Tag Archives: birth

of woman born

parshat tazria (Leviticus 12)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on Thursday March 31st 2022 as we use the Torah’s treatment of postpartum impurity to explore postpartum depression, gender definition and female sexual needs and rights, to name a few stimulating topics…

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/396094


Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, I host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Today, we use the Torah’s treatment of childbirth to explore postpartum depression, gender definition, and female sexual needs and rights to name a few stimulating topics. So put away your Masters and Johnson forget about your chosen pronouns, and ditch your favorite child rearing book and join us as we explore Of Women Born. Boy, did I fit enough in that intro?


Adam Mintz  00:55

I don't want to miss it either.


Geoffrey Stern  00:58

I mean, you know, usually we focus on just a few verses, but I gotta say that this week, boy, oh, boy, there were so many topics and they all relate to the subjects that I described. So let's just jump in Leviticus 12: 1-5 "God spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the Israelite people. Thus, when a woman at childbirth, bears a male, she shall be impure seven days, she shall be impure as at the time of her menstrual cycle. On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised, she shall remain in a state of purification for 33 days, she shall not touch any consecrated thing nor enter the sanctuary until her period of purification is completed. However, if she bears a female, she shall be impure (twice as long,) two weeks, as during her menstruation, and she shall remain in a state of blood purification for (not 30 days, but) 60 days." So there's so much to unpack here. Why is she impure? Why does she bring a sacrifice? And yes, why is there a difference between whether she has a boy baby, or a girl baby, and as a new father, grandfather of a baby girl who's today, four weeks old.... This is really pertinent to me. So Rabbi, what is the most interesting, stimulating, engaging question that comes to your mind from these verses?


Adam Mintz  02:52

So to me, the question of why the period of purification is different if you give birth to a boy or to give birth to a girl? To me, that's always the hardest question. And I don't know even after all these years, whether I have the perfect answer.


Geoffrey Stern  03:11

So I'm going to go out on a limb here, and I know that we are supposed to be having Disruptive Torah. And I'm always gonna be dredging and saying, "Why is this gender different? And why is this like this?" But I've got to tell you, that I actually believe that the issues that are raised are more important than necessarily the conclusions that are reached. So let's begin with your question about why is it different if you have a baby boy, and why is it different if you have a baby girl? So the most I think accepted answer comes from the Talmud in multiple places. I'm gonna quote Nida 31b. And it says and the students of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, not a small Rabbi further inquired of him. What reason does the Torah say that a woman who gives birth to a male is ritually impure for seven days, but a woman who gives birth to a female is impure for 14 days. Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai answer them. When a woman gives birth to a male. Everyone is happy, and she regrets her oath, that she will never engage in sexual relations with her husband. Already seven days after giving birth. She's so happy that she had a baby boy, she forgets about all the nasty things she said about her husband and having sexual intercourse with her husband. By contrast, after giving birth to a female, over which everyone is unhappy, she regrets her oath only 14 days after giving birth. So it takes her twice as long to get over the fact that every woman during childbirth, as they are living through the hevlei Leadah, the pangs of giving birth, and are saying, How did I get into this situation? Am I crazy? I'm never gonna touch my husband. Again. It's a question of how quickly she gets over it. So that is the traditional answer. Rabbi, how do you how do you take that, and I assume that you were as happy when you had a girl as you had a boy, so I'm putting you on the spot.


Adam Mintz  05:46

I don't know what that means. I'll tell you the way I always understood it. And we'll see if that's what the Talmud means. I always understood that the period of purity is longer for a girl. Because giving birth to a girl is actually more significant than giving birth to a boy, because a girl is herself going to have children. So actually, the period of purity is not only for your daughter, but for all of the generations that are going to come from her, which doesn't apply to a man.


Geoffrey Stern  06:20

You know, I have not seen that explanation in all of the traditional commentaries is that your own Hidush?


Adam Mintz  06:28

I heard it a long time ago from George Rohr. George Rohr runs the beginners service at KJ on the east side, you know, it's hard to run a beginner service on these kinds of weeks, because the beginners asked hard questions, because they don't have any background. And that's the way he always used to explain it. And of all the explanations, that explanation is the best explanation I've ever heard. I don't know if it's perfect, but it's the best explanation I've ever heard.


