Tuesday, August 31, 2010

So, how strict do you want to be?

We all know how the joke goes. Moshe Rabbeinu is having a conversation with Ribbonu shel Olam about Kashrut. G-d asks how its going and Moshe, who must himself be rather amazed by the developments since his departure from this earth, explains about the waiting increasing lengths of time between meat and dairy, separate pots and pans, separate ovens, bugs in lettuce, no longer eating the fruits that cannot be peeled, various hechsharim devised by those for whom the existing ones are not good enough and so on. G-d has finally heard enough and says, “Wait a minute, they got all of that from not boiling a kid in its mother’s milk?!” Irreverence aside, there is a reason for the joke and an important lesson in its message. As Charles Kimball explains in his very important book When Religion Becomes Evil, religion (and in our case, Judaism) is a most valuable and important institution that becomes severely compromised and tainted when the Created Being knows better than the Creator what G-d wants from us as G-d’s Created Beings.

So, during this last week’s Parsha, we all heard the Tochecha, the list of warnings given for wrong doings that were of a private nature. As my daughter, Yoella Leah Epstein, pointed out with the acuity that naturally accompanies her thinking, in this list of misdeeds that we read in a particularly quiet and thoughtful voice to reflect the private nature in which we go against G-d and all that we stand for in such misdeeds, any statement about the injunction against single sex loving relationships is missing. What do we make of this, if anything, given the intense emotions, sometimes bordering on hysteria with which such discussions often occur about our homosexual sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers and our many loved ones and close friends? Could it just be -- really could it (?!?) that G-d is conveying the notion that gang rape and abusive and demeaning sexual relations of ANY KIND is a public chet while we should continue to love and support and FULLY ACCEPT those close to us who are biologically wired for intimate and loving and nurturing relationships other than the man-wife notion presented in the beginning of Bereshit? Could this be another “intended loophole” much like the one we note with the daughters of Zelophachad in which we learn that yes, there might be ideals inherent in our Torah law, such as there will always be sons to inherit, children will never die before their parents, and men and women will marry and love each other and produce children! Yet, reality does not always meet ideal and clearly G-d adjusts, why can’t we?

In a day and age where our Young Israel national organization has recently declared that Gerim/converts are not allowed to lead our congregations’ lay boards as President, and burkas are worn by women in Ramat Beit Shemesh and so much else is going on that I nor so many other students of Torah and Gemara cannot find anywhere, one has to ask what else is found in the Tochecha in terms of what appears and what does not? Perhaps, just perhaps we are missing a most important notion of our Jewish law – that there are limits (as seen in the Gemara itself if one carefully follows many of the discussions that end with Teiku, that humble statement that at the end of the day we may not know exactly what G-d had in mind and this DOES NOT give us blanket permission to make it up as we go along, adding more and more restrictions that makes being observant feel more like a fraternity hazing than the structured, caring, disciplined system of law it is intended to be.

So, if Moshe Rabbeinu popped in today, what would he think about these developments? What would G-d? Something to think about as we all ready ourselves for the coming Days of Awe, don’t you think?!