rabbi Klatzkin replied that he does not know of any female angels and does not know why none are identified in the Bible. He said that an important concept in Judaism is the Shechina which is feminine. The Shechina is God's presence in the world. Erica commented that there are many angels, both male and female, but only the males ones are named.

Jack asked about the meaning of the word Kabbalah. Rabbi Klatzkin replied that the word Kaballah means reception. In rabbinic times, it was used to mean the rabbinic tradition; however, in modern times, it has come to mean the mystical tradition, as opposed to the legal tradition. Yitzchak Luria who lived in the 16th century in Safed, Israel, developed most of the structure of Kabbalah which, in turn, formed a foundation for Chassidism. One of the most used names for God in the Talmud is place. God is the place of the world, but God is not in one place. Marie-Louise said that is related to her image of spirituality. Christianity has moved back to the heart in recent times. Rabbi Klatzkin replied that there has been serious scholarship about this same trend in Judaism. In this regard, Martin Buber based his ideas on Chassidic systems of thought. This was against the old fashioned Western philosophy. Gershon Shalom showed the importance of the mystical tradition in Judaism. Some modern scholars have written about this trend as well. Marie-Louise said that it is hard for people who have been educated in the scientific age to have such a personal relationship with God. Rabbi Klatzkin pointed out that 20th century scientific insights have blown away the older Newtonian (Laplacian) attitude that science could know and predict everything. Now science itself recognizes that it depends on insights from beyond its grasp (as in Godel's theorem in math). Brother Larry asked whether there were different schools of thought with respect to Kabbalah. Rabbi Klatzkin replied that there are different schools, but the authority on Kaballah is Yitzchak Luria. Erica asked whether it is still proscribed to study Kabbalah until one is 40 years old. Rabbi Klatzkin replied that this proscription was made after the debacle of Shabtai Zvi, a Messianic Pretender. Nowadays, anyone is allowed to study Kabbalah. However, Rabbi Klatzkin said that it is desirable to have a good teacher for Kabbalah because of the complexity of the ideas.

Bert returned the group to the text. Job says, "I know that my redeemer lives." Bert asked how one can know this as opposed to just believe it. What do the rabbis have to say about this? Rabbi Klatzkin replied that knowledge in Judaism means something very practical rather theoretical. Knowledge is personal and relational. Bert also asked about the word redeemer. Rabbi Klatzkin replied that the reference to God as redeemer is very common in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew word mitzraim means Egypt; the same letters mean limitations when pronounced differently.

Rabbi Klatzkin then discussed the medieval tradition of knowledge. Maimonides in his last masterwork, Guide for the Perplexed, takes up this problem of good and evil. He outlines major approaches to explaining evil. The Greek School of Epicurus sees no problem explaining evil; evil is the result of random events, atoms randomly bumping into each other. Next Maimonides deals with Aristotle. For him, the world is a permanently existing thing. God exists and has knowledge. God's knowledge extends to those things which are unchanging, for example those things that exist above the moon. Below the moon, there is much transience, e.g., birth, growth and death. In the sublunar world, providence extends only to the things which are permanent within the world. Species like lions are permanent. Individual lions come and go. God has created a general order; things less than permanent are insignificant. Then Maimonides refers to two Islamic schools of thought. In the first, God knows. If something bad happens to someone, God will counterbalance it. The Asharia claim that we cannot understand God's wisdom. What is important is God's will. Finally, the doctrine of the Torah is that God gives to us according to our desserts. God knows about things, but we have real freedom to choose. Then, Maimonides proposes something on his own. Maimonides finds each of the characters in the Book of Job as representing each of these alternative approaches to the problem of evil in the world. The most important thing about the Book of Job is that knowledge is not ascribed to Job, only righteousness. Maimonides says that the moral virtues are a prerequisite to obtaining wisdom. Only when one has attained the moral virtues can one come to a genuine understanding of the nature of God. Erica pointed out that Hillel said the same thing, in different words. Klatzkin agreed and said that acting decently toward ones colleagues is a prerequisite to studying Torah. Only, at the end of the story is it stated that Job understands. Maimonides says that evil will seem to come by chance. However, that is because humans cannot understand the reasons behind the evil. Matter is limitation. Our spiritual self forces us to look beyond these limitations to achieve the ultimate truth. Human beings can come to some kind of an understanding of the ultimate reality. Job does come to a kind of felicity. If we orient ourselves toward God and use our minds to pull ourselves along, then we can become conjoined, become a partner with God in the act of creation. This encapsulates Maimonides's way of looking at the meaning of the Book of Job.

Human knowledge is different from that of the Creator. Human beings come to knowledge piecemeal. God's knowledge comes from the fundamental concept. We can come somehow to a knowledge of God by wrestling with our own experience of evil. However, we always have to have humility with respect to our ability to understand God. Gersonides says there has to be a point where the knowledge of God and the knowledge of humans interact. Gersonides says there must be things in the world that God is not concerned with. That explains the possibility of evil. If evil happens to you, it is not God's fault. He does not know about it.

Rabbi Klatzkin next addressed Chassidic tradition with respect to evil. God desired to have a dwelling place in the lower worlds. The teaching of the Bal Shem Tov (father of the Chassidic movement) is that indeed the mind of God conceives the entire reality. The exile of the Jewish people from their land is a reflection of the exile within the being of God. A recent book, Wrestling with the Divine, is a modern approach to suffering. When we ourselves suffer, it is an incentive to rectify the problem. We must give God the benefit of the doubt. However, when something painful happens to someone else, we have the responsibility to object. Human beings are commanded by God to alleviate suffering. Erica said that the expression, pray as if everything depended on God, act as if everything depended on you is parallel to this idea. Rabbi Klatzkin agreed and stated that the answer is not to understand the evil, the answer is to end the evil. Elie Wiesel warned against human beings extrapolating from their own experience to God. The deeper root meaning of mitzvah is coming together, coming together with God. Wrestling with the problem of evil can move us toward an apprehension of God.

Rabbi Klatzkin then read from some Chasidic tales of the Holocaust. One story was of a mother in one of the concentration camps who demanded a knife to circumcise her baby.

The program adjourned at about 6:00 PM. Afterward the attendees enjoyed sharing a meal in the dining hall.

Respectfully submitted,

Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary
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