Perfection Part II
Moshe Ben-Chaim & Chaim Salamon
A gentile woman in earnest search of truth had emailed us a Rabbi’s article she found on a mainstream, orthodox Torah website. She was surprised to find that Mesora’s position and this Rabbi’s position were at odds. Our position is that God created only one mankind, and all humans alive today share the exact same physical, psychological and spiritual elements. Just as our hearts and emotions are identical, we all share one, identical soul.
This was printed in last week’s JewishTimes (March 9, 2007). In support of our view we cited a number of verses and arguments: “One Torah and one statute you shall have for yourselves, and the convert who dwells among you.” (Numb. 15:16) This teaches that we are identical, since we both can follow one law. Messiah, and Kings David and Solomon are descendants of Ruth the convert, God’s anointed, teaching that God finds no favorite in the Jew. God created man only once; therefore, all humans are direct descendants of that first gentile couple, including Jews. And Talmud Sanhedrin 59a states, “A gentile who studies Torah is akin to a High Priest.” Thus, human perfection is not a Jewish birthright, but an accomplishment, available to all God’s creatures. Jews are created no differently than gentiles. And just now I was recalling that God sent the prophet Jonah to the sinful city of Nineveh to steer them to repent. Nineveh was not a Jewish culture. Yet, God employed the same methods He applies to Jews: He sends prophets to guide them back to righteousness. God uses identical methods for Jew and gentile, precisely because Jew and gentile are identical.
However, the Rabbi quoted by this woman held the opinion that Jews have a superior soul, and that gentiles who convert, always had some “Jewish spark”: a loose term at best, with no absolute meaning. I had identified this position as arrogant and false, based on the above quotes and rationale. I contacted the Rabbi, asking him to substantiate his claim. I wrote:
“Rabbi, A person wrote me with a concern I share, over something you wrote, which I quote:
“The Talmud, continuing this idea that converts already have a Jewish soul inside of them, uses a very interesting phrase when discussing Jewish laws of potential converts. It is written, ‘a convert who comes to convert...’ The phrase begs the question - why does it say “a CONVERT who comes to convert...”? Rather, it should say, “a GENTILE who comes to convert...”! The reason is because they already have a Jewish spark inside of them.”
Rabbi, You suggest the Talmud (Shavuos 39a) teaches that converts already have a Jewish soul inside of them. However, the Talmud did not say that. It said “future generations of Jews, and gentiles who will eventually convert, are also part of God’s covenant”. That Talmudic portion bases this view on the verse says “…and those not here with us today” [at Sinai] do I forge a covenant. (Deut. 29:14) You claim there is a “Jewish soul is inside gentiles”. However, first of all, there is no source differentiating Jewish and gentile souls, let alone that the Talmud “continues this notion of Jewish souls” as you suggest. You then conclude with the “Jewish spark” theory...also not supported here. You claim this is all quoted from the Talmud. Please email me that exact Talmudic source. Thank you, Moshe Ben-Chaim”
The Rabbi wrote back with many quotes that he feels substantiate his view, but failed to provide my requested “Talmudic” source, which he said exists:
“R’ Moshe Ben-Chaim, It is important to first quote “Teshuvot Ba’alei HaTosefot” Addenda 1:19 - that converts are Jewish souls that were placed in the embryos inside non-Jewish mothers. Rishonim such as the Ba’alei HaTosefot usually do not write metaphors. We therefore have to accept what they have written at face value. With this knowledge, we can easily understand the Gemara in Shavuos 39a, and also a similar Gemara in Shabbat 145b-146a. I hope this helps.”
He also added numerous other sources; none of those that I researched support his claim. And he uses the quote from Job, which we mentioned last week, “a portion of God on high”. He feels this means man has a “part” of God inside him, which Maimonides and literally all other Rabbis reject. What is disturbing is that this Rabbi too makes the same illiterate error of quoting part of this verse in Job. This is the accurate reading of Job 31:1,2: “A treaty have I made with my eyes; for what shall I gaze at a virgin? And what portion of God above shall I have, and an inheritance of God on high?” Job rightfully defends himself, claiming that he never gazed at a woman for any other reason than examining her qualities, to determine if she was a fit bride for his sons. For by gazing longer, it would be out of lust, and he would forfeit his share of God’s reward. But the Rabbi misreads this verse to fit his preconceived notion.
