Category Archives: immaculate conception

Re-imagining God and Man for a New Year

In preparation for the Jewish New Year where the kingship of God is proclaimed, we re-explore the essence of the prohibition of Idol Worship and its opposite, the image of God.

Recorded live at TCS, The Conservative Synagogue of Westport Connecticut we come to the surprising conclusion that from the perspective of the earliest biblical texts, the prohibition of Idol worship was less important than the positive injunction for mankind to serve as the Tzelem or Image of God.

Listen to the madlik podcast:

Access Source Sheet in Sefaria here.

If the rejection of idolatry is the essence of the Biblical project, why does it not appear in the Genesis account of the founders?

But Didn’t Abraham destroy his father’s idols?

2
בראשית רבה ל״ח
(יג) וַיָּמָת הָרָן עַל פְּנֵי תֶּרַח אָבִיו (בראשית יא, כח), רַבִּי חִיָּא בַּר בְּרֵיהּ דְּרַב אַדָא דְּיָפוֹ, תֶּרַח עוֹבֵד צְלָמִים הָיָה, חַד זְמַן נְפֵיק לַאֲתַר, הוֹשִׁיב לְאַבְרָהָם מוֹכֵר תַּחְתָּיו. הֲוָה אָתֵי בַּר אֵינַשׁ בָּעֵי דְּיִזְבַּן, וַהֲוָה אֲמַר לֵהּ בַּר כַּמָּה שְׁנִין אַתְּ, וַהֲוָה אֲמַר לֵיהּ בַּר חַמְשִׁין אוֹ שִׁתִּין, וַהֲוָה אֲמַר לֵיהּ וַי לֵיהּ לְהַהוּא גַבְרָא דַּהֲוָה בַּר שִׁתִּין וּבָעֵי לְמִסְגַּד לְבַר יוֹמֵי, וַהֲוָה מִתְבַּיֵּשׁ וְהוֹלֵךְ לוֹ. חַד זְמַן אֲתָא חַד אִתְּתָא טְעִינָא בִּידָהּ חָדָא פִּינָךְ דְּסֹלֶת, אֲמָרָהּ לֵיהּ הֵא לָךְ קָרֵב קֳדָמֵיהוֹן, קָם נְסֵיב בּוּקְלָסָא בִּידֵיהּ, וְתַבְרִינוּן לְכָלְהוֹן פְּסִילַיָא, וִיהַב בּוּקְלָסָא בִּידָא דְּרַבָּה דַּהֲוָה בֵּינֵיהוֹן. כֵּיוָן דַּאֲתָא אֲבוּהָ אֲמַר לֵיהּ מַאן עָבֵיד לְהוֹן כְּדֵין, אֲמַר לֵיהּ מַה נִּכְפּוּר מִינָךְ אֲתַת חָדָא אִתְּתָא טְעִינָא לָהּ חָדָא פִּינָךְ דְּסֹוֹלֶת, וַאֲמַרַת לִי הֵא לָךְ קָרֵיב קֳדָמֵיהון, קָרֵיבְתְּ לָקֳדָמֵיהוֹן הֲוָה דֵּין אֲמַר אֲנָא אֵיכוֹל קַדְמָאי, וְדֵין אֲמַר אֲנָא אֵיכוֹל קַדְמָאי, קָם הָדֵין רַבָּה דַּהֲוָה בֵּינֵיהוֹן נְסַב בּוּקְלָסָא וְתַבַּרִינוֹן. אֲמַר לֵיהּ מָה אַתָּה מַפְלֶה בִּי, וְיָדְעִין אִינוּן. אֲמַר לֵיהּ וְלֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ אָזְנֶיךָ מַה שֶּׁפִּיךָ אוֹמֵר.

Bereishit Rabbah 38
(13) “And Haran died in the presence of his father Terah” (Gen. 11:28). Rabbi Hiyya the grandson of Rabbi Adda of Yaffo [said]: Terah was a worshiper of idols. One time he had to travel to a place, and he left Abraham in charge of his store. When a man would come in to buy [idols], Abraham would ask: How old are you? They would reply: fifty or sixty. Abraham would then respond: Woe to him who is sixty years old and worships something made today – the customer would be embarrassed, and would leave. A woman entered carrying a dish full of flour. She said to him: this is for you, offer it before them. Abraham took a club in his hands and broke all of the idols, and placed the club in the hands of the biggest idol. When his father returned, he asked: who did all of this? Abraham replied: I can’t hide it from you – a woman came carrying a dish of flour and told me to offer it before them. I did, and one of them said ‘I will eat it first,’ and another said ‘I will eat it first.’ The biggest one rose, took a club, and smashed the rest of them. Terah said: what, do you think you can trick me? They don’t have cognition! Abraham said: Do your ears hear what your mouth is saying?

But Didn’t Rachel steal her father’s idols?

3
בראשית ל״א:י״ט
(יט) וְלָבָ֣ן הָלַ֔ךְ לִגְזֹ֖ז אֶת־צֹאנ֑וֹ וַתִּגְנֹ֣ב רָחֵ֔ל אֶת־הַתְּרָפִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר לְאָבִֽיהָ׃

Genesis 31:19
(19) Meanwhile Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household idols.

4
תגנב רחל את התרפים. לְהַפְרִישׁ אֶת אָבִיהָ מֵעֲ”זָ נִתְכַּוְּנָה (בראשית רבה):

AND RACHEL STOLE THE TERAPHIM — her intention was to wean her father from idol-worship (Genesis Rabbah 74:5). quoted by Rashi

5
בראשית ל״א:ל״ב-ל״ה
(לב) עִ֠ם אֲשֶׁ֨ר תִּמְצָ֣א אֶת־אֱלֹקֶיךָ֮ לֹ֣א יִֽחְיֶה֒ נֶ֣גֶד אַחֵ֧ינוּ הַֽכֶּר־לְךָ֛ מָ֥ה עִמָּדִ֖י וְקַֽח־לָ֑ךְ וְלֹֽא־יָדַ֣ע יַעֲקֹ֔ב כִּ֥י רָחֵ֖ל גְּנָבָֽתַם׃

Genesis 31:32-35
(32) But anyone with whom you find your gods shall not remain alive! In the presence of our kinsmen, point out what I have of yours and take it.” Jacob, of course, did not know that Rachel had stolen them.

6
לא יחיה. וּמֵאוֹתָהּ קְלָלָה מֵתָה רָחֵל בַּדֶּרֶךְ (בראשית רבה)

LET HIM NOT LIVE — In consequence of this curse Rachel died on the journey (Genesis Rabbah 74:9). quoted by Rashi

Rather the only reference to a rejection of false images, is a positive reference to the Image of God – Imago Dei

7
בראשית א׳:כ״ו-כ״ח
(כו) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹקִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ וְיִרְדּוּ֩ בִדְגַ֨ת הַיָּ֜ם וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה֙ וּבְכָל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבְכָל־הָרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽרֹמֵ֥שׂ עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃ (כז) וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹקִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹקִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם׃ (כח) וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָם֮ אֱלֹקִים֒ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר לָהֶ֜ם אֱלֹקִ֗ים פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ וּרְד֞וּ בִּדְגַ֤ת הַיָּם֙ וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּבְכָל־חַיָּ֖ה הָֽרֹמֶ֥שֶׂת עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

Genesis 1:26-28
(26) And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.” (27) And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (28) God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.”

8
בראשית ה׳:א׳
(א) זֶ֣ה סֵ֔פֶר תּוֹלְדֹ֖ת אָדָ֑ם בְּי֗וֹם בְּרֹ֤א אֱלֹקִים֙ אָדָ֔ם בִּדְמ֥וּת אֱלֹקִ֖ים עָשָׂ֥ה אֹתֽוֹ׃

Genesis 5:1
(1) This is the record of Adam’s line.—When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God;

9
בראשית ט׳:ו׳
(ו) שֹׁפֵךְ֙ דַּ֣ם הָֽאָדָ֔ם בָּֽאָדָ֖ם דָּמ֣וֹ יִשָּׁפֵ֑ךְ כִּ֚י בְּצֶ֣לֶם אֱלֹקִ֔ים עָשָׂ֖ה אֶת־הָאָדָֽם׃

Genesis 9:6
(6) Whoever sheds the blood of man, By man shall his blood be shed; For in His image Did God make man.

