Torah is a living entity in my life and is an endless and forever Giving-Tree.
It is this imagery that captures me when we lift the Torah and say “Etz Chayim Hee LaMahazikim Ba” (It is a Tree of Life When You Hold It Close (my own translation).
On so many levels, the Torah informs me about how to live a life with more humility, with more honor towards others, with an appreciation for the Creator.
So, I have a visceral response when I hear the words describing the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testament.
And really, until now, I did not really own up to how much this description bothers me.
Though I am offended, I realize most people do not take this as seriously as I do, or are even aware that when they use that term, a judgment has been made.
It is especially when fellow Jews use the term to describe our Bible that I can’t help but feel a little bit of my insides wince. Ouch.
I am not sure why Jews are comfortable saying this term.
For zillions, it seems perfectly fine to refer to the Hebrew Bible as “Old”.
According to Google’s first search results, “Old” means a. having lived for a long time; no longer young, or b. belonging only or chiefly to the past; former or previous. Some of the synonyms offered for this are: bygone, past, former, olden, of old, previous.
Quite the opposite image of a living Torah. A Tree of Life does not wither, become bygone, or old.
When talking to Christian folks about religious matters, I tend to be forgiving, knowing that their entire faith rests on the “New” Testament, which for them, supplanted the old.
I choose not to correct their usage of the word, but in my references to Torah I use the term “Hebrew Bible”.
Even Dictionary.com offers this more honest explanation of the word “Old Testament”
1. the first of the two main divisions of the Christian Bible, comprising the Law, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa. In the Vulgate translation all but two books of the Apocrypha are included in the Old Testament.
2. this testament considered as the complete Bible of the Jews.
But in truth, is it not obvious to any one of the Christian faith that saying “Old Testament” negates an entire belief system, while I am respectful of theirs? Does this come with the territory of being a minority? Do we need to always be on the defensive?
After all, what’s the big deal, you ask? Well, there are so many reasons why I find this term offensive.
- The term “old” is comparative and relative, that is, “old” compared to what?
- Who exactly is the arbiter here of what is “old” and what is “new”? Why do I need to accept someone else’s label?
- The word old, in Western cultures, holds negative associations (why use or buy something “old”, when “new” is young, improved and trendy?
- The term used by a people for their holy texts should be the one that others use as well. How is it acceptable that one faith decides to create their own term for my holy text, which by its very meaning, puts it aside, rejecting it as “old”.
- Can you think of any other example in Western culture where one faith’s holy text is renamed in this way? Is there a pejorative name that is used when referring to the Qur’an for example?
The world of Biblical scholarship, from what I understand, is moving away from employing this term. I’ve yet to see a huge difference.
I hope as Jews, we can be way ahead of that curve. I hope we can begin to assert ourselves and our heritage by using our name for our treasured teachings.