Sunday, November 03, 2013

What Does Orthodoxy Stand For?

You gotta stand for something or you'll fall for anything.
-"Fall for Anything" by The Script

The recent rash of articles detailing Rabbi Asher Lopatin's appointment, reactions to it, and much discussion of Rabbi Zev Farber led to my finally reading "Avraham Avinu is My Father: Thoughts on Torah, History and Judaism," as published on

The stated goal of is to "energize the Jewish people by integrating the study of Torah with the disciplines and findings of academic biblical scholarship." I think this is a noble goal. And I think Rabbi Farber is a noble individual. I respect what he is trying to do. He wants to reach out to the minds of questioning individuals, serious thinkers who truly wish to engage with both our textual tradition and modern scholarship, and try to present them with a way to blend the two together. This way, these individuals may still stay observant and will be able to strengthen and give back to the Orthodox community. The unstated alternative seems to be that these individuals will become completely nonobservant and may even leave Judaism altogether.

Much ink has been spilled as to the question of whether or not Rabbi Farber is a heretic, and whether the thoughts he expresses are heretical. But I think the more important question is what makes Orthodoxy Orthodox. In short: what does Orthodoxy stand for? That is what the real disagreement here is about. And I even think, that framed in the right way, it could be and perhaps is, a machloket l'shem shamayim, a disagreement for the sake of heaven.

On the one side, we have individuals who see Orthodoxy as something which is very much concerned with the "dox" part. Being Orthodox means not only worrying about what foods I put into my mouth, but also what thoughts I allow into my mind. Certain thoughts are not permissible. We must believe certain things (most commonly the Rambam's 13 Ikrei Emunah). Changing the official creed to which those who are Orthodox must subscribe by default devalues and waters down Orthodoxy, making it less than it is. In fact, it might not even make it Orthodoxy anymore. As 'The Script' says, we must stand for something or we will fall for anything. Orthodoxy means standing up for these 13 Ikrei Emunah at all costs. If one does not believe these, that individual might be orthoprax, but certainly not Orthodox.

On the other side, we see individuals who see Orthodoxy as something more to do with practice. To be Orthodox is to be shomer Torah u'mitzvot as it pertains to actions. If one keeps Shabbat, observes Kashrut, lights the Chanukah menorah and makes a Pesach Seder, among other laws, one is Orthodox. Issues of belief do not come into it, and neither do situations where we are unsure of one's practice (for instance, if I say I am gay, and you do not know whether or not I am having anal intercourse with my partner, I ought to be permitted into the synagogue and into the community). This approach will allow for more individuals to identify as Orthodox, more individuals to swell our synagogues, and will also keep those individuals who might be perceived as some of the most gifted (given their curiosity and questioning) within our ranks, as we will not exclude them based on belief system.

So we come down to a difference in goal. Is the goal of Orthodoxy to uphold certain tenets of belief and faith, or is the goal of Orthodoxy to be as inclusive as possible, except for situations in which individuals do not follow the majority of practices associated with observance? If it is the first goal, we will end up excluding many people. If it is the second goal, we will end up welcoming in many more people. One goal is more God focused- we must uphold the beliefs and creed that make us a nation that was chosen by God. The other goal is more Human focused- we must do everything in our power to allow access to all humans (women, LGBTQ+ etc) into our synagogues if they are not violating a certain number of our practices outright.

This is a clash that I feel personally, as I am constantly oscillating between the two sides of the argument. On the one hand, as a humanist, I would prefer for everyone to be welcome in our community and in our synagogues, no matter how they express themselves. On the other hand, I do believe that we need to stand for something, which means standing for God, and that there are certain matters of belief and principle which should not be crossed and are immutable.

Where it gets tricky is that sometimes even those who believe we ought to stand for certain principles need to redefine the principles. For instance, what does it mean to believe that the entire Torah that we now have was given to Moses? There are professors who teach Intro to Bible classes that include fascinating readings of Ibn Ezra which indicate that certain pesukim were added to the text later. Even Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg needed to modify what the Eighth Principle meant. And anyone who studies the Tanakh seriously is aware of the many passages that seem to contradict one another, or seem to have been added later. Certainly, some people (especially those who do not study Tanakh thoroughly) can simply ignore these. But others try to grapple with them, and certainly there have been Orthodox approaches attempting to make sense of the different accounts and contradictions. But sometimes these approaches are not satisfying to a particular student. What then?

It is the "what then" that Rabbi Farber is trying to address. It is all very well and good to tell a student they are not learned enough to make a decision of accepting what historical-biblical criticism has to say. That is not persuasive. It is well and good to tell a student that there are limits to what they can understand and sometimes they have to surrender to the Halakhah (or in this case, perhaps Hashkafah). But not every student will be willing to do that. At that point, there is perhaps a choice- either the student can decide they do not accept the tenets underwriting traditional Orthodoxy, and likely become orthoprax, Conservative, Reform or leave the tradition altogether, or they can try an approach like Rabbi Farber's, which seeks to redefine the meaning of Torah miSinai, and perhaps stay within Orthodoxy. Which choice is better for the student and for us as we see the Orthodox movement? Where do we draw our line?

Rabbi Farber wants us to include individuals who wish to accept historical-biblical criticism within Orthodoxy. The way he aims to do this is by advocating that we drop the binary divide between thinking that everything in the Tanakh must have literally happened in the way it is written. Instead, he wishes to advocate a world-view where "humans have the capacity to function in more than one mode," including a mode where they are "totally on his or her own" and one where a person "encounters the divine and channels it in some way." Therefore, when there are contradictions in the Torah, Farber sees these as reflecting the "respective understandings of different prophets channeling the divine message in their own way; each divine encounter refracts the light of Torah from the same prism but in a distinct way."

Farber sees the people as having been given insight "into God's plan for Israel/ the Jews" via divine encounter and suggests that over the years, these "revelations are synthesized and reframed." We need to seek out how "any given halacha or ideal functioned in any given society, particularly the original society, ancient Israel" in order to see the ideas in "their relative purity and reapply them to our times." What is important is not the law itself, but the message or value beneath the law.

