AN ANTHOLOGY OF THOUGHT & EMOTION... Un'antologia di pensieri & emozioni

Sunday, 15 January 2017

VIOLENT FANTASIES

By the Waters of Babylon (1882-1883, Evelyn de Morgan

A Symposium on Psalm 137:9
Violent Fantasies on
the Rivers of Babylon

Psalm 137
א עַ֥ל נַהֲר֨וֹת׀ בָּבֶ֗ל
שָׁ֣ם יָ֭שַׁבְנוּ גַּם־בָּכִ֑ינוּ
בְּ֝זָכְרֵ֗נוּ אֶת־צִיּֽוֹן:
ב עַֽל־עֲרָבִ֥ים בְּתוֹכָ֑הּ
תָּ֝לִ֗ינוּ כִּנֹּרוֹתֵֽינוּ:
ג כִּ֤י שָׁ֨ם שְֽׁאֵל֢וּנוּ שׁוֹבֵ֡ינוּ דִּבְרֵי־שִׁ֭יר 
וְתוֹלָלֵ֣ינוּ שִׂמְחָ֑ה
שִׁ֥ירוּ לָ֗נוּ מִשִּׁ֥יר צִיּֽוֹן:
ד אֵ֗יךְ נָשִׁ֥יר אֶת־שִׁיר־יְ-הֹוָ֑ה
עַ֗ל אַדְמַ֥ת נֵכָֽר:
ה אִֽם־אֶשְׁכָּחֵ֥ךְ יְֽרוּשָׁלִָ֗ם
תִּשְׁכַּ֥ח יְמִינִֽי:
ו תִּדְבַּ֥ק־לְשׁוֹנִ֨י׀ לְחִכִּי֘
אִם־לֹ֪א אֶ֫זְכְּרֵ֥כִי
אִם־לֹ֣א אַ֭עֲלֶה אֶת־יְרוּשָׁלִַ֑ם
עַ֗ל רֹ֣אשׁ שִׂמְחָתִֽי:
1 By the rivers of Babylon,
there we sat and also wept,
as we thought of Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung up our lyres.
3 For our captors asked us there for songs,
our tormentors, for amusement,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
4 How can we sing a song of Yhwh
on alien soil?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither;
6 Let my tongue stick to my palate
if I cease to think of you,
if I do not keep Jerusalem in memory
even at my happiest hour.
ז זְכֹ֤ר יְ-הֹוָ֨ה׀ לִבְנֵ֬י אֱד֗וֹם
אֵת֘ י֤וֹם יְֽרוּשָׁ֫לִָ֥ם
הָ֭אֹ֣מְרִים עָ֤רוּ׀ עָ֑רוּ
עַ֗ד הַיְס֥וֹד בָּֽהּ:
ח בַּת־בָּבֶ֗ל הַשְּׁד֫וּדָ֥ה
אַשְׁרֵ֥י שֶׁיְשַׁלֶּם־לָ֑ךְ
אֶת־גְּ֝מוּלֵ֗ךְ שֶׁגָּמַ֥לְתְּ לָֽנוּ:
ט אַשְׁרֵ֤י׀ שֶׁיֹּאחֵ֓ז וְנִפֵּ֬ץ
אֶֽת־עֹ֝לָלַ֗יִךְ אֶל־הַסָּֽלַע:

7 Remember, Yhwh, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall;
how they cried, “Strip her, strip her
to her very foundations!”
8 Fair Babylon, you predator,
happy is the one who repays you
in kind what you have inflicted on us;
9 Happy is the one who seizes and dashes
your babies against a rock!

                                      (NJPS with adjustments) 
Al Naharot Bavel—By the rivers of Babylon (Psalm 137) contains some of the Bible’s most beautiful passages. The verse, אִם אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ יְרוּשָׁלָ‍ִם תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי , “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither,” is sung at traditional Jewish weddings. The psalm itself is officially part of the weekday bentching (grace after meals) in the Ashkenazi tradition.
This same psalm, however, a mere few verses later, contains one of the most horrifying curses against Israel’s enemies in the Bible:
אַשְׁרֵי שֶׁיֹּאחֵז וְנִפֵּץ אֶת עֹלָלַיִךְ אֶל הַסָּלַע, “Happy is the one who seizes and dashes your babies against a rock!” (v. 9).
Question: How are we supposed to read such a verse nowadays? How do we understand the biblical author and, perhaps more troubling, how do we understand how such a verse made it into the Bible?

