Sunday, June 10, 2007

The unintended consequences of bad "interpretations" of Torah

Those of you who read my blog know that one of my main issues with rabbinic orthodoxy is that they never let facts get in the way of their interpretations. No amount of medical, biological, historical, sociological, antropological, chemical facts, no laws of physics, no simple common sense sways them from their appointed rounds. From this you get lovely sections of the Talmud insisting that scorpions morph into some other species in the desert at night, and there exist mer-women who can have “marital relations” with human men and entice them.

I was hoping that I wasn’t going to see any of that in Karaism, but I was disappointed yesterday. Turns out Karaites don’t let facts get in the way of their interpretations, either.

It was a long and convoluted conversation, but the gist of it was this:

Num 1:1 And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying,
Num 1:2 Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with the number of their names, every male by their polls;
Num 1:3 From twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies.
Num 1:4 And with you there shall be a man of every tribe; every one head of the house of his fathers.
Num 1:5 And these are the names of the men that shall stand with you: of the tribe of Reuben; Elizur the son of Shedeur.
Num 1:6 Of Simeon; Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai.
Num 1:7 Of Judah; Nahshon the son of Amminadab.
Num 1:8 Of Issachar; Nethaneel the son of Zuar.
Num 1:9 Of Zebulun; Eliab the son of Helon.
Num 1:10 Of the children of Joseph: of Ephraim; Elishama the son of Ammihud: of Manasseh; Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur.
Num 1:11 Of Benjamin; Abidan the son of Gideoni.
Num 1:12 Of Dan; Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai.
Num 1:13 Of Asher; Pagiel the son of Ocran.
Num 1:14 Of Gad; Eliasaph the son of Deuel.
Num 1:15 Of Naphtali; Ahira the son of Enan.
Num 1:16 These were the renowned of the congregation, princes of the tribes of their fathers, heads of thousands in Israel.
Num 1:17 And Moses and Aaron took these men which are expressed by their names:
Num 1:18 And they assembled all the congregation together on the first day of the second month, and they declared their pedigrees after their families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, by their polls.
Num 1:19 As the LORD commanded Moses, so he numbered them in the wilderness of Sinai.

So at the beginning of Leviticus, Moshe takes a tally of all men fit to serve in the military. Thereafter follows a long description of it, but we’ll jump ahead:

Num 1:45 So were all those that were numbered of the children of Israel, by the house of their fathers, from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war in Israel;
Num 1:46 Even all they that were numbered were six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty.
Num 1:47 But the Levites after the tribe of their fathers were not numbered among them.
So, again, this is clearly a military tally. The Levites were not included in this tally, regardless of how fit or how old they are. Also not tallied:

Any man of any age who was blind, nearsighted or farsighted to the extent as to be unfit for military service.

Any man of any age who was lame, physically disabled, or deformed in his arms, legs, or back to such an extent as to be unfit for military service.

Any man too old and frail to be fit for military service.

Any man of any age too ill or diseased to be fit for military service, especially those who were more or less permanently “unclean” due to diseases with running sores or STDs causing a continual discharge.

Any woman of any age.

Any man of any age who was not a native-born Israelite. (A considerable number of people, called previously a “mixed-multitude.”)

As we see from the Torah’s own word, those who were talled for military service were 603,550 males. Now, let’s jump ahead again to some regulations regarding warfare that Elohim gave to Moshe and Aaharon:

Deu 20:3 And shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them;
Deu 20:4 For the LORD your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.
Deu 20:5 And the officers shall speak unto the people, saying, What man is there that hath built a new house, and hath not dedicated it? let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man dedicate it.
Deu 20:6 And what man is he that hath planted a vineyard, and hath not yet eaten of it? let him also go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man eat of it.
Deu 20:7 And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her.
Deu 20:8 And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren's heart faint as well as his heart.
Deu 20:9 And it shall be, when the officers have made an end of speaking unto the people, that they shall make captains of the armies to lead the people.

So we see here that if a man of any age has recently become betrothed, he was to be “honorably discharged” from military service. Now, class, this is a polygamous society, so it didn’t have to be his first wife, or his second wife, or even his third wife. Any man of any age who was recently betrothed was excused from the army. We find out elsewhere, also, that:

Deu 24:5 When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.

So this exemption lasted a year from the time of the marriage.