What is interesting is that nothing that Farber here suggests is new or unique to him. This is the interpretation of divine revelation proffered by the Conservative movement based on their understanding of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's saying that the Torah is a 'midrash' on revelation. Heschel wrote in God in Search of Man:
In speaking about revelation, the more descriptive the terms, the less adequate is the description. The words in which the prophets attempted to relate their experiences were not photographs but illustrations, not descriptions, but songs. A psychological reconstruction of the prophetic act is, therefore, no more possible than the attempt to paint a photographic likeness of a face on the basis of a song. The word "revelation" is like an exclamation; it is an indicative rather than a descriptive term. Like all terms that express the ultimate, it points to its meaning rather than fully rendering it. "It is very difficult to have a true conception of the events at Sinai, for there has never been before nor will there ever be again anything like it." "We believe," says Maimonides, "that the Torah has reached Moses from God in a manner which is described in Scripture figuratively by the term 'word,' and that nobody has ever known how that took place except Moses himself to whom that word reached. 
We must try not to read chapters in the Bible dealing with the event at Sinai as if they were texts in systematic theology. Its intention is to celebrate the mystery, to introduce us to it rather than to penetrate or to explain it. As a report about revelation, the Bible itself is a midrash. 
(page 185)
Neil Gillman in his work Sacred Fragments: Recovering Theology for the Modern Jew interprets Heschel's position in this way:
The cardinal theological sin for Heschel, then, is literal-mindedness, the presumption that our theological concepts are literally true or objectively adequate. Thus Heschel’s striking claim about revelation: “As a report about revelation, the Bible itself is a midrash.” We understand midrash as a later interpretation of a biblical text. But according to Heschel, even the Bible itself is a human interpretation of some prior, or more primal revelatory content that is beyond human comprehension.  
 Heschel teaches that two events occurred at Sinai: God’s giving of the Torah and Israel’s receiving of the Torah. Both parties were active in the encounter, and what emerged is colored by both its divine origin and its human appropriation. To use another of Heschel’s formulations, Judaism reflects “a minimum of revelation and a maximum of interpretation.” Accordingly, “the source of authority is not the word as given in the text but Israel’s understanding of the text.” Yet, as we shall see, Heschel takes the Jewish legal system that emerges out of this revelation very seriously indeed. …
Farber then goes on to speak about important characters in the Tanakh. He introduces the concept of mnemohistory vs. history, which he defines as a mixture of legends, myths, lore and "nuggets of cultural memory" all put together to explain the past. He suggests that we can make sense of the fact that current archeological findings do not support texts in the Tanakh (his examples include not only the account of Adam and Eve in the garden, but even the exodus from Egypt) by seeing them as the stories that a people or nation tells itself in order to explain itself and its values. Farber is not altogether alone in his view. Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, in a recent debate with Dawkins, said (minute 18 on) "Well Adam and Eve is clearly a parable because there was no first human, and there may have been a mitochondrial Eve, but I mean, that was somewhere else and in another country, and besides [...] is dead, so no, I mean, Adam and Eve are really, I mean, if you trace it back 6000 years ago, obviously the Bible is telling us the story about the first dawn of civilization, I mean there was an [art?] 25,000 years ago." Dawkins continues and says, "So Adam and Eve is symbolic, but the passing of the Red Sea- I mean, how do you decide which bits are symbolic and-?" and Rabbi Sacks says, "Very simple. The rabbis in the 10th century laid down the following principle: If a biblical narrative is incompatible with established scientific fact, it is not to be read literally, and that was 8 centuries before the word 'scientist' was coined so they weren't just doing it to please Richard Dawkins. They were doing it for their own intellectual integrity." The moderator points out that many people do believe it literally and Rabbi Sacks says, "In Judaism, we take a strong view on this. We have now for [14,000?] years and we say reading the Bible literally is heresy. Why so? Because we believe in its a fundamental of rabbinic Judaism, that there is an Oral Tradition alive alongside the Written Tradition and simply to read the words as they're written is heretical in Judaism." However, Rabbi Sacks does say that he believes God's call to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac literally happened and that that whole narrative was "critically misunderstood with disastrous consequences." (Rabbi Sacks continues his exploration of both of these passages in his work The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning, on pages 174-181 in the hardcover version).

It's interesting that Rabbi Sacks sees the Adam and Eve story as a parable due to conflicts with science, but stops there, while Rabbi Farber sees other pieces as conflicting with archaeological records or historical records that we do or do not have, and therefore continues to the point where he denies that main figures within our tradition ever literally existed (such as the aforementioned Abraham). Or at least, like King Arthur, he suggests the figure is much embellished. Is it that Rabbi Sacks does not find a proof in the lack of a discovery (such as the lack of archaeological records)? What stops Rabbi Sacks from continuing down the road that Rabbi Farber is led on, given that they both seem to begin with the same principle? And would Rabbi Sacks be troubled by Rabbi Farber's conclusions? These are not questions I can answer, but I think they would make for a very interesting discussion with Rabbi Sacks himself.

Rabbi Farber determines that the "stories of the Torah have meaning and significance irrespective of their historicity. The Torah has holiness as the Israelite and Jewish encounter with God even after one realizes that the idea of God dictating it entirely and word-for-word to Moses on Mount Sinai is troubling." This merely restates the position of the Conservative movement that has already been articulated. Farber explains that the stories of the Tanakh teach us morals, lessons and values and they are simply couched in a way where humanity could understand them and find them palatable. The Torah is, at its essence, a great parable, and the meaning ought to be found in the nimshal rather than in the mashal. Farber's position reminds me of why I read fiction and fantasy, and of one of the greatest lines in The Things They Carried by Tim O' Brien; "A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth" (page 80).

Farber's philosophy is noble. He wants to create meaning for those who want to accept historical and biblical criticism, and he believes he has done it. Read the Torah as an ahistorical document that exists to teach us about morals, values and ethics! is his rallying cry. Do not lose the meaning and the message simply because you see something that conflicts with it. Keep the meaning and the message, and remain a part of the Orthodox community rather than leaving religion altogether. Like many in the Conservative movement, Farber sees the Torah as a human-made document which is representative of the encounter between God and His people, a midrash on revelation. The characters do not need to have literally existed to teach us the morals, messages and values that they do.

However, this raises the following questions:

(a) Farber states that he believes that "halakha and Jewish theology must develop organically from Torah interpretation and not by excising or ignoring any part of the Torah or Chazal's interpretation." But earlier in the essay he says we need to find out "how any given halacha or ideal functioned in any given society, particularly the original society, ancient Israel," in order to see the ideas "in their relative purity and reapply them to our times." By making this point, he seems to suggest that a historical understanding of halahka and societal impact upon halakha would mean that certain halakhot can be changed or might no longer be valid (given that our goal would be to find the halakha in its "relative purity and reapply" it to our times). Per some, that is de facto against against Chazal, as it assumes Chazal were the creators of a tradition, influenced by their times and the countries in which they lived, rather than the vessels of a tradition. For those who believe that Chazal are the vessels of a tradition, historical circumstance should have no bearing, as the Rav argued in his essay in Light magazine. Therefore, claiming that we should not excise or ignore any part of the Torah or Chazal's interpretation while at the same time saying we need to find the underlying cause of halakhot may be contradictory or impossible for some.

(b) I do not see why Farber gives so much validity to Chazal and indeed thinks that their interpretations cannot be excised or ignored. He is perfectly fine ignoring the understanding of Chazal that the characters in Torah are absolutely true-to-life historical figures who lived and breathed. Why is it acceptable to him to ignore this underlying point of view, but it is still important to him to accept their opinion on halakha? This is especially curious in circumstances where they call upon historical events in Judaism to explain why we have halakhot. (For instance, if the Exodus is nothing but a fable that exists to teach us certain lessons, morals and values, I can understand the need to have a meal to discuss the fable and the values we learn from it. But does it really matter so much whether or not I talk about matzah, maror and the Korban Pesach, and why, if all of these are just metaphors?) This leads to a larger question: where does practice and ritual come into play if the entire document off of which we create these practices and rituals is simply a large parable or metaphor? What is the point of keeping these practices or rituals; why don't we just focus on the underlying ethics, values and morals of the document? It seems absurd to follow laws that were learned out of human-written lore and mnemohistory; as well follow laws that are learned out of Bernard Cornwall's King Arthur trilogy.

