Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Just say Noah

The previous post on the subject of homophobia--the pathological fear of gay cooties that might infect an otherwise sober-living person at any time--got me to thinking back on the subject of an earlier post concerning that strange version of Islamophobia in which the victim imagines that he or she is being somehow swallowed or enveloped by a foreign legal system, the so-called Sharia.

The trope of mental illness works here, too, as explanation for that sense of the code as not a code but something hideously physical, like a wave of slime lapping at your feet and then climbing, climbing, sort of itching and stinging and approaching your ankles, and you want to scream but.... Etc.

The nightmare quality, in which you can't be sure you won't find yourself suddenly in a Baghdad public square, strapped into a suicide vest whose detonation is under someone else's control, and it's all because of something Obama did, is why it is a waste of time to sit down and tell people that they don't have to worry. Nightmare is what it is all about, and it is not subject to rational discussion.

In the meantime, though, I have run across some evidence that it is possible for our country to be secretly taken over by a religious legal code, and that it may have happened already--in 1991! And by something a lot more haimish than Sharia, too...[see below the jump]
Image (mis)appropriated from Yeshuist Rabbi Matt of Seattle, who may not appreciate Levitical levity. The dysperspective is probably just Photoshop, but doesn't it have a haunting Caligari quality?

Yes, in 1991 our Congress may have inadvertently subjected us all to Halachic law--though not all that oppressively if you're a gentile (even here the Jews get the short end of the stick). 

It starts back with old Noah, the ancestor of us all, Semite, anti-Semite, and everybody else, as he disembarked from the Ark with his sons and women and animals--"of every clean beast...by sevens, the male and his female, and of those that are not clean by two, the male and his female" (Genesis 7:2). In the Rainbow Covenant with which the Lord sent them out to be fruitful and multiply, He gave them some legal instructions:
Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things:
But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall you not eat.
And surely your blood of your lives will I require: at the hand of every beast will I require it; and at the hand of man, at the hand of every man's brother, will I require the life of man.
Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. (Genesis 9:3-6)
The which is conventionally interpreted to mean that we were not yet required to avoid the unclean animals, but were required to kosher them by draining them of blood (which my own marvelous New Revised Standard text, the Harper Collins Study Bible, connects with the Exodus prohibition against eating the flesh of animals mangled by beasts in the field). And a mandate of capital punishment for killers, human or animal, of humans.

But according to the Talmud (here I am working with some secondary sources) these instructions actually encode seven laws, six prohibitions against
  • idolatry
  • murder
  • theft
  • sexual immorality (you know who you are, and so does Rep. Paul)
  • blasphemy
  • eating flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive
and a positive seventh law requiring the establishment of courts of law. Moreover, this code was created for all the children of Noah (Noachides, or Bene Noach--you mostly see it spelled "Noahides" which looks like a brand of leatherette), and after the Hebrews received the laws of Moses, the laws of Noah would still apply to everybody else; and a non-Jew who follows them is to be termed "righteous among the gentiles".

So it seems that sometime in the 1980s the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory, Menachem Mendel Schneerson began promulgating the Noachide Laws, in an interpretation sweetly but distinctly his own, as a model for all the world to follow, and in 1991 the Congress, in their annual renewal of Education Day, a tribute to the Rabbi that has been held every year on his birthday according to the Jewish calendar since 1978--no, I didn't know about this either--in 1991, I say, they added a reference to the campaign in the text of the declaration:
Whereas Congress recognizes the historical tradition of ethical values and principles which are the basis of civilized society and upon which our great Nation was founded;
Whereas these ethical values and principles have been the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization, when they were known as the Seven Noahide Laws;
Whereas without these ethical values and principles the edifice of civilization stands in serious peril of returning to chaos.... 
Whereas Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, leader of the Lubavitch movement, is universally respected and revered and his eighty-ninth birthday falls on March 26, 1991...
Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
That March 26, 1991, the start of the ninetieth year of Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, leader of the worldwide Lubavitch movement, is designated as `Education Day, U.S.A.'.
 So is this what we have been dreading? Some have expressed deep concern:
To keep this simple the Laws that are now apart of the American Legal system say that if your have any other faith than the Talmud’s counterfeit Kaballa  or break any of the 7 Noahide Laws and one person says that you have done so, you can have your head cut off! 
Having given it some thought, though, I've decided it is not quite that serious. The First Amendment is going to survive, too, Establishment Clause and all. Wake me up if the Sharia starts, all the same.

A little social gospel music, and seasonal too, after a very long post. Harry Bickel conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, very fast, with the extraordinarily adept tenor Ian Bostridge and cool organ continuo.

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