Luke’s Joanna and the Talmud’s Yohanni bat Retibi

 

Luke’s Joanna and the Talmud’s Yohanni bat Retibi[1]

Seth Ward

A woman named “Joanna” is mentioned twice in the Book of Luke; she is mentioned together with Mary Magdalene both times; she is not mentioned in parallel texts in the other gospels.

“And certain women, who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s Steward…” (Luke 8:2-3.)

“And Mary Magdalene, and Joanna…” (Luke 24:10)

While her name is rendered “Joanna” (ιωαννα) in Greek, it is Iohanna in the Vulgate, as it would be in Hebrew; Franz Delisch chose “Yohannah” for his translation of the New Testament into Hebrew[2]. As such it is linguistically related to the well-known name “Hannah” (English equivalent is Anne as well as Hannah; this is the name of Mary’s mother),[3] but “Yohannah” is not otherwise attested in this form in pre-modern Hebrew.[4]

In the King James translation, there is also a male Joanna in Luke’s genealogy of Joseph, Mary’s husband (3:27). He is the grandson of “Zorobabel ben Salathiel,” or Zerubavel ben Shealtiel, the Davidic prince who led a return to Jerusalem from Babylon in the 6th pre-Christian century. Although Zerubavel occurs both in Luke and in Matthew 1:12, Joanna occurs only in Luke’s genealogy. Delitsch’s Hebrew version gives his name Yohanan, a form attested in some Greek versions (but not the Vulgate), and NIV and several other English translations presume this Hebrew basis.[5] This name is linguistically related to Hananiah, a son of Zerubavel in I Chr. 3:19.

Although the name Yohanna is unknown as a woman’s name in pre-modern Jewish literature, the Talmud has a tantalizing reference to a woman named “Yohanni”[6] (which is linguistically the same name as Johanna).[7] It begins with a traditional teaching:

Our Rabbis have taught: A maiden who gives herself up in prayer, a gadabout widow, and a minor whose months are not completed, behold, these things bring destruction upon the world (Sota 22a).[8]

A statement of Rabbi Johanan (third century)[9] is cited to protest the teaching. The Talmud concludes that the teaching is not generally true because Rabbi Johanan learned fear of sin from a maiden who prayed, and hope of reward from a widow who traveled a great distance to attend his synagogue. Nevertheless, according to the teaching of the Rabbis must refer to something! So the participants in the discussion are pressed to determine whether there is any actual example of the type of woman who “brings destruction upon the world.” The answer: the passage refers to someone like “Yohanni bat [the daughter of] Retibi” (Sota 22a).

Yohanni bat Retibi is otherwise unknown from Talmudic literature, indeed she may be the only sorceress whose name is specifically mentioned. Nevertheless, mention without further elaboration may suggest she was familiar to those who named her and to those who included her story in the Talmud—or, as M. Bar-Ilan suggests, “presumably because of internal censorship, the entire story about this woman was removed from the Talmud.”[10]   Who was she? The Encyclopedia Judaica calls her a “faith healer,”[11] and the Soncino translation of the Talmud glosses: “She was a widow who by witchcraft made childbirth difficult for a woman and then offered prayer for her.”[12]

Such references are all based on a story told by Rashi (North-east France and the Rhineland, d. 1105) in commenting on the passage in Sota 22a, itself based on earlier, Babylonian traditions. [13] Rashi tells her story as follows:

She was a widow and a witch (makhshefa). When it came time for a woman to give birth, she would stop up her womb by witchcraft, but after the woman was in great pain she would say: “I will go and pray for mercy; perhaps my prayer will be answered.” She would then go and undo her magic and the child would come out. One time she had a day laborer in her house and she went to the home of a woman in childbirth, and the laborer heard the sound of the spells knocking around in a vessel, just as the child knocks in the mother’s womb. He went and opened the stopper of the vessel and the spells left, and the child was born and it was known that she was a sorceress.

The story is also told in a commentary to this passage ascribed to Rabbi Samson of Sens (France, late 12th-early 13th century).[14]

The Talmudic passage which mentions Yohanni starts with a negative generalization about women, which is demolished by examples of praiseworthy women. Perhaps this is a counter-argument to the suggestion that the New Testament’s positive attitude towards women is unique and distinctive from the Rabbis’ position. Yohanni bat Retibi remains the one example which “saves” the generalization, making it refer not to all religious women, but to a specific paradigm of a woman who appears to be prayerful and doing good, but is in fact a gadabout who destroys the world. She is also clearly an effective sorceress.

Yohanni occurs as a woman’s name in one other location in the Talmud. Rabbi Tarfon (c. 50-120 CE)[15] was teaching his nephews and found they were too quiet, so he misquoted Genesis 25:1 to get their attention “Abraham took another wife, and her name was Yohanni” (Zevahim 62b). In Genesis, the name at the end of the verse is Keturah, Abraham’s concubine after the death of Sarah. Jewish tradition considered Keturah to be a pious woman, perhaps even Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, who became pious and returned to Abraham after the death of her former mistress.[16] Rashi suggests this was just a word to catch their attention, and neither he nor any of the other standard-edition commentators cross-references Yohanni bat Retibi.[17] Yet if Yohanni the Sorceress were indeed notorious, her name would hardly have been “just a word;” rather, her name would clearly have caught students’ attention. The technique of misquoting a well-known verse for dramatic effect, as a teaching or rhetorical technique, was used notably in another Talmudic passage, a debate conducted by the late-2nd century scholar Nathan the Babylonian. Arguing against the proclamation of the calendar in Babylonia—the determination of the calendar was a tradition prerogative of the Palestinian Rabbinate—Nathan paraphrased Isaiah 2:3/Micah 4:2, saying “For the Torah will go forth from Babylonia….”[18] Everyone would have known the correct wording (“…forth from Zion”), and thus the rhetorical sense might have been more like a question: “Shall the Torah go forth from Babylonia?” Perhaps the passage about Abraham’s remarriage, too, was meant to make a point: “Did Abraham take as another wife, the sorceress Yohanni?”

