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Tzvia Greenfield
May 11, 2010 5:50 PM   Subscribe

Tzvia Greenfield is the first ultra-Orthodox woman to serve in Knesset, the Israeli legislature, representing the left-wing party Meretz. Her 2001 book Hem Mefahadim ("They are afraid,") an attack on rightism and insularity among the ultra-Orthodox, drew death threats. Despite her sharp criticism of the religious community ("The big issue here is a very delicate one. That is children. Large families thirty years ago was six children; now there's 13 or 14 - from one wife. I believes the glorification of bringing as many children as possible is a definite way of ensuring women can't bring their advantages into effect - subjugation.") she still lives an observant life in the ultra-Orthodox community of Har Nof. "They disagree with my ideas but they know me as religious and halachic person. They cannot see any blemish in my practice except for one thing- we have a dog." At least one haredi denies that Greenfield is Orthodox at all. (The dog comes up.)
posted by escabeche (56 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
At least one haredi denies that Greenfield is Orthodox at all. (The dog comes up.)

To be fair, the dog isn't the issue here. The author seems to think that Greenfield shouldn't be considered Orthodox because of her views on Jewish law, which could maybe be a fair point if she could show any particular examples of ways in which Greenfield has violated and/or shown disrespect for those laws which the haredi community view as binding.
posted by albrecht at 6:06 PM on May 11, 2010


While the dog may come up (and then is dismissed), the heart of the argument against her piousness seems like it could be mirrored in a (religiously) conservative attack on the Democrat party:

But neither I nor you, Tzvia, can sanction, in the name of God almighty, the desecration of the Shabbat, bringing illegitimate children into the world, homosexuality, abortions, and any other bone of contention between believers and heretics. Issues that are an inseparable part of your party's platform, and let me give you a little hint, Tzvia – they don't quite adhere to the Torah's views on these matters.

Although its rare I see these sentiments expressed eloquently (take notes, american fundamentalists!)
posted by el io at 6:08 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Tzvia Greenfield in her own words, from the second article:
"I am creating an important precedent as a woman born and raised in the ultra-Orthodox society who is entering the Knesset on behalf of Meretz, to promote the pluralist values of humanity and human rights – this is an incredible privilege for me."
Tzvia here acknowledges that she has her own (apparently stringent) belief system, but recognizes that she must, in her position as MK, govern those outside her own community. This sounds like the sort of opposition that JFK, or even John Kerry faced, but somehow inverted. Good luck to you, Ms. Greenfield.
posted by boo_radley at 6:20 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


To be fair, the dog isn't the issue here. The author seems to think that Greenfield shouldn't be considered Orthodox because of her views on Jewish law, which could maybe be a fair point if she could show any particular examples of ways in which Greenfield has violated and/or shown disrespect for those laws which the haredi community view as binding.

She's speaking out in favor of religious pluralism, egalitarianism and women rabbis. Disrespect isn't the correct description. But she definitely is promoting views that aren't traditionally haredi -- views which that community does believe are binding. As a representative of their community to the secular world, those criticisms and others can't be sitting well with them.

Heck, for the most part non-haredi orthodox aren't really in favor of religious pluralism. It's kind of a radical concept for her to be embracing.

I respect the heck out of her. Good for her for sticking to her guns.
posted by zarq at 6:48 PM on May 11, 2010


Although its rare I see these sentiments expressed eloquently (take notes, american fundamentalists!)
Well, how much time to you spend reading right wing nutbar blogs? Ross Douthat (who's at the NYT now) is an obvious example of a social conservative who actually believes those kinds of things (perhaps not to the same extent)

I actually followed a link somewhere to some blog that was actually about end of times stuff, but was actually really well written from what I remember.

If you assume everyone in a movement is as literate as the author of the silliest teabagger signs, then you're going to get a mistaken view.

And also, it's pretty common for right-wingers to think liberals are all "stupid" because they never spend any time reading liberal blogs, or liberal media.

I'm certainly not trying to defend these types of people, only point out that it's stupid to think that "the opposition" is stupid just because you disagree with them or don't spend a lot of time reading what they say

--

What really struck me, though about this Tali Farkash was that she had such a sexy, come-hither headshot. You rarely see fundamentalist Christians who use pictures like this IMO.
posted by delmoi at 6:50 PM on May 11, 2010


Tali Farkash is haredi and a fundamentalist, but her writing usually focuses on either encouraging tolerance of the haredi community by the secular majority, or tolerance within the haredi community of each others differences. Her columns are at times incomprehensible, but they give an interesting perspective into the haredi mindset.
posted by zarq at 7:01 PM on May 11, 2010


delmoi: “What really struck me, though about this Tali Farkash was that she had such a sexy, come-hither headshot. You rarely see fundamentalist Christians who use pictures like this IMO.”

