Ki Tetse (Deut. 21:10 – 25:19)

First, a few words about the haftarot we’ve been reading, the seven Haftarot of Consolation between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashanah.  The 14th c. sage Rabbi David Abudarham described the seven as a dialogue (see Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Devarim, pp. 154-5).  In the first, Isaiah 40:1-26, the Lord commands the prophets to comfort the people.  Then, in Isaiah 49:14 – 51:3, Zion wails that the Lord has forsaken her.  Next, in Isaiah 54:11 – 55:5 , the Lord recognizes Zion’s inability to be consoled.  The next three involve increasing levels of comforting:  “I am He that comforts you!” in Isaiah 51:12 – 52:12; “Sing, O barren one!” in Isaiah 54:1-10; and, in Isaiah 60:1-22, “Arise, shine, for your light has dawned.”  In the seventh haftarah, Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9, Israel rejoices.  Now, two weeks ago, there was a snag, since it was Rosh Chodesh Elul, and when a new month starts on Shabbat, there’s a special haftarah.  What to do?  One option was to read H of C #3 (i.e., Isaiah 54:11 – 55:5) and just a couple verses from the Rosh Chodesh one.  Another is to skip H of C #3 and read just the Rosh Chodesh haftarah, Isaiah 66:1-24.  That’s what was done at my synagogue.  Consequently, since we do need to read all 7 H of C, this week we read the normal one, #5 (Isaiah 54:1-10) and then the one we missed, #3, whose text comes immediately after #5’s anyway.  So, at my shul, we will have read: 1, 2, 4, 5, 3, 6, 7.

The above discussion, even if you dozed off during it, actually leads nicely into the comments for this week’s Torah portion, Ki TetseLast week: an overall vision of just society and a framework within which it can be carried out.  This week: details.

Maimonides counted 72 laws in this portion.  I counted 52, but what constitutes a single law?  For example, consider 24:16, “Parents shall not be put to death for children, nor children be put to death for parents: a person shall be put to death only for his own crime.”  Is that a single law? Two laws? Three?  This can also be considered an example of laws begetting laws, the main law being “a person shall be put to death only for his own crime” and the other phrases being special cases of that law.  We see this all the time in law.  A seemingly clear law is set forth.  But even when every single term is explicitly defined, it will necessarily be subject to question because words are an inexact means of communication, especially when laws are applied over millennia.  [I remember hearing, as advice for writing patent applications, that we should define “a” or “an” explicitly, so to clarify whether we mean “exactly one” or “at least one.”  How Clintonesque.]  Every commentator, in ancient, medieval, and modern times, tries to interpret these laws both in their original context and in their contemporaneous application, even to situations that did not exist in Biblical times.

The laws in this portion involve: how to deal with captive war brides; not shortchanging a firstborn son whose mother is the less-favored wife; the rebellious son; quickly taking down and burying an executed person’s corpse; returning lost property; helping your fellow raise his ox or ass that has fallen down; crossdressing; sparing a mother bird; making your roof safe for visitors; putting fringes (tzitzit) on the 4 corners of a garment; lack-of-virginity charges and countercharges; adultery; rape; marrying one’s father’s former wife; restrictions on admittance into the congregation of the Lord; fugitive slaves; cult prostitution; interest on loans; vows; eating freebies from another’s field or vineyard; divorce and remarriage; newlywed exemption from the draft; compassionate lending; kidnapping; skin infections; business ethics (honest weights and measures, treatment of laborers, prompt payment); not executing parents’ for a child’s crime, or the reverse; compassionate treatment of the needy; flogging a guilty person; muzzling a threshing ox; levirate marriage; improper interference in a fight by one protagonist’s wife.  And the portion concludes with a command to remember the wicked Amalek, which we read some months ago right before Purim.

But wait, there’s more.

There are also laws concerning improper mixtures: sowing two kinds of seed in a vineyard, yoking an ox and an ass together, and wearing cloth combining wool and linen (22:9-11; two of these also occur in Lev. 19:19) and ritual and physical purity in soldiers’ camps (23:10-15).  As Mary Douglas discussed in her book Purity and Danger, in the Torah, concepts of holiness and wholeness as order and completeness lead to the classification of hybrids and mixtures as “impure”; see, e.g., Lev. 18:23 [“tebhel” is better translated as “mixing” or confusion, rather than “perversion”(Douglas, p. 54)].  As for the soldiers’ camps, the body is regarded as whole and perfect, but what it discharges is not.  Thus, a soldier must leave the camp after a nocturnal emission and be ritually purified, and excrement must be buried outside the camp.

We are well into the month of Elul now, a time of contemplation and self-examination.  And the shofar is blown on weekdays to remind us that the High Holy Days are on the way.

