Why are there no Jewish monks and nuns?

November 1, 2021 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Ask the Rabbi

Rabbi Raymond Apple


Q. Why are there no Jewish monks and nuns?

A. Judaism has had its ascetics, but normative Jewish teaching does not approve of withdrawal from the world.

JH Hertz points out in his Torah commentary that the famous chapter 19 of Vayikra presents holiness not as a flight from reality but a program of holiness within reality – not being holy by abandoning the world but engaging with the world and living a holy life in the midst of marriage, business, agriculture, etc.

The monastic life seems to view the world as irredeemable; the Jewish thinkers speak of the holy and the not-yet-holy.


Q. Someone told me that the laws in the Torah were taken from the code of Hammurabi. Could this be correct?

A. Whoever told you this is a hundred years out of date.

Scholarship has long rejected the view of Franz Delitsch who, in 1902, wrote in his “Babel and Bible” that the laws of the Torah were mostly taken from Hammurabi.

Since Moses had a sophisticated education, he might have known of the Hammurabi code but it is a gross exaggeration to derive the Torah from Hammurabi.

The two more or less share certain principles, probably because every society has a system of justice.

The differences are massive, especially when it comes to the spirit of the laws.

Hammurabi has a cruel policy towards slaves whereas the Torah treats the servant as a human being. Hammurabi lacks the Torah feeling for the poor and downtrodden, the orphan and the widow, the servant and the stranger, and the Torah spirit of love and mercy.

Hammurabi also lacks the Torah sense of service and support for others, the spirituality and Godliness of the human community.

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