You are viewing mofic

Mo's Journal - Good News for Gay Conservative Jews?
December 10th, 2006
05:41 pm

[Link]

Previous Entry Add to Memories Share Next Entry
Good News for Gay Conservative Jews?
So, there have been some changes in the Conservative Movement's view of gay and lesbian Jews. I belong to a Conservative shul and am a lesbian, so this has been a topic of particular interest to me. I've been following developments in the Movement for years, and very actively these past few months, leading up to the decisions of this past week. There's some good news in what happened, but on the whole I'm pretty disappointed.

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) met this past week to consider the role of gay and lesbian Jews in the Conservative movement. The CJLS is a panel of 25 rabbis who vote on issues of Jewish law. They were considering making changes to a 1992 Consensus Statement of Policy Regarding Homosexual Jews in the Conservative Movement.


That policy statement said:

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of The Rabbinical Assembly affirms the following policies:

1. We will not perform commitment ceremonies for gays or lesbians.

2. We will not knowingly admit avowed homosexuals to our rabbinical or cantorial schools or to the Rabbinical Assembly or the Cantors’ Assembly. At the same time, we will not instigate witch hunts against those who are already members or students.

3. Whether homosexuals may function as teachers or youth leaders in our congregations and schools will be left to the rabbi authorized to make halakhic decisions for a given institution within the Conservative Movement. Presumably, in this as in all other matters, the rabbi will make such decisions taking into account the sensitivities of the people of his or her particular congregation or school. The rabbi’s own reading of Jewish law on these issues, informed by the responsa written for the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards to date, will also be a determinative factor in these decisions.

4. Similarly, the rabbi of each Conservative institution, in consultation with its lay leaders, will be entrusted to formulate policies regarding the eligibility of homosexuals for honors within worship and for lay leadership positions.

5. In any case, in accordance with The Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue resolutions, we hereby affirm gays and lesbians are welcome in our congregations, youth groups, camps, and schools.


A good summary of the CJLS's role and what they were discussing can be found on a special FAQ page of the Jewish Theological Seminary. The whole of the Consensus Statement and who voted for it can be found at
http://keshetrabbis.org/?page_id=12, along with the related teshuvot (responsa).

So What Happened?

After lengthy consideration and two days of meetings, three tshuvot were accepted by the CJLS. They contradict one another, which means that individual congregations can choose which one to follow. One reaffirms the prohibitions in the Consensus Statement and calls upon gay and lesbian Jews to live celibate throughout their lives. Another argues for reparative therapy.

The third is the "good one". What's good about it? What's not so good?

It recommends ending the ban on out gay men and lesbians in the rabbinical seminaries and calls for full inclusion of gay people in congregational life. It allows for some methods of acknowledging same sex intimate relationships. It says that kvod habriot (human dignity) - a bedrock Jewish principle - does not allow for requiring that people have no sexual or romantic relationships for their whole lives.

These are indeed good things, but I had hoped that the movement would go further. This teshuva reaffirms that heterosexual relationships are the ideal to strive for, and tells bisexuals to enter into life long heterosexual committed relationships. It denies kiddushin - Jewish holy marriage - to same sex couples. And although it allows for male couples to engage in some forms of sex, it continues the ban on anal intercourse, saying that that is the only form of sex between same sex partners explicitly forbidden by the Torah and all the other forms were only forbidden by rabbinic decree, which this teshuvah tries to overturn.



So, why anal sex in particular?

It's all because of two verses in the Torah, in Vayikra, the book of Leviticus. Two verses that are to my mind rather cryptic. Here they are:


Leviticus 18, verse 22

וְאֶת-זָכָר--לֹא תִשְׁכַּב, מִשְׁכְּבֵי אִשָּׁה: תּוֹעֵבָה, הִוא

Transliteration: V’et zachar lo tishkav, mishkavey isha, toevah hi.

