Thursday, January 23, 2014

“Matters that Satan challenges”

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Some Jewish Acts Seem Meaningless. The Talmud Says You Should Do Them Anyway. Illogical Jewish laws are ‘matters that Satan challenges’: raising doubts for enemies of Judaism and skeptical Jews
To counter this skepticism, the rabbis drew what would become a tremendously important distinction in Jewish thought, between the rationally justifiable commandments and the mysterious, seemingly inexplicable ones. In Leviticus 18:4, God commands the Israelites to follow both his “ordinances” [mishpatim] and his “statutes” [huqqim], and in Yoma 67b the rabbis turn these into two different categories of mitzvot. Ordinances include “matters that had they not been written it would have been logical that they be written,” such as the prohibitions on “idol worship, prohibited sexual relations, bloodshed, theft.” These are what might be called natural laws, which any human community might institute without divine guidance.

Statutes, on the other hand, are “matters that Satan challenges”—that is, the laws that enemies of Judaism, and perhaps skeptical Jews themselves, raise doubts about, since they seem to have no logical basis. This category includes the ban on pork and on wearing mixed garments, and also the ritual of the scapegoat. It’s easy to be skeptical about these commandments, but the rabbis insist that they, too, are absolutely essential to Judaism. “Lest you say these are meaningless acts, the verse states: ‘I am the Lord,’ to indicate, I am the Lord, I decreed these statutes, and you have no right to doubt them.” Perhaps the statutes are even more crucial than the ordinances, since they are a pure test of Jewish faith: There is no reason to perform them other than submission to God’s will.
Plus sealing up the inclination to commit idolatry and gouging out the eyes of sexual desire.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.