Larry, a very progressive rabbi from America, comes to Paris, France – sans wife, kids, or anyone who knows him. "This is my chance," he says, "to walk on the WILD side!" He takes a cab straight to Maxim's, the famous restaurant. As soon as he’s seated he orders the most unkosher thing he can think of: "Roast suckling pig, si vous plait !"
For easier reading, we suggest printing out this issue as hard copy.
Two minutes later, who walks in but a couple from home, members of his congregation. He tries to hide behind a magazine but they spot him: "Rabbi! How are you? Imagine meeting you in Paris! What are you doing at Maxim's?" They chat away, Larry praying for them to leave... when up marches the waiter, an ornate covered platter balanced on his palm. He lays it on the table in front of Larry with a flourish, then sweeps away the silver cover dramatically, revealing - what did you expect? - a whole plump piglet, roasted, glazed and succulent, with an apple in its mouth.
The couple's eyes pop, their jaws drop; they look at Larry... Who sighs, shrugs, and smiles at them. "These French!" he says. "They're wonderful, but they make such a big production out of everything... Just look at this: here I come, into this restaurant, I order a baked apple - and see how they ferplutzed it!"
"Ferplutz" mixes two Yiddish words - ferputz, literally, screw-up, a rude expression; and kerplutz, to fall, collapse or fail, to fall with a bang - to make a word that can be used anywhere in mixed company. It means, roughly, extreme over-embellishment, going to great lengths to over-complicate things, getting something not just slightly wrong but utterly, spectacularly wrong.
"To forgive is divine." But if you want something really, truly ferplutzed, you need human beings. Man - obviously, this includes woman - is the creature that ferplutzes. We have a special genius for ferplutzing ultimate things, things that pertain uniquely to God: His names, His nature, Scripture, Divine service, heaven, hell, etc.
If God does not exist, nothing matters.
If God does exist, nothing else matters.
The core teaching of the Bible - versus the opposite principle, that the universe is just an accident and human life mere scuzz on the surface of a planet - is that HaShem, the God of Abraham, lovingly created this (and every) universe, and man, and everything; that He, Who is infinite, maintains every particle and atom in existence; that He loves us, His creatures, like an infinitely loving father, or a mother; that He wants us to study His holy ways to incarnate them in ourselves, for our own good, to make something of ourselves; to help Him make the universe, starting with ourselves, infinitely better.
This is the Providential Plan in a nutshell, the theology of Israel, cosmology and prophecy. People who insist that life is meaningless don't accept it, naturally – but what do they know that we don't?
Asked about religion, Woody Allen, a well-known atheist, says: “To me, there’s no real difference between a fortune teller or a fortune cookie and any of the organized religions. They’re all equally valid or invalid.” He elaborates, "I have a grim, scientific assessment of it. I just feel, what you see is what you get." [New York Times 9/14/10 “Woody Allen on Faith, Fortune Tellers and New York”]
"What you see is what you get." This comes from someone living, as we all do, in a universe full of what physicists call “dark matter” – “dark” as in invisible, “dark” as in utterly mysterious, “dark” as in only recently postulated or ever even imagined. Or take his comment this way: "If I have never personally sensed the presence of God, if I have never felt a need for God in my philosophy, if I have never detected any trace of God in my reading of history, then God cannot exist," which is really what he's saying. Call it self-centered, call it unimaginative, but… scientific? Come now.
I believe in the sun, even when it's not shining; I believe in love,
even when not feeling it; I believe in God, even when He is silent.
On a cellar wall in the city of Cologne, where Jews had hidden from the Nazis, this inscription was found after the war
God does not force belief in Him on ANYONE. If He wants us to develop into worthwhile beings, instead of counting on Him for everything, He has to allow the possibility of doubt. "Man cannot see God and live" (Exodus 33:20). He can't have us trembling constantly in shock and fear before His omnipresent infinitude – or griping and rebelling against His management. He has to make it possible for us to deny Him - at least at this point in our progress - to give us the chance to make a free will choice to follow Him. So the Lord, HaShem, the Maker of all things, has to "hide," the Bible teaches: "Verily, you are a God Who hides Yourself, O God of Israel, the Savior." (Isaiah 45:15) He gives us what we need to "find" Him and know the truth, but not too much to over-awe us.
