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December 4, 2016 / 4 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘TORAH’

The Deliberately Flawed Divine Torah: The Theology of the Halachic Loophole

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

I believe that the Torah is min hashamayim (“from heaven”) and that its every word is divine and holy. But I do not believe that the Torah is (always) historically true (sometimes it seems like Divine fiction), or that it is uninfluenced by external sources. On top of this, I am reminded of the observation by the famous Chassidic leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Rimanov, who suggested that the children of Israel heard only the Alef of Anochi of the Ten Commandments, which means that they did not hear anything since one cannot pronounce the Alef![1]

Nor do I believe that its laws, literally interpreted, are all morally acceptable. They are not. Rather, I believe that the Torah is often morally, deeply, and deliberately flawed, and that furthermore, God Himself intentionally made it flawed.

It is the latter issue that I will discuss in this essay.[2]

Far-fetched Arguments and Halachic Loopholes

My belief that the Torah is morally flawed is closely related to an altogether different topic: The “halachic loophole,” which Chazal and later poskim (halachic decisors) frequently used to solve halachic problems.

Many of these loopholes are legal fictions the Rabbis employed to deliberately ignore straightforward biblical pesukim (verses) or halachic standards. In doing so, they often made use of far-fetched arguments and twists that violated the very intent of these verses or halachic norms, and they seem to have done so with no compunctions and without it becoming a major issue. To the Rabbis, this method was seemingly a normal procedure whenever it was “convenient” to achieve their goals. To us, however, some of these loopholes are not only far-fetched but misleading, and seem like manifestations of trickery.

The Sages declared that the following Torah laws “never were and never will be”:

  • Ben sorer umoreh (the stubborn and rebellious son who had to be killed).[3]
  • Ir hanidachat (the subversive city, which had to be entirely destroyed because its inhabitants worshipped idolatry).[4]

In addition to this, they decided that lex talionis, the principle of “an eye for an eye,” meant financial compensation while the text does not even hint at this.[5]

To solve the problems of mamzer (a child born from an adulterous relationship) they invented mechanisms that the Torah never mentioned.[6]

There are numerous other cases. In all these instances, the Rabbis used arguments that are highly problematic and seemingly dishonest and deceptive. How did they do so with a clear conscience?

The Torah as a Divine Compromise

We believe that a profound reason stands behind the Sages’ willingness to adjust the Torah in this manner. While the Sages believed that the Torah is absolutely divine,[7] they did not see it as the final text or teaching. They realized that the Torah text was a stage in God’s plan at a particular moment in Jewish history.

Revelation is a response to the human longing for a relationship with God, thus, it can succeed only to the extent that human beings can relate to it. The Divine Will, therefore, is limited by what human beings are able to pragmatically and spiritually understand and accomplish at a given time and in a given place.

The Torah is anthropocentric while its aspirations are theocentric. In other words: While the Divine Will may want to accomplish the ultimate, it is constrained by the limitations of human ability. The Torah, then, is really a divine compromise, filtered through the mindset and mores of its intended audience.[8] It is therefore flawed in the sense that it must sometimes allow or introduce laws that are far from ideal but were the best possible option at the time they were revealed to the Jewish people, or like in other cases were never meant to be applied literally. (See later.)

Maimonides: The Outdated Nature of the Sacrificial Cult

One famous example is given by Maimonides, in his Guide of the Perplexed, regarding the sacrificial cult in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. He suggests that the Torah carefully limited the already existing practice of sacrifice and kept it for the sole purpose of weaning the Jewish people away from the primitive rituals of their idolatrous neighbors. In other words, Maimonides believed that the sacrificial cult in Judaism was established as a compromise to human weakness:

For a sudden transition from one opposite to another is impossible. And therefore man, according to his nature, is not capable of abandoning suddenly all to which he was accustomed….Therefore He, may He be exalted, suffered the above-mentioned kinds of worship to remain, but transferred them from created or imaginary and unreal things to His own name…commanding us to practice them with regard to Him.[9]

To give the sacrificial cult a more sophisticated, dignified and monotheistic meaning, the Torah introduced many laws to refine this kind of worship. This would slowly move people towards being able to have it abolished altogether, which was the divine objective.