As the name of a man, however, another Yohanni or Johanna is quite well known. Usually he is mentioned together with his brother, Mamre (e.g. Menahot 85a). This is a “Hebrew” form of the name; this pair is better known in the Greek or Aramaic forms of their names, Jannes and Jambres, occurring in 2 Tim. 3:8. They occur also in Rabbinic midrashic works such as Yalkut Shim`oni, and in the Targum Yerushalmi to Numbers 22:22, usually in their Greek forms but sometimes in the Hebrew form of their names; and they are found in numerous early Christian works. Jannes is called Yohanna in the Zadokite fragment.[19] These are identified the two chief magicians of Pharaoh, and as sons of Balaam (or in the Zadokite text, of Belial).[20] Kohler, writing in the Jewish Encyclopedia of 1904-6, connects Jannes with Johanni bat Retibi, whom he thinks may have been a “demon belonging to the class of Lillith, or a sorceress,” and with Ketura, whom he believed was connected with magic. He further suggested that Yohanni’s father might explain the versions of the names of Pharaoh’s magicians given by Pliny.[21] Kohler did not mention an Egyptian link for Keturah, although it would be natural to do so in an article on Jannes; the identification with Hagar would provide the link to Egypt (Gen. 16:1.)

Indeed, women in childbirth feared “demons belonging to the class of Lillith” and sorceresses, and amulets and incantations were often prepared to protect against them. In Mesopotamia during late Talmudic times and for generations thereafter, such incantations were often written on terra cotta bowls. The bowls obviously did not have “stoppers,” but many were found upside down; it has been speculated that this was to trap the demons inside, much as was the case with Yohanni’s spells.[22]

It is tempting to add one more correspondence to the list proposed by Kohler a century ago: Luke’s Joanna. Luke’s text suggests that the seven devils flew away when Mary Magdalene was healed, but perhaps the escaping demons are to be associated with Yohanni, as in the story of the day laborer in her house (albeit the story is only attested from the early Middle Ages, not from antiquity). At any rate, exegetes typically stress Joanna’s financial and social station, as in the Anchor Bible Dictionary’s note: “Joanna was one of the women who provided monetary or material aid out of their own pockets and efforts to help Jesus’ band of disciples.”[23] It is hard to argue that the references brought here show incontrovertibly that the woman referred to by the author of the third Gospel was the same as the woman or women referred to by the two Talmudic references, or for that matter, that the Talmudic references  should be understood as part of a series of references in Jewish literature associating Jesus with Egyptian magic. Nevertheless, the parallels are suggestive and hint that Joanna should be considered, like Mary Magdalene, to have had an “illness” of which she may have been cured, an illness which related to “demons”—that is, matters of spirit or sorcery rather than physical ailments. For Christian readers of Luke familiar with the Yohanni story, Jesus’ healing her—or someone bearing her name—signifies the triumph of the Godliness he represented over evildoing, the ability of Jesus to inspire true faith in those who were at best hypocritical—and at worst “possessed by demons” or given over to sorcery.

Seth Ward

 

[1] This paper grew out of a discussion with a former student, Sherry Nanninga Walker. Walker has done substantial research into scholarship about Johanna, and is writing a fictionalized account of Joanna’s life.

[2] F. Delitsch, The New Testament in Hebrew and English. London: The Society for Distributing the Holy Scriptures to the Jews, n.d. The Greek and Vulgate are found in many commentaries and in /www.greeknewtestament.com/ (checked December 3, 2003). All four versions given for the Greek at this site spell Joanna the same way, in both locations in Luke.

[3] Although accounts mentioning St. Anne are of great antiquity, her name is unmentioned in the canonical Gospels of the New Testament.

[4]The name-list in the standard dictionary, Even Shoshan, Ha-Milon He-Hadash, is unaware of the New Testament occurrence, and lists “Yohannah” as a woman’s name from the Modern period only. (The edition I examined was Jerusalem: Kiryat Sefer, 1970).

[5] I am grateful to Dr. David Zucker for bringing this reference to my attention. According to greeknewtestament.com, iohanan is in the Byzantine Majority and Alexandrian versions.

Luke’s longer genealogy may reflect the typical Diaspora chronology of Judaism, in which the period between Zerubavel and the end of the Herodian period was substantially longer than the time frame allotted to this period by Rabbinic Judaism, and is similar to the length presupposed by Josephus’ chronology. Matthew would then be a relatively early testimony for the shorter duration for the period evidenced in the Rabbinic work Seder Olam (ascribed to Yose ben Halafta, 2nd Century), in the Talmud, and in all traditional Jewish chronologies. This topic is worthy of further study but is beyond our scope here.

[6] I have chosen to standardize all transliterations this way; this choice is arbitrary; arguably, the form Johani should have been adopted as it is more common in English-language translations and discussions of the passages in which this name is found. Other transliterations might be Johanne, Yohane, Yochany etc.

[7] See for example, Bacher, Die Agada der Tanaiten, Strassburg: Trübner, 1903 (2nd edition) p. 350 (357 of 1st edition), where he renders “Jochani (Johanna)” and simply “Johanna” in the note; this is a reference to the account of Rabbi Tarfon in Zevahim 62b, mentioned below.

[8] Translation: A. Cohen, Sotah, in Soncino Babylonian Talmud. London: Soncino, 1936, p. 111; I have examined the traditional edition, and then used Soncino as my source for all Talmud translations unless otherwise indicated.

[9] Usually, “Rabbi Yohanan” refers to R. Yohanan bar Nappaha, d. 279. See Strack, Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash, Mineapolis: Fortress 1992, 94-95. Dating of many of the Rabbis mentioned in the Mishna and Talmud should be considered fairly accurate, but any attempt to date rulings, sayings and stories based on the Rabbis to whom they are ascribed should be treated with care.

[10] On witches in the Talmud, see the very interesting paper of M. Bar-Ilan, ‘Witches in the Bible and in the Talmud’, Herbert W. Basser and Simcha Fishbane (eds.), Approaches to Ancient Judaism, New Series, Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993, V, pp. 7-32. With slight changes this paper is included as a chapter in: M. Bar-Ilan, Some Jewish Women in Antiquity, Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press (Brown Judaic Studies 317), 1998. This paper was examined in electronic format for purposes of the present research: http://faculty.biu.ac.il/~barilm/witches.html (accessed March 20 2002).

[11] Article “Magic”; it says she was a “Jerusalem faith healer” but gives no indication as to how her city was known. Bar-Ilan thinks it is not clear whether she was a Palestinian witch or a Babylonian witch.

[12] Note to translation of Sotah 22a, p. 111.

[13] Rashi’s version—found in nearly every edition of the Talmud—is the best known today, and is the one reproduced here. Bar-Ilan translates the story of Yohanni as told by Rabbi Nissim Gaon, cited in B. M. Levin, Otzar HaGeonim (The Treasury of the Geonim), 11, Sotah, Jerusalem 1942, pp. 241-242, which is very similar to Rashi’s version. He also translates another version published by S. Abramson, “Le R. Barukh ben Melekh,” Tarbiz, 19 (1948), pp. 42-44, with a few minor differences.

