Torah Study Notes 2-6-16

NOTE TO READERS. THESE NOTES CANNOT REALLY BE UNDERSTOOD WITHOUT THE TORAH TEXT THAT IS BEING DISCUSSED. IF THE READER DOES NOT HAVE A COPY OF PLAUT YOU MAY WANT TO READ THE PORTION AT https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Bible/jpstoc.html
Page 522
Exodus 23:25 “When my angel goes before you…”
Here we find more detail with respect to other rules of conduct, observing the Sabbath and festivals and the rewards that are promised for our obedience. “”When my angel goes before you… and when I annihilate them (your enemies such as The Canaanites, Moabites and Hittites.) From a modern perspective this is a nihilistic and savage view. It is an intolerant and jealous God – not only as to other gods but as to other cultures. As we move from the Torah to the Prophets God moves from being parental to marital. In ancient societies religion was a part of everyday life that it isn’t today for most modern cultures. No separation between church and state so things like war, treaties and political decisions all have an immediate and important religious dimension. In the early text such as Exodus there is a permeable boundary between divine and human. To have a divine being such as an angel creates a theological problem in monotheism. In retrospect it appears that none of these things promised as rewards and punishments really happened – unless they are still happening – very slowly. This is a problem for the rabbis who start thinking of an afterlife because of the perceived lack of justice in the actual world. The notion of an afterlife is a convenient panacea. LL: Some of this seems to be hyperbole akin to what the coach says during halftime in the locker room. It is over the top exhortation and should be recognized as such. RB In the Mishnah the rabbis acknowledge that they have no idea why bad things happen to good people but agree that we are responsible for enforcing justice in this world. In our society the boundaries between different peoples are thin – which brings the question as to how far that should go. RR Sounds like the concern of the author is to proceed gradually so as to avoid a return to chaos. Consider Jim Carey in Bruce Allmighty https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Almighty Prayers are not being answered so the deiffied Bruce winds up answering all of the prayers “yes.” Bob R – when the Imam was here he warned us to be aware of the things in scripture that are “seeds” of the problems we have today. Scripture has to be read with a filter. Look at line 32 which seems to preclude any accommodation to the people who are being displaced. RB:: There are Jews today who still take this literally and do not mix with “the other.” PC: We can now reject this totally which says something about Judaism today.
24: 1 Come up to the Eternal… and bow low from afar. Moses wrote down all of the commands of the Eternal. The blood of the covenant is splashed on the people. When you behold G you can engage in eating and drinking. Moses remains on the mountain forty days and forty nights. LL What is the pedagogic intent here? Why is Moses going up the mountain several times? RB: Note that 40 years is a generation whereas 40 days is just a long time. The appointment of Aaron and Hur to determine legal disputes indicates the importance of law in the society – and even today. Note that there is some language here which suggests that a fetus in not a person. Note also that the eye for an eye principle is actually a relaxation of an earlier practice where an entire village could be wiped out in revenge for the killing of one person. See Essays on page 526 of Plaut.
24:7 See RB handout on “We will do and we will listen” ending with the following statement of Rabbi Kushner:
Rabbi Harold Kushner (Etz Chayim 378): “The literal meaning of the two words naaseh v’nishma is “we will do and we will obey.” This famous reply represents the Israelites’ faithful acceptance of their role as God’s chosen people. The Sages were impressed by the eagerness with which the Israelites accepted the burdens of being God’s people and following God’s laws. To say “I will do” even before one understands is to say, “I have faith that God will lead me in the proper path.” According to a talmudic legend, the angels were so impressed with this show of faith that they came down from heaven and placed to crowns on the head of each Israelite, one for doing (naaseh) and one for obeying, or seeking to understand (v’nishma). The Israelites could have responded, as most would today, “We will seek to understand and, if we are persuaded, we will agreed to do them.” Instead, having met God in Egypt, at the sea, and at Mount Sinai, the Israelites trusted that God’s demands would be reasonable and in their best interest. Just as we accept medicine from our physician on trust, without understanding what it is or how it works, and commit ourselves to marriage, to parenthood, and to a career as acts of faith before we fully understand what they will entail, so too the Israelites accepted God’s will. There are many things in life that we cannot appreciate before we have lived them and come to appreciate their value. We must do them first (naaseh) and only afterwards realize why (nishma).”

