Beginning to rethink 'marriage'


By Rabbi Aaron Gol...
December 16, 2012
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Miketz 5773

If the account from our Torah were to be a true account of the goings on in ancient Egypt, can you imagine the field-day that the ancient Egyptian media would have had.

There would be the official, state-run news agency headline: “The great Pharaoh reveals his divinity through a dream prediction of the future: all bow-down to Pharaoh.”

The media outlet of choice for the working masses and slaves would scream, “Rags to riches, prison to palace, Joseph the young Israelite makes good.”

The equivalent of the Financial Times: “Dream interpretation signals period of austerity.”

And of course let us not forget the glossy celebrity offerings: “You too can be like Joseph: see the exclusive pictures of Joseph as he models the seasons new multi-coloured tunics.”

We of course know this account like many others in our Torah not to be a true and literal account of affairs. Rather, it is a fabulous and retrospective interpretation to explain Jacob’s appearance and special treatment in Egypt; The survival of a people; and perhaps even an explanation of a good economic policy. Can you imagine what we would make of it today if it were revealed that George Osborne derived his economic strategies from dream interpretation – with no disrespect to the psychoanalysts amongst our congregation today?

To dismiss the account out of hand without analysis is not however the Jewish way. Beneath the fantastic storyline is a rational economic policy. Is it a fantasy to suggest that in times of plenty, one might not over-consume but to have a level of austerity even in those times so that one does not come a cropper when times are bad and austerity then must be horrendously severe?

I believe that there are contained in our Torah, our sacred scripture so many elements that make us think and stand the test of time. Yet there are notions that we have read into the Torah and then assume they have been there for all time. If we are true to our enlightened Liberal Jewish approach, we must continue to analyse: to ever challenge our assumptions.

One concept that has been bought into focus this week is the institution of Marriage. With the Government bringing forward a Bill that will offer religious movements the opportunity to opt-in to performing marriage services that would be enshrined in civil law as well as through religious ritual.

This Bill has forced - for some unwelcome - discussions about the notion of marriage. When I began to look into the passages in the book of Genesis that Judaism have traditionally used as source texts to show that our ancient ancestors got ‘married,’ I am forced to question our interpretations. This might be an ongoing and I hope thoughtful discussion for us in our congregation. Consider a few of these.

Genesis 1:28: ‘God then blessed them (male and female), and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply…”

Genesis 2:18 states: ‘Then the Eternal God considered, “It is not good that the adam (usually translated as ‘man’ but here I might argue a translation of ‘humanity’), be alone – I will make for adam a helpmate.’

Genesis 2:24 offeres: ‘So it is that an ish (man) will leave his father and mother and cleave to or with ishto (usually translated as his wife but we do not translate ish as husband but as ‘man,’ therefore is not the parallel, his ‘woman’).’

I offer these verses, just as a beginning of our consideration of the word ‘marriage.’

To my mind, marriage is an institution based on an ethic in society. It is the ritualisation of the notion that it is a good thing for two people who find each other in a relationship that is based on love and is certainly caring and supportive, mutually beneficial for each party. This of course is not the only way to live life happily and morally yet the notion of exclusive relationship has stood the test of time.

My commitment to Equal Marriage is not merely based on selective quotes and translations from our Torah. Let us be informed by it and all the Jewish traditions that have overlaid it for millennia. Let us be informed by the Christian thought of this land that only made marriage a sacrament in the sixteenth century. Let us be informed by enlightened thinking of our mind and acknowledge all the intellect and emotion bought to bear on this issue. Let us seek wisdom as suggested by the authors of Proverbs 1:2-6:

‘For learning wisdom and discipline;
For understanding words of discernment’
For acquiring the discipline for success,
Righteousness, justice and equity;
For endowing the simple with shrewdness,
The young with knowledge and foresight.
The wise one, hearing them, will gain more wisdom;
The discerning will learn to be adroit;
For understanding proverb and epigram,
The words of the wise and their riddles.’

May our Torah, our sacred scripture be a source of contemplation in our quest to seek wisdom. May we not rely on dreams or be forever bound by the interpretations of one moment in time. Let us seek wisdom with the humility that the Torah account suggests Joseph had, “It is not I – it is God who will account for Pharaoh’s well-being (Gen 41:16).’ Mekor ha’Chayim, Source of life, imbue in us the will to seek the wisdom implanted in us to acquire the discipline for success, righteousness, justice and equity.

