One of the Most Profound Paradigm Shifts in Jewish History

A biblical story marks the moment when Judaism turned from charismatic authority to institutional authority, and from the rule of judgment to the rule of law.

July 28, 2016 | Atar Hadari
About the author: Atar Hadari’s Songs from Bialik: Selected Poems of H. N. Bialik (Syracuse University Press) was a finalist for the American Literary Translators’ Association Award. His Lives of the Dead: Poems of Hanoch Levin earned a PEN Translates award and was released in 2019 by Arc Publications. He was ordained by Rabbi Daniel Landes and is completing a PhD on William Tyndale’s translation of Deuteronomy.

From Moses Sees the Promised Land From Afar, c. 1896-1902, by James Tissot. Jewish Museum.

To judge by its name, this week’s Torah reading of Pinḥas (Numbers 25:10-30:1) appears to be about its title character, the grandson of Aaron the high priest, whose heroic deed leads to a spectacular if ambiguous reward. But upon closer examination the reading turns out to be about something different entirely: namely, one of the most profound paradigm shifts in all of Jewish history.

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