Author Archives: Rabbi Theodore Friedman

About Rabbi Theodore Friedman

Rabbi Theodore Friedman, Ph.D. (1908-1992), served for many years as rabbi of congregations in Jackson Heights, New York, and South Orange, New Jersey. He later lived in Jerusalem, where he taught Talmud to students from the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano (Buenos Aires).

Jewish Law, Shabbat, and the World to Come

“Beth Shammai”(the “house” of the first-century rabbi named Shammai) was one of two frequently opposing schools of thought in the early development of rabbinic law, often locking horns with “the house of Hillel.” It was the latter whose formulations, frequently more lenient, were accepted in most cases as normative by later generations. This article, like “Shabbat as a Preview of the Perfected World,” is excerpted with permission from the Fall 1967 issue (Vol. 16, no. 4) of Judaism, published by the American Jewish Congress.

Generally speaking, it is the Sabbath halakhah of Beth Shammai that directly reflects this concept [of the Sabbath as preview of the world to come] with amazing literalness. It is not that the Shammaites were more rigorous in their views, but rather that they sought to translate the concept Sabbath-Olam Haba [“world to come”] into literal reality. While the Hillelites accept this basic notion, they cannot accede to its literal rendering. To do so would be to make the Sabbath an impossibly oppressive day and defeat the very purpose of the Sabbath. 

A few examples drawn from the Sabbath halakhah of Beth Shammai should suffice to illustrate the direct line that links it to its source, the aggadic-mythological concept [of the Sabbath as foretaste of the perfected world].

Killing is Inconsistent with Harmony

We read in the Tosefta [a collection of rabbinic rulings from the centuries just prior to 200 C.E., parallel to the Mishnah], “Beth Shammai says: ‘One does not kill a moth on the Sabbath.’ Beth Hillel permits.” The Shammaite view is elaborated upon by one of its most distinguished adherents, Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus (in the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 12a), “He who kills a vermin on the Sabbath is as if he slew a camel.” The view reflects the notion that the perfect peace and harmony that will prevail between man and all living creatures in the world-to-come must prevail on the Sabbath, the foretaste of that world.

Things Which Will Not Be Necessary in the World to Come

Biblical Sources on Shabbat and the Perfected World

This article, like “Shabbat as a Preview of the Perfected World,” is excerpted with permission from the Fall 1967 issue (Vol. 16, no. 4) of Judaism, published by the American Jewish Congress. The concepts of a messianic era and a “world to come” are sharply distinguished by some Jewish thinkers, less so by others. In Rabbi Friedman’s usage here, the terms overlap.

One perforce asks: What is the source of this aggadah [i.e., the statement and belief that Shabbat is a foretaste of the World to Come]? Is it merely a rabbinic conceit, a product of the freewheeling poetic fancy of the masters of the midrash [the interpretive tradition, especially through the creation of narrative], like so much else to be found in its imaginative palaces? We suggest that its actual source, its point d’appui, is to be sought not in rabbinic fancy, for which there is no accounting, but in the biblical text itself. The reiterated, even if only implied, biblical parallels between the Sabbath of Genesis–Adam’s life in the Garden of Eden before his expulsion–and the end of days could not have been lost on the [ancient rabbis]. Consciously or unconsciously these parallels–the latter time as the return of the Edenic conditions–must have registered on the rabbinic mind. 

Material Abundance and the Meeting of Our Needs

The equivalences and parallels are unmistakable. A glance at them should prove convincing. One of the striking aspects of the messianic time, according to the Prophets, will be an extraordinary material abundance. Amos (9:13,14) declares, “Behold, the days are coming, saith the Lord, and the plowman shall follow upon the reaper.” The Prophet Joel (4:19) asserts, “And it shall come to pass, that the mountains shall drip sweet wine and the hills shall run with milk.” Such descriptions are to be found repeatedly in Isaiah (6, 7, 30:23), in Jeremiah (31:12), and in Ezekiel (34:13,14). Isaiah adds a distinctive original note to the effect that in the latter days, Israel’s work will be performed by strangers, “And strangers shall arise and graze your flock, and the sons of strangers shall be your fieldmen and vintners” (61:6,7; 60:10).

Shabbat as Preview of the Perfected World

While Rabbi Friedman’s use of the masculine to represent all people may well strike today’s reader as antiquated, his exposition of this concept through the range of traditional Jewish sources, and its implications for our time, hopefully will not. Excerpted with permission from Judaism 16:4 (Fall 1967).

A Generative Principle Behind Shabbat Legislation

The laws of the Sabbath, according to the graphic description of the Mishnah, are like mountains suspended by a hair. By that description, the Mishnah intends the fact that the Sabbath halakhah [complex of laws], exceedingly extensive, complex, and detailed, stands on a very narrow, limited biblical base–actually, the merest handful of biblical verses. So paradoxical a situation can only be explained by the assumption that at work in the enormous proliferation of the Sabbath halakhah in the talmudic period was some general concept of the nature of the Sabbath which the [ancient] Rabbis sought to concretize in detailed halakhic terms.

shabbat as a perfect worldIn his classic essay, “Halakhah and Aggadah,” [the 19th-20th century Hebrew poet Hayim Nahman] Bialik lays down this sweeping generalization, “The halakhah is the final, inevitable concretization of the aggadah [the non-legal portions of Jewish writings].” No more striking and cogent illustration of the truth of this statement can be found than that offered by the halakhah of the Sabbath. What was that general concept?

While it finds a variety of expressions in talmudic literature, all of them, in the end, give voice to the idea that the Sabbath is the anticipation, the foretaste, the paradigm of life in the world-to-come. The very abundance of such statements is the surest evidence of how deep-rooted and widespread that notion was in the early rabbinic period. A few of the more typical statements may be quoted.

We meet the concept in the Mishnah [the earliest rabbinic law code, c. 200 C.E]. We find it in the Gemara [or Talmud, commenting and expanded on the Mishnah] and [in the classical works of rabbinic] Midrash, and we encounter it, again and again, in kabbalistic literature. At the end of [the mishnaic tractate] Tamid we read: ” ‘A Psalm, a song for the Sabbath day’ [Psalms 92:1]–a song for the time-to-come (le’atid lavo), for the day that is all Sabbath rest in the eternal life.” The Sabbath, the Gemara asserts [in Berakhot 57b], is one-sixtieth of the world-to-come.