Do you mean it's a "come-hither headshot" because she has her head slightly tilted and turned? I'm sorry, but that is really, really not what I thought when I saw that picture. It seems like a particularly strong picture to me. Maybe I'm seeing what I want to see in it, I don't know.
posted by koeselitz at 7:17 PM on May 11, 2010


But she definitely is promoting views that aren't traditionally haredi -- views which that community does believe are binding.

What views do you think they find the most objectionable? Farkash mentions "the desecration of the Shabbat" but doesn't give any specifics. Has Greenfield done something in particular on Shabbat?

The rest of Farkash's complaints--"bringing illegitimate children into the world, homosexuality, [and] abortions"--probably refer to attitudes that Greenfield has expressed or legislation she's endorsed, I'm assuming. Would having those attitudes in themselves be considered a violation of halakhah in the haredi community? I guess what I'm wondering is whether this is a question of halakhah or minhag.
posted by albrecht at 7:20 PM on May 11, 2010


The dog link made me chuckle, along with all the comments.

Lisa: I know most of you have already judged my brother guilty without any proof, but doesn't the Bible teach us, "Judge not, lest ye be judged," Reverend?

Lovejoy: [sullen] I think it may be somewhere towards the back.
http://www.snpp.com/episodes/2F04.html
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:20 PM on May 11, 2010


....doesn't the Bible teach us, "Judge not, lest ye be judged,"

Wrong religion. :)
posted by zarq at 7:43 PM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is there an Orthodox ban on dogs and cats in general, as pets?

I ask because, when we lived in Boro Park in the only non-Orthodox building on our block, we had a cat. One day we were in the little yard outside and she was visible in the window. A child from next door saw her and asked my husband "Is that your cat?"

"Yes."

"Are you going to eat it?"

"No!"

"Then why do you keep it?"

"Just because. We like her."

And then the little boy left, leaving us Gentiles scratching our heads.
posted by emjaybee at 7:46 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


probably refer to attitudes that Greenfield has expressed or legislation she's endorsed, I'm assuming.

I think it's more that the party she's a member of takes progressive stances on issues like homosexuality and abortion which are incompatible with Jewish scripture. Like if a fundie ran as a Green Party candidate.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:48 PM on May 11, 2010


Yeah, I'll have to dig up some Krusty quotes from the episode where it discussed his Jewish faith.

I was just goin' with the whole "a bunch of seemly smart people having a earnest debate based on a bunch of mumbo jumbo" schtick.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:48 PM on May 11, 2010


My 2nd post in reply to zarq.

seemly = seemingly

Although she looked rather seemly in delmoi's link. Ooh er, nurse!

posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:51 PM on May 11, 2010


Do you mean it's a "come-hither headshot" because she has her head slightly tilted and turned?

I don't know, I got that impression as well - it looks to me like she's wearing lip gloss and possibly eye glitter, which kind of strikes me as weird for an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman. I don't live somewhere where there are a lot of Orthodox Jews, though, so I guess my perceptions of what they look like is mostly based on what I've seen in the media and such. I guess they can wear makeup at least, apparently.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:51 PM on May 11, 2010


Yeah, I'll have to dig up some Krusty quotes from the episode where it discussed his Jewish faith.

IIRC, Rabbi Krustovsky was finally convinced by a quote from Sammy Davis Jr.'s autobiography saying something like "the Jews are really swingin' cats" or something like that.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:53 PM on May 11, 2010


A much better Simpsons reference for this occasion would be the one where they go to NYC and Bart mistakes three Hasidic dudes for ZZ Top, yelling "YOU GUYS ROCK!", to which they respond "eh, maybe a little.".
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:58 PM on May 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't know, I got that impression as well - it looks to me like she's wearing lip gloss and possibly eye glitter, which kind of strikes me as weird for an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman.

Yep the whole lips thing, slightly parted and pouty looking too. Sexy, and she knows it. NTTAWWT
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:02 PM on May 11, 2010


The rest of Farkash's complaints--"bringing illegitimate children into the world, homosexuality, [and] abortions"--probably refer to attitudes that Greenfield has expressed or legislation she's endorsed, I'm assuming. Would having those attitudes in themselves be considered a violation of halakhah in the haredi community? I guess what I'm wondering is whether this is a question of halakhah or minhag.

