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Monday, January 26, 2015

Hilkhot Niddah: Laws to Curtail or Laws to Guide Toward Beautiful Love and Sex

In reading this NY Times article, I was struck by a passing point in the article about Hilkhot Nidda. Something is off when we think that we need to strive for good sexuality and relationships in spite of Nidda. We are learning Hillhot Nidda this year in The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies Kollel and the Yeshivat Maale Gilboa kollel and are seeing that the Halakhot and even the classic Halakhic discussions are about the ethics and desire of relationship with the aesthetic (tum'a) serving merely as a merging of limbic psychology with the ethical. This problem of misunderstanding Halakha as abstractions and thus failing to learn them as ways of seeing how to be human is true for all of Halakha, but pots and pans do not generally get in the way of experiencing our human selves as much as does treating certain halakhot as abstractions.
http://www.nytimes.com/…/magazine/the-orthodox-sex-guru.html

Sunday, August 3, 2014

shiurim - halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai?

The Rules of Quantities
In my upcoming book, I show that Tannaitic through early Medieval Byzantine Halakha treated no lived norms as Divine fiats.  Here, I will briefly address the existence of another area of law that apparently has been treated as ontologically real and unresponsive to changed conditions.  These are the rules of quantities.  These include rules regarding the quantities of food that one must eat or must avoid.  Although these rules are never declared fiats, Amoraic declarations that the traditions of quantities are ancient traditions that go back to Sinai[1] could lead one to think that these rabbis approached the rules of quantities as non-contextually dependent.  It is true that there were sages who posited that a contemporary Sanhedrin is the body that always establishes the contemporary quantities.[2]  Nonetheless, the former Amoraim seemingly would consider measurements to be Divine fiats.
That distinction between Amoraic approaches, however, is simplistic.  Even the Babylonian Amoraim who stated that quantities were Sinaitic learned the earlier Tannaitic debates over the legally significant quantities for different prescriptions or commandments.[3]  Thus even the position that the rules of quantities are Sinaitic took into account the fact that the quantities were debated.  Accordingly, their ideological statement that all the quantities are from Sinai, cannot exclude the realization that quantities are contextual and experiential since there are no other bases for debating the different quantities of food that one must eat or must avoid for various mitzvoth and proscriptions.
The modernist Orthodox Talmudist and historian R. Zvi Chajes (Galicia, 1806-1855) offered an explanation to the question of how measurements could have been viewed both as Sinaitic and as debatable.  He suggested that the possible sizes (such as the sizes of an olive, date or egg) are Sinaitic but that human sages decided which measurements to apply to each issue on the basis of the experiential considerations that underlie each issue.[4]  In Saussarian terms, [5] Chajes’ explanation assumed that there is a Sinaitic cultural langue of Halakhic sizes within which humans have decided the Halakhic parole of how to play out the range of sizes. 
However: although Chajes’ explanation complements this book’s finding that Tannaim through Amoraim treated norms as context dependent, the explanation needs improvement in light of Mishnaic counter-evidence.  The Mishna both records that Tannaim debated the precise size of some of the designated measurements[6] – such as the size of an olive.  They even argued that the size of a designated measurement – such as the size of an olive – is not consistent; it differs for different Halakhic issues. [7]  Thus: although the Tannaim utilized the sizes of real objects, they did not have a fixed list with fixed definitions; they simply explained their positions against the available background of produce and body parts.  In short, even the langue was both vague and debated.
A better explanation of the Mishnaic evidence and one that more accurately reflects how quantities become decided historically is the explanation offered by a contemporary Sanz-Klauzenberg hasid, R. Yaakov Meir Weider.  He suggests that it was only the basic and shared understandings of an issue that Amoraim viewed as Sinaitic.  For example, all Tannaim agreed that a sukka dwelling booth must be at least large enough for an individual to live in it – since the whole idea of a sukka is to “dwell” in a temporary hut.  That understanding was viewed as being Sinaitic.  Amoraim differed only over whether the definition of “large enough for an individual to live in” need include a table.[8]  This explanation not only better fits the Tannaitic evidence on this issue, which we just mentioned.  Rather, it is line with this book’s finding that since Tannaitic through Amoraic Halakha was based on understanding norms contextually so were there debates always around shared concerns; in a living culture, there is a great degree of a shared sense of what a practice is about in spite of minor differences of emphasis that can lead to debates regarding the shared practice.  More importantly for this book’s thesis, Weider’s explanation suggests that rabbinic sages would compare the example of the practice that they had received with contemporary conditions.
Neither explanation can be proven.  However, this last explanation is more likely in light of the fact that it both explains how an Amora could consider measurements to be Sinaitic even as measurements are debated and complements our other findings on Tannaitic through Amoraic law as contextual law.  Moreover, in the next volume of this work we will see that this was the approach of leading rabbis in the modern period.  We will see that seeming rabbinic distortions of the traditional measurements in the modern period were new phrasings of these traditional and continuous human considerations.  Thus: it would not be surprising was this the case during the Tannaitic through Amoraic periods, too.
(These are my preliminary thoughts.)



[1] Rav in b. Sukka 5b; R. Yohanan in y. Pe’a 1:1 and b. Yoma 80a.
[2] R. Hoshaya in y. Pe’a 1:1 along with R. Yona and R. Yossi.
[3] For example, see m. Beitza 1:1; baraita b. Beitza 7b; baraita b. Yoma 79b.
[4] Novella MaHaRa”Tz Hayyot, Yoma 80a.
[5] Saussure 1966, 14.
[6] m. Kelim 17:6, 10.
