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Jew and the Law
Posted: 09 August 2005 04:30 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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Some time ago, I witnessed a TV debate between two rabiis concerning the intrepretation of Jewish law - specifically the ten commandments (the Torah?).  Apparently issues of Jewish law and faith are not absolutes and are subject scholarly opinions where Rabii A says such and such, while Rabii B says something else.  I suppose that the same can be said for Christianity where Catholics say such and such while Protestants say something else.

The debate was concerning the prohibition against stealing - the commandment against stealing.  One rabii surprizingly argued that the prohibition was only against one Jew stealing from another Jew while the other rabii argued that the prohibition applied to all people, although stealing from another Jew was a greater crime.

Does anyone have any insight to this kind of thinking?

Stay Well

Wot

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Posted: 09 October 2005 08:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Prior to the destruction of the second temple in the year 70 of the Common Era (roughly equivalent to the Christian ‘A.D.’), Jewish religious culture was, roughly, that described in the Torah—a system of ritual sacrifice. 

Following the second temple’s destruction, there developed a new brand of religious culture called Rabbinic Judaism, which allowed a people that were becoming ever more widely dispersed to practice their religious culture wherever in the world they found themselves.  The core of that rabbinic tradition is what most Jews worldwide practice today.

A key feature of that brand of Jewish religious culture is an emphasis on textual interpretation and debate.  The Talmud is a record of that debate over centuries.  So it is entirely possible for two rabbis to offer widely divergent interpretations of the most arcane biblical minutiae.

Based on your recounting of the two rabbis’ debate, my own opinion is that both rabbis are right. 

The more traditional rabbi is correct in stating that the proscription against thievery applies only to Jews.  The reason is simple:  Jewish law was written for observance by Jews, not Christians.

But the less traditional rabbi is also correct.  Many of the Torah’s aggadic (moral and ethical) mitzvot (commandments) have become foundational in western society and enshrined in law.  Thus they apply to all, irrespective of their religious affiliation.

I hope you find the foregoing helpful.

—bencharif

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Posted: 11 October 2005 01:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Thanks for your insight on this issue. I was expecting the unfortunate answer you provided; that both rabiis are corect.

The more traditional rabbi is correct in stating that the proscription against thievery applies only to Jews. The reason is simple: Jewish law was written for observance by Jews, not Christians.

It’s a sad comment on religion in general, and Judaism in this specific case, that the tenets of the faith, those things that should inspire morality and rules for human interaction, could only be applied to like-believers.  I wonder if you intended to single out Christians in your quote above or did you mean all non-Jews (goyem) ?

Regards
Wot

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Posted: 11 October 2005 03:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Ben, not you too.

Many of the Torah’s aggadic (moral and ethical) mitzvot (commandments) have become foundational in western society and enshrined in law. Thus they apply to all, irrespective of their religious affiliation.

I hope this was just a reflexive statement born of years of indoctrination.  Why is it not obvious that basic tenents of morality have existed since humans first came to be social animals, and not since they were revealed to man by some inspired book? Ever wonder why we haven’t put “love thy neighbor” in any statute?

Rod

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Posted: 11 October 2005 04:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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I appreciate the opportunity to clarify my earlier response.

First, my opinion is that Torah is the product of human beings, not a supernatural being.  Again in my opinion, it is principally a legal and political document intended as a blueprint for a social order—and an attempt to objectify the specifics of that blueprint by attributing it to an all-powerful God. 

The commandments—later expanded and codified under rabbinic Judaism—are part of a religio-legal system designed to ensure continuity and cohesion (and frankly, survival) for a nation with no geographic base, widely dispersed throughout the world.  Not a diverse, democratic nation-state in the modern sense, but a nation in the sense of peoplehood.

Rod, I believe the mitzvot—both civil law and moral/ethical law—were created by human beings who needed to ensure a stable social order, which is exactly the purpose of civil law and moral/ethical law in secular society.  I agree that ideas about social organization evolved out of necessity and not revelation.

Wot, I like the idea that both rabbis can be correct.  Because the world I live in is ambiguous, complex and nuanced, I appreciate the intellectual wiggle-room.  Absolutes make me nervous.

