Dear Rabbi Singer,
When you were in Buffalo, NY in November of ‘96, during the extended question and answer time, you were asked your view on angels and specifically about Satan. I was astounded at your answer and was more astounded that the other rabbis present did not step into the discussion.
In your explanation of Satan and other fallen angels you attributed the creation of evil to G-d thus making Him responsible for evil. There are at least 87 references to G-d’s holiness in Leviticus alone! In 11:44 G-d says, “I AM HOLY.” Is not holiness the absence of sin? There are many scriptures to prove that G-d hates sin (evil), that He cannot tolerate evil in His presence. How, then, can you attribute evil to G-d? I am interested in the Biblical support for your statement.
I have a fair understanding of Judaism and have found nothing in all of my reading to support your view as traditional.
Awaiting your reply.
A seeker after truth
The rabbis to whom you made reference devoted their lives to the study of the Jewish Scriptures as well as other sacred literature and were, therefore, not “astounded” by the Judaism that was taught in Buffalo that evening, as you were.
Why weren’t the rabbis surprised by these Jewish teachings on Satan? The Hebrew Scriptures record that the Almighty Himself placed both good and the evil into the world, Click here to listen to Rabbi Tovia Singer’s audio presentation, “Judaism and Christianity on Satan: Why We differ” in order that mankind would have the opportunity to exercise free will. The Torah states:
“See, I [God] have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil.” (Deuteronomy 30:15)
“I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I the Lord do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)
I did not invent these verses, nor did I tamper with them. In fact, the Bible I used in the above quotations is the King James Version, a translation that could hardly be construed as friendly to the Jewish faith.
These edifying verses underscore the fundamental biblical teaching of the Almighty’s divine sovereign plan, which provides that every searching soul must confront evil, as well as good, in order to remain vigilant in one’s personal search for perfect spiritual balance. The Almighty’s gift of freewill to humanity is what separates us from His other creations. For those committed to attaining a higher spiritual existence, the struggle toward a life of virtue is only possible with the existence of evil, which serves as a spiritual counterweight. In other words, righteousness cannot exist unless man is free to choose or reject evil.
Passages in Tanach like Isaiah 45:7 and Deuteronomy 30:15 pose a monumental theological problem for Christians who maintain that God did not create Satan, the angel of evil. According to Christian doctrine, as you state in your question, Satan was the highest-ranking angel who, through his own act of spiritual defiance and outright disobedience, became the chief adversary and slanderer of God, and the embodiment of evil in this world. As you maintained in your question, God never created evil according Christian teachings; He is only the author of righteousness and perfection. Therefore, God could never create something as sinister as the devil himself. Rather, Satan’s unyielding wickedness is the result of his own spiritual rebellion.
Although this well-known Christian doctrine has much in common with the pagan Zoroastrian Persian dualism from which it spawned, it is completely alien to the teachings of the Jewish Scriptures. In fact, this Christian notion that Satan, in an act of outright defiance, ceased to function as God had intended him to, suggests that God created something imperfect or defective.
For the Jewish faith, Satan’s purpose in seducing man away from God poses no problem because Satan is only an agent of God. As a servant of the Almighty, Satan faithfully carries out the divine will of his Creator as he does in all his tasks.
Satan is one of the many angels mentioned in the Bible. It is worth noting that the Hebrew word for angel is malach, meaning “messenger.” The same is true for the English word angel, derived from the Greek word angelos, which also means “messenger.”
Throughout the Bible, an angel is a messenger of God who carries out the divine will of the Almighty. There is not one example in the Jewish Scriptures where any angel, Satan included, ever opposes God’s will.
In essence, Satan is an agent of God, and has no free will or independent existence.
In no part of the Bible is this principle more evident than in the Book of Job, where Satan’s role is prominent. In the first chapter of Job, Satan appears before the Almighty with a host of other angels. Satan suggests that Job’s righteousness was not fully tested. He argues that Job might lose his faith if he were confronted by personal pain and utter destitution. He proposes to God that Job serves Him simply because God protects him. Satan requested permission from God to test Job’s virtue. The Almighty grants this petition; however, He meticulously outlines for Satan what he may and may not do when testing Job. Satan obediently follows his Creator’s instructions.
God removes Job’s protection, allowing Satan to take his wealth, children, and his physical health in order to tempt Job to curse God. Job’s faith is challenged, and by the third chapter he begins to struggle. He questions his Maker as to why he was created and, in a moment of despair, wishes aloud that he had perished in his mother’s womb.
Despite his difficult circumstances, Job does not curse God, but rather, curses the day of his birth. And although he protests his plight and pleads for an explanation, he stops short of accusing God of injustice. Still, by the end of this unparalleled biblical narrative, Job’s virtue prevails over Satan’s unyielding blandishments.
Commenting on the Book of Job, the rabbis express sympathy for Satan’s difficult job, which was to “break the barrel but not spill any wine” (Talmud, Bava Basrah 16a).