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is abomination. (JPS Translation)

Do not lie with a male as you would with a woman, since this is a disgusting perversion. (Kaplan Translation)

Leviticus 20, verse 13

יג וְאִישׁ, אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁכַּב אֶת-זָכָר מִשְׁכְּבֵי אִשָּׁה--תּוֹעֵבָה עָשׂוּ, שְׁנֵיהֶם; מוֹת יוּמָתוּ, דְּמֵיהֶם בָּם.

Transliteration: V’ish asher yishkav et zachar mishkavey isha, toevah aso, shneyhem, mot yoomato, dmayhem bam


And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. (JPS Translation)

If a man has intercourse with another man in the same manner as with a woman, both of them have committed a disgusting perversion. They shall be put to death by stoning. (Kaplan translation).

Okay so these are the verses. I’ve given two different translations, as well as transliteration. I don’t know if the Hebrew letters will show up. You can find the Hebrew of the whole book of Vayikra (Leviticus) at http://kodesh.snunit.k12.il/i/t/t0317.htm or the two different English translations at http://www.breslov.com/ref/Leviticus20.htm.

I’m giving two translations but neither is really adequate. I think they are very cryptic statements. As noted in the teshuvah just accepted by the CJLS, they have traditionally been interpreted to refer to male/male anal sex as “toevah” – abomination or, as Kaplan would have it, “disgusting perversion.” But why anal sex? What does it mean to lie with a man as you would with a woman, or to lie with mankind as with womankind?

Let’s look at the Hebrew. The key to this is the word whose root is shin-kaf-vav. It shows up in three forms:

Lo tishkav – Don’t “shin-kaf-vav”

Mishkavey isha – the “shin-kaf-vav”s (i.e. plural) of a woman

V’ish asher yishkav – a man who does “shin-kaf-vav”

So, what does it mean? It clearly does refer to a sexual act, but which one? Here is how the Talmudic discussion goes (simplified) that led to concluding it means anal sex:

Mishkavey isha is plural – the ways of having sex with a woman. No word is wasted in the Torah. Since this is said in plural, it means exactly two ways of having sex with a woman. If it were one, it would be singular, if it were more than two the number would be specified. So it refers to two ways that men have sex with women.

What are the two ways that men have sex with women? Vaginal penetration and anal penetration. Since vaginal penetration is impossible between two men, the verses refer to anal penetration. That is what is toevah – men penetrating each other anally.


Now this discussion completely astonishes me. It is breathtaking in its ignorance (really? There are two ways men have sex with women? No one in biblical or Talmudic times ever did anything else? Not even oral sex?) and in its tortured reasoning (if every word in the Torah counts, why would G-d prohibit male/male anal sex in this bizarre manner by prohibiting two kinds of sex, when one of them is impossible to do?)

Additional papers were submitted that did take a new look at what "mishkevay isha" could mean that was prohibited. They were not accepted by the CJLS. One in particular would have led to lifting of all restrictions on same-sex partners in their sexual activities.



The Conservative Movement is a halakhic movement. It believes that halakha - Jewish law - is binding on Jews. It also believes that halakha can and does change over time as we gain new understandings of the Torah and of the human condition. It believes in a careful, slow, measured approach to change. There's some good news in the potential for out gay rabbinical students, in the ability of same sex couples to have acknowledgement in more Conservative shuls than we do now, in an acknowledgement - if only in one out of three acceptable stances to take - that even gay and lesbian Jews are entitled to kvod habriot (human dignity). Still, even the best of the accepted teshuvot sees our lives and our roles as secondary to that of heterosexuals, tells bisexual people to follow the "superior" heterosexual lifestyle, and allows our men full acceptance within the movement only if they put what I consider a completely unreasonable and very stringent restriction on their sexual expression.

