Monday, June 06, 2011

Great moments in Rabbinics: Stoning a Dog

Not really sure what to make of this story, which I have only seen in foreign newspapers, but as per a report in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, a rabbinic court in Jerusalem has stoned a stray dog to death on the grounds that the dog is the reincarnated soul of a lawyer who had previously offended the court.

Here's the story (translation provided by Google)
"The decision to stone the dog was taken by the rabbis because of the potential prejudice to the court. It was not given a proper official ruling, but the children were told to throw stones at the animal. To drive or to bring it down. The intention was not to cause suffering to the dog, rather, they considered the most appropriate way to 'get even' with that soul who has reincarnated in the poor creature"
Two things to remark upon here:
(1) I guess this means Judaism has made up its mind, and decided that souls are reincarnated. It wasn't always so poshut. The wide acceptance of reincarnation is something relatively new under the Jewish sun. In the middle ages, most authorities opposed the tenet of reincarnation, which is not mentioned in the Torah, Mishna, or Talmud (I think). Now, the pendulum has swung, and most authorities think reincarnation is real.  Personally, I don't think accepting reincarnation is good for the Jews (see 2 below) but I find myself wondering what the souls did while the Rabbis were making up their minds. Was reincarnation postponed until after the theology of Lurianic Kabbalah replaced scholastic rationalism, or did the souls continue to reincarnate even while most rabbis believed it was impossible? Will the souls stop reincarnating if, it should happen quickly in our days, some new theology replaces what we have now?

(2) The reason this is bad for the Jews, is because ours is supposed to be religion of personal responsibility and a religion of laws. Our lives are the sum of our own choices. Our successes and failures are our own. Puting the blame on an invisible soul, based on zero evidence, is a great way to avoid personal culpability, but there is little else to recommend it.  Moreover its abhorrent to me that a dog was stoned to death because someone decided, based on no evidence at all, that the dog was the reincarnation of an old enemy. Is this how intelligent people make life and death decisions? And if a court has the power to make this sort of  ruling about a dog, why not a person? I fear this case brings us a step or two closer to the day when Rabbis will be able to say "Joe Blow over there is the reincarnation of Hitler. That's why he offends me. People, get your stones ready."

Let's hope this is a hoax.

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