10
במדבר ל״ג:נ״ב
(נב) וְה֨וֹרַשְׁתֶּ֜ם אֶת־כָּל־יֹשְׁבֵ֤י הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ מִפְּנֵיכֶ֔ם וְאִ֨בַּדְתֶּ֔ם אֵ֖ת כָּל־מַשְׂכִּיֹּתָ֑ם וְאֵ֨ת כָּל־צַלְמֵ֤י מַסֵּֽכֹתָם֙ תְּאַבֵּ֔דוּ וְאֵ֥ת כָּל־בָּמֹתָ֖ם תַּשְׁמִֽידוּ׃

Numbers 33:52
(52) you shall dispossess all the inhabitants of the land; you shall destroy all their figured objects; you shall destroy all their molten images, and you shall demolish all their cult places.

11
“any Old Testament scholar worth her salt will tell you that the semantic range of tselem, the Hebrew word for “image” in Genesis 1, typically includes “idol,” which in the common theology of the ancient Near East is precisely a localized, visible, corporeal representation of the divine. A simple word study would thus lead to the preliminary observation that visibility and bodiliness are minimally a necessary condition of being tselem elohim or imago Dei. Based on this usage Walter Kaiser Jr. translates tselem as “carved or hewn statue or copy.” The Liberating Image? Interpreting the Imago Dei in Context By J. Richard Middleton Christian Scholars Review 24.1 (1994) 8-25

12
מלכים ב י״א:י״ח
(יח) וַיָּבֹ֣אוּ כָל־עַם֩ הָאָ֨רֶץ בֵּית־הַבַּ֜עַל וַֽיִּתְּצֻ֗הוּ אֶת־מזבחתו [מִזְבְּחֹתָ֤יו] וְאֶת־צְלָמָיו֙ שִׁבְּר֣וּ הֵיטֵ֔ב וְאֵ֗ת מַתָּן֙ כֹּהֵ֣ן הַבַּ֔עַל הָרְג֖וּ לִפְנֵ֣י הַֽמִּזְבְּח֑וֹת וַיָּ֧שֶׂם הַכֹּהֵ֛ן פְּקֻדּ֖וֹת עַל־בֵּ֥ית ה’׃

II Kings 11:18
(18) Thereupon all the people of the land went to the temple of Baal. They tore it down and smashed its altars and images to bits, and they slew Mattan, the priest of Baal, in front of the altars. [Jehoiada] the priest then placed guards over the House of the LORD.

13
דברי הימים ב כ״ג:י״ז
(יז) וַיָּבֹ֨אוּ כָל־הָעָ֤ם בֵּית־הַבַּ֙עַל֙ וַֽיִּתְּצֻ֔הוּ וְאֶת־מִזְבְּחֹתָ֥יו וְאֶת־צְלָמָ֖יו שִׁבֵּ֑רוּ וְאֵ֗ת מַתָּן֙ כֹּהֵ֣ן הַבַּ֔עַל הָרְג֖וּ לִפְנֵ֥י הַֽמִּזְבְּחֽוֹת׃

II Chronicles 23:17
(17) All the people then went to the temple of Baal; they tore it down and smashed its altars and images to bits, and they slew Mattan, the priest of Baal, in front of the altars.

14
יחזקאל ז׳:כ׳
(כ) וּצְבִ֤י עֶדְיוֹ֙ לְגָא֣וֹן שָׂמָ֔הוּ וְצַלְמֵ֧י תוֹעֲבֹתָ֛ם שִׁקּוּצֵיהֶ֖ם עָ֣שׂוּ ב֑וֹ עַל־כֵּ֛ן נְתַתִּ֥יו לָהֶ֖ם לְנִדָּֽה׃

Ezekiel 7:20
(20) for out of their beautiful adornments, in which they took pride, they made their images and their detestable abominations—therefore I will make them an unclean thing to them.

15
עמוס ה׳:כ״ו
(כו) וּנְשָׂאתֶ֗ם אֵ֚ת סִכּ֣וּת מַלְכְּכֶ֔ם וְאֵ֖ת כִּיּ֣וּן צַלְמֵיכֶ֑ם כּוֹכַב֙ אֱלֹ֣קֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר עֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם לָכֶֽם׃

Amos 5:26
(26) And you shall carry off your “king”— Sikkuth and Kiyyun, The images you have made for yourselves Of your astral deity—

16
דניאל ג׳:א׳
(א) נְבוּכַדְנֶצַּ֣ר מַלְכָּ֗א עֲבַד֙ צְלֵ֣ם דִּֽי־דְהַ֔ב רוּמֵהּ֙ אַמִּ֣ין שִׁתִּ֔ין פְּתָיֵ֖הּ אַמִּ֣ין שִׁ֑ת אֲקִימֵהּ֙ בְּבִקְעַ֣ת דּוּרָ֔א בִּמְדִינַ֖ת בָּבֶֽל׃

Daniel 3:1
(1) King Nebuchadnezzar made a statue of gold sixty cubits high and six cubits broad. He set it up in the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.

The case for demut (“likeness”) is more complicated. Although biblical scholars have often suggested that the physical, concrete connotation of tselem is intentionally modified by the more abstract demut, this latter term is sometimes used within Scripture for concrete, visible representations. [Middleton ibid.]

Tselem and demut are also used with reference to resemblance:

17
בראשית ה׳:ג׳
(ג) וַֽיְחִ֣י אָדָ֗ם שְׁלֹשִׁ֤ים וּמְאַת֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וַיּ֥וֹלֶד בִּדְמוּת֖וֹ כְּצַלְמ֑וֹ וַיִּקְרָ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ שֵֽׁת׃

Genesis 5:3
(3) When Adam had lived 130 years, he begot a son in his likeness after his image, and he named him Seth.

“a recent (1979) excavation at Tell Fekheriyeh in Syria unearthed a 9th century statue with a bilingual inscription containing the cognate equivalents of both tselem and demut in Assyrian and Aramaic as parallel terms designating the statue.” [Middleton ibid.]

18 A Statue from Syria

19
The statue is referred to by two Aramaic words, both with Hebrew cognates. The initial word of the inscription introduces it as dmwt’, “the image.” At the start the second part the word used in the Aramaic is slm “statue,” in the Assyrian its cognate salmu. This is not a means of distinguishing the two parts of the inscription, for dmwt’ reappears three lines later. These two words in their Hebrew dress are the famous “image” and “likeness” in God’s creation of man in Gen 1:26; cf. 5:3. Their clear application to this stone statue, the only ancient occurrence of the words as a pair outside the OT, provides fuel for the debate over the meaning of the clause in Genesis 1 [STATUE FROM SYRIA WITH ASSYRIAN AND ARAMAIC INSCRIPTIONS A. R. Millard and P. Bordreuil, BIBLICAL ARCHEOLOGIST/SUMMER 1982]

20 A Statue from Syria - inscripton

21
Among Bible scholars one of the most common interpretations is that being created in the image of God means being given the special role of “representing . . . God’s rule in the world.” The Torah’s view is that people are God’s “vice-regents” and “earthly delegates,” appointed by God to rule over the world. One traditional Jewish commentator, R. Saadia Gaon (882–942), anticipated this understanding of Genesis, arguing that being created in the image of God means being assigned to rule over creation (Saadia Gaon, commentary to Gen. 1:26). בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ שליט

The ancient Near Eastern context sheds remarkable light on the audacity of the Torah’s message. In the ancient world, various kings (and sometimes priests) were described as the images of a god. It is the king who is God’s representative or intermediary intermediary on earth, and it is he who mediates God’s blessings to the world. In dramatic contrast to this, the Torah asserts that ordinary human beings—not just kings, but each and every one of us—are mediators of divine blessing. “The entire race collectively stands vis-à-vis God in the same relationship of chosenness and protection that characterizes the god-king relationship in the more ancient civilizations of the Near East.” Genesis 1 thus represents a radical democratization of ancient Near Eastern royal ideology. We are, the Torah insists, all kings and queens.

