D'varim
       Articles:

What's God Got To Do With It? What's God Got To Do With It (2)?
Bamidbar "My father was a wandering Aramean" - Who was he?
Intentions and Morality Faith
"It is not in heaven," the tile in the oven B'shallach & Tradition
"Doing" Jewish Tetzaveh
Mishpatim Yitro
Shmot "The Most Humble of Men"
Vayigash The stubborn and rebellious son
Vayishlach Amen
Justice, Justice you will pursue Veyera
Commandment Lech Lecha
613 Commandments Noach: The Survivor
Yom Kippur, the forbidden relations T'suvah
Bikkurim How you can change the world
"You shall not move the boundary..." What do we value?
"Man does not live by bread alone" The upside of observance
The Righteous of all nations The Scene at the Sea
Why I am a bad Jew Bilaam: The jackass, she talks
Malachi 3:3 Tamar
The Parting of the Waters Satan
"Wherefore criest thou unto me?" The Documentary Hypothesis
What's in a name? Free will and determinism
The Akedah Hellenism Today
Two non-Jewish Heroines "Ger" and "Convert"
Schadenfreude Beshalach -- The route out of Egypt
Official and Popular Religion Vayechi
Hair Coverings for Married Women Chaya Sara
Toldot "At the mouths of witnesses..."
Vayeshev Mikeitz
Vayeitzei Va'era
Bo Metzora and la'shon ha'rah
Does God Get Tired? Devarim
"Moses will sing" Before the Shma: "My Father was a wandering Aramean"
Coveting Why Do We Cover Our Heads?
While I stand on one foot ... Yom Kippur - "repentance" isn't what you think 
Lech Lecha - things that don't change "Sin" per Rabbi Ishmael
"You will not respect persons" Did Pharaoh have free will?
The Nine Days of Passover The Shema
R. Louis Jacobs on "Amen" Job: another interpretation
Three Ways to Look at the Plagues The Man Moses
The Messianic Era Why you don't understand the Bible...
Power and Influence The Curse of Ham
"Blessing" Did an Aramean Really Try to Destroy...
Kol Nidre 5774 The Scapegoat
From Pharaoh to Freud Reflections at Shavout
Balaak All you need to know about Torah
Shoftim - Setting up a king God's Song
The Beginning Leprosy of the soul
To "Be" a Jew From Adam's "rib"?
The Failure of Moses Kol Niddre 5776
Mikeitz - The last patriarch Vayigash - Joseph rules Egypt
Who was Moses? Kedoshim - You will be holy
Devarim-A Book Out Of Place.htm Pinchas - a majority of one; really?
Kol Nidre - 5777 Shmot - Keeping your name
Vayeitzei - How Jacob got 12 sons Mishpatim - Can you really prove anything?
Ki Tissa and the golden "calf?" Tsav - Sacrifices and Ritural Purity
Bamidbar What was the first thing created?

Bereshit

What was the first thing created?

Bamidar

    Don't break nobody's rice bowl

Tsav - Sacrifices and Ritual Purity

    ... still relevant today

Ki Tissa

It wasn't a "calf" and how does Aaron get off scot free?

Mispatim

    Can your really use the Bible to prove just about anything?

Vayeitzei - How Jacob got 12 sons

    The supplementary hypothesis shows show seven sons became 12.

Shmot - Keeping your name   

    "And these are the names of the children of Israel."

Kol Nidre - 5777

    The staying power of ideas.

Pinchas

    Really a majority of one?

Devarim-A Book Out Of Place.htm

    This book doesn't belong here.

Samaritans on Mount Gerizim, celebrating Pesach (courtesy of Mike Spier):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Kedoshim You will be holy..."

    "You will be holy because I am holy."

Who was Moses?

    Peter Machinist's analysis of Moses' character ... as an anti-hero

Vayigash

Joseph's ascension in Egypt. Did it actually happen?

Mikeitz

Joseph - the last Patriarch; his ascension over Israel.

Kol Nidre 5776

Disparaged for centuries by the Rabbis, how has this maintained it's place in our hearts?

The Failure of Moses

How did Moses sin when he struck the rock?

Was Eve (Chava) created from a rib or some other part?

