Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Possibilities of Each Word

I love my Jewish Commentary Class. This could be one of the most important classes i take here at seminary. I took the class because the weekend before registration Kate and i attended Jason and Lindsay's wedding. For those of you who don't know, J&L are jewish as many of our closest friends are. Kate and I always joke that we must have a "jewish magnetism" as we seem to be easy friends with jewish people. so i took the class mostly in respect to our friends and also to find out more about how the Jewish Tradition reads the Bible.

This class is to help build a dialogue between the Christian and Jewish Traditions and is sponsored by the Jewish-Chautauqua soceity. It is taught by a local Lancaster Rabbi, Rabbi Jack.

First off, there is no one Jewish way. There are at least 20 different theologies. As my teacher, Rabbi Jack says, "If you put 10 rabbi's in a room you'll have 12 different opinions." So when asking what Jews believe, most rabbi's will answer "Such and Such synagoge believes..." or "some jews believe..." About the only core beliefs that cross all gaps would be that
1. Jews are children of Israel/Jacob.
2. God is one and never separated and has never come to earth.
3. The Torah is very important for cultural and identity reasons.

Jews do not accept things "just because." Must have room for debate. Jews wrestle at the core.. in fact the name "Israel" means "to wrestle with God" (El being the word for God). Why wrestle? Well if you've every seen a Greco-Roman wrestling match, you'll note that wrestling is an intimate event. One must know how the opponent's body is positioned and what strategy that person is trying to use to get out of or put you into a hold. aside from sex, this is about as intimate as you're going to get. This is great for christians to learn to because a lot of christians seem to accept things JUST BECAUSE or BECAUSE THEY"VE ALWAYS BEEN THAT WAY. the world is sand. things have never ALWAYS been anyway. the world is in constant flux. The Jewish tradition seems to get that. Plus how they look at the Bible is at a much more complex level than what i'm used to looking at... here's some few examples:

what is the first commandment? well, the first one isn't from exodus.. it's from genesis where God tells Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiple. okay, what's the first one of the ten commandments? "I'm the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt..." PROBLEM>>> IT'S NOT COMMANDING ANYTHING! The Hebrew word for the 10 Commandments is literally translated as the 10 Utterances/Sayings. Someone had to decide that God was commanding in the first place.

How does the bible begin? Christians would say "In the Beginning..." but the Hebrew words are literally translated "When God began to create..." Reason: There is NO beginning to God. God has always been in Jewish thought and creation happened when God decided to start. If you look at the hebrew word, the first word is Berashet..The rabbi's make a big deal over this because the Bible doesn't start with an "A". Why does it start with a B the rabbi's ask... Well in Hebrew the "B" looks like "]", and when reading from right to left, you'll notice that the ] creates a barrier. So the A has always been but we are cut off from it and could not possibly have knowledge of it nor could we comprehend it. What happened before creation is not for us to know.

Intense right?! I LOVE it!

The another point is that when you're reading the Bible you're reading at least 4 forms of commentary right off the bat.

1. Original biblical script had no puncuation. adding puncuation is commentary. For example Jack told a story about a Rabbi and his date going to a tennis court. There was a sign that said "STUDENTS ONLY NO VISITORS" and the date refused to play on the court. The rabbi then said, "No, No, you're reading it wrong. It says 'Students only? NO! Visitors!" Legend has it that these two played tennis and later married and lived happily ever after.

2.Original biblical script had no vowels. adding vowels is commentary. for example: GDSNWHR. let's add some vowels to make it GODISNOWHERE. How do you read that? God is now here or God is no where? problematic right?

3. Translation is commentary. In Genesis it says that God's RUAK hovers over the still waters of the earth. RUAK can be translated as spirit, wind, or breath. which one do we pick? our class voted for spirit. Jack then asked, is the S capital or lower case? our class voted for capital S. Jack then said "I'm not surprised, you're Christians and believe in the Holy Spirit with capital letters... we Jews don't, so it's a lower case s in our Torah..." which leads to the fourth level:

4. Your theology affects the way you read the bible. Throughout the hebrew bible and even in the christian scriptures we have Jesus and many others saying that "God is ONE!" (Behold, the Lord your God who has brought you out of Eygpt is ONE). Many Christians overlook these passages as it does not line up with their theology of a Trinitarian God.

On top of all of this, the Rabbi's also have developed the MIDRASH which are collections of stories to help explain the bible. this sounds like heresy to most christians as we tend just to think of what the bible says but ignore what the bible DOESN'T say. Midrash stories fill in the blanks in the bible. for example, what does Cain say to Able before killing Able in the field? my christian bible says "let us go into the field" and then Cain rises up and kills his brother. the Torah has empty quotes. it literally says Cain said to his brother, "" and then rose up and killed his brother. there are a THOUSAND Midrash stories that talk about what exactly was said between the two brothers. My favorite is the story of how Cain talks about how Able has "one up'ed" him. you see, Cain INVENTED sacrifice as a means of being thankful to God. Able, like any younger sibling comes along and steals the idea and does it just a little bit better. Cain is jealous and accidentally kills Able. you see the hebrew word used here is not the word for "MURDER" which would be killing with intent (which is the same as the commandment, thou shall not murder). the hebrew word here is for KILL which can be translated as manslaughter, accidental, which is the word used for executions and what soliders do in battle.

how cool huh? i'm going to love this class as it takes my biblical studies to a whole new level. it invites study and play within the text. the reason to look for inconsistences and invent stories about them is to help us find our own realities in the texts. something i'm looking forward to doing here this semester!


Ron said...

This sounds like my kind of class! I've been brought up ignorant to what the Jewish faith/traditions are. As an adult I'm learning more and more about it. I find it truly fascinating on my level. It's got to be even better from your point of view...so it seems.

By the way #2 - GOD I SNOW HERE

That's what I saw first!

Luke said...

dude.. God I Snow here is BRILLIANT! hahaha!

Yael said...

A couple years late coming to the conversation but hey, I wasn't reading your blog two years ago. Anyway, I found it quite amusing that I also saw 'God I snow here' and was wondering why you picked such a bizarre phrase as an example.

Luke said...