Shai Held. The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Genesis and Exodus . The Jewish Publication Society.

22
Feminist Objection to the Royal Interpretation of “In the Image of God”

Such a picture, claims McFague, is derived from a patriarchal model of man ruling over woman and serves to enforce and legitimate such rule by its association of male dominance with God’s transcendence. [Sallie McFague, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), pp. 63-69.]

23
The Environmental Objection to the Royal Interpretation of “In the Image of God”

Some environmentalists have placed the blame for the modern West’s despoliation of the earth squarely at the Bible’s feet. Thus, for example, one influential writer charges that according to Christian (and by implication, Jewish) thinking, “God planned all of this explicitly for man’s benefit and rule: No item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes.” The environmental crisis, he insists, was rooted in religious “arrogance towards nature” and the only solution, therefore, lay in moving beyond these patently damaging and outdated ideas. [Held, Shai. The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Genesis and Exodus . The Jewish Publication Society.]

24
“ancient Near Eastern society, whether Mesopotamian (that is, Sumerian, Babylonian or Assyrian), West Semitic (that is, Canaanite), or Egyptian, was hierarchically ordered…. Standing between the human realm, on the one hand, and the gods, on the other, was the king, universally viewed in the ancient Near East as the mediator of both social harmony and cosmic fertility from the gods. To contrast the two cultures we know most about, whereas in Egypt the Pharaoh is viewed as the eternally begotten son of the gods, in Mesopotamia the king was but an adopted son. Both, however, are referred to as the image of this or that particular god, whether Re, Amon, Marduk, ‘Shamash or Enlil. [Middleton ibid.]

25
פסיקתא דרב כהנא כ״ג
(א) פסקא כג אות א ראש השנה: (א) לעולם י”י דברך נצב בשמים (תהלים קיט פט) תני ר’ אליע’ בעשרים וחמשה באלול נברא העולם ואתיא דרב כהדא דתני ר’ אליע’ דתניא בתקיעתא דרב זה היום תחילת מעשיך זכרון ליום ראשון וגו’ כי חק לישראל הוא משפט וג’ (שם פא ה) על המדינות בו יאמר איזו לחרב ואיזו לשלום איזו לרעב ואיזו לשובע איזו למות ואיזו לחיים וביריות בו יפקדו להזכירם חיים ומות נמצאת אומ’ בראש השנה נברא אדם הראשון בשעה ראשונה עלה במחשבה בשנייה נמלך במלאכי השרת בשלישית כינס עפרו ברביעית גיבלו בחמישית ריקמו בשישית העמידו גולם על רגליו בשביעי’ זרק בו נשמה בשמינית הכניסו לגן עדן בתשיעית ציוהו בעשירית עבר על ציוהו באחת עשרה נידון בשתים עשרה יצא בדימוס מלפני הק”ב א’ לו הקב”ה אדם זה סימן לבניך כשם שנכנסתה לפניי בדין ביום הזה ויצאתה בדימוס כך עתידין בניך להיות נכנסין לפניי בדין ביום הזה ויוצאין בדימוס אימתי בחדש השביעי באחד לחדש (ויקרא כג כד

Pesikta D’Rav Kahanna 23
A. Rosh Hashanah. Your word stands firm in heaven (Psalms 119; 89) R. Eliya learnt: On the 25th of Elul the world was created and he cited R. Kehada who learnt that R. Eliya learnt during the blowings of Rav “This is the day, the beginning of your works, is in remembrance of the first day etc. For it is a law for Israel, a ruling of the God of Jacob; etc. (psalms 81:5) on the Nations it was written, who for the sword, who for peace, who for famine who for plenty, who for death, and who for life and with shots he will be selected deserving of life and death as they say On Rosh Hashanah Adam (the first Man) was created.

In the first hour it came into His mind. In the second (hour) he ruled among the heavenly host. In the third he gathered the dirt. In the fourth He kneaded. In the fifth he formed him. In the sixth he raised the Golem onto his feet. In the seventh he threw into him a soul. In the eighth he brought him into the garden of Eden. In the ninth he commanded him (not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge). In the tenth he (Adam) transgressed His command. In the eleventh he was judged. In the twelfth hour he was pardoned by the Holy One Blessed be He. Said to him, God: “Adam, this is a sign for your children. Just as you came in judgement before me on this day and went out pardoned so also in the future your children will come before me in judgement on this day and leave pardoned. When? On the seventh month on the first (day) of the month (Leviticus 23:24)

26
The Torah’s assertion that every human being is created in the image of God is a repudiation of the idea, so common in the ancient world, that some people are simply meant to rule over others. If everyone is royalty, then on some level, when it comes to the interpersonal and political spheres, no one is.

Assigned the role of God’s delegates, human beings are told to “be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it . . . rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on the earth” (Gen. 1:28).

What’s more, Genesis 1 repeatedly emphasizes and seems to revel in the fact that God created both vegetation and creatures “of every kind.” … then, the biblical . . . creation story is like a hymn to biodiversity, which is seen as unambiguously good in its own right.

If Genesis 1 teaches that human beings are meant to be kings and queens over creation, …“The task of a king is to care for those over whom he rules, especially for the weakest and most helpless. . . . This means that humans are expected to care for the earth and its creatures. Such is the responsibility of royalty.” What we find in Genesis 1, then, is not a license to abuse and exploit but a summons to nurture and protect.

The problem with the notion of human stewardship over creation is not that it authorizes human exploitation of the earth and abuse of the animal kingdom—which, as we have seen, it emphatically does not. The problem is, rather, that we have not really taken it seriously enough to try it. In modern times, amid an almost manic need to produce and consume more and more, we have all too often lost sight of what has been entrusted to us. What we need is not to abandon Genesis 1 but to return to it and to rediscover there what we have forgotten or failed to see altogether. We are created in the image of God and are thus mandated to rule over creation; this is a call to exercise power in the way Tanakh imagines the ideal ruler would, “in obedience to the reign of God and for the sake of all the other creatures whom [our] power affects.” [Held, Shai. ibid]

27
“Obedience to God is also the negation of submission to man.”

You Shall be as Gods – A Radical Interpretation of the Old Testament and its Tradition, Erich Fromm 1966 p73

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, divine birth, divine right, feminism, Hebrew, immaculate conception, Israel, Judaism, monotheism, Religion, Rosh Hashannah, social commentary, Torah, women's rights, yom kippur

Isaac’s smile

Parshat Vayera

In a previous post Divine Birthers I, I explore the concept of miraculous birth and resurrection in Judaism.  It’s ironic that such a heavy discussion is raised by the birth and life of a guy named Isaac … יִצְחָק which literally means to laugh and in context, means to laugh at God.