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Torah Study Notes 1-30-16

January 30, 2016
Rabbi Paul Golomb filing in for Rabbi Lean Berkowitz.
In the Hebrew (right side of the Plaut text) there are two sets of cantellation marks. One is used for private readings and the other for public. Note the half tone page. The term “Decalogue” means ten utterances. Not “commandments.” Or even obligations. Protestants and Catholic versions of the Decalogue start with “you shall have no other gods before me” whereas here it is “I am the Eternal your God.” The former is clearly a commandment whereas the latter is a statement. Note the way this is broken up into ten statements but they do not comport with the verses. Normally at the end of a verse in a printed text there is a colon. See verses three through six – no colon until the end of six – effectively turning it all into a separate statement. Verse thirteen has four colons – turning it into four statements. In the Hebrew there is a colon at the end of every verse – which creates an ending for the listener. Making a statement conjunctive or disjunctive can make for different meanings.
26: 1 The use of the word “shall” is a commandment. LL See Freud’s book “Moses and Monotheism.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moses_and_Monotheism wherein it is posited that Hebraic monotheism is derivative of Akhenaton’s monotheism. PG: Freud is very interested in what is retained – here he is assuming that the notion of monotheism was retained by the Hebrews. Scripture is designed to unfold and is sensitive to the learning process. Medieval commentators were concerned about the process of moving a group of individuals who were living in one polity and theopolitics into a new one. See: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/maimonides/
26:4 No sculptured images – the third and forth generations shall be punished for violations. The fear of G is basic here but consider who is being addressed – these are a people who are new to these notions and hence the use of hyperbole. A more carefully reasoned explanation would come later. Recall that G spoke to Moses from the burning bush by saying “I am the G of your ancestors.” Abraham Isaac and Jacob are mere abstractions at this point to these people. Here they are reminded that this is the G who brought them out of Egypt.
26: 7 You shall not swear falsely. LL This is foundational to having a system of government and justice that is predicated on laws. PG It also makes clear that one cannot swear by any other authority.
26:8 Keep the Sabbath day holy and do not work. The definition of “work” has proved problematic. Most of Jewish practice comes from the Talmud where there is extensive discussion about what constitutes work. The Orthodox have a principle that the well being of the individual comes first so the rule can be bent. Shabbat in an absolute sense is unobtainable. The best we can do is try to adhere to the law. Consider the Shabbat elevator which stops at every floor. Compare the information in 26:11 to the opening lines of Genesis. Are these words familiar to the people? We as the readers are privy to this information because we have read Genesis. Note the use of the seven day cycle which becomes intrinsic to society.
26:12 Honor your father and your mother. What connects this with remaining long on the land? Could you be disinherited? What does the word “honor” mean here? This is not obedience. It is more suggestive of maintaining continuity. Hannan Brichto (sp? Not found.) – said that they should be cared for in old age and then by preserving their graves. Typically, burial took place on the land. Consider the sweeping of the graves in Chinese culture and Rosh Hashanah – honoring of the dead. This became important when the Jews were wondering and landless. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honour_thy_father_and_thy_mother

26:13 You shall not murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness. The half tones in the Hebrew denote spaces between each of these sins.
26: Do not covet your neighbors house etc. or anything that is your neighbors. But isn’t this an emotional reaction? And therefore unavoidable? But we cannot translate this emotion into action.
Note that the commandment as to Shabbat is out of step with the others. The others are immediately obvious and learned in kindergarten. All of this is somewhat banal except keeping the Sabbath holy. This is the only piece of revelation that is truly revelatory.
26:15 Thunder and lightening. Be not afraid but let the fear of god be forever with you so you do not go astray. See footnote suggesting that this parsha may be out of place. Note that we have moved from a direct experience of G and tablets written by Him to an indirect experience via Moses. Jacques Derrida said that very few gifts are true gifts – they are given in exchange. See: http://www.academia.edu/6141439/Marions_and_Derridas_Philosophy_of_the_Gift

