Today, we started in earnest examining what Judaism is all about. And where better than the first phrase in Genesis: 'In the Beginning God created ...'
I explained to my Israeli class the British context of rubbishing the Bible in order to prove that science is better.
To Israelis the fact that there are two different types of discourse is obvious, probably because they speak Hebrew, the language of the Bible.
So we looked at various commentaries on the phrase 'in the beginning', questioning the use of that rather odd word, 'reshit' as beginning, when it actually means 'first fruits'. And then we looked at the letter bet which means 'in'. But not only - 'by means of' and 'through' are other acceptable translations.
And then at bara', signifying 'He created'. And I do like ibn Ezra's interpretation of that word as similar to barah, which ends with the letter 'heh', signifying a cutting motion, as in 'breaking bread', which implies a whole greater than its parts - a restriction necessary for expansion to take place.
So in fact the great mediaeval commentaries do examine the meaning of the plain words of the text and go deeper, implying that maybe something was there already with God to work with, or that even, maybe, looking at Hirsch, creation was the evolved thought of God.
Then we got onto what is mind and memory. What is the Hebrew for mind and are there two types of memory, short-term and long-term, conscious and unconscious, or what? I discussed these issues in a paper I gave on 'Memory and Potency' at Florida State University a few years ago. That was a science and religion conference. Maybe Dawkins and co should try something similar some time.
We started the class with someone's suggestion that the 10 Commandments were paramount, but ended by realising that even they cause difficulties, because of what they don't say, let alone offering us two different versions with two different words for 'remember', shemor and zachor.
Because, let's not forget Rabbi Hillel ( a contemporary of Jesus), who when asked by a Roman centurion to explain the whole of the Torah whilst standing on one leg, replied:
'Love your neighbour as yourself. That is the whole of the Torah - now go and learn'.
This is a version interpreted by a Christian commentator, with a bit of Tibetan Buddhism thrown in.
And it is that last bit, now go and learn, which is necessary for the first bit, otherwise all anarchy is let loose as we see currently in the world.
And next week, it's Tohu ve Bohu, 'formless and void', or total and utter chaos. Any suggestions on this subject would be welcome.
Here's a taster.