Ok, so far so good. Now, let’s go to the infamous incident with the spies:

Num 13:3 And Moses by the commandment of the LORD sent them from the wilderness of Paran: all those men were heads of the children of Israel.
Num 13:4 And these were their names: of the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur.
Num 13:5 Of the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori.
Num 13:6 Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh.
Num 13:7 Of the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph.
Num 13:8 Of the tribe of Ephraim, Oshea the son of Nun.
Num 13:9 Of the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu.
Num 13:10 Of the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi.
Num 13:11 Of the tribe of Joseph, namely, of the tribe of Manasseh, Gaddi the son of Susi.
Num 13:12 Of the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli.
Num 13:13 Of the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael.
Num 13:14 Of the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi.
Num 13:15 Of the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi.
Num 13:16 These are the names of the men which Moses sent to spy out the land…

Now, these names should look familiar to you – they are the military commanders of thousands that were appointed back in chapter one. So this is a military operation to reconnoiter the land of Kena’an so that the Israelites could “go up and take it,” by force. There was never any doubt among the Israelites that this was going to be a military conquest. The entire operation was a military venture from the start, as we see in what happened at the end:

Num 13:25 And they returned from searching of the land after forty days.
Num 13:26 And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and shewed them the fruit of the land.
Num 13:27 And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it.
Num 13:28 Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there.
Num 13:29 The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan.
Num 13:30 And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.
Num 13:31 But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.
Num 13:32 And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature.
Num 13:33 And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.

The entire congregation was alarmed, but the two faithful military commanders reassured them that the army was in fact capable of doing its job:

Num 14:6 And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes:
Num 14:7 And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land.
Num 14:8 If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.
Num 14:9 Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not.

The other military commanders, 10 of the 12, didn’t buy it, though. They did rebel and refused to lead their “thousands” to battle against the “giants” in the land. As a result, Elohim became very angry:

Num 14:20 And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word:
Num 14:21 But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.
Num 14:22 Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice;
Num 14:23 Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it:
Num 14:24 But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it.
Num 14:25 (Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley.) To morrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea.
Num 14:26 And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
Num 14:27 How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me.
Num 14:28 Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the LORD, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you:
Num 14:29 Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me,
Num 14:30 Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.
Num 14:31 But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised.
Num 14:32 But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness.
Num 14:33 And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.
Num 14:34 After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise.

It is often taught to children that Elohim passed a death sentence on every person over the age of twenty, but that is clearly not what the text says. Look again at v29:
14:29 Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me…

The ones numbered were absolutely NOT all adults over 20 years of age, or even all men over 20 years of age – they were only those fit for military service. This was Elohim’s judgement against a military insurrection, an attempted “palace coup” in which the military leaders refused to obey Elohim and were intending to replace Elohim’s duly appointed supreme commander, Moshe, with someone else of their choosing.

So the only ones sentenced to death were the 603,550 army members. All of those categories of people listed above who were not numbered were also NOT sentenced to death. This would include numerous men over the age of 20 – as was shown above. It would include all women and youths and children and infants. The sentence of death was only against the standing military units that Elohim had appointed at the beginning of this ill-fated adventure.

So what’s the problem, you say?

The problem is that the Karaites conflate these verses with a poetic passage of Deuteronomy and the result is a couple of bizarre and obviously untrue “interpretations.” Like the orthodox rabbinate, the Karaites have pulled two principals of “Torah” out of the thin blue air. Let’s take a look, class, as Moshe’s dramatic re-telling of the event when they arrived at the shores of the Jordan some 40 years later:

Deu 1:34 And the LORD heard the voice of your words, and was wroth, and sware, saying,
Deu 1:35 Surely there shall not one of these men of this evil generation see that good land, which I sware to give unto your fathers,
Deu 1:36 Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him will I give the land that he hath trodden upon, and to his children, because he hath wholly followed the LORD.
Deu 1:37 Also the LORD was angry with me for your sakes, saying, Thou also shalt not go in thither.
Deu 1:38 But Joshua the son of Nun, which standeth before thee, he shall go in thither: encourage him: for he shall cause Israel to inherit it.
Deu 1:39 Moreover your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, and your children, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil, they shall go in thither, and unto them will I give it, and they shall possess it.

Now, let’s leave aside the fact that the post-exilic writers of the Deuteronomic books has a completely different purpose, worldview, and knowledge base than the pre-exilic writers of the non-Deuteronomic books of the Torah and Prophets. Like the orthodox rabbinate, the Karaites have no interest in linguistic and analytic analysis of the texts. So let’s just pretend that Moshe wrote both of these passages.

According to the Karaites, then, this passage, combined with the others above, “proves” that anyone under 20 years of age can’t tell the difference between good and evil, isn’t responsible for their actions, and wasn’t (shouldn’t be) permitted to get married.


Let’s also set aside King David, who performed heroic acts as a “youth” too young for military service, King Josiah, the prophet Jeremiah, the prophet Eli, and others who were commissioned as children or teenagers with very important responsibilities by Elohim. Instead we should ask ourselves, is it true that a 19 years old murder, rapist, thief, or adulterer doesn’t know what he’s doing? Is there any doubt at all that any young man who is a teenager is capable of committing great crimes? And is there any doubt that they absolutely do know better?

