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How does Judaism explain evil?

Discussion in 'Judaism DIR' started by lilithu, Oct 2, 2005.

  1. lilithu

    lilithu The Devil's Advocate

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    Namaste Yall,

    I've been struggling with the theology of evil, how to explain it. So I'm hoping to gain some widsom from your tradition. The reason I come to you guys is because I think we share some similar beliefs. Personally, I don't buy the idea of an external source of evil, like the christian Devil. I think it absolves the person of responsibility. ("The Devil made me do it.") On the other hand, I don't buy the idea of an internal source of evil. I believe that we are all "made in the image of God" and that creation is "good." Therefore, humans are essentially good but imperfect.

    But if evil doesn't have an external source and evil doesn't have an internal source, then I can only conclude that evil is not a thing in and of itself but merely the result of the absence of good, the way that dark is the absence of light. Evil exists where good fails. Logically this makes sense to me. But emotionally it is difficult to accept. If evil is merely the result of our imperfection, how do we explain torture and genocide? How can that much evil, which seems so actively virulent, be simply the result of the absence of good?

    So as I said, I am hoping for some insight from Judaism. Thanks,
    -lilith
     
  2. Deut 13:1

    Deut 13:1 New Member

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    I'll be honest, I really don't understand what you're asking. . .

    Like, if you're asking what the purpose of angels are? Or if you're asking do we believe in a satan who rebelled against Hashem? or what?
     
  3. lilithu

    lilithu The Devil's Advocate

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    12,031
    No, why does evil exist? What causes it?
     
  4. Deut 13:1

    Deut 13:1 New Member

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    The kabbalah and Chassidut explain that the origin of evil is goodness and that G-d created evil so that it would tempt man and thereby promp him to overcome the temptation thereby bring out qualities in him that would otherwise not be accessible.
     
  5. jewscout

    jewscout Religious Zionist

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    that, from what i understand, is the role of Satan in Judaism, not a dualistic sort of thing, but rather as an angel (i've also heard him referred to as Samael) who tempts us only so that we may overcome temptation and make ourselves better people and closer to G-d (the whole Jacob's ladder thing)
     
  6. Deut 13:1

    Deut 13:1 New Member

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    1,199
    Correct, although we don't believe Satan rebelled against Hashem, we believe he is ful-filling the purpose that Hashem gave him. For more proof just look to the story of Abraham and the 3 angels that visit him in the guise of men. ;)
     
  7. lilithu

    lilithu The Devil's Advocate

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    12,031
    So both good and evil come from God? I know that there is a verse in Isaiah that says this ("I am the God of both good and evil, etc.") but did not think it was a central belief.

    And evil exists because it is necessary to help us express our likeness to God? I realize that this is not a debate forum and honestly my intent is to learn not argue, but I find this answer to be unsatisfactory. (Then again, I have found all answers on evil to be unsatisfactory, so it's nothing specifically against Judaism's answer.) I think this answer works fine for "small evils," if one call them that - the everyday obstacles that we encounter. I can imagine that God lets us fail the way that a parent lets a child fail in order to learn. However, a parent would never let his child walk off a cliff or be murdered right in front of him, without trying to intervene.

    Jewscout, hopefully you know me well enough to trust that I say this with great respect for Judaism:
    If one believes that God has the power to stop great great evils like the genocide of defenseless innocents and yet permits it, or even is behind it as some sort of learning experience, then I can easily understand why so many Jews lost their faith during the holocaust. Surely your rabbis have wrestled with this question in the aftermath of the holocaust and come up with something more?
     
  8. jewscout

    jewscout Religious Zionist

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    yes it is a question, i think, has been wrestled a great deal in the aftermath of the Holocaust (and even before then as well i imagine).
    there are, i'm sure, many possible answers as to why HaShem allowed the Holocaust to happen, more than i'm sure i know of. For some no answer is sufficient enough to explain how or why this occured, and any answer one presents will be met as an apologetic answer to excuse this horrible atrocity. But i do not believe it is an excusing of this event, rather a way for those who have faith and have kept faith in the face of this horrible event, to come to terms with what happened to them and their families.
     
    lilithu likes this.
  9. lilithu

    lilithu The Devil's Advocate

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    12,031
    Thank you Jewscout, for your honest answer.

    I am personally tired of apologetics and am perfectly willing to accept that sometimes we don't know the answer. (What I cannot accept is any answer that belittles the suffering of the people - any answer that says it was their fault, or that it's no bad in the grand scheme of things.) As I said, I have looked through many different faith traditions to see how they explain evil and none of them are sufficient in my book and certainly I can't come up with anything better. But honesty and faith go a long way. :)

    I wish you a blessed Rosh Hashanah. May you observe it surrounded by those you love.
     