Perhaps both? I'm no expert.

In various ways, American Ultra-Orthodox communities think that Judaism is being eroded by secularism. I suspect the Israeli haredi community's views are no different. Both groups do tend to respond vehemently against suggestions that their members embrace positions that they believe are banned by Talmudic injunction. So Greenfield has joined a political party whose platform embraces gender equality and abortion rights -- and has written a book critiquing the Orthodox embrace of halacha on those and other issues.

So... I suppose the question they're asking is if a person can remain haredi who denounces aspects of halacha publicly and also works politically for laws that are similarly anti-halacha?
posted by zarq at 8:05 PM on May 11, 2010


Yeah, I'll have to dig up some Krusty quotes from the episode where it discussed his Jewish faith.

Heh. I was joking. :)

I was just goin' with the whole "a bunch of seemly smart people having a earnest debate based on a bunch of mumbo jumbo" schtick.

Welcome to Judaism. Here's your yarmulke.
posted by zarq at 8:08 PM on May 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


I thought being ultra-orthodox meant you were against separation of church and state, as long as it was your own religion being turned into law? I can see how supporting the idea of a secular, religiously tolerant state could put her at odds with her community.

My understanding has always been--
Orthodox: don't go to the beach, because there are women in bikinis.
Ultra-orthodox: want the beach closed NAO!
posted by mullingitover at 8:08 PM on May 11, 2010


I guess they can wear makeup at least, apparently.

Yes, they can. (Orthodox) Tzniut does extend to dressing modestly, but cosmetics are permitted.
posted by zarq at 8:13 PM on May 11, 2010


Although I suppose there might be an ultra-ultra-orthodox sect I'm unaware of that bans cosmetics.
posted by zarq at 8:15 PM on May 11, 2010


it looks to me like she's wearing lip gloss and possibly eye glitter, which kind of strikes me as weird for an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman.

I don't know anything about Israeli ultra-Orthodox women, but in my US neighborhood, there's a strong ultra-Orthodox presence, and I'd say most of the women are very careful with their appearance -- makeup, styled wigs rather than scarves, slim dark denim skirts, heeled shoes even when they're walking with babies/strollers/etc.

I mean, compared to my average non-Orthodox neighbors (is it just me, or have people started literally wearing flannel pajamas out of their houses?), they're well-put-together.
posted by palliser at 8:24 PM on May 11, 2010


Welcome to Judaism. Here's your yarmulke.

w00t!

I live a sheltered life in Perth. Met my first Jew when I was at university. And you couldn't even, erm, tell he was Jewish!

Then I got a job at a bicycle shop just down the road from one of Perth's only Synagogue's and a major Jewish school, so I met lots as customers. South African Jews. Hundreds of 'em! I never knew it was big over there [but on reflection, the whole gold / diamonds thing, maybe?]

Real friendly people. Really friendly. Like, they'd be more than happy to stay an extra 10 minutes chewin' the fat about this and that. Especially the mums buying things for their school aged kids. I always expected Jews to be more standoffish to non Jews. End of derail. Maybe.

posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:27 PM on May 11, 2010


South African Jews. Hundreds of 'em! I never knew it was big over there [but on reflection, the whole gold / diamonds thing, maybe?]

Most were fleeing mass killings in Eastern Europe in the late 19th century, just as the Jewish population in the US grew very large around that time. But given how much a part of the country's overall economy mining forms, I'm sure many immigrants of all ethnicities have participated in it, in one capacity or another.
posted by palliser at 8:42 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


uncanny hengeman: "I met lots as customers. South African Jews. Hundreds of 'em! I never knew it was big over there [but on reflection, the whole gold / diamonds thing, maybe?]"
What in the world.
posted by boo_radley at 8:42 PM on May 11, 2010


What in the world.

I don't think he's trying to say Jews are greedy or anything - more that large numbers of Jewish people do, in fact, work in the diamond business.
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:55 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I agree that it seems more to have been a bit of benign-in-intent off-the-top-of-the-head association-making, but in the end, it's a good idea to keep in mind that in fact, Jews moved to South Africa because they were being murdered where they were, and it was one of the places that would take them. It's quite a different picture from imagining that Jews have ended up where they are in the world because they've been pursuing their specialized interests.
posted by palliser at 9:04 PM on May 11, 2010


I don't think he's trying to say Jews are greedy or anything - more that large numbers of Jewish people do, in fact, work in the diamond business.

