Sunday, December 24, 2006

Is the Talmud unethical? (Example 1)

I had opportunity yesterday, during the last Shabbat of Chanukkah, to think about the blech. A blech is a talmudic requirement that is followed in all orthodox homes. It basically works like this: You put the blech, which is a metal panel with raised edges, over the burners on your gas stove. (Electric stoves are not kosher.) Then you turn on your gas to cook your Erev Shabbat meal, and you leave the gas on underneath the blech for the 25 hours of Shabbat, plus the time it takes to fix your meal after Havdalah on Saturday evening.

That's a lot of wasted gas, class.

The Rabbis devised this scheme to avoid kindling a fire on Shabbat, in accordance with their talmudic requirement to have hot meals. Sounds good at first glance, doesn't it.

But I perceive some problems. First and foremost, the natural gas is a non-renewable resource. Wasting it is not good stewardship of our resources. Is this right?

Secondly, the fact that so many people waste the gas means there is increased scarcity of it. This makes the price of the gas higher, which is not good stewardship of the money that God gives us every months. Is this a good idea?

Thirdly, driving up the price by wasting gas for hours and hours once a week burdens the poor, which God strictly commands us NOT to do. Is this ethical?

Fourth, natural gas comes from the same fields and is harvested by the same Arab countries that want Israel and Jews wiped off the face of the earth. Does God want us to fund terrorism on Shabbat? On any day of the week? How many of our brothers and sisters will die because we gave money to Muslims? Should we ignore this?

Tens of thousands of Jewish families use the blech every week - wasting millions and millions of BTU's of natural gas. Is this what God wants?

Did our ancestors use a blech? Obviously not. They didn't have natural gas. Did God tell anyone on Mt. Sinai to use one? Well, the orthodox would say yes. Anyone else would say no, God wouldn't command people to waste resources and burden the poor. So is the talmud really the word of God, or the rulings of male rabbis who had only a medieval understanding of science, economics, geology, and natural resources? Is it ethical for us to turn a blind eye to what is being done with the money we spend wasting the gas? Is this ethical?

I am thinking it isn't, class. We are responsible for the results of the choices we make as consumers, regardless of how ignorant the rabbis are on the subject. It's time to stop blindly following tradition and be realistic participants in the modern world.

(The hate mail will now commence.)

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