Why *can’t* I simmer a kid in its mother’s milk?

Because that was the sacrifice offered to Ishtar.

It’s well known that Jewish law forbids simmering a kid in its mother’s milk. That’s the textual basis of what became in Rabbinic times the sweeping rules requiring the complete separation of milk and meat.

What’s less clear is:

(1) Why anyone would want to simmer a kid in its mother’s milk; and

(2) Why anyone should care.

It’s especially puzzling because the rule forms part of the second list of the Ten Commandments (given in Ex. 34: 14-28). The text says that the second list - given after Moses had broken the original tablets in outrage over the Golden Calf incident - is the same as the first list (Ex. 20:2-14.) Both are referred to as the Ten Words ( דְּבָרִים , devarim). But that isn’t the case. Here’s the later, less familiar list:

1. Thou shalt bow down to no other god; for the LORD, whose name is Jealous*, is a jealous God; lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go astray after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and they call thee, and thou eat of their sacrifice; and thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go astray after their gods, and make thy sons go astray after their gods.

2. Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.

3.  The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, at the time appointed in the month Abib, for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.

4.  All that openeth the womb is Mine; and of all thy cattle thou shalt sanctify the males, the firstlings of ox and sheep. And the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break its neck. All the first-born of thy sons thou shalt redeem. None shall appear before Me empty.

5. Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest; in plowing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.

6.  And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, even of the first-fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the turn of the year.

7.  Three times in the year shall all thy males appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel.  For I will cast out nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders; neither shall any man covet thy land, when thou goest up to appear before the LORD thy God three times in the year.

8. Thou shalt not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.

9. The choicest first-fruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God.

10. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.

So the rule about the kid isn’t just on the list of ten, it’s the climax of the list. Admittedly, it’s a pretty miscellaneous set of rules, much less coherent - to a modern eye - than the more familiar Ten Commandments. There’s not much on it that looks like a general ethical precept, as opposed to cultic practice. But how does making a Stroganoff get up there with idolatry on the list of no-nos?

When we discussed this passage at the Hirshleifer-Rosett UCLA Faculty Tanakh Study Group (I’m no longer the note-taker, but I still attend when I can), Paula Powers Coe, a folklorist of awesome learning, had the answer.

It turns out that a kid simmered in its mother’s milk was the sacrifice offered to Ishtar.

So the last item on the list gets back to the first: not adopting the religious practices of the neighbors. Thou shalt not attend the National Prayer Breakfast!

* Apparently “jealous” isn’t accurate; the word קַנָּא has to do with accounting, and “persnickety” or “detail-oriented” would be a better translation.



Goldberg’s *schanda*

If Jonah Goldberg insists on defending the Crusades and the Inquisition, he ought to change his name. I suggest “Jason Ormont.”

Blood, we are told, is thicker than water. But factional loyalty can be thicker still.

You’d think that someone named “Jonah Goldberg” wouldn’t have any doubts about the moral status of the Crusaders - who, on their way through Europe to the Holy Land, paused from time to time to slaughter the local Jews, and who, when they finally took and sacked Jerusalem, killed the Jews along with the Muslims - or of the Inquisition, which regarded torture and burning at the stake as good ways of inculcating Christian piety, especially among Christians of Jewish ancestry. Indeed, you’d think that any decent human being would be clear on those points. But apparently the actual Jonah Goldberg prefers being a loyal member of the Red team to being either a decent human being or a self-respecting Jew. If Barack Obama criticizes the Crusades and the Inquisition, Goldberg instinctively rushes in to support them.

Goldberg quotes what is now the standard wingnut position that the Crusades were “defensive.” (Tell that to the inhabitants of Constantinople, sacked in the Fourth Crusade.) And he somehow has it figured out that the Inquisition was all about due process, or something. But here’s the cream of the jest:

Christianity, even in its most terrible days, even under the most corrupt popes, even during the most unjustifiable wars, was indisputably a force for the improvement of man.

“Indisputably a force for the improvement of man.” Really? During the genocidal crusade against the Albigensians? When Ferdinand the Catholic and Isabella the Butcher expelled all the Moslems and Jews from Spain? As Charles V and Philip II tried to extirpate Protestantism in the Low Countries by extirpating the population? In the Thirty Years’ War? When the Spanish and the Portuguese enslaved Central and South America? During Calvin’s theocratic dictatorship in Geneva, which burned Michael Servetus at the stake? While Cotton Mather and his crew were hunting witches and flogging Quakers? As the Klan carried out its lynchings by the light of burning crosses, after raising money in Southern Baptist churches? Today, with the Lord’s Resistance Army terrorizing Central Africa? “The improvement of man”? Seriously?

Of course Christianity has sometimes been a force for good. So has Islam. I have no idea how you’d calculate the net gain or loss; what’s the counterfactual? But Goldberg’s insistence on whitewashing Christian crimes and exaggerating Muslim ones is hard to swallow.