Torah Study Notes 12-6-14

 

December 6, 2014
p. 222 Jacob and Esau are somewhat reconciled.
33:15 “Pray let me leave behind with you a portion of the force that accompanies me.” See footnote indicating that Jacob has no intention of going to Esau’s home nor does he desire a contingent of Esau’s men monitoring him. This is the first mention of “Succoth” in the Torah – the holiday reflecting God’s favor via the harvest.
33:18 Jacob makes camp, buys a field and sets up an altar -indicative of a prolonged visit. See verse 5 on page 91 where Abraham also builds an altar. He does it again in Bethel. In a sense this is marking territory – but on property not purchased. This may be ownerless land or even public land. The rabbinic term is for such property is “hefker.” Abraham only purchased land for Sarah’s grave. Here Jacob buys land to worship and to praise life. In Poughkeepsie in 1845 a cemetery was purchased on Pershing Avenue but our Reform Temple was not purchased until some years later. Burying people is the first step in establishing a community. CL: According to the archeology the Israelites were living in the north where this Succoth is being established. See: The Bible Unearthed by Finklestein et al. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bible_Unearthed
This area of Israel was sparsely settled along the central spine – even during the period of David and Solomon. PG: FInklestein tends to assign late dates rather than earlier. His tendency is to be skeptical. LL: There is no before or after in the Torah. PG: See the work of David Aaron arguing that most of the Bible was composed in the post-exilic era. Etched in Stone: The Emergence of the Decalogue. PG: Note that Sinai disappears in Deuteronomy – it is outside the land of Israel whereas the Law is portable. No hard fixed location is necessary in order to have a relationship with God. The transformation of the Sinai account from being incidental to one of central importance is itself divinely inspired. This is theological. See review of Aaron’s work at: http://www.jhsonline.org/reviews/reviews_new/review269.htm
34:1 The story of Dinah’s rape by Shechem. But then he seeks to marry her. The Hebrew word translated as “ rape” is important – it refers to oppression with force. See footnote indicating that if a man takes a virgin by force he must marry her and is prohibited from divorcing her.
34:5 Scholars have suggested that there are two narratives that are intertwined here. Note that Jacob did not react immediately but his children do so. This is a violation of the existing cultural and historical context as well as a violation of the woman. Dinah was in the territory of Hamor. What were the rights and prerogatives of the nobility in this territory? Jacob does not know and is silent. Compare to the wives as sisters story with both Isaac and Jacob where, for purposes of safety they pretended that their wives were their sisters. Note further that this was a time – post exilic – of Persian control. The Zoroastrians were not idolaters. Here we see a transition from the notion of woman as property to the mystical notion of “shekhinah” – in this case it is the female invested with the divinity of God. See:
http://shekhinah/en.m.wikopedia.org
34: 8 Both Hamor and Shachem plead for a marriage. LL: They seem sincere. Wouldn’t it have been preferable to avoid the ensuing violence? See Karen Armstrong on the subject of religion and violence: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/11/is-religion-inherently-violent/382035/
34:13 The sons answer deceptively and call for all of the men be circumcised.
34:18 Hamar and Shechem accept the condition presupposing a genuine offer of peace. The circumcisions proceed.PG: Adult circumcision was not a rare or unknown act in ancient times. It was seen as beneficial to trade with economic advantages.
34: 35 Simeon and Levi enter the city and kill every male and all their sheep etc are taken. PG: When you are fighting with idolaters you are fighting a war for God. That is not the case here. But clearly the Shechemites intended to take the property of the Israelites.
34:30 Jacob remonstrates with Simeon and Levi. He fears retaliation. Note that, because of this conduct, the sons are cursed by Jacob in his final testament. Simeon disappears hereafter and the Levites are forbidden the ownership of any land.

