Monday, June 27, 2005

Conservative Apikorus on the Parsha: Shelach Lecha

OK, so I'm a couple of days late. So sue me.

What I'm going to talk about is not the parsha, but rather the haftara. In fact, this fine haftara was what I read for my bar-mitzvah. When I received my little bar mitzvah book with the haftara, I was puzzled at the word "zonah." So I looked it up, and found out that it meant "harlot." OK, so I was a pretty naive 12 year old, I needed to look up the word "harlot" in Webster's.

Well this caused me my first crisis of faith. (No, not my first, that was when I asked my parents why they didn't serve bacon, but ate lobster when we visited Maine.) What's going on here? The spies had been traveling in the midbar for 40 (well maybe less, but still at least 20, I would say) years, having the presence of Hashem as a reminder to them at all times about the miztvos. And what happens when they get a chance to visit a goyische city? The first thing they do is go visit a cathouse! What kind of erlicher frum yidden are these?

So I took my misgivings to "Captain Von Trupp," my Bar Mitzva teacher. He wasn't much help, he gave me a lot of evasive answers, but finally, (after seeing the first draft of my bar-mitzvah speech where I raised the issue), the rabbi agreed to to talk to me. The rabbi wasn't much help, he gave me a lot of jive about how the word "zonah" meant "caterer."

I bought it at the time (and fortunately didn't call the rebbetzin, who was the shul caterer and prepared a very nice luncheon for us, a "zonah.") But thinking back on it, the rabbi's answer was a crock.

First, I dare anyone here to go to Israel, arrange for a catered meal, and then call the caterer a "zonah." That said, you do so at your own risk, and I will not pay any resulting emergency room bills.

Second, if Rachav the Zonah was a caterer, I find it hard to believe that she was a kosher caterer. She was a Canaanite pagan who lived in Jericho, after all. Which means that even if the spies weren't out shtupping and engaging in all sorts of lewdness, then they were eating treif food!

Therefore I can come to only one conclusion. What the Torah text here teaches us is that, if one is on a mission of vital importance to the Jewish people, then one is permitted to either eat treif food, patronize houses of prostitution, or both.


Blogger Mis-nagid said...

Two little things:
1) Can you please comment on this?
2) Can you please remove the link to the blog address that is no longer mine.


2:47 PM  
Blogger Mirty said...

LOL - I can't believe the rabbi tried to get away with saying the word "zonah" meant "caterer."
I guess he figured it sounded like "mazon"....

1:54 PM  
Blogger Conservative Apikoris said...

LOL - I can't believe the rabbi tried to get away with saying the word "zonah" meant "caterer."
I guess he figured it sounded like "mazon"....

This is actually a pretty standard Rabbinic interpretation. I think it might be rashi, or it could be even earlier.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Mis-nagid said...

Mirty, It's clear that you're lucky enough to be unfamiliar with classical rabbinic apologetics. They're "classics" all right!

3:38 PM  
Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

I stumbled across your blog, and must say that your comments and observations are unique, to say the least.

For my part, I will neither convince you to stay within the fold nor leave it. Guilt, of course can be a powerful tool, and considering there are only about 13 million of us left worldwide, may feel a slight obligation, but don't worry, all will turn out as it should!

As you will see from my own blog, each answer creates another question.

11:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually Rehab made a mean blintz and had the best Nova Scotia in town. "Zonah" is derived from the Canaanite practice of zoning kosher businesses so they had to be in walls. But truly, what kind of CJ are you, not to read R. Mordechai Silverstein's weekly dvar on the haftarah? O yes, you're the soi-disant apikorus kind -- but we're all learning. Here it is for last week:

Parshat Shelach Lekha
Joshua 2:1-24
June 25, 2005

Rehab hazonah - the harlot is the true heroine of Joshua's spy mission. She risks her own life and that of her family to save the spies from being captured. The storyline emphasizes her dramatic role by making her the only named character in the story. Joshua's two spies remain totally anonymous whereas Rehab's character is fleshed out. We learn about not only her but also about her abiding concern for the welfare of her family.

There were apparently two trends in the tradition about how to portray her heroic character. Targum Yonathon, attempts to repair her character from the very start. It translates "zonah" not as "harlot" but as "innkeeper" from the root "zun" meaning "to feed". This tradition cannot abide this heroic woman as a harlot.

The other trend finds something heroic in the very fact that Rehab was a harlot, since her being a harlot provided an opportunity for her experience of God to change her life and way of looking at the world, as we see in the following midrash: "[What prompted Rehab's change of heart?] Rehab the harlot said to Joshua's messengers: 'For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Reed Sea before you, whe you came out of Egypt… and as soon as we heard it our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any spirit in any man because of you.' (Joshua 2:10-11) They say that Rehab was ten years old when Israel went out from Egypt. And forty years that Israel wandered in the desert, she practiced harlotry. At the end of her fiftieth year, she converted, saying before the Holy One Blessed Be He: 'I have sinned in three things [customers apparently used these three means for entering her home – see Rashi, Zevahim 116b], forgive me because of those same three things, rope, the window and the wall, as it is said: 'Then she let them down by way of a rope through the window; for her house was by the side of the wall, and she dwelt upon the wall.'" (Verse 15)

(Adopted from Mechilta de Rabbi Ishmael Masechet Amalek Parshat Yitro Horowitz Rabin ed. pp. 188-9)

6:54 PM  
Blogger Conservative Apikoris said...

