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Why is Jewish Law so Petty Minded?

Why is Jewish Law so Petty Minded?

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Question:

Why does the Jewish religion seem to obsess over insignificant details? How much matza do we have to eat, which spoon did I use for milk and which for meat, what is the right way to tie my shoelaces? It seems to me that this misses the bigger picture by focusing on minutiae. Is this nitpicking what Jews call spirituality?

(I actually already sent you this question over a week ago and didn't receive a reply. Could it be that you have finally been asked a question that you can't answer?!)

Answer:

I never claimed to have all the answers. There are many questions that are beyond me. But it happens to be that I did answer your question, and you did get the answer. I sent a reply immediately. The fact that you didn't receive it is itself the answer to your question.

You see, I sent you a reply, but I wrote your email address leaving out the "dot" before the "com." I figured that you should still receive the email, because after all, it is only one little dot missing. I mean come on, it's not as if I wrote the wrong name or something drastic like that! Would anyone be so nitpicky as to differentiate between "yahoocom" and "yahoo.com"? Isn't it a bit ridiculous that you didn't get my email just because of a little dot?

No, it's not ridiculous. Because the dot is not just a dot. It represents something. That dot has meaning far beyond the pixels on the screen that form it. To me it may seem insignificant, but that is simply due to my ignorance of the ways of the internet. All I know is that with the dot, the message gets to the right destination; without it, the message is lost to oblivion.

Jewish practices have infinite depth. Each nuance and detail contains a world of symbolism. And every dot counts. When they are performed with precision, a spiritual vibration is emailed throughout the universe, all the way to G‑d's inbox.

If you want to understand the symbolism of the dot, study I.T.

If you want to understand the symbolism of Judaism, study it.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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David Newark March 18, 2016

The rabbi will disagree but it amounts to important principles: Look at it this way.
Start with Noah. Literally or figuratively, Noah is the ancestor of all humans after him. He is warned about those who shed the blood of humans: "by humsns shall their blood be shed." From this, derive the assumption that humans should avoid acts leading to bloodshed (e.g., robbery, adultery, and the bloodthirsty result of eating animal blood.) Noah and his descendants can eat whichever animals they choose. He is told that, just as people previously were permitted to eat plants, now Gd has "given you all". The laws of kosher eating were not given to Noah or to you.

Later, look at Sinai, when the entire Torah was given through Moses. The Torah tells Jews (& nobody else) what to eat. You can summarize these rules: "You will not eat wild animals, but only domesticated, & not pigs, camels, or rabbits--they're fertility symbols. No horses either. Eat poultry & cattle, & avoid giving pain." Reply

Sam Brooklyn March 18, 2016

You are what you eat.
And animals with fangs are not kosher.
Bugs are not kosher.
Sea creatures in the fame family as bugs (such as eight legged creatures or other invertebrate creatures) are not kosher.
Eagles and hawks are not kosher.
Fierce animals are not kosher.
Gd's Bible says for the Children of Israel to eat only kosher food.
It doesn't tell anybody else what to eat, except not to eat blood, because it may make them bloodthirsty. Some people, for example, eat blood pudding.
Does Gd care what we eat, or is eating an irrelevant "petty" part of life?

Food IS life. Without food we die. Our entire body is made of the food we eat. Gd is the Gd of Life, and most certainly does care what is eaten by the Children of Israel. But for other people His concern is only that you avoid eating blood. It's OK to get a blood transfusion because without it you might die, and Gd wants you to live, but to just eat plain blood for the pleasure of it could be spiritually harmful to you. Reply

Shlomo Schwartz Toronto, Canada September 17, 2015

My dear anonymous friend, Judaism wasn't created when the internet was around because it wasn't created for the internet. It was created for people and they haven't changed, not a dot (pardon the pun). People still need to breathe, sleep, drink, eat, relate with each other, etc. As you study Judaism you should always ask yourself "how does this help me?" - you are entitled to do that - maybe even duty bound. Reply

