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Mike the liberal Jewish brother-in-law

Just a few FYIs.

The mail posted has been going around a LONG time and was even used as the basis for part of a 1st Season West Wing.

Dr. Laura may declare herself to be Orthodox but despite this self-proclaimed status, violates a LOT of the 613 Jewish laws with little regard. I'd classify her as an Orthodox Jew about as much as I classify Madonna as a Kaballah scholar.

The American Reform Jewish movement made an official statement via the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis that they are absolutely opposed to restrictions on Gay marriage. About 3/4s of the Jews in the US are Reform (as opposed to Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist or Chassidic). As an FYI, the cantor at our Temple here in the Seattle area is openly gay and there are several gay congregations in the Reform movement.

The general feeling among biblical scholars that I've run across on the web has basically been that if Gay marriage is to be outlawed to keep the biblical view of marriage then divorce should be outlawed as well and bans on polygamy, keeping concubines, public execution of brides who aren't virgins, and automatic marriage to the wife of a brother who dies childless should be removed. If not, then the claim of "religious grounds" is just hypocritical posturing.


Thanks for the FYI. I have to admit that was my first time ever reading Leviticus and I was plenty disgusted. It put the 'satanic verses' of the koran into perspective and I may have to ease up on Islam a bit.
In Sunday school many many years ago, I was taught that the Old Testament is the Torah. Is that true?

Mike the liberal Jewish brother-in-law

Nope. Here are some Jewish definitions:

Torah: The first 5 books of the bible. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy

Old Testament: Christian common use term for the Jewish Bible

Tanach: Hebrew name for what's commonly called the "Old Testament" or Jewish Bible

Jewish Law: The 613 specific laws that are set down in the Torah and Tanach and interpreted and debated in the Talmud.

Talmud: common name for either of two sets of books of collected commmentary on the Torah, Tanach and Jewish law in general. Begun roughly 2,500 years ago and still being revised. Note that these and other commentaries such as the Mishna are not competing or the cause of faction splits. They each contain multiple disagreeing opinions on many topics and those disagreements are the basis of ongoing debate.

Example of talmudic debate:
Two men are stranded in the desert. They are five days from the nearest town or oasis. One man has a water bottle with enough water to keep one man alive for six days or two men alive for three. The other man has an empty water bottle. What should the man with the water do?

Rabbi Shammai says that he should give the other man one day's worth of water and then walk toward civilization since to share the water equally would condemn them both to death even though this action would condemn one man to death in a day.

Rabbi Hillel says that they should share the water equally since that would allow both of them to live for three days and there is a chance of rescue in those three days and thus an improved chance that neither would die.

(The debates on that one have been going on for quite a while. Hillel and Shammai both lived 2,100 years ago.)

Mike the liberal Jewish brother-in-law

It is interesting to note that Christian theology suggests that the appearance of Jesus ended the requirement of the 613 laws and replaced them with a single law of "love". Hence the naming of "Old Testament" or "Old Covenant with God" and "New Testament" or "New Covenant with God".

This superceding of the laws, however, is frequently ignored when self-proclaimed "religious" political groups pick Old Testament law as a basis for their agendas. By Christian doctrine, none of them still hold. It is exactly this selective pick-and-choose mentality that is the basis for the article you posted.

Mike the liberal Jewish brother-in-law

Also FYI: By Jewish tradition the answer to #6 in the original post is NO. There IS no hierarchy of abominations. However, the Talmud allows for significan interpretation of how things are defined and punishments meted out. As a result, definitions and requirements of proof were generally so tightly defined that despite all those 'death penalty' crimes, it was considered a bloody court and frowned upon if even one person was put to death in a twenty year court term.

My favorite is that, through a misinterpretation of the story of Onan, masturbation is often considered a crime against God. However, a reasonable penance to God is achieved by doing a charitable deed for the community. The result being a LOT of very civic minded Orthodox teenage boys!

Mike the liberal Jewish brother-in-law

Another example...

Sex between two unmarried people is against the law. However, to meet the requirements for this to be a crime, it must be witnessed by three unrelated individuals in broad daylight. And, coincidentally, sex between two unmarried people is also an acceptable ceremony of marriage. Therefore even if witnessed by three unrated individuals in broad daylight, the crime is never actually committed and cannot be prosecuted since also by definition the couple ARE married and thus it isn't a violation of the law.

