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A model way to read the Torah

A collection of parashat hashavuah essays from the former head of Leo Baeck College

A Rabbi Reads the Torah, Jonathan Magonet, SCM, £19.99

    For commentators on the Torah, the white spaces between the letters can be as significant as the letters themselves. What the text does not say has given rabbis down the ages the freedom to fill in the gaps in biblical stories, an invitation to creative reinterpretation which they have been only happy to take. “Just when we think we have learned all there is to know about them,” says Rabbi Jonathan Magonet, “something changes our perspective and we discover a new dimension.”

    This collection of essays on the weekly parashah by the former principal of Leo Baeck College is a deft display of reading between the lines. Based on a series of radio talks he gave while teaching in Germany, they are admirably lucid and gently infused with more than 40 years of scholarship.

    Whether exploring what may have made Abraham accept God’s invitation to “get up and go” — an invitation, not a commandment, he points out — or the obduracy that makes Pharaoh reluctant to release the Israelites despite the ruinous plagues, he is alive to the emotional dynamics that the text often leaves unsaid.

    Some pieces draw insights on broader social and religious themes, others follow a close reading of a single word or phrase or the “underground connections” that, for instance, link the conflict between Esau and Jacob to the Book of Esther. Overall, they are a model of how to deliver a dvar Torah that any young rabbi could learn from.

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