From the Head of Jewish Life
ביטולה זהו קיומה
Abrogation of the Torah is its Fulfillment
Like the world in which we live, our Jewish tradition can only be enduring and thriving through constant and continual evolution. This is particularly evident with regard to this week’s parashah, Ki Teitsei.
Offensive to today’s sensibilities, we read the following command: “A mamzer (a child born of an ‘illicit union’) shall not be admitted into the community of the Lord, even unto the tenth generation (which the following verse makes clear means ‘forever’). The Rabbis present God as asserting that a Jewish community and its legislators that use the Torah to oppress, rather than comfort those in need, are not serving Me:
“I observed all the oppressions that are done under the sun; and behold the tears of the oppressed, and they have no comforter; but from the hand of their oppressors comes power, but they have no comforter” (Ecclesiastes 4:1).
Hanina the Tailor interpreted this verse: “All the oppressions” this refers (to what is being done) to the mamzerim (those illicitly conceived), “and behold the tears of the oppressed” (for) their mothers transgressed, but it is these humiliated ones that are being marginalised. This one’s father had illicit sexual relations, but what did he (the child) do? Why should it have consequence for him?
“They had no comforter” but “from the hand of the oppressor there comes power” – this refers to the Great Assembly of Israel which comes upon them with the power of the Torah and marginalises them in the name of “A mamzer shall not be admitted into the community of the Lord”. But, (since) “they have no comforter”, the Holy One Blessed be He says: “It is upon Me to comfort them”.
Proclaiming that, at times, the “abrogation of the Torah is its fulfilment”, our Rabbis, in the name of God, are referring to instances such as the “mamzer”. Today, in Israel the “pious” scrupulously maintain records of those born into “mamzerut” lest they, or their progeny, ever enter the “community of the Lord”.
The Rabbinic understanding that Jewish law must continually evolve, lest we blind rather than bind ourselves to the will of God finds support in the Biblical tradition itself. In this same parashah, Ki Teitsei, we find the following warning: “Children shall not be punished for the transgressions of their parents”. Beyond supporting the Rabbinic protest that a child of an “illicit union” should not suffer for the actions of his parents, this verse contradicts an earlier biblical declaration, appearing in the Book of Exodus: “The Lord visits the guilt of the parents upon the children”.
Our Rabbis, following upon the biblical tradition which, as an evolving tradition, may counteract its own no longer supportable teachings, presents our human community as making God’s law an obstacle to or a means of creating a truly divine community.
As we are reminded at the latter part of this parashah, we must seek to be ethically and morally just, which requires an evolving sensibility, if we wish to long endure as a people and tradition in this world.
Rabbi Daniel Siegel, Head of Jewish Life