To "Be" a Jew

    Shavout 5775

Tazria - Leprosy of the Soul

The price of free speech.

Bereshit - The Beginning

The story of the creation of the world hides something really important.

Vayelech

The Torah is God's song.

  Shoftim 

"I will set a king over myself, like all the nations around me"

Sanhedrin 37a

All you need to know about Torah...

Balaak: A few noodles short of a kugel

The man thinks he's going to be attacked. What does he do?

Does he raise his army?
Does he conscript soldiers?
Does he hire mercenaries?
Does he try to negotiate?

No. He sends for a witch doctor!

Reflections at Shavout

The time of the giving of the Torah. What is Israel's declaration of faith?

From Pharaoh to Freud

Passover isn't just about Israel.

The [E]scape Goat

Why two goats? Why two virtually identical goats? Why sacrifice the "innocent" one and release the one bearing our guilt?

Remarks for Kol Nidre 5774

If "tshuvah" means "to turn around," we must remember that we can turn from and we can turn to.

By turning from, maybe we can avoid sin.

By turning toward, we can make the world better.

Remarks on Yom ha'Kippurim

Remarks for Kol Nidre 5775

"Who is happy?"

Remarks on Yom ha'Kippurim

Did an Aramean (Try to) Destroy our Father?: A Medieval Non-Traditional interpretation 

"A wandering Aramean was my father" and "An Aramean tried to kill my father" - one is the literal translation of Devarim 26:5, the other is the translation in the Passover hagaddah. Not until the Rashbam, ibn Ezra and Kimhi do we see a return to the pshat....

There is reason to believe that the hagaddah understanding was "traditional." Rashi understands and explains the pasuk this way. 

Note the response of Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi....

"Blessing"

Often used, this term packs a lot of meaning into only two syllables....

The Curse of Ham

Noah's damnation of Ham (and his son Canaan) may not be "simply" for uncovering his father's nakedness....

The Leader as Servant

Rabbi Jonathan Sachs argues that Korach is right, all of the people are holy, they are a nation of priests. Thus they are all equal (the primary Israelity value). Yet, he wants to be the leader, Dissonance?

Korach fails to understand the difference between power and influence, the consequences of responsibility, between leadership and managment. And, that is a fatal flaw.

Why You Don't Understand the Bible

Reading the Bible in English "is like doing surgery with mittens" argues Rabbi Adam Jacobs (especially Christian versions which are usually transliterations of translations of translations; additionally Christian "translations" often rely on the Septuagint which is well known to contain serious mistranslations).

Especially when examining the early documentary hypothesis, which is quite clearly naive, failure to incorporate the understandings of the early scholars, the Taanas and Amoraim, seriously handicaps comprehension of the text.

The Messianic Era

A story is going around on the internet. It is an urban legend. But it describes, in my opinion, what the Messianic era will look like.

The Man Moses

Peter Machinist wonders if Moses isn't the original Anti-hero. Maybe Moses was the Humphrey Bogart of the Biblical world.

"Moses comes to us as a strange and difficult person. Running throughout the narrative of Exodus, and of the Pentateuch as a whole, is the depiction of a unique individual: one with little or no precedent, solitary, not easily approachable, set apart from the very community he is born to lead."

Three Ways to Look at the Ten Plagues

Ziony Zevit argues that while a number of the plagues do fit quite nicely into the Nile delta ecosystem -- prima facie evidence that there is a genuine historical memory -- and there are known environmental phenomena that the plague story could be reflecting, evidence is sparse. That is, there are no contemporary, external documents ... but, could there be? (Though there are Egyptian documents mentioning many of the plagues, though from several hundred years too early.)

But, Zevit shows something rather more interesting. The question is "Why '10' plagues?" Zevit argues that the 10 plagues are actually a theological recounting of the creation of the world in Bereshit, of course "de"creative, and was understood that way.

"At the end of the narrative in Exodus, Israel looks back over the stilled water of the sea at a land with no people, no animals and no vegetation, a land in which creation had been undone. Israel is convinced that her redeemer is the Lord of all creation."

