Tuesday, June 19, 2007

My annual lament

"There is within a person a desire and a longing for theft and illicit relations." --Chagigah 11b

"The punishment for dishonest weights and measures is more severe than that for illicit relations." --Bava Bathra 88b

Over at the blog about the dirty thoughts Gil has posted a summary of some Rabbi's annual tznius screed. Now that the weather is warmer, they've begun in my neighborhood, too. And, as in the past, I'm annoyed at the misplaced priorities.

Why, for instance, don't these same rabbis introduce tax season with a screed about fraud? Why aren't we ever treated to long lectures about business ethics? I've studied the Prophets. I've even read the Mesilas Yesharim. Both go on for pages and pages about ethics and honesty. Both are overwhelmingly concerned with how we treat each other. Both make it clear that the very worst thing a Jew can do is STEAL. Both make it very clear that God demands HONESTY above all else.

So why does every shul Rabbi in America busy himself with modesty? Why is that the number one issue? Why do the pashkevils that deface every alley and every shul wall complain about the way women dress? Why aren't they shouting about the business behavior of their husbands?

In fact, the Mesilas Yesharim concerns itself mightily with the rules of good business listing one requirement after another, requirements that likely seem to us like stringencies but in fact are not:

1 - R. Yehudah forbade a storekeeper to distribute roasted grain and nuts to children to accustom them to come to him; the other Sages permitted it only because his competitor could do the same (Bava Metzia 60a).

2 - Our Sages also exempted hired workers from the blessing over bread and from the latter blessings of Grace. And even in the case of the Shema they required them to leave off working only for the recitation of the first section (Berachoth 16b).

3- Abba Chilkiyah did not even return the greeting of Scholars so that he would not interrupt the work he was doing for his neighbor (Ta'anith 23b).

4 - Along the same lines our Sages of blessed memory have said (Bava Kamma 94a), "One who steals a measure of wheat, grinds it, bakes it and pronounces a blessing over it, is not blessing, but abusing, as it is written (Psalms 10:3), `And the thief who blesses, abuses God.' "

5 - Our Sages of blessed memory have said (Chullin 94a) that it is forbidden also to fool a non-Jew. It is written (Zephaniah 3:13), "The remnant of Israel will not do iniquity and they will not speak falsehood, and a deceiving tongue will not be found in their mouths."

6 - Our Sages have said (Bava Metzia 60a), "It is forbidden to paint old vessels to give them the appearance of new ones. It is forbidden to mix the fruits of one field with those of another, though the latter be just as fresh as the first, and though they be worth a dinar and a tresis per measure, and the combination be sold for only a dinar per measure." "All who do these, all doers of wrong" (Deuteronomy 25:16). Five designations have been applied to them: "wrong," "hateful," "abominable," "despised," "detested." (Sijra 19.35).

7 - Our Sages of blessed memory have further stated (Bava Kamma 119a), "If one steals even the worth of a prutah from his neighbor, it is as if he takes his soul from him." This statement
reveals to us the severity of this sin even where a trifling amount is involved.

8 - And they said again (Ta'anith 7b), "The rains are held back only
[emphasis added] because of the sin of theft," and again, (Vayikra Rabbah 33.3), "in a basketful of sins, which is the most incriminating?- theft." [emphasis added] The doom of the generation of the flood was sealed only because of the sin of theft (Sanhedrin 108a).

And though this final point isn't found in the Mesilas Yesharim I make is anyway in light of the 200+ comment argument still raging below. Every God-fearing Jew seems to hate gays. Men like RYL make a point of it, and rely on a biblical verse for justification. What men like RYL seem not to notice is this: The word in the verse about gays, also appears in the verse about business fraud. Anal sex is a toayvah. Cheating at business is a toayvah. Therefore, if you rage about homosexuality without also raging about thievery -in all its forms- you are at best both a bigot and a hypocrite.

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