Not Your Father's Talmud

Rabbi Adam Chalom of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in suburban Chicago explores the Talmud from a Humanistic perspective, one page a day.

Location: Highland Park, Illinois, United States

Rabbi Adam Chalom is the Rabbi of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in suburban Chicago. He is also the Assistant Dean for the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Saving Heroes - Shabbat 56

The theme of the end of yesterday’s and all of today’s page is “kol ha-omer ____ khata, ayno ayle toeh – All those who say that _____ sinned, they are nothing but wrong.” So if you thought that David, or Solomon, or Josiah sinned because of what you can read about them in the Bible, you must be wrong. One could be forgiven for coming to such a conclusion from reading passages like I Kings 11:6: “and Solomon did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord” – as the rabbis explain this away, in fact he WANTED to do evil but didn’t actually do it. The Rabbis serve as spinmeisters for Biblical heroes!

And so on through some of the most famous moral failings of the Judean monarchy. Jewish “cheerleaders” often highlight the fact that the Bible’s portrayals of early figures like David and Solomon include their faults and failings, thus making them more real heroes. But the Talmud wants them to be perfect, so if David steals away one of his soldier’s wives and has the man killed (as he does with Uriah and Bathsheba in II Samuel 11, this must be explained away. Thus Rabbi, who claims to be related to David, defends him. David must have WANTED to do even but of course didn’t do any. And every man going to war in David’s army gave their wife a bill of divorce [get], so it wasn’t adultery. And the prophet Nathan’s condemnation of David is also explained away – Uriah disobeyed David’s order to go home (intended to cover up David’s adultery that had impregnated Bathsheba), and should have been condemned by the Sanhedrin, but he received his just penalty. Never mind that Uriah refused to sleep with his wife because of his loyalty to the troops suffering in the field, or that the Rabbinic Sanhedrin didn't yet exist historically. . .

Indeed, to preserve the reputation of David and Solomon, others take the fall – in the Bible Solomon is condemned for building altars to other gods, for letting his many wives turn him away from worshipping only YHWH, but here he is blamed not for DOING anything, but for allowing things to be done. Thus we end up with a mix of positive and negative messages for our own times – honesty to the evidence would mean accepting the human mistakes of major figures in our literature (and in ourselves) and not interpreting or fudging them away, but we agree that allowing bad things to happen has as bad results as doing it oneself. In all this, we must let the truth be the truth – save spin for politicians.

Rabbi Adam Chalom

Text of David’s affair with Bathsheba, Uriah’s murder, and Nathan’s condemnation – II Samuel 11-12.