February 17, 2012
Fri, February 17, 2012
Adult Education Sermon for A Year of Asking Jewish Questions: What’s Yours?
February 17, 2012 – Mishpatim, Exodus 23:20f.
In this week’s Torah portion of Mishpatim we read a very confusing passage. Mishpatim means “laws,” and the portion begins with almost three chapters of them, from prohibitions of stealing oxen, to seducing virgins, to Exodus 23:19, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk,” which is the reason given for why kosher Jews cannot have cheeseburgers, or chicken parmesan, or all those cheese on meat sandwiches at Quizno’s. But, then in verse 20, the portion completely changes focus as it continues:
20] I am sending an angel (malach – ltkn) before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have made ready. 21] Pay heed to him and obey him. Do not defy him, for he will not pardon your offenses, since My Name is in him; 22] but if you obey him and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes.
23]When My angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I annihilate them. 24] you shall not bow down to their gods in worship or follow their practices, but shall rear them down and smash their pillars to bits. 25] you shall serve the Eternal you God, who will bless your bread and your water. An I will remove all sickness from your midst. No woman in your land shall miscarry or be barren. I will let you enjoy the full count of your days.
So, before I answer tonight’s question, “Do Jews Believe in Angels?” we see from our Torah portion the answer to the question that might precede it, “Are there angels in Judaism?” The answer from this week’s Torah portion must be, unequivocally, YES. And then we get into the most complex part of this exploration: “What kind of angels do we find in Torah and Jewish texts and prayers?
It is imperative that we precede an answer to tonight’s question with these questions, as we would if you asked me the question, “Do Jews believe in God?” First, I would have to ask you which God of the 5772 years of Jewish historical writing and belief you were referring to. For, I am not sure that any of us believe in the God described in our portion this Shabbat who goes to battle with us and makes promises that clearly can’t be kept.
The last time I tackled this topic was October 1997. At that time, I asked a series of questions to answer the adult ed question I was asked, “Do Jews have angels?” which is a bit different than asking whether you and I believe in angels… perhaps a tougher question. I answered the question with a series of questions I would like to revisit tonight.
Let’s begin with questions:
Do Jews have angels? Yes, absolutely.
Are there angels in the Torah? Again, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
Cherubic angels guard the entrance to the Garden of Eden.
Angels foretell of the birth of Isaac.
An angel stops Abraham from killing Isaac.
Angels ascend and descend Jacob’s ladder.
Cherub angels in Exodus 25:22, in next week’s portion, are fabricated from gold to serve as guardian angels for our most sacred ark.
Are there angels in the rest of Jewish literature? Yes, in every period. From Biblical to the Apocrypha and Pseudopigrapha (explain those), to the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Talmud, Mystical Judaism, Medieval Rationalists and Mystics, to Modern Chasidic Judaism, to current Reform Jewish liturgy, angels have been, and continue to be, a part of Jewish belief and writing.
Have mainstream rabbis and thinkers acknowledged the existence of angels in Judaism? Oh, my, yes.
Although the Sadducees, the priests of the first century, opposed the existence of angels, even though the Torah is filled with them, angels prevail in Jewish writing and belief as witnessed by the Maccabees invoking an angel to help them fight Sennacherib’s army.
Sometimes it is hard to see where the scholarship ends and the folklore begins. Rabbinic literature reworks the whole book of Esther we will read in a few weeks. It has the angel Gabriel preventing Vashti from going to the king. Three angels go to Ahasuerus’s palace with Esther. One of them moves the king’s scepter to let her into his chamber, another points her finger at Haman, because she was set to place the blame for the decree on Ahasuerus, and the angels throw Haman on Esther’s couch. They are the orchestrators of God’s story and add the divine to a book void of the mention of God. (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah)
As rationalistic as he was, even Maimonides described ten ranks of angels, although he was extremely vocal that angels are never intermediaries in our communication with God. Throughout Jewish history great thinkers have discussed and speculated on angels, to the present day work of the scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz whose work on angels, both the good and the bad, from the Kabbalistic perspective in our world, is well known.
