THE JEWISH UTOPIA
MICHAEL HIGGER, Ph. D.
THE LORD BALTIMORE PRESS
The non-Jewish world will be surprised to learn of a Jewish Utopia. The great masses of Christians are brought up under the erroneous notion that the Golden Rule, " Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself ", was proclaimed first by Jesus. To inform them that it is already found in the Book af Leviticus, 19, 18, would be for them an additional proof of rabbinic " legalism". To the average Christian theologian; Judaism and Jewish nationalism terminated with the destruction of the Second Temple, and rabbinic writings since that period consist mainly af legal dicta and regulations. The Talmud is thus catalogued under" philology" at some of the otherwise liberal Christian Theological Seminaries. Under such a system of Christian education, which is imbued with the spirit af a trinity of dogmatism, prejudice, and ignorance, no non-Jew would expect a plan for reconstruction of a suffering humanity to come from the Talmud and cognate rabbinic literature.
Let us, therefore, listen to the opinion of a Talmudist of the fourteenth century, concerning the ideal World. R. Menahem ben Aaron ibn Zerah was a Spanish codifier, and thus a "legalist". At the end of his code, Zeda la-Derek, he says: "It is a fact well-known to every one who would admit to the truth. . . that many predictions of the prophets concerning a Utopia for Israel and mankind have not been fulfilled . . . as, for instance: “And the Lord shall be King over all the earth; in that day shall the Lord be one, and His name one” l; “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall
not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” 2. Nations are producing more swords and ammunition than in any other time in the past; wars of nation against nation are greater and fiercer than ever before. . . ." 3
Charges of a similar nature are found in one of the late Midrashim: "The congregation of Israef says to the Lord: Master of the Univers e, many good prophecies have the prophets of old prophesied, and not even one of them has been fulfilled. Jeremiah said, Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old together 4; Hosea said, Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea 5; Joel said, And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down sweet wine 6; Amos said, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper 7; Isaiah said, The mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the top of the mountains 8; and, finally, it was said, There shall yet old men and old women sit in the broad places of Jerusalem 9 ; - and we do not see any one of these predictions realized. " 10 .
The two quotations indicate the key-note to the philosophy underlying the rabbinic Utopia. An ideal society among the family of nations, as visualized by the prophets, although not realized as yet, will ultimately be achieved. Nations will come, nations will go. Dogmatic Christianity has come, dogmatic Christianity will be gone. "Isms" have created nations, " isms " will destroy nations. Capitalism has brought happiness and woes to mankind; communism may bring its paradises and hells to mankind. Doctrines have shaped the destinies of peoples, doctrines may bring destruction to peoples. But the millennium will come only when the nations of the earth direct their efforts toward the visions of the prophets, and make function the teachings of Amos, Isaiah,
and Micah. Only then will the day be ushered in, in which the ideal world and our present era will, in the language of a Palestinian Amora, " kiss each other, as a sign of the arrival of the new era, and the departure of the old ".11
Unlike Plato's Republic, where the ends sought are political rather than spiritual, the motive of a Prophetic-Rabbinic Utopia is the spiritual perfection of human society. In the Republic, to be sure, the supreme virtue in the ideal commonwealth is Justice. But Plato is chiefly concerned with what will hold the ideal city together. The rabbis, on the other hand, are mainly interested in that ideology which would hold the whole world, or the Universal State, together. The ideal behind the Jewish Utopia is spiritual and ethical harmony.
Furthermore, the main purpose of the Republic is to discover the reasons for the merits of Justice over injustice. But to the spiritual leaders in Israel, this was no problem at all. That Justice was superior to injustice, the. rabbis knew from common sen se, as well as from centuries of sad experiences of Israel.
A similiar contrast may be discerned between modem conceptions of a Utopia and the rabbinic conception. In Bacon's New Atlantis ", science is the key to universal happiness. Campanella's "Civitas Solis" pictures a communistic society. H. G. Wells's Utopia is a worId community. It is a single civilization whose "net of posts, rules of laws and order, are the same in all communities throughout the world". The unit of social life in these schemes varies from, the family, as in More, to the world, as in Wells. The main limitation of these plans, including that of Wells, is that they are onesided. Their authors do not consider the necessity for a spiritual revolution, or for a transvaluation of values. They build their ideal structures on the faulty foundations of the present system.