Still, the numerous and intricate sacrificial laws in the Torah, carefully detailed in the Oral Law, have tremendous symbolic and educational meaning far beyond the actual sacrificial deed. Many of them paradoxically make the worshiper sensitive to higher standards leading to genuine monotheism.[10] This means that while one should really outgrow the actual sacrificial deed, the many spiritual messages behind these laws remain relevant even to this day.

Hebrew Slavery

The same is true about slavery. The fact that the Torah tolerates slavery only means that it was not yet possible to completely abandon it. Former societies would not have been able to sustain themselves economically had slavery come to a sudden end. So the Torah introduced laws to make slavery—at least Hebrew slavery[11]—more ethical, by creating much better conditions for slaves, helping them to overcome their slave mentality, and giving them the opportunity to free themselves and start a new life.[12] Only at a later stage could slavery be eliminated altogether.

Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo

Simchat Torah: The Rush and the Stagnation

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

For hundreds of years, we Jews have followed the custom of completing the yearly Torah reading in the synagogue on the day of Simchat Torah, only to immediately begin all over again. Why the rush? There is nearly no time to contemplate what one has read the previous year! What is the point of reading something which, for lack of time, cannot even sink in? What, in fact, is the meaning of this annually repeated reading, which is nothing but superficial?

There is indeed a need to learn Torah in depth; no doubt this is included in the commandment to study Torah. It should result in discovering the many possibilities for understanding the text. But this method of study also poses a danger. It could easily result in stagnation of the text. When a text is studied in a particular way and repeated several times to allow it to sink in, what can result is a dogmatic understanding of it. One keeps repeating a specific interpretation, which consequently imprisons the mind and blocks receptivity to totally new ideas and opinions. Once this happens, the essential nature of the Torah is lost. The possibility of chidush (novelty) – of looking into the same text with completely different eyes – is crucial. The call for new interpretations, and not just repeating what we or others have said, is fundamental to genuine Torah learning. Surely, one needs the background to know how to accomplish this, and only proper study can guarantee an authentic new elucidation and insight; but without novelty, Judaism will be unable to survive.

Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi (1513-1586) – disciple of Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488-1575), author of the Shulchan Aruch – makes this point extremely clear:

Concerning our faith in the [contemporary] human being, it is said in Parashat Nitzavim [Devarim 29:13-14], “And not with you alone did I establish a covenant …but with those who are here with us and with those who are not here today….” Therefore each one of us, our children and grandchildren, until the conclusion of all the generations.., are duty-bound to examine the secrets of the Torah on our own….Nor ought we be concerned about the interpretations of others – even if they preceded us – preventing our own individual investigation. Much to the contrary… just as [our forebears] did not wish to indiscriminately accept the truth from those who preceded them, so it is fitting for us….Only on the basis of gathering many different opinions will the truth be tested. Thus, it is valuable to us…to investigate [the meaning of the Torah] in accordance with our own mind’s understanding. And even if in the course of investigation into the secrets of the Torah…we err, it will not be judged….because our intent was for the sake of Heaven. But we shall be guilty if we desist from investigating the secrets of our Torah by declaring: The lions have already established supremacy, so let us accept their words as they are….Rather, it is proper for us to investigate and analyze according to our understanding and to write our interpretations for the good of those who come after us, whether they will agree or not….And do not be dismayed by the names of the great personalities when you find them in disagreement with your belief; you must investigate and choose, because for this purpose were you created and wisdom was granted you from Above… (1).

Indeed, this great wisdom is often forgotten in certain religious circles (2). The quick reading of the Torah is to prevent the text from settling in our minds in a particular fashion. It functions as a first reading in the sense that it has the impact of something totally new. Often, a first encounter is the most exciting one. It keeps all possibilities open; nothing has yet been fixed or determined. As when one is struck by a lightning bolt, man is suddenly enlightened by an overwhelming understanding that may override all his earlier insights. Getting used to a text often means killing it. Familiarity breeds contempt.