I will add that not all Conservative shuls follow the "Consensus Statement" and not all will follow any of the new teshuvot. There is a growing number of synagogues within the Conservative movement that fully include gay men and lesbians in all aspects of synagogue life and honor our relationships equally with those of heterosexuals. My shul is among them. So, this development at CJLS won't change what happens in our shul, since we've already gone further than the more progressive of the teshuvot accepted. Still, I'm disappointed the movement as a whole couldn't go a little further on the path we've already traveled.

Obfanfic connection: In the series I am currently writing, Adam Greenfield reflects on his brief religious period, during which he was the lover of an observant Jew who believed in restricting their sex life in just that way.

Current Mood: disappointeddisappointed

(28 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
[User Picture]
From:neotoma
Date:December 10th, 2006 09:58 pm (UTC)
(Link)
What are the two ways that men have sex with women? Vaginal penetration and anal penetration.

Wow, whoever wrote that doesn't get out much, huh? Admittedly, I'd be wondering if the verse meant "the two ways you can have sex with man that are the same as with a woman (oral and anal sex) are the ones that are forbidden"...

Is there some reason to believe that a plural that meant more than two would always have the number included? Or is that just the customary interpretation.

Hee! re: your character. The things people will do for love.
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:December 10th, 2006 10:03 pm (UTC)
(Link)
LOL on doesn't get out much. Really all the talmudic discussion of human sexuality shows an appalling ignorance. It's much worse when they talk about lesbian sex. One of the reasons the rabbis give for why lesbian sex is forbidden is that if Woman A mesollelet (has sex) with Woman B, she might impregnate Woman B with Woman A's husband's sperm, thereby resulting in a mamzer (illegitimate child). Now wtf did they think they were doing that could result in that?
[User Picture]
From:marag
Date:December 10th, 2006 10:07 pm (UTC)
(Link)
OMG, really? ::dies:: There's a sillyfic in there somewhere, isn't there?
[User Picture]
From:neotoma
Date:December 10th, 2006 10:13 pm (UTC)
(Link)
That's assuming a lot of things, like the women are married to men (and wouldn't that make them adulteresses then?), that the one has had sex with her husband recently enough to have viable sperm in her, and that they're doing *something* that will transfer said sperm...

Uhm, how much knowledge of human reproductive biology do rabbis generally have? It sounds like it might be iffy...
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:December 10th, 2006 10:20 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Well, first of all these were rabbis during the Middle Ages, so let's not compare them to moderns. Secondly, they had absolutely no concept of homosexual orientation - all the discussion of homosexual activity assumes people are heterosexually oriented (although they wouldn't even think in those terms) and acting sexually with their own sex for some reason other than basic sexual and affectional attraction. Thirdly, no they wouldn't be adultresses because sex that didn't include a penis was just not considered really sex - it was mesollellet (sort of "playing around"). Adultery is very specific in Jewish law - it's a married woman having sex with a man not her husband.

In many ways ancient Judaism was an improvement over other religions' views of female sexuality. It sees women as having sexual needs and requires that their husbands satisfy those needs (the marriage contract says that he will provide her with a home, sustenance, and sexual satisfaction). But it still is ultimately a male and exclusively heterosexual world view.

Anyway, this stuff is all so complex that I'm just giving little bits of it and I worry that the issues are not comprehensible without a lot more information. But I wanted to say something.
[User Picture]
From:neotoma
Date:December 12th, 2006 03:43 am (UTC)
(Link)
Adultery is very specific in Jewish law - it's a married woman having sex with a man not her husband.

So what are unmarried het-couple or a married man and an unmarried woman considered? 'Fornication'?

Even if I'm not getting the whole picture, I like that I'm getting an opinion from someone who understands it. I heard about it on the news, but it's not the same thing.
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:December 12th, 2006 11:31 am (UTC)
(Link)
Unmarried heterosexual couples having sex are certainly not approved of in Jewish law, but not expressly forbidden in the Torah. There's actually some talmudic opinion that one can effect a marriage through sex, although it's not the approved method. And the reason that a married man and unmarried woman having sex isn't adultery is that according to Toraitic law, a man could marry more than one woman. That was later banned for Ashkenazic Jews by rabbinic decree - the takanah of Rabbeinu Gershom - but rabbinic prohibitions aren't as strong as Toraitic ones (which gets us back to those verses in Leviticus and why they are such a difficult obstacle to surmount).