[7] m. Kelim 17:9-10 et al. This is aside from the fact that different parts of the country indicated different sizes/volumes via the same terms (Sifrei Zuta, Bamidbar 15:19).
[8] Weider 1994, 43-45.  Note: As a Sanz-Klauzenberg Hasid, R. Yaakov Meir Weider probably borrowed this explanation from R. Yekutiel Halberstam (1904-1955) – the posek and rebbe of the Sanz-Klausenberg Hassidic dynasty who offered this explanation only as regards those Amoraim who held that the measurements are not Sinaitic (Responsa Divrei Yatziv OH 262:3).

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Hukkim and the Midrash on Korah (selection from chapter of my book draft)

(selections from)


Chapter Five: Wise Hukkim

and

The Byzantine Sermonic Ideology of a Solitary Divine Fiat

Elisha Ancselovits
B. The Sifra’s Distinction Between Particularistic and Social Laws
Theoretically, this chapter showing that Tannaim did not believe in inexplicable Divine fiats should be unnecessary.  We should be able to simply point out that most Tannaitic commentary followed late Second Temple sources[1] in viewing the Biblical words “hukkim” and “mishpatim” as synonymous designations for “laws”.[2]  We should be able to simply point out that even the merely two Tannaitic elaborations on the word hukkim also discuss laws that are explicable:
  1. In one version of R. Yehoshua’s elaboration on Exodus 15:26, the Biblical word hukkim is translated as the additional norms implied by the Torah’s legal examples.[3]  This version parallels the words of a Sifra editor whom we quoted in an earlier chapter (II-E3): “‘All the hukkim (statutes)’ – these are the midrashot (exegeses)” (Sifra Shemini 1:9).  It parallels the late Second Temple sources that designate the righteous teacher of the law who pointed additional norms implied by Biblical laws by the title of me-hokek (CD 6.7-8). (In another version, the order is changed and R. Yehoshua followed the broader trend of reading the Biblical word hukkim as simply halakhot.[4])
  1. The other elaboration – that of R. Eleazar haModa’i[5] and a Sifra editor[6] – referred to a local Biblical use of word hukkim that discusses “rules forbidding taboo sexual relations.”  Sexual taboos were viewed as common sense: the first generation Amora, Shmuel, pointed out that these sexual taboos were decreed to all of humanity from its inception (b. Sanhedrin 60a) while his contemporary, Rav, taught that a Noahide must be willing to sacrifice his life in order to avoid these taboo sexual relations (b. Sanhedrin 57a); Rav and Shmuel explicitly claimed – in rabbinic terminology – that the taboos should be obvious to all people.
However, in spite of the evidence that the Tannaim had no concept of inexplicable Divine fiat,[7] the following misread midrash makes this chapter necessary.
A Sifra midrash distinguishes between the Torah’s social laws that are common to many cultures and the Torah’s particularistic laws:
You shall fulfill my judgments" (Leviticus 18:4)
These are the matters that are written in the Torah which, had they not been written, would obviously have to be written:  theft, sexually taboo relationships, alien worship [i.e. idolatry], cursing the Name, and murder.  Had they not been written, they would obviously have had to be written.
[“and observe my hukkim” (Leviticus 18:4)]
These are the matters which one’s evil inclination and the idolatrous nations of the world retort against: the consumption of pig, the wearing of mixed fibers, the release of a levirate wife, the purification of the leper, and the goat that is cast out.  Because the evil inclination and the idolatrous nations of the world retort against them, it teaches:
"I, the Eternal” (Leviticus 18:5) decreed [them];
you have no right to retort against them.
(Sifra, Aharei Mot 9:13:10)[8]
In light of the fact that the defense of the particularistic norms is: “I the Eternal decreed; you have no right to retort against them”, academic scholars have understandably misread the midrash as stating that hukkim are inexplicable Divine fiats.[9]
We will now see, however, that a reading of the whole midrashic passage – instead of merely these two paragraphs – clarifies the meaning of God’s response in the midrash.  We will first see that the Sifra responded to Hellenistic critics of Jewish Law by arguing the opposite – that all of the Torah’s laws are the most ancient traditions and wise practices.  This was in line with earlier sources that translated hukkim as ancient (Targumim[10]) and righteous (Septuagint and Philo[11]) norms – δικαιωματα.  We will then see that it was only against Pauline Christians who claimed to be believers in God and yet retorted against His decrees[12] via Biblical verses that the midrash passage added a further argument.  We will see that the midrash’s closing argument rebukes Pauline ideology that justified dismantling Biblical Law to match current Gentile practice for the supposed fulfillment of the Torah.  Instead of arguing for Divine fiat, the midrash rebuked Pauline ideology by aptly citing the closing words of the Biblical command to avoid being drawn after the bad norms of another culture (Leviticus 18:2-4): “I the Eternal” decreed.
The midrashic passage begins with a response to the claim by politically hegemonic Hellenes that Gentile norms are ancient wise traditions[13] (conventions) while particularistic Jewish religious norms are excessive and unnecessary.  The midrash responds both by arguing that Torah norms are superior to Hellenistic cultural norms in being more ancient and wiser since they come from God and by condemning as problematic sexual practices and cruel practices long condoned by Hellenistic cultures.  First it condemns Hellenistic practices:
[I the Eternal am your God.  You shall not imitate the practices of the land of Egypt in which you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I am bringing you; in their hukkim you shall not walk.  My rules you shall observe, and my hukkot you shall follow: I the Eternal am your God.  You shall keep my hukkot and my judgments, through the observance of which a man shall live: I am the Eternal. (Leviticus 18:3-5)]
"You shall not imitate the practices of the land of Egypt […] and the practices of the land of Canaan
Could this mean that they [the Israelites] should not build such buildings or plant such plants as they do, therefore it says:
"In their hukkim you shall not walk"
I [God] did not speak except in [regard to] hukkim that are legislated/engraved[14] [i.e. ingrained] for them, for their fathers, and for their grandfathers.

