Eating Kosher and Stoicism (Parsha Sh’mini)

This weeks (3/6/21) Parsha is Sh’mini (Lev. 9:1-11:47) and includes the Kosher laws (Lev. 11). Why did YHWH give us the Koshrut (Kosher laws)? Some say they were given for health reasons, others say they were given for no reason we can ever know.  The first century Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria believed that they were given to teach us self-control.  He wrote:

XVII (100) Moreover, Moses has not granted an unlimited possession and use of all other animals to those who partake in his sacred constitution, but he has forbidden with all his might all animals, whether of the land, or of the water, or that fly through the air, which are most fleshy and fat, and calculated to excite treacherous pleasure, well knowing that such, attracting as with a bait that most slavish of all the outward senses, namely, taste, produce insatiability, an incurable evil to both souls and bodies, for insatiability produces indigestion, which is the origin and source of all diseases and weaknesses. (101) Now of land animals, the swine is confessed to be the nicest of all meats by those who eat it, and of all aquatic animals the most delicate are the fish which have no scales; and Moses is above all other men skilful in training and inuring persons of a good natural disposition to the practice of virtue by frugality and abstinence, endeavouring to remove costly luxury from their characters,
(Special Laws IV)

This is in keeping with the teaching of 4th Maccabees which says:

For whence is it, otherwise, that when urged on to forbidden meats, we reject the gratification which would ensue from them? Is it not because reasoning is able to command the appetites? I believe so. 34 Hence it is, then, that when lusting after water-animals and birds, and fourfooted beasts, and all kinds of food which are forbidden us by the law, we withhold ourselves through the mastery of reasoning. 35 For the affections of our appetites are resisted by the temperate understanding, and bent back again, and all the impulses of the body are reined in by reasoning.
(4Maccabees 1:33-35)

This teaching is in keeping with the teaching of Ben Zoma who, in the Mishnah said: “Who is strong? He who controls his inclinations.”  (m.Avot 4:1)

We read in 4th Maccabees that one key to self-control is to become master over the emotions and that this is accomplished thru reasoning (or in the Aramaic version, a “mind of shalom”):

30 For reasoning is the leader of the virtues, but it is the sole ruler of the emotions. Observe then first, through the very things which stand in the way of self-control, that reasoning is absolute ruler of the inclinations and emotions. 31 Now self-control consists of a command over the lusts.
(4Macc. 1:30-31)

The first century Jewish Philosopher Philo of Alexandria echoes this teaching saying:

For these passions are the causes of all good and of all evil; of good when they submit to the authority of dominant reason, and of evil when they break out of bounds and scorn all government and restraint.
(Life of Moses 1; VI, 26)

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Extirpating Anger and Desire (Parsha Tsav)

This coming week’s (4/27/21) Torah Parsha is Tsav (Lev. 6:1-8:36). In this parsha we read:

And Moses took the breast, and waved it for a wave offering before the LORD: for of the ram of consecration it was Moses’ part; as the LORD commanded Moses.
(Lev. 8:29 KJV)

Philo of Alexandria sees this ritual as symbolic, with the breast of the ram representing anger which abodes in the breast:

(66) But some go far beyond these persons in wickedness, not only indulge in every description of desire, but also acquire that passion which is akin to desire, namely, anger, wishing to excite the whole of the irrational part of the soul and to destroy the mind. For what has been said in words, indeed, is applicable to the serpent, but in reality it is meant to apply to every man who is irrational and a slave to his passions, being truly a divine oracle, “Upon thy breast and upon thy belly shalt thou Go;” (Gen. 3:14.) for anger has its abode about the breast, and the seat of desire is in the belly. (67) But the foolish man proceeds always by means of the two passions together, both anger and desire, omitting no opportunity, and discarding reason (logos) as his pilot and judge. But the man who is contrary to him has extirpated anger and desire from his nature, and has enlisted himself under divine reason (logos) as his guide; as also Moses, that faithful servant of God, did. Who, when he is offering the burnt offerings of the soul, “washes out the Belly;” (Lev. 9:14.) that is to say, he washes out the whole seat of desires, and he takes away “the breast of the ram of the Consecration;” (Lev. 8:29.) that is to say, that whole of the warlike disposition, that so the remainder, the better portion of the soul, the rational part, having no longer anything to draw it in a different direction or to counteract its natural impulses, may indulge its own free and noble inclinations towards everything that is beautiful;
(Migrations of Abraham 66-67)

From this we learn that when we are guided by desire and anger we are no longer being guided by reason. We must learn to extricate anger and desire from our natures, so that our rational minds may be our pilot and judge so that reason becomes our natural impulse instead.

