Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Racism in Jewish Law

I want to introduce this article with a few points. For the purposes of this article, I'm only discussing Orthodox Judaism. A story that has been in the news recently is the arrest of my old rabbi, Rabbi Barry Freundel, for placing a camera in the mikvah, or ritual bath, to get pictures of women while they were naked, usually women who were attempting to convert to Judaism or who had recently converted. This has brought attention to the sexual abuse of female converts to Judaism, and I want to add my own experiences to this discussion. I don't want you to walk away from this article with the belief that all Jews are racists. That is not true, and is not the point. Jewish apologists often respond to the points in this article with the phrase "Judaism is not a race; people can convert!"

While it is true that people are able to convert to Judaism, if you ask any convert about the process, they will tell you that it is long, it is hard, and at the end, they are still not equals. Converts to Judaism are frequently the victims of the racism of other Jews; ask any black or (God forbid) Arab convert--and even those born Jewish with black or Arab ancestors. Converts are not equal under Jewish law. They cannot be in positions of authority over other Jews, they cannot marry certain people, even the people they are legally permitted to marry will often refuse them on the grounds that they have an inferior yichus (lineage).

Prospective converts cannot form relationships with Jews while they are in the process of converting--again, conversion is a long process, and frequently takes upwards of two years, and sometimes as many as ten; and during this entire time they must be single, or married to a non-Jew. They cannot get married to a Jew, they cannot have children, even with a non-Jew, because this child's conversion will not necessarily be automatic when theirs is complete, and even if it is, the child will have the same disadvantages as any other convert. Then there is the fear of your conversion being retroactively declared void and your post-conversion children bastards, sometimes not even because of your actions, but because of the actions of your converting rabbi.

But these complaints do not strike at the heart of the problem. The heart of the problem is in the Talmud itself. An uninitiated person may think that the Talmud is of little significance, being as it is simply a set of explanations of the laws of the Torah, and the Torah is believed to be the revealed word of God Himself. This is not true. In fact, the Talmud is more important in dictating day-to-day activities than the Torah, and is believed to contain a record of the Oral Torah--the part of the Torah that was not committed to writing by Moses.

The importance of the Talmud is best described by the story of the Oven of Aknai, which describes an incident where one Rabbi, R. Eliezer, ruled that an oven was ceremonially clean, while the rest ruled it was unclean. R. Eliezer brought many arguments to prove his point, and finally in frustration called out to God to speak on his behalf. A voice from heaven said: "'Why do ye dispute with R. Eliezer, seeing that in all matters the halachah (religious law) agrees with him!' But R. Joshua arose and exclaimed: 'It [the Torah] is not in heaven.'  What did he mean by this? — Said R. Jeremiah: That the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice, because Thou hast long since written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, After the majority must one incline." R. Eliezer was excommunicated for his insolence, and all the items he had declared clean were ordered destroyed. The voice of God Himself was ruled not as important to Jewish law as the consensus of the rabbis of the Bet Din ha Gadol (Sanhedrin), which later was written down to become the Talmud.

Incidentally, if you scroll down to the bottom of the page linked to above, you find the following gem in the Talmud: "It has been taught: R. Eliezer the Great said: Why did the Torah warn against [later edit: the wronging of] a proselyte in thirty-six, or as others say, in forty-six, places? Because he has a strong inclination to evil." If you read the two sentences without the later edit of "the wronging of" into them, they make a much more coherent statement which happens to be quite racist against the person who has already completed against his conversion. Why would the convert's being evil have an effect on whether or not he should be harmed by others? (Even if it does, the passage is saying that the convert is evil.) Whereas if you read the passage as warning against a convert, because he is evil, it makes much more sense.

So what does the rest of the Talmud say about the non-Jew? This passage is from Yebamoth 98a:

"Raba stated: With reference to the Rabbinical statement that [legally] an Egyptian has no father, it must not be imagined that this is due to [the Egyptians'] excessive indulgence in carnal gratification, owing to which it is not known [who the father was], but that if this were known it is to be taken into consideration;  but [the fact is] that even if this is known it is not taken into consideration. For, surely, in respect of twin brothers, who originated in one drop that divided itself into two, it was nevertheless stated in the final clause, that they 'neither participate in halizah nor perform levirate marriage'. Thus it may be inferred that the All Merciful declared their children to be legally fatherless, for [so indeed it is also] written, Whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue [semen] is like the issue of horses."