(c) What is the compelling reason to remain a Jew according to Farber's theology? Let us suppose that he is correct that our allegedly human-written texts are the result of some sort of revelation between God and man, specifically 'Jewish' man. If I can get these ethics, morals and values from a different religion (Christianity, Islam) that may couch them in different human-written texts, why ought I to stay Jewish rather than becoming a universally moral person with no official religion? And even if I do stay Jewish in the sense that I hold by the values, ethics and morals derived from my own lore and literature, why would I continue to practice or be observant? After all, my practices would all be based on figurative parables that never actually occurred; why should my life be restricted or inconvenienced by this fiction? Let me take the core messages and leave aside the wrapping in which they were encased, much as a person takes the gift and throws out the wrapping paper.

(d) Why should one believe in revelation? Farber starts from the premise that one wants to be a believing Jew, but is struggling to reconcile Torah and archeology/ historical evidence/ biblical criticism with Torah. He therefore posits that we should see Torah as the story and lore that encases our uniquely Jewish values and ethics. And he says we should believe the human authors of the Torah were responding to God (and were perhaps even prophets). But it would seem simpler and easier to say that the human authors of the Torah were simply creative individuals who came up with some very compelling parables about radical value systems and ethics. There is no proof against revelation- but there is no proof for it, either, and not even a claim that it happened, if the Sinai experience never occurred, is a parable, or did not occur in the format that was suggested, before hundreds of thousands of people.

(e) Why would one die for such a religion? People are willing to die for those they love, their family members, their community. (See the heroic story of Roi Klein). But Farber is saying that Jews should all be willing to die for an idea. You should not convert or change your religion because you hold fast to the ideas couched within human-written texts that the Torah represents. It's true that we do believe in the power of ideas. Many people who serve in the army do so because they want to defend this country's ideas and ideals of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, freedom of speech and so forth. But just as many do so because they want the benefits, the education, or need more discipline or structure in their lives. If we mandated that people needed to die for the USA because of the ideas the US stands for, some would, but many wouldn't. But people are willing to die for brotherhood, fellowship, love, community- in short, their family. I would posit that if you take away the historical significance of our religion, the episodes where our real-life relatives chose not to bow before the Nimrods, Pharoahs or Nebuchadnezzars of the past, you take away a fundamental connection with the past, and with the families that we are a part of, and you take away a large part of the reason that people commit to the religion and to live by it or die by it. If you say the Torah is an ahistorical collection of ideas,then if given the choice between converting or dying, it would make much more sense to slightly change one's idea rather than to die for it, or even to convert but secretly continue to believe in one's original idea. Many of the people who died for Judaism throughout history died because it was the religion of their forefathers in a literal sense, because our ancestors were willing to give up anything to keep this religion. People died because of the connection they shared with real-life heroes who would not bow, not because of a thought.

(f) If Farber's theology were adopted on a large scale, would it help or would it hinder Jews? I think that Farber's theology might be helpful for, as Maimonides might have put it, the 'elite' thinkers who would otherwise face a crisis of faith and would not continue to believe. These individuals can choose to see the Torah as a collection of ahistorical truths, values and ethics written by humans but caused by a revelation between God and man. But for the majority of people, or 'the masses,' as we might otherwise put it, this thought system would be utterly detrimental. Although he argues against this choice, Farber himself admits he has met people who would no longer practice if the events in the Torah were proved not to have occurred. Therefore, he agrees that if the events in the Torah never really happened, there are many people who would not feel a connection to it, practice its laws, or die for it. If, therefore, Farber's theology were adopted on a large scale, it is likely that it would simply lead to more disbelief and less observance, contrary to his goals.

(g) Why does Farber's theology go this far and no further? If we have already interpreted the entire Torah as an ahistorical compilation of truths, values and messages, why ought they to be seen as God's truths, values and messages rather than human truths, values and messages? Why ought we to still believe in prophecy, a phenomenon science has never seen or identified? Why ought we to still believe in revelation? Why pray an elaborate liturgy which makes reference to ahistorical figures all the time (praying to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as stand-ins for certain values)? Why follow chukim in the Torah where we don't understand the values or ethics underlying the law (for example, shatnez)? Farber suggests we can isolate history from practice. Just because something didn't happen, doesn't make it not true or valuable. We can practice religion and Judaism even if we don't think the narratives are true in a literal sense. But why would that not lead to further suspicion? Why the need for all these categories and designations- for rituals of tumah and taharah - are those also just stand-ins for certain ethics or values, and can we replace them in modern times? Why a need for halakha at all? Why are we bound, if there was no true covenant truly accepted between Abraham and God? Why are we bound if there was no literal Sinai?

I don't understand why Farber stops where he does, and goes no further, unless it is simply out of desperation. He wants to believe, and he also wants to be engaged in scholarly biblical and historical criticism. He has found a system that does not directly contradict the theory of revelation. Revelation can still have happened, but what was truly revealed were ethics, precepts and ideas, and these were couched in human terms and stories by human authors, perhaps even based on original characters that did exist (much like King Arthur). It's true that revelation could still have happened in that format. But wouldn't it be more sensible to believe that humans simply wrote this mnemohistory without revelation occurring? What is it that pushes one to believe in revelation in this case? Or is this simply where faith comes in- faith is believing in this form of revelation? If so, I do not think this is a faith that will stand the test of time- and I point you to the dwindling numbers in the Conservative movement as my evidence. Regular people find it very difficult to attach themselves to ideas rather than to events, history and family, especially when they have cause to be suspicious that the ideas may have been the outcome of human creativity rather than Godly creativity.

The question we must really address is this: What does Orthodox Judaism stand for?

Is it about practice?
Is it about belief?
Is it about retaining the greatest number of adherents to the system?
Is it about retaining true, faithful adherents to the system, even if the numbers are small?
What are its limits? Where do we draw lines between Orthodoxy and other denominations?
Ought there to be limits?

Farber believes that if there is a clash between the faith of individuals and the Torah, the Torah itself must change. Let us reinterpret the Torah as an ahistorical compilation of texts written by prophets who were teaching us values via parables. That way, people will still believe in the core precept of revelation. Many others believe that if there is a clash between the faith of individuals and the Torah, the individuals must change. They must surrender to the halakha, to the authority of the Torah, or to the fact that they do not or will not understand, and must, as Rilke says, "live the questions." These people say the core precepts are larger; we believe, not only in revelation, but in the historicity of the text. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived, loved, and died beloved by God. And of course, there is a spectrum of responses in between these two poles. Farber is guided by a love of the people, and others are guided by a love of God. We need to remember that at its core, the machloket here is a machloket l'shem shamayim. How is God best served? Is He best served by uprooting some precepts to save the main one (if, indeed, revelation is the main precept)? Or by taking a firm stand that all the precepts must hold, even if that places others outside the Orthodox camp?

Can we engage with Farber and see him as a noble individual with God-focused motivations, even if some are concerned that his ideas are misleading or dangerous? Or, precisely because the ideas might be misleading or dangerous, should we not engage with him at all, and place him and those marred by association with him outside of the established community, so that no one else may be negatively impacted by his words? Is there a middle ground, and what is it? Are certain people equipped to think about his ideas, while others ought to be protected from them? And who makes this determination?

What does it mean to call oneself an Orthodox Jew?

