Friday, November 25, 2016

Let Me Count The Ways

Monday, November 21, 2016
Throughout the year, the center of Saturday Jewish religious services is the reading of the Torah, a section at a time.  The birthday of the Torah (Simchat Torah) comes two weeks on the Jewish calendar after the birthday of the universe (Rosh haShana).  A lot of hot stuff, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, and the Tower of Babel, are all jammed into the first few readings, then the patriarch Abraham appears not even a month into the new year.  While the stories of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son Isaac and his expulsion of his concubine Hagar and their son Ishmael have kept rabbis and psychiatrists busy for centuries, one little snippet from this Saturday's reading caught my attention.

At Genesis 18:7-8, Abraham feeds three strangers who appear at his tent, possibly emissaries or surrogates of God.  A conventional translation of the Hebrew reads: "And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good, and gave it unto the servant; and he hastened to dress it.  And he took curd, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat."  In other words, on this important occasion, Abraham served a meal combining dairy and meat, a big No No in Hebrew circles.  

Exodus 34:36 offers the enigmatic "You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk."   Deuteronomy 14 repeats this and spells out in detail the Kosher rules, animals that may be eaten and those not.  Leviticus 11 gives a list of forbidden birds, but nothing on four legs or cuisines is mentioned.  Defenders of the faith rush to explain that these Kosher rules, part of the Torah delivered to Moses at Mt. Sinai, emerge long after the days of Abraham.  Thereby, the law seems to revoke custom, not an unusual event.  

But, this is my problem.  I agree that boiling a baby goat/lamb/calf in its mother's milk sounds pretty disgusting, but what about the myriad strictures that result from this directive?  The web site Judaism 101 ( this candid commentary, which I found repeated in several places:  "The short answer to why Jews observe these laws is: because the Torah says so.  The Torah does not specify any reason for these laws, and for a Torah-observant, traditional Jew, there is no need for any other reason."   Therefore, no cheeseburgers or chicken parmesan because.  Just Because.  Did you hear me, BECAUSE!!??   Isn't it enough that over centuries we have been persecuted, ghettoized, tortured?  We have to eschew some very delectable dishes without any explanation?  What's more Jewish than asking questions?

I think that it is more than sophistry for me to examine later imperatives in light of earlier behavior.  While the Torah was manifested in the Sinai Desert, when Moses had a 40-day binge of transcribing the verities, it does not seem to be rooted only in time and space.  "Not only Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but also Noah and even Adam knew the Torah," says the very orthodox Lubavitcher sect.  

Since Abraham was getting critical messages from on high (such as, kill your son), we might expect that he would have heard about a serious error in menu planning.  
I visited Joy Luck Palace, 98 Mott Street, shortly after this big dim sum joint opened (February 24, 2016).  Today, I returned with Seth G., a nice young man who probably would have paid for lunch at some fancy schmancy place.  Instead, I wanted to insure a good time for both of us and we happily devoured 7 different dim sum items, 3 or 4 pieces on each plate.  The carts were coming fast and furious and we could have easily had another dozen or more attractive items.  Next time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Two weeks ago vividly demonstrated that truth is stranger than fiction.  So, I am going to skip strange and stick to fiction for the foreseeable future.  I am turning to Ruth Rendell, Michael Connelly, Alex Berenson, among others, for a world with a semblance of sense.

Thursday, November 24, 2106
Happy Thanksgiving.  Let us give thanks that at least 2 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than the other guy.

More thanks to Rudi G., my favorite Latvian, for sending this article on the benefits of eating ice cream for breakfast.
This is an area where I might claim a pioneering role.  I have been eating ice cream late at night for decades, anticipating the dawn.

Friday, November 25, 2016
America's Favorite Epidemiologist produced a memorable holiday meal for more people than we had chairs and dinner plates until we did some strategic borrowing.  Everyone seemed to eat heartily, too heartily when it came to dessert, leaving no chocolate chip mandelbrot or chocolate peanut squares for the house account.  Of course, this was an occasion for selflessness and charity, almost.


  1. I've been reading the Lawrence Block Bernie Rhodenbarr oeuvre all week, under much the same compulsion...

  2. Done with those, try his "hitman" series.

  3. Loved your comments about Thanksgiving.

  4. Years ago I had a book by the chief rabbi of Israel (or was it Jerusalem). In it, he had an explanation for the dietary laws. It was, he said, to prevent interactions with non-Jews in intimate settings. If you can't eat with strangers, your children won't meet them and marry them. That was his explanation—to keep Jews from marrying gentiles. I've never seen a better explanation.
    Some day, ask me why when I officiated with a female cantor, she was the one who wouldn't officiate if the couple broke the glass.

  5. Finished a Rendell last week, downloaded Connelly on Thurs and began last night. Will add Berensen to the list and then check out Lawrence Block with whom I am not familiar. It seems that great minds are all seeking respite from the insanity.
    On another note, how is strict adherence to the Torah's myriad of dietary laws any different from evangelicals strict reading of the New Testament? Both seem to be denying scientific and historical events since the books were written.