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Torah readings:  Exodus chapters 21 through 24, and 30: 11-16.
Haftrah:  Second Kings 11:17 to 12:17.

On January 30th, Maryland Governor Martin O'Mally entered the chamber of the Maryland House of Delegates to deliver his State of the State Address.  The speech included the following:  

But when we realize that something isn’t working and it’s also expensive, we should stop doing it.  The death penalty is expensive and it does not work and we should stop doing it. Research in our own commission has shown that it is not a deterrent.  It cannot be administered without racial bias.  It costs three times as much as locking someone up for life without parole.  And it cannot be reversed if an innocent person is executed.

It is time to repeal the death penalty in Maryland and replace it with life without parole.

Consider this, consider this: all across our ever-more-closely connected world, the majority of executions now take place in just seven countries:  Iran. Iraq. The People’s Republic of China. North Korea. Saudi Arabia. Yemen.  And the United States of America.

This week's Torah primary Torah reading, Mishpatim, begins the ancient Hebrew legal code, and this legal code will be picked up a number of times later in the Torah.  This legal code provides for capital punishment, over and over again.  Thus, from this Shabbat's reading, in Exodus chapter 21:  
12.  He who fatally strikes a man shall be put to death. . . .
15.  He who strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death.
16.  He who kidnaps a man - whether he has sold him or is still holding him - shall be put to death.
17.  He who insults his father or his mother shall be put to death. . . .
22.  When men fight, and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a miscarriage results, but no other damage ensues, the one responsible shall be fined according as the woman's husband may exact from him, the payment to be paid by reckoning.  23.  But if no other damage ensues, the penalty shall be life for life, 24. eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25. burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
Reading this, and other lines from other sections of the Torah, one gets the impression that Judaism was a pretty bloody religion, executing people at the drop of a hat for all kinds of offenses, many of which we would not consider criminal acts today.  Yet, the Talmud all but abolishes capital punishment.  Why was that?  And how could the rabbis so twist the clear text of the Bible?  I'll try to explain below the squiggly lines.

The rabbis who compiled the Talmud understood the evils of the death penalty.  They and their fellow Jews lived, and too often died, under the tyranny of the Roman Empire.  It is likely that over the centuries, hundreds of thousands of Jews were executed by the Romans for real and imagined crimes.  A number of the rabbis suffered this fate.  Indeed, the Christian religion was founded in reaction to the execution of one particular rabbi.  But it was not only Jesus who bore this suffering.  In the Talmud, Barakoth 61b, we read:

Our Rabbis taught: Once the wicked Government [the Roman Empire] issued a decree forbidding the Jews to study and practise the Torah. Pappus ben [son of] Judah came and found Rabbi Akiba publicly bringing gatherings together and occupying himself with the Torah. . . .  It is related that soon afterwards Rabbi Akiba was arrested and thrown into prison, and Pappus ben Judah was also arrested and imprisoned next to him.  He said to him: "Pappus, who brought you here?" He replied:  "Happy are you, Rabbi Akiba, that you have been seized for busying yourself with the Torah!  Alas for Pappus who has been seized for busying himself with idle things!"  When Rabbi Akiba was taken out for execution, it was the hour for the recital of the Shema [Deuteronomy 6:4-9], and while they combed his flesh with iron combs, he was accepting upon himself the kingship of heaven.  His disciples said to him:  "Our teacher, even to this point?"  He said to them: "All my days I have been troubled by this verse, 'with all thy soul' [Deut. 6:5], which I interpret, 'even if He takes thy soul'. I said: When shall I have the opportunity of fulfilling this?  Now that I have the opportunity shall I not fulfil it?"  He prolonged the word ehad [One, Deut. 6:4] until he died while saying it.
Nor were Jesus and Akiba the only two rabbis to be executed by the Romans.  The Romans' penchant for executing people caused the rabbis to abhor the death penalty.  Thus, in Mishnah Makkot 1:10, we read:
A Sanhedrin that puts a man to death once in seven years is called bloody Sanhedren. Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah says: "Even once in seventy years."  Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Tarfon say: "Had we been in the Sanhedrin none would ever have been put to death." Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel says: "They would have multiplied shedders of blood in Israel."
But the Torah is loaded with death penalties.  If the rabbis had to follow the Torah, how could they have avoided sentencing people to death?  By making setting up so many procedural blockades that the death penalty became impossible to carry out.  Thus, from Deuteronomy 17:6:  
A person shall be put to death only on the testimony of two or more witnesses, he must not be put to death on the testimony of a single witness.
The rabbis derived the following procedural roadblocks:

Two witnesses were required.  Acceptability was limited to adult Jewish men who were known to keep the commandments, knew the written and oral law, and had legitimate professions.   The witnesses had to see each other at the time of the offense.  The witnesses had to be able to speak clearly, without any speech impediment or hearing deficit (to ensure that the warning and the response were done).  The witnesses could not be related to each other or to the accused.  

