A GENDER-NEUTRAL PENTATEUCH? Insofar as that is possible:
Scholars Wrestle With Language of Torah Without Throwing It Away
January 11, 2007 - Rachel Silverman (Jewish Exponent)
As a biblical scholar, Ellen Frankel sees the Torah as a sacred, absolute text.
But when it comes to issues of gender, Frankel -- the author of a women's commentary on the Torah, among other books -- feels that the work of God could stand for a little revision.
As the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Publication Society explained it, "I had to figure out how to wrestle with the Torah and still not throw it away."
Out of this need The Contemporary Torah: A Gender Sensitive Adaptation of the JPS Translation was born.
In refashioning the text, a team of scholars -- including Frankel; David E.S. Stein, a Reconstructionist rabbi and editor; Adele Berlin, a Hebrew Bible expert at the University of Maryland; and Carol Meyers, a religion professor at Duke University -- tried to meld contemporary interests about gender with an ancient text -- and world -- that is predominantly male-centric.
This is an interesting project whose principles seem to have been worked out quite sensibly:
In some cases, these questions led the scholars to retain gendered language.
For example, a verse in the '62 translation mentions that the wife of a male slave should leave with him when he becomes free.
But what if the roles were switched: Would a man go off with a newly freed female slave?
Ensuing research proved that this would not have occurred. Such an act would have been a transgression of ancient mores that made women more or less property of men. Therefore, the new editors felt the original sentence should not be refashioned. And so it reads: "If [a male slave] came single, he shall leave single; if he had a wife, his wife shall leave with him."
In other cases, gendered terms were extracted and more generic ones applied.
For instance, the editors explain in the prefatory material to the the new volume that it was not uncommon for ancient Hebrews to refer to both male and female herders as "herdsmen." Ancient audiences, too, would have interpreted the term figuratively.
But in today's gender conscious society, the editors felt that most readers would assume "herdsmen" meant solely men. So, to better enable modern audiences to grasp the meaning of the line -- found in Genesis 13 -- they decided to go with "herders."
Regarding the Tetragrammaton:
The editors agreed that the tetragrammaton -- the unpronounceable four-letter name for God -- presented their biggest hurdle.
Though Judaism as a theology does not ascribe a gender to God, the 1962 Torah translation consistent- ly refers to God as "the lord." This has left many Jews with a sense that God is in fact male, a sentiment the authors said they did not want to propagate.
To handle the issue, Stein asked 18 biblical scholars to weigh in on how to represent God in a gender-sensitive light.
After much wrangling -- Frankel admitted that most respondents couldn't even produce an answer -- the editors decided to keep the Hebrew lettering that corresponds to the English consonants YHWH.
In addition to satisfying the gender-neutral requirement, this solution was meant to separate God's name from the rest of the text, explained Frankel.
That is probably the best solution, in that YHWH was the proper name of the Israelite God and it's not entirely clear what it meant. The mistranslation "Lord" comes from the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation). But that also doesn't change the fact that YHWH was considered male in ancient Israel. Indeed, the Israelites clearly thought of YHWH as a really big guy who sat on his throne up in heaven and ruled the universe. In at least some Israelite circles he seems even to have had a goddess wife.
But, of course, this patriarchal view of God is offensive and theologically unacceptable to many if not most people today, and it just won't do. Nevertheless, the text should still be translated to say what it actually says, like it or not. This translation seems to have side-stepped the problem, at least for the most part. Although I do wonder how they handle the the gender of pronouns referring to YHWH.