Digging for Gold. Or Brimstone.

Rabbi Gil Student’s Torah Musings blog picked up a link to an online-only article from Christianity Today, “Searching for Sodom.” The article calls into question the conclusion of an archaeologist, Steven Collins, that the Tall el-Hammam site in Jordan is the location of the biblical Sodom. Biblical Archaeology Review carried an article about this about a year back, as well.

Rabbi Student’s–and Christianity Today’s–agenda is to undercut Collins’s conclusion as to the timeline for the destruction of Sodom. This, of course, is expected; Christianity Today’s focus is evangelical, and Rabbi Student’s approach is Modern Orthodox, which doesn’t much debate with the biblical timeline. (He’s also quibbled with recent conclusions concerning when camels were domesticated in the ancient Middle East and how that might or might not affect our view of the veracity of the patriarchal narratives.)

While I understand the stakes for everyone, I think we’re asking the wrong questions when we engage in this kind of debate because we’re assuming the Bible is reliable historical evidence. That is, we’re begging the question.

If you stop begging the question, you stop trying to say, “Tall el-Hammam is Sodom.” You instead say, “here’s what we learned at Tall el-Hammam.” If you find evidence that this was the site of Sodom–either good evidence from which you can derive a reliable inference, or evidence of a sort that really identifies the place (e.g., large numbers of inscriptions)–then you’ve found it, and we can maybe then start to talk about timeline.

If not? You’ve found a fascinating archaeological site. You’ve gained insight into a time and place long lost that, though it may not confirm or disprove the biblical timeline, may still have much to tell us about what life was like, and can illuminate a historical understanding of the biblical texts.

That is, you’ve done the actual work of history and archaeology–things that, however interesting they may be, the biblical texts were not designed for.

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Bloodline B.S. and Halakhic Hysterics

The opening paragraph to an article on the YNet site reads:

In the next generation, a significant part – which may even be the majority of ‘US Jewry’ – will not be Jewish according to the Halacha, in light of the growing dimensions of intermarriage throughout the past few decades.

Delight in the scare quotes–‘US Jewry’–and enjoy the derision and condescension that shines through this article. And, while you’re at it, note the slight of hand YNet plays, saying that the diagnosis comes not from some Orthodox authority but from a scholar at Bar-Ilan University.

Let’s break this down a bit, shall we? Continue reading


Rabbi Gil Student has a post at his Torah Musings blog about the recent release of an issue of Tradition (a scholarly journal from the Rabbinical Council of American, the major Modern Orthodox rabbinical association) dedicated to analysis of the permissibility under halakhah of “partnership minyanim,” that is, minyanim that follow the requirements of halakhah as to gender roles but that allow women’s leadership in certain parts of the service.

Simply put, the opinion of the writers in Tradition and in other related documents is that partnership minyanim are not permissible. Continue reading

Jewish Disability Awareness Month

Did you know that it’s Jewish Disability Awareness Month? It’s also North American Inclusion Month.

(Also, did you know that JDAM stands for both Jewish Disability Awareness Month and Joint Direct Attack Munition, which is a kit that upgrades ordinary bombs into smart bombs? Lots of odd trivia today.) Continue reading


I think I have previously mentioned that embracing Humanistic Judaism has freed me to really embrace Jewish culture. But I still carry baggage from my prior Jewish life: growing up in a Conservative synagogue where my family’s membership was actually motivated by ideological choices, studying at one point to be ready to attend JTS as a rabbinical student, and being a rules-based kind of person all combine together to make me still pretty traditional in orientation toward Jewish practice.

Becoming a rabbinical student at IISHJ has already helped me grapple with some of these issues. I imagine I’ll remain personally rather traditional on some things, or will at least try to create middle ground. Wearing a kippah, tallit, and every once in a very, very blue moon, tefillin, all still feel rather naturally part of my Jewish identity. So do the traditional melodies from the prayer services and niggunim.

What has never felt all that important, however, is the High Holidays and “the Sukkot bundle” (Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah). Continue reading

Google and Golems

Over the weekend, the blog was (compared to its usual volume) kind of hammered by traffic. By this I mean page hits in the lower 20s when there wasn’t a link from an SHJ email or Facebook post. (I’m not complaining about overall volume; but I’m a numbers geek, so I know what’s “normal” traffic and what’s not.)

A large number of these hits were from a single visitor, who I think was trying to do a school project. Continue reading