Geoffrey Stern

Handicapping the Torah

Handicapping the Torah

Parshat Emor - When are we permitted or even obligated to update the ethical aesthetic of the Torah? If the Torah reflects a common bias of its cultural milieu such as the inferiority of the physically maimed or handicapped when and how are we to update this for an evolved perspective?  Recorded live on the Madlik Friday a 4:00 Eastern Disruptive Torah Clubhouse group.  Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz discuss Leviticus 21; 18-23 and the disenfranchisement of the handicapped and deformed from leadership roles in the Priestly caste. After the Bible adjures us to be Holy…. as God is Holy and to pay the laborer on time and embrace the stranger, we can be forgiven if we are disappointed that when it comes to leadership positions, the Bible exhibits such an old world bias against the less-than-perfect. When it comes to serving God, the Bible excludes the handicapped explicitly, and women, without even the courtesy of honorable mention. ויקרא כ״א:י״ח-כ״ג (יח) כִּ֥י כָל־אִ֛ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־בּ֥וֹ מ֖וּם לֹ֣א יִקְרָ֑ב אִ֤ישׁ עִוֵּר֙ א֣וֹ פִסֵּ֔חַ א֥וֹ חָרֻ֖ם א֥וֹ שָׂרֽוּעַ׃ (יט) א֣וֹ אִ֔ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־יִהְיֶ֥ה ב֖וֹ שֶׁ֣בֶר רָ֑גֶל א֖וֹ שֶׁ֥בֶר יָֽד׃ (כ) אֽוֹ־גִבֵּ֣ן אוֹ־דַ֔ק א֖וֹ תְּבַלֻּ֣ל בְּעֵינ֑וֹ א֤וֹ גָרָב֙ א֣וֹ יַלֶּ֔פֶת א֖וֹ מְר֥וֹחַ אָֽשֶׁךְ׃ (כא) כָּל־אִ֞ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־בּ֣וֹ מ֗וּם מִזֶּ֙רַע֙ אַהֲרֹ֣ן הַכֹּהֵ֔ן לֹ֣א יִגַּ֔שׁ לְהַקְרִ֖יב אֶת־אִשֵּׁ֣י ה' מ֣וּם בּ֔וֹ אֵ֚ת לֶ֣חֶם אֱלֹקָ֔יו לֹ֥א יִגַּ֖שׁ לְהַקְרִֽיב׃ (כב) לֶ֣חֶם אֱלֹקָ֔יו מִקָּדְשֵׁ֖י הַקֳּדָשִׁ֑ים וּמִן־הַקֳּדָשִׁ֖ים יֹאכֵֽל׃ (כג) אַ֣ךְ אֶל־הַפָּרֹ֜כֶת לֹ֣א יָבֹ֗א וְאֶל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֛חַ לֹ֥א יִגַּ֖שׁ כִּֽי־מ֣וּם בּ֑וֹ וְלֹ֤א יְחַלֵּל֙ אֶת־מִקְדָּשַׁ֔י כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י ה' מְקַדְּשָֽׁם׃ Leviticus 21:18-23 (18) No one at all who has a defect shall be qualified: no man who is blind, or lame, or has a limb too short or too long; (19) no man who has a broken leg or a broken arm; (20) or who is a hunchback, or a dwarf, or who has a growth in his eye, or who has a boil-scar, or scurvy, or crushed testes. (21) No man among the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a defect shall be qualified to offer the LORD’s offering by fire; having a defect, he shall not be qualified to offer the food of his God. (22) He may eat of the food of his God, of the most holy as well as of the holy; (23) but he shall not enter behind the curtain or come near the altar, for he has a defect. He shall not profane these places sacred to Me, for I the LORD have sanctified them. משנה תורה, הלכות עדות ט׳:א׳ (א) עֲשָׂרָה מִינֵי פַּסְלוּת הֵם כָּל מִי שֶׁנִּמְצָא בּוֹ אֶחָד מֵהֶן הֲרֵי הוּא פָּסוּל לְעֵדוּת. וְאֵלּוּ הֵן. הַנָּשִׁים. וְהָעֲבָדִים. וְהַקְּטַנִּים. וְהַשּׁוֹטִים. וְהַחֵרְשִׁים. וְהַסּוּמִים. וְהָרְשָׁעִים. וְהַבְּזוּיִין. וְהַקְּרוֹבִין. וְהַנּוֹגְעִין בְּעֵדוּתָן. הֲרֵי אֵלּוּ עֲשָׂרָה: Mishneh Torah, Testimony 9:1 There are ten categories of disqualifications. Any person belonging to one of them is not acceptable as a witness. They are: a) women; b) servants; c) minors; d) mentally or emotionally unstable individuals; e) deaf-mutes; f) the blind; g) the wicked; h) debased individuals; i) relatives; j) people who have a vested interest in the matter; a total of ten. משנה תורה, הלכות עדות ט׳:י״א-י״ב (יא) הַחֵרֵשׁ כְּשׁוֹטֶה שֶׁאֵין דַּעְתּוֹ נְכוֹנָה וְאֵינוֹ בֶּן מִצְוֹת. וְאֶחָד חֵרֵשׁ מְדַבֵּר וְאֵינוֹ שׁוֹמֵעַ אוֹ שׁוֹמֵעַ וְאֵינוֹ מְדַבֵּר. אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁרְאִיָּתוֹ רְאִיָּה מְעֻלָּה וְדַעְתּוֹ נְכוֹנָה צָרִיךְ לְהָעִיד בְּבֵית