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Archive for August, 2010

Ki Tetze – What’s it all about (#Torah)

Posted by rabbiart on August 20, 2010


Needless to say, Ki Tetze has a lot of mitzvot. For some, the meaning and purpose is clear, easy to understand, and goes down easy with the “modern” reader. For example, the obligation to return a lost object to its owner, and the companion obligation to not pretend we don’t see the lost object that needs returning to its owner.

Some of the mitzvot have both obvious (the pshat) and more subtle meanings, like not to put a stumbling-block before the blind. To do literally that would be so cruel. How about leaving valuables in plain sight in your parked car? That is also putting a stumbling-block before the blind.

Some of the mitzvot read like they made sense “back then” but don’t make sense now. Women wearing men’s clothing, and the reverse. In a society wear women wear slacks, jeans and shorts, who is to say if those are men or women’s clothing. If you’re Jewish and a rookie professional athlete and your team’s hazing ritual is to make the (male) rookies wear dresses, will you be able to say “I don’t do that” and make it stick.

A couple of the mitzvot derived from this parsha are anachronistic at best and downright troubling at worst; I made a brief explanation of that in a prior post.

At first blush the mitzvot of Ki Tetze seem to be all over the map, simply a compendium of all sorts of different obligations applicable at different times and circumstances. At closer examination, most – if not all – of the mitzvot have to do with relationships between individuals and the construction of a just and fair society. A couple should not be intimate – in the biblical sense – except in a sanctified relationship. A warrior who captures an attractive woman must subdue his impulse to take her. A person in a dispute with his neighbor must still return lost possessions and help with fallen burdens. Day laborers should be paid promptly. A hired worker should be fed by his employer, but shouldn’t eat on his employer’s time when he is suppoed to be working. Foreigners and aliens should be integrated into our society (OK, after a couple of generations!). Debtors should be treated with dignity, and if they need a pawned object or collateral for life’s basic necessities, these things should not be withheld. When we make a promise, we should not be late in fulfilling it. When we harvest the fruits of our labor, whether agriculturally or commercially, we should think about and leave something for those in need.

Even animals should be treated properly and with compassion. Animals of unequal strength should not be yoked together. An animal – a kind of employee – should not be muzzled when working in the crop fields.

Perhaps the Haftorah this Shabbat provides the theme for our Torah reading. The Rockies may crumble, Gilbralter may fall (the Gershwin brothers by way of Rabbi Mark Hurvitz), but HaShem’s kindness, covenant of peace and compassion will never be removed from us. And we should never remove it from each other.

Shabbat Shalom

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Israel Bike Ride 2010 – We’re over the minimum

Posted by rabbiart on August 20, 2010


Thanks to all the contributors listed by name in the left hand column, and a few contributors who prefer to remain anonymous, I’ve met the minimum fund-raising amount of 100 x Chai, or $3600.00. Stay tuned for more exciting reports as the trip approaches, and daily posts about the ride once it begins. You’ve all contributed to breaking down the walls of hate and building bridges of friendship.

Consider these few sentences from one of the Jordanian alumni of the Arava Institute.

“I was born and raised by Palestinian parents in Amman, Jordan. My parents moved from Hebron to Jordan in 1956 before the six day war in 1967, and after the war they had no choice but to become citizens of a country where they did not belong. …I had never met a Jew before I started my studies in Israel. Before I arrived at the Arava Institute I had the impression that all Israelis were the enemy of the Arab. I quickly realized that many of these preconceptions were wrong….In addition to my involvement in the Arava Institute, I was a participant in the Camp Towanga Peace Makers Camp in the summer of 2006 and 2007 in California.. The camp gave me tools to strengthen my position as peacemaker and leader in the Arava Institute.
In my opinion, dealing with the Arab Israeli conflict through environmental lines will have the greatest positive impact on the conflict.”

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Ki Tetze – the Mitzvot (#Torah)

Posted by rabbiart on August 19, 2010


Ki Tetze contains 27 “positive” and 47 “negative” mitzvot.

