On Saturday, Nov. 18, Reform congregations throughout North America will have an opportunity to preview and discuss excerpts from "The Torah: A Women’s Commentary," to be published in ‘007 by Women of Reform Judaism, the women’s agency of the Union for Reform Judaism, and the URJ Press.
Nearly ’00 synagogues will participate in the Parashat Chayei Sarah program developed by the two groups to encourage movement-wide study of the Torah portion about the death of the biblical matriarch. Each congregation has been sent a packet including the Torah reading as well as information from the various components of the "Women’s Commentary."
These include a central commentary by Prof. Yairah Amit of Tel Aviv University; another view by Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; post-biblical interpretation by Dr. Judith R. Baskin of the University of Oregon; and contemporary reflections and voices, by Dr. Maeera Y. Shreiber of the University of Utah. Congregations have also been sent suggested methods for study, as well as study-guide questions.
Rabbi Joel Soffin, who describes himself as the "sabbatical rabbi" of Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes standing in for Rabbi Elyse Frishman, who is on a six-month sabbatical told The Jewish Standard that he became interested in the program through the synagogue sisterhood, which received the WRJ packet. After holding a Sunday morning study session using the materials, the group passed on the information to Soffin, who will devote his Friday evening study session to the subject.
According to the rabbi, he will focus on a poem called "Rebecca" by Amy Blank, "describing Rebecca’s feelings as she was going to meet Isaac." After reading the poem, he will lead a "creative discussion" on the piece. In addition, he will cite one of the commentaries provided in the Reform packet, on the phrase, "Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah," drawing additional meaning from the verse.
Rabbi Steven Sirbu of Temple Emeth in Teaneck will hand out copies of select pieces from the packet and gear his Shabbat Torah discussion to be held Saturday morning at 9 a.m., before services "to commentary, rather than text." Speaking to the question of whether women, in fact, have their own perspective on the Torah, Sirbu said he believes that women have a different outlook on a variety of issues, including the way God relates to human beings, the perception of power and the patriarchal system described in the Torah, and even the idea of the commandments themselves. He also pointed out that any commentary "that gets people to study Torah is a good one."
"Though the materials come from a commentary written solely by women, we believe that it is an excellent resource for all members of our community," said Shelley Lindauer, executive director of Women of Reform Judaism. "It is our hope that this program will build momentum and excitement for the release of the historic [publication] at the WRJ Assembly in December ‘007."
The book contains writings by leading Jewish female Bible scholars, rabbis, historians, philosophers, and archeologists. Their collective efforts will result in the first comprehensive commentary on the Five Books of Moses, including individual Torah portions, written exclusively by women. The collection will include Hebrew and English translation.
For additional information on the Parashat Chayei Sarah program and "The Torah: A Women’s Commentary," visit www.wrj.rj.org.