Fear of the Lord

Vajradhara

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Shalom all,

i have a little thing that i'd like some assistance with from our learned Jewish members.

i was having a conversation recently with a Catholic about the concept of "Fear the Lord" and her point is that this Fear of God is the beginning of Wisdom and she goes on to quote some Proverbs and so forth.

my experience of God, by contrast, was not one of Fear, rather, one of love, one of compassion and great mercy. i contended that perhaps rather than Fearing God, they could try Loving God and see where that takes them.

so.. to make a long story short, which may be too late, my qeustions on this issue are thus:

1. is the beginning of Wisdom, from the Jewish view, Fear of God?

2. how do you understand the phrase "Fear the Lord?" is this a modern useage of the word "fear"?

3. if fear of God isn't the beginning of Wisdom, what is?

i'll probably have some expanded questions once this gets started.. so i'd like to thank you in advance for your answers.
 
I realise that this is a question aimed at the Judaic perspective - but if you don;t mind my chiming in, I always felt that fear of God was about fearing to disappoint God, in the way that you may fear to earn the disapproval of highly respected elders and teachers -> rather than fearing to be punished with fiery torments and physical pains, etc. Just 2 quick-chipped in cents. :)
 
I said:
I realise that this is a question aimed at the Judaic perspective - but if you don;t mind my chiming in, I always felt that fear of God was about fearing to disappoint God, in the way that you may fear to earn the disapproval of highly respected elders and teachers -> rather than fearing to be punished with fiery torments and physical pains, etc. Just 2 quick-chipped in cents. :)
hey... wouldn't that be your two pence?

LOL


hmmm... i'm not sure that i understand the word fear in that manner. i don't fear that i will earn their disapproval, per se, i hope that i don't, though i don't fear it. though i think that i see what you're getting at...
 
I was in a discussion once, someplace else about this. The argument was made that the word translated as fear was more suited as 'respect'. I disagree. The Lord of the OT was a fearful dude. If you can run from Sodom and feel the heat on your back from fire raining down and just 'respect' God, you're a braver man than me.
 
Vajradhara said:
hmmm... i'm not sure that i understand the word fear in that manner. i don't fear that i will earn their disapproval, per se, i hope that i don't, though i don't fear it. though i think that i see what you're getting at...
I have to admit I'm speaking from personal perspective alone - perhaps the best way to describe it is if you have a favoured teacher, who treats you kindly and with respect. You might therefore "fear" a little to disappoint this teacher, for you know you are also letting yourself down. Hm, possibly not a great analogy, though.

I'm sure there's a more detailed Judaic perception to work with. :)
 
ahhh... i know this one!

"fear", i am afraid, is not really a good translation. the word is "YiRA" and it is linked to the concepts of "vision" or "perception". if it has a connection to fear, it's the fear you get when you look over the edge of the grand canyon - closer to awe at the sheer majesty of creation. think mindblowing, staggering, epiphanic, transcendental awe and humility and then you begin to approach yira. in fact, you might be talking something close to the buddhist concept of enlightenment, particularly given the context of the statement (originally from the pirqei avot section of the Mishnah: "reishit hokhmah yirat' haShem" - the beginning of wisdom (and note the mystical connotations of the word "hokhmah") is the yira of the Infinity of the Divine.

the respect for the teacher thing is not a million miles off the mark either. so, actually, when you compare it to the whole "love" thing it all sounds a bit wishywashy and needy. first you must respect the Divine and be humble.

b'shalom

bananabrain
 
Shalom bananabrain,

thank you for the post.


bananabrain said:
ahhh... i know this one!

"fear", i am afraid, is not really a good translation. the word is "YiRA" and it is linked to the concepts of "vision" or "perception". if it has a connection to fear, it's the fear you get when you look over the edge of the grand canyon - closer to awe at the sheer majesty of creation. think mindblowing, staggering, epiphanic, transcendental awe and humility and then you begin to approach yira. in fact, you might be talking something close to the buddhist concept of enlightenment, particularly given the context of the statement (originally from the pirqei avot section of the Mishnah: "reishit hokhmah yirat' haShem" - the beginning of wisdom (and note the mystical connotations of the word "hokhmah") is the yira of the Infinity of the Divine.

the respect for the teacher thing is not a million miles off the mark either. so, actually, when you compare it to the whole "love" thing it all sounds a bit wishywashy and needy. first you must respect the Divine and be humble.

b'shalom

bananabrain
well that puts it into an entirely different context altogether now, doesn't it?

there are several places where people are told to fear the Lord in the OT, from what i recall. is the same term used in all these instances, by which i mean to say, is the same understanding of the term applied in all the cases where it's rendered in English to "fear" the Lord?
 
well that puts it into an entirely different context altogether now, doesn't it?
of course! the jewish approach to the Text is dependent upon the language - and you can see how a crap translation can be misleading in a different cultural context...