[14] The commentaries of Rashi and Tosafot Sans (the commentary ascribed to Rabbi Samson) are reproduced in traditional editions of the Talmud. The Tosafot Sans on Sotah printed in traditional editions of the Talmud is probably not by Samson of Sens, according to J.N Epstein, writing in Tarbiz 5712 (1952) pp. 203-4, whom Urbach said had “proven this with decisive arguments,” Ba‘alei Ha-Tosafot [Hebrew] Jerusalem: Bialik, 1980, p. 291.  In any event, there are no significant variations between the stories. Perhaps it is more significant that a check did not reveal any other comments about this character appearing in any of the numerous commentaries found in traditional editions, both those on the Talmud page itself and those reproduced in appendices.

[15] Strack-Stemberger, p. 80, citing an article by Neusner for the dates.

[16] See Ginzberg, 5:264, n. 309 for references, including a reference to Jerome.

[17] Rashi’s gloss is found in his comment on the passage, Zevahim 62b. Neither Rashi nor any other commentator reproduced on this page or in the major commentaries published in the standard Talmud editions cross-references Yohanni bat Retibi.

[18] Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 6:13 40a, Sanhedrin 1:2 19a “For the Torah shall go forth from Babylon, the word of the Lord from the Pekod River.”

[19]  Spelled with a final aleph, and without the vav, i.e., it could be Yahanna or even Yahna—perhaps closer to the form “Jannes” as it is typically found in Greek.  Schechter, Fragments of a Zadokite Work, New York: Ktav reprint, 1970, 5:18.

[20] For references see Ginzburg, Legends of the Jews, index. s.v. Jannes; M. Stern, art. “Jannes and Jambres” in Encyclopedia Judaica, and Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, Art. “Jannes and Jambres,” and “Jannes and Jambres” by Kaufman Kohler, Jewish Encyclopedia, New York Funk and Wagnalls 1906, 7:71.

[21] Kohler, ibid.

[22] There is a substantial literature about Lillith; a starting point might be G. Scholem, “Lillith” in Encyclopedia Judaica. On the Magic Incantation Bowls, see especially J. Naveh and S. Shaked, Amulets and magic bowls: Aramaic incantations of late antiquity Jerusalem: Magnes, 1998 (third edition) especially the special appendix to Bowl 12 which treats the Lillith legend.

[23] David Noel Freedman ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, (New York: Doubleday, 1997, 1992). Compare Hastings, who mentions the cure as well as the support. (I am grateful to Sherry N. Walker for bringing this to my attention.)

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Happy Passover

It’s amazing but the links still work from last year’s list.

https://drsethward.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/passover-internet-links/

 

There’s plenty in last year’s list, but nothing for those who need an explanation of the difference between Passover and Easter. Here it is:

easter vs Passover

Insight: I heard from someone who attended Danny Boyarin’s Talmud class that he wisely observed a week before Passover that you can have חג כשר or חג שמח but not both.

Happy Passover. חג כשר ושמח

 

 

 

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Added English abstracts

I added the English abstracts to my previous post.

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  תכנית ותקצירים–ירושלים ערבה ונתניה–15-19 פברואר הרצאות ורב-שיח Seth Ward’s Lectures and Round Table, Jerusalem, Arava and Netanyah, February 15 through 19, 2018   Schedule and Abstracts

Dr. Seth Ward

 תכנית Schedule

15-16 Feb.:

Limmud Aravah (Sapir, Israel)

One lecture Thurs. PM and One Fri. AM on connections between Islamic and Jewish texts   (In Hebrew)

חיבורים בין יהדות לאסלאם:  “כל המקיים נפש אחת מעלים עליו כאילו קיים עולם מלא”—במשנה ובמקורות יהודיים, בקראן ובאסלאם – על טכסטים מקבילים ועל קושי הדו-שיח

Connections between Judaism and Islam: “All who preserve a single life, Scripture considers as if they preserved an entire world”—in the Mishnah and Jewish Sources, and in the Qur’an and Islam: On parallel texts and the difficulty of dialogue.

and

“חיבורים: בית המקדש וירושלים בקוראן–ובמקורות מקבילים יהודיים “Connections between Judaism and Islam: On the Temple and Jerusalem in the Qur’an and in parallel Jewish texts.

 

16-17 Feb.:
Beit Bart (Jerusalem)

Scholar in Residence: One 45 minute talk, probably on similar topic to one of the Limmud talks, One 5 minute Dvar Torah on “Terumah” the weekly Torah reading (In Hebrew). There may be an additional opportunity to speak in English.

 

19 Feb. 4:45 PM
Netanya Academic College, Senate Hall.

Main Lecture for Round Table; title: התעוררות לשורשים יהודיים:גישות לזהות יהודית בקרב אוכלוסיית צאצאי האנוסים בארה”ב    (in Hebrew)

Awakening to Jewish Roots: Approaches to Jewish identity among populations of “Converso Descendants” in the USA.

 

19 Feb. 8 PM
AACI Netanya Beit Oleh America.

Current Trends in American Judaism: American Jews and Judaism in the light of Pew, Trump, Birthright, and “None of the Above” (In English)

 

 ותקצירים Abstracts

I.

חיבורים בין יהדות לאסלאם:  “כל המקיים נפש אחת מעלים עליו כאילו קיים עולם מלא”—במשנה ובמקורות יהודיים, בקראן ובאסלאם – על טכסטים מקבילים ועל קושי הדו-שיח

 

Connections between Judaism and Islam: “All who preserve a single life, Scripture considers as if they preserved an entire world”—in the Mishnah and Jewish Sources, and in the Qur’an and Islam: On parallel texts and the difficulty of dialogue.