What would they do?  A man would be married to a man and a woman to a woman, a man would marry a woman and her daughter, and a woman would be married to two.
Therefore it says: "in their hukkim you shall not walk".      …
What did [Scripture] come to teach in saying: "And in their hukkim you may not walk" (Leviticus 18:3)?
That you should not walk in their cultural norms – in things that have been legislated/engraved[15] (i.e. ingrained) for them (i.e. ancient conventions), such as theaters, circuses, and gladiator arenas….
Then the midrash argues for the sagacity and hoary authority of Jewish cultural practices:
Lest you say, 'They have hukkim (i.e. ancient conventions) and we do not have hukkim', it comes and teaches us:
"My laws you shall observe and my hukkim you shall maintain to walk in them; I am the Eternal your God" (Leviticus 18:4).
The evil inclination can still hope to denigrate and say that theirs are better than ours, so it comes to teach us:
"[I have taught you hukkim and judgments….] Maintain them and do them, for it is your wisdom and your insight" (Deuteronomy 4:[5-]6).
(Sifra, Aharei Mot 9:12:8)[16]
The midrash responded to the Hellenistic claim of cultural superiority by asserting first that the Jewish norms (hukkim) are the truly ancient norms in coming from God and second that they are the truly wise norms that come from God.
            In light of the midrash's argument that hukkim are the hoariest and wisest laws, the end of this midrashic section (which we saw above) cannot be read as a claim of inexplicable Divine fiat.  A claim of inexplicability would contradict the midrash passage’s argument.  In fact, a review of the linguistic and historical evidence reveals that the concluding argument is an additional response directed to Pauline Christians who claimed that God and Tanakh do not want ritual norms actualized in practice.  The midrash’s conclusion argues that the God of Tanakh whom these Pauline Christians claim to accept forbids them to reject his norms even when some people argue that the norms are wrong or nonsensical.
We have three points of evidence for the fact that the midrash’s conclusion was directed against Pauline Christians:
a.       One: the conclusion rebukes a group that both accepted God and Tanakh and yet attacked Halakhic Judaism on these five particular ritual norms: (1) the consumption of pig, (2) the wearing of mixed fibers, (3) the removal of a levirate wife, (4) the purification of the leper, and (5) the goat that is cast out.
b.      Two: A later midrashic editor on a similar list by R. Levi of Tiberias[17] (a third century Eretz-Israel Amora) wrote that the problematic common trait of these laws is that the Torah itself appears to uphold these laws inconsistently.[18]  This is a characterization that readily applies to the Sifra’s list, too (including the law of purification of the leper[19]).  However, this characterization does not explain why this group attacked the Biblically consistent proscription of pig and why it ignored other Biblical laws that appear to be inconsistent.[20]  We, therefore, realize that this group’s ideology must have both attacked these specific four specific laws as inconsistent and attacked the injunction against consuming pig although it is not inconsistent.
c.       Third: The Sifra identified this ideological position as shared both by some Jews’ evil inclinations and by idolatrous gentiles while another Tannaitic source identifies those Jews who attack Biblical legal contradiction as Epicureans.[21]  However: although Epicurean ideology did deny piety through ritual[22] and Tannaim did describe Epicurean attacks on Biblical legal inconsistency, this midrash’s citation of God’s response does not seem to be directed at Epicureans.  Citing God’s response that nobody has a right to retort would be a very weak midrashic move against Epicureans.  It would not be an inconceivable move,[23] but it would be unlikely.  However, Christians were often linked with Epicureans in the second century CE of the Roman Empire.[24]  In fact, R. Yohanan of Tiberias explicitly applied the Tannaitic call for diligent defense against Epicurean charges of Biblical legal inconsistencies to Christians.[25]
These three points of evidence reveal that the midrash was directed against Pauline Christians.   Pauline Christianity was heavily identified with Gentiles[26] of “the idolatrous nations” but also included Jews[27] misled by “the evil inclination”.[28]  Furthermore: as we will now see, Pauline Christianity of the Tannaitic through Amoraic period challenged these five specific laws as irrelevant and inconsistent.