Torah Study Notes 8-23-14

August 23, 2014
p. 1259
11:26 The people are being asked to carry out a series of new counter-intuitive acts. They are asked to demonstrate their faith by doing things that do not come naturally to them. Compare Gideon who asks for a sign from God. The grain is wet and the floor is dry and then the reverse – which is out of the ordinary. The Israelites had to indicate that they understood what the relationship was. It is a different relationship than that of their neighbors and their Gods. The thrust here is an injunction not to engage in blind faith – one must have faith coupled with understanding. Note the referencing to the blessing at Mt. Gerizim and the curse at Mt. Ebal. These are obscure places that do not immediately resonate with the reader. They are also mentioned in the Book of Joshua and in Deuteronomy. They are physically near Shonrom which was going to be the capital of Northern Israel. They were important to the ancient Samaritans and the Samaritans continue to treat them as significant locations. Remember that it those Israelites who returned from exile in Babylonia who are responsible for the promulgation of this text. The indigenous people who remained are the Samaritans. They had made peace with their Babylonian overlords. But the people who returned had the support of the Persian leadership. The blessings and curses were a tradition retained by them – perhaps orally – that did not make it into the text except via these marginal references. There is something called the Samaritan Torah – not including Joshua. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samaritan_Pentateuch  LL Note: PG advises that the Samaritan Torah does include Joshua and that the Wikipedia entry is incorrect. The six book Torah is called the “Hexateuch.”
The “you” here is “each of you” rather than reference to a collective responsibility of the people.
11:31 You are about to cross the Jordon… This is a critical juncture which will be very dependent on the form of human organization needed to establish a just society. See the work of Hermann Cohan which rely very heavily on Kant. Kant saw an absolute division between law – which is imposed – and ethics. The question of internal and external. He argued that the law can only become ethical if imbued with the transcendent. That is what is going on in Torah. This is Isogesis. See: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cohen/ See also the Plaut Commentary on page 1256
12:2 Moses calls for a central sanctuary. You must destroy all of the sites of the nations which you will dispossess. Clearly this was an important step in creating a national identity. LL: This is reminiscent of the destruction of all traces of the Akhenaton dynasty in Egypt. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atenism
12:4 Do not worship the Lord in a like manner… Most biblical scholars attribute this text to the Josiah Reforms –See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josiah – circa 610 to 620 BC. He is a King of Judah who decides to renovate the Temple and to shut down other sites being used for sacrifice. All sacrifice would take place in Jerusalem. There are a variety of motives that could be attributed to this move – centralization of power, corruption in the hinterlands, variations in sacrificial practices. Note that most modern scholars believe tht Judaism grew indigenously on the land of Israel – that there was no captivity in Egypt and that many of the other “incidents” are apocryphal. There was never a land totally purged of foreign influences. If anything disparate practices – idolatry – needed to be driven from the land frequently. LL: At what point do variations in practice become identified as idolatry? Judaism is a commitment to a tradition and a culture but it takes a variety of forms today.
12:8 You shall not act now as we all act now… Changes are coming in the form of more ritualized practices and the establishment of a priesthood. The only way you can truly become a covenanted community is by following these practices.
12:13 Not every slaughter of an animal is a sacrifice. The consumption of meat is permitted as a matter of routine.
12:17 Do not neglect …rituals and sacred spaces which will help you in relating to your God. It is the rituals and sacred places that define true sacrifice. See Essays on page 1276.
12:20 When the Eternal enlarges your territory…you may eat to your heart’s content – except for the blood. One must also always provide for the Levites.

Vassar Temple Confirmation

Left to right: Rabbi Paul Golomb, Wayne H. (top); Olivia D, Ally B, Brianna E (bottom).

Left to right: Rabbi Paul Golomb, Wayne H. (top); Olivia D., Ally B., Brianna E. (bottom).

Though bar or bat mitzvah marks the transition from childhood to Jewish adulthood, the decision to celebrate bar or bat mitzvah is usually made by a child’s parents, precisely because the would-be bar or bat mitzvah celebrant is still a child while the plans for the ceremony are underway.

Confirmation, by contrast, gives young Jewish adults the opportunity to make what is often their first major Jewish decision as adults: will Jewish study be a central part of their lives?

Yesterday at Vassar Temple, four young Jewish adults — Ally, Brianna, Olivia, and Wayne — answered that question with an enthusiastic “yes” by leading their congregation in worship and by offering words of Torah.

