Tuesday, February 01, 2005


One of the more famous and less liberal stories we were taught regarding the revelation on Mount Sinai goes something like this:

Before giving the Torah to Israel, God offered it to the nations of the world. One nation asked, "What does it say?" God answered, "Thou shalt not kill." The nation answered, "What?! No wars?" and rejected it. Another nation asked the same question, and was told: "Thou shalt not steal." Responded the nation: "In that case, no thanks." Finally, God offered the Torah to Israel. We asked no questions, responded, "We will do and we will hear" (Exodus 24:7), and became God's chosen nation. The End. [Source: Sifri to Deuteronomy 33:2]

Like you, I took away the obvious and intended lessons: Jews are great, the other nations suck, it is both proper and fair to view the universe in racialist terms, ie: God wants us to believe that race accounts for differences in human character or ability.

Fast forward to the sequel. Unfortunately, the story's resolution is not so neat and not so tidy as our teachers thought. After God finished with the non- Jewish nations, he met resistance from the very different Jewish nations.

His first stop was Lakewood. "What does it say," asked the kollel boys. God answered: "You shall work for six days, and on the seventh day you shall rest." Lakewood answered: "Work? For six days? Are you nuts?" and rejected it.

God's next stop was Crown Heights, where the Torah was rejected when the Lubovitch heard it contained, "Thou shall have no other God before me." From there God went to Kiryas Joel, where the welfare-fraud-dependant Hasidim turned up their nose at "Thou Shall Not Steal." Williamburg had no interest, because of the part that proscribes charms, amulets, and general superstition. The Sephardim passed because of the business about treating women with a modicum of respect; the Kabalists couldn't stomach "the secret things are for God, as for you just keep the mitzvos." Finally, finally, God arrived in Woodmere, where the Modern Orthodox called a meeting of their board of directors, and, following, a lengthy debate, voted to reject the Torah (and fire the Rabbi) because the whole "rule thing" was just too restrictive and too limiting.

The moral of the story? Once you let bigotry into the proverbial barn, what's stopping it from biting you on the butt?