Amen

COMMENTS

happygoldfish

Mon, 12/17/2012 - 10:19

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Rabbi Aaron Goldstein: We of course know this account like many others in our Torah … is a fabulous and retrospective interpretation to explain Jacob’s appearance and special treatment in Egypt; The survival of a people; and perhaps even an explanation of a good economic policy. Can you imagine what we would make of it today if it were revealed that George Osborne derived his economic strategies from dream interpretation …

no, in ancient times, the stories of joseph's dreams would have been entirely credible …

ancient rulers (even as late as the roman emperors) paid great attention to omens of various sorts, and dreams were considered very powerful omens

from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dream#Ancient_history

The Sumerians in Mesopotamia left evidence of dreams dating back to 3100 BC. According to these early recorded stories, gods and kings, like the 7th century BC scholar-king Assurbanipal, paid close attention to dreams. In his archive of clay tablets, some amounts of the story of the legendary king Gilgamesh were found.[9]

The Mesopotamians believed that the soul, or some part of it, moves out from the body of the sleeping person and actually visits the places and persons the dreamer sees in his sleep. Sometimes the god of dreams is said to carry the dreamer. Babylonians and Assyrians divided dreams into "good," which were sent by the gods, and "bad," sent by demons - They also believed that their dreams were omens and prophecies.

In ancient Egypt, as far back as 2000 BC, the Egyptians wrote down their dreams on papyrus. People with vivid and significant dreams were thought blessed and were considered special. Ancient Egyptians believed that dreams were like oracles, bringing messages from the gods. They thought that the best way to receive divine revelation was through dreaming and thus they would induce (or "incubate") dreams. Egyptians would go to sanctuaries and sleep on special "dream beds" in hope of receiving advice, comfort, or healing from the gods.

and, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dream_interpretation#Eastern_Mediterranean

In ancient Egypt, priests also acted as dream interpreters. Hieroglyphics depicting dreams and their interpretations are evident.

happygoldfish

Tue, 12/18/2012 - 12:46

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Rabbi Aaron Goldstein: Genesis 2:18 states: ‘Then the Eternal God considered, “It is not good that the adam (usually translated as ‘man’ but here I might argue a translation of ‘humanity’), be alone – I will make for adam a helpmate.’

since "adam" (אָדָם) comes from the word "adama" (אֲדָמָה) meaning earth (or ground), an accurate translation would be "earthling" …

"the earthling" for the description "הָאָדָם", and "Earthling" for the name "אָדָם"

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein: When I began to look into the passages in the book of Genesis that Judaism have traditionally used as source texts to show that our ancient ancestors got ‘married,’ I am forced to question our interpretations.
Genesis 1:28: ‘God then blessed them (male and female), and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply…”
Genesis 2:24 offeres: ‘So it is that an ish (man) will leave his father and mother and cleave to or with ishto (usually translated as his wife but we do not translate ish as husband but as ‘man,’ therefore is not the parallel, his ‘woman’).’

yes, at first sight this does suggest that genesis 2:24 ("a man … shall cleave unto his wife") makes no distinction between a woman and a wife, and therefore that genesis 2:24 is not talking about a formal marriage

however, the same word, "ishto" (אִשְׁתּוֹ), is used later in genesis where it quite clearly means "his wife" (not "his woman"), and similarly, all other possessive forms of "ishah" in genesis clearly refer to a wife:

eg, a thousand years later, in genesis 11:29, we see the same word (in different forms) in "and abram and nahor took them wives: the name of abram's wife was sarai …"

and in genesis 12:17-20 "… with great plagues because of Sarai Abram's wife … why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? … I took her to be my wife; now therefore behold thy wife …"

and in genesis 12:11, the very same word (אִשְׁתּוֹ) is used (in "they will say: This is his wife") as in genesis 2:24 (בְּאִשְׁתּוֹ) (in "shall cleave unto his wife") …

now, the ancient egyptians certainly " got 'married' " (to use your emphasis):

it is clear that the egyptian passages are using "ishto" to mean "his wife" rather than just "his woman", and that that is the meaning throughout genesis when the word appears in a possessive form

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