While in Christian terms Job’s personal spiritual triumph is theologically impossible, in Jewish terms it stands out as the embodiment of God’s salvation program for mankind. In Deuteronomy 30:15, the Torah attests to this principle and in Isaiah 45:7, the prophet echoes this message when he declares that the Almighty Himself creates evil.
This biblical principle, however, was apparently too problematic for the Christian translators of the fundamentalist New International Version Bible. They clearly grasped that a Bible which asserts that God creates evil, calls into question Christendom’s rigid teachings on salvation.
How can the Church insist that man is totally depraved, when his God placed him in a world where he is free to choose good over evil? How can the Church hold to the doctrine of Total Depravity1 and Unconditional Election,2 when the Torah commands that man express his freewill? How can Christians maintain that God did not create evil when the Jewish Scriptures clearly state otherwise?
Understandably, the New International Version translators saw fit to alter the prophet’s words by rendering the offensive Hebrew word רָע (rah) as “disaster” instead of correctly translating it as “bad” or “evil.” The New International Version Bible therefore mistranslates Isaiah 45:7 to read:
“I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.”
The word “disaster” inserted by the New International Version is misleading and purposely ambiguous so that the uninformed reader could conclude that this word refers to natural disasters, such as typhoons, earthquakes and hurricanes. This dubious translation was deliberately forged to conceal the prophet’s original message. As mentioned above, the King James Version correctly translates this verse, and renders the Hebrew word רָע (rah) as “evil.”
One final point is in order. Christians often point to the fourteenth chapter of Isaiah as a biblical reference to support their teachings of the final and complete downfall of Satan, which brings to an end the long and otherwise successful career of this fallen angel. Castigating Babylonian leaders, the prophet states:
“How you are fallen from heaven, O morning star! You have been cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations!” (Isaiah 14:12 )
Christians argue that Isaiah’s mention of the fallen “morning star” refers to the ultimate demise of Satan at the end of time, when he will finally be cast into an eternal lake of fire, not as ruler, but as one among many, being tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10).
There are, however, two serious problems with this assertion. First, if Christians maintain that the “morning star” is a reference to Satan, how do they explain Revelation 22:16 where Jesus is called the “morning star” as well? Secondly, a cursory reading of the fourteenth chapter of Isaiah reveals that the “morning star” spoken of in Isaiah 14:12 is referring to Nebuchadnezzar, the wicked King of Babylon, and not to Satan. The prophet explicitly names the king of Babylon as the subject of the prophecy.
Throughout this and the preceding chapter of Isaiah, the prophet foretells the rise and fall of this arrogant Babylonian king who would use his unbridled power to plunder Jerusalem and destroy its Temple but, ultimately, would suffer a cataclysmic downfall. In 14:12, Nebuchadnezzar is compared to the planet Venus whose light is still visible in the morning, yet vanishes with the rise of the sun. Like the light of Venus, Nebuchadnezzar’s reign shone brilliantly for a short time, yet, as the prophets foretold, it was eventually overshadowed by the nation of Israel whose light endured and outlived this arrogant king who tormented and exiled her.
Rabbi Tovia Singer
1. Total Depravity (also called absolute inability) is a Church teaching that derives from the Augustinian concept of original sin. It is a core part of a Protestant theological system which stresses the absolute futility of human action to attain salvation. This doctrine asserts that as a consequence of the fall of man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin. Accordingly, this doctrine argues that man does not have genuine free will to choose God and faithfulness over sin and iniquity. This idea is contravened by every admonishment contained in the Jewish Scriptures, where God calls sinners to repent:
Therefore tell the people: “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to Me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Zachariah 1:3)
“but if ye return unto Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though your outcasts were in the uttermost part of the heavens, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen, to cause My name to dwell there.” (Nehmiah 1:9)
2. Although the doctrine of Unconditional Election is drawn from the doctrines adopted by the Catholic Church Father Augustine (354-430), Protestants widely revere him as one of the theological fathers of Reformation due to his teaching on Christian salvation. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo (present-day Annaba, Algeria), was among the most anti-Semitic of all the Church fathers.
Unconditional Election is a teaching which asserts that before God created the world, he elected to save some people to go to heaven. This election is considered to be one aspect of predestination in which the Church teaches that God selected certain individuals to believe in Jesus. Those elected, receive mercy and will find Christianity irresistible, while those not elected, the reprobates, are sent to hell without condition. Thus, those who embrace this Church doctrine, hold that God chose to save specific people, regardless of their sins, merits, or any condition. This basically means, God’s act of saving is not based on what man can do or decide. Rather, man is selected by God without any conditions of man’s actions or deeds, but solely by God’s choosing.
It is difficult to imagine a Christian doctrine that is more alien and hostile to the clear, warm teachings of the prophets of Israel. Uplifting passages that oppose these Christian doctrines appear prominently in every book in Tanach. The message of the Jewish faith is clear: human volition plays the central role in salvation:
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
“And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.” (Joshua 24:15)
(c) Tovia Singer 2011