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Self Control and Pleasures of the Belly (Parsha VaYikra)

This weeks parsha (3/20/21) is VaYikra (Lev. 1:1-5:26) and deals with the rituals concerning various types of offerings. The first of these types of offerings is the “Burnt Offering” (Lev. 1:1-17):

[1] And the LORD called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying,
[2] Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you bring an offering unto the LORD, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock.
[3] If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD.
[4] And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.
[5] And he shall kill the bullock before the LORD: and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
[6] And he shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces.
[7] And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire:
[8] And the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar:
[9] But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water: and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.
[10] And if his offering be of the flocks, namely, of the sheep, or of the goats, for a burnt sacrifice; he shall bring it a male without blemish.
[11] And he shall kill it on the side of the altar northward before the LORD: and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall sprinkle his blood round about upon the altar.
[12] And he shall cut it into his pieces, with his head and his fat: and the priest shall lay them in order on the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar:
[13] But he shall wash the inwards and the legs with water: and the priest shall bring it all, and burn it upon the altar: it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.
[14] And if the burnt sacrifice for his offering to the LORD be of fowls, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves, or of young pigeons.
[15] And the priest shall bring it unto the altar, and wring off his head, and burn it on the altar; and the blood thereof shall be wrung out at the side of the altar:
[16] And he shall pluck away his crop with his feathers, and cast it beside the altar on the east part, by the place of the ashes:
[17] And he shall cleave it with the wings thereof, but shall not divide it asunder: and the priest shall burn it upon the altar, upon the wood that is upon the fire: it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.
(Lev. 1:1-17 KJV)

Philo of Alexandria finds a special symbolical significance in the details of this ritual, writing:

But not only does he [Moses] repudiate the whole belly, but he also at the same time washes off all the dirt from his feet, that is to say, to the supports in which pleasure proceeds. And the supports of pleasure are the efficient causes of it. (143) For he who is advancing onwards to perfection is said “to wash his bowels and his Feet,” (Lev. 1:9.) and not his whole belly. For he is not capable of rejecting the whole of pleasure, but he is content if he can purify his bowels, that is to say, his inmost parts from it, which the lovers of pleasure say are certain additions to preceding pleasures, and which originate in the superfluous ingenuity of cooks and makers of delicacies and laborious gourmands.
XLIX. (144) And he also displays, in a further degree, the moderation of the passions of the man who is advancing towards perfection, by the fact that the perfect man discards all the pleasures of the belly without being prompted by any command to do so, but that he who is only advancing onwards towards perfection only does so in consequence of being commanded. For, in the case of the wise man, we find the following expression used:–“He washes his belly and his feet with Water,” (Lev. 9:14.) without any command, in accordance with his own unbidden inclination. But, in the case of the priests, he spoke thus: “But their bowels and their feet,” not they have washed, but “they do Wash;” (Lev. 1:13.) speaking with very cautious exactness, for the perfect man must be moved in his own inclination towards the energies in accordance with virtue. But he who is only practising virtue must be instigated by reason [logos], which points out to him what he ought to do, and it is an honourable thing to obey the injunctions of reason [logos]. (145) But we ought not to be ignorant that Moses repudiates the whole of the belly, that is to say, the filling and indulging the belly, and almost renounces all the other passions likewise; the lawgiver giving a lively representation of the whole from one part, starting from a universal example, and discussing, potentially at least, the other points as to which he was silent.
(Allegorical Interpretation III, 142b-145a)

Thus we learn that thru reason we may exercise self control, over the pleasures of the belly, and that this is just one more example for us, of how our rational mind can overcome our passions and inclinations to manifest the virtues.

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Is Torah Compatible with Stoicism?

Ancient Hebraic Stoics appear to have found themselves responding to certain Gentile Stoics, who claimed that Hebraic Stoicism was irrational. This debate between these Gentile Stoics and Hebraic Stoics finds itself cast in 4th Maccabees as a dialog between Antioch Epiphanies and an elderly Jew named Eleazar (shortly before Antioch Epiphanies has him tortured and killed). Antioch Epiphanies states:

[7] …it does not seem to me that you are a philosopher when you observe the religion of the Jews.
[8] Why, when nature has granted it to us, should you abhor eating the very excellent meat [pork] of this animal?
[9] It is senseless not to enjoy delicious things that are not shameful, and wrong to spurn the gifts of nature.
(4Macc. 5:7-9 RSV)

Antioch Epiphanies is making the argument that pork is not only “delicious” but a “gift of nature”. He is indicating that it is un-Stoic not to accept “gifts of nature” since a major tenant of Stoicism is to live in accordance with nature.

