Torah Study Notes 4-1-12

April 1, 2011
p. 694
Leviticus 8:1 The Eternal One spoke to Moses… The first seven chapters of Leviticus have dealt with sacrifices. What has not been mentioned is who performs the sacrifices and the qualifications of the priests. Here, Aaron and his four sons are brought before the community leadership.
8:6 GT: How do these things become sacred? PG: This is a description of the process. It is being depicted here. “ the eternal commanded Moses.” God has instructed him – implanted visions within his brain. Consider the Chinese factory worker who is assigned the assembly of a computer component. He probably does not understand the entire machine. SF: One has to give up part of oneself to accept teachings – either pragmatically or spiritually. SN: Is Moses speaking or is Aaron speaking for him? PG: See Plaut p. 612 where Moses comes down from the mountain the second time. In verse 10 – “…let all among you who are skilled make what the Eternal has commanded.” It is the meaning of the word “skilled” here that is critical – they are the ones who are capable of accepting the vision that God has implanted in Moses – to take the idea and make it into reality. Here the word “skilled” is more akin to “adept.” Those same people who have been instrumental in creating the paraphernalia are standing with Moses and Aaron and Moses is dressing Aaron with what they have created – the breast piece, diadem, etc. The people understand because they are “skilled” meaning here, literally, “wise in the heart.” PG: Here the idea of Moses is being realized – from an inchoate vision of an individual to acceptance by a people. Truth requires a response before it is justified. The items that have been created become imbued with meaning – as does Aaron – once the items are assembled and used.
8:10 Notice that the anointing oil is used on the tabernacle – establishing their sacred purpose via public performance. LL: This is all genius. It is no easy task to create a religion. PG: This elaborate ceremony, complete with rare objects, is something that is way beyond the experience of the ordinary person. LL: There is a lesson in leadership here. Bonaparte was fascinated with designing uniforms for his various troops – as have many other military leaders. Here the genius of leadership is taking the abstraction and transforming it into reality via ritual and spectacle. PG: But it is the priests who are charged with making all of this work. They are establishing the connection between heaven and earth. They are the ones who must be trusted. Consider “performative language” first suggested by Wittgenstein. The act of speaking is creative “let there be light.” Stanley Cavell: It makes no difference what the internal condition of the speaker is. Once the promise has been made publicly they can be held to it. SF: In the Mussar tradition one must act once you have learned a certain set of values. These values become part of one’s neurobiological system. PG: The growing distrust of the priesthood – exemplified by the Maccabean revolt – was the precursor to the crisis of the first century. That crisis was responded to in two ways: by the creation of rabbinic Judaism and the establishment of the Davidic kingdom in the person of Jesus. SN: There is an enormous effort here to create a priestly class of which Moses is not a member. What are the implications of that? PG: How can Moses even have a brother? It makes no sense from the original story of Moses being saved by the Pharaoh’s sister while all the male children were being killed. Aaron appears suddenly – almost “deus ex machina.” As if he was needed in the narrative. At the time Leviticus was written the Aaronite priests were in ascendency. See Richard Eliot Friedman on “Who Wrote The Bible.” The civil service priesthood mentioned in Deuteronomy has disappeared. Remember that the Torah was likely assembled in its present form in the post-exilic period – 500 to 450 BCE. There are many ideas about the sources and ages of the component parts. SF: What is the lesson here for the modern Jew – or Board member? PG: It is the idea, the memory, the association, of Sinai. Everyone was there – male and female, young and old, rich and poor. We are descendents of that family and we identify with them and their God and their narrative. This is very distinct from Christianity and Islam. The Christians and Muslims have an ethnic history that preceded their faith. There is no Israel prior to Sinai. See Judith Pleskow’s book “Standing Again at Sinai.”

Torah Study Notes 3-25-12

NOTICE TO READERS OF THESE TORAH STUDYPOSTS: The text submitted here is unedited. Corrections and comments are welcome. Generally, the initials shown are an attempt to credit the individual who made a particular point or responded to it. “PG” is Rabbi Paul Golomb. Page references are to Plaut. It is assumed that the reader is familiar with the text but these notes will be more inteligible if read in conjunction with the cited passages.