Mike the liberal Jewish brother-in-law

Another FYI: The reason a Jewish Court was considered "bloody" and questionably competent if even one person was put to death during their term is that it is a requirement of the court to NOT be neutral in the case of death sentences. The court is required to act on behalf of the defendant and may only invoke a death penalty if no one on the panel of judges can, after long study and debate, find any possible way of invoking a lesser penalty since life must be preserved in any way possible.

Now, as an exercise, compare and contrast with the US versions of "innocent until proven guilty" and death sentence requirements.


Thanks, Mike. That was just what I was looking for. Another question: in jewish law, has anything specifically happened to repeal the 613? What I'm getting at here is wondering if this is part of the source in the American Liberal tradition of viewing the constitution as a living document?


And while we're talking theology, does the Koran have the same ancient laws with more added, or is it a totally different thing. I've heard Jews, Christians, and Muslims referred to as "people of the book" -- which one?


You won't get any argument from me on American death penalty or sentencing in general. In most cases I think it's madness what we do, and as to death, why kill the bastards, really, when it's easier to just lock them up?

Mike the liberal Jewish brother-in-law

Nope. The 613 Jewish laws don't get repealed. They CAN get refined to the point of being irrelevant (for example, the laws concerning proper preparation of sacrifices at the Temple kind of became moot when the Romans destroyed the Temple 1,934 years ago) but the 613 laws are no more likely to be repealed than the 10 commandments are (which are 10 of the 613).

As for the American Liberal tradition of living documents in the law, that's been a tradition of English Common Law (and many other countries' law structures) for much longer than there were any significant numbers of Jews in the US. For that matter, for longer than there was a US at all.

I'd also add that treating the law as a living document it isn't a Liberal tradition, it's very much a part of US tradition no matter what the political spectrum and has been since the founding fathers were running the government.


I've no doubt judges started usurping power since the first court in 17whatever. That doesn't make it right. Should I look for a new place to live? Are you saying "Love it or leave it"?

Mike the liberal Jewish brother-in-law

As a further FYI, the Jewish population at the time of Marbury v Madison was about 2,250. This is NOT, however, to say that the remaining US citizenry were Christian. There was a very high percentage of Deists and Freethinkers in the US at the time of its founding and most of our Constitutional and Independance thought and writing reflect those traditions more than any thought we'd now classify as religious.

There's an excellent book on the subject, "America Declares Independence" by Alan Dershowitz written (I suspect by his graduate students) about a year ago that goes into great detail on the philosphy and thought behind the Declaration of Independence. It's a fascinating look into the actual writings and essays that went into a lot of the American Experiment.

Mike the liberal Jewish brother-in-law

Actually, what I'm saying about judicial review is that it is not only the law but it has been the law and one of the key "checks and balances" provisions of the constitution since it was confirmed as such in 1803.

I'd no more say it's "usurping power" for judges to interpret the law than I'd say it is "usurping power" for the President to veto a bill. It's how our system works and how it has virtually always worked.

While I'm not saying "love it or leave it", what I am saying is that if they feel that a key point of how US law has existed since virtually the beginnings of the country is something that is horribly wrong, they either don't understand how the US works or they'd probably be happier in a country that doesn't use that model. They're welcome here but they shouldn't expect the entire structure of the US to change because they don't like the concepts that were used to found this country.


I feel the same way.
However, there is a difference between interpreting and making shit up. I'm not saying that it's always easy to find that point, or that every one will agree on where it is. But I do think the court has made shit up, some courts more than others. And when they do that, they have broken their oath. And when they break their oath, Congress should impeach them. And impeachment of judges is also one of the important checks and balances. and it should be used.

Yair Malachi

The Jewish religion is not only based on the written law (the first 5 books of the Bible), but also only the explanation of this law as delivered from generation to generation.

1. In Jewish tradition the ritual of sacrifices was only an obligation in the land of Israel, to be exact in the Temple of Jerusalem. With the destruction of this Temple, sacrifices were abolished. In orthodox view, the rebuilding of the Temple in the time of the coming Messiach will enable sacrificing again. If the Messiach will come, he will solve the problem with your neigbours

2. Rabbinical explanation is that only somebody who is in big financial need could give his children in slavery, but then it was also the obligation of the Jewish neighbours to redempt these slaves by paying the debts. So in fact slavery of Jews did not exist. The Bible also tells that it is forbidden to return a slave who fled to his “owner”. This in contrast to the USA, where slavery existed longer than in any other western country.

