Feburary 2016, Parshat Mishpatim

Dear friends,

It is a deep-seated belief of mine that the greatest threat to Judaism, or religion in general, is a fundamentalist approach to it. The belief that anyone has attained the truth, besides being arrogant, is the source of inevitable immorality. For if one has attained truth itself to them all that matters is what the source of that truth says.

Last year at the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse there was a Rabbi who made headlines for saying that he wasn’t sure touching the genitals of a child is wrong. Appropriately, there was an outcry but in the emotionally charged environment I feel commentators missed the point.

In the lead-up to uttering those words he was talking of the fact that his work, and job in life, is to be engaged in religious law, Jewish Law. In other words, ‘I don’t preoccupy myself with the lowly knowledge of humans, but rather spend all my time immersed in knowledge of the divine’. The implication of this is that since the Torah – in his understanding of its objective truth – doesn’t anywhere forbid paedophilia, it’s obviously not important.

This weeks’ Parsha is full of laws, hence its name Mishpatim – Laws. And in it there are a few disturbing ones. It begins with laws relating to slaves and how you should treat them – for the fundamentalist this should mean that slavery is ok as an institution just with certain parameters. But my favourite is the laws that state ‘a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a hand for a hand, a tooth for a tooth’.

But the Rabbis already 2000 years ago realised that those words cannot be taken literally; that really it means monetary compensation not cutting off limbs.

The moral for us is that the Torah can never be in conflict with our progress in morality or used as a way to explain away or make awful acts acceptable.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Shneur