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Methods of Torah Study Dr. Laurence Boxer. Torah – literally, teaching /instruction Most common reference: 5 Books of Moses Entire Jewish Bible: TaNaCH.

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Presentation on theme: "Methods of Torah Study Dr. Laurence Boxer. Torah – literally, teaching /instruction Most common reference: 5 Books of Moses Entire Jewish Bible: TaNaCH."— Presentation transcript:

1 Methods of Torah Study Dr. Laurence Boxer

2 Torah – literally, teaching /instruction Most common reference: 5 Books of Moses Entire Jewish Bible: TaNaCH Torah (5 Books of Moses) Nviim (Prophets) Ktuvim (Scriptures – Wisdom Literature) Law; tradition Written Torah – TaNaCH Oral Torah - Talmud Pirkei Avot 5: 24: Ben Bag-Bag taught: Turn it over, turn it over, for in it is contained everything ….

3 Principles of Torah study Every word – indeed every letter (e.g., change of spelling of name) – is significant Study text by various techniques, including: Pshat – plain meaning Drash / midrash – inquire / investigate – nonliteral interpretation, often made up of imaginative explanatory stories Gzera shava – making connections between texts, hypertext-like; typically by similarity, parallelism, or contrasts of language/theme Defective spellings – generally signifies diminished respect for individual named Similes, metaphors Many of these depend heavily on Hebrew language Logical deduction Plays on words Multiple interpretations of ambiguities Proximity – relate verses to nearby verses Combinations of above Repetitions in text

4 Example: Gen. 29: Jacob & Rachel & Leah – Pshat 18: Jacob loved Rachel; so he answered I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel. 20: So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her. 23: When evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to him; and he cohabited with her. 25: When morning came, there was Leah! So he said to Laban, What is this you have done to me? I was in your service for Rachel! Why did you deceive me? Lesson from Pshat: As Jacob had deceived his father, Isaac, to take the blessing intended for Esau (Gen. 27), he is now deceived – measure for measure, G-d judges the world.

5 Example: Gen. 29: Jacob & Rachel & Leah – Drash [Lamentations Rabbah – Proem XXIV] interprets as commentary on Lamentations and on Jeremiah 31 At destruction of Temple by Nebuchadnezzar, divine mercy was sought in heavenly court by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses – to no avail. At that moment, the matriarch Rachel broke forth into speech before the Holy One, Blessed be He, and said: Sovereign of the Universe, … Thy servant Jacob loved me exceedingly and toiled for my father on my behalf seven years. When … the time arrived for my marriage …, my father planned to substitute another for me to wed my husband for the sake of my sister…. the plot was known to me and I disclosed it to my husband, and I gave him a sign whereby he could distinguish me from my sister….

6 Gen. 29: Jacob & Rachel & Leah – Drash continued After that I relented … had pity upon my sister that she should not be exposed to shame…. they substituted my sister for me… and I delivered over to my sister all the signs which I had arranged with my husband so that he should think she was Rachel…. I went beneath the bed… and when he spoke to her she remained silent and I made all the replies in order that he should not recognize my sisters voice. I did her a kindness, was not jealous… and did not expose her to shame. And if I, a creature of flesh and blood, formed of dust and ashes, was not envious of my rival and did not expose her to shame and contempt, why shouldest Thou, a King Who liveth eternally and art merciful, be jealous of idolatry in which there is no reality, and exile my children and let them be slain by the sword, and their enemies have done with them as they wished!

7 Gen. 29: Jacob & Rachel & Leah – Drash continued Forthwith the mercy of the Holy One, Blessed be He, was stirred, and He said, For thy sake, Rachel, I will restore Israel to their place. And so it is written (Jeremiah 31, 15-17:) Thus saith the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuseth to be comforted for her children…. Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears; for thy work shall be rewarded … there is hope for thy future, saith the Lord; and thy children shall return to their own border.

8 Gzera shava – making connections between texts Origin of haftara, reading from Prophets that follows Torah reading in synagogue: Romans forbade reading of Torah, attempting to suppress Judaism as source of rebellion Rabbis selected readings from Prophets that would remind of corresponding weekly Torah readings Ex: Torah reading Bshalach (Ex. 13:17 – 17:16) – includes crossing Red Sea despite Israelite fear, reluctance Song of the Sea Miriam leads women dancing Haftara: Judges 4:4 – 5:31 Prophetess Deborah inspires victory over foreign oppressor despite Israelite fear, reluctance Deborahs song of triumph Yael, heroine Common theme: Womens leadership

9 Multiple Interpretations of Ambiguities Example: Judges 4:4: Now Deborah the prophetess was eshet Lapidot …. Usual interpretation of eshet: wife of – thus, Deborah is identified as wife of man named Lapidot Alternate interpretation of eshet: woman of – and Lapidot means torches. Thus, Deborah is identified as fiery woman, inspirational leader, illuminating teacher