What do angels look like? Men, children, you and me.
Genesis 1:26 “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’”
In the book of Daniel we read in 10:5, 6:
“I lifted my eyes, and looked, and behold a man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold. His body also was like beryl and his face as the appearance of lightening, and his eyes as torches of fire, and his arms and his feet like in color to burnished brass, and the sound of his speech was like the voice of a multitude.”
What do angels do? Rabbi Gunther Plaut, of blessed memory, says in the Torah Commentary that they are “superior beings with special powers.” Open your TaNakH, your Jewish Bible. Angels speak, sit, stand, walk, climb ladders, fly, ride horses, use weapons, escort people to heaven or hell, bring prophecy, dialogue with God, act as God’s cabinet – as a sounding board and in advisory roles, worship God and sing in God’s heavenly choir (Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh), do God’s bidding, record our deeds in the Book of Life, carry divine messages (malach means messenger), act as heavenly janitors and security guards, lift peoples spirits and help people in time of need (remember the angel who was with Hagar when Abraham cast her out?), and serve as God’s escort service to heavenly realms and even to Sheol, our Jewish equivalent of a dark place after death.
Angels get different jobs because they are task oriented. Two angels will go home with you tonight to help you through Shabbat and bring you peace.
And that Angel of Death is also on God’s payroll..Samael, Satan, is part of God’s cabinet and you can keep him away by giving tzedakah and studying Torah…surprise, surprise.
Angels can be powerful, dreadful, endowed with wisdom – 1000 angels will sit at our Judgment Day and we need only one to vote for us to avoid punishment, but they must all be unanimous to convict.
Angels are holy, but fallible. They can fight each other, and they can make mistakes. Angels can fall. Two or three angels are said to accompany us to escort us from life to death in Jewish thought.
Do Jews become angels when we die? This is our first “no.” With the mulititude of sources about angels, nowhere does it describe anyone becoming an angel at death with the perhaps the exception of Elijah, who is never buried and roams the earth. But, I would prefer to say that he is not an angel, but a prophet who remains with us. For Judaism, angels are beings that exist separate from humans and separate from our afterlife, should you choose to believe in one as constructed by our Jewish forefathers. Angels are part of God’s court, recording our deeds, singing as heavenly hosts, and serving a variety of jobs as God sees fit.
So, now we finally can ask, “Do most modern Jews believe in angels?” There I would answer “no.” If asked, most modern Jews don’t even realize that Jewish angelology even exists. Most modern Jews are influenced by the past 150 years of rationalism and anti-mysticism. In fact, I can’t recall any serious discussion of angels or belief in their existence the entire time I was in rabbinical school, except for trying to explain away why our Biblical ancestors needed such a metaphor in the Torah. We were always taught to look for times when Jews borrowed from other cultures. For example, angelology became very popular in 13th century Germany. Rabbi Eliezer of Worms wrote, The Book of Angels at a time when Jews needed to compete with the preponderance of angels among their Christian neighbors.
I believe that there is more discussion of belief in angels today as the ultra-Orthodox hold on to and expand upon the belief. We are also living in a Jewish age more friendly to mystical Jewish texts, like the Zohar, and the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah.
We have never worshipped angels the way some worship saints or other intermediaries. Angels work for God, even as there was always a fear that a belief in them would rival God. God chooses when the angels act and appear in Jewish texts.
There was, over time, a ceding of angels to Christianity through the amazing art and development of the Christian view of angels. Interesting that in Colossians 2:18, the New Testament accuses Jews of angel worship, or at the very least that belief in such things disqualified one from the true Christianity.
You might ask…
How many angels are there? An infinite number, which is why the angels told God that humans weren’t needed. Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, an early respected rabbi, said there were 12 constellations (mazzalot), each with 30 armies, thousands upon thousands of them.