Geoffrey Stern  06:58

So we're gonna get to a bunch of explanations, but one of them is similar in terms of the compound nature of a woman having a woman. But I absolutely love George Rohr's explanation. I think that's fantastic. That is just beautiful. So what I take away from this is I focus less on the kind of the characterization of social norms of a time where everybody wanted a son to carry on their family name, everyone wanted a son to carry on the business, and I get it. But what I love about this is that it focuses on the psyche of the woman. And it focuses on the fact that having a baby is a major milestone. And that psychologically, it is difficult for the woman. I've been preaching since the beginning of Leviticus, that sacrifices are made to help us deal with pain, with pleasure, with joy with thanks. And if this isn't a case study, in a sacrifice being created to deal with postpartum with giving birth, you've been carrying this child inside, the pain of giving birth is traumatic. And here, the Torah is distinguishing between nuances. Forget about the gender issue. I just love the fact that it's focused on you got to deal with different people in different ways. And then you talk about I mean, again, and it engenders an explanation like George Rohr gave, which is, yes, I'm giving birth to a woman who is going to go through this. I just love it. So I in terms of my reaction that I just love, the fact that the Torah is seems to be really empathizing with the emotional impact. I want a quote from Tzeror Ha-Mor of R. Abraham Saba (1440–1508)  Oh, and by the way, I found some beautiful monographs and some very scholarly studies that were done on these verses, and they were all in the notes on Safaria. If you look at his he goes into this birth, Pang things. And he uses words lay like God היודע הלבבות, who knows the souls of people. And again, he's focused on the fact that in his milieu, having a boy was different than having a girl, but I'm focusing on that he goes on to say, היא עצובת רוח בעצב כפול that when the woman has a girl, she is doubly depressed. And again, I'm not focused on the girl, I'm focused on the depressed, I'm focused on the fact that a commentator is focused on עצובת  and עצב . On the fact that you can have a very strong dose of depression, and then he uses another thing, and he says, so therefore the total gives the woman two weeks to recover, התורה שירדה לסוף דעתה, it goes down and understands her mind. And that's what as lovely and as wonderful as I love to be the contrary guy, I also want to appreciate that whether it's in the actual verses themselves, or in the commentaries and the tradition, here, we're looking at something that has become recognized as a very important; postpartum depression, and focused on how you address it. And did they know how to address it perfectly. 1000 1500 years ago, maybe not, we can discuss that, but they wanted to address it. That's my takeaway.


Adam Mintz  11:10

So I like I love that point. That point that they wanted to address it, that maybe they didn't have all the tools that we have, you know, we are very sophisticated. Now we're educated, we have a lot, but they wanted to address it, I liked that idea that there are some things that are kind of built into the human psyche that people have been trying to deal with since the beginning of time. That's really a nice idea, isn't it?


Geoffrey Stern  11:35

I love it, I just absolutely love it. And, you know, this is typically a parsha that people have difficulty talking about. But I mean, here in these three, four verses, the fact that it distinguishes between gender bothers me less than the fact that I'm aware that it distinguishes between personal responses to similar situations. So let's drill down a little bit deeper. You talk about, maybe their understanding of science was limited. So in some of the monographs that I quote, it's fascinating that there was a concept out there in Greek medicine. And it goes to Galen, and it goes back to Hippocrates. In the fifth century, that a female fetus takes longer to develop than a male. So again, the rabbi's looked at the science, the best science that they had. And there were some traditional commentaries who go back to that and explain it based on that. And the fact that they explain it means they were bothered by it, too. And how great is that? That 1500 years ago, there were rabbis who we all like to say are the patriarchy and you know, men writing for men? And they were concerned about why does the Torah distinguish between men and women? And again, it was based maybe on a false thing. And you can you can give any kind of commentary; you want to why it would take longer for a female fetus to develop. But again, it was using the best science that they had, and asking themselves, why is there this difference, which is based on the premise that men and female are equal, and I love that too.


Adam Mintz  13:37

I love that too. I mean, that is interesting. Again, it doesn't really matter whether the Greek science is correct or not. The point is that they're addressing this topic. And I think that's great.


Geoffrey Stern  13:47

But as we continue this discussion, and it's kind of like when you have a challenging problem like this, it's kind of like a Rorschach test, every Rabbi brings to the question, his own baggage and his own perspective. So the most amazing monograph that I quote, is based on a few Rabbi scholars who similar to what you quoted about George Rohr, talk about this is a compounded issue, meaning to say, Why does a woman who gives birth to a woman need two weeks and a woman who gives birth to a man only one week, and one of the answers that they give is that not only is she suffering addressing, compensating for her own life, but she is addressing the life of the mother of all mothers, which is Eve which is Hava and it's very rare in Jewish tradition that we have reference to what the Christians call Original Sin and The Fall. But if you all remember when we studied Genesis, we know the punishment that Adam was given was that he had to work and toil by the sweat of his brow. But the punishment that Eve was given his that she would give birth under pain. And so they harken this back to the original sin, which again, you can interpret in in all different ways. Have you ever heard of this kind of connection? And how does it resonate with you, Rabbi,


Adam Mintz  15:38

it resonates, I liked that explanation. And I agree with you. I like the compound nature of the these kinds of explanations. And I think that's interesting. Now, it's an interesting question about whether Original Sin is ultimately a Jewish idea.


Geoffrey Stern  15:56

Well, I think it's definitely an idea that Christianity took from us. And as a result, we raise our eyebrows when we see commentaries that reference it. But there was no question that the book of Genesis is not a storybook, that things in it are very important, and that the story of Adam and Eve explains our mortality. It explains the struggle of earning a livelihood that we've talked about when we talked about Lechem and Milchama, and now we're talking about childbirth. It explains the struggles of life. So I don't think there's anyone who takes the Bible seriously. Who would ever say, nah that's just a fairy tale? It was, we're talking about chapter two, of the Bible. And so the change of man, mankind leaving Eden.... You can call it The Fall, you can call it Original Sin. But whatever you call it, it's, it's if you take your Bible seriously, it's important.


Adam Mintz  17:05

There is no question that that's right. And it was interesting what you just said, and that is, it doesn't really matter what you call it. The question is how it helps you understand some of these complicated laws in the Torah.


