Abe Foxman has an odd definition of “anti-Semite.”

There’s a Talmudic saying designed to discourage rabbis from inventing more and more fanciful extensions of Jewish law: “Whoever starts out commanding what is not commanded will wind up permitting what is not permitted.”

This seems to apply to accusations of anti-Semitism: Abe Foxman, whose fealty to the Republican Party made him start out by accusing people of anti-Semitism who weren’t actually anti-Semitic, now says that he is “proud” to call someone a friend who helped Nixon organize what was intended to be a purge of Jews from the Federal civil service.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

21 thoughts on “Confusion”

  1. Interesting Talmudic saying. After all, in Eden, God tells Adam not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but when Eve talks to the serpent, she reports that the commandment was not to eat of the tree or touch it. Where did "touch" come from? Well, Adam told Eve what God forbade, except, not trusting women, he added to the commandment and made it more restrictive than it really was. That is Adam's "original sin." The subsequent events were just the consequences of the first offense.

  2. Doesn't this conflict with the notion of "building a fence around the Law?"

  3. Interesting theory about Adam's "original sin" but that theory is nowhere to be supported in the text. In no place does it say that Adam added on to the commandment by communicating to Eve that the prohibition was against BOTH eating and touching. This appears to be Eve's "original sin"; a crafting of her own doing. Don't blame Adam for that one. It makes for a nice feminist theory but cannot be drawn from the scriptural evidence.

  4. Awwww, you're no fun, Bux! My interpretation is politically correct to beat the band!

    Persistently pissing you off is getting to be kind of fun, though.

  5. Fascinating. This just shows what a huge structure of interpretation can be built on the slimmest textual foundation, using prejudice in place of brick.

    In Gen. 2:16-17, before the creation of the woman, the man receives a commandment.

    And the LORD God commanded the man, saying: 'Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat;but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.'

    What the man says to the woman we are not told.

    In 3:2-3, the woman talks to the serpent:

    And the woman said unto the serpent: 'Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat;but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said: Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.'

    So all the text tells us is that HaShem said one thing to the man, and the woman said another thing to the serpent. Whether the change was made by the man when he told his wife or by the woman when she argued with the serpent the text does not say. Either is possible, and I see no reason to choose one over the other. (Or perhaps he changed it some and she changed it more, as in the game of "Telephone.")

    But Ed is eager to blame the man, while Bux is equally eager to blame the woman. Is it any wonder we can't agree on the simplest facts about the world?

  6. Bux can have his interpretation, and I can have mine, and let's just see who gets to score with the chicks, eh?

  7. Here's another example: Genesis 2:19-20 says that the Lord God formed every beast of the earth and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. The man first experienced the animals, and only then did he give them names. Thus, scripture clearly commands us to have our experiences first and put labels on them afterwards.

    So next time you hear someone call a movie "obscene" without having seen it, you can just say, "Well, if you want to go against scripture, that is between you and the Lord."

  8. Oh Ed, how could I be pissed at you? I enjoy the banter. You're such a lovable liberal.

    You're right Mark, the gap of silence in the text could be equally squared away with either interpretation. For those of us men who are married though, we know that it's more likely that Eve was the dirty little liar (just kidding folks….a joke).

  9. Glad to oblige; here is another.

    Leviticus 18:22 says "You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination." We must interpret "as with a woman" in the fullest sense. This means that unless one guy is trying to get the other guy pregnant, it doesn't apply. Unless, of course they try to use birth control, in which case they are so abominably stupid that you must take stones and whack them upside the head until they learn the facts of life.

  10. Well, Ed, with regard to using birth control, the manufacturers of blow-up dolls recommend using condoms. (I am told that cleanup is easier that way.)

    Similarly, condom use by men having sex with men makes sense for reasons having nothing to do with birth control.

  11. Is Eve generally understood to have been out of the room at Gen. 2:17? And Adam at Gen. 3:2-3?

  12. I found the most disturbing part of the Post article to be the final sentence:

    —Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who has known Malek socially for several decades, said in a separate statement that she has "great respect, trust and admiration" for him and that "he has no bias of any kind whatsoever." —

    I hope people are thinking about a primary challenge to her now, which might spur her into retirement.

    Gavin Newsome or any of the people who lost to Brown in the primary all would be better.

  13. As I understand it, when rabbis “build a fence around the Law”, they have to make clear to their students the distinction between the fence and the law itself. If God tells you “don’t eat the fruit of that tree”, there’s a big difference between you telling your wife “God says don’t eat the fruit of that tree, and just to be on the safe side, I think we should avoid touching it” and “God says don’t eat the tree and don’t touch it”.

