Trying to explain "shiv'im panim" (70 faces) to a Mormon

Ah yes, the things I get myself into online. :) I ended up having an email conversation with this very nice Mormon guy. I mentioned the Jewish idea that there are 70 ways to interpret the Torah and he wrote back asking for clarification. I am sharing my reply here. I always feel so ill-equipped to have these conversations but did my best. Please let me know if you agree/disagree and if I missed anything vitally important! Bekitzur, let me know what you think about this.


Respectful Mormon, (no, I didn’t really start it this way)

Thanks so much for writing me about this. I apologize it’s taken me so long to answer. I always feel so incapable of having these conversations since I’m far less knowledgeable than so many other Jews I know. And yet I’m out in the world talking to people so I guess I need to converse the best way I can.

Please consider that I will write things like “in Judaism we believe” but of course there might be others who believe otherwise. Two Jews, three opinions. That’s what we always say.

See, but that is the point. That we try to celebrate the fact that there are many opinions. Yes, you are right that there are certain things that, if someone said that they believed it, hopefully they’d be excommunicated. Of course adultery is wrong, for example. But there are religious Jews who believe homosexuality is OK. I don’t know if this would be considered one of the 70 faces or not.

But DEFINITELY I do believe gays should be treated well, whether it’s right what they’re doing or not. One of the rabbis here is totally Orthodox but is very open with gays as far as having them in the synagogue and talking with them openly about their lifestyle. I very much respect this and think it’s important and good. Even if the rabbi believes that what they are doing is wrong, we are all doing things that are wrong and still need to be part of the community. (At the same time, the guy who was hitting on girls and acting slimy, was kicked out, btw.)

I recently finished reading The Year of Living Biblically and if there is one thing to get from the book (and it is one of the main things he got from his year) it’s that absolutely no one takes the Bible 100% literally. It just doesn’t work. Below is a a link to an article I wrote about a Jewish event this year in Vancouver about youth and homosexuality. I especially found it interesting what the rabbi (a different rabbi than the one mentioned above) said about it. You cannot say that she doesn’t have a point when she says that one of the ways to understand the line in the Torah about a man not sleeping with a man the way he sleeps with a woman is to, well, ignore it! I’m not saying I agree but I know that we obviously don’t take “an eye for an eye” literally. That is only one example. Maybe the quote about homosexuality should also not be taken literally. It’s a good point.

My article

You said that the 70 faces idea cannot work when it involves defining sin. It actually can, and does, to a certain extent. For example, one must dress with a certain level of modesty. Different communities and individuals understand the laws differently, some taking on more stringencies than others. So, my friend who tries to wear full length sleeves all the time, would be doing something wrong if she wore shorter sleeves. Someone else would not be doing anything wrong if they showed their elbow.

I’m purposely using an un-charged example. Once you get into laws that affect fellow humans, like adultery, it’s just wrong.

Anyway, it is SUCH a big topic! I think I’ll end here, even though I don’t feel like I’ve gotten much of a coherent thought across. But at least I tried.

Just one more thing. I find it so interesting that you mentioned salvation in your email. This word is not part of Judaism and it actually has negative connotations for me. It is a Christian term. We believe we need to make the world a better place. “Fix” it. We believe there is some type of reward in the next world but we don’t know how that works. We believe that everyone is capable of getting reward, whether they’re Jewish or not. No need to convert, only to follow the 7 Noahide laws.

Regarding Jews, we also believe that each individual is on their own journey. No one is keeping all the laws and that is fine. That is human and expected. So, someone might question God’s existence and that is fine. It’s great, actually. It helps people discuss and learn and grow. In Judaism we are pushed to ask questions even about (or maybe especially about) the biggest, most “basic” topics.

The person questioning these things will not miss their salvation opportunity.

70 faces…

Deena :)

Things in Judaism we don't mess with

It’s fascinating to look at Jewish practice and see which practices a large majority of Jews generally don’t mess with. I know it’s far from written in stone (unlike the tablets?) but it’s a feeling of, if you’re going to do it, do it right. Or maybe it’s the idea of, I’m Jewish, I’m going to keep doing this. Here are some examples. What other examples can you think of?


The other day I was talking to a woman whose mother passed away over a year ago. We were saying how our experience always has been that for yizkor (the remembrance prayer said during some of the holidays) everything else is dropped. No one wants to miss going to synagogue on those holidays at that specific time in order to say yizkor for their parent who passed away. I’d go so far as to say that most/all things connected to death are observed quite religiously by many/most Jews.