This, then, could be the purpose of the quick Torah reading in a synagogue. It is not conventional Torah learning, but rather somewhat of a wake-up call. It functions therapeutically in that man is shocked by the text before he even has a chance to get used to its deeper content. And although he has read it for many years, the fact that the story appears again an entire year later, and no earlier, gives him a chance to forget it and then rediscover it as never before. In this way, it remains fresh and continues to amaze the reader with its multiple possibilities and its grand image. This is the true joy of Simchat Torah’s rush.

*****

(1) Sefer Ma’asei Hashem: Sha’ar Ma’aseh Torah, Parashat Balak (Jerusalem: Merkaz HaSefer, 2005).

(2) See the controversy about Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik’s most original Chamesh Drashot (translated into English under the title The Rav Speaks: Five Addresses on Israel, History, and the Jewish People), Jerusalem: Tal Orot Institute, 1983/5743, in which Rabbi Eliezer Menachem Shach, former head of the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Berak, severely criticizes Rabbi Soloveitchik for devising “from his own mind [ideas] that were not handed down to us from earlier generations” (Letters and Articles, vol. 4, pp. 35-40). Compare this with Rabbi Soloveitchik’s statement: “Halakhic man is a man who longs to create, to bring into being something new, something original. The study of Torah, by definition, means gleaning new, creative insights…” (Halakhic Man. Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1983, p. 99). Still, even Rabbi Soloveitchik often deviated from this very notion. See, for example, Rabbi Dr. David Hartman’s severe critique of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s understanding of novelty and its limitations, in The God Who Hates Lies: Confronting & Rethinking Jewish Tradition (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Pub, 2011).

Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo

The Joy Of Torah

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

Simchat Torah is the culmination of the entire festival season. Gone, at first glance, is the unique introspection of the Days of Awe, and the fearfulness of the period of judgment is replaced by a day of rejoicing and revelry.

The change in mood is so striking – certainly from the solemn joy of Yom Kippur but even from the inner happiness experienced on Sukkot – that it is not unknown for the spiritual highs of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to be lost or forfeited in the riotous behavior some indulge in on Simchat Torah.

This refers not just to the execrable drinking that occurs in certain precincts but especially to the ambiance found in many (but by no means all) shuls.

Thus, one who takes a young child to shul only on Simchat Torah and Purim is probably not inculcating in that child the reverence that should typify our deportment in shul, and it will probably take years of training to reverse that impression. That is not to say that young children should not be taken to shul on Simchat Torah but rather that they should be put on notice that the conduct they will witness is atypical.

Undoubtedly, the festivities are cathartic for those who are uncomfortable with the seriousness of Yom Kippur. But the question is: What exactly are we celebrating on Simchat Torah?

Of course one is obligated to rejoice when completing any cycle of Torah study, and so the conclusion of the annual Torah readings and its immediate renewal are appropriate grounds for rejoicing. These are milestones in life, and the transition from Moshe’s death with the Jewish people poised to enter the land of Israel back to the beginning – literally, “in the beginning” – reflects another year in which we have heard, studied, internalized, and been uplifted by the Torah’s message. Now, another such year is beginning.

And rather than returning to the same place – both in the Torah and in our lives – we are actually ascending a spiral staircase in which we gaze back at the previous year, cherish the insights that have shaped our minds and refined our deeds, and eagerly anticipate the next cycle of readings.

And so we dance, and do hakafot with the Torah in appreciation and gratitude for the divine gift to the Jewish people. Some argue that hakafot on Simchat Torah are an example of the innovations that once characterized Jewish life but have now been frozen by a stultified rabbinate. Well, not quite.

The hakafot of Simchat Torah are actually extensions of the hakafot that are made throughout Sukkot. Every day of Sukkot we grasp our arba minim and march around the Torah that stands in the center. On Simchat Torah we hold the Torah itself, and circumambulate the place from which the Torah is read.