In keeping with Jewish tradition, their remarks bridged their religious and secular worlds. Neither focusing too narrowly on the minutia of Jewish text nor ignoring their Jewish values, they spoke about human dignity, our obligation to care for the world, and the enduring value of Judaism.

The issue of global climate change speaks directly to our Jewish obligation to care for the world, as Wayne reminded the congregation. He spoke in favor of dealing with climate change now, and not bowing to pressure from those whose financial interests align with dismissing the problem.

The minimum legal drinking age is not a mere number but a decision about people’s welfare, Ally said as she argued that lowering it back to 18 would help people more than it would harm them, and, in addition, that a drinking age of 18 would better match the other rights and obligations that people earn when they turn 18.

School-wide dress codes have significant benefits, Brianna noted, but she still spoke out against them because in her eyes they do more harm than good. They make it harder to hold people accountable for their actions, restrict expression, contribute to inequality between men and women, and even indirectly promote misogyny.

Judaism focuses on this world more than any potential world that might follow, which is one reason Olivia said she was glad to confirm her Jewish identity. For her this was a particularly conscious choice because her family background gave her two clear paths in life, only one of which was Jewish.

“The world is based on three things,” our sages teach: “Torah, service to God, and acts of kindness.” It was a joy for me — and, I know, for the congregation — to see how these four young Jewish adults incorporated Torah and kindness as part of their service to God, continuing a tradition that began hundreds of generations ago, and, thanks in part to them, shows every sign of continuing for untold generations to come.

Left to right:  Ally B., Brianna E., Olivia D., Wayne H.

Left to right: Ally B., Brianna E., Olivia D., Wayne H.

Torah Study Notes 9-1-13

September 1, 2013
p. 1382
Second Isaiah continued. This contains some of the best known passages in the Torah – some of which have become songs.
61:10 Here Israel is presented as a bride in a marriage with God. Again a stark contrast with the Book of Deuteronomy. Note that this is the final reading from Second Isaiah – which presents the question as to why it is presented in this order. Note the transition from the first passage which is one of a childless mother comforting her child. Here there is no sense of being forlorn – all is potential with the childless bride. In a few days we will have Rosh Hashanah and all will be new again.
62:1 Who is being addressed here? The about to be wedded couple? Only metaphorically. It is the people of Israel who are being encouraged to think positively about the future. The reference of this chapter is believed by most scholars to be taking place within the land of Israel – upon return from captivity. They have been imbued with the romantic vision of returning to Zion. Now they are there and one senses a bit of a let-down. They need to be reinvigorated. Note that those who wanted to avoid going to Babylon likely fled to Egypt. The Exodus accounts are likely written as an extended metaphor for the Babylonia exile. The Babylonian Captivity is confirmed in the historical and archeological record but there is nothing to confirm time spent in Israel. Note that the Torah is best interpreted based on the time of publication – not by the controversial issues of when parts were written. Publication most likely occurred in this post-Exilic period when a variety of other writings or oral history were collected. LL: This raises the question of why something is published. In modern times publication is clearly purposed in terms of fiction or non-fiction and then broken up into even more numerous categories. We do not sense that separation in Torah – those distinctions was apparently considered important. PG: This reflects the Jewish tendency to reject true or false –extremes. Truth and justice is not found in either/or it is found in the struggle to reconcile various sources of truth. PG: This presents the issue of high and low criticism – the abstract meaning vs the written word. We want to engage them both at the same time –immerse ourselves in the text but at the same time examine the abstractions. PG: Consider the work of Leo Strauss – the political philosopher. One of his most famous works is “Persecution and the Art of Writing.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_and_the_Art_of_Writing
Writers living in oppressive regimes will often purposely obscure their message to avoid getting into trouble. Another approach is to see the writing as one of exclusion – limiting the understanding of the readership to those already “in the know.” On the other hand Second Isaiah does contain explicit criticism of Nebuchadnezzar. It is more likely that Exodus is pre-exilic. It is unknown if they were bed-time stories, tribal legends, etc. Some of them were preserved because at a later date they had relevance. SF: The purpose of the entire Torah is to develop a moral code and connecting to God. That is the intent of the writers then and it continues to work now. That is the path to joy, happiness and personal fulfillment. PG: That is the over-all message of the Torah but these passages emphasize the value of God in the face of tragedy.
62:4 Names are utilized in several Torah portions. Here the names “forsaken” and “abandoned” are changed to “My Delight is in You.”
LL/