Both witnesses had to give a warning (hatra'ah) to the person that the sin they were about to commit was a capital offense.  This warning had to be delivered within seconds of the performance of the sin (in the time it took to say, "Peace unto you, my Rabbi and my Master").  In the same amount of time, the person about to sin had to respond that s/he was familiar with the punishment, but they were going to sin anyway; AND begin to commit the sin/crime.  

The Beth Din had to examine each witness separately; and if even one point of their evidence was contradictory - the evidence was not heeded.  Although there was some disagreement as to whether minor contraditions could be disregarded.  Thus, from Talmud Sanhedrin 41a:

Rabbi Hisda said:  "If one testified that he [the accused] slew him with a sword, and another, that he slew him with a dagger, it [the evidence] is inadmissible.  If one says, His clothes were black, and the other, his clothes were white; the evidence is admissible."  An objection is raised: The evidence must be certain; if one witness says, he slew him with a sword, and the other says, with a dagger; or if one says, his clothes were black, and the other, they were white, the evidence is not certain.  Rabbi Hisda interpreted this as referring to the color of the cloth with which he strangled him, which comes under the same category as sword or dagger.  Come and hear!  If the one says that his sandals were black, and the other, that they were white, the evidence is not certain!   There too the meaning is, that he kicked him with his sandal and killed him.
The Beth Din had to consist of at least 23 judges.  The majority could not be a simple majority - the split verdict that would allow conviction had to be at least 13 to 11 in favor of conviction.  If the Beth Din arrived at a unanimous verdict of guilty, the person was let go, as there was no one on the Sanhedrin who spoke up on the accused's behalf.  From Talmud Sandhedrin 17a:
Rabbi Kahana said: If the Sanhedrin unanimously finds [the accused] guilty, he is acquitted.  Why? — Because we have learned by tradition that sentence must be postponed until the following day in hope of finding new points in favor of the defense. But we cannot assume that this will occur.
Oh, and about the lines from this week's Torah reading commanding us to take "an eye for an eye."  Are Jewish judges commanded to go around poking out people's eyes?  Note that this passage begins by commanding that a person who pushes a pregnant woman and causes a miscarriage is to be fined - no hint that abortion is murder here!  The Talmud, Bava Kamma 83b-84a, quotes both Rabbi Dosthai ben [son of] Judah, and Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai, as stating:  "An eye for eye means pecuniary compensation."  Jews are not commanded to poke out people's eyes, pull out people's teeth, or cut off hands or feet, but to award the victims a just compensation for the injury another has wrongfully done.

Shabbat Shalom.

Originally posted to Elders of Zion on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 05:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  My personal view on the death penalty (14+ / 0-)

    I would not abolish it altogether but reserve it for two instances:  

    First, mass murder.  I refuse to believe that the 11 death sentences handed down by the Nuremburg tribunal were unjust.  Mass murder in my view requires the ultimate penalty, from Hitler, Goering, or Pol Pot, to Timothy McVeigh and John Muhammed the Beltway sniper.

    Second, those who commit first degree murder who receive life imprisonment without parole, and who murder again, either a guard, another prisoner, or as an escapee.  Otherwise there would be no sanction the state could impose for such a murder.

    "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

    by Navy Vet Terp on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 05:07:56 PM PST

    •  I am with you there... (4+ / 0-)

      Any of the war crimes should be death penalty eligible as the are committed by a society's elites and they are unlikely to be deterred otherwise.  I also support it for the more serious cases of treason and espionage, basically crimes against our republic.  

      However, it should be rarely applied as its impossible to fix a botched prosecution.  

      Under capitalism man exploits man, under communism the roles are reversed.

      by DavidMS on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 07:17:31 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The idea that.... (0+ / 0-)

        ....a member of a social elite in power would be deterred by the idea that (s)he would fail, be taken into captivity, and then executed, is utterly ridiculous. As is the sentimentality on this thread for the death penalty, shown in the efforts some have made to find some rationale in some circumstances, however rare, to execute someone.