Three of the laws referenced in the midrash were attacked by Pauline Christianity as irrelevant:
a.       The first law in the Sifra’s list is the injunction against the consumption of pig.  Jews and Romans/Hellenists alike were conscious of the cultural distinction between Jews who’s Torah forbids the consumption of pig and Romans who celebrated the consumption of pig.[29]  The tension over this issue is highlighted by the fact that although the pig is listed explicitly in the Torah as a forbidden animal, another Sifra passage (Shemini 6:7) bothered to justify the proscription of pig: in response to those Jews in the hegemonic Roman and Hellenistic culture who argued that the fact that a pig is hoofed similarly to other kosher animals should suffice to make it acceptable, that Sifra passage pointed out that a kosher animal must also be a true (herbivore) ruminant as opposed to a (resource destructive) omnivore pig. (We will see more on the Biblical and rabbinic opposition to pig as a destructive animal, below ??).  Similarly, R. Eleazar b. Azarya described even some observant Jews who were uncomfortable with stating that pig is forbidden and preferred to say, “I don’t want to eat pig”.[30]  In line with this reality, our Sifra passage, responded to an even more religiously significant challenge to the injunction against eating pig than the fact that some sinful Jews ate pig or were embarrassed over the fact that they avoided pig; worse than the mere reality that some of the more Romanized Jews ate pig[31] was the ideological challenge of the Pauline church of the “idolatrous nations” that invalidated both the Jewish ethical practice (as discussed below ??) and cultural marker of avoiding pig.[32]  For example, the late first century–early second century CE Epistle of Barnabas[33] claims that the Biblical injunction against the consumption of pig is only an allegorical injunction against associating with disgusting people.[34]
Faced with a Christian challenge to the legitimacy of the Biblical law forbidding the consumption of pig, this Sifra midrash did not merely assert that the Jewish ritual norms (hukkim) are the only truly ancient traditional and wise human norms that come from God.  Rather, it also rebuked those Gentile Christians and Jews to whom the Tannaim could not communicate the norm’s wisdom as they saw it because these people were not inclined to seek Biblical Law’s wisdom in permitting herbivores alone.[35]  The midrash rebuked those Pauline Christians as having no right to ignore the fact that God Himself forbade pig.[36]
b.      The fourth law in the Sifra’s and the parallel Amoraic midrash’s list is the purification ritual – whether of sprinkled blood or of muddy ashes.[37]  The Sifra lists purification of the cured leper, a person who had successfully repented of a sin that had caused him this severe illness.[38]  The Amoraic midrash lists purification of the person who had ended the first week of impurity over human death (a phenomenon also attributed to sin – Genesis ch2).  These purification rites, that were explicable to the Tannaim (as we will see below ??), were attacked by Gentile Christians: Not only did the first century CE Epistle to the Hebrews[39] declare that Jesus’ death and blood sprinkles the repentant believer and immerses him in pure water.  Rather, the Pauline Epistle to the Romans[40] [and the Epistle to the Hebrews[41]] even imply or can be read to imply that Jesus’ blood had replaced the need for a red heifer.[42]  More significantly, contemporary Christian sources such as the Epistle of Barnabas[43] declared explicitly that the Biblical commandment of purification via a red heifer is a prophecy of Jesus’ coming and not a ritual commandment.
Once again – given these challenges to the legitimacy of this biblical law – the midrash not only asserted that the Torah norms (hukkim) are the only truly ancient and wise norms, in coming from God.  Rather, the midrash further asserted that even the wisdom-challenged Christians have no right to tamper with God’s decrees.
c.       The fifth law in the Sifra, the law of the Yom Kippur scapegoat, finds similar explanation.  A common Christian claim,[44] found for example in the Epistle to Barnabas[45] and drawing even on Matthew,[46] was that Jesus was the ultimate scapegoat who replaced the need for such sacrificial atonement.  Once again, the midrash responded to this explicable ritual by asserting that Christians do not have a right to tamper with God’s law.[47]
Thus far, we have seen that three of the five commandments for which the midrash offered the response of Divine Decree were unnecessary under Pauline theology and a challenge to the Gentile ideology that Jesus’ person had replaced these practices.  We will now see that the other two laws rankled Gentile Christians even further and were condemned as inconsistent:
a.       As regards the critique of the law of levirate release,[48] Greek and Roman societies – and thus Pauline Christians – were officially monogamous[49] and had no levirate ties.  Thus, not only those Middle Eastern Pauline Christians who opposed marriage[50] but even those Gentile Christians who allowed marriage for the laity[51] were astounded by remarriage[52] and especially by marriage between a man and his (Biblically forbidden) sister-in-law.[53]  Accordingly: it is not surprising that in spite of Deuteronomy’s explicit statement that a man’s levirate marriage with his childless brother’s wife was for the sake of the dead brother‘s memory,[54] Gentile Christians ridiculed a claim that a man could have a marital tie with a woman who had been forbidden to him as a relative and would still have been forbidden to him as a relative had the brother died with children.[55]
b.      The proscription against wearing clothes of expensive linen in which high quality wool is woven[56] so that the linen clothes can be dyed or wearing expensive and dyable silk and sea silk[57] challenged Roman values.  Roman ideology, in contrast to Biblical and rabbinic ideology that permitted only wearing cheaper dyed wool clothes and plain linen clothes[58], valued class and wealth distinctions in dress – such as the upper classes wearing dyed linen and even silk.[59]  However, the rabbis did not merely forbid such fancy clothes and condemn men who dressed up in fancy red wool togas with with fancy adornment shields on the holidays.[60]  Rather, Deuteronomy and the Tannaim challenged Roman cultural values further by pushing for high class equalization in dress; Deuteronomy and the Tannaim expected every Jewish citizen to wear the same expensive dyed stripes of status on their cloaks – a merely woolen thread died with expensive Tyrian blue on each corner of one’s himation [Greek], pallium [Latin], or tallit [Aramaic].[61]
Since these equalizing forms of dress[62]conflicted with Roman ideology,[63] opponents not only ridiculed the Biblical proscription against wearing linen in which dyeable wool was woven[64] but also ridiculed it as inconsistent with the obligation to add blue wool fringes dyed with expensive Tyrian blue.[65]  As the midrashic editor of R. Levi’s list (above) explicitly stated, the injunction against wearing linen garments into which dyeable wool had been woven was ridiculed as inconsistent with the fact that Dueteronomy obligated Tyrian blue woolen fringes on all cloaks – including linen cloaks.[66]
That the obligatory blue fringes mark of equality rankled those rich Jews and Christians who shared the Roman ideology finds further support from a midrash that commented on the Biblical rebellion of Korah and various renowned Israelites and Levites.[67]  The Biblical passage easily reads as a story of rebellious aristocrats who claim contradictorily that leadership should be transferred away from the failed leader[68] Moses, who had grabbed power away from the Israelites who are all holy,[69] and that leadership should be granted to another individual or class.[70]  Thus: just as earlier Jews had recognized this story as the story of demagogues who try to come to power via democratic claims,[71] the following midrash presented Korah as a type of demagogue.  It presented Korah as arguing that instead of having to wear fringes dyed with Tyrian blue he and his followers should be allowed to adopt the High Priest’s aristocratic garment of Tyrian blue (Exodus 28:31-32) with no fringes.  This claim by the rich of the right to distinguish themselves from the rank and file commoners by wearing aristircratic garments of Tyrian blue (without equalizing fringes) was a very Roman claim.[72]  Similarly: this midrash’s Korah argued that the rich should also be allowed to distinguish themselves from the poor as the Roman rich copied the aristocracy – through owning personal libraries of the classics[73] – and freeing themselves from the commoners’ minimalist door-scroll (mezuza):[74]
Korah challenged Moses: What is the law regarding a himation that is completely dyed with Tyrian blue?