ד”ר סט וורד

מרצה בכיר, החוג לפילוסופיה ומדעי הדת

אוניברסיטת ויומינג-ארה”ב

 

האיסלאם הופיע בסביבה שבה הייתה תודעה רחבה לרעיונות יהודיים ונוצריים. לפעמים ברור שרק קווי היסוד של הסיפורים היו ידועים, אבל לפעמים בדיקה של טקסטים מקבילים מראה זיקה טקסטואלית בולטת בין שתי המסורות. בין הדוגמאות החשובות ניתן למצוא את המשנה המפורסמת ” כל המקיים נפש אחת מעלים עליו כאילו קיים עולם מלא” המוכרת כיום בישראל מכמובן בהכרת יד ושם לחסידי אומות העולם, ממגן דוד אדום, ומקורות אחרים. המשנה ידועה גם מתוך הסרט רשימת שינדלר – (וככל הנראה ההתייחסות היא היסטורית; “יהודי שינדלר” באמת נתנו לשינדלר טבעת עם הכתובת הזאת). משנה זאת גם מופיעה בסרט תורכי על הצלת יהודים בשואה. להיסטוריה הטקסטואלית של טקסט זה במקורות היהודיים יש הרבה מה לומר על האוניברסליות היהודית – האם היא אכן חלה רק על יהודים או על האנושות כולה? ההקבלה הקוראנית משקפת בבירור את המקורות היהודיים, כולל התייחסות לקין ולהבל המצויינת במשנה – וכן יש פה אישור מוסלמי מובהק לתפיסה מסורתית למקורו של תורה שבעל פה בסיני. התפתחות של רעיון זה במקורות האיסלאמיים מראה הן את הבסיס האפשרי לשיתוף-פעולה בדו-שיח, ועם זאת גם את הקשיים הכרוכים בדיון משותף אפילו בטקסטים המראים בבירור קשר בולט בין יהדות לאסלאם.

Islam arose in an environment in which Jewish and Christian ideas were well known. Sometimes only the basic outlines of the stories were well known, but sometimes examination of parallel texts shows striking textual coherence between the two traditions.

Among the important examples is the famous statement “Those who preserve a single life preserve an entire world” familiar today of course from Yad Vashem’s recognition of Righteous Gentiles, from Magen David Adom, and other sources. This statement from the Mishnah is also well known from the film Schindler’s list. Apparently, the reference is historic; the Schindler’s Jews actually gave Schindler a ring with this inscription. It was also used in a Turkish film about saving Jews in the Holocaust.

The textual history of this passage in Jewish sources has much to say about Jewish universalism and exceptionalism—does it indeed apply only to Jews or to all humanity?

The Quranic parallel clearly reflects Jewish texts, including a reference to Cain and Abel found in the Mishnah—and a striking Islamic confirmation of the concept of the divine origin of Oral Torah, as the Qur’an cites the saying as a pronouncement of God.

Nevertheless, the development of this idea in Islamic sources show both the promise of shared discourse between Muslims and Jews–and also the difficulties involved even in texts that clearly show striking interdependence.

II.

“חיבורים: בית המקדש וירושלים בקוראן–ובמקורות מקבילים יהודיים ”

Connections between Judaism and Islam: On the Temple and Jerusalem in the Qur’an and in parallel Jewish texts.

ד”ר סט וורד

מרצה בכיר, החוג לפילוסופיה ומדעי הדת

אוניברסיטת ויומינג-ארה”ב

לעתים קרובות שומעים כי הקוראן אף פעם לא מזכיר את ירושלים ואת בית המקדש, בעוד התורה מזכיר את ירושלים פעמים רבות. כמובן, המסורת היהודית מוצאת את ירושלים ואת בית המקדש פעמים רבות בחמישה חומשי תורה, אפילו שאינם מוזכרים במפורש (אם כי מוזכרים לעתים קרובות ב-נ”ח). באופן דומה טקסטים קוראניים ואסלאמיים מעידים בקלות על התייחסות לירושלים, לבית המקדש, ואפילו לבחירת ישראל כעם סגולה–וחלקם מקבילים בצורות מעניינות ומאלפות למה שנמסר בתנ”ך ובמדרש. אכן, אפשר לקרוא את הקוראן כספר ציוני! אבל קריאה זו אפשרית רק אם בוחרים בכמה פסוקים–ומתעלמים מאחרים שמציעים שעם ישראל נפסל והוחלף ב”מאמינים” –היינו באיסלאם. בהרצאה זו אעבור על מספר טקסטים מקבילים על ירושלים ועל ביה”מ בשתי הדתות ואנסה להסיק מסקנות על הדומה והנבדל והשלחותיהם.

One frequently hears that the Quran never mentions Jerusalem and the Temple, while the Torah mentions Jerusalem many times. Of course, while Jewish tradition frequently finds Jerusalem and Temple references in the Five Books of Moses, strictly speaking neither is mentioned by name (although both are mentioned often in other biblical books).

Qur’anic texts just as readily suggest reference to Jerusalem, to the Temple, and even to Jewish chosenness. Some have important and instructive parallels in Bible and Midrash. I’ve argued that the Qur’an may be read as a Zionist book–but only if one picks some verses and ignores others, that suggest that the Children of Israel have disappeared or are invalid or have been superceded by the “Believers” that is, by Islam. In this lecture I will discuss a few of the verses refer to Jerusalem and the Temple in both religious traditions, and offer some conclusions about what is similar and different, and the ramifications of these parallels.

[In editing the English version of this abstract it occurs to me that in this talk–and in the others I have put together for this tour–my professional / topographical perspective—teaching in the USA, and specifically in Wyoming—informs my topics. Jerusalem and especially the Temple Mount are explosive topics today in general. Something in the news at the time of presentation may well reshape the discourse of the session! In this topic especially, Islamic ways of reading the Qur’an are reflected in much of the contemporary Arab/Islamic discourse about this issue—parallel problems pertain to Israeli and for that matter US discourse as well. Deeper understanding of the sources won’t solve the issues necessarily, but the opposite—avoiding understanding, avoiding addressing the issues, cannot possibly be the best all-around strategy. –SW]

III.

רב שיח: התעוררות לשורשים יהודיים: גישות לזהות יהודית בקרב אוכלוסיית צאצאי האנוסים בארה”ב

Awakening to Jewish Roots: Approaches to Jewish identity among populations of “Converso Descendants” in the USA.