Even 14 year olds can be tried as adults in this country, because we all know the answer to that question is yes, they do in fact know the difference between right and wrong.

But according to the Karaites, they don’t and shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions. This leads to some truly bizarre rulings, if the Karaite doctrine is followed. For example:

Exo 22:16 And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.
Exo 22:17 If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.

But according to the Karaites, a 15-19 year old isn’t allowed to get married, so apparently they get to walk away scott free for their crime. No mention is made of how this magic wand of atonement makes the poor teenage girl a marriageable virgin again. But this is a willing seduction – how about a rape?

Deu 22:25 But if a man find a betrothed damsel in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die:
Deu 22:26 But unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death: for as when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this matter:
Deu 22:27 For he found her in the field, and the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her.
Deu 22:28 If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;
Deu 22:29 Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

According to the Karaites, again, a teenage rapist gets to walk away with no punishment at all, since he is “too young” to get married. For a betrothed girl, a 20 year old would be executed, but a 19 year old walks away with no penalry. For an unbetrothed girl, a 20 year old pays a fine and has to marry her, but a 19 year old one walks away unscathed. Again, the poor girl is left to be advertised by her father as “slighty used goods” with no get (since she never was married, being just a teenager herself) and no real prospects of marriage since she’s no longer a virgin.

In economic terms, this causes some very, very perverse incentives. Since teens under this theoretical government would know that they could not be made to marry the girl, they could rape any unbetrothed girl they wanted to and suffer no penalty, they could rob anyone, kill anyone, engage in homosexuality or witchcraft, or violate any other Torah prohibition and get away with it, because they “don’t know right from wrong.”

At this point I was going to insert statistics about how many crimes are committed by teenagers in this day and age, but I won’t bother. I think you get the point. It is fairly idiotic to insist that a teenager has no idea that murder, rape, etc., is wrong. We all know better.

These logical results of the Karaites misinterpretation of the passage of Deuteronomy is also blatantly in defiance of their assertation earlier in the conversation that the entire definition of marriage is sexual relations. After all, there is no commandment in the Torah to have a Rabbi officiate or even to have a ceremony. There is no commandment for a Ketubah, though many Karaites use one. According to Karaite theology, the betrothal and consummation are the only definitions of marriage. A common-law marriage is the only Torah-true form of marriage, by their definition. All other “legalities” are absolutely not required.

And more to the point, there is no commandment in the written Torah regarding the age of when people can get married.

The Karaite response to this last point is that, well, just because teenagers from the bronze age, through the 1st Temple period, the Exile, the 2nd Temple period, the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, the Englightenment, the Colonial Period, and the Pioneer Days obviously did learn trades, get married, have children, and were expected to be productive adult members of society, doesn’t mean that’s the way Elohim wanted it. They were all just “doing it wrong,” it was said.

Really? Well, let’s see – if Israel had been “doing it wrong,” all that time, we would expect to see the prophets condemning them for it. After all, they didn’t hesitate to condemn Israel for any and all other sexual misdeeds. They also condemned Israel for every lie, theft, oppression of old ladies and orphans, taking bribes, idolatrous worship, hanging out with Temple prostitutes, marrying close relatives, and all sorts of transgressions against Torah. So why is there not one single mention, not one single condemnation of “youths under 20 years of age” getting married?

Because it wasn’t condemned at all, wasn’t considered “against Torah” and was practiced by Jews throughout all the ages, even to the present day. Forensic anthopologists do not find any record in archaeological digs that dead Israelite girls under the age of 20 usually didn’t have children – just the opposite. The age of the skeletons and the evidence of the movement of pelvic area bones due to childbirth prove that they were married and having children as teens in the “pre-written history” eras. And in the times since history has been written, there is no question at all that it was normal, usual and customary not just for Jewish teens to get married, but for teens of every ethnic group. This is still the case in all aboriginal societies to this day.

The reason for this is quite simple: God/mother nature/evolution or whatever you want to call it programmed women to have children from about age 15 to about age 35. I have discussed articles concerning this many times in this blog. This has been the case for some thousands of years. In times of famine, drought, and malnutrition in general, some girls don’t menstruate until their later teens, but that is not the biological norm. And there is no doubt that men’s, er, equipment works fine at that age, too. In the last couple of years a group of 12 and 13 year old middle-schoolers gang raped an elementary age school girl. Even rabbinic orthodoxy doesn’t try and pass this off as “kids who didn’t know any better, who didn’t know right from wrong.” But Karaites do. That ruling is sick and perverted, to put it plainly.

