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April 21, 2014

Andrew Silow-Carroll: Passoverkill? Suggestions to make next year's seders even more culturally sensitive

Sara Israelsen Hartley: Seeking the Divine: An ancient connection in a new context

Christine M. Flowers: Priest's execution in Syria should be call to action

Courtnie Erickson: How to help kids accept the poor decisions of others

Lizette Borreli: A Glass Of Milk A Day Keeps Knee Arthritis At Bay

Lizette Borreli: 5 Health Conditions Your Breath Knows Before You Do

The Kosher Gourmet by Betty Rosbottom Coconut Walnut Bars' golden brown morsels are a beautifully balanced delectable delight

April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

Human Courage and the Unavoidable, Disturbing Text

By Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo




A world-renowned philosopher ponders, perhaps, one of the greatest challenges facing people of faith


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Torah study has become nearly impossible, and the problem lies not with the Torah but with man.

To read the text requires courage. Not courage to open the Book and start reading, but courage to confront oneself. To learn Torah requires human authenticity; it means standing in front of the mirror and asking oneself the daunting question of who one really is, without masks and artificialities.

Unfortunately, that is one of the qualities modern man has lost. Man has convinced himself to be an intellectual, removed from subjectivity and bowing only to scientific investigation. As such, he has disconnected from his Self. Because man is a bundle of emotions, passions and subjectivities, he cannot escape his inner world, much as he would like to.

Still, modern man formulates ideas. He may proclaim the rights of the spirit and even pronounce laws. But they enter only his books and discussions, not his life. They hover above his head, rather than walking with him into the inner chambers of his daily existence. They don't enter his trivial moments but stand as monuments --- impressive, but far removed.

Man is no longer able to struggle with his inner Self and therefore cannot deal with the biblical text. It stares him in the face, and he is terrified by the confrontation. All he can do is deny it, so that he may escape from himself. Since he knows that he must come to terms with himself before he comes to terms with the Book, he cannot negate it or disagree with it, as this requires him to deny something that he doesn't even know exists.

Does that mean that this man is not religious? Not at all. Even the religious man is detached from the spirit. He has elevated religion to such a level that its influence on his everyday life, in the here and now, has been lost. It is found on the top floor of his spiritual house, with its own very special atmosphere. It has become departmentalized. But the intention of Torah is exactly the reverse. Its words, events and commandments are placed in the midst of the people, enveloped in history and worldly matters. What happens there does not take place in a vacuum but in the harshness of human reality.

Most of the Torah deals with the natural course of man's life. Only sporadic miracles allow us to hear the murmurs from another world that exists beyond. These moments remind us that the Divine is, after all, the only real Entity in all of existence. But the Torah is the story of how the Divine exists in the midst of mortal man's ordinary troubles and joys. It is not the story of the Lord in heaven, but of the Almighty in human history and personal encounter.

The art of biblical interpretation is far more than just knowing how to give expression to the deeper meaning of the text. It is, after all, impossible to treat the biblical text as one would any other classical work. This is because the people of Israel, according to Jewish tradition, are not the authors of this text. Rather, the text is the author of the people.


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Comprising a covenant between the Divine and man, the text is what brought the people into being. Moreover, despite the fact that the people often violated the commanding voice of this text, it created the specific and unique identity of the Jewish nation.

That is precisely why reading the text is not like reading a conventional literary work. It requires a reading-art, which allows the unfolding of the essence and nature of a living people struggling with life and His commandments.

This calls for a totally different kind of comprehension, one that must reflect a particular thought process and attitude on the part of the student.

George Steiner expressed this well when he wrote:


The script...is a contract with the inevitable. G0D has, in the dual sense of utterance and of binding affirmation, "given His word," His Logos and His bond, to Israel. It cannot be broken or refuted (1).


The text, then, must be approached in a way that reflects a human commitment to ensure that it indeed will not be broken or refuted. This has become a great challenge to modern biblical interpretation. Many scholars and thinkers have been asking whether the unparalleled calamity of the Holocaust did not create a serious existential crisis in which the text by definition has been invalidated. Can we still speak about a working covenant by which the Almighty promised to protect His people, now that six million Jews, including nearly two million children, lost their lives within a span of five years under the cruelest of circumstances?

The reason for raising this question is not just because the covenant appears to have been broken, but also because history -- and specifically Jewish history -- was always seen as a living commentary on the biblical text. The text gave significance to history and simultaneously took on its religious meaning.

Can the text still be used in that sense, or has it lost its significance because history violated the criteria for its proper and covenantal elucidation?

Not for nothing have modern scholars suggested that there is a need, post-Holocaust, to liberate ourselves from this covenantal text in favor of shaping our destiny and history in totally secular terms. The Holocaust proved, they believe, that we have only ourselves to rely on, and even the return to Israel is to be understood as a secular liberation of the Exile experience.

It is in this context that "commentary" needs to take on a new challenge: To show not only how the covenant, as articulated in the text, is not broken or refuted, but how in fact it is fully capable of dealing with the new post-Holocaust conditions of secularity. Without falling victim to apologetics, biblical interpretation will have to offer a novel approach to dealing with the Holocaust experience in a full religious setting, based on the text and taking it beyond its limits.

