Tuesday, December 31, 2013

First Feast of the New Year: The Circumcision

And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed.  (Luke 2: 34-35)

I have been pondering this feast of the Church today -- as usual, with some difficulty.  The only thread of it that I'm ever able to really wrap my brain around is the bittersweet prophecy of Simeon and the official "naming" of the Christ Child.  I like that in Jewish tradition it was a ceremony steeped in dignity and history which introduced our Savior to the world in His Name: Jesus.  It's a beautiful thought, every knee in Heaven bending at this first utterance of His name!  Jesus.

 But, even understanding what I do of Judaism (which admittedly is not much) and the possible hygienic reasons for the practice, the idea of a religious ceremony surrounding the actual circumcision has always seemed, well...  just weird.  It's a hard concept to reconcile with my Christian sensibilities regarding appropriateness and privacy.  And, uh...    I might as well just come out and say it: it just seems somewhat, uh, vulgar to be observed as a religious practice. But, in Jesus' time mandatory circumcision of newborn males was -- and still is -- one of the hard and fast standards of the Mosaic Law, a law thick with the incense of Old Testament ceremony and tradition.  But, then, almost everything in the old law of the Jewish people was surrounded by pomp and circumstances.  And almost everything you can think of was somehow covered by law.  It's an amazing set of rules to be found in the Torah -- a set of rules that St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother observed carefully and taught Jesus to observe over two thousand years ago.  But, what is it all about? 

I looked it up on the internet today.  This is what I found out:

    * There are 613 laws of the Torah, first recorded in the 3rd century A.D.  

    *  It is commonly known as the "Law of Moses," though it comprises considerably more than the ten commandments dictated by God on Mount Sinai.

    *  The Jewish people divide the 613 laws into three types: 1) "Mishpatem," which are those that are self-evident, or known by "natural law," such as not to commit murder or to steal; 2) "Edot" which are "testimony" rules which result from the truths of the history of the Old Testament, such as the laws forbidding work on the Sabbath in recognition of God's resting on the seventh day of creation; and 3) "Chukim," those laws for which there is no known rationale except that they are manifestations of the Divine Will, such as those Jewish laws regarding sacrifice.

    *  When Christians discuss Mosaic Laws they tend to divide them up with the distinctions of those that are: 1) ceremonial, 2) civil, and 3) moral

    * Of the 613 original laws, 365 are positive ('Thou shalt") rules and 248 are negative ("Thou shalt nots")

    *  Of the observable commandments of today, 77 are positive and 194 are negative commandments.

    *  26 of the laws can only be observed in Israel

    *  Some apply only to males or females

    *  Some only apply to persons with specific status within Judaism

    *  More than half the original 613 laws are no longer observable

    *  Though their historical nature is pertinent to the understanding of Jesus' day and are still observed (as far as is possible) by orthodox Jewish sects, the 613 laws do not constitute a formal code of the typical person practicing Judaism in the present day.

MTP = "Messianic Torah Positive"

    *  The 613 laws touch on every imaginable facet of life, run the gamut of broad, general pronouncements of morality to specific, nitty-gritty details of diet and judicial practices

I read through almost all 613 of the individual tenets of the Mosaic Law this afternoon, and let me tell you, I was bug-eyed by the time I got all the way through them!  It's amazing some of the subjects they dispatch!   Rules #122 - #130, for example, treat of marriage and divorce; divorce was legal in Jesus' time and the rules regarding it were as stringent as the rules regarding marriage. A man was not permitted, for instance, to remarry his ex-wife unless she had already married someone else first (rule # 127), but he could obtain a divorce quite easily by issuing to his wife a "get document," which severed their marriage (rule #126).  A woman's consent was not required to be thus divorced; neither could the wife issue for divorce.

To find the entire list, broken down with subheadings, go here.  But here's a random sample of a few laws I found interesting:

    #1 and #2  Know thou God; not to even think there are other gods besides Him

    #25  Not to follow the whims of your heart or what your eyes see

    #52  Not to plant a tree in the Temple courtyard

    #68  Men must not shave the hair off the sides of their head

    #72  Not to tattoo the skin

    #69 and 70  Men must not wear women's clothes -- and vice versa

    #85  To bless the Almighty after eating

    #86  To circumcise all males on the 8th day after birth

    #87  To rest on the 7th day

    #76 - #185  (roughly) contain the "Kosher" rules **
    #185  To not eat unkosher maggots

    #187  Not to eat creatures that live in the water other than fish

    #190  Not to eat the meat of an animal that has been mortally wounded (Huh?)