In earlier ages, teenagers were married off, either in voluntary matches or in arranged marriages, specifically to avoid the issue of unwed motherhood and the disgrace associated with it. There is no known mechanism for just “turning off” one’s natural biological urge to have children, whether one is male or female. The biological need for sex and reproduction has been hard-wired into the physiology of human teenagers, by Elohim. And Elohim doesn’t make mistakes. If this is the age when He programmed them, then this is the age when He expects them to get married. (See also the interesting article I blogged about a couple of years ago about sexual repression of teens and youths being the primary cause of violence and irrational ideologies in the muslim world.) If nothing else, it should be obvious that the staggering number of unwed births in this country – more than half of all children born now – proves that the feminazi paradigm of “waiting” until after college isn’t working at all. As I have blogged many times before, a return to a more natural paradigm of marriage first and college/career later is the only real solution to the “problem” of teenage unwed mothers. For thousands of years before now, it wasn’t a “problem” at all. It only became a “problem” in the feminist-run post-judeo-christian society that has been forming since WWII.

And certainly, I fail to see how implementing the Karaite’s idea of social justice in regards to teenage crime is ever going to solve anything. Study after study has shown that refusing to hold teens responsible for their actions CAUSES crime and irresponsibility, it certainly doesn’t stop either of these. I can’t imagine telling some rape victim, “Sorry about that, but we can’t prosecute this fellow, because he’s only a teenager. He doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong. Too bad he wasn’t 20 yet.” Anyone who thinks that is right or just should be terribly, terribly ashamed of themselves. As I said above, this is sick and perverted.

For thousands of years, society expected teens to be reasonably intelligent and responsible. Somehow, though, in the late 20th century teenagers suddenly got stupid and irresponsible. Now, class, be honest – is it that teens are not capable of learning trades, getting married, raising kids, and being productive citizens, or is it that our society has let them enjoy some sort of unnatural extended childhood that has MADE them lazy, stupid, and irresponsible?

It's the latter, class - and we all know it.


Ivan said...

I have asked the blogger not to equate my comments and nnot to malign the Karaite community for the my opinion. Yet, even in her disclaimer she continues to maline Karaites. This is true Lashon Hara. It is libelous and should be removed per the posting rules for this forum.

Ahavah bat Sarah said...

Well, the Karaites and the Rabbinate certainly have one thing in common: their definition of "lashon hara" is anything that makes them look bad, regardless of whether it is true or not.

You don't have to like "reducio ad absurdum." You do have to answer it, which you have not done.

My blog isn't your forum. You can kick me off of your forum if it makes you happy, but that will just prove my point - that you are happy to claim the Rabbis are so "wrong" for making up "Torah" out of thin air, but their criticism that you do the same thing is somehow invalid (even in the face of evidence). I think any orthodox or formerly orthodox person reading this would agree it is certainly valid.

Trying to claim there's no "official" teaching is not relevant - you are a Karaite. You are representative of the Karaite thought process and exegesis process. And your arguments show that Karaites do in fact make claims about Torah that aren't in the written text. That was the introduction and thesis of the piece, and it shows that Karaite exegesis can be just as irrational and fly in the face of historical and scientific evidence as Rabbinic exegesis is and does.

e.g. Where in the text does it say that the prohibition of a kid and it's mother's milk has anything to do with some pagan divination or fertility rite? That's from historical and archaeological data, not the Torah. So why is it invalid for me to invoke historical and archaeological data about crime and marriage, but fine for you to do so about food? Double standard, anyone? (Another favorite Rabbinic tactic!)

My regular readers, who are mostly apostate orthodox like myself, all KNOW that what you are saying here in this post and in your exegesis is JUST LIKE what the Rabbis say when anyone points out how silly their interpretations are; and JUST LIKE how they arrive at their "rulings" by using out-of-context passages and conflating them.

Again, class, notice there's no dispute about the facts of the conversation, just about whether or not this is widely taught in Karaite institutions, whatever those may be. And the evidence is that it is taught everywhere anyone cares to check. Why deny something everyone can see with their own eyes?

How much weight do you think it has to say "Karaites don't have this as an official position" when EVERY single Karaite site on the web mentions it? Who do you think you're fooling?

What the readers here are going to think is that you're just mad you got caught having an irrational rabbinic-style interpretation of Torah. That's certainly my thought. You don't do yourself any favors by yelling "lashon hara." Go to and see how much we care about the Rabbis yelling "lashon hara." It's a self-serving definition designed to prevent people from challenging the Rabbis - and the Karaites, too, apparently.

The_Bondservant said...

I see what this blogger is trying to say, and I don't think it's so much a maligning of Karaites as it is a wakeup call to not allow any criminal to get away with misdeads.
Yes, even children are called to be Torah obedient, and it's the parents' job to teach the child how. It most certainly is not the parents, the elders, rabbis or Karaites job to make excused for lewd unlawful behavior of any time.
Forgiveness for transgressions? Yes, even David was forgiven for adultery, but the consequences were severe, weren't they?