Tag Archives: Jon Levinson

Liberation Theology – for Jews

parshat shemot – shemot 1 -3

Join Geoffrey Stern broadcasting live from Jerusalem and recorded on Clubhouse on January 12th 2023. The Exodus from Egypt is not simply an episode in the script of the Jewish People; it is The refrain. The fact that it represents the essence of the Jewish people is captured in every commandment that is זֵכֶר לִיצִיאַת מִצְרָיִם to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt. Modern liberation movements have taken their inspiration from the exodus as a paradigm so we what does the Exodus Liberation paradigm look like for Jews and for Israel?

Sefairia Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/458913


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.  We host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Shemot. The Exodus from Egypt is not simply an episode in the script of the Jewish People; it is The refrain. The fact that it represents the essence of the Jewish people is captured in every commandment that is זֵכֶר לִיצִיאַת מִצְרָיִם to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt. Modern liberation movements have taken their inspiration from the exodus as a paradigm so what does the Exodus Liberation paradigm look like for Jews and for Israel? Liberation Theology – for Jews


Well, welcome to Madlik. Rabbi Adam Mintz is actually traveling today, and I am broadcasting live from Yerushalayim, the holy city of Jerusalem, I’m actually looking out of my hotel window right now, and seeing the hills of Jerusalem. So as I said in the introduction, this is the beginning of the book of Exodus; of Shemot. And Exodus is the refrain of the Jewish people. It’s not simply another episode, you never say zaycher l’akedah, …. You don’t say when you do a commandment in remembrance of creation, in remembrance of the binding of Isaac even in remembrance of the giving of the Torah or the entering into the land. But in terms of zecher l’tziyat Mitzrayim. We all know it from the Haggadah, which obviously, commemorates the Exodus from Egypt, but we have in mechilta d’Rabbi YishmaeliIt says that tefillin is zecher L’tziot mitzrayim to the outstretched arm. We have in Midrash Lech Tov  מלמד שאף הסוכה זכר ליציאת מצרים. That even building and living in the sukkah is in remembrance of leaving the land of Egypt. Couldn’t say it better than Midrash lekach Tov שהרי כל המועדים על שום יציאת מצרים all of our iconic Jewish holidays, and many commandments are for remembrance of the leaving of Egypt, which leads us to ask the question, what is in fact, the message of leaving Egypt. And it also should not surprise us that we are not the only ones to recognize in the leaving of Egypt, something that becomes iconic to the Jewish people, and frankly, something that becomes almost a legacy, a gift to the world. I called the name of today’s episode liberation theology for Jews. The term liberation theology, as we shall learn shortly, was coined by the Catholic and Protestant churches of South America in their struggle to depose the ruling powers and to lead an uprising of the poor and the dispossessed. And clearly, they got their model from leaving Egypt. So, I think we stand on solid ground. When we say, what is this theology of the Exodus? What is this liberation theology? If we look in our parsha, it begins talking about God seeing hearing, feeling the suffering of his people, and even in there we start to see that this is not only a national story, but it is a universal story. In Exodus 2: 23, he says, God heard their moaning and God remembered the covenant. In Exodus 3: 7-10 It says God says, I am mindful of their suffering. He says, I have heard my people in Egypt and I’ve heard their outcry, because of their taskmasters I have come down to rescue them from the Egyptians, and to bring them out of that land to a good and spacious land flowing with milk and honey. Now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, moreover I have seen how the Egyptians oppress them, Come, therefore, I will send you (speaking to Moses), to Pharaoh, and you shall free my people, the Israelites from Egypt. And I think just based on these two passages, we can kind of see that on the one hand, the Exodus certainly has to do with a covenant that God had with a particular people. But there is also this universal “I heard there moaning”, וַיִּשְׁמַ֥ע אֱלֹקִ֖ים אֶת־נַאֲקָתָ֑ם. And I think that is very much the basis of what makes this a universal story and a universal paradigm for liberation and revolution. Michael Walzer is a world-famous political scientist, and he wrote a whole book called Exodus and Revolution, saying how of all of the myths of all of the origin stories of a new nation, it is the Exodus story, whether for the African American, the black slaves, and Martin Luther