So the children of non-Jewish women (the passage specifically mentions Egyptians, but this is a stand-in for any non-Jew; because the Sanhedrin spent so much time under the rule of foreign governments, they tended to use a nation that wasn't currently in power as a stand-in for all non-Jews, in case the document was seized by those in power, who wouldn't like what it said about them, as we will see later) are considered to not have any legal fathers. And the only reason even alluded to is that this is because of the rampant promiscuity of non-Jewish women.

This is why if a Jewish man has a child with a non-Jewish women, the child is not Jewish:  the child is legally fatherless. The Jewish man has no legal responsibility according to the halachah to care for the child. And the reason for this, if you ask most Jews, is the reason that is alluded to in this passage: because non-Jewish women are promiscuous. Even women who are attempting to convert to Judaism will often be quizzed, both by the converting Rabbis and by other Jews, about their sexual history. After they convert, when they want to get married, they will often be quizzed by prospective husbands about their sexual history; whereas women born Jewish do not face this humiliating ordeal. I'm not saying that this will happen to every woman trying to convert to Judaism, and I'm not saying all men born into Orthodox Judaism will do this. But this kind of thing happens far more frequently than anyone will admit.

This belief that non-Jewish women are all promiscuous is so pervasive that women converting to Judaism may often, in my experience, be coerced into sexual relationships that they are not a willing participant in by Jewish men, who threaten to tell their converting rabbi that the woman "seduced" them if the woman does not comply with the man's demands. In my own experience, not only was I coerced to do things I was not comfortable with by this threat, I was also told that it was of my own initiative, as I was promiscuous. I was told things like, "I knew I liked you for a reason, you are kinky." As an anti-sexual asexual this could not have been further from the truth. I have a deep seated fear of physical intimacy based on my early childhood experiences and on my own disgust at the concept of sexual attraction, and I absolutely did not initiate anything in any relationship I was ever in. Unfortunately, because of my lack of healthy relationships to base what a new relationship should look like off of, I was easy to manipulate and take advantage of.

I hope that in the wake of the Rabbi Freundel arrest, this issue can be discussed openly and honestly, and the root problems can be dealt with by the Orthodox Jewish community as a whole. One of the things Judaism does well is coming together to solve problems internally; although this often results in the problems being swept under the rug, I sincerely hope that this time, this issue can bring attention to these issues and they can be addressed and resolved. It will take time, and it will be a painful process for many, but I hope that the future can be made better through what has happened.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Two Creation Accounts in Genesis

Why are there two creation accounts in Genesis (Bereshit)? One of them, from Genesis 1:1-2:4, the other is Genesis 2:4b-Genesis 4. The first lays out seven days of creation:
  • Day 1: heavens, earth, light, day and night.
  • Day 2: the "dome" (sky) that separates the waters below (on earth) from the waters above the sky.
  • Day 3: dry land and vegetation.
  • Day 4: stars, moon, sun.
  • Day 5: water creatures and birds.
  • Day 6: land animals; humankind (both male and female). The number of human beings created is not specified. Also, God here gives to people "every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food" (Gen 1:29) -- no prohibitions.
  • Day 7: God rested, and blessed this day.
  • The second lays out a very different version of creation, without the seven days binding the creation and with an emphasis on agriculture:
  • earth and heavens; no rain yet but a spring would well up and water the ground
  • from dust, man was created (not woman yet)
  • garden of Eden -- man is put here; garden includes the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil
  • God tells man to till and keep the garden of Eden, but not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
  • God notices that Man is alone and wants to find him a helper and partner, so He first creates animals and birds and Man names them. But still there was no helper as partner.
  • God makes Man fall asleep, pulls out a rib, and makes Woman.
  • The story of original sin then ensues.
  • In the first story, everything is good; in the second, everything is not good and humans are prohibited from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  In Mark 10:6, Jesus seems to believe the first creation account (that men and women were created together). This is all putting aside the fact that neither creation account is historically accurate. Which creation account do you believe?

