3 Cheshvan, 5764
Rabbi Orlofsky, Dr Laura and the Torah’s honor
JemSem presents a letter attacking Dr Laura followed by Rabbi Orlofskys response:
Dr. Laura Schlessinger is a U.S. radio personality who dispenses advice to people who call in to her radio show. Recently, she said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance.
The following is an open letter to Dr. Laura penned by a U.S. resident, which was posted on the Internet:
Dear Dr. Laura:
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them:
1. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15:19- 24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
4. Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?
5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?
6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?
7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.19:27. How should they die?
9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton / polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? – Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)?
I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.
RABBI ORLOFSKY RESPONDS:
Dr. Laura, would seem to be a poor choice to speak on behalf of the Bible from a Jewish point of view, since she has announced over a month ago that she is no longer practicing Judaism.
So I will try to respond instead.
The writers argument is essentially based on the premise that since some things in the Bible don’t make sense, (to the e-mail writer), everything in the Bible is now irrelevant.
His argument could apply as easily to “Honor your Parents”, “Love your Neighbor”, “Have Mercy on the Widow and Orphan”, as easily as homosexuality. One can argue that those laws are moral, but only because the Bible introduced them to the world. The morality of ancient Greece and Rome made for a dramatically different society than the one we have today. When we say “Western Morality” we mean the values and morals that have come to us from the Bible. Now it is fashionable to question the Bible based on homosexuality. Soon it will be incest or rape or any other sexual laws that people claim are their only means of finding fulfillment. that will be used as a source to dismiss the Bible.
The writer has taken a number of verses based on a particular interpretation to prove his point. Judaism doesn’t say to read the Bible as it is written. There is an Oral tradition that is essential to understanding the Bible.
1. Your neighbors have a valid claim. Sacrifices can only be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem to be offered. As there has not been a Temple there for close to 2000 years, your neighbors have a right to say wait until the Messiah comes and rebuilds the Temple. Until then, you will have to make due with reading and studying the laws of the sacrifices to try to understand their deep significance.
2. The person who is so destitute that he has to “sell” his daughter is a truly pathetic character. She goes free at the age of twelve if the owner doesn’t fulfill his obligation of marrying her off to his son, which is his primary responsibility. Even then the term translated as slavery would be better translated as foster care. The Talmud says anyone who buys a slave buys a master for himself. If you have one pillow the slave gets it. The slave may not be given any demeaning work to do. There are many similar laws. Considering the way children in poverty are treated in many industrial countries, not to mention third world countries, this was probably paradise by comparison.
3. Any woman who you should be having contact with, according to Jewish law has the responsibility to inform you, since the laws of nidda are very serious. The Talmud refers to it as a whisper of death. We take life and death very seriously. When there was a Temple the laws of purity were observed by all women, now it’s only your sex partner, which for us means your wife. If she isn’t interested in Judaism, then by all means, find someone who is.
4. Personally, I would not advise either Canadians or Mexicans, since neither country is adapted to the concept of slavery.
When the Bible says from the surrounding nations, it means as opposed to the Canaanites themselves, who were so debauched and decedent as to be seen as irredeemable.
Slaves were other nations may be purchased providing they agree (not forced) to undergo circumcision and take upon themselves mitzva observance. If not, don’t buy them. But those people who sensed that it was a better life to be a slave to a Jew than to a non-Jew might choose to undergo the above procedures, which is akin to what a non-Jew goes through in order to convert to Judaism.
Since this person didn’t choose that route, G-d gave him the opportunity to come to the Jewish people through a backdoor, one which as I mentioned he must choose. The slavery he experiences is the slavery the Jewish people had to go through in Egypt in order to reach the levels necessary to become the chosen people. The difference is, he has a Jewish overseer, not an Egyptian (see #2).
5. No, and if you do that is murder. Only an authorized high court of 23 sages can put to death – and only if there are two witnesses and he was warned within three seconds of the action and he understands the laws and many other requirements so that the Talmud says if the death penalty was given out once in 70 years they called it a “bloody court”. So kids, don’t try this at home!
6. Your friend is right. You can tell by the punishment. Homosexuality is punished by death, whereas shellfish is punished by lashes. Though neither was likely to be meted out (see #5) it does serve to inform us of the severity of the crimes in the eyes of G-d.
7. You’re in luck! Those disqualifications are talking about actual eye disfigurations, so you’ll be fine. As soon as the Messiah comes, show up at the Temple in Jerusalem and present your qualifications as a bona fide descendant of Aaron the Priest and your reading glasses shouldn’t disqualify you.
8. Probably of old age, unless they are purposely doing it to show contempt for G-d in which case I would leave it to the True Judge since the Torah doesn’t say they receive the death penalty. Or unless they’re not Jewish, of course in which case they can cut their hair however they like.
9. I think you mean the flesh. The skin shouldn’t be a problem. Additionally, there is no prohibition of becoming unclean unless you’re entering the temple mount. In that case you’re already unclean from contact with dead humans (cemeteries and the like).
10. Cotton and polyester isn’t a problem, the law only applies to wool and linen. So they’re fine. There is no death penalty for planting different crops, but they should be discouraged. Cursing and blaspheming per se is not liable to death, only if you’re cursing G-d. Then again, you would need witnesses and warning and a high court and all the other requirements. I don’t imagine it is likely to happen.
I went to the trouble of answering all the individual points not because the writer is interested, but simply because ridicule is an old technique used to confuse people about the legitimacy of their opponents viewpoint. You don’t need to accept all the explanations, but don’t be silly and pretend that the Bible was written by a bunch of superstitious Neanderthals. You want to sleep with your in-laws or your mother or your sister or another man, that’s your choice. The Bible which we believe was written by G-d will condemn it. The death penalty written in the verse is there to teach us that some things are so important that you can forfeit your existence if you do them.
You can say I don’t believe in G-d, I don’t believe He gave the Torah , I don’t believe in the morality it espouses and that is your choice. Adolph Hitler once said “we are barbarians. Morality is a Jewish invention.” I agree. If you want to reject that, that’s your choice. But before you make fun of peoples belief, take the time to understand it.
I don’t know if Dr. Laura appreciated your questions, but she may appreciate these answers.