Do Jews have guardian angels? Well, surprisingly, yes. Medieval rabbinic literature has angels assigned to every human being. (Pesikta Rabbati 44:8)
So we see that there has been an abundance of writing about angels in Judaism and for millennia Jews truly believed they existed. Although, we may just see angels as metaphor, our prayerbook is filled with them:
We welcome the angels of Shabbat with Shalom Aleichem.
Boachem l’shalom, malachei hashalom.
We continue to teach that the Baruch shem kivod line of the Shema, which is not part of Deuteronomy 6:4f. was the angelic response to hearing Israel recite the Shema.
And from the Book of Daniel 9:21 and 10:21, we know that angels have names: Gabriel and Michael, although in the book they are referred to as a man and a prince in some translations. Jewish lore has established that there are four angels who attend God’s throne: Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, Penuel… the “el” part of each name means “God” and shows that a part of God dwells within each one…and the Shechinah hovers over them all.
The jury is out. It is up to you to believe what you wish. All Jewish tradition asks is that you believe something from within Jewish sources. Just recognize that Jewish angels are everywhere.
So we are going to sing and read about these four named angels tonight, and read a meditation about angels in our new prayerbook that was inspired by David Kleinman.
You ask what I believe. In 1997, with Morris Margolies’s book, A Gathering of Jewish Angels and the Encyclopedia Judaica as my primary resources for study, the discussion of angels was purely academic for me. Up until recently, I would have continued to say that angels are metaphors for all that we seek to explain in our world. But, recently, I have begun to think that maybe they are more real than that:
When Ryan Cernohorsky went to Afghanistan, I wrote a prayer for him, which contained the following
“May the angels of God protect you:
Michael – the messenger of God
Gabriel – the strength of God
Raphael – the healing power of God
Uriel – the light of God
We pray that you are surrounded while you are at war on all four sides: a messenger, strength, healing and the light of God, that you will return to us whole and safe.”
When Ryan returned home from war, whole and alive, his first words to me were,
“I felt the angels, Rabbi. They kept me safe.”
I guess I believe more, now.
I suppose wanting to believe is what really matters.
(as I researched this sermon in 1997, I regret that some of the references I would have liked to include here are missing. Some day, with more time, I will find all of them and update this piece
Late and modern Judaism
According to rabbi Leo Trepp, in late Judaism, the belief developed that, "the people have a heavenly representative, a guardian angel. Every human being has a guardian angel. Previously the term `Malakh', angel, simply meant messenger of God."
Instead, a Jew prays at home and in the synagogue: they invite God into their daily lives in the blessings they recite each day, and they are reminded of and connect to the will of God while also studying and discussing – on a daily basis – the Word of God.What do Jews worship in? ›
Jewish people worship in holy places known as synagogues, and their spiritual leaders are called rabbis.What religions believe in angels? ›
In Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In the Western religions, which are monotheistic and view the cosmos as a tripartite universe, angels and demons are generally conceived as celestial or atmospheric spirits.Do Jews pray to angels? ›
In Jewish liturgy
Before going to sleep, many Jews recite a traditional prayer naming four archangels, "To my right Michael and to my left Gabriel, in front of me Uriel and behind me Raphael, and over my head God's Shekhinah ['the presence of God']."
Shamayim (Hebrew: שָׁמַיִם šāmayīm, ' heavens') is the dwelling place of God and other heavenly beings according to the Bible. It is one of three components of the biblical cosmology.What God do the Jews pray to? ›
Traditionally, Judaism holds that Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the national god of the Israelites, delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and gave them the Law of Moses at Mount Sinai as described in the Torah.Who is the God of Jews? ›
Israelite tradition identified YHWH (by scholarly convention pronounced Yahweh), the God of Israel, with the creator of the world, who had been known and worshipped from the beginning of time.What do Jews use to pray? ›
Tefillin (phylacteries) are a set of small cubic leather boxes painted black, containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah. They are tied to the head and arm with leather straps dyed black, and worn by Jews only, during weekday morning prayers.What are 4 beliefs of Judaism? ›
A summary of what Jews believe about God
- God punishes the bad.
