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Archive for July 12th, 2007

Parasha Matot – Bamidbar 30:2-32:42

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on July 12, 2007

Numbers 30:2-6

2. Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the children of Israel, saying: This is the thing the Lord has commanded.

3. If a man makes a vow to the Lord or makes an oath to prohibit himself, he shall not violate his word; according to whatever came out of his mouth, he shall do.

4. If a woman makes a vow to the Lord, or imposes a prohibition [upon herself] while in her father’s house, in her youth,
5. if her father heard her vow or her prohibition which she has prohibited upon herself, yet her father remains silent, all her vows shall stand, and any prohibition that she has imposed upon herself shall stand.

6. But if her father hinders her on the day he hears it, all her vows and her prohibitions that she has imposed upon herself shall not stand. The Lord will forgive her because her father hindered her.

This is interesting – because it is frequently used as a proof text that Judaism is misogynist, the text is mistakenly read, also by the Sages, to mean that a woman’s oath is null and void if her father or husband says it is – but what does the text actually say?

We need to examine exactly what is meant by “a woman” according to Torah:

Rashi says: 4. while in her father’s house. Under her father’s jurisdiction, even if she is not [actually] in his house. – [Sifrei Mattoth 12] in her youth. Neither a minor nor an adult [above the age of twelve and a half], since a minor’s vows are invalid, and an adult is not under her father’s jurisdiction to revoke her vows. What is considered a minor? Our Rabbis said: A girl of eleven years and a day-her vows are examined. If she knew in whose name she vowed, or in whose name she consecrated something, her vow stands. From the age of twelve years and one day, she does not need to be tested. — [Niddah 45b]

Now, children do not have legal obligation anyway, not even in our Society, so why should Jewish Law look at it any different? So is it misogynist to stop one’s under age child of making a binding oath, which she (or he, as the same goes for boys) might not have understood the seriousness of? I don’t think so. So this is put there to safe-guard both the validity of oaths and the legal integrity of children

Just because something is in Torah, doesn’t mean Torah agrees with it or promotes it – it means that Torah takes such things into account, and then it’s up to us to derive the core of it – and as with everything else Torah, we have to that in context of the entire Torah/Tanakh. And we need to know in what context, under what cultural and societal conditions Torah was given.

It is fully possible to arrive at largely the same conclusion by simply reading the text:

6. But if her father hinders her on the day he hears it, all her vows and her prohibitions that she has imposed upon herself shall not stand. The Lord will forgive her because her father hindered her.

The provision for the oath to be null and void – i.e G-d will forgive if it is not fulfilled – is that there’s an obstruction – in this case her father, for whatever reason, stops her from making and fulfilling the oath. And the woman is blameless, because she was not the one breaking the oath, her father was.

Here Torah takes into account that some times men do crazy things in relation to women, and states that women should not be held responsible for the actions of men.

Note that no such provision is made for men – they make an oath and they are bound to keep them. Also note that this only covers oaths made to G-d, not oaths and promises between people. So Torah actually takes human relations more serious than relations between G-d and human.

Novel thought, huh?

Shabbat Shalom!

Posted in Misogyny, Numbers 30:2-9, Oaths, Parasha Matot, Shabbat, Torah, Weekly Parasha | 6 Comments »

Liberal lack of Arguments?

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on July 12, 2007

“1) Torah/spiritually based arguments on behalf of ending the Occupation invariably come off sounding insipid, whiny, and ill-informed, usually relying on broad cliches or verses that the settlers and right-wingers can easily refute. The right-wingers/settlers/fascists, on the other hand, are absolutely focused on the sources and can quote poskim, meforshim, teshuvot etc. to make their case, while progressives can only say things like “V’ahavta l’reacha kamocha’ – and are helpless when the Right points out that this verse only applies to Jews – and possibly only religious Jews at that! There are some exceptions to this inability to articulate a Jewish/religious anti-imperialism – the late and sorely missed Yishayahu Leibovits comes to mind, as do Daniel Boyarin and Shaul Maggid – but by and large liberal Jewish anti-Occupation polemics are generally pretty lame.