Shabbat shalom,


(Two of) 21 Funny Lost & Found Signs

tph lost cat

tph found velociraptor


(#519) Punishment 2002
Bernie was talking to his friend Jack about his rebellious son Yossi. “When I was a youngster and did something wrong, my parents punished me by sending me to my bedroom without supper. I hated it. But our Yossi has his own colour TV, phone, computer and DVD player in his bedroom so we can’t do that – it wouldn’t be much of a punishment.”
“So what do you do, then?” asked Jack.
“We send him up to our bedroom without supper!”


From 2011

The Government is going to put a special tax on tzitzit.  They are being classed as fringe benefits.
        Oy! The Ultimate Book of Jewish Jokes, page 108.


Jorgen Nielsen — Male War Bride [abridged]

One problem that male war brides had that their counterparts did not was that they had to start immediately to earn a living to support their families. Jorgen started as a stock boy and retired in 1987 as a Systems Analyst. “I cannot say enough about this warm welcome I received from Virginia’s parents, and how much help my father-in-law was to me as long as he lived.”

When Virginia got her discharge from the U.S. Coast Guard, she went overseas as a War Department Employee for the Civil Censorship Division of the U. S. Army of Occupation. Jorgen was employed in Copenhagen to work for the same unit as an Allie Civilian Employee. They were introduced by a co-worker on February 21, 1947. It was Virginia’s birthday and Jorgen thought she looked a little homesick, so he went back to his barracks and brought her a carved statue that he had bought in Oberammergau and gave it to Virginia for a birthday present. They did not have their first date until after June and were married on July 16th, so although he got off to a slow start he made up for lost time.

When they arrived in Bremerhaven to go to the U.S. they were delayed for three days because the ship had struck a mine. They were billeted ashore and the harassed clerk was putting three brides into one room and three grooms into the next. When she found out that Jorgen was a Male War Bride she put the Nielsens in a room together because she had a male war bride herself. Virginia and Jorge took Greyhound to Los Angeles, so on his arrival, Jorgen, saw the U.S. from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific.

They have been married for over fifty-three wonderful years. The worst was when their first born son, Alan, died of meningococcemia at the age of four and a half. Virginia, three year old Glenn and Jorgen moved back to Denmark, but Jorgen was now a U.S. citizen and could not get a work permit or housing.  They returned to the United States and Jorgen got his degree from UCLA in 1960. They have lived all over the U.S., for the last twenty years in Seattle. Glenn also lives in Seattle and they love the Pacific Northwest. They have some health problems but they still have each other and that is the important thing.


Business Ethics

Job Interview Question

You are driving along in your car on a wild, stormy night. You pass by a bus stop, and you see three people waiting for the bus:

1. An old lady who looks as if she is about to die.
2. An old friend who once saved your life.
3. The perfect man (or) woman you have been dreaming about.

Which one would you choose to offer a ride to, knowing that there could only be one passenger in your car?

Think before you continue reading. This is a moral/ethical dilemma that was once actually used as part of a job application.

You could pick up the old lady, because she is going to die, and thus you should save her first; or you could take the old friend because he once saved your life, and this would be the perfect chance to pay him back. However, you may never be able to find your perfect dream lover again.

The candidate who was hired (out of 200 applicants) had no trouble coming up with his answer.
He simply answered: “I would give the car keys to my old friend, and let him take the lady to the hospital. I would stay behind and wait for the bus with the woman of my dreams.”
Never forget to “Think Outside of the Box.”


Dumb Laws in…

It is considered an offense to have more than two materials on the outside of one’s house.
It is illegal to pretend to practice witchcraft.
If you are released from prison, it is required that you are given a handgun with bullets and a horse, so you can ride out of town.

No one may start a car while someone is underneath the vehicle.
Headlights must be on whenever a vehicle is being operated in order to distinguish it from parked cars.

In ads for products that contain salt or sugar, it’s mandatory to include that you should exercise and eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables a day.  Full text of the law. (in French)
In France, you can legally marry a dead person as long as preliminary civic formalities have been completed which show that you and your fiancée had planned to marry before your fiancée died.

United Kingdom
All land must be left to the eldest son. 
Since 1313, MPs are not allowed to don armor in Parliament.


Quotes on Laws

Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws. Plato

As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness. Henry David Thoreau

Think about it: if you were running a multi-million dollar company, and your database of customer information was stolen, would you want to tell your clients? No. Most companies did not until the laws required them to. It’s in the best interest of organisations – when they’re attacked and information is stolen – to tell nobody. Kevin Mitnick

The backbone of any improvement of governance, its development as well as its protection from any form of wastage or excessiveness, is a mechanism to place laws under the microscope of revision and modernization until they resonate in tune with the methodological development and new administrative technologies. Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan

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