Key words: bible, value, human life, active learning homicide
The objective of this essay is to demonstrate how active (or: discovery) learning can be implemented in the curricular area of Tanakh. In order to achieve this goal, I shall provide a model lesson for a high-school class based upon the declaration of the value of human life which is implicit in the Torah's account of creation.
Secondly (following the lead of the Tanhuma cited by Rashi to Gen. 1:1), the Jewish historical experience is a derivative of creation, with the relationship of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel - a benchmark of their relationship with God - acknowledged as the historio-graphical focus of the Bible.
Finally, the ineluctable truth - however inadvertently eclipsed, or deliberately obscured by particularistic ideologies - is that God did not immediately create the Jewish people, but a single human being of indeterminate creed; not the Land of Israel, alone, but an entire world . History begins with creation, not with the revelation at Sinai; with Adam, not Moses (nor even Abraham); and it begins in a Mesopotamian paradise bounded by the Tigris and the Euphrates, rather than in Jerusalem.
That is to say, the study of the first chapter of Bereishit demands that the recognition of the universality of Torah preced that of its particularity, and that an honest attempt be made to delineate the role which all humanity plays in God's scheme of things, and not just Jews.
On the one hand, the secondary school experience for Jewish young men and women coincides with the onset of their religious majorities: 12 for girls, and 13 for boys. These, then, are precisely the most formative years of their incipient religious identities, and offer an insuperable opportunity to forge their individual and collective links to the covenantal community they have so recently joined.
On the other hand, however, the inclination towards rebelliousness which is prevalent during these same years frustrates attempts at conformity with religious doctrines and practices which are out of synch with the students' own burgeoning life experiences - most of which occur outside the walls of the beit midrash.
As psychologist David Elkind has written:
Some young people may reject institutional religion entirely when they become teenagers. In a way they are saying, "I'm too old. I don't believe in that stuff anymore." It is also a way of rebelling against (or differentiating themselves from) parents and religious authorities. But teenagers very much need a religious element in their identity. Having a religious faith, of whatever denomination, even if the teenager does not practice it, gives him or her a known quantity, a fixed ingredient, to integrate into his or her developing definition of self. (All Grown Up and No Place to Go: Teenagers in Crisis; Addison & Wesley, 1984; p. 43)The selection of Bereishit is designed to appeal to the high-school students' reflexive assumption that they already know everything about everything (not to mention Bereishit, a text they have already learned some of them twice! - in elementary school). The challenge is to demonstrate that there are other levels of significant meaning in the text beyond the familiar, to stimulate them to reveal the additional layers of meaning through their own initiatives, and to impress them with the diversity which inheres in traditional exegesis in spite of its integral fidelity to the text.
As Elkind writes, in the continuation:
At this time, both the religious institution and parents should move away from religious instruction and provide opportunities for the social interaction and discussion of values, beliefs, and actions that young people need to discover who and what they really are. Such a sabbatical from institutional religion prepares the way for a later integration of personal and formal religious beliefs and values.
The key to direct encounter lies in the students' involvement in the decipherment of the text ("comprehension") and the application of its lesson ("understanding"). As Biblical scholar and teacher Ed Greenstein has observed:
When you are waiting for something to happen, when you have this expectation, you are involved in what is going on. You're constantly being enlisted in the creative process, because you, yourself are, in a sense, subconsciously creating together with the artist.... This participation is a source of pleasure. ("Against Interpretation", Ikka D'Amrei IV, 1982; JTSA, 36)
"Participative interpretation" is the basis for Joseph Schwab's rhetorical analysis, too:
If a reader could have access to the alternatives from which an author thus chooses his key words, the structure of his key sentences, and his organization, he would have at hand a remarkable aid to interpretation.... By bringing to bear on symbols and meanings the process of comparison ... the reader could participate in a part of the act of authorship. ("Enquiry and the Reading Process", Science, Curriculum and the Reading Process; Chicago, 1978; 154)Samuel Heilman, in his study of Talmud study groups, lends a significant ethnographic confirmation to this proposition:
The excitement in such study is to uncover for oneself the old truths... to feel as if one is oneself the pioneer. The traditional learner is by no means simply mimicking or mouthing the words of the past... he is dramatically possessed by the text and its world; yet to him its words and reasoning seem to be his own. (The People of the Book; Chicago, 1984, 65)The concurrent pedagogical proposition is that if this conclusion is conclusion is "discovered" by the students, themselves, it will be more meaningful and consequential than if it were just stipulated doctrinally, because it will not be "imposed" upon them, arbitrarily, by an authority figure from whom they are presently trying to differentiate themselves.
