Vol. I, No. 5

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Let's Learn! is an exploration of Judaism, Zionism, the Jewish People, and God's world, guided by Yaakov Fogelman, who lectures on Torah and Religious Zionism; sets and disks of these studies, which include all the Torah readings and holidays, as well as his audio and video tapes, are available at TOP. See In the Service of God, by Shalom Freedman (Jason Aronson, $30 from TOP), for his views, together with those of 20 other teachers of Torah, on Judaism, Zionism and the Jewish People today.

I. Beyond the Torah.
II. Fathers Know Best.

This study is sponsored by our most devoted friends and sponsors, Milton and Martha Saul, in memory of Yael Botvin, formerly of Claremont, Ca., and of her father and their friend, Mel Botvin. Yael was recently killed in an Islamic terrorist attack in Jerusalem, while on her way home from her new high school.

The Sauls' upbeat Jerusalem presence is sorely missed-- but our loss is North Hollywood and Shaaray Tzedek's gain.

In this issue, we have a longer-than-usual study of these two topics.  Our two other topics, Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot? and Torah Today,  will appear again in a forthcoming issue, the good Lord willing.


Only The Torah, The Pentateuch is dictated by God.  The Prophets and Writings, in their respective authors' own lingo and style, are only Divinely inspired (see Let's Learn 1-4).  But between the first four books of the Pentateuch-- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers-- and the prophets comes transitional Deuteronomy, Dvarim, Mishna Torah, Vol.  5 of The Pentateuch; The Talmud (Meg.  31) itself distinguishes between Dvarim, originally spoken by Moshe, then certified by God as part of His Torah, and the other 4 books of the Torah, originally spoken by God Himself.  It serves as a link between those four books and both the prophetic writings and the oral law, the mishnaic process-- Moshe, in Dvarim, reviews the first 4 books and Israel's desert trek, probing deeper and deeper into Israel's  Torah, their hearts and their history, to discover just what went wrong with the desert generation, so that the new generation not repeat their errors (see our Dvarim study).

Aviva Zorenberg (author of  The Beginning of Desire-- Reflections on Genesis, and editor of Rav M.  Miller's "Shabbat Shiurim") recently explored Dvarim at Jerusalem's dynamic Pardes Institute (many folks had to be turned away-- how sad; an overflow room with a video monitor would solve the problem); both the sense and the scent of Pardes were superb (fragrant Coffee Mill coffee was served; the French Vanilla Nut decaf was A-1). Aviva made a striking observation-- there is no Biblical commandment whatsoever to love God before Moshe's proclamation, at the end of the 40 year desert trek:  "You shall love God your Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might"  (Deut.  6:5, recited thrice daily in Shma Yisroel); Aviva asked why God and Moshe wait so long to so command Israel.  She noted that He indeed always appreciated those who loved Him, tho not yet so commanded-- He proclaims in the Decalogue itself:  "For I am God your Lord...  and Who does kindness for thousands (of generations) to those who love me and to those who guard my commandments" (Ex.  20:6; cf.  Deut.  5:10).

Before we address Aviva's question, we'll explore medieval commentaries on that verse, which may yield insight into just what constitutes the love of man for God.  Their differing opinions indicate the lack of a clear traditional definition.  Ibn Ezra says that "those who love me" are the pious (hassidim) and "those who guard my commandments" are the righteous (tzadikim, implying that one may be one w/o being the other); so we beg God's mercy upon both groups in our thrice daily prayers; Ramban says that "those who love me" are those who sacrifice their lives for Him, who acknowledge only His glorious name and proclaim only His Divinity; they deny every alien God, refusing to worship them, even at the risk of their lives.  This is the kind of love that we have been commanded to observe even at the sacrifice of life, as He said (in Deut.  6:5 supra)...  So Avraham is called "God's beloved" (Is.  41:8), since he risked his life rather than worship the idols in Ur of the Chaldees- he was cast into the fiery furnace of Nimrod for his heresy and miraculously saved- see Ramban on Gen.  11:28; this episode does not appear in the Written Torah, only in the Oral (Pes. 118a, A.Z. 3a, Gen. Raba 23:1), tho Ramban claims that Gen., 11:28 alludes to it, "Ur" meaning "fire; Hertz notes that the old royal Southern Babylonian town "Uru", a center of moon god worship, appears in ancient inscriptions, and that astounding discoveries, yielding a vivid picture of contemporary life in the native city of Avraham, have been made in its ruins, the subject of a recent exhibition at the Biblelands Museum. The rest of the righteous (who do not so offer up their lives for God) are called  (only) "those that keep the commandments".

