Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Satan in Judaism-playing devil's advocate

Dear Tanta Golda,
At our book club meeting this month, one of my friends brought up this interesting question: If Adonai is perfect, how could he have created Satan, the embodiment of evil? We don’t talk about Satan much in Judaism, so we were at a bit of a loss. Can you help?
Bookishly Bewildered

My dear Bookworm,

Ah, when a bunch of scholars get together such interesting questions arise!
To begin with, not wanting to hurt your friend’s feelings, he is basing his premise on two fallacies. The first is the misconception that Jews believe Adonai is infallible. This is Christian dogma, not necessarily Jewish. Now, I’m not saying that Jews believe God goes around making mistakes at the drop of a hat. But let me make two points.

First, let us look at two prayers which are said everyday that heap praise on God. Avot: “The great, mighty and awesome God, supreme God...Sovereign, helper, rescuer, and shield...” Kaddish: “Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, honored, magnified, and adored…” 
Nowhere in this litany does it saw “perfect, infallible, unerring, or faultless”.  I mean, wouldn’t you think that would be in there somewhere?

Second, if Adonai were unerring, why would God have remorse after the flood? “Tanta Golda, She did?” Yes! That is why She made a convent with Noah, sealed with the rainbow. Another example - the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. If God were unerring, would Abraham have stood a chance in ‘negotiating’? Wouldn’t God know whether the whole city was bad,or if there were fifty or ten good people within? And what about Lilith-God’s direct creation...

Now, the big question: Satan
My darling nephew Ethan wrote a paper for college (such a smart boy) about Satan in the Bible, and I’m going to use his research to help answer your question.  Believe it or not, the Torah does not mention Satan, at least not as the evil being that seeks the downfall of Humankind.

The original Hebrew term Satan is a verb that means “to oppose or obstruct” it is often found with the article “ha-” which translates to “the”. Ha-Satan appears thirteen times in the Masoretic Text, a word specific version of the Tanakh. The Masoretic Text/Tanakh includes not only the Torah (Jewish Bible), but also writings of prophetic scholars, and selected other Jewish stories. In it, ha-satan appears 3 times in Zechariah and 10 in Job. It appears another ten times without the article “the” elsewhere, and it is more often than not translated as ‘opposer’ or ‘adversary’.

For example, in the story of Baalam and his ass going off to curse the Israelites- Numbers 22:22 “God's anger was kindled because he (Balaam) went; and the angel of the LORD placed himself in the way for an adversary (לְשָׂטָן-l’satan) against him.” Here we see an angel acting as an adversary of Balaam at Godʼs command. Hardly the fallen angel, evil, soul-sucking, tempter of the Christian Bible.

In fact, out of the twenty-three different times that the word satan or ha-satan is used in the Jewish texts, not one time do they mean devil. Where did this concept come from? Honestly the answer in brief: mistranslations by the Greeks and other scholars along the centuries.

Thank you for your wonderful question! Much love and Happy Hannukah - TG