It will have to respond to the fact that God is the most tragic figure in all of history, making the life of man sometimes sublime while at other times disastrous. The biblical text is there to tell man how to live with this G0D and try to see meaning behind the absurdity of the situation.

But above all, modern commentary must make sure that the Torah speaks to the atheist and the agnostic, for they need to realize that the text is replete with examples of sincere deniers and doubters who struggled all of their lives with great existential questions. The purpose is not to bring the atheists and agnostics back to the faith, but to show that one can be religious while being an atheist; to make people aware that it is impossible to live without embarking on a search for meaning, whether one finds it or not. It is the search that is important, the end result much less so. The art is to refrain from throwing such a pursuit on the dunghill of history throughout the ages. The struggle of homo religiosus is of greatest importance to the atheist.

That secular people no longer read the Torah is an enormous tragedy. The Torah is too important to be left to the believer. The beauty of day-to-day life takes on a different and higher meaning through the Torah, and that will evoke in the atheist a faintly mystical anticipation, which he will experience when he is alone or when he watches a sunset at the beach. A voice is born, and it speaks to him; he feels a melancholy that calls forth something far away and beyond. He happens upon a situation that suddenly throws him over the edge, and he gets taken in by the experience of a loftier existence. He realizes that the god he was told to believe in is not the G0D of the Torah. The latter is a G0D with Whom one argues; a G0D Who is criticized and Who wants man to search even if it results in man's denial of Him.

This issue is related to other crucial problems. Surveying Jewish history we see drastic changes in how the biblical text was encountered. In the beginning it was heard and not written. At first, Moshe received the Torah through the spoken Word: "The Word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, for you to carry out" (2). The Divine may be unimaginably far away, but His voice is heard nearby and it is the only way to encounter Him.

At a later stage the Word evolved into a written form. Once this happened, there was a process by which the spoken Word was slowly silenced and gradually replaced by the written form. With the eclipse of prophecy, His word was completely silenced and could then only be read. As such, the Word became frozen and ran the risk of becoming stagnant. At that stage it was necessary to unfreeze the Word, which became the great task of the Sages and commentaries throughout the following centuries.

Subsequently, a third element gained dominance. The text must be relevant to the generations that study it, while at the same time remaining eternal. Commentators throughout the ages have struggled with this problem. How does one preserve the eternity of the Word and simultaneously make it relevant to a specific moment in time? Many commentators were children of their time and clearly read the text through the prism of the period in which they lived. This being so, the perspective of eternity became critical. It was often pushed to the background so as to emphasize the great message for the present. Much of the aspect of eternity was thereby compromised, and that caused a few to wonder how eternal this text really is.

Others wrote as if nothing had happened in Jewish history. That reflected the remarkable situation of the Jewish people in Exile: its a-historicity. After the destruction of the Temple, Jewish history came to a standstill. While much happened, with dire consequences for the Jews, they essentially lived their lives outside the historical framework of natural progress. It became a period of existential waiting, with the Jewish people anticipating the moment when they could once again enter history, which eventually came about with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

Inevitably, then, some commentators wrote their exegeses in a historical vacuum. They hardly emphasized the relevance of biblical texts to a particular generation. Therefore, the student was often confronted with a dual sentiment. While dazzled by a commentator's brilliant insight, he was forced to ask: So what? What is the implication of the interpretation for me, at this moment in time? Here we encounter a situation in which relevance is sacrificed for the sake of eternity.

With the return of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland, Jews are confronted with an unprecedented situation, which has serious consequences for biblical commentary. Due to a very strong trend toward secularism, caused by the Holocaust as well as other factors, the issue of relevance versus eternity has become greatly magnified.

Today, more than ever before, there exists a greater and more pressing need to show the relevance of the text. The radical changes in Jewish history call for a bold and novel way of understanding the text as a living covenant. At the same time, the drastic secularization of world Jewry and Israeli thinking requires a completely new approach on how to present to the reader the possibility of the Torah's eternity. With minor exceptions, the religious world has not come forward with an adequate response.

No doubt, not every person is equipped with the knowledge and creativity needed to undertake the task. Years of learning are an absolute requirement before one can make a genuine contribution in this field. Still, one must be aware of the danger of "over-knowledge." When the student is overwhelmed by the interpretations of others, he may quite well become imprisoned by them and so lose the art of thinking independently. Instead of becoming a vehicle to look for new ideas, his knowledge becomes detrimental.

What is required is innovation in receptivity, where fresh ideas can grow in the minds of those willing to think creatively about the classical sources, without being hampered by preconceived notions. Only then will we see new approaches to our biblical tradition that will stand up to the challenges of our time.


1. George Steiner, "Our Homeland, the Text," Salmagundi No. 66 (Winter-Spring 1985) p. 12.

2. Deut. 30:14.

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JWR contributor Rabbi Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo is a world-renowned lecturer and ambassador for Judaism, the Jewish people, the State of Israel and Sephardic Heritage.

© 2013, Rabbi Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo

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