And Sarah laughed within herself, saying: ‘After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?’  And the LORD said unto Abraham: ‘Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying: Shall I of a surety bear a child, who am old?  Is any thing too hard for the LORD. At the set time I will return unto thee, when the season cometh round, and Sarah shall have a son.  Then Sarah denied, saying: ‘I laughed not’; for she was afraid. And He said: ‘Nay; but thou didst laugh.’ Genesis 18: 12-16

וַתִּצְחַק שָׂרָה, בְּקִרְבָּהּ לֵאמֹר:  אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָה-לִּי עֶדְנָה, וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן

וַיֹּאמֶר ה’, אֶל-אַבְרָהָם:  לָמָּה זֶּה צָחֲקָה שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר, הַאַף אֻמְנָם אֵלֵד–וַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי

הֲיִפָּלֵא ה’, דָּבָר; לַמּוֹעֵד אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ, כָּעֵת חַיָּה–וּלְשָׂרָה בֵן

וַתְּכַחֵשׁ שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר לֹא צָחַקְתִּי, כִּי יָרֵאָה; וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא, כִּי צָחָקְתְּ

 

And Abraham was a hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him and Sarah said: ‘God hath made laughter for me; every one that heareth will laugh on account of me.’  Genesis 21: 6-7

וְאַבְרָהָם, בֶּן-מְאַת שָׁנָה, בְּהִוָּלֶד לוֹ, אֵת יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ

וַתֹּאמֶר שָׂרָה–צְחֹק, עָשָׂה לִי אֱלֹהִים:  כָּל-הַשֹּׁמֵעַ, יִצְחַק-לִי

This past Rosh HaShanah, my Rabbi, Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn asked why, Isaac, the “middle Father” of the three patriarchs was featured in the Torah readings of the High Holidays?  The first day of Rosh Hashanah we read the story of the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael after the birth of Isaac:  Genesis 21: 9.   Ironically, Ishmael is banished by Sarah because he exhibits the same trait as Isaac… he’s a jokester….

And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne unto Abraham, making sport.

וַתֵּרֶא שָׂרָה אֶת-בֶּן-הָגָר הַמִּצְרִית, אֲשֶׁר-יָלְדָה לְאַבְרָהָם–מְצַחֵק

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah we read of the Sacrifice of Isaac, which is admittedly not a laughing matter.

Even the Torah makes a connection between the Sacrifice of Isaac.. the Akeda and what lies before… the account of he Akeda begins with Genesis 22:1

And it came to pass after these things, that God did prove Abraham, and said unto him: ‘Abraham’; and he said: ‘Here am I.’

 וַיְהִי, אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה

Like any middle child, argued Wiederhorn, Isaac had a conflicted life and much to teach us…. ergo we read both of these troubling stories that revolve around him on the high holy days.

What connects Isaac and his jokester brother Ishmael is how these two brothers came to reconcile with each other, and forgive their father.

According to the the Talmudic sage Raba in Baba Batra 16b  quoted by Wiederhorn, these two feuding brothers reunited at their father’s funeral and shiva.

Ishmael repented in the lifetime of his father. [We know this] because it says, And Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him. (Genesis 25: 9) But perhaps the text arranges them in the order of their wisdom? — If that were so, then why in the verse, And Esau and Jacob his sons buried him (Genesis 35: 29) are they not arranged in the order of their wisdom? What we have to say is that the fact of the text placing Isaac first shows that Ishmael made way (‘made him lead’)  for him, and from the fact that he made way for him we infer that he repented in Abraham’s lifetime. [1]

According to a conversation imagined by Rabbi Wiederhorn…. Ishmael was bitter and complained to Isaac that that their father had cruelly rejected and exiled him…. said Isaac “Dad rejected you… but he tried to kill me!”.  It was this humor shared by these two victims of exile and persecution that brought them together.

But there’s more joking going on in this narrative.  When in Genesis 26: 8 the Abimelech, king of the Philistines catches Isaac “sporting” with his wife Rebecca, many commentaries provide sexual innuendo…

And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife.

וַיְהִי, כִּי אָרְכוּ-לוֹ שָׁם הַיָּמִים, וַיַּשְׁקֵף אֲבִימֶלֶךְ מֶלֶךְ פְּלִשְׁתִּים, בְּעַד הַחַלּוֹן; וַיַּרְא, וְהִנֵּה יִצְחָק מְצַחֵק, אֵת, רִבְקָה אִשְׁתּוֹ

I must say, I have always loved the Torah’s humor in “Isaac was sporting” “Yitchak Mitzahek”  יִצְחָק מְצַחֵק  but Wiederhorn makes the point that not only does the author of the Torah make us smile with this word play… but maybe, just maybe it was not gratuitous sex that was part of this screenplay …  maybe for once we should take the text literally and Isaac was making his wife smile in a way that only one who is intimately connected can.  Isaac, true to his name, used humor, charm and a gratuitous smile to navigate through the trials and tribulations of life.  that was what Isaac was doing too…. making Rebeca smile in a way that showed the closeness of the relationship.

According to Wiederhorn’s sometimes we need to look on the bright side of life…

Writing this post in Israel, after a difficult few weeks of conflict over the Temple Mount and terror attacks with cars mowing down innocent victims waiting for a light rail, the message of Isaac could never be more timely… we … all parties.. the children of Sarah and the children of Hagar, need to smile more and make each other smile more.  We share enough tragedy to smile in a way that only those sharing the same fate and suffering can.  If we can’t smile together, we may never get out of the rut we’re in.

———————

[1]

baba batra 16bWiederhorn was inspired by the commentary to Genesis 25:9 in the Etz Hayim Chumash: “Isaac and Ishmael are reunited at their father’s funeral, a sign that Ishmael changed his ways as he matured [BT BB 16b].  Although he could not have forgotten how his father had treated him and how his brother had supplanted him, he seems to have forgiven Abraham for having been a less-than-perfect father.  Isaac too seems to have come to terms with his father’s nearly killing him on Mount Moriah.

Might these reconciliations have occurred in Abraham’s lifetime and be the reason for the Torah’s describing him as “contented” in his old age (Gen. R. 38:12)? Can we see this as a model for family reconciliations, forgiving old hurts? And can it not be a model for the descendents of Ishmael and Isaac, contemporary Arabs and Israeli Jews, to find grounds for forgiveness and reconciliation?”

3 Comments

Filed under Bible, Chosen People, divine birth, Hebrew, immaculate conception, Israel, Judaism, miracle, Palestinians, Religion, resurrection, Rosh Hashannah, social commentary, Torah, Zionism

you shall not lie alone

parshat kedoshim

Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them: Ye shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy. (Leviticus 19: 2)

    דַּבֵּר אֶל-כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם–קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ:  כִּי קָדוֹשׁ, אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם

Chapter 19 of Leviticus is comparable to the Ten Commandments. Rav Hiyya explained that the reason it was to be read “unto all the congregation” is because most of the essential laws of the Torah can be derived from it. (Leviticus Rabba 24). In my humble opinion it is far superior to the Ten Commandments. As Everett Fox writes: “[It] is wide-ranging and rhetorically powerful. It extends holiness to virtually all areas of life – family, calendar, cult, business civil and criminal law, social relations, and sexuality.” (The Five Books of Moses, Everett Fox p. 600.)

What detracts from the breadth of vision however, is the emphasis in the preceding and following chapters (Leviticus 18, also read at the afternoon service of Yom Kippur, and chapter 20) which are fixated on sexual perversion of every kind.. and I mean every kind, including incest, bestiality and homosexuality.

I will argue below, that much of what the Torah detests about sexual perversion, has less to do with being puritanical and more to do with challenging God’s authority and rejecting our humanity.  Stay with me…. It’s an interesting ride…

—————————-

The Hebrew Bible can be summarized as a rejection of Idolatry and an embrace of the concept that God is King.  No human or human-creation is divine.

In the first account in Chapter 1 of Genesis, Adam was created God-like, in the image of God, as a unitary being and as such did not need to procreate… or at least did not need a mate to procreate. God as we know… is eternal and does not need to procreate. When we first meet Adam… either does he.

In Genesis 1:27 we read: “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.”

  וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ:  זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה, בָּרָא אֹתָם

How does one explain the apparent contradiction of Man being created as a singular being… like God and God creating the human male and female? The Midrash cited by the classical commentators, Rashi and Ibn Ezra, explains these words in the following manner: The Adam was created as an androgynous being with two sides, male and female; moreover, these two sides were later separated in order to form two separate beings – man and woman (Genesis Rabbah 8:1). The tradition that the first human being was created as an androgynous being is also cited in the Talmud (Berochot 61a, Eruvin 18a).

How man procreates defines whether he is an earthly analog to God…or whether he, unlike God, cannot replicate Himself and is in need of an “other”.

