Conservative Judaism/good vs evil

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Question
Dear Rabbi Barry,

I was wondering the perspective of the devil to Judiasm. I looked up some things on the internet and found something saying that the devil is an agent of G-d. This is confusing to me because I think of the devil as bad. What I read said that he wasn't bad. But doesn't he tempt people and want them to fail. This was shown in the story of Adam and Eve. I need to feel that I understand this because I am currently working in a Jewish preschool. I am Christian and I have a Jewish boyfriend. Could you please help to clear this up for me?

Thank you,

Lauren2

Answer
Dear Lauren,

Thank you for writing.

Let's be very careful with "terms" and "names" as Judaism differs from religions that believe in demons, evil angels and the like.

Judaism does not view “Satan” with the same connotation as other religions.

First of all, however, if you are working in a Jewish pre-school it would be most appropriate for you to speak with the Rabbi of the congregation for that synagogue's preferred answer, especially if and when it arises with students.

Secondly, if you are seeing a Jewish boyfriend, why not sit down with his Rabbi and ask the same question(s) to put you and perhaps him as well on the same page with his Rabbi and how he was educated Jewishly.

Next, please be careful in what sources you read online. There are different "streams" or denominations in the Jewish community. In addition, there are multiple Christian and Muslim theologies speaking about Judaism and for themselves. This is why you should find a reliable local Rabbi and teacher.

Finally, for myself. the textual references I understand as Maimonides wrote interpreted so often, are metaphors rather than realities or real existent beings.  The metaphor explains for those early centuries the individual "explanations" of  bad judgment of human beings, evil choices, of "temptation," etc.

I do not interpret these Hebrew terms except metaphorically and can not accept the real existence of any "being" or "creation" such as demons, devils, angels, etc.

I wish you well and encourage you to speak with a local Rabbi.

If it is helpful, I am including a citation from the newest Encyclopedia Judaica on  this subject. You might want to share this with the Rabbi with whom you consult.

Best wishes and thanks for writing

Rabbi Dov

"SATAN (Heb. שָׂטָן). In the Bible, except perhaps for I Chronicles 21:1 (see below), Satan is not a proper name referring to a particular being and a demoniac one who is the antagonist or rival of God. In its original application, in fact, it is a common noun meaning an adversary who opposes and obstructs. It is applied to human adversaries in I Samuel 29:4; II Samuel 19:23; I Kings 5:18; 11:14, 23, 25, and its related verb is used of prosecution in a law court (Ps. 109:6) and the role of an antagonist in general (Ps. 38:20[21]; 109:4, 20, 29). . . .

References in the tannaitic literature are even more sparse, and, with few exceptions, Satan similarly appears merely as the impersonal force of evil. Thus Tosefta Shabbat 17 (18):3 states: "If you see a wicked man setting out on a journey and you wish to go by the same route, anticipate your journey by three days or postpone it for three days, because Satan accompanies the wicked man." The same trend is seen in the injunction "Open not your mouth to Satan" (Ber. 9a; see later), which, though given in the name of an amora, is stated "also to have been taught in the name of R. Yose." R. Johanan's statement of Satan persuading God about the Akedah is also given in the name of a tanna, Yose b. Zimra. The Sifrei (to Deut. 218), making the rebellious son the inevitable consequence of the father succumbing to the beauty of a female captive mentioned in the previous passage, declares: "the father of this one lusted after a beautiful woman (captive) and thus brought Satan into his house." R. Joshua states that the verse "the earth is given into the hands of the wicked" (Job 9:24) refers to Satan (BB 16a). The only personification of Satan found in tannaitic literature is the story of R. Meir spending three days to bring about a reconciliation between two inveterate quarrelers, upon which Satan complained, "He has drawn me out of my home" (Git. 52a). Similarly, R. Akiva was tempted by Satan in the form of a woman, but Satan relented. . . .

In the New Testament Satan emerges as the very personification of the spirit of evil, as an independent personality, the Antichrist. He is the author of all evil (Luke 10:19). In Revelation 12:9 there is the fullest description of him: "that old serpent called the devil and Satan which deceived the whole world. He was cast into the earth and his angels were cast out with him." He is the personal tempter of Jesus (Matt. 4), and it is this New Testament conception of Satan which has entered into popular lore."  

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Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner

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Write to me with questions about Jewish customs and law, history, philosophy and tradition for answers from a Conservative perspective or conversion. I am a graduate of The Jewish Theological Seminary and a member of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly. Having served in congregational pulpits since 1970, I now am President of the Foundation For Family Education, Inc. a non-profit educational endeavor. I established it to create new formats of hands-on programs and provide free educational downloads at www.jewishfreeware.org. In addition to general informational questions I welcome your questions about programs for social action, outreach to dual-faith families, inter-faith clergy projects, healing services, education for conversion, adult education for the congregation and the community. If you have questions about Informal and Formal Education I am ready to share my extensive experience with Youth Activities, Camping and Religious School/Hebrew High School on a congregational, community and national/international level.

Experience

I have served on the National Youth Commission for more than 25 years and serve on the Boards of the Conservative Zionist movement MERCAZ and the World Council of Synagogues. I have always dual-families and taught candidates for conversion with a great sense of fulfillment. I am very proud of 25 years on the Jewish camping staff of Camps Ramah. My greatest source of pride is my family! Ask me about them, please!:-)

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