Sunday, September 09, 2007


Weekly Parsha Blogging: (*)

(* Possible Subtitles:

Synecdoche's not just a City in New York Edition
Social Science in the Torah Edition

so, which one do y'all like best?)

The commentary in the Etz Chaim Chumash on Deuteronomy 29:18 all but sets up this passage as being an early example of a Prisoners' Dilemma, in which cooperation, which is in our best interest, is assured via the Social Contract that is the Covenant. Similarly, many of the curses to which this parsha refers deal with "tragedy of the commons" issues. The social contract idea is highlighted by the nature of the revelation at Sinai -- even if we Jews were not all literally there and even if the laws and interpretations coming from the Deuteronomist, the Rabbis, etc. post-date this revelation, like in a social contract, our being born into Judaism or adopting Judaism as a moral citizenship places obligations on us that we, even if we have not chosen them directly, must think of as having accepted in an official contract.

Of course, government/society is deemed responsible for upholding morality. But of what morality do we speak? There is a reference to Sodom and the other cities of the Plain. So some might wonder if government should regulate our sexual morality. But, according to Jewish tradition (see, e.g., Pirke Avoth, Ch. 5, saying 13) the sin of Sodom was not sexual immorality but a certain lack of Tsedakah -- i.e. not only righteousness but specifically the idea of a commonwheal. Sodom didn't (just) lack sexual morality, it lacked a sense of social justice ... and that was their great sin.

Interestingly, both in the first Haftarah of Consolation, last Shabbos' last Haftarah of Consolation and in the Yom Kippur Haftarah (all from Isaiah), the image of the highway is present. Not only is Halacha "the Way" but the highway is a synecdoche for government funded infrastructure.

While some would say the Levitical and Deuteronomaic formulae are formulae of social conservatism, they really are formulae of economic liberalism. The religious right misses the point in general, as they do specifically with those lines from this last week's parsha about "choosing life": it's a Mitzva to have an abortion if your life is at stake from a pregnancy.

Synecdoches indeed!

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