Thursday, January 03, 2008

Imitating Other Peoples

Babylonian Talmud, masekhet Sanhedrin 39b

Ribbí Yehoshua‘ ben Leivi threw two verses against each other:

AND YOU DID NOT ACT
ACCORDING TO THE ORDINANCES
OF THE NATIONS SURROUNDING YOU


and

AND YOU DID ACT
ACCORDING TO THE ORDINANCES
OF THE NATIONS SURROUNDING YOU


In these two quotes, God's message through the prophet Yehhezqeil is a message of rebuke and sentencing. The Israelite People has committed too many horrific breaches of its contract with God, and therefore punishment is on its way.

The only problem is, these two entries on our national 'rap sheet' contradict each other. What's the problem? Did we copy the practices, social mores, laws, or culture of the surrounding nations? Or did we not do that, and that's the problem?! For those of us raised on a steady (or even intermittent) diet of חוקות הגויים, the question is shocking — did the First Israelite/Judean Commonwealth fall apart, was the First Temple destroyed, was ‘Am Yisra’eil cast into exile... because we didn't imitate foreign ways of doing things? And what about the more expected pasuq, the one that says that punishment comes for doing the imitation itself?

Ribbí Yehoshua‘ ben Leivi answers the contradiction:

כמתוקנים שבהם לא עשיתם
כמקולקלין שבהם עשיתם


YOU DID NOT ACT
ACCORDING TO THEIR PROPER WAYS.
YOU DID ACT
ACCORDING TO THEIR IMPROPER WAYS.


RYB"L is representing a worldly integrationist Judaism. One that goes outside, like Ribbí Mei’ir learning from Elisha‘ ben Avuya — eating the fruit and discarding the peel. We go out into the world and make choices. We delineate holy from mundane, pure from taboo, permitted from forbidden. There's so much out there — so many people, cultures, sciences and histories — to learn from, and we aren't going to hide our heads in the sand, living in an self-isolated world and hoping that everything else would just disappear and leave us alone. We need to be experiencing and evaluating — this we can learn from; this we can't — seeing God's world and God's children through God-colored lenses, instead of seeing everything that comes from Outside through a lens of suspicion.

And God will consider us liable if we don't...

5 Comments:

Blogger Shlomo Argamon said...

Pshhhhhhh!

1/04/2008 12:25 AM  
Blogger thanbo said...

Yeah, well, RYB"L is a far-lefty modern-orthodox type. Without his memra in Megillah, we wouldn't have Shira-Chadasha type minyanim (women leining in a regular minyan). Is it so odd that he's also a Torah-u-Madda-nik?

1/05/2008 10:53 PM  
Blogger Yehu said...

The real psht is that "youdidn't even do like their straight ones, but like their corrupt ones. We're talking people and behaviour, not ideas and issues. IMHO the Torah only condones apllied hard sciences like medicine, but opposes non-practical stuff like astronomy, certainly culture. You think the Torah wants people headbanging to "astronomy"???

1/06/2008 11:52 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Yehu:

Blue Oyster Cult?!
Sounds like some kind of treif avoda zara to me... :-P

1/07/2008 12:17 AM  
Blogger Yehu said...

Heck, Steg, you're always a more complex individual than I imagine. I can never figure you out. I thought you may have some problems with the "blue", but Oyster? Cult? That's very intolerant!

1/07/2008 1:24 AM  

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