21.8. Judaism’s Relationship to Christianity, as Modeled by the Relationship of Moses and Aaron

As already noted, for Moses the main point of the Temple is revelation, but for Aaron it is atonement for sins. In Moses’ view, man is essentially pure, and he therefore strives to achieve greater closeness to God. Aaron, on the other hand, essentially sees man as a sinner in need of purification and redemption. It is the latter approach that underlies Christianity: man must be purified in order to avoid purgatory. And it was Aaron who, breaking away from Moses, creates the golden calf – i.e., he creates a Shituf religion.

There are many elements in the classical Orthodox Christianity that were borrowed from the Jewish Temple: the priests’ garments, the burning of incense, the altar, and even the symbolism of the sacrifices (in which wine and bread are declared the body and blood of the sacrificial victim). But in the Temple, these elements – the priests, the incense, and the sacrifices – all represent Aaron’s, not Moses’, attribute.

Conversely, the synagogue borrows elements related to the aspects of Moses’ Temple – most notably, the Ark, in which the Torah Scroll is kept, except when it is taken out to be read during the service. The synagogue is thus modeled on the Temple of revelation. In the synagogue, there are no priests wearing special clothes, or altars or incense. And in the same spirit, the synagogue, in addition to its role as a place of prayer, is also a central place of study – for studying the sacred texts and deliberating on them communally, in order to understand their meaning. Lessons in Torah are an integral feature of every synagogue. In the synagogue one finds not only prayer books, but an entire library of teaching materials. The rabbi is primarily a teacher, who teaches his congregants the meaning of Divine revelation.

Thus, we see that the synagogue is a reflection of Moses’ Temple, as described in portion Terumah, while the Christian church is modeled after Aaron’s Temple, as described in the Tetzaveh portion[1].

In the classical Christian service, which realizes Aaron’s attribute, the most important element is the emotional effect – the imagination of the parishioners, and their emotional and aesthetic experience.

But in the synagogue service, which implements the Moses attribute, this aspect is conspicuously absent – there are no special aesthetic effects. The emotionality of the service rests only on the understanding of the texts, and on each participant’s independent reading of the prayers. Even singing, an inseparable feature of the Christian service, finds only episodic use in Jewish worship.

Each of the two religious systems incorporated those features of the Temple that were closest to it. Their differences reflect the overall relationship of Judaism and Christianity, which is also the relationship of Moses and Aaron, respectively.

Moses receives the Torah’s teachings directly from God, but he is tongue-tied – in the sense that he unable to convey these teachings to the masses. But Aaron, although he has no direct and independent access to Divine revelation, knows how to speak so that the masses will understand him.

And by analogy: The Jews are reasonably successful at receiving Divine revelation, and yet they have difficulty conveying that revelation to the rest of humanity. The Jews are often perceived by mankind as “tongue-tied.” Christianity receives revelation through the Jews, but, like Aaron, it knows how to clothe that revelation in a form that is accessible to the peoples of the world. Unlike Judaism in all its complexity, Christianity speaks to people in a language they readily understand, and it therefore turns out to be that very membrane (i.e., interpreter, interface) that Judaism can permeate in order to reach all of mankind.

When Aaron is separated from Moses he creates the golden calf, the “earthly Divine image” that enables the eirev rav (in our analogy, non-Jews interested in monotheism) to acquire their level of connection with God. But this type of connection can function only while Moses is absent. Once Moses returns, contact with God through Moses is restored, and the golden calf is no longer needed.

In a sense, the departure of the Jews from the historical scene two thousand years ago, after the Romans destroyed the Temple and the Jewish state, created the sensation of a vacuum (similar to the vacuum created by Moses’ absence for the Jews who stood at Sinai). This vacuum was subsequently filled by Christianity, which gave humanity a level of contact with God through a religion of Shituf – the “earthly Divine image.”

But in our times, now that the Jews have returned to their Land, the religious structure of the world has changed. As the need for an “earthly Divine image” continues to recede, the religious feeling that was previously directed towards that image can now be corrected.

[1] This is not an absolute distinction, of course. The Jewish synagogue liturgy incorporates prayers that petition for forgiveness of sins (Aaron’s aspect), while the Christian church service includes readings of biblical texts (Moses’ aspect). Nevertheless, we can consider such elements as only supplementary, and not central to the actual essence of each of those services.


Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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