Moshe Sokolow
Dr. Sokolow is the Editor of Ten Da'at
Ten Da'at, A Journal of Jewish Education, vol. X:1, Adar 5757, Spring 1997

Key words: bible, value, human life, active learning homicide

The National Center for Research on Teacher Learning (NCRTL), located at the college of Education, Michigan State University, was established by the US office of Education to examine various approaches to teacher education. In one of their several informative publications they note:

The following essay is an attempt to achieve those desirable objectives in a Tanakh lesson. Part One develops a curricular rationale appropriate for a yeshiva high-school; Part Two details the actual lesson - with all the sources and didactic suggestions. There are also four brief appendices on relevant issues, for the teacher's information.

Part One:
The Text and The Level of Instruction: A Curricular Rationale
Two rabbinic adages deal with the nature of incentive and motivation in connection with the study of Torah: The first stipulates that the learning of Torah is conditional upon self-motivation, and the second posits that motivation can be stimulated by activity. Taken in conjunction with one another, they offer an unmistakable mandate for active learning in all areas of limmudei kodesh.

The objective of this essay is to demonstrate how active (or: discovery) learning can be implemented in the curricular area of Tanakh. In order to achieve this goal, I shall provide a model lesson for a high-school class based upon the declaration of the value of human life which is implicit in the Torah's account of creation.

I. Educational Premises
Three fundamental pedagogical premises and one educational-philosophical proposition inform this lesson:
1. Reading the Biblical text without its accompanying commentaries imperils its proper comprehension and endangers its correct understanding. (N.B. Comprehension is used here as a technical term - as in "reading comprehension" - denoting the proper decoding of the text. Understanding denotes the ability to draw inferences from the text and to apply them both to other texts as well as to other life experiences.)
2. Reading the Biblical text with its accompanying traditional commentaries, but without analysis, provides a basis for the subsequent examination of the students' capacity for memorization, but gives no indication of their comprehension or understanding.
3. The compromise is to read the Biblical text and prompt the students to "discover" the traditional exegesis through their own active participation in the analysis of the text.
4. Any student - adequately trained in rhetorical analysis and guided by a sufficient background in traditional exegesis - is capable of the proper comprehension of a Biblical text and its correct understanding.

II. Philosophical and Ideological Premises
The first chapter of Bereishit is, first of all, the cornerstone of the entire Jewish religious experience. The entirety of Torah and mitzvot is subordinate to the recognition of the existence of God, the Creator. As formulated by Sa'adiah Gaon (882-942): "There are no commandments without a commander."

Secondly (following the lead of the Tanhuma cited by Rashi to Gen. 1:1), the Jewish historical experience is a derivative of creation, with the relationship of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel - a benchmark of their relationship with God - acknowledged as the historio-graphical focus of the Bible.

Finally, the ineluctable truth - however inadvertently eclipsed, or deliberately obscured by particularistic ideologies - is that God did not immediately create the Jewish people, but a single human being of indeterminate creed; not the Land of Israel, alone, but an entire world . History begins with creation, not with the revelation at Sinai; with Adam, not Moses (nor even Abraham); and it begins in a Mesopotamian paradise bounded by the Tigris and the Euphrates, rather than in Jerusalem.

That is to say, the study of the first chapter of Bereishit demands that the recognition of the universality of Torah preced that of its particularity, and that an honest attempt be made to delineate the role which all humanity plays in God's scheme of things, and not just Jews.

III. Psychological and Sociological Premises
The high-school years present a particularly vexing problem.

On the one hand, the secondary school experience for Jewish young men and women coincides with the onset of their religious majorities: 12 for girls, and 13 for boys. These, then, are precisely the most formative years of their incipient religious identities, and offer an insuperable opportunity to forge their individual and collective links to the covenantal community they have so recently joined.

On the other hand, however, the inclination towards rebelliousness which is prevalent during these same years frustrates attempts at conformity with religious doctrines and practices which are out of synch with the students' own burgeoning life experiences - most of which occur outside the walls of the beit midrash.

