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Jewish Laws. The Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Odd

In researching my previous blog about using the fear of god to encourage moral behaviour, I came across a list of the 613 commandments which jews are meant to follow. Before I read them, I had assumed that most would be either anachronistic or simply arcane. However, several set me thinking that maybe the bearded ones were not as tyrannical or irrational as I imagined they might be. However, some of the laws do not stand the test of time, and some are simply unpleasant at best, and bordering on evil.

The largest bunch of laws are to do with sacrificing animals. Who does it, when and with what type of beast. Why ancients thought that killing an animal in any way affected the way a deity might feel about them is mysterious at best. However, there is also a great deal of advice about helping the poor and less fortunate - although inevitably poor and unfortunate Jews are favoured over everyone else. Intriguingly there is even a law which had Shakespeare and his audiences known about - not forcing a poor man to repay a debt - would have denied his scenario for The Merchant of Venice.

Some laws are, however, pure evil. Modern Jewry needs to openly and proudly rescind these laws and divert all followers towards a more harmonious existence with their fellow man.

I was born a jew and mean no offence to anyone by selecting these laws, but some are sufficiently interesting to bear highlighting. My own comments are in italics:

24 Not to inquire into idolatry Lev. 19:4
There is a fear pervading these laws that Jews might be attracted by other philosophies. Respecting that everyone needs to question their beliefs is surely healthy and should not be banned by law.

25 Not to follow the whims of your heart or what your eyes see Num. 15:39

31 Not to make human forms even for decorative purposes Ex. 20:21
This is clearly nuts. Again the fear is idolatry, but human form deserves to be celebrated and explored artistically, not feared.

51 Not to bow down before a smooth stone Lev. 26:1

52 Not to plant a tree in the Temple courtyard Deut. 16:21

58 Not to let idolaters dwell in the Land of Israel Ex. 23:33
General intolerance of others pervades these laws. Multi-culturalism is healthy and not to be feared - although the other parties need to offer the same tolerance (this is not intended as a political treatise)

67 Not to perform acts of magic Deut. 18:10

68 Men must not shave the hair off the sides of their head Lev. 19:27

69 Men must not shave their beards with a razor Lev. 19:27

70 Men must not wear women's clothing Deut. 22:5

71 Women must not wear men's clothing Deut. 22:5

72 Not to tattoo the skin Lev. 19:28

73 Not to tear the skin in mourning Deut. 14:1

74 Not to make a bald spot in mourning Deut. 14:1

86 To circumcise all males on the eighth day after their birth Gen. 17:10
Genital mutilation is simply wrong and should be outlawed. There is no medical justification for it, and it causes considerable suffering to (un-anaesthetised) babies.

124 Not to withhold food, clothing, and sexual relations from your wife Ex. 21:10
Performing to order might challenge some relationships

128 To marry the widow of one's childless brother Deut. 25:5

130 The widow must not remarry until the ties with her brother-in-law are removed Deut. 25:5

131 The court must fine one who sexually seduces a maiden Ex. 22:15-16
Just a fine!

132 The rapist must marry the seduced maiden Deut. 22:29
I very much doubt she would appreciate this.

133 He is never allowed to divorce her Deut. 22:29
or this

157 A man must not have sexual relations with a man Lev. 18:22

161 Not to have sexual relations with a menstrually impure woman Lev. 18:19

162 Not to marry non-Jews Deut. 7:3

163 Not to let Moabite and Ammonite males marry into the Jewish people Deut. 23:4

164 Not to prevent a third-generation Egyptian convert from marrying into the Jewish people Deut. 23:8-9
Interesting window of opportunity denied to Moabites and Ammonites (I thought they were fossils).

166 Not to let a child born due to an illegal relationship marry into the Jewish people Deut. 23:3
Generous example of tolerance - not.

167 Not to let a eunuch marry into the Jewish people Deut. 23:2

168 Not to offer to God any castrated male animals Lev. 22:24

175 Not to make pleasurable (sexual) contact with any forbidden woman Lev. 18:6

179 To examine the signs of locusts to distinguish between kosher and non-kosher Lev. 11:21
Suggesting that there is such a thing as a kosher locust. Yum.

