Sunday, August 20, 2006


Quasi-Weekly Parsha Blogging: Re'eh

This week's readings included laws against apostasy, a reiteration of laws regarding the sacrificial system and Sabbatical year and also the part of Deutero/Tritero-Isaiah in which the prophet states the essence of both Judaic spirituality as well as Materialistic ethics, both of which are in opposition to what is called "materialism" in the common discourse. While social conservatives may distinguish between amoral materialists who are materialists in both senses of the word and "Judeo-Christian" morality, Isaiah sides with the metaphysical materialists against those who value possessions not for their material value as food, etc., but for some sort of symbolic value: "why spend money on that which is not food?" he asks. Taken together, the Torah portion, which speaks of celebrating God by spending money on whatever pleases you, and the Haftorah, which speaks of purchasing without money, speak of the importance of both spiritual and physical nourishment and in opposition to a value system which values non-nutritive purchases over other purchases. Something tells me Isaiah is a Democrat who would find religious and atheistic liberalism to be two sides of the same coin whereas he would be confused by the separation of social and economic conservatism which both make idols, out of stone blocks and unfettered markets and what you can purchase therein, respectively.

Anyway, the passage read from Isaiah is one of my favorites, and I've already blogged on it (as you can see in my archives). But it does serve as a powerful corrective to those who view the political divide in the US as between religious and secular when this passage contains a statement that would be supported by the most religious of idealist and the most mechanistic of materialists (who discount the ultimate reality of symbols, including idols and status symbols and the value of the money used to purchase said items: hence Isaiah's comments about money and purchasing) even as it is ignored by both religious and secular folks who place immense value on that which does not satiate.

Interestingly, the portion also contains much textual evidence both for and against the Documentary Hypothesis. In favor are the repetition of certain turns of phrase present in Judges and elsewhere in the "Deuteronomic history". Arguing against is the concern for the Levite: why would someone writing so long after religious centralization in Israel (unless we are to believe that religious centralization happened relatively late in the history of Judah and Israel) be warning people to take care of the Levites who lost their positions due to religious centralization?

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