[LMB] OT: Religion and one-up-manship, 7/17

Matthew George matt.msg at gmail.com
Sat Jul 17 23:56:50 BST 2021

On Sat, Jul 17, 2021 at 6:33 PM Harvey Fishman <fishman at panix.com> wrote:

> It is a EUPHEMISM that we say in the place of the
> name of the Lord; NOT a name.

Your previous statement asserts that 'Adonai' is a name for which a
euphemism is substituted.  May I take it that you didn't intend to indicate
this?  Perhaps you meant to use a colon rather than a comma.

In any case, 'God' isn't a name, but a title, and as such it wouldn't fall
under the aegis of the tradition that the name of the deity in question
must be treated specially.  If a decision has been made to include the word
in the tradition, the question of motivations is raised.  Since logic
provides no justification for such inclusion, we must look elsewhere for

I was recently reading Richard Feynman's short autobiography, and a
closely-related topic comes up regarding the prohibition against lighting
fires on the Sabbath and the practice of hiring gentiles to operate
elevators.  Feynman was quite frustrated by some Orthodox Jews who
approached him for physics clarification but totally ignored the relevant
science; he even pointed out that if they insisted on continuing the
interpretation that causing a spark was prohibited, they could install an
electrical control system that generated no spark.  But they had absolutely
no interest in exploring the idea.

If I may attempt to interpret Dr. Feynman's frustration:  there was and is
a simple matter of consistency, with the rabbinic students in question
being trained to make very fine distinctions in matters of religious law
and the interpretation of loopholes, yet at the same time an acceptance as
iron-clad the lumping together of very different phenomena.  If recognizing
even a gross distinction would have significant implications for the
interpretation of religious law, and much finer distinctions are held to be
essential, then we must look for hidden motivations to explain why
distinctions aren't being made.

A simple and obvious explanation is that the tradition in question existed
to cause significant and highly visible inconvenience to Orthodox Jews;
possibly as a way to ensure that people "walk the walk" and didn't merely
pay lip service, possibly as a way of one-upping others by showcasing how
willing they were to sacrifice for piety.

It's currently Saturday, July 17th, and this topic should be considered to
expire in three days.

Matt G.

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