Jewish History fun

I was sitting in Jewish History class and I was bored (in addition he was grading tests and he gives us a study period whenever he does so if I could get him off topic long enough we would have another free day.

On the test one of the questions was, “True or False Israel and China are the only countries which have had the same religion practiced by the same group in their country as 3,000 years ago.” Wanting to have some fun I asked, “3,000 years ago wasn’t the religion of Israel more Baal than Judaism, I mean this was the time of the Shoftim and for most of that time they were worshiping idols.” So he said that this was only a small fraction of the Jews and I asked why we couldn’t assume that the Navi was talking literally. He was silent for a couple of seconds and then said that Rabbi Avigdor Miller said it wasn’t like that then he brought up three examples which he said proved that you could not learn the Torah without the Oral Torah. The first was Moshe after the rock being told he wouldn’t enter Israel because he didn’t believe in Hashem and Moshe obviously did believe in him however in the case of the rock Moshe quite literally did not put his faith in G-d going against his express command (not to say that we would have done better). The second and more convincing one was the story of the loss at Ai. Hashem told Yehoshua that there was a great sin which caused the loss. It turns out that the great sin was only one person looting from the city of Yericho. However, this can be deflected by saying that there must have been some other people with knowledge of his theft, which was not minor, and covered it up.

The final proof was flawed in many ways. This proof was that if you read the Navi literally is that you will conclude that Dovid committed adultery when we know from the Talmud that he didn’t. Aside from the circular nature of this proof (if you don’t learn Navi to correspond with the Talmud you’ll disagree with the Talmud at times) and the fact that it is only one opinion which says he didn’t sin, you can argue with the Gemara’s interpretation of a non-halachic story in Tanach. However, lets examine the story more closely. First the whole assumption that it wasn’t adultery is based on the assumption that if he committed adultery he couldn’t have married her. However, the whole concept of being forbidden to the man you committed adultery which may have been instituted after they could no longer practically institute the death penalty. Furthermore throughout the narrative Batsheva is called the wife of Uriah which makes it more likely that he was truly married to her at the time. The other question which could be asked is why is there an emphasis about her being ritually clean, shouldn’t that pale in comparison to adultery? However, in truth the fact that she had just come back from the mikvah is crucial because it kept Dovid from calling it Uriah’s child. In the end people who take an apologetic view of Dovid say that Uriah had made a conditional divorce if he died in battle. Therefore once he died in battle in retroactively became no adultery. However that still leaves you with the problem of how Dovid could kill Uriah. On this point the standard defense is that Uriah rebelled against the king and therefore was rightfully killed. However given the timing the offense could have only come while Uriah was called back from the front. There are two possible rebellions during this period. The first is him referring to his commanding officer Yoav as Adoni Yoav. However, this seems to be a very weak possibility as Adoni seems like a title of respect not a title of lordship. The other time is when he refuses to go home and sleep with Batsheva. There are two possible reasons for this

  1. He knew that Dovid had slept with Batsheba. In this case he was forbidden by the Torah from sleeping with her. It is generally accepted that the Torah takes precedence over a kings orders.
  2. His stated reason was, how can I sleep at home while the Ark and my soldiers are out in battle. In fact if this was stated by any other person it would be taken as evidence of his righteousness not rebellion.

Furthermore, Dovid’s words were probably construed as a suggestion and a polite way of saying he was of duty for the moment rather than an order.

The last and largest issue was that Dovid ordered the Jews to lose a battle to have Uriah killed. Having your men retreat from behind Uriah and his unit is murder plain and simple and if it is possible is treason.

Now the Talmud doesn’t say this, but it is a serious story and one which does not have to be interpreted the way R’ Shmuel bar Nachmani does.

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7 Responses to Jewish History fun

  1. Tobie says:

    Thoughts on David: I think that the simplest understanding of Uriah’s actions is that he knows perfectly well what’s going on and he refuses to pitch into the coverup effort- which is why he makes his declaration in front of everybody. I think that even your explanation 1) is assuming very halachic thinking, which seems less likely than straightforward political thinking.
    Also, you say that the Nach “makes a big deal about the fact that she went to the mikvah”…uh…no, it really doesn’t, it mentions that she was bathing as a way to explain why he saw her naked and never mentions the subject again, to the best of my knowledge.
    The battle strategies seem complicated- it’s quite possible that Uriah was merely sent into a suicidally dangerous diversion move that could well have actually been useful strategically speaking, which gets all complicated: Can you order men into a suicidal manuveur? Okay, but are you allowed to pick the men based on personal stuff? How useful does the manuveur have to be to be justified.
    As for R’ Shimon bar Nachmani- I finally heard a good pshat motivation for his explanation. If you turn to the next perek, Natan launches into a long and angry diatribe against…abuse of power, theft, being mean. Not the whole murder and adultery thing. Hence a reason to explain why he’s not mad about murder and adultery—> they never happened.

