Saturday, February 17, 2007

Giving Of Ourselves

In Shemot/Exodus 22:28, God says "give me your firstborn!" and then continues in the next pasuq to talk about firstborn animals that also have to be given to God.

RaSh"Y explains that the human firstborn were the original priestly caste, before they were replaced by the kohanim, and that today we redeem our firstborn sons since they've been replaced.

What I found interesting was the juxtaposition with the firstborn animals that are given on the eighth day.

Although it isn't limited to the firstborn, we all, in a sense, give our sons (specifically) to God on the eighth day.

Today we don't have sacrifices, so there are no big holy barbecues of 'pleasing smells to God' — but when there were, there were also the more abstract, more 'advanced' as some of us like to think of it, verbal prayers. To me, berit mila is the opposite — a more primal, 'primitive', physical form of connecting to the Divine. We literally sacrifice a piece of ourselves and our children, performing the most miniscule echo of human sacrifice. We reject that which God never commanded, nor instructed, nor conceived of — the ritual murder of sentients, of ourselves, of our children — and yet we still give our own flesh and blood to God, as a sign of enduring life and our eternal contract with the Creator of Worlds.


Anonymous Simon Holloway said...

Some have argued (contentiously) that the slaughter of children was once performed as a legitimate cultic sacrifice to the Israelite god, and that this verse testifies to that. Michael Fishbane, for example, treats of the כן־תעשה in v29 in light of his belief in "inner-biblical exegesis". This is an example, in other words, of a later author changing the topic because the original theme was unpalatable.

Whatever this theory has to recommend it, it is worth noting that the clause makes more syntactic sense if you remove the bit about animals. Otherwise we go from singular (your son) to plural (your oxen and flocks) to singular again with the pronominal suffixes in v29b.

2/17/2007 11:50 PM  
Blogger Knitter of shiny things said...

and yet we still give our own flesh and blood to God, as a sign of enduring life and our eternal contract with the Creator of Worlds.

If by "we" you mean man...women don't give any flesh or blood to God. We have no physical form of connecting to the Divine...

2/18/2007 12:45 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


I've seen such arguements... if i remember correctly, they also make use of the laws of declaring people hheirem.


It's not that you misunderstood "we", you misunderstood "our own flesh and blood". By that i meant 'flesh and blood of / our children'

2/18/2007 12:58 AM  
Blogger Knitter of shiny things said...

Well what about women who don't havae children?

2/18/2007 4:43 AM  
Blogger Lipman said...

I have irritated people with the idea of korbones = holy barbecue, too, but more regarding non-ôles. Many think it's simply a barbaric killing of animals and don't realise that most korbones were eaten or vegetarian anyway.

Still, the idea is soothing that korbones are a concession to ancient Middle Eastern wonts. That doesn't mean we can't learn from the prote dinem.

2/18/2007 6:44 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


I was thinking of it more as a communal issue, but you're right that women are left out of this whole circumcision thing. Which is good, because otherwise we might be committing FGC.


I'm not saying that qorbanot or mila are concessions to ancient Middle Eastern modes of religious expression in particular, but that they're concessions to something in our human makeup that isn't satisfied with abstractions like speech or meditation.

2/18/2007 8:58 AM  
Blogger Knitter of shiny things said...

You're right that it's good that women aren't circumcised, but I wish there were some other sort of ritual that women could have to mark our Jewishness. The idea of being part of the covenant through bearing sons is unfulfilling to me, because it means that women can't be full participants in this religion in our own right, but only through being associated with males.

2/18/2007 1:09 PM  
Anonymous Simon Holloway said...

I agree with Knitter of Shiny Things: women do not have a place within the Jewish covenant and this exclusion manifests itself in more ways than the nature of the circumcision. Just note Moses' words prior to the revelation at Sinai: "you will not approach a woman". Who is he speaking to?

2/18/2007 4:15 PM  
Blogger Lipman said...


I had understood that, didn't want to read my stance into your words. :-)


mightn't this be a case where historical reality plays a rôle? On the one hand, the words are timeless, on the other hand, they were concretely addressed to concrete persons, and as far as I know, women didn't have a lot to say back then.

2/19/2007 4:48 AM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Dr. Ruth Halperin-Kadari said in JOFA 2002:

According to the p¸eshat of S‹efer Sh¸em‹oth, it does not seem that women were included at the ultimate covenant of Judaism, ma‘amaˇd har sınai. After all, the ‘Asereth haddibberoth are all given in the second person masculine, and the statement “lo ta˛m‹oˇd ‹esheth r‹e‘ekh‹a” is clearly addressed to men. However, ˘azal already had a problem with this, and made the midrash: “Ko tomar l¸e-v‹eth ya‘aq‹ov: this refers to the women.”