10 Multiple Interpretations of Ambiguities Example: Deuteronomy 29: 9-11: You are standing this day all before the Lord your G-d: your heads, tribes, officers, even all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger in the midst of thy camp, from the hewer of your wood unto the drawer of your water, that you should enter into the covenant of the Lord thy G-d …. Pshat: the assembled include all, from the great leaders to the humblest members of society Hewer of wood: Abraham, who hewed wood for sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:3) Drawer of water: Elijah, who supervised drawing water at confrontation with priest of Baal (I Kings 18:34) Abraham – patriarch; Elijah: forerunner of Messiah. Thus, the covenant between G-d and Israel extends to all generations Alternately:

11 Multiple Interpretations of Ambiguities Example: Deut. 30:11-14 : Surely, this commandment which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, 'Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who among us can cross the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?' No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it Most commentators take this commandment to mean the entire book of Deuteronomy, or the entire Torah. Nachmanides ( ) argues this commandment refers to the obligation of repentance, teshuvah (literally, return), prominent in preceding verses Deut. 30:1-10. (This section is always read on the Sabbath preceding Rosh HaShanah.)

12 Defective Spellings – Example of Abraham & Ephron (Gen. 23) 10: … Ephron עפרון … answered Abraham in the hearing of the Hittites …. 11: No my lord, hear me: I give you the field and I give you the cave in it; I give it to you in the presence of all my people. Bury your dead. 14: And Ephron replied to Abraham, saying to him, 15: My lord, do hear me! A piece of land worth 400 shekels of silver – what is that between you and me? Go and bury your dead. 16: Abraham listened to Ephron עפרון. Abraham paid out to Ephron עפרן the money that he had named in the hearing of the Hittites – 400 shekels of silver at the going merchants rate. Continued on next slide

13 Defective Spellings –Abraham & Ephron (cont.) 16: Abraham listened to Ephron עפרון. Abraham paid out to Ephron עפרן the money …. Diminished defective spelling indicates diminished respect for Ephron. Note spelling is changed in same verse – indicates listening shows respect, but paying, after Ephrons promise of the cave as a gift, shows less respect. Its one thing to start negotiations at 500 shekels, then settle at 400; its dishonest to claim one will make a gift, then demand a large price.

14 Logical Deduction Va-era (Ex. 6:2 – 9:34) begins with G-ds assurances to Moses of redemption from Egyptian slavery. Ex. 6:9: But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage. Ex. 6:10-11: The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Go and tell Pharoah, king of Egypt, to let the Israelites depart from his land. Ex. 6:12: But Moses appealed to the Lord, saying, The Israelites would not listen to me; how, then, should Pharoah heed me, a man of uncircumcised lips! Pshat: Moses had a speech impediment Lesson from logical deduction: Recall circumcision is the sign of male admission into the covenant of the Jewish people. He says they havent accepted him as spokesman, so why would Pharoah? Credible leadership before ones adversaries requires acceptance of leadership by ones followers.

15 Plays on words – Lessons of Amalek Amalek, Biblical symbol of cruelty and terror, attacked the sick & weakened at the back of the Israelite procession (Ex. 17:8-15), shortly after the crossing of the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds) (Ex. 14) and the Song of the Sea (Ex. 15:1-18). Attack is recalled at Deut. 25:17-19: 17: Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt - 18: How he surprised you kar-cha קרך on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear, and he had no fear of G-d. Continued on next slide

16 Amalek – Lesson 1 from wordplay Deut. 25:18: How he surprised you kar-cha קרך on the march …. More literally: How he cooled you off kar-cha קרך on the march …. Song of the Sea (Ex. 15): 14: The peoples hear, they tremble; agony grips the dwellers in Philistia. 15: Now are the clans of Edom dismayed; the tribes of Moab – trembling grips them; all the dwellers in Canaan are aghast. 16: Terror and dread descend upon them…. The pagan world was ready, in its fear, to accept the monotheism of Israel, whose G-d had vanquished the gods of Egypt, until Amalek cooled off their ardor for the G-d of Israel by showing it was still possible to shed the blood of G-ds Chosen People.

17 Amalek – Lesson 2 from wordplay Deut. 25:18: How he surprised you kar-cha קרך on the march …. Noticing the similarity of kar-cha קרך and kri קרי (violent opposition; flow of semen), some commentators say this verse indicates Amalek introduced rape as a tactic of terror: How he raped you on the march….

18 Wordplay: Children/students are builders Isaiah 54:13: And all thy banayich בניך children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy banayich בניך children. Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 64a: At the 2 nd instance, read not banayich בניך your children but rather bonayich בוניך your builders Thus, children (of all ages) who study Torah (taught of the Lord) are builders of a communitys peace.

