Friday, September 05, 2003

A Little Knowledge

Eugene Volokh has a pet peeve . . . Jews who claim that "Jews for Jesus" is an oxymoron. Eugene brings the precept that birth to a Jewish mother confers on one the status of a Jew, and even grave sin does not remove that status. And Eugene is accurate, as far as he goes. A Jew for Jesus remains a Jew, but at best only in the same sense that Karen Anne Quinlan, while connected to life support, remained a life in being. The question of the "Jew for Jesus's" jewishness can be approached from several perspectives, none of them offering much support to Eugene's view. Let us start, though, with the standpoint of halakhah, Jewish religious law (for the precept on which Eugene relies is an halakhic one). While the apostate remains Jewish even after his renunciation of the faith, that is not to say that he retains the same status under halakhah as other Jews. He is indeed, singularly disfavored; even a Jew who professes atheism has greater status under the law. For example, the child of a female "J-for-J" is not to be given brit milah; he may not be brough into the coventant, even though Jewish at birth. Thus, the jewishness of the Jew for Jesus is rather short-lived. Because an apostate is not considered competent to testify in a bet din, a Jew for Jesus may not do so. A family is not sit shiva for a Jew for Jesus when he dies, and a he is to be buried only at the outer edges of the Jewish cemetery. He may not be called to the Torah in a synagogue, may not even touch a sefer torah. Jews may not eat in the home of a J-for-J". . .

But it is not just observant Jews who consider Jews for Jesus tobe an oxymoron. That view is widely held even among Jews who haven't been to synagogue in years, and who would no sooner give up bacon than they would sex or water. What then is the source of their view of Jews for Jesus? It is this: we Jews are a community, one that transcends -- when we are our better selves -- differences of observance, of nationality, of language. Whether yankees fans or red sox fans (or, non-baseball fans pu pu pu), we are all one people. Becoming a Jew for Jesus is not just a bothersome difference of opinion over a matter of observance; it is a very public renunciation of membership in the community. Indeed, Jews for Jesus are without exception people who feel no connection to the Jewish people, and don't want one. That they claim one in their name (devised by evangelical chrisitians, who founded the movement and fund it) only rubs salt in the wound.

Volokh is a bright man, and I'm surprised he can't understand this, or that it should bother him. Perhaps he is just being lawyerly, and his pet peeve is a symptpom of a lawyer's fetish for precision in language. But Jew is a term without "plain meaning," and the oxymoron claim is well justified if one understands the word "Jew" in all its complexity.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Sweet Reason!

McDonald's has prevailed in the latest round of the absurd and repulsive law suits blaming it for America's obesity. 3 cheers for U.S. district Judge Robert Sweet.

Don't Let the Door Hit Your Ass

Dr. Laura's now an ex-Jew. Delightful news, on so many levels. Of course, having validly converted to the faith, she remains a Jew, from the point of view of halakha. That though, is a subtlety that will be lost on most of her admirers. (Hat tip to David Bernstein over at the Volokh Conspiracy). Bernstein thinks that Schlesinger's reputation for gay-bashing is undeserved. He says:

"[Schlesinger's] purported anti-gay bias is overblown to say the least. Before that controversy erupted, I heard her berate a caller for acting unkindly toward a homosexual relative. Dr. Laura said something along that lines of although homosexual acts are a sin, homosexuals as individuals must be treated with respect, just as we treat with respect people who violate the Sabbath, don't honor their parents, and engage in other sins. This certainly didn't sound to me like the attitude of a gay-basher.

If that were a true representation of Schlesiner's views, Bernstein might have a point. But this is what she really thinks. So Bernstein is all wet on this aspect of Dr. Laura's character. He does, however, quite rightly peg the hypocrisy of her de-conversion.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

LGF Goes Too Far

The weblog Little Green Footballs performs an invaluable service by tracking the hypocrisy of Arab/Islamic terrorists and their western apologists. But at times, I sense in Charles' tone that he has become so overcome with anger and frustration (and I empathize, believe me) that his commentary slides over into a knee-jerk bashing of anything connected to Islam. Today's post on Islamic banking practices is an example. Islam forbids the lending of money at interest, but modern commerce cannot exist without it. Islam has come up with devices to keep within the letter of the law, while managing to do, in substance, what the law appears to forbid. Charles' post describes the techniques, and I won't repeat that description here. LGF calls these techniques "a hypocritical mind game."

But anyone who's schooled in even basic talmud (and it would be generous to describe my knowledge of talmud as basic) will recognize in this "hypocritical mind game" the reasoning of the Talmud. Over and over again, the Talmud's binding law -- binding to this day -- contradicts what the Torah appears to demand explicitly. One example (and there are dozens) is the Talmud's softening of what appear to be unambiguous demands for capital punishment (Justice Scalia would make a miserable orthodox Jew). Under Jewish law as it has been interpreted by the sages since Sinai, most of the Torah's capital punishment edicts were never carried out. Another example, perhaps closer to the point. Physicians, like others, are not permitted to ply their trade on the Sababth (search the Torah for an exception; you'll search in vain). Yet simple human decency says otherwise -- surely the physician must be allowed to perform his duties on the Sabbath, or people will die needlessly. After all, death doesn't often take a holiday. And as you might expect, the Talmud carves just such an exception, pikuach nefesh. If it means saving someone's life, the physician (or anyone in a position to save the life) may, indeed, must, violate the sabbath. This is not hypocrisy, it is the law in action. People in glass houses . . .

p.s. I don't know Charles, and it's possible that he's a secular Jew who holds the Talmud in the same contempt as he holds Islamic banking. If so, then his criticism at least has some consistency to it. Yet strangely, he deicided only to ding the Islamists, and not the Talmudists. To me, that raises the inference that charles is simply looking -- out of a frustration and anger that I share and understand -- to ding Islam in any way he can. He only harms his own credibility when he does so.