- God rewards the good.
- God is forgiving towards those who mess things up.
Judaism, the first and oldest of the three great monotheistic faiths, is the religion and way of life of the Jewish people. The basic laws and tenets of Judaism are derived from the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.How do Jews worship in the home? ›
The home is a place where Jews will often pray and worship. They will recite the Shema, they will place a mezuzah on each door-frame in the house (apart from the bathroom) and they will observe Shabbat.Which religion does not believe in angels? ›
Hindus do not believe in angels as portrayed by Christianity and Islam because these angels are created by God/Allah, but they do believe in the asparas and gandharvas, who are distinct heavenly beings but lesser beings than the gods. Buddhism also believes in the existence of gandharvas.Where in the Bible does it say not to worship angels? ›
The primary contact point in the New Testament is the condemnation of the “worship of angels” in Colossians: "Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind" (Colossians 2:18)Is it right to pray to angels? ›
The Bible says, "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14). But the Bible also clearly teaches that we aren't to worship angels or pray to them.What do the Jews believe about the Holy Spirit? ›
In Judaism, the Holy Spirit (Hebrew: רוח הקודש, ruach ha-kodesh) refers to the divine force, quality, and influence of God over the universe or over God's creatures, in given contexts.Do Jews believe in saints? ›
The veneration of saints is not a practice one normally associates with Judaism. Nevertheless, hagiography (i.e. the writing of the lives of saints) emerged as one of the most popular genres of Jewish narrative in the early modern period.Why do Jews pray to God? ›
Prayer builds the relationship between God and human beings. Jews, like other people of faith, pray in many different ways. The important things about prayer are: You should do it with total concentration on God-there should be nothing else in your mind.Do Jews believe cremation? ›
For thousands of years, Jewish law has held that burial in the ground was the only acceptable option for the Jewish faith. And yet today, despite tradition and continued opposition from some in the Jewish community, many Jews are choosing cremation instead of – or as part of – traditional burial.What happens after death in Judaism? ›
Jews believe in a life after death - the immortality of the soul and the physical resurrection of the body at a time in the future. If the patient and family have already discussed their concerns, refer to them for your guidance. If not, discuss them now and ask them if they would like you to contact their rabbi.
Many Jews believe that after a person dies, his or her soul doesn't simply vanish. A part of that soul remains with the body, stuck in a kind of limbo until burial. It's the job of the shomer, or shomeret if it's a woman, to comfort the deceased's soul.Can Jews eat pork? ›
Both Judaism and Islam have prohibited eating pork and its products for thousands of years. Scholars have proposed several reasons for the ban to which both religions almost totally adhere. Pork, and the refusal to eat it, possesses powerful cultural baggage for Jews.Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? ›
Most mainstream Muslims would generally agree they worship the same God that Christians — or Jews — worship. Zeki Saritoprak, a professor of Islamic studies at John Carroll University in Cleveland, points out that in the Quran there's the Biblical story of Jacob asking his sons whom they'll worship after his death.Can Jews say Yahweh? ›
Observant Jews and those who follow Talmudic Jewish traditions do not pronounce יהוה nor do they read aloud proposed transcription forms such as Yahweh or Yehovah; instead they replace it with a different term, whether in addressing or referring to the God of Israel.Where in the Bible does it say God's name is Jehovah? ›
The Geneva Bible (1560) translates the Tetragrammaton as Jehovah in Exodus 6:3, Psalm 83:18, and two other times as place-names, Genesis 22:14 and Exodus 17:15. In the Bishop's Bible (1568), the word Jehovah occurs in Exodus 6:3 and Psalm 83:18.Which is world's oldest religion? ›
The word Hindu is an exonym, and while Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world, many practitioners refer to their religion as Sanātana Dharma (Sanskrit: सनातन धर्म, lit.What is the most important prayer in Judaism? ›
The Shema is regarded by many Jews as the most important prayer in Judaism. This is because it reminds them of the key principle of the faith - there is only one God. This is a monotheistic principle. This part of the Shema is taken from the Torah : Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.Why do Jews wrap their arms? ›
The usage of tefillin, also called phylacteries, dates back to scriptural commandments in the books of Deuteronomy and Exodus urging the faithful followers to comply with religious law and to “bind them as a sign upon your arm.” Rubinstein says the binding of the arm and the discomfort users often report may serve as a ...What are the 5 rules of Judaism? ›
- You shall have no other gods but me.
