Torah truths

Judaism’s core concepts can revitalize civilization, writes Rabbi Reuven Hammer.

Torah Revolution (photo credit: Courtesy)
Torah Revolution
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Prof. Reuven Hammer has authored a number of books throughout his extensive career, initially in the US and for the last 40 years here in Israel. Several of those works have focused on aspects of the Torah, since the author, a Jerusalem Post columnist, has been highly involved in the study of that subject. In his new work, The Torah Revolution: Fourteen Truths that Changed the World, his aim “was to discover and to explore those core concepts on which the original religion of Israel was based, as expressed in the Torah.” In so doing, he says, “I have concentrated on revealing the ideas that were espoused when the Torah was first conceived.”
He stresses that he has provided this work so that we do not miss “the fundamental truths of this revolution,” which he believes are critical in fathoming the building blocks of Judaism and other faiths and societies in the world today.
The author divides the 14 concepts of the book’s title into three headings: divinity, humanity and society.
In the first category, he places the notions that God is unique; that no divine power of evil existed; that morality is God’s supreme demand; and that worship is for the benefit of human beings. Under the second: Human life is sacred; all human beings are equal; men and women are equal; human beings have free will. The third category contains the principles that human sovereignty is limited; that the priesthood is divorced from magic; that land and wealth are to be distributed equally; that slavery must be mitigated; that the needy must be cared for; and that there must be a day of rest for all.
Since we live in a time when questions are always arising about Judaism’s core concepts, it is useful to have in one book, concentrated and analyzed, an explanation of what these ideas are.
Hammer, throughout his career, has been able to focus on a particular point in the Torah and elucidate it via traditional rabbinic, midrashic, halachic and Jewish philosophical teachings, making that point understandable to everyone, no matter what school of Judaism they belong to.
In Torah Revolution, the author shows that when woven together, these “value concepts,” as first examined by Prof. Max Kadushin, present a picture of the world and human life that is surprisingly modern and relevant.
His definition is “humanity is one as God is one.” Significantly Hammer emphasizes that human beings are fully responsible for their actions. On the one hand, they have the choice to do good, while on the other hand, they can elect to perform evil. What people must remember, this study shows, is that poverty, deprivation, slavery and hatred are evils that must be eradicated.
The book is inspiring in averring that by following the 14 core concepts, we can revitalize civilization, leading to a more perfect world for all humankind.
At the conclusion of the chapter on morality, for instance, Hammer notes that “the infinite value of ethical living runs directly from Abraham and Moses and the commandments of the Torah” to Psalms and the prophets. “It is a central truth that has had an enormous impact on Judaism and has set a standard of moral living for all humanity.”
Once that came to be, he says, “ritual was forever relegated to second place in the order of God’s priorities, so that the essence of religion became not rite, but right.”
After discussing the importance of caring for the needy, he asserts that “in the end, every nation and every people will be judged by the way in which it treats those who are in need of help and protection. Does it throw them away onto the dust heap, or does it help them to raise themselves, ‘lifting up them who are cast down’?” On this subject, he continues, “the Torah’s position is very clear. A society that does not care for those who are in need violates the will of God, who hears their cry and whose special care and protection are extended to them.”
In this book, the author demonstrates that the great teacher and framer of the 14 concepts was none other than Moses.
“Moses was a religious reformer and a social reformer,” he writes. “We often picture him breaking the tablets of the Decalogue as a symbol of the broken covenant.” However, “he also broke the tablets on which were written the beliefs of Mesopotamia and tore the pages on which were written the beliefs of Egyptian religion.”
This is what the spirit of Moses has truly accomplished through the centuries, he says. “His truths freed human beings from the shackles of ignorance, magic, and superstition and from the tyranny of human despots.” As a result, human beings “have control over their own minds, their own thoughts, and their own lives.”
As we approach the festival of Shavuot, the festival that celebrates the Jews’ receiving the Torah, we can all find truths in Hammer’s book that can provide us with a more relevant understanding of our greatest traditions.