One day, the prophets promise, we will be ready for more, as individuals and a species. In the meantime, He calls to each of us, to "know" Him, "fear" and love Him, and serve Him, by doing justice, righteousness and kindness. The truth about Him isn’t obvious but we can find it if we’re open to it. When we teach ourselves (or learn from our teachers) where and how to look for Him, we easily find Him - His fingerprints, as it were - in nature, in our own lives, in the pages of history, in the history of Israel, and in the Bible, particularly.
But look how we, God’s earthly creatures, ferplutz the Bible! And how difficult we make believing in God!
We have been working on a new book with ferplutz in the title, about the things people do to “warp the great teachings of the Bible” (quoting the subtitle). One nice thing: finding material is so easy! … Most of this piece comes from the manuscript.
Contrary to popular belief, and to all the ferplutzers, you don't have to accept ANYTHING that couldn't possibly be true to believe in the Bible or follow, fear and love the God of Abraham.
He gets the worst press...
Of all the ferplutzing, as extensive as it is, that which most concerns us is the ferplutzing of the First Covenant itself, the Seven Laws-Universal Torah system, the Noahide Law.
We LOVE the Seven Laws. Call them the 7M, the sheva mitzvot, the seven commandments, the Seven Universal Laws. We have studied them for decades. Only God could have devised such a magnificent system!
On one level, they’re extremely simple. Seven prohibitions, seven don’ts, enumerated in the Oral Torah with a complete lack of fanfare: the whole Covenant Code, the entire Universal Moral Law, in less than 15 words, or 30 syllables, presented as common knowledge, in “everyone knows” terms.
We can’t think of anything that ever came from a committee, or anything manmade, that’s anything like this – so terse, so plain, and perfectly, incredibly comprehensive… Even the language of the 7M, apart from the inner message, points to the supernatural.
Besides their sweep and terseness, they are obvious. That’s one of their principal qualities. Everyone ought to know better than to do any of the things that violate the 7M. People everywhere, at all times, should consider them unholy – and it shouldn’t take an anthropologist or historian to tell you that, in fact, all nations condemn most of them and all of them have, to some extent, been condemned by nations. The 7M, by definition, target the crimes and perversions that no culture can afford to tolerate (let alone encourage), but must instead try to eradicate, or at least drive underground.
“We don’t accept the Noahide Law,” people tell us, “because we don’t accept the Oral Torah.” But you don’t have to believe in the Oral Torah - or in any Torah! Or, God forbid, in God, either - to accept the 7M! Because the 7M are - again, by definition, axiomatically - the eternal, universal moral laws and principles that are so obviously, logically, true and necessary that we shouldn’t need to have them miraculously revealed to us. Down to their tiniest details, they are, each of them, intellectually compelling laws, which we SHOULD be able to figure out ourselves.
Everyone should know better than to commit murder; or steal; or participate in any way in the unfair oppression of others. Everyone should know better than to perform abominable and destructive sex acts, or defame God, or “serve” Him so wrong-headedly as to discredit even the idea of divinity. Everyone should know better than to mistreat animals, the lesser creatures that are subordinate to man, like a cannibal with a cruel streak.
That’s the entire 7M, one through seven.
Naturally, people ferplutz this by insisting that that’s ALL that the 7M have to teach us; that it’s primitive, not just ancient; that it exists only at this extremely simple, even banal, level. But why should that be? There’s no eighth commandment that requires us to stop thinking at this point.
Surely, if these laws are even fractionally as important as alleged, we need to think about them long and hard and deeply.
What’s the theory behind proscribing murder, for instance? If we consider the question in the context of the Torah and the Bible, as we should, we take in principles and values: That every human being is entitled to life on the same level and to the same extent as any other person, for instance. That no one’s blood is any redder or better than another’s. That no one has the right to take a human life - except in wartime, as punishment for crime, in defense of another, or in self-defense.
The main body of the Torah is contained in the
Seven Commandments with their details.
Rabbenu Menachem ben Shlomo Me'iri, c. 1270 C.E.
(See Rainbow Covenant, p. 56)
Despite the charge of primitivism, all the 7M work this way: they each lead to the higher-consciousness principles and philosophy of Torah. Take, for instance, the most primitive-sounding of them all, prohibiting “eating a limb torn from a living animal” (that is, from any mammal, and the more highly developed birds). “Make sure your food is killed before you eat it,” basically. How is that profound?