Ramban cites scholars (see Rashi, Sota 31a, Rambam, Introd.  to San.  Ch.  10) who equate "His lovers" with those who worship Him w/o intention of receiving any reward (see Avot 1:3); but the Mechilta says that "those who love me" refers to Avraham and his ilk, "and those who keep my commandments" to the prophets and elders (who also certainly did not do mitzvos for reward, tho they didn't have occasion to sacrifice their lives for them, refuting the view of  those scholars above, who imply that the latter phrase refers to pious, but impurely motivated, souls). Rabbi Natan says that the verse refers to those who live in the land of Israel and keep the commandments; during the Hadrianic persecutions, 117-138 Common Error (C.E., per Vendyl Jones), Jews were forbidden to practice their religion in Israel; those who stayed and practiced their faith, at the risk of life and limb, exhibited special love for God; cf.  Jews today, who remain in voluntary exile).  Rav Natan commends sacrifice of one's life to keep any of the mitzvos, not just idolatry, in a time of religious persecution  (see Lev.  22:32, San.  74a, M.T. Y.H.  5:2:3). Avraham's self-sacrificing love is called chesed, mercy (Micha 7:20), whereas the self-sacrifice of other prophets is called gvura, might, the leitmotif of Yitzchak (but he was willing to give up his life for God?).

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Now, having begun to explore the concept of love of God, we turn to the answers of Aviva and others to her ? regarding its delayed imperative. Aviva claims that, as in all relationships, buried repressed hate, e.g. Israel's projective belief (Rashi) that God, their alleged enemy, had indeed taken them from Egypt, a good land, only in order to have them die in the desert or in tough old Canaan, had to be given expression in Deuteronomy (Deut. 1:27), before true love could emerge.  Then the Jews give Joshua no trouble all of his reign (cf.  Wm.  Blake's A Poison Tree, Stanza 1:  "I was angry with my friend:  I told my wrath, my wrath did end.  I was angry with my foe:  I told it not, my wrath did grow.")

YF asks  AZ (Blessed be the memory of Alexander Graham Bell): "But Deut.  1:27 simply repeats, even less vividly, the Jewish claim of a Divine plan for a Holocaust in Numbers 14:3; no commandment of loving God appears there".

AZ answers YF: "but they do not attribute such an evil ab initio intention, originating at Exodus itself, to Him in Numbers".

YF calls AZ again: "But Moshe simply repeats in Dvarim what Israel said in Numbers!

AZ answers YF: No!  They are not the same words-- Moshe, in Dvarim, paraphrases their words in Numbers, to express their real, howbeit repressed, meaning (thus also explaining the two versions of their words, and, perhaps, a basic difference between Dvarim, where Moshe probes Israel's unconscious latent messages thruout their trek, and the other books, which simply record their acts and statements (w/o such analysis))-- he tells them that, IN EFFECT, they accused God of basic malevolence there.  But they could not confront their basic twisted attitude to God until they had been good pious folks for 40 years, basically following Torah and mitzvos. Shalom Freedman is skeptical of AZ's ability to explore hate and evil-- she's too nice!  Rav Y.  Hadari appreciated Aviva's insights.

YF's alternative approach:  Perhaps God does not want to have to command His folk to love Him; but Moshe, in Dvarim, urges the people to love Him, so sorry that they're missing out on the essence of life, its greatest opportunity.

"GETTING TO KNOW YOU": Nachman Cohen, a gabbai at the Jewish 1/4's Ramban Synagogue, notes that true love gradually grows, as my knowledge of the beloved grows; the object of my instant love may be but a figmant of my own imagination, unlikely to contain much of the true essence and nature of the beloved; so Israel needed 40 years in the desert to begin to know God and love him , as much as humanly possible, as He really is. So Hirsch and others note that true love .comes only after marriage, after sustained intimate life with my significant other.


