The Talmudic Case of the “Wayward and Rebellious Son”

A brief passage in the book of Deuteronomy presents the law of the “wayward and rebellious son,” whose parents may bring him before the elders of the city and testify to his bad behavior; after which the elders can sentence him to death by stoning. In the Talmud’s view, this punishment is justified because it prevents this child from growing into an adult who will commit truly heinous crimes; if executed now, “he will die innocent rather than die guilty.” The talmudic sages then go on to impose restrictions on who qualifies for this punishment: there is only a three-month age range during which the child is liable; he must demonstrate that he is, in the Torah’s words, “a glutton and a drunkard” by eating raw (or very rare) meat and drinking Italian wine; he must buy these foods with money stolen from his parents. But, writes Adam Kirsch, the rabbis don’t stop there:

[T]he clearest sign of the rabbis’ intention in introducing all of these qualifications comes in Tractate Sanhedrin 71a, where Rabbi Yehudah says: “If his mother is not suited for his father, he does not become a wayward and rebellious son.” According to the [later talmudic sages], what this means is that “if his mother was not identical to his father in voice, appearance, and height, he does not become a wayward and rebellious son.” Since no two people are ever identical, much less a husband and wife, it is apparent that the rabbis actually want to make the Torah law unenforceable. Finally, the [text] says so explicitly: “There has never been a wayward and rebellious son and there never will be one in the future.”

Here we come to the core of the issue. The Talmud has essentially canceled a provision of the Torah. But if the Torah is God’s word, by what right can the rabbis do this? The answer is that they do not believe, or admit, they are introducing any novelties into the law. Rather, they are explicating what the law always meant, and so there is no actual change in Jewish practice. No wayward and rebellious son ever existed in the past, which is why none will ever exist in the future.

But if that is so, then why did God put this law in the Torah in the first place? “Why was it written?” the Talmud asks, and gives a wonderful reply: “So that you may expound and receive reward.” Living by the law is one thing, and it is required of every Jew; but studying and analyzing the law is the real glory of Judaism. Indeed, God makes unenforceable laws simply so that scholars can analyze why they are unenforceable! If someone asked me for a talmudic passage that encapsulates the ethos of rabbinic Judaism, I think I would choose this one, in all its mercifulness, ingenuity, and love of thinking for its own sake.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Deuteronomy, Halakhah, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Talmud

Iran’s Dangerous Dream of a Triple Alliance with Russia and China

Aug. 16 2022

Unlike Hamas, which merely receives support from the Islamic Republic, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—with which Israel engaged in a short round of fighting last week—is more or less under its direct control. In fact, the recent hostilities began with a series of terrorist attacks launched by PIJ from Samaria, which might in turn have been a response to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s call “to open a new front in the West Bank against the Zionist enemy.” Amir Taheri writes:

In Gaza, the Islamic Republic has invested heavily in promoting Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. . . . Islamic Jihad is in a minority in Gaza, hence the attempt by Tehran to help it create a base in the West Bank.

Reliable sources in Baghdad say that [Iran’s expeditionary and terrorist paramilitary] the Quds Force has been “transiting” significant quantities of arms and cash via Iraq to Jordan, to be smuggled to the West Bank. The Jordanian authorities say they are aware of these “hostile activities.” King Abdullah himself has publicly called on Iran to cease “destabilizing activities.”

But such schemes, Taheri explains, are part of a larger strategic vision of creating a grand anti-Western alliance even while engaging in nuclear negotiations with the U.S. and Europe:

Last month, Khamenei praised Vladimr Putin for his invasion of Ukraine. And this month, China’s ambassador to Iran, Chang Hua, praised the Islamic Republic for supporting China in “asserting its sovereignty” over Taiwan.

It is clear that some dangerous pipe-dreamers in Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran have fallen for the phantasmagoric vision of “three great powers” banding together and with help from “the rest,” that is to say, the so-called Third World . . . to destroy an international system created by the “corrupt and decadent.”

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Read more at Gatestone

More about: China, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Russia, West Bank