“[Rav Kook wrote that] the mitzvot light the way to the perfection of the future – a time when the animals will have been transformed into humans, and humans into angels. Thus kashrut is mean to prepare us for vegetarianism, a great step forward in the moral perfection of the human race – but must not be done before its time, for the complacency and self-satisfaction it might bring. Indeed, he wrote, one could imagine a bloodthirsty tyrant who prided himself on his vegetarianism, eerily presaging Hitler.”
A recent study cited in Forbes documented problems in the application of the death penalty in the United States. The provocative study suggests that one out of every twenty-five defendants sentenced to death in the U.S. is actually innocent.
The study, while not necessarily conclusive, strengthens my growing conviction that if we are going to be a nation that continues to sentence people to death, we must consider using a more Talmudic level of criterion in our sentencing. I am a longtime advocate of the death penalty, but it is difficult to continue such support when the possibility of a mistake is so high.
Much of my support of the death penalty lies in its source in Torah rather than my belief in the punishment as a deterrent to criminals. Yet it is becoming clear that our standards for evidence and sentencing fall short of the intent of Jewish law. That should trouble every Jew in America who supports capital punishment.
My feelings about conversions are complex. As far as I am concerned, all conversions are valid. I figure R. Hillel would have stood with me on that, and I believe my relationship with Hashem is what makes me Jewish, not a beit din.
Nonetheless, for a range of reasons, mostly personal, I want to reach a stage where I am considered Jewish under Halachah. I consider that a journey of discovery rather than a quest for some kind of spiritual legitimacy.
To begin with, FGM has no religious basis, unlike male circumcision. Second, the removal of the clitoris entailed by FGM results in pain and medical complications that are infinitely worse than any of the outcomes of male circumcision; equally, it’s worth recalling that the benefits of male circumcision in fighting AIDS, as highlighted by the World Health Organization, are manifestly absent in the case of FGM. Third, the vast majority of men who undergo circumcision grow up unaware of the operation, whereas women subjected to FGM suffer hugely from the consequences for their entire lives.
As far as G-d and I are concerned, I’m a Jew. Halachah, on the other hand, rules differently. How do I approach that contradiction?
“The Divine law does not impose asceticism upon us. It rather desires that we should keep the equipoise, and grant every mental and physical faculty its due, without excess, since excess in one faculty will come at the expense of another. A person who tends toward lust, blunts his mental faculty; and the opposite. A person who is inclined to violence, injures other faculties. Prolonged fasting is not an act of piety for a person who succeeded in checking his desires and is weak in body. For him, pleasure is a burden and self-denial. Neither is limiting one’s wealth an act of piety, if the wealth is gained in a lawful way, and if its acquisition does not interfere with study and good works.”
“Thus the Sabbath begins in [the eastern border of] China eighteen hours later than it does in the Land of Israel. For the Land of Israel is situated in the center of the inhabited world.”
If that’s true, then I’ve been doing it 24 hours early for as long as I’ve been in China. I am assuming that there has been a p’sak issued to the contrary, having us work from commonly accepted time.
Either way, Shabbat Shalom!