King’s metaphor of I’ve been to the mountaintop, or, as I’ve mentioned before, the liberation theology of the South American peasants who uprose. The Exodus story, because it contains words as see the oppression, heard, the suffering is so universal. In Exodus 3; 16-18, it says, I will take you out of the misery of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites and Hittites to a land flowing with milk and honey. So, it is not only seeing and hearing the oppression and the pain, it is also a redemption story. It is a repatriation story. It is a story of God working through history, to help the dispossessed and the alienated. He says, they will listen to you, meaning the people of Israel, and you shall go to the elders of Israel. And you shall say to them, God; the God of the Hebrews, became manifest to us now therefore, let us go a distance of three days into the wilderness, to sacrifice to our God. So really in these three or four different paragraphs that are in our parsha, you get all of the ingredients that would make this such a powerful image, a powerful paradigm, and therefore easily understandable that Exodus and revolution have been so intertwined. So what exactly is this liberation theology? It is, in the words of its creators, and you’ll hear as I read some of them how really they nail to a large degree, what the Exodus means to us Jewish people. So I’m reading one, and Enrique Dussel, Exodus as a Paradigm in Liberation Theology The Exodus was the experience which created the consciousness of the people of Israel. The people formed in the structuring centre which determined its way of organizing time and space. Note that I am not saying simply that the Exodus is part of the contents of the consciousness of the people of Israel. If that were the case, the Exodus would be one item of information among others. More than an item of information, it is its structuring centre, in that it determines the integrating logic, the principle of organisation and interpretation of historical experience. That is why the Exodus does not persist as a secondary experience … It has come to be the paradigm for the interpretation of all space and all time. So truly this understanding where we begin Shemot just as we finish Bereshit by saying this was the formation of a nation. The Hebrew word for the book of Exodus is Shemot, which means names and what that means is we’re seeing the metamorphosis of names and tribes and individuals into a corporate whole, in that, too, is the story of the Exodus that is the paradigm of the Exodus, quoting another, Revd. Mathew N. Musyoki “the exodus is central within the Old Testament…the key to Israel’s understanding of both God and itself. It is repeatedly re-interpreted throughout the Bible,‟ making the hermeneutical possibilities of the exodus unique for liberation theology. Thus, its actual historical happening leaves serves liberationists as a model, done with a reading of the texts on the basis of present reality. Similarly, The Exodus…became the founding event not only for the course of Israelite history, but also, through its kerygmatic appropriation, for other oppressed communities. Hence, its foundational character is continually being reinforced through so many re-readings, a sure sign of its richness as a source. Hence this source is eminent to liberationists as a contact point.  Even when there is no reasonable ground exegetically it seems liberationists continue following this model. For instance, Croatto seems insistence by asserting that, “The creative and varied re-expression of the Exodus theme within the Bible indicates the pre-eminence of the meaning of the Exodus over the event, and this in return becomes a norm of interpretation for us.‟ Thus, Exodus can be imported to a given context, e.g. the poor, the sick and the oppressed.” So again, what we see is the fact that the exodus is referenced so many times, not only within our liturgy, but much more importantly, within our Bible itself, almost leads it to beg for interpretation, beg for reimagining. And that is what these theologians said, we are going to encounter some thinkers who felt that they maybe took too much of a license in exporting the Exodus paradigm to their own moments of repression, and revolt. But I think you can at this point, agree with these theologians, that the fact that the exodus was used and referenced so much throughout our Bible, it almost gives you that permission to do so. And in fact, one of the questions that we are going to explore today is, with all that saturation of messaging, what actually does the Exodus then become for the Jewish people and for the people of Israel. But let’s continue a little more in the history of liberation theology, as it surfaced, in the 20th century, in South America, it was involved with, with