Thankyou. Precisely what I meant. Jesus fucking Christ, always somebody ready to pounce and be the bleeding heart.

And thanks for the heads-up, palliser. I actually had a quick Wiki before I posted thinking "hmmm, is my assumption correct?" But there were too many words[!] so I thought nah, fuck it, I'll just post. Note the question mark and use of the word "maybe" to indicate I was unsure.

South Africans love Perth coz the climate is so similar. Did ya know?!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:11 PM on May 11, 2010


Jesus fucking Christ

Wrong religion again.
posted by albrecht at 9:15 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I live a sheltered life in Perth. Met my first Jew when I was at university. And you couldn't even, erm, tell he was Jewish!

Heh. :) In Amarillo, it was similar in the 70's and 80's. The Jewish population was very small, and most of the people there rarely ever met or interacted with Jews.

South African Jews. Hundreds of 'em! I never knew it was big over there [but on reflection, the whole gold / diamonds thing, maybe?]

Yes and no. At first they came for the fishing and whaling, and frankly because SA was one of the few countries which welcomed them, even though they rarely had equal rights until after WWII. Jews were instrumental in establishing the early stages of diamond mining and trade and then Russian Jews just flooded the area during SA's gold rush, partly because of the gold and also because they had to escape their homeland. SA Jews were mostly anti-apartheid, and supported liberal opposition parties post-WWII.

I've met a fair number of South African Jews over the years. Without fail, every one has been extremely nice.
posted by zarq at 9:20 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jesus fucking Christ

Wrong religion again.


Win! I never considered that.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:23 PM on May 11, 2010


Jesus fucking Christ

Wrong religion again.

Well, he was Jewish. :D
posted by zarq at 9:23 PM on May 11, 2010


I agree that it seems more to have been a bit of benign-in-intent off-the-top-of-the-head association-making, but in the end, it's a good idea to keep in mind that in fact, Jews moved to South Africa because they were being murdered where they were, and it was one of the places that would take them. It's quite a different picture from imagining that Jews have ended up where they are in the world because they've been pursuing their specialized interests.

Definitely wise to keep that in mind. But our history in South Africa isn't so clear-cut. The first groups of Jews who landed on South African shores were not escaping persecution, but were in fact wealthy pioneers -- commercial businessmen. It wasn't until the late 19th century that Jews began emigrating to South Africa because it was one of the few places they could escape to.
posted by zarq at 9:28 PM on May 11, 2010


If you're talking about "the Jewish community of SA," though, you're mostly talking about the descendents of those late-19th-century immigrants. Just like in the US, most of the Jewish community is descended from the late-19th-century escapees from Eastern Europe. Yes, there were Jews before that, and Jews who immigrated for other reasons, but they're not the bulk of the population.
posted by palliser at 9:34 PM on May 11, 2010


To clarify, I wasn't implying that uncanny is racist. It did sound like he wasdiscreetly checking out his customers' erm-you-knows. I'll be more liberal in what I quote to avoid hoof-in-mouth
posted by boo_radley at 10:04 PM on May 11, 2010


In various ways, American Ultra-Orthodox communities think that Judaism is being eroded by secularism.

They're not wrong. Same goes for other religions. Of course, as an atheist I feel that the reason we're winning is that we're right.
Of course, if you try to use this same kind of logic during a Republican presidential administration, it ceases to apply. That is due to a time-dependent logic-altering field that is too complex for you to ever understand so just take my word for it. Science!

Jesus fucking Christ

Wrong religion again.


No kidding. For him to do that, he'd have to be two separate persons. Nestorianism is not Judaism.
posted by Xezlec at 10:09 PM on May 11, 2010


They're not wrong. Same goes for other religions. Of course, as an atheist I feel that the reason we're winning is that we're right.

Perhaps. Personally, I prefer a different perspective. One that doesn't frame the faithful and non as opponents, or a conflict with winners and losers.

Whether I become a more or less observant Jew should not matter to you nor any other atheist, as long as we do not impinge in any way on each others' rights. My opinions and faith or lack thereof should be entirely my own and no one else's. Of course, there will be nuances. If I decide my faith says I shouldn't vaccinate my kids (it doesn't, but for the sake of argument, let's say it hypothetically did,) that's a decision which endangers people in society at large, and shouldn't be allowed. Coexistence shouldn't mean conflict.

Anyway...

