Sunday, April 18, 2010

What are 'their statutes'? Further thoughts

Summary: Further thoughts on what was meant by the statutes we are not meant to follow, in parashat Acharei Mot. I consider the idea of mandated mariages, as well of prohibited marriages. In particular, if the places they left and they places they went also defined prohibited relations, but differently that Biblical law, one might be prone to thinking of Biblically prohibited relations as not true incest. Therefore, the instruction not to follow in their statutes, but in our own.

Post: Towards the end of parashas Acharei Mos, we read:

ג  כְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ-מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר יְשַׁבְתֶּם-בָּהּ, לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ; וּכְמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ-כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה, לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ, וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶם, לֹא תֵלֵכוּ.3 After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do; and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do; neither shall ye walk in their statutes.
ד  אֶת-מִשְׁפָּטַי תַּעֲשׂוּ וְאֶת-חֻקֹּתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ, לָלֶכֶת בָּהֶם:  אֲנִי, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.4 Mine ordinances shall ye do, and My statutes shall ye keep, to walk therein: I am the LORD your God.
ה  וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת-חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת-מִשְׁפָּטַי, אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם הָאָדָם וָחַי בָּהֶם:  אֲנִי, יְהוָה.  {ס}5 Ye shall therefore keep My statutes, and Mine ordinances, which if a man do, he shall live by them: I am the LORD. {S}

This is followed by a list of prohibited, incestuous relationships. Therefore, Shadal, at a loss to explain the meaning of  וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶם, since we only explicitly know of only one chok, that of Molech, suggests that there are some extra instances of yibbum, which would mandate or at least encourage the relationships prohibited in the Biblical list which follows. Thus,
ג ובחקתיהם לא תלכו בכל התועבות הנזכרות לפנינו לא מצאנו ענין שיהיה חוק אלא העברת הבנים למולך ונראה כי כמו שהייבום הוא חוק אצלנו כך קצת מן העריות היה חוק אצל האומות ההן על פי תנאים ידועים

This is then a consideration for context as well as a consideration for the positive implications of chok. I discussed, last year, the idea that different definitions of incest, and different levels of its acceptability, led to a Hittite instruction not to follow in the customs of another place. See there. It might not be only that marriage was encouraged, in something parallel to yibum, but simply both positive and negative chukim had been established in these places, which differed from Biblical law. And so one is instructed, in considering the incestuous relations, to only pay heed to Hashem's chukim.

For better illustration of different laws, we have the Hittite laws, from Turkey, and the Code of Hammurabi. Both are from the Ancient Near east. A good summary here:

The Hittite laws may be read here, and the Code of Hammurabi here. Perhaps we can distinguish between מַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ-כְּנַעַן and חֻקֹּתֵיהֶם. If the stories differ from the laws, then perhaps these laws were widely ignored by the populace. If so, one should neither act in accordance with their actions, or even in accordance with their established law codes.


Devorah said...

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joshwaxman said...



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