Sunday, 19 September 2010

64. Synagogue readings

After several months, I'm resuming my blogs.
There is no particular order - this one is topical.

Judith allocates the readings of haftarot at her synagogue. I have asked her to allocate the reading to me, when the subject is rheumatological = the vision of the dry bones of Ezekiel 37 - one of my favourites.

To support her, I offer to step in when she cannot find a willing volunteer.
That happened for yesterday's service. Too many services in the week and nobody available. However, the Reform calendar have their own list, often different from the designated haftarot. So instead of the official listing for Shabbat Shuvah / Ha'azinu [David's prayer of thanksgiving from II Samuel XXII] they stipulated some verses from 3 prophets. Not very impressive.
So I decided that I would choose my own: 2 Samuel chapter 11, v.1-15. My reasons were -
# it is on the subject of planned sins and crime - to be atoned for on Yom Kippur;
# it's related to my forthcoming oneg on Bathsheva with some lovely slides,
# it's a brilliant literary episode.

Our rabbi is quite lenient, and he agreed to my suggested choice.
To save you the trouble of searching, I have included the passage [in italics] - I modified my translation to be as accurate as possible. The key words are, of course, 'hara anochi'. Judith said that my reading of it was very good. Ahh, I love this episode: but for the grace of God... If I was younger, and we had a flat roof, and there was a horny young neighbour whose husband was absent...

At the end of the year, when kings go forth to battle, David dispatched Joav [his army commander] to war, together with his servants, and with all
Israel. They destroyed the Ammonites and laid siege on Rabbah.
But David stayed in
Towards one evening David got up from his bed and strolled upon the roof of the king’s house.
And from the roof he saw a woman washing herself. And the woman was very beautiful. David sent to make enquiries about the woman. And someone said, ‘is this not Bat-sheva, daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’
And David sent messengers and fetched her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. She had been purified from her uncleanliness.
Then she returned to her house.
And the woman conceived; and she sent word to David and said 'I am pregnant' [hara anochi]
And David sent word to Joav [his commander] 'Send Uriah the Hittite to me'. And Joav sent Uriah to David.
And when Uriah came to him, David enquired how Joav was, and how the men were, and how the war was progressing. Then David said to Uriah, 'Go down to your house and wash
your feet’. And Uriah departed from the king’s house, followed by the king’s gifts.
But Uriah lay down at
the entrance of the king’s house, together with all his master’s servants, and did not go down to his own house. And they told David ‘Uriah has not gone down to his house'.
David said
to Uriah ‘Have you not come from a journey? Why did you not gone down to your house?’ Uriah said to David ‘The Holy Ark, and Israel, and Judah, all sit in tents, and my master Joav and my master’s servants are camped in an open field – shall I, then, go into my house to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? Upon your life, and upon your soul, I shall not do such a thing.’
said to Uriah: ‘Stay here today, and tomorrow I shall dispatch you.’ So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day and the following day. And David invited him, and he ate and drank before him, and he made him drunk. And in the evening he left – to lie on his bunk together with his master’s servants. But he did not go down to his own house.
the following morning David wrote a letter to Joav and sent it by the hand of Uriah. And he wrote in the letter as follows: ‘Place Uriah opposite the fiercest fighting, and then retreat from behind him, so that he shall be hit and he will die.'

When we toured Hittite sites in central Turkey, I entertained our fellow passengers on the coach with the story of this mercenary Hittite, whose wife had 'got a bun in her oven'. One of our fellow-travellers later checked his Bible and was impressed by my accuracy.

In my planned oneg, I'll elaborate some further points:
#' Bath-sheva' in Hebrew cynically refers to her marriage oath to Uriah, an oath which she broke.
# 'feet' in the Bible is often a euphemism for 'genitals'.
# I hope you'll agree that their adultery was initiated by the woman, and not by David.
# Uriah clearly knew of their adultery, and by staying away from his wife, he refused to accept paternity.
# Therefore he knew that he was now doomed to die - he did not have to read David's letter to Joav.
# It is interesting, that Uriah's wife did not come to see him during his visit to Jerusalem. I seem to remember some Talmudic law about such duplicate intercourse being forbidden.
# The Bible leaves out David's 2 obvious questions:
1. 'Are you sure that you're pregnant?' [-'My period is late, and I'm sick each morning'].
And 2. 'Are you sure your pregnancy is mine?' [-'I lay with nobody else, and you will see that the baby will have red hair'. Like Pricess Diana's second son?].
Nowadays there is science: a urine test detects pregnancy, and DNA will establish paternity.

But that's not the end of this particular Bible narrative. Read on!