[Moses] answered: It is obligated in fringes.
[Korah] replied: If the fact that the whole garment is dyed Tyrian blue does not suffice, will four threads do so?
[Korah challenged Moses:] What is the law regarding a house full of [Biblical] scrolls?
[Moses] answered: It is obligated in a mezuzah.
[Korah] replied: If [a whole scroll of] 275 sections do[es] not exempt the house, one section will do so?  You were not commanded regarding these matters but rather made them up yourself. …
When Moses relayed: “And they shall add a thread of Tyrian-blue to the corner fringes”, Korach ordered two hundred and fifty Tyrian-blue himations and those same [two hundred and fifty] heads of synhedrons [a Greek name for political and friendship alliances] that rose against Moses wrapped themselves in them.
(Bamidbar Rabbah, chapter 18 – and parallels)
According to this midrash, Korah tried to upturn these equalizing rule by claiming that God never told Moses and Aaron that all Jews must wear equalizing fringes and have an equalizing minimalist mezuzah on their doors – in the same way that wealthy non-aristocratic Romans claimed the legitimacy to arrogate equivalent status for themselves[75] in distinction from the less wealthy and the poor.[76]
The Pauline Christians in our Sifra midrash parallel this last midrash’ contemporary versions of Korah.  They both argued against the inconsistency of the rule of wearing dyed woolen threads.  They both favored the right to wear expensive Tyrian blue cloaks.  In response, this last midrash exposed the rich people’s claim of equality with the aristocracy as a cynical attempt to become upper class.  In response, our Sifra midrash had God rebuke them.  This battle is even reflected in Tannaitic Halakha.  Tannaim forbade extravagantly expensive real silk and sea silk less severely than dyed linen;[77] these materials were less relevant to social tensions since they were out of reach to any but select people in the Roman Empire.
In short: all five of the commandments listed in this midrash were not viewed as inexplicable by the rabbis themselves.  Rather, these commandments challenged Roman Hellenistic Christian theology and mores, and so these commandments became viewed by Pauline Christians as self-contradictory. 
The Sifra responded to these Pauline claims to subvert the Bible from within the Bible by rebuking those who arrogantly tamper with God’s law.  The Sifra responded to the Pauline challengers of these Biblical laws, to those people who “know Him but deny Him” (t. Shabbat 13:5) in the name of “a Son who has been made perfect forever” [Hebrews 7:28], by labeling these Christians “idolatrous nations” and Jews led astray by “the evil inclination”. [78]  The Sifra pointed out that the God that these people allege to accept had decreed these laws:
[Although] the evil inclination and the idolatrous nations of the world refute these practices, the verse [itself] teaches: "I the Eternal” decreed it; you have no right to refute them [i.e. the Eternal laws].” 
At no point, however did the Sifra reject its own claim that those people who are not led astray by the evil inclination can indeed see the wisdom of these hukkim, these most hoary of norms.  The Sifra’s insider position to Jews (above) was: “it is your wisdom and your insight.”




[1] For example, see the use of the word mishpatim in 1QS 6.6-8, CD 7.7-8, CD 14.7-8 and of the word hukkim in 1QS 10.10, CD 4.7-8, 1QSa 1.7 (sources that are all juxtaposed for a different point in Fraade 2011, 50-55 and notes).
[2] Sifrei Bamidbar Korah #119; et al.
[3] Mechilta, Yitro – Parsha 2.
[4] ??.
[5] Mechilta, Yitro – Parsha 2 (and Mekhilta, Beshalah – Parsha 1).
[6] Aharei Mot 9:13:22.
[7] A variant claim is the claim by early Amoraim, that hukkim are those laws that demand loyalty to the laws of nature (y. Kilayim 1:7; cf. Shmuel in b. Kiddushin 39a = b. Sanhedrin 60a).
[8] Cf. baraita b. Yoma 67b and parallels.
[9] Kadushin 1964, 44-45; Ross 1992, 202 n.16; Fine 2003, 189; et al.  Cf. Novak 1997, 62.
[10] For example: the Targumim to Leviticus 18:4 and Deuteronomy 4:6-8.  A variation of this definition of hukkim as ancient cultural norms is the definition of hukkim as the hoary holidays (Exodus Rabba [Vilna] 15:25) and Shabbat (Midrash Aggada [Buber] 18:20), an understanding that is attributed as far back as the first generation Eretz-Israel amora, R. Yohanan (Shir haShrim Rabba [Vilna] Parsha 1).
[11] As noted by Harry Wolfson (1947, 335).
[12] Cf. t. Shabbat 13:1.
[13] For some Greek and Roman sources on trusting ancient laws, see Zlotnick 1988, 139-143.
[14] This is presumably a play on Hellenistic pride in the laws of Solon.
[15] This is presumably a play on Greek pride in the laws of Solon.
[16] And parallels.