the Castro revolution, Castro compares himself to a Moses. In fact, some liberation theologians like Segundo Galilea actually prefer Moses as a model of the political leader over Jesus. So Moses is then taken to be this leader, who goes down and faces truth to power. And of course, this brings back that image of Martin Luther King Jr. and his speech of I’ve been to the mountaintop. And it’s important that it’s not one of pride in terms of his comparison to Moses or arrogance, he is comparing himself to that aspect of Moses, who doesn’t make it, who suffers with his people who is beaten up and scarred by the liberation. So really, you can understand that we, as readers of the Hebrew Bible can benefit from how other peoples have read it as well. So here’s where the story gets a little bit interesting. After the revolutions in South America, and they had a very strong Marxist bend to them, what happened was, in many cases, the people that took over were the new Pharaohs of the day. And when, in 1985, the Poles began their own exercise in self-determination. And as a very strongly Catholic country, they read their Old Testament as well. And they had a real problem because while they believed in the message and the relevance of the Exodus paradigm and story to theirs, they couldn’t help but note that they were trying to exercise themselves from the same Marxist forces that coined the term liberation theology. So they stopped using the word liberation, a fascinating insight into the history of ideas where the liberation which you could make a case was something that the theologians kind of took a little bit of liberty with, and projected on to the whole story of the Exodus, which was really, at its core, a story of redemption, if you want to look into a theological perspective, or one of being able to leave oppression, they, they took it to mean and overthrow and to re-build a society. So, the Poles came back and they started calling it redemption. And the church has followed suit, it made an interesting turn, it says this, and this is coming from the papal instructions in 1984, that started to deal with a Polish Pope, with the Pole’s revolution, and it says that is why the liberation of the Exodus cannot be reduced to a liberation, which is principally or exclusively political in nature, moreover it is significant that the term freedom is often replaced in Scripture, by the very closely related term redemption. So, in an interesting turn, in order to explain that, the, the secular antagonistically, atheistic Marxist regime that had promised happiness to everyone, and forced everyone to be “happy”. Now, their liberation became a someone else’s oppression. Now, the liberation theology started to take a little bit of a modification, in that it became a liberation to a redemption to and the focus was on the sense of maybe a spiritual redemption, maybe something more related to religious. And before we get into what the Jewish commentators, will say, we cannot if we are talking about liberation theology, not mentioned the struggle and successful fight for Soviet Jewry, where the banner was let my people go. So here it was the Jews themselves that stood up to the USSR to Mother Russia. And clearly, using the story of the Exodus, as a story of liberation, turned to Brezhnev and the Soviet regime, and said, Let my people go. So, it is a powerful political paradigm, that we as Jews, as readers of the Hebrew Bible, can only be proud of in terms of the solace and in terms of the motivation, and that light at the end of the tunnel that it has given and it will continue to give to people who are subjugated, to people who are alienated to people who are disenfranchised. But when you go to the Jewish commentaries, and I will start with, we’ve come across John D. Levinson, before profound thinker, an academician at Yale. And he has a monograph on Exodus and liberation. And he goes through all the texts, and while he certainly gives much, much respect, and enthusiasm for the way that our Exodus story has been used, he also tries to bring it back to its source. And of course, the key theme of Exodus is this sense of from slavery to freedom. The story of the Exodus, at the end of the day, is the story of emancipation of slaves. And what Levinson argues is that the truth be told that there are provisions within the Bible after Exodus after Sinai that provide for having slaves. He brings and I certainly suggest that you take a look at the Sefaria notes on today’s podcast. Because in his article, he shows how the exodus was used by both the abolitionists and by the slave-owners. To prove their case, the abolitionists would say that clearly the Bible is trying to limit slavery, you have to free your slaves after a certain amount of time, during the sabbatical year, you can’t work your