דִּין בְּפִיו. אוֹ שֶׁיִּהְיֶה רָאוּי לְהָעִיד בְּפִיו. וְיִהְיֶה רָאוּי לִשְׁמֹעַ הַדַּיָּנִים וְהָאִיּוּם שֶׁמְּאַיְּמִין עָלָיו. וְכֵן אִם נִשְׁתַּתֵּק אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁנִּבְדַּק בְּדֶרֶךְ שֶׁבּוֹדְקִין לְעִנְיַן גִּטִּין וְנִמְצֵאת עֵדוּתוֹ מְכֻוֶּנֶת וְהֵעִיד בְּפָנֵינוּ בִּכְתַב יָדוֹ אֵינָהּ עֵדוּת כְּלָל. חוּץ מֵעֵדוּת אִשָּׁה לְפִי שֶׁבְּעִגּוּנָהּ הֵקֵלּוּ: (יב) הַסּוּמִים אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁמַּכִּירִין הַקּוֹל וְיָדְעוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים הֲרֵי אֵלּוּ פְּסוּלִין מִן הַתּוֹרָה. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא ה א) "וְהוּא עֵד אוֹ רָאָה" מִי שֶׁהוּא רָאוּי לִרְאוֹת הוּא שֶׁמֵּעִיד. וְהַסּוּמָא בְּאַחַת מֵעֵינָיו כָּשֵׁר לְהָעִיד: Mishneh Torah, Testimony 9:11-12 A deaf-mute is equivalent to a mentally unstable person, for he is not of sound mind and is therefore not obligated in the observance of the mitzvot. Both a deaf person who can speak and a person who can hear, but is mute is unacceptable to serve as a witness. Even though he sees excellently and his mind is sound, he must deliver testimony orally in court or be fit to deliver testimony orally and must be fit to hear the judges and the warning they administer to him. Similarly, if a person loses the ability to speak, even though his intellectual faculties have been checked as a husband is checked with regard to a bill of divorce, he testifies in writing, and his testimony is to the point, it is not accepted at all, except with regard to releasing a women from marriage, for leniency was granted so that women will not be forced to live alone. The blind, although they can recognize the voices of the litigants and know their identities, are not acceptable as witnesses according to Scriptural Law. This is derived from Leviticus 5:1: “And he witnessed or saw,” which implies that one who can see may serve as a witness. A person who is blind in one eye is fit to serve as a witness. נדרים ג׳ א:ט׳ אִי כְּתַב נֶדֶר לִנְדֹּר כְּדִכְתַב נָזִיר לְהַזִּיר כִּדְקָאָמְרַתְּ לָא צָרִיךְ הֶיקֵּישָׁא הַשְׁתָּא דִּכְתִיב לִנְדֹּר נֶדֶר דִּבְּרָה תוֹרָה כִלְשׁוֹן בְּנֵי אָדָם Nedarim 3a:9 The Gemara answers: If the Torah had written: A vow to utter [neder lindor], as it wrote with regard to a nazirite: “The vow of a nazirite, to consecrate himself [nazir lehazir],” it would be as you said, and there would be no need for the juxtaposition. Now that it is written: “To utter a vow [lindor neder],” it is possible to say that the Torah spoke in the language of men, and nothing can be derived from the phrase lindor neder, which is simply a common manner of speech. רמב"ן על בראשית ו׳:ו׳:א׳ וינחם ה' ויתעצב אל לבו דבר תורה כלשון בני אדם והענין כי מרו ועצבו את רוח קדשו בפשעיהם וענין "אל לבו" כי לא הגיד זה לנביא שלוח אליהם וכן הלשון במחושב כדרך לדבר אל לבי (בראשית כ״ד:מ״ה) וזולתו ובבראשית רבה (בראשית רבה כ״ז:ד׳) אמרו בזה ענין נכבד במשל שהביאו מן הסרסור והאדריכל והוא סוד גדול לא ניתן ליכתב והיודעו יתבונן למה אמר בכאן שם המיוחד ובכל הפרשה וענין המבול שם אלקים: Ramban on Genesis 6:6:1 AND THE ETERNAL REPENTED… AND IT GRIEVED HIM AT HIS HEART. The Torah speaks in the language of men. The purport is that they rebelled, and grieved His holy spirit514Isaiah 63:10. with their sins. The sense of the expression at His heart is that He did not tell this to a prophet, a messenger of G-d. This expression is also found with respect to thinking, just as: to speak to my heart,515Genesis 24:45. and other similar expressions. In Bereshith Rabbah51627:6. there is a significant matter concerning this, expressed by a parable which the Rabbis bring of an agent and an architect.517Rabbi Berachyah said: “It is like a king who had a palace built by an