Eleazar responds:

[22] You scoff at our philosophy as though living by it were irrational,
[23] but it teaches us self-control, so that we master all pleasures and desires, and it also trains us in courage, so that we endure any suffering willingly;
[24] it instructs us in justice, so that in all our dealings we act impartially, and it teaches us piety, so that with proper reverence we worship the only real God.
[25] “Therefore we do not eat defiling food; for since we believe that the law was established by God, we know that in the nature of things the Creator of the world in giving us the law has shown sympathy toward us.
[26] He has permitted us to eat what will be most suitable for our lives, but he has forbidden us to eat meats that would be contrary to this.
(4Macc. 5:22-26 RSV)

Eleazar is saying that the Torah teaches us the virtues, and that abstaining from unkosher foods teaches us the virtue of self-control. That living a Torah Observant life, even in the face of oppression (even torture and death) manifests the virtue of courage. The Torah teaches us to act impartially in our dealings with others, thus manifesting the virtue of justice.

Moreover Eleazar argues that kosher foods are “most suitable for our lives” while unkosher foods are “contrary to this,” implying that kosher foods are healthier and thus, abstaining from food that is “contrary to [being] suitable for our lives” is itself living in accordance with nature, that is, nature’s Creator.

The ancient Hebraic Stoics believed that Abraham’s faith, was not an irrational faith, but a rational faith in the Logos, the rational intellect which pervades the universe.

In Genesis 15:6 we read concerning Abraham:

“And he believed in YHWH, and He counted it to him for righteousness.”
(Gen. 15:6)

The Targums were ancient Aramaic paraphrases of the Torah and the Prophets.  The official Targum to this verse paraphrases:

 “And he believed in the Word (Memra) of YHWH. And He counted it to him for righteousness.”
(Gen. 15:6 Targum Onkelos)

And Targum Psedo-Jonathan has:

“And he believed in YHWH, and had faith in the Word (Memra) of YHWH, and He reckoned it to him for righteousness.”
(Gen. 15:6 Targum Pseudo-Jonathan)

Philo of Alexandria made a very interesting comment about this verse (Gen. 15:6):

“It is best, therefore, to trust in God, and not in uncertain reasoning, or unsure conjectures. “Abraham trusted in the Lord, and it was counted to him for Righteousness” (Gen. 15:6) And Moses governed the people, being testified to that he was faithful with his whole house. But if we distrust our own reason (LOGOS, Word), we shall prepare and build ourselves a city of the mind which will destroy the truth.”
(Philo of Alexandria; Allegorical Interpretation, III, 228)

The ancient Hebraic Stoics saw Abraham’s faith as a rational faith, and ultimately as a faith in the Logos.

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Inner Logos, Outer Virtues (Parsha VaYakhel & P’kudei)

This week we have a double Torah reading VaYak’hel (Ex. 35:1-38:20) and P’kudei (Ex. 38:21-40:38). These readings deal with the final construction and implementation of the Tabernacle.

Philo of Alexandria sees the Tabernacle itself as representing the idea of “incorporeal virtue” and the alter as representing the idea of “the emblem or image” of virtue “which is perceptible to the outer senses.”:

(134) Let us then look upon the tabernacle and the altar as ideas, the one being the idea of incorporeal virtue, and the other as the emblem of an image of it, which is perceptible by the outward senses. Now it is easy to see the altar and the things which are on it, for they have all their preparations out of doors, and are consumed by unquenchable fire, so as to shine not by day alone, but also by night; (135) but the tabernacle and all things that are therein are invisible, not only because these are placed in the innermost recesses and in the most holy shrines, but also because God has affixed according to the injunctions of the law, the inevitable punishment of death, not only to any one who touches them, but to any one who through the superfluous curiosity of his eyes beholds them. The only exception is, if any one is perfect and faultless, unpolluted by any error whether it be great or small, having a nature entirely even and full, and in all respects most perfect; (136) for to such a man it is permitted once in each year to enter in and behold what is invisible to others, since in him alone of all men the winged and heavenly love of incorruptible and incorporeal good things abides. (137) When, therefore, any one being smitten by the idea is influenced by the seal which gives an impression of the particular virtues, perceiving, and comprehending, and admiring the most God-like beauty of that idea which he is approaching, as having received the impression of that seal, then a forgetfulness of ignorance and folly is at once engendered in him, accompanied by a simultaneous recollection of instruction and learning.
(On Drunkenness 134-137)

(139) And he very often speaks of the tabernacle of testimony, in truth, inasmuch as God is the witness of virtue, to whom it is honourable and expedient to attend, or inasmuch as it is virtue which implants steadiness in our souls, eradicating ambiguous, and doubtful, and hesitating, and vacillating reasonings out of them by force, and revealing truth in life as in a court of justice.
(On Drunkenness 139)

What Philo is saying, is that when reason (Logos) in our rational minds, is master over our passions and inclinations, the living out of the four virtues in our lives results. Moreover, practicing the virtues, strengthens our rational mind against the passions and inclinations.

For example, there is a synchronicity between the mastery of reason over the emotion of fear in our minds, and the manifestation of courage in our lives.

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