Thursday, July 1, 2010

Bad Definition and Translation Fouls Things Up

My previous post about Young Israel has gotten some interesting comments.  Reading them I realize that the decision of the Young Israel Movement to ban converts from being president of the member shuls may be based on a misreading of a Hebrew word/term, גר "ger," stranger or slang for "convert" properly called גר צדק "ger tzedek," righteous convert.  Yes, that means that the same word has opposite meanings, diametrically opposed meanings.

A stam גר "ger," stranger, non-Jew is forbidden to serve in positions of authority for the Jewish People.  There's no doubt, and I'd use that concept to stress the importance of always modifying  terms like "president" when talking about foreign presidents, like United States President Obama, to make it clear that he isn't our president.  He has no authority over Jewish issues including what happens in the Land of Israel.

Non-Jewish/Israeli foreign government officials are administrators only and not authorities on morality.  That's how I interpret what yaak quoted in the comments to my previous post.

True, I'm not a rabbi nor trained in rabbinic mind-set, but sometimes that's an advantage, because I can see things with fresh eyes.  

Friends who study Torah with me are used to the fact that I frequently ask for details about word usage.  One of my pet-peeves is the mistranslation of "לאהוב" "le'ehov," into "to love" giving it a romantic twist when an examination of its Biblical usage shows it as "pledging loyalty." The "Shema" prayer and Yonatan's speech to David are good examples.  Modern Hebrew adopted the foreign meaning.

I trust this will ferment some thought.  There's something else fermenting in my kitchen which is calling me.  More later...

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

You cannot assume that the word "Ger" always means a non-Jew. It is often a matter of context, especially in the Talmudic and halachic texts.

Anonymous said...

Related article, different shul:

Rabbi of Historic Orthodox Synagogue Overturns Decision To Let Women Lead

Anonymous said...

A mahka! Oy!

yoni said...

shy guy: batya is not assuming ger "always means non jew" here, she mentions other categories and in fact holds that a "ger tzetek" is a jew in every way- consonant with many/most modern (orthodox) rabbinic opinions.

furthermore, i think i understand why you're trying to conflate gerim in leadership positions with women in leadership positions: because chazal themselves use women, gerim and slaves to make kal v'chomer arguments about what a jew is chayav. "even women, gerim and slaves are chayav, kal v'chomer a jewish man is chayav!" or, conversely, " only jewish men have this sacred duty, women, gerim and slaves are exempt".

president of a synegogue, with all that implies in modern american orthodoxy, would be a type of position unknown to chazal.

even though i understand why you make this conflation, i cannot condone it, since the wisdom and vision of chazal are not present in it.

Batya said...

Shy, I said that "ger" is used as "slang" for convert. Abbreviated may be more exact.
As I wrote in a comment on the other post, if a convert may be a rabbi, there is no way that he can't be a synagogue president.

Yoni, we agree.

Keli Ata said...

Shy, I like that you used the word exempt rather than exclude.

That distinction is important.

Anonymous said...

Keli, that was Yoni's post, not mine.