DovBear doesn’t think Matos is a very politically correct parsha — what with the whole men can annul women’s vows thing and the whole kill all the Midianites thing. And I 100% agree with him. By the standards of the year 2015, much of the Bible seems utterly inscrutable at best, and deeply offensive at worst. And there ought not be any apologetics about that.
You see, despite the fact that DovBear calls for the “immoral” parts of Matos to be reconciled with Judaism, this doesn’t make much sense at all. What do you mean, reconcile with Judaism? That is Judaism! It’s the Torah! If anything we should be reconciling it with modern moral norms. But there is no need to do that either. You just fall into childish and stupid apologetics, and ultimately get nowhere.
Judaism is Judaism. The Torah is the Torah. Modern Western values are modern Western values. No need to play any games here.
That all being said, we should have an approach to dealing with these sorts of things:
Now is not the time to get into it, but discussions like these is a perfectly valid time to bring up the topic of objective morality; if a unified set of morales can be found outside of some sort of organized, accepted, external system. I am strongly of the opinion that it is impossible, but feel free to dispute that contention.
I’m not even saying that such a system must be Divine, but you should be cognizant of the fact that if you had grown up, say, 50 years ago, you wouldn’t have any problem with the women vows thing. And if you had grown up in a different part of the world, you probably wouldn’t have a problem with either “issue”.
Does God only permit what is ethical and forbid what is not? Or is what God permits by definition ethical and what He forbids by definition unethical? This is a question that has been disputed in the great halls of philosophy for eons. And it’s something you would think doesn’t even exist by reading DovBear’s post.
One must recognize that the culture in which the Torah was given is quite different than the culture of today. Many are put off by the fact that the Torah permits slavery. What they fail to realize is that the Torah does not encourage slavery, but rather restricts it. Given the social climate in which the Torah was given slavery was very real, very dangerous, and very cruel. Comes along the Torah and says if you only have one pillow, it’s going to your slave, not you.
This is a drastically different way of viewing the Torah. Yes, by 2015 standards the book is quite behind the times. But in terms of the time in which it was given, it was radically ahead of the curve. As absolutely far ahead of its time as it could be without being impossibly difficult to follow.
Now, of course, this does mean that God is okay with a certain form of slavery. If that bothers you, take it up with God. Lots of things God does bothers me. He seems like a real jerk sometimes, honestly.
But you’ll note that there are no Jewish/Biblical slaves walking around today, and haven’t been for quite some time, because…
We also believe in an equally Divine Oral Law. God does not want every commandment fulfilled in every time period. It is no coincidence that today we cannot fulfill the commandment of wiping out Amaleik — a commandment that I do not think anybody alive today would be ethically capable of fulfilling.
(Despite the fact that it seems to be an enjoyable pastime of many Chareidi Rabbis to declare X or Y group of people is Amaleik, there is no Halachic import to these statements. Even they would admit that you do not have an obligation to knife them — so their whole Amaleik rant is utterly meaningless, and childish. And to those few who seem to imply that we should be knifing certain people based on a ruling of Amaleik — well, I don’t even know what to say. Amei HaAretz.)
Through whatever tools of controlling history God has, He controls what is to be performed when. Again, I do not think it is a coincidence that the deeply ethically problematic (again, by 2015 standards) commandments of the Torah cannot be fulfilled today.
The Torah is the starting point, with the Oral Law as an extension of God’s Will. An extension with the point to apply the Torah throughout the generations. The Book was for its time, and the Oral Law to allow the Book to stay fluid and relevant for all time. (Quite a logical system, if you ask me, but that’s for another time…)
Just to address the particular concerns in Matos: Yes, certain men can annul certain vows of certain women in very particular situations. The precise laws and rulings are all laid out in the Talmud. Needless to say — especially considering the fact that a man can have certain monetary obligations based on a vow his wife could make — the actual application of the Biblical precept is not too morally troubling. Grow up. (Also see here.)
And as to the Midianite issue — yeah, that ain’t no fun. There is a time for peace, there is a time for war. Again, despite the social climate at that time, a war like this could take place only with a direct command from God. We don’t see these sorts of things happening today, nor through 90% of Jewish history. Again, no coincidence. For whatever reason, God felt this was proper Divine retribution at that time based on what the Midianites did to the Jews previously. Why? I don’t know. Am I comfortable with it? Heck no! I’ll just have to add it to my long list of problems I have with how God runs His world. You know, animal sacrifice, stoning people to death, pediatric cancer, natural disasters, so forth… (Also see here.)
Look, all of this stuff rubs me the wrong way too. It shows just how distant we really are from the morality of our forefathers. Is this good? Is this bad? I’m not really sure about that one. I really don’t have clarity there. But it certainly seems to me that only the commandments that we are actually capable of stomaching are ever actually applicable. For this to apply to the entirety of the Torah once more, there will have to be quite a cultural upheaval first. Nothing short of Divine Intervention. And I mean that.
In short, it seems to me like this is yet another example of DovBear making a big deal out of the same old problems as if they were totally novel.
He says he’s going to write more on the subject. Let’s see…