I'm glad you're finding this interesting.
[User Picture]
From:marag
Date:December 10th, 2006 10:06 pm (UTC)
(Link)
::sigh:: I was...well, I was hoping for a lot more. Well, you knew that.

I'm too tired to be more coherent or articulate than that. ::flails::
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:December 10th, 2006 10:14 pm (UTC)
(Link)
One thing my rabbi - who is very much a glass half full person - noted is that rabbis who really do want to be more welcoming but did feel bound by the Consensus Statement now have an opening to begin a discussion about inclusion in their shuls. I think that is a really good point. Our shul is kind of on the left-wing fringe of the Conservative movement on this issue - we have a lesbian rabbi, gay and lesbian board members and do have same sex marriages (kiddushin, not just commitment ceremonies) in our shul. But many congregations would not get to that point without a lot of persuading, and the interim steps are very necessary for a lot of people.
[User Picture]
From:marag
Date:December 11th, 2006 12:15 am (UTC)
(Link)
Yeah, the synagogue we go to is not terribly left-wing. It's mainly composed of wealthy people, not a group known for being liberal. Yeah, they put up the Save Darfur signs and give to soup kitchens, but...

I strongly suspect the junior rabbi has much more liberal views than the senior rabbi, who's a good guy, but...well, I don't expect to see Beth El of Montgomery County out there on any limbs any time soon.

::sigh:: And if I want to do anything about that, I need to get involved in my copious free time. Narf.
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:December 11th, 2006 12:22 am (UTC)
(Link)
These teshuvot may make them at least think about these issues more. In that way, it will be helpful in lots of shuls.
[User Picture]
From:kestrelsparhawk
Date:December 11th, 2006 07:51 am (UTC)

Well, it's something...

(Link)
I can understand your mixed feelings -- and appreciate your rabbi's observation. On the other hand, just reading your summaries, I feel horrified that that's as far as conservative judaism wants to go in 2006. (And if I could capslock 2006 or knew how to bold it, I would!)

The two kinds of sex triggered a memory for me of the requirement of using the "missionary position," which was the only acceptable kind of heterosexual sex to have for a long time. I have no idea how the missionaries justified it, but that certainly leads to listing various kinds of sex that is possible -- vaginal intercourse from the front, vaginal intercourse from the back, anal intercourse from the front... well, you get the idea. There goes the "two kinds" theory right there. (and good riddance, but I'm Reform. The big issue in the reform movement I've run into the last year or so isn't lesbian marriage -- that's fine. It's mixed marriages. Apparently most rabbis up here refuse to do it. Nonetheless, shabbat was on Christmas eve and only 10 people showed up -- family obligations.)

I do think that it does open the door to more discussion, at any rate, which is always potentially good.
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:December 11th, 2006 11:44 am (UTC)

Re: Well, it's something...

(Link)
Hey, where've you been? You've been quiet for a few days. People are asking about you.

Anyway, on this subject, I share your horror, or would if I hadn't been living with this for a long time!

The two kinds of sex triggered a memory for me of the requirement of using the "missionary position," which was the only acceptable kind of heterosexual sex to have for a long time.

I've heard that before, but it has a kind of folktale quality to it. Do you know if it's true? What religion - i.e. what branch of Christianity, since I assume they were Christian missionaries - really mandated that position and when? And how would they even know how the "natives" had sex? ::pause to investigate origin of term:: Cecil Adams thinks it's a myth: http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a3_215.html as it has only been used since the 1960s and there aren't records, apparently, of missionaries actually advocating that kind of sex.