        "They smash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn)

        by sagesource on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 11:37:48 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Then allow parole (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SchuyH, Navy Vet Terp, 4Freedom

      Life without parole in most countries is limited to the most serious murders - in the UK for example there are perhaps three or four people serving "whole life tariff" sentences.

      There is a very practical reason for this and it points to your second objection. If somebody has no possibility of release, then there is no point in not murdering a fellow prisoner or a guard.

      "Who stood against President Obama in 2012?" - The trivia question nobody can answer.

      by Lib Dem FoP on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 08:32:33 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Outstanding- showing nuance on a cap punish thread (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Navy Vet Terp

      It's appreciated.  

      Out of my cold dead hands

      by bluelaser2 on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 05:51:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  There have been times (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Neon Mama, Navy Vet Terp, 4Freedom

      in my life when I have thought life without parole to be cruel and unusual punishment, and that the death penalty should be available in cases of well-proven and confessed murder.

      The trouble with death for treason is in the application. I think of the Rosenbergs and the implicit racism of that sentence, which I think as clear as the way the death penalty for murder is applied.

      Republicans want to make government small enough to fit in your vagina..

      by ramara on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 09:29:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  How about witness killers? (0+ / 0-)

      Shouldn't they receive the death penalty

  •  I like reading this series (8+ / 0-)

    Especially since it relates to the all to common practice of the religious Christian right what the Old Testament/Torah means.

  •  Excellent exigesis, NVT (8+ / 0-)

    I think that this points out the folly of non-Jews trying to say that anything outside the Ten Commandments  from what they call the Hebrew Bible should be taken literally.  I will even feel sorry for the members of various Protestant sects for not having the wealth of learned commentary that we have on every chapter and verse.

    I think I'm with you on the death penalty too insofar as my objection to it has to do with the possibility of executing an innocent person.

    -7.75, -8.10; . . . Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall (h/t cooper888)

    by Dave in Northridge on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 05:28:35 PM PST

  •  I don't think we should base any of our political (0+ / 0-)

    decisions on religion.  Religion is neither scientific nor informative in any way.

    Anyhow, here is my favorite quote from the Torah/Bible:
    Ezekiel 23:20

    That passage just goes to show you that the Torah/Bible was written by men, who clearly were just as immature today as they were back then.

  •  I've always been very opposed to the death (4+ / 0-)

    penalty. I was in 9th grade when John Spenkelink was executed. It really bothered me. I didn't understand how anyone could favor this. I was also bothered and very confused when I saw the most vocally religious people seemed the most in favor of it.

    I guess I've always been very against it...

    As a member of Courtesy Kos, I am dedicated to civility and respect for all kossacks, regardless of their opinions, affiliations, or cliques.

    by joedemocrat on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 05:33:35 PM PST

  •  Well, my journey with the death penalty (8+ / 0-)

    has been all over the map the past 40 years. Entered adulthood absolutely opposed in all circumstances. The absolutist position was pretty easy to live with, and argue for, until a close friend was brutally kidnapped, raped and murdered. Then, I went through a period where I decided that the death penalty was not necessarily a shondah in all circumstances. Then, once I came to grips with the indisputable facts that skin color and personal wealth are huge factors that determine whether a death sentence is given in the U.S., I could no  longer stomach the notion of the reality of the death penalty being permissible with these indisputable facts.  For a while now, I've wondered whether this is a cop out, because this position conveniently avoids having to grapple with the issue of the morality of the death penalty (notwithstanding the inequities inherent in our legal system). But, after reading this diary, I wonder if perhaps my views are simply in line with the teachings pf the Torah.

    •  Not a cop out (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Renee, sfbob, blueyedace2, SchuyH, ramara, 4Freedom

      A study was done in Maryland, published in 2004, which found that race and geography played a strong role in who got the death penalty and who did not.  Essentially, if you were black, and if you were tried in any county but Baltimore City, or Montgomery or Prince Georges County - suburban DC - you were exponentially more likely to be sentenced to death.  The state's attorney in Baltimore County for many years, Sandra O"Conor (no relation to the retired SCOTUS justice) had a policy of always seeking the death penalty unless the victim's family insisted otherwise, and she didn't give a hoot about racial disparities.

