Torah Study Notes 5-30-15

May 30, 2015


5:11  God and Moses on the subject of marital fidelity. PG:  We will leave out the emotional state of the husband here. Generally, the Torah does not concern itself with inner thoughts. It focuses on actions.  The husbands concern is the paternity of the child and the impact on his estate. But what about the word “Jealousy” which seems to bespeak an inner state? It can also be treated as “suspicious.” This is an issue of promise keeping more than physical infidelity. LL: Why does the Redactor use this form of instruction rather than a story? PG: This brings up the question of the import of the entire text – not every law is clear and unambiguous.  SF: Last night we read a commentary on the subject of God’s will. Here G is intervening on behalf of the woman in order to bring peace between husband and wife. PG: In other societies the wife’s infidelity would have been used as a basis for an honor killing. Here there is a suggestion of due process. Subsequent commentaries by the rabbi’s are much more sexist and more concerned about the sexual component of all of this. Consider Milton’s Paradise Lost and attitudes at that time toward Satan. It was understood that Satan is the personification of evil. A modern reader might read Paradise Lost and disagree. In the Middle Ages this text would have been understood and interpreted differently than at the time it was written and certainly differently than a modern reader.

Much of the Torah has to do with the land – its spiritual value that preserves the people. This is the entire import of the story of Exodus out of Egypt. Now we are in era where the emphasis is on ideas rather than land. Hence: the rise of ideology – such as communism. Or ISIS devotion to Sharia law and the Caliphate. If you are willing to devote yourself it a belief system all is forgiven by the fanatic true believer. The preservation of the law courts is also a sub-text here.

5:16  An early version of a polygraph intended to search out the truth from the wife.

15:23 Drinking the water of bitterness –elevating the meal offering of jealousy and turning it to smoke. The punishment for the wife is that she shall have no more children. Note that elsewhere in the Torah it is said that the penalty for adultery is death. This parsha today may instead refer to sex before marriage. Obviously, it is hoped that “the fear of god” might induce a confession. If a man is unfaithful he nevertheless assumes responsibility for the woman and her children. Again, this has to do with economics. HF: What happens to the child? PG: It is considered the child of the biological father.  It was thought at the time that the male was the bearer of the child in his “seed” and the woman merely a vessel. Note that these issues go before the priest – not a judge.  Read the Haftarah story of Hosea where everyone assumes that his wife is having extramarital affairs. There is no mention of this procedure. Instead it becomes an allegory for the relationship between a faithful G and his people.

6:1 A Nazirites vow.

Abstain from wine and grapes in any form. The vow is time limited – to a term. Note that both men and woman can be Nazirites. “No razor shall touch their head…” Sampson was an N but a very bad one. The hair is a means of identification for men. The woman would not bind up her hair. Not coming into contact with the dead and not imbibing wine or spirits are also aspects of being a priest. Here the N takes on the aspects of a priest. Sampson represents the complete disintegration of the Judges where Samuel is the restoration per Talmudic interpretation. Samuel is born into a non-priestly family but becomes a priest anyway.  This group appears to separate themselves from the rest of Israel by taking this vow.

Skiip to 930 verse 22: The priestly blessing. This is a threefold blessing – see Essays on pp 940-941. Blessing is a form of kneeling – we bend our knees at the beginning of the Amidah. A light is shone upon you and then you rise up. See the 150th Psalm which looks like half of a tree – the lines get long as they descend. Prayers and songs of crescendo. Here we have 3,5,7 and then 15, 20 and 25. Playing with prime numbers. Consider gematria where numbers are substituted for word and act as linkages.


Torah Study Notes 5-23-15

May 23, 2015

Page 902

The first presentation in the Torah of the existence of the tribes. Previously, there have only been hints. Why is Israel here broken down into units? It could be argued that there is greater power in being more homogeneous. Here the notion of differences and different roles is put forward as a model.

2:1 “ …Each man with his standard, under the banner of their ancestral house…” The term “eleph” is here translated as “one thousand” but some scholars have suggested it is in fact a group of soldiers of about 600. Taking the numbers at face value would suggest millions of people – which is highly unlikely. Walter Benjamin, the social philosopher has pointed out that every national group exaggerates the power of its enemy. Here, the size of this army is being exaggerated.

2:2  Judah in the east and Reuben in the south.

2:17  More numbers of those enrolled and their chieftains.  Note that the Levites have no troops and are stationed in the middle. See page 898 for a schematic of the troops and their locations. Judah is the largest group and Ephraim is the smallest. Judah becomes the most significant of the tribes – a separate nation. Ephraim and Menasha were the sons of Joseph. The number twelve appears again when Ishmael becomes the father of twelve nations. Esau is the progenitor of twelve kings. Twelve is the basis for much in horology and was adopted in the New Testament as the number of disciples. In  Greco-Latin there is a separate word up to fifteen. In French it is sixteen. There are twelve Zodiac signs, twelve lunar months etc. It is the lowest number you can halve, third and quarter. It is used for those things we wish to divide.