19 Proximity – An eye for an eye Ex. 21: 23 – 25: But if any harm follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, stripe for stripe. Lev. 24: 19-20: And if a man maim his neighbor; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him: breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he hath maimed a man, so shall it be rendered unto him. So if I put your eye out, do you have the right to put my eye out? No. Revenge is prohibited: Lev. 19:18: Thou shalt take no vengeance, nor bear any grudge … but thou shalt be loving toward thy neighbor as toward thyself: I am the Lord. If I put your eye out, does a court put my eye out? No The principle of proximity teaches us that these verses call for fair and proportional punishment in the form of compensation by the offender to the victim (continued on next slide).

20 Proximity – An eye for an eye Ex. 21: 23 – 25: But if any harm follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, stripe for stripe. Note the next two verses: Ex. 21: 26-27: And if a man smite the eye of his bondman, or the eye of his bondwoman, and destroy it, he shall let him go free for the eyes sake. And if he smite out his bondmans tooth, or his bondwomans tooth, he shall let him go free for his tooths sake. The master is not maimed to match his maiming of his bondman – rather, he compensates the bondman with freedom (and the generous gifts due to a freed bondman – Deut. 15:12-14). More generally, an eye for an eye calls for monetary compensation, proportionate to the injury. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth – typically, more compensation for the former, since one eye 50% visual capacity, one tooth 3-4% chewing capacity, and loss of an eye is more likely to impair earning a living.

21 Proximity: Dont think with your loins Deut. 21: (Soldier falls in love with beautiful captive woman; marriage is discouraged, but permitted) Deut. 21: (If first-born is son of less favored wife, he still has rights of first-born – inherits double portion) Deut. 21: (Son, rebellious, gluttonous, drunkard, refusing parental discipline, may be tried and sentenced) Proximity: These lessons are related. If a man marries a woman whose only attraction for him is sexual, hell eventually realize they have little in common. If he later takes a 2 nd wife, a better match for him, the first wife and her children are likely to be disfavored; the rights of the 1 st wifes children trampled; the family becomes dysfunctional; the neglected or abused children become rebellious, criminal. Its OK to marry a beautiful woman, but a mans attraction should be based on more than her sexual appeal. A better guide for a man seeking a mate: Proverbs 31:10-31

22 Similes and Metaphors for Torah Proverbs 3:18: She is a tree of life … She - wisdom (Proverbs 3:13), itself a metaphor for Torah Deuteronomy 31:19: And now, write down this song and teach it to the children of Israel …. Pshat: song is Deuteronomy 32:1-43 Metaphoric interpretation: song is entire Torah. Why compare Torah to song? Unlike many other areas of knowledge (science, philosophy, economics, etc.), music, and Torah, can be learned and enjoyed at all levels of intellectual endeavor. Torah is chanted, not merely read aloud. Use of music internalizes text, makes it easier to learn.

23 Similes and Metaphors for Torah Isaiah 55:1: Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye for water, and he with no money, come ye, buy, and eat; yea, buy wine and milk. Song of Songs 2:13: The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, …. Song of Songs 4:3 … thy temples are like a pomegranate split open behind thy veil. As one cannot go 3 days without drinking, Israel does not go 3 days without public reading of Torah (every Monday, Thursday, Saturday), which is bought not by money, but by study. Fig tree: beautiful, shady; fruit doesnt ripen at once, but continuously over long period, representing continuous, eternal teachings of Torah As a pomegranate is full of seeds, Torah is full of beautiful teachings. Song of Songs 4:11: Thy lips, o my bride, drop honey – honey and milk are under thy tongue …. Metaphorical interpretation: words of Torah are in your mouth (children are introduced to Torah study with drop of honey on page or finger)

24 Repetitions in text Deuteronomy 16:20: Justice, justice shall you pursue …. Why is justice repeated? Pshat: emphasis Repetition of justice moderates the zeal connoted by Hebrew tirdof תרדף (pursue). Justice must outweigh zeal: justice must be pursued justly – end does not justify means Numbers 7:12-83 describes, tribe by tribe, identical gifts by princes of the 12 tribes on consecutive days to construction of the Tabernacle. Except for number of day, name of tribe, name of prince, theres no variation. What do we learn from what seems mind-numbing repetition? Key: 2 nd day: Netanel son of Tzuar, prince of Issachar, could have topped the offering of 1 st prince; instead, he matched it, for sake of peace within community. Successive princes followed his example.

25 Combination – example of Gzera Shava (connection) and wordplay Gen. 25:20: Isaac … took to wife Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-Aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Song of Songs 2:2: As a lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters. Aram – ramai (swindler) Song of Songs Rabbah: R. Isaac: …. It is to tell us that her father was a swindler, her brother was a swindler, and all the men of her place were swindlers, and this virtuous one came forth from … them. What does she resemble? A LILY AMONG THORNS.

26 References Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 2001 The Midrash (Midrash Rabbah) [multi-volume commentary on the 5 Books of Moses and the 5 Megilot (scrolls) – Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther], Soncino Press, London, 1961 The Talmud, Soncino Press, London, 1961

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