Desert Island Texts

Desert Island Texts

If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?

This week Anna Posner, an ex-LJY-Netzer movement worker about to start rabbinic college, selects the Tower of Babel

I love the universality of the pre-Abraham Bible stories and feel they can teach us many things about how we should interact in our multicultural world. Until recently, however, the story of the Tower of Babel has puzzled me. I have always believed that the key to peace and understanding is communication, so have found it difficult to understand why God would take away this ability.

A recent session in which I participated shed some light on the subject. In the creation story, God creates humans in His image, and tells them to be fruitful and multiply and spread across the land.

This last line is the key: God tells humans to spread across the land. Yet what do we see in the story of the Tower of Babel? All of humanity is gathered in one place, speaking one language and building not only a tower, but a whole city. So it seems that God may not really be upset by the building of the Tower, but rather by the fact that humanity is doing the very opposite of spreading across the land.

Historically, we see that countries that speak the same language as each other do so because a conquering force has colonised the area and imposed language and culture on the people. The Babel story falls between two lists of genealogy, suggesting that the people were scattered before and after. Perhaps they got to where they were in Babel because one family conquered others.

By separating the people God is, in fact, protecting them and making them equal once again. Instead of this being a story of humanity being torn apart, it is a celebration of culture and diversity. What better message than that to carry with me to a desert island far from home?