Torat Emet: Why I am a Torah-True Jew
The Torah’s Noble Guidelines and Narratives
In what sense is the Torah true for me? In its grand proclamations, such as not to charge interest on loans to the poor (Exodus 22:24), not to put a stumbling block before the blind (Leviticus 19:14), to pay one’s workers on time (Leviticus 19:13), to show deep concern for the strangers in one’s midst (Leviticus 19:34). These noble guidelines, and many others, tell us to live our life for others, not just for ourselves.
The Torah’s narratives, whether historical or literary, are also true for what they teach: they tell the reader to decry hypocrisy as did Tamar (Genesis 38), to assist the vulnerable as did Moshe (Exodus 2), and to argue on behalf of the blameless, as did Abraham (Genesis 18).
The Torah in Liturgy and Every Day Life
The truth of Torah is also expressed in the key role it plays in Jewish liturgy and life. We Jews value Torah to such an extent that we can never get enough of it. We read it publicly over and over again; we study its every word; we cite its phrases in our everyday speech. Torah is, without a doubt, the basis of our lives as Jews. Although the rabbis of the Talmud developed our patterns of observance, the Torah gave us the blueprints.
The Torah Evolves to Fulfill Its Own Ideals
Yes, we have done away with capital punishment and animal sacrifice, both of which appear often in the Torah. But legal systems are intended to develop and change over time. The Torah’s elastic clause in Deuteronomy 17:9-11, “do as they, the Priests or Levites or judges, instruct you; do not stray to the left or right,” was identified and interpreted by the Talmudic rabbis as saying that we should abide by the rules enacted by the judges of our own time (m. Rosh Hashanah 2: 9).
It follows that when today we offer women and LGBTQ individuals opportunities for religious leadership, when we regard women and LGBTQ individuals as equally human as men, we are being true to Torah. This point is lost on many people who claim, erroneously, that the Jewish denominations that adopt such a stance have abandoned Torah. Not so.
This is the deepest way of fulfilling the Torah’s grand and glorious mandate, “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). The recent egalitarian decisions by a large segment of Jewish community make me proud to be a Torah-true Jew.
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September 7, 2015
January 3, 2021
Prof. Rabbi Judith Hauptman is the E. Billi Ivry Professor of Talmud and Rabbinic Culture at JTS and a fellow of the American Academy of Jewish Research. She holds a Ph.D. in Talmud from JTS and rabbinic ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion. Among her books are Rereading the Rabbis: A Woman’s Voice, Development of the Talmudic Sugya: Relationship between Tannaitic and Amoraic Sources, andRereading the Mishnah: A New Approach to Ancient Jewish Texts.
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