Tuesday, December 25, 2007

“That Doesn’t Fly” A Toast to the Birthday Boy


(Caveat: This would be more appropriate for Easter but who knows? My blogging days may numbered)

Oaths are awesome and terrifying in Judaism. They are identified with the Days of Awe. Kol Nidre and Hataras Nedarim are suffused with solemnity and introspection . שבועה בנקיטת חפץ has an ancient provenance, as Avraham and Yaakov administered them (using the bris milah as no sefer Torah nor T'filin were available)to Eliezer and Yoseph respectively, and is still in vogue as to be liable for perjury witnesses must first take an oath with one hand on a Bible (or Quran or Origin of the Species) swearing to tell the truth the whole etc. so help me G-d.

Why is this? Why would making an oath lend credibility to one otherwise prepared to lie? IIRC Rishonim (khinukh and/or Kuzari) explain that an oath is essentially an equation. The oath taker is stating “The information I’m about to relate IS AS TRUE as HaShem”. Hence the terrible sin of false oaths. For once having created the equation if the oath-taker lied under oath (s)he has made a lie out of HaShem, khas v’Shalom.

This טעם המצוה is reflected in a Yiddish aphorism נישט געשטויגען און נישט געפלויגען = “Didn’t rise and didn’t fly”. It was the semi-polite way of reacting to someone telling you a lie or a gross exaggeration. A non obsecene expletive of skepticism and utter disbelief. IMO this (along with words such as farklempt and chutzpah) has crept its way into contemporary vernacular American English. We too greet counterintuitive remarks and outright lies (especially alibis) with “That Doesn’t/ Won’t Fly”.

An old-timer Holocaust survivor once explained the aphorism to me. He said that Jesus rising= געשטויגען from the grave three days after the crucifixion and ascending/flying= געפלויגען to heaven were the most fundamental of X-tian tenets. The sensibility of the Jew was that as HaShem is the litmus test of truth against which all other truths are validated, so too the Avodah Zarah of the dominant religion was the falsehood against which all other lies are exposed. Tell a Jew a tall tale? He’ll respond with נישט געשטויגען און נישט געפלויגען. IOW what your telling me is about as true as THAT fairy-tale.

And so birthday boy, I toast you. Enjoy your day but understand that you were conceived, born, lived, died and resurrected a lie. I believe in miracles, but immaculate conception and virgin birth? נישט געשטויגען און נישט געפלויגען!

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