I don't consider myself a Conservative Jew, since I don't accept all of the tenets of the Conservative Movement, but I belong to a Conservative shul. I do find Reform appealing in a lot of ways, but much more so in theory than in practice. In theory, Reform Jews study text and history and grapple with halakha and then decide for themselves which ritual laws are meaningful to them while accepting the ethical laws. In practice, the Reform Temples I've looked at didn't have enough Hebrew for me, didn't have enough music, had very little intellectual content, congregants didn't have much knowledge of Judaism and weren't looking to acquire more. They were full of people looking for Judaism Lite.

I do think gay issues and intermarriage are completely different. I don't like it when they get lumped together (you weren't, I know, but you mentioning it made me think of people who do). They're both "hot" issues, but they really have a very different character and should be subject to different analysis, I think.

[User Picture]
From:kestrelsparhawk
Date:December 11th, 2006 10:07 pm (UTC)

Re: Well, it's something...

(Link)
I've been writing half a chapter on deadline, just finished yesterday (the deadline) and now realized I need another one for tomorrow. Writing group exigencies. My inbox has 1000 messages in it, which is maxed out. Better remove a few, just to leave room... if I start responding, I'll be there all night.

I'll have to do some checking, but I think it's beyond folktale -- at least, even as a kid, I heard comments about it, and the Hawaiian missionaries were viewed as the ones who developed it. They did lots of interfering in Hawaiian lifestyle and behavior, including sexual proclivities, so I find it quite credible, though they probably didn't call it "missionary position"! (More likely, God's Approved way of begetting the Next Generation or something.) Hawaii was a completely oral culture, so I guess only UH and maybe a New England library or two would have records...

I do agree on the potential for Reform to be uninteresting, or unmusical, etc. but then that's always a crapshoot in any temple or church. The fluffiest reform temples I call "Jewnitarians," since they seem to have the same sort of beliefs and motivations. But then, I'm a convert myself,and that sort is more often going to embrace the theory and pursue questions than those just born into it.

I do agree about the separate issues thing -- well, they're violating different kinds of expectations, really, so their social meaning as well as their religious meaning is different. You're right -- I was using the two to highlight that the arguments I've heard at temple don't tend to be about same sex couples... that was a few years back.
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:December 12th, 2006 03:18 am (UTC)

Re: Well, it's something...

(Link)
I wasn't expecting that the Hawaiians would have a record of it if there had been missionaries saying, as you said originally, that there was a "requirement of using the "missionary position," which was the only acceptable kind of heterosexual sex to have for a long time." But I sure would expect that Christian Churches that sent the missionaries would have such a requiement written down, if there ever was one. I mean really, if they found only one position acceptable, it would be written down lots and lots of places. Churches are not shy about stating sexual restrictions they advocate and most Christian churches have been very condemning of homosexual activity, of premarital sex, of extra-marital sex. For some churches and at some times, all sex had to be potentially procreative, and that's well documented, too. If a church had a "requirement" or even a preference for man-on-top-couple-facing sexual intercourse, that would be clearly documented, too.

I don't know that Cecil Adams did any kind of exhaustive search, and I certainly didn't do anything more than google, but unless someone can produce church documents, it sounds like a folktale to me. Now, could there have been some missionary man and wife who *personally* advocated sex in one position and that story spread to the extent that a lot of people - in Hawaii or elsewhere - told the story as a church having a requirement of that position? Yes, that's possible, but that's folklore as well.

Anyway, getting back to Judaism. Some people are fond of saying that Conservative synagogues in this country are full of committed Reform Jews and Reform temples are full of Unitarians. There could be something to that.

Also getting back to Judaism - well, and to ancient experiences of sexuality - it's just astonishing to me how ignorant the rabbis engaging in this discussion were of sexuality. Ignorant of female sexuality, I get. But ignorant of *male* sexuality. At one point when they're discussing why male/male anal sex is forbidden, someone suggests that it's because only the penetrating partner would derive pleasure from it. Huh?