  10. Kowalski

    Kowalski New Member

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    Human nature is the short answer to that. The dark is in all of us, but when it's out, it's really out there.

    Where does anybody want to start the annals of evil from ? People have been massacaring other people since they first settled the land. Human nature has got worse, not better.

    K
     
  11. standing_on_one_foot

    standing_on_one_foot New Member

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    Then there's the business with the inclination towards both good and evil (what were the names? yetzer ha'ra and yetzer ha'tov, or something like that). I don't believe humans are innately good, personally, any more than I believe we're innately bad. But we've certainly got the potential to go either way.
     
  12. lilithu

    lilithu The Devil's Advocate

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    Kowalski, I think I like you. I bet we agree on more things than not. But you don't seem to understand the concept of the forumS. Last time we locked horns because you were criticizing the bible in the biblical debates forum. This time it's the Judaism forum. I asked the question in the Judaism forum because I specifically wanted an answer from the Jewish perspective.

    Thanks,
    -lilith
     
  13. lilithu

    lilithu The Devil's Advocate

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    12,031
    Thanks. What do the names refer to?

    I was basing my argument that humans were innately good on the fact that we are created in the image of God. But I realize now that built into that argument is the assumption that God is only good. If, as has been suggested, God is not only good but both the source of good and bad, then "made in the image of God" does not suggest innate goodness. Perhaps it does not imply any kind of moral judgement. Perhaps it only means that we humans are capable of creation in our own limited capacity.

    But what about the fact that God looked upon creation and pronounced it "good." Wouldn't that suggest that we are good? In Christianity, the interpretation is that we were good but the eating of the forbidden fruit caused us to "fall", and therefore we are no longer good. But my understanding of Judaism is that there is no fallen state. Adam and Eve ate of the fruit and for that they were driven out of paradise. End of story. So if creation was good before the first sin, isn't it still good now? Aren't we still good?
     
  14. standing_on_one_foot

    standing_on_one_foot New Member

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    The inclination towards evil and the inclination towards good, the idea being that people have both.

    Hmm...gotta say, if the OT is any indication, G-d isn't all good, as your average human would call it. Anyhoo, where would free will be if you didn't have a choice between being good and bad? And I'm inclined to say that the "it was very good" was not so much a moral judgement as just a "dang, this is a cool place" kinda thing :p

    Creation's still good, yes. People? Well, no longer innocent, anyway. Free will comes into the picture and suddenly, oh dear, you've got a choice between good and evil, which is bound to bring evil in at some point. I suppose if you call that fallen...I don't think that state is inherently bad, but it's got the potential to be. Got the potential to be better than before, too. I think overall humanity's a good thing, despite all its problems. I think the world is better off existing than not, and I think the same about humans, so I'd still call it "good," at least for a given value of good.

    Just to go a bit into my personal view on human nature (which is a Jewish view, I guess), I think human nature exists for the good of humans, so in that sense it is a good thing. I don't think it in and of itself is a moral thing either way. All depends on how you use it. People are moral or immoral, not human nature.

    I have been rambling a lot of late, haven't I? Eh, that'll happen in the middle of the night :p
     
  15. lilithu

    lilithu The Devil's Advocate

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    12,031
    No rambling that I've noticed. This conversation has been extremely helpful to my understanding of Judaism. Thank you! (It's doesn't help me much with my personal theology of evil, but I'll give it some more thought.) By talking with you guys I've discovered one more Christian assumption about God that I bring to how I interpret the Hebrew scriptures. (God is good.) It's hard to recognize one's own assumptions because they're so engrained. I remember the epiphany moment that I had in class one day while reading the book of Job. I had been interpreting the story with the assumption that God was omnisicient and actually did know what was in Job's heart and frankly, I couldn't understand His motivation for putting poor Job through all that. My professor asked me how I knew that God was omniscient, and I realized that I didn't know that from the text at all. No where in Job does it say that God is omniscient. That was something that I brought to the text because it had been taught to me in Lutheran school. (God is omnisicent. God is omnipotent. God is omnipresent.) Once I removed that assumption, the text made a lot more sense.

    Similarly, removing the "God is good" assumption changes the whole picture of evil and its relation to humanity. (Tho I'm not sure I'm personally willing to jetison that premise yet.)

    Can I ask you this? Isn't it a basic tenet of Judaism that God punishes the wicked and rewards the good? (At least this is what I've read in textbooks.) And with respect to your last post, let's change the wording to "God punishes those who do wicked things and rewards those who do good things." Isn't it a basic tenet of Judaism that God is just? If so, what does it mean to say that God is just but not good?
     
  16. Kowalski

    Kowalski New Member

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    817
    You like me, well that's nice :) I like your cheese too ;P

    Cheers

    K
     
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