An understanding of this premise explains the low Biblical regard of the divine right of kings and related incestual inbreeding as well as ritualistic bestiality, temple prostitution and homosexuality all of which are laid out in detail in Leviticus 18 and 20.

In this context one can understand Genesis 2:18 “And the Lord God said: It is not good that the man should be alone: I will make a help meet for him.” Rashi quotes Genesis Rabba: “So that people should not say that there are two authorities. The Holy One Blessed Be He among the heavenly beings is single, and has no mate, and the other one, among earthly beings has no mate.”

שלא יאמרו שתי רשויות הן הקב”ה יחיד בעליונים ואין לו זוג, וזה יחיד בתחתונים ואין לו זוג

The message here is that were a human who intended to have a family  were to publicly stay celibate, or claim sexual self-sufficientcy and mate with a being with which he cannot biologically reproduce; such as an animal, a goddess or a human of the same sex.. he is in an ancient Near Eastern way mimicking the divine, claiming divinity and thereby challenging God.

This to my mind is the meaning of Leviticus 18-22:

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is abomination.

 וְאֶת-זָכָר–לֹא תִשְׁכַּב, מִשְׁכְּבֵי אִשָּׁה:  תּוֹעֵבָה, הִוא

To claim that one can have a child, without the need of the other sex, is to claim divinity…. and therefore an abomination.

In Genesis, a few verses after woman has been created from Adam’s rib, the Bible writes: “And the man said: This now, bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh, to this shall be called Woman, because out of Man was this one taken.” Rashi is struck by “this now” and writes: “This teaches that Adam came to [lit. came unto – had sex with] each animal and beast in quest of a mate and he found no satisfaction in them (Babylonian Talmud, Yebamoth 63a).

 מלמד שבא אדם על כל בהמה וחיה ולא נתקררה דעתו בהם עד שבא על חוה

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh” Genesis 2:24 Rashi comments: “The Holy Spirit says this to forbid to the “children of Noah” unchaste behavior (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 57b)”

רוח הקודש אומרת כן,לאסור על בני נח את העריות

In other words, the source of unchaste sexual behavior (“Arayot” in Hebrew) is when a man does not leave his father and mother… sister, brother etc. but mates with them!  In the ancient world, inbreeding is reproduction without the need for another being outside of one’s gene pool and is to showcase a divine union which by the laws of nature does not support procreation.  It is forbidden because it challenges the Godhead.

So how did the next generation procreate with such a small gene pool? The most straightforward response, is that just as Adam had no choice but to mate with Eve.. who was after all, flesh of his flesh… so too Cain had to mate with a sister.

In Leviticus 20:17 the Bible writes: “And if a man shall take his sister, his father’s daughter or his mother’s daughter, and see her nakedness, and she see his nakedness, it is a shameful thing (Hebrew: “Chesed).

  וְאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-יִקַּח אֶת-אֲחֹתוֹ בַּת-אָבִיו אוֹ בַת-אִמּוֹ וְרָאָה אֶת-עֶרְוָתָהּ וְהִיא-תִרְאֶה אֶת-עֶרְוָתוֹ, חֶסֶד הוּא–וְנִכְרְתוּ, לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי עַמָּם; עֶרְוַת אֲחֹתוֹ גִּלָּה, עֲו‍ֹנוֹ יִשָּׂא

Rashi comments: it is a disgraceful act: The Aramaic term for “disgrace” is חִסוּדָא. – [see Onkelos on Gen. 34:14] Its Midrashic interpretation, however, is: If you [object and] say, “But Cain married his sister!” [the answer is:] the Omnipresent [in permitting this marriage,] performed an act of kindness (חֶסֶד), to build His world through him, as it is said: “the world is built on kindness (חֶסֶד) ” (Ps. 89:3). – [Torath Kohanim 20:116] Olam Chesed Yibaneh

לשון ארמי חרפה (בראשית לד יד) חסודא. ומדרשו אם תאמר קין נשא אחותו, חסד עשה המקום לבנות עולמו ממנו, שנאמר (תהלים פט ג) עולם חסד יבנה

One wonders… whether both explanations complement each other… “the world is built on shame….

In any case, the biblical premise remains… inbreeding is a rejection of God and a rejection of God’s role as man’s only ruler. Royals want to mix and re-mix their blood to protect their superior “blue” blood and to justify the subjugation of the commoner and stranger. God wants us, wherever possible, to leave our father and mother and create our bloodline with our fellow human commoners.

The biblical laws are talking about procreation… not love and relationships….

Returning with this new understanding of the sexual tension between Divine Royal inbreeding on the one hand and the alternative of leaving one’s gene pool and loving the “other”.. we can now make sense of the exhausting descriptions and proscriptions against prohibited sexual activity in Leviticus 18 -20…

The Biblical sense of Kedusha-Holiness is truly lyrical. God exhorts his people not to try to be holy like He is holy in the Ancient Near Eastern sense that man should compete with God by appointing human gods as leaders, and by building castes and tribes excluded from a holy blood lineage. Rather the Biblical invitation to be Holy as God is Holy is to act like God, in his most human form… Mah hu rachum, af ata rachum… Just as He is merciful, so shall you be merciful (Tractate Shabbat 133b and Rambam, Hilchot Dayot) … The seamless transistions between the ethical and ritual is an invitation to imitate God… Just as He is merciful and embraces the stranger and the common wage earner and just as He is honorable in business dealings.. so should you too …. It is a rejection of the stratification of divine rulers and common subjects.

The implications for the contemporary discussion regarding same sex marriage and the Hebrew Bible are many.

As for as I’m concerned the message is simple.

It’s not good for a human to be alone…. Not only because we need the love of another, but because living alone is a challenge to the Divine and therefore a rejection of our humanity.

לֹא-טוֹב הֱיוֹת הָאָדָם לְבַדּוֹ

It is also pretty clear to me that our personal world is built both on kindness and shame.  Undeserved kindness provided to us and shame born of the crooked timber of humanity… the world is built on Hesed.

עולם חסד יבנה

To claim that we are a world unto ourselves is not only selfish but it is a challenge to God and a denial of our humanity.

The illicit relationships listed in Leviticus have less to do with perverse sexual morays and everything to do with challenging God’s divinity and denying our own humanity.

You shall not lie alone…..

sleep alone

 

1 Comment

Filed under Bible, divine birth, Hebrew, homosexuality, immaculate conception, Judaism, Religion, social commentary

parallel worlds

parshat terumah

Many religious world-views include a belief in other worlds.  As stated in other posts, the Hebrew Bible is refreshingly slim in its descriptions or dependence on worlds to-come, worlds below, pre-existing worlds and parallel worlds.  To my mind, this is significant and requires diligence on the part of the reader to make sure that hellish “twilight zones” and utopian “better places” are not surreptitiously introduced by commentators, teachers or preachers.

Which brings us to Parshat Terumah and Exodus 25:9 regarding the construction of the Tabernacle….

“According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.”

כְּכֹל, אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מַרְאֶה אוֹתְךָ, אֵת תַּבְנִית הַמִּשְׁכָּן

וְאֵת תַּבְנִית כָּל-כֵּלָיו; וְכֵן, תַּעֲשׂוּ.

A simple reading would take this verse to mean that although God was going to verbally describe the details of the construction of the Tabernacle, He was, like any good architect, also going to provide a hard-copy pattern or blueprint. But the Rabbis… showing their Neo-Platonist colors.. took this pattern as a reference to God showing Moses the Ideal form of a transcendent Tabernacle. As Harry Austryn Wolfson writes in his seminal work on the Jewish philosopher Philo:

“According to this Jewish tradition there had been in existence an ideal tabernacle or, as it is usually called, sanctuary, prior to the building of the visible tabernacle in the wilderness; and it was that ideal tabernacle which God showed to Moses as a pattern for the visible tabernacle.” [i]

Wolfson suggests that “For the Hellenistic Jews it was quite natural to blend such beliefs in the preëxistence of things with the Platonic theory of Ideas.”