I responded as follows:
“Rabbi, You asked if your quotes helped...actually, they do not help. I did not write disputing who might hold this view, or if we are to truly understand such statements literally. I thought I was clear. In fact, the “Talmudic” sources you cite (not the quotes you emailed me) do not speak of “Jewish sparks”, or “Jewish souls” possessed by converts, neither in Talmud Shavuos or Sabbath. These are all your projections onto the Talmud from other sources. Since the “Talmud” in fact does not say this, it is only proper that you remove from your article such claims that it does. Moshe Ben-Chaim”
I did not hear back. Regardless, I wish to present a few more arguments that also prove our view.
1) The claim that converts always possessed a Jewish soul or spark, belittles the Torah. According to this view, it is not the Torah that perfects man, but it is some “superior soul”. This denies the core of what Torah is! God gave the Torah as the means for us to elevate ourselves. In fact, the Talmud states, “I [God] created the instincts, and I created the Torah as its antidote”. (Kiddushin 30b) Thus, it is not an imagined “superior Jewish soul” that perfects man, but it is the Torah.
2) This view also displays God as unjust, since accordingly, God neglects His creations, by choosing not to give “better” souls to most of the world. However, Ibn Ezra states that Adam the First was a great chocham (wise man). Yet…he was a gentile. So we see, without being Jewish, man loses none of his faculties, and therefore we learn that a gentile has the same perfect soul as a Jew.
3) This theory also denies the fundamental of Reward and Punishment. For how can God blame a gentile, if his soul is defective?
4) The commentaries on the verse the Rabbis quoted do not say any gentile converts were “at Sinai” or had Jewish souls. In fact Ibn Ezra rejects that view as false (Deut. 29:14). And there, Sforno explains “…all those not with us today” [are included in the Covenant] as: those standing on Sinai must teach future generations. So when God says that “all those Jews and future converts not at Sinai are also included in Hs covenant”, He means that any human – although absent at Sinai – may enjoy a relationship with God just as those Jews who stood there. It is quite simple.
5) What about Jews who sin and kill…where is “their” Jewish soul? If a Jewish soul is somehow “superior”, how does this Rabbi explain some Jews who are more evil than some gentiles? Countless Torah personalities killed innocent Jews – Doeg and Ezav to name a few – and countless gentiles saved Jews during the Holocaust; converted to Judaism; became Torah scholars, etc.
6) God said, “For I know him [Abraham] that he will teach his children and his household after him, and they will follow the ways of God…” (Gen. 18:18) God therefore makes Abraham into a great nation, so Abraham might teach others. We learn that God wishes man to draw to Him by one method: study. God gives no shortcut of a “superior soul”, but endorsed Abraham’s path of study and education. Yes, the only path to God is where one controls his passions, and redirects his energies towards a life of wisdom, to know God. Now, why would God bother with creating a nation from Abraham, if He simply inserts superior souls in those He chooses?
7) Finally, an absolute rejection that future converts were at Sinai, are the Torah’s very words: “and those who are NOT HERE with us today”. The Talmud explaining this verse clearly states that converts were NOT at Sinai. Now…the Rabbi was so diligent not to take the Sages words metaphorically, saying, “the Rabbis usually do not write metaphors”. So why does he not apply the same care to God’s words? The sages taught, “No verse can be interpreted against its literal meaning”. This Rabbi is violating his own principle. When God writes I His Torah that there are “those who are NOT HERE with us today”…this Rabbi should have read that literally.
But in truth, our Rabbi’s claim that we must understand literally “God placed Jewish souls in gentile embryos” goes against King Solomon’s words: “The words of the wise and their riddles”. King Solomon spoke in metaphors, and as he states, the Rabbis do as well. Our Rabbi’s quote about embryos is just another metaphor.
In summary: reason, the Talmud, and the Torah verses reject the concept of a superior soul, or that converts were at Sinai. The motives for this theory are ego, and irresponsibility. By claiming a superior soul, a Jew feels special, with a guarantee of God’s unconditional love. Truly, this unconditional love is merely wish to replay one’s infantile state, where parents showered this down upon him. But as adults, we must study the Torah, which is the only reality. And the Torah rejects notions that violate reason.
We must reflect on ourselves, for we all carry into adulthood, remnants of our infantile lives. Unless one can say he has studied himself objectively, and has abandoned all those years of corruption our society impressed on our psyches, then he is still living with corrupt notions. The wish for unconditional love is but one of thousands of wishes. We also wish to be viewed as “good”. So claiming we possess “part of God”, or a “superior soul” is quite satisfying. However, we must not live in a dream state, for God does not excuse us for what we “fantasize” to be true. God judges us based on reality. There is only one system. And God graciously granted every man – gentile and Jew – the capacity to determine what that reality is…by use of our one soul.