March 25, 2012
p. 667
Leviticus 4:13 The purgation offering when the leadership has erred. Notice that only the fat is placed on the altar for sacrifice and the rest of the animal is disposed of – burned. This is different from other ceremonies where there is a feast after the sacrifice. When there has been wrong doing by community leaders what is the appropriate penalty? Clearly there are many wrongs that cannot be adequately penalized. There can only be a process of public purgation and subsequent renewal. SN: This is not a matter of making one whole – it is giving the community a way to put the wrong into the past. PG: Judgment continues to attach but the effort is to put the wrong aside. It’s like when they ritually blew up the baseball at Wrigley field when the Cubs were interfered with by a fan. The leadership has to be present and acknowledge responsibility. Try to imagine actually being there for that kind of ceremony. PG: It would be the equivalent of a perp walk. Consider the dietary laws – that were devised in early modern times once Jewish diets began to more frequently include meat. The lack of meat in the diet makes the sacrifice of the bull – without eating it – even greater. Note that although the priesthood has no civil administrative responsibility they can still be part of the guilt that needs expiation.
4:22 In the case where a chieftain has incurred guilt unwittingly… he must bring a male goat without blemish as a purgation offering. Here there is no comment about burning the meat. The text is silent as to where the sacrifice must occur. LL: Rabbi Elise Goldstein’s talk “Woman are from Genesis, Men are from Leviticus” talked about male preference for detailed rule-making. PG: She relies on Carol Gilligan’s sociological work – which has been somewhat discredited because of Gilligan’s small reference sample. Goldstein was correct in that the only voices heard as to the interpretation of biblical text were male. Consider the Talmud story of Galamiel – head of the rabbinic Academy after the destruction of the Temple: he so overstepped his authority that he was thrown out of the Academy. The result was that, once free of his onerous control, the members of the Academy doubled and there was a consequent burst of creativity. This group “invented” the importance of the Torah; just as the Bible was not an important part of the Catholic church until the Protestant Reformation forced a re-focus on the text – scripture. The Jews had previously relied on their priesthood. When the Temple was destroyed there had already been a decreasing of trust in the priesthood – which had begun with the Maccabean Revolt. It was at that time that there was a major revival of interest in Moses – and the centrality of Torah to Judaism. Previously the primary focus had been on figures such as David, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
4:27 A person unwittingly incurs guilt… a female goat without blemish as a purgation offering. Note that there are far more female goats than male goats. The latter are slaughtered. Note also that blood is considered the animating life force. That is why it is drained before sacrifice or consumption. Mary Douglas argued that ancient Israel really wanted to be vegan. Note that guilt can arise either by admission, recognition and as a result of inadvertence – without intent. Biblical texts dwell on how people think – but in the public arena the focus is on acts – what happened. Intent might impact the severity of the punishment. In Deuteronomy there is an examination of bearing false witness – which is considered an act equivalent to the crime itself.

Torah Study Notes 3-10-12

March 10, 2011
PG: The triennial reading of Torah in the U.S. was started within the Conservative movement but is thought to have ancient antecedents in Palestine. See the Jewish Encyclopedia. Reform did fewer verses at a time so had no problem fitting them into a service. But entire Torah portions were considered too long to complete. A determination was made by a group of Conservative scholars to read a third at each service so that the entire portion would be read over three years. The practice here is less than 25 years old. Note that this portion, Ki Tisa, covers four chapters. Chapters designated as such did not exist until about 700 years ago. Synagogue’s were originally formed for the purpose of reading Torah – not for the conduct of services. There was also a long-standing tradition of reading prophets – Haftarah. Recall in the Gospel of Luke Jesus walks into the synagogue and is handed an Isaiah scroll. He decides the section that he will read from. See the reading in Luke 4: 16 which is slightly changed from the original text of Isaiah in adding a reference to the blind. Later it became traditional to link Haftarah readings with Torah readings. The celebratory notion of Succoth (originally a celebration of harvest) is re-enforced by having Simcha Torah (the beginning of a new reading cycle) at that same time. This practice was determined around the year 800. During the week one only reads the first aliyah of the same section. One could only be assured of having a minion on Shabbat and on Mondays and Thursdays (market days.) A Maftir is a reading of the last few lines of the Torah reading of the day.
p. 592
33:12 Moses negotiates with God and demands that God lead them in person from this place so that the people can be distinguished as unique. SN: This is a framing of identity in an immensely powerful way. PG: in the first chapter of Torah we learn that God speaks and creates the world, in the second chapter he establishes rules, in the third chapter he indicates that the world can be destroyed. Here God is still a mysterious figure. At this time gods were understood as being different but following their own rules and logic – capricious from a human point of view. But should we assume that the gods are completely crazy? Or is there a different message here – that there are rules and there will be justice in the universe. It is justice that will work against power. Consider Hamen’s decree – which outlives Hyman. The decree of a king could not be revoked. Power exists independently – even beyond the King. The solution was to write a new decree – that was facially consistent – but allows for self-defense. Here Moses is allowed to do what needs to be done to save the people after the incident of the Golden Calf. See the book “Arguing With God – A Jewish Tradition” by Rabbi Anson Laytner.
33:17  The Hebrew bible generally does not explore theology, but these two paragraphs are outstanding. Moses is challenging God on issues of justice – including mercy. Previously, Abraham has sought the limits of God’s justice at Sodom and Gomorrah. ML: Did this group know of Abraham? PG: Yes – this was part of their oral tradition and family lore. LL: It is significant that God describes himself as having “goodness” and “compassion.” PG: There are multiple ways of reading this. Consider the narrative and we are the fly on the wall watching the conversation between God and Moses. God is being asked to explain the relationship between justice and mercy. Only hints are given – but with the assurance that the people of Israel will have a future. We are given a theological framework for justice and mercy. One looks for a pattern that leads to a conclusion of the application of justice by applying over-arching rules. What gives anyone the ability to say what is right or wrong other than the use of power. This was the question posed by Nietzsche. Consider also Kant’s Categorical Imperative. One has to surrender some autonomy in order to make justice work. LL: This is the beginning of civilization – the surrender of personal rights such as vengeance to government by application of a system of laws. When the lawmaker is God the rules take on an eternal aspect whereas if they are promulgated by Pharaoh they die with him. “Pharaoh knew not Joseph.”
34:1 Carve two tablets of stone like the first… God’s words – Moses hand. Consider Hamlet confronting the ghost of his father – no one is there except the audience. We are the audience here.