There's also these pretty clearly passionate stories of same sex love in Jewish tradition, from David and Jonathan biblically to Resh Lakish and Yohanan ben Zakkai talmudically, but they seem not to notice it (even when Resh Lakish jumps on Yohanan ben Zakkai as he's bathing in the river and tells him how beautiful he is). Although gay and lesbian identity is a very new concept, certainly there has been same sex desire at all times and in all places. Yet the rabbis of the talmudic period seem so completely unaware of it. It's a puzzle to me.
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:December 12th, 2006 03:43 am (UTC)

Two More Things

(Link)
Thing one: Good on you on finishing that chapter!

Thing two: On the "missionary position" thing, I was born skeptical, so me not believing it without documentation is just me being me and should not be construed as doubting *you*.
[User Picture]
From:talktooloose
Date:December 11th, 2006 04:25 pm (UTC)
(Link)
2 and 3 are both making me see red because they imply that seeing queer people as basically morally unfit is still acceptable within the movement. 2 makes the bigotry systemic and 3 makes it allowable at the congregational level.

I'm not impressed and, next time I attend services at my brother-in-law's congregation (he's a Conservative rabbi on Long Island) I will wear a pink triangle or other such symbol.
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:December 11th, 2006 04:40 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Being identifiably gay in Conservative shuls is always a good thing. More important, though, imo is to talk to your BIL about what he's doing as mara d'atra to make his shul welcoming to gay men and lesbians. There are some good suggestions at http://keshetjts.org/misc/10-steps-towards-ending-homophobia.rtf
[User Picture]
From:joelrosenberg
Date:December 11th, 2006 05:24 pm (UTC)
(Link)
What are the two ways that men have sex with women?
I assume that they mean horizontal and vertical, and that men are prohibited from having sex either horizontally or vertically, but must do so diagonally.

Yes, I know that doesn't make sense, but, then again, really, none of the quasi-prohibitions against gays and lesbians make much sense to the people involved in making the decisions for the movement, and the only question is how to code around it -- and I'm sure that goes back well before the 1992 "don't ask, don't tell, and don't go looking" prohibition against "knowingly" admitting "avowed homosexuals" to the rabbinate and cantorate (along with the the hypocritical outreach to gays and lesbians in every other part of Conservative religious life, except, perhaps, lay leadership) along with the prohibition against witch hunts, although it clearly was in place there.

The phrasing they're looking for, I think, goes something like, "Look, the Tanakh and the commentators on it had some real neat things going, but screwed up bigtime on some things. Maybe God was taking the day off; maybe it was originally a transcription error, but it's wrong on some times. This is one."

Orthogonally: Conservative Judaism has always had the challenge of trying to find a middle ground between Orthodoxy and Reform Judaism, and many Jews who attend Conservative synagogues are looking not for what they feel is religiously incumbent upon them, but their comfort zone. I'm not at all sure that's a bad thing, but it definitely is something with both features and bugs. (It's sort of like having a Supreme Court that's half Stevens and half Breyer -- you can know exactly where it's going to go; the only question is by what route and how long it will take.)



From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 12th, 2006 01:53 pm (UTC)

Thanks for the explanation

(Link)
Hi all,

Thanks, Mofic for this explanation. As a secular Catholic I really know nothing about Judaism and news about this Rabbinic decision were really cryptic to me.

Also, I've been reading the comments and I must admit I have not understood it all :)

The one thing I can contribute and will contribute is that your Conservative Movement is much more liberal than "our" very own dear Church. There are liberal movements within the Church but they must hide in catacombs or else they are thrown to the lions.

As for anal sex, I read somewhere (I think it was a novel by Leavitt), that gay Orthodox Jews had sex standing up because the Torah forbade "laying" with a man as you would with a woman.

