BibleAsk Team

How did the Jews explain the cause of the suffering?

The Jews taught that the sufferings of this life were God’s punishment on sin. This was expressed from the disciples who asked Jesus about the blind man, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Satan the originator of sin and all its results. And he had caused men to view disease and death as coming from God.

But Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (v. 3). The disciples didn’t understand the lesson from the book of Job which showed that suffering is caused by Satan, and is overruled by God for merciful purposes. For those who love Him, God works all things, including the afflictions sent by the enemy, for good (Rom. 8:28).

The cause of suffering according to the Mishnah

The religious leaders said that God would punish a person according to the rule, a measure for a measure. Some examples to that: “In the measure with which a man measures it is meted out to him.” “Samson went after [the desire of] his eyes; therefore the Philistines put out his eyes. … Absalom gloried in his hair; therefore he was hanged by his hair. And because he cohabited with the ten concubines of his father, therefore he was stabbed with ten lances… because he stole three hearts, the heart of his father, the heart of the court of justice, and the heart of Israel, … therefore three darts were thrust through him” (Sotah 1. 7, 8, Soncino ed. of the Talmud, pp. 37, 41).

The cause of suffering according to the Talmud

Some of the religious teachers taught that epilepsy, lameness, dumbness, and deafness came as the result of the transgression of the most trivial traditional rules (Talmud Pesaḥim 112b, Soncino ed., p. 579; Giṭṭin 70a, Soncino ed., p. 333; Nedarim 20a, 20b, Soncino ed., pp. 57, 58).

After the time of Jesus, the Talmud taught, “There is no death without sin, and there is no suffering without iniquity” (Shabbath 55a, Soncino ed., p. 255). “A sick man does not recover from his sickness until all his sins are forgiven him” (Nedarim 41a, Soncino ed., p. 130).

The Jews held that every sin had its specific punishment, and believed it is possible, in specific instances, to decide the guilt of a man by the nature of his suffering. After the destruction of the Temple,  the end of the Sanhedrin, and the end of Jewish rules, Rabbi Joseph instructed that God caused natural disasters upon those deserving death:

“He who would have been sentenced to stoning, either falls down from the roof or a wild beast treads him down. He who would have been sentenced to burning, either falls into a fire or a serpent bites him. He who would have been sentenced to decapitation, is either delivered to the government or robbers come upon him. He who would have been sentenced to strangulation, is either drowned in the river or dies from suffocation” (Talmud Kethuboth 30a, 30b, Soncino ed., p. 167).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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