Better said, we are circling our version of Sinai – the shulchan from which the sounds of Torah emanate – and celebrating with “He who chose us from all the nations and gave us the Torah.”

After weeks of repentance and soul-searching, confessions and fasts, and on the verge of returning to our daily lives, we need to celebrate the Torah, elevate it in our eyes, show our love for it, and prepare to re-integrate it in all its aspects. Amid all the celebrations, we must realize that dancing with the Torah is not an end in itself but a natural expression of our love for Torah. But that love is primarily actualized not by holding the Torah, waltzing, fox-trotting or tangoing with it, or even kissing it when it passes in front of us. That love is fully consummated only when we study the Torah, observe its laws, cherish it, and protect and preserve it from those who try to modify it to suit the times.

* * * * *

 

One cannot love the Torah and constantly find fault with it nor can one love the Torah and negate or minimize its divine origin. One cannot love the Torah and try to change it, anymore than one can love a spouse while trying to change that person as well. Both are futile quests. We can only change ourselves.

Sometimes we have to change ourselves to accommodate the spouse who might have an irritating trait or two (love conquers all). Sometimes we have to change ourselves and surrender to the dictates of a divine Torah, even when we find some of the commandments challenging in one way or another.

It is a basic rule of Jewish life that every person will have to struggle with at least one area of Torah, even if only because the Torah demands that we overcome our natural instincts and defer to God’s will. In theory, only the perfectly righteous observe the Torah without difficulty, but the perfectly righteous are not that large a demographic today. Nonetheless, true love of Torah always requires that we conform to God’s will rather than expect God’s will to conform to our needs.

Not long ago, a yeshiva high school principal wrote that “the reconciliation of the Torah’s discussion of homosexuality represents the single most formidable religious challenge for our young people today.” Without at all discounting, trivializing, or minimizing the struggle that some have with this issue, if such is “the single most formidable religious challenge for our young people today” they should count their blessings.

The world has never spared the Jewish people formidable religious challenges, and to be sure, many have unfortunately succumbed to those challenges. But imagine if they had to deal with grinding poverty, relentless persecution, pogroms, the Holocaust, the Haskalah, high infant mortality, and forced conversions.

Imagine if these young people had to witness their families murdered before their eyes by an enemy driven to destroy them because of its hatred of Torah. Imagine if they had to encounter the Inquisition or were forced to abandon all their worldly possessions and flee into exile. Imagine if these young people had no job on Monday because they failed to show up for work on the previous Shabbat.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

The Parsha Experiment – Ha’azinu-V’Zot Habracha: The Inspiring Conclusion To The Torah – Part 2

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

 In this week’s video, we close the entire Torah, and we ask ourselves, what lessons can we learn today? How can we be inspired by the Torah’s messages, and fulfill our destiny as a people?

 

This video is from Immanuel Shalev.

 

Link to last weekhttps://www.alephbeta.org/course/lecture/vayeilech-2016-5776

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For more on the end of Torah: https://goo.gl/TBJMWq and https://goo.gl/99T348

Immanuel Shalev

SPECIAL INVITATION: Tour Hebron This Monday with Yishai Fleisher #TourHebron

Friday, October 7th, 2016

Dear JewishPress.com Readers,

Connect to your roots just in time for Yom Kippur!!!

You are invited to a special Olim tour of Hebron and a visit to the Machpela Tomb of the Jewish People’s founding fathers and mothers.

When: Monday, 10th of October, 2016 Meet at 9:45 AM in front of Binyanei HaUmah in Jerusalem opposite Central Bus Station

Return: Back in Jerusalem by 5PM

What’s included: We will tour Hebron’s sites, the Machpela, Beit Hadassa, and Admot Yishai (including the Tomb of Ruth and Yishai) and we will have time to pray, meditate and learn. We will visit the Hebron Museum, see the new 4D film, and have dairy brunch.

