Problems involved in a strict interpretation of monotheism in Judaism through the early centuries of this era and in Jewish mysticism through Sabbatianism
Cotlar, Bonny Harwood
Master of Arts
The central tenet of contemporary Judaism is its monotheistic belief in one God, as exemplified in its central profession of faith, the Sh'ma. The status of the monotheistic concept as the sine qua non of Judaism is further evidenced by numerous Biblical statements asserting God's uniqueness and unity. Since contemporary Judaism is a descendant of Pharasaic/Rabbinic Judaism, the popular view often stereotypes the latter as being rigidly monotheistic and the only form of Judaism practiced during most periods of time. Contrary to the above views, this paper endeavors to show that the rigid monotheism associated with Judaism was not the only form of Judaism practiced throughout the centuries. Rather, Judaism's strict monotheism has frequently needed "softenings" with various kinds of intermediaries and divine emanations (which at times appear to have more contact withman than God does) and even with additional creators and revealers. Examples of such "softenings," why man tends to adopt them, and how they were finally resolved (by themselves or by Rabbinic Judaism) are the main thrusts of this paper. In selecting the examples of monotheistic softenings in Judaism, I concentrated on two basic areas: Judaism until the first centuries of this era and Jewish mysticism through Sabbatianism. In the survey of these periods of time, five factors were identified as having contributed to the development of these intermediaries, emanations, and additional creators and revealers: 1. Syncretism is found in Judaism from Biblical times to Sabbatianism as Judaism--for a variety of reasons--adopted and modified myths, symbols, divinities, etc. of the age. 2. The language and symbols used by in describing God are some- times unacceptable in later periods of time, causing, for example, anthropomorphisms to be interpreted as referring to intermediaries and emanations rather than to God Himself. 3. Judaism is founded on the premise that its God works in history. Thus, when seemingly inexplicable historical events occur, especially ones causing great suffering to God's"chosen people," there often occurs a re-evaluation of the reasons for the experience, leading to profound changes in the Jews'conceptions of God and Israel and even resulting in dualities and trinities in the Godhead. 4. Judaism's view of God as One, a Unity, has resulted in a variety of interpretations which often include intermediaries, etc. to possess sane of the polarities of the characteristics encompassed by the Unity. For example, throughout Judaism one finds opposing views on whether this One includes both good and evil or only good, both transcendence and immanence (or which prevailed), etc. 5. Finally, from the survey of the time periods mentioned, it was discovered that man—with his insatiable desire to know about, understand, and emulate God--too often created God in his own image or for his own convenience, making Him into a macro-anthropos and man into a micro-cosmos and even giving God feelings that man possesses. After the Sabbatian heresy in which a large segment of Jewish mysticism completely rejected monotheism, Judaism took special precautions to stifle anything that hinted of similar ideas.