“The Bible Now: Homosexuality, Abortion, Women, Death Penalty, Earth” by Richard Elliott Friedman and Shawna Dolansky— What the Bible Really Says

Friedman, Richard Elliott and Shawna Dolansky. “The Bible Now”, Ofxord University Press, 2011.

What the Bible Really Says

Amos Lassen

 

The Bible has been used as a way to explain important social and political issues for generations. Others use the Bible as a basis for debate and these sometimes really have no idea what the Bible as to say about what they are debating. With “The Bible Now” we learn what the Bible says or doesn’t say about some very hot topics today—homosexuality, abortion, women’s status, the environment and capital punishment and we see how so often there has been great misunderstanding, misquotation, mistranslation and misuse. We become aware of how the Bible can be used and not be used in a way to look at modern pressing issues. The authors take no sides—they discuss and they do so based upon scholarship of the Biblical texts. There are no real answers here but there is a great deal of food for thought.

Now the question comes up—can the ancient Bible teach us about issues of contemporary times? Surely it can if interpreted correctly but it is not to be misused to “justify both right wing and left wing positions”. The evidence we have must be looked at and then interpreted and the Bible does not hold the absolute authority that many try to claim. Let’s look at gay marriage, for example. Gay marriage unites theological issues of the ultra-Orthodox Jews, the Catholic Church and the International Communion of Evangelical Churches. Liberal members o these religions totally supported the bill in the New York Senate. But then along came a division in the ranks. The rabbi of Beit Simchat Torah, Sharon Kleinbaum, acted in a way that was offensive to many. She dared to put her arm around a Satmar Hasid, a group that forbids such activity and she knew that. It came as no surprise to me to see the reaction of the Hasid. He spit on her and said she was not a Jew. This is also inexcusable but we cannot forget that Kleinbaum provoked this by using inappropriate behavior—she was wrong and she knew it. What she did not expect was that the video would go viral and many of us that saw it felt that she should be severely reprimanded. I understand that members of her own congregation were very upset but no one said anything. Interesting also is that Kleinbaum is a lesbian and there is no admonition against gay women in the Bible while the Bible does state in Leviticus 20:13 something that has been interpreted to say that homosexuality is an abomination and punishable by death. The whole affair at the New York statehouse was highly distasteful, embarrassing and completely unnecessary. Is there a way to turn to the Bible for guidance on this? It seems not since what happened was the result of interpretation with Kleinbaum interpreting things the way she wanted and the Satmar doing the same. Is there a right or a wrong? I have no idea except that Kleinbaum did act in a very nonrabbinic way.

On the issue of homosexuality, the authors tells us that we must look at the Bible in the context it was written. There is so much more here and so much to read that it is just joy to sit down and contemplate what is written. The best thing is that eyes are opened as well as minds but the ones that need that will probably never touch this book (much less read it).

 

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