[Milton-L] purity, obedience etc

Marlene Edelstein malkaruth2000 at yahoo.co.uk
Sun Jul 13 05:05:32 EDT 2008

I'm sorry, I should have made it clear that I was referring to the practice of kashrut by contemporary Orthodox Jews, whose approach to this issue (as to all non-ethical commandments) is essntially that of Rabbinic (ie post-Temple) halachah (law code) - the laws are obeyed because they are God's commandments, not because they're rational (I can't help recalling the opening of Anne Carson's poem 'My Religion': "My religion makes no sense/and does not help me/therefore I pursue it.").
    I also think of Levinas's remark in 'Revelation in the Jewish Tradition':  " ... the attitude in which the revealed is received is one of obedience, so that the phrase in Exodus 24:7: 'All that the Lord has spoken we will do and we will be obedient (listen to it)', in which the expression for obedience is placed before the expression referring to understanding, exemplifies, in the eyes of the Talmudic doctors, Israel's greatest merit, the 'wisdom of an angel'. Yes, but we're not angels - perhaps human wisdom is something else.
          What might be the prehistoric justification for kashrut and the family purity laws is something for anthropologists to work out - rational or superstitious explanations are not elements in post-Temple Judaism, or in modern Orthodox practice (Progressive Judaism is engaged in constructing a halachah for this secular, post-Holocaust age, one which integrates a new commitment to the commandments based on discussions of the relation between the individual, society and the natural environment). 
      Be that as it may, the injunction not to eat that notorious fruit was not part of the revealed Law, and my point was that perhaps unquestioning obedience is not unambivalently the only acceptable response. As I'm sure you're aware, the episode in the Garden of Eden hasn't much importance in Judaism - Christianity endowed it with the significance it has in our culture. Milton set himself the task of theodicy - of demonstrating satisfactorily how God can be not only all-powerful but also infinitely good - which to my mind is impossible, at least in human language (which Milton had to use, albeit his muse was divine). References to Milton's own theology only show how obstinate the problem is. Like many others, I find it more fruitful to approach PL by way of its ambiguities, some of which may originate from the fact that Christianity (and therefore Milton) builds its ponderous edifice on an ancient folk-tale. 
      Hey, but it's a great poem! btw, I organised the full-text reading of Paradise Lost at Copenhagen last September, and what an intense experience that was. We were all elated as we recited in unison the final four lines of Book 12, and I'm sure I wasn't the only person present to feel that the hope with which A&E leave Eden hand in hand is not only, or even mainly, owing to their assurance of Christian Redemption. 
believe everything, believe nothing

--- On Sun, 13/7/08, alan horn <alanshorn at gmail.com> wrote:

From: alan horn <alanshorn at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] potestas ordinata, potestas absoluta, reason, and arbitratry commands
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Date: Sunday, 13 July, 2008, 9:57 AM

> Doesn't Leviticus 10:10 make the system of purity and impurity

I didn't mean to deny that Leviticus is explicit about listing what is
clean and unclean. But the system behind it all--why, for instance,
among hoofed animals, only cud-chewing ones are clean--is left

My tentative remarks about Jewish practice were in reference to the
post-biblical period, by the way.

Alan Horn
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