Livejournal: Workshop My Writing

Originally published on my long-defunct Livejournal.

I’m participating in a Jewish Young Adults’ Writers Workshop. This month, our assignment was to write a two-page scene “in which two people who are fated to become involved meet for the first time.”

I’ve been fooling around with doing a gay take on the Biblical story of Jacob for a while now, so I thought I’d use this opportunity to rethink Genesis 28. After all, that’s Jacob’s first meeting with God, and I think it’s fair to say the two are fated to become involved.  To refresh your memory, this happens when Jacob has left his parents’ house en route to his uncle’s home, where he’s been sent by his father so he can find a wife from within his clan.

I just finished my first draft. It’s very drafty. I’m going to rewrite it tomorrow before I show it to anyone in the workshop. But since I have neither the self-confidence to do this on my own nor the shame to be embarrassed by the considerable shortcomings of this draft, I’m posting it here for feedback first.

A couple of caveats: I’ve been debating whether this should be set in modern times vs. ancient times, and in America vs the original places. In this draft, it’s modern America. That is almost definitely the wrong answer. I think tomorrow I will attempt modern-but-original-places. I may end up just going for overall anachronistic. It worked for Joseph Heller’s retelling of the David story.

Also, I’m not sure what to do about the sex. I’m not sure my answer below works – what do you think? I don’t want it to get pornographic, and I think there’s good reason to leave it ambiguous as to what exactly happens, but… well, tell me what you think.

Okay, enough with the caveats. Here goes:  Continue reading

Keshet: May God Make You Like Ephraim and Manasseh

Originally published as part of  Torah Queeries.

So [Jacob] blessed them that day, saving, “By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying: ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’” (Genesis 48:20)

Every Shabbat evening, Jews around the world recall this week’s Torah portion by blessing their sons with the words “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh,” fulfilling Jacob’s deathbed pronouncement. I did not grow up with this particular tradition in my family, so when I learned about it, two questions immediately sprang to mind: If Jacob says that all of Israel shall invoke blessings in this way, why do we limit our use of the blessing to boys? Perhaps more fundamentally, what’s so special about Ephraim and Manasseh that we pray to make our children like them?

The Torah itself gives us shockingly little information about these two brothers, the sons of Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, and Joseph’s Egyptian wife, Asenath. We know that they lived their entire lives in Egypt, that Manasseh is the older of the two (although some scholars suggest they might have been twins), that they were born before the famine came to Egypt, and that Genesis and Chronicles disagree a bit about whether one of Manasseh’s descendants was his son or grandson. Otherwise, all we have are conjectures based on this one scene at their grandfather’s deathbed.  Continue reading

Hebrew College: Intertexuality and Metatexuality in the Deuteronomist History

This was my final paper for a graduate-school class called Bible: Text and Context. It’s probably the nerdiest, most jargon-filled piece preserved here, but I just really love it.

The phrase “ספר התורה” (literally “the document of instruction”) serves an interesting dual purpose in its appearances within the Hebrew Bible.  On a textual level, it is one of the identifying locutions of the Deuteronomic Historian.  The appearances of the phrase link the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, and (Second) Kings to each other.  The books of Nehemiah and Chronicles, understood as originating more recently than the Deuteronomic history, similarly employ the phrase to emphasize their link to the world-view of the earlier books.  However, the phrase also functions on a metatextual level, acting on the text while it acts within the text.  The employment of the phrase (and variations of it) within these texts subtly insists that the very texts in which the phrase appears be incorporated into the canonical version of the scripture.

Although neither word is particularly scarce in the Hebrew Bible, “ספר” and “התורה” only appear together in the construct state nine times, first appearing in Deuteronomy 31:26.  Having delivered his final words of law and set out consequences for its followers should they be faithful or disobey, Moses transfers leadership to Joshua.  Moses presents the Levites with “this book of Teaching (ספר התורה הזה)”[1] to place alongside the Ark “as a witness against you.”  Menahem Haran notes that ספר, when used in this way, refers to the physical artifact of the document, remarking “It is not the designation, or part of the designation, of the work as such, as a thing separate from its scroll.” Moses is not simply delivering information – he’s delivering a sacred object.  Continue reading