What does Orthodoxy stand for?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Bernard Cornwell and Tanakh 2

There's a fantastic scene in The Winter King that sheds light on some texts in Tanakh. It appears on pages 386-387 in the hardcover version. Here's the scene.
Arthur clasped me again, then called for his servant Hygwydd to help him tug off the suit of heavy scale armour. It came off over his head, leaving his short-cut hair tousled. "Would you wear it?" he asked me. 
"Me?" I was astonished 
"When the enemy attack," he said, "they'll expect to find me here and if I'm not here they'll suspect a trap." He smiled. "I'd ask Sagramor, but his face is somewhat more distinctive than yours, Lord Derfel. You'll have to cut off some of that long hair, though." My fair hair showing beneath the helmet's rim would be a sure sign I was not Arthur, "and maybe trim the beard a little," he added. 
I took the armour from Hygwydd and was shocked by its weight. "I should be honoured," I said. 
"It is heavy," he warned me. "You'll get hot, and you can't see to your sides when you're wearing the helmet so you'll need two good men to flank you." He sensed my hesitation. "Should I ask someone else to wear it?" 
"No, no, Lord," I said. "I'll wear it." 
"It'll mean danger," he warned me. 
"I wasn't expecting a safe day, Lord," I answered.  
"I shall leave you the banners," he said. "When Gorfyddyd comes he must be convinced that all his enemies are in one place. It will be a hard fight, Derfel." 
"Galahad will bring help," I assured him. 
He took my breastplate and shield, gave me his own brighter shield and white cloak, then turned and grasped Llamrei's bridle. "That," he told me once he had been helped into the saddle, "was the easy part of the day."
When I first read this scene, it made me take a look at and question the famous scene in which Saul dresses David in his own armor to fight against Goliath. I got all excited and suggested to my husband that maybe Saul was insinuating to David that David should impersonate Saul and pretend that it is Saul himself who is fighting the giant. Then, when David refuses the armor, he is not only refusing the king's gift, but also refusing to impersonate Saul. 'I'll win on my own merit,' he seems to be saying, 'rather than pretend that I am you, and that you have won.'

However, I then reread the full scene in I Samuel 17. My potential reading doesn't work for several reasons: a) the king has publicly offered a reward for anyone who plans to fight Goliath, which suggests he does not intend to fight the giant himself b) although Saul dresses David in his armor, it is not clear that they are alone; this could be taking place in front of an audience and c) Saul wishes David to "Go with God" which suggests he is not angry with the youth for refusing to impersonate him. Also, the only other place that I remember offhand where a king has someone dressed in his clothing is Ahaseurus and Mordechai, and there the issue wasn't impersonation, but rather, honor. So it could be that Saul simply wished to honor David by dressing him in his armor rather than subtly trying to hint that David ought to impersonate him and allow him to take credit for the victory.

In support for my thesis, the questions remain: Why does Saul dress David in HIS OWN armor rather than simply asking David's brother or another person to give up their armor to the youth? Why does Saul HIMSELF dress the youth (remember, at this point the youth was simply a servant who played the lyre for him?) And after this battle, why does Saul take it so hard that the women sing that he has slain thousands, but David his tens of thousands (did he not himself assure David's reputation through allowing him to fight Goliath and then promoting him to his army?)

But if, from the very beginning, Saul had been trying to insinuate that David ought to let him have the glory, then of course it would fester that the youth had refused to permit him this, and had instead insisted on going out with his face clearly visible and recognizable to all...

The other text where this scene more aptly applies is the famous battle with King Ahab and King Jehosophat.
כט  וַיַּעַל מֶלֶךְ-יִשְׂרָאֵל וִיהוֹשָׁפָט מֶלֶךְ-יְהוּדָה, רָמֹת גִּלְעָד.29 So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went up to Ramoth-gilead.
ל  וַיֹּאמֶר מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-יְהוֹשָׁפָט, הִתְחַפֵּשׂ וָבֹא בַמִּלְחָמָה, וְאַתָּה, לְבַשׁ בְּגָדֶיךָ; וַיִּתְחַפֵּשׂ מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיָּבוֹא בַּמִּלְחָמָה.30 And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat: 'I will disguise myself, and go into the battle; but put thou on thy royal robes.' And the king of Israel disguised himself, and went into the battle.
לא  וּמֶלֶךְ אֲרָם צִוָּה אֶת-שָׂרֵי הָרֶכֶב אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ שְׁלֹשִׁים וּשְׁנַיִם, לֵאמֹר, לֹא תִּלָּחֲמוּ, אֶת-קָטֹן וְאֶת-גָּדוֹל:  כִּי אִם-אֶת-מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְבַדּוֹ.31 Now the king of Aram had commanded the thirty and two captains of his chariots, saying: 'Fight neither with small nor great, save only with the king of Israel.'
לב  וַיְהִי כִּרְאוֹת שָׂרֵי הָרֶכֶב אֶת-יְהוֹשָׁפָט, וְהֵמָּה אָמְרוּ אַךְ מֶלֶךְ-יִשְׂרָאֵל הוּא, וַיָּסֻרוּ עָלָיו, לְהִלָּחֵם; וַיִּזְעַק, יְהוֹשָׁפָט.32 And it came to pass, when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, that they said: 'Surely it is the king of Israel'; and they turned aside to fight against him; and Jehoshaphat cried out.
לג  וַיְהִי, כִּרְאוֹת שָׂרֵי הָרֶכֶב, כִּי-לֹא-מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל, הוּא; וַיָּשׁוּבוּ, מֵאַחֲרָיו.33 And it came to pass, when the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, that they turned back from pursuing him.
לד  וְאִישׁ, מָשַׁךְ בַּקֶּשֶׁת לְתֻמּוֹ, וַיַּכֶּה אֶת-מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל, בֵּין הַדְּבָקִים וּבֵין הַשִּׁרְיָן; וַיֹּאמֶר לְרַכָּבוֹ, הֲפֹךְ יָדְךָ וְהוֹצִיאֵנִי מִן-הַמַּחֲנֶה--כִּי הָחֳלֵיתִי.34 And a certain man drew his bow at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the lower armour and the breastplate; wherefore he said unto the driver of his chariot: 'Turn thy hand, and carry me out of the host; for I am sore wounded.'

In this story, Ahab deflects attention from himself by having Jehosophat dress in royal robes. The enemy assumes Jehosophat is the King of Israel (when in reality he is the King of Judah). However, the scheme doesn't work because Ahab is killed by a random bowshot. It is, however, another example where disguise is used in battle to achieve a certain effect.

Bernard Cornwell & Tanakh

A friend recommended that I check out The Saxon Tales by Bernard Cornwell, who she praised as a believable author of historical fiction. I did check him out, but since the library I subscribe to didn't have The Saxon Tales, I instead picked up his retelling of the legend of Arthur. I love his revision of the tales, not least because it sheds a lot of light on Tanakh (especially I Samuel- II Kings).

