Minutes of Meeting

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Date: April 14, 2002

Location: University of Dayton, Alumni Hall Room 101

Meeting Topic: Vayishlach from Genesis, Chapters 32-36; group discussion

Speakers: Erika Garfunkel; Eileen Moorman; Rev. Lillian Gillespie, United Church of Christ; Vincent Branick, Dept. Of Religious Studies, University of Dayton.

Host: Ken Rosenzweig

PRESENT: Felix Garfunkel, Chair, Presiding; Judith Baker, Donna Bealer, Vincent Branick, Charlotte Braverman, Larry Briskin, Bert Buby, Corinne Coleman, Steve Coleman, Clara Davidson, Phyllis Duckwall, Shirlee Ehrenberg, Emily Evans, James Evans, Shirley Flacks, Erika Garfunkel, Lillian Gillespie, Jack Kelley, Eleanor Koenigsberg, Harry Koenigsberg, Jerry Kotler, Lorraine Kotler, John Magee, Eileen Moorman, Ken Rosenzweig, Ruth Precker, Bill Rain, Phyllis Straka, Juanita Wehrle-Einhorn, Robert Wehrle-Einhorn, Karen Williams, Tracy Williams.

Felix called the meeting to order at about 7:55 PM. Harry delivered the opening prayer which was a reading from the psalms.

Bert, who has been chair of the Dialogue Officer Nominating Committee, said that the committee recommends not filling the post of Vice-Chair since there has been a shortage of available officer candidates. Donna will coordinate the office of Secretary.

Harry and Ken announced the Sinclair Holocaust Remembrance keynote speaker, Thane Rosenbaum. His speech about the effect of the Holocaust on succeeding generations was delivered on April 15. Eileen announced that she attended the "Israel in Crisis" meeting held at Temple Israel today (April 14) at 4:30 PM. She noted that a large number of people attended that meeting and that she and the other attendees were moved by the imminent and pressing danger to the Jewish state. Lorraine who also attended the meeting recommended that the members of the Dialogue attempt to buy Israeli goods in order to support the Israeli economy which has been greatly stressed by the state of war. Felix, who also attended the meeting, recommended contacting the media to attempt to counteract its anti-Israeli bias. Eileen made a motion that the Dialogue contribute $250 to the Israel Emergency Fund being collected in the Dayton area. The motion was passed unanimously.

Erica opened the program at 8:10 PM. She said that in order to generate a variety of viewpoints, she asked three other people to comment on the text. Eileen began her commentary by laying out the ideas of a "Documentary Hypothesis," i.e., the Pentateach was written from at least four different traditions, including the Yahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomist, and finally the Priestly traditions. The Yahwist and Elohist traditions emanated from the North and the Deuteronomist and Priestly traditions were from Juda or the Southern Kingdom. Eileen noted that often there are two versions of stories in the Pentateuch, coming from two different of the above traditions. The Yahwist and Elohist were story telling traditions. An example of this material is the story of the rape of Dinah. Much of the Priestly material is ritualistic and orderly. The Deuteronomist exhorts and teaches about the legal and covenant tradition of Israel. The final redaction of the Pentateach was completed in the fifth century BCE. Eileen then discussed the theology of the story of Jacob and Esau. For her, the moral of the story is that actions have consequences. One theme of the story is seeking forgiveness from the person wronged: in the story, Jacob asked forgiveness from Esau. Eileen stated that for Christians, this means one can ask for forgiveness and receive it from another human being as well as from God.

Lillian said her commentary would involve how she would use the text in preparing a sermon. She noted that the text concerns relationships between people. She stated that Jacob had to reconcile with himself, with Esau, and with God; the three are interrelated. The text is thus about forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation, and establishing who we are in God. She also made note that a parallel can be made to the story of the Prodigal Son in the gospel.

