Thursday, August 21, 2008

Eikev: Where Does It Say?…

We learn from this week’s parsha that one is not allowed to eat on Yom Kippur.

This while Yom Kippur is nowhere in the Parsha.

The halacha is derived from a gezera shava between “Va-ya’ancha va-ya’arivecha” in this week’s parsha and “ve-inisem” in Acharei Mos and Emor.

Many examples abound of fundamental Judaic practices with extremely oblique, if not outright ostensibly flimsy, Torah textual support—not least, shechita (“ve-zavachta ve-achalta”), tzenius (“ervas davar”), hair covering (“upara rosh ha-isha”), minyan (a triple gezera shava) and tefillin (no such word in the chumash). This one may be the most surprising (“What? The Torah doesn’t say be-ferush that you can’t eat on Yom Kippur?”).

I don’t at all mean to imply this phenomenon of “mountains hanging from a hair” (as the Gemara describes the actual textual supports for most of hilchos shabbos) renders the salience of these practices questionable, or diminishes in any way from their Divine and compulsory nature.

What I mean to point out is that there needs to be some reframing done in how the relationship between Torah text and halacha is presented in educational circles. The best formulation I’ve seen belongs to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: “Halacha changes because Torah does not change.” But I would go a step further.

The Torah is, fundamentally, code. One can discern this from the fact that the actual base text of what we call the Torah she-bichtav has no vowels or punctuation. One might even say that bichtav ends and ba’al-peh begins simply with the addition of vowelization and punctuation.

There are many practical and educational conclusions that can be derived from this notion, which I will discuss in detail in later posts, but for now I will bring it down to one basic point: when we say that Torah is our Morasha (cf Devarim 33) and not anyone else’s, it means that we make a sharp fundamental distinction between what we call Torah and others call the “Bible”. Only we as Jews know what the “Bible” really says. The “Bible” was the first book subject to deconstructive tendencies, first as the Gemara in Megilla details with the advent of the Septuagint, and then later with the various politically denomination-driven Christian translations and finally the Criticisms. I once heard a NCSY Rabbi say that the Torah is possibly the worst written work of literature in existence. And it would be, if it was written by man. Or if it was a work of literature. But it’s neither.

Jews and Torah Judaism should be extremely wary of making any alliances, philosophical, political, or otherwise, based upon notions of “shared Biblical heritage[s]”.

They don’t really exist.

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