Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Torah Ethics - a Sample

It's hard to picture any system of ethics which demands more meticulous honesty and integrity than Orthodox Judaism. Even keeping in ones house a false weight to be used as a chamber pot is forbidden.

The Torah teaches "You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in length, in weight, or in measure. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt." Leviticus 19:35-36

I recently studied a section of the Talmud which discusses the issue of using accurate weights and measures.

Our Rabbis taught: Whence [may it be inferred] that [the measure] must not be levelled where the practice is to heap it up, and [that] it must not be heaped up where the practice is to level it? — For it has been definitely stated, A perfect … measure. And whence [may it be inferred] that we are not to listen to one who Says, 'I will level where the practice is to heap up, and reduce the price' or 'I will heap up where they level, and raise the price'? — For it has been definitely stated, A perfect and just measure thou shalt have.

Our Rabbis taught: Whence [is it to be inferred] that the exact weight must not be given where the practice is to allow overweight, and that overweight must not be allowed where the practice is to give the exact weight? — For it has been definitely stated, A perfect weight. And whence [may it be inferred] that we are not to listen to one who says, 'I will give the exact weight where the practice is to allow overweight, and reduce the price', or 'I will allow overweight where they give the exact weight, and raise the price'? — For it has been definitely stated, A perfect and just weight. Rab Judah of Sura said: Thou shalt not have [anything] in thy house; why? — Because of [thy] diverse measures. Thou shalt not have [anything] in thy bag; why? — Because of [thy] diverse weights. But [if thou keep] a perfect and just weight, thou shalt have [possessions]; [if] a perfect and just measure, thou shalt have [wealth].

Our Rabbis taught: [It is written], You shall do no unrighteousness in judgments in meteyard, in weight. or in measure. In meteyard relates to the measuring of ground; one should not measure out for one person in the hot season and for another in the rainy season. In weight, [means] that one shall not keep his weights in salt. In measure, that one shall not cause [liquids] to froth. And by inference from minor to major, [the following may be deduced]. If the Torah cared [for proper measure in] a mesurah which is one thirty-sixth of a log. how much more [should one be careful to give proper measure in the case] of a hin half a hin, a third of a hin, a quarter of a hin, a log, half a log, a quarter [of a log], a toman, half a toman and an 'ukla!

Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: A person is forbidden to keep in his house a measure [which is either] smaller or larger [than the nominal capacity] even if [it is used as a] urine tub.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

God Damned Gobbies

[secular satire of religious Christians]

Atheists frequently call monotheists "fundies", slang for "fundamentalists". However what is the monotheistic slang term for atheists?

Could this be an idea: Gobbies, standing for "Godless Bastards" or if female "Godless Bitches"?

For example "Christopher Hithchens is a radical Gobbie." or "Evolution is a Gobbie myth."

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Samaritans and Torah from Sinai

One interesting document supporting the truth of the divine origin of Pentateuch is the Samaritan Pentateuch.

The Samaritans are a community of people who are today quite small however in ancient times they were far more numerous. According the Hebrew Bible, 2 Kings 17, they are not authentically Jews at all, but rather are Judaized gentiles who were settled in Palestine by the Assyrians, following the exile of the Ten Tribes. At their request, a priest of the Ten Tribes instructed them in Judaism. According the Samaritan tradition, they are simply descendents of the Ten Tribes who never went into exile. DNA analysis seems to indicate descent from Jewish priests who intermarried with Assyrian women. In the time of Second Temple, the Bible portrays the Samaritans as being the enemies of the Jews. According to the New Testament, Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. The Talmud calls them “Cuthim”, referring to Cuthah, were some of them had originated, and does not consider them to be Jews. According to the Samaritan tradition, they broke away from the rest of the Jewish people soon after the time of Joshua. According to Jewish tradition, their tradition diverged permanently from other Jews at the time of King Jeroboam, after the reign of Solomon.

At any rate, there exists a community of people, who, according to all accounts, have been separated from the Jewish people by mutual hatred for approximately 3,000 years. Nevertheless they possess and revere the Pentateuch in a form almost identical to the Masortic text, the most major departure being the inclusion in the Ten Commandments of a command to build the altar on Mt. Gerizim. This would seem to date the Pentateuch to no later than 500 years after the Exodus. This of course makes it even more incredible that the Exodus miracles are mythical and ficticious. Can we imagine someone today writing a book claiming that Columbus split the Atlantic Ocean and crossed on dry land to America, and all Americans unanimously believing this?

According to the Documentary Hypothesis, the Samaritans should only possess the so called "E document", as has been pointed out by others.