Geoffrey Stern  17:19

So I want to go in a completely different direction now. We've kind of looked at the gender issue a little bit. Now I want to look at the question of why is a woman who gives birth to a beautiful child giving a sacrifice in the first place? What did she do wrong? What does she have to ask penitence for? And we've kind of focused on it a little bit, in terms of she made an oath, but let's hit the nail on the head, it needed the masechta the Tractate Nida 31b. It says the students of Rabbi Benue Hashem and when I asked him, Why does the toe say that a woman after childbirth brings in orphaning. He said to them at the time that a woman crowd to stick of birth. Her pain is so great, that she impulsively takes an oath, that she will not engage in intercourse with her husband ever again. So that she will never again experience this pain. Therefore, the Torah says that she must bring an offering for violating her oath, and continuing to engage in intercourse with her parent, her husband. So now we're talking on a whole different level. We're starting to talk about marital relationships, and we are focused on the woman in terms of what she might say during the pangs, the struggle of childbirth to her husband, but before I ask for your opinion, I want to quote the flip side of this discussion, because the flip side is much more radical. What I just told you now again, comes from the patrimony that guy's upset, his wife won't touch them. She gave birth and you know, he wants his conjugal waits. Here's what the mission in q2 boat 61 B says, with regard to one who vows that his wife may not derive benefit from marital relations with him. Beat samurai says he may maintain this situation for up to two weeks. But beyond that he must divorce her and give her the payment for her marriage contract. Paid Hillel says he must avoid sir, if he continues beyond only one week and the Gomorrah continues. Where do they learn this from Big surprise from our verses. So now we're not talking about the husband rights to conjugal rights. We're talking that any woman can say to her husband who wants to be either holier than thou, or he, he's not looking at her. He's not smiling at her. He's not caressing her. She can say, Listen, buddy, the verse that we just quoted from Viagra, whether you go like beit shamai or beit Hillel, it's one or two weeks, and if you can fulfill my sexual desires, I have a right to divorce you and you have to make full payment. How many documents do we have that provides such a representation of women's rights? To conjugal rights? Are you blown away like I am


Adam Mintz  20:53

blown away? That's amazing. That's actually amazing.


Geoffrey Stern  20:57

I mean, you know, I started by saying in the intro, throw away your Masters and Johnson


Adam Mintz  21:04

So let me just say that the Torah in the in the book of Exodus, when it talks about a husbands responsibility to his wife, conjugal rights are seen as the husband's responsibility to his wife. It's not this explicit, but the Torah does. Say She-era Kesuta lo dibra, Ona'ata means conjugal rights, so that he has the responsibility to give her conjugal rights. So the idea that that's the woman's right is actually there in the Torah, but it's not this elaborate.


Geoffrey Stern  21:39

But I mean, think of how radical the Fear of Flying and the Kinsley study, and all of this stuff was in the 60s. And here you have the rabbi's talking about a wife's right to sexual fulfillment.


Adam Mintz  21:59

Crazy, totally crazy.


Geoffrey Stern  22:01

So that's why I find this verse and these three verses and the discussions that are currently about them. So mind blowing. So let's move on a little bit. There are some commentaries who notice something interesting about our verses, if you remember, it says when it's talking about a male, that you shall be impure seven days. And then for another 30 days, you're going to go through this other cycle. But in verse three, it says, On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. And that, of course, we all know is Brit Milah, is circumcision. And normally, we take that to be something that relates to Abraham, and it relates to a covenant, so forth and so on. But you don't have that parallel on the female side. And so I quote, a wonderful study called Gendering a child with Ritual by Dr. Christine Hankinson Garraway, where she talks about the importance in ancient societies and she goes back to Akkadian and Hittite things about announcing the gender of your child, clearly, if we've learned anything so far, and I say so far, because we're going to go in a different direction in a few minutes. But so far, gender matters. If you have a boy, you feel one way, if you have a girl, you feel another way. But what she does is she takes the double week as something that balances the Brit Mila. So for the male, the way of introducing it to the community, as I had a male son, you have this milestone this, this rite of [passage], of circumcision. And if you have a girl, you show that by the two week period, by the 60 day period, she takes it to be something along those lines, which again, to me, I kind of back away and say it's not so much about gender, but that everybody has the right and the ability to announce their child joining their family, their community, the world in different ways. But she takes it as a positive and that's kind of fascinating.


Adam Mintz  24:40

That's very fascinating. I mean, that's, that's interesting to take it as a positive. Who is she,


Geoffrey Stern  24:48

You know, it's in if you look at the source, there's this wonderful blog, it's Torah.com I believe, and the level of this scholarship is extremely high. But she's a either a rabbinic student or something. And, and look, I love the source sheets that we always include with our podcast. And if you go there you can, you can do like I do, which is Hafoch bo v'hafoch bo de kulo  bo, you can, you can dig in them, there's so much learning there. But again, see uses as a as a way of distinguishing and announcing the gender of your child.


Adam Mintz  25:32

It's very interesting. I think that that that's all you know, sometimes you say that when there are so many different suggestions about the reason for something, it's because nobody really knows the reason. It's not like, Yeah, I know, this is the reason I know, this is the reason everybody's all over the place, because nobody really knows the real explanation.


Geoffrey Stern  25:55

Absolutely. And it opens itself up for new interpretation.


Adam Mintz  25:59

You know, we haven't discussed one possibility that this was just part of the culture of the ancient world that all religions had.


