Friday, May 04, 2007

Shabbat, Kashrut, and Taharat Ha-Mishpacha

The Big 3. HaShem's ultimatums. The line beyond which "You shall not pass."

These mitzvot are held up by (most in) the Orthodox community (at least the online Orthodox community) as those which divide "real Jews" or "Torah-True Jews (TM) " from the rest of us. I have long wondered what the fixation is about - why these, rather than honoring your parents, or writing a Torah scroll for yourself, or not to put any Jew to shame...

Well, the obvious answer is that if you are defining your community in opposition to others which might be confused with it (by the unwary, the unholy, or the ger), you need a line somewhere.

  • Kashrut is a line about fellowship - if you can't eat their food, you are limited in socializing with them.
  • Shabbat is a line about faith - if they don't leave the lights off (or on), they either don't believe in the Divinity of Tanakh or its interpretation by the sages and later rabbanim.
  • Taharat Ha-Mishpacha is a line about propriety (as well as a barrier to marriage) - who knows what other weird things they may do, if they don't even follow basic norms about married relations.
Which implies that the most basic mission of the Orthodox is to set up such a boundary, and maintain and defend it - as CG might say, havdala bain kodesh l'khol.

In a discussion of aliyah, Rafi G claims:

"It is presumptuous for anyone to say they know the value of mitzvos and some are more important than others and some make your practice into real Judaism and some don't."

Without diminishing the importance of those mitzvot, here are *my* big 3:

  • Lashon HaRa: Not to wrong any one in speech
  • Torah: To learn Torah and to teach it
  • Tzedakah: To give charity according to one's means

Avoiding Lashon HaRa is the basis of all respectful social interaction between Jews (and others), and, despite yesterday's naughty post, a sign that Judaism is a societal system, not "just" a religion.

Learning Torah requires patience, humility, diligence, and critical thought. Teaching Torah requires patience, humility, and faith. aside from cultivating these character traits, studying Torah reverently leads one to all other mitzvot.

Tzedakah - not just in the money sense, but in its framework of justice - reveals the underlying Torah truth that we are all in this together; what you have is not yours to "own" but to steward for the entire community (and the earth). it is incumbent upon you to use these gifts wisely, for the good of all.


Anonymous Chaim G. said...

Thoughtful and thought provoking post LadyBird.

IIRC it was Akhad HaAm one of the early leading lights of modern Hebrew Literature,who wrote that Yoter m'mah sheha'Yehudim Shomrim et haShabbat, haShabbat Shomeret et HaYehudim ="The Shabat guards the Jews more than the Jews guard the Shabbat". Meaning that the Shabbat on Saturday, being a uniquely Jewsih observance in mostly Christian host countries, insures both communal cohesion for the Jews as well as a clear demarcation from their neighbors.

5/05/2007 10:39 PM  
Blogger Halfnutcase said...

Well, shabbos is said to be a testimony to the fact that hashem created the world, because this is why the shabbos is every seventh day. That is the reason why to break it places on in the catagory of an idol worshiper, because by doing so one publicaly proclaims that one does not believe in g-d.

It should be noted that in order to do this and be rendered invalid for these purposes requires that ten jews know about the violation.

It is interesting to note that one who observes shabbos automaticaly has the status of a kosher observant person, and can be trusted in matters of kasherut, which seems to imply that more people kept kasherut than properly kept shabbos (still true).

As far as Nidda, most sexual norms in a culture have severe penalties for transgressing them, and I suppose the moderation of sexual life is therefore considered very important, and to reject it is to reject that which founds the group.

However it is segnificant to say that certain things underpin this mess.

One of them are the three big no-nos. Do not commit sexual immorality, do not commit murder, and do not commit idolotry. I suppose that in a way the three big "dos (although most are don't do's anyway) are paralells to the three big don't dos (for which you should die rather than commit). For idolotry it is shabbos, for murder it is kasherut (interesting, more on that at another time, although you probably could do that just as well as me) and the last is obvious.

And even these are predicated on the sheva mitzvos bnei noach, don't steal, listen to the rule of law, the above three, don't tear a limb from a living animal, and one other I forget.

When it comes to not humiliating another person, I think that torah recognizes that most people will inadvertantly humiliate someone or another in their lifetime, and will indeed probably do so many, many times. It is one of those things that we do in anger. I do not think that that in anyway lessons the severity of the prohabition.

