Torah Study Notes 9-28-13

September 28, 2013
p. 19 Genesis This is the beginning of a new cycle – all of Ch 1 and the first two verses of Ch 2. The group read the account of all seven days before beginning discussion.
LL: What is the use of “…and each according to its type…” is a constant refrain for all living beings – except for humans. PG: Note the use of “word” as a medium of creation. But there is also a description of God acting as a way of creating. LL: Don’t we create all of the time by naming things? New ideas and scientific advancements require new language . Every word is the embodiment of an idea. PG: This the Greek logos. LL: To me these passages describe the advent of language. PG: Consider the use of the noun “rose.” “I saw a rose, I saw the rose, and I saw Rose. It is the particle “et” in Hebrew that is used to make the same distinction between a definite and indefinite object. It is a marker or grammatical indicator that is often found in an elite language. Similarly the Hebrew “Brachit” is not really translatable into English. SF: So what was the intent of all of this vagueness? We have indefinite time and indefinite object. The entire lesson of Torah is contained in this first sentence – creation of the world out of love and compassion. The vagueness gives rise to all of our analysis and discussion. PG: Both science and philosophy have asked the question of what was “before.” The conventional notion of “before” is a reference to prior to the Big Bang. Maimonides pointed out that the idea that there was anything before is merely an assertion – an article of faith. But is there a compelling reason to believe? Yes, because otherwise we have no authoritative God who is promoting what is “good.” The Gospel of John starts “in the beginning there was the word.” which was a powerful defense of the authority of Jesus. He spoke authoritatively and was given that authority by The Word.
Next year we will take up the second creation story – Adam and Eve.
The New English Bible uses the phrase “In the beginning of creation…”
2:4 The chronicle of heaven and earth. As to the Greek “chromos” see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronos
PG: Ultimately we can talk about this universe or others. The text leaves everything open. AC: This is like where a child looks to a parent for explanations and the lesson is that they must learn to live with indecisiveness and uncertainty. PG: Darwin was easily accepted by mainstream religion during the 19th C. It wasn’t until later that the strict creationists rejected Darwin. Religion and science are frequently reconcilable. Consider the end Carl Sagan’s book “Contact” wherein he purports to find a recurring sequence within Pi. See: http://www.carlsagan.com/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Sagan
Regarding the relationship between religion and science, Sagan stated: “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.

LL/

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Vassar Temple Religious-School Students Celebrate Sukkot Under the Sukkah

Vassar Temple religious-school student Cameron J., right, shakes the lulav under the sukkah.

Vassar Temple religious-school student Cameron J., right, shakes the lulav under the sukkah.

Vassar Temple religious-school students took their usual weekly worship service outdoors in celebration of Sukkot. In spite of heavy overnight rain, the weather cooperated beautifully, creating the perfect opportunity to appreciate the first day of fall in the sukkah.

Each student also had the opportunity to shake the lulav and recite the traditional blessing.


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Religious-School Students and Parents Welcome Sukkot

Vassar Temple Students in Grades 7-12 Enjoy a Pizza Dinner Before Welcoming Sukkot

Vassar Temple Students in Grades 7-12 Enjoy a Pizza Dinner Before Welcoming Sukkot

Religious-school students in grades 7-12, along with their parents, shared a festive dinner on Wednesday before celebrating the start of Sukkot with a community-wide worship service.

During the service, 7th graders received their own copy of the Reform movement’s Torah commentary, which they will use as they prepare for bar/bat mitzvah. Rabbi Paul Golomb expressed his hope and belief that the books would accompany the students with ever increasing value as they grow older. Religious-school director Dr. Joel M. Hoffman added that the book contains hidden jewels, and encouraged the students to explore it for themselves.

