[JOI Word of Torah] Big Tent Judaism: Chayei Sarah
Kerry M. Olitzky
kolitzky at joi.org
Thu Oct 25 19:25:14 GMT 2007
"Big Tent Judaism" Word of Torah
November 3, 2007 / 22 Cheshvan, 5768
Following the death of his beloved Sarah, Abraham wed a second time. The
Torah records it this way, "Abraham took another wife, whose name was
Keturah" (Gen. 25:1). It is the Torah's style only to add detail when
necessary. Otherwise, it is up to the reader to discern the import of the
Torah's cryptic statements. In this case, there is no extensive discussion
or lengthy debate. There is not explanation of her lineage. Some suggest
that she was Hagar. Others say that she was a different woman entirely.
Taking his lead from a variety of rabbinic sources, the great commentator
Rashi boldly suggests that Keturah is Hagar: "She was called Keturah because
her deeds were as pleasing as incense and because she tied up her opening
[explanations emerging from two rabbinic folk etymologies on her name]; from
the day she left Abraham, she did not couple with any man."
Targum Yonatan, an Aramaic translation/commentary, which is attributed to
Yonatan ben Uziel, makes an even stronger statement to suggest that she was
Hagar: "She was Hagar, who was bound to him from the start." Perhaps she was
indeed Hagar and perhaps Hagar was a woman of color. Some segments of the
African American community, particularly women, have claimed Hagar as their
own. Other commentators rejected the notion that Keturah was Hagar. But none
questioned the legitimacy of the relationship between Abraham and Keturah.
And that seems to be the most important lesson of this marriage. Keturah is
a Cushite woman [of another religious background] (Numbers 12:1), a woman of
color. Even the Rabbis who debate her identity have no argument here. They
acknowledged long ago that there is room in the tent for all those who seek
to enter it.
But there is more. According to the Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 61:6), in a
comment on Genesis 25:5, Abraham thought to himself. "If I bless Isaac, (as
the text suggests) then the children of Ishmael and of Keturah are included.
But if I do not bless the children of Ishmael and of Keturah, how can I
bless Isaac?" So he decided: "I am only human. I will fulfill my
responsibility and whatever Gd wants to do, let Gd do it." Consequently,
when Abraham died, the Holy One of Blessing appeared to Isaac and blessed
him. This implies that Gd affirmed Abraham's blessing of the children of
Keturah and of the children of Ishmael.
Rabbi Kerry Olitzky is the author of many inspiring books that bring the
Jewish wisdom tradition into everyday life, and is most recently the
co-author of 20 Things for Grandparents of Interfaith Grandchildren to Do
(And Not Do) to Nurture Jewish Identity in Their Grandchildren and Jewish
Holidays: A Brief Introduction for Christians.
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You are welcome to use these ideas in your own work and writings as long as
you would be so kind as to credit Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and the Jewish
Outreach Institute, thank you.
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