The Sociological Parsha

Below is a sampling of “The Sociological Parsha” posts… Enjoy!

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Parsha

The Sociological Parsha – Netzavim & Vayelech

This week’s double parsha (Torah portion)*  includes perhaps one of the most clear, coherent expressions of Jewish peoplehood.

Jewish peoplehood is the awareness of an underlying unity joining each individual Jew, regardless of his or her status, to the entire Jewish people.

Though in the words of the parsha, Jewish peoplehood takes on another dimension – that of a spiritual connection to God – what the parsha makes remarkably clear is that this includes all members of society:

“You are all standing this day before the Lord, your God the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel, your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp both your woodcutters and your water drawers, that you may enter the covenant of the Lord, your God, and His oath, which the Lord, your God, is making with you this day, in order to establish you this day as His people, and that He will be your God, as He spoke to you, and as He swore to your forefathers to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

— Deuteronomy 22:4

You can view the entire parsha at Chabad.org.

*In the Hebrew calender, some weeks will have a double parsha.

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Parsha

The Sociological Parsha – Ki Savo

This week’s parsha (Torah portion) expresses a very basic concept we would not take for granted: showing gratitude.

The parsha details how the Jewish people, once settling the Land of Israel, ought to bring their first fruits to Jerusalem and express their gratitude for the land.

But, perhaps the quality being overlooked here is an element of social inclusion.

The Jewish people were instructed to include the non-landowners (Levites), and non-Jewish residents of Israel in their celebrations.

Counter-intuitive, perhaps? Remember, this is a nation just beginning its independent existence, placing great emphasis on settling a land of their own.

Here’s how the narrative unfolds (pardon the free use of ellipses):

“And it will be, when you come into the land…  you shall take of the first of all the fruit…  put [them] into a basket and go to the place which the Lord, your God, will choose… you shall call out and say… ‘the Lord brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand… He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey’… Then, you shall rejoice  with all the good that the Lord, your God, has granted you and your household you, the Levite, and the stranger who is among you.”

— Deuteronomy 26:1-11

If that isn’t enough, the inclusion theme is reiterated in the very next verse:

“When you have finished tithing all the tithes of your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give [them] to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, so that they can eat to satiety in your cities.”

— Deuteronomy 26:12

You can view the entire parsha at Chabad.org.

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Parsha

The Sociological Parsha – Ki Teitzei

This week’s parsha (Torah portion) might be categorized as a continuation of last week’s “formula for effective social control“.

The parsha details various miscellaneous laws concerning civil and domestic life. This parsha is one of the greatest collections of in the Torah (bible) of “DOs and DON’Ts”

The parsha discusses everything from the homeowner’s responsibility to ensure rooftop safety (I’m reminded of window guard legislation), to the treatment of domestic animals.

What is certainly noteworthy is that the laws of the new Jewish nation exhorted the people to put their personal interests on the side when their fellow needed them most.

“You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen [under its load] on the road, and ignore them. [Rather,] you shall pick up [the load] with him.”

— Deuteronomy 22:4

You can view the entire parsha at Chabad.org.

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Parsha

The Sociological Parsha – Shoftim

This week’s parsha (Torah portion) might be categorized as a formula for effective social control.

The parsha begins with the directive to appoint judges and law enforcement officials, but there’s much, much more. A theme very much present is the balance of power.

The parsha discusses the appointment of the Jewish monarch and the limits to monarchic power, the privileges of the Jewish Kohanim and Leviim (priests and levites) and that they are prohibited from owning land.

Ultimately, the Jewish people are reminded the leadership of a polity is not a simple matter. And if this ideal can be effectively maintained, the people will be able to place their complete trust in their judicial, political and religious leaders.

“According to the law they instruct you and according to the judgment they say to you, you shall do; you shall not divert from the word they tell you, either right or left.”

— Deuteronomy 17:11

You can view the entire parsha at Chabad.org.

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Parsha

The Sociological Parsha – Re’eh

Here’s a sociological tidbit on the parsha (weekly Torah portion):

When preparing the Jewish people for settling the land of Israel, Moses tells them their worship to God through offerings, sacrifices and tithes should only take place at a specific chosen location. And as far as their previous worship goes:

“You shall not do as all the things that we do here this day, every man [doing] what he deems fit. For you have not yet come to the resting place or to the inheritance, which the Lord, your God, is giving you.”

— Deuteronomy 12:8

Here we have an interesting turn of events where the leader of a people frames the discussion of group ritual in terms of order and disorder. It appears that the public display of sacrifices by individuals (people just “doing their own thing”) created a form of social entropy which was tolerated as long as the Jewish people were not settled into the land.

Perhaps this provides us with a formula of Jewish engagement. Experimental Judaism works well in settings where Jews are not completely settled in their environment. Once settled, those experimenting with Jewish ritual will be seen as acting disorderly by the general public.

You can view the parsha with English translation at Chabad.org.

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Parsha

The Sociological Parsha – Eikev

This week’s parsha (Torah portion) is well-known for a comment by the Eleventh century commentator, Rashi, on the very first verse of the parsha.

“And it will be, because you will heed these ordinances and keep them and perform, that the Lord, your God, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers.”

Deuteronomy 17:12

“‘And it will be, because you will heed (Heb. עֵקֶב, lit. heel).’ If you will heed the minor commandments which one [usually] tramples with his heels [i.e., which a person treats as being of minor importance].”

Rashi

There’s much to be said about the impact of “small acts” (or what sociologists refer to as ‘folkways’) in maintaining social order.

There are many things that may seem small and insignificant but should not be overlooked or underplayed.

You can view the entire parsha at Chabad.org.

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Parsha

The Sociological Parsha – Shoftim

This week’s parsha (Torah portion) might be categorized as a formula for effective social control.

The parsha begins with the directive to appoint judges and law enforcement officials, but there’s much, much more. A theme very much present is the balance of power.

The parsha discusses the appointment of the Jewish monarch and the limits to monarchic power, the privileges of the Jewish Kohanim and Leviim (priests and levites) and that they are prohibited from owning land.

Ultimately, the Jewish people are reminded the leadership of a polity is not a simple matter. And if this ideal can be effectively maintained, the people will be able to place their complete trust in their judicial, political and religious leaders.

“According to the law they instruct you and according to the judgment they say to you, you shall do; you shall not divert from the word they tell you, either right or left.”

— Deuteronomy 17:11

You can view the entire parsha at Chabad.org.

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