Why should it be so distressing that Jewish law applies only to Jews?  Traditionally, the obligations of observance were considered so onerous by Jews themselves that prospective converts were viewed with skepticism.  “We HAVE to do this stuff,” they said to each other, “we’re Jews.  But why would anyone else take on these obligations if they didn’t have to?”

You’re right; I meant ‘non-Jews,’ not just Christians.  Thanks.

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Posted: 13 October 2005 02:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Wot, I like the idea that both rabbis can be correct. Because the world I live in is ambiguous, complex and nuanced, I appreciate the intellectual wiggle-room. Absolutes make me nervous.

Why should it be so distressing that Jewish law applies only to Jews? Traditionally, the obligations of observance were considered so onerous by Jews themselves that prospective converts were viewed with skepticism. “We HAVE to do this stuff,” they said to each other, “we’re Jews. But why would anyone else take on these obligations if they didn’t have to?”

You’re right; I meant ‘non-Jews,’ not just Christians. Thanks.

I think the answer is pretty obvious. If Jewish law is meant to govern only interaction between Jews then interaction bewteen Jew and Gentile is fair game. Therefore Jews would be permitted, under law to steal, kill, etc. when a Gentile is invoved.  Needless to say, this does not promote morality among “people”. I am distressed by your affinity for “wiggle room” when applied to morality.
If you did not understand the nature of the rabinal debate in the original post, please go back and review.

Ragards
Wot

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Posted: 13 October 2005 10:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Wot,

Jewish law was written to create a social and political structure for Jews living exclusively or principally among other Jews.  It was not written to exclude non-Jews or, for that matter, to relieve Jews of moral responsibility in their dealings with non-Jews. 

Such dealings would have been limited in number and nature; were not matters of particular concern because they were so few; and so were not addressed specifically as far as I am aware.  Nothing I have ever seen, read or heard suggests formal or informal approval of a moral double-standard in relation to Jews’ dealings with Jews versus non-Jews.  Certainly in our own time such an idea is indefensible on any grounds.

As for wiggle-room, I certainly wasn’t proposing a variable or conditional morality and ethics.  I was thinking—humorously, really—of a religion in which one rabbi says one thing, one rabbi says another, and both are right, depending on how they read Torah. 

This is well illustrated by a poem of Roger Kamenetz’s called “Pilpul.” But first, a few definitions supplied by A BOOK OF JEWISH CONCEPTS by Philip Birnbaum (Hebrew Publishing Co., 1964):

PILPUL
“In connection with Talmud studies, the term ‘pilpul’ is employed in the sense of a penetrating theoretical discussion which culminates in the drawing of conclusions in matters of halakhah, or traditional law.  . . .  Essentially aiming to clarify a talmudic subject by analysis of its essentials, there were times when the pilpul was made unpopular by its hair-splitting tendencies serving as an end in itself rather than a means of solving mooted problems.”

YARMULKE
Ritual headcovering

TEFILLIN
Quadrangular capsules made of approved animal skins which are affixed by leather straps to the arm and forehead, usually during weekday morning prayers.  The capsules contain four Torah passages which are intended to remind adult male Jews of their obligations under law.

Now, the poem:

PILPUL
by Roger Kamenetz

Rabbi, if a child is born with two heads,
which head should wear the yarmulke,
on which head the tefillin?
Some say the right head and some
say the left.  All quote Torah.
Some say both heads, just in case.

But if a man is born with two heads
he is always confused.  He never knows
on which head to wear the yarmulke.

Two heads and only two eyes.
He walks toward himself
in the old cemetery, where the rabbis
are buried.  There seems to be some
disagreement:  some are saying
we are dead; others, we are alive.
Some say both, all quote Torah.

—From THE MISSING JEW by Roger Kamenetz (Time Being Books, 1992)

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Posted: 13 October 2005 03:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Wot,

As you suggested, I did go back and read your original post.  Glad I did.