I wanted to type up some of the pieces that I felt were especially relevant. The first piece is excerpted from The Winter King, pages 242-243 in the hardcover version. I felt it did a great job of demonstrating the love that men at arms feel for one another, and support the traditional reading in I Samuel of Jonathan and David as brothers-in-arms.
The bards sing of love, they celebrate slaughter, they extol kings and flatter queens, but were I a poet I would write in praise of friendship.
I have been fortunate in friends. Arthur was one, but of all my friends there was never another like Galahad. There were times when we understood each other without speaking and others when words tumbled out for hours. We shared everything except women. I cannot count the number of times we stood shoulder to shoulder in the shield-wall or the number of times we divided our last morsel of food. Men took us for brothers and we thought of ourselves in the same way. 
And on that broken evening, as the city smouldered into fire beneath us, Galahad understood I could not be taken to the waiting boat. He knew I was in the hold of some imperative, some message from the Gods that made me climb desperately towards the serene palace crowning Yns Trebes. All around us horror flooded up the hill, but we stayed ahead of it, running desperately across a church roof, jumping down to an alley where we pushed through a crowd of fugitives who believed the church would give them sanctuary, then up a flight of stone steps and so to the main street that circled Yns Trebes. There were Franks running towards us, competing to be the first into Ban's palace, but we were ahead of them along with a pitiful handful of people who had escaped the slaughter in the lower town and were now seeking a hopeless refuge in the hilltop dwelling. 
The guards were gone from the courtyard. The palace doors lay open and inside, where women cowered and children cried, the beautiful furniture waited for the conquerors. The curtains stirred in the wind. 
I plunged into the elegant rooms, ran through the mirrored chamber and past Leanor's abandoned harp and so to the great room where Ban had first received me. The King was still there, still in his toga, and still at his table with a quill in his hand. "it's too late," he said, as I burst into the room with sword drawn. "Arthur failed me."
It's worth it to keep reading to understand the relationship between Galahad and Derfel...but it's just as well not to spoil the book.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

God Dwells Within Us: The Human Beis HaMikdash

I was reading the Tisha B'av-To-Go put out by Yeshiva University, specifically the article by Rabbi Yehuda Willig, when I came across this fascinating Alshich (in Chapter 31 of Shemot) being cited:

ואם כן כיון שהמשכן אין השראת שכינה בו מצד עצמו כי אם באדם כמה דאת אמר (לעיל כה ח) ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם, כי בתוכו לא נאמר אלא בתוכם שהוא כי היכל ה' הוא האדם וממנו יתפשט אל המשכן. ואם כן אמור מעתה איך בשבת שהאדם הוא היכל ה' יעשה מלאכה במשכן שהוא עצמו מצד עצמו אין בו שכינה אלא ממה שנמשך לו מן האדם, שעל ידי היות האדם היכל ה' נמשך אל המשכן:

Well, actually, the one cited in the article was from Shemot, Chapter 25:

ושכנתי בתוכם ולא אמר בתוכו. והוא כי הנה שמעתי לומדים מכאן כי עיקר השראת שכינה באדם הוא ולא בבית מאומרו בתוכם.

This is translated as: It says that I dwell among them and not (that I will dwell) in it. And the idea is, because I heard those who extract from here that the main residence of the Shechinah is in man himself, and not in the home (Beis HaMikdash), from the fact that it says (I will dwell among) them. 

Rabbi Willig goes on to say:
This incredible concept demonstrates the thought we mentioned previously, that each person has such immense significance. Each person is charged with the responsibility to become a living Beis HaMikdash, to use his abilities and talents to bring more Godliness into this world. Therefore, with the loss of every single Jewish life, we mourn and grieve as we do over the loss of the Beis HaMikdash.
He then goes on to explore the idea that the earth with which God created Adam originated from the place the Beit HaMikdash would one day stand, and given what we now know (in addition to another point he sets up about Eicha vs. Ayekah), we understand why.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Fairy Tales & Tanakh: Famine in Lamentations and The Arabian Nights

As I listened to Eicha being read tonight, the following pasuk in Chapter 4 struck me:

ה  הָאֹכְלִים, לְמַעֲדַנִּים, נָשַׁמּוּ, בַּחוּצוֹת; הָאֱמֻנִים עֲלֵי תוֹלָע, חִבְּקוּ אַשְׁפַּתּוֹת.  {ס}5 They that did feed on dainties are desolate in the streets; they that were brought up in scarlet embrace dunghills. {S}
I was reminded of the story in Gittin 56a of Martha, daughter of Boethius.
The biryoni11  were then in the city. The Rabbis said to them: Let us go out and make peace with them [the Romans]. They would not let them, but on the contrary said, Let us go out and fight them. The Rabbis said: You will not succeed. They then rose up and burnt the stores of wheat and barley so that a famine ensued. Martha the daughter of Boethius was one of the richest women in Jerusalem. She sent her man-servant out saying, Go and bring me some fine flour. By the time he went it was sold out. He came and told her, There is no fine flour, but there is white [flour]. She then said to him, Go and bring me some. By the time he went he found the white flour sold out. He came and told her, There is no white flour but there is dark flour. She said to him, Go and bring me some. By the time he went it was sold out. He returned and said to her, There is no dark flour, but there is barley flour. She said, Go and bring me some. By the time he went this was also sold out. She had taken off her shoes, but she said, I will go out and see if I can find anything to eat. Some dung stuck to her foot and she died.12  Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai applied to her the verse, The tender and delicate woman among you which would not adventure to set the sole of her foot upon the ground.13  Some report that she ate a fig left by R. Zadok, and became sick and died. For R. Zadok observed fasts for forty years in order that Jerusalem might not be destroyed, [and he became so thin that] when he ate anything the food could be seen [as it passed through his throat.] When he wanted to restore himself, they used to bring him a fig, and he used to suck the juice and throw the rest away. When Martha was about to die, she brought out all her gold and silver and threw it in the street, saying, What is the good of this to me, thus giving effect to the verse, They shall cast their silver in the streets.14
I had the nagging feeling that I had read this story before in the Arabian Nights. After doing some searching, I discovered this was true, and that this exact story is paralleled in "The City of Brass."

O thou, if thou know me not, I will acquaint thee with my name and my descent. I am Tedmur, the daughter of the King of the Amalekites, of those who ruled the countries with equity. I possessed what none of the Kings possessed, and ruled with justice, and acted impartially towards my subjects; I gave and bestowed, and I lived a long time in the enjoyment of happiness and an easy life, and possessing emancipated female and male slaves. Thus I did until the summoner of death came to my abode, and disasters occurred before me. And the case was this:—Seven years in succession came upon us, during which no water descended on us from heaven, nor did any grass grow for us on the face of the earth. So we ate what food we had in our dwellings, and after that we fell upon the beasts and ate them, and there remained nothing. Upon this, therefore, I caused the wealth to be brought, and meted it with a measure, and sent it by trusty men, who went about with it through all the districts, not leaving unvisited a single large city, to seek for some food. But they found it not; and they returned to us with the wealth, after a long absence. So thereupon we exposed to view our riches and our treasures, locked the gates of the fortresses in our city, and submitted ourselves to the decree of our Lord, committing our case to our Master; and thus we all died, as thou beholdest, and left what we had built and what we had treasured. This is the story: and after the substance there remaineth not aught save the vestige.
It is the exact same story. Both Martha and Tedmur (Tadmurah in some versions) are extremely wealthy. Both send out individuals with lots of riches to purchase food. The individuals are not successful in their mission. Therefore, both individuals take all of their riches, put them in the street (as though to say, what good are these riches to us now), and perish. 

I think it's particularly interesting that in our version, Martha is Jewish, and in the Arabian Nights, Tedmur is the daughter of the Kings of the Amalekites. There's definitely something worth exploring there, although I'm not sure what. 

Monday, June 24, 2013


I think it would be interesting to compare two scenes from two movies when teaching about Euthanasia.

Scene 1 is from "Million Dollar Baby."

