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Abraham and Jeremiah

16 0 3
24.09.2020

“The Akedah is not in the Torah; it is but one of several rabbinic constructs through which to read the narrative of Genesis 22.” So I have often remarked, generally to the surprise, if not consternation, of anyone who hears me. Nonetheless, one of the great themes of Rosh Hashanah is the narrative of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac known almost universally in Judaism as “the Akedah,” or “the Binding of Isaac.” This reading of Genesis 22 makes Isaac the hero of the story, one whose heroism is expressed through his willingness to self-sacrifice (ultimately, according to a complex midrashic history of interpretation, he undergoes this sacrifice on behalf of the entire Jewish nation; indeed, this midrashic perspective is very close to the theme of the basic Christian interpretation). The other primary way that the Sages interpreted this biblical drama is as “The Test of Abraham.” In this reading, Abraham is the hero because he had such great faith in God, and on account of his willingness to sacrifice his beloved son, was rewarded with the confirmation of the covenantal blessing.

Frankly, I don’t know which one of these interpretations is more appalling.

To be sure, we live in a society that has at times horrifically mistreated children. To take but one example, the United States is currently holding prospective immigrant children in prison-like facilities. To add one other: we regularly hear that religious institutions of all varieties and denomination have abused the children in its care. So I freely and unapologetically admit that my perception of the meaning of the biblical narrative has been influenced by the context of our contemporary world.

While I can appreciate the beauty of the biblical Hebrew prose, its laconic yet rich presentation of character, and the power of its stark narrative poetics, I absolutely shudder at most any attempt to incorporate some dimension of these interpretations into any contemporary theology. Moreover, the one incontrovertible conclusion that all would hope to find in the narrative — that in the end, the fact that Isaac is not slain signals that God does NOT truly desire human sacrifice, and/or that the narrative is about the replacement of human sacrifice with animal sacrifice — does not accord with any plain reading (pshat!) of the biblical narrative, in which such principles are never articulated.

In this context, I would like to share two things. The first is to call your attention to a wonderful, recently published book entitled, Unbinding Isaac, by Aaron Koller. While Koller does follow the traditional Jewish practice of calling the narrative of Genesis 22 “the Akedah,” he urges that we reject the popular iterations of such approaches as Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling or any other non-ethically-based reading of the story. His whole thesis is, in a sense, found in the title he gave his book (Unbinding Isaac), and he states that........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)


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