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GENESIS — 9:27 may

GEN746 The Biblical verse is from the end of the Noah story and is a kind of original racial theory.  The text is Noah’s blessing and curse, expressing his fury at his son’s illicit sexual behavior.  He asserts the priority of Shem and Japheth against Canaan.  The Israelites will descend from Shem (Semites), while the to-be-conquered Canaanites will be from Canaan, who is the son of Ham (the brother of Shem and Japheth).  The Biblical text, therefore, asserts the welcome of Japheth within the Israelites, and the exclusion of the Canaanites.  WESOR 299-300


EXODUS — 23:2 majority

EXOD776 [Rabbi Eliezer] retorted to them: “If the ruling is with me-- it will be proved from heaven.” A Heavenly Voice resounded and it said: “What do you want from R. Eliezer? The rulings agree with him everywhere.” R. Joshua stood to his feet and said: “It is not in Heaven.” What does “It is not in heaven” mean? R. Jeremiah said: “The Torah was already given at Mount Sinai. We don't consider the Heavenly Voice. It was already written at Mount Sinai in the Torah, “Incline to the majority” (Exodus 23:2). R. Nathan met Elijah and said to him: “What did the Holy One, Blessed be He, do in that hour?” He said to him: “He laughed, and he said, ‘My children have defeated me, my children have defeated me.’” [Baba Metsia 59b] Eliezer battles with the others about the oven [of Akhnai-AJL], arguing with ‘supernatural’ evidence. He finally summons a Heavenly Voice that the other sages reject as well. But the sages argue that the Torah is given to human interpreters, and thus the “author’ has no longer any privilege in interpreting it. The story continues, with God delighted to be beaten in argument by the sages. But the story appears in the context of the topic of what is oppressed with words, because Eliezer is then excommunicated and is thus oppressed. The details are worth pursuing (Chapter 9). The responsibilities, even in winning the argument against Eliezer, are so extreme that his loss causes others’ deaths.


EXODUS — 23:2 many

EXOD781 The text (Exodus 23:1-2) is concerned with perversions of justice, and the second verse is particularly obscure. The sages elsewhere interpret it in terms of legal procedures for acquittal and conviction, concerned for questions about the size of the majority. But the verse warns us not to FOLLOW THE MANY, particularly in an evil matter, and not to assume that the many are correct in a dispute. Indeed, the matter seems to have to do with pandering either to the majority, or to the poor. Justice must be fair to all. While the tradition of focusing on how to determine the proper majority is valuable, Jeremiah’s use here [Baba Metsia 59b] must utterly recontextualize the verse. For him, the verse proves that majority rules, ignoring the beginning of the clause, which is a prohibition. The sages depend on the sense of a majority precisely because they do not insist on consensus. The matter has to be resolved in a way that tolerates dissent. In this particular case, Jeremiah argues that Eliezer must abide by the majority. But the very practice of interpretation coheres with this interpretation. The text, inscribed at Sinai, is made to justify an interpretive practice by that same practice: not what it seems to say in its context, but by a recontextualization it becomes the authority for dissenting interpretation and majority rule. If the text were not given to people, if it were still in heaven, then one could not read this text this way, nor could one use it to justify the authority of the community of interpreters against the Heavenly Voice.


LEVITICUS — 16:29 day

LEV178 The Leviticus text (16:29-30) is one of the most basic about Yom Kippur. The first verse establishes the key element of the law: a fixed calendrical assignment, the practices of rest and affliction, and the inclusion of all who live among the people. We have already discussed the last, in the context of Rosenzweig’s interpretation and in general with the issue of translation. We might find in the concept of the resident alien (pilgrim) some light on the reconciliation between people. And in our last chapter the importance of the calendrification will become clearer. But R. Elazar [ben Azariah] [referring to Mishnah, Yoma 8:9 - AJL] is looking at the next verse. The verb CLEANSE is used twice, and the grammar causes some confusion. I would suggest that the plain sense is to insert a break between SINS and BEFORE. The second clause, then, is the resulting cleanliness before God that the atonement and the cleansing of the Day brings. The problem in the verse is that if in the first part the Day does cleanse the people, then the second part is redundant: of course they are cleaned before God -- before whom else could they be cleaned? R. Elazar, however, pushes against this break, and interprets FROM ALL OUR SINS BEFORE God, YOU WILL BE CLEANSED. R. Elazar, therefore, argues that the first time the root TO CLEAN appears, it concludes the phrase by stating that the purpose of the Day is to cleanse. The second half then explains not that the cleansing is before God, but that the relevant sins are those committed before God. Hence, R. Elazar restricts the sins to only those before God, and so claims that the interhuman ones are not cleansed by the day. The first half refers to the appeasement of the companion, the second to atonement before God. Why does the Mishnah need R. Eliezer’s interpretation? What is novel is not that the Day atones, but that the Day cannot atone for the sins between people. The Mishnah is substantializing a category of interhuman relations (we might call it ethics), and separating it from a category of sins against God. If we are right, however, to say that the ethical infractions also partake of sin against God, we still have the production of a category that would be characterized as social sins, and the remedy includes working things out with someone who has been harmed. The other person is clearly in control: he must be satisfied. The point is not that before the Mishnah was edited, Judaism did not know that when another person has been hurt, I must first satisfy her. Rather, the formalizing of this concept helps to focus my attention on the social repair. The recourse to the Biblical interpretation both authorizes the new category and allows us to see its novelty.


LEVITICUS — 23:4 proclaim

LEV915 The convention is achieved by proclamation, or even, if we dare, they are the same activity: whenever the community proclaims a holiday, the community as proclaimer already has convened, already is celebrating. The calendar is the purpose for convening: to draw the people together is to hallow it. A community needs a calendar, needs convocations and communal time--to question that need is to destroy the community. ... We introduced the issue of the calendar from Levinas’ discussions of the individual’s need for social help in repenting and in constituting time through the other’s forgiveness. We see this in the Mishnaic text [Mishnah Rosh Hashana 2:8b-9] that the determination of the calendar involves a set of speech-acts, and that the community must itself determine its own time, the time for communal repentance, confession, and atonement.


DEUTERONOMY — 30:11 far

DEUT1591 Moses is addressing the community at the end of his life. His final address asserts that the commandments will preserve the community even without his leadership. The rule of law requires an access to that law, in a merely human place. The COMMANDMENT is available to the community. It requires neither an ascent nor a crossing of the sea because it is placed not far but near. Indeed, when the text asserts that the word is IN YOUR MOUTH, we cannot but think both of the performance of readers and declaimers, who find this word in their mouth, and also of Levinas’ text where he claimed that the commandment came out of the mouth of the one commanded. The speech itself serves as a transition of authority from the leader to the community, who readily can speak the commandments. [R.] Joshua cites it [Baba Metsia 59b - AJL], in the simplest sense, to say that the rulings have to be made within the community and not by a heavenly voice. But the deeper issue is precisely the insistence that the text which he quotes is a text about citation and re-citation: a text that was constructed to transfer authority for legal reasoning to the community. The greatest revelation from heaven is the injunction to cite and interpret the law.


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