ד”ר סט וורד

מרצה בכיר, החוג לפילוסופיה ומדעי הדת

אוניברסיטת ויומינג-ארה”ב

 

בארצות הברית, כמו במקומות רבים אחרים בעולם, התעוררה התעניינות בשורשים היהודיים בכשלושים השנים האחרונות.  ההרצאה זאת תתמקד ב”קהילה” אחת באמריקה שבה בולט הדבר—בני האנוסים.  יש לציין שנאראטיבים יהודיים והיספאנים על האנוסים, באמריקה שלאחר מלחמת העולם השנייה, לא ידעו על סרידי יהדות בצאצאי האנוסים בזמננו. נעביר סקירה של ההיסטוריה והממדים של תופעת “חזרה ליהודות” בקרב קטע מהאוכלוסיה ההיספאנית באמריקנית, תחילה כיחידים, ולאחר מכן כתנועה רחבה, החל מפירסומים ושידורים באמצע שנות השמונים. כמו כן אזכיר התפתחויות שונות מאז ועד היום. לאחר ההקדמות האלה אמסור תוצאות המחקר שלי על גישות לזהות יהודית –ולהנחלת זהות יהודית—בקרב אוכלוסיה זאת– מחקר שנעשה ב 2016 עד 2017 ב”החברה למחקרים  קפריטו-יהודיים” (Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies). סקרים אלה מראים מחויבות עמוקה לזהות היהודית, אם כי לעתים קרובות בדרכים מפתיעות, למשל רבים מדגישים גנטיקה יותר מתוכן יהודי—ומאפיינים לתנועה זו נבדלים מאוכלוסיות שונות בארצות אחרות.  יש גם מקבילות מעניינות עם  ה”משיחית” (ובנצרות בכלל)  בארה”ב ועם החיפוס לשורשים אצל האפרו-אמריקנים גם באמצעות האיסלאם וגם באמצעות הרומן “שורשים” של אלכס היילי.

I propose to start with some background about the phenomenon. There’s no need to go back to the Iberian Peninsula in the 14-17th centuries, when many Jews became Christians; some hiding their Jewish identity (and most hiding their Jewish ancestry). But it’s important to include a brief overview of “remembered history” how the story of Converso loyalty to Judaism was told in the USA into the early post-World War II period, and to a certain extent in the Hispanic community of that era.

The early stages of what can be called the “US Crypto-Jewish movement” involved individuals discussing this heritage. It emerged as a movement with broad responses to publications and broadcasts in the mid-1980s, and various strands from then to the present. The final segment of my presentation briefly goes over some of the unique approaches I detect in the USA Crypto-Jewish phenomenon, including results of informal surveys at meetings of the Society for Crypto-Jewish Studies in 2016 and 2017.  These surveys show a deep commitment to some aspects of Jewish identity. And there are interesting combinations of identities, or narratives about how respondents came to this identity.

Often the most important mode of expression in this group is genealogical and genetic. In the past, I’ve noticed that those active in this group have a sense that Judaism is something that they are proud to have inherited, not so much something they have chosen, despite the reality that in the USA today, religion is more often in practice chosen rather than inherited. (This is so even when the choice is to continue an inherited religion). Even ethnic identity is something that is claimed rather than ingrained.

More important, speaking in Israel about the members of a group like the Society for Crypto Jewish Studies, many in this group have not made the kind of unambiguous association with Judaism that would be associated with Aliyah or with conversion or becoming active in a mainstream synagogue. Some have, but many prefer to assert that there is no need for them to do so, or to lament that a kind of Sephardic Judaism they wish for does not exist today. Moreover, the Society tries, sometimes sparking a lot of “drama,” to be a warm and welcoming environment for those seeking to express a Jewish identity, and for those interested in Jewish heritage but not interested in identifying as Jews by religion or ethnicity.  Conversations about identity of the next generation are as or more difficult than in any other segment of American society interested in passing along aspects of their identity but unsure about how best to do so.  There are interesting parallels with Messianic Judaism and “Jewish Roots” Christianity, and with the roots movement that perhaps should be traced to African-American search for roots via African-American Islam, or via Alex Haley’s novel Roots.

IV.

 

מגמות עכשוויות ביהדות אמריקה:

יהודי אמריקה ויהדותה לאור מחקרי “פיו”,  תופעת טראמפ, תגלית ו “אף אחד מן הנזכרים מעלה ”

Current Trends in American Judaism: American Jews and Judaism in the light of Pew, Trump, Birthright, and “None of the Above”

ד”ר סט וורד

מרצה בכיר, החוג לפילוסופיה ומדעי הדת

אוניברסיטת ויומינג-ארה”ב

Seth Ward

Senior Lecturer, Dept. of Philosophy and Religious Studies

University of Wyoming

The Pew study of Judaism published a few years ago kick-started a broad discussion about the directions of American Judaism. So too has a very divisive 2016 US Presidential election campaign. Birthright has been resoundingly successful in building a common Israel experience, but its long-term results for Jewish identity are not yet clear in a society in which “none of the above” appears to be the fastest growing religious denomination and radical religious shifts are personal and institutional norms. Religious, cultural and social activities are flourishing in traditional and quite a-traditional ways, yet face substantial challenges: funding, assimilation, participation. My views are colored by the specific situation in Denver, where I live—and in Wyoming, the least populous U.S. state, where I teach–neither of which is like the East or West Coast.

מחקר שפירסם המרכז למחקר ע”ש PEW על היהדות בארה”ב שפורסם לפני מספר שנים התחיל שיחה רחבה על כיוונים עכשוויים  ביהדות האמריקאית. כך גם הבחירות ב 2016 לנשיאות ארה”ב גילו פילוגים גדולים בקהילה. “תגלית” הצליחה באופן מהדהד בבניית חוויה ישראלית משותפת, אך תוצאותיה ארוכות-הטווח לזהות יהודית עדיין אינן ברורות בחברה שבה “אף אחת מהנ”ל” היא הזהות הדתית שצמיחה המהירה ביותר – ושינויים רדיקליים הן בנורמות אישייות והן בנורמות מוסדיות חלים בתדירות. פעילויות דתיות, תרבותיות וחברתיות פורחות בדרכים מסורתיות ולא מסורתיות, אך הן ניצבות בפני אתגרים משמעותיים: מימון, הטמעה, השתתפות. הדעות שלי צבועות לפי המצב הספציפי בדנוור, שם אני גר – ובוויומינג, המדינה המאוכלסת לפחות, שבה אני מלמד, שאף אחת מהן אינה דומה ל חוף המזרח או לחוף המערבי בארה”ב.

 

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For Heschel and Maimonides Yahrzeit: emphasizing common humanity

I was kept away from giving a talk at Kavod (and reading much of Menachem Kellner’s “They too are called Human”) by the “Bomb Cyclone” so I quickly wrote up some comments. –Shabbat shalom

Good Morning and Shabbat Shalom

I am truly sorry that I cannot be with you today! My flight back from the East Coast was cancelled. But this gave me more time with my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren though, a great benefit! As of this moment, I am not sure there will be anyone coming to help with services, so I am writing out remarks I might have said today. Of course if there is someone who has prepared remarks, their remarks can replace mine and I’ll talk about this in the future.