Geoffrey Stern  26:09

Well, and to a degree, if you read her monologue, she says, yes, there was at least in the ancient Near East in the in the Hittite, and the Acadian communities, there was this sense of announcing and bringing into the community.


Adam Mintz  26:23

Oh, so she does raise that as a possibility.


Geoffrey Stern  26:26

She does. So what I'd like to take away in the next last segment, because we have so many segments to this discussion, is she talks about gender announcing. Now I want you to listen to the Talmud in Nida 40a. And the Gomorrah asks, and what do the rabbis derive from the superfluous expression, so the rabbi's are torn over every extra word in the Torah. And if you notice, when I read about if a boy is born, it says the following, and then it goes says and ve'im nekeva teled which means and if a girl child is born, and all of this commentary say, Why does it need to say if it's a girl? Why does it have to say "was born"? So the Talmud, and Anita says as follows why, for this superfluous expression, the Gemora answers, in their opinion, that expression is necessary to include the birth of a child whose sexual organs are indeterminate, which in the Talmud is called a tum tum, or a hermaphrodite an androgenous, which has a child that has both sexual organs, as it might enter your mind to say that the words male and female are written in the passage to only talk about them, therefore, it teaches she "gives birth", that is the birth itself, not the sex of the offspring that matters. Are you kidding me? This sounds like don't give me labels. If a child is born, I don't care what sex he is, or she is, I don't care what pronouns she/he/it's going to have. I mean, this, this verse blows me away. And in bottom line, what it says is, if you have a child whose sexual identity is in question, you do two weeks, and you do 60 days, but we learn it from the fact that "it is born". It's a child that is born, and it doesn't have to be male or female. I'm blown away that.


Adam Mintz  28:40

I love that.  I mean, that is really amazing. I mean, you know, they derive it in, you know, in kind of classic rabbinic way. But what is the message that it gives us such an amazing thing isn't?


Geoffrey Stern  28:51

It is and, and again, it's the way we moderns read it, because we can read it differently than either they meant it or that it's been read for 1500 years. But I do believe that the way I just read is true to the text.


Adam Mintz  29:13

I think when you read it is fantastic. I love that.


Geoffrey Stern  29:15

So the last thing that I'm going to bring up is the question and I called this discussion of woman born. And for those of you who know your Shakespeare, you know that at the beginning of Macbeth, he is told he will be killed by someone who was not of woman born. And of course the punch line was that he was killed by someone who was born via cesarean and there was not of woman born. So the rabbi's also bring that into the discussion and they talk about where it says that from this, we learned that if you are born from cesarean, we all know those of us who have had cesarian births or children have had cesarian births. You don't do, for instance, the redeeming it from the Cohen, it wasn't literally Peter Rechem. It didn't open up the womb, the rechem but all other things that have to do with being a firstborn, whether being responsible [a double portion]  or whatever, is still there. And the word that it uses for cesarean is Yotsei dophen. And today in modern Hebrew, when you say that something is Yotsei dophen what do you mean is it's exceptional? It's out of the ordinary. And I just love the fact that everything that we've been teaching, so the Mishnah in Berachot 47b says Rabbi Shimon says the first son is a firstborn with regard to inheritance, if he is his father's first son, and then it goes on to say but if she bears a girl, again, they're focused on this extra word "teled" that the apparently superfluous term "she bears" serves to include a child born by cesarean section, yotzei dophen. So I would conclude by saying that these verses that have struggled and been difficult for many people, especially people that are very gender conscious, you can read them in a way that absolutely opens up our minds and makes us think yotze dophen, which is out of the box, and to explore things that obviously intrigued our forebears and continue to intrigue us today. But ultimately, just love and admire the miracle of childbirth and everything that it means for us.


Adam Mintz  32:19

I think that's beautiful. This was a great topic. Thank you so much. Enjoy this this amazing stuff this amazing topic, everybody. Have a happy Shabbat and a happy Rosh Chodesh and we look forward to seeing you next week. As we will tackle Metzorah and get us ready closer for Passover. He well everybody.


Geoffrey Stern  32:40

Shabbat Shalom to everybody. And I just want to say that tonight is the week of my father's Yotzei he passed away five years ago Yehuda Leib ben David Shmuel, and this learning is dedicated to him and to Don Lebell who is if my stepfather who is an amazing person and was a very loving friend of my father, and it's dedicated to birth and the cycle of life so Shabbat Shalom to everyone. And see you all next week. Shabbat Shalom


Adam Mintz  33:15

when we remember your father so fondly, and we look forward to many years of studying together in his memory.


Geoffrey Stern  33:21

Thank you so much.


Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/396094

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The Miraculous Birth and Resurrection of Isaac

parshat Vayera – genesis 18-22

A live recording of Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse October 22nd 2021as they ask: Was it the Binding of Isaac or the Sacrifice of Isaac and what difference does it make? We use the seminal story of the miraculous birth of Isaac and the hints at the sacrifice and subsequent resurrection of Isaac in the biblical and later Rabbinic texts to explore the meaning of these themes in Judaism and Christianity.

The Miraculous Birth and Resurrection of Isaac

A live recording of Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse with Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz as we ask: Was it the Binding of Isaac or the Sacrifice of Isaac and what difference does it make?