The Tabernacle and it’s vessels were not the only things that the Rabbis, under the influence of neoplatonism, suggested existed or preëxisted in other worlds.  According to this line of thought, the Torah itself preëxisted before the world (and before its revelation at Sinai).[ii]  Similarly, the absurd belief that the Patriarchs observed the Torah was introduced.  The ahistorical notion that  laws such as not eating leavened bread during Passover could exist before the Exodus had even occurred is a heresy.  [iii]

It is important to point out the introduction of these eternal worlds and preëxistent  truths because they dilute that which is so radically revolutionary about Judaism… Creation and the Giving of the Law.[iv]

Creation… especially creation from nothing (ex nihlo – Yeysh meAyin) means that there is NOTHING inevitable about our world. Our world and our lives truly do and did not have to be. Our world is radically contingent… Creation (Briot haOlam) means that the world as we know it is unthinkably different from the philosopher’s notion of the Divine.

The Philosopher’s God is eternal and perfect; our world is material, finite, imperfect, made up of disconnected moments and in flux.  All creatures, including man, are similarly radically contingent.. Man is ultimately made of dirt and is given a name; Adam, to prove it.

The same is true of the radical nature of Matan Torah.. the giving of the Torah. It is radically contingent on the shared history of God and a particular people who began a journey at a particular moment in time. The Passover holiday is radically contingent on the shared experience of the Exodus and to imagine it celebrated centuries before the exodus shows a lack of wonder at the radically contingent world and Torah we have been given. A belief in an immutable and eternal world and timeless Torah is an implicit rejection of the possibility of God’s presence in history, the covenantal interaction, the evolution of our law and beliefs and ultimately, a rejection of the responsibility that radical contingency places on us.

John, in the Fourth Gospel consummates the marriage between Biblical Creation and the Eternal worlds and forms of Neo-Platonism and Greek Hellenism.  “In the beginning was the Idea”. [v]  Christianity rejected the radical contingency of the giving of the Hebrew Torah and the covenant, but ‘ק can expect more from our Rabbis and scholars and we need demand more of ourselves as we celebrate a Hebrew Bible that includes only One World…. A world that we, it’s accidental inhabitants need to accept full responsibility for.

new jerusalem


[i] Wolfson continues: “This tradition is expressed in two ways, Sometimes it is said that the ideal sanctuary was created by God prior to the creation of the world (Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 54a Nedarim 39b  Tanhuma Numbers, Naso 19 ) … This ideal sanctuary is referred to as the “celestial sanctuary” (Genesis Rabbah 55:7 bet Ha-mikdash le-ma’alah..). Besides the sanctuary, there were also ideal models of all its vessels, and these, too, were shown to Moses when he was in heaven. This belief in the preëxistence of the tabernacle and its vessels is part of a more general belief in the preëxistence of certain objects or actions which were subsequently to play a part in scriptural history. … The preëxistence of some of these occurs also in the apocalyptic literature. Two of these preëxistent ten are also mentioned by Hellenistic Jewish writers. First, the preëxistence of the Law is affirmed by them in their identification of it with wisdom which in Scripture is said to have existed prior to the creation of the world. Second, the preëxistence of the tabernacle is stated in the following verse: “Thou gavest command to build a sanctuary in the holy mountain and an altar in the city of thy habitation, a copy of the holy tabernacle which Thou preparedst beforehand from the beginning.” Wisdom of Solomon 9:8 (Philo: Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Harry Austryn Wolfson, Harvard University Press (1947) p182-184)

[ii] In the first verse of the Torah the Rabbis play on the similarity between a description of the preëxistent Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22 The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old: and Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning” .. or with “Reshit” … now Wisdom-Torah.

The Torah declares: ‘I was the working tool of the Holy One, blessed be He.’ In human practice, when a mortal king builds a palace, he builds it not with his own skill but with the skill of an architect. The architect moreover does not build it out of his head, but employs plans and diagrams to know how to arrange the chambers and the wicket doors. Thus God consulted the Torah and created the world, while the Torah declares, IN THE BEGINNING GOD CREATED (1:1), BEGINNING referring to the Torah, as in the verse, “The Lord made me as the beginning of His way” (Prov. 8:22). (Genesis Rabah 1:1)

[iii] This perverse belief is commonly accepted in the Orthodox Jewish community today, which is surprising since the primary sources for these historical anachronisms, is in the extra-biblical Book of Sirah (included in the Septuagent but not Hebrew Bible) and the Pseudepigrapha such as the Book of Jubilees whose relevant verses are paraphrased here:

The (Book of Jubilees) author’s … practice of founding essential legal practices in the time of the ancients of Genesis rather than in the age of Moses. For example, … Noah first celebrated the Festival of Weeks (see 6:17–22) and later Abraham, too, observed this holiday, which became the anniversary of the Noahic, Abrahamic, and Mosaic covenants (6:17–22; 15:1–2). The Festivals of Tabernacles (16:20–23; 32:4–9, 27–29) and Unleavened Bread (18:18–19) and the Day of Atonement (34:17–19, which commemorates Jacob’s torment on learning of Joseph’s “death”) also were introduced in the age of the fathers. The author’s reason for antedating these practices can only be surmised, but it is clear that he wished to impress upon his audience that these essential acts of obedience to the covenant were not the innovations of a later age that were imposed upon the religion of the patriarchs. They had been in force since earliest times, were inscribed immutably and eternally on the heavenly tablets (of the numerous cases, see, for example, 3:10, 31; 6:17; 15:25; 16:28–29; etc.), and in some instances were practiced in heaven (Sabbath [2:30]; Festival of Weeks [6:18]; circumcision [15:27]). These provisions were to be observed scrupulously in the present if the ideal future was to be realized. (Anchor Bible Dictionary, Book of Jubilees see also (Two Views of the patriarchs: Noachide and pre-Sinai Israelites, Joseph P. Schultz in Texts and responses: Studies presented to Nahum N. Glatzer.. ed. Michael A. Fishbane, Brill Archive, 1975)

[iv] I don’t use the inaccurate translation of Matan Torah as “revelation” since it is tainted by preëxistence. Reveal-ation presupposes an already existent law that is now being revealed.

[v] The natural progression of this thought process, is of course that since the world of Ideas or Platonic Forms is superior to the messy world below (Beit hamikdash shel matah) then our focus should be towards this ideal world. The early Christians took this leap by emphasizing the New Jerusalem. This Jerusalem was no longer a contingent and particular Jewish Capital city, but a universal idea… a Form a Logos. Such thinking produced a new covenant (aka The New Testament – Brit Hadash) which, unlike the Old Covenant, was not based on a reciprocal relationship and shared history between God and a particular people, but was an immutable ideal. A new covenant, based not on shared history, practical deeds and commandments, but based on faith… on an Idea. No surprise that The Fourth Gospel of John comes directly from the previously referenced rabbinic interpretation of Genesis Rabah 1:1 “In the Beginning was the Idea (Logos)

1 Comment

Filed under Bible, divine birth, immaculate conception, Judaism, miracle, Religion, social commentary, Torah

divine birthers II

parshat Hayei Sarah

Picking up where divine birthers I left off, the death of Sarah is the final separation of Isaac’s natural mother from the divinely born and re-born Isaac.  “The final denial of Sarah’s role in Isaac’s birth comes after the sacrifice of Isaac.  Prior to Isaac’s symbolic ‘divine birth’ [at the Akedah] Sarah dies, emphasizing that she had no part in the transformation which can be seen as a symbolic ‘divine birth’ (as Isaac is symbolically sacrificed).” [Kunin p 97]

We have explored in the previous post, the major elements in the structure of the divine birth of biblical leaders. While Isaac provides the clearest example of a miraculous/divine birth to a barren mother and impotent father, and re-birth/resurrection at the hand of God (the akedah/sacrifice of Isaac), Isaac is not an isolated case.  Once we recognize the structural elements of divine birth, it is easy to see how important it was for Isaac’s son; Jacob to be separated (exiled) from his parents and to die and be re-born (see story of angels going up to heaven = death, and coming down = re-birth Kunin p 119-20) and struggle and die and be reborn and re-named again (see story of death struggle with angel and new name ‘Israel” Kunin p 129).  Once one recognizes the pattern one comes to expect that biblical leaders are never the first born, are born to barren mothers, rejected and abused by their community, struggle and consigned to symbolic death and reborn.