Well, thanks again and shalom,
Lucía
PS: I don't want to be anonym, but the system will not let be be otherwise
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:December 12th, 2006 02:25 pm (UTC)

Re: Thanks for the explanation

(Link)
Nice seeing you here, Lucia. "Anonymous" posting is just posting without an lj account. So you're not really anonymous, because I know who you are!

Also, I've been reading the comments and I must admit I have not understood it all :)

It is complicated, but I'd be glad to explain anything you don't understand, or at least try.

As to sex standing up, I've known lots of gay Orthodox Jews and never heard of that. I do know a number who eschew anal sex, though.
[User Picture]
From:barenakedrachel
Date:December 15th, 2006 05:05 am (UTC)
(Link)
Hey there - I finally had the time to read this all the way through slowly enough to grasp it (for the most part!). I can certainly understand your disappointment, but at the same time I have to say that I'm very impressed with how accepting certain statements are, especially coming from being more familiar with the Christian/Mormon viewpoints. In those religions there is no room at all :-(

In 1991, my cousin (who was gay) died of AIDS and his family had to travel two hours outside of their town (they lived in Georgia) to find a funeral home that would take him :-( The Mormons, according to what I have learned from my husband, are a little more accepting, but not by much. They pretty much take the stance that "gays are good people, but just lead astray by the devil and we will pray for them!" Argh.

I'm in awe at your level of knowledge, I really am. I wish I knew so much more about so many things!
[User Picture]
From:barenakedrachel
Date:December 15th, 2006 05:12 am (UTC)
(Link)
From studying the King James version of the Bible with my husband, I am familiar with this same line of scripture that you're talking about and one of the questions I always had was this: How messed up did our version get during the translation from the original language? and What about certain cultural references that we just don't understand these days?

From what little I know about Hebrew, it seems that it's a far more concise and precise language than English, so I am curious to know if there are any differences that might be important - as in has the English translation left anything out that didn't seem to be important but is?

And on the topic of the missionary position... I suppose I am terribly naive, because I always thought it was called the missionary position because it was the easiest/most successful position for conception!!
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:December 15th, 2006 12:13 pm (UTC)
(Link)
How messed up did our version get during the translation from the original language? and What about certain cultural references that we just don't understand these days?

Good questions. One thing to remember is that it's not a translation, but a translation of a translation. The Tanakh was translated into Greek and then from there into English, so lots of room for errors. And there are errors that were introduced on purpose, to be "prophetic". The most notorious is to say that a virgin would give birth to the Messiah, which is absolutely not in the Hebrew or in the Septuagint (the Greek translation that the English was translated from).

And, as you point out, translation is never exact because languages differ. Modern Hebrew has a vocabulary total of about 11000 words and growing. Biblical Hebrew had fewer than that. The averge English speaker knows 50,000-60,000 words. Hebrew is, as you say, a very compact language. And ancient Hebrew has words in it that we just cannot know what they meant at the time (which is part of what I was trying to get at with shin kaf vav - we don't really know what sex act it referred to to the ancients). Anyway, aside from other considerations, so much of the Tanakh (Hebrew bible) is just wonderful literature, and you really lose a lot of the beauty in translation!
[User Picture]
From:barenakedrachel
Date:December 15th, 2006 01:27 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I've always loved Hebrew. I don't understand it one bit, but I grew up tagging along to Synagogue with my friends in grade school and even high school. I loved that their services were conducted partially (some more than others, I think) in Hebrew and just loved to listen to it. My best friend in high school went to Israel after graduation and brought me back my favorite book (The Little Prince) in Hebrew. Obviously I can't read it, but I still like to look at it :-)

I have always felt that I'd have more of an advantageous understanding of scripture (any religion's) if I could read Hebrew or Greek. But those two languages aren't on my list of languages I've picked up :-(

And very interesting about the addition of the Virgin Mary story. It seemed to me during the very little amount of time I did put in to reading the Christian Bible that a lot of things felt "missing" - as in, I'd be reading a passage that was flowing smoothly and then all of a sudden the flow would change, as if something had been cut out. When I suggested this possibility, I was quick to be told that it just seemed that way to me because I wasn't used to reading the "more difficult English" of the King James version. Hmmmmm...



