Torah Study Notes 1-24-15


January 24, 2015, page 408 The plagues continued. Now we are at the account of the 10th plague.

10:24 Negotiations over the terms of letting the people go. P wants them to leave their flocks behind but Moses refuses. A great dramatic scene here where P says “…take care not to see me again, for the moment you look upon my face you shall die.” And Moses replied, “You have spoken rightly. I shall not see your face again.” There are undertones of the scene of Abraham and the burning bush where Abraham is enjoined not to look upon the face of God. P considers himself to be a God.

11:1 Now God tells Moses what will happen. LL: I have recently been reading Schniedewind’s book How the Bible Became a Book wherein he addresses when certain Books were written.( He also recites a conflict between the proponents of  orality and the written word. He links this conflict to the Josianic Reforms ( and the writing of Deuteronomy – which effectively circumscribed the authority of the monarchy. “When the king has taken the throne of his kingdom he shall have a copy of this Torah written for him in the presence of the Levitical priests.” (Deut. 17:18) PG: It is very difficult to tell when things were actually written based on any kind of stylistic analysis. Some things are purposely written in an anarchic style. See: David Aarons,  Etched in Stone. (

see p 98 (Gen: 15-13) re God’s promise to Abram “Know now that your descendants shall be strangers in a land not theirs; they shall be enslaved and afflicted for four hundred years.” This is remarkably prescient and gives rise to speculation as to the story of Moses being an elaboration of this text – or the possibility that the text was inserted into Genesis at a later date. The promise is fulfilled by Moses -who has the responsibility of carrying it out. Note the word “please” or “na” in the Hebrew which does not appear in the translation. The suggestion is that here Moses is not commanded but asked. Moses must take responsibility. This relates to the original covenant which is clearly a two way street: God has certain functions and Abraham and his descendants have certain functions. Note that P had no sense of responsibility and in that way had no real connection with his people.

The 10th plague is the one that works – all else has been prologue. Up until now Israel has done nothing but now they are called upon to borrow gold etc from the Egyptians. This is extraordinary. The issue suddenly becomes not what God will do but what the people are willing to do in order to establish their freedom.

11:4 The first born shall die – and there shall be a loud cry in the land of Egypt such as will never been and  shall never be again.” LL:  Does this fit into our concepts of justice? PG: What is the penalty of enslaving a people for no good reasons.? LL: This is violence that would not have been acceptable to MLK Jr. But to what extent is the center moved by the action of extremism? CL: The real power leading to civil rights was the morality of the American people. PG: See the work of Taylor Branch on the civil rights movement. The model is not just Gandhi – it is also Exodus. It has been said that “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” That was the way the Johnson used Selma. The Voting Rights Act had to be proposed in Congress. Johnson ws concerned about his legacy and recognized that he could do something that would change the future. The Israelites never take up swords but they do confront power.

11:8 And he left P’s presence in hot anger…

Torah Study Notes 1-17-14

January 17, 2015

  1. 385 The beginning of the ten plagues. See page 398 which contains psalms referencing the plagues – but they don’t add up to ten. The number of plagues is never mentioned in the text. If one has a song in scripture as well as a narrative the song is probably older. The Hebrew Bible with 39 books as we have it today was likely partially assembled as late as 200CE. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain all of the books except the Book of Esther. See Joel Hoffman – The Bibles Cutting Room Floor. The Psalms are very old but new in terms of being part of Scripture. Most Psalms are definitely pre- 70 AD and the destruction of the Temple. Most of the Torah was assembled about 500 – 450 BCE. The canonical books of the twelve Prophets – Hosea through Malachi plus Jeremiah and Ezekiel – are all considered to be from the same period – and have been found on a single scroll. The ordering of the scrolls is inherently random and only becomes significant when assembling a Codex. This explains why the Christian Bible is ordered differently for the Old Testament than the Jewish version. Note also that some of the merger and redaction process was going on well prior to 450 BCE.

7:8  The rod becomes a serpent. What is the role of Aaron? This is a place where according to Richard Elliot Friedman, there is an amalgamation of two traditions . There is never a standalone Aaron story but his presence is introduced so that there is a basis for him and his progeny becoming priests. The Aaronite priestly line eventually becomes dominant and hence is able to write the history.

7:14 The Egyptians will find it impossible to drink the water of the Nile. The fish will die and stink. But again it would appear that extra material has been added.

7:19 There shall be blood throughout the land of Egypt. But the Egyptian magicians did the same with their spells. How can they be doing this if it has already been done? The Pharaoh seems unconcerned as to the plight of the people – including his own.

7: 25  The plague of frogs. This sequence of events could have a biological/scientific basis. In the 18th and 19th C there was enormous effort to try and explain all of this scientifically.

8:1  Those magicians do it again. Note that frog is in the singular. The rabbinical analysis assumes one really big frog. See footnote indicating that in Egyptian mythology frogs were considered to have life giving powers.  This all suggests that magic existed – or was believed to exist – at this time. In the animation Prince of Egypt they did not allow the magicians to perform magic. This use of magic is a common literary trope – it existed, we pretend, but no longer does so. There are plagues today but we “walk sightless” among them. Over two thousand people die every day from malnutrition. We wear blinders in order to survive – to get through the day without contemplating the horrors around us. LL: That is the downside of modern communications – we see and hear so much more than we used to so assume that everything is worse than it was.

8:4  Once the frog problem is cured Pharaoh again stiffens. In a sense this is a competition between a God-King and the Eternal.

8:n12  Now the vermin. The magicians cannot duplicate this. Why “the finger of God” rather than “the hand?”  Both are metaphorical uses imaging God as a human being. Metaphors only work because there is a connection between the words and the objects. The use of a finger suggests something done easily.

8: 16 Let my people go or swarms of insects will come. But only for the Egyptians – the Pharaoh’s house and those of his courtiers. MS: Was all of this cumulative?

Being a Jew on Campus

Photo by Perla Kaufman

Submitted by Rabbi Golomb

At its Shabbat program on December 20, the Temple featured four students – Rachel Plotkin, Marissa Gally, Ilana Wolf and Emily Brundage – who talked about what it meant to them to be Jewish college students. Although each of their experiences have their own distinct features, a number of common themes were brought up.

Being Jewish on campus is not daunting when one is at a school with a relatively large Jewish population. While many colleges have a Hillel or a Jewish Student Union and a Jewish Studies Program, these organizations supplement the more informal Jewish connections that are made as a part of campus life.

Yes, there are instants of anti-Jewish activity, particularly attacks on Israel, but they need to be taken in context of a mostly benign state of affairs. The incidents are relatively rare, have little enduring impact, and tend to be opposed by the college administration. While Vassar College, for instance, had some agitation for censuring Israel (the initiative is known as BDS – boycott, divest, sanction Israel) during the past academic year, the activity receded greatly this year, even after the summer’s operation in Gaza.

Jewish students generally wish to find their own way. The University is a universalizing experience, opening all of its students to a range of new ideas, life-styles and practices. Further, students are now on the first steps to independent adulthood, living away from home and with little supervision. Jewish students, like most others on campus, view their time in college as a process of self-discovery. Many are quite confident in their own Jewish identity, and therefore draw on the Jewish opportunities (Hillel, Jewish Studies, etc.) available to them, but at their own choosing.

Admittedly, the students who attended Vassar Temple’s Shabbat program were self-selected, but they probably reflect reasonably closely the attitude of most of the students from the congregation.