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soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Jewish Thought (6/12)
Section - Question 12.13: What about angels, demons, miracles, and the supernatural?

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                                  Answer:
   
   The Torah is full of what western secular culture would (somewhat
   derogatorily) call "the supernatural." Even the most fundamental of
   Jewish beliefs, that there is a Creator, falls into this class--how
   much more so the Torah's recounting of events that include such
   out-of-the-ordinary occurrences as prophecy in its many forms, birth
   of children to very aged parents, the appearance of angels and their
   interaction with the physical world, the occurrence of narrowly
   focussed plagues, the revelation on Sinai with its attendant visions,
   talking mules, the falling of Manna, revivification of the dead, and
   many, many others. Traditional Judaism, in accepting Torah as G-d's
   word, accepts that these things happened, even though western science
   can't currently (and may never) explain them.
   
   As Rabbi Kaplan (z"l) wrote in his [5]Handbook of Jewish Thought,
   paraphrasing Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman (z"l):
   
     "Science does not contradict, or even concern itself with miracles.
     Science deals with the laws of nature, while miracles are, by
     definition, exceptions to those laws. Any disbelief in miracles is
     thus not scientific, but is based on arbitrary prejudices in
     conformity to popular styles of thought. Such a disbelief can
     reduce a person's concept of G-d to a mere abstract philosophical
     idea, abolishing the obligation to serve and obey Him."
     
   In addition, there are traditional Jewish sources (primarily in the
   Kabbalah) that explain the roles that angels and demons play in the
   world, the Jewish version of astrology, and the mechanisms through
   which miracles occur. Let's look at angels for a minute.
   
   Judaism tends to refer to angels as "Ministering Angels", not "Angels
   of the Lord" (a more Christian term). Maimonides, an Aristotilian
   rationalist, lists a hierarchy of angels. In prophecy, we find
   different kinds of angel. In particular, the book of Ezekiel opens
   with a vision of a Divine Chariot. In this vision we encounter the
   following:
    1. Ofanim (lit: wheels Chayos) animals. These give the connotation of
       wild animals: dears or lions, not cows They have four faces, 12
       wings, and one leg.
    2. Serafim (from the verb meaning "to burn")
    3. Chashmalim (no translation; in modern Hebrew, the word "chashmal"
       was drafted to mean "electricity", but that's a 19th cent
       invention)
    4. Ishim (ish means man, but "men" is "anashim"; saying "ishim" would
       be like saying "mans" in English)
    5. Keruvim (transliterated "cherub" in English). These are described
       variously in the Jewish Bible, and are not like our mental image
       of a "cherub". One should avoid the English parallel. In Genesis,
       two keruvim hold swords of revolving fire, guarding the entrance
       to Eden so that man does not re-enter. In Exodus, the top of the
       ark is adorned with two keruvim that have childlike faces and two
       huge wings that make a canopy over the ark. In Ezekiel, the four
       faces of the chayos have are described as being those of a man, a
       lion, an eagle and a keruv. Two verses later, the list replaces
       keruv with a bull. So they're associated with bulls somehow.
       
   Tradition does not take these descriptions literally. For example,
   angels are seen in visions as having one leg because they lack free
   will. They are automata that are "programmed" to do the will of God.
   They therefore lack the power to progress, to improve themselves.
   Man's power for growth, in contrast, is described as "walking". Jewish
   law calls itself "halachah", the way to walk.
   
   In addition, the Talmud tells us that every angel has only one
   mission. Their missions are their names. In most cases, that means
   that they don't last long enough for their names to warrant mention.
   However, some have more far-reaching missions, and their names do make
   it into the Torah or the prayer book. Kabbalistic prayers said by
   Chassidic and Sepharadic Jews sometimes have names that are only to be
   looked at, not read. But the most comonly cited names include:
     * Refael: God Heals
     * Michael (pronounced Me-cha-el, with the /ch/ like in the name
       "Bach"): Who is Like God
     * Uriel: God is My Light
     * Gabriel: God is my strength with conotations of strength of
       character, ability to resist and to stand firm. Not so much power
       or force.
     * HaSatan: the Challenger (he- is a prefix meaning "the"), the angel
       who serves God by giving man challenges that he must resolve in
       the right way. Making the choice of good over evil a choice. This
       is different than the Christian notion of Satan and the Devil.

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Top Document: soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Jewish Thought (6/12)
Previous Document: Question 12.12: What is the Jewish view on the question of "free will."
Next Document: Question 12.14: What do Jews hope/expect of the future?

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