Gen. 24:48 — ואברך את יהוה אלהי אברהם אשר הנחני בדרך אמת
Deut. 6:6-7 — והיו הדברים האלה אשר אנכי מצוך היום על לבבך ודברת בם בלכתך בדרך
Acts 24:14 — אני מודה כי אני בדרך ההיא אשר יקבוה מפלגה בה אני עובד את אלהי אבותינו וכי אני מאמין בכל הכתוב בתורה ובנביאים



Judaism for non-Jews

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has written another interesting piece about Yeshua of Nazareth, Saul of Tarsus, and universal promotion of Jewish values. Read it on the Jerusalem Post website: "No Holds Barred: Non-Jews as the Saviors of Judaism".

Not for the first time, Shmuley argues that "Jewish ethics" should be adopted by all people.


Freedom outside Religion

The great advantage of not being part of any institutionalized "religion" is that I am free to believe and say what I actually do believe is true! I don't have to worry about what someone else tells me I "have to" or "must not" believe.


The beauty of Leah and Rachel

I love the edition of the Pentateuch and Haftorahs edited by Dr. J. H. Hertz, late chief rabbi of the British Empire. The commentary he selected has for many years given me a great deal of insight into the biblical text. I also very much appreciate the fact that he is an "advocate" for the Tanakh, defending it against its detractors and explaining many difficult passages so as to overcome antagonistic objections.

Of course we all have our biases. Reading in this week's parashah, I found myself wondering whether Hertz's selected commentary might sometimes be "too positive". Genesis 29:17 says:

ועיני לאה רכות ורחל היתה יפת תאר ויפת מראה — בראשית כ"ט, 17

A standard translation:

And Leah's eyes were weak; but Rachel was of beautiful form and fair to look upon.

The general idea conveyed by most translations has been that Leah was unattractive physically, whereas her younger sister Rakhel (Rahel, Rachel) was a beauty. Yet Hertz comments on the translation "weak":

Better, tender, which the Targum understands in the sense of 'beautiful'.

Later, in v. 31, there is a similar moment:

וירא יהוה כי שנואה לאה ויפתח את רחמה ורחל עקרה — בראשית כ"ט, 31

And ADONAI saw that Leah was hated, and He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.

Hertz remarks on "hated":

The word here only means 'less loved' — not that Jacob had an aversion to her, but that he preferred Rachel; cf. Deut. XXI, 15.

Thus, in both cases of a textual contrast between the two sisters, Hertz lessens the severity of the difference — thereby making the narrative more positive or palatable. If he is correct, it is important to know that in order to understand the text correctly. Yet at the same time, we know that Torah certainly does include dramatic conflicts between siblings. Just last week we read about Ya'aqov (Jacob) and 'Esav (Esau) fighting already in the womb of their mother Rivqah (Rebekah)!

So is Hertz's interpretation a needed revision of traditional translation, or biased sugarcoating of an unpleasant reality? Hebrew & Torah scholars, what say ye?

Incidentally, the implications of Hertz's interpretation affect many other passages, such as Malachi 1:2-3:

הלוא אח עשו ליעקב נאם יהוה ואהב את יעקב ואת עשו שנאתי — מלאכי א', 2-3

Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith ADONAI; Yet I loved Jacob; but Esau I hated.

In fact, Hertz makes the same comment here:

'Loved' and 'hated' in this and the preceding verse are relative terms only, denoting that one has been preferred to another; cf. the similar phraseology applied to Leah and Rachel, and used in Deut. XXI, 15.

The same type of phrasing appears also in (e.g.) Matt. 10:37; Luke 14:26. This interpretation could also affect (e.g.) Gen. 22:2.


What are the "weightier" matters of Torah?

A while back I was talking with ירמיה about the "weightier matters of the Law" as described in Mt. 23:23:

Οὐαὶ ὑμῖν, γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί, ὅτι ἀποδεκατοῦτε τὸ ἡδύοσμον καὶ τὸ ἄνηθον καὶ τὸ κύμινον καὶ ἀφήκατε τὰ βαρύτερα τοῦ νόμου, τὴν κρίσιν καὶ τὸ ἔλεος καὶ τὴν πίστιν· ταῦτα [δὲ] ἔδει ποιῆσαι κἀκεῖνα μὴ ἀφιέναι.

Woe to you Torah scholars and Perushim, pretenders! For you give the tenth of mint, dill, and cumin; yet you have left undone the weightier matters of the Torah: justice, mercy, and faith. But it is necessary to do these things, and not to have left the others undone.

ירמיה, I remember you suggested that the ordinary translation might not be quite right — or else you had some other insight on the last part of the verse in the Jewish-Greek text, and how it should be interpreted. Could you share your thoughts again?