Torah Study Notes 1-26-13

January 26, 2013
p. 465
This is the Song of Deborah from the Haftarah – preceded by a narrative. The connection to the Torah portion is to the Song of the Sea.
9:2 The song is schematic but is explained in part via the narrative. The beginning is an exhortation. Note that the phrase “grow loose” is the same as “grow long” and connects to the story of Sampson from the Book of Judges. There was a group of Nazarites who followed this practice. Compare the practices of the Sikh. It indicates a personal spiritual quest. Treatment of hair is an indication of status in many societies. Note also the reference to marching from the land of Edom – which is east and south of ancient Israel near the Dead Sea. Edom is associated with Esau – which was established as a kingdom – biblically speaking – before Israel. The suggestion is that God had a covenantal relationship with the Edomites. It is ambiguous here if “marching out of Edom” is a metaphor for abandoning the Edomites or is merely a spread of the covenant to Israel.
9:6 Ther was likely a back story wherein the characters of Deborah and Barak were well known. The roads falling into disrepair suggests no central authority – the twelve tribes were separate.
9:11 Under the charismatic leadership of Deborah and the military leadership of Barak they pull themselves together.
9:14 They need to unite to fight a battle. Six tribes respond to the call. The others are reproached by the poet. Not all of the tribes are mentioned. This part is ignored in the narrative.
9:19 Although Israel prevailed not everyone participated and there was an element of luck – a flash flood in a wadi. God’s angel curses a tribe that held back. The entire Book of Judges is somewhat anomalous with other sections of Deuteronomy. They were likely organized and written about 600 BCE. The Deuteronomist is thought to have taken pre-existing material – like this Song – and written explanations – which is the narrative. Note that the Ashkenazi are more amenable to autocracy – hence the Hasidic respect for a rebbe. The attitudes of the Sephardic Jews are different; they are disinclined to accept dictatorial powers. Deborah represents a figure who has likely seized power. CL: This is uniquely about a woman who has a following. As poetry this is an artistic expression. She has followers like Madonna or Lady Gaga. PG: But once she passes from the scene there is no continuity – that is the advantage of a monarchy with rights of succession. Moral authority often collapses at the point of a bayonet. LL: Today there are cultural wars that do not involve troops or bayonets. It is difficult to predict the long term outcome of those wars.
9:24 The story of fierce Jael. The word “Kenite” seems to refer to a non-Israelite Bedouin type people. Jael is the most blessed of the “woman in tents.” by virtue of having killed the leader of the invaders.
9:28 The story of the mother waiting for her son appears in other ancient poetry. It is derisive.
Now for the preceding narrative:
4:4 This opens with a description of Deborah’s background. Note that Barak will only undertake his assignment if she comes along. As a prophet she brings the presence of God with her. Here is a close description of the battle and victory but there is no reference to the call to arms going out to all of Israel – as appears in the poem. LL: How do the ultra orthodox reconcile their treatment of woman with Deborah’s prominent role here? PG: See the work of Daniel Boyarin and others on the influence of sexual repression on Jewish thought and the ultra orthodox: Every society needs to deal with the issue of sex and they are frequently at odds as to their approaches. In ancient Israel this was addressed by redirecting sexual energy to the love of God. Compare the attitudes of Maimonides and Nachmonides on the subject of family purity.
Nahmanides allegedly [3] wrote a book on marriage, holiness, and sexual relations for his son as a wedding gift, the Iggeret ha-Kodesh (אגרת הקודש – The Holy Epistle). In it Nahmanides criticizes Maimonides for stigmatizing man’s sexual nature as a disgrace to man. In the view of the author, the body with all its functions being the work of God, is holy, and so none of its normal sexual impulses and actions can be regarded as objectionable.
SF recommends we read The Palm Tree of Deborah by Moses Cordevero:
It is a commentary on this Song and narrative used in mussar teachings.

Leave a comment


  1. ibritter

     /  January 27, 2013

    One of the great attributes of Reform movement is the way women are elevated. It is also one of America’s global socio-economic advantages.

  2. I totally agree Bob. The discussion was engendered when I asked the Rabbi how the ultra-orthodox could reconcile their position on the role of woman with the obviously important roles of Deborah – as well as other woman in the Torah.


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