  14. The nature of the fence around the Torah is of considerable importance. A convenient example is the separation of meat and milk; some very observant households maintain separate dishes and even separate sinks or dishwashers for vessels containing meat and dairy products. As I understand it, this halakhic practice is done to enhance the observation of the prohibition of boiling a kid in its mother’s milk, which was a common practice among the Canaanite people. Sensitivity to the suffering of animals captures the spirit of the commandment as well. Something that sustains the life of an animal must not become a vehicle for its death. The underlying principle is to keep life and death from becoming tangled together.

    But Hillel famously said that the whole of the Torah was not to do to others what is hateful to you. Suppose this is true and that the Torah is code for human relationships. What does “boiling a kid in its mother’s milk” mean, then? I suspect we have all seen families in which you can almost see the kids being boiled alive in their mother’s milk. Nourishing energy, wrongly used, can become a form of devouring. The commandment might translate as “Do not try to meet your own needs by making others dependent on your nurturing.” We have all met people helpers who need helpless people, the needier the better, in order to have someone to help. Deep inside, we know that this is not what the milk of human kindness is for. Whose needs are being met in these circumstances, those of the needy or those of the helper?

    I imagine that some of the unease that principled conservatives have about social welfare programs, which would go out of existence if there were not a steady supply of people in need, derives from a suspicion that the responsible agencies have an incentive to maintain this supply. The highest form of charity, it is said, is to enable another person to make a living independently of one’s help. That way, the recipient of charity becomes a giver of charity, and the process can be sustained without creating vicious cycles.

    So maybe the “fence” that needs to be built is constructed out of consciousness, out of awareness of our own needs and out of alertness to the traps that we can unwittingly fall into when these needs include the helplessness of others. It can go farther than this; sometimes we need enemies to focus our attention on; sometimes we need “idiots” to rail against; we may need defective people to be superior to. Maybe it is in this sense that good fences make good neighbors.

  15. While we're on this whole Genesis venture, has 4:15

    And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.

    ever been intepreted as forbidding capital punishment, or is that just some wimpy liberal's risible attempt to find Biblical justification for the bleeding in his heart?

  16. Alex, if you're looking for a Biblical condemnation of capital punishment, try the Woman Taken in Adultery. (John 8:1-11.)

    K, the woman (she's not "Eve" until later in the text) was "out of the room" in the fullest possible sense; she hadn't been created yet.

  17. Mark, nice try, but that story is almost certainly a later addition — which is a bloody shame. But I find it fascinating that most of the commenters here treat the Testaments in the 'Christian way' — treating it like a 'book of answers.' ("The Bible says it, that settles it!") But most Jews — afaik – prefer to see it as a book of questions, of statements that the 'full meaning' can only be approached, not reached — and that the way it can be approached is through arguing over it. ("You have heard it said…But I say unto you…")

    I really suppose it doesn't matter what believers believe about their work of fantasy — except when they use it politically. But it saddens me that so many of my fellow atheists — particularly the ones who come from a fundie background — interpret it the same literal way, and have what they think is great fun over stories like Balaam's ass and the others, taking them in a way they people they were written for never did.

  18. Prun is correct that these verses (John 8:1-11) are not present in some early Greek manuscripts, and in others they appear at diffrent locations, such as after 7:36, or even in Luke. Further, I don't see this as a condemnation of the death penalty but more of a clever response on the part of Jesus to avoid the trap that the Pharisees were setting for him (similar to Mark 12:17 where the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus about asking him of his tax policy and he said "render to Ceasar what is Ceasar's and to God what is God's"). It clearly says in this passage (in verse 6) that the Pharisees said this "to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him". He wasn't going to win either way he answered, hence the statement "let him who is without sin cast the first stone". We could spend a whole post going through scriptural evidence for and against the death penalty (for those of us who do believe that the Bible is a book of proscriptions and prescriptions worth considering).

  19. "This seems to apply to accusations of anti-Semitism: Abe Foxman, whose fealty to the Republican Party made him start out by accusing people of anti-Semitism who weren’t actually anti-Semitic, now says that he is “proud” to call someone a friend who helped Nixon organize what was intended to be a purge of Jews from the Federal civil service."

    It's nothing new; one is 'Jewish' to the extent that one supports the current government of the state of Israel.

  20. Bux, you're not Jewish, are you?

    No offence; there's nothing wrong with being non-Jewish. I'm non-Jewish myself. But your comment at 7:01 upthread suggests you're not really au fait with Talmudic scholarship. I've studied a tiny bit of Talmud, not in a religious but in a legal-academic context. (Actual Talmudic scholars would, of course, justifiably ask what other sort of context Talmudic study might be carried out in). Nothing in the text, you say, to support the interpretation? Forget whatever words were, or weren't, there. For a real Talmudic scholar, the use (or non-use) of a comma, let alone a word, can have massive signifance; or even the ghost of a comma that might have been used, but was not because there were no commas back then.

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