These are the Devel­op­ments of the Human

Ethan Daniel Davidson

  • Review
By – December 10, 2021

These are the Devel­op­ments of the Human is an unusu­al book. This should not be sur­pris­ing, con­sid­er­ing that its author, Ethan Daniel David­son, is a stu­dent of Eng­lish, French, and Turk­ish lit­er­a­ture, of Jew­ish phi­los­o­phy, and of Islam­ic law. He is also a film­mak­er, visu­al artist, folk musi­cian, phil­an­thropist, and non-prof­it leader. His book is a col­lec­tion of reflec­tions from years of per­son­al study fol­low­ing the pass­ing of his father, William David­son, in 2009.

Davidson’s writ­ing is poet­ic in form, and a read­er should not be con­cerned with the rules of gram­mar or punc­tu­a­tion. Writ­ten in Eng­lish, with both Hebrew and Hebrew translit­er­a­tion inter­spersed through­out, the entries are best read aloud, to cap­ture the sound of the texts as much as their mean­ing. Like the Tal­mud, they have a mean­der­ing style, and a read­er must be pre­pared to leap with the author through seem­ing­ly uncon­nect­ed ideas that are woven togeth­er in unex­pect­ed ways. At the same time, many of the pieces include notes, foot­notes to the sources con­sult­ed, and sug­ges­tions for fur­ther exploration.

There is an Ani­mal Wait­ing Inside of You, Wait­ing for You to Be its Mas­ter is one of sev­er­al reflec­tions on the sto­ry of Cain and Abel. It unpacks the cryp­tic expres­sion khataat rovetz, often trans­lat­ed as sin crouch­es at the door” and explores how both rab­binic texts and com­men­ta­tors have trans­lat­ed this expres­sion. Rec­og­niz­ing that the word rovetz is only used in the con­text of liv­ing things, and draw­ing on a midrash in Gen­e­sis Rab­bah, as well as inter­pre­ta­tions by Rab­bi Sam­son Raphael Hirsch and the Lubav­itch­er Rebbe, David­son sug­gests that rovetz might best be under­stood as to lie down or stretch out, much like a dog wait­ing for its mas­ter. Fur­ther inter­pre­ta­tion leads the author to suggest:

Qayin could have ele­vat­ed his khaatat
by offer­ing it to Hashem.
he act­ed like an animal
He became like an animal
He was mis­tak­en for an animal
He was hunt­ed like an animal

With this last line, David­son links Cain’s actions to the appro­pri­ate­ness of God’s pun­ish­ment. As a wan­der­er of the earth, Cain becomes a per­son in per­pet­u­al escape, much like a hunt­ed animal.

Read­ing Davidson’s book takes patience. These are the Devel­op­ments of the Human offers a frag­ment­ed per­son­al mem­oir, an appre­ci­a­tion of his father and the oppor­tu­ni­ties with which the author has been blessed, and the chance to take a fresh look at many of Judaism’s most sig­nif­i­cant texts through the eyes of a cre­ative thinker and inspired artist. One may need to read and re-read a pas­sage to ful­ly grasp the author’s intent, but it is worth the challenge.

Jonathan Fass is the Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of Edu­ca­tion­al Tech­nol­o­gy and Strat­e­gy at The Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion Project of New York.

Discussion Questions