Speaking as a non-Orthodox Jew, I think the Orthodox are both right and wrong about the effects of secularism, and they're both right and wrong about the nature of Judaism in general. Judaism is as much a culture as a religion, and the average Jew prioritizes their religious and non-religious values depending on their needs and the cultural standards of the society they live in. That isn't really the fault of secular culture.

This is hard to explain well and unfortunately, I'm extremely tired right now and pretty sure I'm not going to convey what I mean correctly. I think the reason Reform and Conservative Judaism have been so successful for the last 100 years compared to Orthodoxy is that the less observant sects not only provide a framework which allow Jews to live flexibly in and integrate more easily into modern society, but they also help Jews adapt to changing cultural mores on a variety of issues. We are less likely to cling to strict interpretations of tradition and ritual. Most American Reform and Conservative Jews are social progressives. Our religious beliefs generally don't view science and intellectualism as an enemy.

By contrast, the Orthodox are more rigid and reactionary in their thinking, which is why they view the rise of the other sects as a bit of a blight. This ties neatly back to Tzvia Greenfield's positions, which say that by clinging to traditions (which incidentally enforce homophobia, talmudic literalism and outdated gender roles,) the Orthodox increasingly become more insulated from and out of touch with the world around them.

The Orthodox are trying to maintain the purity of their religion. But the truth is, it's not pure. Never was. Many traditions and rituals have changed over time -- all in an attempt to more closely observe what G-d supposedly wants of us. The Orthodox also view any attempt to stray from observance as a threat to religious integrity. But cultural diffusion happens, and even the Amish and Quakers have had to adapt to it.

I'm at a point now where I'm not even sure if I'm being coherent anymore. Going to post this now and look at it again in the morning.
posted by zarq at 11:12 PM on May 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Derail: the last link in the FPP is worth the price of admission just for the link to the awesomely named Jewish European song contest: Jeurovision.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:02 AM on May 12, 2010


Is there an Orthodox ban on dogs and cats in general, as pets?

Just to answer this, no, there's no problem in Jewish law with owning a cat or dog, or any other livestock (though owning pigs would be problematic because they serve no other function than as a source of non-kosher meat, and for most of history Jews had a limited ability to engage in commerce with non-Jews, leading to the possibility that a pig-owner might sell nonkosher meat to Jews). The halachic (Jewish legal) problem with having dogs or cats or other pets centers around the Sabbath laws - you may not trap an animal on the Sabbath, for example, so keeping a pet indoors who wants to go out could create a violation. In places where there is no eruv (symbolic legal boundary that allows carrying on the Sabbath), walking a dog on a leash is also not allowed. For a more detailed explanation, look here. So basically, since it is difficult to keep a pet and still observe the Sabbath, many ultra-Orthodox Jews do not allow them as a way to protect observance.
posted by Mchelly at 7:26 AM on May 12, 2010


oops - shouldn't have made a blanket statement when it comes to Jewish law (other than 2 Jews = 3 opinions) ... as the "we have a dog" link indicates, there is some debate when it comes to whether owning dogs is permissible because of their potential to harm others (a vicious dog would categorically not be allowed).

Like all Orthos, I assume what I believe to be absolutely correct and what G-d wants, and every opinion that differs with mine is either heretical or crazy fanaticism...

wait, did I say "all"?
posted by Mchelly at 7:38 AM on May 12, 2010


Is there an Orthodox ban on dogs and cats in general, as pets?

I knew an Orthodox guy that had a cat. He wasn't allowed to get it neutered, though, so he had to pay a goy friend to take it to the vet to get neutered. I thought that bit of line-drawing was pretty interesting, though.

I think he was just regular Orthodox, though, not Ultradox.
posted by ignignokt at 7:45 AM on May 12, 2010


Mchelly: technical question: My cat can come and go as it pleases through a catflap. But the catflap itself is powered and "reads" the cat's chip, only releasing the lock when it's a positive match.

Would an orthodox Jew see that as OK?
posted by MuffinMan at 7:49 AM on May 12, 2010


The idea of an ultra-Orthodox getting so worked up about his Noachide Code that he makes a death threat affords me some gentle amusement.
posted by falcon at 7:54 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


So Greenfield has joined a political party whose platform embraces gender equality and abortion rights -- and has written a book critiquing the Orthodox embrace of halacha on those and other issues.

