Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Four Sons and Rabbinic incompetence

Well, after this year's seder, I've decided that the Rabbis are likely a bunch of charlatans, interpreting texts to mean whatever they want them to mean. And if they can do it, why can't I?

As a case in point, here is the story of the Four Sons, or at least the "Wise" son and "Wicked" son, which comprise most of the interest of this passage:

The wise one, what does he say? "What are the testimonies, the statutes and the laws which the L-rd, our G-d, has commanded you?" (Deuteronomy 6:20) You, in turn, shall instruct him in the laws of Pesach, [up to] `one is not to eat any dessert after the Pesach-lamb.'

The wicked one, what does he say? "What is this service to you?!" (Exodus 12:26) He says `to you,' but not to him! By thus excluding himself from the community he has denied the foundations of our faith. You, therefore, blunt his teeth and say to him: "It is because of this that the L-rd did for me when I left Egypt"; `for me' - but not for him! If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed!"

The point of this little exchange is that skeptical, apikorsic folks (like me! :) ) would not have been redeemed from Egypt. But this conclusion is not supported by the text, and the reasoning of the sages is so bogus that it was even commented on by at least one other Sage.

The claim is that by saying "to you" instead of "to us," the wicked son is excluding himself from the Jewish community -- hence he would not have been redeemed. But the wise son said "commanded you," not "commanded us." So maybe the wise wouldn't have been redeemed, either?

So I checked my haggadah collection, and at least one commentary points out that the wicked son used the word "avodah" ("service") to describe the Passover ritual; "Avodah" and also mean "work," and is, of course, related to "eved," the Hebrew word for slave. Also, as is pointed out by Nechama Leibowitz," while the verse (Deut. 6:20) associated with he wise son is posed as a question,("When your son asks you an the morrow, saying.."), the verse associated with the wicked son is a statement ("...your children will say to you, 'what is this service?'.."). Such a statement could be perceived as being challenging in they that Jew for Jesus will get on a Jewish forum and ask "innocent" questions about the messiah.

OK, all that is fine, but it still doesn't support the Haggada text's assertion that the wicked son would not of been redeemed. After all the wise son also says "the laws God commanded you."

Now, what's interesting is that the official tactic of the Conservative movement is to change the text. Not just the English text, which is a common Conservative cop-pout, but the actual Hebrew text -- of the Tanakh itself!

Go check out the Haggadah known as the Feast of Freedom, the authorized version published by the Rabbinical Assembly. Basically, what they did was to emend the text so that the wise son says "What are the testimonies, etc. that God commanded us?" Now, of course, the passage makes more sense, but it is no longer based on the Torah.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is actually the way that the verse appears in the Yerushalmi. It is also the actual version that appears in the Septuigant. So the RA haggadah may have more of a basis than you think.

1:44 AM  
Anonymous uncle moishy said...

I have a different question. On what basis do we claim that anyone who willfully separated himself from the community would not have been freed from Egypt? As far as I can tell, all Israelites left Egypt -- the good, the bad and the ugly. So why claim that the evil son is so evil that he wouldn't have been sprung by God?

11:10 PM  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

uncle moishy, I can answer this.

On the basis that only those who ACTIVELY included themselves in the Jewish people (by painting blood over their doorposts) were passed over by the tenth plague, and thus not only escaped, but escaped with families intact. This is the peoplehood precursor to Sinai - where everyone opts in (obviously on pain of nasty consequences, but still)...

6:09 PM  

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