As psychologist David Elkind has written:

Some young people may reject institutional religion entirely when they become teenagers. In a way they are saying, "I'm too old. I don't believe in that stuff anymore." It is also a way of rebelling against (or differentiating themselves from) parents and religious authorities. But teenagers very much need a religious element in their identity. Having a religious faith, of whatever denomination, even if the teenager does not practice it, gives him or her a known quantity, a fixed ingredient, to integrate into his or her developing definition of self. (All Grown Up and No Place to Go: Teenagers in Crisis; Addison & Wesley, 1984; p. 43)
The selection of Bereishit is designed to appeal to the high-school students' reflexive assumption that they already know everything about everything (not to mention Bereishit, a text they have already learned some of them twice! - in elementary school). The challenge is to demonstrate that there are other levels of significant meaning in the text beyond the familiar, to stimulate them to reveal the additional layers of meaning through their own initiatives, and to impress them with the diversity which inheres in traditional exegesis in spite of its integral fidelity to the text.

As Elkind writes, in the continuation:

At this time, both the religious institution and parents should move away from religious instruction and provide opportunities for the social interaction and discussion of values, beliefs, and actions that young people need to discover who and what they really are. Such a sabbatical from institutional religion prepares the way for a later integration of personal and formal religious beliefs and values.
IV. Exegetical and Pedagogical Coefficients
The fundamental pedagogical proposition, herein, is that the active study of Biblical texts provides precisely those opportunities for the clarification of identity and values which Elkind recommends. The exegetical key reposes in the students' direct encounter with the text, mediated by the commentators, on account of their superior hermeneutical experience, and by their teachers, by virtue of their greater and more intimate familiarity with these particular studetns' needs and resources.

The key to direct encounter lies in the students' involvement in the decipherment of the text ("comprehension") and the application of its lesson ("understanding"). As Biblical scholar and teacher Ed Greenstein has observed:

When you are waiting for something to happen, when you have this expectation, you are involved in what is going on. You're constantly being enlisted in the creative process, because you, yourself are, in a sense, subconsciously creating together with the artist.... This participation is a source of pleasure. ("Against Interpretation", Ikka D'Amrei IV, 1982; JTSA, 36)

"Participative interpretation" is the basis for Joseph Schwab's rhetorical analysis, too:

If a reader could have access to the alternatives from which an author thus chooses his key words, the structure of his key sentences, and his organization, he would have at hand a remarkable aid to interpretation.... By bringing to bear on symbols and meanings the process of comparison ... the reader could participate in a part of the act of authorship. ("Enquiry and the Reading Process", Science, Curriculum and the Reading Process; Chicago, 1978; 154)
Samuel Heilman, in his study of Talmud study groups, lends a significant ethnographic confirmation to this proposition:
The excitement in such study is to uncover for oneself the old truths... to feel as if one is oneself the pioneer. The traditional learner is by no means simply mimicking or mouthing the words of the past... he is dramatically possessed by the text and its world; yet to him its words and reasoning seem to be his own. (The People of the Book; Chicago, 1984, 65)
The concurrent pedagogical proposition is that if this conclusion is conclusion is "discovered" by the students, themselves, it will be more meaningful and consequential than if it were just stipulated doctrinally, because it will not be "imposed" upon them, arbitrarily, by an authority figure from whom they are presently trying to differentiate themselves.

The purpose of a religious Jewish education in the Diaspora, on the one hand, is to use Torah (in the broadest sense of the term) as a yardstick by which other cultural norms are to be measured. [Similar, in fact, to Maimonides' proposition in part three of the Moreh Nevokhim, that underlying many mitzvot is the attempt to vitiate Canaanite cultural influences.] On the other hand, to pit Torah against the pervasive - and perfidious - norms which regulate our student' daily lives risks setting Torah up for a fall. The study of ancient Near Eastern law, literature, and culture, therefore, will provide studnets an opportunity to reflect obliquely upon American culture without directly calling the validity of all their cultural experiences into question.

Part Two
The Lesson: Homicide and the Value of Human Life
Note: this part of the essay has two components:

(a) Factual information to be imparted tot he class either through student discovery or via teacher intervention;
(b) Questions for the teacher to pose in order to stimulate the active learning.

