Many years ago, my late wife and I traveled the scenic route from South Carolina up to DC to visit my grandfather. Along the way, we stopped at Yorktown, and dined at Nick’s World-Famous Seafood Emporium. Long before there was a “Little Mermaid,” the restaurant looked like a scene out of the movie. We began sharing our choices with the server. Both of our meals came with salads. I inquired as to the choice in dressings. Our server got huffy and said, “Our house dressing is what we are world famous for!” Of course, I apologized and couldn’t wait to taste this “world-famous” salad dressing.
The server placed the greatly anticipated culinary gem before us. We tasted the salad. I called the server over, “This dressing tastes like olive oil and pepper.” Without batting an eye or any sense of concern, she responded, “That is exactly the recipe.”
Interpreting the Bible always reminds me of this experience. It says what it says, but what it says is not necessarily indicative of the value it may or may not provide. I ache over the number of wars fought and lives ruined over someone’s interpretation (or misinterpretation) of scripture.
Three-plus years ago, I wrote an article for the United Methodist Church that helped spawn the Conference debate on homosexuality. I pointed out that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality. People interpret it to do so, but in its own context, it barely addresses the matter. One often misused text appears in this week’s Torah portion. As often translated, Deuteronomy 22:5 reads, “A woman must not put on a man’s apparel, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for Adonai your God finds this act abhorrent.” Our challenge is that the text uses terms in Hebrew that are not easily translatable, especially through allegory and historical context. “Kh’li gever” gets translated as “men’s apparel.” More appropriately, in context, it can mean “tools of one’s trade” to “warrior’s armor.” “Simlat” is easier. It means clothes. In this case, yes, literally it can mean women’s clothes. Perhaps one can still argue that the text stereotypes gender roles, but thousands of years ago, men were the laborers and warriors; women made the community whole.
In context the text has little to do with a dress code, cross-dressing, or homosexuality and much to say about men not shirking their responsibility to serve providing services to and protecting the people against invaders. How many people have suffered humiliation or worse because of people imposing a hateful agenda upon the text?
We owe our tradition greater reverence for its protection of all life, not just the lives of those of whom we approve or agree. We owe each other the full dignity and respect due all humans. We owe God (however one might define the source of creation and natural order) greater respect – having created all life with loving purpose. Let’s stop pretending that God wants us to use “Divine Love” to destroy someone else on our behalf. Let’s choose life and celebration for everyone. Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Marc Kline