It teaches that life and the world are real (despite the many belief-systems that teach the opposite). That the pain of animals matters – that, in fact, it directly concerns God. And that what we eat – the food on our menus, and how we acquire it, and how we eat it - affects us, not just physically but spiritually.
Taking “Torn Limb” together with the Bible, we learn that animals don’t have rights - but that we as human beings are bound to treat them rightly. That God, Who raised us to the top of the food chain, has given us dominion over the Earth. Which means – contrary to pagan and neo-pagan teachings - that we needn’t ask the earth or oceans for permission to freely use them,because our right comes from God. “Torn Limb” teaches that this great gift of dominion, or stewardship, involves obligations: it isn’t a license for hoggishness. That God sweeps away the food taboos of paganism... We could go on in the vein, this Commandment is so rich. But so are all the 7M.
Ultimately, “Torn Limb” takes us even beyond the “rational” laws and ordinances of Torah into the Torah’s “non-rational” statutes (the hukim, orchukim). It connects us to the laws of kosher eating – if God cares so much about the pain of animals and what people put into their stomachs, shouldn’t we learn, for instance, to kill our food in the painless way the Law prescribes? It also, obviously, connects us to the Sabbath: because God stopped with us, mere human beings, after the first five stages of Creation, and didn’t keep making better beings; because He made us Earth’s masters, answerable only to Him.
Every true monotheist, according to the great sage Rashi, every God-fearer who truly follows God, HaShem, needs to recognize and celebrate the Sabbath. To the People of Israel, the Sabbath also symbolizes national liberation, the nation’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery; but this nationalistic factor, on top of the universalistic, just means that Jews and truly monotheistic non-Jews - First Covenant-keeping Noahides - need to approach the Sabbath differently. Non-Jews shouldn’t keep the Sabbath exactly as the Jews do. [Of course ferplutzers have warped this principle into a false absolute: “a goy may not keep Shabbos.”] But Sabbath joy ought to flow to every being who appreciates the principles of “Torn Limb.”
All the 7M are negative, “you shall not” prohibitions – so naturally people say, “There is nothing that’s sunny and positive in them.” But the 7M, by definition, define crimes, wrongful acts that every culture needs to outlaw. And by determining what God forbids, we discover what He loves. Righteousness doesn’t just mean avoiding committing crimes! It means doing the very opposite of what the 7M forbid.
God hates murder. But righteousness involves more than merely refraining from murder. If the occasion arises, a good person should try to do the opposite, to save human life. Similarly, the Noahide Law against theft prohibits stealing, taking things from those who own them; righteousness requires doing the exact opposite: giving charitably to those who need it.
So it is with all the 7M. They all lead ultimately to the most sublime principles of higher consciousness, or God-consciousness, and positive action, but they all begin with the opposite. So the Noahide Law against sacrilege, for instance, doesn’t command us to honor God but only to refrain from deliberately dishonoring Him. (While teaching us that we, ordinary human beings, have the power both to honor and dishonor Him, based on our own actions here on Earth.)
This negative focus of the Law is a positive boon to liberty. The 7M don’t threaten us with punishment at the hands of men, with earthly courts assigning legal liability, if we refuse to act completely righteously or for falling short of righteousness.
Take the Golden Rule. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”/love the stranger as yourself (Leviticus 19:18, 30). It’s Torah but also a universal “proto-Torah” principle, going back to the dawn of man: it’s a positive way of putting the Adamic and Noahidic Revelation that the human family is one family, that “all men are brothers.”
So all nations, even if they never heard of Moses and the Torah, should try to live by the Golden Rule, because God revealed it to the whole human family. It’s part of the 7M – it’s implicit in them, as a righteous value and a basic moral principle that we should all try to internalize – not as a legal precept that all courts must at all times enforce, but as a positive precept, an ideal.
Can law impose a general duty to act righteously, a positive obligation to be virtuous? Sure! Yet it may not be all that workable: actually, most nations, including the U.S., only prohibit bad conduct. So do the 7M, encapsulating the minimal requisites of law. They don’t command us to be righteous, they only target criminal unrighteousness. While leading us - if we let them and don’t ferplutz them - into all the “higher consciousness” principles of Torah.