What is key, is that divine birth in the bible is not an isolated or unique incident.  There is not one single divine birth.  In fact, it is not a stretch to say that, to a degree, every human has an element of divine birth.  Thus the rabbinic notion that everyone has three parents… Our Rabbis taught: there are three partners in every person, the Holy One Blessed be He, the father and the mother. (Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 30b)

It was only later, after the destruction of the First Temple and with the emergence of the idea of a single savior, that the structure of the ‘divine birth’ became identified with a single, unique individual and a unique eschatological moment in history.  It was only later that the emphasis on divine birth became the miraculous as opposed to the not-natural.

Daniel Boyarin, in his best seller; The Jewish Gospels; The Story of the Jewish Christ, shows how many concepts, previously thought to have been innovations of Christianity, actually have clear antecedents in Judaism.

According to Boyarin (who follows Leo Baeck), divine birth as a prerequisite for a redeemer of Israel appears first in the post exilic book of Daniel 7

13 I saw in the night visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the Ancient of days, and he was brought near before Him.
14 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

 

 
Boyarin writes: “At a certain point these traditions became merged in Jewish minds with the expectation of a return of a Davidic king, and the idea of a divine-human Messiah was born. This figure was then named “Son of Man,” alluding to his origins in the divine figure named “one like a Son of Man/a human being” in Daniel. In other words, a simile, a God who looks like a human being (literally Son of Man) has become the name for that God, who is now called “Son of Man,” a reference to his human-appearing divinity.

So just as the ‘Sacrifice of Isaac” actually refers to the survival and re-birth of Isaac… the ‘not-sacrifice of Isaac’, so too the reference to the awaited messiah as the son of man was actually a tag for he who was divine and only ‘like’ a son of man… the ‘not-son-of-man’.

Earlier references to God giving birth to a King did not originally have any hints of incarnation of the deity as king, but were taken as a sign of intimacy: “I will be to you as a father, and you will be to me as a son.” (Boyarin pp 28-29), but once the “one like a Son of Man” concept emerged, along with the messianic king, it changed the way these references were read by pre-Christian Jews.

For instance in Psalm 2: 6-7

6 ‘Truly it is I that have established My king upon Zion, My holy mountain.’
7 I will tell of the decree: the LORD said unto me: ‘Thou art My son, this day have I begotten thee.

The next element of this singular divine human was that his suffering would bring redemption.  Here Boyarin draws on the famous suffering servant of God found in Isaiah 53

3 He was despised, and forsaken of men, a man of pains, and acquainted with disease, and as one from whom men hide their face: he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried; whereas we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed.
10 Yet it pleased the LORD to crush him by disease; to see if his soul would offer itself an offering, that he might see his seed, prolong his days, and that the purpose of the LORD might prosper by his hand:

Boyarin writes: “I cannot overstate the extent to which the interpretation of this passage has anchored the conventional view of Judaism’s relationship to Messianism. It has been generally assumed by modern folks that Jews have always given the passage a metaphorical reading, understanding the suffering servant to refer to the People of Israel, and that it was the Christians who changed and distorted its meaning to make it refer to Jesus. Quite to the contrary, we now know that many Jewish authorities, maybe even most, until nearly the modern period have read Isaiah 53 as being about the Messiah; until the last few centuries, the allegorical reading was a minority position. (Boyarin p 152)

By showing that the concepts of a divine birth, suffering and sacrifice of a redeemer are found in Judaism prior to Jesus and before the advent of Christianity, Boyarin is out to make an important point about Christianity:

“the Christ was not invented to explain Jesus’ life and death. Versions of this narrative, the Son of Man story (the story that is later named Christology), were widespread among Jews before the advent of Jesus; Jesus entered into a role that existed prior to his birth, and this is why so many Jews were prepared to accept him as the Christ, as the Messiah, Son of Man. This way of looking at things is quite opposite to a scholarly tradition that assumes that Jesus came first and that Christology was created after the fact in order to explain his amazing career. The job description—Required: one Christ, will be divine, will be called Son of Man, will be sovereign and savior of the Jews and the world—was there already and Jesus fit (or did not according to other Jews) the bill. The job description was not a put-up job tailored to fit Jesus!” (Boyarin p 73)

“the New Testament is much more deeply embedded within Second Temple Jewish life and thought than many have imagined, even—and this I emphasize again—in the very moments that we take to be most characteristically Christian as opposed to Jewish: the notion of a dual godhead with a Father and a Son, the notion of a Redeemer who himself will be both God and man, and the notion that this Redeemer would suffer and die as part of the salvational process. At least some of these ideas, the Father/Son godhead and the suffering savior, have deep roots in the Hebrew Bible as well and may be among some of the most ancient ideas about God and the world that the Israelite people ever held.” Boyarin p 157-8)

I would add to Boyarin that not only does Christianity draw many of its core theological concepts from prior Biblical traditions, but in so doing, Christianity becomes a receptacle and valuable resource for Biblical students to uncover those concepts which may have been suppressed, repressed, fallen into misfavor, or just forgotten.

It seems to me that divine birth as it appears in Genesis is one such core concept that has been eclipsed.  The fact that latter Jewish messianists and Christians modified it to refer to a singular individual and put the emphasis on the redemptive and supernatural (magical) divine powers of this not-son-of-man, should not dissuade us from uncovering the original function and meaning of divine birth.

It seems to me, that the divine birth revealed in Genesis emphasizes, not so much the divine nature of the biblical leader, but rather a disruption with the constraints of his natural birth.

The divinely born breaks free from the ties to his place of birth and his parents.  The divinely born does not benefit from the natural birth order and primogeniture… he breaks down a culture of entitlement and ‘natural’ hierarchy of class.  The divinely born succeeds through the sweat of his brow, overcomes rejection and suffering, and finally, the divinely born believes that he can be re-born, that nothing is impossible and nothing, not even his persona (name), and least of all, his destiny, can not be changed.  The divine birth I find in Genesis introduces a covenant with God (cut between the pieces) which is a rejection of natural law (and natural birth) and embraces culture, learning, and other human/divine conventions where change, sanctioned by the divine is possible and blessed.  Divine birth presupposes a covenant with the divine which transcends any contract or deal with the powers that be.  Divine birth presupposes a divine covenant which breaks with the accepted political structure… it speaks truth to power.  Divine birth was and is a true gift of the Jews.

Chagall's Jesus

1 Comment

Filed under Bible, divine birth, immaculate conception, Israel, Jewish jesus, Judaism, Religion, resurrection, social commentary, Torah, Totah

divine birthers I

Parshat Vayera

In The Front, a movie about the McCarthy era, Woody Allen’s character is asked if he knows a suspected communist. Allen at his whiny – nebishy best tries to dodge the question …
“When you say “know,” can you ever really know a person?”
“Would you say I know him? Can you know…? “
and finishes with my favorite quote from the movie:

“In a biblical sense, know him?”

Allen is of course referring to Carnal Knowledge.

With the conception of Isaac… I have a similar question.   Genesis 21: 1

1 And the LORD remembered Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as He had spoken.

The word for “remembered” (Hebrew “pakad”) is a euphemism for having marital connection with… (see Jastrow Dictionary p1206) and see Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 62b]:

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: Whosoever knows his wife to be a God-fearing woman and does not duly visit her (in a conjugal sense – pakad) is called a sinner; for it is said:

And thou shalt know that thy tent is in peace; and thou shalt visit thy habitation, and shalt miss nothing.  Thou shalt know also that thy seed shall be great, and thine offspring as the grass of the earth. (Job 5:24-25)

“Rabbi Joshua ben Levi further stated: “It is a man’s duty to pay a (conjugal) visit to his wife before he departs on a journey; for it is said: “And thou shalt know that thy tent is in peace; and thou shalt visit thy habitation, and shalt miss nothing.”