Respondents*

A Historical-Critical Reading




A Verse to Criticize

Professor Marc Brettler



A Broader View of Problematic Biblical Texts






Critiquing the Moral Failings in the Bible

Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn






A Microcosm of an Imperfect Bible

Rabbi Dr. Norman Solomon




The Elusive Benefits of Objectionable and Outdated Texts

Professor Tamar Ross


A Counter Reading: Judah’s Experience


 Dr Erica Brown
The Talmudic Inverse
Dr. Erica Brown
Yehudah Gilad
Using the Enemy as a Proxy
Rabbi Yehudah Gilad

A Sympathetic Reading: Unfiltered Expression


Eliezer Finkelman
Capturing Pain in Poetry
Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Finkelman
Amit Kula
The Proper Response to a Gestapo’s Taunt?
Rabbi Dr. Amit Kula

Cathartic Cursing
Rabbi Dr. Jeremy Rosen

The Place of Justice

Benny Lau
The Cycle of Judahite and Edomite Violence
Rabbi Dr. Binyamin Lau
Yuval Cherlow
Retribution Divine and Human
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow

A Pedagogical Perspective

 Lee Buckman
An Honest Discussion with High School Students
Rabbi Lee Buckman
 

Halachic Considerations

Daniel Landes
Galus Tehilah: Time to Cancel a Minhag
Rabbi Daniel Landes
 


(© Copyright TheTorah.com)
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* All individual links are directed to original papers at TheTorah.com


Eduard Bendemann's painting: Grieving Jews in Exile

...An addendum I place here as a conclusion to certain considerations relating to the Torah, which need to be stated in order to better comprehend the eternal importance Torah has for Judaism:


The Centrality of Torah


The Torah is central to our lives as Jews. The way we conceive of ourselves as a people, our conception of God and God’s ways, how we are commanded to live our lives, and the nature of our connection to the Land of Israel are all rooted in the Torah—and of course in the rest of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) as well. Its phrases suffuse our daily, Sabbath, and holiday prayers, and the cycle of weekly synagogue Torah and prophetic readings inextricably link up the Jewish calendar with the Bible.

No written text interprets itself—and certainly not one as complex as the Hebrew Bible.
[1] Over the centuries Jews have developed a multitude of different interpretive frameworks to understand their foundational work. One approach is midrashic, using the text as a springboard to reach religious insights that are often vary far from the literal meaning; another is peshat—the search for contextual understanding; yet another is mystical/kabbalistic; then there are the allegorists; and the rationalists in the tradition of Maimonides. All produced commentaries reflecting their particular approaches. The existence of many legitimate vantage points for understanding Tanach enabled Jews living in different societies to explicate their Scripture in ways that made sense in their particular cultural milieus.

Yet today, much of the Jewish community faces a crisis in its relationship with the Torah.

A Three-Hundred-Year Crisis in the Making:
Authorship and Ethics

Beginning in the 17th century and continuing in our time, innovative ways of studying ancient texts have been applied to the Bible. Archaeology, comparative study of ancient Near Eastern societies, textual and linguistic analysis, sophisticated historical research, and literary approaches have cast new, sometimes challenging light not only on isolated passages (some of which were noticed by medieval commentators) but on the composition of entire books of Tanach including the Torah. In fact, the contemporary educated world approaches the Torah as a composite work reflecting many of the values, ideas, and institutions of the generations in which it took shape.

In addition, emerging ethical insights about slavery, animal sacrifices, the status of women and homosexuals, and other matters treated in the Bible have unsettled the conscience of many Jews who are serious about their religion and proud of its history. On the one hand, the Hebrew Bible’s positive impact on humanity has been vast. Over time, its ethical and legal underpinnings led to the concept of human equality and the imperative to care for the downtrodden; its monotheistic worldview set the stage for the scientific and technological advances that have raised the standard of living for millions; and its vision of history leading toward messianic realization introduced to the world the ultimate goal of universal brotherhood and peace.

On the other hand, its ethical shortcomings cannot be hidden from modern readers suffused with contemporary western ethical sensitivities.

Can We Afford to Turn a Blind Eye?

These two problems—the composite authorship of the Torah and its ethical failings—have posed a challenge to Jews of a traditionalist bent who, though differing among themselves over many interpretive issues, have been educated to accept the divine authorship of the Torah quite literally, and to assume that any infringement upon or reinterpretation of that doctrine places one “outside the camp.”

This is unfortunate for two reasons. First, it cuts off meaningful dialogue with the Western educated public about the Hebrew Bible—the pivotal Jewish contribution to civilization—and virtually ensures severe stress and discomfort for young Jews when they first confront modern approaches to the Bible, usually when they reach college. Second and even more important, turning away from the findings of biblical scholarship over the last three centuries impoverishes the traditional Jewish community by keeping it ignorant of powerful tools to understand Torah in greater depth and with greater accuracy. Foregoing these tools is equivalent to studying astronomy as it was taught in the Middle Ages, before Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein.

In fact, many young scholars who are entering the field of academic biblical studies are traditionally observant Jews who see no contradiction between the religious imperatives of halakhic Judaism and the latest and most sophisticated modes of scholarly analysis. Yet the vast majority of religiously serious Jews aren’t even aware of these sophisticated modes, and so continue to relate to Torah on an elementary-school level.

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[1] In point of fact, the Hebrew Bible is so complicated that it does sometimes interpret itself! This is referred to in scholarship as “Inner-Biblical Exegesis” and has been discussed at length in Michael Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988). For one example of this, see Robert Harris’ TABS essay, “The Cow that Laid an Egg (!): Korban Chagigah from the Torah to the Seder Plate.”

(© Copyright TheTorah.com)


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