Thursday, November 5, 2009

Vayera—A Proposed Akeda

The Akeda is symbolic of two ostensibly contradictory impulses in Judaism.

The first is how it is supposed to embody the strength of our relationship with G-d as exemplified by our willingness to sacrifice everything for Him. So much so that we recite the passage daily and implore G-d to “squelch His anger the way Avraham squelched his mercy” [which somewhat amplifies its self-contradictory nature].

The second impulse is Yirmiyahu 19:5 quoted in Taanis 4a, where the Akeda, Yiftach’s sacrifice of his daughter, and Mesha Melech Moav’s sacrifice of his son to Moloch are all referred to as what G-d had “neither commanded, nor spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind.” Many an analogy has been made with current Islamist practice of suicide bombing as the modern-day equivalent of Moloch worship.

I originally was all set to use this notion as a jumping-off point to the recent tragedy at Fort Hood and the continuing reluctance of most media outlets to refer to the religion of the perpetrator. I’ve always said, at times, we have to thank G-d for the fundamentalist strains in other religions; they make us look good.

Then I came across this recent story:“A rabbinical court imprisoned a man because of violence and his refusal to grant a divorce. Yet the court differentiated between "regular beatings" which does not merit a hiyuv get [a rabbinical mandate to force the man to grant a divorce], and beatings that can kill, which does in fact merit a hiyuv get (see haDin ve-haDayan 4[3]). In the opinion of the rabbinical court, it seems that "regular" beatings are something that a woman is capable of living with, and in any event, divorce should not be imposed because of it. An act that constitutes a criminal offense in the State of Israel does not constitute grounds for divorce in the rabbinical court. “

Their justification?

“…in this new reality, in which [the civil courts] want to bind the hands of the rabbinical courts so that they will be unable to continue to rule on agreements that they ratified [the woman's appeal to the Supreme Court], and in which civil courts enjoy easily nullifying decisions of the rabbinical courts, this situation has the potential to cause serious harm...".

Apparently, “extra-halachic” considerations motivated the bes din to impose their own “akeda” upon the woman/women suffering in these marriages. Better to take one for the team even if it leads to the halachic sanction of wife-beating [which this is].

I propose we conduct an akeda of our own. 

I would go as far as finding out:

  • who their own poskim and rabbinic mentors are;
  • where they learned in Yeshiva;
  • where they teach and who is responsible for hiring them;
  • whether they have published sefarim and/or shailos/tshuvos, and who publishes them;
  • if any of them are marei d’asra or serve in any shul leadership capacity, have this tshuva posted in their shuls and neighborhoods so that their kehillos know that they condone wife beating. [Let them deny it.]

I wouldn’t limit it to the above; I might actually have a criminal investigation opened up, alleging that domestic violence is being condoned [if not advocated].

There’s a story which may or may not be an Orthodox urban legend about a group of women who, upon hearing that a certain individual in their community was withholding a get, took it upon themselves to not go to mikvah until the get was granted. That may have been the best modern day example of halachic civil disobedience.

This is different.  It is not a case of a “theoretical” halachic decision, or a rabbi musing about a world that is not sympathetic to halachic concerns.  These people need to be “sacrificed” for the impression of Torah they give, as the kind of people who lead to our being equated with the reactionary elements in other religions. And, in light of their justifications of their psak, it’s mida kneged mida.

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