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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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Fig Leaves

Torah Study June 21 led by Rabbi Jannet Marder

Genesis 3:7

What is the significance of Fig Leaves?

Some feel that the fig was the ‘forbidden fruit’ because of the proximity of the mention of fig leaves in this part to the eating of the fruit.
Fig leaves are big and strong and shaped like a hand.

In early Greek culture the naked body was a symbol of heroism, it was mostly Christianity that brought modesty.

Fig leaves were attached to art in the middle ages. It was about that time when modesty and shame of nakedness became the way people thought.

Book Reference: The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form by Kenneth Clark

There was a discussion on how fig leaves were added to art ..

There is a good description about this on Wikipedia

Queen Victoria received a copy of Michelangelo's David – and made fig leaves to attach with hooks to make it “presentable”

Then we spoke of the metaphorical interpretation of the use of the term “fig leaf” as a cover up for wrong doing.

Poem Reference: The Naked And The Nude by Robert Graves

For me, the naked and the nude

(By lexicographers construed

As synonyms that should express

The same deficiency of dress

Or shelter) stand as wide apart

As love from lies, or truth from art.

Lovers without reproach will gaze

On bodies naked and ablaze;

The Hippocratic eye will see

In nakedness, anatomy;

And naked shines the Goddess when

She mounts her lion among men.

The nude are bold, the nude are sly

To hold each treasonable eye.

While draping by a showman's trick

Their dishabille in rhetoric,

They grin a mock-religious grin

Of scorn at those of naked skin.

The naked, therefore, who compete

Against the nude may know defeat;

Yet when they both together tread

The briary pastures of the dead,

By Gorgons with long whips pursued,

How naked go the sometime nude!

This poem emphasized the different terms and their different implications.

We discussed the attitudes in different cultures regarding wearing of clothes.

Also discussed the issue of what clothing conveys about people in different environments.

The notion of privacy and clothing was addressed.

On the Jewish attitudes toward clothing R. Marder read an essay by: Gila Manolson
on the Jewish mitzvot of "tsniut" ("modesty")

You can read part of it here

The concept of wearing modest clothing, as she presents, relates to seeing a person for who they are on the inside and not for seeing them physically for the outside or what they wear.

It is a nice argument. However many do not agree that this is really the way it is.

And is our Torah Study style we also discussed the Hebrew word for Clothing: Beged – the root of this word in Hebrew also will mean to Betray or Traitor or Lie.

An interesting article about this

A dress of fire and a burning betrayal by Rami Saari

“A person who devotes herself completely to literary creation is often a naked person.
Dahlia Ravikovitch's poem 'A Dress of Fire', like the root of the word 'article of clothing' in the original Hebrew, beged, connects, in a manner foreign to most languages, two basic concepts of the Hebrew language and of human culture: beged: a piece of clothing that covers the body, hides its nakedness and prevents others from seeing one's private parts - the naked truth; and bgida (from the same root, but meaning betrayal), a ticking bomb wrapped like a candy box, a Trojan horse meant for one person only, its goal revenge, to triumph over that person. “

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Fruit of Knowledge....

Genesis 3:6-7
Torah Study led by R. Janet Marder 6.14.08

Forbidden Fruit?

We really don’t know what the fruit was. Why did they get an idea it was an apple? The Latin translation – evil and apple are the same word and thus the translation turned it into an apple which was not accurate.

Some say it was a fig because of the next reference to the fig leaves.

Here is an interesting link I found with more details on this question

But it is probably good that we are not SURE what fruit it is because it would cast a disparaging reputation on that particular fruit!

Why did Eve take the fruit?
Desire for wisdom and knowledge.
Misled by the serpent.
Taking a risk is a human trait.

Book Reference:
The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey
by Candice Millard

NPR on the River of Doubt

Genesis teaches about the human condition – our yearning for knowledge and that there are consequences to our actions.

Humans need boundaries and divine instruction on morality issues as well.

Increase in Knowledge = Increase in Pain
Ecclesiastes 1:18
Interesting site where they show all translations

“Pain is part of the process of learning, analogous to the forceful ... and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow" looms in the background” (Ecclesiastes Interpretation by William Brown)

As we grow there is emotional pain that is associated with learning – example of learning about the Holocaust.
Evolution requires the learning and the pain.
Wisdom is another distinguishing factor. We need wisdom to allow us to exercise freedom of choice.

Book Reference:
Flowers for Algernon By Daniel Keyes

Parallel of being expelled from the garden to leaving the womb in birth
The journey from innocence to knowledge is inevitable.

Book Reference:
The Bedside Torah: Wisdom, Visions, and Dreams By Bradley Shavit Artson, Miriyam Glazer
- read excerpt – The Equal Rights Amendment in Eden – page 5

Eve gets a bad rap...?
Wait. Adam was there next to her the whole time. He heard the snake. Why didn’t he say something?
God gave him the commandment not to eat the fruit and he may have misrepresented that in his translation. She got the wrong idea that she could not ‘touch’ the tree. Then the snake proved that wrong and so she didn't know what was exactly forbidden. All a case of mistaken interpretation.

