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The prayer Brich Shmeh from the Zohar Vayakhel 206a, which is recited during the Torah service, contains the statement ולא על בר אלהין סמיכנא. All the translations I've seen render "bar elahin" as "angel" following Daniel 3:25, but since it literally means "a son of God" I can't help but suspect that it is a reference to Christianity. Is that what's going on here, and if so, why do the translations always leave it as "angel"?

  • Do you really think a Jewish person believes that Jesus was the son of G-d and would call him that in prayer. – user2709 Apr 25 '13 at 13:51
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    No, I interpreted it as if it were polemical, not as affirming something about Christianity. – Cislunar Apr 25 '13 at 13:53
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    There is a footnote on one of the Rav Soloveitchik publications (I believe it's a machzor Rosh Hashana) that says he omitted that phrase due to its affirming something about Christianity. – WAF Apr 25 '13 at 14:14
  • the wiki page mentions (unsourced) ולכן ב‏‏נוסח של יהדות גרמניה לא הופיעה תפילה זו – rosends Apr 25 '13 at 14:28
  • @shulem, WAF, I don't understand how saying "I don't rely on a son of God" affirms that a son of God exists. (This question is, I guess, on Rabbi Soloveitchik rather than on either of you.) – msh210 Apr 25 '13 at 14:53
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While I have seen online claims that it refers to Christianity (such as here) the connection to it as a posuk from Daniel and a similar connection to tehillim, and even the linguistic statement that "bar" means "outside of" or "except for" (as spoken of here) are as compelling, as is the historical fact that the idea of a leader (religious or secular) being the "son of god" predates Christianity's godhead including Alexander the Great.

  • Good point, so why the need to translate as "angel"? – Cislunar Apr 25 '13 at 13:59
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    "need"? I don't think it is about need, but about the common practice. Daniel 3:25 was written 550 or so years before Jesus' time and used the Aramaic phrase to refer to an angel (from melachim 2, 19:35) so this translation simply predates otehr possible references. – rosends Apr 25 '13 at 14:07
  • Yes, but the Zohar was written well into the Roman era, giving it a different historical context. – Cislunar Apr 25 '13 at 14:10
  • If you accept that it was written in the mid second century it would have been more likely a rejection of Roman divinity claims (cf Peppard's 2011 work) than still nascent Christian claims. – rosends Apr 25 '13 at 14:26
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    Well, better is a tough term. I would still prefer the translation that invokes sefer Daniel which would be "angel" becauser that understanding is 500+ years older. As to the "bettter" status if one includes (a), only Neil Armstrong knows for sure ;) – rosends Apr 25 '13 at 14:30
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The prayer Brich Shmeh from the Zohar Vayakhel 206a, which is recited during the Torah service contains the statement ולא על בר אלהין סמיכנא.

Is the expression “we do not rely on bar elahin” a reference to Christianity?

No. It is a reference to the ancient Jewish tradition of Moses ascending to Heaven1 to take the Torah down to earth, from the Angels (because that's what Vayakhel is about), which are called sons of God in several scriptural passages (such as Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7; see also the Jewish Encyclopedia article on angelology), so that men would not henceforth depend upon the ruling of the heavenly court in matters of Law (see not in Heaven), but rather on the earthly beth din.

1 The ancients, whether Jewish or pagan, saw mountains (Sinai, Olympus, Atlas, etc.) as stairways to heaven.


Why do the translations always leave it as angel ?

Because, in Judaism (just as in Christianity, for that matter), there are many types or groups or classes of angels (cherubim, seraphim, ophanim or galgalim, etc.), and the bene elohim form only a small part of a much larger picture (once again, please consult the aforementioned Jewish Encyclopedia article); in other words, such a translation would probably have been considered too technical or obscure, whereas angel(s), on the other hand, is (for most people, at least) much simpler, clearer, and more straightforward. (Hope this helps).

  • You say that wording refers to the concept that men would "not henceforth depend on the ruling of the heavenly court...but rather on the earthly beth din." But if that's the reference, it seems to contradict what the prayer says: that we do not depend on bar elahin, nor on mortal man, but rather on the God of heaven. Shouldn't it say something like "we do not rely on bar elahin, but on the interpretations of our sages"? – Cislunar Aug 27 at 0:27
  • @Cislunar: (1). Though given through man (Moses) to men (Israel) and meant to be applied by men (beth din) to men (the parties involved), the Torah is nevertheless of divine origin, hence but rather on the God of Heaven. (2). Nevertheless, despite of its aforementioned unearthly origin, men are given by God the power to apply it directly, rather then through angelic mediation, hence not on the sons of God. (3). The judges parse their decisions based on and according to its eternal teachings, rather than their own private and personal whims, hence not on mortal man. – Lucian Aug 27 at 4:43

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