[17]  R. Yehoshua of Sakhnin said in the name of [his teacher] R. Levi: The evil inclination refutes four matters, and in all them it is written “hukka”:
a.                    a brother’s wife (Leviticus 18:5, 17),
b.                   the [wearing of] mixing fibers (Leviticus 19:19),
c.                    the goat that is cast out (Leviticus 16:26-29),
and
d.                   the [red] heifer (Numbers ch.19).
(Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, 4; and parallels)
[18] A brother’s wife from: “Do not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife” (Levitcus 18:17). [Yet] it says “her levirate shall have sex with her” (Deuteronomy 25:5).  In her life she is forbidden to him, [but] if he dies without children she is permitted to him?!
And hukka is written therein: “You shall keep my hukkot and my judgments, through the observance of which a man shall live” (Leviticus 18:5).
[The wearing of] mixed fibers from: “Do not wear adulterated, [wool and linen together]” (Deuteronomy 22:11). [Yet] a linen garment with tzitzit [blue woolen fringes] is permitted?!
And hukka is written therein: “You shall keep my hukkot” (Leviticus 19:19, immediately preceding the Levitical parallel to Deuteronomy 22:11).
The goat that is cast out from: “He who sends off the goat to Azazel must wash his clothes [and bathe his flesh in water in order to reenter the camp],” (Leviticus 16:26).  [Yet] it expiates others?!
And hukka is written therein: “This shall be for you an eternal huka“ (Leviticus 16:29).
[The red] heifer from that which we learn: “All who deal with the heifer[‘s ashes’ preparation], from beginning until end impurify their priestly vestments” (m. Para 4:4).  [Yet] it purifies the impure?!
And hukka is written therein: “And this is the huka of the Torah [regarding human death]“ (Numbers 19:2).
(Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, 4; and parallels)
[19] The Sifra is an Akibean Midrash and apparently ruled that a pure person who was sprinkled by the blood and water that is meant to purify the leper becomes impure himself (see R. Akiva’s ruling in Sifrei Bamidbar, Hukkat #129).
[20] See: Sifrei Devraim, Ki Tzetze #233; Mekhilta, Yitro #7.
[21] “R. Eliezer/Eleazar says: Be diligent in studying Torah and know how you will respond to an Epicurean [by showing that the words of Torah do not contradict ]” (m. Avot 2:14; [Avot de-Rabi Natan A ch17, B ch30]).
[22] Gill 1995, 81.
[23] For midrashim that read God in the Pentateuch as addressing atheists, see Sifrei Devarim 329:39; Sifrei Zuta 15:3; et al.
[24] Gilad 1995, 9 and n. 16.
[25] Lekah Tov – Pesikta Zutatra, Exodus 25.  R. Yohanan pointed out that the Jewish critics are even worse and greater fools; the Jewish ones believe that a child can be born out of a woman’s own urine – paralleling the belief that when Abimelech was punished for taking the matriarch Sara, God sealed not only the wombs but also the urine of all the women of his household (cf. the Armenian commentary to Genesis attributed to Ephrem the Syrian [1998, 105]).
[26] In fact, “Tacitus mentions Christians but… do[es] not describe them as types of Jews" (Goodman 2007, 35).
[27] I realize that although current scholarship on Early Christianity focuses on the facts that some Jewish-Christian (i.e. ritually observant) groups were actually composed of people who were Gentiles by birth (Taylor 1995, 27-29; et al) and that many Jews who were Christians were ritually observant members of the observant Jewish majority (Boyarin 2003, 288-289; et al) current scholarship has not discussed the fact that some “Pauline” Christians were Jewish.  However, the personal examples provided both by Jews such as Paul, Barnabas, and John [and Stephen?] and by this midrash suggest that there were Pauline Christian (or Gnostic, etc) Jews who rejected Halakha – even before the fourth century Nazarene “Jewish Christians who rejected the ritual legislation of the Bible” (Finkel 1981, 244).  [In spite of the divisive effect of the Great War between Jewish and Gentile Christians (Tomson 2003, 7), this evidence holds.]
In any case, Christian history is not my field, and I am aware of the great need for careful historical research on the various streams of Jews who believed in Jesus in some manner (as argued by Mimouni 1998, 472).
[28] This midrash could be read as also referring to Samaritan Christians if some of the latter denied the validity of Biblical laws just as figures such as Abiyyah and Dosa had done – similarly to Samaritan followers of Simon of Gitta and other Samaritan Gnostics.  (On Samaritans and Christianity, see the sources collected in Pummer 2002.  On Samaritan sects in general, see Isser 1999, 576, 582-590 [and Isser 1976].)  However, further research would be necessary to show that the Sifra's editor would bother responding to heretical Samaritans.
[29] Tacitus Histories 5:4; Juvenal Satires 14:97; Abot de-Rabi Natan A ch.4; Bamidbar Rabba 20:21; Midrash Tannaim, Devarim 14:7; and the wide range of sources referenced in Hadas-Lebel 2006, 517-521; Rosenblum 2010a, 95-110; and Rosenblum 2010b, 51-58.
[30] Sifra Kedoshim 10:22.  In order to understand why a Jew could also be embrassed to state that certain Biblically proscribed sexual unions are forbidden (ibid), see Sifra Aharei Mot 9:8.
[31] For archeological evidence, see Lev-Tov 2003, 431.
[32] For sources on the significant cultural valence of avoiding pig, see: Feldman 1993, 167-170.
[33] Chapter ten.
[34] I do not know whether there was any continuity there was between these Jews and the extreme allegorists described by Philo (On the Migration of Abraham #89-91) even as it is true that the outstanding Christian allegorist, Origen (185-254 CE), was Alexandrian.
