Torah Study Notes 9-12-15

September 12, 201

Page 1372

This portion is typically read the weekend before Yom Kippur. It is Moses last speech emphasizing the importance of the covenant. The middle of the portion has been omitted by the Reform movement – for reasons which we will explore today.

29:9 You stand this day before the Eternal your God…  Note the stranger who dwells among you… at the time one could not convert to Judaism. This is a merismus ( a biblical poetry form that describes a range of persons – usually from the highest to the lowest. LL “…from wood chopper to water drawer…” does not seem to be much of a range. RB:  It is not clear if conversions could occur at the time of Babylonian exile or if this prohibition against intermarriage was an interpretation of the rabbi’s after the fact. The Hebrew “Hayom” here has a dual meaning as to “this day” – it can refer to the time of exile as well as the time of those standing on the banks of the Jordon. See handout sheet “Who is God Talking To”  – as to who is in and who is out of the covenant. The rabbi’s felt that there needed to be a verse to support any rule. They looked for a verse that says that a convert must obey the same rules as one who is born a Jew. “..and those who are not here with us today.” Finding no such specific language they came to their own conclusions.

(See Shmot Rabbah 28:2 on the handout.  Thus shall thou say to the House of Jacob. There is a stated difference between what can be apprehended between men and woman. Here we are looking at the second generation myth from Genesis. The Rabbi is hence giving primacy to men on the basis of Adam’s first creation. The woman carry the sin of Eve – according to the Rabbis. Woman broke the world. However, the tools that these early rabbi’s  used to interpret Torah are different than the tools we use in the modern world. )

29:15 The Eternal blots out their name… for those who turn away from the Eternal our God. When the Reform movement omits this it has to do both with length as well as ideology. Here “I never will forgive such individual…” suggests that there cannot ever be effective repentance. This would not be acceptable in the Reform movement. Is this central to Reform theology? We cannot have a theology that just tells each individual to follow their hearts. Note that there is no one who is practicing Judaism as it is written in either the Torah or the Talmud. All Judaism is to some degree adaptive.

29:20 As for such clan or tribe… devastation for those who turn to the service of other gods. The phrase “As is still the case…” is a clue to the fact that this is exilic. A time later than the events described. The Prophets felt that those who had been exiled could come back to Jerusalem – the exile was sufficient punishment.

29:28 Concealed acts concern the Eternal… but the community has responsibility for punishing the wrongdoer.  This works best in the context of criminal activity. See footnote on page 1375 as to the potential later insertion of this parsha.

30:1 is not included in the usual reading on the High Holidays. SamF: It should be included. It shows God’s compassion – not just his wrath. It helps cultivate humility and the notion that actions have consequences. LL: Compare this to the Book of Job – where misfortune is external to the individual whereas here it arises from sin – rejection of God’s law. Our behavior will ultimately reap reward or punishment but is still subject to the vagaries of chance. See: Why Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner.

30:11 Keep God’s rules that you may thrive – but if your heart turns away you shall perish. Choose life. Here is a general statement of action and consequences without the specifics.  The message of the High Holy Days is that you are essentially good but you can be better – you can change. “I am dust and ashes” or “the whole world was created for my sake.”

Rabbi Berkowitz’s Overview: The primary difference between Jewish denominations today has to to with their relationship to Halakah – Jewish Law. Ancient Judaism is not practiced today. Halakah has and continues to evolve. There is constant reinterpretation. The more orthodox are closer to 18th C. but they use modern technology. The Modern Orthodox try to adhere to Halakah; live in the modern world but adapt modernity so as to live a Jewish life. Hasidim follow a Rebbe and his interpretations and the customs that he ordains.  The Conservative movement is more adaptable to modernity – and is beginning to accept the ordination of woman or gay and lesbian rabbi’s with the caveat that they will perform their roles like the men.  The Reconstructionist say that the past has a vote but not a veto in modern Jewish life. Reform is choice with knowledge. We don’t need the approval of the Halakah to change with modernity. This also applies to the treatment and acceptance of the gay and lesbian community. Note that in Reform each rabbi makes their own decisions as to who they will marry. RB  will not co-officiate at a wedding. However, she welcomes interfaith families.

RB will be offering a class on Mishnah every Tuesday night at 7PM.

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