I. Preface: Man and the Purpose for his Creation
The phrase tzelem eloh-im, which plays a significant role in this lesson, can be interpreted in a variety of ways, I have chosen to treat eloh-im here as an adjective whose definition, in English, is closest to the word "divine", signifying something extraordinary by associating it with God. My exegetical justification (detailed in Appendix I) is drawn from the commentary of RADAK who says: "the custom of Scripture - when it whishes to make something grand - is to liken it unto the divine."

Enuma Elish, the Babylonian myth of creation, describes the creation of mankind as follows:

Blood will I form and cause bone to be
Then will I set up a savage, 'Man' shall be his name!
Yes, I will create savage Man!
(Upon him) shall the services of the gods be imposed
That they may be at rest.
[This translation follows Alexander Heidel: The Babylonian Genesis (Chicago, 1967), p. 46, lines 5-8 with the exception of the use of "savage" which follows James Pritchard: Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Princeton, 1969), p. 68. Heidel uses the transliteration: "lullu."] According to the Babylonians, then, man was created for he sole and exclusive purpose of freeing the gods from having to provide for their own physical needs. Man cultivated the earth and cared for its creatures in order to satisfy the requirements of the gods for food and drink - which he delivered to them in the way of sacrifices and libations - and he manipulated the earth's natural resources in order to provide them with shelter in the form of temples. According to the Babylonians, Man had no intrinsic value, only an instrumental one.

Compare this view with the Torah's record of the creation of Adam:

Vayivra Eloh-im et ha'adam betzalmo... umal'u et ha'aretz vekivshu'ah, u'rdu bidgat hayam... (I: 27-28)
God, the self-sufficient creator ex-nihilo (Yesh me'ayin) of the entire universe, fashioned Adam, a single human being, in a "divine" image, and placed him upon the earth "to work and preserve it" (le'ovda u'leshomra, 2:15) and to have dominion over its other creatures (1:28). While Marduk, chief of the Babylonian pantheon, created a race of men, God created a solitary Adam; while Marduk's men are set to the task of serving their superiors, Adam's task is to maintain himself. He has obligations to his Creator, but they express themselves in obedience rather then in servitude.

II. The Bible and the Ancient Near East; Contrasting Laws Reflect Contradictory Values

Laws, like myths, mirror a society's, or a civilization's most basic or widely held beliefs and values. Therefore, the legal systems which Biblical and Mesopotamian cultures developed, place correspondingly different values upon human lives and upon property. We shall now proceed to examine some of those laws and discover the extent to which they mirror the values which are reflected in their respective stories of creation. The Torah accentuates the creation of man by an omni-sufficient God who gave him opportunities for self-fulfillment and advancement; Enuma Elish emphasizes the creation of men by indolent, self serving gods, who are concerned only with their own needs and requirements. The particular mirror we shall hold up to these two cultures consists of the laws of homicide. (Answers can include freedom of speech, separation of church and state, and protection against self-incrimination, which derive from the constitutional promises of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.")

1. The Biblical View of Homicide
Our first step, didactically, is to present the students with the relevant texts. Laws of homicide appear several times in the Torah (Exodus 21:12-15; Numbers 35:9-34; and Deuteronimy 19:1-4). Three of these references are particularly significant in terms of this inquiry:

1) Numbers 35:31: "You shall not take a ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death but he shall surely be put to death.

Velo tikhu kofer lenefesh rotze'ah asher hu rasha lamut, ki mot yumat
2) Dt. 24:16: "Parents shall not be put to death for children, nor children be put to death for parents: a person shall be put to death only for his own crime."
Lo yumtu avot al banim u'vanim lo yumtu al avot, ish be'heto yumatu
3) Gen. 9:6: "Whoever sheds the blood of a man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in a godly image was man created."

Shofekh dam ha'adam ba'adam damo yishafekh, ki betzelem eloh-im asah et ha'adam

a. Human lives cannot be reckoned in terms of money;
b. They cannot be arbitrarily exchanged one for another;
c. The special status of man is a consequence of his creation in a special "divine" image.

d. While it may appear paradoxical to demand one life in exchange for another, it actually reflects the fundamental uniqueness of the "divine" image; to accept ransom would give human life a relative value rather than an absolute one.