[35] As we will see below: the reasons supported by the archeological data, that some societies oppose the consumption of and thus the rearing of pig, are pigs’ great (ab)use of water, the wastefulness of raising pigs – which provide less secondary products – in comparison to other husbanded animals, pigs’ interference with intensive agriculture, and the destructiveness of pigs under certain agro-pastoral and architectural conditions (Hesse and Wapnish 1998, 125-126).  However: in spite of Christian recognition that pig herds or sounders can act “crazy” (Mark 5:11-14; Matthew 8:30-32; Luke 8:32-33), it would be nigh impossible to communicate those ethico-economic considerations to a group that accepted as ethical the structure of Roman-Hellenistic society; that would be similar to firm believers in the ethics of a capitalist society and firm believers in the ethics of a socialist society communicate trying to communicate with each other.
[36] Compare a “Jewish-Christian” critique of the Gentile Churches as people who distorted Jesus’ message so that they may eat pig like the Romans (Pines 1968, 263, 267).
It is possible that the Midrash was not only responding to a gentile critique of Jews’ avoidance of pig.  It may also have considered pig an emblematic metaphor of gentile Christians – as people who merely claim to obey the God of the Torah but eat indiscriminately just as the pig claims to be kosher due to its split hooves but does not chew its cud.
[37] And bodily immersion.
[38] Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, 820-823; Klawans 2000, 98-104; Luke 17:19.
[39] 10:10-22.
[40] 6:4-13.
[41] 9:11-28. Cf. Hebrews 2:14-17.
[42] Although Mary Schmitt has shown that Hebrews does not deny the Law and actually forbids abandoning the Law except for the Aaronide priesthood, it seems clear to me that Hebrews has no eschatalogical vision of renewed sacrifices (contra Schmitt 2009, 200-201).
[43] 8:1-10.  For a discussion of this passage, see Helyer 2002, 488-490.
[44] Paget 1994, 138-139; Baumgarten 2002, 213-214.
[45] Chapter seven.
[46] Chapter twenty-seven.  This reading of Matthew is strengthened if chapter twent-seven was directed to pagan cultures in which a scapegoat would be a criminal or if it reflects a Jewish (non-rabbinic) approach that still understood that the goat was meant to be taken into the desert and killed by a criminal. (On that being the original Biblical intent, see Westbrook and Lewis 2008, 417–422.)
[47] There were other, parallel, Eretz-Israel Amoraic responses – such as positing that reciting the verses of an atonement sacrifice can replace offering it (b. Taanit 27b).
[48] Admittedly, it might be tempting to read this critique as an allegorical allusion to a Christian argument that God could not reclaim the Jews just as a man cannot reclaim his released levirate wife (b. Yevamot 102b; Cohen 2010, 81-82) – a claim that would parallel the later argument by Origen (commentary to Matthew Bk14 ch19) that God had permanently divorced adulterous Israel.  However, we will now see that a more accurate explanation of this critique, one that would be in line with the critiques of the three laws discussed above, is that it was a critique of actual levirate ties.
[49] For an explanation of the phenomenon, see Scheidel 2009, 283, 288-289.
[50] For that phenomenon, see Voobus 1951, 16-34, 53-54; Murray 1982, 6-9; et al.
[51] Much of this debate became expressed most clearly only as Christianity became increasingly entrenched and a language of political debate in the fractured Roman Empire.  It was the Council of Gangra (362 CE) and the trial of the bishop Priscillian (385 CE) that first punished as heretical the call for universal celibacy, even as (Pope) Siricus of Rome defrocked married priests (387 CE) following the public recommendation of the Roman synod (386 CE) and the earlier similar decisions of the synods of Elvira (circa 306 CE) and of Ancyra (314 CE).
[52] For example: see Tertullian’s opposition to widows remarrying in To His Wife 1:7; Exhortation to Chastity ch9; and Monogamy ch9.
[53] For example, see Tertullian, Monogamy ch7 and compare Athenagoras, Embassy for the Christians ch33. [Although Roman Law explicitly forbade all people to marry a sister-in-law only in 312 CE (Codex Theodosianus 3.12.2 [Grubbs 2002, 162]), it had already ruled against this phenomenon somewhat by forbidding bigamy in 285 CE (Falk 1966, 6).]
[54] Deuteronomy 25:5-10.  This is reinforced by further Biblical parallels as pointed out by Goodman 1993, 193 n.62.
[55] Note: there were some Tannaim who were of a somewhat similar opinion.  They ruled that levirate release is the expected default standard and that levirate marriage is permitted only to those who act out of purity and not lasciviousness (t. Yevamot 6:9; baraita b. Yevamot 39b).
[56] To the exclusion of coarse wool, such as goat or camel wool (m. Kilayim 9:1).
[57] m. Kilayim 9:2.  Sea silk was also known as sea wool.  [Yehuda Feliks translates the word in a different context as scrap of real silk (Feliks 1982, 244).]
[58] On linen as a garment of richer people, see Ezekiel 16:10-13, Isiah 3:18-24, m. Taanit 4:8, et al.  In general, the Tannaim looked askance at a man who wore even plain linen cloaks (y. Sanhedrin 2:8).
[59] Conti 2003, 182; et al.
[60] Sifrei Devarim, Re’e 81:30.
[61] Deuteronomy ch.12; (Numbers 15:39;) Sifrei Bamidbar #115; et al.
[62] Compare m. Sanhedrin 4:5.
[63] For example: see Parkin 2006, 77-79.
[64] For example: Matthew (23:1-5) and Justin (Dialogues ch.46).
