Friday, September 5, 2014

Fact-Checking the Torah -- benefit-burden tradeoffs

Your assignment was to read Numbers 6:1-9.  This week I’m talking about an important feature of the nazir vow.
This specification codifies a general principle about legal systems.  They do not allow exceptions for personal preferences.  If you want whatever benefits you perceive in taking a nazir vow as opposed to a neder oath, you have to give up grapes, raisins, stuffed grape leaves, and participating in mourning for those near and dear to you, as well as wine.
If you want the privileges of driving a car on the roads, you have to have a state-issued license, purchase insurance (in some states), and obey the rules of the road.  That includes not driving when you are drunk or drugged, not texting when you are in the roadbed, not using your mobile phone when you are in the roadbed, wearing seatbelts, and all the rest of it. 
Slicing and dicing the law to suit your personal preferences is called, in Jewish law, “paskening for yourself.”  It is prohibited even when you are a great sage.  R. Akavya ben Mahalalel held to legal rulings which he heard from the court where he studied and practiced all his life, although other courts held differently.  But when he was dying, he called his son to him and said, don’t rule in court the way I do.  I heard it from a multitude but you heard it from only one person, me. 
In other words the rabbi was telling his son not to pasken for himself.
Legal systems do not exist to pamper the preferences of each individual.  They exist to protect the societal aims and goals and to protect the individuals who agree to live in that society.  Anybody who immigrates to a given nation and becomes naturalized must then live by the laws of that nation.  If an American moves to Britain and is naturalized there, and the police run her into jail because she refuses to answer their legitimate questions or gives answers they suspect to be false, she cannot claim it is wrong because they have no probable cause or reasonable suspicion that she committed a crime.  The latter is the American standard.  As a British subject, she has to live by the British definition.
By the same token, people who convert to Judaism have to obey Jewish law.  If they perceive there to be a benefit, they cannot exempt themselves from the burdens.  That is one reason why Orthodox Jews put prospective converts through such a series of hoops.  They want to make sure that prospects are fully aware of what they are getting into.  An Orthodox conversion under the right auspices automatically goes with the Right of Return, or immediate nationalization as an Israeli upon moving to Israel.  That is how Israeli law reads; it must be an Orthodox conversion under auspices that are not suspected of making converts easily or for pay.  A person who wants to be naturalized in Israel either has to undergo secular naturalization procedures, or Orthodox conversion.  They cannot pasken for themselves.
For next week, read Exodus 20:7 and 13, and Deuteronomy 5:11 and 17.  Also look at Leviticus 19:14.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

No comments:

Post a Comment