okay this is just a placeholder currently - but feel free to add comments or questions! I intend to post some basics about the four 'ways' or 'levels' of Biblical interpretation:
P = p'shat (the plain meaning) R = remez (hint - something like the basic inner meaning) D = d'rash (teaching - what lesson or lessons can be derived) S = sod (mystery - the mystical or 'deep' meaning that can be derived)
trust me, a 'sod' level interpretation can be - well, really really really strange.
Most people get stuck at p'shat and d'rash. D'rash is really common - d'rash is 'sermon material'.
Remez is a bit difficult to explain, I think - it tends to connect stories together and say they are 'the same' even when the appear to be really different, and it's done because (usually) there are similarities of words in each story, or something - if you read the haftorah portions each week after the Torah portion, you are getting a look at 'remez'.
This 'taken for granted' way to read Torah is very Jewish - and it is very different from the way many Christians (maybe only 'especially fundamentalist') approach the text - from my experience, they tend to approach it as 'sacred, true' in a way that 'flattens' the text into something rigid. The Jewish immediate understanding of that same 'sacred, true' literature expects the text to be mutable, requiring study and interpretation - while every story is assumed 'true', that kind of truth can be metaphor, or narrative lesson, or deeply mystical. A Christian reader might read the story of Exodus, for instance, and see an angry god who murders children - while a typical Jewish reading of the same part of the story see a kind of 'karma' event - just as the Egyptians slew the sons of the Israelites, the Israelite's god slew the sons of the Egyptians - and rebuked His angels for rejoicing at the deaths of the oppressors (midrash).
For this next bit, I'm asking for comments or questions or arguments - I'm not totally sure about all these comparisons, but some of them resonate - I do know that when I began my studies and as I progressed, there were many times I was confused, because the way I had learned to approach text study and the way the Jews did it - and the regard for the texts themselves - was very different:
Western Approach Hebraic Approach
Life analyzed in precise categories.
Everything blurs into everything else.
A split between natural & supernatural
Supernatural affects everything.
Contextual or "block" logic
Importance of being part of group
Equality of persons
Value comes from place in hierarchies
Competition is good
Competition is evil (cooperation better)
Worth of person based on money/material possessions/power
Worth derived from family relationships
Biological life sacred
Social life supremely important
Chance + cause & effect limit what can happen
God causes everything in his universe
Man rules nature through understanding and applying laws of science
God rules everything, so relationship with God determines how things turn out.
Power over others achieved through business, politics and human organizations.
Power over others is structured by social patterns ordained by God.
All that exists is the material
The universe is filled with powerful spirit beings
Linear time divided into neat segments. Each event is new.
Cyclical or spiraling time. Similar events constantly reoccur.
History is recording facts objectively and chronologically.
History is an attempt to preserve significant truths in meaningful or memorable ways whether or not details are objective facts.
Oriented to the near future
Oriented to lessons of history
Change is good = progress
Change is bad = destruction of traditions
Universe evolved by chance
Universe created by God
Universe dominated and controlled by science and technology
God gave man stewardship over his earthly creation. Accountability to God.
Material goods = measure of personal achievement
Material goods = measure of God’s blessing
Time as points on straight line ("at this point in time…"
Time determined by content ("In the day that the Lord did…")
Sources: Irrational Man, by William Barrett; Christianity With Power by Charles Kraft; Hebrew Thought Compared With Greek by Thorleif Boman; Judaism and Christianity – The Differences by Trude Weiss-Rosmarin, Our Father Abraham, by Marvin Wilson, God in Search of Man by Abraham Heschel.
This rapidly turned into a bigger project than I imagined - or feel capable of handling! But -
a big part of really 'feeling' Jewish is changing - or maybe 'evolving' - how you approach 'text studies' or 'Torah studies'.
Judaism is SUCH a 'study' based faith or lifestyle, maybe better way to put that. Only in Judaism do we find serious discussions recorded (Talmud) about whether or not it is proper to interrupt study in order to pray.
Only in Judaism does one have to pass an oral EXAM to convert (some other faiths require study, but who else gets a panel of experts together to interrogate the candidate?)
Study - in a very real way - IS 'worship' in Judaism. The central part of the 'worship service' three days a week is a text study (Torah reading).
Most morning services begin with a short little bit of 'study' and we have prayers specifically for students and teachers.
'An ignorant man cannot be pious' is a saying from the Talmud.
Don't live where there is no school (Torah study).
It even carries over into secular/non-observant Jewish households - it's even a JOKE -
what do you call a Jewish boy without a Ph.D.? a fetus
oh what lovely children! how old are they? the doctor is four and the lawyer is two
There's a reason that Jewish Nobel prize winners are 'over-represented' proportional to the population percentages.
It's as if the real first commandment is, 'thou shalt study'.