Monday, January 29, 2007

I was just thinking

It is forbidden by halacha to make a 3 dimensional representation of a complete human being. This is because man is made in the image of Hashem, and we are forbidden to make an image of Hashem. The question is, does this prohibition apply to aliens? It seems clear to me that it does, as is made clear from the language of the commandment "Lo Sasson E.T.".

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Bo knows free will

Parshat Bo continues the issue of Hashem's hardening of Pharoah's heart. There are a lot of good takes on the issue, most of which I've read for the first time in the past few years.

I’m sure someone came up with this before (and if you know I’d love a reference) but here’s my take on the hardening Pharoah’s heart. I think it was measure for measure punishment. Pharoah claimed to be a divinity, and he took free choice away from an entire nation by enslaving them. In response, Hashem showed Pharaoh that not only was he not in charge of his nation, he was not even in charge of his own choices.

N.B. This post originally appeared in slightly different form as a comment on Yesh Omrim.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Contrarian thoughts on Shemot

Parsha Shemot offers an account of how Bnai Yisrael went from free men in Egypt to slaves to pharaoh. Just about every commentary I see views the Egyptian reaction as based on paranoia. Rabbi Barry Leff speaks for the overwhelming majority when he says pharaoh was the world's first anti-Semite. The Egyptians were the first people to persecute the Jews as a people.

Let me offer some contrarian comments. I think there is a reason behind the Egyptian elite's decision to enslave the Jews, the Jews' passive acceptance of the initial stages of enslavement, and the Egyptian populace's total lack of sympathy for the Jews' enslavement.

That reason is Joseph, and his behavior after the famine began in Egypt. As you will recall from Vayigash, Joseph reduced the populace of Egypt (except for the priests) first to penury, then to outright slavery. He was able to do this by selling the Egyptians the food that he had taxed away during the seven good years - food that he had stored in such abundance that he could feed not only Egypt, but many people from Canaan as well.

Having reduced them to slavery, he then imposed mass population transfer in order that the Egyptian people would be uprooted. No one could say 'my father owned this land, and my grandfather before him'. He essentially exiled the people of Egypt within the borders of their own country.

This seemingly left Bnei Yisrael as the only other free group within the land of Egypt. What could be more reasonable to the Egyptians that they feared that the Jews would misuse freedoms that the native Egyptians were deprived of? What could be more reasonable than for Bnei Yisrael, when asked to volunteer their labor, to accept? After all, everyone around them were slaves - demanding that they perform labor for the government as well no doubt seemed reasonable.

And lastly, while perhaps the Pharaoh 'knew not Joseph' I would not be surprised if the Egyptian commoners remembered perfectly well who was behind their present situation. Schadenfreude at the Jews' troubles seems a nigh inevitable reaction.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Nightmare 1

I've been hanging around the JBlog world for a couple of years now. Sometimes I find it very depressing, and need to hang out with my real world community to convince myself observant people who think and believe like me actually exist. Charlie Hall is always very helpful in this regard, as are a number of non-bloggers in my own community.

Here's one view of normative Judaism I get from J-Blogs:

There exist between 10 and 200 Jews on Earth who have full free will to make moral decisions. These are the Gedolim and poskim of our generation. They are the ones who when presented with new types of problems that Jews have not been faced with before actually make the decision for what the proper halachic response is. This responsibility humbles them, but the rest of us need not worry because the game is fixed - they get divine assistance so that the decision they make is the correct one. It is a matter of dispute whether they come to the correct answer, or whether they answer they come to becomes the correct one.

All other Jews exist to create the problems these great people solve, and to face their own lesser test - they can do as the gedolim bid, or they can sin.

Lakewood Yid, Ed, Gil, and others - is this summation correct according to your perspective?