Torah Study Notes 8-30-14

August 30, 2014
p. 1294 – We are joined by Doi Cohen!
Deuteronomy has to do with the creation and organization of a civil society. This parsha has to do with the identification of leaders – and how that comes about. It is more than genetics or even anointment. The concept of a responsible anarchy suggests that the process will not necessarily be smooth. There needs to be consent in some form in order to function as a leader. The construction of this text is probably late Kingdom of Judea. The Northern Kingdom has been destroyed. The unified kingdom of David is no more. All of this suggests a failure of leadership.
16:18 You shall appoint magistrates and officials.. Note how the word “justice” is repeated. This suggests sanctions that are tempered with mercy. The Hebrew word “tzedek” also can also mean innocence in a variant form. (LL: Consider the presumption of innocence in Anglo American jurisprudence.) Note the explicit reference to bribes. There is a question as to the translation here – it could be “gifts” rather than “bribes”. SF: Some commentators would argue that the beginning of justice is personal guidance so we can manage our inner cravings and drives. Justice from this perspective begins with deep personal honesty. PG: This is basic to 19th C. Hasidism. Bal Shem Tov emphasized piety rather than scholarship. It is the feeling of goodness that is the source of piety. The leader is then the individual who has the greatest spiritual acuity. This is at odds with the long-standing rabbinic tradition that the connection with God is via the text – not via direct relationship with God. This struggle is reflected throughout the history of Christianity – where the various Protestant movements (and earlier) argued for a direct connection. This was perceived as an attack on the priesthood and Catholicism. See From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun re the flowering of innovation and the impact of all of that on society.
16:21 You shall not set up sacred posts… In establishing an organized society the question is always presented as to syncretism – the adoption of other pre-existing forms and practices. In accepting the unique practice of monotheism this had to be avoided.
17: 2 Stoning to death on the testimony of two or more witnesses. Specifically for idolatry. This was considered the greatest danger to society.
17:8 If a case is too baffling for you to decide… LL: It is unclear to me who the “you” is that is referenced here. If it is the individual it seems basic that the individual would turn to the established system. But here “you” shall promptly repair “…to the place that the Eternal your God has chosen…” The footnotes suggest that the application is here being made to priestly rather than civil intercession. Finally, what was the failure of leadership that led to the end of the united kingdom’s? Solomon had taken on the trappings of other secular kings of the time – great wealth, many wives, the final arbiter of disputes, etc. Some have suggested that his downfall came about because he allowed some of his wives to worship other Gods. See:

Torah Study Notes 8-23-14

August 23, 2014
p. 1259
11:26 The people are being asked to carry out a series of new counter-intuitive acts. They are asked to demonstrate their faith by doing things that do not come naturally to them. Compare Gideon who asks for a sign from God. The grain is wet and the floor is dry and then the reverse – which is out of the ordinary. The Israelites had to indicate that they understood what the relationship was. It is a different relationship than that of their neighbors and their Gods. The thrust here is an injunction not to engage in blind faith – one must have faith coupled with understanding. Note the referencing to the blessing at Mt. Gerizim and the curse at Mt. Ebal. These are obscure places that do not immediately resonate with the reader. They are also mentioned in the Book of Joshua and in Deuteronomy. They are physically near Shonrom which was going to be the capital of Northern Israel. They were important to the ancient Samaritans and the Samaritans continue to treat them as significant locations. Remember that it those Israelites who returned from exile in Babylonia who are responsible for the promulgation of this text. The indigenous people who remained are the Samaritans. They had made peace with their Babylonian overlords. But the people who returned had the support of the Persian leadership. The blessings and curses were a tradition retained by them – perhaps orally – that did not make it into the text except via these marginal references. There is something called the Samaritan Torah – not including Joshua. See:  LL Note: PG advises that the Samaritan Torah does include Joshua and that the Wikipedia entry is incorrect. The six book Torah is called the “Hexateuch.”
The “you” here is “each of you” rather than reference to a collective responsibility of the people.
11:31 You are about to cross the Jordon… This is a critical juncture which will be very dependent on the form of human organization needed to establish a just society. See the work of Hermann Cohan which rely very heavily on Kant. Kant saw an absolute division between law – which is imposed – and ethics. The question of internal and external. He argued that the law can only become ethical if imbued with the transcendent. That is what is going on in Torah. This is Isogesis. See: See also the Plaut Commentary on page 1256
12:2 Moses calls for a central sanctuary. You must destroy all of the sites of the nations which you will dispossess. Clearly this was an important step in creating a national identity. LL: This is reminiscent of the destruction of all traces of the Akhenaton dynasty in Egypt. See:
12:4 Do not worship the Lord in a like manner… Most biblical scholars attribute this text to the Josiah Reforms –See: – circa 610 to 620 BC. He is a King of Judah who decides to renovate the Temple and to shut down other sites being used for sacrifice. All sacrifice would take place in Jerusalem. There are a variety of motives that could be attributed to this move – centralization of power, corruption in the hinterlands, variations in sacrificial practices. Note that most modern scholars believe tht Judaism grew indigenously on the land of Israel – that there was no captivity in Egypt and that many of the other “incidents” are apocryphal. There was never a land totally purged of foreign influences. If anything disparate practices – idolatry – needed to be driven from the land frequently. LL: At what point do variations in practice become identified as idolatry? Judaism is a commitment to a tradition and a culture but it takes a variety of forms today.
12:8 You shall not act now as we all act now… Changes are coming in the form of more ritualized practices and the establishment of a priesthood. The only way you can truly become a covenanted community is by following these practices.
12:13 Not every slaughter of an animal is a sacrifice. The consumption of meat is permitted as a matter of routine.
12:17 Do not neglect …rituals and sacred spaces which will help you in relating to your God. It is the rituals and sacred places that define true sacrifice. See Essays on page 1276.
12:20 When the Eternal enlarges your territory…you may eat to your heart’s content – except for the blood. One must also always provide for the Levites.

