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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi David Fohrman’

Metzora: Living Within the Community

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Last week, we had connected the laws relating to the purification of a metzora to the laws of the korban Pesach. Why would that be? In this week’s video, Rabbi Fohrman puts the pieces together and reminds us that both teach us about ‘radical separateness’ – and while each of us is an individual, we are also part of a larger unit.


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Creative License When Interpreting the Bible

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

One of the more original Orthodox Jewish thinkers is Rabbi David Fohrman. On his excellent website, Rabbi Fohrman teaches his brand of inspiring, intellectual Torah. Every week, Rabbi Fohrman teaches a parsha class with animations. The Torah classes are clever and original ideas that are very often based on Midrashic interpretations and careful reading of the text of the Chumash. In a way, I find his approach similar in form to Rabbi Matis Weinberg in Frameworks, which I love. (I did a review of Rabbi Forhman’s book on Purim. It follows the same format.)

Here is Rabbi Forhman on Vayechi.

His basic idea is great. Joseph believes he is a dispossessed son. Pharaoh becomes like a father figure to him. Jacob is never sure that Joseph really considers him to be his true father until a key moment on his death bed. This explains the Midrash that says that the descendants of Canaan and Ishmael, two more dispossessed sons came to wage war with Jacob’s sons as they traveled to Canaan to bury Jacob but stopped when they saw “one of their own”, Joseph honoring Jacob.

Nice idea. He does a better job explaining it and fitting it all together than I do. It’s worth watching.

In response to this video, Rabbi Forhman received the following note:

“Rabbi Fohrman’s Parsah thoughts are brilliant & insightful. I just wonder are there any sources for his theories and if yes why do you not quote them?

Thank you so much…”

This inquiry touched on such a fundamental point that Rabbi Fohrman wrote a blog post to respond to this question. I think the response was at least as brilliant as the Dvar Torah on Vayechi and illuminates a very important principle in desperate need of clarification.

Here is my summary and explanation of his response:

There is a tradition that later authorities cannot contradict earlier authorities in the study of Talmud. Some people attribute this to a spiritual divide between generations. This idea appears to be in the spirit of “if we are humans they are angels and if they are humans we are donkeys”. However this conflates two separate things. The real reason later authorities do not contradict earlier authorities has little to do with spiritual prowess and everything to do with legal precedent. Talmud study is a study of law and law relies on precedent. It’s possible to overturn precedent. But great deference is given to previously held legal rulings and for good reason. It’s just more practical that way. Imagine if every generation of Jews rejected the ideas of the previous generation. Judaism would be unrecognizable in 5 minutes. So with regard to halachic matters, precedent matters.

However, when we are dealing in non-legal matters, we are no longer concerned with precedent. It is in this arena that we are given much greater creative license. In non-halachic matters we are not concerned with authority. We learn the text, we learn some commentaries, and we use our intellect and personality to decipher the text and commentaries. This is all fair game. This where Rabbi Fohrman operates.

Further, this is really just interpretation of a text. As long as it makes sense in the words it can be said that it is what the words are saying. So while the creative interpretation may have been expressed by the one reading the text, in essence the idea is really found in the text. It’s not relevant whether this was the intent of the Author. What matters is that this is what the words say to a particular reader and the interpretation can be reconciled with the rest of the text.

Title: The Queen You Thought You Knew: Unmasking Esther’s Hidden Story

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Title: The Queen You Thought You Knew: Unmasking Esther’s Hidden Story


Author: Rabbi David Fohrman


Publisher: OU Press & HFBS Publishing


 


 


   Rabbi David Fohrman of the Hoffberger Institute for Torah Study is an engaging speaker and astonishing interpreter of Torah texts, captivating his devoted listeners and readers for decades. The Queen You Thought You Knew: Unmasking Esther’s Hidden Story is his most recent publication, unrolling the Megillah with the excitement of a blockbuster.

 

   The introduction reveals ” the hidden face of the Book of Esther a story that begins in earnest at the point where most of us think the narrative is virtually over.” Fohrman analyses many paradoxical passages in “What’s wrong with the picture” scenarios, making deeply satisfying sense of them.

 

   The chapters “Mother Persia” and “Martial Arts” teach life-lessons and examine the game of political intrigue. Chess-players will enjoy the sly moves that Queen Esther makes in her quest for personal survival and public Jewish rescue. Her timing of banquets, preparation of guest lists and the very words she speaks at specific intervals is sheer genius. The Jewish twist of humor is revealed on following pages.

 

   The “Backyard Gallows” chapter is an incisive analysis of obsession that would serve any psychoanalyst well. Fohrman’s readers will learn that it’s part of a bigger picture. God and his servants Esther and Mordechai all have clever senses of purpose and humor that are dedicated to saving world Jewry.

 

   Both professors of military strategy and readers will learn valuable lessons in the “War Games” chapter about the use of public scrutiny for altruistic gain. Fohrman asks what Mordechai and Esther can do with the king’s signet ring. After all, Achashverosh denied Esther’s request to rescind Haman’s irrevocable decree of death to the Jews. Don’t bother second-guessing the lessons unless you’ve already read the book!

 

   Intriguingly, The Queen You Thought You Knew questions the lack of chronology toward the end of Megilat Esther. “The Sound of Silence” and later chapters will amaze you when that conundrum is addressed. Fohrman unveilsahavat chinam and other halachic themes in the Megillah, overlooked by many Purim celebrants for centuries. Though these realities may never before have registered in your mind, they’re likely to remain there long after you finish The Queen You Thought You Knew: Unmasking Esther’s Hidden Story.

