Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has chosen us from all the peoples and given us His Torah. (Koren Siddur)
Scripture is a gift, perhaps the defining gift, of the Jewish people and the community of Messiah that has arisen from among them. As with many gifts, we need to take care in how we use it. Hermeneutics is the discipline of interpretation, which opens the gift of Scripture to proper understanding and participation.
This issue of Kesher features several articles related to hermeneutics, beginning with a conversation with Bill Bjorkaer, co-author of the newly published The Return of Oral Hermeneutics. Introducing this book through a conversation instead of a traditional review is consistent with its own premise: the Bible came to us first in spoken form, as stories, poems, and songs, which were only later captured in written texts. Oral Hermeneutics seeks to hear and tell the content of the Bible in those terms.
Our conversation with Dr. Bjoraker is followed by “For Better and For Worse: The Faithfulness of God through the Exile and Return of the Shekhinah,” by Dutch theologian and pastor Edjan Westerman. This article draws upon Westerman’s recent publication, Learning Messiah—Israel and the Nations: Learning to Read God’s Way Anew, which proposes a new, Israel-centered way of reading Scripture, with profound ramifications for biblical hermeneutics. (Our book review section includes this ground-breaking book, reviewed by Jennifer M. Rosner.)
In another article rooted in hermeneutics, Dr. Derek Chong provides a penetrating analysis of God’s promise to David in “The Redemptive Seed Type-scene in the Davidic Narrative Arc: Raising up Seed for David as Yibbum in 2 Samuel 7:12.” In addition to its text-based hermeneutics, this article includes transcripts of discussions about the text among Modern Orthodox Jewish readers, exemplifying oral hermeneutics as well.
Two articles dealing with contemporary issues follow: “An Approach to Transgender Issues,” by Jon Olson, draws upon medical studies, philosophy, theology, history, and anecdotal evidence to explore the highly visible and often contentious issue of transgender identity. Yahnatan Lasko explores “Disability in the World of the Apostolic Writings,” drawing, like Olson, on a range of sources and also upon his own experience as the father of a seven-year-old son with spinal muscular atrophy. Both articles combine solid research with a warm humanity.
Our book review section returns to the theme of hermeneutics with a look at a remarkable new commentary on the Gospel of Luke by Amy-Jill Levine and Ben Witherington III, reviewed by Michael Schiffman. Levine (a Jewish New Testament scholar) and Witherington (an evangelical Christian scholar) engage in a collegial and insightful 700-page conversation as part of the New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Following the review of Learning Messiah mentioned above, we conclude with Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times, by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory. My review of this timely and critically significant book also serves as a tribute to the illustrious career and profound influence of Rabbi Sacks, who passed away shortly before its publication in November, 2020.