A funny story about helpfulness in the face of religion

The Time I Helped Some Jews
A true story.
by bbstucco

It’s long, but reading to the end is well worth it. No, I am not bbstucco.

That was…I’m searching for a word here…[Spock] “fascinating”.

Wow. That was fascinating. Is it really like that to be Orthodox? I mean, it raises the whole question of why be observant if you’re just going to be spending all your time “working around” the rules, anyway… :confused:

Interesting article. I’m Jewish (but not religiously so, let alone Orthodox), and this whole situation is quite alien to me - but I have heard of the use of a “Shabbas Goy”, or a non-Jew who helps the Orthodox deal with some of the more restrictive Shabbat commandments. Even so, the people in this article seemed more than a little eccentric.

One serious misconception in the article:

I know this is a bit tounge-in-cheek, but it should be pointed out that it is not part of the Jewish religion to characterize non-Jews as “doomed-to-Hell” or “unclean”, or otherwise perjoratively. So long as non-Jews abide by the standards of basic morality (within Judaism known as he “Noahide laws”, since Noah, a non-Jew, was considered just as righteous as any Jew, and is the mythical ancestor of all humanity, and was given some commandments in Genesis), they are just as morally “good” as any Jew.

This goes together with a basic misunderstanding, actually pretty common, about the meaning of the “chosen people”. Jews are “chosen” to have more rules to obey, not to obtain greater privileges or standing in the eyes of God.

That was an excellent, odd, fellini-like article.
I expected Woody Allen to pop out of nowhere during it .

Thanks for sharing.

Would an acceptable question in that situation be to ask “Are you having any problems?” That way they’d be able to tell you without actually asking for help.

It amazes me the mental gymnastics people will go through for the sake of religion. I heard that programmable appliances are really popular amoung observant Jews. They can set a stove to bake at 400 for one hour the day before Sabbath, and then on the Sabbath they just happen to leave a casserole in it, and an hour later it’s ready, but they haven’t actually done any cooking. Kind of like the way leasing is really popular amoung the Amish. What’s the point of the rules if you’re just going to disobey them?

And, unlike some other religions, most of us who believe in an afterlife believe that the non-Jews who obey standards of basic morality will get in.

I’m not Orthodox (I’m Conservative), but I’ll take a whack at “why be observant if you’re just going to be spending all your time working around the rules, anyway”.

Many Orthodox Jews believe that the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) was dictated to Moses on Mount Sinai, letter-for-letter (in Hebrew). Among other things, the Torah contains rules for living a good life, both positive (“thou shalt”) and negative (“thou shalt not”). The problem here is, all human language is ambiguous on some level, and the reason for a lot of the rules is not clear to the casual reader. For example, one of the commandments is “don’t do work on the Sabbath”. But it’s not spelled out anywhere in the Torah exactly what activities constitute “work”. It’s very important to God that we avoid doing work on the Sabbath, but it’s not clear exactly what is prohibited by that rule. And then there are changing circumstances- obviously there isn’t anything in the Torah about whether it’s OK to drive a car on the Sabbath, because there were no cars at the time. But now there are- is it OK to drive one on the Sabbath or not?

We humans are supposed to work to figure out exactly what God meant by what he said. The Orthodox call the rules derived from this kind of reasoning the “Oral Law”, and believe it was passed down to Moses on Mt. Sinai (but not written down) as well as the written Torah.

One of the fundamental principles that goes into figuring out this sort of thing is that God presumably had a good reason for saying exactly what he said and not something else that means very close to the same thing. Yes, this is finding loopholes, but God presumably intended for those loopholes to be there, or he would have phrased the rule differently to exclude that loophole.

No reason is given for a lot of the rules in the Torah, so it’s hard to really know if a loophole violates the “spirit” of a Torah law. We haven’t gotten to see any of God’s notes or rough drafts of the Torah, so we don’t know what the process and reasoning that led to that law is. We think that a loophole violates the spirit of a Torah law as we understand that law, but that’s our understanding of it, which is not necessarily the same as God’s.

So, God intended for us humans to be able to find these loopholes in the laws. Presumably, if someone had tried to find a loophole that God didn’t approve, God would have done something about it- it might have been as dramatic as sending curses on that person, striking them dead or mute or something like that, or just making something happen that made them change their mind. Yes, someone could abuse this, but you don’t just have to figure out a loophole in a law- you have to get other people to accept your loophole, your reasoning, and your authority to do this kind of thing, too.

As for carrying the key in his shoe- one of the rules (spelled out by rabbis in the Talmud) is that carrying something is one of the activities forbidden on the Sabbath. But wearing things is OK, so if you have to carry something like a key on the Sabbath, you’re supposed to wear it (usually as a tie pin or necklace or something like that). I suppose carrying it in your shoe might count as wearing it, though that does seem odd- there’s no rule that I know of saying that non-Jews can’t carry things on the Sabbath. Of course, people aren’t always at their most rational in situations like being locked out of the house (and don’t have the ability to consult reference books or rabbis in this situation).

You’re not disobeying them, you’re just meticulously applying the letter of the law! I bet God is fooled.

I once had the misfortune of staying on a high floor in a heavily Orthodox apartment building. Riding the elevator on Saturdays was a miserable experience, because they just set it to open on every floor. Pushing a button, you see, would be doing work. But if the elevator just happens to be going where you want anyway? It’s all good.

I think that aspect which puzzles most non-Jews is that they expect the laws of God to have some obvious moral purpose (albeit most are willing to accept that, not being Jews, they don’t know what it is) . Thus, using “loopholes” appears to be, well, attempting to be immoral, or foiling God’s moral purpose (whatever that is).