      When I was intereviewed back in 1983 to be a deputy DA, I was asked if I could deliver a sentencing argument to put a person to death, and I needed a job badly so I lied and said yes.  I am thankful that during my three years as deputy DA I never had to argue to put a person to death - my only first degree murder trial was non-death penalty.

      "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

      by Navy Vet Terp on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 06:01:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  On what authority can rabbis amend the Torah? (0+ / 0-)

    Where is it written that God told the rabbis that if his word was too harsh as written or if his commandments seemed ridiculous in the context of a more civilized culture, they can be disregarded, ignored or interpreted in a way that distorts their meaning? I personally think that a set of laws determined by wise and good men (such as some of the rabbis) is far superior to a supposed law or commandment issued by somebody's imaginary view of God. As you describe the Talmud's reinterpretation of the Torah, I am reminded of Humpty Dumpty's statement in Through the Looking Glass. :

    "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."
    "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
    "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."
    •  they aren't amending it (4+ / 0-)

      they are discussing and recording how it actually WORKS within the culture.  big difference.

      And we sail and we sail and we never see land, just the rum in the bottle and a pipe in my hand...

      by Mortifyd on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 11:53:11 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The mere fact that it is language demands (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mortifyd, Navy Vet Terp

        that it be interpreted. If there is one thing language is not, then it's being literal.

        No one person can be sure to have hit upon the correct one, so the idea of coming to consensus ... again and again ... is not only a good idea, I'd say it is a just one.

      •  Hi Mortifyd (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Neon Mama, Navy Vet Terp, Mortifyd

        Nice to see you. Hope all is well.

        The acquittal in case of a unanimous decision for the death penalty illustrates your point: such a decision is not to be trusted because after all the judges are merely human no matter how wise they are, and the fact that no one disagrees argues that there was no adequate defense.

        Republicans want to make government small enough to fit in your vagina..

        by ramara on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 09:51:40 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  On the following authority (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Navy Vet Terp

      There's a series of verses located in Deuteronomy, 30:11-14.  One of them contains the phrase "lo bashamayim hi" (literally: It is not in heaven).  There's also Exodus 23:2 2, which says (translation JPS 1917 edition): Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou bear witness in a cause to turn aside after a multitude to pervert justice;.

      The rabbis, in Tractate Bava Metzia, folio pages 59A-B, are having a debate about an oven (don't worry about the details of the oven, suffice it to say they're having a debate).  Although Rabbi Eliezer is the one with the most stature among them, the body of rabbis as a whole rules against his ruling.  He continues promoting his idea, and asks a carob tree to prove him right, and it gets up and moves 100 cubits (about 150 feet).  And the rabbis tell him that a carob tree cannot bring proof.  He then asks a stream to prove him right.  The stream runs backwards, but the rabbis tell him that a stream cannot bring proof.  He then asks the house of study to prove him right, and the walls start to fall, but Rabbi Joshua asks them why they are interfering with a debate between scholars, and they stop in the position they're in.  Finally, he asks for heaven to prove him directly, and a voice from heaven cries out that Rabbi Eliezer is correct regarding the law.  Rabbi Joshua stands up and quotes the first verse I mentioned above (in explaining this another rabbi brings up the second half of the second verse, positing that one should follow the rulings of the multitude [or rabbis]).

      The Talmud then relates that Rabbi Natan met the prophet Elijah (who often shows up in Rabbinic stories, likely because he never dies in the Bible, but instead is removed from the world).  Rabbi Natan asks Elijah what God did when Rabbi Joshua said "It is not heaven!"  Elijah tells Rabbi Natan that God smiled and said "My children have defeated me, my children have defeated me."

  •  Most executions occur in those listed countries... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Navy Vet Terp

    ...but a bunch of countries have the death penalty, including Japan, India, and Israel.  Most of Africa, the Middle East, large parts of Central and South America, and Southeast Asia have the death penalty as well.  It is reserved for particularly heinous crimes in most of these countries.  Years ago I read that France has an informal extrajudicial death penalty for cop killers and those who murder in prison, but that was only one sensationalistic article and I don't put much stock by it.  They hang you in India, though executions are very rare, so rare as to be almost non-existent.  It may be coming back after those gruesome gang rapes last month.  There's a great article on this subject over at wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/...

    Israel - when they'll execute you:

    Death penalty for crimes against humanity, high treason, genocide, and crimes against the Jewish people during wartime. Only two executions: accused traitor Meir Tobiansky (posthumously acquitted) and high-ranking Nazi Adolf Eichmann. Abolished for other crimes 1954.
    Here's the link for Tobiansky:  http://en.wikipedia.org/...

