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The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus Paperback – November 19, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Particulars of Rapture is Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg's literary and theological exploration of the book of Exodus. Zornberg, the daughter of a rabbi, is a scholar of English literature who has become a popular teacher of religion in Israel, North America, and England. Her approach to Exodus is midrashic--a rabbinic tradition of creative, interpretive, even fanciful study of the Bible that often involves "the telling of stories that fill in gaps in the written biblical text." The Particulars of Rapture gathers many such stories that Zornberg has told and also discusses the process by which she created these stories--a process that she describes with reference to a wide range of psychological, philosophical, and literary works. If this all sounds complicated, that's because it is. "In my approach," she explains, "the biblical text is not allowed to stand alone, but has its boundaries blurred by later commentaries and by a persistent intertextuality that makes it impossible to imagine that meaning is somehow transparently present in the isolated text." She imagines interpretation to be part of the text itself, and not a second- order process that is derived from the text. It's a wise and receptive way of reading, and those willing to follow Zornberg's sometimes knotty prose will find, from time to time, clear bright observations about the way believers continue to experience Israel's slavery, freedom, and redemption even today. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A stellar sequel to Zornberg's book on Genesis (The Beginning of Desire, which won the Jewish Book Award in 1995), this hefty volume offers a literary look at the second book of the Bible. Zornberg, who has taught English literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is especially interested in women, exploring why, after women play such a vital role in Genesis, they are all but absent from Exodus. Even when Zornberg departs from that questionAand from the larger biblical themes of exodus and redemptionAshe offers clever analysis on almost every page. For Bible-readers who rely on English translations, Zornberg explains some of the Torah's Hebrew word-plays (such as the repetition of the Hebrew root for "life" when Pharaoh, who ordered the midwives to kill all Hebrew baby boys, asks them why they have instead let the babies live). Zornberg shows the literary similarities between the conversion of Jethro (Moses' father-in-law) and the revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai. She weaves together insights from the Talmud, Emmanuel Levinas, Rav Kook, Franz Rosenzweig and T.S. Eliot. The book will be a challenge for readers who aren't highly literate in Judaism, which means that many interested Jewish and Christian readers will find themselves lost, wondering too often, "Who is the Sefath Emeth? Who or what is the Targum?" This is unfortunate, because this book's many riches should be accessible to the entire Exodus-reading world. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Image (November 19, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385491530
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385491532
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,093,761 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Gertrude Wellikoff on April 7, 2001
Format: Hardcover
With her trademark mix of existential, literary and biblical knowledge, Aviva Zornberg is an educator of the first order. Even those who have trouble with Biblical tales--or especially those that do--will have so many allusions and educated metaphors to work with that any literate woman or man can't help but learn essential truths about life and history from this great teacher. As a writer, my only critique is that she tends to be too homogenous in her method, a very small critique in the grand scheme of things, which is always Zornberg's subject--the grand scheme of things. Highly recommended.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg is one of the most well-known and innovative Torah teachers of this generation. The present volume consists in her weekly commentaries (Parshat HaShavuah )on the second book of the Five Books of Moses, `Exodus.' Her aim is not to expound upon the surface (pshat) meaning of the text, but rather to provide a midrashic commentary. In this she looks for hidden narratives and meanings for alternative understandings as a way of deepening our understanding of the text. Here she brings to bear her own reading in secular sources, particularly in literature, psychology, sociology and anthropology. But she relies primarily on her intimate knowledge of the traditional Rabbinic commentaries. She does not work to build some overall theory or superstructure but rather intuitively and poetically to extend the meaning of the text.

For those who are knowledgeable in Torah this book will provide a real enrichment and delight in understanding. For those less knowledgeable this book will hopefully lead to a fuller engagement with the Biblical text.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Israel Drazin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 18, 2009
Format: Paperback
Some books seem too ponderous to read. They have so many pages that the book presses against one's stomach uncomfortably when one tries to read it while lying on the living room sofa. A reader may even be put off by a somewhat difficult sentence in the very first paragraph of the 582 pages, when the author offers a definition of "midrash": "My working definition - with all due caveats, acknowledging the essentially undefined nature of the term - would be this (etc)." What is a "working definition"? What are "all due caveats"? What does she mean by "acknowledging the essentially undefined nature of the term"? Does she mean to say: I will use the term "midrash" when I mean (etc.)? Why doesn't she say this?

This was the problem I had with Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg's book some years ago. I put it aside after reading fifty or so pages. I began reading it again when I started to study the biblical book of Exodus again.

Granted, I had to accustom myself to her writing style. But I soon found that she was offering her readers a fresh look at the biblical book.

For example, she discusses the idea that the Bible repeatedly introduces "jarring" voices - which she also calls "dissonances" and "counter-narratives" - and she shows how these unexpected elements enhance interest in the story and add depth to what is being presented. Moses goes to the Israelites and to Pharaoh with God's message and both reject the divine command. Why does the Torah mention this dissonance? Why is it necessary for Moses to repeat and repeat God's message and emphasize it with ten miraculous plagues. What does this reluctance to accept the divine message say about God's power? Is he weak? The dissonance strikes us, prompts us to ask questions and draws us into the depths of the story.
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful By SabbaSelly Calif on February 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Ms Zornberg's unique method of teaching -- reflected in her writing -- reveals themes and grand tapestries in a majestic manner. Her strong background not only in Jewish textual material , but also in secular literature and the humanities provides a rich context for her insightful reflections. A classic to be savored by all those seriously interested in the Old Testament.
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Format: Paperback
Explore with Zornberg the implications of the ambiguous reports in Exodus on the meaning of human and religious connection today. Forming a mature give-and-take relationship with God is comparable to forming one with a parent, a teacher, or any other human being. And the Golden Calf provides lessons in how to deal with the parts of ourselves that get in the way of our growth and acceptance of life’s uncertainty. As always, Zornberg matches her prodigious knowledge of ancient rabbinic literature with insights from the medieval commentators such as Rashi, Chasidic sources, psychoanalysis, and modern literature and philosophy to come up with unique interpretations of very subtle events. I must say that occasionally she indulges in pedantry or preciousness, and the book requires a slow, thoughtful attention, but the ensuing rewards can’t be found anywhere else. I also think this book is less gripping than her book on Genesis, because the source material is less personal (we are often dealing with the whole Israelite people or the practices of the Levites) but perhaps the importance of the observations are all the more important because of that.
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By Aarfo Gallon on February 28, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If only read one set of biblical commentaries in your lifetime, Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg's ought to be it. She is a master of midrash who elucidates it's cryptic insights by interweaving them with psychological, philosphical and critical textual analysis. It is difficult reading at times but the result is revelatory.
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