Job: an alternate interpretation

"In the Book of Job, Satan challenges God to test the devotion and piety of the righteous man Job. Job loses all of his worldly goods, his children and servants, as well as his health. Does he accept his fate or curse God? According to Biblical scholar Edward L. Greenstein, Job sues God. By comparing Biblical language to Near Eastern legal texts, it becomes clear that Job understood the ancient legal system well. He knows that he cannot call witnesses in a lawsuit against God. So, lacking witnesses, he swears an exculpatory oath, as was standard in such legal cases in the ancient Near East. He swears to his own innocence and lists numerous wrongs that he has not committed. In doing so, Job challenges God to provide the evidence against him and prove his guilt." - Biblical History Daily

Read on: Job challenges God

The Shema

How should it be translated? Did it originally mean something different than we now understand it? When did it come to mean what we take it for today?

Rabbi Landau of Prague and the ninth day of Pesach

Did Pharaoh have free will?

If God hardened Pharaoh's heart, how can we blame him for not letting Israel go? Nachmanides has a very simple answer.

You Will Not Respect Persons

A great lesson of Torah applies not only to "judgment" in court, as the text ("you will not respect persons in judgment") seems to imply. This is one of the greatest bits of advice for our personal lives in all of Torah.

Yom ha'Kippurim - "Repentance" is not what you think ....

While I stand on one foot ...

"Sound byte" Judaism isn't new. Summarizing Judaism in one sentence, I have a sentence to add.

Why do we cover our heads?

There are a number of explanations, though, in fact, the real reason behind this custom seems lost in the fog of history. Our resident Philosopher offers something he was taught: covering the head started an act of civil disobedience (or, at least, social protest).

Coveting

Does "covet" refer to a psychological state, as is usually assumed, or does it, like almost all of the other mitzvot refer to behavior?

http://www.exploringthebiblevideos.org/?video=GGG9uM8l1GE

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-joel-hoffman/five-ways-your-bible-tran_b_1007058.html 

Yetzer ha'rah v'yetzer ha'tov

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. 

"One is Evil -  It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

"The other is Good -  It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

"My Father was a wandering Aramean"

The original "declaration of faith."

"Moses will sing" (az yashir)

These words, the beginning of the "Song at the Sea," occur after Israel crossed the Sea of Reeds. Why is it in the future tense?

Yes, future and past tenses in Hebrew can reverse (grammatical future can be correctly translated as past tense and vice versa). But, could the use of the future tense mean something else for us entirely?

Rabbi Ian Shaffer thinks it does ....

Devarim

Rabbi David Eliezrie learns out the spiritual lesson of leaving the wilderness (God provided all our needs) and entering our land (we go to war, we work for our daily food ...).

Does G-d get tired?

“Why, exactly, would God feel it necessary to rest after creating the universe? Was He tired?”

Rabbi David Fohrman's three part series asking why "rest" is emphasized in the commandment to rest on the seventh day, when G-d had ceased His creations.

1) Does G-d get tired?

2) Rest is not just the absence of work

3) The Problem with Rest; the Problem with Work   

"My Father was a wandering Aramean"

So, who is the Aramean?

Bamidar

Bamibar ([lit.] "in the wilderness") also known to the Rabbis as the book of the two censuses, represents a significant change in the relation of the people to God. Little noticed, though of significant importance, since the revelation at the mountain in Sinai, in the middle of Shmot, Israel has not traveled through the books of Shmot or Vayikra. Rabbi Helfgot explains.

Intentions and Morality

Is the right thing done for the wrong reason moral? T.S. Elliot famously pronounced doing the right deed for the wrong reason "the greatest treason."

Rather a lot of people think it is not.

Torah doesn't agree.

"It is not in heaven," the tile in the oven

Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, known as "the Great," takes on the Sanhedrin over a tile in an oven and losses.

But the Rabbis establish the principle of man's responsibility for Torah....

Tetzaveh

Moshe Rabbenienu is mentioned in every parsha from Shmot to the end of Devarim, every parsha. Except Tetzavim.

"Doing" Jewish

Debbie Burton reflects on the response of Israel to receiving the commandments, what "faith" means to others and some interesting episodes in her own life.

Mishpatim

Plato used the fact that good people can have bad children. The how and why of it didn't concern him so much.

Rabbi Sherer derives an answer from a pasuk in Mishpatim.