    Belarus - when they'll kill you:

    Belarus is the last remaining country in Europe to practice the death penalty. Current laws allow capital punishment for acts of aggression; murder of a representative of a foreign state or international organization with the intention to provoke international tension or war; international terrorism; genocide; crimes against the security of humanity; murder with aggravating circumstances; terrorism; terrorist acts; treason that results in loss of life; conspiracy to seize power; sabotage; murder of a police officer; use of weapons of mass destruction; and violations of the laws and customs of war.
    And us?  In Texas, I'm convinced they'll execute you for sneezing.  A little bit of snark, but not far off the mark.  If you doubt me:  http://en.wikipedia.org/...

    Remember, it's highly likely Texas has executed at least two innocent men.

    Tell me what to write. tellmewhattowrite.com 'To know what is right and to do it are two different things.' - Chushingura, a tale of The Forty-Seven Ronin

    by rbird on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 10:47:10 PM PST

  •  EoZ, have you read Lambs, by Christopher Moore? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Neon Mama, Navy Vet Terp

    Its a wonderful comedy that speculates about Christ's life between ages 13 and 30. One of the things I felt most enjoyable about the story, was the way Jewish mores were presented.
    The story was told by Biff, Jesus's childhood best friend who was reincarnated by Heaven to write a new Gospel to enlighten mankind on what Jesus did in the seventeen years, between his bar mitzvah and his ultimate ministry.
    As I said, however, its a comedy. But it presents a view of the justice of Judaism and Romanism that is both informative and hilarious. I heartily recommend the book to anyone with an open mind. There is no blasphemy, and only the preposterous intractability of power is lampooned.
    In the end, the manipulation of Jewish law is used to convict Jesus, and the author uses the episode with Lazarus to both show the idiocy of religious law and the ease with which abuse inevitably follows.
    Thanks for the diary this morning. Its good to know that there are some religions that can evolve. I guess that's why the Jews have made it so long.

  •  Gentile Watching TV (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    El Bloguero, Navy Vet Terp

    The same place I get most of my insight and my moral compass: The West Wing.

    TOBY
    Yeah, well, you're welcome. [Both get up.] The Torah doesn't prohibit capital punishment.

    RABBI GLASSMAN
    No.

    TOBY
    It says, 'An eye for an eye.'

    RABBI GLASSMAN
    You know what it also says? It says a rebellious child can be brought to the city gates and stoned to death. It says homosexuality is an abomination and punishable by death.
    It says men can be polygamous and slavery is acceptable. For all I know, that thinking reflected the best wisdom of its time, but it's just plain wrong by any modern standard.
    Society has a right to protect itself, but it doesn't have a right to be vengeful. It has a right to punish, but it doesn't have to kill.

    We'll sing not only to entertain our children but to be reminded by the Haggadah, the simple truth. That violence begets violence. Vengeance is not Jewish. aaron sorkin

  •  There was a wonderful discussion of (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Navy Vet Terp, Amber6541

    Judaism and the death penalty delivered in 2000 by EDNY federal judge Jack Weinstein at a Great Neck Temple. A wonderful analysis.  You can find it here.

    •  On the rebellious son (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      El Bloguero, Amber6541

      For the parents to have their bratty son executed, both parents have to have provided the identical warning.  Also, all this insulting and insolence and gluttony and drunkeness must occur over a six month period - I forget if the rabbis said 12 1/2 to 13 years old, or 13 to 13 1/2 year old.  Before then the son is a child and not responsible for his bad behavior, after those six months he is an adult and no longer subject to his parents' demands.  Again, the idea was to make this death sentence impossible to carry out.

      "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

      by Navy Vet Terp on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 02:05:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Wasn't there a Jewish sect that didn't recognize (0+ / 0-)

    the Talmud and thus died out probably due to massive death penalty usage?  After all, stoning any kids that are even the slightest bit rebellious is a good way to go extinct very quickly.

    You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

    by Throw The Bums Out on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 01:42:51 PM PST

    •  Yes, the Karites (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Throw The Bums Out

      There are still a few left but not many.  They literally heed the Torah prohibition of kindling no light on Shabbat so they sit in the dark on Friday nights.  see my comment above on stoning kids.  I have no idea if the Karites did that.

