Operation Torah: Retired doctor examines the Bible, extracts the relevancy

Befitting Dr. Gerson Jacobs’ life work, when he started reading the Torah, he got right to the heart of it.

After retiring seven years ago from his cardiology practice, Jacobs began delving through his Bible more and more. A much-debated January New York Times op-ed piece by professor Stanley Fish titled “Will the Humanities Save Us?” inspired Jacobs to think similar thoughts about the Torah.

And, after much analysis, the 83-year-old Greenbrae resident is happy to say he’s found numerous uniquely Jewish and uniquely relevant aspects to the Torah — as he explains in lectures at Bay Area synagogues and Torah study classes.

“Everybody in my age group seems to be writing an article on something,” Jacobs says with a laugh.

Jews should be proud, Jacobs maintains, that ours is the first “God of liberation.”

“This is the only God in 10,000 years and [among] millions of gods to liberate slaves,” he says.

This, he believes, is a unifying principle that can cross religions: “There is still trafficking of human beings and indentured servitude. I am not impressed with isolation of Jews or the sectarian character of Judaism.”

In other words, this is our opportunity to be a light unto the world.

Another uniquely Jewish attribute Jacobs highlights is the tendency to argue with God (Moses, for example, argues when God proposed liquidating the Jews over the golden calf). This is a marked contrast to other religions — Islam, for example, literally means “submission.” Jacobs feels it also goes a long way toward explaining why the room turns so lively when you get more than two Jews in it.

Jacobs also points to instruction in Deuteronomy to “choose life.” Perhaps at the time the Torah was first written, this was a reaction to the culture of the afterlife in Phaeronic Egypt. Now, however, Jacobs feels it is a sturdy rejoinder to the culture of death one witnesses in radical Islam.

Finally, Jacobs smiles and refers to the Sabbath day of rest as, perhaps, the first successful general strike in history (perhaps a more relevant daily reference for French Jews, but relevant nonetheless).

“I feel that I’ve extracted the most powerful ideas from the first four books of Moses,” said Jacobs with a laugh. “And it isn’t circumcision and it isn’t kosher.” n

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.