Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Noah's Son's Sin Justifies Slavery?

There was a side comment in last week's Torah study class that made me curious.

After the flood...
Genesis 9:20 - 25
Ham 'sees his father's nakedness' and tells his brothers. Then Noah curses Ham's son Canaan to become a 'slave to his brother'.

Out of this come the Canaanites whose political associations and future in the land is equated with things 'bad' in all ways.

I found interesting links that discuss this as the justification for slavery in the American South:

Straight Dope Offers Historical Perspective

Article by Felicia R. Lee on Noah's Curse is Slavery

Wikipedia - a good summary of the issues

books on the subject:

Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery by: Stephen R. Haynes

The Curse of Ham : Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World) by: David M. Goldenberg

Not sure I like this one... but have to report those details that catch my attention.

Don't Marry Dad's Former Wife

Deut 23:1
It always amazes me how a statement in the Torah that seems at first not to be of interest or applicable in any way to today can take 10 pages in my little notebook and trigger such fascinating discussion that moves from sexual conduct to Shakespeare and to better understanding of historical significance of the mitzvot.

This law not to marry a former wife of your father is much more than it seems on the surface. (as much of Torah is and probably why we re-read it every year) Note this is not talking of just your mother since there was a lot of marriage options open to men in Biblical times.

And this is one of those laws that is mentioned in several places in Torah so it was very significant and worth exploration.

This law is also stated a bit differently in Lev 18:6-8 where it clearly points out that the 'mother's nakedness belongs to the father' and to 'uncover nakedness' implies sexual relationship. The issue points to the sense of shame and humiliation to the father by taking to wife a former wife of your father and thus breaking the commandment to honor your father.

This is also mentioned in Ezekial when he deliniates the crimes of mankind. And in the story of Noah when his son, Ham, 'saw his father's nakedness' and tells his brothers. And again in Genesis when Ruven lies with Jacob's concubine and later is admonished when his father is dying. It is also an issue relating to the story of King David and Solomon becoming the next king. His other son,Absolom, asks to marry one of David's concubines and is later killed when Solomon finds out about this crime. This also relates to this law. The acquisition of the King's women is symbolic of the power with being the king.

Shakespeare used this theme in both Macbeth and Hamlet.

As in many of the laws of Torah the prohibitions related to practices of the other people in the region, there was a common practice of 'marriage with the father's former wives' in the old Syrian culture. This was later prohibited in the Koran.

The law's central focus is to honor the father in all ways:
Don't sit in his place - Don't contradict him in public - Don't push him aside
Take care of your father's needs in all ways both physical and psychological.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

After the seder

The story of freedom and heated discussion about if it really happened and if that really matters in the long run provides the best nourishment for Jews. Much more than the matzoball soup and harosets that everyone loves, it is the conversation around all those tables that keeps us special.

No matter which of the children you are, the wise, the wicked, the simple or the silent one, the story will convey the message that freedom is sweet. The discussion may turn to politics or worldly issues or it might turn inward to individual or family struggles. It is this communication and the connection of those around our table to those around other tables that makes Pesach the favorite annual event in our families and our community..

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Community and Morality

Torah Study - Deuteronomy 22:22-17

The Law against Adultery is a Law of God - this portion goes into the subject of rape and morality. There are few ABSOLUTE laws that define morality in our community. This is one of them.

While this was discussed at length in the class, the part that had the most impact for me what when R. Marder read from a book about Rwanda community:

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families Stories from Rwanda
by Philip Gourevitch

A woman is crying out for help with a distinctive and haunting sound. The members of the community carry the sound forward and run to her aid. This is the way they are. Each member of the community caring for the others. It is their obligation, part of who they are.

An example we can learn from.

To Israel

Sorry for no posts over the past weeks. Israel is an amazing place. The depth of history and experiences there must be felt they can't be explained.

Some of my Israel Pictures

If you have never been there before - go.

Some bits of learning from the trip:

"The air of Israel makes one smarter" - quote from our class by Dr. Amira Meir!
"Jerusalem is mentioned over 900 times in Torah."
"My eyes and my heart will always be in this place."
"No other place is associated with as much war and bloodshed as Jerusalem."
"Jerusalem is said to be closer to God and full of miracles and peace as well, 'Heavenly Jerusalem.'"

Yad v' Shem - Monument to the Name -
Learning with Prof. Israel Knohl
Why is the place to remember those lost to the holocaust calle Yad VaShem

Deut 25:5 the widdow is taken in by the family so the "name is not blotted out in Israel".
To assure the name of a person is not lost.

Ruth 4:1 Boaz takes responsibility for Naomi to keep the name in the land.

2Samuel 18:18 A monument built to the name.

Isaiah 56.3-5 - Yad VaShem
Neither let the alien, that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying: 'The the Lord will surely separate me from His people'; neither let the eunuch say: 'Behold, I am a dry tree.'

For thus saith the Lord concerning the eunuchs that keep My sabbaths, and choose the things that please Me, and hold fast by My covenant:

Even unto them will I give in My house and within My walls a monument and a memorial better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting memorial, that shall not be cut off.

Thus there is a monument to remember: Yad VaShem - Hand/Monument of the Name