Saturday, July 05, 2008


That's in Judaism?

Commentary related to this last week's parsha contains a lot of concepts we typically don't associate with Judaism. For example, linked to the subject of the relation between the death of Miriam and the sacrificial ritual of the Red Hefer, the Talmud (alas I forgot the citation) claims that the death of the righteous atones just as a sacrifice does (although Jewish tradition is meritocratic -- the death of all righteous atones for sin -- and it gives a mechanism rather different than Christianity does). Implicit in both the positive and the negative results of Jepthah's legalistic wranglings as well as the association between his legalism and his being freebooting whoreson is a critique of legalism that could come from Paul of Tarsis.

Interestingly, a similar line of thinking (that Halacha is only seeing the back of God's head and that in seeing the face of the matter, R. Meir, e.g., could even see how the Tahor was really Tamei and the Tamei was really Tahor, c.f. the story of Lepers breaking the Aramean siege in Kings but also c.f. the aggadah on R. Eliezer in Baba Metzia 59a, IIRC the citation, as well as what happened to R. Meir's teacher when he went into the Pardes) was pursued in the Talmud we studied this last Shabbos (Eruvin 13b, IIRC the citation).

What is the meaning of this implicit critique of legalism within the Jewish, legalistic tradition? Is it like the role of "mu" and the koans in Zen Buddhism? Is it to help break our minds of dualistic thinking so that we may truly believe in divine unity?

Of course, the reference to Pardes, which can be a synonym for Gan as in Gan Eden is interesting: human evolution took a decisive step when we humans "ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil" and broke with our evolution as animals to become moral agents, etc. But the next step in evolution (c.f. Ken Wilbur) is the evolution of consciousness to "Moshiach consciousness" in which we go beyond good and evil (c.f. Nietzsche) and binary thinking -- and thus we return to the Garden of Eden in the Messianic days (as we no longer are "corrupted" by our eating from the tree of knowledge, but we return as in our full potential as humans rather than as mere animals, c.f. 2001, A Space Odyssee).

But what is the danger? Well, it's obvious -- those who go into the Pardes don't come out fully right. Even a success story like R. Akiba ended up going and supporting Bar Kochba, and we all know how that turned out ... of course, what does it mean in this context that Pardes is a word of Persian origin? That it's original meaning in Persian is "enclosure" (not a very non-dualistic notion -- as an enclosure marks boundaries, thus back to Tahor vs. Tamei ... of course, c.f. the dual meaning of the Hebrew word Eruv, a boundary itself is a place of mixing, also c.f. various references in the Bible to both "gates" and liminal spaces). Another thing to note is that either/or thinking sometimes does have a place -- witness the "enemy combatant" issue: wouldn't it be better if we just classed people caught on battlefields, etc. as "POWs" (who have rights under Geneva Conventions) vs. "suspected terrorists" (who would receive due process of law under our Constitution) than to have the legal limbo we currently have? And c.f. the famous argument between Roper and More in A Man for All Seasons on the importance of the Forest of Laws to keep us safe (as opposed to the BushCO approach of cutting down laws to get at Satan).

Another note is the substance of Jepthah's, who seems like a rather typical revisionist Zionist in his arguments, negotiations. In that his argument is pretty sound, what does that say about similar arguments used by Israelis against the Palestinian side? In that the enemies of Israel are not arguing in good faith, what does that say about similar arguments made by enemies of Israel today? OTOH, given who it is that makes these arguments and what happens later to his daughter, what does that say about the kinds of people who make the more extreme Zionist argument and what will happen to our daughters (and sons) if we follow their lines of thinking?

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