Torah Study Notes 10-1-16

October 1, 2016

Some advice to readers: These notes are generally most intelligible when read in conjunction with the passages as they appear in Gunther Plaut’s The Torah – A Modern Commentary. We work from the revised edition published by the Union For Reform Judaism. I find it useful to have my own copy at home together with Plaut’s Haftarah Commentary. Also, a long overdue apology to my Torah Study classmates. There are typically twelve or more people present and they are a continuing source of interesting commentary and questions. I try to capture the essence of some of their remarks in these notes but rarely do them justice.

Page 1373

Rabbi B – These passages we are about to read are essentially a summary repetition from the last cycle. They are easy to memorize.

29:9 You stand this day, all of you, before the Eternal your God… This establishes the covenant with everyone – those present and not present. All… of Israel. The people who came before you and those who come after you. Some would say that it includes even those who convert to Judaism.

29:13 Well you know that we dwelt in the land of Egypt…This section implies strict accountability. There is no room for interpretation. The people are standing on the opposite side of the Jordan and Moses is speaking. This is his final oration to the next generation “who knew not Pharaoh.” Nine times every seventeen years.  The Jewish calendar has to be adjusted because of the use of the lunar cycle.

29:20: A tribe may be singled out for misfortune. Because they forsook the covenant and turned to the service of other gods. They will suffer all of the curses recorded here. Communal punishment may be limited to the tribe of the transgressor. Note that there are occasions when a word is written one way but read a different way – such as where something refers to a disease or body part. JB What if you don’t believe in any God? That doesn’t seem to be covered. RB: Basically, we are more concerned with actions and behavior than belief. You may act a certain way because you fear god or for what you view as moral or ethical reasons. Fringe groups of Judaism have been formed such as Humanistic Judaism (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanistic_Judaism   )

and Jews for Jesus. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jews_for_Jesus  The latter is also now known as Messianic Judaism. They wanted to be included under the umbrella of the Reform movement. The Messianic group masks their Christianity and funding from evangelical conservative groups. They are trying to convert Jews to what is essentially Christianity. The Humanist are more problematic in that they have a nature worship element. AF You can be a percentage believer. Marsha: I disagree. Beleif cannot be quantified numerically. RB You might believe in God but don’t believe in all of his powers to intervene in our lives. RB The ethical commandments are just as important as the dietary. LL It is not a percentage of belief but rather a percentage of participation. You either believe or not. Yet you may be Jewish by participating in different ways. It is the essence of the Reform movement that you be allowed to accommodate your level of participation according to your individual preferences. SF Judaism is multifaceted. Some participate with fervor and some less. This has nothing to do with being a member of the Jewish community. Someone is not a better Jew just because they keep kosher.  RB: Being part of a community essentially defines the level of ritual obligations. LL Note that there were different shuls here in Poughkeepsie based on national origin. Vassar was essentially German Jews and there was a separate temple occupied by the Hungarians and other eastern Europeans. Beth El was formed by dissident members of this congregation.

29:28: Concealed acts concern the Eternal your God… What you do in secret is still known to God and of concern to God.

30:1 When all of these things befall you… What is the book of teachings referred to here? RB: Some think it is Deuteronomy. There are a number of places where the word Torah is used in the sense of “instruction.” There may have been earlier compilations of the laws. Deuteronomy itself may have been an after acquired book. Here it is what Moses has been writing down. The special haftarah next week is Hosea.

30:11: From 29:15 to 30:10 the detail has been removed. It is not read on Yom Kippur in Reform because it takes too long.  Here we are given choices and there are rewards and punishment for each choice. Note the beauty and poetry of this section. It is personal. This is where personal interpretation is permitted. It becomes a central text for the discussions of rabbinic Judaism. RB tells the story of the argument of the two rabbis: One contended that these teachings are not in the heavens. The other insisted that we must have an agreed upon way of functioning and that is strict adherence to the law. They asked God.  God laughed and said “my children have defeated me.” The presence of different opinions – that are recorded – gives us the option of adopting another view as circumstances change.

30:15: The words I set before you this day… The final statement. Don’t worship other gods etc. but Reform cuts the details. You make choices that result in prosperity and blessing – or not. We see how our actions have consequence in our lives and in the world. Technology can create community as we have seen on the internet – such as Facebook. But this will never completely replace the personal contact found in shul.

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