February 19: A Rabbi Reads the Scriptures

Rabbi Tom Cohen, who leads the bilingual Kehilat Gesher Synagogue here in Paris, uses the familiar story of Cain and Abel to introduce us to some traditional Jewish methods of biblical interpretation. He shows how Rabbinic approaches can result in readings of this fratricidal story that we Christians might find surprising. Often, what seem to be textual “anomalies” or gaps in the narrative serve as a springboard for Rabbinic interpretation, opening up long philosophical discussions on the basis of a handful of lines from the biblical text. Why was Cain’s offering rejected? Why did he kill Abel? What are we to make of God’s dealings with Cain after Abel’s death? And what might the names of the two men tell us about their story? Underlying it all is the Rabbis’ consistent determination to explore the deeper meanings of the text.