Am I bad Jew if I think Winnie the Pooh, Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse and Nemo are cute? There are those who refuse to buy their children any non-kosher stuffed animals, and the text supports them! After all, in chapter 11, the Torah does not simply say these animals are forbidden for consumption, it says they are impure, and even repulsive. Shouldn’t I strive to internalize these categories, and to shape my own sensibilities by the Torah’s light?
Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya didn’t think so. “A person shouldn’t say: I can’t eat pork, I can’t wear shaatnez, but rather- I certainly can, but what can I do- my Father in Heaven has prohibited them!” (Sifra Kedoshim 128) It’s a radical statement with profound implications. According to Rabbi Elazar, a person’s aesthetic/ethical intuitions can remain intact, what is important is the way the person acts. In the mysterious realm of purity and impurity, it is the practice, not the attitude, which is the Torah’s concern.
A similar idea is expressed by the rabbinic interpretation of the word ‘to’evah’- an abomination. According to its simple meaning, something which the Torah calls a ‘to’evah‘ is abominable, viscerally revolting. But Bar Kappara understood the word differently, taking it out of the aesthetic/ethical sense, and framing it as an error in judgement- ‘To’eh ata ba’ (Nedarim 51a).
This removal of the concept of purity and impurity from the visceral realm starts with the Torah itself. After all, the idea of pure and impure did not originate with the Torah; we see that Noach already has a sense of this distinction, and we know that other ancient cultures did as well. But in those cultures, the ramifications of impurity was much more far-reaching. Something impure had deep inherent evil, and needed to be destroyed. The Torah takes these ideas which had a strong hold on people’s religious imagination and experience, and transforms them, tames them, strips them of their demonic elements and delimits them within the bounds of the halachic system of right and wrong, a system which has nothing bad to say about a bear named Pooh.
This is my own little insight about the 929 chapter of the day, in 300 words or so. I’d love to hear your comments and start a conversation
What’s 929? A near-impossible challenge of consistency. A song of Jewish unity. A beautiful project worth checking out. Learn more at 929.org.il