Torah Study Notes 5-5-12

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

May 5, 2012
p. 800
19:15 “You shall not render an unfair decision…” This is structured almost as a call and response – which raises interesting theological issues as to what “I as the Eternal” means at the end of each line. Is this a diktat? There is potential conflict with democracy where there is strict divine authority. Have we moved from the unchallenged power of pharaoh to the unchallenged power of God? This would suggest that the High Priest – channeling God – makes the decisions. DC: This is an establishment of standards – guidelines. AF: This is socialism. PG: And a kibbutz is communism – neither system precludes democracy. The only question is how government is shaped so as to avoid decay and corruption– such as occurred in the Soviet system.
19:19 No mixture of cattle, cloth or seed. PG: What comes to mind as to the controlling law here is the sequel to creation. “You shall observe my laws…” includes the physics of the universe – one must obey the law of gravity by proceeding prudently. Creation was compartmentalized day by day. This is a continuation of that compartmentalization. The suggestion is that we should not attempt to be god-like. AF: Is the creation out of nothing? PG: Maimonides argued that this could be accepted only as a matter of faith. The text is ambiguous. His position was challenged by the literalists.
19:20 Carnal relations with a slave. A ram of reparation offering. PG: There is a problem of logical continuity here. This seems to have no relationship to the preceding section. That section addresses the differing status between species – here it is the status of the individuals that differs. And compare this to the first read section which calls for neutrality in judging. Yet there are “social conventions” that are not categorical but significant. AF: the slave Is not an Israelite – therefore the prohibitions recited previously do not apply. PG: That is likely correct. Even the reference to a neighbor is probably to another Israelite. This is a limited variation of the Golden Rule – limited to those of your tribe. A challenge arises in dealing with others not of the tribe. Rabbi Akiba said that this passage as to dealing with one’s neighbor was the central message of Torah. Hillel turned the text around as “do not do to others what you find distasteful to yourself.” This is an expansion from neighbor to the person who is present before you. Akiba was idealistic whereas Hillel was pragmatic. The slave referenced here is a captured slave – a non-Israelite. Therefore the treatment of that individual is according to their standing. A violation of that standing makes one subject to public censure. Consider the case of Levi-Kahn. Public shaming has consequences. Emmanuel Levinas, the French moral philosopher and theologian, has pointed out that some evil conduct is not compensable. See:

AF: What if a blind man pokes out someone’s eye? PG: Exactly, the lex talionis has many failings.
19;23 Harvest no fruit in the first three years. This may be a reflection of cultivation practices – allowing the fruit to be used to nourish the tree itself. See footnote on advantages of this technique. CL: The biblical references to slaves were quoted as justification for slavery in the 19th C. PG: Alfred Kazin – the literary critic – noted that there were 24 nations that had freed their slaves in that time period. Twenty three of them did it peacefully. The 19th C. was a very religious time in the U.S. The collapse of the cotton trade in the U. S. resulted in the growth of that trade in the middle east – and the subsequent success of Zionism.

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