The purpose of a religious Jewish education in the Diaspora, on the one hand, is to use Torah (in the broadest sense of the term) as a yardstick by which other cultural norms are to be measured. [Similar, in fact, to Maimonides' proposition in part three of the Moreh Nevokhim, that underlying many mitzvot is the attempt to vitiate Canaanite cultural influences.] On the other hand, to pit Torah against the pervasive - and perfidious - norms which regulate our student' daily lives risks setting Torah up for a fall. The study of ancient Near Eastern law, literature, and culture, therefore, will provide studnets an opportunity to reflect obliquely upon American culture without directly calling the validity of all their cultural experiences into question.
(a) Factual information to be imparted tot he class either through student discovery or via teacher intervention;
(b) Questions for the teacher to pose in order to stimulate the active learning.
Enuma Elish, the Babylonian myth of creation, describes the creation of mankind as follows:
Blood will I form and cause bone to be[This translation follows Alexander Heidel: The Babylonian Genesis (Chicago, 1967), p. 46, lines 5-8 with the exception of the use of "savage" which follows James Pritchard: Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Princeton, 1969), p. 68. Heidel uses the transliteration: "lullu."]
Then will I set up a savage, 'Man' shall be his name!
Yes, I will create savage Man!
(Upon him) shall the services of the gods be imposed
That they may be at rest.
Compare this view with the Torah's record of the creation of Adam:
Vayivra Eloh-im et ha'adam betzalmo... umal'u et ha'aretz vekivshu'ah, u'rdu bidgat hayam... (I: 27-28)
1) Numbers 35:31: "You shall not take a ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death but he shall surely be put to death.
Velo tikhu kofer lenefesh rotze'ah asher hu rasha lamut, ki mot yumat
2) Dt. 24:16: "Parents shall not be put to death for children, nor children be put to death for parents: a person shall be put to death only for his own crime."
Lo yumtu avot al banim u'vanim lo yumtu al avot, ish be'heto yumatu
3) Gen. 9:6: "Whoever sheds the blood of a man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in a godly image was man created."
Shofekh dam ha'adam ba'adam damo yishafekh, ki betzelem eloh-im asah et ha'adam
a. Human lives cannot be reckoned in terms of money;
b. They cannot be arbitrarily exchanged one for another;
c. The special status of man is a consequence of his creation in a special "divine" image.
[For a class with lesser powers of deduction, these conclusions can be summarized in the form of the following quotation from Moshe Greenberg: "The Biblical Grounding of Human Values", The Samuel Freedland Lectures (NY, 1966), 44-45:
What [underlies] the biblical view of homicide? The peculiar and supreme worth of man. Of all creatures, Genesis 1 relates, he alone possesses this attribute, bringing him into closer relation to God than all the rest and conferring on him the highest value.
Because that image is both inestimable and incomparable, no substitution - either of money or of kind (i.e., another image) - can be made for its deliberate or criminal destruction. The effect of this view is, to be sure, paradoxical; because human life is invaluable, to take it entails the death penalty. Yet the paradox must not blind us to the value judgement the law sought to embody.
The next didactic step, again, is to present the sources:
1) "If a man or a woman enters another man's home and kills a man or a woman, they shall be handed over to the owner of the house. If he wishes - he may be appeased by taking their property." (Middle Assyrian Laws, no. A-10; Pritchard, 181.)
2) In Hittite law, murder is punishable only by the payment of a fine which is scaled according to the subjective guilt of the murderer and the social status of the victim. (The Hittite Laws, nos. 1-5; Pritchard, 188.)
3) The Code of Hammurabi provides that if a house collapses killing its owner, the builder shall be put to death. If the collapse kills the owner's son, however, then it is the builder's son who shall be put to death (Hammurabi, laws 229-230; Pritchard, 176.)
a. Ransom is an accepted form of blood-vengeance;
b. Persons other than the actual murderer - or guilty party - can be executed for crimes they did not commit;
c. The choice between executing the murderer (or his kin!) and accepting monetary compensation, belongs to the victim's relatives.
Let the students look next at some property laws in these same codes:
4) "If a man stole the property of a temple or of the state, that man shall be put to death; also the one who received the stolen goods from his hand shall be put to death." (Hammurabi, 6; Pritchard, 166.)
5) "If a man stole... from a private citizen, he shall make good tenfold. If the thief does not have sufficient to make restitution, he shall be put to death." (Hammurabi, 8; Pritchard, op. cit.)
6) "If a man made a breach in a house, they shall put him to death in front of that breach, and wall him in." (Hammurabi, 21; Pritchard, 167.)
7) "If, when a man was either sick or dead, his wife has stolen something from his house and has given it to ...anyone else, they shall put the man's wife to death along with the receivers as well." (Middle Assyrian Laws, no. 3; Pritchard, 180.)
d. Robbery, even from one's spouse, is punishable by death;
e. Monetary compensation can be substituted for the death penalty (just as in a homicide);
f. Certain damage to property can result even in the execution of the one causing the damage.
