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  • Writer's pictureEve Was Right

30. A Really Mixed Bag of Rules

And an exploration of how much my own mindset has changed since starting this project.

Parshah Kedoshim

TL;DR of the Text

A whole bunch of rules.

Major Themes

  • The psychology of fear in religion

  • Religions and religious texts as anthropological studies

  • The psychological differences between animism and organized religion

  • The real reason the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is in the Bible

*Important attribution note: All quotes listed in this article are credited to the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash. Here is an Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash: the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.

Leviticus 19:4*

“Do not turn to the idols, and molten gods shall you not make for yourselves - I am Hashem, your God.”

Sometimes, I think back to my mindset six months ago when I first started writing these Torah analyses. I’d read the Torah before this, but never in this way. I used to spend most of my time reading the rabbinical commentary, and for the most part, I accepted it. Just for reference, roughly ⅔ - ⅘ of each page is taken up by commentary, which is a nice parallel to how much of religion is made up post facto by religious leaders. 

Our intrepid adventurer finds the scroll of truth they've been searching for for 15 years only to discover it reads: "80% of organized religion is random peoples' interpretations made way after the text was written." Scroll of Truth meme.

Since I started reading critically, especially since I started avoiding the commentary and forming my own opinions on the interpretation, my mindset has completely changed. My whole outlook has changed. For the first time in my life, my mind feels entirely my own. 

This must be a difficult thing to grasp for people who didn’t grow up in religion. After all, why wouldn’t people just read religious texts as critically as they would any other literature? How do people not see the flaws? Or, in the case of myself and many others, how can people see the flaws but still accept the belief system? 

I’ll try my best to explain. It’s nearly impossible to grasp just how much fear pervades your mind when you’re religious. Not because religious people are inherently fearful people but because fear is the fundamental component of religion.  

I’m not talking about abject terror a la the Spanish Inquisition. I’m talking about much more subtle mental fear, the kind that speaks to you in your own voice. Everyone has an inner critic. Religious people have two: one that sounds like themselves, and one that sounds like an all-powerful being who determines the fate of eternity. 

Extricating the judgmental God voice from your mind is more difficult than we give it credit for. If you’re non-religious, you might think, “If religious people could just open their minds a bit more and be more accepting, they’d come around.” 

But there are plenty of open-minded religious people. Most people are flexible in the application of their religions because they choose humanism over dogma. When an adherent of Abrahamic religion accepts gay people, it’s not because they’re being inconsistent or hypocritical - it’s because humanity won out over absolutism, and thank God it did! 

Fear, not close-mindedness, is the problem. Reaching the point where someone can identify and challenge their fundamental fear of God is insanely difficult. Take it from someone who did it over the past six months. 

Deciding not to follow a certain commandment is one thing - that’s just fear of repercussions. Deciding God doesn’t exist at all and life is meaningless is another - that’s rebellion. But accepting the presence of a rich spiritual life while also questioning the omnipotent and omniscient nature of God? Hoo, boy. What a doozy. 

The above is just one long intro into why the quoted verse caught my eye. Since I’ve removed my religious mindset, it’s easier for me to see the Torah as an anthropological text. It’s an account of humanity’s journey to find meaning. 

Animist religions didn’t feature the same violence as our current religions because they weren’t organized. There’s a reason we call our religions today “organized religion”; their violence is organized, yes, but so is their worldview. Ancient Mesopotamian religions, for example, didn’t engage in wars for conversion, but they also didn’t contain any lessons on morality. They weren’t aspirational. 

I’m not saying organized religions are aspirational in the sense that we should aspire to them, but rather that their authors’ aspirations for a unifying philosophy are reflected in them. The development of organized religion represented a further step on our spiritual journey, one in which we started searching for a grand unified theory of spiritual meaning. Hinduism represents a transition step - a bridge between the two. 

When the Torah forbade the Israelites from turning to idols, it documented the transition of humanity away from the animist era and into the next one. 

Leviticus 19:6*

“On the day of your slaughter shall [meat] be eaten and on the next day, and whatever remains until the third day shall be burned in fire.” 

Thousands of years later, even with the advent of refrigeration, we still haven’t figured out a way to preserve meat’s freshness for longer than ~3 days. Anyway, besides the health part, maybe this is also a commandment against wastefulness - if you have leftovers for 3 days, you might have made too much. 

