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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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Understanding a Curse - or not...

Torah Study 7/18 - R. Janet Marder

Genesis 9:24-27

Noah wakes up! And ‘understands’.


The Curse of Canaan

This portion has been used and misused a lot.

Noah “wakes up to smell the coffee” he becomes very aware of what has happened.

There is much speculation as to how exactly he knows – whether he really is lucid or if he was told. However, Noah’s reaction is swift and harsh.

The curse is not to Ham, his son, but to his grandson, Canaan. This leaves many questions: Why pick on the grandson – was he involved? What exactly is the curse – a one time thing or one that goes forward in history? How is this understood?

It is possible that there is missing information that would clarify these details more. And as in much midrash, the scholars try to fill in the blanks. Could it be a type of retaliation? What could Ham have done to deserve this? There is even some theories that Ham castrated Noah so he could not have more children.

The curse: Cursed be Canaan, let him be a slave of slaves to his brethren

Cursed be Canaan-ןענכ רורא. A slave of Slaves-םידבע דבע
Grammatical construction emphasize the “extremes”
Like “God of gods” = Supreme God
So “Slave of slaves” = Lowest slave.

Nothing is actually said about the descendants of Canaan – this is all interpretation and midrash. It is used to justify the Israelites taking over the land of the Canaanites and the submission of Canaanites to the Israelites.

Rambam speaks of Rashi commentary – he questions why the Torah even starts with Genesis – what is the purpose of this? God created the whole world – not just the world of the Israelites. To answer the question “who is the owner of the world?” Rambam continues to interpret that this is all about Divine justice. The Israelites are warned and that “possession of the land is dependent upon their moral behavior”.

Misinterpretations have been dangerous

Louis Farrakhan “On the Jewish myth:

Until Jews apologize for their hand in that ugly slave trade; and until the Jewish rabbis and the Talmudic scholars that made up the Hamitic myth -- that we were the children of Ham, doomed and cursed to be hewers of wood and drawers of water -- apologize, then I have nothing to apologize for.”

-Interview in Swing magazine, October 1996

The Egyptian word for ‘black’ sounds a little like Ham – more like ‘hem’

In Egyptian verb-stem of this word is Bohem/Bahm, which means to be/make obscure or dark/black/mysterious/mystical

The use of this connection to interpret the ‘curse’ as on black people came from the church. It was also used in the 19th century politically to ‘sanction slavery’.

The curse on slaves in the American history was blamed on Jews.

Book: Jews and the American Slave Trade by Saul Friedman

The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews
by Historical Research Department of the Nation of Islam. Charges that Jews controlled the slave trade.

Rabbi Morris Raphall – During Lincoln’s term the first rabbi to open a session of the United States – said the Civil War split Jews also because there were Jews on both sides.
The Torah specifically says that owning slaves is not a sin – 4th commandment.

Why Jews were not typically among the Abolitionists? They wanted to blend in to their communities, they followed their neighbors. Many of the Abolitionists were evangelical Christians who blamed the Jews for many things and that was unpopular among Jews.

There is a lot of ‘legislation’ regarding slavery in the Torah. Exodus 22 – punishment for the thief. Rules of slavery during war. A crime to kidnap someone to enslave them. A master who kills their slave is responsible for the death and can be punished same as for anyone else. Lev 25 – labor laws that relate to slavery. Deuteronomy – terms for freeing slaves.

Book: All Other Nights by Dara Horn
Speaks of class differences during the Civil War period

Book: Republic by Plato
Class differences even in the ‘Utopian’ state.

There is also the question of “Moses marries a Cushite woman”
Cush – African land – later Nubia
Association of ‘dark skin’ and beauty.

Outrageous interpretations and miss-interpretations have led to political troubles.
How to combat this? The best strategy is to publicize the facts and keep it in the open.
Reform Jews: Progressive Revelation – As time goes forward we learn what God really wants of us.
An “Ethical Evolution” reflects the cultural changes in our world.

Eben Ezra, a Spanish commentator in the twelfth century
“be a slave to our brothers…” reminds us that it was not an ancestral curse: that the first King of Edom was "Nibroth [Nimrod] son of Chus [Cush], who was son of Chem [Ham]”
Thus, he rejects the reading that it reflects a justification for perpetual slavery.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Naked in his Tent

Genesis 9:20-27

Noah – naked in his tent. Ham – sees and tells. Brothers – cover and don’t look.

What does this mean?

Eli Munk: he goes into his tent to get out of the public eye – so his children would not see him in a drunken state.

Impact on the psychological effects of alcoholism.

What does it mean in Biblical times vs the political significance
Lev 18:3 – Sexual Depravity – do not copy the abhorrent practices of cultures in Egypt and Canaan (ref to Ham) – list of these practices in Lev 18 - 20
Political Message: If go to pagan nations you will encounter these practices – a recurring theme in Torah.
“Jews are EXPECTED to behave better” (not always happen ie. King David)

Rashi: Nakedness – reflexive view –
Possibly someone else took off Noah’s clothes

Possibly Ham took off Noah’s clothes

Peter Pitzele Bibleodrama
Book : "Our Father's Wells" by Peter Pitzele excerpt of a reflection of a son on his father’s alcoholism.

My Papa's Waltz by Theodore Roethke

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

The image of a drunk father is a powerful one.

Ham – sees his father’s nakedness and tells his brothers.

Two issues with different interpretations.

Most see this as a literal interpretation but some interpret it as a sexual “nakedness” and it is not clear with whom – the details of this story are lost in time.

