Did the Talmud Suggest G”d Has a Head? Learning to Interpret Rabbinic Legend

August 17, 2012

English320px-Talmud_setAdam Kirsch, writing in Tablet Magazine, mentions his astonishment, as he took up the daily regiment of Daf haYomi (a folio from the Babylonian Talmud every day), upon discovering some of the stranger Aggadot (rabbinic exploration of a non-legal nature, particularly legends, metaphors and exegisis). Thus, astounded at the Talmud teaching that G”d, too, has tefillin, he writes:

… the question nags: How exactly can God wear tefillin? Can we imagine God with an arm and a forehead? The rabbis apparently could, quite literally…

While noting that later commentaries dealt with his questions, Kirsch is still convinced that the Talmud tolerated or even championed views that are nowadays theologically problematic.

While Kirsch brushes upon a separate issue, on which a lot has been written, namely, whether there could exist a view in the Talmud which becomes halakhically obsolete (for example, Rabbi Hillel’s view that the Messiah had already come in the days of Kind Hezekiah), he mostly stumbles upon the nature of the entire genre of Aggaddah/Aggaddeta. So let’s ask his question the other way around. Did the Talmud really suggest that G”d puts on tefillin, and that He consequently has an arm and a head to wrap those around? Read the rest of this entry »