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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.
About the artist: Sarah Kranz has been illustrating magazines, webzines and books (including five children’s books) since graduating from the Istituto Europeo di Design, Milan, in 1996. Her clients have included The New York Times and Money Marketing Magazine of London.
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Discussion (87)
April 20, 2014
Rabbi Moss, I loved your answer! It all makes perfect sense with a simple and funny explanation like that. Thank you!
Miriam Baley
Mexico City, Mexico
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.
Freedom Mann
Forest Hills, NY
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.
Chaim
Sacramento
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.
Chaim
Cinncinnati
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.
Chaim
Washington D.C.
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.
Caroline
Ames, IA
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
Joseph Solomon
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.
Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell
Riverside, CA, USA
jewishriverside.com
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.
Jonas
Columbus, Ohio
February 10, 2013
Thank you Yehudit for an excellent example of how a "dot" does make a real difference in real life.
Hymie
London
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