Link to Sefaria Source sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/356011


Geoffrey Stern  00:00

Welcome to Madlik disruptive Torah. I should say we’ve been doing this every week at four o’clock eastern on Friday. But because the nights are coming sooner, we are going to move to 8pm on Thursday. And I hope that all agrees with you. But if it doesn’t fit into your schedule, do remember, I’m going to try to publish the podcast now on Friday, so you will have it before Shabbat. So what we mean by disruptive Torah is that we hopefully look at the ancient texts through new lenses, new angles, and share those insights with you and invite you to introduce your own. But hopefully walk away thinking about these texts a little bit differently. Sometimes it’s a little unsettling, but that’s all good, because it means that the ancient texts remain live and vibrant with us. And today, my friends is no exception. We are in Vayera, it is, I believe, the fourth portion that we’ve read in the book of Genesis, and it contains some really repetitive themes that we’ll touch upon. And one theme that maybe it’s unique, and maybe it’s not. And that’s one of the things that we’re going to discuss. The repetitive theme is a miraculous birth. A barren mother may be in today’s portion, because we’re talking about Abraham and Sarah. maybe even an impotent Father, we don’t know he was 100 years old, and a miraculous birth of a child. And that is a theme that actually does appear over and over and over again, and we’re going to get to that. But there’s another…. I won’t call it a theme, because it might be a theme. But it also might be a unique incident. And that is what is called by the Jews, typically the Binding of Isaac, and what is many times called by Christians, the Sacrifice of Isaac, and we will actually get into the question of is it the sacrifice? Or is it the binding of Isaac? And does it make a difference? But in any case, let’s start with the biblical account in Genesis 22. And it says, “And it was after these things that God put Abraham to the test. He said to him, Abraham, and he answered, Hineni, here I am. And he said, Take your son, your favorite one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah Lech L’cha el Eretz haMoriah.   and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you. So early the next morning, Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac, he split the word for the Burnt offering, and he set out for the place of which God had told him. And on the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his servants, you stay here with the ass, and the boy and I will go up there, we will worship and we will return to you. Abraham took the wood for the burn to offering and put it on his son, Isaac.” And we’re going to look a little bit further into the story. I don’t think I need to read it all at this point, because so many of you know this iconic story, and possibly are troubled by it. But as you know, Abraham and Isaac walked silently up to the mountain together. And at certain point Isaac says to Abraham, Hey, Dad, I don’t see that you have a lamb with you. And Abraham says, enigmatically. God will provide the lamb. And then he binds Isaac, and has the knife raised above his throat, if you will. And an angel calls down from heaven, Abraham, Abraham, don’t touch the boy. And that is this story. So the question that I pose to all of you, and you’re all welcome to raise a hand and come up and discuss, I’m sure we all have opinions. But first to you rabbi, is this a unique incidence? Or is this part of a theme? This sense of sacrificing your child? Certainly, if you take it literally, Judaism is against in the Bible is against child sacrifice. Maloch is famous for that. But whether in the literal sense or in a larger sense, the sense of giving up to prove one’s faith or to prove something? Is this unique, or is this part of a general theme that I’m missing?

Adam Mintz  04:59

Good question. I mean, obviously, this is the most important question in the entire Bible. So the answer is it’s a unique story. And let me just back up a minute. You started by saying, Geoffrey, that the there’s a difference between the way the Jews refer to it and the way the Christians refer to it. The Christians refer to it as a sacrifice of Isaac, the Jews refer to it as the binding of Isaac. The Binding of Isaac is actually the translation of the biblical word Akeda, which is the word that we find in the Torah. “L’akod” means to bond. Now the first amazing thing Geoffrey is that that word to bind “L’akid” is a unique word in the Torah.  It only appears once in this context. So even in terms of the word, we know that this is an exceptional story. And the story is exceptional. There’s no other story like it. The question of course, is what’s the lesson of the story and again, we invite everybody to raise your hand that will bring you up to you can share. So very famously, there was a Danish philosopher by the name of Soren Kierkegaard. Most people don’t know Soren Kierkegaard except for his view about the Akeda. He says that the story of the Akeda is that God asked Abraham to sublimate the ethical which means to squash his ethical behavior of treating his son well, for the sake of listening to God. Recently, there was a book written by a professor at Yeshiva University, by the name of Aaron Kohler. And Aaron Kohler took issue with Kierkegaard. He said, You’re right. That’s what God says to Abraham, sublimate your ethical to listen to me. But then the angel comes, and the angel says, Don’t kill him. And what Professor Kohler says is that the lesson that the angel is trying to teach Abraham is that: Know, the ethical is the most important, what’s most important is how you treat your children, even at the expense of listening to God. And that’s the lesson we should walk away with. [Unbinding Isaac: The Significance of the Akedah for Modern Jewish Thought Hardcover – 2020 by Aaron Koller] But I think that’s an amazing dispute is the lesson of this story, that we need to listen to God above all else, even if he tells us to do something unethical, or no, is the punchline of the story that the ethical is the most important.

