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

WHAT DID THE ANCIENT RABBIS KNOW?

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Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, when you’re pregnant (I’ve been told) it’s irresistible to say a prayer for the wellbeing of the child inside you. So first, I assume you’re here because you or someone you know is pregnant.  Good luck and bless you.

As in many other aspects of life, 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. Incredibly, these prayers correspond to biological facts that science wouldn’t know about for fifteen hundred years. Continue reading “What to Pray for When You’re Pregnant”