November 11, 2018

There’s an ancient question, known in philosophy as Euthyphro’s Dilemma. Asked by Socrates in the Platonic dialogue Euthyphro, the question goes: “is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” Later on in the history of philosophy, these two positions came to be called natural law and divine command theory. The essential question is how we know what is right. Does God teach us how to live through… Read more

November 4, 2018

My last post touched on the concept of humankind being created in the “image of God, or as it’s called in Latin, imago dei. As I mentioned then, there’s a whole treasure trove of literature, both Jewish and Christian, about what it means to be created in God’s image and what theological or ethical implications this truth might have. Here, I want to focus on the plain meaning of the words, and show how understanding Ancient Near Eastern texts and societies… Read more

October 30, 2018

That seems like a pretty bizarre title, right? What could an Orthodox Jew possibly have to say about the Gospel of Thomas and the intra-Christian debate over whether or not it’s heretical? Truth be told, I wouldn’t have had much to say on the matter until last week, when I heard a lecture on this topic from Professor Elaine Pagels, a noted scholar on early Christianity and the Gnostic Gospels. In her talk, she gave an overview of the Gospel… Read more

October 25, 2018

  My last post discussed the Jewish belief in an Oral Law that accompanies the written text of the Bible. I tried to show that in numerous instances, biblical laws are either too vague and unclear or too unspecific in their precise definition/application to be understood. Therefore, if we believe that God wrote these laws and made it possible to follow them, we must also believe that He gave its first readers the non written explanations they needed to make… Read more

October 21, 2018

It’s a core belief of traditional Judaism stretching back to the days of the Pharisees two millennia ago (and as I hope to show, even longer than that!) that when God instructed Moses to write down the Five Books of Moses, He also gave Moses an accompanying Oral Tradition. That tradition  includes a whole set of explanations and interpretations of the written text that define, clarify, and interpret vague or unclear passages, words, and laws in the Bible. Of course,… Read more

October 17, 2018

Sure, Noah was a good guy. The Bible spells that out pretty clearly: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.” (Genesis 6:9) Or does it? The Talmud (Sanhedrin 108a) quotes an opinion that reads this verse as a sort of backhanded compliment to Noah: “In comparison with his generation he was righteous, but if he had been in Abraham’s generation, he would not have been considered of any importance.”… Read more

October 15, 2018

Just thought I’d post the link to an article that I recently wrote about my experience attending a prayer service in a mostly female space. In Orthodox Jewish prayer spaces, there is always a mechitzah (literally, ‘wall’) that separates men and women during prayer. Ideally, both sections would be of equal size and have equally good visibility and access to what’s going on. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. Here’s my musing on this topic, and how men can do better at… Read more

October 10, 2018

This past Saturday, Jews around the world once again began the yearly cycle of reading a portion from the Torah each week in the synagogue. We start with Genesis and make our way until the end of Deuteronomy, which takes the whole year. Last week’s Biblical portion was from the beginning of the book of Genesis, and contains the (in)famous narrative of the creation of the world in its very first chapter. Much ink has been spilled on this topic… Read more

October 7, 2018

This is a follow up to my last post about the divine commandment for the children of Israel to wipe out the nation of Amalek, and how to get around the ethical problems which that command presents. In this piece, I want to apply the same literary principle I used to answer that question to address another instance of seemingly immoral violence in the Old Testament: namely, the Israelites’ conquest of Canaan and apparent genocide of the Canaanites. Here’s the… Read more

October 3, 2018

Continuing the series that I began a few weeks ago, this post will once again be about how to read and interpret a controversial Biblical passage. However, in contrast to my previous posts, which explored how traditional Jewish commentaries respond to tough texts, this time, I’ll be exploring an argument made by Christian Biblical scholars. I’m doing that because A. I like their argument and B. I haven’t found Jewish sources on this topic to be as helpful. Getting to… Read more

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