Vassar Temple Rabbi Paul Golomb Shares a Few Words with Religious-School Students in Grades 7-12

Vassar Temple Rabbi Paul Golomb Shares a Few Words with Religious-School Students in Grades 7-12

Torah Study Notes 9-21-13

September 21, 2013

 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 intelligible if read in conjunction with the cited passages.

p. 1443 Haftarah for Sukkoth – Zechariah
The meaning of Sukkoth. It is logical that the Israelite’s would build temporary quarters during their travels. This notion resonates more than the tradition of harvests. The idea of a harvest has been romanticized – part of nostalgia for an agrarian past that was not generally available to the Jews during the Diaspora. Passover is the winter wheat harvest. The Haftarah portions relate to exile and return. This portion contrasts the horror of the future that is predicted with the serenity of the harvest.
38:13 A predication of cataclysm. An apocalypse. It recalls the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions. What God has created He can destroy. But this is different from Noah and the flood. It is as if the earth itself is responding to attack.
38:21 Victory over the forces of Gog is predicted. Q. Why do references to Noah generally disappear after Exodus? It was likely a wide-spread and well-known piece of Israelite lore. There is little or no reference to the first exile in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Was this well known? Note that if there is a theme here it was in the mind of the redactor; it is not explicitly set forth in any portion of the whole. It was not until Thucydides that a writer asserted that his reports were fact based. Yet there are extensive speeches included in Thucydides accounts. This suggests reconstruction in order to give meaning. DC: What we are reading may be “true” but nevertheless not historically accurate. PG: See the book “Resisting History” by David Myers http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7639.html
which outlines the tensions between the two approaches to history – evidence based or filling in the gaps. Making connections means not having all of the evidence. SF: Here the challenge is to figure out what Ezekiel had in mind.
39:1 More of the same. But who are the enemies here? Magog is a metaphor for any oppressor. AF: Who the Oppressors are is often in the minds of the “oppressed.” PG: This is the notion of relativism where any group can create a justification for their actions. Consider the comments by each side in the film The Longest Day http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Longest_Day_(film) “Sometimes I wonder whose side God is on.”
39:6 LLant: Why is Adonoi in pale half-tone Hebrew letters? PG: It has to do with the Masoretic texts – indicating pronunciation. Early Christians who were interested in making connection between various sections of the text promoted the development of the Codex – the modern book – in order to easily flip back and forth between sections. Succoth has become harvest focused, in part, in America because of the desire to connect to Thanksgiving.
LL/

The US and Syria

The adage, Those who forget history tend to repeat it, is only partially correct. Even those who remember history tend to repeat it. The economists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart demonstrated this curiosity in their highly regarded book, This Time is Different. After all, that is the key to why certain things seem to happen over and over again. We know what happened in the past, but insist that what is occurring now is just not the same. So, here it is: déjà vu all over again!
The parallels to the run-up to the US invasion in Iraq eleven years ago are distressingly similar. Bracket out the claims of weapons of mass destruction, the situation in Iraq was becoming more dire. Sanctions and the no-fly zone were increasing the suffering to the Iraqi people but having little effect on the Saddam Hussein government. Something had to change. Today, the situation in Syria – after two years of increasing sanctions – has become more volatile and intolerable. Again, something has to change.
While the WMDs turned out to be a mirage in 2003, a deadly chemical attack did indeed occur in August. I do not know for sure that Assad perpetrated this crime, but it appropriate to claim that the Syrian government, by virtue of being charged with the well-being of its population, must take responsibility over it. Assad issues denials (they may even be sincere), but is silent about what his government intends to do in order to assure that their own stockpiles are secure and untouched, or what steps might be taken to prevent another attack.
Finally, up to now, the dance has been nearly identical. The US is taking the lead in calling for action. (This France is the principally supporter while the UK demurs. I wonder if this is the case because Iraq used to be within the British sphere of influence, and Syria within France’s?) The White House has called for congressional authorization, and has also pursued the effort of creating an international consensus, including outreach to the Arab League and the United Nations. All the while, it reserves for itself the option of individual action.
Consider the time-line eleven years-ago. The Bush Administration began making noise about Iraq shortly after the attacks of 9/11. They began a concerted effort to confront Saddam in September 2002; received support of Congress in October, but did not begin an actual attack until March. Right now, it just September. Noise has been made, but there has been no movement of troops or ships.
Is this time different? One must hope so. The action in Iraq was poorly conceived and evenly more poorly executed. It was also clear – both at the time of the action and in retrospect – that a significant element in the Bush Administration’s overall strategy was to exhibit and maintain an overwhelming American military presence in the world. Saddam Hussein was not the object this strategy, but rather its excuse.
We must expect that the principal – the only real – objective in the case of Syria is that WMD’s – chemical, biological or nuclear – are not used. The current Administration has expressed no interest in exhibiting military might. The threat of the employment of force, we should trust, is a tactical measure that can only be successful if 1) it is credible, and 2) it is being utilized in the context of pressing certain key players – Russia and perhaps Iran – to join in a coalition laying responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria at Assad’s feet.
Must Assad go? Two years ago, the protests in Syria represented a popular uprising expressing their dissatisfaction with the government in power. Now, it is more a conventional civil war. Assad, it is evident, has always had support from diverse elements of Syrian society. Compare it with Qaddafi’s Libya. When the “Arab Spring” came to Libya, in relatively short, key personalities in the power elite began to defect, and the ruling structure crumbled. More than two years into the Syrian protests and precious few significant personalities have joined the opposition. I do not know whether Assad’s support within the country is positive (appreciation of his rule) or negative (fear of what the country would be like in case of the government’s downfall), but it is reasonably stable.
The current situation – even when the incident of a chemical attack is bracketed out – is horrendous: over two million have fled the country, and two million more have been internally displaced. It could get worse, and probably will. [Query: has the per capita fatality rate reached that of the American Civil War, which was fought with considerably less lethal weapons?] The war, however, cannot persist indefinitely. Most probably, when it does come to an end, both sides can fairly be declared the loser. And the nation, in a pattern already being played out in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, will continue to endure tension and occasional outbreaks of violence for years to come. We can only pray that over that miserable stretch of time, institutions will develop that permit some form of responsive and responsible government.
In the meantime, I believe the for the US and any allies, military engagement is not simply the last resort; it is the very last resort.

