Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Logic. Logic?

As I've probably mentioned before, I receive a daily e-mail, giving a quick overview of some (usually picayune) aspect of Jewish Law. It's rarely useful, in any practical sense, for me - I just enjoy learning these little tidbits, is all. On Sunday, I got one who's topic was "Determining the Validity of Accepted Customs." In short, it deals with Jewish Old Wives Tales, or common superstitious practices. You know - the kind of things which people pick up along the way as little protections against the evil eye, or whatever. Some of them, such as spitting between (on?) two fingers while saying "kinahara" (roughly speaking - "get away, evil eye!") when something bad is said, are incredibly widespread.

You see, the problem is that, in Judaism, a practice which is done for a very long time by a lot of people becomes something like law. It isn't really law, but it takes on the same power. So, should we consider these superstitions as valid acts? Required acts? Or, should they be forbidden, because, officially speaking, Judaism frowns on superstition (since it's, in essence, a power other than God)?

The answer is, at first, a very reasonable one. Any practice which has a rational, reasonable basis should be continued. In other words, if something is done because of a superstition, but it also happens to makes sense, we don't outlaw it just because it's a superstition. Great! Makes perfect sense. Until, of course, we get to their first example:

Some people have the custom to ensure not to walk over a baby or child, and to require somebody who did walk over a baby or child to walk over him again, backward. The Be'er Moshe writes that this is, indeed, a legitimate practice that is based upon a valid reason. There is a concern that walking over a child will have the effect of stunting his growth, and therefore if one did walk over a child, he should walk back over him to eliminate the effect. (Accordingly, there would be no problem with walking over a person who has already grown to his or her full height.)

Sigh. As I said to someone recently: Logic. It's like nuclear power. It can accomplish great things. But, in the wrong hands, it can create disasters. Not everyone should be allowed to use it.

1 comment:

A said...

I have been told it was Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) who said, "Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end." There's a pithy one to add to your list, Jason!