[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:December 15th, 2006 01:38 pm (UTC)
(Link)
have always felt that I'd have more of an advantageous understanding of scripture (any religion's) if I could read Hebrew or Greek. But those two languages aren't on my list of languages I've picked up :-(

You still can. You're only 28 :-). I studied Russian in high school but remembered next to nothing. And then, for X-Men related reasons :-), I needed to pick it up again. I found a really good set of conversational Russian CDs, started reading Russian language newspapers (with my lips moving) and Russian poetry. I'm nowhere near fluent, but I know what people are saying when they're speaking Russian on the subway, and I feel like I got enough to make my Russian-speaking characters sound credible in Russian-influenced English.

And very interesting about the addition of the Virgin Mary story. It seemed to me during the very little amount of time I did put in to reading the Christian Bible that a lot of things felt "missing" - as in, I'd be reading a passage that was flowing smoothly and then all of a sudden the flow would change, as if something had been cut out. When I suggested this possibility, I was quick to be told that it just seemed that way to me because I wasn't used to reading the "more difficult English" of the King James version. Hmmmmm...

Well, some of that is likely due to translation problems, but some isn't. Different parts of the Torah were likely written at different times and by different people. That view within biblical scholarship is called The Documentary Hypothesis, and it does explain stylistic differences and contradictions. The idea is that there was an editor - known as the Redactor - who put the different pieces together, but it's still possible to see different sources.
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:December 15th, 2006 12:06 pm (UTC)
(Link)
There are certainly accepting Christian denominations, but yeah - Mormons aren't among them. What kind of Christian church were you raised in? That story of your cousin's death is heartbreaking.

I do think there are positive elements in the Conservative teshuvot that were accepted. They've all been published, now, on the Rabbinical Assembly's website, and I've read through most of them, both accepted and voted down. There is some brilliant scholarship and analysis there. One of the ones not excepted, by R. Gordon Tucker, is so persuasive in his arguments for full acceptance that I think it will eventually prevail. I'm just disappointed it didn't happen this time.

I do like that there is a process, with an imposed intellectual rigor, to modify law within the Conservative movement. I also recently, though, read the accepted teshuvah on mamzerut. A mamzer (illegitimate child, but not in the same sense as in English use - i.e. a mamzer is the child of two people who could not marry, not the child of people who aren't married) is clearly defined and clearly discriminated against in Judaism. The Conservative movement has eliminated mamzerut. It was done with careful analysis and intellectual rigor, but the reason for doing it was an acknowledgement of the injustice. And that leaves me feeling "Well, whose pain and which injustice do they really care about?" :-(

I'm in awe at your level of knowledge, I really am. I wish I knew so much more about so many things!

I'm a lot older than you, LOL!
[User Picture]
From:barenakedrachel
Date:December 15th, 2006 01:16 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Ha ha! Well, I suppose age has its valor ;-) At 28 I am a spring chicken! And it's not so much age as it is that I just haven't had time to study/learn as much as I'd like. Before marriage and kids, I used to soak up foreign languages like a sponge, but now I'm going through serious mommy brain :-(

I wasn't raised in any church (hence my pathetic lack of knowledge on religion) - my Aunt, however, was Baptist at the time and living in the deep south. I think she's Evangelical now. I don't know. But, yeah, it was a terrible experience. What was even worse, though, was to be at his funeral and to hear his own family look at his (open) casket and say that his life had been such a waste. I never cried at his death because it was a relief to see him not suffering anymore, but I did cry when I heard people say that - his own father even. I still feel angry about it when I think about it and that was 16 years ago.

I swore I'd never have anything to do with a church whose God rejected people based on who they loved... and ended up marrying into a Mormon family! Ha ha! (but my husband is non-practicing)
Mofic Powered by LiveJournal.com