Paul Golomb
Sept. 9, 2013

Torah Study Notes 9-7-13

September 7, 2013
The Haftarah on page 1395 doesn’t really exist in the traditional reading sequence. Nitzorim is always the Torah portion between Roshashana and Yom Kipper. There is no occasion for a Haftarah for Vayeilech. These reading arise as a matter of tradition established about 1200 years ago. The Haftarah is designed to react to the frame of mind we are supposed to be in during this interval.
P. 1436
14:2 Hosea is the prophet in the North at the end of the Kingdom of Israel. This passage deals with repentance but holds out hope for survival. The Assyrians were overrunning all of the kingdoms in the Near East and were on route to Egypt. Micah was saying much the same in Judah in the south which did survive. See the extensive footnotes. Note that the Northern Kingdom had no established pattern of succession whereas in the South the king would always be a member of the Davidic family. ML: Why didn’t the two Kingdoms join? PG: There is no evidence that they ever took arm against one another – they occasionally cooperated. LLant: What caused the split? PG: Differences as to Solomon’s rule and with his successor. There were also doctrinal differences as a result of the two forms of priesthood with origins in Hebron and Shiloh. LL: the story of the two woman and Solomon dividing the baby could be read as a metaphor for, and an argument against, the division of the two kingdoms.
14:5 These are words of consolation – an identified and known poetic form. There was barely twenty years from the death of Jeroboam to the annihilation of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. This speaks to the people in the synagogue who are feeling anxiety and uncertainty about their circumstances. This also speaks to a period of retrospection about the lives we wanted to live and raises the question of forgiveness. SF: But in order to be forgiven by God we must first forgive ourselves. PG: Consider Kafka in his novel “The Castle.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Castle_(novel)#Theological
“One interpretation of K.’s struggle to contact the castle is that it represents a man’s search for salvation.[16] According to Mark Harman, translator of a recent edition of The Castle, this was the interpretation favored by the original translators Willa and Edwin Muir, who produced the first English volume in 1925. Harman feels he has removed the bias in the translations toward this view, but many still feel this is the point of the book.
Fueling the biblical interpretations of the novel are the various names and situations. For example, the official Galater (the German word for Galatians), one of the initial regions to develop a strong Christian following from the work of Apostle Paul and his assistant Barnabas. The name of the messenger, Barnabas, for the same reason. Even the Critical Editions naming of the beginning chapter, “Arrival”, among other things liken K. to an Old Testament messiah.”[9]
Kafka argued that there were only two fundamental sins: Pride and Impatience. Or perhaps there is really only one sin – impatience. AF: How does the community get forgiven? PG: This is part of having two apparently antithetical points: The righteousness of the individual can be swept away with the entire community. LL: This would be the lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah. Voltaire argued that all we need to do is tend our own garden. But we actually have a responsibility beyond our own garden.
7:18 Micah is in Jerusalem. SF: This seems to suggest that God will first take us back out of love and subdue our sins. Many teaching argue that the individual must first change, PG: In Hosea the dynamic is that if you try you will be forgiven. But if the individual does not have the strength they will be forgiven for the sake of the community. This is the message of Micah. LL: Are their implications here for our criminal justice system? PG: Issues of justice always involve subjective determinations as to punishment. The discussion here is about immorality – not illegality. Immorality in the sense of not being responsible.
2:15 Joel is also a Southern prophet. Here the emphasis is on amends/atonement by the community – acting communally whereas the natural reaction might be “every man for himself.” The atonement of the individual is bolstered by the presence of others doing the same thing.
2:18 What makes Joel memorable is his prediction of the failure of the Assyrian army in their siege of Jerusalem. This recalls the stench of many dead bodies – perhaps fallen from disease.
LL/