Torah Study Notes 1-26-13

January 26, 2013
p. 465
This is the Song of Deborah from the Haftarah – preceded by a narrative. The connection to the Torah portion is to the Song of the Sea.
9:2 The song is schematic but is explained in part via the narrative. The beginning is an exhortation. Note that the phrase “grow loose” is the same as “grow long” and connects to the story of Sampson from the Book of Judges. There was a group of Nazarites who followed this practice. Compare the practices of the Sikh. It indicates a personal spiritual quest. Treatment of hair is an indication of status in many societies. Note also the reference to marching from the land of Edom – which is east and south of ancient Israel near the Dead Sea. Edom is associated with Esau – which was established as a kingdom – biblically speaking – before Israel. The suggestion is that God had a covenantal relationship with the Edomites. It is ambiguous here if “marching out of Edom” is a metaphor for abandoning the Edomites or is merely a spread of the covenant to Israel.
9:6 Ther was likely a back story wherein the characters of Deborah and Barak were well known. The roads falling into disrepair suggests no central authority – the twelve tribes were separate.
9:11 Under the charismatic leadership of Deborah and the military leadership of Barak they pull themselves together.
9:14 They need to unite to fight a battle. Six tribes respond to the call. The others are reproached by the poet. Not all of the tribes are mentioned. This part is ignored in the narrative.
9:19 Although Israel prevailed not everyone participated and there was an element of luck – a flash flood in a wadi. God’s angel curses a tribe that held back. The entire Book of Judges is somewhat anomalous with other sections of Deuteronomy. They were likely organized and written about 600 BCE. The Deuteronomist is thought to have taken pre-existing material – like this Song – and written explanations – which is the narrative. Note that the Ashkenazi are more amenable to autocracy – hence the Hasidic respect for a rebbe. The attitudes of the Sephardic Jews are different; they are disinclined to accept dictatorial powers. Deborah represents a figure who has likely seized power. CL: This is uniquely about a woman who has a following. As poetry this is an artistic expression. She has followers like Madonna or Lady Gaga. PG: But once she passes from the scene there is no continuity – that is the advantage of a monarchy with rights of succession. Moral authority often collapses at the point of a bayonet. LL: Today there are cultural wars that do not involve troops or bayonets. It is difficult to predict the long term outcome of those wars.
9:24 The story of fierce Jael. The word “Kenite” seems to refer to a non-Israelite Bedouin type people. Jael is the most blessed of the “woman in tents.” by virtue of having killed the leader of the invaders.
9:28 The story of the mother waiting for her son appears in other ancient poetry. It is derisive.
Now for the preceding narrative:
4:4 This opens with a description of Deborah’s background. Note that Barak will only undertake his assignment if she comes along. As a prophet she brings the presence of God with her. Here is a close description of the battle and victory but there is no reference to the call to arms going out to all of Israel – as appears in the poem. LL: How do the ultra orthodox reconcile their treatment of woman with Deborah’s prominent role here? PG: See the work of Daniel Boyarin and others on the influence of sexual repression on Jewish thought and the ultra orthodox: http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/sex Every society needs to deal with the issue of sex and they are frequently at odds as to their approaches. In ancient Israel this was addressed by redirecting sexual energy to the love of God. Compare the attitudes of Maimonides and Nachmonides on the subject of family purity.
Nahmanides allegedly [3] wrote a book on marriage, holiness, and sexual relations for his son as a wedding gift, the Iggeret ha-Kodesh (אגרת הקודש – The Holy Epistle). In it Nahmanides criticizes Maimonides for stigmatizing man’s sexual nature as a disgrace to man. In the view of the author, the body with all its functions being the work of God, is holy, and so none of its normal sexual impulses and actions can be regarded as objectionable.
SF recommends we read The Palm Tree of Deborah by Moses Cordevero: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomer_Devorah
It is a commentary on this Song and narrative used in mussar teachings.
LL/

RAC Trip, Friday

After a relaxing and uneventful drive down to the nation’s capital, we checked in to the Sheraton Pentagon City in time to relax a little before Shabbat.