Cost: 50 NIS per person

Security: The tour will include bullet proof bus and security guard

REGISTRATION: Please reserve your seats ASAP by emailing tour@hebronfund.org

Registration closes 11AM Sunday October 9th. Spaces are limited to one bus (50 seats) – so register quickly!!

Looking forward to seeing you,

Yishai Fleisher
International Spokesman
Jewish Community of Hebron, Israel
Facebook.com/HebronOfficial

Yishai Fleisher

Ein-Gedi Scroll Target of Hi-Tec Recovery Mission

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

Prof. Brent Seales and his team from the University of Kentucky have further unlocked the text in the ancient Ein-Gedi scroll — the very first, severely damaged, ink-based scroll to be unrolled and identified noninvasively. Through virtual unwrapping, they have revealed it to be the earliest copy of a Torah book – Vayikra-Leviticus – ever found in a Holy Ark.

“This work opens a new window through which we can look back through time by reading materials that were thought lost through damage and decay,” said Seales, who is a professor and a chair of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Kentucky. “There are so many other unique and exciting materials that may yet give up their secrets — we are only beginning to discover what they may hold.”

Seales and his team have discovered and restored text on five complete wraps of the animal skin scroll, an object that likely will never be physically opened for inspection.

In a study published in Science Advances Seales and his co-authors, including researchers from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, describe the process and present their findings, which include a master image of the virtually unrolled scroll containing 35 lines of text, of which 18 have been preserved and another 17 have been reconstructed.

“We are releasing all our data on the scroll from Ein-Gedi: the scans, our geometric analysis, the final texture,” said Prof. Seales, adding, “We think that the scholarly community will have interest in the data and the process as well as our results/”

The software pipeline, referred to as “virtual unwrapping,” reveals text within damaged objects by using data from high resolution scanning, which represents the internal structure of the 3-D object, to digitally segment, texture and flatten the scroll.

In 2015, Seales and his team revealed the first eight verses of the Book of Vayikra in the scroll, which is at least 1,500 years old and was badly burned at some point. Due to its charred condition, it was not possible to either preserve or decipher it. However, high resolution scanning and virtual unwrapping has allowed Seales to recover substantial ink-based text at such high quality that Jerusalem’s Hebrew University scholars can now conduct critical textual analysis on it.

“With the aid of the amazing tomography (imaging by sections) technology we are now able to zero in on the early history of the biblical text, as the Ein-Gedi scroll has been dated to the first centuries of the common era,” said Hebrew University’s Prof. Emanuel Tov, co-author and leading scholar on textual criticism of Hebrew and Greek bibles. Hebrew University’s Prof. Michael Segal also worked with Tov on the textual criticism. The text of the scroll and its analysis is published in Textus, the journal of the Hebrew University Bible Project.

The scroll was unearthed in 1970 in archaeological excavations in the synagogue at Ein Gedi in Israel, headed by the late Prof. Dan Barag and Prof. Ehud Netzer of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University and Yosef Porath of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The IAA’s Lunder Family Dead Sea Scrolls Conservation Center, which uses state of the art and advanced technologies to preserve and document the Dead Sea scrolls, enabled the discovery of this important find.

“The discovery of text in the Ein-Gedi scroll absolutely astonished us; we were certain it was a shot in the dark, but the most advanced technologies have brought this cultural treasure back to life,” said co-author Pnina Shor, curator and director of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Dead Sea Scrolls Project. “Now, in addition to preserving the Dead Sea Scrolls for future generations, we can bequeath part of the Bible from a Holy Ark of a 1,500-year old synagogue.”

JNi.Media

Israel Inspired: An Epic Journey from Paganism to Judaism [audio]

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

In this rare interview, new convert to Judaism Ben-Tzion Mandela shares his journey from a Pagan village in Kenya to being a Jewish Krav-Maga fighter studying Torah in a studying premier Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

The Land of Israel

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/multimedia/land-of-israel/ari-and-jeremy/israel-inspired-an-epic-journey-from-paganism-to-judaism-audio/2016/09/15/

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