Admittedly, it would be tempting to read the Christian attack on the injunction against wearing mixed species as a roundabout allusion both to the idea found in the first century CE Pauline Epistle to the Romans – that the gentiles are validated as tree grafts [forbidden by Jewish law (m. Kilayim 1:4,7; t. Kilayim 1:10)] onto the original olive tree of Israel from which the unbelieving Jews are being lopped off [Romans 11:16-25 cf. 10:19-21]), and to the late first-century CE Ephesians (2:15) idea that Jesus mixes the species of that are separated by a mehitza [cf. m. Kilayim 4:3-4; t. Kilayim ch.4], i.e. the mixed species of gentiles and Jews [see Derekh Eretz, Arayot #11; cf. Jubilees ch.30]).  However, we are now seeing that a more accurate explanation of the subject of this attack, one that would be in line with the Christian critiques of the three laws discussed above, is the actual norm of wearing mixed species.
[The rabbis countered the Christian claim of Gentile connection to Abraham (Galatians 3:29 through Tertullian, De Momogamia ch.6) in other ways, such as by claiming that God acquired the people of Israel (Mekhilta, Beshalah – Parsha 9) and by claiming that the patriarch Jacob survives along with the seed of Jacob (R. Yitzhak, a third century CE Eretz-Israel Amora [b. Ta’anit 5b]).]
[65] This anti tassels position is glossed over by Fine (2013, 25) who refers to Shaye Cohen but ignores the fact that Cohen does cite some sources about some Jews having a distinctive dress of tassels (Cohen 1999, 33-34).
As for why phylacteries are not found in this list: although Matthew (23:1-5) and Justin (Dialogues ch.46) condemned both tzitzit and phylacteries as “overly” pious, phylacteries would not have been a defensive point of debate with Christians.  Not only did Christians continue to wear Biblical-text amulets (Skemer 2006, 35-36 and n.46) but Tannaim also maintained the Second-Temple norm of painting tefillin in simple black* and condemned anyone who wore expensive gold painted tefillin as a superficial show off (m. Megilla 4:8).  Amoraim stated even more forcefully that Judaism had always invalidated tefillin painted in any but the cheap color black (y. Megilllah 4:9).
Furthermore, a dominant Tannaim and Amoraic position forbade wearing the head-tefillin outdoors (m. Shabbat 6:2 – when the whole chapter is read in its original not Shabbat-specific context of proper and improper outdoor dress for men and for women) – although, outstanding individuals were allowed to and respected for wearing tefillin everywhere (b. Taanit 20b; baraita b. Sukka 29a).  At the very least, wearing tefillin was opposed on the days of public rest and mingling – Sabbaths and holidays (Mekhilta, Bo parsha 17; Mekhilta de-Rashbi 13:10; y. Berakhot 2:3 = y. Eruvin 10:1; and b. Menahot 36b). [However, here too, some rabbis did wear tefillin even on these days – y. Berakhot 2:3 = y. Eruvin 10:1.]
* For black tefillin boxes at Qumran, see Schiffman 1994b, 306-307 (and internet sites such as slides 23-25 at University of Pennsylvania’s http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~jtigay/nelc150slides).
[66] “[The wearing of] mixed fibers from: “Do not wear adulterated, [wool and linen together]” (Deuteronomy 22:11). [Yet] a linen garment with tzitzit [blue woolen fringes] is permitted?!” (Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, 4; and parallels).
In truth: some Tannaim forbade wearing Tyrian blue tzitzit on linen graments.  They thus forbade wearing linen cloaks (m. Eduyot 4:10; Midrash Tannaim on Deuteronomy 22:12; Masekhet Tzitzit 1:2; baraita b. Berkahot 54b; baraita b. Nidda 70b; and compare the y. Sanhedrin 2:8 tradition that some Tannaim looked askance at a man who wore even plain linen cloaks).  However, Christian opponents would not have been interested in discussing or even noticing the “consistent” (albeit extreme) position.
[67] Numbers 16:1-50.  For our purposes, we have no need to discuss whether this is one story or multiple stories.
[68] Numbers 16:1-4, 12-14, 21-34.
[69] Numbers 16:3.
[70] Numbers 16:5-11, 15-19, 35.
[71] Cf. Josephus Antiquities of the Jews (chapter 4) with Plato’s Republic (Books 8-9), and see other sources in Feldman (1998, 389-391).
[72] For example: see Reinhold 2002, 30.
[73] Regarding private libraries in Roman society see Feldman 1996, 220.  For archeological evidence on private libraries in Eretz-Israel Jewish society see Popović 2012, 567-570, 573-576.
[74] The rabbis preferred public study houses and such privately owned study structures as were made accessible to the public (Hezser 1997, 200-213) – similar to the archeologically discovered privately owned synagogues made accessible to the public (Foerster 1992, 300-301; Schwartz 2001, 233-234) [comparable to the early Christian domus ecclesia].
[75] Reinhold 1971, 275-302.
[76] Cf. Luke 16:19-26.
A different, imposed, interpretation of this midrash was offered by Rav Soloveitchik (2005, 21-22) who overlooked the historical and even Biblical-narrative context of the Midrash in keeping with the fact that the “the Brisker constructs his legal world to emphasize that halakha stands outside of time and space” (Saiman 2005, 83; cf. Rosensweig 2005, 118; et al).  Due to the surprisingly similar widespread academic consensus to engage in the history of abstract ideas and laws as if ideas and laws must first be defined independently of context, Christine Hayes reached the same imposed reading (Hayes 2011, 134).
[77] m. Kilayim 9:2.
[78] A similar designation of these Jews as fools or wicked may exist in a famous Eretz-Israel sermonic text, the Passover-Haggadah/Talmud-Yeushalmi discussion of the wicked/foolish son – if that text was, indeed, a response to Christian ideology (as argued by Yuval 1999, 107).