185 Not to eat non-kosher maggots Lev. 11:44
Kosher are best

189 Not to benefit from an ox condemned to be stoned Ex. 21:28
What did the ox do to deserve such cruelty?

236 Not to crossbreed animals Lev. 19:19

238 Not to wear a cloth woven of wool and linen Deut. 22:11
Maybe it simply is hard to weave such a thing, but mysterious as to why it should be forbidden otherwise.

278 To break the neck of the donkey if the owner does not intend to redeem it Ex. 13:13
Plenty of animal cruelty abounding in these laws.

302 Not to build the altar with stones hewn by metal Ex. 20:24

303 Not to climb steps to the altar Ex. 20:27

327 Impure people must not enter the Temple Num. 5:3

332 A Kohen with a physical blemish must not enter the sanctuary or approach the altar Lev. 21:23

333 A Kohen with a physical blemish must not serve Lev. 21:17

334 A Kohen with a temporary blemish must not serve Lev. 21:17

346 Not to offer animals bought with the wages of a harlot or the animal exchanged for a dog Deut. 23:19

347 Not to burn honey or yeast on the altar Lev. 2:11

354 Not to decapitate a fowl brought as a sin offering Lev. 5:8

360 Not to eat the meat of minor sacrifices before sprinkling the blood Deut. 12:17

362 Not to put oil on the meal offerings of wrongdoers Lev. 5:11

438 A man who had a running (unnatural urinary) issue must bring an offering (in the Temple) after he goes to the Mikveh Lev. 15:13-14

487 Save someone being pursued even by taking the life of the pursuer Deut. 25:12

488 Not to pity the pursuer Num. 35:12

491 Break the neck of a calf by the river valley following an unsolved murder Deut. 21:4

514 Canaanite slaves must work forever unless injured in one of their limbs Lev. 25:46
They do not like Canaanites - see later

537 Lend to and borrow from idolaters with interest Deut. 23:21
Interestingly all three Abrahamic faiths state you can't charge interest on loans, but the Jews, cunningly, state it is OK to charge interest to non-jews - in fact they must.

545 The courts must carry out the death penalty of stoning Deut. 22:24

546 The courts must carry out the death penalty of burning Lev. 20:14

547 The courts must carry out the death penalty of the sword Ex. 21:20

548 The courts must carry out the death penalty of strangulation Lev. 20:10

549 The courts must hang those stoned for blasphemy or idolatry Deut. 21:22
In case they're not dead?

552 The court must not let the sorcerer live Ex. 22:17
Harry Potter beware.

553 The court must give lashes to the wrongdoer Deut. 25:2

577 Punish the false witnesses as they tried to punish the defendant Deut. 19:19
Interesting idea here. We have contempt of court as a sanction, but wouldn't this make witnesses less likely to lie?

593 The king must not have too many wives Deut. 17:17
These laws seem to prevent even kings from having too much fun. Healthy that even they're not above the law.

594 The king must not have too many horses Deut. 17:16

595 The king must not have too much silver and gold Deut. 17:17
I wonder what 'too much' means.

596 Destroy the seven Canaanite nations Deut. 20:17
Whoa! I got used to ploughing through hundreds of laws instructing me in moral behaviour - and then I came across an instruction to commit genocide!!! Surely today's Jews need to cancel this one - and the ones below.

597 Not to let any of them remain alive Deut. 20:16

598 Wipe out the descendants of Amalek Deut. 25:19
Fair enough. Nobody likes the Amalek...

599 Remember what Amalek did to the Jewish people Deut. 25:17
Revenge is OK apparently

600 Not to forget Amalek's atrocities and ambush on our journey from Egypt in the desert Deut. 25:19
They really don't like the Amalek

601 Not to dwell permanently in Egypt Deut. 17:16
Sound advice right now.


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