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.
LL/

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