Posts Tagged ‘Torah’

I have not written here much, this year. My blogging has been pretty much limited to the writing I do on learning for my employer. But I had a thought today at Torah study and I want to share it.

I am meeting more and more people who identify as non-binary in gender. I happen to like identifying as a straight male and my difficulty with understanding non-binary gender identity probably has its root there. I respect people with different gender identities than I but I do admit I’m struggling to get my pronouns right. No matter. I’m trying.

Today it occurred to me that perhaps non-binary gender identity is more appropriate for humans than I thought. Consider this:

Genesis verse 1:26 begins: “Let us make a human in our image…” Most people I know answer the question “who are ‘us’ and who is ‘our'” the same way. Literal or allegorical, most people I know say something like “maybe God was asking the angels to help”. But, what if God was not asking other entities to help. What if God was identifying as having no particular gender, or being a mix of genders, and speaking of themselves in the plural just like my non-binary friends do? Food for thought, anyway.

I also have been pondering this:

Genesis verse 1:27 says “And God created the human in his image. In the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” What if “male and female he created them” really means that all of “them” (humans) were created to be simultaneously male and female? We know that anatomically we share some interesting commonalities – like men can get breast cancer because they have breast cells and women have a clitoris that has aspects of the male organ; and we know we have psychological traits that vary from one human to another. So, maybe Genesis 1:27 is really acknowledging our dual nature. If God is dual gender and we are mad in God’s image then perhaps we are to. After all even if we don’t all agree on translation (which we don’t) we can all agree that biblical Hebrew has no punctuation. The same words can mean vastly different things depending on sentence structure.

I really don’t know why but I feel better now.

Shabbat Shalom.


If you know me then you know that I am a huge supporter of Israel. I am deeply saddened by the recent murder of 3 Jewish teenagers in Israel. I have spoken up about that anger as best I can. I have also spoken out against the ridiculous conspiracy theories that invariably emerge from such tragedies. I stand up for the cause of Israel to the very best of my ability.

Now a young Palestinian boy has been murdered, supposedly in retribution for the 3 other murders. I’m sad to have to say this, but it’s necessary to speak out even when I will always stand by my position on Israel in general. Let me just say this: The murder of a Palestinian boy to avenge the earlier killings does not help the cause of Israel. It is vile; criminal; perhaps worse than the killings that came before it; and, perhaps more presciently, in no way even remotely condoned by Judaism.

Deuteronomy 32:35 specifically says: “Vengeance is Mine, and recompense…”. It does NOT say that vengeance is in the domain of we humans. In fact, in Leviticus 19:18 we are specifically taught that it is NOT for us to avenge, specifically:  “You shall not avenge” . Maimonides discusses this further in his code of Jewish law, saying: “Taking revenge is an extremely bad trait. A person should be accustomed to rise above his feelings about all worldly matters…” R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi says similar things in his code of Jewish law: “One should erase any feelings of revenge from one’s heart and never remind oneself of it.” Vengeance is prohibited by Jewish law.

Let’s say that you disagree with my simple quotations and still think the murder of 3 young Jews is worthy of revenge. Try this.

Close your eyes and imagine yourself when you were 14 years old. A group of people abduct you while you are minding your own business. You have not hurt them. They grab you and, in a way that no ethical system could possibly condone, set you on fire. As you are dying in excruciating pain your lungs are charred while you inhale the flames. Now, open your eyes and try to imagine any scenario in which those who abducted you would have been justified, ethically or morally, in bringing upon you such a horrific death. NO ONE could possibly be justified in doing that to you!!! NO ONE COULD POSSIBLY BE JUSTIFIED IN DOING THAT TO ANYONE!

This whole idea of taking revenge, especially this way, is completely abhorrent to me. If someone killed the kids who killed the other kids, I would still be disgusted; but at least I might understand. But this is far, far worse because a poor Palestinian youth was painfully and terrifyingly murdered just because he was young and Palestinian. THERE IS NO EXCUSE. There is NOTHING that permits this to be a viable act of retribution. This is part of a group-think mentality that ignores the innate value of the individual. It makes NO sense!

Israeli officials and the Israeli government have spoken out against this crime. They have already arrested 6 people. Today, I strongly urge the government of Israel to do what they say they will do and to bring these criminals to justice. Israel has all the right words; now I pray that they will take the right actions.

