Torah Study Notes 8-15-15

August 15, 2015

p. 1263

12:29: The effort in Deuteronomy is to create an ideal civil society. It is extremely idealistic and requires all of the members to be saintly. The question is posed: What is practical and what is merely aspirational. We must not be lured into the ways of those that are dispossessed. “Be careful to observe only that which I enjoin upon you neither add to it or take away from it.”  This verse is frequently used in arguments by the orthodox about how to conduct one’s life as a Jew. There is a certain tyranny here in terms of inflexibility. It has been argued that there has effectively been a replacement of Pharaoh with a new taskmaster – God. There is a replacement of one tyranny for another. But the second tyranny has an expiration date – the still small voice. AF: But God has a permanence as evoked in the Torah. Pharaoh changed from generation to generation. PG: God evolves throughout the Torah.

13:2: “If there appears a god before you…” A draconian result for anyone who espouses a new creed. Note the use of the term “prophet” here which usually has a positive connotation. But here it is used to describe someone who comes up with a new interpretation – backed up by magic. “The dream diviner” is reminiscent of Joseph and the time of Pharaoh. The challenge is to distinguish between a true prophet and a false one. See the last chapter of first Kings where one prophet stands against the others and is proved right. Consider the book by Reinhart and Rogoff “This Time Is Different – 8 Centuries of Financial Folly.”    See the work of Emmanuel Levinas  on Torah as an evolving document. Here the Israelites are an immature group which arguably needs strict leadership. CL: There is a notion about engaging with ones enemy that would have occurred in ancient times. So taking over the land leads to that kind engagement.

13:7: “IF your brother…entices you in secret… do not assent or cover up the matter. Stone them to death. SF: Before we pass judgment we need to think of the consequences of idol worship as destructive to the social order. PG: This text is schematic and cannot be taken at face value. RR: Note that this is part of Moses final oration. PG: And that as a practical matter the development of Jewish thought rendered the application of these punishments moot. There is no recitation of any instance of anyone doing this. Talmud subverts the apparent meaning of scripture in many instances.

13:13: More draconian punishments. But see the reference to some limited inquiry and due process. LL: Why did the redactors put this in and why did they use techniques of time conflation or rearrangement, telling accounts in different ways, it is likely to engender the thinking that we are doing today; that has been going on ever since. It is a sharp divergence from the linear Greek thinking that we are used to. SB: The killing of the cattle is significant in that those administering the punishment will not profit from it.

PG: Let’s think about the redactor – around the time of the Second Temple – trying to make sense about the loss and then recovery of the land. Everything we read in D is colored by that. Compare the Book of Ruth about leaving the land due to a famine and returning when it is flourishing. Probably based directly on the Joseph/Jacob legends.

14:1 What you can eat. PG: What is the connection between verse 1 and verse 2? The outer manifestation of loss is acceptable but self mutilation is not. You do not identify with the dead by appearing to be dead yourself. Rending garments or sackcloth and ashes are outer manifestations. The overarching argument here is to choose life – not death. CL: Confucius was promulgating similar notions in China at about the same time.

3: This is a repetition from Leviticus. There is a general statement here and then a list of particulars and then the reverse.  It could be argued that the specific is designed to limit an overly broad view of the general whereas when we go to the reverse the specifics are only examples of the general rule. LL: There are similar rules of statutory interpretation in the law.

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