      "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

      by Navy Vet Terp on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 02:07:13 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I have advocated for a death row inmate (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Amber6541, Navy Vet Terp

    who was executed. There was much evidence of his innocence, and the information that garnered him the DP was shoddy, as was his defense.

    He died telling his supporters to "Be strong". Before he died, he said he forgave those whom he said lied about his guilt and innocence. It was a horrible night to experience, with people around the world hoping for a last minute reprieve from the governor.

    It never came, and he died. He was poor, black and uneducated. The evidence was contrived. I'll never forget the night, nor lose the letters he wrote. It furthered my lifelong opposition to the death penalty.

    To me, as long as the death penalty exists, our country is diminished in stature. I don't agree with the partial support expressed for the death penalty, but I'm glad to have the discussion.

    You can't go back and rewrite your past, but you can use your past to create your future. ~ Ray Lewis

    by 4Freedom on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 02:17:38 PM PST

  •  It appears that Judaism has the same (0+ / 0-)

    problems with the texts as every other religion that has texts.  The texts are stories, mostly made up with a little history thrown in them here and there. Some of the stories are outright mythologies intended to draw people into the religion. Many of those mythologies are borrowed, in the case of Judaism, from Eygyptian/Babylonian pagan stories (Noah, Ten C's, Moses etc.)  

    Then over a couple thousand years, self appointed "experts" on the texts (rabbis, priests, etc.) set themselves up within the community in order to gain political power. This power is often conferred by a claim to special contact with a divine entity.

    These experts then set to "interpret the meaning" of the texts. The problem here is that since the texts are inconsistent, the interpretations are all over the map, which basically renders the the whole ball of wax meaningless. Yet, here we all are trying to apply these texts to modern issues and we still come up with mush.

    Kind of makes one want to shelve the books and shake one's fist at the deities for pulling one massive joke on us.

    •  The rabbis never had political power (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JDsg

      Not under the Persians who from time to time ruled Babylon (modern day Iraq) to whence they fled, as they  were persecuted and often murdered under the Romans and Byzantines.  The rabbis in the Talmud were only part time rabbis - they made their living as blacksmiths and tanners and merchants and physicians and canal diggers.  Any Jew at that time could study at one of the academies and sit in on the discussions and eventually be allowed to join their discussions and make their contributions to the development of the Talmud.  Rabbi Akiba was a shepherd, Resh Lakish was a Roman gladiator whom Rabbi Yonatan convinced to give up being a gladiator and study to become a rabbi.  The Talmud preserves approximately 6,200 pages of their discussions from the 2nd to the 5th centuries, a few thousand more if you include the discussions that took place in Palestine before the Romans stopped them.  Debate was free and vigorous, as it is here, so, yes it is "all over the map."

      "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

      by Navy Vet Terp on Sat Feb 09, 2013 at 03:25:04 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  and as to "special contact with a divine entity" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JDsg

      yes, this does occur in a few places in the Talmud but in the various contexts it is not to be taken literally and the most famous stories/allegories make the point it is now up to human beings to control their own fate.  There is no passage that establishes the rabbis' right to rule some mythical theocracy that never existed.

      "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

      by Navy Vet Terp on Sat Feb 09, 2013 at 03:34:26 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I appreciate you taking the time to (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Navy Vet Terp

        try to address my concerns. There is, however, a basic problem with with the discussions on what is considered the laws of a deity. There is no deity. Thus the texts (Torah, Talmud, Bible, Koran) and all of this back and forth on what these people wrote thousands of years ago have little more relevance than fairy tales or classic mythologies.  Now, one can certainly study fairy tales or classic mythologies for human wisdom and life lessons, but the affording of a special status to these religious texts as being some sort of higher level of knowledge is unfortunate and continues to plague the world of reality. We continue to suffer as a world because people buy into the idea that a deity GAVE the ancestors of today's Jewish population specific real estate.  

        Perhaps the rabbis of old did not have political power in the sense of the world they lived in. Maybe I should have said that they had community power. Anyone who is looked at in any group as having the special wisdom to interpret what is considered laws from a divine source holds a status different from others.

        However, in today's world, rabbis hold a lot of political power, as do bishops and pope's and evangelical ministers. One of the only ways I see to remedy this is to chip away at the idea that the texts that give them this power have any authority above any other texts.

        So while I tried initially to get into this conversation by reading the readings etc. I found my frustration at the irrelevance of them taking over.  

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