Admittedly, Pakad can also mean: to remember, to command, to record as well as refer to a neighborly visit, but even when used with a G-Rating, the Rabbis were not shy from interjecting a little sexual innuendo to the meaning of Pakad.

These are the accounts of the tabernacle, even the tabernacle of the testimony, as they were rendered according to the commandment of Moses, (Exodus 38:21)

These are the records (pikudei) of the Tabernacle: You find that when Israel was in harsh labor in Egypt, Pharaoh decreed that the men must not sleep in their homes, so that they would not engage in sexual relations with their wives. Rabbi Shimon bar Halafta said: What did the daughters of Israel do? They went down to draw water from the Nile and God would bring little fish into their buckets. They cooked some fish and sold the rest, buying wine with the proceeds. Then they went out to the fields and fed their husbands. After eating and drinking, the women would take bronze mirrors and look at them with their husbands. The wife would say “I’m prettier than you,” and the husband would reply, “I’m more beautiful than you.” Thus they would arouse themselves to desire and they would then “be fruitful and multiply,” and God took note of them (pakad) immediately. Some of our sages said, They bore two children at a time, others said, six and others said twelve, and still others said six hundred thousand…and all these numbers from those mirrors….And all these numbers from mirrors…In the merit of those mirrors which they showed their husbands to accustom them to desire, from the midst of the harsh labor, they raised up all the hosts, as it is said, “All the hosts of God went out of the land of Egypt” (Ex. 12:41) and it is said, “God brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt in their hosts” (12:51). –Midrash Tanchuma; Pikudei 9

So according to the Rabbis of the Midrash, that which God remembered (pakad) were the conjugal visits (pekudai) of the women of Israel.

So my question is: When God “visited” Sarah… was it in the biblical sense… was it a visit of the conjugal variety?  Or to put it slightly differently… what is the nature of Divine Birth in our tradition?

In a previous blog post (Prince William Chose Well) I explored incest in the Biblical tradition.  I’d like to continue that exploration, this time, with an emphasis on divine birth.

The belief in a divine child is the core of the Jesus myth and we Jews like to think that it is totally alien to Judaism, but the truth is that not only was the child of god fairly common in ancient lore as anyone familiar with the Bible will recognize, the barren matriarch is a common Biblical theme, followed by a miraculous birth. Since any miraculous birth is by definition a divine birth we have to admit that the notion of a son of God is hardly unique to Christianity.  My follow-up question is how divine birth as an idea, developed differently in Judaism.

In a book that I referenced in my previous blog, and subsequently purchased;  (The Logic of Incest: A Structuralist Analysis of Hebrew Mythology 1995 by Seth Daniel Kunin, the author defines “‘Divine birth’  to mean a transformation whereby the individual is changed from being a product of natural (human) descent to one of divine descent. Although in many of the cases of ‘divine birth’ no actual birth takes place, the term birth is used because the texts often highlight the transformation with a denial of human or natural birth, they also often include elements associated with birth, that is, renaming and words meaning birth.  These texts also often include rituals or events similar to rites of passage.”… “All of the ‘divine birth’ texts also include a denial of human fertility.” [Kunin notes 1 to page 63 and 64]

Isaac’s mother is a woman of 90 and barren. Her husband, Abraham at 99, is no youngster. Miraculously Sarah gives birth… Unlike similar stories of miraculous births in both the Old and New Testaments, in the case of the conception of Isaac, both natural father and mother are barren.  They are divinely re-born and given new names Abram to Abraham and Sarai to Sarah.  In addition, Abraham enters into a covenant ‘between the pieces’ where “Abraham is asked to make a bloody pathway consisting of progressively smaller animals… the passage through the bloody path can be interpreted as a symbolic birth or new beginning” [Kunin page 73] … a birth canal.

Even when Isaac is born, Abraham (his natural father) is asked to distance, disconnect himself from his natural son by sacrificing him where (according to at least one Midrashic account) he is actually slaughtered and then re-born (resurrected) by God.

In Pirke deRabbi Eliezer we find a clear reference to the death and (divine) re-birth of Isaac at the Akeda.  “Towards the end of the texts discussing Gen. 22 it states, ‘When the sword touched Isaac’s throat, terrified, his soul fled.  Immediately (God’s) his voice was heard from between the angels, and he said “do not lay your hand on the boy”, thereupon his soul was returned to his body… And Isaac knew of the resurrection of the dead from the Torah, that all the dead are destined to be resurrected’ [Kunin page 229]

The death of Isaac (or the symbolic death of Isaac) is necessary in order to enable him to be symbolically transformed.  The element of transformation or birth (the reverse of the sacrifice) is the structural center of the text, and, with the progressive denial of his physical parent, his spiritual parent comes to the fore.  In Gen. 21: 1 (quoted at the start) the text suggests that God played an important role in Isaac’s birth: ‘the Lord did to Sarah as he had spoken.  This creates the possibility that God was the parent rather than Abraham. [Kunin page 97]

But leaders born of Divine birth not only die and get re-born, they also suffer.  Similar to other prophets (e.g. Hannah to Samuel as in Samuel I 2: 21) and rulers/saviors (c.f. David as illegitimate), Isaac’s birth is ridiculed by the neighbors and his parentage is questioned and a subject of gossip.

Yalkut Shemone 93 tells that Abraham gave a feast to celebrate Isaac’s birth.  All the people were telling each other that Abraham and Sarah could not have been the parents, and that they must have picked Isaac up in the market.  God puts a stop to this by making Sarah’s breasts overflow with milk to feed all the children present, yet they still talked of Abraham and Sarah’s age.  So God made Isaac look exactly like Abraham so all could see that he was the father. [Kunin p.244]

As mentioned previously, the emphasis on both a barren mother and a impotent father make the Isaac story unique and worthy of Isaac’s paradigmatic position as the first JFB (Jew From Birth).

So Isaac and all subsequent leaders of the people of Israel has a divine birth that separates him from his natural parents, he is belittled, possibly persecuted, delegitemized and suffers and ultimately  is killed as a burnt offering/atonement sacrifice only to be re-born at the hand of God (or his angels).

Kunin is to be complimented for the way he connects the symbolic structure of Isaacs’s birth to that of Abram, Sarai, Jacob and Joseph as well as Cain and Abel.  (read the book…..)  In so doing he reveals other patterns such as a rejection of the natural order of primogeniture, in which the elder is greater as opposed to the divine concept of choseness and covenant.

Israel is descended from people chosen by God rather than entitled by nature.  This element is found throughout the text: Seth is Adam’s third son, Shem is Noah’s third son, Isaac is Abraham’s second son, and Moses is also a second son.  This aspect of chosen descent is part of the logic by which Israel is distinguished from the nations…. [Kunin p 106]

Similarly, the biblical narrative favors the farmer and nomadic gatherer (Jacob – dweller in tents) over the hunter (Ishamael and Esau) and the city-dweller (Lot and Sodom) .  Not that at the time the Bible was edited, or ever, were the Israelites really nomads, but from an aspirational perspective nature = entitlement = status and stasis – structure – natural law and divine = choseness = covenant = rebirth – reboot – artifice – culture.

In using divine as the opposite of ‘nature’ or, as discussed above, ‘natural birth’, there is also an association of divine with culture.  The opposition suggested here is that the myth creates a dichotomy in which the other nations and their cultures are associated with nature and natural birth, while Israel and its culture is associated with culture and divine.  Israelite myth, as a handmaiden of Israelite culture, validates Israelite culture as divine. [Kunin p. 117]

In my next post, we’ll explore how divine birth plays out in Christianity, how Christianity and Judaism exploited the same logical structure in different ways… and our debt to Christianity for preserving the structure of divine birth, sacrifice and resurrections so that we could rediscover in our earliest myths……

6 Comments

Filed under Bible, divine birth, immaculate conception, Judaism, Religion, resurrection, Torah, Totah