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July 20, 1984 - Image 30

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-07-20

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

INSIGHT

New runaway favorite

Seiko's sleek streak
of black matte.

Taking the good and the bad

BY ROBERT GOLDENBERG
Special to The Jewish News

The 'Sports 100' with so much dash, so
much style that Seiko's done it twice: for
him, for her. While you're admiring the
racy look, note the step second hand,
day/date function, and — very important —
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Mattot contains three
chapters of the Torah,
Numbers 30-32. Each of
them could give rise to some
interesting observations
and could even provide
some religious inspiration
and/or challenge, but only if
we can disregard the pro-
foundly troubling aspect
that each of them presnts as
well.
Chapter 30 contains the
rules governing fathers' or
husband's right to cancel
vows undertaken by girls or
women under their
authority. The bad news
here is obvious: this chapter
is one of the major texts
cited in feminist critiques of
the Jewish tradition, and it
is cited with cause. Why,
after all, should the reli-
gious experience of certain
individuals always be sub-
jected to the veto power of
others, and why should the
subjection always be
gender-linked?
The good news is a little
less obvious, but there
nonetheless; any chapter
whose theme is that one
should keep one's word, that
one must "do according to
all that proceedeth out of
(one's) mouth," is a chapter
worth pondering. Some-
times the least promising
parts of our tradition turn
out to have something to
offer us.
Chapter 31 is even more
troubling. Here Moses is in-
structed to organize a war of
extermination ("the Lord's
vengeance," no less) against
the Midianites. The war

Robert Goldenberg teaches
Judaic studies at the State
University of New York at
Stony Brook.

OFFER
ENDS
JULY
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succeeds, all the male
Midianites along with the
females who had known a
man are killed, and the Is-
raelite army, having lost
not a single man, returns
home in triumph with im-
mense booty. Yet even here
there is good news too. The
booty is split according to a
complicated formula that
reflects a kind of social
egalitarianism; everyone
gets a share, even those who
had no direct role in acquir-
ing the new wealth. Possi-

Parashat Mattot:
Numbers
30:2-32:42.
Jeremiah
1:71-2:30.

bly more interesting, the
soldiers who did all the kil-
ling must now be purified;
even the Lord's vengeance
defiles.
In the last chapter, the
situation is reversed; it's the
good news that's easy to
find. The story is well
known: two tribes, eventu-
ally joined by half of a third,
find the East Bank of the
Jordan river so attractive
that they lose their interest
in crossing to the actual
Promised Land. Moses first
becomes angry with them,
accusing them of spliting
the community, but once
they make clear that they
have no intention of with-
drawing from the efforts of
the nation as a whole to
conquer its new homeland

he consents; Here is a
preacher's field day — the
themes of national unity
and Promised Land.
The bad news is that
those of us in the havurah
movement who are troubled
by the current settlement
policies of the Israeli gov-
ernment must now realize
how deeply rooted in Jewish
history those policies really
are. It is true, after all, that
the settlement of the Jews
in the Land of Israel was a
settlement grounded in
conquest (or at least the
Torah presents things that
way, which is what mat-
ters), and indeed settlement
and conquest were seen as
connected aspects of a single
Divinely-ordained process.
This week's parashah re-
cords the earliest stages of
the Israelites' settlement in
their land, and it makes us
stop and notice how that
settlement reportedly took
place.
In other words, if we wish
to study Torah we must
walk through a mine-field
of religious ambivalence.
We are deeply moved by our
heritage, we feel irrevoca-
bly attached to it, we seek in
various ways and degrees to
govern our lives by it.
Yet at the same time we
cannot avoid standing in
judgment over that same
Torah; we cannot help say-
ing — sometimes within a
single chapter — "Here I
submit but here I reject."
And we cannot deny the bit-
ter truth that it is we who
must make these distinc-
tions; the Torah itself, in the
very nature of the situation
cannot make them for us.

Copyright 1984, National
Havurah Committee.

Bernard E. Linden, seated, center, was honored by the Metropolitan Detroit Federation
of Reform Synagogues at a dinner on the occasion of his retirement as president of the
federation's College of Jewish Studies, a post he held for 18 years since its inception.
Pictured from left seated, are: Rabbi Richard C. hertz; Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler,
who ‘was-guest speaker at the dinner; Mr. and Mrs.. Linden; Rabbi Leon Fram and
Rabbi Milton Rosenbaum. Standing are, from left: Rabbi Norman T. Roman, Rabbi
Lane Steinger, Cantor Harold Orbach, Rabbi Ernst Conrad, Rabbi Dannel I. Schwartz,
Rabbi M. Robert Syme, Rabbi Harold S. Loss, Rabbi Richard Weiss, Frank L. Simons,
st},§130.40Agivid S. Hachen and Cantor Norman Rase.

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