Yehoshua Perez extracts from the Torah only those passages where God quotes Himself-- "and God said..., etc." (The Sayings of God, Aaronson, Introd.  by YF). So far, no one has explained His criteria of selection, to the best of my knowledge.

The superior holiness of the 10 Statements, the Decalogue, was de-emphasized by the rabbis, after heretics used them to replace the rest of the Torah (Ber.  12a - Rashi).

The Torah was deposited in the ark (Deut.  31:26), to be consulted should anyone attempt to distort the text (Deut.  Raba 9:4); R. Yanai claims that Moshe wrote a copy for each tribe.  After the destruction of the 1st Temple, the ark was hidden; Torah scrolls were then made from 3 master copies, the majority followed where they differed (Sofrim 6:4).  Their accuracy was preserved 99.9+% to this day- only a few insignificant letters distinguish Ashkenazi and Sefardi Torahs, about 10 the Yemenite scrolls (see B. Barry Levy's article, The State and Directions of Orthodox Biblical Study, in Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah, edited by Shalom Carmy).  Shlomo Mallen has raised interesting questions regarding our traditional masoretic Torahs, Mezzuzot and Tefillin, claiming Karite influence via the Aleppo Codex.

The Hebrew Bible by Dan Cohen Sherbok (1996) is a concise guide to the Jewish canon, the Tanach.  It begins with a chronological table of famous leaders of antiquity, parallel to events in Jewish history thru 70 C.E.  A brief account of the place of the Tanach in Jewish life and thought is preceded by a list of the books, and their order, in the Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic-Orthodox Canons (Is "Orthodox" a proper description of truly traditional Jews, i.e. those who believe that God's authored both the Written Torah and much of the Oral?); it is followed by an outline of the 36 books of the Tanach, listing each of the 12 shorter prophets as a separate book, and a brief presentation of their contents.  An extensive bibliography at the end shows his non-Orthodox academic bias-- he lists none of the standard traditional Jewish works on the Bible, e.g. Artscrolls, Judaica, Soncino, Hirsch and Malbim; he uses a Christian translation of the Bible, but also frequently lists works by non-traditional Jewish academics, e.g.  Buber, Gordis, Japhat, Talmon and Greenberg; only one article by J.  Kugel is cited. But, to his credit, Cohn does present the truly traditional viewpoint well, before rejecting it, without strong grounds for doing so- cf. Carmy's work supra.

While all observant Jews study the weekly Torah reading, many, especially those poorly educated, and those over-educated in Talmud, barely know the rest of the Tanach, other than the compulsory readings of the haftarot and the 5 Megillot (Scrolls). So, the good Lord willing, we will begin our study of Nach with the Book of Yehoshua (Joshua) soon, after reviewing Carmy's great work.

(Mothers weren't involved much in Talmud, which may have limited both Israel's experience of it and her insights into it)

We now begin the end of our review of some basic English works on talmud with a summary of  the rest of Part 3, Method, of Rav Adin Steinsaltz's classic, The Essential Talmud ($22 from TOP):

Ch. 32, Aggadah in the Talmud: "About 1/4 of the material in the Babylonian Talmud may be classified as belonging to the sphere of Aggadah; in the Jerusalem Talmud, the proportion is smaller, but still considerable... all the material contained in the talmud that is not halacha, or discussion of halacha, pertains to aggadah... aggadic material is not all of a piece; it consists of different frameworks, divided into a number of categories.

Ch. 33, What is a scholar?: "Every culture has its elite-- people who represent the ideal that others strive to emulate or attain. In Jewish culture, it is undoubtedly the scholars-- talmidei chachamim (literally: pupils of the wise)- who constitute this aristocracy. Every Jew dreams of realizing this ideal, and if he himself is incapable of it, he transfers his ambition to his sons... in most periods, Jewish society was ruled by learned men..."

Ch. 34, The Talmud's Importance for the People: "Historically speaking, the Talmud is the central pillar of Jewish culture. This is true of all types of Jewish creativity".

Ch. 35, The Talmud Has Never Been Completed: "From the strict historical point of view, the Talmud was never completed, never officially declared finished, w/o need for additional material. The Bible... was eventually completed, and it was categorically stated that no additions could be introduced. The same was true of the Mishna in its day... it is incumbent on every scholar to add to the Talmud ..."

