Dealing With Troubling Texts

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Returning to the earlier example, I could neither reconcile what I read with my understanding of a relationship between a man and a woman nor reconcile it with the obligations of husband to wife and vice versa that are enumerated elsewhere in rabbinic literature. Neither could I put aside the mashal by saying "it is only a parable," or "it is from a different historical moment," or "this narrative was generated for a specific reason, and out of a specific set of hermeneutic and theological constraints." After struggling through this process I had to say that this was not Torah. The mashal was not merely reflecting the pain felt by Sages in the exile--a pain they feared would continue unabated. The construction of the relationship between men and women that was essential to this parable completely erased any notion of tzelem Elohim (divine image) that all men and women are imbued with. In the end, I was forced to say that when I say birkat haTorah (the blessings of studying Torah) each morning bounding my study of texts as sacred work, this text falls outside those bounds

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Dr. Aryeh Cohen

Dr. Aryeh Cohen is Associate Professor of Rabbinic Literature and Chair of Rabbinic Studies at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the American Jewish University.