Yitro

The 10 Commandments ... which is the hardest to obey? Could it be "you will not covet?"

What is "coveting?"

"Faith"

There is no word in the Bible nor, for that matter, in Hebrew for "faith."

How can the language of the Bible not contain the idea of "faith?" What does this mean for us?

Bo

"Bo" "go!" Go to freedom.

But just a few weeks later, we arrive at the Mountain in Sinai and receive the Torah. Torah, with all its do's and don't's -- how is this "freddom?"

Va'era

Gratitude -- it's good for you.

Shmot

Brotherhood.

Vayechi

Life notice

Like Jacob, know Torah is our source of life, and we dare not ever take a breather from life.

Vayigash

"Be prepared," say the Boy Scout. Maybe Jacob was the first Boy Scout?

"Amen"

The best known Hebrew word ... what does it mean?

Not what you'd think.

Rabbi Louis Jacobs on "Amen"

Etymology and customs...

Mikeitz

Shabbat can save your identity ....

Vayeshev

How saying "Hello" can change history. It can change your life too.

Vayishlach

In "honor" of Yaakov's wrestle with the angel, we do not eat the sciatic nerve. Is that all there is to this? Or, is there a reason crippling Yaakov is really important?

The Stubborn and Rebellious Son

One of the strangest commandments in Torah.

Does it come to teach us something?

Vayeitzei

"Many people are discouraged from even beginning a spiritual journey because they think it needs that huge leap of faith."

But, as the Chinese say "A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step."

"At the mouths of witnesses..."

There are so many transgressions that call for death. Some of these behaviors don't seem all that serious.

Could it be that we're missing something here?

Toldot

Esau sells his birthright (clan leadership) to Yaakov.

Rabbi Sherer quotes Rabbi M.Z. Neriyah who observed "You can sell your birthright for beans, but you can't buy a birthright for beans."

Esau may have sold his birthright but that does not mean that Yaakov actually owned it. He had yet to earn the rights that go with that birthright.

Similarly, we must each earn the right to our birthright....

Chaya Sara

In the first report shedducha (arranged marriage), what do we learn about partnership and the meaning of relationship?

"Justice, Justice you shall pursue"

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson tells us the real difference between Judaism and other "religions."

Veyera

Avraham aveinu argues with God, argues for Sodom and Gemorrah. Avraham argues with God asking “Will the judge of all the earth not do justice?”

Avraham losses (well, he wins in that he gets the chance to save Sodom and Gomorrah; unfortunately, God was right, there were even 10 decent people there). Of course.

And "he returned to his place." And, what was his place?

Lech Lecha

Rav Sherer argues that we imitate Abraham in our mobile society. At least, we move from one place to another; but do we bring our centers with us?

"Commandment"

What is a commandment? Are all commandments created equal or are some more equal than others?

Nitzavim and T'suvah

Rosh Hashannah and Yom ha'Kippurim approach. 

Rav Goldman show that t'suvah really is for everyone
.

613 Commandments

"Six hundred and thirteen commandments were revealed to Moses" says the Talmud.

From where did the Rabbis understand this?

Along the way, we discover that the Big Bang was first described by Nachmanides.

Yom Kippur and the forbidden relations

Why do we read about the forbidden relations on Yom Kippur?

The Bikkurim, First Fruit offering, was not enforced for 14 years after Israel entered the land

R. Sherer examines the underlying reason for this delay and why it is relevant today.

Ki Tezeh, What do we cherish? What do we value? 

What do we make time for? 

There is a curious juxtaposition of ideas in our Parsha, Ki Tezeh, this week. And, if we are not careful, we could end up just like the Ammonites and Moabites.

"You shall not move the boundary of your fellow, which the early ones marked out" (Devarim 19:14).

A "boundary" is a post or a wall or stone or other, known and recognizable, marker. Or is it? R. Sherer explores the metaphysics of a boundary to draw interesting lessons for daily life in the metropolises of our day.

Does orthodoxy have benefits?

Rabbi Jonathan Ginsberg is fond of quoting the statistics proving that going to shul is good for your health. Rabbi Sherer argues that greater observance of mitzvot is also good for you.

Two different ways of arguing the same point? Read. You decide.

