Torah Study Notes 8-18-18

August 18, 2018

Rabbi Altman

Plaut – page 1300

Shofrim means “Justice” and this parsha focuses on judges, priests, kings and laws. The priests were primarily in Jerusalem and the sacrifices were to feed them. There is a warning here about practicing magic and divination. Last week was about false prophets. This section is on cities of refuge.  This concept is first mentioned in Numbers.

19:1 …so that any killer may have a place to flee…See the accidental death with the axe head in the grove of trees. This is an example. The Rabbis in the Mishnah and Talmud gave more examples. The “blood avenger…”  This was usually a family member, but it is also believed by some scholars that someone could be hired for this purpose. The killer had a place to flee and be safe prior to trial.

19:8 “…you shall add three more towns to that three… “ It is unknown if such cities ever were in fact established.

19:11 “If a man lies in wait and strikes a fatal blow… you shall show him no pity…Thus you will purge Israel of the blood of the innocent, and it shall go well with you.” See page 64 and the story of Noah. At that time the earth was filled with violence and the flood was man’s punishment.

(See: Steven Pinker’s. A History of Violence- https://www edge.org/3rd_culture/pinker07/pinker07_index.html ) It is Pinker’s thesis that violence has actually considerably decreased since ancient times.)

See also Genesis 5 re the creation if man in the image of G: “For your blood guilt I will require a guilty person…” This is not nuanced here. It is the underlying principle that, because we are created in the image of G, there cannot be murder. This was a revolutionary notion for the time according to some scholars. Turn to page 479 verse 13 “You shall not murder.” is the broad principle from the Ten Commandments. Thereafter there are “case studies.” See page 514 verses 12 through 14. “One who fatally strikes another person shall be put to death…” followed by some specific examples. The killer here is masculine. There is no indication that the cities of refuge were available to woman. There is a distinction here for accidental and premeditated death. Here the altar is a place of refuge but not available to the intentional killer. Many of these sins and consequences were later modified as to the punishment by the Rabbis in their interpretations. LL: This is analogous to originalism vs interpretation in Constitutional Law. See also page 1124 for a reference to cities of refuge.

Numbers 35:6 The towns assigned to the Levites. ‘The cities shall serve you as a refuge from the avenger… so the killer may not die unless he has stood trial before the assembly.”  Later, the Sanhedrin became the “assembly” who passed judgement. Deuteronomy restates much of this.

35:13 Six cities – three beyond the Jordan and three in the land of Canaan. What follows is numerous examples of what constitutes murder with iron, stone, wood.  This deals with intentionality. See: Rise Up and Kill Them First by Ronan Bergman -.  https://www.newsweek.com/2018/02/16/mossad-israel-rise-and-kill-ronen-bergman-assassinations-secret-history-797888.html  This is the secret history of the Shin Bet and Mossad assassination programs. The title is from the Talmud “If someone should come to kill you rise up and kill them first.”

35:22 Remaining in the city of refuge. When the killer may be protected. Note the power of the high priest.

35:29 The testimony of witnesses. There must be more than one for a conviction of murder or, indeed, any capital crime.  Note verse 33 –“… you shall not pollute the land… for blood pollutes the land… “ Remember that this is written in Babylonia and the Israelites were disenfranchised. The Talmud says that a Sanhedrin that decrees death once in seven years shall be discharged, or even every seventy years according to the Rabbi being quoted. There was great concern about the death sentence. Judaism is about using the Torah as a starting point and then refining by argument and discussion. See Essay on The Pursuit of Justice on page 1308.

LL/

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Torah Study 8-4-18

August 4, 2018

NOTE TO READERS: IT IS ALMOST ONE YEAR SINCE I HAVE POSTED TO THIS SITE. I HAVE BEEN LARGELY DETERRED BY MEDICAL PROBLEMS AND MY ATTENDANCE AT TORAH STUDY HAS BEEN SPORADIC. WITH THE RETURN OF GOOD HEALTH AND THE PRESENCE OF A NEW RABBI I HOPE TO FEEL RE-ENERGIZED. WE SHOULD PROCEED WITH THE USUAL CAVEAT THAT ALL PAGE REFERENCES HERE ARE TO PLAUT AND ANY ERRORS ARE MY OWN. LOU LEWIS

Presiding: Rabbi Renni S. Altman

Statements were requested by Rabbi as to why SF, PC and LL are attending Torah class. Sam gave a very in depth reply with the focus on learning to become a better person; Paul seeks intellectual companionship and learning “With people smarter than me.” I expressed my interest in religion as a historical force on humankind generally and in Judaism and the Jewish community. This is Rabbi Altman’s second Torah Study class at Vassar Temple

Page 1232

Deuteronomy -Eikev

9:4: Moses explains why the people are being given this land. It is the covenant with A, I and J. They are reminded that the people before them have been wicked and therefore are to be ousted. But they could be ousted as well. This is a demand for ethical behavior in addition to a demand for monotheism. This also has to do with the nature of gratitude. Is good fortune our doing? Or are there other forces involved. If they do not follow these commandments the land will spew them out. (LL: Much of this section is written in the first person. Moses is speaking and refers to himself as “I” These are sermons and speeches delivered by him.) SN: It is unfortunate that many if not most of the benefits inuring to the Israelites come at the expense of other peoples. Rabbi A: We cannot look at all of this through a modern lens. It is sacred text. PC: Looks like G fell down on the job here in terms of delivering on his promises. So much human suffering.  SF How are we not despairing here? We do it by ethical learning and improving ourselves. LL This is proto Judaism. We live in a rabbinic world.  Judaism has evolved into an intellectual process of examination of text and self.   SF Morning prayers asks that G treat us with compassion, mercy and justice etc. But that is about how we should treat one another.

9:8 An account of M’s experience on Sinai. See Essays starting on page 1241. This recitation repeats the account in Exodus 31 et sec. The incident of the Golden Calf.  Was M right or wrong in smashing the tablets?  Did he have a right to do that? See Midrash handout from the Babylonian Talmud, Exodus and Deutronomy. In M’s view the people broke the covenant and therefore were no longer entitled to the laws. G commended M for his action. See text from Exodus – referring to the “oral law” comprising Halakha, Midrash and Aggadah. The fact that M writes the second set of tablets indicates a partnership between G and M and hence between G and Man. SF: In Mussar anger is one of the highest forms of idolatry. SN Anger can motivate us to do good things. SF Maimonides talks about countering anger by doing the right thing – here that would be carving the second set of tablets. Rabbi A:  It is believed that M came down the mountain the second time on Yom Kippur.   LL: This section repeats the account in Exodus from 30:12 et sec.

From Wikipedia: Deuteronomy is traditionally seen as the words of Moses delivered before the conquest of Canaan, a broad consensus of modern scholars see its origin in traditions from the Northern Kingdom brought south to the Kingdom of Judah in the wake of the Assyrian conquest (8th century BC) and then adapted to a program of nationalist reform in the time of Josiah (late 7th century BC), with the final form of the modern book emerging in the milieu of the return from the Babylonian captivity during the late 6th century BC.[3] Many scholars see the book as reflecting the economic needs and social status of the Levite caste, who are believed to have provided its authors; those likely authors are collectively referred to as the Deuteronomist.