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Torah Through Time

Understanding Bible Commentary from the Rabbinic Period to Modern Times

Authored by Shai Cherry; Forward by Marc Zvi Brettler PhD

Publication Year: 2007

"This book provides a highly readable, engaging introduction to Jewish biblical interpretation."
- Jewish Book World

"Cherry has analyzed the biblical commentary of some of the renowned Jewish scholars of the last 2,000 years. The result is a work of excellent scholarship and imagination."
- Booklist

“Cherry shows how the Torah functions as literature that is fluid, compelling, and persistently generative of new meanings.”
– Christian Century

Every commentator, from the classical rabbi to the modern-day scholar, has brought his or her own worldview, with all of its assumptions, to bear on the reading of holy text. This relationship between the text itself and the reader's interpretation is the subject of Torah Through Time. Shai Cherry traces the development of Jewish Bible commentary through three pivotal periods in Jewish history: the rabbinic, medieval, and modern periods. The result is a fascinating and accessible guide to how some of the world's leading Jewish commentators read the Bible. Torah Through Time focuses on specific narrative sections of the Torah: the creation of humanity, the rivalry between Cain and Abel, Korah's rebellion, the claim of the daughters of Zelophechad, and legal matters concerning Hebrew slavery. Cherry closely examines several different commentaries for each of these source texts, and in so doing he analyzes how each commentator resolves questions raised by the texts and asks if and how the commentator's own historical frame of reference -- his own time and place -- contributes to the resolution. A chart at the end of each chapter provides a visual summary that helps the reader understand the many different elements at play.

Published by: Jewish Publication Society


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p. vii-vii

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pp. ix-x

To most people, the Hebrew Bible is an impenetrable book. It was written during a thousand-year period, and reflected a wide variety of internal and external political and intellectual currents. Even more difficult yet is Jewish interpretation of the Bible, which has been written for over two millennia in an even wider set of political and intellectual currents. To add to the problem,...

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pp. xi-xiii

When I began teaching a course on Jewish biblical interpretation at Vanderbilt University in 2001, I was met with a series of surprises. The first was the lack of available texts tracing Jewish commentary on biblical narrative and law from the emergence of Rabbinic Judaism, roughly two thousand years ago, until today. Even the small group of texts that did exist (in English) tended not to...

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pp. 1-6

BEN BAG BAG is referring to the Torah. This work is a study in how the Rabbis and their descendants turned the Torah. Ben Bag Bag’s image is particularly apt, because there are two ways to turn: spinning on the horizontal axis and overturning on the vertical axis. Spinning the Torah allows you to see different facets or faces of the Jewish crown jewel. “The Torah has 70 faces,”1 say the later Rabbis in using the...

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1. No Word Unturned

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pp. 7-39

The study of Jewish biblical commentary combines literary theory, Jewish history, and Jewish thought. It is this confluence of factors, each quite complex in itself, that makes the exploration of Jewish biblical commentary so rich and exciting. This chapter sets out to explain the diversity and development of approaches used by Jews to understand Scripture during the major periods of Jewish history–Rabbinic, medieval, and modern. Since history often influences...

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2. The Creation of Humanity

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pp. 40-71

Although there are two creation stories in the Book of Genesis, we begin with the narrative that has pride of place, chapter 1. In these six verses, which focus on the latter part of the sixth day of creation, the Torah treats issues of theology, anthropology, and ecology....

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3. The Sons of Adam and Eve

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pp. 72-100

The Torah's verdict on life outside the Garden is mixed. On the one hand, there’s the fratricide. On the other hand, it didn’t have to be that way. And that possibility, resounding with Divine authority, holds out the hope for a better future. Let’s look in on Cain and Abel through the windows of three translations and two millennia of Jewish interpretation....

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4. The Hebrew Slave

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pp. 101-131

If a rose by any other name smells just as sweet, is bondage just as bitter? The subject of this chapter is the Hebrew slave. Or is it the Hebrew serf, or, perhaps, the Hebrew servant?1 Our translation of Leviticus uses slave in verse 39 and servant in verse 42. One commentator, Rabbeinu Bahya, points out that the Hebrew term, ‘eved, is ambiguous....

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5. Korah and His Gang

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pp. 132-160

In the chapters exploring both the creation of humanity and the laws of the Hebrew slave, there were examples of how the commentators contended with parallel texts in tension with one another. The redactor of the Torah included two stories of creation (Gen 1:1–2:4a and Gen 2:4b-24) and three sets of laws about slaves (Exod. 21:2–6, Lev. 25:39–40, and Deut. 15:12–17) that present contradictory details....

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6. The Daughters of Zelophehad

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pp. 161-188

The Torah can be a difficult piece of literature for contemporary feminists. Although the women of Genesis and Exodus are usually portrayed as strong and perceptive, the legal sections of the Torah tend to treat women as the inferior other. Prior to the moment of God’s revelation at Mount Sinai, for example, Moses directs his words of preparation only to the men (Exod. 19:15)....

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pp. 189-191

In chapter two, the angels debated creating humanity. It was two against two .Loving-kindness and Justice were in favor. Peace was opposed, as was Truth who warned that we would be a lying lot. Rather than futilely arguing with Truth, God cast him to the earth, and the tie was broken...

Glossary of Terms

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pp. 192-195

Glossary of Texts and Commentators

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pp. 196-201


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pp. 202-214


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pp. 215-231

E-ISBN-13: 9780827609761
Print-ISBN-13: 9780827608481

Publication Year: 2007