#532: the law of how to treat a captured (in war) beautiful woman
#533: not to sell a captured beautiful woman
#534: not to make a captured beautiful woman into a slave after conjugal intimacy
#535: to hang persons who have been sentenced to hang by the bet din
#536: not to leave someone hung overnight on the gallows
#537: to bury those executed by court order
#538: to return a lost object to its owner
#539: not to turn a blind eye to a lost object
#540: not to leave the beast of one’s neighbor lying under its burden
#541: to help lift up a load for an Israelite
#542: that a woman should not wear the clothing or accoutrements of a man
#543: that a man should not wear the clothing or accoutrements of a woman
#544: not to take a mother-bird when the young is in the nest
#545: to send the mother-bird away from the nest before taking the young
#546: to build a parapet on one’s roof
#547: not to put a stumbling-block before the blind
#548: not to sow mixed seeds in a vineyard in Israel
#549: not to eat the produce of mixed sees in a vineyard in Israel

#550: not to do work with two kinds of animals together
#551: not to wear cloth of wool and linen
#552: to acquire a wife
#553: that the wife about whom her husband spread an evil report should live with him permanently
#554: that the husband who spreads an evil report about his wife may never divorce her
#555: that the bet din should sentence to stoning anyone who merits that punishment
#556: not to punish anyone for a transgression committed under compulsion
#557: that a rapist should take his victim as a wife*
#558: that a rapist must never divorce his victim*
#559: that an emasculated man should not marry an Israelite woman
#560: that a bastard should not marry an Israelite woman
#561: that no Ammonite or Moabite may marry an Israelite woman
#562: to never offer peace to Ammon or Moab
#563: not to reject the descendants of Esau two generations after they convert
#564: not to reject an Egyptian two generations after they convert
#565: that a ritually unclean person should not enter the camp of the Levites
#566: to prepare an “easement” in a camp when troops go out to war
#567: to prepare a tool or spade for making an “easement” in the camp
#568: not to return a slave who has fled from his master into the land of Israel

#569: not to oppress the slave who fled from his master into the land of Israel
#570: that there should be no conjugal intimacy without a ketubah and a wedding
#571: not to bring the wage of a harlot as a holy offering
#572: not to borrow at interest from an Israelite
#573: to lend to a non-Israelite at interest, but not to lend to an Israelite at interest
#574: not to be late with a vowed or voluntary offering
#575: to fulfill all vows
#576: to allow a hired worker to eat certain things while (on break) working for hire
#577: that a hired worker should not take out more than what he ate while working
#578: that a hired worker should not eat from his employer’s crops while working
#579: that one who wants to divorce his wife should do so with a proper document
#580: that a divorced man should not take back his ex-wife after she has remarried
#581: that a groom should not be out of his house for long periods during the first year of marriage
#582: that a groom should rejoice with his wife in their first year
#583: not to take as collateral anything that is required for preparing life sustaining food
#584: not to take out the signs of tzara’ath affliction
#585: not to take any collateral by a debtor by force
#586: not to withold a pawned object from its owner when he needs it
#587: to return a pledged object to its owner when he needs it
#588: to pay a day laborer on the day he has worked and earned his pay
#589: not to accept the testimony of close relatives in a court trial
#590: not to pervert justice regarding a convert or an orphan
#591: not to require a pledge from a widow
#592: to leave forgotten sheaves in the field
#593: not to harvest a forgotten sheaf or fruit
#594: that the bet din should issue sentences of flogging for certain transgressions
#595: not to add to whiplashes or to flog anyone more than he can bear
#596: not to muzzle an animal during its work
#597: not to be conjugally intimate with a woman awaiting levirate marriage
#598: to perform levirate marriage when circumstances dictate
#599: to perform halitzah to release a childless widow from the obligation of levirate marriage
#600: to save a person being pursued by a killer
#601: not to have mercy on a pursuer intending to kill
#602: not to keep unfair scales or weights in our possession even absent intent to use them in trading
#603: to remember what Amalek did to Israel when we came out of Egypt
#604: to eradicate the progeny of Amalek
#605: to not forget what Amalek did to Israel when we came out of Egypt.

* The idea that a rapist should marry and never divorce his victim is undoubtedly repugnant to the modern reader, as well it should be. The two mitzvot in question come from a time and a society where marriage could be consummated by sexual intercourse, and where a woman who had lost her virginity was considered dishonored, and therefore unlikely to ever get married. Strange as it may seem (and remember that the notion of ‘romantic love’ may be an invention of recent times), these mitzvot were designed to protect and provide sustenance for the woman who had been raped.