When we recall that mankind was only created to serve the gods and their temples we can easily see how their lives could be evaluated in strictly monetary terms.
[If, again, the students need more induction than deduction, offer them the following summary and challenge them to show where the texts of the laws illustrate these generalities.]
We find that the principle difference regarding homicide between the Bible and ancient Near Eastern law is the Torah's prohibition against accepting ransom in cases of deliberate or accidental homicide. This difference derives from the exaggerated value which the Torah places on human life; man being created in God's image. Since a human's life is invaluable, a homicide can be atoned for only by the death of the murderer.
According to Mesopotamian literature, however, despite the fact that homicide is a serious crime, even arousing the anger of the gods, man is only one part of creation and has no value other than economic - since he only was created to serve the gods and to free them form agriculture and from the travails of civilization ... Another basic difference...concerns the punishment of the murderer. In order to fit the punishment to the crime and to repay the sinner measure for measur, we find in the legal tradition of the ancient Near East the principle of vicarious punishment according to which one who murders another's son has his own son killed, as opposed to the ways of divine justice in which the Tora forbids mortal courts from applying this vicarious punishment. (Barry Eichler: "Retzach" Encyclopedia Mikrait 7, 431.
"vela'aretz lo-yechuper ladam asher shafakh ba, ki im bedam shofcho"Mesopotamian law, on the other hand, conceived of man "instrumentally"; that is to say, since mankind was created to serve the gods, a human life could be measured and evaluated in terms of the service it actually performed. Hence, men are more valuable than women, free men more than slaves, and adults more than children. If the victim's family judged their loss in terms of their overall capacity to serve (the king, or the temple), they could easily prefer to have the imbalance corrected through the payment of a ransom - keyed to the deceased's socioeconomic status. Alternatively, they could decide to create an equal imbalance in the service of the murderer's family by seeking his death, or that of another valued, and equivalent, member of the offending clan.
The biblical law of homicide is not more primitive than that of the Mesopotamian codes, nor is the biblical law of theft more progressive than that of Mesopotamia. A basic difference in the evaluation of life and property separates the one from the others. In the biblical law a religious evaluation, in the non-biblical an economic and political evaluation, predominates. (Greenberg, op. cit.)
Know that capital cases are not like civil cases. In civil cases a man pays money and receives atonement. In capital cases (however), the blood of the defendant and all his descendants, to all eternity, rests in the hands of the witnesses.This same Mishnah then proceeds to deveop the theme that Adam's solitary creation is a guide to the relations which should exist among human being:
Therefore was Adam [or: Man] created individually, to instruct us that whoever destroys a single life (nefesh ahat), Scripture sees him as though he destroyed the entire world. And whoever sustains a single life, Scripture sees him as though he sustained the entire world.[There are variants to the version we have chosen which cite "a single Jewish life - nefesh ahat miYisrael)." In appendix II we summarize the finding of E. E. Urbach, on which we have relied..]
And God created man in His imageindicating that the translators:
in the image of God He created him;
male and female He created them,
There are, in fact, alternatives to each of these two points which, while equally faithful to the original Hebrew text, produce remarkably and significantly different results.
First of all, the pronominal suffix can refer back to "man", the object of the sentence, rather than to its subject (God), since adam, like Eloh-im (despite its ostensibly plural appearance), is a singular masculine noun. We would then render betzalmo: "in his (man's) image."
Secondly, the words tzelem Eloh-im can simply be a noun and its accompanying adjective, rather than a construct of two nouns, and it would be rendered: "a divine image." (Or: a "goodly" image, bearing in mind that good and god share an etymology in English.) The entire verse, according to this alternative translation, would appear as follows: "And God created man in his own image", i.e., an image uniquely man's; "in a divine image was man created", i.e., an image having certain exceptional properties (which we shall next proceed to describe); "male and female did God create them."
As an adjective, however, it translates as "special" or "exceptional." That is to say, the Torah borrowed an epithet of God to produce a form of hyperbole (exaggeration). Indeed, the medieval exegete RADAK, Rabbi David Kimhi (1160-1235), makes this very observation in his interpretation of the phrase mar'ot Eloh-im in Ezekiel 1:1:
This means great and spectacular visions, since the custom of Scripture - when it wishes to make something grand - is to liken it unto the divine. Such as: Ir Gedolah le'Eloh-im (Jonah 3:3, which the new J.P.S. translation renders: an enormously large city); harerei El (Ps. 36:7; J.P.S.: high mountains); me'afela (Jer. 2:31; J.P.S.: deep gloom); or shalhevetya (Song of Songs 8:6; J.P.S.: a blazing flame).Following Kimhi, then, the phrase, as it appears in Genesis, would signify something along the lines of "a majestic/sovereign image", since that attribute of the divine which will have been borrowed here, for the sakeof the hyperbole, is specifically the attribute of majesty. As we shall note in the selection we will cite (see Appendix IV) from Psalm 8:6-7:
"You have made (man) little less than divine (Eloh-im), and adorned him with glory and majesty. You have made him master over Your handiwork, laying the world at his feet."In fact, the preeminent medieval translator and commentator, Rav Sa'adiah Gaon (882-942), translates this phrase in both Gen. 1:27 and 9:6, as: "the noble image of a sovereign", and another medieval exegete, Rabbi Yosef Bekhor Shor (12th century), comments: betzalmo in man's image ...and there are those who say that Eloh-im is hol, that is to say, in the image of a judge and ruler (dayyan ve'shofet) was he created.
