Parashat Yitro, and Laws, versus Policies

     This week’s Torah portion is  Parashat Yitro / פָּרָשַׁת יִתְרוֹ  Parashat Yitro is  17th in the annual cycle, covering: Exodus 18:1-20:23and the 5th in the book of Shemot/Exodus.

      This week, traditional congregations (and maybe a few Masorti/Conservative Movement folks) will read Yitro (Jethro)’s advice on organizing policy, and the Giving of The Law at Mt. Sinai.   So, this week, we read about the rule of law, and how to enact the details of that law through policy, as implemented on the advice of a wise planner.

    How do you build a culture where everyone has access to accurate and free legal learning, and  learns how to plan ahead like that?


Parashat Beshalach  was last week…

Action Prompts:

    Share your thoughts on how to craft better policy to keep all of us safer, please.   Writing, by thee way, is my personal contribution to Project Do Better.  What would yours be, if you had time?


Click here to read, if you like:

Narrative and Prose Nonfiction,     

or Holistic High School Lessons,

Creative Commons License
Shira Destinie Jones’ work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


18 thoughts on “Parashat Yitro, and Laws, versus Policies

  1. Do we want to think of Torah more as Law or more as moral Teaching? The choice we make is important.

    I, as a Gentile and a Christian, used not to give the Law/Teaching of Moses much thought. One can become bogged down in it easily. However, when I learned of a different way of thinking about the Law/Teaching of Moses, I started paying more attention to it. Culturally-specific examples explain timeless principles, such as mutuality.

    On another related matter, reading Biblical scholars debate whether Exodus 20:3 originally meant monolatry or monotheism makes for an interesting experience.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Very true, both points: the evolution of thought on the number of dieties is, for me nowadays, still interesting, but less pertinent than the evolution of thought in how we use these teachings. They certainly began as part of creating and instilling the very idea of the Rule of Law, and as such, was needed as a code of Law, several thousand years ago. Now, some in the more orthodox world take these as laws, while others take them as moral guidelines. Neither view is any less mutualistic, though, as you point out.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I was watching a lesson from the most recent Great Courses course on the Hebrew Bible. The professor (a translator of The New American Bible–Revised Edition) pointed out that Exodus, in Hebrew, describes the Ten Commandments as “words,” not “law.” He also mentioned that the Law of Moses leaves many areas of law unaddressed. He also suggested that it was more a curriculum than a law code. The same was apparently true of the Code of Hammurabi, too.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Yes, I’m aware: the Aseret HaDivrot, or the 10 Utterances/Sayings/Words. But they were in fact orders. Jewish law uses them to derive the 613 Mitzvot: Commandments/duties, (well, the entire Torah is used to derive the 613 commandments, actually) and they do have the force of law. Yes, it is correct that many of the policies in Torah need clarifying, and are clarified and explained in both the Oral Law, aka the Talmud, and also the Responsa, or the responses to questions submitted to Rabbinical councils, or to respected rabbis. But, at the time, and even for many today, the Torah is considered a set of Laws around which a fence is to be built, in policy.

          There are also four sets of types of policies which we would generally call laws, and that is how the Orthodox translate those words. For me, personally, this is more a set of guidelines, but it is still law, as opposed to ways that we implement the law, which entails policy crafting.

          That is how we apply this work, the Torah, today, in my opinion.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. No, I have not. (I have ordered it, though.) Based on reviews and summaries, I am familiar with key arguments, such as rewriting foreign myths and hymns (from Egypt, Mesopotamia, Canaan). I also know about Elhanan killing Goliath (or the brother of Goliath, depending on the text one reads. Fr. Mitchell J. Dahood, S.J., argued that certain Psalms were Hebrew rewrites of foreign hymns to one deity or another. Robert Alter pushes back against that point and argues for cross-cultural influences only.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. I’ll be curious to see your reactions to her book: Torah text seems pretty clear that the earliest refs acknowledged the existence of other gods, but prohibited their worship, while I seem to recall that the Deuteronomist, who redacts much later, may have edited in a bit of monotheism, but it’s been a while since I read that, and I think it may have been updated against more of the other 4 sources as other writers commented on the J, vs the Deuteronomist (separate from The Redactor?) I forget, but I think that the Documentary Hypothesis explains much of these timeline/evolutionary issues.
              I imagine that you’ve read Friedman’s work

              Liked by 3 people

            2. Have you compared the notes in The Jewish Study Bible and Richard Elliott Friedman’s Commentary on the Torah regarding monolatry versus monotheism in the Ten Commandments. The two volumes contradict each other. (I love reading scholars disagree.) Anyhow, it seems clear to me that Hebrew religion was originally polytheistic. Notice that “Elohim” is plural. The priestly religion became monotheistic long before the folk religion did. Archaeology backs this up. The conversion of Astatte, the forbidden goddess and alleged wife of YHWH, into the god Asherah in texts indicates strong objections to that cultus. The excavation of high holy places with two altars beside each other confirms the cultus of Astarte. Eventually, Hebrew polytheism fell away–by the time of Ezra, if I recall correctly. Yet literary echoes of polytheism remain in the Bible. Recall the Psalm that says, in part, “you are gods.”

              Liked by 2 people

            3. Yes, this is clear, I didn’t realize that anyone outside of some orthodox circles contradicted this: the language is quite clearly polytheistic but with commands not to worship any others since Abraham.

              Liked by 3 people

            4. I believe Friedman’s later edition notes that Ezra practically rewrote /created much of Rabbinical Judaism’s bases, by enforcing the monotheism idea, but this was well known already.

              Liked by 3 people

            5. Perhaps. However, I have REF’s Commentary on Torah open to Exodus 20:3. It reads, in part: “The fact is that it is difficult to word a command to monotheism without referring to other deities. This simply a fact of language…..Those who hold the view that monotheism came late in Israel cannot build a case on the wording of the first commandment. The issue here is linguistic, not theological” (p. 236).

              Liked by 2 people

Please Share your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s