God’s Diet for Humanity
a.k.a. Parashat Shemini
On the eighth day, once the seven-day ordination of Aaron and his sons was complete,
Moses called the priests, elders and people together. Moses told Aaron to bring animal and cereal offerings
and sacrifice them to God. The glory of God was soon to be
revealed to Aaron.
Aaron dutifully carried out the required ritual functions, then he lifted his hands
towards the people and blessed them. Moses and Aaron went inside the tent of meeting. When they came out they
blessed the people and the glory of God was revealed to all the people. Fire flamed forth from before God,
and consumed the burnt offering and its fatty parts. When the people saw this they shouted in wonder and
Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, each took his fire pan, put fire and incense in it, and
offered unholy fire to God. Fire burst forth from before God and burnt them alive. Moses said to Aaron, “God
has said, ‘I will show myself holy through those who are nearest to me and I will thus be glorified before
all the people’.” Aaron was silent.
Moses called two of the dead men’s relatives and told them to carry their bodies from
the sanctuary out of the camp. And Moses said to Aaron and his two other sons, “Don’t show your grief lest
you die and God’s wrath be visited upon us all. But know that the whole house of Israel will mourn this act
of God.” He added: “Don’t leave the door of the tent of meeting lest you die, for God’s anointing oil is upon
you.” The men obeyed Moses.
Then God spoke to Aaron, saying, “On pain of death, neither you nor your sons must
drink wine or any alcohol before entering the tent of meeting. This is to be an everlasting rule. You are to
exemplify the sacred, not the profane, and you must teach the people all the things that I have told
Then Moses told Aaron and his two remaining sons to make an offering to
God told Moses and Aaron to say this to the people: “Here is a list of the living
things that you are allowed to eat.
“Animals with cloven hooves that chew the cud may be eaten. However, there are animals
that either chew the cud or have cloven hooves that you may not eat, and they are: camels, rabbits, hares and
pigs. Don’t eat them or touch their carcasses – they are unclean.
“You can eat every creature from the waters of the earth that have fins and scales.
The excluded creatures are an abomination to you.
“Certain birds are also an abomination: eagles, vultures, ospreys, kites, falcons,
ravens, ostriches, seagulls, hawks, owls, cormorants, ibises, water hens, pelicans, storks, herons, hoopoes
“Winged insects that go on all fours are also forbidden as food. Of winged insects
that go on all fours you may eat those that have legs above their feet to leap on the earth – locusts,
crickets and grasshoppers. All other winged, crawling things are an abomination.
“Animals that walk on paws are unclean. Also unclean are living things that creep on
the ground, such as moles, mice, lizards, crocodiles and chameleons. Whoever touches anything unclean remains
unclean until the evening after which they become clean again.
“Every swarming creature is an abomination – creatures that move on their bellies, go
on all fours or have many feet.
“You must not make yourselves unclean by eating these things. I am the Lord your God
and you must consecrate yourselves and be holy because I am holy. I am the Lord who brought you up out of
Egypt to be your God, so you shall therefore be holy.”
These, then, are the dietary laws applying to the eating of every beast, bird and
Commentary on the 25th parsha (portion of the Torah). The Torah consists of the
five books of Moses, the first part of the Old Testament.
To get to grips with this parsha, our Supermaven, Sigmund Albert Spinoza, interviews
Methuselah Solomon (an Ancient Elder). Supermaven is a modern philosopher who is trying to understand Judaism
and how we got where we are.
He will do this every week by investigating the Old Testament.
SAS: In this portion, the
people are given an extensive list of what they may not eat. Is this primitive set of prohibitions really
necessary as a central tenet of Jewish belief and practices?
MS: Actually they’re of great
importance. Following these dietary rules is a fundamental part of Judaism. It’s not dispensable.
SAS: My friend, seafood such
as lobster, crayfish and prawns are an absolute delicacy and quite a lot of Jews eat them, mostly
non-observant, and also observant Jews who cheat a little. Also, many Jews follow their own personal modified
set of prohibitions.
MS: I assume you are one of
the non-observant Jews.
SAS: I will not upset you by
describing the amazing owl pie I had for supper last night. Oh, Methuselah, don’t look so upset – I’m only
joking. But tell me, what are these dietary laws really about?