A Jewish Utopia begins where Wells leaves off. It starts with the world as the basis of the new social life. From that viewpoint, the rabbis picture first a scheme of a transvaluation, of spiritual, intellectual, and material values, and a complete spiritual transformation. Having laid this foundation of the new, ideal order, the Jewish idealists proceed with the rest of their plan, and complete the super-structure of their Utopia. In that part of the structure, there are, to be sure, a few common elements in the rabbinic and the other Utopias; as, the ideals of common interest and mutual helpfulness; cooperation supplanting competition in the new social order; the toil of industry being reduced to a minimum, and thus permitting a higher cultural and intellectual life. Like the other Utopians, the rabbis were aware of the evils of the present conditions, but optimistic as to the potentialities of mankind in the future. They believed mankind to be a pro- gressive organism endowed with marvellous powers and capabilities, with endless capacities for moral, ethical, and intellectual development.
Some modern Jewish thinkers maintain that Judaism developed historically along the same lines as Christianity, in that it was mainly interested in the other world, the world of the soul; Judaism considered this world as a vestibule to the world to come. It was only the period of the modern reform movement that brought a change of attitude toward this world. According to this view, traditional Judaism was not primarily concerned with the worthwhileness of life in this world.
That this theory is absolutely fallacious, one learns from the fact that, alongside the views that this world is a preparation for the next, rabbinic literature contains numerous passages describing the kind of ideal life that nations as well as individuals must lead so that a universal paradise of man- kind might be established in this world - with no reference to
the future world whatever. In fact, the yearning for an ideal life in this world, as found in rabbinic writings, may be much older than the theory that this world is merely a vestibule to the next world. For that yearning is rooted in the teachings of the Prophets, who were mainly concerned with an ideal life of universal peace and brotherhood in this world. The following is a striking illustration: R. Simeon ben Eleazor, a Tanna of the fourth generation, states that the wicked are punished and the righteous rewarded, in this world, for, in the next world, u his breath goeth forth, he returned to his dust ".12 There may be some relation between this view of R. Simeon, and another statement quoted somewhere else in his name, namely, that he who is prompted by love to perform ethical and religious acts is greater than he who is prompted to them by fear. 13 At any rate, is not the first statement in direct opposition to the doctrine that this world is merely a vestibule to the world to come?
A picture of a Jewish Utopi a on earth is given in a very old source, namely, in the Sibylline Books. The passage describing an ideal city is found in the oldest portion of the Sibylline Books, and is undoubtedly of Jewish origin. Here is an extract of it, in accordance with the version rendered by Charles: "There is a city Camarina down in the land of Ur of the Chaldees, from which comes a race of most righteous men, who ever give themselves up to sound counsel and fair deeds. . . . These diligently practise justice and virtue, and not covetousness, which is the source of myriad ills to mortal men, of war and desperate famine. But they have just measures in country and city, nor do they carry out night robberies one against another, nor do they drive off herds of oxen and sheep and goats, nor does a neighbour remove his neighbour's landmarks, nor does a man of much wealth vex his lesser brother, nor does anyone afflict widows but rather assists them, even ready to supply them with corn and wine
and oil. And always the wealthy man among the people sends a portion of his harvest to those who have nothing, but are in want, fulfilling the command of the Mighty God, the ever abiding strain: for Heaven has wrought the earth for all alike." 14
It is commonly charged against the teachers of religion that all they can do for us is to give us consolation in our present afflictions and lead us to hope for future happiness in the world to come ; that all that the church wants is more souls for heaven. These accusations certainly cannot be made against Judaism. From the time of the prophet Amos down to the close of the Mediæval period, the problem of improving the material conditions of Israel and of mankind in general, was the main concern of the spiritual leaders in Israel. This is apparent from even a cursory glance at the prophetic and rabbinic writings..
The underlying Jewish attitude is, as Abravanel has pointed out throughout his work, Mashmi'a Yeshu'ah, that the major predictions of the Prophets concerning universal peace and happiness were not realized during the Second Commonwealth; nor have they been fulfilled by Christianity. The basis of the Rabbinic Utopia is, therefore, the millennium pictured by the prophets. The rabbis occasionally give a coloring of their own; but this plant rooted in prophetic soil was watered with the moisture of Israel's age-long experiences since the days of the prophets. What are these roots of the prophetic idea of a paradise an earth, as, understood by the rabbis? The answer to this will be the burden of the following chapters.
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