"Man does not live by bread alone"

R. Simche Sherer tells us that "The human spirit is such that we crave more than bread. Now 'bread' colloquially means money and symbolically refers to all things material."

But, "man does not live by bread alone." Man, constitutionally, strives for more than the mere material.

"The righteous of all nations have a share in the kingdom to come..."

Many incorrectly believe this seminal quote is from Psalms. It is from the Talmud Bavli (Sanhedrin 105a). It is a singular, utterly singular, position in world history.

If Israel is עַם סְגֻלָּה, God's "chosen" people (I know, I know, once in a while, let God choose someone else), how can the Rabbis hold ''the righteous of all nations have a share in the world to come?" Is not Israel in a unique and privileged position to God and, therefore, to God's kingdom? (Yes, all Israel has a place in the kingdom to come.) Does not Israel have exclusive access to Divine truth? (No, Torah was not created for Israel but Israel for the Torah.)

In the context of "chosen-ness" and Israel's unique relation with God, Rabbi Arthur Segal shows how the Rabbis, having taken the word of the Torah to heart from the very beginning, have known that there are many approaches to the Divine. The Rabbis knew that there was no conflict between the particularism of being סְגֻלָּה and the universalism of the Devine will (Israel is chosen for additional responsibilities, not special privileges).

From the very earliest days, Israel has known that God's favor is not exclusive to Israel:

 צֶדֶק צֶדֶק, תִּרְדֹּף--לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה וְיָרַשְׁתָּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ Justice, justice shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
D'varim 16:2

Similarly, years after Torah was given:

 הִגִּיד לְךָ אָדָם, מַה-טּוֹב; וּמָה-יְהוָה דּוֹרֵשׁ מִמְּךָ, כִּי אִם-עֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד, וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת, עִם-אֱלֹהֶיךָ. It hath been told thee, O man, what is good, and what the LORD doth require of thee: only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.
Micah 6:8
Early in the Talmudic period, we hear:
A certain heathen came to Shammai and said to him, "Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Thereupon he repulsed him with the rod which was in his hand. When he went to Hillel, he said to him, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah; all the rest of it is commentary; go and learn."  
Talmud, Shabbat 31a

Why I am a bad Jew

and won't go quietly.

Bilaam, parshah Balaak

Balaak: A Few Noodles Short of a Kuggel
The Prophet
The Jackass
After the apology
Reflection

Tamar (Bereshit 38)

    So important, Joseph is put aside to tell Tamar's story.

 וְיָשַׁב מְצָרֵף וּמְטַהֵר כֶּסֶף
   "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver"
-- Malachi 3:3
    (I do not remember from whom I received this but it talks to me.)

This verse puzzled some women in a Bible study and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God.

One of the women offered to find out the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible Study.

That week, the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn't mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver.

As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities.

The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot; then she thought again about the verse that says:

     "He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver."

She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, "How do you know when the silver is fully refined?"

He smiled at Her and answered: "Oh, that's easy -- when I see my image in it."

If today you are feeling the heat of the fire, remember that God has his eye on you and will keep watching you until He sees His image in you.

Satan

"Satan" is a Hebrew word. It appears, a number of times, in the Bible.

Is "Satan" a Biblical character?

What's in a name?

In the ancient world, names meant a lot. As in the fairy tale, Rumplestilskin, knowing a name gives the speaker power over the named party, the ability to bend the named party to the speaker's will. 

Throughout Torah we hear about why a name was given by way of explaining the name. For example, "The man (אָדָם, Adom) called his woman's name 'Eve' because she was the mother of all living" (Bereshit 3:20). This makes much more sense when you look at the original and see that the word rendered "Eve" is חַוָּה (Chava), from חָי, living, a feminine conjugation of "to live." 

Moshe, in attempting to avoid God's charge to return to Egypt, asks God's (real) name. In this case, this is so that Moshe can prove to Israel that he (Moshe) really is the messenger of God (the pre-eminent meaning of the word "prophet" is "messenger"). In pre-monotheistic (i.e., pagan) societies, names had a magical power. Knowing the name of the god gave the utterer of the name power over the god (see Kaufman The Religion of Israel). 