Actually Rehab made a mean blintz and had the best Nova Scotia in town.

You know this from experience?

7:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But don't tell the Rebbetzin -- I don't want her to know how old I really am ;) .

4:57 AM  
Blogger Conservative Apikoris said...

But don't tell the Rebbetzin -- I don't want her to know how old I really am ;)

You mean you don't want to tell her what you do on business trips.

Come to thnk of it, with the Spies, I wonder how they reported that night with Rahab on their expense account?

7:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Canaanites picked up the whole tab. Moreover, the red thread investment is still paying off for the Bergs and their mekooobalim.

2:19 AM  
Blogger Avi said...

What a difficult heading I picked. "Only the truth" Do you realize how difficult it is to dig out the truth from the mountain of lies that the truth is buried underneath. I read the comments on President George Bush. They call him a liar. So what? Bill Clinton was also a liar " I did not have sex with that woman" Does anybody tell the truth anymore. I know a rabbi ( no names mentioned) who does not know what the word truth is. Thats ok, there are plenty of preists who also dont know what truth means. One of the names of God is " Emes" which means truth. That is probably the ultimate truth. That there is a God . The world belongs to someone. The world has an owner.

12:14 AM  
Blogger Conservative Apikoris said...

That is probably the ultimate truth. That there is a God . The world belongs to someone. The world has an owner.

but from the attention the world seems to get from God, I would say that the world is an abandoned property.

9:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's very logical that Rachav would be a "harlot" and that the spies would go there.
It's the easiest place for spies to avoid detection since all kinds of people go there anonymously & they could pick up some pretty good intelligence on what's going on with the general populace etc.\


3:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...from the attention the world seems to get from God, I would say that the world is an abandoned property."
Sounds like Genesis Rabbah 39.1:
R. Isaac taught: A man was wandering from place to place when he came upon a castle on fire. He said: Looks like this castle has no master. Just then the master of the castle looked out the window and said: I am the master of the castle. So, when Abram said, Looks like the world is without a master, HQBH looked out and said to him: I am the master of the world.
I would say that Abraham saw the burning castle not just as an unfortunate fact to be bemoaned, but as a summons to cooperate with its master to fight the fire. (And compare Sari Laufer's DVAR ON PARSHAT LECH L`CHA.)
If the world looks like an abandoned property, maybe that's because G-d wants our help in tikkun olam, fixing it up.

11:26 PM  
Blogger Conservative Apikoris said...

If the world looks like an abandoned property, maybe that's because G-d wants our help in tikkun olam, fixing it up.

That makes no sense. A property in poor repair isn't neccesarily abandoned. Beside, the world works pretty well on its own; the problems start when the humans try to "improve" it, whether physcially or spiritually.

7:32 AM  
Blogger Balabusta in Blue Jeans said...

'Caterer'. Oy. 'Innkeeper' I have heard, as a translation of zonah, but 'caterer' is a new one for me.

Either way, it works out well for Joshua--didn't he marry her? Either spectacular sex or really delish spinach puffs. Maybe both.

Laughing very hard.

1:37 AM  
Blogger jsirpicco said...

Hey ConAp -

Why bother? Jsirpicco KNOWS the conservative movement, dude. Believe me...what a complete and utter waste of time...come on man, just jump in to the waters of Torah, give yourself over to'll sleep better at night and not have to torture yourself with so many dumb questions!

7:58 PM  
Blogger Conservative Apikoris said...

you'll sleep better at night and not have to torture yourself with so many dumb questions!

I sleep perfectly well at night, and, as my teachers taught me, no question in "dumb."

7:39 AM  
Blogger Conservative Apikoris said...

give yourself over to Hashem.

Giving myself over the Hashem is one thing. Giving myself over to the charlatan rabbis who claim they know what Hashem wants is another.

7:40 AM  
Blogger Ben Sorer Moreh said...

I'm late with my comment, too, so sue me...

I used to snicker, about zonah being "grocer" ha-hah, but as I grew older (and learned a bit of history,) I believe that I understand the "nuance".

"Zan" is literally "provide" and that is what a hooker does, right?

Consider the historic whorehouses of the old west, New Orleans, etc. Not only were there "harlots" to be had, but that's where one went for food, drink, ragtime piano, a bed for the night. In short, "everone comes to Rahab's" and that's where one would go when scouting out a new town. As such, the holistic interpretation of "zonah" is probably right.

Incidentally, there's a prominent Jewish family whose fortunes were based on running inns in the west, with strong allegations of "a bit extra" as well. A grand-child was reputed to have said "well, if my great-grandfather ran a whorehouse in Montana, it must have been the best one in Montana."

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God doesn't sanction these actions.

5:04 PM  
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