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Parashat Re’eh – 55 Mitzvot – but who’s counting? (#Torah)

Posted by rabbiart on August 1, 2010

Except for Sefer Breshit, in which there are few of the 613 mitzvot, I always like to start studying the Parshah by reviewing the mitzvot that are associated with it according to Sefer HaHinuch – the Book of Education.  Once I’ve look at the list, I like to ask some questions:

  • How many of these mitzvot apply to our time and place?
  • How many apply to both men and women?
  • How many can only be observed in Israel?
  • How many might require ‘adjustment’ because of changed sensibilities?

The list in Parshat Re’eh is:

#436:  to destroy an idol and all that serves it

#437: not to erase holy writings, the written name of the Kadosh Baruch Hu, or the Temple

#438: to bring all obligatory or voluntary offerings at the next pilgrimage festival

#439: not to sacrifice holy offerings outside the Temple

#440: to sacrifice all offerings at the Temple, an not anywhere outside of it

#441: to redeem animals consecrated for offerings which have subsequently become blemished

#442: not to eat the second tithe of grain outside Jerusalem

#443: not to consume the second tithe of wine outside Jerusalem

#444: not to consume the second tithe of oil outside Jerusalem

#445: not to eat an unblemished firstborn animal outside Jerusalem

#446: not to eat a hattat or asham offering outside the Temple

#447: not to eat the flesh of an olah (burnt offering)

#448: not to eat offerings of lesser holiness before their blood is sprinkled on the altar

#449: kohanim should not eat bikkurim until they are set down on the Temple grounds

#450: not to neglect the Levites by failing to give them their gifts

#451: to observe shihitah (ritual slaying)

#452: not to eat a limb torn from a living animal

#453: to attend to bringing an animal offering from another land to the Temple

#454: not to add to the precepts of the Torah in any way

#455: not to diminish the precepts of the Torah in any way

#456: to ignore anyone prophesying in the name of an idol – or idolatry

#457: to have no affection for an enticer to idolatry

#458: not to relinquish hatred for an enticer to idolatry

#459: not to rescue from death an enticer to idol-worship
#460: that someone enticed to idolatry should not speak in favor of the enticer

#461: that someone enticed to idolatry should not refrain from speaking out against the enticer

#462: not to entice an Israelite toward idol-worship

#463: to examine witnesses thoroughly and completely

#464: to burn a city gone astray into idolatry

#465: not to rebuild to its former condition a city gone astray into idolatry

#466: to derive no benefit from the wealth of a city gone astray into idolatry

#467: not to gash oneself as idol-worshippers do

#468: not to cause baldness, tearing the hair in grief over the dead

#469: not to eat holy animal offerings that became disqualified

#470: to examine the marks of a fowl to see if it may be eaten

#471: to eat no unclean, non-kosher locusts, nor any winged insects

#472: not to eat the flesh of any kosher animal that died of itself

#473: to observe the second tithe

#474: to tithe for the poor in the second and sixty years of the seven year cycle

#475: not to demand payment for a loan after the shmitah year has passed

#476: to exact a loan rigorously from a heathen

#477: to relinquish debts in the shmitah year

#478: not to refrain from sustaining a poor person and providing what is needed

#479: the mitzvah of tzedakah

#480: not to avoid lending money to the poor because of the onset of the shmitah year

#481: not send away empty handed a hebrew manservant when he goes free

#482: to give a bonus to a hebrew manservant as his discharge

#483: to do no work with animals that have been consecrated for offerings

#484: not to shear animals consecrated for offerings

#485: not to eat hametz after noon the day before pesach

#486: not to leave over to the third day any meat of the pesach offering at pesach

#487: not to offer the pesach offering on an individual’s altar

#488: to be happy on the pilgrimage festivals

#489: to appear on the pilgrimage festivals at the Temple

#490: not to go on the pilgrimage festival without an animal offering

And there you have it, fifty five mitzvot, primarily about idol worship and Temple sacrifices. These are not mitzvot that sit easily in the progressive mind. The Temple is no more, and although some prayerbooks call for its restoration, I doubt that I have ever davened with anyone who really wants to see sacrificial rites restored. The mitzvot about idolatry, in their pshat form, pose difficult questions living in a time when more, not less tolerance, for the religions of other people is so desperately needed.

Here and there we see a mitzvah that we can easily and eagerly embrace, especially those mandating tzedakah. We also see a mitzvah that has – in the past couple of decades – been caught up in political fights in Europe, and most recently, New Zealand, where prohibitions against ritual slaughter have been enacted into law under the guise of prohibiting cruelty to or maltreatment of animals in the moments before they are killed for food.

Much to ponder, much to wrestle with.

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