I keep looking for the clip for Scene 2 on YouTube, but I cannot find it. It's a scene from "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." This film is about a man who has a stroke and then discovers he has locked-in syndrome. He understands everything that is being said to him, but he can only move his eyes.

This is the scene (as written about in the book 'The Picture of Health: Medical Ethics and the Movies.' There, they don't link it to euthanasia, but rather to self-determination.

This scene from Schnabel's film illustrates the complexity of self-determination for patients and medical staff. Jean-Dominique has already mastered the use of the eyeblink response to the alphabet presented by his speech therapist, Henriette. He spells out to her the words, "I want." Henriette, who has been empathetic and patient with him, smiles and asks what he wants. It will be his first expression to her of his own wishes. With each blink of his eye, he spells out, letter-by-letter, "D-E-A." As she vocalizes the next letter, "T," she realizes what he is spelling. In the process, her expression changes from empathy to confusion and hurt. She turns away from him, and when she turns back, tells him, "How dare you! There are people who love you. To whom you matter. I hardly know you, and you matter to me already. You're alive! Don't say you want to die. It's disrespectful! Obscene!...Let's hope you change your mind." She leaves the room abruptly. After several moments, she returns and apologizes. Jean-Dominique follows Henriette's movements and hears her apology, but mentally asks, "For what?"

I think it's interesting to see how moved Frank is by Maggie's request vs. how horrified Henriette is by Jean-Dominique's. I think it would be fascinating to ask students to compare these two scenes, and the reactions by Frank vs. Henriette.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

David & Moses: The Making of a Leader

David Moses
David is the youngest child in his family (except according to some interpretations which suggest that he has one younger brother called Eliyahu). Moshe is the youngest child in his family.
David's mother and father have a complicated relationship. (His mother may have been married to Nachash, been widowed, and only later married his father. Per Midrash, his mother tricks his father when his father wants to sleep with a servant girl, and he is conceived through this trickery.) Moshe's mother and father have a complicated relationship. Per Midrash, they divorced because of Pharoah's decree and only remarried (and later conceived Moshe) because their daughter told her father that he was being harsher than Pharoah himself had been.
David is raised in the palace as lyre-player to Saul. (I Samuel 16:22)

כב  וַיִּשְׁלַח שָׁאוּל, אֶל-יִשַׁי לֵאמֹר:  יַעֲמָד-נָא דָוִד לְפָנַי, כִּי-מָצָא חֵן בְּעֵינָי.22 And Saul sent to Jesse, saying: 'Let David, I pray thee, stand before me; for he hath found favour in my sight.'
Moses is raised in the palace as the adopted son of Bitya, daughter of Pharoah. (Exodus 2:10)

י  וַיִּגְדַּל הַיֶּלֶד, וַתְּבִאֵהוּ לְבַת-פַּרְעֹה, וַיְהִי-לָהּ, לְבֵן; וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ, מֹשֶׁה, וַתֹּאמֶר, כִּי מִן-הַמַּיִם מְשִׁיתִהוּ.10 And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses, and said: 'Because I drew him out of the water.'
David kills Goliath, which frightens and antagonizes Saul, and eventually leads to his needing to run away from Saul. Moshe kills the Mitzri (Egyptian), which frightens and antagonizes Pharoah, and eventually leads to Moses' needing to run away from Pharoah.
The son and daughter of Saul are valuable allies for David. (Both of them save his life.) (I Samuel 19:12)

יב  וַתֹּרֶד מִיכַל אֶת-דָּוִד, בְּעַד הַחַלּוֹן; וַיֵּלֶךְ וַיִּבְרַח, וַיִּמָּלֵט.12 So Michal let David down through the window; and he went, and fled, and escaped.
The daughter of Pharoah is a valuable ally for Moses. (She saves his life.) (Exodus 2:6)

ו  וַתִּפְתַּח וַתִּרְאֵהוּ אֶת-הַיֶּלֶד, וְהִנֵּה-נַעַר בֹּכֶה; וַתַּחְמֹל עָלָיו--וַתֹּאמֶר, מִיַּלְדֵי הָעִבְרִים זֶה.6 And she opened it, and saw it, even the child; and behold a boy that wept. And she had compassion on him, and said: 'This is one of the Hebrews' children.'
David faces Saul again on multiple occasions.  Moses faces Pharoah again on multiple occasions.
Saul consistently has changes of heart and claims he is ready to make peace with David, but he never really is (until the end, when the choice is taken from him because David has run away to Gath). Pharoah consistently has changes of heart and claims he is ready to send out Moses and his people, but he never really is (until the end, when the choice is taken from him because of Makat Bechorot).
David works as a shepherd. Moshe works as a shepherd.
David has a difficult time leading his men (they continually want to kill Saul and he has to stop them; they don't want to share the booty equally and he has to intervene). Moshe has a difficult time leading his people (they complain throughout their journey in the wilderness).
David sends out two spies to see if Saul has truly come. (I Samuel 26: 4)

ד  וַיִּשְׁלַח דָּוִד, מְרַגְּלִים; וַיֵּדַע, כִּי-בָא שָׁאוּל אֶל-נָכוֹן.4 David therefore sent out spies, and understood that Saul was come of a certainty.
Moses sends out 12 spies to spy out the land of Canaan. (Numbers 13:16)

טז  אֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת הָאֲנָשִׁים, אֲשֶׁר-שָׁלַח מֹשֶׁה לָתוּר אֶת-הָאָרֶץ; וַיִּקְרָא מֹשֶׁה לְהוֹשֵׁעַ בִּן-נוּן, יְהוֹשֻׁעַ.16 These are the names of the men that Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Joshua.
David's people want to stone him. (I Samuel 30:6)

ו  וַתֵּצֶר לְדָוִד מְאֹד, כִּי-אָמְרוּ הָעָם לְסָקְלוֹ--כִּי-מָרָה נֶפֶשׁ כָּל-הָעָם, אִישׁ עַל-בָּנָו וְעַל-בְּנֹתָיו; וַיִּתְחַזֵּק דָּוִד, בַּיהוָה אֱלֹהָיו.  {ס}6 And David was greatly distressed; for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters; but David strengthened himself in the LORD his God. {S}

Moses' people want to stone him. (Exodus 17:4, possibly Numbers 14:10)

ד  וַיִּצְעַק מֹשֶׁה אֶל-יְהוָה לֵאמֹר, מָה אֶעֱשֶׂה לָעָם הַזֶּה; עוֹד מְעַט, וּסְקָלֻנִי.4 And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying: 'What shall I do unto this people? they are almost ready to stone me.'
David cannot enter his Promised Land (he cannot build the Beit HaMikdash, even though he has stockpiled all the supplies for it).  (I Chronicles 28:3) However, his successor, Shlomo, can.

ג  וְהָאֱלֹהִים אָמַר לִי, לֹא-תִבְנֶה בַיִת לִשְׁמִי:  כִּי אִישׁ מִלְחָמוֹת אַתָּה, וְדָמִים שָׁפָכְתָּ.3 But God said unto me: Thou shalt not build a house for My name, because thou art a man of war, and hast shed blood.
Moses cannot enter the Promised Land. However, his successor, Yehoshua, can. (Numbers 20:12)

יב  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל-אַהֲרֹן, יַעַן לֹא-הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי, לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל--לָכֵן, לֹא תָבִיאוּ אֶת-הַקָּהָל הַזֶּה, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתִּי לָהֶם.12 And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron: 'Because ye believed not in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.'

