Yair Lorberbaum at Davar

I gave a run down of what actually was taught and discussed in an earlier post. He did not present his books.
For those not familiar with his work. Lorberbaum has his doctorate in Jewish thought from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a professor at Bar-Ilan University’s Faculty of Law.

His book: Image of God: Halakha and Aggadah [Hebrew] Schocken: Tel Aviv and Jerusalem 2004 His recent book is: Subordinated King, Kingship in Classical Judaism, Bar Ilan Press: Ramat Gan, 2008 (forthcoming in English: Continuum [2011]).

His first book showed that the mythic ideas of the Talmud about the human person as literally the image of God in which the human was also in the physical image of God and that human were raised to a divine status. In turn, these ideas were continued and developed in diverse ways by Maimonides and Nahmanides.

From a review by Joshua Kulp

The central thesis of Lorberbaum’s book is that according to the rabbis, the meaning of imago dei is that there is tangible divine presence within every human being. This concept impacted primarily upon two areas of halakhah: the death penalty and procreation. Since humans are physical representations of God, execution is equivalent in some ways to deicide. Conversely, procreation is strongly mandated because it increases God’s physical manifestation in the world by creating more vehicles in which to embody God’s presence.

Importantly, as “images” of the divine, human beings function as icons in a manner similar to the way idols function in the pagan world; they draw God’s presence into themselves, blurring the borders between representation and form. Finally, the drawing of God’s presence into the human body dictates that human beings are embodied with significant theurgic powers.

God’s presence in man pertains, according to the Tannaim, to all the components of his psyche, as to the physical ones” (Image of God, p. 19).

A central image that nurtures the halakhic process and provides a basis for the tangible bond between God and man is the “King and His imagery” model. Thus, for example, the midrash from Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael:

How were the Ten Commandments given? Five on one tablet, and five on the other. By writing “I am the Lord your God,” and opposite it, “You shall not murder,” Scripture states that if anyone sheds blood, Scripture regards this as if he diminishes the image of the King. This is comparable to a flesh-and-blood king who entered a province, and portraits of him were set up, images were made of him, and coins of him were minted. Some time later, his portraits were overthrown, his images were smashed, his coins were canceled, and thus diminished the image of the king. So, too, if anyone sheds blood, Scripture accounts it for him as if he diminishes the image of the King, as it is said [Genesis 9:6]: “Whoever sheds the blood of man … for in His image did God make man” (Image of God, p. 301).

Lorberbaum takes note of the manner in which a single idea is explicated in different circumstances, thereby functioning as a sort of curator of works of art whose depth is realized when they are placed one next to the other. This is a breathtaking act, that enables us to follow the series of interpretive processes from which the Rabbis’ worldview was built.

The book ends with a chapter that describes the transition from the focal point of sanctity in the Temple to the conception that man is the location of the current domicile of the Godhead on earth. This process, that began in the early Pharisaic literature, intensified upon the destruction of the Temple: “Although God had left the Temple, He did not desert the earth. To the contrary, in many senses He is much closer, because He is present in man (in every man), who is made in His image” (Image of God, p. 468).

The second conclusion is halakhic. In one of the key sentences in his book, Lorberbaum argues that the idea of the image of god is not the personification of God, but a claim of the divine dimension in man. Patently, any fundamental myth (whatever it may be) does not exempt us from the mission, the Sisyphean effort, to establish the image of God in man in our actions: in the activity of educators and medical staff, who cope on a daily basis with the patient’s flawed image of God; in the courts, the media, the army.

His forthcoming book Disempowered King Monarchy in Classical Jewish Literature studies the conception of kingship, and its status, powers and authority in Talmudic literature. The book deals with the conception of kingship against the background of the different approaches to kingship both in Biblical literature and in the political views prevalent in the Roman Empire. In the Bible one finds three (exclusive) approaches to kingship: rejection of the king as a legitimate political institution – since God is the (political) king; a version of royal theology according to which the king is divine (or sacral); and a view that God is not a political king yet the king has no divine or sacral dimension. The king is flesh and blood; hence his authority and power are limited. He is a ‘subordinated king’.

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