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Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Torah is in Context

Plenty of Jewish followers complain that we "need to read the Torah in context". This is sometimes heard from the Modern-Orthodox Jews and more commonly by a "left-wing" form of Orthodox Judaism. I never heard this complaint from Orthodox Jews themselves.

What essentially "reading Torah in context" comes down to is throwing away all the embarrassing verses from the Torah. Certain Modern-Orthodox Jews and other types when come across an embarrassing verse in the Torah, like a commandment to kill those who violate Shabbos, complain that the Orthodox Jew "does not put it into context". They say that the verse seems to be talking about killing Shabbos violators but really it is saying ... (whatever they would say, I have no idea how these kinds of Jews interpret this verse). What they do is make the verse seem more reasonable. Sometimes they simply say "this is just a metaphor".

And they do the same thing with any anti-science statements in the Torah. They would say, as referring to the seven days of creation, "this is just a metaphor to how God created the world". No, it is not. The Torah is already in context. When the Torah says to kill those who violate Shabbos, or to stone those who commit adultery it really means it. It is already in context. Regarding certain issues the Torah is extremely clear in what it says. Saying "it is just a metaphor" or trying to find some made up explanation to why it is justified is taking it out of context. The anti-science statements in the Torah were believed by all the Rabbis who studied the Torah. Rashi, Ramban, ibn Ezra, so on and so forth. They all accepted those "scientific" statements which are found in the Torah. Because when the Torah says something it is clear in what it says, unless there really is a reason to say it is just an expression (for example, like, "the hand of God"). Similarly when the Torah says to kill those who transgress the Shabbos it really means it. Provided you have witnesses and a court system (as explained in Talmud Sanhedrin). All of the prohibitions the Torah says are clear. It is just the followers of Judaism who are uncomfortable with them that have to twist these prohibitions around using their wishful thinking.

This reminds me of what anti-gun rights groups do. They look at the second amendment and try to interpret it in the way to suits them. They completely avoid the obvious clear interpretation and need to confuse it with what they want it to mean. If people are not fine with the second amendment then they need to say the Founders made a mistake, not to falsely interpret it in way that suites their own views. The same criticism can be applied to Jewish followers who interpret the Torah the way they want to interpret it. The Torah is clear, in many places, in what it says. If you do not agree with it do not falsely and knowingly interpret it in the way that suites your views, rather say that it is mistaken.

This is and has been my serious criticism of any form of Judaism other than the Orthodox. The question that I have is very simple, "is the Torah the book of God?". Most other forms of Judaism would agree with that, or they may say the book was written by people but they were divinely inspired by the Torah. My major criticism of anything but Orthodox Judaism is that if you say the Torah is from God or is divinely inspired then why do you not follow it? The only people who try to be consistent in following it are the Orthodox Jews. Any other form of Judaism replaces the Torah with their own wishful thinking and then try to justify their own views by distorting what the Torah really says. Why must this distortion be done? If the Torah is really true then what is says is already moral? Why change it? It makes no sense to do that.


  1. Just like when the Torah says you shall stone to death a stubborn and rebellious son, it means what is says?

  2. Yes. Why should it not mean what it says? Gemara Sanhedrin is even more specific to what needs to be done to a wayward and rebellious son.