This coming Friday and Saturday, Jews around the world will recall and celebrate the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. The Ten Commandments are the briefest possible distillation of the 613 Biblical commandments — or alternatively, of the Torah as a whole. Just as the Decalogue by itself gives only the very barest hint of what Torah is all about, so too does any selected extract from the written Torah of Moses, or from the ancient sayings of the rabbis.
I was reminded of this by the comments following a blog entry I posted
in which a Gentile Torah-believer, a Noachide, eloquently wrote of his experience in coming to know God through the medium of Torah. A couple of nasty little anti-Semites then posted their comments with quotes from the Talmud and Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah
that seem unfriendly to Gentiles. I have neither deleted the hateful comments, nor checked out every quotation. There’s no need. Why?
I know perfectly well
that at a surface-level reading, there are upsetting things in the Five Books of Moses, in the Bible as a whole, and in the oral tradition that explains the cryptic material in Scripture, reflected in the Talmud and other ancient rabbinic literature. Quoting the scariest bits is a tactic of hateful people who despite the Bible, especially the Hebrew Bible. It’s like if someone were to photograph some random feature of your face or body and magnify it to huge proportions, projecting it on a screen, separated from the rest of your face or body.
Consider your left nostril. However beautiful you may be as a whole, as I’m sure you are, and however vital your left nostril may be to your overall vital functions, a photo of just that nostril probably wouldn’t be exceptionally charming. If someone posted such a photo around town or on the Internet, it would be a safe bet that that person isn’t your friend, but your enemy.
It’s the same when individual statements from Scripture or the rabbis are sliced out of the grand overall context of Torah and blown up out of proportion, presented as meaningful all by themselves, when they are not. As I suggested, the only people who do this are anti-Semites, haters of the Jews, and haters of God.