Perversity, Stupidity and Blind Guides
By Richard Edmondson
I came across the above picture several days ago. It is of Nur Hamdan, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy who lost his eye earlier this month after being shot by Israeli police. According to news reports, Nur was standing on the balcony of his East Jerusalem home along with his mother and a cousin when he was hit by a “sponge-tipped bullet.”
Reportedly he suffered eye socket fractures and other facial injuries. According to Israeli authorities, clashes were occurring in the area, but Nur’s family says he was not involved in any of this. When his mom saw the Israeli police presence in the street below, she ordered the children to come inside from the balcony, and reportedly it was just as Nur stood up that he was hit by the projectile.
You can go here and here to access news articles on the incident. (All of this took place just a few days before the shooting of two Israeli police officers and subsequent outbreak of violence at the Temple Mount.) One of the reports says the use of sponge-tipped bullets for crowd control began three years ago, but now the Israelis have adopted a new version that is “twice as hard and heavy and their potential to cause injury is much greater.” Official police regulations stipulate the bullet should not be fired at children, and if used against adults only the legs should be targeted. Apparently, however, this regulation was disregarded in Nur’s case.
It may have been disregarded other times as well. One of the reports linked to above is from The Independent, whose article notes that, “as of January 2016, 15 people have lost an eye in similar shootings involving Israeli forces, including a six-year-old boy.”
It seems almost as if Israel’s behavior grows progressively worse the more global public opinion galvanizes against it. Perhaps there is a perverse sort of logic in this. Just a guess here, but maybe the thinking goes something along the lines of: “Well people are going to hate us anyway, so we might as well do whatever the f-ck we want.” Whether this is the new credo or not, certainly perversity and perverse thinking–quite a bit of it actually–can be found in the Talmud, one of Judaism’s “holy” books. For instance, a passage from the Moed Kattan reads, “If a Jew is tempted to do evil he should go to a city where he is not known and do the evil there.” If you think about it, there is a perverse sort of “logic” to it, I suppose.
The Talmud also has passages concerning non-Jews, such as this one from the Sanhedrin, “What a Jew steals from a Gentile he may keep,” and even those applying to non-Jewish children, such as this gem–“All gentile children are animals”–from the Talmudic tractate known as the Yebamoth.
The above quotes are taken from an article by Michael Hoffman, who is the author of Judaism’s Strange Gods and is widely regarded as one of the preeminent non-Jewish authorities on the Talmud. You might want to go and check it out. There are lots of other quotes from the Talmud as well.
So is there a connection between the perverse ideology found in the Talmud and the perverse behavior we see from Israelis? I don’t have a definitive answer to that, but my guess is probably there are Israeli rabbis who point to various passages in the Talmud in order to justify things such as settlement expansion, demolition of Palestinian homes, and–well, who knows?–maybe even shooting children in the eye. All this is not to say that there aren’t some good and decent Israeli Jews who oppose their government’s policies. I suspect, however, these are not the ones who spend their days reading and studying the Talmud.
Jesus had a few thoughts on this subject as well, although I should qualify the title I’ve given to this post–“From the Heart to the Mouth: Jesus’ Views on the Talmud”–by mentioning that the Talmud did not exist in Jesus’ day. Ah, but the oral law did. And the oral law became the basis for a good portion of the Talmud, which began to be written down starting in about 200 A.D.
So what exactly was this oral law that existed in Jesus’ time? Well, it consisted of “interpretations” of the law of Moses, along with some outright additions that supposedly had been omitted from the five books of the Torah, presumably due to oversight, all of this as envisaged, or imagined, by rabbis and “sages” of the day–a group of people Jesus referred to (almost always derisively) as “teachers of the law.”
A clear picture of the contempt Jesus felt for their perverse edicts can be found in the fifteenth chapter of Matthew (a parallel passage can also be found in Mark 7). The chapter starts out with a group of Pharisees and teachers of the law coming to Jesus and demanding to know why he doesn’t insist on his disciples washing their hands before they eat. Here is his reply to them, starting in verse 3 and running through verse 9:
“And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
Their teachings are but rules taught by men.'”
Jews were required in those days to make sacrifices at the Temple as well as pay a yearly Temple tax. Apparently the teachers of the law felt it more urgent and of greater priority for members of the public to fulfill these obligations than obligations toward their own parents. And Jesus called them out on it.
The quote Jesus supplies from Isaiah is from chapter 29, verse 13. Interestingly, the entire 29th chapter of Isaiah is a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem. Verse 14, immediately following the one quoted by Jesus, reads:
Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish; the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.
Isaiah seems to have been envisioning a time in which the intelligent and wise, the “sages” if you will, would sink into a morass of perversity and stupidity. Again, keep in mind the Talmud began to be written down starting in about 200 A.D.