    Things sacrificed to idols

    Here is an interesting question for all the Christians: Is it or is it not Biblically permissible to eat things sacrificed to idols? Your answer to this question will reflect whether you believe primarily in Paul or the apostles. The dissenting voices of the Bible:
    Acts 15:22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas,two men who were leaders among the brothers. 23 With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings.24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul-- 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell. 30 The men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. 31 The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. 32 Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers. 33 After spending some time there, they were sent off by the brothers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them. 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.
    This is the voice of the apostles: Abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. Paul, on the other hand, says there is nothing wrong with eating the meat of animals sacrificed to other gods:
    1 Corinthians 8:1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But the man who loves God is known by God. 4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. 7 But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. 9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.12 When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.
    So, which voice speaks louder to you, oh Christian? And how do you deal with this obvious contradiction in the Bible?

    Thursday, March 27, 2014

    Is the trinity Biblical?

    First of all, the idea of a trinity is not uniquely Christian. Many other religions, including Hinduism, Egyptian religion, Phoenician religion, classical Greek religion, Roman religion, Celtic religion, and others had trinities. The idea of the trinity is not mentioned at all in the Bible. The claim that "elohim" is a plurality, therefore refers to a plural deity, is not at all supported by the Bible or by the Hebrew language, and in fact should make Christians worship *at least* SIX gods, not three:
    (Sorry, this video comes in at the middle of a thought, but it makes a good point). The idea of a trinity contradicts Deuteronomy 6:4--"Hear, o Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." The idea of the trinity is also illogical. There is no Biblical support for the idea of the trinity, nor is there any support for it before the fourth century.

    Friday, February 28, 2014

    Mania! Hooray!

    Well boys and girls, I think it's official: I'm manic again. That means lots of posts for the next two years or so. And very little sleep unless it's medicated sleep (right now I'm taking Seraquel for sleep after a month of averaging 3 hours of sleep but getting as little as 1.5 hours. The seraquel is working fantastically, thank you. I feel so much better!). And that I will be compulsively pissing people off. Basically the thing I despise about Christianity is that it allows you to check your morality at the door because Jesus will forgive you of whatever you do. I have been sexually assaulted by five Christians when I was between the ages of 9 to 14. I've been horrifically abused by Christians so bad that I can't even remember all of the abuse. It's been a rough life. I have PTSD from the abuse and I have nightmares about my abusers chasing me through the woods almost every night. But anyway, this isn't a pity party. This is a celebration of my mania. L'Chaim! Or something. I don't know. But enjoy it while it lasts, it won't last forever; in two short years I will go back to being violently suicidal all the time.

    Thursday, February 27, 2014

    Jesus: Died for our sins?

    Did Jesus die for our sins? Is this even necessary according to the Bible? What did the early Christians say?
    First, sacrifices ARE NOT the way sins are forgiven: sins are forgiven through sincere repentance (teshuva), prayer (tefilah), and deeds of charity (tzedakah).
    2 Chronicles 6:21 And hearken Thou to the supplications of Thy servant, and of Thy people Israel, when they shall pray toward this place; yea, hear Thou from Thy dwelling-place, even from heaven; and when Thou hearest, forgive. 22 If a man sin against his neighbour, and an oath be exacted of him to cause him to swear, and he come and swear before Thine altar in this house; 23 then hear Thou from heaven, and do, and judge Thy servants, requiting the wicked, to bring his way upon his own head; and justifying the righteous, to give him according to his righteousness. 
    Psalm 51:18 For Thou delightest not in sacrifice, else would I give it; Thou hast no pleasure in burnt-offering. 19 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.
    Second, God DESPISES offerings that are not accompanied by these three things:
    Isaiah 1:11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me? saith the LORD; I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. 12 When ye come to appear before Me, who hath required this at your hand, to trample My courts? 13 Bring no more vain oblations; it is an offering of abomination unto Me; new moon and sabbath, the holding of convocations--I cannot endure iniquity along with the solemn assembly. 14 Your new moons and your appointed seasons My soul hateth; they are a burden unto Me; I am weary to bear them. 15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes, cease to do evil; 17 Learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

    Psalm 40:7 Sacrifice and meal-offering Thou hast no delight in; mine ears hast Thou opened; 
    burnt-offering and sin-offering hast Thou not required.
    8 Then said I: 'Lo, I am come with the roll of a book which is prescribed for me;
    9 I delight to do Thy will, O my God; yea, Thy law is in my inmost parts.'