Vincent (Vince) began his commentary on the text by stating that, as a professor, he has a tendency to look at the abstractions. In contrast, non-academics may find it more important to search the text for practical insights for their own lives. In the area of abstractions, the story in the text is about how Israel becomes Israel. The story about the individual Jacob is really about the people Israel. Also the stories recall myths that were prevalent in ancient cultures beyond the Israelite culture. For example, the story of Jacob wrestling the angel reminds Vince of the "river demon" stories. In the struggle with God, we find out who we are as a people. You have to struggle with God before you can learn to struggle with people. It is not an easy thing to be Israel. Another message of the stories is that God is dangerous. This is illustrated by the story of Zephora saving Moses, and the warning to the Israelites, while God was giving the commandments to Moses, not to touch the mountain (Mount Sinai) or you will die. Jacob was wiley, and Israel has to be wiley. Vince noted that at this point he was not reading these texts scientifically. Rather, he was reading them as popular stories that people and groups have wrestled with over the centuries. Generally, we do not have a clear idea of what is the answer or moral of the stories. Rather, we should look at the texts like a sunset: we simply experience the mystery and beauty of it. For Vince, there are incredible paradoxes in the texts, and confronting the paradoxes teaches him something. Donna asked whether the term Israel in the texts refers only to the Hebrew People (Jews) or whether it can be seen to also refer to Christians by extension. Lillian commented on the analogy of the apology of Jacob to Esau for having stolen the birthright to the story of the Prodigal Son.

Erika began her commentary by stating that there are several themes in the texts:

The need for prayer.

The issue of the wrestling with angels and ourselves.

Dealing with powerful people and nations.

Recognizing the signs that will remind us that history can and will repeat itself.

The appropriate response to violence and rape.

Erika stated that we should study Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), whether or not we believe that it was written by God or by humans. Nothing in the Torah is superfluous. With respect to the second theme, Erika stated that the story of Jacob and Esau is of twins who are very different. Their differences are analogous to the two inclinations that are in every person, the yetzer hara (inclination to evil) and the yetzer hatov (inclination to good). Knowing the difference between good and evil is always a struggle for humans. The more we study Torah, the greater is the chance that we will understand its meaning. Although the word Torah is often translated as law, the real meaning is guide, a guide we must strive (struggle with) to understand. Erika then discussed the meeting for reconciliation between Jacob and Esau. Although Jacob wanted to reconcile with his brother, he also had the common sense to divide his family into two parts so that it would not all be destroyed if fighting broke out. This raises the issue of appeasement of the enemy. Does appeasement allow evil and anti-Semitism to continue?

The discussion period began at about 9:00 PM. Shirley discussed the role of Rebecca in the story. Lorraine commented that Jacob changes over time. He goes from deviousness in early life to a desire for real reconciliation in later life. The profound lesson of this story is that people can grow. Jerry talked about what it means to wrestle with an angel; the greatness of Jacob was that he grew as a result of the experience. Lillian asked whether, after the reconciliation with Esau, it was still devious of him to depart. Vince commented about Jacobís moving to Bethel. Karen commented that she was surprised that people generally felt that Jacob was a bad person at the beginning. She feels that God always intended that Jacob would get the birthright, and therefore his behavior was appropriate. Lorraine and Jerry confirmed this view by stating that it is consistent with the traditional Orthodox viewpoint. Vince commented that God is the true actor in these stories; however, God operates through human beings who are often sinful; Vince recommended thinking how the story would be told orally by a storyteller. Karen said that she does not think these stories were originally passed down orally. She thinks they were always in the form of written manuscripts.

Donna asked Erika to follow up on her conclusion about the relationship of the story of Jacob and Esau to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Vince pointed out a pair of relevant parallels to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in the Hebrew Scriptures: the story of Shechem and the statements in Deuteronomy that the Edomites are your brothers. On another subject, Jerry discussed the characteristics that make a person a good hunter. A hunter must utilize planning and have patience, also characteristics of a good leader. Therefore, Isaacís initial favoring of Esau for the birthright was logical. However, in the end the spiritual qualities of Jacob won out.

Ken raised the role of ambiguity in the Biblical text. Is the ambiguity intentional so that human reason must be involved in working out its meaning? Vince replied that the story of a people has to have a common social interpretation. Erika agreed with Vince on the common social interpretation because these texts are what make the Jews a people. Lorraine said that traditional Judaism maintains that the oral law completes the written. Thus it reduces but does not completely eliminate the ambiguity in the text.

The meeting adjourned at 9:45 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary

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