[For a class with lesser powers of deduction, these conclusions can be summarized in the form of the following quotation from Moshe Greenberg: "The Biblical Grounding of Human Values", The Samuel Freedland Lectures (NY, 1966), 44-45:

What [underlies] the biblical view of homicide? The peculiar and supreme worth of man. Of all creatures, Genesis 1 relates, he alone possesses this attribute, bringing him into closer relation to God than all the rest and conferring on him the highest value.
Because that image is both inestimable and incomparable, no substitution - either of money or of kind (i.e., another image) - can be made for its deliberate or criminal destruction. The effect of this view is, to be sure, paradoxical; because human life is invaluable, to take it entails the death penalty. Yet the paradox must not blind us to the value judgement the law sought to embody.
2. Homicide in Ancient Near Eastern Law
we shall refer here to several collections of ancient Near Eastern laws which originated in Mesopotamia and reflect the same values we saw mirrored in its creation myth. The period in Biblical history to which they correspond is that of the patriarchs. Hamurabi, to use the best known of these codes, was king of Babylonia from the late 18th through the early 17th century, i.e. around the time of Abraham. Some of these laws will be cited in verbatim translation, while others will be abbreviated or paraphrased. The text utilized is James Pritchard: Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the old Testament (Princeton, 1969).

The next didactic step, again, is to present the sources:

1) "If a man or a woman enters another man's home and kills a man or a woman, they shall be handed over to the owner of the house. If he wishes - he may be appeased by taking their property." (Middle Assyrian Laws, no. A-10; Pritchard, 181.)
2) In Hittite law, murder is punishable only by the payment of a fine which is scaled according to the subjective guilt of the murderer and the social status of the victim. (The Hittite Laws, nos. 1-5; Pritchard, 188.)
3) The Code of Hammurabi provides that if a house collapses killing its owner, the builder shall be put to death. If the collapse kills the owner's son, however, then it is the builder's son who shall be put to death (Hammurabi, laws 229-230; Pritchard, 176.)

a. Ransom is an accepted form of blood-vengeance;
b. Persons other than the actual murderer - or guilty party - can be executed for crimes they did not commit;
c. The choice between executing the murderer (or his kin!) and accepting monetary compensation, belongs to the victim's relatives.

Let the students look next at some property laws in these same codes:

4) "If a man stole the property of a temple or of the state, that man shall be put to death; also the one who received the stolen goods from his hand shall be put to death." (Hammurabi, 6; Pritchard, 166.)
5) "If a man stole... from a private citizen, he shall make good tenfold. If the thief does not have sufficient to make restitution, he shall be put to death." (Hammurabi, 8; Pritchard, op. cit.)
6) "If a man made a breach in a house, they shall put him to death in front of that breach, and wall him in." (Hammurabi, 21; Pritchard, 167.)
7) "If, when a man was either sick or dead, his wife has stolen something from his house and has given it to ...anyone else, they shall put the man's wife to death along with the receivers as well." (Middle Assyrian Laws, no. 3; Pritchard, 180.)

d. Robbery, even from one's spouse, is punishable by death;
e. Monetary compensation can be substituted for the death penalty (just as in a homicide);
f. Certain damage to property can result even in the execution of the one causing the damage.

Requiring the death penalty for crimes against property reveals that, in ancient Mesopotamia, life and its purpose were measured economically. Just as property or money can be given in compensation for the loss of a life, lives can be forfeited in punishment for the loss of, or damage to property.

When we recall that mankind was only created to serve the gods and their temples we can easily see how their lives could be evaluated in strictly monetary terms.

[If, again, the students need more induction than deduction, offer them the following summary and challenge them to show where the texts of the laws illustrate these generalities.]

