Congregation Etz Hayim at Hollis Hills Bayside

The consolidated communities of Hollis Hills Bayside Jewish Center and Marathon Jewish Community Center

Shabbat Yitro 5775

Earlier this week, as we studied The Torah:A Women’s Commentary at evening minyan as we’ve done throughout the year, I mentioned the revolutionary interpretation by feminist Bible scholar Judith Plaskow about the revelation at Sinai. It’s based on the following textual curiosity. In chapter 19, God emphasizes that in preparation for the moment of revelation, the people should be instructed to avoid going up to or touching the mountain. But when Moshe transmits God’s instructions, he adds a detail not mentioned by God: “Do not go near a woman” (19:15). Dr. Plaskow read this detail to suggest that Moshe spoke only to the men, and therefore the revelation at Sinai in its entirety was and is only binding on men. Women, through their exclusion, were and are thus exempt from the mitzvot.

Dr. Diane Sharon, one of the contributors to the women’s commentary, asks some key questions about this passage that go beyond the feminist concerns. “Moses’ alteration of God’s command raises the central question of who is the final authority on what God really says. Which version of the command is authoritative? Is Moses faithfully transmitting God’s words? Is the text accurately presenting God’s instructions? And, ultimately, what gives Moses or the text the right to report God’s words differently from the way in which they were originally delivered?” (p. 421).

To get to the heart of her questions, consider how an Orthodox thinker might answer it, and compare it to the kind of answer that would come from a more liberal interpreter. On Friday evening atKabbalat Shabbat, I’ll teach the rest of Dr. Sharon’s essay, and share my own thoughts about her questions. 

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Wise