Categorized | Jewish Religion, Reiss_Fred

Author interprets the Book of Genesis

Genesis: From Creation to Covenant by Zvi Grumet, Maggid Books, New Milford, CT, © 2017, ISBN 978-1-59264-477-3, 470 pages plus bibliography and index, $29.95

By Fred Reiss, Ed.D.

Fred Reiss, Ed.D

WINCHESTER, California –  In the Jewish tradition, the Five Books of Moses, the Torah, which begins with the Book of Genesis, is annually re-read in consecutive order. This year the reading cycle commences on October 14.

The Book of Genesis, covering the time from creation to the death of Joseph, a little more than twenty-three-hundred years, is divided by the rabbis into thirteen parashiot, or weekly readings. Lecturer and Bible teacher, Rabbi Dr. Zvi Grumet divides Genesis into three broad parts, in which he explores the legacies from creation through Noah’s son Shem in Part I, the legacies from Teraḥ, Abraham’s father, through Isaac in Part II, and in Part III, the legacies of Jacob and Joseph.

Grumet tells us the Hebrew word toledot occurs thirteen times in the Torah, eleven of them appearing in Genesis. Some, according to Grumet, translate toledot as “descendants” or “generations;” others favor the meaning “story,” so that toledot Noaḥ becomes “the story of Noah”. Grumet, however, prefers the translation “legacy,” revealing the Book of Genesis as a collection of eleven legacies.

For Grumet, the legacies are what we learn from “God’s search for a meaningful relationship with humanity,” especially His covenantal partners, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their families. Genesis, rather than promoting a creation paradigm, answers questions about “the nature of Man,” beginning in the Garden of Eden with a legacy of lost innocence.

Although Grumet draws on the Midrash and past scholarship, he is original in his thinking and provides deep insights about the text. Eve, for example, distinguishes between her two children, elating over Cain’s birth by giving him a name derived from “creating life with God,” but names Abel after the Hebrew word hevel, meaning “worthless.” Grumet, through contextual clues, understands God’s acceptance of Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s as redressing this fundamental injustice against Cain.

In another example, Jacob’s death-bed rebuke of his children, according to Grumet, is stunning considering that neither Abraham nor Isaac reproach their own children’s wrongdoings. From this biblical scene, we come to understand that Jacob is telling his sons that superiority and immorality do not lead to stature and greatness; to be a leader one must be truthful and possess and display personal dignity.

God has less than a stellar rating in His interactions with humanity, poignantly displayed in two stories about the Flood. In the first (Gen. 6:5-7), “man” is the focus of blame, and in the second (Gen. 11-13), the limelight shifts to the corruption of “the land.” Grumet does not interpret these two introductory paragraphs explaining why God needs to reboot creation as a message about “an angry God unleashing His wrath on His disobedient subjects,” but as “the story of a pained God who is left with no choice other than to start again.”

Throughout, Grumet examines the Torah’s text, and draws conclusions not based on who the biblical players are, but rather on what they do in relation to God and among themselves, making the interpretations in Genesis: From Creation to Covenant discerning and perceptive. They are true thought starters.


Dr. Fred Reiss is a retired public and Hebrew school teacher and administrator. His newest works are: The Comprehensive Jewish and Civil Calendars 2001 to 2240, and The Jewish Calendar: History and Inner Workings. The author may be contacted via [email protected].  s

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