Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

The King is Hanging

The Torah explains (Deut. 21:22-23) that if a person is found guilty of a capital offense and is executed, his corpse must be impaled on a stake but it may not remain there overnight. The body must be buried on the same day “for an impaled body is an affront to God.” Since Man is created in God’s image, even the corpse of one guilty of the most heinous crime may not be disgraced.

Rashi cites a midrash from Sanhedrin 46b that offers the following parable. Twin brothers lived in the same city. One became a king; the other became a criminal and was hanged. All who saw the hanging corpse would exclaim, “The king is hanging.” So similar is the human body to the divine image that we are concerned a passerby will mistake the former for the latter.

But is this really the Torah’s concern? One who sees the corpse probably won’t conclude that the King of Kings is hanging, but perhaps he should. If we recognize that each and every individual is created in the image of God and take that point seriously, then we may very well confuse the hanging corpse with God Himself, even if just for a moment.

Often, the Torah reflects the imperfect reality in which we find ourselves. An example of this is the eshet yefat to’ar, discussed earlier the same parashah. In such a case, the Torah teaches us how to respond when we find ourselves in a less than ideal situation. Here though, the Torah does the opposite. Burying the corpse on the same day as the execution prevents a passerby from mistaking the hanging body with the image of God. This mistake is reasonable, but only if we fully appreciate the relationship between the human being and the image of God. The two are, of course, not the same thing but are rather like twin brothers, (should be) easily confused with one another.


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A few weeks ago, Texas governor and presidential front-runner Rick Perry staged “The Response,” an all-day event of Christian-centered prayer in Houston. He “called on Jesus to bless and guide the nation’s military and political leaders and ‘those who cannot see the light in the midst of all the darkness.'” In the weeks leading up to The Response, Perry and his supporters predictably received criticism from liberal religious leaders, particularly Jews, and civil liberties groups.

There’s plenty to criticize about The Response, for example, its emphasis on piety and Jesus over our more this-worldly injustices and dangers. But criticizing the public display of religiosity, as many groups did, is dangerous for both religion and secularism.

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Religiously Insane

Can a person be declared incompetent to stand trial based solely on his religious beliefs? Last week, the Ohio Court of Appeals said, no (via VC). But it’s not the victory for religious freedom that it may look like at first glance.

In March 2010, John Daley was charged with retaliation, intimidation, aggravated menacing, menacing, and telecommunications harassment, stemming from a threatening voice-mail and letter. At the court’s request, he was sent for a psychiatric evaluation and diagnosed with psychotic disorder, not otherwise specified. The court found Daley incompetent to stand trial and “ordered him hospitalized for restoration to competency.” The Ohio Court of Appeals disagreed because the sole grounds for the defendant’s incompetency were his constitutionally-protected religious beliefs. (more…)

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According to Dennis Prager, religion in America is in trouble. Why? Prager offers four reasons: (1) Our universities “have become essentially secular (and leftist) seminaries.” (2) Our clergy no longer “advocate their religion’s moral and religious standards” and instead, “promulgate the values they learned at their secular left-wing universities.” (3) “[T]he . . . products of this secular left-wing education” – apparently most of us – “are theologically, intellectually, and emotionally ill-prepared to deal with all the unjust suffering in the world.” (4) Liberal churches and synagogues fail to adequately respond to “Islamic violence.”

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Friday was the 18th Yahrzeit of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. As the last days of Passover approach, here is what the Rav writes, in Festival of Freedom (pp. 53-54), about the humanity’s search for God, the story we tell each other on the Seder night:

God reveals Himself to man if and when the latter searches for Him. If one does not inquire, if one expects God to reveal Himself without making an all-out effort to find Him, one will never meet God. “But from there you will seek the Lord and you shall find Him, if you search after Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Deut. 4:29).
. . .
On the first night of Pesah, we tell the story of a long search by man for God, of God responding to the inquisitive search, of God taking man, who longs for Him, into His embrace. At the Seder, we try to stimulate the naive curiosity of the children and thereby make them God-searchers. The quest for God, along with the acceptance of the commandments, is the true spiritual liberation.

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Professor Marc Shapiro, featured on the Seforim blog, defines “a Jewish teaching” as “a view that is taught in the observant community” (via Hirhurim). It doesn’t matter how old the belief is, whether it’s based on Jewish texts or Jewish culture. For Shapiro, “what makes a belief an acceptable one in Judaism is not whether it is new, and certainly not whether it is correct, but whether the rabbinic leaders tolerate it.”

To emphasize his point, Shapiro compares Jewish and Christian approaches to messianism:

Today it must be admitted that Judaism and Christianity share a belief in the Second Coming of the Messiah. While this is an obligatory belief for Christians, for Jews it is, like so many other notions, simply an option. The truth of my statement is seen in the fact that messianist Habad is part and parcel of traditional Judaism, and, scandal or not, most of the leading Torah authorities have been indifferent to this. That is, they see it as a mistaken belief, but not one that pushes its adherent out of the fold. In other words, it is like so many other false ideas in Judaism, all of which fall under the rubric “Jewish beliefs.” As long as these beliefs don’t cross any red lines, the adherents are regarded as part of the traditional Jewish community.

Although Shapiro makes some good points about tolerating a wide spectrum of religious belief, he fails to appreciate that Judaism is, at its core, a religion of divine revelation and the traditional transmission of that revelation. In this sense, a given belief is legitimately Jewish to the extent that it follows from Judaism’s traditional sources.

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An Inaudible God?

A Dvar Torah I wrote last week.  Apologies for the lack of translations, which made more sense given that audience.  I’m not completely convinced that the last paragraph is the full answer to the question, but I think it is the beginning of one.  Enjoy.

We read of keriyat yam suf this week, in Parshat Beshalach, and of the giving of the torah at Har Sinai next week, in Parshat Yitro. Reading about these open miracles and revelations emphasizes by contrast how different our current relationship to God is from that of bnei yisrael in the desert. God, who appeared to the generation leaving Egypt as a voice so powerful that they could not bear to listen, has become an inaudible whisper. While some of this change is due to the Exile, and is something we mourn every tisha b’av, that is not the whole story.

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