- You shall not make or worship any idols.
- You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
- You shall remember and keep the Sabbath day holy.
- Respect your father and mother.
- You must not murder.
- You must not take someone else's husband or wife.
Christianity emphasizes faith in Jesus Christ, who gives grace, empowerment, and guidance for living the moral life.  Judaism teaches a life of holiness through performing mitzvot and emphasizes the importance of adhering to the Bible's standards of social justice as laid down by the Prophets.
- Circumcision (covenant of Abraham)
- Adulthood: Bat-mitzvah, bar mitzvah.
- Menstrual purification (Mikvah--purification bath)
- Death and Mourning: ...
- Dietary laws (Kosher foods): ...
- Daily prayer: Morning, afternoon and evening.
The temple in Jewish life refers to the temple built in Jerusalem that was the central place of worship. And the synagogue, historically and today, has served as a gathering place for prayer, instruction, and community. It continues to be central to Jewish life today, as it was in the time of Jesus.Why do Jews have private prayer in the home? ›
Private prayer in the home
Some Jews may even believe that it is not necessary to attend the synagogue daily and choose to pray at home instead. These private prayers take many forms: Jews often pray as soon as they wake up by using water to purify themselves for the day ahead. They thank God for waking them.
In Judaism the home is often regarded as the most important place of worship and includes prayers, observing Shabbat , celebrating festivals and studying the scriptures. Many Jews believe that praying regularly at home helps to build their relationship with God.Do Muslims believe in archangels? ›
Jibrīl/Jibrāʾīl/Jabrāʾīl (Arabic: جِبْرِيل, romanized: Jibrīl; also Arabic: جبرائيل, romanized: Jibrāʾīl or Jabrāʾīl; derived from the Hebrew גַּבְרִיאֵל, Gaḇrīʾēl) (English: Gabriel), is venerated as one of the primary archangels and as the Angel of Revelation in Islam.
Belief in the Angels of God: Muslims believe in angels, unseen beings who worship God and carry out God's orders throughout the universe. The angel Gabriel brought the divine revelation to the prophets.What religion only believes in God? ›
The three religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam readily fit the definition of monotheism, which is to worship one god while denying the existence of other gods.Do Catholics pray to angels? ›
"Angel of God" (Latin: Ángele Dei) is a Roman Catholic traditional prayer for the intercession of the guardian angel, often taught to young children as the first prayer learned.Does the Bible say not to pray to saints? ›
The good news is that we don't need to pray to Mary or to the saints in order to be heard by God. Jesus made this wonderful promise: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:3).Do angels watch us? ›
God commands many angels to guard us. God commands those faithful spirits who are nearest to Him, who come from Him and are marked by Him to guard us in all our ways. God's promise through the psalmist to Jesus applies to us as well.
