Thursday, October 26, 2006


verse per verse: The Weekly Storah
By Lauviticus

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Welcome to weekly storah: verse per verse, ez access to biblical know how one verse at a time. Lauviticus offers a glimpse at translations and their modern relevance to our lives.
Divine wrath or ecological inevitability – almost every world culture has a flood myth, and this week, in a synagogue near you, the official Jewish version aka NOAH, will be chanted out loud.

What was so bad on earth to cause the flood?

The Hebrew word that describes the lifestyle that was doomed to extinction is loaded onto the word HAMAS. Translated most often as violence or outrage. It can also mean injustice, oppression, or cruelty. And if the word is familiar to you from current events, read on. More than linguistic ties between Hebrew and Arabic meet here.

Robert Alter translates the verse in Genesis 6:11 in this way:
'And the earth was corrupt before God and the earth was filled with outrage.' The King James Bible talks of 'the earth… filled with violence'. Jewish Publication Society prefers ' Lawlessness'. Check your local bible for fascinating variations.
Umberto Cassuto, the late biblical scholar, suggests hamas means "a cold-blooded and unscrupulous infringement of the personal rights of others, motivated by greed and hate and often making use of physical violence and brutality."

These ancient and biblical meanings are eclipsed by the immediate association of the Hebrew word with the name of the organization currently leading the Palestinian Authority. In Arabic the word hamas means "enthusiasm" or "zeal" and in this case also an acronym for the Arabic phrase Harakat al-Mqawama al-Islamiyya (The Islamic Resistance Movement)
But while THIS Hamas echos that pre flood word, it is but one of many voices on the planet, bringing on new floods in complex and multiple ways. And for Jews, too, the word Hamas is of troubling mythic significance. Further on in Genesis, a bitterly barren Sarah, lashes out at Hagar, her proudly pregnant rival, and at Abraham, husband and Patriarch in the making: ‘My Hamas on you!’ her words of rage, outrage, too much pain, terrible violence resonate still. (Gen. 16:5)

Too much need, greed, zeal and despair have led the world once into divine rage and a fatal flood.
Maybe somewhere between that biblical rage and this modern reality is a common bond, a lesson to be learnt. Lauvticius would like to suggest this translation to pre flood warning then and now: and the earth was filled with excess.

What, for each one of us, in our personal earths, is the excessive intensity that beckons introspection?

Let’s talk.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

I got a bone to pick with you!

verse per verse: The Weekly Storah

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Verse per Verse, the weekly Storah Blog by Lauviticus continues: the World's oldest re-run is off to a fresh start this Sabbath with the retelling of creation (or is it Intelligent Design?). One verse and one specific word jump up as troublesome to the modern translator, a bone to be picked: the word ‘tzelah’, rendered in almost all translations as ‘rib’, as in that famous rib, AKA ‘woman’. There are other, accurate, legitimate, equal- opportunity ways of retelling our evolution, and not surprisingly, history has not done much to promote them:

Here's the bone, Genesis chapter 2, verses 20-21, in three different translations:

• And the Lord God made Adam fall into a deep sleep, and he slept; and He took one from his ribs, and closed up the flesh. And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her to the man.
(The Torah, Plaut Edition)

• And He took one of his ribs, it was the thirteenth rib of the right side, and closed it up with flesh. (Pseudo Jonathan Aramaic translation)

• "...and He took one of his sides and He filled in the flesh in its place."

(Artscroll Torah, The Stone Edition)

With the surprising exception of the Orthodox Stone translation, most English bibles translate tzela as rib. The word tzelah appears several other times in the bible, and always translated as ‘side’ as in ‘a single side of a specific structure’, as in Exodus 26:20 - ‘the second side of the tabernacle’; clearly ‘rib’ is used here and elsewhere as metaphor, so why is the human creation story taken literately???

We are not the only ones to question the difficulty of this biblical creation story and its placement of women as secondary to men.

Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish philosopher living some 2000 years ago already offers the gender neutral solution: "The letter of this statement is plain enough; for it is expressed according to the symbol of the part, a half of the whole, each party, the man and the woman, being as sections of nature co-equal for the production of that genus which is called man." (The Works Of Philo)

It is amazing that 2000 years later, most people still know this word as ‘RIB’ and still consider the feminine inferior to the masculine. Translation makes a difference in our lives, politics, and policy making, and so Lauviticus would like to suggest picking that bone, discarding the rib, and rereading this verse: In the beginning, we were one, but different, and divided we stand…again.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

verse per verse: The weekly Storah

by Lauviticus

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Welcome to the new Storahtelling Blog: VERSE PER VERSE: THE WEEKLY STORAH, presenting you with an EZ pass into Judeo-Biblical Knowledge, one verse at a time. Every Friday, a new blog entry will arrive in your mailbox, composed by Lauviticus, a consortium of storah scribes, highlighting a single verse or word from the weekly installment of the Torah, focusing on issues of translation and contemporary relevance, Just in time for a new Sabbath. Each entry is composed of four sections, delving deeper in accordance with the mystical PARDES*, from Pshat, or simple meaning all the way to Sod: a secret possibility hidden in each of these weekly selections.

Join the conversation!


GENESIS 1: Don’t Know You From Adam
"This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him". Genesis 5:1 (King James translation)
Don’t Know You From Adam? Now there’s an odd expression, origins disputed and official usage equally vague. It does, apparently, link back to the original ADAM, the primordial creature who is mythically responsible for our DNA, and whose precise gender is not too clear either. A close reading of the word ADAM in this week’s Torah Tale – Beresheet - the first of the annual cycle, reveals that Adam is referred to both as the male specimen AND the generic human being, of (at least) both genders. In today’s theological climate, where the Bible is used daily to demand public policy – this is a big deal. The socio-political translation of the word ADAM as always male has led to some of the worse chauvinistic assertions known to humanity. But different translations, some new, some bold, can restore the balance of human dignity to the masculine and feminine in all. One translated word makes a difference.

Genesis, Chapter 5:1 translated by Robert Alter in his new ‘The Five Books of Moses’ as:
‘This is the book of the lineage of Adam: on the day God created the human, in the image of God He Created him. ‘

But according to the popular JPS version, the second time Adam is mentioned in this verse it is not ‘human’ but ‘man’- ‘ This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made He him’. In the original Hebrew both Creator and Created are males. At the risk of poetic license, ‘Lauviticus would like to suggest: This is the book of the line of Humans; God created the Human in the image of God.’

2. Remez: Clue
On one page in the Jerusalem Talmud dealing with vows, the sages debate what would make the best Jewish bumper sticker. Rabbi Akiva suggests a motto from Leviticus: ‘Love your friend as you would love yourself.’ But Ben Azzai differs and claims Genesis 5:1: ‘This is the book of the lineage of Adam’ as the supreme contender for the greatest teaching of Torah. (JT, Nedarim 9:4)

3. Drash: Commentary
Ben Azzai was a seeker who allegedly went mad in his journey into the Pardes – the orchard of mystery. Maybe he means to tell us, across the centuries, that even deeper than the bonds of friendship and social affiliation are the bonds of human affinity.

4. Sod: Secret

The creation of Adam is the creation of the human and thus of humankind and human-kindness, of humanism and humanity. This play of words raises a question: If the human is made in the image of the divine does this mean that divinity is possessed of some essential humanity? We hope s/he does.