Echoes of this ancient pagan belief are found throughout modern religion in the big megillah made out of the name of god. Jews, Christians and Muslims are all guilty on this one, though not pronouncing the name of god is substantially de-mythologized in Jewish practice (while uttering The Name in the Temple may have had certain magical power, our current practice of not using The Name is a combination of having forgotten the correct pronunciation and deference to the Temple ritual). Many religions continue to invoke the name of god or god's "angels" to compel the god to do our will -- see Kauman's The Religion of Israel.

So, what's in a name?, rather a lot if you check the etymology of the name. We examine the roots of "Moses," "Moab" and "David," for fun.

"Wherefore criest thou unto me?"

Shmot 14:15 is our text. A fine point of grammar is our tool.

And a great lesson is our result. Read all about it.

Free will and determinism

"Everything appears to be fore-ordained; yet, we appear to have free will. This is most interesting." So observes Confucius. And there ends his discussion. Do the Rabbis have anything more ... enlightening to say on this subject?

 

The Parting of the Waters

There are three accounts of how the Sea of Reeds parted. Our resident Philosopher plumbs them for meaning ....


An Interesting German Word
 

Hair Coverings for Married Women: A discussion of Jewish law, custom, and communal standards

The history and halacha of women's head covering from Mishna to modern times. The origins and current practices for all the major branches of Judaism are covered.

However, the author's statement "the wig practice [of 17th century Jewish French women] took hold and, perhaps ironically, it is common today in many Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox communities" differs from what Rabbi Radinsky taught me.

Rabbi Radinsky taught me that the sheitel worn by Ashkenazim traces its origins to the European practice of prima nocter, first night rights. Enlightened European nobles (but you know what I really mean, don't you?) claimed first night rights, the right to have intercourse with the bride on the first night of her marriage (the movie "Braveheart" features this in telling the story of William Wallace's taking up arms against the English). Jews took to shaving the head of the bride so as to make her unattractive to these enlightened noble.

Apparently the enlightened nobles developed a tendency to refuse prima nocter at Jewish weddings (they waived their right of first refusal?). The girls would then put on a wig for their new husbands.

Clever.

Alieza Salzberg's "Hair Coverings for Married Women."

The Scene at the Sea (Ex. 14)

"To set the scene, I want you to think about Cecile B. DeMille's movie 'The Ten Commandments.' Picture yourself in Charlton Heston's role ...." Thus begins an inquiry into what the scene at the sea teaches us about the structure of the Torah and how to read it.

 

How you can change the world

A d'var on Pirke Avot 4:6.

 

Official Religion and Popular Religion in Pre-Exilic Ancient Israel

Prof. Jacques Berlinerblau analyzes the concepts of “Official” and “Popular” religion to dispute Kaufman's claim that Israel has always been truly and thoroughly monotheistic. Kaufman, he states, "surely advanced one of the most counter-intuitive hypotheses in the history of modern biblical scholarship."

“Official” religion, typically the state religion, he argues, does not rule primarily by force but by achieving consensus; force is actually a last resort (like the Inquisition or other forced conversions -- I guess "last resort" is in the eyes of the resorter... Jews, of course, are quite often the resortee).  But "Official" religion, while trying to convince, does typically have the power to impose itself, to coerce. In other words, “Official” religion is, fundamentally, with the (implicit) consent of the governed. (This makes some historical sense. Consider what happened in northern Europe when the emerging middle class stopped consenting. It's called the "Protestant Reformation," accompanying the Hundred Year War. The issue, which is beyond the scope of my purposes, is the degree to which a paradigm that makes sense of much European history can be applied to the ancient near-East with similar results.)

He notes that "The process of persuading the people was a task that [was] assigned to the intellectuals." In Israel, this would nominally be, in historical order, the elders, Judges, kings and, later, scribes, prophets and, finally, Rabbis. In the goyische world, this role, for many centuries, fell to the priests, a prerogative they zealously guarded until the nation-state emerged from the control of the church (Guttenberg's making the Bible accessible to many more people falls, properly, within the context of this conflict between church and state).

