Torah Tzivah Lanu Moshe!

The Torah was commanded to us by Moses, right?  Well, maybe not, but that does not stop up from chanting these words as we redress the scroll. Part of the beauty and wonder of our approach to Jewish tradition is blending the mythic and historic, the literal and interpretation, and enhancing keva – fixed practice – with kavannah – intention.

As we studied the book of Deuteronomy this past shabbat we simply accepted that some verses from chapter 6 went into the black box of the Babylonian exile and came out “the Sh’ma”, as did a lot of the rabbinic practice that appeared in the Mishnah in the third century C.E. We read in the book of Kings that a priest of King Josiah of Judah “found” a book of law that mirrored Josiah’s own political and religious priorities, which were immediately instituted. Yet this knowledge does not temper the reverence with which we regard these texts.

The “discovery” of Deuteronomy in the early 600’s prompted us to want to know about the history of the other books or Torah, history that I could not give in sufficient detail. So, as any good teacher does when she can’t answer her students, I did some research.  Here is the current state of scholarship on this topic.

The oldest texts are likely the J texts, which may date back to the unified monarchy of David and Solomon in the 10th century B.C.E.  The E texts are at least a century younger and likely a contribution of the northern kingdom of Israel. The Priestly texts are the youngest and attributed to the Babylonian exile as well as early in the period after the return in 539 CE. This P source is also credited with a significant redaction role.

This is certainly interesting and useful information to think about. But it doesn’t do so much for our emotional or spiritual lives, I suspect. So, as we celebrate the treasure of our Torah on Shabbat morning, singing Torah tziva lanu Moshe! is a pretty good interpretation.

Happy Anniversary to Us!

This week marks a year since my family and I arrived in Milwaukee and to Congregation Shir Hadash. It has been a lovely year and we are grateful be here and looking forward to year two!

If you check out you Milwaukee Jewish Chronicle you will find my column on the challenge of the conflicting calendars in summertime. As Americans, especially this week, we are all about rest, leisure, and barbecues. The Jewish calendar spends these same months counting the days leading to disaster as we remember the destruction of the temples and myriad other Jewish catastrophes. In the article I suggest that today we need to use this day to look beyond our own stories and history and respond with empathy to those of our neighbors as well.

Of course, this includes the disasters unfolding around us daily, so this year mid-summer mourning does not feel so far off. I was honored to represent Shir at the immigration rallies last shabbat and pleased that both Susie Stein and I made the local paper and national media with our experiences as the child/grandchild of immigrants. We have a lot of work to do to assure that our nation’s sick be healed, captives be freed, and those bent down be brought upright.

Looking forward, I hope many of you will join us for the special program on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis on the 9th and invite friends who will be interested. And it is an important time for us all to have opportunities to be with nurtured, fed, and connected, so I hope someone is inspired to host our community table on July 13th. Please let me know!

One year together – so exciting, right? Did you know Rabbi David and Sandy are celebrating 50 this shabbat? Come join them, and your Shir chevre this Friday at 7 in our usual space. It will be good to bring our hearts, souls, and voices together in prayer and community.