Anonymous July 31, 2015

The reason why a dot represents something so significant is because it represents something exact and unchangeable. Adding a dot in an e-mail in todays day and age is common sense and everyone who know how to use e-mail does it. It doesnt mean i need to buy a new computer to send e-mails and another to look up my dentists number. I've heard people say if you have nothing nice to say, dont say anything at all. I think there should be a new saying. If you have nothing relevant to say, dont say anything at all. Because Judaism wasn't created when the internet was around. And don't mix dairy with meat? You are what you eat. It all goes to the same place. Humans are definitely not kosher as much as people may like to think. Reply

Goy boy Trosly-Breuil April 25, 2015

True story Way back, when networking wasn't a household name, I remember having trouble connecting two computers. I had to back up the all thing in a car and "pay" a visit to two specialists. Took me more than half a day, two hundred miles and specialist fees.
What did I do wrong ?
It was obvious to the second one:
"Sir, you can't see you typed : instead of ; "?
...
He was right! Reply

Anonymous April 8, 2015

but... What a strange answer. Judaism is not the Internet. It is nothing like the Internet. Such a flip response, from a rabbi no less, to such a serious question is rather... insulting? Troubling to the future of our faith? Reply

Shlomo Jerusalem August 5, 2014

Why is Jewish law so petty? Your answer was timely, accurate, informative and inspirational. Thank you, Rabbi Aron. It helped me to understand the same question but just was hesitant to ask. Reply

Malka Tulsa June 9, 2014

Modesty is not ugliness.
Modesty is privacy.
Being modest does not mean being unattractive. It's fine to wear beautiful headgear or beautiful wigs. But some things are private, and, for Orthodox Jews (as well as observant Muslims and, in former days, Christians), one of those things that are private is a woman's hair.
A man can admire a beautifully adorned woman.
But she knows he is not seeing her own private hair.
The sight of her own hair is set aside for her husband alone.
When she REMOVES the wig and invites him into her bed, she can experience a level of intimacy which women who expose their hair to the world cannot begin to imagine. Reply

Bronya Shaffer June 9, 2014

To Wind "Modesty" is a huge term. It refers to comportment...to the way one talks and walks...to how one interacts with others...to how one furnishes one's home and makes a wedding...and refers even to how one mourns in public. It's often, as well, projected in how one dresses. There are laws about all of the above. Needless to say, just because one follows the letter of the law of modesty doesn't, sadly, reflect the spirit of the law.

The laws concerning modesty in dress are not meant to make one unattractive. Quite the contrary. In fact, most people are decidedly more attractive clothed than unclothed. The laws of modesty state that a person's body - and this includes a married woman's hair - is for the privacy of her and her interaction with her husband. Indeed, she should always look nice. She's to take pride in looking attractive. The spirit of 'modesty' is not to be unattractive. She should dress nicely, and cover her hair in a way that feels comfortably 'nice' to herself. And if her wig is nicer than her real hair..or if she looks much more attractive dressed than not....well, that's one of the perks of clothing...:) Reply

Wind May 28, 2014

Can you explain why orthodox women who are supposed to be "modest" (and I use the term the loosely) by covering their hair choose to wear wigs far sexier and erotic than their own hair could ever be? I am a proud atheist Jew (I identify culturally with Judaism but have yet to be convinced there is a god) and it's the silly intricacies and hypocrisy all over Jerusalem that have driven me to this lifestyle.

Feel free to try and convince me if you can. And please note the dot. Reply

Miriam Baley Mexico City, Mexico April 20, 2014

Rabbi Moss, I loved your answer! It all makes perfect sense with a simple and funny explanation like that. Thank you! Reply

Freedom Mann Forest Hills, NY March 20, 2014

Jewish Minutiae This is precisely why I reject Judaism and, instead, embrace Republicanism; within this context it just makes more sense to me.

I make my judgements based upon a study of whose freedom gets taken away by my actions and indeed, there is, since the founding of this Great and Grand Republic tons of case law that explains this.

For example, that someone would pick up sticks on the Sabbath; there is a penalty attached to this.

Republicanism teaches that someone picking up sticks on the Sabbath doesn't interfere with my own right to either pick up sticks myself or to my own right to chose not to pick them up; the personal freedom of a republic is demarcated by something called law and this law is man-made and we have regular public debates over what form this law should take in a free press.