My father used to say of people like Goldberg “they ought to sew the bastard’s foreskin back on.” Perhaps the old man, for all his undoubted wisdom, sometimes took just things a bit too far. But now that Goldberg proudly wears his goyische kopf, he might, just as a gesture toward honesty, adopt an appropriately goyische name.

How about “Jason Ormont”?

Update It’s not quite as weird when a medievalist who teaches at a Jesuit university and has published in First Things defends the Crusades and the Inquisition, but if Thomas F. Madden is right that those were part of “mainstream” Christianity, that simply reinforces President Obama’s point that all religions have within them the seeds of evil, simply because they are human institutions. (I think the technical term is “original sin.”)

Of course a believing Christian should want to say that torture and slaughter are a perversion of his faith rather than an expression of its essence, just as a tolerant liberal should want to say that about similar actions undertaken in the name of other religions. And equally of course, since institutions don’t actually have “essences,” there’s no truth of the matter. Every faith, like every other institution, has resources for both good and evil, and insisting that the good bits are genuine and the bad bits spurious is a legitimate rhetorical tactic rather than an empirically testable proposition.

The real bigots - Goldberg, for example - want to claim that the evil parts of Christianity are incidental while the evil parts of Islam are essential. Madden seems instead to be denying that the evil parts of Christianity - or at least the Crusades and the Inquisition: he doesn’t mention the atrocities listed above - are actually evil. I’ll take Obama’s approach over theirs. As Noah Smith (@noahpinion)  Tweeted, “No one expects a defense of the Spanish Inquisition.” It’s a little bit shocking that one of America’s two great political parties now thinks it proper to provide such a defense.

Second update More Noah Smith:

National Review’s chief weapon is surprise. Surprise, and fear. Fear and surprise. And ruthless efficiency. Their *three* weapons are…

Makes you long for the day when torture - at least in civilized countries -was far enough in the past to be a punchline, rather than a contested issue. I recall an old New Yorker cartoon: a man is being racked, and one torturer says to the other, “Remember, now! Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey.” It was funny, back then.

Religious terrorism

Most societies have exerted control of individuals they find dangerous by threatening to make the remaining life of a criminal miserable, or to simply confiscate it. This works well enough (with plenty of opportunity to improve existing practices): people with evil intent mostly think they will be caught and punished, or killed in the process of a violent act, and an expected value calculation comes out in favor of not doing the crime.

Sometimes violence isn’t a crime; the civilized world would have applauded the White Rose for blowing Hitler up if they had succeeded, and certainly (if it ever happens) the armed citizen who puts down the lunatic about to shoot up a school or theater is simply doing the right thing. People give up their lives to do good in this world, like the soldier who throws himself on the grenade to save his buddies.

Some very large amount of hideous behavior never occurs because most people have a working moral sense whether or not it derives from religious teaching, and some faiths assert an eternal post-life time during which acts on earth will be punished or rewarded, so doing wrong is discouraged by some combination of just knowing what wrong is, and a selfish benefit-cost calculation.

When religious teaching promises heavenly reward for savagery on earth, we face a distinctive set of challenges (and what seem to be new levels of savagery, like sending a ten-year-old girl into a market with a bomb).   Suicidal murderers are not deterred like bank robbers by the fear that they won’t “get away with it”; oversimplifying only a little, they have been sold the belief that the mayhem they are about is a quick ticket to eternal happiness. If their present life is a dead-end struggle in a segregated banlieue slum, so much the better.  There is no practical sanction society can threaten such a person with to get a good benefit-cost calculation, especially if the society trying to protect itself looks like a bunch of ungodly infidels. Neither armed guards hoping to shoot first, nor a room full of heat-packing citizens going about their business, offer more than modest protection against a suicide bomber at the security desk or door, or in a large heavy vehicle with a running start. Tactics directed at the bombers and shooters, that kept gangster crime in last century down to a dull roar, are toothless here. Continue reading “Religious terrorism”

Fatwa draft (also encyclical, etc.)

People with the necessary authority need to get this out soon:

The God of our great faith is all-knowing and all-powerful. God’s strength is beyond the imagining of humans and infinitely exceeds their puny forces.

If anyone shall teach the opposite, that God-or God’s holy prophets-can receive the slightest pinprick of injury from words, deeds, or thoughts of men, whether casual or purposeful; satirical, disrespectful, or directly hostile, that person is a false teacher and enemy of God. Let him be anathema, cast out from the company of the faithful, or taught the truth by real believers. The blasphemy that God or his prophets require protection by humanity is a sin against every truth and moral duty; to believe that God seeks such protection in the form of violence and bloodshed is to believe what is even more evil.

Johnny Mathis vs. Al Jolson vs. Neil Diamond: Who does the best cover for Kol Nidre

All three kindof rock. I like Al Jolson’s the best. But Johnny Mathis is pretty great, too. Plus Mathis has the best acting.
Continue reading “Johnny Mathis vs. Al Jolson vs. Neil Diamond: Who does the best cover for Kol Nidre”