The word for Nakedness – Arvat – something shameful or dirty

Because Shem & Japheth ‘cover’ him up – most scholars do interpret it as literally without clothes. But there are some other midrash that go to all types of extremes – such as Ham castrated his father – Noah didn’t have other children after this.

Samson Raphael Hirsch reflects on the sin of children against their fathers also applies to generations: “cover the weakness of the former generation..”
The future has a bond to the past.
- sons who mock the traditions of the past will be mocked themselves.
- take what is good from the past rather than what is distasteful

Rashi – the Sin of Ham – his son Canaan was punished for the sin of his father
Possibly it was Canaan who ‘saw’ Noah
Explores options of other abhorrent sexual practices. Look for the sin because of the curse that follows

Leon Kass – Returns to the literal interpretation of nakedness.
The curse of the son leads to consequences to the son and future generations of alcoholism.

It effects the attitude toward parental authority.
Shame (derived from two terms in Greek)
Ham seeing his father is ‘metaphorical castration’
Dethrones the father – Ham lacks the awe and reverence for his father
Ham - the father of Canaan – later the source of abhorrent behavior.

Action of the two brothers to cover their father without looking.

Kass – deliberate cover up / Loyalty / correct the problem and protect the dignity of their father.There are some things the child should not know about their father.

After this incident Ham is not mentioned again.

Two views of the other brothers ‘cover up’
  • See a problem and do something about it
  • Cover up the problem to avoid dealing with it

Thoughts from this – thinking of the motivation for doing things.

More next week…

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Sons and Wine

Torah Study 7/4 with Rabbi Marder

- Rainbow Additions –
Native American tradition regarding the rainbow – The rainbow is a reminder to keep the earth safe.

Jewish Contemporary perspective - Jeremy Benstein – The Way into Judaism and the Environment - the interpretation of Heschel – the view from the perspective of a child of the promise – the other view it is the symbol to remind one of the carnage of destruction and the rebuilding.

Ecocide – Interdependence of humans and the earth.

- - - - Genesis 9:18-27

  • Noah’s sons
  • Vineyard
  • Drink
  • Nakedness
  • Covered
  • Slaves to each other…

A fragmented story of powerful events. Much debated.

Etymology of the Names:

Shem – means “name”– Semites descend from Shem
Renown, respect, high stature, a link to God

Ham – means “to be hot” to enflame.
Connected to Egypt. Ham’s descendents connected to Egypt and Canaan
Links throughout the Tanach – Psalms 78:51, 105 and 106
Biblical Parallelism – connect to Mitzrayim and Tents of Ham “Land of Ham”

Japheth – open and expansive, beautiful – associated with Greeks.

Alcohol and Sex
Political reading vs Psychological reading of the text

Leon Kass –
Paternal authority and filial piety
Relations between sons and parents
Father and sons ambitions
Tensions between glory in the world vs attention to family
Education of fathers as moral educators for their children.
Troublesome aspect of relation between fathers and sons.
A paternal figure of authority was essential. A balance between fear, awe, shame.
Relations between sons and fathers have always been difficult.
A father has a power over their sons.

Parallel to Death of A Salesman – exposure to the shame of the father transmits a devastating effect.

Freud – father is a figure of dignity and how this effects the son.

Noah - Ish Ha Adama - Man of God to Man of the earth
Contrast to
Moses Ish Elokim – Man of Egypt to Man of God

Review of the sequence of events.

There is a large time lapse within the fragments of the story. As if it was a well known story and this is just a ‘summary’ version.

Ham is mentioned twice.
V19 – all people branch from the sons
V20 – a vineyard is planted
Debate over “he began” could be read differently.
Possible – forbidden fruit in Eden was the grape.
Should this have been Noah’s first act or not?
Was his first thought to taste the earth’s pleasure.

Eli Munk & Rashi – criticize Noah for planting the vineyard

Most commentators are relatively neutral about the vineyard. There is the debate between the ‘evils of drunkenness’ vs ‘wine is essential to traditions of our faith’

V21 Drunkenness and ‘Uncovered’ – they are linked to each other – Alcohol & Sex

“Woe unto him that maketh his companion drink, and also maketh him drunken, in order to look upon their nakednesses” (Habakkuk 2:15).

On shame…

Samson Raphael Hirsch – Noah didn’t intend to get drunk. When he discovered he was drunk he withdrew to the ‘inner’ tent in an effort to maintain dignity.

Eli Munk – quotes Talmud story that Satan came and offered to help Noah
Satan was a bit more successful with Noah. According to the Midrash (Midrash Tanchuma Genesis: Noah 13), Satan was a partner of Noah in the planting of the first post-Flood vineyard. Satan’s contribution was the addition of the blood of a sheep, a lion, a pig, and a monkey. This is the Talmudic way of explaining the effect alcohol has on people. The drinker, initially as innocent as a sheep, after a few drinks becomes as bold as a lion. Eventually, as the drinks flow, the person becomes as filthy as a pig and acts like a monkey. Indeed, the Bible relates how Noah debased himself when he became intoxicated (Genesis 9:20-28).

Vav – repeated 13 times in this portion. – the 13 steps downward.
Stumbling on a downhill path.

Savri Maranan said in kiddush before the blessing on the wine:
Before the Kiddish is said – ‘ attention, with your permission…’
We say LeChiam – as an answer to the unspoken question:
“is this the wine of life or the wine of death?”