I corresponded several years ago with Professor Richard E. Friedman, author of “Who Wrote The Bible”. I asked him as follows:

I have read your book, Who Wrote the Bible, where you state that the redactor of the Pentateuch was probably Ezra. I am curious to know how this could be the case, since the Samaritans also possess the Pentateuch with almost no substantial differences, although they were not followers of Ezra. In fact, Samaritan and Jewish traditions only diverged following the period of King Solomon, making it appear that the Pentateuch at latest dates to the time of the United Monarchy.

Jacob Stein

He was kind enough to reply:

Dear Mr. Stein:

Thank you for your letter. Perhaps I misunderstand you, but it appears that you take the Samaritans to be Israelites who lived in (Northern?) Israel as far back as the United Monarchy. The Samaritans are rather understood in the biblical text to be non-Israelite people who were brought into the territory of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians after they had conquered it and deported and/or displaced the Israelite population. This is described in 2 Kings 17, especially verses 23 to 34. As for the question of when these Samaritans came to accept the Torah as their sacred text, that is an old and complex problem in biblical scholarship. If you are interested in pursuing it, I suggest that you start with the articles on "Samaritan Pentateuch" and "Samaritans" in volume 5 of The Anchor Bible Dictionary. These articles include substantial bibliography for further study.

I wish you well in your continuing studies of these interesting questions.

Richard Elliott Friedman
Davis Professor of Jewish Studies, University of Georgia
Katzin Professor of Jewish Civilization Emeritus, University of California, San Diego

I also inquired of Dr. Israel Finkelstein, Professor of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University:

“Why do the Samaritans accept the entire Pentateuch, rather than only the E document?"

He kindly responded:

"I don't have a definite answer to this question, with which many great scholars contemplated. In any event, it needs to be asked on the background of the 5th or 4th centuries BCE, when the Pentateuch was put in writing including P and R; at that time the schism with the Samaritans was not final"

My understanding is that secular scholars would like to date the schism between the Samaritans and Jews to be from the time of Ezra, or even somewhat later. I don’t see any basis for this, other than a desire to assign a later date to the Pentateuch.

In fact, taking it a step further, I would say that since the Pentateuch includes no mention of Jerusalem, which was central in the times of David and Solomon, it must date from the time of Samuel at latest, or about 400 years after the Exodus.

In any case, anyone wishing to deny the historical accuracy of the miracles recounted in the first half of the book of Exodus must be able to explain why the Jewish people, fanatically and unanimously, believed in those miracles from just a few centuries after they allegedly occurred up until the time of the Jewish Enlightenment.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Homosexuality and the Talmud

[beheading - a Talmudic punishment for sodomy]

Following the Daf Yomi program, the page of the Talmud which was studied yesterday was Sanhedrin 54. This page states that sodomy is punished with death. In fact, this is a death penalty for both Jews and non-Jews. I believe that the United States government should amend the Constitution to make male to male anal intercourse a capital crime.

Modern secular people are shocked by this. After all, if two consenting adult men in private enjoy this behavior, why should anyone interfere?

The first and most important reason is: Because God said so. Leviticus 20:13 states "And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." Of course, we must obey God's command without question or hesitation, just as Abraham was prepared to kill his beloved son Isaac (Genesis 22). Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die.

The truth, however, is that the Torah's severe prohibition of male to male anal intercourse has many obvious practical benefits.

Most seriously, male homosexuality represents a huge public health problem.

Because the rectum is designed to hold feces and not to receive a penis, the walls of the rectum are thinner, dryer and more rigid than the walls of the vagina. This makes anal intercourse an ideal way to transmit disease and infection.

In addition to this, male homosexuals are usually promiscuous.

It doesn’t take a lot of medical knowledge to realize that a community of millions of men who are randomly having anal sex with each other is the ideal breeding ground for sexual diseases and for the development of new, more dangerous, ones. The AIDS epidemic may be a divine punishment for homosexuality, but only in the sense that breaking ones neck is a punishment for jumping out a window. It’s worthwhile noting that the United States, which has completely legalized homosexuality, has an HIV rate 60 times higher than Saudi Arabia, which has a death penalty for homosexuality. Encouraging condom usage has not really solved the problem.

The American Red Cross will not accept a blood donation from practicing male homosexuals.

Unfortunately, homosexuals do not keep these diseases to themselves, since many have sex with women as well and then these infections spread to the larger community. In addition, homosexuals are likely to have sex with minor boys.

It's also difficult to believe that homosexuality is something genetically transmitted and unchangeable like skin color. Like for example alcoholism, there is a genetic influence, however culture plays a huge role. Until the 1944 murder of a homosexual, the New York Times makes no reference whatsoever to a homosexual residing in the New York area. Could they all have been so secretive for generations? It seems hardly likely.