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The Weekly Storah: Verse Per Verse: Abhor Not the Red Ones

Note: This is a post excerpted, with permission, from Amichai Lau-Lavie's blog, which is modeled on the hit theatrical production Storahtelling. For more information, click here. ‘Do not abhor an Edomite; for he is your brother’ (Deuteronomy 23:7) ’Ki Tetze; … Read More

By / October 3, 2006
Note: This is a post excerpted, with permission, from Amichai Lau-Lavie's blog, which is modeled on the hit theatrical production Storahtelling. For more information, click here.

‘Do not abhor an Edomite; for he is your brother’ (Deuteronomy 23:7)

’Ki Tetze; – loosely translated as – ‘Upon your departure’ is the weekly Torah Installment – an odd and harsh list of instructions for proper Hebraic conduct, practical and detailed. An attempt to give theatrical voice – ‘character’ to the many ‘legal cases’ in Ki Tetze would look like a Jerry Springer show: A rebel son is stoned to death by despairing parents, bloody sheets are spread in town gates to prove virginity, more public stoning procedures for various sexual transgressions. Also, the first official ‘Lost and Found’ is introduced, cross-dressing is prohibited, requirements given for minimum wage and daily pay to all day workers, Etc.

Some of the laws found here may resonate with our contemporary sense of propriety and sanctity, as they have been translated and interpreted through the centuries to become our code of familiar human conduct. But some of the laws found in these Deuteronomic chapters are historical relics, familiar but not applicable, or even tolerated. In modern discourse quite a few of them read as misogynist, racist or plain primitive.

So how will the modern reader/interrupter of Torah deal with these ancestral skeletons in the ark?

Verse, per patient verse.

Here is one:

23:7 Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother: thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian; because thou wast a stranger in his land. (King James Bible)

Many difficult words here in regard to translations: ABHOR – Hebrew – Tetaev, similar to the word ‘abomination’ – is a troublesome category for condemnation and dismissal.

STRAGER (Ger)- can be read as OTHER, DWELLER, or CONVERT. Big difference!

But I’m interested in the word Edomite. Who are we talking about? Then, and now?

The quick answer – Esau is Edom- and his nation: Hence the reminder of brotherhood and its bloody possibilities. Over the generations Edom was translated as different ethnic groups. The Talmud reads Edom as the Roman Empire. Medieval Jews saw Edom as Christianity (the new Rome) Edom means literally, The Red One (remember that story about the red stew of lentils?) and most commonly recognized today as located in the geographical territory of Jordan.

What is it about NOT abhorring him, nor the Egyptian, while in verses before and after this one other nations are condemned, and even the Edomites themselves are rejected. They are only allowed to join the Jewish community thru marriage after three generations of conversion. At the end of Ki Tetze we find the requirement to annihilate Amalek – also of Edomite origins. The racial favoring and/or profiling here is a little confusing.

The Aramaic translation of this verse takes an interesting spin – Edomites are to be rejected – except when they choose to join the club:

‘You shall not abhor an Edomite when he cometh to be a proselyte, for he is your brother.’ (Pseudo Jonathan Translation*)

But this solution does not satisfy my need for a modern mythic reading, to help me swallow this call for such racial boundaries. Edom, the Red ones can be read as Red States or Communist, Rednecks, the Red Man or even the Red Sox – somebody else’s Other.

Maybe the inner meaning of this verse is a reminder of how to pause and consider who that ‘big enemy’ is – brother turned other.

Perhaps the text suggests that as nations the Edmoties may be our enemies, for masses lose the personal; but plucked from the mass any individual is once again possible kin.

Furthermore this invitation to pause and consider may strike us with an additional force as the month of Elul ripens towards return to our best sense of self. Our preparation for the High Holidays carries an opportunity, if we want to take it, to another kind of  departure, the departure from old habits of disregard, ossified judgments, frozen relationships. Who is Edom? What part of us remains shadowed and ignored, exiled and disowned? How have we taken that part and projected it onto the face of the other whom we then condemn? Can we make that connection? And if so, how does that connection open up a new language for relationship? Facing the estranged other will always lead us back to ourselves and facing ourselves will always lead us to new ways of seeing the other – as brother.

So, Who/What is your Edom this year? And, How would you translate this verse?

* The English translation of the Aramaic Psudeo Jontahan translation, courtesy of Tulane University in New Orleans – great online resource: www.tulane.edu/~ntcs/pj/psjon.htm

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