July 26, 2012

Concluding Study

Storytelling is at the center of rabbinic study. When illustrating a legal precept our instructors would often say: "let me tell you a story." This is highly appropriate, of course, for much of the Bible and subsequent commentary uses this method.
A good story does not neatly tie up a conclusion, but leaves room for a surplus of meaning. Indeed, as one enters a story, he or she becomes a part of its ongoing revision and interpretation. Welcoming disparate readers allows the stream of conversation to broaden and new tributaries contribute their life sources.
Yesterday we explored two ways of reading texts: a submissive and a confrontational. A submissive reading suggests that one tries to follow the letter of the law without protest if issues of moral compunction arise. A good example of this would be the friends of Job with their platitudes and inability to construct a new interpretative framework. An example of a confrontational reading would be when Abraham questions God's decision about the destruction of Sodom or Moses' refusal to wage war when commanded by God to do so. Negotiating with and questioning the morality of God is found within the Hebrew Bible--and even more in the mishnaic commentary.
This prompts me to consider whether Christians interrogate texts and the Holy One sufficiently. There is not as well-developed a tradition of theodicy in Christianity, although prophetic protests do emerge. Could it be that God is delighted with this kind of serious probing?
We conclude our study this morning, but the learning will continue as we will gather monthly online and then next summer in Jerusalem. The level of scholarship at the Institute is excellent, and my colleagues are of nimble acumen. [It looks like I will pass and get let out with the rest of the class.]
It is said that if a person only knows one religion, he or she really know none. As I have viewed Christianity through Jewish perspective, I have discovered new aspects of my confessional faith and reading of texts. Our Jewish teachers have also received the gift of Christian reflection and have gained insight, also.
We will bid farewell to Jerusalem this evening, but we will carry in our hearts the blessing of this time together.

Molly T. Marshall

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