2:31 When the Northern Kingdoms disappear so does the tribe of Ephraim. It has also been suggested that Dan was a colonized group brought into Israel – probably during the reign of King David. They disappear as well. As to the cutoff of age twenty for military service – this is the same as the cut-off for marriage in the Mishnah. The Levites were likely individuals selected from the twelve tribes. The others are mustered into troops but the Levites will bear no arms. The Church up until Constantine made a virtue of never bearing arms. Once they are integrated into the Roman Empires they become the Church Militant. See:

The importance of dividing may be part a historical narrative but it is also a mode of geo-political instruction. There is a fundamental notion that this is reality – we naturally create affinity groups. Recommended Reading:, The Church is monolithic and stayed that way by generally staying out of politics. Doctrinal differences such as Purgatory was the basis for the creation of Protestantism. Note that this narrative describing the tribes assumes that there were ancestral families even in Egypt.

LL recommended reading:   The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture by Yoram Hazony See:

The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture proposes a new framework for reading the Bible. It shows how the biblical authors used narrative and prophetic oratory to advance universal arguments about morals and politics, truth and being, struggle and faith.

On the way, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture provides a series of bold new studies of the biblical narratives and prophetic poetry, transforming forever our understanding of what the stories of Abel, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David and Solomon, and the speeches of Isaiah and Jeremiah, were meant to teach us.

The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture is an interdisciplinary work accessible to scholars and educated readers of all backgrounds. It assumes no belief in God or other religious commitment. It assumes no previous background in Bible. It is free of disciplinary jargon.

Open the door to a book you never knew existed. You’ll never read the Bible the same way again.”

“A deep and lucid investigation of the connections between the two chief strands of our intellectual history. A great achievement.”

Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and the author of ‘How the Mind Works’ and ‘The Better Angels of our Nature.’

A paradigm-shifting work of immense significance, arguing that the Hebrew Bible be seen as a work of philosophy and interpreted as such—alongside, though very different from, the Greek classics—and thus as a book of universal significance in relation to the great questions about the human condition. This is an important and pioneering work which deserves to be widely read and deeply discussed.”

Torah Study Notes 5-9-15

May 9, 2015

p 823

23:1 A description of the festivals over the course of the year. The organization of the Book of Leviticus is fundamentally ritual practice – the activities of the priests. It starts with the most frequent activity like daily sacrifice and here moves to regularized activities like the annual festivals and then to the seven and fifty year occurrences.  HF: Are the Books of equal size? PG: Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers are broken down into the same number of chapters (a 10th C. innovation performed by Irish Monks,)  but that does not necessarily represent the same size of the Books. There are 859 verses in the Book of Leviticus. Here we start with the days of the week. LL: What is the original meaning of “Sabbath” in Hebrew? PG: To cease from work – but we don’t know if it originally had a religious connotation. It may have had connection to an observance of the cycles of the moon. See Plaut footnote.

23:4 Note the pronoun “my” in the first verse whereas “the” is used here. The timing of the rest of the festivals are determined by the moon and the sun – so do not need to be specifically scheduled. Celebration of harvest and the change in the year was inherent in this agricultural society. These things are built into the system as it were whereas Shabbat is a divine revelation that is not built into nature. Consider what Jesus and the apostle Paul have said about the Jewish Sabbath; there was a new covenant that pushed aside much of Israelite practice – shifting Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. That all changed during the Protestant separation from Catholicism when there was a return to the five books and the normative practices of Shabbat. There were also Sabbatarians in the 4th C. and now Seventh Day Adventists. See: and

There were nationally competing values and wars as to God’s intent which ended in the 19th C with efforts to separate church and state. Note that there are exigencies where “work” is permitted – such as to save a life.

23: 5 A Passover offering of unleavened bread. The Hebrew word is “Pesach” but the translators assumed here that it was the offering for the Sabbath. There are at least two origins for this word – Spring – and to be maimed – unable to move one’s legs. Note that this is in the first month of the year – which here occurs in Spring. The twelve months was originally from the ancient Zodiac and resulted in a numeric system that is based on twelve – such as 24 hours in the day, 60 minutes in the hour etc.

25:9 “Bring the first sheaf of the harvest to the priest…” considerable detail as to the proper sacrifice. Note verse eleven which addresses the day after the Sabbath and is somewhat ambiguous as to the day of Passover – which is also a day in which one does not work. See the work of Solomon Zeitlin which examines issues of calendar as reflected in the Torah.  He argues that the loss of days during the solar year is made up during the Jubilee every fifty years. Control of the calendar is arguably an assertion of power – and is frequently seen in societies where changes are made based on revolution. To the extent that government cannot change the seasons etc this is subversive – no human authority can change this. AF: There is a recognition here that we are an unruly and difficult people who need constant reminders of our religious obligations. LL: One of the strengths of Islam is that is requires prayer five time a day. That is also why it is arguably a breeding ground for fanaticism.