"Popular" religion -- which Kaufman argues may have practiced pagan rituals but did so without understanding their meaning and, therefore, these practices were simple fetishism -- is "any form of religious belief or practice that official religion finds fault with." (Does this mean that there are three "official" Judaisms? -Or more? <G>)

Berlinerblau questions Kaufman's assumption (for he never demonstrates it) that the religion expressed in Jeremiah, Samuel and Exodus is the "Official" religion of ancient Israel. Kaufman is not alone in this assumption. Most Biblical scholars also assume that the Bible, especially the Deuteronomic source, represents the "Official" religion of ancient Israel.

Problems arise, for example, from a 9th-7th century BCE Hebrew inscription, found mid-Sinai, which translates as "I bless you by Yahweh, our guardian, and by his Asherah." This, and similar finds, seem to be evidence that pagan elements remained at least as late as the divided kingdom and the destruction of the northern kingdom (late 8th century). Another inscription: "Amaryau says: Say to my lord X: I bless you by Yahweh [our guardian], and by his Asherah." (An “asherah” is usually a wooden post near an alter or a "sacred tree" or grove in Torah but a real goddess, specifically a fertility goddess, to Canaanites. This, in passing, confirms Kaufman's claim that the Torah does not understand paganism.) Similar inscriptions were found 8.5 miles west of Hebron in the Arab village of Khirbet el-Qôm which has since been identified with the Biblical Makkedah.

Such inscriptions seem to confirm accounts of Asherah worship as found in the Prophets. But these inscriptions imply Kaufman is wrong and "at least some Israelites were not getting with the monotheistic program." So, could popular religion have retained pagan elements while official religion was monotheistic? Because "Official" religion has the power to compel conformity and we hear nothing of this in the Biblical record until the literary Prophets, it seems unlikely that there was a conflict between "Popular" and "Official" religions until quite late.

This actually raises the question “What was the ‘Official’ religion in pre-exilic Israel?” Berlinerblau states: "I have every reason to suspect that certain sections of the Hebrew Bible are anything but the expression of the real official religion that coerced and convinced their subjects across the pre-exilic period."

In other words, YHWH worship with some subordinates gods may have been the "Official" religion (I have heard arguments that the first commandment is "you will have no other gods before me," not "you will have no other gods" and this indicates that Israelite religion saw YHWH as the chief god but not the only god; only later, on this view, are the subordinate deities demoted and, finally, expunged). Biblical religion, stepping into the power vacuum left by the destruction of each of the kingdoms (the ruling classes and scribes -- Berlinerblau's "enforcers" -- having been exiled from Israel in 722 BCE and Judea in 586 BCE), was a "counter-cultural" movement that actually ends up supplanting the "Official" religion!

"For these reasons I reject the widespread assumption that the Hebrew Bible represents the viewpoint of a pre-exilic official religion. On the contrary, it strikes me as the impassioned voice of a minority group, one that was at odds with the official religions of its times.... In my reading, the Hebrew Bible is anything but the voice of an official religion. On the contrary, it is the religion of an embattled, perhaps even oppressed minority, endowed with a sublime literary imagination and an uncompromising commitment to the God of Israel."

Jacques Berlinerblau's Official Religion and Popular Religion in Pre-Exilic Ancient Israel

 

Moshe, the meekest of men

"Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men that were upon the face of the earth" (Bamidbar 12:3).

What exactly does it mean to be "meek (humble)?" Not what you might think.

 

Beshalach (Shmot (Ex.) 13:17 - 17:16)

And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said: "Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war and they return to Egypt."

This passage comes to teach us:

Why we don't have the oil

The Route Out of Egypt: Where God Did or Did Not Lead Israel

The Route Out of Egypt: Why the Route Makes Sense

 

Ger” and “Convert”  

The term “ger” appears in many places in Torah. Gerim are central to some of the most important precepts of Torah (“there will be [but] one law …”) Normally it is translated as “proselyte” (convert). But this does not seem quite right. And, in fact, it isn’t. In Torah, “ger” means “stranger,” “sojourner,” “an outsider, living among you” and nothing more. Translating it as "proselyte" is a post-exilic usage.  

A (less young) Philosopher looks at the changes this term has undergone lo these thousands of years and the attendant changes in conversion procedures. A detailed discussion of the meaning of ger, from the Jewish Encyclopedia, and the evolution of attitudes toward conversion, read "Ger" and "Convert".

