by Shalom Carmi
Covenant and Conversation: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible
Volume One: Genesis
by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Maggid, 356 pages, $24.95
Jews recite the Torah, the five books of Moses, in an annual cycle, and they often identify a biblical passage by the week (parasha) in which it’s read rather than by chapter and verse. Nowadays, books on the parasha abound, and, broadly speaking, they take one of two general approaches. The first analyzes the text through the critical examination of a variety of commentators, with the exemplary work of the past half-century in this genre being Nechama Leibovits’ Studies.
Lord Sacks, the chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, takes the second approach in his new book on Genesis. The first in a series, it is intended as more a collection of sermons than an analytical work. Indeed, his use of the word conversation in the title offers a key to his intention. Older rabbinical texts often describe the characteristic prayer of each of the three patriarchs in Genesis: Abraham stands before God, initiating prayer for the people of Sodom; Jacob encounters God in a dream, reflecting the element in religious life that is beyond conscious control; and Isaac engages in siha, a word meaning “meditation” or “conversation.” Sacks writes that “in true conversation, I open myself up to the reality of another person,” and he notes that Isaac’s paradigmatic siha occurs as he awaits the woman who will become his wife in Genesis 24.
Read the rest of this entry »