We find that the principle difference regarding homicide between the Bible and ancient Near Eastern law is the Torah's prohibition against accepting ransom in cases of deliberate or accidental homicide. This difference derives from the exaggerated value which the Torah places on human life; man being created in God's image. Since a human's life is invaluable, a homicide can be atoned for only by the death of the murderer.
According to Mesopotamian literature, however, despite the fact that homicide is a serious crime, even arousing the anger of the gods, man is only one part of creation and has no value other than economic - since he only was created to serve the gods and to free them form agriculture and from the travails of civilization ... Another basic difference...concerns the punishment of the murderer. In order to fit the punishment to the crime and to repay the sinner measure for measur, we find in the legal tradition of the ancient Near East the principle of vicarious punishment according to which one who murders another's son has his own son killed, as opposed to the ways of divine justice in which the Tora forbids mortal courts from applying this vicarious punishment. (Barry Eichler: "Retzach" Encyclopedia Mikrait 7, 431.
3. In Summation
The bible believes in man's uniqueness and in his supremacy over the rest of creation. Because he was created in an incomparable and invaluable "divine" image no amount of money, nor any vicarious punishment, can compensate for the damage done by a homicide. As the Torah itself stipulates (Numbers 35:33): "And the land can have no expiation for blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him that shed it."
"vela'aretz lo-yechuper ladam asher shafakh ba, ki im bedam shofcho"
Mesopotamian law, on the other hand, conceived of man "instrumentally"; that is to say, since mankind was created to serve the gods, a human life could be measured and evaluated in terms of the service it actually performed. Hence, men are more valuable than women, free men more than slaves, and adults more than children. If the victim's family judged their loss in terms of their overall capacity to serve (the king, or the temple), they could easily prefer to have the imbalance corrected through the payment of a ransom - keyed to the deceased's socioeconomic status. Alternatively, they could decide to create an equal imbalance in the service of the murderer's family by seeking his death, or that of another valued, and equivalent, member of the offending clan.
The biblical law of homicide is not more primitive than that of the Mesopotamian codes, nor is the biblical law of theft more progressive than that of Mesopotamia. A basic difference in the evaluation of life and property separates the one from the others. In the biblical law a religious evaluation, in the non-biblical an economic and political evaluation, predominates. (Greenberg, op. cit.)
4. The Value of Human Life in Torah Shebe'al Peh
The value of life which we have described, thus far, by means of Biblical laws, is reflected in the Mishnah, as well. In examining the difference between murder and torts, the Mishnah reports the admonition which is issued to witnesses prior to their testimony in capital cases (Sanhedrin 4:5):
Know that capital cases are not like civil cases. In civil cases a man pays money and receives atonement. In capital cases (however), the blood of the defendant and all his descendants, to all eternity, rests in the hands of the witnesses.
This same Mishnah then proceeds to deveop the theme that Adam's solitary creation is a guide to the relations which should exist among human being:
Therefore was Adam [or: Man] created individually, to instruct us that whoever destroys a single life (nefesh ahat), Scripture sees him as though he destroyed the entire world. And whoever sustains a single life, Scripture sees him as though he sustained the entire world.
[There are variants to the version we have chosen which cite "a single Jewish life - nefesh ahat miYisrael)." In appendix II we summarize the finding of E. E. Urbach, on which we have relied..]

Appendix I: Tzelem Eloh-im; whose image?
Appendix II: The Life We Sustain or Destroy
Appendix III: A Theological Corollary; What constitutes Singularity?
Appendix IV: Prose and Poetry; A Didactic Suggestion

Appendix I: Tzelem Eloh-im; whose Image?
Since this phrase, on one hand, plays such a central role in both the story of creation (Gen. 1:27) as well as in the first formulation of the laws of homicide (Gen. 9:6), while, on the other hand, its standard translation is the cause for considerable theological discomfort (i.e., the intimation of anthropomorphism), we would do well to examine it here in linguistic, literary, and theological detail.

Grammar and Philology
The J.P.S. translation (1962) renders Gen. 1:27 as follows:
And God created man in His image
in the image of God He created him;
male and female He created them,
indicating that the translators:
(1) understood the pronominal suffix at the end of betzalmo as referring back to God, the subject of the sentence (hence: His image); and
(2) took the word tzelem Eloh-im as a construct (i.e., a possessive relationship between two nouns, hence: the image of God).

There are, in fact, alternatives to each of these two points which, while equally faithful to the original Hebrew text, produce remarkably and significantly different results.

First of all, the pronominal suffix can refer back to "man", the object of the sentence, rather than to its subject (God), since adam, like Eloh-im (despite its ostensibly plural appearance), is a singular masculine noun. We would then render betzalmo: "in his (man's) image."