2) Related to #1 above, I am not ultimately convinced that Torah says what we want it to say about Israel, Zionism and the Occupation. Perhaps that’s why the anti-Occupation “spiritual” arguments are so lame. I, of course, remain opposed to the Occupation – and I would love to see substantive Jewish-spiritual/Torah arguments for this position. I remain skeptical, however. Comment by Howie — June 28, 2007 @ 8:00 am (my bold and italic for emphasis)

The right-wingers/settlers/fascists, on the other hand, are absolutely focused on the sources and can quote poskim, meforshim, teshuvot etc. to make their case, while progressives can only say things like “V’ahavta l’reacha kamocha’ – and are helpless when the Right points out that this verse only applies to Jews.

Does it? Who says? Can Torah contradict itself?

The right wing claims that “ger” /(stranger) means “convert” – then that would mean that Avraham Avinu regarded himself as a stranger, a convert, to whatever people it was he was living with when he said: “Gen 23:4 I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a burying place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” Or G-d actually means that Avraham’s seed shall convert and become Egyptians when He says: “Gen 15:13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years.

Now, Rashi may be the greatest Torah scholar there ever was – but he too was only reading and commenting on what he read, from a perspective of his time and his reality.

The thing is that “convert” or even the concept of “conversion” doesn’t exist in Written Torah – people chose to walk with the Jewish People and accept their customs, that was it.

Now to the contradiction – if Written Torah says Stranger = someone not Jewish, and Oral Torah says Stranger = Convert, some 2000 years later – then which one is likely to have the correct usage?

“I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant (Shemot / Exodus 6:4,5).

The Jewish claim on the Land of Israel is not dependent on politics, religion, or military strength. The giving of the Land of Israel by God to the Jewish people is based on one thing – God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Yes – but under what conditions? How about the laws of War? Or the reversion of land to it’s original owner after 70 years? Or withholding rightful wages and collateral? How about Devarim 26-29?

What does G-d say repeatedly in Torah about what will happen to Israel if she violates Torah, especially in regards to the Stranger, the Widow and the Orphans? Isn’t Torah itself imprinted on the Land?

Does the Law only apply to Jews, as the right wingers say claiming that Vayikra 19:18 speaks Jews as the neighbor? Does it? Are you sure? I am not – and this is why:

Repeatedly the word Stranger (ger – Strong 1616) is used in combination with sojourn (toshav – Strong 8453) or sojourn (gûr – Strong 1481) i.e someone who is a resident alien or temporary visitor, traveller. Doesn’t sound like Jews, now does it? So it’s very possible that the neighbor is in fact a Stranger living right next to you, no?

So why have the Talmudic Sages transformed the meaning of GER?

Because adjusting and adapting the understanding of Torah over time has always been the Jewish way of maintaining the integrity of The People – from instance to instance interpretation has been needed, and the Sages has given it to us. Now we need another interpretation.

What exactly does Written Torah about how to apply the Law, which is imprinted on the Land?

“Exo 12:49 One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you.'”

“Lev 24:22 Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for the home-born; for I am the L-RD your G-d.’ “Ending this command the same way He starts the Aseret HaDibrot – “I am the L-RD your G-d”

“Deu 31:12 Assemble the people, the men and the women and the little ones, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the L-RD your G-d, and observe to do all the words of this law”

Now, isn’t it rather interesting that G-d says “Assemble the people…then explains who is the People that is to HEAR, LEARN and OBSERVE the words of this Law? Is the Stranger included? YES!

The problem with the Talmudic Sages is that at one point they decided to close the Book on interpretations, so that new understandings, or reversions of ideas picked up on the way were made virtually impossible. Logic and necessity gave way to literalism and stagnation. The crisis’s that gave us a Path of Prayer in place of Sacrifices or made a virtue out of separatism or made conversion a matter of jumping through smaller and smaller hoops were just that – crisis’s. Now we are faced with another crisis – a crisis of not just secular credibility but of spiritual credibility and integrity.

Unless we, as a people, revert back to an original understanding of the term GER, and include ALL people in the concept Stranger – we will end up not only facing a not too pleased G-d, but we will keep struggling for our very existence endlessly. Is that what we want?

Posted in One Law, Orthodox Anarchist, Torah | Leave a Comment »

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