Copyright 2009 by Gary Konecky, by and Gary Konecky, 2011 by Gary Konecky

We are told in Genesis 1:26 “And G-d said: ‘Let us make man.’”  This verse is explained in Genesis Rabbah 8:8 as follows:

R. Samuel b. Nahman said in R. Jonathan's name: When Moses was engaged in writing the Torah, he had to write the work of each day. When he came to the verse, AND G-D SAID: LET US MAKE MAN, etc., he said: ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Why dost Thou furnish an excuse to heretics?’(1) ‘Write,’ replied He; ' Whoever wishes to err may err.’…

 (1)  for maintaining a plurality of gods    (note 1)

Genesis Rabbah 8:8 teaches several things.  The teaching we are most concerned with is that G-d gives us free will.  Therefore, G-d is creating the possibility that those who wish to deliberately misconstrue scripture are given the opportunity to do so. Consequently, those who resist the temptation to misinterpret scripture, those who strive to interpret it correctly, will be rewarded.

The religious right, conservative politicians, and religious fundamentalists all use the Bible as a weapon to attack lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people.  In the last installment, we explored how sexual relationships permitted and forbidden by the Bible are different then our relationships today.   This brings up a crucial question; should the Bible be taken literally?  Those who use it as a weapon against the LGBTI community say it is the world of G-d and must be taken literally.  Are they erring as in “Whoever wishes to err may err”? 

In the next two installments, we will explore the techniques for how to interpret the Bible.  In this installment, I want to focus on two challenges to the literal interpretation approach used by those who preach hate against the LGBTI community.  The two challenges are:

1.      Problems translating the text into English.

2.      Passages that do not make sense when taken literally. 

To illustrate these problems I have chosen a brief passage from the Hebrew Bible; Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:4-9.

The first thing we notice is the name of the book of the bible.  “Deuteronomy” comes from ancient Greek via Latin, with the Greek being a mistranslation of the original Hebrew (note 2).  Deuteronomy “literally means ‘second law' coming from the Greek words nomos (law) and deutero (second).”  (note 3)  The problem is not only is this word mistranslated, but its meaning is incorrect as Moses did not merely retell the law in Deuteronomy.  In Deuteronomy, Moses also discussed commandments that are given only in Deuteronomy (and that are not given in any of the other books of the Hebrew Bible).  If you are giving additional commandments, then you are not merely retelling the law, which is what the name Deuteronomy means.

The Hebrew name for this book of the Hebrew Bible is “Devarim” meaning “events” and “which can also be translated as ‘words’” (note 4).  It is interesting to note that the Hebrew name provides a very accurate insight into the content of this book of the Bible, as this book consists of Moses’ final address to the Jewish people (words); with the address consisting of Moses explaining the law, recounting the wondering in the desert (events), and providing final instructions for the Jewish people as they enter the Land of Israel upon his passing.

Lets now start looking at the text.  Verse 6:4 states:  “Listen Yisroel!  Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is one.”  The first thing we notice is the name of the Jewish people is transliterated not translated. 

The next thing we notice is the name of G-d is transliterated not translated.  Hebrew has multiple names for G-d and each of these names refers to a specific attribute of G-d.  In English, we only have the word G-d.  If we are to properly understand G-d and His intent, we need to know what attribute the original Hebrew is referring to, just as it is useful to understand the difference between a drizzle and a thunderstorm if one has to go out in the rain. 

Verse 6:5:  “You are to love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your possessions.”  This brings up the question of how is one to love G-d?  Does one buy G-d flowers or invite G-d to a romantic candlelight dinner?  What is meant by love in this context?  What exactly is this verse commanding us?

Verse 6:6:  “And these words that I command you today shall be upon your heart.”   Why is the word today used?  This commandment is thousands of years old; therefore we must ask why is the word today used?  How and what does the word today instruct us to do?  How does one put these words upon one’s heart?

Verse 6:7:  “You are to teach them to your children, and you are to discuss them when you sit at home, and when you are on the road, and when you go to sleep and when you rise.”  What are we to teach?  Are we to teach just our children or are we to teach all our community’s children? 

Verse 6:8:  “You are to tie them as a sign on your arm and they are to be totafos between your eyes.”  What is to be tied?  How is it to be tied?  Additionally, while Jews know the meaning of this commandment, there is either no English word for totafos, or we do not know what the English word for totafos is.

Verse 6:9:  “You are to write them on the doorposts of your home, and upon your gateposts.”  What is to be written?  Is there a procedure for writing it on the doorposts of your home and upon your gates?  What doorposts and gateposts is this to be written on?  Are there doorposts that this should not be written on?

Jewish tradition holds that when G-d gave the Jewish people the Torah at Mount Sinai, G-d gave the Jewish people a written Torah, which is quoted above, and the oral Torah.  The oral Torah explains the above verses.  By understanding both the written and oral Torah, Jews know they are required to fulfill and how they are to fulfill the following commandments:

  • To believe in the unity of G-d (6:4)
  • To love G-d (6:5)
  • To study Torah (6:7)
  • To say the Shema prayer every morning and evening (6:7)
  • To tie tefilin on the arm (6:8)
  • To place tefilin on the head (6:8)
  • To affix a mezuzah on the doorposts of Jewish homes and businesses (6:9)

As this brief example shows, a literal reading of the Bible may not be wise or practical. 

Note 1:  Judaic Classics Library by David Kantrowitz, Version 2.2, March 2001.  The Soncino Midrash Rabbah, The Soncino Press, copyright 1983.

Note 2:

Note 3:

Note 4:  Page 319 of The Torah Anthology / Me’Am Lo’Ez, Book Two, The Patriarchs by Rabbi Yaakov Culi, translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Moznaim Publishing Corp., copyright 1989

An excellent analysis of Genesis 1:26 (including Genesis Rabbah 8:8) can be found on pages 106-108 of The Torah Anthology / Me’Am Lo’Ez, Book One, Beginnings, by Rabbi Yaakov Culi, Translated by Aryeth Kaplan, copyright 1988, Moznaim Publishing Corp.

The source of the translation of Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:4-9 is pages 78-83 of The Metsudah Chumash / Rashi, Volume V, Devarim, by Rabbi Avrohom Davis, copyright 2006

The source for the list of commandments cited is page 1549 of The Gutnick Edition Chumash, complied and adapted by Rabbi Chaim Miller, published by Kol Menachem, copyright 2003-2006

Make a Free Website with Yola.