A much better system, in my honest opinion, then Halakah. Reply

Chaim Sacramento February 12, 2014

Shoes. True story In one Jewish school, a new teacher told the children the Jewish way to tie our shoes. One child in particular was thrilled. (Children enjoy these kinds of details. WOW! WE have our OWN way to tie shoes!) He started tying his shoes that way, grooving on it.

He enthusiastically told his father about it.

His father thought it was an irrelevant and ridiculous detail and took his son out of school and put him in public school.

So the boy grew up secular. He eventually became engaged to a non-Jewish woman and was prepared to live the rest of his life as if he were not Jewish. (This is what often happens.)

One day as he was tying his shoes in the way he had done since childhood, he suddenly recalled that he did this because this is the Jewish way to tie shoes.

He realized that Jewishness mattered to him and changed his lifestyle accordingly.

Putting on the right shoe first, and tying the left shoe first, changed his whole life.

He tracked down that teacher and thanked him. Reply

Chaim Cinncinnati February 11, 2014

Caroline Welcome home.

Yes, there are many details.

It is difficult to learn so many details all at once as an adult.

It is natural to learn many details gradually as a child growing up. For example, a child learns how to set the table, and where the knife goes, and where the forks and spoons go. At first he may be confused, but eventually it comes naturally.

Go easy on yourself. Keep the big picture in mind as you gradually adopt this or that detail. After a while, the detail will help remind you of the big picture.

Gd bless you in your Jewish growth. Reply

Chaim Washington D.C. January 12, 2014

Jonas says to observe Jewish children I have known certain observant families for over 20 years. Their children were feisty and active and enthusiastic and noisy. They were allowed to leave the sanctuary and play in the hall during services. They were not made to sit still but were encouraged to enjoy being in shul w/o disturbing the prayers.

Those children are now grown. Some are rabbis. Some are other professions. Some are mothers. All are reverent and love worship services. Their joy in bonding with Gd is clear to see.

All those tiny details matter. Children love details. Details add up to a unified outlook. Reply

Caroline Ames, IA January 11, 2014

I am a proselyte.. I was taught Torah by my husband, and I really wanted to learn, but all the little details and all the changes to what seemed like everything in my daily life was extremely hard to do at first. I felt like it wasn't necessary either... in a way I felt like I lost my freedom, and became somewhat depressed. But as I grew and learned more and more and my relationship with The Most High became closer, I began to realize the importance of practicing mitzvot; it was that I continually thought about the Most High throughout the day because of all the Laws. Reply

Joseph Solomon January 11, 2014

The Dot Thank you Aron for that analogy for .com and studying it. I found it useful in equating the smaller things with the larger in our religion Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA via jewishriverside.com February 13, 2013

the real answer is this; There is NOTHING petty minded in the law TO PEOPLE who WANT to believe it is important. For those of us who stick to majorly important laws and just let the nuances of the picky sayings fly by in our lives, it is petty. It is all in the beholder. My saying it is petty to me would, of course, be anathema and horrifying to those who believe all the little bitty sayings are equally important. Reply

Jonas Columbus, Ohio February 11, 2013

By the way, the import is not anti-lefty.

Consider the tefillin, one of the most sacred signs/actions of a Jewish man's day. He wears one tefillin on his left arm, nearest to his heart, in obedience to a Torah text. He wears the other on his forehead, nearest to his brain.

The brain governs the upper third of his body; the heart governs the central third of his body. This mitzvah thus would seem to "honor" the left arm, hand, and fingers.

Disributing "shoe-typing" between right & left sides honors both, and, more to the point, acts as a pole star for a Jewish life. A "Jewish" way to tie our shoes--a "Jewish" act to take with the arm, hand, fingers & forehead--a "Jewish" way to eat--literally and figuratively this "ties" our bodies to a Jewish outlook, to serve Gd with our hands, our heads, and our hearts, not only in these "trivial" "tiny" ways but in loving our neighbor & rejoicing throughout Shabbos. Visit an observant home on Friday night to see the resulting children. Reply

Hymie London February 10, 2013

Thank you Yehudit for an excellent example of how a "dot" does make a real difference in real life. Reply

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