Today, men are inviting women back to re-enter the covenant. But wait! Can we really use the word re-enter? Were women ever part of the covenant? To put it bluntly, are women Jewish?!

Ma‘amad Har Sinai was not the only covenant in the Tanakh. HaQadosh Barukh Hu made eight b¸erıth‹oth with Israel. Seven of these were one-time occurrences. The eight b¸erıth is the ongoing b¸erıth of Haqh‹el, which explicitly includes women.

The text is the text. We can’t change the words. However, when there are eight b¸erıth‹oth, we can choose which one we want to adopt. We adopt the b¸erıth of Haqh‹el.

What are we to do in situations in which the text is masculine? There, we accept the rule that the masculine includes the feminine. This is a very sad conclusion, because it means that women are marginalized by the text, and are not directly addressed. Such is the difference between secular feminists and religious feminists.

2/19/2007 10:51 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


very interesting... so what are those 7+1 beritot?

2/20/2007 3:35 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Well, Dr. Halperin-Kadari didn't list them, but here's what I came up with (based on a search of the word ברית on the Keter CD-ROM.)

1. At Mt. Sinai, before the Sin of the Calf (Exodus 24:8)
2. At Mt. Sinai, after the Sin of the Calf (Exodus 34:10)
3. In the Planes of Moab (Deut. 28:9)
4. Before Joshua’s death, at Shechem (Josh. 24:25)
5. At the time of King Asa, in Jerusalem (II Chron. 15:12)
6. At the time of Jehoiada the Priest, in Jerusalem (II Kings 11:17)
7. At the time of King Josiah, in Jerusalem (II Kings 23:3)
8. Haqhel (Deut. 31:10)

2/20/2007 3:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. You are missing a number of britot: Brit Hakeshet (Noach), Brit Milah (Avraham), Brit Bein Habetarim (Avraham), Nechemiah's brit (Nechemiah chapter 9)... these are the ones that come to mind, there may be others.

2. "Do not approach a woman" etc. are in male language because Moshe told them first to the 70 Zekenim, who were most probably all male, and then who went and told the entire people, probably modifying the language as necessary to address women too.

2a. Why does "the masculine include the feminine" marginalize women? On the contrary, perhaps it marginalizes men, because there is no distinctive masculine language, only "generic" and "feminine".

3. Brit milah is not an abstraction of human sacrifice, it's an abstraction of fertility, as can be seen from Breishit chapter 15 (I think) where it is introduced.

4. I've never understood why prayer alone is considered a "higher" form of worship than, say, animal sacrifice accompanied by prayer, which is what the ancient Israelites did. There are examples of prayer in the Temple/Mishkan throughout Tanach, no it is not as formal as the sacrifices but it is at least as important.

For example, the Korban Todah (thanksgiving offering - the modern equivalent is "birkat hagomel") consisted of an animal and 40 loaves of bread, all of which had to be eaten within one day. How do you eat 40 loaves of bread in one day? Answer: you don't. You are forced to invite lots of people to share the meal with you, at which you tell everyone what God has done for you. How is that unsophisticated?

3/05/2007 8:53 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


1. I think Mar Gavriel, quoting Dr. Halperin-Kadari, was only listing בריתות between God and עם ישראל, so the universal brit with Noahh doesn't count, neither do the 'predictive' britot with Avraham. Not sure about Nehhemya, though.

2. Good justification.

2a. Having the 'masculine include the feminine' marginalizes women (or at least is felt to do so, which is the same thing, culturally-speaking) because it makes the masculine=male into the *default*, the normal — therefore the feminine=female is the *special case*, a.k.a. abnormal. In Hebrew it's more complicated due to the almost totally-gendered nature of how the language works; it's much more obvious (and deal-with-able) in languages like English, where gender is only a marginal part of the system.

3. And who was normally sacrificed in the Ancient Middle East? *Children*. (as opposed to the Aztec sacrifices of war captives, for instance)

4. It's because [some] people consider abstract actions 'higher' or 'more civilized' or 'more advanced' than physical actions. It also might have something to do with the fact that sacrifices involve killing living things, whereas prayer doesn't.

3/05/2007 11:25 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

"Rema in hilchos milah compares milah to korban"

3/15/2007 9:49 PM  

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