Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Recalling the Covenant: A Contemporary Commentary on the Five Books of the Torah

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Recalling the Covenant: A Contemporary Commentary on the Five Books of the Torah

Article excerpt

Recalling the Covenant: A Contemporary Commentary on the Five Books of the Torah by Moshe Shammah. Jersey City, NJ: KTAV Publishing House, 2011, 1165 pp. Reviewed by Simcha Rosenberg.

This very interesting book is a modern peshat commentary to the Torah. The author, an Orthodox rabbi, correctly observes that there is a lack of material dealing with the plain, primary meaning of the Torah while at the same time taking into account modern biblical scholarship and ancient Near Eastern studies, yet nevertheless accepting that the Masoretic Text is unified and divinely inspired (p. xx). This book is intended to fill that void.

The book contains a few topical essays for each of the weekly Torah readings. In just about each essay there is a new insight to be found, opening new avenues of thought and investigation for the interested reader. Refreshing and innovative approaches are seen throughout the book. When was the last time you heard an Orthodox rabbi refer to the Tower of Babel narrative as a "literary parody that was designed to deride the culture that was symbolized by the construction of vast temple-towers" (p. 51)? Or explaining that the Cain and Abel story must be viewed as an allegory (p.25)? Or asserting that there were "early drafts" of the current biblical text before the inspired Masoretic text (p. xx)? Though regularly found in academic Bible studies, these ideas skirt the edge of what many would consider a traditional Torah commentary, yet they occur in almost every chapter of the book.

The author repeatedly draws comparisons and points out contrasts with the laws and customs of the ancient Near East, allowing the reader to fully appreciate the Torah's innovations (for example, pp. 953-962). He explains that, according to the Torah, a woman is presumed to have been forced into an adulterous relationship unless it is proven that she consented, whereas there was a presumption of her guilt in other ancient societies (p. 956). A very interesting example of such comparisons is the author's discussion of "an eye for an eye," where he shows that even according to the Code of Hammurabi this law was not understood literally (p. 405). Readers accustomed to the rabbinic interpretation of Torah laws may be surprised to learn that the peshat sometimes presents a different view. …

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