Secondly, the words tzelem Eloh-im can simply be a noun and its accompanying adjective, rather than a construct of two nouns, and it would be rendered: "a divine image." (Or: a "goodly" image, bearing in mind that good and god share an etymology in English.) The entire verse, according to this alternative translation, would appear as follows: "And God created man in his own image", i.e., an image uniquely man's; "in a divine image was man created", i.e., an image having certain exceptional properties (which we shall next proceed to describe); "male and female did God create them."

Eloh-im means Majesty
Jewish tradition has always been aware of the homonym of the word Eloh-im, consigning the one which designates God as kodesh (holy), and the other as hol (profane). The former is a proper noun and - when used for God - is treated as a grammatical singular, while the latter is a generic term - used for deities and mortal judges alike - and is treated in the grammatical plural. E.g.: vayomer Eloh-im (God said), but Eloh-im Aherim (alien deities) or yarshiun Eloh-im (the judges shall condemn.) On account of our designation of the word, here, as "hol", we have proceeded to use the transliteration "elohim" throughout.

As an adjective, however, it translates as "special" or "exceptional." That is to say, the Torah borrowed an epithet of God to produce a form of hyperbole (exaggeration). Indeed, the medieval exegete RADAK, Rabbi David Kimhi (1160-1235), makes this very observation in his interpretation of the phrase mar'ot Eloh-im in Ezekiel 1:1:

This means great and spectacular visions, since the custom of Scripture - when it wishes to make something grand - is to liken it unto the divine. Such as: Ir Gedolah le'Eloh-im (Jonah 3:3, which the new J.P.S. translation renders: an enormously large city); harerei El (Ps. 36:7; J.P.S.: high mountains); me'afela (Jer. 2:31; J.P.S.: deep gloom); or shalhevetya (Song of Songs 8:6; J.P.S.: a blazing flame).

Following Kimhi, then, the phrase, as it appears in Genesis, would signify something along the lines of "a majestic/sovereign image", since that attribute of the divine which will have been borrowed here, for the sakeof the hyperbole, is specifically the attribute of majesty. As we shall note in the selection we will cite (see Appendix IV) from Psalm 8:6-7:
"You have made (man) little less than divine (Eloh-im), and adorned him with glory and majesty. You have made him master over Your handiwork, laying the world at his feet."
In fact, the preeminent medieval translator and commentator, Rav Sa'adiah Gaon (882-942), translates this phrase in both Gen. 1:27 and 9:6, as: "the noble image of a sovereign", and another medieval exegete, Rabbi Yosef Bekhor Shor (12th century), comments: betzalmo in man's image ...and there are those who say that Eloh-im is hol, that is to say, in the image of a judge and ruler (dayyan ve'shofet) was he created.

Appendix II: Nefesh Ahat; The Life We Sustain or Destroy
Towards the close of the body of the essay we cited the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4:6) which adduces Adam's solitary creation as proof of the inestimable value which Jewish tradition places upon even a single human life. The version of the Mishnah which we cited reads: nefesh ahat, "a single (nonspecific) life", and that is indeed the version appearing in many manuscripts of the Mishnah - both with and without commentaries - including one manuscript (Oxford 404) widely believed to be a copy of the Mishnah with Maimonides' Arabic commentary, written by that sage's own hand! It is also the version appearing in manuscripts of both the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmud which incorporate the Mishnah (in the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a), as well as in extant fragments of the Talmud in the Cairo Genizah. Furthermore, it is this selfsame version which is cited, uniformly, in post-Mishnaic and post Talmudic literature, ranging from the Midrash to medieval commentaries.

On the other hand, some printed editions of Mishnah and Talmud have a different version of our text, reading: nefesh ahat meYisrael; "a single Jewish life", in each of the Mishnah's two clauses.

The significance of this difference ("universalism" versus "particularism", etc.) will be treated, briefly, in Appendix III.

