Monday, October 28, 2013

Parsha Project 0: In the beginning.


Hello oh Internets,
A few things about me and what I hope to do here.
Firstly, my name is Yonatan and I live in the Bay Area.
I did not grow up as a particularly practicing Jew though my family did have a sit down Shabbat meal every week growing up at which we would like the candles and say the bracha over the candles. Other than that, we went to a Reconstructionist congregation for High Holy Days had a large Hanukkah party every year, and have a Seder with friends for Pesach. 
In college, due my colleges’ lack of any interest in the concerns of Jews on campus to a speech by a virulently anti-Semitic speaker in an event sponsored by a student group, I founded a Jewish Student Union on campus. It is still over a decade later and the tree that we planted for Tu B'Shevat in ’03 is still on campus After that, I started to get involved in Hillel, but still not that religious. 

When I transferred to a school in SoCal, my little sister gave me a copy of the Tanakh that I will be using for this project. It is a copy of the 1999 edition of the JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh

While down in SoCal, I got much more involved in the more religious side of things, thanks to a more religiously involved Hillel and a wonderful Hillel Rabbi.  Plus I read a fascinating book by Thomas Cahill called “The Gifts of the Jews” which postulates that the thing that Judaism added to western civilization was the ideas of a conscience and of a divine being that could be communicated with in a more personal rather than organizational manner. After college, I was part of multiple independent minyanim and attended a weekly lay led and organized Torah Study class for two years.

I also really like a quote from Richard Joel, the former President of Hillel and former President of Yeshiva University. 

“Judaism is not a Religion. Judaism is the religious culture of a people.”

I tend to view the Torah (and the Tanakh in general) as an, at times, historicalish text that is telling the “history” of a people and of their understanding of the world around them.  It is a very different world from the one we lived in, with different understandings of how the world works and about the interconnectedness of all things. I also find it important to understand that, because the people who helped to write down the text as we currently have it and those who lived it, we from a long time ago in a very different situation, that while we can criticize them from the existence of certain things (the blithering sexism of the Eve story) , they did not have our post enlightenment philosophical society and so, it is useful, as John Green of the Crash Course History videos says, to give the people who wrote this the benefit of the doubt that they may actually have believed this. Thus you can concentrate more on why they believe this and not worry about how they could be such idiots to even think these things.

Also, I am not of the opinion that the text we have is the “direct word of G_d” or that all of the words are exactly what they have always been. Much like the Iliad, the epic of Gilgamesh and other such tales, this was all an oral tradition until many years later (probably during the Babylonian exile.)  Thus, not only should we endeavor to understand what the people living this we thinking, but what the people who copied the text down were thinking, and what edits they might have made to send a message to the people who would be reading this at the time. 

So that is me. Hope you enjoy (and that I can actually finish this)


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