The Spanish Inquisition and Me (received courtesy of Morton Homer) 

"Becoming a Jew was my greatest act of defiance." Thus begins the story of Reyna Simnegar, a Venezuelan of converso / marano heritage.

Her story of how certain family customs, customs that did not fit with what she learned in Catholic school, lead her back ... "the Inquisition is gone, but I remain!"

The Orphan

Elsewhere I've noted that being "Jewish" is a political act. It is membership in a people, not just a religion.

"When I converted, I wasn't looking for a new community. But that's exactly what I found."

A young Latina, abused by her mother and abandoned by her father, finds a new place in Orthodox Judaism. She fights for custody of her younger sister. And, when times get bad, find that the Jewish people have adopted her too.

 

The Akedah

The binding (akedah) and near sacrifice of Yitzhak is one of the most interesting stories in Bereshit, especially when one is not trying to be politically correct and actually tries to find torah in the story. The Rabbis thought this story so important that it is the Torah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashanah (first day for Reform congregations that have not adopted the two day observance).

It is one of the very few stories that is told only once and is not referred to elsewhere in Torah. As intriguing a story as it is, it does not appear prominently in Rabbinic literature until well into the common era. Read that again: the akedah is not a significant theme in Rabbinic literature, including homiletics, until the 3rd-4th century C.E. 

The articles below highlight dimensions of this tale beyond the obvious moral that G-d does not want human sacrifice.

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs The Akedah: Binding Isaac

R. Jacobs provides an interesting perspective on why the akedah became such a captivating story since the 3rd century CE. (After reading this article, you have one of those “Doh!” moments.) Plus, he addresses some puzzles in the story (like why there is no mention of Yitzhak returning with Abraham).

The real test of the Akedah: blind obedience versus moral choice

Lippman Bodoff offers an interpretation for an embedded morality play in the akedah (Abraham knows, from negotiating over Sodom and Gomorrah, that killing the innocent is “dead wrong” but he appears to be willing to do so here ...).

Sarah's silence: a newly discovered commentary on Genesis 22 by Rashi's sister

I thought I had an original understanding of the akedah but this is the most original and, possibly, profound exposition of the akedah I’ve read. Evidence is presented that its source is no less than Rashi’s sister (though, there is an editorial note that this evidence may be apocryphal and I cannot find reference to siblings in any lists of Rashi's genealogy).

Is the akedah a metaphor for or re-imagining of the circumcision?-A memory/dream of Sarah’s reaction to Yitzhak’s circumcision? If so, it follows that Sarah’s death is actually shortly after Yitzhak’s birth and circumcision-binding (a child is bound during the bris; holding the child on the table evokes an image not unlike holding a child atop an alter) and her difficulties with childbirth at such an old age? (And, yes, to this day, mothers do sometimes react with near hysteria when their baby is taken to be brought in for the brit; I have seen it.)

The Binding of Issac: What is the "test"?

Our ba'al dvar tells us: "When does the test begin? It begins with the angel of HaShem tells ol' Abe to stop. Remember, the story starts with God telling Abe to offer up Isaac. When God tells you what do do, what are you going to do? Suddenly, however, Abe is faced with an angel of HaShem who's telling him to disobey God. To be radical, can Abe be sure that God and HaShem are one in the same? To be more prosaic, how can Abe be sure this angel speaks for God/HaShem? How can Abe be sure that this command from the angel isn't another test from God? God does send lying spirits elsewhere in the bible."

 

Hellenism Today

In the late 20th century, Chanukah was the best known Jewish holiday, at least among American non-Jews. I think this is because Chanukah is the first recorded case in history of a people standing up for religious freedom, the first time anyone demanded the right to be themselves. This theme clearly resonates with Americans. 

But, there was really more to it. Much more.

The Hasmonian Rebellion, which gave us Chanukah, would appear to have been the zenith of the encounter with hellenism. In this 1975 essay, a young philosopher looks at the hellenic heritage in western civilizations, America in particular, and finds that the Maccabees only fired the first salvoes in the conflict with hellenism.

 

Two non-Jewish Heroines and how they are treated by Jews: an inspiring dvar on parasha Shmot by Rabbi Jack Riemer, Boca Raton. (Received courtesy of Stanley Parker.)