there are several places where people are told to fear the Lord in the OT, from what i recall. is the same term used in all these instances, by which i mean to say, is the same understanding of the term applied in all the cases where it's rendered in English to "fear" the Lord?
er... it looks from a quick scan of the king james "fears" (see http://unbound.biola.edu ) and a comparison with the hebrew that the root of yira is used in a lot of different contexts, but always translated by the word "fear". i think it's a question of the degree. yira can also be to do with being "overawed by" - so it is possible to have yira of the wrong things - so, for example, jacob is said to have yira of esau, because he is literally afraid of his revenge. however, yirat haShem is appropriate and yirat eisav is not. does that make any sense?

b'shalom

bananabrain
 
Namaste bananabrain,

thank you for the post.

bananabrain said:
of course! the jewish approach to the Text is dependent upon the language - and you can see how a crap translation can be misleading in a different cultural context...
i quite agree and this is an important point that shouldn't be underestimated, in my opinion.

er... it looks from a quick scan of the king james "fears" (see http://unbound.biola.edu ) and a comparison with the hebrew that the root of yira is used in a lot of different contexts, but always translated by the word "fear". i think it's a question of the degree. yira can also be to do with being "overawed by" - so it is possible to have yira of the wrong things - so, for example, jacob is said to have yira of esau, because he is literally afraid of his revenge. however, yirat haShem is appropriate and yirat eisav is not. does that make any sense?

b'shalom

bananabrain
ok.. so, i think that i see what you are saying here.. though i've one question at this point.

yirat haShem, if i understood you correctly, means "Infinity of the Divine" or was that the whole phrase? in either case, i'm not clear what yirat eisav is indicative of. can you elaborate a bit on that point?

now... all of this seems to be alluding to a sense of wonder and awe.. perhaps even incomprehensibility as well and it is that sensation of the mind that is being described?
 
yirat haShem, if i understood you correctly, means "Infinity of the Divine" or was that the whole phrase? in either case, i'm not clear what yirat eisav is indicative of. can you elaborate a bit on that point?
yirat eisav is indicative of an inappropriate level of awe - ie esau is nobody to be impressed by. it's not that "yira" can't mean simple fear as in "be afraid of" but that when it is applied to G!D then a whole new level of meaning can be ascertained. does that help?

perhaps even incomprehensibility as well and it is that sensation of the mind that is being described?
yes, yes and yes. that's exactly where it's going.

b'shalom

bananabrain
 
Shalom BB,

thank you for the post.

let me ask you... are these "official" positions on this issue? i.e. is there Rabbinical support?

oh.. something else has come to my attention which i was previously unaware of.. and seems rather tenuous to me...

is there a difference between Biblical Judaism and Rabbinical Judaism? i've heard it asserted that there is and that it is Rabbinical Judaism that rejects Jesus... not Biblical Judaism. this sounds like a red herring to me.. but i thought that i would like to ask.
 
let me ask you... are these "official" positions on this issue? i.e. is there Rabbinical support?
well, this isn't halakha (law), you see, but rather aggadah (non-legal stuff, including theology and so on); if there are practical issues coming out of it, there will be halakha, otherwise there are a number of different aggadic opinions that may be held, any of which is acceptable. i suspect if this one comes under "the proper way to feel about G!D" there is halakha, but if it doesn't result in actions i dare say that there might as well not be. either way, it seems to me that it's not a sort of "doctrinal" position whereby if you don't agree with it you're a heretic, if that makes sense.

is there a difference between Biblical Judaism and Rabbinical Judaism? i've heard it asserted that there is and that it is Rabbinical Judaism that rejects Jesus... not Biblical Judaism. this sounds like a red herring to me.. but i thought that i would like to ask.
ho, ho. rabbinical judaism is of course aware of jesus and naturally does reject him as a "false messiah", but biblical judaism is not actually to be distinguished from it save in terms of development and timing. rabbinic judaism is considered by jews to be the authentic form of judaism; biblical judaism simply refers to the beliefs and practices of the jews during the period between the exodus and the canonisation of the TaNaKh by ezra and the men of the "great assembly". basically, it's a spurious distinction, which suggests that "if they had known about him, they would have accepted him", based presumably on the same texts which are claimed to prophesy him. rabbinic judaism had this opportunity, used the same texts and methods of interpretation and decided that he was not the messiah. you might as wells say that biblical judaism didn't reject bar kokhba, muhammad or shabbetai tzvi. it's also somewhat underhand in that it is attempting to delegitimise rabbinic judaism as not the authentic form of judaism, thus opening the door for a bunch of dubious "new covenants". history is full of other groups saying "OK, jews, you're not the chosen people any more, it's us" - everyone from the church fathers to the dutch reformed church in south africa.

b'shalom

bananabrain
 
Howdy bananabrain,

thank you for the post.