How to Stay Informed on Israel at this Challenging Time

Many questions have arisen in trying to understand and help our members, students and congregants grasp both what is happening in Israel and how we should react as American Reform Jews who care deeply about Israel and the Jewish people. There are many different approaches, opinions, and thoughts on the current situation, and there are a myriad of articles, blogs, comments and punditry for us to digest. This influx of information, at times, makes it difficult to process and digest, formulate one’s own opinion and be able to explain it to others.

In the following document ARZA (The Reform Israel Fund) has compiled Frequently Asked Questions and possible responses to those questions. The following material is both our own and plied from already existing recommended sources.

Click on the link below to view a PDF with answers to frequently asked questions. In addition, towards the end, you’ll find an “Online Resource Guide” with links to dozens of credible news sources, as well as Jewish Sources and Texts to be used for study and prayer supplements.

“Adoani will give strength unto His people; Adonai will bless his people with peace”

Torah Study Notes 8-2-14

August 2, 2014
Much of the region is coming under the control of a neo-Babylonian empire. The redactor/authors are also thinking about the experience of Israel when the Assyrians came This is effectively Moses farewell address. It is roughly the year 600 BCE.
P. 1161
11:1 These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan… The reference to the “”other side of the Jordan.” Suggests that the people have already crossed and have settled the land. Horeb and Mt. Sinai are used interchangeably – each drawn from a separate literary tradition. Note that the time delay was within Israel’s control. A journey of two week has become 40 years, See Kafka’s “Before the Law.”
JB: Was the 40 year delay a failure of leadership on the part of Moses? PG: Much of the Torah can be read as a meditation on leadership. Moses offered patience as the preferred approach.
11:5 A different, more expansive vision of the land to be occupied. In last week’s portion the new land to be occupied appeared to end at the Jordan River. Here we are seeing a greater Israel ending at the Tigris. For many years it was thought that this was composed by Jeremiah. Moderns scholar do not accept that. It is suggested that there are “Jewish” communities at the Tigris – as well as the other named locations. The exile has created an unprecedented form of identity – one that is not predicated on national cohesion. They are no longer strictly tribal but they have discovered a way of maintaining an identity via their assumed history/myths. This is proto-Judaism. The new way incorporates religion and culture. The essential tenets include monotheism, some of the still evolving law and a history that has become part of the culture.
11:9 You are as numerous as the stars in the sky… but I Moses have organized you. This is a significant revision from the Book of Exodus where Jethro saw what Moses was doing and expressed opposition. See verse 21 on page 472. The criteria for dispute resolution is set forth. Here, verse 15 identifies tribal leaders as judges. A class has been established. The earlier notion is Edenic or idealist. The population increase should be considered diachronically; i.e. from the perspective of historical overview. Many biblical peoples have entirely disappeared.
11:19 Take possession of the land of Amorites.
11:22 Let us send notables ahead. One from each tribe selected. Compare to the text in Numbers which also describes spying out the land. They start with the positive features of the land but then go on to emphasize the negative.
11:26 There is a certain level of revision here since the substance of the negative report is omitted. The burden shifts to the people themselves for making a decision.
11:34 The Eternal… becoming angry… vows that none of the recalcitrant generation shall enter the land. An exception is made as to Caleb and Joshua in recognition of extraordinary services rendered.
11:41 Some enter the land prematurely and are routed by the indigenous forces.
Note that reward and punishment are joined. You won’t go into the land but you children will.