Studying Social Action Texts at the RAC's L'Taken Social Action Seminar.  Kiley Q. in blue.

Studying Social Action Texts at the RAC’s L’Taken Social Action Seminar. Kiley Q. in blue.

Then some 250 Jewish teenagers from a dozen states — representing California to New York, Florida to Rhode Island — gathered to welcome Shabbat with song. We moved quickly into a communal dinner, which ended with time to meet new friends from around the country.

Friday evening services followed, led by two guitar-playing rabbis.

Then the participants delved into the complex interaction of hunger and social programs in America. In the context of Maimonides’ famous ranking of different kinds of aid, the students debated the merits of Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, and more, all under the umbrella of “The Dark Night: Poverty and Homelessness in America.”

The evening included a chance to experience what it might be like to rely on social programs for food.

Dessert topped off the evening.

All in all, it was a fantastic start to a weekend of exploring tikkun olam, social justice, and the power of lobbying governmental leaders.

Friday Evening Services  at the RAC’s L’Taken Social Action Seminar

Friday Evening Services at the RAC’s L’Taken Social Action Seminar


Studying Social Action Texts at the RAC’s L’Taken Social Action Seminar.  Standing, left to right, Rachel M., Brianna E., and Noah C.

Studying Social Action Texts at the RAC’s L’Taken Social Action Seminar. Standing, left to right, Rachel M., Brianna E., and Noah C.

Torah Study Notes 11-3-12

NOTICE TO READERS OF THESE TORAH STUDYPOSTS: The text submitted here is unedited. Corrections and comments are welcome. Generally, the initials shown are an attempt to credit the individual who made a particular point or responded to it. “PG” is Rabbi Paul Golomb. Page references are to Plaut. It is assumed that the reader is familiar with the text but these notes will be more inteligible if read in conjunction with the cited passages.

 November 3, 2012

p. 149
Second Kings: 4:1 “Now a creditor is coming to take away my two sons to be his slaves.” A commentary about justice. It is taking a diffuse event –Sodom and Gomorrah in the Torah portion – and trying to make sense of it. Here it is personalized into an account of a woman’s anguish and questions about the death of her husband. She cries out to Elisha.
4:5 A miracle of oil. Just as justice in Sodom derives from a supernatural force – so does it act here. The first step is going around to all of the neighbors. She is able to call upon her community for support. The destruction of Sodom was brought about via inhospitality. Here that is turned on its head. The community is generous for the sake of an individual. The phrase “the man of God” refers to a member of a band of spiritualists who engaged in ecstatic practices. We use the word “prophet” but that is a problematic word in referring to this group. Amos said “I am neither a prophet or the son of a prophet.” These figures appear throughout. SN: What is the significance of the non-public aspect of this event?PG:  That is unclear. LL: Perhaps there was a social stigma attached to publically asking for and expecting assistance.
4:8 Special treatment for a man of God. One of the ways these special people were identified may have been as to how their hair was cut – a tonsorial. Elisha was called to “orders” by Elijah – of whom we know virtually nothing. He does not wear the tonsorial but was recognized as having prophetic ability. See footnote 9. This echoes the Torah portion where Abraham runs out of his tent and offers strangers a meal. It is unknown which of the accounts came first and so which drew upon the other. See Michael Fishbane at the University of Chicago – who writes on biblical interpretation within scripture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Fishbane
4:11 An exact reference or adaptation to the story of Sarah. The boy born to the otherwise barren woman “dies” and she seeks out the man of God who predicted that she would have a son. Note that here it is the husband who sees limitations to divinity and the wife who is the believer – just the opposite of Sarah and Abraham.
4:23 The Mishna tells us that Ghazi is one of the people who will find no place in the afterlife. His conduct is questionable.
4:31 The boy sneezes and opens his eyes. The life force of Elisha is imparted to the child. Also, appears to be ancient CPR. Ghazi says that the child has not awakened – not that he is dead. What is the significance of sneezing seven times? The expulsion of the demon or whatever was choking off the life of the child. Again, one can ask the question: why is this woman favored whereas the sons of other mothers will die. This is the ambiguity, the uncertainty, of life.
Remember that God has disappeared as an active presence after the “still small voice.” See Jack Miles book God: a Biography: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God:_A_Biography ” See also Friedman The Hidden Face of God. http://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Face-Richard-Elliott-Friedman/dp/006062258X

