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Sorry, But You Don’t Own Your Body

And you shall not give any of your offspring to pass through for Molech. And you shall not profane the Name of your God. I am the Lord. [Leviticus 18:21]

Somehow, the worst of the evildoers seem to always want to take our children from us. The idea is that if they can control our children, we have no chance.

And so the despots throughout history have found some way to kill our sons and daughters. In 19th Century Russia, agents of the czar demanded that Jews hand over their seven-year-olds for a life in the church and military. Not long after, the Bolsheviks would justify doing the same. In World War I, European leaders told their people to send the young to war in the quixotic mission to finally attain world peace. Later, Hitler would conduct massacres for Lebensraum, or “living space.” Other excuses were made by America, Egypt, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Syria. The list goes on.

Sometimes the pretext is religion. Martyrdom has always been directed at the young, the most impressionable to the argument that a worthy life should end with a bang. In this week’s Torah portion of Acharei Mot, the god to die for was Molech, a practice encouraged by the ancient kings and known in Egypt. The pagan priest would come to town and arrange two huge fires. Fathers would then be summoned to hand their children to the priests, who in turn would grab the little ones by their feet and move between the row of blazes. Sometimes the youngsters would emerge with a limb or two burned to a crisp. Usually, they wouldn’t survive.

As the Talmud sees it, the key to the prohibition was handing the children to the priests. Had the parents sacrificed their offspring, it might have been deemed standard homicide. But when the priests, the professionals in this blood ritual, conducted the ceremony, it marked a far greater sin.

Shimon Ben Zemah Duran lived through the Christian oppression of the Jews in 14th Century Spain. He became a master of such disciplines as astronomy, mathematics and medicine, the latter to become his profession. In 1391, a wave of pogroms swept the country, beginning in Seville and moving through Castille, Aragon, Valencia, Catalonia and even reaching the Balearic Islands. The property of the dead and surviving Jews was quickly confiscated by the nobility.

Thousands of Jews were slaughtered as the authorities looked away and, fearing reprisals, even protected the Muslims from the mob. Some Jews tried to save themselves by converting to Christianity. Rabbi Shimon, who fled Palma with little more than the shirt on his back, urged the Jews to resist abandoning their faith. Now in Algiers, the rabbi, known by his Hebrew acronym, Rashbatz, delved into the futility of Christianity. He wrote that the church had willfully distorted the teachings of Jesus and his disciples. Quoting the New Testament, the rabbi showed how they and other early Christians remained proper Jews and kept the Torah rather than violate the Sabbath, down pork and ban circumcision — later key requirements imposed on converts. The outraged church was quick to censor this polemic, titled Keshet Umagen, or “Bow and Shield” and finally published nearly 400 years later.

In his commentary to Ethics of our Fathers, Rabbi Shimon focused on G-d’s relationship with man. G-d had created tens of thousands of species, but man was formed in the divine image. He was designed to be different. Unlike animals, man was meant to understand his Maker. He was given intelligence to develop and explore. He was special — regardless of his origins or beliefs.

Out of mankind came Israel, chosen by G-d and given additional love. Israel was given commandments not shared by others. They included the prohibition on preserving their bodies. Losing a loved one could plunge any man into desperation. But a Jew could not cut or flog himself to express mourning, practices still common in the 21st Century. Others might tattoo, pierce or even mutilate their bodies to gain acceptance in society. In contrast, a Jew had to make do with what G-d gave him. His body was not his own.

The Rashbatz said G-d showed Israel three levels of affection. The first was being created in the divine image as that of other humans. The second was that they were regarded as G-d’s children, equal to the first righteous figures such as Enoch and Methuselah, the believers who died before the Great Flood. The third was giving Israel the Torah on Mount Sinai. This was about bringing G-d’s children close and provide them with numerous opportunities for service and reward.

The Torah places the prohibition of Molech in the middle of a chapter that bans incest, adultery and bestiality. These acts defile those who engage in them and undermine society. In the case of Molech, Moses Ben Nachman, known as the Ramban, says, the result is almost always death. That might be fine by other nations, comfortable in grabbing their sisters or neighbors’ wives. But the Jewish people are different. Their faith is based on respect and boundaries — for others and themselves.

The message in the Torah is uncompromising: G-d will not look away. The settlement of Israel is based on purity. Without respect for family and neighbors, their fate will be identical to their expelled predecessors.

For the people of the land who preceded you, did all of these abominations, and the land became defiled. And let the land not vomit you out for having defiled it, as it vomited out the nation that preceded you. [Leviticus. 18:27-28]

About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.