Here is the text of my remarks last night. I want to thank Adrian Durlester for the thoughts about Exegesis and Eisegesis.
Exegesis and Eisegesis
May 31, 2011
Rabbi Joseph R. Black – Temple Emanuel - Denver, CO
In Rabbinical School, we were taught varying methods of interpreting sacred texts. Two important distinctions we learned were about the differences between Exegesis and Eisegesis.
Exegesis is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text. The goal of Biblical exegesis is to discover a text's significance or relevance. Scholars can reference historical or form critical sources to look for similarities, hints to other relevant texts, and linguistic concepts such as meter, rhyme, names of God and many other techniques to draw out the intention of the author and the true meaning of the text.
Eisegesis, on the other hand is the process of misinterpreting a text in such a way that it introduces one's own ideas, reading into the text. While exegesis draws out the meaning from the text, eisegesis occurs when a reader reads his/her interpretation into the text. As a result, exegesis tends to be objective when employed effectively while eisegesis is regarded as highly subjective.(An aside – during the 1980's there was a group of runners from JTS – the Conservative Rabbincal Seminary in NY who used to compete in races. They called themselves: "Jews for Exegesis.")
When we look at some of the negative reactions to President Obama's speeches– both at the State Department and at the AIPAC conference from within the Jewish Community, I can't but wonder if some of the emotional outpourings that we have heard are Exegitical or Eisogetical in nature.
While I was not able to attend this year's AIPAC Conference (I do plan on attending next year), I watched the president live online. I also saw recordings of his remarks at the State Department and I have read both speeches. At both speeches, I heard him speak of his personal commitment to Israel's peace, security and continued growth. I also heard him restate our nation's commitment to the same ideals. I heard him condemn attempts to delegitimize Israel by her enemies. I heard him repeatedly denounce Hamas as a terrorist organization and express deep concern about the Hamas/Fatah pact. I heard his grave concerns about a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state as well as many other dangers that Israel is currently facing.
I also heard him commit to working towards a peace process where two states – one Israeli and one Palestinian – will exist side by side – with peaceful borders, a demilitarization of the future state of Palestine, security guarantees and negotiations for territorial compromise from both sides of the table. This is nothing new
Yes – at the State Department, he referenced the 1967 borders as a starting point for negotiations – but, as he restated at AIPAC, he did not mean to imply that Israel would ever have to return to a point where she had indefensible borders. Most Israelis agree that there has to be negotiation and territorial compromise. The concept of the '67 borders as a starting point have always been on the table.
Many of those who were so upset, I would posit, were looking for reasons to be upset. I believe that what was said and what was heard were very different. Let us also remember that Obama was not only speaking to American Jews. He spoke against a backdrop of revolution in the Arab World, the very real possibility of a nuclear Iran, a strong potential of the declaration of Palestinian State very soon, and many other factors that could very well change the facts on the ground in the Middle East. If our nation – if our president – is to be able to be a broker for moderation in the events that will soon unfold, he will need to be perceived as even-handed.
No – he did not refer to a negation of the so-called "Right of Return" for the Palestinians. I would have liked him to say that. But there were many other areas that he did not reference as well. The reality of the current situation in Israel is quite simple. Israel is facing a demographic, political, economic and psychological time bomb. The choices that Israel faces are all unpleasant. The day that we can state that negotiations are off the table is long gone. As a strong Zionist myself, I have too many friends and relatives in Israel who have lived under the pressure of "HaMatzav" – the situation – for too many years. I see what it has done to them. I long for peace.
Of course, we will not and cannot negotiate with those who wish our destruction. Hamas is not a partner for peace. Fatah has repeatedly proven itself to be weak and two-faced in its dealings with Israel. Unfortunately, there are few options that Israel has in front of her. The president did not demand that we sit down and negotiate with terrorists. On the contrary – he vigorously defended Israel's right to refuse to do such a thing.
The other day, I had a chilling experience. I was at a local dog park where I met a non-Jewish woman who was a 4th grade teacher at one of the Day Schools in our community. She told me that, last week, one of her students asked her "Why does president Obama hate the Jews?"
My point is that different people heard the President say the exact same words – but they heard them very differently. I do not feel that President Barak Obama is an enemy of the State of Israel. On the contrary, I believe that he only wants what is best.
It is easy to condemn. It is much harder to work for peace. Which path should we chose?