Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

What Is Torah?

posted by David Klinghoffer

This coming Friday and Saturday, Jews around the world will recall and celebrate the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. The Ten Commandments are the briefest possible distillation of the 613 Biblical commandments — or alternatively, of the Torah as a whole. Just as the Decalogue by itself gives only the very barest hint of what Torah is all about, so too does any selected extract from the written Torah of Moses, or from the ancient sayings of the rabbis.

I was reminded of this by the comments following a blog entry I posted in which a Gentile Torah-believer, a Noachide, eloquently wrote of his experience in coming to know God through the medium of Torah. A couple of nasty little anti-Semites then posted their comments with quotes from the Talmud and Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah that seem unfriendly to Gentiles. I have neither deleted the hateful comments, nor checked out every quotation. There’s no need. Why?

I know perfectly well that at a surface-level reading, there are upsetting things in the Five Books of Moses, in the Bible as a whole, and in the oral tradition that explains the cryptic material in Scripture, reflected in the Talmud and other ancient rabbinic literature. Quoting the scariest bits is a tactic of hateful people who despite the Bible, especially the Hebrew Bible. It’s like if someone were to photograph some random feature of your face or body and magnify it to huge proportions, projecting it on a screen, separated from the rest of your face or body. 
Consider your left nostril. However beautiful you may be as a whole, as I’m sure you are, and however vital your left nostril may be to your overall vital functions, a photo of just that nostril probably wouldn’t be exceptionally charming. If someone posted such a photo around town or on the Internet, it would be a safe bet that that person isn’t your friend, but your enemy.
It’s the same when individual statements from Scripture or the rabbis are sliced out of the grand overall context of Torah and blown up out of proportion, presented as meaningful all by themselves, when they are not. As I suggested, the only people who do this are anti-Semites, haters of the Jews, and haters of God.

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Steve Schlicht

posted May 24, 2009 at 1:40 pm

Hi David!
I posted this over at your atheists are synonymous with The Joker and other murderous non-believing sociopaths thread, but found that it also applied rather well to your “The Torah” post.
Anyway, here it is:
This seems to assert an a priori decision which is then filled with the associated proposition without evidence.
A “No True Scotsman” fallacy to be sure and just because I don’t fit your mold of the preconceived materialistic atheist, who must be dark, dreary, wrong and hopelessly flawed and sociopathic, doesn’t mean I must be a pantheist. I find many pantheists equally as noodley “woo” as those who would consistently posit “something more, more, more”.
I am no pantheist, I assure you, but I am an ardent and appreciative fan of the universe in plain view, warts and all, and I truly love a mystery.
My view is that many atheists, including Dawkins, would probably nod in agreement with this. But you would really have to ask them to get an accurate assessment.
That said, I’m certainly not going to be going around saying the universe talks to me, has given me its list of demands (in private conversation and written out on my breakfast sticky bun in sweet icing which I’ve promptly eaten as instructed so, no…I have no evidence to support the notion that I am a divine conduit and that the demands are for the entire human race, including the bit about not liking guacamole, but neither can you disprove my claims so they are equally valid as any other faith and if you disagree you are just a big ole mean hateful, meaningless and ignorant bigot) and wants me to be its fuzzy little pet to squeeze, hug and protect forever and ever down at the local extra-galactic zoo beyond space and time as long as I purr when directed.
I also don’t fill it with personal buddy names like “God”, dharmakaya, shunyata, the Dao, Brahman, the Ground of Being, the Ein Soph, and countless others.
Material universe is just fine with me because it is simple and specific and encompassing, which is not to say that this doesn’t include art, song, dance, imagination, poetry, dreams, hopes, despair, loss, failure, success, and deep abiding love…and those hot bikinis on display at that store you have to pretend you’re not looking into when walking with your significant other down at the mall while shopping for shoes, because it does, along with some things we haven’t yet found but we are certain to keep looking for if we can avoid the car bombs and those irritable and boring men in the fancy hats.
All of these, I assert, are the “elements of the sum” of this wonderfully ambiguous, perpetually existing, evolving and expanding, decaying and retracting, subjective and relative, low-fat and healthy and good for you, thermonuclear jewel.
Who could ask for anything more?
Steve Schlicht
Biloxi MS

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posted May 25, 2009 at 10:38 pm

