Telephone Torah Study: Torah’s Great Dysfunctional Family
This week’s Torah portion, Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9) highlights one of the most dysfunctional families in Torah. Isaac and Rebekah have competing twin sons Esau and Jacob. Isaac favors Esau and Rebekah, Jacob. Jacob steals his famished brother’s birthright over a bowl of lentil stew. Rebekah comes up with a ruse for Jacob to trick his father into giving him Esau’s blessing. Then, to top it all off Isaac pawns off Rebekah as his sister to King Abimelech (tune in for that doozy).
Telephone Torah Study, Thursday November 20, 4-5pm. To join in on the conference call, please dial 702-851-4044, when prompted punch in 2, then our pass code 22252#.
‘Overcoming Destiny’ by Gary Rubin argues that Jacob’s successful bid to usurp Esau’s destined dominance of the elder over the younger, suggests that we can alter our destinies and achieve greatness:
The Torah portion of Toldot, which begins,”And these are the generations of Isaac, son of Abraham,”(Genesis 25:19) explores the meaning of human experience as the Biblical story passes from one generation to the next.
This reading tells the story of the birth of Jacob and Esau, their struggle for dominance over each other, and the ultimate selection of Jacob as the Patriarch through whom Jewish destiny will be transmitted. It also offers two distinct theories of history, indicating different approaches on how humans should conduct themselves in the face of momentous choices.
In recognition of Transgender Day of Remembrance (Nov. 20th) we recommend ‘Torah in Transition’ by Professor Joy Ladin the first openly transgender professor at an Orthodox Jewish institution. The article provides a perspective on studying Torah as a transgender person:
For over two thousand years, Jews have been reading the same book. The moment we reach the end, we start over at the beginning. Though the Torah’s words don’t change, we do, returning to the same passages older, braver, needier, stronger, wiser, more terrified or more centered than we were before. The very familiarity of the text reflects how we and our sense of life have changed. But for many gay, lesbian, bi and trans Jews, the Torah is a bitter mirror that reflects nothing but our otherness. For example, responding to news that I would return to teach at Yeshiva University following my transition from living as a man to living as a woman, one of my colleagues, Rabbi Moshe Tendler, told the New York Post that “There is no niche where [a transsexual] can hide out as a female without being in massive violation of Torah law, Torah ethics and Torah morality.” According to Tendler, the only reflection of my life the Torah offers is a condemnation of everything I am or hope to be.
Fortunately, Rabbi Tendler’s views don’t seem to be shared by my students. Their response has been thoughtful, respectful, compassionate and often far-sighted. The same Torah that, for Tendler, mirrors his transphobia and intolerance, inspires my students to try to understand an aspect of being human that most of them had heard of before.
Most of my students have been studying the Torah since they were very young, and several have asked me how my transition from living to a man to living as a woman has affected the way I read Torah.
Torah Passage of the Week
A blessing from Isaac to his son Jacob: “God give you of heaven’s dew, of earth’s bounty; abundant grain and new wine. Let peoples serve you, nations bow down to you. Be a ruler to your brothers, and let your mother’s sons bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed, and those who bless you be blessed.” (Gen. 27:28-29)