Sunday, June 08, 2008


Skipping B'Midbar Blogging: It's Naso/Shavuos Time

Numbers Rabba has an interesting commentary on the specific laws dealing with Jews without (Jewish) kin: that these refer to converts, and it tells a nice midrash (the details of which I cannot remember). On Shavuos, when we read of Ruth, the convert who is the ancestor of the Messiah, perhaps we would do well to remember the Biblical obligations of welcoming the stranger, leaving the gleanings and the corners of the field for the poor and letting the land rest of the Sabbatical year (lest the land kick us out to take its rest, c.f. the Babylonian exile). Today too many people think such measures should be undertaken by charity, but the Biblical mindset is that these are legal obligations, not acts of charity. And how our treatment of strangers, the poor, etc. differs from our Biblical obligations?

Yet where is the so-called religious right on this? Today we'd throw the ancestress of the Messiah in Gitmo.

Some of this is the infestation of this country with a particularly mean-spirited interpretation of the Christian notion of Original Sin, which I have explicated on this blog and elsewhere. Suffice it to say that these people take Johnson's argument about the need for martyrdom and religious liberty to its illogical extreme. And even Jews get infected by this sort of thing: e.g. the RCA issued a statement on the recent controversy about Aaron's Kosher Meats saying that Rabbis cannot be expected to ... and then it lists a bunch of things which any Rabbi ought to be expected to understand and monitor. Have these people not read Baba Metzia? Or the rest of Nizikin?

Or have the bought into the idea that some Christians have of a separation between "religious matters" and ethical matters? Gimilus Hassidim toward the poor, the stranger, et al., is not a matter of charity but of tzedakah -- these are acts of justice and required by moral law.

As was suggested in the Friday night sermon at my shul, perhaps as we hear the story of Ruth this Shavuos, we should ponder the tzedakah by which Ruth is the ancestress of the Messiah and what we, alas, would do to her today.


Perhaps any Christians reading this may wish to comment on the significance of the speaking in toungues on Pentacost and how language barriers and hospitality relate?

How wonderful to discover your blog. Happy Shavuot!

I'd say the uncharitable reading is from Calvinism, in particular. If everything is predestined, there is no reason to do charity. Calvin didn't even believe in converting people, and thought that directive ("Go and preach the Gospel to all nations") was primarily for the souls of the missionaries, rather than the people who were the subjects of the mission. Interestingly, this is a lot like Hinduism, in which a caste system is seen as the result of spiritual justice, i.e. if you are poor/untouchable caste, it is due to your own past lives/karma. Calvinism just calls it something else (predestination).

Pentecostalism (my grandmother's family) tends to take a sacramental-type view of speaking in tongues, so it's a little different I think. But that is a good point--Pentecostals are extremely racially/ethnically varied in their congregations.

Nice to meetcha, came here through Feministe. :)
Nice to meet you too. And it's good to know that my self-promotion at Feministe works. ;)

I certainly agree with you about the connections between Calvinism and the uncharitable reading of Original Sin, although I would hasten to add that not all Calvinists have that point of view (just as many Hindus would reject that notion of karma -- interesting connection, though, between Hinduism and Calvinism ... I never would have caught that). Moreover, many Christians who would not accept the five points of orthodox Calvinism or even the notion of "Original Sin" per se, nonetheless tend to have the view that every person inevitably sins to such a degree that they deserve whatever punishment happens to them (and are only saved from the ravages of hell due to the sacrifice of Christ Jesus). Of course, even this view of "inevitable sin" owes much to Calvin's formulation of the doctrine of total depravity.

Speaking in toungues as "sacrament"? That sounds like something from which one could make a book length study if one is a student of religious history or theology ...

Happy Shavuos to all!
Of course, one point in re. to a sacramental conception of speaking in tounges -- I'm sure some would hasten to add that the sacraments themselves are about hospitality.
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