Leviticus 19:9-10*

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not complete your reaping…for the poor and the proselyte shall you leave [the remnants].” 

Nice! Caring for people experiencing poverty. 

Leviticus 19:13-14*

“A worker’s wage shall not remain with you overnight until morning. You shall not curse the deaf, and you shall not place a stumbling block before the blind.”

Ancient labor rights. 

The second verse has two meanings, both of them honorable. First, you must treat disabilities with respect. Second, just because someone will never find out doesn’t mean you can treat them poorly. 

Leviticus 19:15*

“You shall not favor the poor and you shall not honor the great.”  

You can’t dilute the power of the law by twisting it to favor marginalized people. Just change the law or make new ones instead of corrupting existing ones. 

Leviticus 19:17*

“You shall reprove your fellow and do not bear a sin because of him.” 

You know those movies where someone incriminates themselves out of some kind of loyalty? Yeah, no. Loyalty has a limit. 

Leviticus 19:19*

“A garment that is a mixture of combined fibers shall not come upon you.” 

Even in ancient times, there was no way there was any reason for this. 

Leviticus 19:20*

“If a man lies carnally with a woman, and she is a slavewoman who has been designated for another man, and who has not been redeemed, or freedom has not been granted her; there shall be an investigation - they shall not be put to death, for she has not been freed.” 

Wow. We were on a roll with “Keep some food for the poor,” and BAM! Sex slavery. Not just sex slavery, but sex slavery as a mundane fact requiring no correction. The only part the Torah takes issue with is that the man had sex with a woman another man already bought. 

Leviticus 19:23-25*

“When you shall come to the Land and you shall plant any food tree, you shall treat its fruit as forbidden; for three years they shall be forbidden to you, they shall not be eaten. In the fourth year, all its fruit shall be sanctified to laud Hashem. And in the fifth year you may eat its fruit - so that it will increase its crop for you.” 

Superstition. “What if our trees don’t succeed? Well, better make sure, so let’s wait… 3 years? No. 4 years!” 

The reasoning might be understandable, but the effect is further criminalizing poverty. 

Leviticus 19:26*

“You shall not indulge in sorcery and you shall not believe in lucky times.” 

Personally, I agree with this, not because it’s evil but because it’s distracting. Make your own luck! 

Leviticus 19:32*

“In the presence of an old person shall you rise and you shall honor the presence of a sage and you shall revere your God.” 

Old people and sages are often wrong. Honoring the wisdom of our elders is what has gotten us into this mess. If we don’t challenge “accepted wisdom,” power structures stay static and entrench. 

We should change our social contract from revering our elders’ wisdom to caring for their well-being. No more “old folks’ homes,” for example. Our elders must be celebrated and cared for, but their ideas shouldn’t be respected any more than anyone else’s. 

Leviticus 19:33-34*

“When a proselyte dwells among you in your land, do not taunt him. The proselyte who dwells with you shall be like a native among you, and you shall love him like yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” 

The dark irony is that converts are treated worse in Judaism than in any other religion. The vast majority of Jews see Judaism as a race first, and religion as a quasi-optional second. 

Leviticus 20:15*

“A man who shall lie with an animal shall be put to death; and you shall kill the animal.” 

Wait - what’d the animal do?! Talk about victim-blaming. 

Leviticus 20:18*

“A man who shall lie with a woman in her affliction and has uncovered her nakedness, he will have bared her source and she has bared the source of her blood; the two of them will be cut off from the midst of their people.” 

More ways to diminish women in society.

Leviticus 20:22-23*

“You shall observe all My decrees and all My ordinances and perform them; then the Land to which I bring you to dwell will not disgorge you. Do not follow the traditions of the nation that I expel from before you, for they did all of these and I was disgusted with them.” 

So this is why Sodom and Gomorrah were included in the text! 

If the Torah were a modern fantasy novel, Sodom and Gomorrah would be a totally irrelevant plot break. It doesn’t even feature the main characters! It follows Lot, a veritable stain upon humanity. 

But it was included to set the stage for a threat. “Obey, or else God will pull a Sodom and Gomorrah.” 

Mystery solved. 

*Again with the Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash : the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.


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