söndag 10 januari 2016

There is nasty stuff in the bible too. But...

An excellent response to a not very good article in The Guardian, by Nick Cohen, who ought to know better than to write what he does.

I agree with so much of this which is why I'm sorry that Cohen displays such a lamentable lack of understanding of Judaism. His simplistic references to 'Leviticus' and the Ten Commandments do his argument no favours.

For while the Torah does indeed specify the death penalty for homosexual and other acts, it was - even in antiquity - a punishment rarely and grudgingly imposed. Jewish religious law demands that anyone accused of a capital crime had to have been warned by two valid witnesses not to commit the crime before s/he committed it in order to be convicted. And the death penalty could not be imposed on the basis of a confession.

Furthermore the Talmud contains an authoritative reference to religious courts which imposed the death penalty more than once in 70 years as 'bloody courts'.

Of course, you may argue that having male homosexual acts on the criminal statute books is an abomination let alone having it listed as a capital crime. But you can't reasonably conflate Judaism's reticence to execute with the eagerness, ease and joy with which certain Islamist groups do so.

As for the Ten Commandments: it prohibited murder - how much more so genocide? There is a discussion in the Talmud in which the majority of rabbis determined that carrying a weapon is demeaning and is therefore prohibited on the Sabbath - unless necessary for the preservation of one's life.

The rabbis based their view on the verse in Isaiah (that adorns the UN building in New York) that when the Messiah comes “swords will be beaten into plowshares and nations will no longer wage war.” King David was denied the glory of building the Temple in Jerusalem because he had engaged in warfare and so the honour was left for his son, Solomon.

As for rape and torture, they may not be explicitly outlawed in the Ten Commandments but they are prohibited by Jewish religious law. And slavery, while technically permitted, was so bound up with regulatory restrictions that it was said in the Talmud that “one who acquires a slave actually acquires a master for himself”.

While the historical reality may often not have lived up to the ethical, moral and legal requirements of Judaism it's telling that there is no Jewish movement campaigning for the restoration of slavery (or the execution of male homosexuals). Whatever one's beef with religion, Judaism has for thousands of years striven to balance a yearning for peace and universal brotherhood with the realities of a violent, threatening world. To place it in the same category as the bloodthirsty fascists marauding Iraq and Syria is lazy and cynical.

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