Another interesting aspect to all this is that Isaiah refers to the city of Jerusalem not by its common name–Jerusalem–but by the name “Ariel.” The Hebrew word “ariel” means “lion of God,” but because of Isaiah’s use of it in this context, it has also come to be recognized as an alternate name for Jerusalem. Thus, Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister of Israel who spent the last eight years of his life in a vegetative state, could also be known as “Lion of God Sharon” or “Jerusalem Sharon.” Either would be technically correct.
Here is what Isaiah says about the city of Ariel/Jerusalem:
Woe to you Ariel, Ariel,
the city where David settled!
Add year to year
and let your cycle of festivals go on.
Yet I will besiege Ariel;
she will mourn and lament,
she will be to me like an altar hearth.
The above are the first two verses of chapter 29. A bit of explanation regarding the term “altar hearth” is warranted. In ancient Israel, particularly in the homes of the poor, a “hearth” consisted of a depression in the ground in which a fire was kindled. An “altar” was a place where sacrifices were made–and hence where blood was shed. So Jerusalem, Isaiah in effect was saying, will become like “a depression in the ground where blood is shed.” Also take note: the Hebrew word for “ariel”, spelled אךיאל , is very similar to the Hebrew word for “altar”, spelled אךאיל , and both are pronounced ar-ee-ale’ . In other words, Isaiah was making a play on words! And a rather ironic one at that: the “lion of God” was going to become nothing more than a “depression in the ground where blood is shed.”
But to return to the Gospel of Matthew. The verbal dressing down of the teachers of the law is followed, in verses 10 and 11, with:
Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.'”
It is while Jesus is addressing the crowd that the Pharisees and teachers of the law stalk away, apparently incensed at being called hypocrites and having the words of Isaiah thrown up in their faces. This in fact is remarked upon by one of the disciples. “Did you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” he entreats Jesus with a sense of alarm. The latter replies:
“Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”
It is at this point that the ever-curious and ever-quizzical Peter asks for an elaboration–what exactly did Jesus mean about words coming out of a person’s mouth making the person unclean? The reply is well worth recording here:
“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.'”
In his article, Hoffman says that most religious Orthodox Jews ascribe greater authority to the Talmud than to the Old Testament, and he supplies a quote from a Rabbi Yehiel ben Joseph, who insists that without the Talmud, Jews would be unable to grasp the meaning of the Old Testament.
“God has handed this authority to the sages and tradition is a necessity as well as scripture,” ben Joseph asserts. “The Sages also made enactments of their own…anyone who does not study the Talmud cannot understand Scripture.”
In the video below we see a couple of erudite Israeli “sages” offering up their views on Gentiles.
On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate the level of perversity and stupidity you see in this video? Isn’t it ironic–that we observe these two teachers of the law referring to Gentiles as animals, insisting that they exist to serve only Jews, while at the same time congratulating themselves on being the most “humane” creatures on the planet? Is it any wonder Jesus referred to them as hypocrites and blind guides?
One of the foremost Talmudic scholars of the 20th century was a US rabbi by the name of Joseph D. Soloveitchik, who served at Yeshiva University in New York and is said to have ordained some 2,000 rabbis over the course of his career. Soloveitchik reportedly had a close relationship with Chabad Lubavitch Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and is also said to have been highly admired by Rabbi Meir Kahane. Schneerson believed that two types of souls exist: a Jewish soul and a non-Jewish soul. The latter, he held, comes from “satanic spheres,” but the Jewish soul “stems from holiness.”* As for Kahane, he was founder of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) and was convicted of domestic terrorism in the US. All three men–Soloveitchik, Schneerson, and Kahane–were avid supporters of Israel.
Among the JDL’s more notable accomplishments were acts of violence aimed against Russian targets in the US as well as bomb threats called in over the 1970 TV sitcom Bridget Loves Bernie (the show portrayed an interfaith marriage between a Catholic woman and a Jewish man and was cancelled after only one season despite having high ratings).
Hoffman, who describes the Talmud as “hate literature,” says the body of writing “has caused untold suffering throughout history and now, in occupied Palestine, it is used as a justification for the mass murder of Palestinian civilians.”
Interestingly, Isaiah evinced what could possibly be construed as a premonition of the coming of the the oral law. In his chapter 29, verse 4, he writes:
Brought low, you will speak from the ground;
your speech shall mumble out of the dust
Your voice will come ghostlike from the earth;
Out of the dust your speech will whisper.
The prophet died in about 681 B.C. Legend has it that he was sawed in half. Mannasseh, one of the more evil rulers of the ancient Israelites, was king of Judah at the time. Roughly a hundred years after his death, Jerusalem, in 586 B.C., was sacked by the Babylonians.
Christ was crucified in 30 A.D. Forty years later, in 70 A.D. Jerusalem was sacked again, this time by the Romans.
Does history repeat itself? With the plethora of blind guides leading the blind that we see today in Israel, the answer to that is probably going to be yes.
* as quoted from Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, by Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky