Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha


Please click here for the Hebrew Text and the PDF format——->sukkot
The 19th-20th Century American Jewish Adventure: History Lessons for 21st Century Jewish Life

CHEVRAH TORAH 5773Shabbat Chol Ha-Mo’ed SUKKOT…Exodus 34:10-26“It is difficult, and perhaps impossible, to separate American from Judaism in the words American Judaism.  American Jews are products of American culture and society to the extent that their Judaism is inseparable from American values.  As a consequence, the Judaism that American Jews create and observe is shaped and reshaped by their distinctive conceptions as Americans.”         [from Contemporary American Judaism, Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan, 2009]…KEY KOSHI?…WHAT is the nature of this Covenant & HOW is it sealed/made real?
P’SHAT…REMEZ…“Casting aside old paradigms, they transformed their faith, reinventing [American] Judaism in an attempt to make it…more meaningful, more sensitive to the concerns of the day.” [J. SARNA] v.10     He said: I hereby make a covenant.  Before all your people I will work such wonders as have not been wrought on all the earth, and all the people who are with you shall see how awesome are the Lord’s deeds… RASHI… “I make a covenant”—regarding this—“that I shall make distinctions…”  The word “Nif’la’ot” is related to the word “v’Nif’linu—and we shall set apart,” that you will be separated therein from all the nations, for My Shechinashall not rest upon them, but you.RASHBAM… “I hereby make a covenant,” doing this “thing” that you asked of Me,

“And the Lord said to Moses: I will do also this thing for which you ask, for you have truly gained My favor—v’nifleynu—and I have singled you out…” [Ex 33:16]

ABARVANEL…What is the point of God’s “covenant” in working “such wonders

As have never been wrought…” seeing that no such wonders are subsequently found in the text?

RAMBAN…The “great wonders” have already been wrought.  This is an allusion to the dwelling of the Shechinah among them…

SARNA…RASHI & RAMBAM note the Hebrew echoes “Niflinu—that we may be distinguished” while IBN EZRA applies it to Moses’ radiant face, but it may also relate to the extraordinary events that lie ahead in the course of wilderness wandering & wars of conquest.v.12-14            Beware of making a covenant with the inhabitants of the land…lest they be a snare in your midst.  No, you must tear down their altars, smash their pillars, and cut down their sacred posts, for you may not worship any other god,  for the Lord, whose name is Impassioned, is an impassioned God.

OR HaCHAYIM… “Beware of making a covenant”—This refers to the cultural customs of the inhabitants of the new land, aside from the actual worship of idols—the way they dress, shave, etc…  If you imitate their habits, it will ultimately lead you to their gods.

ETZ HAYIM… “sacred posts–asherim”  Pagan objects of worship.  These wooden poles derive their name from the Canaanite fertility god,  Asherah.

SARNA… The Hebrew term “KaNaH,” in its most primitive meaning, seems to have denoted “to become intensely red.”  Because extreme emotions affect facial coloration, the term came, by extension, to express zeal, rage and jealousy.  The present “El kanna” is most frequently translated “a jealous God,” a rendering that understands the marriage bond to be the implied metaphor for the covenant between God and His people…

MUNK… “ki lo tishtachaveh l’eyl acher—You shall not worship any other god…”

The word “acher”alien/other is written in Torah with a large resh, so it will not be confused with dalet, which would make it read: “echad—One.” By doing so, in confusion of one for the other, says the midrash, “you will bring destruction to the world.” [VAYIKRA RABBAH 19]

v.15     You shall not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for they will sacrifice to their gods and invite you, and you will eat of their sacrificesRASHI… “you will eat of their sacrifices”—You may be under the impression that there is no punishment for its consumption, but when you eat of that which was consecrated to idols, I count it as if you are endorsing their worship…For as a natural consequence, “you will take wives from among their daughters for your sons.” [v.16]RALBAG… “You shall not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land”  For gradually, you will become more and more assimilated into them.v.17-18                        You shall not make molten gods for yourselves.  You shall observe the feast of Unleavened Bread…as I have commanded youRAMBAN… “molten gods”—The prohibition applies even in the case of a good intention such as having an idol represent a leader like Moses rather than a god.IBN EZRA…All idolatry is forbidden, even in a case like the golden calf, through which they intended to worship God.B’CHOR SHOR“You shall observe the feast of Unleavened Bread…”   But you shall not invent feasts of your own, like Aaron’s “festival of the Lord.” [Ex 32:5]ETZ HAYIM… The laws in this section, referred to as “the Cultic Decalogue,” are associated with those preceding because the narrative about the golden calf recounts that a “festival of the Lord” was proclaimed and sacrifices were brought [Ex 32:5-6]  Hence, there is now a need to restate briefly the list of legitimate festivals of the Israelites..

