I Am Not A Torah Scholar and Other Revelations

So, I was sitting in shul yesterday, minding my personal business with my Maker and idly wondering what was for Kiddush lunch, when a passage from the week’s Torah portion (parsha) sort of leapt out and bit me on the nose.

Now, I have been a lot of things in my life, but religiously observant has never been one of them. This was the first time we’ve stepped foot in synagogue since Shavuot. I’m not gonna pretend here that I’m any more qualified to interpret God’s word on the mountain any more that I can speak to the intricacies of String Theory, which is to say my knowledge taps out at Jacob’s Ladder (not quite as basic as Cat’s Cradle, but still at the most remedial of levels.)

Though I love my people and our traditions, I just don’t feel called to take everything in the Torah literally. As it is with other culturally- and spiritually-identified but non-kosher-keeping Jews of the world, I have a (halachically treyf) beef with the laws of kashrut as they were laid out 5000+ years ago. Yesterday’s reading is a clear case in point why:

Parsha Ki Teitzei, also known as Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19:

10. If you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord, your God, will deliver him into your hands, and you take his captives, י. כִּי תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל אֹיְבֶיךָ וּנְתָנוֹ יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּיָדֶךָ וְשָׁבִיתָ שִׁבְיוֹ:
11. and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her, you may take [her] for yourself as a wife. יא. וְרָאִיתָ בַּשִּׁבְיָה אֵשֶׁת יְפַת תֹּאַר וְחָשַׁקְתָּ בָהּ וְלָקַחְתָּ לְךָ לְאִשָּׁה:
12. You shall bring her into your home, and she shall shave her head and let her nails grow. יב. וַהֲבֵאתָהּ אֶל תּוֹךְ בֵּיתֶךָ וְגִלְּחָה אֶת רֹאשָׁהּ וְעָשְׂתָה אֶת צִפָּרְנֶיהָ:
13. And she shall remove the garment of her captivity from upon herself, and stay in your house, and weep for her father and her mother for a full month. After that, you may be intimate with her and possess her, and she will be a wife for you. יג. וְהֵסִירָה אֶת שִׂמְלַת שִׁבְיָהּ מֵעָלֶיהָ וְיָשְׁבָה בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבָכְתָה אֶת אָבִיהָ וְאֶת אִמָּהּ יֶרַח יָמִים וְאַחַר כֵּן תָּבוֹא אֵלֶיהָ וּבְעַלְתָּהּ וְהָיְתָה לְךָ לְאִשָּׁה:
14. And it will be, if you do not desire her, then you shall send her away wherever she wishes, but you shall not sell her for money. You shall not keep her as a servant, because you have afflicted her.

Let me get this straight. In times of war, it’s perfectly acceptable to kidnap the women of your enemy. If you find one especially hot, you can shave her head, cut her nails and take her home. Of course, you have to wait a month before you shtup her proper, just so she gets out all the crying about leaving home. Then, when you’re sick of her bitching, you can kick her out. But you can’t resell her or make her clean your dirty socks anymore.

That is some serious Game of Thrones shit right there.

I nudged El Yenta Man. “Did you read this?!”

He skimmed the big red book on my lap. “Mmmm. Cool. It also says I can have two wives.”

I pinched him. Another plus of being in a Reform synagogue—men and women can sit together.

Our new rabbi is a very cool and diplomatic dude who has told me that he shares my view that the Torah was written by people a long time ago, and many of its tenets are, shall we say, outdated. His answer to this crazy sexist barbarism was that compared to how soldiers had been treating the women of their enemies before this law, it actually dictated a far more compassionate and benevolent practice.

Rather than get into all THAT on the bima however, Rabbi Haas chose to focus his sermon on the latter part of the parsha, which talks about how the responsibilities and rewards of the firstborn son can be revoked if that heir isn’t behaving himself.

Yenta Boy, who may be going for a Guinness Record for Longest Continual Sulk since his phone was taken away last week for backtalking, ignored us, pointedly staring at the stained glass window above the bima.

“Well lookee here,” I pointed, tracing down the verses.”It says here that if a father and mother have a son who refuses to listen, they shall take him out to the middle of the city and announce to the elders ‘This son of ours is wayward and rebellious, and does not obey us: He is a glutton and a guzzler!’ Maybe Dad and I will stand out in front of your school next week with signs if you don’t change your attitude.”

Yenta Boy sneered his tweenage sneer. “I’m a glutton and a guzzler? I didn’t even finish my breakfast.” Bar mitzvah boys have an answer to everything, dontcha know?

“It also says that then they can pelt him to death with stones.”

YB’s face drained of color. “What?! Let me see that…” he grabbed away the Midrash book and started studying the Hebrew.

The Torah may not be for taking literally, but it sure is exciting.

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