Monthly Archives: October 2018

Noah 5779: Facing the Rising Tide Together

If you like dramatic stories, then Parashat Noah is for you. Between the ark and the tower, the flood and the dispersion, there is high drama. A teacher of mine once argued, however, that the most important element of the portion is the least dramatic one: the genealogical tables. Noah dies at the end of chapter nine, at the ripe age of 950, after which the Torah tells us about the families established by his three sons and their wives. Chapter ten consists of a remarkable document known to scholars as the Table of Nations, a 32-verse origin story of the nations of humanity. After the brief narrative about the Tower of Babel, we are back to genealogy, with another 22 verses regarding the nations of Shem, concluding with the focus on Terah and his family.

This narrative technique is like one of those movies that starts with a shot of planet earth, and then zooms in to a specific continent, country, city and street where we suddenly find a person and hear their story. Why do we need these genealogical introductions to the great tales about the ancestors of Israel? Continue reading

Bereshit 5779: Equals in Eden

There is much to celebrate in the Torah’s first description not only of humanity but of gender. In Genesis 1:27-28 God creates the first person(s), male and female, in the divine image, and blesses them with the gifts of fertility and dominion. There may be a hint of non-binary gender here; there is more than a hint of original equality. But Chapters 2 and 3 tell a different story—how man gained primacy over woman, how Eve’s disobedience brought curses upon humanity. Chapter 1 seems so much more palatable in its depiction of gender, dare we say, even egalitarian? They—plural—are created together, they are blessed together, they are commanded together, and they are empowered together. What happened to them?

Rabbi/Dr. Amy Kalmanofsky writes about the transition from an initial stage of gender equality or even interchangeability to one of clear hierarchy in Chapter 1 of her book, Gender Play in the Hebrew Bible: The ways the Bible challenges its gender norms. She notes that the Bible does not assume innate qualities of gender, but rather understands them to be constructed. Yet this does not diminish the significance of the hierarchy—quite to the contrary. Continue reading