What's really interesting to me about all of this is the question of whether she's actually violating any halakhic rules by being a member of that party or having those critical opinions of the customs of the haredi community. Just to recap the various kinds of laws and where they come from (sorry if this is long):

There are some rules in Orthodox Jewish law that are pretty clear cut and go all the way back to the Bible (the so-called "written Torah"). For example, eating pork is specifically prohibited in Leviticus 11:7, so it would be basically impossible, I think, for an Orthodox Jew to eat pork and still claim to be adhering to all the Biblical commandments. Same goes for things like working on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8), although there's some interpretation required to figure out exactly what constitutes "work" (and when the Sabbath actually begins and ends, etc.), but if someone were, say, literally going to their job, handling money, cooking, and doing every other thing on the Sabbath the way they would during the week, I think it would be pretty clear that they had violated the law.

Then there are those laws that have come up over the years as extensions or interpretations of Biblical law (this is the "oral Torah," although it's actually written, first in the Mishnah, then the Gemara, then the Talmud and responsa, etc.). So, in the kosher laws, this would cover things like eating meat and dairy, for example; the Bible just says not to boil a baby goat in its mother's milk (Deuteronomy 14:21), but the rabbis extended that law to include all meat and dairy in the same meal. The thinking there, as is often the pattern in these things, was the broaden the law so that people wouldn't accidentally violate the original core law--"putting a fence around the Torah," they call it. With respect to the Sabbath, this would include things like lighting fires, using electricity, playing musical instruments, etc. Again, these are all codified rabbinical decisions, so for a Jew to consider himself or herself Orthodox (as the word is defined by the various rabbinical groups), he or she would have to consider these laws binding and adhere to them. I think this is what Tzvia Greenfield means when she says she's a "halakhic person;" according to her, she follows all the laws as expressed in the decisions of the rabbis.

Finally, though, there are rules and customs in any community ("minhag"), which are not exactly binding in the legal sense but are, let's say, strongly encouraged by the leaders of those communities. Over the years this has come to include things like standards of dress (head coverings, etc.), some of the customs around marriage and divorce, and so on. A lot of what people think of when they think of the haredi community are actually the minhagim of that community--what haredi Jews look like and how they behave--but these generally don't fall under the heading of halakhah, per se. For example, the Bible says to "be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28), but that doesn't mean there's a halakhic requirement to have kids (as far as I know); that's just the way the custom in the haredi community (a point of contention for Greenfield, in particular).

However, and here's where it gets interesting, the lines between all of these categories tend to get blurred over time. Historically, the original halakhic rules were just a codification of the practices of the people at that time (this itself is a point of controversy between different denominations--Orthodoxy generally holds that the laws were divinely dictated along with the Torah). But, like zarq was saying, they also change over time according to the evolving standards of society, a lot of which have concerned the role of women since the Enlightenment. It's even written in the Talmud that "the minhag of our fathers is [equivalent to] Torah," meaning given enough time, tradition becomes the law, although it's not clear how much time is necessary. There are definitely Biblical requirements to honor one's mother and father, but again it's not clear exactly how far you can bend the customs of a family (or community) before you've actually broken a law.

All of which brings me back to the question of whether Greenfield can be considered an Orthodox Jew. She's definitely violating the customs of the community she lives in, just by being an outspoken opinionated woman in power (imagine!). But has she violated any laws? Assume for the moment that the rabbinical decisions hold that homosexuality is a sin; is it possible for Greenfield to adhere to that injunction while supporting legislation, say, that grants civil rights to homosexuals? (Note: This is purely hypothetical. I don't know for a fact that her party supports any such legislation.) I can see why it upsets people, but does following the letter of the law mean you can't simultaneously speak out against it? I don't know the answer, but I'd be interested to hear more of that argument.
posted by albrecht at 8:20 AM on May 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


So, in the kosher laws, this would cover things like eating meat and dairy, for example; the Bible just says not to boil a baby goat in its mother's milk (Deuteronomy 14:21), but the rabbis extended that law to include all meat and dairy in the same meal. The thinking there, as is often the pattern in these things, was the broaden the law so that people wouldn't accidentally violate the original core law--"putting a fence around the Torah," they call it.
That's a pretty expansive generalization, I mean, don't drink milk and eat meat at the same meal because it might lead to boiling a baby goat in it's mother's milk!?
posted by delmoi at 10:55 AM on May 12, 2010