slave. When you release your slave, you have to make sure that your slave has payment for the work that they have done. If a slave works hard, he can buy off his freedom. And so those that bring these arguments will say that it condones the institution of slavery as it was. But it is showing a direction in terms of where it should be, and severely limiting it. And of course, the slave-owners would say, yes, but don’t sleight-of-hand, pass over the fact that it condones slavery, it has jurisprudence for slavery the same way it has jurisprudence for marriage. And for other institutions, that means it recognizes it. So Levinson wishes to argue if you want to be really honest to the texts, you can say that the story is simply about freeing the slaves. And the direction that he goes is based on the key line that starts to appear in our parsha and gets developed more and more as the story progresses. And that is, in Exodus 3: 16 How God says, Now therefore, let us go a distance of three days into the wilderness to sacrifice to our God. And you can say that their being diplomatic or strategic. They’re saying to Pharaoh, that they simply want to go into the desert to worship their god, they don’t want their freedom. Later, it says, In Exodus 5: 1, Let my people go that they may celebrate a festival for me in the wilderness. Maybe this is why we have so many references to the Haggim; the festivals and Yetziat Mitzraim. And then it gets to the punch line in Exodus 9: 1 and there it says, And God said to Moses, go to Pharaoh and say to him, Thus said God, the God of the Hebrews, Let my people go to worship me. שַׁלַּ֥ח אֶת־עַמִּ֖י וְיַֽעַבְדֻֽנִי  And, of course, the important thing of the word וְיַֽעַבְדֻֽנִי. And worship me is that EVeD, slave, and worship (serve), or in this case, do the holy service is the same word. And so John Levinson makes the argument that if you really want to be true to the text, you have to admit that we’re not talking about pure freedom, we are talking about taking away Pharaoh, an evil taskmaster, an evil slave owner, and replacing him with the ultimate Master, which is God. But it is not a freedom if you want to be true to the texts. You who could make the case. And I think that this is a case that if you want to make a larger message out of this, you can say, the term :This idea of liberation through a change of masters shows how misleading it is to summarize the exodus through the popular slogan, “Let My people go.” The full form of the challenge is actually sallab ‘et-‘ammi w[ya’abd3ni, “Let My people go that they may serve Me.”  The term “liberty,” therefore, can indeed describe the result of redemption of the sort typified by the exodus, but only if some crucial semantic distinctions are maintained.’ One of the several meanings of “liberty” in Western thought is government by law rather than by a tyrant. If this is what we identify as the result of the exodus for Israel, then “liberty” and the process that produces it, “liberation,” are appropriate terms for the biblical process.” So as you can see, Levinson severely limits the extent of what this liberation is, but in doing so, he does make a profound case that I think because he is an academic scholar that you can really say is serious. And that is that whether the Jews were freed, or the Israelites were freed from Pharaoh, an evil, slave master, to serve God, the ultimate master, but ultimately, how do they serve that God, they serve that God by keeping His law. And at the end of the day, it is the laws, the book of laws of the Hebrew Bible. That is what ultimately provides the liberation in the Jewish mind. And I think he brings one kind of interesting example. And that example is, again, from law. If you remember, I mentioned a little bit earlier, that one of the things that he promised the Jewish people is that when you leave, Exodus 3: 21 says, and I will dispose the Egyptians favorably toward this people, so that when you go, you will not go away empty handed. Each woman shall borrow from her neighbor, and the lodger in her house objects of silver and gold, and clothing, and you shall put these on your sons and daughters, thus stripping the Egyptians. This occurs at least five times in the biblical narrative. And one wonders, what is the meaning of this? They were getting their freedom? Why is it so important that they were given the wealth of Egypt and what Levinson does, following a great theologian named David Daube, is saying here they are following the law of freeing a slave, when one frees a slave, as I said a little bit before one is required to provision that slave. So here, too, this fits very neatly into Levinson’s concept, that redemption and liberation in the Jewish sense of the Hebrew Bible is much more, I would say, pedestrian, much more limited, but nonetheless