Author Archives: Dr. Solomon B. Freehof

Dr. Solomon B. Freehof

About Dr. Solomon B. Freehof

Dr. Solomon Bennett Freehof (1892-1990) was a prominent Reform rabbi, posek, and scholar. Rabbi Freehof served as president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the World Union for Progressive Judaism. Beginning in 1955, he led the CCAR's work on Jewish law through its responsa committee.

Isaiah 3:1-15 A Commentary

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The section of Isaiah discussed here comes from the early part of the book, written by Isaiah ben Amoz.  It is a lesser-known passage, however, because it is not included in the cycle of haftarot (synagogue readings from the prophets).  In this commentary, Dr. Freehof samples the major rabbinic opinions on the critical passages.  This selection is excerpted from Book of Isaiah: A Commentary, and is being used with the permission of UAHC Press.

Isaiah ben Amoz’ Denounces the Elite

The sin denounced here (in Isaiah 3) is social injustice: "Ye grind the face of the poor." (Verse 15) The money exacted unjustly from the poor enables the upper classes to live in ostentatious luxury. (The end of the chapter, verses 3:16-26, describes in detail all the ornaments of the pampered rich women of Jerusalem.) As punishment for this the whole social order will be upturned, the young will behave insolently to the aged (Verse 3), responsibility and moral leadership will cease. (Verse 7)

 

Text: 3:1-6  Babies Shall Rule

1. For, behold, the LORD, the LORD of hosts,

Doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah

Stay and staff,

Every stay of bread, and every stay of water;

2. The mighty man, and the man of war;

The judge, and the prophet,

And the diviner, and the elder;

 3. The captain of fifty, and the man of rank,

And the counselor, and the cunning charmer, and the skillful enchanter.

4. And I will give children to be their princes,

And babes shall rule over them.

5. And the people shall oppress one another,

Every man his fellow, and every man his neighbor;

The child shall behave insolently against the aged,

And the base against the honorable.

6. For a man shall take hold of his brother of the house of his father:

‘Thou hast a mantle,

Be thou our ruler,

And let this ruin be under thy hand.’

Commentary on 3:1- 6

3:1 The Lord . . . doth take away … stay and staff.

Verses 1 to 5 are a list of punishments that God will send. Rashi (the 12th century French commentator), quoting the Talmud (Hagigah 14a), says that these curses mount up to a climax, the worst of all of them being: "The child shall behave insolently against the aged." (Verse 5). The contempt and the hostility of the young generation against the older is deemed by the prophet and the Talmud to be the worst curse that can come to a society.

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Ezekiel

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The author of this introduction to the Book of Ezekiel embraces the once prevalent perspective on the literary prophets, that they were negatively disposed toward the Temple and priestly ritual.  In general, scholars today hold that the literary prophets’ rhetoric critiquing sacrifice is intended not as opposition to Temple ritual per se, but to empty, or hypocritical, Temple practice, the result of sacrifice in the absence of social justice.  In other respects, Dr. Freehof’s article provides a useful and interesting introduction to Ezekiel. This article is excerpted from Book of Ezekiel: A Commentary, and is being used with the permission of UAHC Press.

Ezekiel Barely Makes the Bible

The Book of Ezekiel has always been a problem book. As early as the second century C.E., in the time of the Mishnah, there were doubts and concern about it. These doubts were strong enough, in those early days, to raise the question of whether Ezekiel should be one of the biblical books. The Talmud (Sabbath 13b) relates that Hananiah ben Hezekiah (one of the teachers of the Mishnah, who lived about the year 70) used up three hundred measures of oil (to study by) in order to harmonize the laws in Ezekiel with those given in the Torah. If not for this effort, some believed, the book would have been kept out of the Bible. The phrase used was: “The Book of Ezekiel would have been hidden away” (nignaz Sefer Yehezkel).

 

Torah letters
Image by Barbara Freedman, BarbaraFreedmanGallery.com.

The rabbis were greatly troubled by the fact that the Book of Ezekiel gives certain laws, chiefly as to the Temple procedures, which actually contradict the laws given in the Book of Leviticus. They had a further objection: The opening chapters (chapters 1-3) of the Book of Ezekiel present a detailed picture of God coming in a chariot, surrounded by retinues of angels, etc. This picture, called “the arrangement of the chariot” (ma’aseh merkavah), became the starting point of special mystical studies. Though deemed important by the rabbis, such studies were considered dangerous for the uninitiated, and therefore the rabbis said that these chapters should not be studied, except by the learned few (Mishnah Hagigah 2: 1). How, then, could they permit such a book to be part of the Bible, to be read by anyone?

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