Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A pre-Pesach rerun with a current update

See especially The Physicist's comment to this post of mine.

Our son's current question is whether some of the more stringent interpretations of Jewish law were designed for the express purpose of excluding a growing proportion of the Jewish community.  Seriously, separate dishwashers for dairy and meat?  Separate kitchens for Pesach?  As our son commented:

"The argument here though is on the unreasonableness and unnecessary expense involved in some of these rules. This entire topic, in fact, came up because of Passover. AN entire separate set of everything to be used only for 8 days a year? Talking not just about the separate dishes for Passover, but the separate dishes in general: why do we do this? Surely this in unnecessary and unreasonable for most people, who do not have custom kitchens, who do not have the space for multiple dishes, who have one sink and one dishwasher.

Clearly, in biblical times this was never done. It might be months worth of earnings just to purchase a single plate for each person in your family in those times; they certainly did not have different dishes for milk and meat, let alone Passover. They simply did not eat them at the same time and cleaned up for Passover, and that was enough. Certainly we clean our plates far better than they did, so it can't be about residue. We even have better food sourcing, so the chances of a mixup are far lower for us than they were for them. Why was it good enough for them and not for modern Jews?

Part of it certainly is the practice of "building a fence around the law." This is the same logic that says poultry is meat, even though it can't possibly be exposed to mothers' milk since birds don't have any. But I think that some of it is also simple elitism; the desire to show that Jews are different and thus better than the gentiles. We shouldn't need the extra expense, the extra large houses, the custom kitchens that the tradition of so thoroughly separating milk and meat brings. Washing dishes in between meals should be enough. Even a large amount of kosher supervision is unnecessary; how can grain or even more ridiculously sponges be traif? But instead, we have this custom, and woe betide those who don't stick to them, for they shall be cast out and called fake Jews."

Never mind that some in the Orthodox community look down on non-Orthodox Jews; now, certain segments of the Orthodox community look down on other Orthodox Jews.  The conversion crisis is a symptom of this exclusionary attitude, given that the question involved is less "Who is a Jew?" than "Who is a rabbi?"  (Start here and you can click your way all the way back to 2008.)  But even kashrut questions, and even questions of what constitutes appropriate clothing for a Jew, even within the Orthodox community, can separate Jew from Jew.  Is it possible that our son is right, that one of the purposes, conscious and/or unconscious, of increasingly stringent ("chumradik") interpretations of Jewish religious law (halachah), customs (minhagim), and/or tradition (mesorah) is precisely to narrow the parameters/perimeters of the Jewish community?

"They shall be cast out and called fake Jews."

Monday, March 19, 2018

So much to say, so little time

A word of Torah
Prof. Jeffrey H. Tigay asks, "Why Are Laws for Priests Included in the Torah?"  His answer is that this is "the Torah's program to democratize knowledge and create an educated laity."  See here.  I think he has a point.  Even though ordinary Jews couldn't perform sacrifices, they could witness them.  Just about the only restriction was that only the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) could enter the Kodesh Kodashim (Holy of Holies).

If you haven't yet discovered, please do.

Senator Elizabeth Warren meets the Chief Rabbinate, so to speak
If my son were to choose to get married in Israel, he would first have to prove to the Rabbanut HaRashit of Israel that he's Jewish--the Chief Rabbinate is as obsessed with "fake Jews" as Trump is with "fake news," and they intend to ensure that no "fakes" get mixed in with the "real" ones.  They've been known to reject even conversions performed by some Orthodox rabbis, and/or to declare conversions performed years ago invalid.  (Start here and you can click your way all the way back to 2008.)  My word, and that of my Jewish mother, my Jewish grandmother, and my Jewish great-grandmother would not be enough.

Senator Warren finds herself in a similar position--she's been asked to take a DNA test to prove her assertion that she has Native American ancestry, as if the word of her own relatives is not enough.  It turns out that a DNA test might not prove any such thing.

For both her and me, it's an insult to our families.

From the frying pan into the fire
Since Rex Tillerson just about single-handedly decimated the State Department, I've never been a great fan of his.  Even so, firing a person by Twitter is about as low as one can go.  And now we get the combative Mike Pompeo, an interesting choice for the country's chief diplomat.  If we don't end up at war with whatever country's leader ticks off the president the most, it'll be a miracle.

Misappropriation of public funds--our cabinet members rob the Feds to feed, well, themselves
See here.

Did I miss anything?

On the plus side:

Andrew McCabe may yet come out ahead . . .
. . . if some Democrats in Congress live up to their offers to hire him so that he can collect the pension that he would have earned if he hadn't been fired literally days before he was eligible.
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