As you may recall, we have been planning to devote some time in January to talk about the common humanity of all people.

The problem is a complex one for a synagogue, as our tradition has – and has to have – complex notions both about “Jewish exceptionalism”–its unique value and rightness—and about “Jewish universalism” – the way Jewish teachings include the all people. On the one hand there is the “Chosen People idea,” often thought to emphasize the uniqueness of the Jewish people and of its teachings, and visible in nearly every aspect of Jewish law and ritual.  On the other hand our tradition insists on the common humanity of all people: all people were created in the Divine Image, all people are descended from a common ancestor, “The First Human” – the translation of  אָדָם רִאשון literally “First Adam.”

I scheduled speaking about this topic for January in memory of Abraham Joshua Heschel, whose Yahrtzeit was yesterday, of Moses Maimonides, whose yahrtzeit is tomorrow, and of Martin Luther King, who is celebrated with a national holiday, this year on his birthday, January 15.

Our congregation here at Kavod Senior Living reflects traditional Jewish sensibilities, ritual and teachings—but we also stress the famous words of the Prophet Isaiah, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples.” Over the past months and years, we have returned to this theme from time to time. We repeat this line often over the High Holy Days. Our theme for the International Shabbat Project Shabbat was שבת שלום בעולם שלום  “Shabbat Shalom, Ba-Olam Shalom”“Shabbat Peace, World Peace.”[1] Among many other things, we’ve discussed Menachem Kellner’s observation that Maimonides’ conclusion to the Laws of Hanukkah—by careful attention to wording–avoids the military aspect of the festival, and instead emphasizes the theme of world peace. This despite the prominence of this theme in the justification for the festival—which after all reflects the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks, and—in domestic politics, of pious Jews over assimilationist Jews committed to the Greek way of life.

I return to Menachem Kellner—a colleague of mine from the days I taught in Haifa—to discuss his most recent assertions about the common humanity of all persons in Maimonides’ work. The book is called “They too are called Human: Gentiles in the eyes of Maimonides” but it is at home and I am in New York!  So my remarks reflect only small sections of the book available online. Kellner wrote it, he says, because over recent decades, the tendency has been to overemphasize the special nature of the Jewish people, in ways that are problematic—indeed appalling. In Kellner’s view (and my own) this contradicts the tradition of recent generations, as well as classic Jewish teachings. In the introduction to the book, Kellner identifies some examples. One is quite extreme, and is represented by an Israeli publication, Torat HaMelekh. This work created quite a stir, among other reasons, due to its argument that ultimately all non-Jews are illegitimate, and, for example, hardly even able to overcome this status even by conversion to Judaism. A prominent Rabbi, Rabbi Shelomo Aviner, suggests that the People of Israel received the Torah because of their special status—and that no other people were suited to accept it. Of course, traditionally, Israel’s acceptance of the Torah is the source rather than the result of this status. Rabbi Aviner draws some conclusions that might have frightening implications—implications he rejects but are easily drawn nevertheless by some of his students.

A large part of Kellner’s writing over the past many years has been to talk about ideas of chosenness in Maimonides; this most recent book argues that for Maimonides, all humans are—human. All have the potential, all have the capacity, all are created in the Divine Image.

In this book, he focuses on three passages from Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah–the Code of Jewish Laws; he could easily have given many others of course. At the very beginning of the Code, Maimonides asserts that (paraphrasing) “the basic foundation of all wisdom is to know God.” Maimonides’ comments about non-Jews, for example, about the Greek philosopher Aristotle, make it clear that he believes this learning about God is possible for anyone. Indeed, it seems to me that Maimonides, like many in his time, believed that certain classes of humans—slaves, women, children, even people born in the wrong regions—would rarely in practice reach certain levels of intellectual development. But unlike his contemporaries he seems to believe that with effort and training it would be possible for anyone—even people in these categories—to do so. Judah Ha-Levi, his older near-contemporary thought quite differently about these issues. (I like to think that Maimonides and Judah met in Cordoba or nearby Lucena when Maimonides was five or six years old; maybe at a reception for Judah, then already an old man, before he left for the Land of Israel). Judah HaLevi’s book Kuzari is designed as a dialogue between a rabbi and a king, in which HaLevi implies that the Jews have a special “Divine Matter” and – for example—the King, even if he were to convert, would still be distinct from, and less than, those born as Jews. To be sure, the King does see that Judaism provides the pathway in life he is seeking, and he becomes Jewish.  My colleague Danny Lasker likes to say that HaLevi gives us the impression that Judaism is computer hardware; in any case, Judaism works best or even fully works only with “original manufacturer’s equipment”— a comparison to computer hardware.  Whereas for Maimonides Judaism is clearly “software” that can work with any human being. And all humanity can achieve good results even if they use philosophy rather than Judaism, as Aristotle did.

The second text is at the end of the Laws of Sabbatical Years. Maimonides says that the status of the Levites and Priests is open to all the inhabitants of the world:

any one of the inhabitants of the world27whose spirit generously motivates him and he understands with his wisdom to set himself aside and stand before God to serve Him and   to Him and to know God, proceeding justly as God made him, removing from his neck the yoke of the many reckonings which people seek, he is sanctified as holy of holies.28 God will be His portion and heritage forever and will provide what is sufficient for him in this world like He provides for the priests and the Levites.29  (emphasis mine; text is from a Chabad website)

Chabad seems to be surprised but correctly says in the note that this could apply to gentiles. This is precisely the point of Maimonides’ statement—what else could it refer to?

It seems to me that it is crucial to our community today to write and teach in ways that make it unlikely for anyone to see this as surprising.

The final text Kellner chose was the end of Maimonides’ Code of Jewish Laws, in discussing the age of the Messiah—a text that clearly suggests that all people will benefit from wisdom and knowledge. Indeed, Maimonides often refers to “The Religion of Truth” –I do not know how many of those who read Maimonides in Hebrew or English translations are aware of this, but Maimonides’s Arabic writings show this is a familiar term from Islamic religious usage: the Arabic is “Din al-Haqq” – found in the Qur’an.

And so, Maimonides believes that ultimately whatever benefits are conferred by Judaism are open to anyone who comes to the correct philosophical, moral and intellectual conclusions about God and about the World. It is not so simple though, as Maimonides may be said to be “stuck” with some of the conclusions of Jewish law, which sometimes distinguishes between Jews and non-Jews, and sometimes in ways that we find indefensible today. Almost always, Maimonides finds a way to remind his readers that family and community can and often should indeed come first, but that humanity is universal.

