Torah Study 12-31-11

December 31, 2011

p. 293

46:28 This recalls Jacob’s reunion with Esau. When we read these passages and find them familiar there is a reason for that.

46:31  Joseph is prepping his family for a life in Egypt – and wants to protect them – but at the same time they will be a foreign group within the Egyptian polity. There are, accordingly, the seeds in place for the future conflict between God and Pharaoh.  There is dramatic foreshadowing here. LL: Note the footnote mention of the Hyksos – there has been recent archeological evidence suggesting that they may be the progenitors of the Israelites. SF: Phillip Johnson refers to the Israelites as a “warlike tribe.” PG: Based on what? This is a constructed history but basically there is very little to go on. Walter Benjamin, a Jewish thinker from the early part of the 20th C. noted that descriptions of wars written by the victors always exaggerate the power of the other side. Here we are not concerned with the actual history – which is unknown – but why the account is structured in this manner. Why does Abraham leave Ur? Why is it important that the Israelites have this sojourn in Egypt? There is considerable extra-biblical evidence for the Babylonian exile. The Torah as we know it today was assembled after the return from Babylonia. The ability to survive exile is central to the story of Judaism. See the book “Etched In Stone” where the author argues that the concept of Sinai and Moses was developed after the return. However, something was there that allowed a people to cohere and survive after two full generations – completely disconnected from what had established them as a people. Both the monotheism and the sense of covenant were significant factors in the retention of cultural identify. Note that this was not “law” received from a king – such as Hammurabi – but rather received by an entire people from God. It is revolutionary that every individual – including the kings – are subject to this law. SF: Rabbi Feldman speaks of eternal and transcendent truth that we connect to – beyond our temporal psycho-sexual references. PG: If we wanted to treat this merely as story-telling we miss the meta-messages of the construct. We are attacking the text from both sides: by value free investigation and by faithful acceptance of the text as  it is presented. “Wiesenshaft” is the German word for the notion of analysis by value free neutrality. This approach is very difficult because we all carry baggage – it is a high wire act with no net. Nachum Sarna compared the literary quality of the Bible to Greek poetry – in the sense that the telling of the stories is done by and to people who already know what is going to happen. The pleasure is in the repetition. LL: And in the analysis.

47:1 :Your servants are shepherd’s…”  This all raises the question as to what is a Jew. Do we survive by maintaining strict discipline? Or is the gift of the Jews more subtle? Herman Cohan has argued that modern western religion and life is essentially Judaism. PG: When the church was The Church canon law was the law. The Reformation changed all that. The New Testament contains very little about how society is constructed. The reformers had to turn to the Old Testament for this – Leviticus and Deuteronomy. SF: In the modern Mussaraf world the dilemma is between walking in the way of God by following all of the biblical mitzvot – following Jewish law in its strictest sense- and determining how much of that is relevant in our lives today.  The consensus is that you do what you can. PG: This is the story of Franz Rosenzweig who was brought up in a secular home and had not adopted all of the strict Jewish  practices – his answer to the question of whether he had adopted certain strict practices was “not yet.”

PG:  Compare the thinking of Irving Kristal – the founder of neo-conservative thought. There is an advantage of clarity to a didactic position. Consider Joe McCarthy’s anti-communism. You knew exactly where he stood. How does a people maintain its cultural identity? It may be no more than retention of a family name. Recall that Moses was mistaken for an Egyptian because of his clothing and appearance. This issue of identify was critical during the first one hundred years of the modern era. There were several answers ranging from Qumran to rabbinical Judaism. And there are several answers to this day.

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