I seem to have missed the part where one of the rabbis says (I’m paraphrasing) that a Jew committing a crime against another Jew is somehow a graver offense than a Jew committing the same crime against a non-Jew. 

This is xenophobic nonsense; a distortion, an inversion of communal solidarity. You were right to be appalled.  I certainly was.

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Posted: 13 October 2005 05:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Ben, I think we’re pretty much on the same page.

Later, Rod

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Posted: 14 October 2005 12:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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I seem to have missed the part where one of the rabbis says (I’m paraphrasing) that a Jew committing a crime against another Jew is somehow a graver offense than a Jew committing the same crime against a non-Jew.

This is xenophobic nonsense; a distortion, an inversion of communal solidarity. You were right to be appalled. I certainly was.


Agreed.  Yet it is not uncommon for religions to impose two moral codes; one for like-believers and one for infiidels - not to say that any morality is actually practiced.  I think this is especially true for the Abrahamic faiths and less common for the the far-eastern faiths.

“I find that religion fails to inspite morality in the people and chiefly serves to make us unfriendly to one another”

- Benjamin Franklin


Thanks for the insighful posts into Jewish thinking and law.


Stay Well

Wot

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Posted: 27 January 2006 01:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Such commandments applied to all persons.


Well I am certaily glad to see that the voice of authority has chimed in here

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Posted: 07 February 2006 08:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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I am not an orator, a writer, or a scholar just a guy who did read the scriptures and some of the interpretations to them, and here is what I gleaned from my reading:

Life is much simpler and less complex then all that.
Our for-father…Abraham figured it out, Wow, sayeth he to himself,
Look at all these idiots worshipping those stupid little clay dolls, I do not want my kids learning this crap, But how do I make sure that they all walk the straight and narrow,  “Oh”, said he, we make one big God who is so huge and powerful that he can do everything and punish anyone and create the world and humans and all the animals and the trees and bushes and blades of grass, and just if people ask how I know this… well…he spoke to me. And to make my first son Yitzhak (Isaac) believe more then all, I will pretend to sacrifice him, and let him go at the last minute…

Well… do you see were I am going with this? And as for science well most of that is “theory until proven otherwise”.

The need to legislate morality is the core of religion; it has worked fine in the tribal environments that were relatively isolated (no phones, TV, news papers, Etc…) as was the situation in most of the world 3000 to 5000 years ago. As soon as nations became large enough i.e. Greek empire, Roman Empire, Automan Empire, The Catholic Empire after that and to this vary day, religion is nothing more than the use of Gods name in vain, more simply put, those who are in a position to use it abuse it for power and control.

Add to that the promise of life ever after (i.e. Christianity and Islam) and you have a mess on our hands as we do today.

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Posted: 12 February 2006 10:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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I am not an orator, a writer, or a scholar just a guy who did read the scriptures and some of the interpretations to them, and here is what I gleaned from my reading:

I guess that coherency or span of attention are not your strong suits.

How does your reply relate to the topic or anything that was posted on this topic?

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Posted: 18 November 2006 11:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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wotannson,
I don’t know if you will read this message, but just in case.

I don’t have an answer to your original question but more of a comment.

It is actually believed (by most Israeli rabbis), that the word “steal” does not refer to posetions, but rather to people. So “thou shall not steal” actually means (according to some rabbis) “thou shall not kidnap”.

Just thought you would like to know :wink:

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Posted: 21 November 2006 12:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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[quote author=“maayan”]wotannson,
I don’t know if you will read this message, but just in case.

I don’t have an answer to your original question but more of a comment.

It is actually believed (by most Israeli rabbis), that the word “steal” does not refer to posetions, but rather to people. So “thou shall not steal” actually means (according to some rabbis) “thou shall not kidnap”.

Just thought you would like to know :wink:


This would seem to illustrate my point that much of all faiths are subjective. If you talk to the right rabbi you can get the answer you want. Thanks for the comment.

Stay Well
Wot

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Posted: 31 August 2007 12:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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“Ever wonder why we haven’t put “love thy neighbor” in any statute?”

Haven’t you noticed the trend of legislation regarding “hate crimes”?

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