The Spirit and The Letter


Overall Judaism doesn’t concern itself as much with attitude. It’s mostly about endless laws that you either did or didn’t do. Usually the laws pertain to actions, sometimes to intention, like the obligation to concentrate fully during the first blessing of the Amida prayers.

More rarely, it gets involved with attitude. Examples that come to mind include the directive to not end Shabbat or holidays immediately at the time, to take your time when taking three steps backwards in your Amida service, and in general to “worship God with Joy”.

I have written in the past about the loopholes in Jewish law, and how absurd they are, and I am again struck by this when the parallels are more stark. My grandfather just died, and they rushed to bury him before sundown, and then “sit Shiva” for about 5 minutes so as to shave off one day from the 7 days.

If Shiva is a good thing, if it’s the word of God and good for you, does it make sense that 5 minutes is enough to do it? If God really has your best interests in mind with every law he gives you, why do you spend so much time and effort getting around it? I’m reminded of all the times Orthodox Jews just didn’t eat bread, to avoid the need to say a long convoluted blessing afterwards.

Why is ending your Shiva as soon as you possibly can, different than rushing out of Shabbat at the earliest possible opportunity?

It’s telling, every time Orthodox Jews do whatever they can to avoid the laws that supposedly “enhance” their life. It’s an indication that deep down, or not-so deep down, there is a sense that the whole thing is a burden.

Which makes sense, because you’re taking a set of laws that range from absurd to actually decent and then applying them as a blanket law for everyone to follow equally. I think Shiva is actually an emotionally intelligent way to process grieving. Forcing people to do it for exactly seven days, not so much.

And so the law loses its spirit, and the followers of the law lose theirs.

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