Geoffrey Stern  07:45

I think that’s a great insight. And of course, part of your resolution of the problem is how it ends. In other words, the story may or your explanation, or that of the rabbi would be different. If in fact, Isaac was sacrificed but as you say, the punchline is that he wasn’t sacrificed. And that teaches us something. And that teaches us that the ethical, is more important, but I want to I want to pick up on Kierkegaard, because Kierkegaard  believed that this was a test of faith, but the faith that Kierkegaard believes that the faith that God was testing in Abraham was Do you believe when I told you, that your children, you would have children and that they would be like the stars of the heaven and the sands and all that, do you believe that I will be able to fulfill that promise. And because Kierkegaard was Christian obviously, the way he tweaked that slightly was, Do you believe that even if I kill Isaac, I will resurrect him and you will still have him? Do you believe that I am capable of asking you to, in a sense, physically end my prophecy, and that I can still fulfill my prophecy? And I want to, to quote a verse that actually supports Kierkegaard a little bit, and this is Genesis 22. I read it during the introduction. And if you recall, it says, then Abraham said to his servants, you stay here with the ass, the boy and I will go up there, we will worship and we will return to you. We will return to you. So what the commentary would say that Abraham was a man of faith. He knew that God was asking him to sacrifice his son. But somehow, he knew in his heart of hearts, either that there was going to be an angel at the last moment, the deus ex machina, or that even if he killed him, he some how would rebuild, we birth, Isaac, and give it back to him? If you look at Rashi on that verse, Rashi says he prophesized that they would both return. So he understands the intent of this verse, and Rashi’s explanation is in the middle of being tested. He also knew that somehow it was going to work out. In a sense, you could say that Rashi and Kierkegaard are on the same page. Another Rabenu Bahia says and we will return to you. At that time Abraham intended to bring back Isaac’s bones for burial. And this is why he said we will come back. I mean, the commentary are very sensitive test to this. And you could also say clearly, that he was fooling them because he didn’t, as we discussed last week, he figured if he told these guys, he was going up to kill his son, they might stop him. But this notion that in fact number one, that the challenge here and I think Rabbi Avraham Bronstein mentioned it last week, Was this an ethical question that was confronting Abraham in the Akeda? Was it the emotional question of losing his son? You certainly don’t feel that in the text. There’s no angst here? Or was it this question of God promised he was going to give me progeny? Now he’s asking me to destroy the possibility of that promise? Do I still believe in the promise?

Adam Mintz  12:10

Yes, there’s so much there to build on. Let’s let’s talk about Rashi for a minute. I’m just trying to parse all the different things you talked about. Let’s talk about Rashi. You think that Kirkegaard and Rashi are saying the same thing. That what Rashi saying is that God asks Abraham to do it, even though it’s unethical. You think Rashi’s sensitive to that? That’s interesting.

Geoffrey Stern  12:41

I’m not sure that part of it, I what I was picking up on was another part of Kierkegaard that I discovered that Kierkegaard identifies the question of faith, and the question of faith has to do with this promise of future generations. And what Rashi is ultimately saying, and what Kierkegaard was saying is that that was the faith part that was being questioned.

Adam Mintz  13:05

Oh OK, good,  I like that.

Geoffrey Stern  13:09

 What Rashi is saying is that this man who is now being tested for his faith prophesizes is that everything is going to work its way out? That he prophesized that even if he listened to God, somehow, and you can conjecture that it was because there was going to be an angel to stop it. Or there was going to be something else like a resurrection. And I’m going to read a text now about the resurrection, …. because that is the critical difference, I believe, between the term the sacrifice of Isaac, and the binding of Isaac. So listen to Perkei d’Rabbi Eliezer. “Rabbi, Jehuda said, when the blade touched his neck, the soul of Isaac fled and departed. But when he heard his voice from between the two Chrubim, the two angels saying to Abraham lay not thine hand upon the lad, his soul returned to his body, and Abraham set him free. And Isaac stood upon his feet. And Isaac knew that in this manner, the dead in the future will be quickened, he opened his mouth, he said, blessed art thou our Lord our God Mechiyeh Hameytim, who brings back the dead. So here is a source that looks at this as part of a bigger theme. And the theme is that God who gives life God is capable of re giving life. And this kind of concept of resurrection of the dead, finds its first instance, in the story of the sacrifice of Isaac.

Adam Mintz  14:55

Good. I mean, that medrish is playing with an idea that Abraham actually killed Isaac, and that  Isaac was brought back to life. I didn’t know that Midrash, Thank you, Geoffrey. Because it says it pretty explicitly. I will tell you that the tradition in Judaism not in Christianity, in Judaism, the place where that tradition really evolves, that Abraham killed Isaac. And then he came back to life was actually something that Jews in Germany and France during the crusades, when Jews were given the choice, whether to die or to convert to Christianity, and they chose death, over conversion to Christianity. There were some people who saw that decision of death, rather than conversion to Christianity as an experience of th4e Akeda.  And there’s a professor in JTS by the name of shalom Spiegel, who wrote an entire book called The Last Trial, in which he collects all of the sources that suggests that Abraham actually killed Isaac. I didn’t know that Midrash but that Midrash says it’s so explicitly Baruch Ata Hashem Mechayeh Hameytim that Isaac is brought back to life. My problem, Geoffrey, with that Medrash is that it’s not explicit in the text. The text doesn’t seem to say that Abraham killed Isaac. Mechayei Hameytim doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of the text. I’ll tell you another text. On Rosh Hashannah in the Mussaf prayer, we also talk about the Binding of Isaac. And there we say to God, God, have compassion upon us. The same way that Abraham was willing to give up everything, in order to listen to you to sacrifice his son, as a reward for that mayyou God have compassion upon us. And that’s an interesting idea. What we say to God is just like Abraham, sublimated the ethical, he was willing to kill his son, because you said it, you should sublimate your desire to punish the people and be nice to us. But even that midrash even that, that quote, from the prayers doesn’t suggest that Abraham actually killed Isaac, that’s in the preliminary part of the story, that Abraham was willing to do it, not that he actually did it. And I think that’s an important point that Professor Kohler makes. And that is we need to distinguish between what the beginning of the story says, and what the punchline says.