profound, and that is it is the law. And to give an example of that, we are saying to Pharaoh, you had to release these slaves, you had to follow the laws of the Hebrew Bible, and you did not. And therefore God is releasing them, taking them to worship Him וְיַֽעַבְדֻֽנִי, and he is provisioning them. This serves as an amazing segue into the thinker that I want to finish with and leave you with. And that is a thinker whose liberation theology if you will, is, as as fascinating today as it’s ever been. The name of the thinker was Yeshayahu Leibowitz, you might have heard of his sister Nechama Leibowitz, who are taught Old, Old Testament studies at the Hebrew University. But Yeshayahu Leibowitz was known as being a firebrand; a thinker, who shocked a who loved to shock. And he was a firebrand, a maverick who marched to his own drumbeat.  And he was particularly struck by the Six Day War. And he was particularly struck by the fact that the in a sense, the people of Israel were making of the victory of the Six Day War into something that was miraculous, and something that was eschatological, was messianic, and he felt that by doing that we’re actually engaging in idol worship. And he issued a bunch of articles. The first one was published (prior to Passover 1971) in Jeshurun, which is a synagogue in Jerusalem, which had the intelligentsia of the religious Zionist movement there. And he wrote a number of articles. One of them was actually called the Dis-Kotel. He said, When we have a Kotel, we will make it into a Diss-Kotel. He was very much against this celebration and worship of place. He thought that was very un-Jewish. And what he wrote about was that in fact, the Passover was an incomplete redemption first and foremost. And along with Levinson, he says that the key to the Redemption was to keep the law (to accept the Ol Malchut Shamayim… the yoke of God’s kingship) everything in Yeshayahu Leibowitz’s philosophy of Judaism was that we are a legal community, and that we achieve perfection and we worship God by keeping his laws, the dalet amot of Halacha, the four cubits of the Law. And that is ultimately along with Levinson What Let my people go to serve Thee is all about. And he said that all of those commentators and thinkers, whether they are Rav Kook, or whoever, who were trying to imbibe both the war and the victory of the Six Day the occupation of our territories to make that into this grand scheme of redemption. We’re not reading history and a God into our history. But we’re actually repudiating the whole message of the Exodus. And he too brings an example from the law. His holiday was Hanukkah, because on Hanukkah, we, the Jewish people stood up for their keeping of the Law. And he says, and this is built out in the law that says on Passover, you can only read half of the Hallel prayer, whereas on Hanukkah, you read the full Hallel. So again, it’s a trivial example. But both him and Levinson are looking at Jewish thinkers who see the book of the Torah as a book of rules, and use those rules to limit these theological flourishes. And these messianic tendencies, which they see more as idolatry than the true religion that was a given to us by Moses, and experienced with the Exodus. So it’s a fascinating read on what the message of the exodus is. And I think one that deserves further study.  I’ve listened to some podcasts written recently with the election of the new government in Israel. And one of the most interesting thinkers to listen to is someone named Yossi Klein Halevi, who is at the Shalem Center, and he’s a very open-minded liberal thinker, but he used to be a student of Maer Kahana. And he says, If you want to understand this new government, you should read a book called 40 Years by Maer Kahana. And I encourage all of you to do it. And you’ll see literally that he is saying everything that this new government is saying and what I would like to suggest today is, if you would like to see the flip side of what alternative philosophy; a Jewish philosophy would be, to that which is being espoused by what Yeshayahu Leibowitz would be calling these religious Zionists who have lost their way. is Yeshayahu Leibowitz. And maybe we will have an opportunity to explore more of his writings and to learn from him at least, who really wrote them at the time of the Six Day War, but literally was able to prophesize a time when land, occupation and Messianism  were more important. So with that, I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom. And we’ll see you all next week with Rabbi Adam Mintz back. Thank you so much.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/458913

Listen to last year’s Shemot episode: Moses – Reluctant Magician

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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