3. This law is still valid and one of the basics of Jewish family life. In an old fashioned single partner relationship, there is usually no need for asking about this. Only someone who “screws around” would not know what the situation of his partner is.

4. The Jewish tradition says: “he who buys himself a slave, buys himself a master”, this because once you buy a slave you have to give him shelter, food, clothes, medical treatment, while the slave also is not allowed to work for you on shabbat or on anyone of the many Jewish holidays. If you hurt the slave physically, you have to set him free. Probably slaves of Jews were 2000 years ago better off than most Mexicans in the USA nowadays.

5. Jewish tradition says that death penalties were abolished with the destruction of the Temple 2000 years ago. If your neighbour is not Jewish he is anyhow not bound to keep the shabbat

6. The Jewish tradition says that the natural way of mankind is to eat animals, but God set several rules for Jews what animals to eat and what not. Tresspassing these rules is bad, but probably in a lesser degree than male homosexual activity.

7. The officials working in the Temple were to be people without any physical or mental flaws. As I said there is no longer any Temple, so you don’t need to worry.

8. Trimming the hair around the temples was a non Jewish tradition, however people were not put to death because of doing so.

9. Yes

10. The forbidden mixing relates to cotton/wool not to polyester. Agricultural laws are only valid in the land of Israel. As I said, the death penalty is abolished. However you seem very obsessed on putting people to death.

Many of the biblical texts you quoted are not relevant outside of Israel, and others because there is no longer a Temple. However many of the other rules in the Bible are still valid, like those forbidding stealing, murdering etc. and obligations such as taking care of the poor and elderly, but you took care no to mention them.

Dear Professor Kauffman
From the tone of your letter I understand that you are not an orthodox Jew. So what do you care if orthodox Jews call you an abomination?

Just because your behavior does not fit the Bible, you want the Bible explained otherwise or abolished? You are overestimating yourself.


Thank you, Yair, that was interesting. Between you and my brother in law Mike, I'm beginning to see why dr. Laura chose Judaism when she went shopping for religion (my description of her actions, not hers.) To comment on your post:
First, Prof. K didn't write that letter. I wrote to him to confirm it, and he was kind enough to answer my query with a denial. So it's not his, but it does raise some interesting points.
Second, those quotes are all from the Old Testement of the Christian Bible. The Christians don't have the advantage of having the Bible modified by hundreds of generations of rabbinical writing, at least not officially. So unless contradicted by the New Testemenet, the Old stands. Not relelvant to Jews I understand, but still shocking.
The biggest things I got out of this thread were (a) respect for Judaism, and (b) a little more tolerance of Islam and its Satanic verses.

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November 2008

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Seen at low tide

  • American White Pelican
    Saw 30 in one flock on a weptember evening while fishing
  • Hummingbird
    Finally, my first hummingbirds. Saw them on a fire bush in Crystal Beach, FL. My rental's neighbor's yard is all xeriscaped, which is ugly to me but just fine with the little hummers. At first, I thought they were the biggest hornets I'd ever seen.
  • Flamingo!
    One of these dudes flew right over my house. I couldn't believe it. And please don't tell me it was a roseated spoonbill because it was a frickin' flamingo, dude! Huge and pink and right there above me. I was like so freaking out, you know?
  • Falcon!
    Don't see these guys too often. Wish we did. Bet the morning doves don't.
  • Black Skimmer
    These beauties are getting scarce, but one flew by yesterday at low tide on the hunt for minnows.
  • Dead sea turtle
    cool, but smelly
  • Reddish Egret
    These have been hanging out around the pool quite a bit lately. Must be a new group of adolesent birds -- the youngsters like to hunt where the water is clear, and it takes them a day to figure out there are not now and never will be fish in the swimming pool no matter how clear the water.
  • Sand Piper
  • Brown Pelican
    I saw a flock of about 200 of these at Disappearing Island yesterday, just south of Anclote Island on the west coast of FL. Good to see such a large flock.
  • Wood Pecker
    They've developed a sudden interest in the orange tree, which just went into bloom.
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