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Question 12.10:
It seems that prophecy was once central to Judaism; why don't we have prophets today?


The traditional view is that prophecy was removed from the world after the destruction of the First Temple. Those prophets who are mentioned after that were alive at the time of the destruction. There are several explanations as to why this is so:

  1. The fact that the Jews did not heed the calls to repentance of the prophets showed that they were not worthy. When most of the Jews remained in exile after Ezra returned, they showed that they were still not worthy of that level of holiness. The second temple did not have the level of kedushah [holiness] of the first Temple even from the beginning.

  2. This was actually a sign of G-d's mercy. Had the Jews had a prophet and continued to disobey (as was probable based on the behavior of the following centuries) even after the punishment of the exile, they would have merited complete destruction. Now they could say that had a prophet come they would have obeyed and thus mitigate the punishment (though some consider the current exile (i.e., the diaspora) to be harsh enough).

  3. After the destruction of the first Temple the sages prayed for the removal of the "Evil Inclination" of idolatry. Since the world exists in a balance, the removal of the low point (idolatry) necessitated the removal of the high point (prophecy).

Another effect of losing formal prophecy is that it is no longer known the specific acts that result in specific good and bad consequences. In the age of prophecy, a person undergoing misfortunes could learn from a prophet what he or she was doing wrong and how to do tshuva (repentance.) Nowadays, your guess is as good as mine, and could be wrong in identifying the source of difficulties. This is what galus/galut [physical and spiritual exile] is all about. [R' Y. Frand]

Some feel that a tzaddik or a rebbe is particularly qualified to provide spiritual guidance and advise paths for repentance.

Note that the above does not claim that all forms of communication between G-d and man are closed; The Talmud only teaches that the most direct forms of prophecy no longer occur. However, Judaism affirms that other less direct forms of prophecy still occur. One example of this is the 'bat kol'. [e.g. Tosefta Sota 13:3, Talmud Yerushalmi Sota 24b, and Talmud Bavli Sota 48b]

The Talmud notes that each time a Jew studies the Torah or its rabbinic commentaries, G-d is revealed anew; there is still a link between the G-d and the Jewish people. The Talmud in fact declares that rabbinic interpretation is superior to the biblical forms of prophecy.

Rabbi Abdimi of Haifa said: Since the day when the Temple was destroyed, the prophetic gift was taken away from the prophets and given to the Sages [Rabbis]. - Is a Sage not also a prophet? What Rabbi Abdimi meant to say was this: Although prophecy has been taken from the Prophets, prophecy has not been taken from the Sages. Amemar said "A Sage is even superior to a Prophet, as it says "And a Prophet has the heart of Wisdom" (Psalms 90:21) Who is usually compared with whom? Is not the smaller compared with the greater? [Talmud Bavli, Bava Batra 12A]

Hillel taught that all Jews still receive ruach ha'kodesh, the Holy Spirit, which is an indirect form of prophecy. In the tosefta (Pesah 4:2) this is stated outright, while in later rabbinic literature {Talmud Yerushalmi Shabbat 17a and Pesach 33a, Talmud Bavli 66b) his statement is that the Jewish people, if not prophets, are at least the bene nevi'im, the sons of prophets.

Although not widely known, many Jews believed that the more direct forms of prophecy still existed as late as the middle ages; a few medieval rabbis in this era were thought to be prophets by some, including Rabbeinu Tam. This is discussed by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book "Prophetic Inspiration After the Prophets: Maimonides and Others" (Ktav).

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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