Catholics do not pray to Mary as if she were God. Prayer to Mary is memory of the great mysteries of our faith (Incarnation, Redemption through Christ in the rosary), praise to God for the wonderful things he has done in and through one of his creatures (Hail Mary) and intercession (second half of the Hail Mary).What religion believes in guardian angels? ›
The view that there are guardian angels watching over children has been a significant belief in the popular piety of Roman Catholicism. Angels are also regarded as the conductors of the souls of the dead to the supraterrestrial world.Who is the guardian angel of Israel? ›
Alongside archangel Michael, Gabriel is described as the guardian angel of Israel, defending this people against the angels of the other nations. In Kabbalah, Gabriel is identified with the sephirah of Yesod. Gabriel also has a prominent role as one of God's archangels in the Kabbalah literature.Who is the Angel of Death in Judaism? ›
Azrael (/ˈæzriəl/; Hebrew: עֲזַרְאֵל, romanized: ʿǍzarʾēl, 'God has helped'; Arabic: عزرائيل, romanized: ʿAzrāʾīl or ʿIzrāʾīl) is the angel of death in some Abrahamic religions, namely Islam, Christian popular culture and some traditions of Judaism.What is forbidden in Judaism? ›
In the Hebrew Bible, sexual relationships between siblings are forbidden to Jews but permissible to Gentiles (non-Jews). The relationships forbidden by Leviticus 18 are: One's genetic relative (Leviticus 18:6) One's mother (Leviticus 18:7) One's father (Leviticus 18:7)
The scriptures are clear about the role of “ministering angels,” as Mormon testified: “It is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief.” (Moro. 7:37.)How do you know if an angel is with you? ›
When angels are near, some experts say you may notice a cool breeze, a dip in temperature in the room or feel a warm, loving presence close by. Some have experienced ringing in the ears or tingling on the crown of their head, which they believe are signs that the angels are trying to communicate.Is archangel Michael Jesus? ›
Jehovah's Witnesses believe Michael to be another name for Jesus in heaven, in his pre-human and post-resurrection existence. They say the definite article at Jude 9—referring to "Michael the archangel"—identifies Michael as the only archangel.Who is the leader of the angels of God? ›
Michael the Archangel, in the Bible and in the Qurʾān (as Mīkāl), one of the archangels. He is repeatedly depicted as the “great captain,” the leader of the heavenly hosts, and the warrior helping the children of Israel.Who was the angel that went before the Israelites? ›
Jehovah's Witnesses teach that the angel who brought the Israelites into their promised land and would not pardon transgression because God's name was in him (Exodus 23:20–21) was "God's firstborn Son", the pre-existent Christ, also called the archangel Michael, the Prince of the people of Israel mentioned in Daniel 10 ...
Judaism is no stranger to angels. Jewish scriptures only name two — Michael and Gabriel, mentioned in the Book of Daniel, plus Raphael who appears in the apocryphal books of Enoch and Tobit.What 4 angels are mentioned in the Bible? ›
Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael are always mentioned; the other archangels vary, but most commonly include Uriel, who is mentioned in 2 Esdras.Who created the angels? ›
According to the Summa Theologica, angels were created instantaneously by God in a state of grace in the Empyrean Heaven (LXI. 4) at the same time when he created all the contents of the corporeal world (LXI. 3). They are pure spirits whose life consists in knowledge and love.Do Jews allow condoms? ›
Almost all Jewish authorities would permit the use of condoms to protect against sexually transmitted infections. Unlike some faith traditions which view abortion as murder, Jewish law does not consider abortion as such because the fetus is not considered a 'life' or a 'person' with independent rights.What is the unforgivable sin in Judaism? ›
One eternal or unforgivable sin (blasphemy against the Holy Spirit), also known as the sin unto death, is specified in several passages of the Synoptic Gospels, including Mark 3:28–29, Matthew 12:31–32, and Luke 12:10, as well as other New Testament passages including Hebrews 6:4–6, Hebrews 10:26–31, and 1 John 5:16.Can Jews eat icecream? ›
Dairy. This includes all foods containing or derived from milk, such as butter, cheese, yogurt and ice cream. These products must come from milk from a kosher animal and be processed on equipment kept completely separate from meat.