Student Teaching in the New Millenium

Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

5771 The Prophet’s Wife

In General on January 19, 2011 at 5:25 am

I finished reading “The Prophet’s Wife” by Milton Steinberg today.  A little background:  Milton Steinberg was a Reconstructionist rabbi who lived during the first half of the 20th century.  Most of his output was non-fiction, but his 1.5 fictional works are what I feel he will be truly remembered for.  In the strictest sense, they are novels.  In reality, his works are perhaps the most important contributions to midrashic literature of our times.

His first work novel, As A Driven Leaf, presents the life of a shadowy Talmudic figure, Rabbi Elisha ben Abuya, who is mentioned only briefly in the Talmud and then as a traitor.  In Steinberg’s tale, Elisha embraces the rigorous logical systems of philosphical thought championed by the Greeks, leaving rabbinic Judaism behind.  There are varied interpretations of this.  Regardlesss, Elisha is a noble though flawed persona, bereft of imagination, his critical flaw.

In this way, Elisha may be a prototype to Steinberg’s Hosea in The Prohet’s Wife, which chronicles Hosea’s marriage to Gomer.  Though unfinished, and liberties with the text are taken, as any interpretation tends to do, it is clear that Steinberg’s intent was to transmit what may have been the real Hosea’s feelings on his life to the reader.  The anguish he felt when he realized Gomer had committed adultery (and, in Steinberg’s version, incest), his inability to have Gomer put to death (supported by Gomer’s having three children in the biblical text), and his reading of Israel’s relationship with God against his own circumstances.  The narrative states Hosea’s critical flaw is pity, particularly when the alternative causes suffering to others, however well deserved.

This raises some interesting questions.  An obvious one is how close did Steinberg hit the mark on Hosea’s feelings?  Or, is Steinberg’s depiction of Hosea’s reading of the Torah text, and Israelite history, accurate?

How about, how can pity be a flaw?  Can pity be sin?  Because the aspects of God we meet in Exodus are Faithfulness and Justice, is pity a sin when it gets in the way of these things?  Or, is Hosea more merciful than God?  Let’s suppose, accepting Torah writ, that killing adulterers is unjust.  Then, is Hosea more just than God?  Or is God always just in these matters?  Can humans be right as Abraham was right at Sodom and Gomorrah?  I imagine this idea is heresy to many people, but is it heresy?  If this capacity has been given us, isn’t it more accurately a heresy to reject our responsibility to hold others, God included, accountable for their actions?  Even though an aspect of God is justice, can God make mistakes?  If God can make mistakes, are we capable of helping him correct those mistakes?  If we are charged to pursue justice in all things, wouldn’t speaking up to God qualify as a just course of action?  So, are these characteristics of Hosea sins?  Or gifts?

Hosea’s pity puts him into situations where he cannot act on what he perceives is just.  Is it more important that his pity prevents him from doing what he wants to do, repeatedly, and that his inaction causes him incredible hurt?  How can someone put up with this kind of pain, whether it be ordained by God or not?  Steinberg doesn’t get this far, but is his intent to show how Hosea’s feelings and experiences coalesced to produce the prophet he would become?  Is this productive, or merely apologetic?  These things could lead to Hosea’s becoming a prophet, but couldn’t they also lead him away from that path, particularly if Hosea was righteous?  If the reward for being righteous is to be a prophet, and prophet-hood entails suffering, what incentive is there to being a prophet, and does prophet-hood qualify as a blessing?  Is it justice that a prophet is righteous but suffers for the benefit of wicked people?  Is prophet-hood, then, worth it?

How can someone persevere in Hosea’s circumstances?


5771 Waera

In Exodus on January 13, 2011 at 2:21 am

So the Matriarchs and Patriarchs, knew “Adonai”, possibly as an honorific, but not as a Name of God.  Moses learns in Waera that “Adonai” is itself a name of God, emphasizing the Reliability & Faithfulness aspect of God’s nature.  I think Ezekiel reads it as Justice, for the fulfillment of promises to the Israelites, and the executed punishments on the Egyptians. Yet Moses calls on the power of the Name to slay an Egyptian by Rashi’s reading before Moses knows that “Adonai” is a Name, and not just an honorific.  So I infer that Rashi believes that to know a Name is to know what a Name contains.  But I have a question:  Rashi, how could Moses know the Name if no one before him knew the Name?  Was it simply an accident?  Or did Moses have something that none of the other Israelites possessed?

How is Moses’ use of the name an expression of Faithfulness? Reliability? Can it be called an expression of Justice?

Is it testimony to Moses’ sense of Justice, protecting the oppressed?
Is it some “magic” learned in Pharoah’s court?
Or is it Imagination?  Did Moses partner with God in creating this manifestation of His nature, Justice?

Why do the plagues read to us like a set up? Why were they necessary? Why do they read contrary to peace?

Why does God first say to introduce Him as “I Am” and then revise this to “I am the Lord”? Why not start with “I am the Lord”? Why is the repetition needed?