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Problematic Tzeruya

I'm teaching Shmuel this year, and we are now holding in Chapter 26, where we encounter this pasuk:

ו  וַיַּעַן דָּוִד וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל-אֲחִימֶלֶךְ הַחִתִּי, וְאֶל-אֲבִישַׁי בֶּן-צְרוּיָה אֲחִי יוֹאָב לֵאמֹר, מִי-יֵרֵד אִתִּי אֶל-שָׁאוּל, אֶל-הַמַּחֲנֶה; וַיֹּאמֶר אֲבִישַׁי, אֲנִי אֵרֵד עִמָּךְ.6 Then answered David and said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Abishai the son of Zeruiah, brother to Joab, saying: 'Who will go down with me to Saul to the camp?' And Abishai said: 'I will go down with thee.'

The question is: Who is this Tzeruya who is the mother of Yoav, Avishai and also Asael?

So we look into it, and we find two places where she is mentioned:

1) II Samuel 17: 25

כה  וְאֶת-עֲמָשָׂא, שָׂם אַבְשָׁלֹם תַּחַת יוֹאָב--עַל-הַצָּבָא; וַעֲמָשָׂא בֶן-אִישׁ, וּשְׁמוֹ יִתְרָא הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִי, אֲשֶׁר-בָּא אֶל-אֲבִיגַל בַּת-נָחָשׁ, אֲחוֹת צְרוּיָה אֵם יוֹאָב.25 And Absalom had set Amasa over the host instead of Joab. Now Amasa was the son of a man, whose name was Ithra the Jesraelite, that went in to Abigal the daughter of Nahash, sister to Zeruiah Joab's mother.

2) 1 Chronicles 2: 16-

טז  וְאַחְיֹתֵיהֶם, צְרוּיָה וַאֲבִיגָיִל; וּבְנֵי צְרוּיָה, אַבְשַׁי וְיוֹאָב וַעֲשָׂהאֵל--שְׁלֹשָׁה.16 And their sisters were Zeruiah and Abigail. And the sons of Zeruiah: Abishai, and Joab, and Asahel, three.

The problem is that in Samuel, Abigail is identified as the daughter of Nachash and the sister of Tzeruya, whereas in Chronicles, they are just mentioned along with all the other children of Jesse. So who is Tzeruya, and is she the daughter of Nachash or of Jesse?

The traditional commentaries in the Book of Samuel simply say that Nachash and Jesse were both names for the same person: Jesse, father of David. They explain that Jesse never sinned, and only died because of the sin with the serpent in Gan Eden.

Modern scholars can and do suggest that the insertion of the word 'Nachash' is a typo or scribal error, and that it should have said Jesse.

But there's an interesting Malbim to Divrei Hayamim I found today that sheds some light on this as well:

טו) דויד השביעי. וזה סותר למה שבשמואל (א' טז, י; יז, יב) חושב לישי שמונה בנים ודוד הוא הקטן. ודעתחז"ל במדרש שהשמיני הוא אליהו הנזכר בין הנגידים שהקים דוד על יהודה, אליהו אחי דוד (לקמן כז, יח), והואהיה קטן מדוד, וקרא לדוד קטן על שהיה מקטין א"ע, וכן פרש"י. וראב"ע ורד"ק פירשו שאליהו היה אח מן האבולא מן האם, ולכן לא חשבו פה מפני שאומר ואחיותיהם צרויה ואביגיל, והם היו אחיות מן האם ולא מן האב,וא"כ לא היו אחיות לאליהו לא מן האב ולא מן האם, וכדבריהם נראה ממ"ש (ש"ב יז, כה) ועמשא בן איש ושמויתרא הישראלי אשר בא אל אביגיל בת נחש אחות צרויה אם יואב, מבואר (לפי הפשט, והדרש ידוע) שאביגילהיתה בת נחש לא בת ישי, וא"כ היתה אחותם רק מן האם, לכן אמר אחות צרויה ולא אמר אחות דוד, מפנישאחות צרויה היתה מן האב ומן האם שגם צרויה היתה בת נחש, ואמם נשאת לישי באלמנותה:

According to this explanation, Tzeruya and Avigail are half-sisters of David. They are the children of his mother who is given to Nachash when she is widowed.

The problem is: Nachash doesn't seem to be dead. And he would need to be dead for Tzeruya to be a widow.

Yes, Saul did fight against him in the battle to defend the men of Yavesh-Gilad. But he doesn't seem to die there, because he crops up again. See 2 Samuel 10:

א  וַיְהִי, אַחֲרֵי-כֵן, וַיָּמָת, מֶלֶךְ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן; וַיִּמְלֹךְ חָנוּן בְּנוֹ, תַּחְתָּיו.1 And it came to pass after this, that the king of the children of Ammon died, and Hanun his son reigned in his stead.
ב  וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶעֱשֶׂה-חֶסֶד עִם-חָנוּן בֶּן-נָחָשׁ, כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אָבִיו עִמָּדִי חֶסֶד, וַיִּשְׁלַח דָּוִד לְנַחֲמוֹ בְּיַד-עֲבָדָיו, אֶל-אָבִיו; וַיָּבֹאוּ עַבְדֵי דָוִד, אֶרֶץ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן.2 And David said: 'I will show kindness unto Hanun the son of Nahash, as his father showed kindness unto me.' So David sent by the hand of his servants to comfort him concerning his father. And David's servants came into the land of the children of Ammon.

If Nachash was alive in the time of David, then he didn't die in the time of Saul.

So there is a possibility that Nachash is the name of all of the kings of Ammon (a title like Pharoah), but if so, then Hanun should also be called Nachash.

Enter Josephus, who confirms that the first Nachash did die in the battle of Saul (though we don't know his sources) and thus whoever this Nachash is, he's some other Nachash.

See Josephus, Volume 6, Book 5, Entry 3:
3. So being desirous to turn the people to this war against the Ammonites by fear of the losses they should otherwise undergo, and that they might the more suddenly be gathered together, he cut the sinews of his oxen, and threatened to do the same to all such as did not come with their armor to Jordan the next day, and follow him and Samuel the prophet whithersoever they should lead them. So they came together, out of fear of the losses they were threatened with, at the appointed time. And the multitude were numbered at the city Bezek. And he found the number of those that were gathered together, besides that of the tribe of Judah, to be seven hundred thousand, while those of that tribe were seventy thousand. So he passed over Jordan, and proceeded in marching all that night, thirty furlongs, and came to Jabesh before sun-rising. So he divided the army into three companies; and fell upon their enemies on every side on the sudden, and when they expected no such thing; and joining battle with them, they slew a great many of the Ammonites, as also their king Nabash. This glorious action was done by Saul, and was related with great commendation of him to all the Hebrews; and he thence gained a wonderful reputation for his valor: for although there were some of them that contemned him before, they now changed their minds, and honored him, and esteemed him as the best of men: for he did not content himself with having saved the inhabitants of Jabesh only, but he made an expedition into the country of the Ammonites, and laid it all waste, and took a large prey, and so returned to his own country most gloriously. So the people were greatly pleased at these excellent performances of Saul, and rejoiced that they had constituted him their king. They also made a clamor against those that pretended he would be of no advantage to their affairs; and they said, Where now are these men? - let them be brought to punishment, with all the like things that multitudes usually say when they are elevated with prosperity, against those that lately had despised the authors of it. But Saul, although he took the good-will and the affection of these men very kindly, yet did he swear that he would not see any of his countrymen slain that day, since it was absurd to mix this victory, which God had given them, with the blood and slaughter of those that were of the same lineage with themselves; and that it was more agreeable to be men of a friendly disposition, and so to betake themselves to feasting.
This is still not super-satisfying, because who exactly is this second Nachash, and why does he succeed the throne without us knowing? A scribal error would be the most logical response to this, but I don't know where I can find proof of this. For now, we will go with Tzeruya being the daughter of Nachash of Ammon and half-sister of David.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fairy Tales in Tanakh: Saul & David in the Cave

