Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Preposterous Pentecostal Parlor Games

If you're the parent of small, haredi-educated children you're likely to be told about one or both of these silly numerical coincidences over the upcoming holiday weekend. As a service to you, my dear freeloading reader, I've provide appropriate rejoinders

Remarkable Ruth

"The gematria of Ruth is 606. Add that to the seven mitzvot she kept before her conversion (righteous gentiles keep the seven Noahide laws)  and the sum is 613, the number of mitzvot she kept after conversion."

Problems to point out

#1: Gematrias are notoriously slippery. If Ruth calculated to something else, don't you think the perpetrator of this silly parlor game would have found a way to make it work anyway? By adding the number of times the word mitzvah appears in Ruth, let's say, or the number of days it took the Jews to get to Sinai after the Exodus?

#2: Ruth didn't keep 613 mitzvos after conversion. Many of them are only applicable to men, or to kohanim, or to land-owners. Ruth was none of those things.

#3: Why are we certain Ruth kept the Noahide laws. Perhaps she had a taste for shell food? (Prohibition of eating flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive) And isn't it likely she worshipped idols?

Miraculous Milk

"We eat dairy on Shavuot because Moshe was on the mountain for 40 days, and 40 is the gematria of milk."

Problems to point out

#1: So what? Why should the length of his sojourn on Sinai have any bearing on the contents of our holiday menu?

#2 Does it follow from this that the Sages sat around the wisdom table, planning out new customs when someone said, "Okay, we need something spiffy for Shavuot. Who has ideas? "

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