Was it just an elaborate custom? Or is there some sensible point behind these
MS: The point behind these
prohibitions is that they come from God, who has commanded us to be holy as He is holy. God knows that our
spiritual wellbeing is connected to our physical wellbeing. He has identified foodstuffs that do not benefit
us physically and, indeed, degrade us by eating them.
SAS: Since there is no God,
we can discount that explanation. I don’t think our Jewish forebears were any great experts in hygiene either
and I doubt it was foremost in their considerations. The main point was to promote obedience and conformity.
The next consideration was to exclude creatures that were naturally repugnant – like snakes, lizards, moles
and mice. If hygiene came into things, it was a lesser consideration.
MS: You are completely wrong
in your views. Of course God exists, and since His laws are rational you will find that the foods He
prohibited are not good for humankind. You also underestimate our forefathers. They may have lacked
explanations for why certain foods were unwholesome, but they would have known – through experience and
common sense – which foods weren’t nutritious and made people sick.
SAS: Well, they were
certainly right about shellfish, for instance, which can carry unhealthy parasites and toxins, and also birds
of prey which can carry disease from the carrion they ingest. And pork not properly cooked may contain
trichinosis. Whether their proscriptions were made through knowledge of such things is a matter of debate. I
think their instinctive mistrust of certain foods happened to be right. But I see no need to believe that
there was any divine command behind our laws of kashrut. We made the rules up as we went along, and after a
while it became necessary to enforce them strictly to unify the people and promote obedience and uniformity
in the community.
MS: Leave God out of the
explanation and you will come up with wrong answers and explanations that are woefully
SAS: Well, we’ll never agree
on the role of this character you call God, since for me he’s another word for society writ large. But I know
why you started this discussion on food. You wanted to divert my attention from the beginning of the parsha.
That’s because God behaves cruelly, punitively and unreasonably here and you didn’t want me to point that
MS: I resent your
implication. There is nothing in our bible that I am not willing or able to defend.
SAS: Defend this – God’s
horrifying murder of Nadab and Abihu! This episode is a seriously strange one and this character, God comes
out of it very badly indeed. These two priests begin their career with a mistake at the altar and your God
punishes them with a painful death! I thought people were allowed to make mistakes. Whether they meant to
create unholy fire or not, this was a shockingly severe punishment.
MS: No, it wasn’t. Nadab and
Abihu had been called to the highest level of service in the community. They failed in their sacred duty, and
mocked God with an unholy offering. They deserved their punishment.
SAS: Apart from anything
else, this was a shocking waste of priestly resources. God puts Aaron and his four sons through a week of
purification and then kills two of the sons on the eighth day. Far better if he had foreseen the error they
were to make, and helped them to avoid it! How do you know they intended to mock God? They made a
MS: Men cannot avoid the
consequences of their actions, especially not priests called to dedicate their lives to
SAS: You might see justice in
this dreadful act of vengeance for a perceived insult. I don’t, and I don’t see any nobility in Moses’
actions either. He manages to restrain Aaron from expressing very understandable grief in case God takes
offence and kills him too. Moses probably doesn’t want to lose his brother, and he doesn’t want to make this
vengeful capricious God to take it out on anyone else. He pacifies Aaron by assuring him that the whole
community is going to mourn this act of God. Well, the implication is clear – God is a tyrant whose actions
cannot be questioned in case he kills even more people! Everyone lives in mortal fear of him. So vicious is
he that he would even begrudge a father mourning his own sons while on duty at the temple. On top of this,
God makes a cryptic comment that reads like a veiled threat – “I will show myself holy through those who are
nearest to me and I will thus be glorified before all the people”. This implies that the priests (those
“nearest to Him”) are there to boost his reputation and sing his praises, and woe betide them if they don’t!
They’ll be consumed by fire if they don’t shape up! I thought that the rules forbade human sacrifice. These
priests turned into burnt offerings all right.
MS: You love reading between
the lines, but here you have failed to spot the real reason for the deaths – so much for your ability to read
sub-text. After the death of Nadab and Abihu, Moses delivers a message about the evils of drinking alcohol
before entering the tent of meeting. Do you not get the implication?
SAS: The two priests were
drunk at the altar? OK, I can see that the text could be read like that. But that only makes the punishment
of God more unjust! If Nadab and Abihu were tipsy, they had diminished responsibility owing to their
MS: They had an absolute
responsibility to serve God in a state of purity and holiness. They did not show the proper respect and
reaped the consequences of their own action.