Prolific Prof.  Jacob Neusner, in his Forward to Rav Avraham Cohen's work of wisdom, Everyman's Talmud, claims that no reliable comprehensive translations of the Talmud existed in 1931, to aid Cohen in his overview of the Talmud (Cohen himself contributed to the pioneering Soncino translation of the Talmud, with explanatory notes and index, 1935-52, after having translated Berachot in 1921-- but the Rodkinson English Talmud appeared in Boston in 1918). One of the most impressive pre-computer age efforts to organize talmudic material is C.  N.  Bialek and Y.  C.  Rabinitski's compilation of many Talmudic Agadot and Aggadic Midrashim, arranged by subject matter-- Sefer HaAgada, portions of which were translated by the late Dr.  Chaim Pearl.  The original Aramaic texts are translated into Hebrew, with footnotes explaining difficult words.  When I first encountered this impressive massive work, I asked Rav J.  Soloveichik if he was familiar with it.  "What", he replied, "you've just discovered it?-- I've been using it since I was 10 years old!"

An outstanding short overview of Talmud introduces The Living Talmud, by Prof.  Judah Goldin of Yale, a study in Avot.  I've used it in preparing these articles.  Goldin calls the Talmud an enormous archive of the studies, debates and dialogues in the Palestinian and Babylonian academies, all devoted to the interpretation of the Tanach and the development (he should have added: "and transmission") of Jewish law and  tradition.  Goldin quotes the opening Mishna of the Babylonian Talmud, and notes:  "Notice, no dramatis personae described or even named, no word about the time and place of the give-and-take.  A statement is quoted, and immediately one plunges into the ??  and answers, which were exchanged in the academy, as the scholars tried to understand and explain a 'text'.  The heart of the matter-- expliation de texte-- is what counts; it alone, hardly anything else".  True, often "who says what is carefully recorded...  men are quoted by name even when there is no controversy.  And yet the fact remains that the texture of the Talmudic substance is that of anonymity.  The principle thing is the discussion, the line of argument, the nature of the reasoning employed, and the logic of contention ....  Study,  interpretation, and debate are the discipline for living." So Rav J.  Soloveichik believed, unlike Hassidic kabbalists, that there is no inherent sanctity to the text, the words, of the talmud-- it, Oral Torah, is but a collection of ideas; only the Written Torah's words have textual sanctity.

Another outstanding work is The Talmud-- Selected Writings, translated by Ben Tziyon Bokser, in the Paulist Press series, The Classics of Western Spirituality.  His introduction, in collaboration with his son, Baruch M. Bokser, The Spirituality of the Talmud, posits that the talmud represents one of the most comprehensive types of spirituality:  "While compelling an individual to remain a part of the world, it offers him constant opportunities to draw closer to the transcendent.  It is the purpose of this Introduction to discuss what this spirituality entailed for the rabbis of the Talmud.  I will assess how their notion of spirituality affected not only their teachings about achieving closeness to God, but, more broadly, their whole conception of God, human nature and society as a whole. The talmudic conception of spirituality  assumes that the ultimate reality resides in a person's heart, the locus of the soul or spiritual dimension. By drawing on his inner spiritual awareness, one senses a personal connection with God and begins to build links to the Divine. For the talmudic rabbis, this was done not by escaping from the world, as in some other mystical traditions, but by being aware of the manifestations of the divine, and by relating to every situation as a potential encounter with God. The editors of the Talmud did not think that the quest for closeness to God was dependent on experiencing a direct encounter with God, to which mystics were drawn... Instead of seeking direct encounters, they channeled their mystical quest thru the study of Torah, but this study was pursued not to gain knowledge (YF: alone). The Torah and commandments were rather seen as a ladder, by which a person might achieve the higher goal of cleaving to God. Indeed, subsequent developments in Jewish mysticism were often to move in this direction.

The talmudists' approach proved formative for all subsequent Jewish spirituality and mysticism. In medieval and later times, the talmudists' commitment to study and to the performance of commandments as the primary means of achieving a direct encounter with God became normative, and was cultivated by specially gifted individuals. This perspective contrasted with that of antiquity, when Jewish spiritual leaders believed that nearness to God was available to all Jews, in the course of their mundane activities (YF: but Moshe and subsequent prophet-teachers came much closer to God than did their unlearned folk flocks)

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