Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Mitzvot of "Lost and Found"

Deuteronomy 22:1-3

It seemed so simple when we first read it: If you find something that belongs to 'your fellow' - return it.

But all that happened was it brought up more questions:
Who is your fellow? (was this rule just for the fellow Israelites or was it for the fellow humans?)
What if the cost of keeping the item until you find the owner is expensive?
What if you can't find the owner?
How long do you have to keep the item when you can't find the owner?
What if the owner is your enemy?
How hard to you have to work to find who the owner is?
Can you profit from the item found while you wait to return it?
What if the item is perishable?
What if the item is illegal or dangerous?

There are examples all the time of finding things and not knowing how to find the owner, OR when things are found and the ownership is unclear, OR how to know if the item is really lost.

If grain falls off a cart and the owner is not aware of this, how do you know the owner wants it returned?

A mitzvot that seems simple at first is complicated by circumstances.

One suggestion is to try to put yourself in the position of the person who has lost the item and try to decide from that vantage point.

And then at the end of the study class there was another ethical dilemma thrown in: What if it is a slave that is found and the finder believes that slavery is wrong....

And reading other commentary on this brought up yet another interesting connection:

In chapter 22 of our parashah, the mitzvah of returning lost property is also repeated from Exodus. Exodus 23:4 states that an ox gone astray, even the enemy's ox, must be returned. Deuteronomy 22:1 again commands that the ox be returned, but this time uses the word "fellow." Rabbi Bachya ben Asher, a 13th century commentator, teaches that this difference in the wording between the two parashiyot tells us that returning an animal to our enemy has the potential to eliminate our hatred. In other words, we always have the opportunity to turn an enemy into a fellow, or friend. This characteristic is labeled as heroic in the Talmud, and it presents a challenge to each of us in our efforts to turn adversaries into advocates.

More links:
Lost & Found - Hide & Seek

Laws in Deuteronomy this is a more general link but it is very interesting summary of Deuteronomy mitzvot.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

It is about Separation....

Guest Teacher: R. Uri Regev, World Union For Progressive Judaism

Deut. 22:
The rules of Lost & Found:
If you find an ox that belongs to your "fellow Israelite" - return it.

Well, the translation really doesn't say "fellow Israelite" but that is how it is translated in many cases. It is not entirely clear if it says "fellow" meaning only your neighbor Israelite or if it refers to anyone. This did lead to some trouble because it seems that maybe it is a directive to only take care of your own kind.

The rules of Fashion:
Men do not wear women's apparel, Women do not wear men's apparel, Do not combine wool and linen.

These were NOT about homosexuality at all. It was due to common pagan practices of the times where they dressed as the other sex to 'confuse the gods'.... And one of the most emphatic points of Torah is that we must not do as the pagans do.

Keep wool and linen separate - Keep US separate as a community. It is all about "Separation" - keep the Jews and Gentiles apart.

It is designed to hold the community together and to protect the community from pagan practices.

So, do these laws foster discrimination? Do they keep us from moving forward into modernity? Does Torah hold us back from the changing realities in the world?

In some ways maybe the answer is yes.

The perfect transition to introduce the World Union for Progressive Judaism to our study:

"The mission of the World Union for Progressive Judaism is to preserve Jewish integrity wherever Jews live; to encourage integration without assimilation; to respond to modernity while perpetuating the Jewish experience; to pursue social justice and equal rights for all."

Explore their site and learn about their activities and support the Reform movement world wide to open new doors to the Jewish community in the world.

Gruesome Images - Lead to Practical Laws

Why people were into such gruesome displays of public punishment (or maybe I should say 'are') is not clear. But the Torah says that if the body of a dead criminal is impaled on a stake (or hung on a tree) it needs to be removed within one day.... (Deut 21:22-23).

There are several places in the Bible that describe this punishment: Joseph's dream interpretations in Gen 40; In Joshua after the conquest of the Amorite Kings; and 5 times in the Book of Esther. So this must have been considered a real deterrent for crime. And in Deut 28 - a list of curses - includes mention of a body on display being eaten by birds. This was thought to be a common practice in Egypt.

OK so this is bad for everyone and it is a curse on the land and a curse on man and a curse against God as well. Why? It comes down to the body being made in the image of God. So this law to take it down within 24 hours to try to avoid this curse.

Talmudic interpretations of this leads to the law about prompt burial of anyone. (If that is the law for the criminal - so much more so to be prompt to bury the righteous)... Thus the rules to bury someone quickly after their death - in 24 hours if possible - or maybe some delay for a family to gather (for example) if it is to bring more honor to the dead person.

Here are some other links with commentary on this tradition:
Prompt Burial

Good description of Burial Traditions

Links to Jewish Traditions Around Death