Sunday, January 08, 2006

Torah study and the ten recommendations

My son Zed is finally off on his Birthright Israel trip. He wanted to go this past summer but had emergency spinal surgery instead. I'm glad he's well now and can go on this adventure.

Yesterday before he left for the near east we went together to Torah study at our temple. I wanted to show him off to the rabbi while he was home!

Our family's been lucky enough to have the same rabbi ever since my ex- and I moved to Durham. Rabbi John Friedman presided over Zed's baby-naming eighteen and a half years ago and he presided over his bar mitzvah, which astoundingly took place the very same day Zed had his last radiation treatment for brain cancer. (I had made him a Bukharan kippah which would not fall off his bald head.)

Ours is a reform congregation and our Torah study is a pretty, uh, relaxed affair. It only convenes once a month, and since everybody has a lot to say, we often only get through a few sentences.

It has taken us 21 years to get to the Ten Commandments. "Ten Commandments" turns out to be a mis-translation, the Hebrew text actually has words - I never knew that's why the Greeks used The Decalogue. Alternate translations are the Ten Utterances and the Ten Statements (more).

There's a story that these laws, statements, words, whatever, were offered to all the people of the world, but only the Jews would take them - and the Jews only took them because God threatened to drop a mountain on them if they didn't.

It's interesting that of the people who regularly attend our Torah study, more than half are converts (including me). For example, one was born Shinto; two met while attending a Presbyterian college and converted together when they graduated, 37 years ago; one woman is an African-American history professor at Duke; one, of Cuban descent, graduated from Catholic seminary.

Part of what slows us down is, we have a lot of inveterate interrupters and finger-wavers. The rabbi is very patient with everyone. So, as far as these "ten suggestions" go - well, yesterday we only got through half of them. The other half will have to wait till next month.

We've waited twenty-one years, another month won't hurt. In the meantime I'll try not to covet my neighbor's ox.

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