On the other hand, some printed editions of Mishnah and Talmud have a different version of our text, reading: nefesh ahat meYisrael; "a single Jewish life", in each of the Mishnah's two clauses.
The significance of this difference ("universalism" versus "particularism", etc.) will be treated, briefly, in Appendix III.
Professor E. E. Urbach, in an essay on this passage [TARBIZ v. 40 (1971), 268-284], studied the development of these versions and the fates they suffered at the hands of censors and printers. He concluded that the original and authentic version is the one we have cited, namely, the nonspecific nefesh ahat. The later insertion of the specification meYisrael - which does genuinely appear in other, different, Talmudic and Midrashic passages - derives, he believes, from the context: Since the Mishnah contains instructions given to witnesses in a Jewish court regarding their prospective testimony against a fellow Jew, accused of murdering another Jew, the context could have prompted the insertion of meYisrael "without any specific intention of altering the original meaning of the maxim."
The appearance, or deliberate omission, of meYisrael in 18th and 19th century printed editions was due to the vicissitudes of censorship - including Jewish self censorship - which often found printers printing the nonspecific text, not because they recognized its authenticity, but because they were reluctant to print the "particularistic" version and run the risk of incurring the wrath of the censor, or fanning the flames of anti-Semitism.
To answer this question, we turn to the verse in which the term "singularity" (Segula) first appears: Exodus 19:5 vehayitem li segula mikol ha'amim...["And now, if you obey Me and observe my covenant,] you shall be a singular nation unto Me for all the earth is Mine."
Rabbi Obadiah of Seforno (1470-1550), in his commentary ad. loc., makes the point we would wish to express in this context:
Af al pi shekol hamin ha'enoshi yakar etzli mikol yeter hanimtza'im hashfalim, ki hu levado hamekhuvan bahem, be'omram z"l: "haviv adam shenivrah betzelem", mikol makom atem tihyu li segula mikulam. Vehahevdel beinekhem bepahot veyeter hu, ki omnam li kol ha'aretz, vehasidei umot ha'olam yekarim etzli beli safek.
Despite the fact that the entire human race is dearer to me than all lesser creatures - because they, exclusively, are the intended forcus, as the Sages have said: "Man is beloved because he was created in the image" - in any event, you shall be the most singular of them all. The difference between you [and gentiles] is only quantitative; the entire earth is Mine and even righteous gentiles are undoubtedly dear to Me. Here, in the prelude to the revelation at Sinai, God establishes obedience and observance - and not race or denomination - as the prerequisites of singularity, and cites His omnipotence as its justification.
When I behold the heavens, the work of Your fingers,The impression (often unforgettable!) lyrical nature of Psalms affords a valuable contrast with dry (often monotonous!) prose. Where Genesis merely speaks - however eloquently - Psalms rhapsodizes. Since we aspire to "affect" and stimulate our students' senses, along with informing their minds, we should use Biblical poetry as a counter-point to its prose, just as the authors and compilers of Tanakh sought to forestall the boredom of their readers through the judicious alternation of literary styles and genres.
the moon and the stars that you set in place,
What is man that you have been mindful of him,
mortal man that You have taken note of him;
That you have made him little less than divine,
and adorned him with glory and majesty?
You have made him master over Your handiwork,
laying the world at his feet:
Sheep and oxen, all of them,
and wild beasts, too;
The birds of the heavens, the fish of the sea,
whatever travels the paths of the seas.
We make the following practical, didactic, recommendation: Arrange the Hebrew text of Psalm 8:4-9 in one column, phrase by phrase (according to the system of didactic transcription), and have the students (for homework?) match each phrase in the Psalm with the corresponding prose passage from Genesis. Have them consider whether the correspondences are exact, where they differ, and whether there is anything they regard as significant which the Psalmist either added or omitted.
[P.S. The relationship between prose and poetic portions of the Tanakh which deal with the same topic can be examined through a similarly structured comparison between Exodus 14-15 (Shirat haYam) and Judges 4-5 (Shirat Devorah). Be sure, however, that the students perceive and understand the difference between those prose and poetic passages which, like the last two examples, are contemporary with each other, and the example of the Psalms which are often later reflections on considerably earlier events.]