For Religious Ritual to Confront Death, It Must Step Outside of Reason

In Numbers 19, read in synagogues this Sabbath, the Torah commands the ritual slaughter and incineration of a red cow, the ashes of which are then mixed with water and used for the ritual purification of anyone who has come into contact with a corpse. Paradoxically, the priest who prepares the ashes himself becomes ritually impure, and by reason of this paradox the talmudic sages held this rite up as the archetypal ok, a commandment that defies human reason. Jewish theologians over the centuries have offered various explanations as to why God would make such nonrational-seeming demands. Jonathan Sacks offers an explanation of his own:

The root from which the word ok comes [means] “to engrave.” Writing is on the surface; engraving cuts much deeper than the surface. Rituals go deep below the surface of the mind, and for an important reason. We are not fully rational animals, and we can make momentous mistakes if we think we are. . . . A moral system, to be adequate to the human condition, must recognize the nature of the human condition. It must speak to our fears.

The most profound fear most of us have is of death. . . . We have no idea what will happen, after our death, to what we have achieved in life. Death makes mockery of virtue: the hero may die young while the coward lives to old age. And bereavement is tragic in a different way. To lose those we love is to have the fabric of our life torn, perhaps irreparably. Death defiles in the simplest, starkest sense: mortality opens an abyss between us and God’s eternity.

It is this fear, existential and elemental, to which the rite of the red heifer is addressed. . . . [T]o defeat the defilement of contact with death, there must be a ritual that bypasses rational knowledge. Hence the rite of the red heifer, in which death is dissolved in the waters of life, and those on whom it is sprinkled are made pure again so that they can enter the precincts of the divine presence and re-establish contact with eternity.

Read more at Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

More about: American Jewish Committee, Death, Numbers, Torah

Why Saturday Was a Resounding Defeat for Iran

Yaakov Lappin provides a concise and useful overview of what transpired on Saturday. For him, the bottom line is this:

Iran and its jihadist Middle Eastern axis sustained a resounding strategic defeat. . . . The fact that 99 percent of the threats were intercepted means that a central pillar of Iranian force projection—its missile and UAV arsenals—has been proven to be no match for Israel’s air force, for its multilayered air-defense system, or for regional cooperation with allies.

Iran must now await Israel’s retaliation, and unlike Israel, Iranian air defenses are by comparison limited in scope. After its own failure on Sunday, Iran now relies almost exclusively on Hizballah for an ability to threaten Israel.

And even as Iran continues to work on developing newer and deadlier missiles, the IDF is staying a few steps ahead:

Israel is expecting its Iron Beam laser-interception system, which can shoot down rockets, mortars, and UAVs, to become operational soon, and is developing an interceptor (Sky Sonic) for Iran’s future hypersonic missile (Fattah), which is in development.

The Iron Beam will change the situation in a crucial way. Israell’s defensive response on Saturday reportedly cost it around $1 billion. While Iron Beam may have to be used in concert with other systems, it is far cheaper and doesn’t run the risk of running out of ammunition.

Read more at JNS

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Iron Dome, Israeli Security, Israeli technology