The Honeymooners: Shoftim 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Why is it so difficult to balance personal and family needs with the needs of community and greater society? Should an interest in the “greater good” ever supersede our obligations to ourselves and our loved ones? If so, what circumstances qualify?

In a Torah portion that focuses heavily on matters of national defense, there is a rare and notable glimpse into our text’s sensitivity to personal matters.

The Pitch: “Then the officials shall address the troops … ‘Is there anyone who has paid the bride-price for a wife, but who has not yet taken her [into his household]? Let him go back to his home, lest he die in battle and another take her [into his household as his wife].’” (Deuteronomy 20:5a, 7)

Swing #1: “A sublime passage. … It’s a heart-stopping moment, at once sweet and dark. It’s lovely in the way it recognizes that young men must get the chance to live, to taste the joy of life, before the state demands that they die for it. A little later, Deuteronomy insists that a newly married man be given a year at home with his wife  – to “gladden” her, as Robert Alter’s translation sweetly puts it – before he has to join the army.” – David Plotz, Good Book

Swing #2: “We begin with the key interest in Deuteronomy’s legislature in maintaining the availability of women for the purposes of procreation, giving control of her sexuality to the male members of her community, thereby ensuring that husbands will be the fathers of any offspring. This interest is evident in laws concerning the exemption of a betrothed/newly married man from military service.” – Deryn Guest, “Deuteronomy,” from The Queer Bible Commentary, edited by Deryn Guest, Robert E. Goss, Mona West and Thomas Bohache

Swing #3: “These somewhat marginal soldiers join the army and march with it to the front, where they listen to the words of the officers and of the priest-chaplain anointed for the war. Although they are sent back from the battlefield, they are not allowed to return to their homes but remain conscripted in order to supply food and water to the combat soldiers and to maintain the roads.” – Eric Zimmer, “The Exemption of Newly Wed Husbands From Military Service”, from A Divinely Given Torah in Our Day and Age, Volume 1

Late-Inning Questions: Our commentaries differ on how merciful our text is to newlywed husbands and wives, but there is at least some attention paid to matters beyond war. To what extent does this reveal a humane voice in the text? To what extent does it reveal a practical concern for the emotional well-being of soldiers and their spouses? Can we conclude from this text that a happier army is a better army? Or, at least, that an army with its priorities in order will create a more devoted fighting force?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Emanu-El University had a great start this week! There was solid attendance and good discussion at all the classes. Here’s a reminder of what we’re offering in September – it’s not too late to join us!:

  • Tuesdays, 6:45PM-8PM: Basic Digital Photography for Your Next Jewish Tour (Dr. Robert Lovinger)
  • Tuesdays, 7PM-8PM: The Study of the Book of God and Man (Book of Job) (Rabbi Yosef Levanon)
  • Tuesdays, 8PM-9PM: The Voice of Jewish Art from Betzalel to Today (Dr. Mindy Seltzer)
  • Tuesdays, 7PM-8PM: Adult B’nai Mitzvah (Rabbi Rosenbaum & Pam Coyle)
  • Tuesdays, 8PM-9PM: Judaism 101 (Rabbi Rosenbaum)
  • Thursdays, 9:15AM-10:15AM (NOTE CHANGED TIME)A Touch of the Bavli (Talmud) (Rabbi Rosenbaum)

The Big Inning at the End: The most overhyped baseball story of the year? Tim Tebow’s minor-league contract with the Mets. And the story is only a few days old. I have nothing against Tebow (he won a playoff game for my Denver Broncos a few years back, after all), but wake me up when he shows that he can hit big-league pitching.

Shabbat Shalom!