Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 9/23 Post

This is fascinating, Mike, even if only to the two of us.

Judaism, rooting itself in God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28) is decidedly pro-marriage.

The Shulchan Aruch, the basic code of Jewish law says, “Every person is obligated to marry in order to fulfill the duty of procreation, and whoever is not engaged in propagating the species is accounted as a murderer, diminishing the Divine Image and causing the presence of God to depart from Israel (Even ha-‘Ezer 1:1). And the Talmud tells us that “One who has no spouse is less than human,” (Yevamot 67a); and that “One who dwells without a spouse dwells without joy, without blessing, without good, and without happiness,” (Yevamot 62b). And while the primary purpose of marriage was to have and raise children, the rabbis urged that sexual activity within marriage has its own value and should continue beyond the childbearing years.

The Shulchan Aruch also tells us that the ancient rabbis ruled that High Priests and judges in capital crimes must be married (Shulchan Aruch, Orah Hayyim 53:9), though I can’t tell if they ruled this way in order to make the judges more or less compassionate toward the accused.

Perhaps the most interesting teaching on marriage is that only a married man could study the deeper mysteries of the Torah (women were not allowed to study this at all until modern times). The rationale here was that these mysteries use sexual imagery and one needed the grounding of a sexual partner to keep from being overwhelmed by the poetry of the teachings. We see this is the case of many medieval Catholic mystics as well (especially nuns) who speak of their love of Jesus in very sexual terms. Sex may be so central to humanity that we cannot imagine the Divine without invoke the sexual.

While celibacy is not limited to Christianity (Hinduism too honors celibacy), and while I am pleased to hear that the early church removed the stigma Judaism placed on eunuchs, celibacy is still one of the clearest differences between our two traditions.

On to the next teaching?

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