Geoffrey Stern  18:13

So I just want to comment on Professor Spiegel, but also the fact that we are living right now in a golden age of Christian Jewish Studies. And by that I mean that the notion that many times that Christianity took ideas from Judaism. But now scholars like Daniel Boyarin  John Levinson and others are saying, Yes, but this gives us license to look into Christianity, and through looking at Christianity possibly understand some of our texts and traditions. And this is based on the assumption that Christianity was trying to convince the Jewish people to accept this new Messiah. And they argued from existing traditions. Making something up would not have gotten them very far. So scholars like Spiegel and Levinson are now looking through our texts, and they’re coming up with amazing material. So for instance, we read in Genesis 22, 6, Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, and put it on his son Isaac. Here’s what Bereshit Rabbah said, Robert says, And Abraham took the word of the burnt offering, like one who carries his own tzlav, his own stake on his shoulder, he literally says, like carrying your own cross. So again, according to this way of looking at some of these texts, it’s not as though when the New Testament describes Jesus as carrying his own cross, it might have been very conscience to, in a sense, type. into and latch into these existing traditions. You mentioned the mussaf service of Rosh Hashanah there’s even a bigger parallel with Passover and the pascal lamb. With Rosh Hashanah we have the ram’s horn and that’s important, but with the pascal lamb listen to what the the Bible in Exodus 12 says. If you recall the Jews are leaving Egypt the firstborn sons are being killed. Everybody is an Abraham in Egypt killing their Isaac, and the blood on the houses where you shall be staying shall be a sign for you. When I see the blood I will pass over you so that no plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. The Mechilta d’Rab Yishmael  says, What is the intent of this and I shall see the blood, I shall see the blood of the binding of isaac as it is written and Abraham came to the place, the Lord will see Hashem yiraeh.  But he was about to destroy the Lord said, and he repented himself of the evil. What did he see? He saw the blood of the binding of Isaac. So there are two issues that are fascinating here. One is that he makes the connection to a very powerful theme of the pascal lamb to the sacrifice…. sorry, I misspoke to the binding of Isaac. …And second, he talks about the blood of Isaac, so you can try to answer that Rabbi and say that maybe Isaac was nicked before the angel interrupted. But where does the blood of Isaac come all of a sudden. And so you have in this week’s parsha , at the end, it says Abraham then returned to his servants, and they departed for Beer Sheba. So the commentaries pick up on saying, why does it say Abraham then returned? Why doesn’t it say Abraham and Isaac returned. So the Ibn Ezra says, Isaac is not mentioned because he was under Abraham’s care. Those who say that Abraham slaughtered Isaac and left him on the altar. And following this, Isaac came to life are contradicting scripture. The point that I’m making is, Ibn Ezra would not say this, if there weren’t people arguing the case and you’re right, it might have been Christians. But again, we’re talking about levels of texture and tradition that are clearly part of this story. In the classical rabbinic texts, they certainly become more profound as history goes forward. This Levinson talks about the Maccabees, were the first to really begin this concept of the Techiyat Hameytim , the resurrection of the dead in Judaism. And if you read the book of the Maccabees time and time again, when they are sacrificing themselves to the Greeks, rather than break the law, they reference Akedat Yitzchak . So there is something there. And that’s why I raised my original question. Is it the binding of Isaac? Or was it the actual sacrifice of Isaac? And does it make a difference?

Adam Mintz  23:38

So I think all those points are amazing points. You took us on a journey through rabbinic literature. And the answer to your question, Geoffrey is yes, it makes a difference. The sacrifice of Isaac is one thing, the blood of Isaac as part of the sacrifice of Isaac. The Binding of Isaac suggests that there was a binding but they didn’t actually kill it. But Michael is up here. So Michael, why don’t you take it away?

Michael Stern  24:07

Thank you, Rabbi. Thank you, Geoffrey. I understand that sacrifice is giving up something for the sake of something else or giving up something you want to keep. They say no sacrifice is too great when it comes to children. So binding is for me like a straight jacket. And sacrificing is giving up something. And when it comes to children, I think in this golden age, there is a liberation from old belief systems from the shoulds  and shouldn’ts, and the young generation today and every young generation questions, the traditions and the ways of the forefathers. And so a father has to, as I understand fatherhood, bless his children, and sacrifice his own. My children, I don’t like that my children, I understand that children are there to raise as best you can, and then send them off and bless them and be wind under their wings. And then there is the prophecy of return. When you do come home alone, like Abraham came home alone, but he, like parents go home alone, empty nesting, and then maybe, and I bet the children come home. And they come home with their own stories, and their own new traditions and their own new ways that they’d fought hard to birth.