Professor E. E. Urbach, in an essay on this passage [TARBIZ v. 40 (1971), 268-284], studied the development of these versions and the fates they suffered at the hands of censors and printers. He concluded that the original and authentic version is the one we have cited, namely, the nonspecific nefesh ahat. The later insertion of the specification meYisrael - which does genuinely appear in other, different, Talmudic and Midrashic passages - derives, he believes, from the context: Since the Mishnah contains instructions given to witnesses in a Jewish court regarding their prospective testimony against a fellow Jew, accused of murdering another Jew, the context could have prompted the insertion of meYisrael "without any specific intention of altering the original meaning of the maxim."

The appearance, or deliberate omission, of meYisrael in 18th and 19th century printed editions was due to the vicissitudes of censorship - including Jewish self censorship - which often found printers printing the nonspecific text, not because they recognized its authenticity, but because they were reluctant to print the "particularistic" version and run the risk of incurring the wrath of the censor, or fanning the flames of anti-Semitism.

Appendix III: A Theological Corollary; What Constitutes "singularity?"
If we are correct in our understanding of both Bereishit and Sanhedrin, and neither the Torah nor the Mishnah differentiates between the essential value of a Jewish life and any human life, then wherein does the singularity of the Jewish people reside?

To answer this question, we turn to the verse in which the term "singularity" (Segula) first appears: Exodus 19:5 vehayitem li segula mikol ha'amim...["And now, if you obey Me and observe my covenant,] you shall be a singular nation unto Me for all the earth is Mine."

Rabbi Obadiah of Seforno (1470-1550), in his commentary ad. loc., makes the point we would wish to express in this context:

Af al pi shekol hamin ha'enoshi yakar etzli mikol yeter hanimtza'im hashfalim, ki hu levado hamekhuvan bahem, be'omram z"l: "haviv adam shenivrah betzelem", mikol makom atem tihyu li segula mikulam. Vehahevdel beinekhem bepahot veyeter hu, ki omnam li kol ha'aretz, vehasidei umot ha'olam yekarim etzli beli safek.

Despite the fact that the entire human race is dearer to me than all lesser creatures - because they, exclusively, are the intended forcus, as the Sages have said: "Man is beloved because he was created in the image" - in any event, you shall be the most singular of them all. The difference between you [and gentiles] is only quantitative; the entire earth is Mine and even righteous gentiles are undoubtedly dear to Me.
Here, in the prelude to the revelation at Sinai, God establishes obedience and observance - and not race or denomination - as the prerequisites of singularity, and cites His omnipotence as its justification.

Appendix IV: Prose and Poetry; A Didactic Suggestion
A more lyrical version of Adam's creation - and, therein, Man's raison d'etre - appears in the Book of Psalms (8:4-9):
When I behold the heavens, the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you set in place,
What is man that you have been mindful of him,
mortal man that You have taken note of him;
That you have made him little less than divine,
and adorned him with glory and majesty?
You have made him master over Your handiwork,
laying the world at his feet:
Sheep and oxen, all of them,
and wild beasts, too;
The birds of the heavens, the fish of the sea,
whatever travels the paths of the seas.
The impression (often unforgettable!) lyrical nature of Psalms affords a valuable contrast with dry (often monotonous!) prose. Where Genesis merely speaks - however eloquently - Psalms rhapsodizes. Since we aspire to "affect" and stimulate our students' senses, along with informing their minds, we should use Biblical poetry as a counter-point to its prose, just as the authors and compilers of Tanakh sought to forestall the boredom of their readers through the judicious alternation of literary styles and genres.

We make the following practical, didactic, recommendation: Arrange the Hebrew text of Psalm 8:4-9 in one column, phrase by phrase (according to the system of didactic transcription), and have the students (for homework?) match each phrase in the Psalm with the corresponding prose passage from Genesis. Have them consider whether the correspondences are exact, where they differ, and whether there is anything they regard as significant which the Psalmist either added or omitted.

[P.S. The relationship between prose and poetic portions of the Tanakh which deal with the same topic can be examined through a similarly structured comparison between Exodus 14-15 (Shirat haYam) and Judges 4-5 (Shirat Devorah). Be sure, however, that the students perceive and understand the difference between those prose and poetic passages which, like the last two examples, are contemporary with each other, and the example of the Psalms which are often later reflections on considerably earlier events.]

back to home page