D’RASH…“ In a creative process of collective self-fashioning, Jews reinterpreted their own culture and history to fit the circumstances of American Jewish life.” [B. WENGER]

Prof. Beth WENGER…  

Jewish celebrations of national holidays became occasions for public retellings of a variety of historical narratives, some more idealized than others, about both America and the Jews… During such moments of national celebration, Jews often constructed a shared history with America, rooted in a common Biblical heritage…Using images of the “promised land” as ideological touchstones, Jews claimed a natural affinity between their culture and their adopted homeland…

Not surprisingly, Columbus Day became one of the most fervently acknowledged holidays.  When Jews celebrated Christopher Columbus, they cemented perhaps the most enduring myth linking Jews with the origins of America.  As they honored Columbus, American Jews situated themselves at the roots of the national story, standing alongside the voyager as he discovered the New World…

The 400th anniversary of Columbus’s landing in 1892 and the attendant Columbus Exposition in Chicago marked the apogee of veneration for Columbus across America. In October 1892, churches and synagogues throughout the country celebrated Columbus; an estimated 500 services took place in New York City alone.  Although some Jews argued that Jews should not celebrate the occasion as a separate group but rather participate with other Americans in their observances, synagogues joined in national religious services over that Columbus Day Weekend…Rabbis preached sermons praising Columbus’s contributions and read special prayers…

By 1905, when Jews celebrated the 250th anniversary of Jewish settlement in the U.S., the Jewish myth of Columbus had been codified as part of the collective heritage of American Jews.  The notion that he may have been a Jew slipped in from time to time, but even without that false claim, Jews championed their people’s part in his voyage.  In one of many such examples, Philadelphia Rabbi Joseph Krauskopf presented the “facts” about the pivotal role that Jews played in Columbus’s journey to an audience gathered at New York’s 92nd street YMHA.  Covering the event, the New York Times led with the headline “A Jew First to Land of Columbus’s Party,” a reference to Columbus’s interpreter, Luis de Torres…

The Jewish myth of Columbus had two important components: the first was to assert a Jewish role in the discovery of America, and the second was to narrate the beginning of a new chapter in Jewish history. “Sad, indeed, was the plight of the Jews that year—in 1492,” declared one speaker in 1930, “and yet in the same year came the discovery of America.  Is it not true that God has again shown Israel, in its hour of need, the Promised Land?”

…Jews used national holidays not only to demonstrate their loyalty to American ideals but also to put forward their vision of American civil religion—one that made room for the inclusion of Jews within a largely Christian culture…National holidays provided an opportunity for Jewish groups not only to rehearse their own history but to define their place in America itself…

[from History Lessons , The Creation of American Jewish Heritage, Prof Beth S. Wenger, Princeton Univ Press, 2010, pgs 60-63; 95]



Rabbi Daniel GORDIS…For almost all American Jews, there is something essential at stake—we simply don’t want to be different…The way to be fully Jewish in America, we convinced ourselves, was to be fully American….But something has changed…Blending in has proven more insidious than we imagined…We have achieved a new identity that is American at its core; what’s no longer clear is how critical Jewishness is to that identity.

Have we blended in too successfully?…The irony is painful.  Back in the ‘good old days,’ when Jews were singled out, mistreated and prevented from fully participating in the culture around us, we didn’t have to make a conscious choice to remain Jewish.  Now, confronted by relative security, unprecedented accomplishment and almost boundless acceptance by the society around us, many Jews wonder not how we ought to survive, but why…Most Jews in America have not wanted to invent a Judaism with betterness at its core.  They wanted something less objectionable, more populist, more American…The question is: How can we make it possible for Jews to find their way home, to locate in Jewish life a system of meaning that will attract their attention and merit their commitment?

[Does the World Need The Jews?, Rabbi D. Gordis, Scribner, 1997; pgs 18-26]


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