Geoffrey Stern  25:49

Thank you, Michael.

Adam Mintz  25:50

Michael, thank you so so much. I mean, I think that’s a whole different way of looking at children. And I think that is something that if you bring that out from the story, I think that’s beautiful.

Geoffrey Stern  26:01

So the question is, what now becomes the takeaway? One of the scholars, who I’ve read, who’s fascinating here, talks about this break of natural birth, meaning to say, and I started by talking about this week’s parsha, we have two themes. One is, we can now call it this potential sacrifice of Isaac, and his rebirth, and the other is miraculous birth. And by miraculous birth, I should say that every parent group from Abraham forward, it didn’t occur before. As far as I could tell Adam and Eve did not have a problem conceiving. But from Abraham and Sarah going forward, every patriarch and great prophet, is born out of miraculous situations. And in fact, Abraham and Sarah had to even change their name. They were a Abram and Sarai had to change their name in order to give birth, changing one’s name is being reborn. Yes, in the Bible, it means being reborn already in the Old Testament. And then they have at 90 for Sarah, and 100. For Abraham, they have this miraculous birth. And you can look at the language which is fascinating. It says, and God visited Sarah veHashem pakad et Sarah, like he said, Now, there’s a great movie with Woody Allen, and it’s called The Front and he’s being grilled to see if he knows any communists. And finally, he says, Do you mean in the biblical sense, and of course, what he’s talking about is something called carnal knowledge, which is that the word know, Adam knew Eve can mean carnal relations. Well, there’s also something called a conjugal visit. And the word pakad is used mostly in Rabbinic Judaism. And many times as a euphemism for a conjugal visit, meaning to say if someone is about to go on a trip, Hayav adam lipkod et ishto lifei nesiato.. a man has to visit his wife before he leaves. So what I’m trying to get at is not to necessarily say we have a story of a virgin birth here, or the alternative, which is a barren mother past menopause, and an impotent father in his hundreds have a baby. The point is that it’s miraculous, and that it is an absolute break with natural birth. And that’s how I’m kind of taking your comment, Michael, which is that there is a big theme in Judaism that you need that break, let’s not forget that when Abram began his journey from Haran, it says, you leave your father’s house, you’ve got to leave your parents to find yourself. And according to that interpretation, that’s what happens if Isaac gets sacrificed. He is being brought up to this mountain by a man newly reborn as Abraham who was given a child, a miraculous child. And now he himself is having to go through this miraculous transformation of of dying and being reborn. So you could argue that both themes that we’re seeing here Michael, are very along the lines that you are talking that redemption, liberation, full actualization can only come when you break possibly and it doesn’t have to be forever, it might be momentarily the umbilical cord of natural birth.

Michael Stern  30:06

And that is the pain in suffering and sacrifice and pain in the binding. Because wearing straitjackets I can attest is painful. So real unbinding and sacrificing is painful and sacrifice and releasing the pain in the  unbinding.

Adam Mintz  30:30

That’s nice. You’re taking the other side, not the binding, not the binding Geoffrey, but the unbinding …. an  interesting twist

Geoffrey Stern  30:37

But that’s what happens when you talk about the sacrifice of Isaac, you’re ultimately talking about the resuscitation and rebirth as a new person. You know, the takeaways are kind of fascinating. And the takeaways make this less of extra ordinary incident. And actually, something very apart of what a Judaism I turned out to be. This guy who I quote, says that it doesn’t stop here. He says, if you think about all of the patriarchs, whether Jacob going to sleep, and the angels coming down and going up, which could be a metaphor for dying and being reborn, whether it’s fighting with the angel to the last moment. So it seems to be a very basic theme. But as we started rabbi, and you talked about the key is how the story ends. I do believe that if we benefit a little bit from reading those rabbinic texts, through new lenses, with a little bit of help, from the way Christianity took this motif, it does become something that becomes both thematically important, but also, in a sense, edifying in the sense that we all need to be reborn. And the question is what we do with our life, and that more to the point that all of our births have to be miraculous. And that in a sense, God is the third partner in our in our births. And that is something that is a very famous rabbinic text. So maybe that is a little bit of the takeaway of what otherwise can be a very challenging, depressing and rattling story in the Bible.

Adam Mintz  32:43

Thank you so much, Geoffrey, amazing conversation today. We look forward Enjoy your Shabbat everybody. We look forward to seeing everybody this Thursday night 8pm Eastern Daylight Time and we will discuss the portion of Hayei Sarah. Geoffrey, have a great trip to Israel. And we will see you from Israel on Thursday night. Everybody Shabbat shalom.

Geoffrey Stern  33:04

Shabbat Shalom.


Original announcement below:

Friday October 22nd at 4:00pm Eastern


Link to Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/356011

Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: Abraham’s Epic Journey and Our Own

Abraham’s Epic Journey and our Own

Recorded live on Clubhouse on Friday October 15th 2021 Parshat Lech Lecha – Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and Rabbi Abraham Bronstein explore various ways of viewing Abraham’s epic journey and how it reflects our own. Sefaria Source Sheet: http://www.sefaria.org/sheets/354270 Transcript (excerpt): You know, I could make the argument that Abraham was the first atheist.


Filed under Bible, divine birth, immaculate conception, Jewish jesus, Judaism, miracle, Passover, resurrection, Torah