31 October 2010

Abraham Picking Up and Moving On

Gad Dishi does an excellent job of describing Abraham's picking up and moving to Gerar after the destruction of Sedom - something about which I had not previously given thought:
Abraham must feel quite surreal as he hears God's intent and proceeds to see two of his guests arise and embark to carry out the mission. He realizes that he has hosted the very destroyers of Sodom. His nurturing of these destroyers and their circuitous pit stop at his tent may symbolically represent Abraham's nurturing of Sodom's treachery. Abraham's complicity in Sodom's treachery may be attributed to his allowing Lot to depart from his company earlier in favor of encamping at Sodom (13:8-14) as well as Abraham's failure to seize control and reform Sodom after his successful campaign to free Lot from the four kings (14:15-24). As such, God is now turning to Abraham to demonstrate the results of his actions and inaction. Abraham's contemplative overlook at the destruction the morning after his failed attempt to save the cities (19:27-28) crushes him and Abraham is too pained with the memories of his failure in Hebron and decides to travel in a southerly direction and moves to Gerrar to open a new chapter in his life (and perhaps to see if Lot survived) (20:1).1
1 - Gad Dishi, "Saving Zoar: How Did Lot Succeed?", Jewish Bible Quarterly 38, no. 4 (October-December 2010), 218, n. 7.

22 October 2010

Biblical Prophecies as Op-Eds

Found this interesting quote from Rabbi Eric Levy describing Biblical prophecies (From his "Hoy, Ariel, Ariel: Isaiah 28-35 - Politics and the State of the Union in Judea"):
...politically, we're getting a picture: there's treaty-making going on. See, normally, you don't see this - you just see the words of the prophet. And the prophet is like the op-ed pages of the New York Times: if you haven't read the first pages, you don't know what the op-ed pages are talking about. Because sometimes they allude to things you just assume that we know. And, a lot of times, when you read the prophecies, you only get the allusion, because the prophet is assuming that everybody knows what the historical background is here.

05 October 2010

Are We Doing Enough About Darfur?

A month ago, a schoolmate of mine, Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, wrote a piece in the Jewish Journal of LA entitled "A Jewish Apology to the World", in which he points out some things for which the Jewish community has come up short. One of these is "only 65 years after the Holocaust, we have not done enough to try to stop the genocides in Darfur, the Congo and other countries around the world."
When I went to a big rally in DC over four years ago on the issue of Darfur, it was a big showing regarding the issue and there was a lot of hope that some diplomatic pressure could yield some positive results on the plight of the Darfurians. However, there wasn't a whole lot of headway and, still to this day, not a whole lot has been successfully pulled off. People can still go to rallies or give money, but how much good do either do? The rallies probably aren't going to accomplish much and the money, even if it isn't handled improperly, will go to food that hopefully will get to the right mouths, but it still could get stolen or the Darfurians could still have horrible things happen to them.
So what is left to do? Yes, as Rabbi Yanklowitz has pointed out, we have not done enough - but what is enough? I think that the one thing that will succeed will certainly take a lot of money, but it will be a more efficient use of money than has gone on thus far. It would effectively be an insertion of mercenaries functioning as peacekeepers to defend the Darfurians from the Janjaweed. That way, they could be certain to be safer than they have been for most of the past decade. Granted, the concern could be that the small force could be seen as a threat to the Janjaweed, which the Sudanese government could then try to bring in bigger and better weaponry....
In any event, does this fall on the Jewish community's shoulders that we have fallen short? I don't think so.

Harsh Repercussions for Debtors (In 17th Century Poland)

This morning, while ellipticalling, I read the following regarding Jewish debtors in 17th century Poland:
When the circumstances of the debtor made it impossible for him to obtain a moratorium from the king or a lesser official, he renegotiated the loan or declared bankruptcy. Therefore, the kahals and the Council of Four Lands evolved elaborate and harsh provisions for bankruptcies. Among these was the requirement that the bankrupt person swear a solemn oath before the open Ark of the Torah stating that he was, in fact, without resources. Similarly, his wife had to make such a declaration before the beadles of the community. All his property was seized by the elders to be sold within six months for the benefit of his creditors. A ban was pronounced against him in the synagogue and he, his wife, and his children were required to be present. If he failed to surrender his property or was otherwise recalcitrant despite the ban, he might have been jailed by the community for periods ranging between eight and thirty days. The bankrupt person might be placed in the stocks (kuna) at the entrance to the synagogue for three days prior to his imprisonment. If he held a position in the kahal he was immediately removed from office, and, even more severely, he lost the "right of settlement" in his community. These provisions applied to persons who were without funds because of business losses. If someone could not pay his debts because he had expended large amounts to provide dowries for his children, he was treated as a thief and subject to imprisonment for a year.1

Wow - that would be considered practically barbaric nowadays! Hundert further explains that
the procedures outlined were clearly intended to deter fraudulent claims of bankruptcy which might have had serious consequences for the community as a whole. Even legitimate bankruptcies might have reduced the credit available to the community. Further, despite royal edicts warning against the practice, the kahals were often held responsible for the debts of defaulting Jewish individuals.2

Thought it was interesting....

1 - Gershon David Hundert, "Jews, Money and Society in the Seventeenth-Century Polish Commonwealth: The Case of Krakow," Jewish Social Studies 43, numbers 3/4 (Summer-Autumn 1981), 267.
2 - Ibid., 268.