 

   One reading of this fine book is simply not enough. Study the Megillah, as well as halacha and Hebrew grammar at the www.rabbifohrmansite today.


   Yocheved Golani writes at www.itsmycrisisandillcryifineedto.blogspot.com

New Writings In Chumash

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Title: The Beast that Crouches at the Door: Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel, and Beyond

Author: Rabbi David Fohrman

Publisher: Devora Publishing Company

 


Books have a problem. When they want to teach something, they’re limited by their stoic two-dimensional constraints. They can’t parry a conversation with the reader. They can’t give the reader feedback on his progress. And they can’t lead the reader in a discussion based on a primary text.

 

            This last one is a particular bummer for Torah lecturers who try to break into the world of publishing – a noble goal considering how many more people they could educate through a book than through a shiur.

 

Rabbi David Fohrman, a resident scholar at the Hoffberger Foundation for Torah Studies and adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University, has been lecturing for 10 years. He has built a strong following of admirers who seek out his lectures and CDs. Attend one of his shiurim and you’ll immediately notice how often he’ll ask you to open the Chumash sitting in front of you and read along with him, steering the audience to ask key questions and prompting them for the answers.

 

How to translate this to paper was surely one of Rabbi Fohrman’s chief obstacles when he sat down to write his first book, The Beast that Crouches at the Door: Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel, and Beyond. But he has succeeded in large measure, and has beautifully adapted his brilliant and unique approach to Chumash to print form.

 

The book is based on a long series of articles he had written for this newspaper from 2004-2006. In it, Rabbi Fohrman has not let go of the goal of inviting his audience to read the text along with him. In the introduction, before he gets going, he calls on the reader to join him. “Before you go any further, I invite you first of all to re-read the story of Adam, Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden Read the story slowly and carefully – just the text, no commentaries. And as you do, ask yourself these questions: If I were reading this for the first time, what about it would strike me as strange? What are the ‘big questions’ that the Torah wants me to ask about this story? What are the elephants in the room? Take some time to think about it. I’ll meet you right back here and we’ll compare notes. See you then.”

 

Many book authors would be terrified of inviting their readers to step away from their book. What if they don’t return? But Rabbi Fohrman embraces it. After all, it’s the best way for him to teach and draw the reader into a discussion with him.

 

After he has the reader engaged and joining him in a careful reading of the text, Rabbi Fohrman teaches him how to notice anomalies, how to ask the obvious questions, how to spot parallels with other texts, and so on. After a few minutes of this, one can’t help but notice that all the questions seem so simple and straightforward; and then one can’t help but wonder why he didn’t ask the same questions first.

 

            The book is split into two parts. The first focuses on Adam and Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden, while the second concentrates on Cain’s murder of Abel. As the book regularly makes clear, these two topics are connected not just chronologically, but also thematically.

 

            In each part, with Rabbi Fohrman’s guiding hand, the reader begins to see the same texts he may have read dozens of times since elementary school come alive and look wonderfully new.

 

            While it would be difficult to give specific examples, since so much of the book is meant to build on top of earlier chapters, here’s an attempt. Rabbi Fohrman notes that most people probably have a misperception of Cain, viewing him as a “grudging imitator of Abel.” But the Chumash tells us of Cain’s offering to God first – and then Abel’s. “It seems strange to say so,” Rabbi Fohrman writes, “but this fact alone qualifies Cain as a kind of spiritual genius.” This is surely a whoppingly original notion. And Rabbi Fohrman says this not just because he believes it’s an accurate description, but also because it can help give us clues and ask the right questions. It’s one thing to wonder why Cain brought only “nondescript, average produce,” as Rabbi Fohrman puts it. But the question takes on a whole new meaning in light of Cain being a spiritual genius.

 

            And while it may be exciting to ask and answer new questions on Chumash and to follow along as the book reveals more and more insights, Rabbi Fohrman is after something more. His approach unmasks significant, real life lessons that the Chumash holds for us, if only we’d read more carefully. Among these lessons are the nature of truth and falsehood, good and evil, parenting, the yetzer hara, and gratitude. Learning the Chumash is not about strengthening our logical abilities or taking in some nice stories of our ancestors. Most profoundly, the Chumash teaches us life lessons. Many come to life in Rabbi Fohrman’s superb book.

 

            The book is also a pleasure to read, as Rabbi Fohrman does a splendid job of keeping the reader engaged. In addition to the captivating questions and approaches to the Chumash that make up his topics, his style is witty and fun; the reader goes through the book as if it were a mystery, with each passing chapter adding either new questions or solving some older ones. As the reader approaches the latter chapters of each part, more and more pieces begin to fit together.

 

             Rabbi Fohrman’s wit and humor also help make the book very readable. In a passage in which he wonders why Cain’s punishment comes through the earth, he writes, “One can’t help feeling that the ground’s role is rather incidental here. It happened that Abel’s blood fell on the ground and soaked into the earth, but that doesn’t describe the essential heinousness of the crime. If Abel’s blood had fallen on the kitchen floor instead, would Cain have been cursed through linoleum tiles?”

 

            The Beast that Crouches at the Door is a good way to begin a new look at the Chumash that may change the way you view Torah study. It is also a good introduction into the wonderful approach of Rabbi David Fohrman, who has figured out a way to share his inimitable voice without saying a word.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/new-writings-in-chumash/2008/08/13/

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