Mezuza might be another. In the book “The year of living Bibilically,” the author, A.J. Jacobs, writes that he comes from an extremely secular background. But then when he writes about the mitzva of having the parchment with the shema written on it, stuck to the doorpost, he writes as if it’s obvious that Jews have this. Totally “secular” yet doesn’t think twice about a mezuza?

The Sefer Torah

I have heard that all Torah scrolls in every synagogue or temple are identical to each other. Including the way they are written?


It’s a little iffy. So many Jews don’t eat pork but so many do!

Yom Kippur

Now this is an amazing one. Almost everyone, all Jews worldwide, keep Yom Kippur in one way or another.

What other mitzvot/commandments/traditions can you not imagine giving up even if you’re not very religious in the conventional sense?

Thou shall not murder.

As I drove home, I was thinking of the passover story. I was struggling with this.

The story begins in Egypt with Moses the prince of Egypt. Moses is living a pretty good life as far as we can tell then he murders some one. He murders a person who is beating on a slave.

Moses banishes himself and then is picked by G-d to save his Israelite kin. Why would G-d pick a murderer? Why does Moses become our greatest prophet? Why do we not hear of this again even after Moses walks down Sinai with the words of G-d?

Thou shalt not murder. לֹא תִרְצָח -Exodus 20:12

So does this mean that it is sometimes ok to murder? You can murder and become the prophet of a people. Or is there something different because Moses had not learned about this law yet?

mTp – With Intention

Peace and confusion in Bereshit

By Avrum Rosensweig

This is my uncle‘s first contribution to BMid. I’m so excited to have his writing here. This piece definitely touched me. Deena

One morning, I awoke with anxiety-plus stemming from the pressures of life and its many confrontations. Rather than letting my cyclical thoughts go on like a clothes dryer spinning wildly during the rinse cycle, I got out of bed – to do something different, something that might bring me peace of mind.

Sleepily, I tripped downstairs, put on my tallit and tfillin, walked out on my deck and opened the Chumash to the first parshah – Bereshit.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” I read this perhaps for the 45th time in my life. I read this for the very first time ever. Excitedly, I studied the inventiveness uncovered in each of the first six days of our world – the seas, insects, animals, fruit trees, man and then woman. “And he saw that his work was good.” Then Shabbat was created.

The parshah talked to me. I saw it was good and it gave me peace. It did as I looked to the “great light” – the blue heavens of the morning – and glimpsed the moon, which would soon bashfully hide its face until light turns to darkness.

An aloof chilly autumn wind tapped me on my shoulder – in fact, accosted me – but my tallit, a sacred woolly shawl, was impenetrable. My usual cold skepticism of ritual dissipated momentarily and my tallit became blessed armour.

Then my world became unformed, haphazard. My old nemesis returned – a deep inner awkwardness, a blend of fear, confusion, angst and a sense of being far too small. The moon hovering above my deck began to fade and the welcoming blue hue of the 7 a.m. sky became clouded. “Cain rose up against his brother (Abel) and slew him.”

In only a few short psukim (lines in the Torah), I had walked through a garden eastward, in Eden, with the man He had formed and the woman He had made, only to end up witness to a murder perpetrated by a brother against his brother. Did it have to be the very first brothers? Did murder have to come so soon “in the beginning”?

I attended a housewarming the next day, hosted by a B’nai Yisrael, an East Indian Jew – Shai Abraham. It was ritualistically complex, layered with spiritually beaded intricacy. I asked Shai’s father and uncle these questions as they exuded such an eastern elegance in their interpretation of the “offerings” we blessed and ate at the ceremony. One can often sense when they are sitting amongst wise men.

Was hurt, killing, deceit and madness created with creation?

Shai’s father and uncle conceded that indeed this is the case. “This,” they explained, “is the reality of our world – that what lies within all of us is the option to choose the light or the darkness. The Torah tells it as it is.”

So, I am Cain, and I am Abel, as you are. The Torah, in a literal sense spells it out. God created life. God created knowledge. Must be, that God too created evil.

And so my angst returned and my peace of mind left me. I have more questions now than I had before. How can pure goodness – God – create evil? How do we find our way back to the Garden? Can we ever rid ourselves of the wars, the tyrants – the Cain in us?

Sitting on my deck, as darkness turns too light, watching the birds peck at the seeds of grass still to catch, brings me great joy. I try not to allow Cain into my backyard, but he seems to know where it is. If I could only share my coffee with Abel, how full the world would be.

(Avrum Rosensweig is the president and founder of Ve’ahavta: The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian. Avrum has been writing for over twenty years and focuses on issues having to do with Judaism and Israel, humanitarian subjects and slices of life. He is the uncle of the author of this wonderful blog you are reading and advices that you share it far and wide. My writing can be read and discussed at