There are many times that fairy tales mimic or are based on pieces of the Tanakh. Whether or not they are intended to be that way is up for discussion, but I enjoy noticing it when it occurs. I realized that the true version of “The Little Mermaid” (link here) has a scene that mirrors the one with David and Saul in the cave in I Samuel 24 per some of the commentaries.
We have given our hair to the witch,” they said, “so that she would send you help, and save you from death tonight. She gave us a knife. Here it is. See the sharp blade! Before the sun rises, you must strike it into the Prince’s heart, and when his warm blood bathes your feet they will grow together and become a fish tail. Then you will be a mermaid again, able to come back to us in the sea, and live out your three hundred years before you die and turn into dead salt sea foam. Make haste! He or you must die before sunrise. Our old grandmother is so grief-stricken that her white hair is falling fast, just as ours did under the witch’s scissors. Kill the Prince and come back to us. Hurry! Hurry! See that red glow in the heavens! In a few minutes the sun will rise and you must die.” So saying, they gave a strange deep sigh and sank beneath the waves.
The little mermaid parted the purple curtains of the tent and saw the beautiful bride asleep with her head on the Prince’s breast. The mermaid bent down and kissed his shapely forehead. She looked at the sky, fast reddening for the break of day. She looked at the sharp knife and again turned her eyes toward the Prince, who in his sleep murmured the name of his bride. His thoughts were all for her, and the knife blade trembled in the mermaid’s hand. But then she flung it from her, far out over the waves. Where it fell the waves were red, as if bubbles of blood seethed in the water. With eyes already glazing she looked once more at the Prince, hurled herself over the bulwarks into the sea, and felt her body dissolve in foam.
It’s the same as the David and Saul scene. David takes the knife, plans to kill Saul (per the commentator Ralbag; not every commentator thinks that David ever considered killing him) but then he cannot do it. Instead, he simply cuts off a piece of his cloak.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Displaced Rage: Naval Instead of Saul

Any crime show afficianado knows that often the unsub (unknown subject) often kills substitutes because they cannot or will not attack the actual object of their rage. (For example, they might kill blonde-haired, blue-eyed girls because someone who was blonde-haired and blue-eyed, like their mother, abused them.) Sometimes, the substitutes lead them to kill the original perpetrator of their unhappiness or person they hate, but other times, not.

I think it is interesting to understand David's actions towards Naval in this way. It's not an accident that this story is placed directly after the scene with Saul at the cave.

1) When at the cave (Chapter 24), David refers to Saul as his father.

יא  וְאָבִי רְאֵה--גַּם רְאֵה אֶת-כְּנַף מְעִילְךָ, בְּיָדִי:  כִּי בְּכָרְתִי אֶת-כְּנַף מְעִילְךָ וְלֹא הֲרַגְתִּיךָ, דַּע וּרְאֵה כִּי אֵין בְּיָדִי רָעָה וָפֶשַׁע וְלֹא-חָטָאתִי לָךְ--וְאַתָּה צֹדֶה אֶת-נַפְשִׁי, לְקַחְתָּהּ.11 Moreover, my father, see, yea, see the skirt of thy robe in my hand; for in that I cut off the skirt of thy robe, and killed thee not, know thou and see that there is neither evil nor transgression in my hand, and I have not sinned against thee, though thou layest wait for my soul to take it.

Saul responds and calls David his son.

טז  וַיְהִי כְּכַלּוֹת דָּוִד, לְדַבֵּר אֶת-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֶל-שָׁאוּל, וַיֹּאמֶר שָׁאוּל, הֲקֹלְךָ זֶה בְּנִי דָוִד; וַיִּשָּׂא שָׁאוּל קֹלוֹ, וַיֵּבְךְּ.16 And it came to pass, when David had made an end of speaking these words unto Saul, that Saul said: 'Is this thy voice, my son David?' And Saul lifted up his voice, and wept.

Similarly, in the episode with Naval, David refers to himself as Naval's son.

ח  שְׁאַל אֶת-נְעָרֶיךָ וְיַגִּידוּ לָךְ, וְיִמְצְאוּ הַנְּעָרִים חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ--כִּי-עַל-יוֹם טוֹב, בָּנוּ; תְּנָה-נָּא, אֵת אֲשֶׁר תִּמְצָא יָדְךָ לַעֲבָדֶיךָ, וּלְבִנְךָ, לְדָוִד.8 Ask thy young men, and they will tell thee; wherefore let the young men find favour in thine eyes; for we come on a good day; give, I pray thee, whatsoever cometh to thy hand, unto thy servants, and to thy son David.'

2) Saul admits that he has repaid David evil for good.

יז  וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶל-דָּוִד, צַדִּיק אַתָּה, מִמֶּנִּי:  כִּי אַתָּה גְּמַלְתַּנִי הַטּוֹבָה, וַאֲנִי גְּמַלְתִּיךָ הָרָעָה.17 And he said to David: 'Thou art more righteous than I; for thou hast rendered unto me good, whereas I have rendered unto thee evil.

David says that Naval has repaid him evil for good.

כא  וְדָוִד אָמַר, אַךְ לַשֶּׁקֶר שָׁמַרְתִּי אֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר לָזֶה בַּמִּדְבָּר, וְלֹא-נִפְקַד מִכָּל-אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ, מְאוּמָה; וַיָּשֶׁב-לִי רָעָה, תַּחַת טוֹבָה.21 Now David had said: 'Surely in vain have I kept all that this fellow hath in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that pertained unto him; and he hath returned me evil for good.

The question that plagues readers is why David overreacts in such a way and wishes to put Naval's entire house to death. I wish to suggest that one way to understand this is that David has made himself powerless against his attacker, Saul, because he sees Saul as the Lord's annointed, mashiach Hashem. But when Naval comes along and acts towards him exactly as Saul has done, he conflates the two and his true rage against Saul and everything the king has put him through comes out against Naval. While he is powerless against Saul, he does have power over Naval.

David is put in the same situation Saul is. Saul kills the entire city of Nov (and all of the priests) because he sees them as guilty as aiding David (even though only one person, Achimelech, actually helped him). David now wants to kill all of Naval's household because he sees them as guilty as NOT aiding him (even though only one person, Naval, refuses him). In this situation, we see David's displaced rage re: Saul be redirected towards Naval, and also how shaken he is when he realizes he has been about to act like Saul and to shed innocent blood. The fact that David has the capacity to behave in this fashion sobers him up; he realizes it's not so simple to be king, after all.

This places Doeg and Avigail in opposite roles. Doeg assists Saul in committing murder; Avigail hinders it. Doeg is minister to the king and Avigail is married to a boor, but wisdom resides in Avigail, not David.