My friend and teacher, Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana said some things (as is always the case) better than I could. Rabbi Cahana said this:  “Israel is a nation of laws. Judaism is a people of law. Those who are responsible for this terrible murder must be brought to justice. And if it should be found that the murder of this young teen, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, was perpetrated as an act of revenge – then we all bear the shame.” It may be hard to hear this, especially for me the individualist,  but Judaism is firmly grounded in communitarianism and for our people, Cahana is absolutely right.

Revenge is always wrong.

Hate crimes are always wrong.

Inflicting suffering on another individual is always wrong.

All we can do now is to work ever more diligently to stop this horrible violence. Jews murdering Palestinian children out of vengeance is utterly antithetical to Judaism. Something tells me that most Muslims would agree but would also condemn the horrible murders of Israelis that started it. Let us all mourn all of these deaths and may it be that Jews mourn the death of Abu Khdeir as deeply as they mourn the death of their own. Whatever one thinks God is, I hope that he or she does.



I am clearly the product of the 1960s and 1970s. Many of my first political views came about while running around Telegraph Avenue in 70’s Berkeley. But, over the years, I moved very far toward the center from the positions of my youth. In some cases I have to admit I moved right of the center point.  One of those areas was that of constitutional interpretation. I used to read both the Cato Supreme Court Review and the constitutional analysis from the American Constitution Society; only the former was anything I could really relate to. Even though I’ve become more tolerant of those who broadly interpret the constitution, I still read the Cato Supreme Court Review every year and I think it’s the only solid annual summary of the supreme court year. But, my mind is much more open than it once was.

A digression (But not really)…..

One thing I really dislike about organized religion is dogma. I admit that I have very little tolerance for fundamentalist Christians, Muslims  Jews, or anyone else who will set aside science and rational discourse purely because they believe every single word of their holy scriptures. For example. when someone denies the science of evolution through random variation because their old book says the Earth was created in 6 days, I really don’t get it at all. Some of the smartest people I know fall into that group and I don’t understand how. I love studying Torah. But, I can’t take a single word of it as anything but multiple layers of meaning. Jews don’t study the bible as if it has only one single literal meaning. We look at it as being a beautiful text of manifold layers. In particular, there are 4 distinct layers of meaning in Torah study. They are:

The P’shat Layer

P’shat level is the plain sense of meaning of the words. We read that G-d created Eve from Adam’s rib and we understand the story. This it the level where my fundamentalist friends stop.

 The Drash Layer

Drash is the first interpretive level in which we try to understand what the story means, even allegorically, to us personally. This is the level that I am most interested in. What does “6 days of creation” mean? Six Earth days? Six “God days”? Six increments of geological strata? What? And what can we learn from it? This is what I like to do.


The Remez Layer of a story provides deeper hints about what the story might be telling us if we analyze it closely. For example, Remez might consist of understanding the  gematryia (or numerical value) of each letter or word. I’m not saying that I believe this, I’m just saying it’s a technique. Here we look for deeper meaning.


This is a level of mysterious and coded meaning. It is generally a mystical interpretation that I have to admit I enjoy discussing but which I don’t believe has all that much relevance for myself.

A Return…

So, here I was: acting like a strict constructionist about the US Constitution but constantly getting visibly agitated by those who take the same hard-line toward scripture. And the realization of that hit me like a rock. All of the sudden Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s interpretive method made sense to me! By no means does this mean arbitrarily rewriting the constitution. I love it too much to believe we can do that. But it does mean that I need to be willing to accept that some very smart people can, should, and will try to adapt its words to the 21st century. I don’t have to agree with them when they try to use the commerce clause to justify all manner of legislation that they feel like trying to pass, for example. But I do need to respect them even if they don’t think what I think they should think. My rationale is simply that I can’t be intolerant towards people who want to take a hard-line stance on a document like the Bible and then take the same hard-line stance on other documents, myself. It’s just not in my nature.

Perhaps we can learn a lot by applying religious texts to our modern life and, perhaps, we can learn equally much by applying the words of our founders to that same modernity. Unless, of course, you want to assume the infallibility of either document. In the latter case, we know it’s not perfect because we have an amendment process born of the inherent compromises in its creation (unless you think the 3/5 rule, for example, indicates infallibility!). In the former case, my opinion is that no religious document is infallible because I refuse to believe that only one group of the world’s people is “right”. That too is not in my nature.

A Conclusion…

So, I will still use the Cato review as my gold standard for constitutional review. But, these days, I’m far more flexible when in comes to progressive interpretation. I may disagree with some progressive interpretations but I don’t think it’s “wrong” to interpret.

Then again…….. I could be wrong 🙂

‘Course… That’s not in my nature either.