Religious people like to take things to extremes, thereby displaying their piety. Let us imagine, for example, that it actually was important to avoid eating the meat of a baby goat that had been boiled in its mother's milk. Imagine that if you were to do such a thing, it would set off a cataclysmic explosion that would destroy the entire Earth. How careful would you then become? Any meat might actually be baby goat, and any milk might come from the mother of that goat, regardless of what the label says. Things get mislabeled, especially by the forces of evil who are plotting the destruction of the Earth. Sauron never sleeps. So there's only one way to be sure, which is to never eat any kind of meat with any kind of milk. See how logical that is?
posted by grizzled at 11:34 AM on May 12, 2010


Muffinman - whoa - really? IANAR, but I don't see any halachic problem with the system because the cat is the one doing the 'work' - it's the same as having a dog that knows how to open a mechanical latch or a rabbit that can chew through the side of the box. The fact that it's an electronic system doesn't matter unless the owner is the one actively pushing the button - electronics that work automatically are not a problem (most Orthodox Jews have at least one lamp on a timer, for example). As far as trapping goes, I'm pretty sure it has to be actively stopping the animal from leaving - so, since the cat can come and go as it pleases, it shouldn't apply either. But as in all such cases, when in doubt check with your local Orthodox rabbi.

For what it's worth, Jews consider the Sabbath laws to only apply to Jews - so if you're not Jewish, it wouldn't even matter if you buzz the cat through yourself. And we don't believe the laws are binding on animals, either, though you're not allowed to use an animal to do prohibited work for you (plowing your field, or holding the hamster up to the tv remote so he can kick it on for you, for example)


As for the question of whether or not Greenfield is "Hareidi," or "Orthodox," or whatever other subset-of-Jewish label, it's an interesting point, but irrelevant. Judaism itself doesn't discriminate between denominations; either you're Jewish or you're not, and if you are, either you're an apostate or you're not. If you're considered an apostate, it could affect your standing in the community (if you're a man who is known to not keep the Sabbath, for example, you can't be called up to the Torah or lead prayer services, if you're a woman then it would affect whether your children marry well, or at all), but so long as you are following halacha, there's no crime against thinking outside the box. The liberal tradition is almost inseparable from Judaism (look at most of Isaiah), so if all she is doing wrong is supporting policies that run counter to halacha but that affect Jews and non-Jews alike (who are not bound by Jewish law), you can't say that she is nonreligious. An important thing to keep in mind is that Israel is not a theocracy, and no one - including/especially the ultra-Orthodox - sees the modern State of Israel as the biblical Jewish nation: only the Messiah can reinstate that system. I'm just surprised that no one is playing the "modesty" card. When a woman does something you don't like, fundamentalists can usually damn her with the catch-all attack that her behavior is immodest. That they are not doing so is another sign that no one seriously thinks she is in the wrong; they just don't like her politics.
posted by Mchelly at 11:44 AM on May 12, 2010


That's a pretty expansive generalization, I mean, don't drink milk and eat meat at the same meal because it might lead to boiling a baby goat in it's mother's milk!?

Jokes aside, (and I've made my share!) Kashrut (kosher) laws are a hell of a lot more complex than baby goats and mother's milk, and they aren't followed by everyone. But kashrut, like other halacha, is as much about intent and the spirit of the law as it is the letter of it. Keeping kosher is a discipline. There are very few directives in the Torah about it and kashrut law was laid down by the Almighty without much real context. Because of this, most rabbis have felt free (gee, what a surprise) to interpret the reason for the law in any way they wished.

So, most modern kashrut laws are now interpreted by the rabbis as primarily addressing ritual cleanliness and impurities. One conceptual aspect of this is that your body is a gift from G-d, and you should keep it in as pure a condition as possible. To that end, you're not supposed to eat carnivores (which kill other animals in painful deaths) or (defined) unclean creatures, like insects or bottom-feeders. (Interestingly enough, insects are verboten but honey is okay. Go figure.)

But intention is important. So if you know that one food has been contaminated by another, you're not supposed to eat it.

In practice, it's not all that much different than what strict vegetarians do. Extremism doesn't have to be faith-based, after all.
posted by zarq at 11:49 AM on May 12, 2010


And we don't believe the laws are binding on animals, either, though you're not allowed to use an animal to do prohibited work for you (plowing your field, or holding the hamster up to the tv remote so he can kick it on for you, for example)

Oh man. What the heck am I going to do with these 400 gross of hamsters now?! ;)
posted by zarq at 11:56 AM on May 12, 2010


Mchelly: owning pigs would be problematic because they serve no other function than as a source of non-kosher meat

My Great Auntie Dolly (who was a distant cousin of the English comic actor Frankie Howerd, and the reason we had his kitchen table when I was a child) kept a rescued pig called Oscar in her kitchen, to stop him becoming a source of non-kosher meat. Oscar had the IQ of a three year old child and, by all accounts, a distinct preference for the BBC Light Programme (this was post-War Northern England). He was very fond of the field near her house for snuffling in, and had to be restrained with a bit of rope when my Uncle took him out so she could muck out the kitchen. It would have been quite hard to ensure the rope never sagged within a handbreadth of the ground as he was quite a wilful chap (Oscar, I mean, not my Uncle Frank, who was quite a passive man).

