Is the belief in supernatural characters and events restraining Judaism? Is it preventing us from restoring the institutions of the Temple? In this article, I will address the harm caused by believing in fantasies when there is real work to be done to restore the Torah and the national institutions of Judaism.
I have explained my position on Talmud and Rabbinical authority elsewhere, so I will reiterate the core of my complaints here only briefly: Why would anyone want to substitute the opinion of a mere mortal man for that of divine revelation? To pervert the meaning of the text based upon a man’s interpretation is clearly wrong. Adding significantly to the commandments listed and brushing aside inconvenient passages by technicality clearly violate Devarim (Deuteronomy) 4:2 which clearly commands us neither to add to nor to subtract from the commandments given. The Pharisee/Rabbinical tradition departed from the ancient Israelite beliefs and ventured into new territory. Now, it has led to Hassidism which includes belief in infallible men (Rebbes), sorcery and idolatry (Kabballah), and a cult-like devotion to irrational beliefs. All of these things are very clearly incompatible with Judaism. Orthodox Jews remain dedicated to the Rabbinical tradition in spite of its obvious failings. Some Orthodox Jews do not venture into the heretical beliefs of the Hasidim, but too few and these groups are losing ground. The belief in the supernatural and mysticism have been very harmful to all forms of Judaism.
Karaite Jews remained loyal to the traditions and practices of ancient Judaism even as Rabbinical Jews broadly departed from them. Our movement counts the Omer correctly, uses the calendar provided by the Torah rather than the Babylonian calendar, and continues to remain close to what is written in the Mikra (Hebrew Scriptures). I do have some disagreements with Karaism at times but I joined the Karaite Jews because theirs is the closest religious community to my own beliefs.
Like Rabbinical Judaism, Zoroastrianism has had an influence on Karaism. As with most Middle Eastern Jews, Islam has likewise exerted an influence. These lead to the belief in an afterlife, a magical future Mashiach, and a belief in one universal End Times. When one believes in these concepts, it is easy to read these ideas into the words of the prophets. An objective reading of the Prophets reveals nothing close to these concepts.
It is very convenient to believe in the supernatural, it simplifies belief and allows one to proceed through life with a weakness of faith. Imagine a person who believes in Superman, an alien visitor to Earth with super-human, supernatural powers. He stands for “truth, justice, and the American way…” So, everyone can sit tight and stand aside. No one has any moral responsibility to help others because the caped hero will do the dirty work.
In Judaism this manifests itself in religious laziness. There is no need to restore the priesthood, reiterate the jurisprudence of Torah into a workable national law in modern times, or rebuild the Temple. All of that hard work will be done for us when a magical character arrives in the future. It is more difficult to understand that real, ordinary people are heroes and they don’t wear capes. A person who saves a life, who helps another who is in distress, or who encourages or guides another responsibly to achieve their maximum potential… These are real heroes who, with Hashem’s help, work real miracles each and every day around us. People are keen to miss these miracles because they are busy looking for supernatural ones.
My position is occasionally attacked claiming that I don’t believe in the prophets. Of course I believe in the prophets! They warned the Israelites of their time of coming doom if the people did not repent and get on the right path. They warned those around them that they would all soon be forced into exile where they would be oppressed by foreigners and disallowed to practice their beliefs. The prophets of that time told the people not to desire the end of days, for it would be the day of judgement for the Israelites; a terrible catastrophe. Indeed, the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel by Assyria and the siege of Jerusalem by Senherev (Sennacherib) were terrible tragedies. Yet, Hashem saved Jerusalem because the people had turned from wickedness. Later, the Kingdom of Yehudah (Judah) would face its end days, its own day of judgment at the hands of the Chaldeans (Babylonians). But the prophets also gave a message of hope: Yechezkel (Ezekiel) describes in poetic imagery the bodies rising from the dirt in the valley of dry bones, thus the nation would be revived.
Seven decades later, the Jews were liberated by Cyrus and Darius and allowed to return to the land and restore Jerusalem and the Temple. Everything the prophets warned about was fulfilled, averted (or averted for a time), or otherwise came to pass. Indeed, Zechariyah chapter 1 is very clear that the prophecies had been fulfilled in that time. It is clear from the beliefs the historian Josephus ascribed to the Sadducees (Zadotike priests) and the Pharisees of his time, that most Jews believed the prophecies had been long fulfilled.
Why would anyone believe in Yeshaiyahu (Isaiah) if none of his prophecies came true? Why would King Ahaz care what might happen two millennia in the future as Yeshaiyahu stood before him to say there would soon be an heir to the throne who would be a great leader. Curiously, the great King Hizkiyahu (Hezekiah) was born shortly thereafter… I believe Yeshaiyahu, and the other prophets warned the people in that time of what was about to happen and gave them hope that in the end after many horrors and struggles, the nation would be restored. What could be a stronger proof of faith then that the prophecies came true? If they did not, or have not yet, then why would these prophets be relevant?
I believe the prophets were real prophets, whose prophecies were true and came true in a way the people of their time could understand. These prophecies were concluded 2500 years ago. Again, what credibility would these prophets have if their prophecies were as yet unfulfilled? Why wait for future magic when the time is at hand to take action to restore the Jewish nation? It makes some sense that Rabbinical Jews would be hesitant about national restoration. After all, when there is a priesthood and a Temple, why would anyone listen to the Rabbis? The restoration of Torah-based institutions poses a direct threat to Rabbinical authority. So one can understand their hesitation.
Still, the belief in the supernatural, in a coming magical age, restrains Jewish aspirations. In his time, the Prophet Haggai called upon the Israelites to rebuild the Temple and restore the Torah institutions. Everyone knew what to do, they simply had to take action to make it happen. Haggai’s words ring as true today as they did then. If Jews could free themselves from these supernatural beliefs, it would be possible to restore the Torah and bring about a golden age of Judaism. Until then, we are wasting our time believing in fantasies.