Monday, June 28, 2010


Three years ago in our study group we constructed a number of big ideas for Parshat Pinchas, as we did for every other parasha we studied together.  One of the big ideas was:
You can find support for almost anything in the Torah if you are looking for it.
What are some of the ideas we can find this parasha?

  1. Extreme action can be warranted in extreme circumstances (Pinchas is rewarded for killing a couple engaged in illicit relations)
  2. Women have the same rights as men (the daughters of Tzelophehad are permitted to inherit their father's land)
  3. Leadership is an earned position, and can be withdrawn if the leader does something sufficiently wrong (Moshe will not lead the people into the land of Israel because of his actions at Meribah)
Yet each of these ideas presents challenges to us
  1. Is zealotry a positive attribute?
  2. Are the laws of inheritance as described in this parasha really as non-sexist as we would like to believe?
  3. If a leader is doing a good job on the whole, should a mistake cause him or her to lose his/her position?
Questions to think about:
  1. What do we say to the terrorist who believes s/he is acting on God's behalf?
  2. Is it intellectually honest to interpret Torah through the lens of modern thought?
  3. What kind of mistakes justify/necessitate removing a leader from office?
Issues that challenge us today:
  1. How do we respond to violent extremism?
  2. How can we reconcile differences between liberal and conservative religious thinking?
  3. How does the media change the way in which we view leaders?
Finally, here are the current issues that this parasha made me think of:
  1. 'Inglorious Basterds', the Quentin Tarantino movie about revenge against the Nazis has been discussed widely in the Jewish community.  Here is one article about a showing at the Museum of Jewish Heritage
  2. This article - Jew vs. Jew - is on an interesting site called Kehillah, Jewish Outreach Media Campaign.  I don't know if the site is active, but it has some interesting articles.
  3. David Brooks' article on June 24 about the media effect on the world is as usual provocative and articulate.   He speaks specifically about the Generals McChrystal and Petraeus in Afghanistan, but his thoughts concern broader issues of exposure and accountability.
How about you?  What do YOU think?

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