Question: Do you think Auntie Dolly would have been subjected to censure of some variety for violating the Shabbat animal entrapment and leash handling laws, or excused on the grounds that he (again, Oscar) provided pleasure and companionship?

Apparently the local parson took rather a dim view of things, which I think just goes to show that Christianity and Judaism are a lot closer than most people suppose.
posted by falcon at 12:18 PM on May 12, 2010


Judaism itself doesn't discriminate between denominations; either you're Jewish or you're not, and if you are, either you're an apostate or you're not.

While I agree in principle (I guess it's hard to argue with "P or not P"), I think it's worth pointing out one of the main differences between the denominations is the determination of who exactly is or isn't Jewish (or an apostate--though I might use the word "heretic" instead). According to Orthodox Judaism, you have to be matrilineally descended from a Jew or have gone through an Orthodox conversion; Conservative Judaism requires either matrilineal descent or conversion with a mikvah and circumcision, but not necessarily by an Orthodox rabbi; Reform Judaism accepts people with either matrilineal or patrilineal descent, or a Reform conversion (which basically just involves some amount of study under the supervision of a rabbi, as far as I can tell); and Reconstructionist Judaism accepts either parent but also stipulates that the person must have been raised Jewish, or be converted. (Interestingly enough, this can create a situation where someone, say, whose mother was Jewish but who was not raised Jewish, could be considered Jewish in the Orthodox tradition but not the Reconstructionist one).

What you've presented, it sounds like, is mostly the Orthodox position: Jewish people who don't follow halakha are subject to certain punishments, like being ostracized from the religious community. However, that rests on the assumption that all of halakha is binding, which to many Jews is not at all a given.
posted by albrecht at 1:18 PM on May 12, 2010


Jokes aside, (and I've made my share!) Kashrut (kosher) laws are a hell of a lot more complex than baby goats and mother's milk

Yes, absolutely. I apologize if I gave anyone a different impression; I was just picking out one example from among many to illustrate a point.

So, most modern kashrut laws are now interpreted by the rabbis as primarily addressing ritual cleanliness and impurities.

That's an interesting idea but I don't know that it's entirely universal. For example, that principle wouldn't cover the meat/milk prohibitions--both meat and dairy are fit to eat in isolation, so they're not impure as such--unless you consider the combination of meat and dairy as ritually impure, which is kind of circular. One alternative take I've heard is that it's about not combining elements of death (meat) with a source of life (milk), because doing so in some way makes a mockery of the whole cycle of life. One rabbi I can't remember said something to the effect of, "You shall not put a mother and her son in the same pot any more than in the same bed." Others have interpreted the meat laws as a way to discourage people from eating meat altogether, in order to return to our "natural" vegetarian state. The point is it's complicated, just like everything in Judaism.

However, the relevant question in this context, I guess, would be whether a person could still be considered kosher-observant if they followed all the kosher laws to the letter while also taking every opportunity to talk about how they sure could go for a bacon cheeseburger.
posted by albrecht at 1:44 PM on May 12, 2010


You're right, albrecht, though I did so intentionally - when the question on the table is "Can a person do X and still be considered Orthodox?", it's not really possible to use any other denomination's yardstick.

As far as who is or is not a Jew according to Judaism, there's not a pole in this world long enough for me to not touch that subject with, but it's worth pointing out that it's only the American Reform and Reconstructionist movements that accept patrilineal descent - outside of the US, Liberal Judaism does not accept that status change.
posted by Mchelly at 5:14 PM on May 12, 2010


Perhaps. Personally, I prefer a different perspective. One that doesn't frame the faithful and non as opponents, or a conflict with winners and losers.

Yeesh. Tough crowd tonight.

Worst of all, it looks like one sentence which I wrote purely as a set-up for a ludicrous disclaimer has actually been taken seriously. Maybe one of these days I will understand this thing you Earthlings call "humor"...
posted by Xezlec at 5:23 PM on May 12, 2010


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