Torah as Blast: Did the original have spaces between words?

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One Torah, without spaces?

The default assumption of Judaism is that there is only one Torah. It is eternal and immutable because God is its Author. Yet slowly revealing and understanding the meaning of what God told Moses on Sinai is also the essence of Judaism. Clearly, our understanding of the Torah evolves over time, dancing with the God of Becoming Who constantly creates the universe. Along the way, thousands of years of commentary, without challenging the integrity of a God-given Torah, worry the bone of precisely who composed the Torah at which point. How and when did Moses transcribe God’s words?  How did it look? How were its chapters, verses, words, and letters laid out on the page? Did the layout change?

Here, without challenging the Torah’s authority as the immutable Word of God, I would like to entertain only one small, seemingly ridiculous question about the layout of the Written Torah: Did Moses write the original Torah without inserting the spaces between words that we see today? Continue reading “Torah as Blast: Did the original have spaces between words?”

Hearing vs Reading the Bible

The play between orality and literacy in Jethro

When did the Israelites become literate?

If you piece the clues together, the Torah tells us pretty clearly that Moses received the alphabet from God on Sinai.  It happens during the same sequence of revelations that begin with the burning bush and the revelation of God’s Name during their first encounter. God tells Moses to return to Egypt and instruct the elders of Israel in “the signs” or “ the letters” that God shows him.  Moses quails at his assignment.

But don’t worry, God reassures him, “If they don’t heed the voice of the first sign, they will listen to the voice of the last sign.”

The Aleph Tav
The first and last signs in Hebrew.

The first and last signs might refer to the silent conjuror’s tricks that God has just shown Moses:  a rod turns into a snake and Moses’ hand turns leprous and back again.

But more sensibly, the “voice of the signs” refers to  the core breakthrough that made the phonetic alphabet a monumentally disruptive invention: signs, instead of being pictures for words as in hieroglyphics, are instructions for the voice to make sounds, like musical notes. The first and last symbols refer to the aleph and the tav, the beginning, the whole of this new invention.  God is telling Moses: show the Israelites back in Egypt this new explosive technology, these letters, and with them you shall set them free. Continue reading “Hearing vs Reading the Bible”

What to Pray for When You’re Pregnant

How did the rabbis of the Talmud know details of pregnancy 1500 years before science did?

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There are no atheists in foxholes, and every expectant parent prays for the wellbeing of the life growing inside the mother. So first, I assume you’re here because you or someone you know is pregnant. Good luck and bless you.

The Jews have ancient wisdom for what to pray for when you’re pregnant.  In fact, the Talmud prescribes different prayers for different stages in the pregnancy that incredibly correspond to biological facts that science wouldn’t know about for fifteen hundred years. Continue reading “What to Pray for When You’re Pregnant”

Elijah the Thin-Skinned

“A bashful person cannot learn, nor can a kapdan teach.”
Pirke Avot 2:6

A wise psychiatrist pal once told me, “The only people I can’t treat are the hyper-defensives.”

Everyone knows a “hyper-defensive.” They’re easily offended, ready to be outraged at the slightest hint of personal affront so you walk on eggshells around them. They think your most innocent comment or suggestion is a critique aimed at them, and you never know what’s going to set them off. They are too busy protecting themselves or scanning the environment for attack to be sensitive to others. And if you do set them off, get ready to be attacked.

Remarkably, Elijah, one of the most revered Jewish figures, was one. At least, that’s the way the Talmud presents him in the very last page of Sanhedrin.

Continue reading “Elijah the Thin-Skinned”