I’ll now turn briefly to Heschel. Active in Germany during the rise of Nazism, Heschel’s biography of Maimonides paints a chilling portrait and denouncement of the prejudicial policies of the Almoravids iu Spain—one that clearly had echoes in Germany in the 1930s. After the War, in the USA, Heschel’s publications included general works such as God in Search of Man, and for that matter the English translation of his The Prophets – which spoke to all religious traditions – or at least to the Protestant, Catholic a950nd Jewish traditions of the USA. Alongside these works though he also wrote about the Sabbath—describing it as the Holy Time of the Jewish people; after 1967, he had to write about Israel, the Holy Space if the Jewish people as well.

Heschel’s public practice was also divided: he is most famous for his work on behalf of Soviet Jewry and Christian-Jewish rapproachment, but he was also active in general American issues, including Civil Rights and opposition to the Vietnam War. Famously, he taught in a generation that had witnessed the horrors of Nazism and Soviet Communism; he taught his students that in our age, people of all religious traditions need to band together to oppose evil in our society—be it antisemitism or racism, murder in American ghettos or murder by soldiers in American uniforms. The Talmud seems to suggest that one cannot sell a synagogue to build a church—in an age in which this was typical anyway, he is famous for saying that indeed when Jews leave a community, they should be happy if their building is repurposed to serve others who are committed to the values promoted by religion.

 

So We have developed a few ideas – Jewish tradition has elements that promote “Jewish exceptionalism” and universal ideas appropriate to a World Religion.  IN recent decades, in some circles, the tide has turned towards “Jewish exceptionalism” in surprising ways, some of which have very unfortunate ramifications. I briefly quoted Judah HaLevi’s idea that Judaism was inaccessible to converts—one that could not have been so terribly off-putting since he had the King convert to Judaism! ON the other hand Maimonides’ teachings include great commitment to Torah, but also a commitment to the ultimate improvement possible for all people, and that all people are created in the Divine image. My colleague Menachem Kellner has spent much of his career suggesting that ultimately this is the important conclusion to be drawn from Maimonides’ works, and the real message of Judaism today. Heschel’s response may be more practical for us though: a commitment to Jewish values symbolized by the Sabbath and by the Land (and State) of Israel, and to social and religious justice for Jews—but recognizing the need to also have teachings such as those in his philosophical works that are accessible to all—and social justice work that addresses societal wrongs that transcend the narrowly conceived needs of the Jewish people.

 

The next installment of this theme will turn to Rabbi Hammer’s essay about balancing Universalism and Exceptionalism in Jewish ritual and thought.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

[1] (by the way, the wording mimicked a famous statement of Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish republic, “peace at home, peace in the world”).

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Eric Weitzner’s “Jewish Bach” blog

I wrote this piece in late 2013 or early 2014. I continually find things I wrote that are suitable to the blog but never published here. I found this piece, never posted, in Dec. 2017 while “cleaning up” some computer files. I spent some time reading the blog that is the subject of this post, and made a few edits before posting it today.

I started reading the blog of Eric Weitzner after noting that a public read-through of his version of Bach’s B Minor Mass, with his Hebrew text, was to be mounted at HaBonim Synagogue in January 2014. Here is where the announcement was posted: http://dessoff.org/this-season/sing-in-bachs-prayer-in-b-minor/ (but I do not think this is currently available as I review this post–SW). It was billed as “adapting Jewish prayers and theological ideas to Bach’s transcendent music.”

Weitzner discusses this work in his blog: https://jewishbach.wordpress.com/ — a blog he concluded a few months after the HaBonim Synagogue event, but which, as of this writing, is still viewable on line. And the blog still makes curious reading.

There are of course Hebrew translations of the B Minor Mass, for example this one, by Ada Brodski, a very serviceable literal translation of the B Minor Mass text (with some further comments in Hebrew, mostly about the music rather than the text.) Some Catholics in Israel are Hebrew speaking, because they are converts from Judaism—or because Hebrew is the local language. Click here for the pages of the St. James Vicariate, which has links to could easily be adapted for the B Minor or any other Mass (currently these links may be found here).

Of course, the Hebrew translations of the Mass are literal. Weitzner’s version is not, nor is it meant to be. Instead, it uses or adapts Jewish liturgical texts—trying to match and adapt Jewish ideas to the music and text of Bach’s masterwork. I read through a lot of Weitzner’s blog, and it is pretty interesting as an exercise in reshaping the Mass text to conform with a very different set of theological considerations in Judaism.

He ascribes the Hebrew version of the B Minor Mass to Sara Itzig Levy (1761-1854), an important Jewish figure, well-connected, and an organizer of Berlin Salons. She may very well have been responsible for the revival of interest in J.S. Bach: she was a noted student of W.F. Bach and a collector of his father’s J.S. Bach’s manuscripts. She gave her young relative Felix Mendelssohn the St. Matthew Passion manuscript, the performance of which in 1829 created the upsurge in interest in Bach’s music. Weitzner’s blog though reads like what it is: a classic instance of ascribing his own work to a “found manuscript” – one never displayed on his blog, nor does he give the full name of the collector who brought it to his attention. (Instead, he takes pains to describe why the supposed collector “Robert” does not identify himself further or publish any image of the manuscript). The Dessoff Choirs website did not engage in this literary trope; the site simply described the text as a “version created by Eric Weitzner.”

Of course, there are some very strong parallels between the Mass and the Jewish liturgy. The most obvious being the Sanctus and Kedusha. The Kedusha—with its Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh – to my mind—is the most relevant parallel between Jewish liturgical usage and the Mass, not merely because it has nearly the same wording as the Sanctus, but because it comes in the context of “sanctification” in the Christian Mass, the sanctification of the Host. The Aramaic and Arabic terminology most often used by Christians for the Mass, involving the term quddus – Sanctification (rather than something based on Mass or “Missa”)– i.e. the same term as Kedusha.

It’s hard to think about Weitzner’s endeavor without thinking about two Jewish musical giants who approached the idea of writing their own Mass, and came up with new music and quite different approaches to the text.