It is a human metaphor - mistakes are needed to understand why there are boundaries.

More gleanings from class:

Talmud says: All is foreseen but free will is given.

Once their ‘eyes were opened’ Adam and Eve became emotionally separated.

Torah taken collectively is the dream of the Jewish people.

Book Reference:
The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence By Carl Sagan

Samson Raphael Hirsch argues against the concept of “original sin”
Experiential knowledge. Their eyes were opened and they realized shame. The consequences of their actions were understood and thus another differentiation between humans and other animals.

NEXT TIME – Nakedness and Clothing

Blog Reference:
Do Fish Wear Lipstick? - What makes humans different?

“I'm thinking of things like blushing through embarrassment, laughing, etc. As far as I'm aware, human beings are the only species that domesticated animals to suit their own purposes, or that plant seeds to raise crops. Or that wear clothes. Or that commit suicide. Those are the sort of things I'm looking for.”

We helped with this list a bit in class .... Adding music and art and washing with soap

More to follow!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Serpent & Pragmatism

More on THE SNAKE / Nachash or Nahash – and onomatopoeia!

** my question - Why does Michelangelo show the serpent as a woman?

Torah Study 6/7 with R. Marder

A review of some of the other stories in Tanakh where the snake is mentioned endorses the mythological references and the image of the serpent as evil and powerful.

In Genesis it is ‘cut down to size’ Nahash is just one of the wild beasts – nothing special Except that this serpent can communicate with Eve.

(side note – as we were discussing the ‘nakedness’ issue it was pointed out that there are opposing sayings: “a bald-face lie” and the “naked truth” - a brief research on this brings both sayings back to Shakespeare time – all I found on them)

The Strategy of the Snake to convince Eve...

  • Snake addresses the woman – why – maybe a woman is more open to discussion on the topic? Maybe because the directive was given to Adam and Eve got the directive ‘second hand’ from Adam and not directly from God.
  • Directions are a bit confusing in Gen 2:16
  • Serpent asks: “Did God REALLY say that?” She wasn’t there – there is some doubt? Serpent is manipulating the words and sewing seeds of doubt.
  • Eve says she can’t “TOUCH” the tree or she will die – a misinterpretation that the serpent can easily prove false. - This is a major lesson to be wary of adding prohibitions as it might cast doubt on the real issues. (fence around the Torah)
  • This let the serpent point out that she was wrong, opening the doubt on the entire prohibition and leading to the ultimate eating from the fruit that was prohibited.

Of course this logic and discussion led to the subject of sex and moral conduct and the role of choices when it comes to right and wrong.

It is about setting boundaries. When is it good to experiment with the boundaries and when is it crossing into areas where it could mean disaster. This is the foundation of pragmatism.

The Serpent represents the voice of the human capacity to rationalize.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Men, Women, Sex and Snakes...

we covered a lot of territory with Rabbi Marder last week:

Back to review Gen 2:20-24
“bone of my bone” and how men and women are “made for each other”

DOES GOD HAVE A BIG TOE? Stories About Stories in the Bible. By Marc Gellman.
Story: The Man Who Loved a Tree

 You can actually read part of this story on the link at Amazon – click ‘look inside’ and then ‘surprise me’
(illustration from the book)

Wonderful interpretation of this verse.

ISH & ISHA – God wanted the divine name to be attached to marriage. In the Hebrew of ISH and ISHA are the letters yud and hay that are not really needed for the sound of the word but when combined makes God’s name. When these letters are taken out it only leaves “fire” which burns out. The purpose of marriage is embedded into the grammar and the language.

Man leaves his parents and ‘clings’ to his wife:

in the physical sense
emotional cleaving – man needs to make the effort
‘one flesh’ in the literal sense with the creation of a child

The discussion on this varied from the English word ‘cleave’ as being either “together” or to “separate”, to Jess’s equation with management skills!
Economic and an agrarian interpretation of the verses were also discussed.

Book: About Love: Reinventing Romance for Our Times by Robert C. Solomon

FORWARD: Gen 3:1-5

Nakedness and Forbidden Fruit

first: no shame or embarrassment in ‘nakedness’

Reference to NachmanidesLetter on Holiness – where he wrote to his son about sex and marriage with practical advice.
“The sexual union when done properly makes you ‘partners with God’...”

And a more current book that says we should learn about sex in the Torah

Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy by Shmuley Boteach
Another site on this one

We also talked again about the Hebrew Etymology – a pun that the word for Cunning and Naked are from the same root letters.
And I found a book all about that too – actually if you google - (Hebrew Etymology cunning naked – you get a lot of good info)

One midrash explains it that it was “naked of mitzvot” and not to do with clothing or covering of the body.


Finally we did start to discuss the ‘snake’ which promises to be more of the topic for next week.

Characteristics of snakes that might make us perceive them to be evil:
No limbs
No fur or feathers
Shed their skin – regeneration – immortality link
Kill with venom
Forked tongue
Cold blooded
Silent – Sneaky

Humans have an instinctive fear of snakes.

Snakes are big in ancient mythology and influenced in medicine – health and healing – interesting contrast.
Torah may ‘de-mythologize’ the snake.

More to follow. . .