In Judaism it seems to me (again, not being religious myself I’m speaking somewhat as an outsider) that the purpose of much of this law is ritual and not moral. There is thus no notion of “upholding the letter of the law but abusing its real purpose”. The letter of the law, the ritual, is the purpose. By laboriously engaging in “work-arounds” you demonstrate your adherence to the ritual, which is in itself part of the meaning of the ritual.

All of this is against a background where humanity is the highest virtue - a Jew who understands the ritual law knows he must break it, if required by the dictates of humanity. Morality trumps ritual.

this is fascinating. if you’ll excuse the clumsiness of my analogy, is it kind of like getting extra homework in school because you are in honors classes?

if jewish people dont think that non-jews are going to hell, then what are the ‘perks’ of being chosen? is that just how it is, and if you are chosen then you are held to a higher standard which it is a pleasure to uphold? do we all go to the same heaven (or wherever it is that jewish people believe that we go) or do moral-non-jews go to one heaven, and jewish people go to a different heaven with shorter lines and higher-quality chocolates?

I used to do a lot of work in the Orthodox Jewish community and ran into this sort of thing frequently. Makes me wonder, do they think is God some sort of tax attorney?

“Well, I was going to smite you for working on the Sabbath, but you found a loophole, so…”

In reading the comments at the bottom of the article, the author said he was definitely NOT judging the Orthodox Jews. I disagree. The tone of the article definitely implies judgement, and his saying otherwise strikes me as the same sort of irony that he observes in the woman finding Sabbath loopholes.

In my view he is, very correctly, judging these people to be somewhat loopy.

I appreciate the explanations, but yeah, it still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I mean…I certainly respect peoples’ choices to practice or not practice their religion as they wish, but I just don’t get this.

The notion of an afterlife is very sketchy in Judaism. It simply isn’t as central to that religion as it is to (say) Christianity. There certainly is not an elaborate multiplicity of afterlives.

The notion of being “chosen” in Judaism is generally thought to be a burden as well as a blessing - Jews have extra duties as it were, but in compensation, God made certain promises or covenants.

What it does not imply is that Jews are “saved” (and others damned), that Jews are better or morally superior by virtue of being Jews, etc.

There isn’t a heck of a lot of incentive to being Jewish, other than, I suppose, being closer to God’s purposes - under his eye more directly if you like. In fact, Judaism doesn’t prostheletize, and in most cases makes no attempt to make conversion easy. There isn’t any (religious) point to making other people Jews. Yet the notion of being closer to God is very attractive.

The contrast with the other monotheistic religions - Christianity and Islam - is quite marked in this regard.

Every religion is loopy if you don’t understand it from the inside. I admit that these people as described may not be the best exemplars of the religion - but that is more based on the 'tude they were descibed as having, than on their actions.

My wife is Catholic, and I’ve visited many a church across the world - and believe me, from an outsider’s perspective Catholicism is one heck of a strange and even gruesome religion. “Refraining from work on the Sabbath” is pretty benign compared to “making the sign of a torture instrument while ritually drinking blood in a building decorated with pictures and statues of mutilated and tortured bodies”. :smiley:

One takes your point, but I’d say it’s pretty loopy even from the INSIDE - I grew up Catholic.

I’ve come to see pretty much all religion as mysticism, which is, well… loopy.

It pains me to say that because I’d like to be polite and accepting of others’ beliefs. But from my particular “outsider’s view”, which I’d describe as reality based upon the physics evident in everyday life, there’s no reason to engage in mysticism.

And there’s certainly no reason to engage in nitpicky legalese to escape from one’s belief in mysticism. That’s double the irony.

Depends a lot on what you mean by “mysticism”. There are lots of meanings to that word - from context I assume you mean something like “meaningless mumbo jumbo”. :smiley:

I prefer using it in its more technical meanings, of esoteric beliefs, or the pursuit of some sort of communion with an ultimate reality - in which case Judaism is pretty un-mystical compared to other religions (with the exception of those who practice hassidism or kabbalah).

The point of ritual may seem like meaningless mumbo-jumbo to outsiders - but it is pretty harmless, so why should anyone care? That goes double for using “loopholes” to escape the strict ambit of the rituals.

I know of no principle of physics which opposes the following of rituals. I suppose the law of gravity, if one attempted to ritually levitate. :stuck_out_tongue:

"Man is the Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion…

…several of them."

– Mark Twain

Judaism has an exception for the preservation of life, correct? On Sept. 25, 2004, Hurricane Jeanne was getting ready to strike Palm Beach County, Fla. That day also happened to be Yom Kippur. A rabbi went on the local news and advised Jewish residents to pay close attention to the TV and radio for weather updates, despite the Sabbath. He said something like “you’re supposed to live by the Torah, not die by the Torah.”

Is this official doctrine? If so, how dire do your circumstances need to be before the “self-preservation” rule applies? (Apologies if this is a silly question. I know very little about Judaism.)

If you’re willing to accept that you don’t know what the obvious moral purpose is, why not accept that no human could know that?

As a Conservative Jew, I agree. But you could argue (as some Jews do) that upholding ritual laws makes it more likely that you will uphold moral laws as well.

As much as anything is in Judaism. Remember, we don’t have a Pope or any single person with the authority to say “this is official doctrine, and this isn’t”.

There’s very little official doctrine that is shared among all branches of Judaism. There is even less official doctrine on the subject of the afterlife that is shared, so the answer is “different Jews believe different things”.

If you’re Jewish, you’re supposed to ask your rabbi this sort of thing. It’s going to depend on the circumstances and your rabbi. There isn’t an “official” answer that’s going to be accepted by all Jews.

IANARabbi, but I don’t think it’s a silly question at all.

Well, I certainly haven’t run into any problems with principles of physics when following Jewish rituals…