    #200  Not to eat the fruit of a tree during its first three years

    #210  Not to take God's Name in vain

    #235  Not to plant grains or green in a vineyard

    #238  Not to wear "shaatnez" -- a cloth woven of wool and linen

    #239  To leave a corner of the field uncut for the poor  

    #239 - #254 regard charity and tithing

    #327  Impure people must not enter the Temple

    #336 -374  Encompass many of the laws of temple sacrifices

    #474 Not to rob openly

    #467  Not to steal money stealthily

    #473  Not to kidnap

    #482  Not to murder

    #480  Not to stand idly by when someone is in danger

    #494  Make a guard rail around flat roof tops

    #497  Help others load their beasts

    #504 - #516 deal with the manner of treating one's slaves

    #513  The master must not sell his maidservant

    #518  Pay wages on the day were earned

    #526  Lend to the poor and destitute

    #527  Not to press for payment if you know they don't have it

   #564 and #565  Not to lend or borrow with interest

    #584  Respect your father and your mother

    #593 - #595  the king must not have too many wives, horses, gold, or silver

    #596  Destroy the 7 Canaanite nations

    #598  Wipe out the descendents of Amaleck

Throughout the laws, it is made very clear that those of Jewish faith and descendency are favored, as
workers, as slaves, in the judicial system, and elsewhere.  A person is not given the same fair shake as a Jew if one is an idolator or a foreigner, but is, at best, shunned.  One of the Jewish faith lends and borrows without interest, while an idolator pays and can expect interest -- rule (#537).  At worst, a non Jew can expect to be decimated; a Jew is required not only to "destroy the 7 Canaanite nations," (as per rule #596), but one must also, (according to rule #597), "not let any of them remain alive." Yikes!  The expectations of the Jewish religion at the time of Christ were strict and merciless!  And hardly
any aspect of life remained untouched by them.

Still, in pious obedience, the Holy Family observed the rules of the Mosaic Law.  When the Christ Child was eight days old, He was taken to the Temple "according to the custom of the law" to be Circumcised, and there His holy parents met the prophet, Simeon, and holy Anna.  Throughout His childhood, what little we know of Jesus' life, we see His mother and Foster Father, St. Joseph, instilling in Him a love for the discipline and ceremony of the Judaic Law. St. Joseph, in observance of Jewish custom, traveled every year to Jerusalem with His family. It was during one of these trips that Jesus was lost and then found by His parents.  We also know that during His public ministry, He taught daily in the temple, and that His life revolved around the cycle of the traditional feasts of His time and place.  He was perceived by all as thoroughly Jewish in behaviour.

But we know that He came to change it all.  He came to fulfill the Law.  He was the Answer
to the quest of the Jews, the Fulfillment of the prophecies, the Author of the New Testament.  But, by the examples of his "Jewishness," Christ showed us how to be religious, how to practice our faith with piety, passion, and attention to details.  He made it very clear that He expected us to adhere to organized religion; not to say we believe and take no action on it; not to wander through a "cathedral" of trees, think of God, and call our faith good.  If Jesus, God Himself, could observe what seem to be the rather amazing, occasionally absurd tenets of the Jewish Faith, we can certainly follow the much kinder, common sense rules of the Church He founded.  This is what I have gotten from reading the Law of Moses today.  We've got it made as Catholics, in comparison to what Our Lord went through growing up Jewish! 

** General Rules of the Kosher Diet For Curious Christians

Although the details of kashrut are extensive, the laws all derive from a few fairly simple, straightforward rules:
  1. Certain animals may not be eaten at all. This restriction includes the flesh, organs, eggs and milk of the forbidden animals.
  2. Of the animals that may be eaten, the birds and mammals must be killed in accordance with Jewish law.
  3. All blood must be drained from meat and poultry or broiled out of it before it is eaten.
  4. Certain parts of permitted animals may not be eaten.
  5. Fruits and vegetables are permitted, but must be inspected for bugs (which cannot be eaten)
  6. Meat (the flesh of birds and mammals) cannot be eaten with dairy. Fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables and grains can be eaten with either meat or dairy. (According to some views, fish may not be eaten with meat).
  7. Utensils (including pots and pans and other cooking surfaces) that have come into contact with meat may not be used with dairy, and vice versa. Utensils that have come into contact with non-kosher food may not be used with kosher food. This applies only where the contact occurred while the food was hot.
  8. Grape products made by non-Jews may not be eaten.
  9. There are a few other rules that are not universal. 
(Taken from here)

1 comment:

Cathy Keller said...

Happy New Year!!!! Wishing you all the best!!! CCathy