Ernest Bloch came to the conclusion that his Mass would be a setting of the Union Prayer Book, Avodath HaKodesh, and his setting is quite faithful to the version of the UPB in use when he composed his piece. Nevertheless, Bloch’s musical settings (especially for the Adon Olam), his use of the English “Kaddish,” and his comments about the piece enlighten us about his own views regarding the theology of the piece. (The Bloch Avodath HaKodesh should be thought of as a concert piece although it was written to enable synagogue use; the “Kaddish” in concerts not the traditional Aramaic texts, but an amazing English-language piece).

Leonard Bernstein envisioned his Mass as “A Theatre Piece,” which indeed it is, and wrote it for the Kennedy Center’s opening. Bernstein’s libretto may indeed be an attempt to re-make the Mass in such a way that he, Bernstein, could write a Mass—a benchmark for composers!–although his endeavor could never be considered liturgical in spirit. Of course, it’s hard to imagine that either of them would have entertained the idea of translating the Mass text into Hebrew (beyond replacing the Sanctus with the Hebrew original, as Bernstein did), and if so, translating it in a way that adapted Jewish liturgical texts and was more consistent with Jewish theology.

This was—I should say lehavdil—the approach though of endeavors of “Judaizing translations” of non-Jewish pieces. In some translation, such as most Yiddish translations of Gilbert and Sullivan, the transformation is largely in a signature section—not the entire work. Thus translations of Pirates of Penzance might have the Modern Major General’s song refer to traditional Jewish knowledge alongside and instead of some of the items in the W.S. Gilbert text. Of course, this is also satirical, a far stretch from the realm of liturgy—and the satirical adaptations are standard outside the realm of “Jewish versions” anyway. Yiddish theatre was replete with Shakespeare and other classics totally transformed into their new Jewish settings for the Jewish stage.

Another issue worth discussing is the need or desire to make some of the great Christian music palatable to Jews who might feel uncomfortable or indeed feel it is inappropriate or halachicly inadmissible to sing texts invoking Christ’s mercy or referring to an only begotten Divine son–indeed, anything mentioning the name of the second part of the Trinity. One could imagine a note similar to one found in some contemporary Jewish choral programs (“members of the choir sing Adomai”) one may well imagine that the notice would be along the lines of “members of the choir sing ‘Priced’ or ‘Rhesus’ ” (although probably not exactly these suggestions!)

Weitzner’s solution is, for such singers, a lot more elegant and a lot more thoroughgoing than that.

It’s hard for me to envision Weitzner’s opus—the Bach B Minor Mass re-worded with what is purportedly the Jewish prayer of Sara Itzig Levy—will ever be more than a curiosity or be mounted in a formal concert. But it was fun to read Weitzner’s blog, and I was happy to re-read some of his postings while updating this post.

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Torah Reading and Haftarah for Shabbat Hatan

I do not know if I would have written up these comments except that the discussion of the Torah Reading for Shabbat Hatan came up a few days before Shabbat Chayei Sarah, the parasha where the readin is taken from. 

 

Something related to custom of a special Torah reading and/or haftarah was mentioned at the annual meeting of the Society for Crypto Judaic Studies on Tuesday of this week.  I mentioned to my friend and colleague Rabbi Merrill Shapiro that I had encountered this in my research. I could not remember more at first but a survey of the Internet found that the haftarah is Sos Asis (Isa. 61:10ff.)— the last of the “Seven Haftarot of Consolation” and always read right before Rosh Hashanah.

 

The Torah reading passage is Ve- Avraham zaqen ba bayim  (Gen. 24:1-7). As it happened, this passage is from this week’s parasha, so covered it in my Wednesday lunchtime Torah study (WUTSup: Wyoming Union Torah Study). We primarily do “Humash with Rashi” and some other sources, such as Targum, as relevant. So we read the passage with Rashi, and I also covered a Targum Pseudo-Jonathan from a little later in the chapter, in which the generosity and hospitality of Abraham is contrasted with a supposed rapacious murderousness of Laban, who sought to poison Abraham’s messenger—whom he thought was Abraham himself—and steal his wealth. This reading explains why Rebecca’s father is not mentioned after the meal served to Abraham’s servant: the poison did not hard Abraham but instead killed his own father.

 

Back to the Torah and Haftarah for the Hatan:

 

Since the reported custom of a Torah reading for the Hatan is relevant to tomorrow’s Parasha, I spent a little more time on it erev shabbat.

 

Rabbi Yehoshua Glazman writing here: http://asif.co.il/?wpfb_dl=7543  gives the reference for the Haftara Sos Asis for a newly-wed man diring the week of Sheva Berachot as Rema (R. Moses Isserles) on  Orah Hayyim 428:8 – and he and many others refer to the haftarah as an Ashkenazi custom on this basis. He also found a reference to Ashkenazim in Safed having a version of this custom. But he also thinks the custom may be as ancient as the 7th century and mentioned in Saadia’s Siddur (which would be 10th century).

 

http://www.shtaygen.co.il/?CategoryID=1909&ArticleID=12869&Page=1   “Shtaygen” has some further sources, including Abudarham and a few others, and is mostly about the Torah reading rather than the Haftarah. This is about the reading from our upcoming Parasha—Chayei Sarah, VeAvraham Zaqen Ba Bayamim. Sources gathered by the Shtaygen website suggest to me that there were various customs as to whether it was read from a second scroll, recited by heart, or from the same Torah as Parashat HaShavua and rolled to Chayei Sarah. There are a few traditions about how many verses are read, but the usual one is 7 verses—up to “you shall take a wife for my son from there.” This is about getting a wife for Isaac. The passage could be interpreted as a warning about intermarriage—not marrying a Canaanite woman (or perhaps, if you are going to have to intermarry, at least it should be with a relative!). The reasoning for selecting this passage is more likely to underscore the difficulty of making good matches. Personally, I think the reading would make more sense in these cases for the Aufruf before the wedding, rather than for the Shabbat hatan (i.e. the Shabbat that occurs in the week of Sheva Berachot), although the custom of an Aufruf prior to the wedding, so widespread today, was probably not so common centuries ago.

 

As far as I can tell, this tradition is rarely upheld today. A quick internet search is not a replacement for serious research; nevertheless, the on-line responsa that show up quickly about these subjects basically suggest that this practice is rare today and there’s no need to start it where it does not currently exist.

 

Rebecca’s generosity and enthusiasm is explicitly documented in the Torah, so is the love of Isaac and Rebecca, and Isaac appears to be a model Biblical patriarchal monogamous marriage. It seems fitting to me that Abraham’s charge to his servant, resulting in this match, provides the text used by some communities to celebrate a marriage.

 

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