Pragmatic interpretation of the Torah

30 January 2008


From Dr Irene Lancaster
Sir, — It is not true, as stated by Lord Harries (Comment, 18 January), that most people nowadays “regard [the law] in a very pragmatic way, not as the Jews thought of the Torah”.

The Torah has always been treated extremely pragmatically. It is the Christian world that has insisted that the Jews regarded their own sacred scripture as dogma, in contrast with “undogmatic” Christian theology, deemed to be superior to the “Old Law”.

Judaism would not have survived in the face of Christian persecution if the Jews had not been pragmatic. Even before that, the earliest interpreters of the Torah always had regard for context and the knowledge gleaned from so-called “secular” subjects.

Anglicans are in dire need of a thorough and ongoing education in Hebrew and Jewish norms. This type of education was far more common 20 or 30 years ago, when I was involved in clergy training. It appears that such courses are near to extinction. This is not good for Christian-Jewish relations.

Medieval and Renaissance Center
Haifa University
Haifa, Israel

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