Some so-called “Torah traditionalists” ferplutz the 7M, but good, by claiming that it criminalizes “idolatry” – which they define as worshipping any god but HaShem!
This is so off-base… Of course the 7M don’t prohibit “idolatry” as the Torah applies the concept of idolatry to Jews. The Torah presumes that the People of Israel should know better, after Sinai and all of Jewish history, than to worship any god but God, or to put any other “god” before Him, or even alongside Him. It would be unreasonable, though, to apply that presumption to non-Jews. So the 7M, the Universal laws, only prohibit literal “strange worship,” avodah zarah, or loathsome idolatry (gilulim): acts of “worshipful” devotion that are obviously unholy – that no god worth worshipping would ever tolerate. Like mass murder, for instance, or human sacrifice, or – for instance – blowing up schoolchildren for the greater glory of Allah.
Again, a hallmark of the Law is its obviousness. Pending the universal redemption foretold in the Bible, the Name and nature of HaShem aren’t well known to most of the human race. So they, non-Jews, can hardly be held responsible for failing to recognize Him alone and only Him! It would be terribly unfair to do so – and even the slightest unfairness in the 7M would be completely inconsistent with the Divine nature, the purpose, and the Origin of God’s Law.
What else do the 7M “traditionalists” do to ferplutz the 7M? How much space do we have? ... Besides falsely criminalizing gentile religions, the “traditional” analysis makes the 7M grotesque by claiming that they require capital punishment, “decapitation with a sword,” for even the most trivial violations of law. So it’s death, supposedly, execution by court order, for every teenage shoplifter, for instance, every adulterer, or copyright violator, everyone who violates a court order, etc.
Oddly, the 7M “traditionalists” most closely associated with this idea seem to be mostly gentle Torah scholars - people who would probably faint at the sight of a root canal, let alone a decapitation!
One of the problems here is that the “traditionalists” – they aren’t really “traditional,” they’re just following the wrong opinions of teachers who never treated the 7M seriously, and weren’t well read in the subject – have such an otherworldly conception of the Law. A great sage (Maimonides), famous for the terseness of his commentaries, doesn’t set out minimal but only maximal penalties, the upper range of punishment that’s allowable in theory – so the “traditionalists,” naturally, ferplutz the maximum into the ONLY penalty!
Self-government isn’t just a right, under the 7M, but a responsibility. Every nation is obligated to determine the details of the 7M for itself – based, naturally, on its own customs, circumstances, national history, and needs. The details of the Law include things like penalties (punishments for wrongdoing); legal procedures, including court rules; the definition of certain crimes (whether the local law will, for instance, overlook trivial acts of theft); and, for instance, the size and scope of government, and how to fund it.
Every nation, according to the “traditionalist” school, must turn this sovereign function and all these details over to a bunch of Jewish rabbis in Jerusalem! After all, they say, “Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3).
If you ever wondered why you hadn’t heard more before about the 7M and Noahism, here’s a reason. People who believe that this is the way that the 7M work naturally think that, absent miracles, no nation would ever willingly adopt them. So, pending such miracles, the 7M really aren’t very relevant, so why even talk about them?
Most of the books, organizations and websites that “teach” the 7M or claim to follow the 7M belong to this school. Most of the articles that have been written on the subject, on Noahides and Noahism, share this view too. And again, if you’ve ever wondered why the “Noahide Movement” hasn’t grown faster, here’s a reason.
After all this ferplutzing, the thought of most Jews, when it comes to the 7M, is that they’re mostly for non-Jews. And the thought of most non-Jews is that the 7M, “coming from Judaism,” are mostly for Jews. (Which makes getting the word out about something like our book, Rainbow Covenant, or our group, First Covenant, so challenging and interesting!) But, in fact, we can least these things as a minimum: if you want to know how Jews are supposed to interact with non-Jews, or how Noahides (non-Jews) are supposed to interact with Jews, or benefit from Torah, or regard HaShem, you need to go to the 7M.
If you want to know what God wants for the vast majority of the human race – the non-Jewish part – and what Noahides have to contribute to the process of redemption, whether apart from Jews or in partnership with Jews, you need to look at the 7M.
By Michael Dallen