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Torah in a Time of Plague: Introduction

Let’s talk about our latest book, Torah in a Time of Plague! It’s now available in our webstore, and we have been discussing it chapter by chapter on Twitter under the hashtag #TorahInATimeOfPlague, and now – as requested 🙂 – we will also make these discussions into blog posts.

There are many interesting, unique and/or lesser-known ideas in this book, and now we’ll be able to share them with you!

Torah in a Time of Plague, deposited on a pillow with animal print sequins.
We have print copies!

We begin with editor Erin Leib Smokler’s introduction that talks about “Theological Vertigo in Proximity to Plague”.

The term “theological vertigo” is from Avivah Zornberg, who uses it to discuss situations of being near death.

“[T]he reaction is a sense of theological vertigo, of asking what does anything mean in that case. If it’s really just a matter of a millimeter—it could go this way, it could go that way—how do we understand God’s providence?”

Zornberg points out that it’s a common Biblical interpretation that this was the cause of Sarah’s death, because of what happened to Isaac. Sarah did not think Isaac was killed, but she knew that he was almost killed, and she couldn’t live on knowing that.

Smokler points out that this is now our shared experience because of COVID-19, and now we’ll also need to deal with that.

(She also gives a Talmudic example about the destruction of the Temple related to how to go on in a situation like this, but you’ll see that in the book,)

The book has five sections:
1: Theology of Plague
2: Jewish Community and Practice Under Duress
3: History and Literature of Plague
4: Quarantine Reflections
5: Time in Unprecedented Times

and we’ll gradually make our way through these!

Hopefully by so doing, we’ll have a new understanding of what it means to have lived through something when we were near death – and also how our ancestors lived through those times, and what they thought about them.

…They thought some surprising things, as we’ll see next time in Chapter 1: “Covid-19 and the Theological Challenge of the Arbitrary” by Shaul Magid!

In the meanwhile, you can get the book: