Saturday, September 09, 2006


thinking about the ways that people interpret the torah after reading about the possibility that the conservative movement in the us might actually start to accept g/b/l/t rabbis, i then came across the following bbc world service broadcast written by my dear father:

"More than thirty years ago, I shared a bed with a Catholic priest and a Methodist minister. It was a small bed-and a long night. Just the same, I would not have forgone that experience for all the tea in China. And we didn't even have tea in that small cottage in Selma, Alabama. We had spent the night in the black ghetto of that town in order to join in the Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery. The next morning, I would walk alongside Martin Luther King, the Nobel Prize Laureate Ralph Bunche, and my own teacher and friend Professor Abraham Heschel. It was all part of a statement of support for the persecuted black community in the United States which would be heard and seen throughout the world. But, the night before, we discovered solidarity and religious faith in the family bed of our hosts who insisted that they would sleep on the floor. It meant so much to them to have us as their guests. And it was important to us as well.

What can a rabbi, priest, and minister discuss together on a night like that, when sleep is almost impossible? We should have talked about the shared dream, the hopes to achieve full civil rights for dispossessed and persecuted minorities. Or we could have talked about dangers: during the afternoon, some rifle shots had been sent in my direction. The rednecks roaring by in their car had only intended to scare me; and I could have assured them that they had succeeded in this. But what DID the three of us talk about that night? We talked shop, of course-about the Bible, and how to interpret the sacred texts.

Oddly enough, one text we did discuss was read in our synagogues this week: Leviticus 19. The first words in it define all of that text: kiddoshim t'h'yu 'You shall be holy, because I the Lord your God am holy'. The three of us, clergymen in different traditions, strive after holiness. As a rabbi, I had less problems than the others. Rabbis are not really holy. When I am not in town, any lay-person in my congregation can take the service, read from the Torah, give the sermon and pronounce the blessings. Rabbi means 'teacher', not a holy man. In any event, the three of us, interpreters of that shared sacred text, knew that we could find a definition of holiness in these lines. The text is very clear here. It turns to the Ten Commandments, and lists them with new interpretations which make us aware that to be 'holy as God is holy' means to be compassionate and merciful and to spend our lives in ethical actions. That is the only way to acquire holiness, although my colleagues on that night could disagree with me to a certain extent. 'A hermit in the desert, a monk or a nun in an enclosed order can be very holy', was their argument. In the end I suggested that this training might make them holy-but only if they then served the community and the world.

But there were subtleties in the Biblical text which all of us enjoyed. 'You shall not curse the deaf, or put a stumbling block before the blind' is an absolutely marvellous text. We could argue that a deaf person is not damaged by a curse he or she will never hear; and that a blind person will stumble over an obstacle on an unfamiliar road without realising that it was not bad luck but malice which caused a fall. But the key to the passage is the final sentence: "v'ahavta rea-cha kamocha, ani adonai", 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself; I am the Lord.' God reaches out to every human being; and we are taught to see others as ourself, to recognise each human being as an aspect of God. Then, ethical actions unite us, and we become like God: HOLY.

In the morning we went out to march with Martin Luther King towards freedom."

why, she cried in a fit of naivety, why is it so hard not to do to each other what is hateful to us? gut shabbes

1 comment:

  1. Just wanted to let you know I visited....thanks for checking out my blog back in August. I enjoyed reading your comments on Torah and things Jewish.
    I'm in the middle of moving to the midwest and am househunting at the moment.
    Shana Tovah, Shirah R.