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Shabbat Commentary

12/13 May: Shabbat Emor comes in 8.27 pm, goes out 9.40pm                

The Torah next tells us of the son of a Israelite woman and an Egyptian man who cursed God’s name. The man was incarcerated pending word from God on how to punish him. The command was to stone him to death.

The rabbis in the Talmud don’t even like discussing this topic and euphemistically called blasphemy “blessing God.” The Mishna (Sanhedrin 56a) raises the problem of a trial for blasphemy. How do we elicit evidence without forcing witnesses to repeat the language? The problem was highlighted in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, where every time the officer of the Sanhedrin reads the conviction announcement, he is stoned for pronouncing the name of God.

I think of blasphemy in the way that I also require my children to speak respectfully about their teachers. They can disagree with them, but they can never call them names (or nicknames). In the stellar series West Wing about presidential politics, President Bartlett reminds a detractor that she doesn’t have to like the president who was elected (himself) but she has to rise when he enters the room because she has to rise for the office. Showing respect in the language we use to reproach teachers or leaders, even those who have demeaned themselves, helps preserve our institutions of education, of democracy and even of religion.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman

May 11, 2017