SAS: By being burnt alive by
a loving God?
MS: By burning in a fire
issuing from a holy place. Did I say God killed them? I did not. I reported that they were killed by a fire
coming from “before God”.
SAS: It’s the same
MS: No, the actual cause of
their deaths is a mystery. They may have incinerated themselves in a drunken accident as they misapplied the
procedures at the altar.
SAS: But Moses himself refers
to the deaths as an “act of God”!
MS: Do you always interpret
that expression literally?
SAS: No we don’t – point
taken. But I’m sure you do. Your story clearly implies that divine punishment took place. That’s bad enough,
but Moses’ response is icing on this evil cake. He effectively says to Aaron, “Be quiet, do your duty and
carry on as if nothing abnormal has happened. Don’t show weakness or sorrow. Stay at your post and set the
perfect example of single-minded devotion to God.” The cruelty of this injunction is extraordinary and
reveals the inhumanity of the cult Moses was fronting. Obedience to God and the cult had to override mourning
for two beloved sons. It beggars belief that you champion a text that upholds stoical acceptance of divine
MS: The truth is that people
reap what they sow.
SAS: If I lived in those
times, I would have chosen others places to sow than around the altar of your bloodthirsty
The Parsha we have just read comes from the five books of Moses, the Torah. The
dialogues between Sigmund Albert Spinoza and Methuselah Solomon are about the meaning of the
What we know about Jewish
History, however, is based in fact, and on historical records.
If you’d like to know more about the real history of our
extended Jewish family, read on.
Publishing Scandal: The Infamous Protocols
“The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was a literary forgery written some time between
1895 and 1899 and first published in 1905 by Sergei Nilus in Russia. Nilus claimed that “The Protocols” was
stolen from a Zionist base in France. Other “editors” said the text was read at secret sessions of the first
Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897 where Jews and Freemasons schemed to take over the world.
The document purports to be an instruction manual to be used by a newly inducted
member of the “elders”, shadowy figures bent on world domination through controlling the media and the
world’s financial institutions.
The author of this work was possibly Matvei Golovinski, a French-Russian journalist
and an agent provocateur for the tsarist secret police. The theory goes that he wanted to persuade Czar
Nicholas II that the modernization of Russia was a Jewish plot. Russian spy Pytor Ivanovich Rachovsky is also
named by some as the author. Again, the primary motive was to counter modernization in Russia that allegedly
played into the hands of the Zionists.
The document, in point of fact, is a forgery partly based on a chapter from a
19th century novel, “Biarritz”, by German bureaucrat Hermann Goedsche, who lifted the plot from
Frenchman Maurice Joly’s “The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu”, a work which makes no
reference to Jews and was written as a satirical attack on Napoleon III. The elders of the title aim to trick
the “Goyim” into doing their bidding as they strive to control the world by implementing their 24
There is a commitment in the document to promoting all sorts of theories – Marxism,
Socialism and Darwinism amongst them – to undermine the established order. There is also a commitment to
promoting atheism so that Judaism can eventually supersede the other religions once they have all been
The text reached the West in 1920 and its themes were highlighted by anti-Semitic
groups, most notably by the Nazis. “The Protocols” sold well when published in Europe. In England five
editions sold out in 1920, and the book did well in the Arab world. In America, Henry Ford paid for the
publishing of 500,000 copies. He said the Protocols fitted in well with world events.
In a series of articles in 1921, The Times newspaper demonstrated that the protocols
were a forgery. Hitler and The Nazis, however, presented the work as authentic, and Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” is
based to a significant degree on ideas found in the Protocols. Goebbels ordered that the text of the
Protocols be translated into many languages.
In 1935 a Swiss judge ruled, in a court case, that the work was a forgery. In spite of
its bogus nature, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” has continued to sell well in the Arab world, notably
in Syria, where it is often assumed to be an authentic document. Saudi Arabian text books for schools have
contained extracts from the work, which has been presented as a genuine document.
The charter of Hamas refers to the Protocols. It is believed to be authentic in large
parts of South America and Asia, especially Japan. In America, the text is distributed by Louis Farrakhan’s
Nation of Islam. A few years ago it was sold online by Wal-Mart.
The Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups still disseminate it.
