[Milton-L] potestas ordinata, potestas absoluta, reason, and arbitratry commands

alan horn alanshorn at gmail.com
Sat Jul 12 18:36:16 EDT 2008


The dietary rules of Leviticus are indeed based implicitly on notions
of purity and impurity (see Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger). But I
believe the Jewish practice of keeping kosher is based strictly on the
Levitican rules without reference to the underlying rationale of the
system. That is, I don't think the authors of the oral law or
modern-day rabbis who deal with these questions argue about what is
pure and what's not; rather, they argue about what is permitted and
what is forbidden.

So in this sense Marlene Edelstein would be right that these rules are
practiced as the fulfillment of an arbitrary command. My understanding
is that unlike the Hindu brahmin who accidentally eats a hamburger,
the Orthodox Jew who mistakenly eats a ham sandwich would not say "I
have made myself impure" but rather "I have unintentionally
transgressed." He would be in need not of purification but atonement.

However, I believe the ritual practices associated with a woman's
menstrual cycle among Orthodox Jews do explicitly seek to negotiate
between states of purity and impurity.

I hope someone with a firmer grasp of these traditions can confirm my
impressions.

Alan Horn


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