  2. mike529 says:

    First of all I was trying to show how if Uriah knew about the adultery and refused to sleep with his wife he was doing the right thinng halachickally and not rebelling. Second of all the verse says, “and she was pure from her Tumah” which is interpreted as nidah. That statement is one of the main justifications for dovid not sinning.
    As for the battle strategy, we have two separate things Dovid’s orders and Yoav’s actions. Dovid orders Yoav to put Uriah in the front and then retreat. I can see no military justification for that. What Yoav did is more complex, but it seems that Dovid would have done the equivalent of court-martial if Yoav had not had Uriah killed in the battle.
    As for Natan, adultery and murder sound like they the Nimshol for the parrable. Furthermore Natan was rebuking Dovid as the king not the person.

  3. Rachel says:

    1. Mike missed the obvious explanation for why Uriah didn’t sleep with his wife – he wanted to make her adultery obvious. After all he wasn’t just not having sex with her, he was publicly keeping away from her. Of course, that explanation also means that he was a complete idiot to not to suspect the letter contained his death warrant.

    2. It’s just barely possible to read the story without David actually committing murder. There’s no doubt that David did sent an death warrant to Joab, ordering him to put Uriah in the forefront and then withdraw the troops. Similarly, there’s no doubt that Uriah died in battle. However, Joab didn’t actually withdraw the supporting troops as ordered – he just put Uriah in the heat of the battle.
    A reasonable person could read this story as: a) David sents a death order to Joab, b) Joab ignores the order (possibly saving the letter for a future rebellion), c)Uriah dies in the normal course of fighting, d)Joab decides to pretend he obeyed the order.
    In this case David was only morally guilty of planning a murder – he didn’t actually cause Uriah’s death.

    3. In fact Nathan’s diatribe might actually be the worst part of the story, at least from a modern point of view. David’s sin was abuse of power for his own sexual pleasure – but there was no general principle that the king couldn’t kill whoever he wanted for political purposes. For example, David was never rebuked for threatening to kill Nabal and then marrying his widow Abigail (even though David probably believed Abigail killed her husband). Nobody believed commoners had the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

  4. Rachel says:

    In reality the comparison between Buddhism and Judaism is probably closer than you think Mike. The theology of Buddhism is all about Nirvana, and Buddhism definitely teaches that there are no gods that can bring salvation or eternal life. However, Buddhism doesn’t really rule out minor deities that can cure toothaches, and many nominal Buddhists worshipped minor deities in practice.
    Similarly in the Bible the state religion almost always worshipped God, and he was the main deity. Most of the disagreement was about whether Baal was allowed at all. Only a couple of kings (Ahab, Menashe, etc.) actually made Baal equal to God.

  5. Shlomo says:

    The battle strategies seem complicated- it’s quite possible that Uriah was merely sent into a suicidally dangerous diversion move that could well have actually been useful strategically speaking, which gets all complicated: Can you order men into a suicidal manuveur? Okay, but are you allowed to pick the men based on personal stuff? How useful does the manuveur have to be to be justified.

    Not possible – look at what Yoav told the messenger to report to David. Yoav expected David to react by saying “How could you have ordered such a stupid, pointless, clearly suicidal attack? Are you nuts?”, at which point the messenger would say “But Uriyah was killed in the attack”, and David would reply “Oh. Whew. So THAT’s why you did it. Well, good riddance.”

    All that was too complicated and the messenger messed it up, but that was the plan.

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  7. Jennifer says:

    I know that you wrote about this a long time ago (about David hamelech and Batsheba, but I very much agree with your analysis (the like of which I have not found elsewhere on the internet.)

    I don’t think that people reading the Torah/Tenach should have to do mental gymnastics and accept an interpretation which so dramatically contrasts with the plain meaning of the text.

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