Here follows a discussion on this historical segment by Dad, Chaya and
CHAYA: Is it true that “The
Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is the second most widely published book in history? I read that on the
Internet and find it hard to believe.
BEN: Why? There are enough
anti-Semites out there who leap at the chance to read it.
DAD: It depends what you mean
exactly by the second most widely published book. Are we talking about editions, countries it’s been
published in or numbers of copies published? I doubt that a shady book like this can be easily tracked
through its various editions, not to mention its online dissemination. So I’d be wary of using a description
like “second most widely published book”.
BEN: The point, though, is
that it’s done the rounds – many people have read it and believed its lies.
DAD: Yes, because it
confirmed their prejudices. The fact that reputable commentators have debunked the myths surrounding the
document and exposed it as a forgery has had little effect on those who’ve prejudged the
CHAYA: All they need do is go
online and see synoptic comparisons between the protocols and sizeable chunks of Joly’s text. It’s right
there to see – the protocols are a crib job and any fool can see it.
DAD: But not those who can
find a conspiracy anywhere. They’ll say the Zionists filched the lines from Joly because it suited their
purpose. Once conspiracy theorists believe a story, they will twist all the data to fit it – even when their
beliefs provide the least plausible explanations of the known facts.
BEN: It’s one thing being
gullible about the book as a serious Zionist document, but when so-called analysts start saying that the
protocols start making sense of history … well, that’s just pathetic. I’d always admired Henry Ford, but his
paying to publishing that garbage shocks me and disgusts me.
CHAYA: I can’t say I’m
shocked. Some of the most famous people have been guilty of anti-Semitism … Richard Wagner, T.S. Eliot,
Thomas Edison, H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw …
BEN: Don’t forget Mel Gibson.
Yes, it’s always a blow to find that people you otherwise admire can have such prejudice and hatred in their
DAD: Worst of all, they
display ignorance. And amongst the educated and the influential, there is simply no excuse for
Every Shabbat we read five short sayings that express, with typically Jewish wit and
humour, insightful reflections on this life of ours.
Here are tonight’s sayings:
· When a wallet grows, so do necessities.
· What does a poor man have that a rich man doesn’t? Nothing.
· The man who thinks that anything can be accomplished by money is likely to do anything
· What a fat belly costs, I wish I had; what a fat belly does, I wish on my
· The greatest of worries won’t pay the smallest of debts.
Celebration of Great Lives
Every Friday night we celebrate the achievements of our Jewish family in contributing
to changing the world for the better and having an extraordinary impact on those around
Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaqi, more commonly known as Rashi, was a French rabbi who produced
the first comprehensive commentaries on the Tanakh, the Torah and the Talmud. Both Ashkenazi and Sephardic
Jews accepted his commentaries as authoritative. He is famed for elucidating texts in an economical and
direct way, yet his work was also viewed as profound and his analysis penetrating. His literary and scholarly
gifts were extraordinary. Rashi’s commentaries on the Bible and Talmud remain standard works to this day and
provide an indispensable key to their understanding. His comments influenced the classic European translation
of Bible. He based his commentary on the Babylonian Talmud which
became the basis for decision-making about religious matters. He
was one of the true masters of Jewish thought.
Max Wertheimer (1880-1943)
He was born in Prague
and died in New York. He was one of the founders of Gestalt
psychology. He studied law for more than two years, but decided then to change to philosophy. He got
his doctoral degree from the University of
Würzburg in 1904. In 1910 he worked at the Psychological Institute of Frankfurt University.
There he became interested in perception. Together
with two younger assistants, Wolfgang
Köhler and Kurt Koffka he
studied the effect of moving pictures a tachistoscope generates. In 1912 he published his
seminal paper on “Experimental Studies of the Perception of Movement.” Gestalt psychology was very much a
revolution against the established order in psychology. In its early years the exposing of the inadequacies of
the entrenched position in psychology was almost as important to the Gestaltists as their positive
contributions. They aspired to nothing less than a complete revision of psychology, but from the figure down
rather than from the ground up. In contemporary psychology books around the world, Wertheimer’s major
accomplishments are now treated as landmarks in history due to his research contributions to the
psychology of perception and thinking. In 1933 he escaped Germany to
the United States, where he taught at the New School
for Social Research in New York City.
There he wrote his book Productive Thinking. Wertheimer is seen as one of the founding fathers of modern