Torah Study Notes 9-1-13

September 1, 2013
p. 1382
Second Isaiah continued. This contains some of the best known passages in the Torah – some of which have become songs.
61:10 Here Israel is presented as a bride in a marriage with God. Again a stark contrast with the Book of Deuteronomy. Note that this is the final reading from Second Isaiah – which presents the question as to why it is presented in this order. Note the transition from the first passage which is one of a childless mother comforting her child. Here there is no sense of being forlorn – all is potential with the childless bride. In a few days we will have Rosh Hashanah and all will be new again.
62:1 Who is being addressed here? The about to be wedded couple? Only metaphorically. It is the people of Israel who are being encouraged to think positively about the future. The reference of this chapter is believed by most scholars to be taking place within the land of Israel – upon return from captivity. They have been imbued with the romantic vision of returning to Zion. Now they are there and one senses a bit of a let-down. They need to be reinvigorated. Note that those who wanted to avoid going to Babylon likely fled to Egypt. The Exodus accounts are likely written as an extended metaphor for the Babylonia exile. The Babylonian Captivity is confirmed in the historical and archeological record but there is nothing to confirm time spent in Israel. Note that the Torah is best interpreted based on the time of publication – not by the controversial issues of when parts were written. Publication most likely occurred in this post-Exilic period when a variety of other writings or oral history were collected. LL: This raises the question of why something is published. In modern times publication is clearly purposed in terms of fiction or non-fiction and then broken up into even more numerous categories. We do not sense that separation in Torah – those distinctions was apparently considered important. PG: This reflects the Jewish tendency to reject true or false –extremes. Truth and justice is not found in either/or it is found in the struggle to reconcile various sources of truth. PG: This presents the issue of high and low criticism – the abstract meaning vs the written word. We want to engage them both at the same time –immerse ourselves in the text but at the same time examine the abstractions. PG: Consider the work of Leo Strauss – the political philosopher. One of his most famous works is “Persecution and the Art of Writing.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_and_the_Art_of_Writing
Writers living in oppressive regimes will often purposely obscure their message to avoid getting into trouble. Another approach is to see the writing as one of exclusion – limiting the understanding of the readership to those already “in the know.” On the other hand Second Isaiah does contain explicit criticism of Nebuchadnezzar. It is more likely that Exodus is pre-exilic. It is unknown if they were bed-time stories, tribal legends, etc. Some of them were preserved because at a later date they had relevance. SF: The purpose of the entire Torah is to develop a moral code and connecting to God. That is the intent of the writers then and it continues to work now. That is the path to joy, happiness and personal fulfillment. PG: That is the over-all message of the Torah but these passages emphasize the value of God in the face of tragedy.
62:4 Names are utilized in several Torah portions. Here the names “forsaken” and “abandoned” are changed to “My Delight is in You.”
LL/