David, I am not going to quibble about what you have said since we always have broad agreement. Again, I merely offer amendments.
The sense that people take Torah verses out of context is not at all the gist of the problem we are now facing. The atheist, as we now know full well, does not merely want a seat at the table–he demands the table. Having thrown into contention the entire standing of Torah as the moral guidepost for our Western democracies–they now seek to declare the Bible as a basis for *immorality* in an attempt to muscle people now on the fence to come to their side completely and without regret. They are not here to simply take a verse out of context–they are here to defame and delegitimate.
I have noted with interest they do this time and again with the topic of slavery. Go through comment boxes in the first atheist folder and it is shocking how many bring up the issue of slavery. Even a child 30 years ago knew about the Israelites as slaves in Egypt and how this story influenced America in its battle against slavery forced upon it in its Colonial history and how those Bible thumping ministers in the North were especially dogmatically opposed to slavery and how even the slaves took it upon themselves to sing about the Bible in their defense, how Lincoln quoted the Bible against slavery and much more recently how MLK quoted from the Bible in the cause of civil rights. We have all known for more than 200 years how the Bible has been the rallying cry to inspire America towards Liberty (hence the verse on the Liberty Bell from Leviticus)and all of this is being pushed to the side in favor of a new revised history.
Who is dumb enough to believe this revised model of American history? Well, it is nearly official in American schools and this is why so many are being duped into believing things about both America and the Bible which are patently absurd.
Hence, when they come forward to say that our Torah is a PRO-Slavery document (based upon verses which speak about the BURDENS placed upon a Jew who has a Jewish servant in his house)–they take this to mean it is some kind of pro-slavery document. They are therefore also quick to characterize Torah as bigoted, war mongering and a whole slew of other crazed slurs that defy even the pretense of logic or scholarship. The intent is NOT to take a verse out of context–it is the ignorance which leads to a crazed understanding of the nature of the Bible in the first place.

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posted May 26, 2009 at 11:57 am

It is unfair to say that all people who pick out certain parts of scripture as God-haters, or call them other ugly names. I think we should be fair with ourselves about those tough passages and consider the historical and political contexts under which it was written. We really shouldn’t white wash scripture or offer up some creative midrash to soften it up. Its mix of beauty and frank brutality is a product of the zeitgiest in which it was written.

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posted May 26, 2009 at 3:42 pm

you say that
“It’s the same when individual statements from Scripture or the rabbis are sliced out of the grand overall context of Torah and blown up out of proportion, presented as meaningful all by themselves, when they are not. As I suggested, the only people who do this are anti-Semites, haters of the Jews, and haters of God.”
OK. while you are at it, let’s substitute Qur’an for ‘Scripture” and “Torah” and ulama for ‘rabbis’ and Islamophobes for “anti-Semites” and “Muslims” for Jews”. Agreed?
(If so, perhaps Mr. Klinghoffer can lead by example by repenting for his own anti-Islamic bias.)

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posted May 26, 2009 at 9:33 pm

Ali–I have a question for you–by what logical leap might anyone assume that one can substitute a point about one matter and try to make it work as well for some other matter?
If I was to make an argument against North Korea, for example, by what logical leap could someone seek to replace what I have said about the North Korean regime to see if it worked for some other state?
BTW, regarding an alleged anti-Islamic bias–I have re-read DK’s posting and nothing was alleged against Islam.

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posted May 27, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Check ALL your sources before you speak:
In his book on Jesus, DK applauds Christianity for providing a bulwark against Islam.
Given that, historically – or at least until 1948- Jewry has fared much better under Muslim than Christian rule (there is no counterpart to the Holocaust on Muslim soil!), such approbation can only be construed as perverse and a (gratuitous) attack on Islam.
Since the “matter” DK raises is that of the malicious distortion of religious tenets through piecemeal exaggeration and misrepresentation, “logically” that principle should apply as well as to other religions and their scripture, such as Islam and the Quran.

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posted May 27, 2009 at 5:07 pm

ali claims there is no counterpart to the Holocaust on Muslim soil.
A core goal of the Nazi-era German and current Palestinian governments is the violent elimination of all jews from the lands governed.

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Brendan Flaherty

posted May 30, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Certainly, objection to the rabbis’ non-biblical “Noahide Laws” must be based in “Jew hate” rather than the fact that the “Noahide Laws” are a system of absurd double standards. It’s the only possible explanation.

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Brendan Flaherty

posted May 30, 2009 at 12:26 pm

“Esau” hates “Jacob,” right David?
Could there be a greater cop-out than this?

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