Silly Rabbinical Rules and the True Meaning of Torah

by Arthur Schwartzman

New ruling on not entering hospitals demonstrates how out of touch the rabbis have become

| Topics: Judaism, Torah
Photo: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90

Rabbinic authorities from Jerusalem and Bnei Brak in a joint halachic order indicated that entering public places, including hospitals and hotels, where body temperature is measured at the entrance with infrared thermometers or other technical devices, violates the sanctity of Shabbat.

The ruling reads:

“Regarding heat measurement that is done to enter the gates of hospitals and public places [such as guest houses, etc.], there are concerns about the prohibition of work on Shabbat in both the heat measurement and the writing generated on the monitor.

”There is a prohibition, both when the heat measurement is done manually by the guard at the entrance, as well as where there is a “thermal camera” system that detects all comers, and their image and degree of heat are displayed on a screen.

Therefore, there is no permit to enter these places on Shabbat, but only in cases of fear of danger in which the laws of Halacha allow to desecrate the Shabbat [and not for the mere visit of sick patients, etc.].

”And the right way to enter hospitals is to allow a nochri (non-Jew) to perform the tests, and in this way you can even enter even when there’s no danger to the patient.”

Orthodox Judaism is known to be strict about its laws, but a situation like the one mentioned above could create an insensitive situation. What a good and wonderful thing it is to encourage a loved one in hospital, especially on a Sabbath day. The prohibition thereof due to the use of a thermometer is silly.

All throughout the gospels, Yeshua entered many arguments with the Pharisees over issues of Sabbath observance – what is lawful or unlawful to do on this day of rest. “Is it legal to do what is good on the Sabbath or what is evil; to save life or to destroy?” He asked his listeners in a synagogue one Shabbat morning. Some marveled at the work of God, others sought to remove this miracle worker from their midst.

Yeshua’s critique didn’t touch only areas of Sabbath observance, but also of spiritual cleanliness of the body and other objects, perhaps the one that comes to mind is the washing of hands, prior to breaking bread. Ritual washings are also extended to cooking utensils and other everyday items. You would think that a small group of people of scrupulous observance and interpretation of Scripture shouldn’t become the standard to the masses on which to judge matters of conversion, marriage, Aliyah, and Jewish identity, but they do. The Pharisee sect is the root of Rabbinic Judaism, and a ruler by which to measure Jewish law today.

While some halachic rulings just seem to build a fence around the Torah, others are outright ridiculous or even funny. This was published in the ultra-Orthodox Journal of the HMO Leumit, regarding switching on of electrical appliances on Shabbat:

”Will ask for a foreigner who is not his son to do the work … Ask his son or daughter to do the work with shinui (change) … The big one will do the work himself with shinui, ie insert the plug into the socket with his mouth or elbow or back. You can also hold the plug and push it with your head into the socket.”

This halacha caught my attention simply due to fact that it was dangerous, and ironically published in a health journal.

Here are a few other examples of such rules:

  • Hunchbacks must not bend near a church even if it hurts;
  • Lice must not be killed on Shabbat;
  • Hebrew newspapers must not be read on the toilet – English is allowed;
  • Jews must not donate organs to a Gentile – receiving is allowed;
  • It is permissible to degrade a woman on the kosher bus lines;
  • Violence may be used against those who distribute material contrary to the Torah.

It is important to note that not all ultra-Orthodox streams agree on all things, and that in Israel there a multiple levels of observance of Jewish halacha. The gold standard, if you will, remains in the hands of the orthodox and their interpretation of Torah is chief in the Jewish state.

Torah is said to be life-giving, sweet, full of wisdom. It teaches and corrects us, it serves as a mirror to us, exposes our sins and faults of character. It is said that when Messiah comes, halachic disputes will end. But He did come. Yet, sadly, very few scholars and lawyers of his day chose to heed and listen to divine truth. Yeshua didn’t add to the law, He exposed its ultimate meaning – to love God and neighbor. And that, I believe, is the ruler by which to measure.


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