    Malachi 1:10 Oh that there were even one among you that would shut the doors, that ye might not kindle fire on Mine altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, saith the LORD of hosts, neither will I accept an offering at your hand. 

    So, even IF Jesus had died for our sins, it is not his death, nor his resurrection, nor belief in him that would grant the forgiveness of God. God despises sin offerings that are not offered with sincere repentance, prayer, and deeds of charity, and it is these things that make God forgive a person, not the sin offering. The sin offering is only an outward sign of an inward change that has already occurred. 
    Thirdly, many early Christians did not believe Jesus had actually died. 

    I did not succumb to them as they had planned. But I was not afflicted at all. Those who were there punished me. And I did not die in reality but in appearance, lest I be put to shame by them because these are my kinsfolk. I removed the shame from me and I did not become fainthearted in the face of what happened to me at their hands. I was about to succumb to fear, and I suffered according to their sight and thought, in order that they may never find any word to speak about them. For my death, which they think happened, (happened) to them in their error and blindness, since they nailed their man unto their death. For their Ennoias did not see me, for they were deaf and blind. But in doing these things, they condemn themselves. Yes, they saw me; they punished me. It was another, their father, who drank the gall and the vinegar; it was not I. They struck me with the reed; it was another, Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder. It was another upon Whom they placed the crown of thorns. But I was rejoicing in the height over all the wealth of the archons and the offspring of their error, of their empty glory. And I was laughing at their ignorance. (The Treatise of the Great Seth) 
    When the soldiers with Judas drew near to the place where Jesus was, Jesus heard the approach of many people, wherefore in fear he withdrew into the house. And the eleven were sleeping. Then God, seeing the danger of his servant, commanded Gabriel;, Michael;, Rafael;, and Uriel, his ministers, to take Jesus out of the world. The holy angels came and took Jesus out by the window that looks toward the South;. They bare him and placed him in the third heaven in the company of angels blessing God for evermore.
    Judas entered impetuously before all into the chamber whence Jesus had been taken up. And the disciples were sleeping. Whereupon the wonderful God acted wonderfully, insomuch that Judas was so changed in speech and in face to be like Jesus that we believed him to be Jesus. And he, having awakened us, was seeking where the Master was. Whereupon we marvelled, and answered: 'You, Lord, are our master; have you now forgotten us?'  
    And he, smiling, said: 'Now are you foolish, that know not me to be Judas Iscariot!' And as he was saying this the soldiery entered, and laid their hands upon Judas, because he was in every way like to Jesus. We having heard Judas' saying, and seeing the multitude of soldiers, fled as beside ourselves. And John, who was wrapped in a linen cloth, awoke and fled, and when a soldier seized him by the linen cloth he left the linen cloth and fled naked. For God heard the prayer of Jesus, and saved the eleven from evil. (The Gospel of Barnabas)
    In conclusion, Jesus did not need to die for our sins; and even if he had, believing in him would not grant forgiveness of sins.

    Monday, February 17, 2014

    Evolution in Islam

    Now I'm pretty sure this post is going to lose me a lot of friends, but please read it all the way through before you hit the "unfriend" button. The short summary is: Evolution is a fact. Get over it.
    This video is a good introduction. Evolution has occurred and continues to occur:

    Allah is Al-Bari, the Evolver. Islam is THE religion that can boast that it likes science. I don't understand why so many people are against this simple scientific fact. I think probably they're against it because they don't understand it, so I'm opening up my blog for people to ask questions about evolution. I'm no biologist, but I know a thing or two from listening to them. I was going to post some evolution FAQs but they fled my mind. Whatever, I'll do that when you ask the questions. Oh yeah. We didn't evolve from chimpanzees. Like the video says, we share a more primitive common ancestor with chimpanzees. The eye evolved like this: 

    Humans have many vestigial organs, like the appendix, the coccyx, and wisdom teeth. That's all the FAQs I can think of but I'm sure you guys will generate more.
    I believe that Allah (swt) created the first life, and then used evolution to create more complex forms like us. Thanks for your time. I hope you enjoyed this little deviation from the norm. I probably won't post very many more articles like this; I'm going back to comparative theology in my very next blog post [Jesus: Died for our sins?].