architect, and when he saw it, it displeased him. Against whom is he to complain? Surely against the architect.” Rabbi Assi said: “It is like one who traded through an agent and suffered a loss. Whom does he blame? The agent. Here too It grieved Him at His heart.” This constitutes a great secret which is not permitted to be written down. The one who knows it will understand why here the Tetragrammaton is written while in the whole of the rest of the chapter and the account of the flood, the name Elokim is used. דברים ד׳:ו׳ (ו) וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם֮ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם֒ כִּ֣י הִ֤וא חָכְמַתְכֶם֙ וּבִ֣ינַתְכֶ֔ם לְעֵינֵ֖י הָעַמִּ֑ים אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִשְׁמְע֗וּן אֵ֚ת כָּל־הַחֻקִּ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה וְאָמְר֗וּ רַ֚ק עַם־חָכָ֣ם וְנָב֔וֹן הַגּ֥וֹי הַגָּד֖וֹל הַזֶּֽה׃ Deuteronomy 4:6 (6) Observe them faithfully, for that will be proof of your wisdom and discernment to other peoples, who on hearing of all these laws will say, “Surely, that great nation is a wise and discerning people.” We can read this verse through its surface meaning: The mitzvot are obviously good, attractive, and compelling, such that doing them will quite evidently evoke appreciation—and even envy—from outsiders who encounter a life based on them. Moshe here is exhorting the people to recognize what a good thing they have. But one need not dig too much deeper to hear that the text here is not necessarily making just a descriptive claim here, but a prescriptive one as well. The Torah and its mitzvot are supposed to evoke this sort of admiration from outsiders. If it does not, something is wrong. It is not a far leap from here to suggest that interpretations and applications of the Torah that evoke revulsion from external observers are potentially suspect and in need of deeper thought and reevaluation. Rabbi Ethan Tucker - Ethical Norms as the Foundation of Torah Dor Revi’i, R. Moshe Shmuel Glasner, Hungary, 19 th ­20 th c. when human opinion has squarely and resolutely lined up against the morality of a given activity, that is a religiously significant fact, but not because of the public relations concerns. Rather, a universally­ shared revulsion at something is a barometer of that thing being beyond the bounds of basic human decency. And that, in turn, should make us realize that the thing in question is regulated by the internal Torah command of תהיו קדשים ,the demand to be holy. This means that, even on a 12 desert island populated entirely by Jews, the awareness of the human consensus on this issue pushes those Jews to adopt that universally accepted standard from within, as they tap into their own basic humanity. But the strongest proof for this exegesis comes from the Torah’s self ­description with which we began this essay. Building on Rambam’s use of Devarim 4:6 in the intellectual realm, R. Glasner now applies it to the realm of ethics, morality and human decency. The story the Torah tells us about itself is that the way of life it prescribes for the Jewish people is meant to be the envy of the world. People are meant to encounter an observant Jew and to say, “This seems like the most fantastic and wise way of living one’s life that I can imagine.” The moment that a person’s interpretation of Torah would evoke the deep disgust of the average civilized person is the moment when the Torah’s intended story about itself has been lost. For R. Glasner, it is a bedrock principle of the Torah, a core internal principle of Jewish law, that Jews can never be perceived to be on a lower level than their Gentile neighbors. (Tucker ibid)

Duration: 32 min

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