For the week ending 27 March 2004 / 5 Nisan 5764

A Question of Ridicule

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Anonymous

Dear Rabbi,

I came across an article in which a fictitious reader of Dr. Laura asks ridiculous questions about Judaism that are obviously meant to ridicule and undermine Orthodoxy. For example, some of the questions are:

1] When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

2] Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

3] Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.19:27. How should they die?

4] I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

The questioner then goes on to jeer the Torah for its restrictions on sexual relations as well. My question is what should our response be to such an approach towards G-d and the Torah? Should we respond? Should we explain? Or should we let them jest at our expense, since they wont listen to what we have to say anyway?

Dear Anonymous:

The questions are truly hilarious, first because they are really funny, (maybe well include them in next years Purim play) and second because they reveal the warped imagination of an ill-intentioned ignoramus.

There is no point in answering people that have this attitude. They are not interested in answers (by the way, all the questions have simple, straight-forward answers). However, it is important that we realize what their motivation is and what they hope to achieve.

The "questioners" argument is essentially based on the premise that since some things in the Torah don't seem to make sense, everything in the Torah is irrelevant. This would exclude "Honor your Parents", "Love your Neighbor", and "Have Mercy on the Widow and Orphan" as well. Lest one argue that these laws are different because they are based on morality, it was Judaism that introduced this morality to the world in the first place. The term "western morality" refers to the values and morals that have come to Western society from the Torah.

It is also fashionable to ridicule the Torah based on the sexual restrictions it imposes on pre- or extra-marital relations, as well as others. Should the prohibition against incest or rape also be used as a source to dismiss the Torah? If morality is not absolute but rather highly individual, why and where should one draw the line?

Ridicule is an old technique used to confuse people about the legitimacy of their opponents viewpoint. One doesnt have to accept all the explanations, but he shouldnt be silly and pretend that the Torah was written by a bunch of superstitious Neanderthals. If a person wants to undermine the Torah in order to legitimize immorality, that's his choice. The Torah, which we believe was written by G-d, condemns it. The penalty written in the verses for such acts teaches us that some things are so severe that one can forfeit his existence if he does them.

One can say I don't believe in G-d, I don't believe He gave the Torah, I don't believe in the morality it espouses thats free will. Adolph Hitler also said, "We are barbarians; morality is a Jewish invention." We Jews agree. If one wants to reject in a barbaric, close-minded fashion, he may. But an intelligent, thinking person, rather than making fun of people's belief, would take the time to try to understand it.

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