bananabrain said:
well, this isn't halakha (law), you see, but rather aggadah (non-legal stuff, including theology and so on); if there are practical issues coming out of it, there will be halakha, otherwise there are a number of different aggadic opinions that may be held, any of which is acceptable. i suspect if this one comes under "the proper way to feel about G!D" there is halakha, but if it doesn't result in actions i dare say that there might as well not be. either way, it seems to me that it's not a sort of "doctrinal" position whereby if you don't agree with it you're a heretic, if that makes sense.
if i may sum up... it's fine to hold a variety of philosophical positions regading G!D as parts of theology, however, when these views become actions, they are more structured and must comport to the Law. is that close?

ho, ho. rabbinical judaism is of course aware of jesus and naturally does reject him as a "false messiah", but biblical judaism is not actually to be distinguished from it save in terms of development and timing. rabbinic judaism is considered by jews to be the authentic form of judaism; biblical judaism simply refers to the beliefs and practices of the jews during the period between the exodus and the canonisation of the TaNaKh by ezra and the men of the "great assembly". basically, it's a spurious distinction, which suggests that "if they had known about him, they would have accepted him", based presumably on the same texts which are claimed to prophesy him. rabbinic judaism had this opportunity, used the same texts and methods of interpretation and decided that he was not the messiah. you might as wells say that biblical judaism didn't reject bar kokhba, muhammad or shabbetai tzvi. it's also somewhat underhand in that it is attempting to delegitimise rabbinic judaism as not the authentic form of judaism, thus opening the door for a bunch of dubious "new covenants". history is full of other groups saying "OK, jews, you're not the chosen people any more, it's us" - everyone from the church fathers to the dutch reformed church in south africa.

b'shalom

bananabrain
i had rather suspected such was the case... thank you for the explanation and the details. i'm quite curious to see how this response will go over with my Christian conversationalist :)
 
it's fine to hold a variety of philosophical positions regading G!D as parts of theology, however, when these views become actions, they are more structured and must comport to the Law. is that close?
on the nosey. however, there are certain philosophical positions that are definitely *not* fine to hold, such as those which overtly conflict with, say, maimonides' thirteen principles. an example would be to believe that jesus was the messiah, or that G!D Is not One, heaven forbid.

b'shalom

bananabrain
 
b'shalom BB,

does that mean "in peace"?

thank you for the post.

ah.. yes.. i can see how some philosophical positions would be inconsistent with the overall theme..

if we're getting too far afield.. let me know :)

so... let me ask you... presuming that one held an...how to say.. unorthodox position regarding, say... G!D, in this case. is that individual subject to the same type of sanctions that one that was actively asserting such a heretical view? that's not a very well phrased question.. but maybe you see my meaning...




bananabrain said:
on the nosey. however, there are certain philosophical positions that are definitely *not* fine to hold, such as those which overtly conflict with, say, maimonides' thirteen principles. an example would be to believe that jesus was the messiah, or that G!D Is not One, heaven forbid.

b'shalom

bananabrain
 
yep, that's what it means.

so... let me ask you... presuming that one held an...how to say.. unorthodox position regarding, say... G!D, in this case. is that individual subject to the same type of sanctions that one that was actively asserting such a heretical view? that's not a very well phrased question.. but maybe you see my meaning...

the point is that if someone doesn't know what's in your head, they can hardly sanction you for it. in terms of the actual position, depends what it is, what halacha it contravenes, what you do as a result and who knows about it.

there is halacha about the "rebellious elder", who refuses to stop promoting a dissenting view. i'll see if i can't dig it up.

b'shalom

bananabrain
 
hi vaj,

turns out that the law of the "zaken mamrei" or "rebellious elder" also depends on the person taking the position. if it is a scholar with authority to render legal decisions who defies the sanhedrin and encourages others to disregard their ruling, he can (under certain circumstances) be put to death. if it's just a normal person who holds this opinion, he can probably be considered either a "benoni" ("ordinary", which in Talmudic terms is tantamount to being called an ignorant bastad) or at worst a heretic. either way, it would be more likely that a non-scholar would be treated as an ignoramus ("if you knew what you were talking about, you wouldn't hold this opinion") than any sanction be taken against him.

i think in these terms, someone who holds the unorthodox opinion but keeps it to himself has only the Celestial Court and his own conscience to answer to. it's the same as breaking other laws - if there isn't a prescribed penalty (usually death, lashes or a fine) then you're pretty much responsible for your own self-discipline. whether your community sanctions you is a different matter. you may be refused community honours (such as being called to the Torah) or have some other privilege removed.

either way i think the basic principle is "the more shocking the opinion, the more powerful the sanction", ranging from idiots at one end ("what do you expect from such an idiot?") to prominent heretics at the other end, who might at worst be put under a herem (excommunicated) which is the worst community sanction we have.

does that clarify things?

b'shalom

bananabrain
 
b'Shalom BB,


yes, that puts it clear for me. thank you very much for the information and the research on this topic, it is appreciated :)
 
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