Torah Study Notes 8-18-12

August 18, 2012
NOTICE TO READERS OF THESE TORAH STUDYPOSTS: The text submitted here is unedited. Corrections and comments are welcome. Generally, the initials shown are an attempt to credit the individual who made a particular point or responded to it. “PG” is Rabbi Paul Golomb. Page references are to Plaut. It is assumed that the reader is familiar with the text.

This is one of the three most interesting Torah portions in Deuteronomy. Here we are dealing with the issue of the social wheel – societal welfare. This is a repetition to some extent to the end of Leviticus but here the emphasis is on the remission of debt.
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15:1 “Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debts.” SF: Who is being lent to? If to family or tribe there is an implied obligation to consider their welfare. PG: Generally, laws governing proper behavior in society fall upon the tribesman and alien alike. But here we are told differently. “you may dun the foreigner..” Note that the debt is remitted in the same year that the land is left fallow. This is per a pre-established calendar. There may be a relationship between land and loans. But loans are probably not always money – that is an anachronistic notion since money is never even listed or noted in the Torah as existing. The word “zuz´ means “move” which is the concept behind money. Temple weights and measure are mentioned frequently but they could be weighing grain. Even the word “shekel” refer to a specific weight. This is a barter system. So a loan may be of land, grain, metal, or other commodity. There are also references to a “pledge” for a loan. In an agrarian society the loan of seed is probably the most common. Accordingly, if a foreigner comes and asks for a loan of seed they are on a different land cycle than one’s neighbors. It would be irrational to forgive a loan which cannot be paid in the normal course of events. AF: Also, the foreigner is not obligated to follow the Torah. SF: This could also be advantageous to the lender – who can receive payment from the foreigner when the lenders land lies fallow.
15:4 “There shall be no needy among you…” SF: There is an implied obligation of charity here. PG: But one must follow the instructions of Torah in order to obtain this blessing. This is part of what makes a stable, productive and happy society. For the most part the instruction of Torah has to do with how we relate to other individuals. Much of this is emotionally tough in terms of keeping all of these rules. Life impinges and actually prevents us from following the rules. It’s like putting one’s mind at ease on Shabbat – almost impossible. The example of walking past a wall that needs repair and you think about it. It would mean you could never repair the wall because that would turn what you did on Shabbat into forbidden work. This is why there are many books about keeping Shabbat. LL: Are we being taunted by being told of an unobtainable goal? PG: No, It is like an Olympian striving to an ideal. DC: It makes me angry that the Orthodox spend so much time thinking about how one gets around the rules and at the same time pretend to be holy. PG: There is a tipping point at which efforts to keep the rules become something else.
15:7 Open your hand to the needy in your land. SF: The hard part is to have faith that there will be a reward for this good conduct. LL: No. There should be no reward for charity – it should be its own reward. PG: There is nothing like that idea of charity as its own reward in the Torah. If you do not do charity you will create dissonance in the community, you will incur guilt – or perhaps the devolution of society into revolution and chaos. With your few pounds of seed you are buying social peace. AF: This implies that the land is very rich and that everyone will be able to be charitable. HF: I reject the notion that only the very rich can be charitable. PG: In the rabbinic era this notion of charity and land all changes because the former Israelites no long have land – loans then become money. And the rise of the notion of interest. This is no longer charity. We have to think about the principles we want to preserve. LL: Our notion of what constitutes charity has changed. One can be charitable by giving to causes that focus on other than the poor.
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