Actualy, a person who spreads lashon harah, or worse yet humiliates his fellow is in the catagory of one who is a chillul hashem, and certainly not a mench. From my learning, it would seem that torah places being a mench as being a prerequisite for basic religiosity, without which it is impossible to call one's self g-dly. Such things cannot be regulated as other things can. It would seem to me that if one was forced to make a decision, better to be a mench and not be "frum" than to be religious and to be a mean and nasty person, because the latter is litteraly a walking, living, breathing chillul hashem with everything that he does.

Just my two (underweight) cents.

5/08/2007 8:14 AM  
Blogger Bad Cohen said...

Simon the Just taught, “The world is sustained by three things: by the Torah, by avodah, and by gemilut chasadim.” Pirkei Avot 1:2

You can follow your local rebbe's rulings to the letter. you can keep kosher, glatt kosher, eco Kosher, semi kosher. You can keep shabbes in a strictly orthodox way or muddle through like the rest of us non-ortho Americans. But if you leave out your own Torah study (and I dare say interpretation - we are the people who Yisra-el - wrestle with G-d, no?), your own worship, and act completely without loving kindness you are not a Jew. You are a Judeo-prac obsessive compulsive who lays tefillin every morning, but you've forgotten why we're Jewish in the first place.

I believe that my ancestors
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (and Aharon haCohein) had a very special relation with G-d. Without the G-d wrestling of Torah Study and worship, and without loving kindness, we will never be able to achieve this relationship ourselves.

You may ask, am I a closet Karaite? No. There's great stuff to be found in the Talmud and responsa of all branches of rabinnic Judaism. However, maybe it's time for the various branches of our people - karaite, rabbinite, ortho, conservative, reform, reconstructionist, jewish renewal, JewBu, etc. to learn something from each - Historically we have had periods of great dialogue with each other, even widely divergent systems of belief, such as back before the Geonim had a falling out with the Karaites, and so forth.

5/08/2007 10:23 PM  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

by gemilut chasadim

(snicker) (snort)

I know more Hebrew than you. ;-}

I'm pretty sure the chasadim weren't around until later.

5/09/2007 12:56 PM  
Blogger Bad Cohen said...

I copy/pasted that quote from the URJ. I also remember the wording from the song from being a kid. They call themsevles Chasidim, not Chasadim, my dear.

5/09/2007 1:34 PM  
Anonymous Chaim G. said...

Are you guys having communication issues or do you always talk to each other through blog? :)

5/09/2007 1:36 PM  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

from the URJ.

Well, what do you expect? They probably transliterate the holiday as "Chanuka" . :P

It's pronounced "chesedim," my dear bc. Whereas spelling the group as "chasadim" or "Chasidim" or "Hasidim" really makes no difference in pronunciation.

And, no, CG, no communication issues, except that we like to talk to each other through any possible means. :)

5/09/2007 6:41 PM  
Blogger Bad Cohen said...

We also like to sneak posts onto each others blog while our spouse's back is turned.

5/10/2007 10:29 PM  
Blogger Kylopod said...

Let's face it. No religion is defined by moral principles. Such principles may be integral to a religion, but they aren't part of what separates members from non-members. If you were to try defining Judaism (or Orthodoxy) by honoring one's parents, visiting the sick, and giving ten percent of your earnings to charity, then millions of Christians might qualify as Jews. The dominance of Shabbat, kashrut, and Taharat Ha-mishpacha is purely practical. There is no theological basis for considering those three things more important than other mitzvot. A nonobservant Jew may in theory follow more mitzvot than a Hasid, just not the most obvious, visible ones. That's a point worth considering for those with a holier-than-thou attitude.

5/11/2007 2:28 PM  
Anonymous alan said...

Sorry chasadim is the plural of chesed.

Chasidim is the plural of chasid.

5/16/2007 9:03 PM  
Anonymous Woodrow/Conservadox said...

Just following up on kylopod: I think the reason O Jews focus on these mitzvot is not that they are more important in a theological sense- just that they are boundary-setters between O and non-O Jews.

If non-O Jews practiced kashrut, shabbos and niddah as much as O Jews, the boundary line would be set at any other three mitzvot that were more widely observed by Os than by non-Os.

PS Since I'm pretty frum about shabbos, distinctly less so about kashrut, and not in a position to worry about niddah, I guess this discussion means that my blog name suits me perfectly!

6/17/2008 6:42 PM  

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