I am a fan of Rabbi Jonathan Saks and was hoping that the right honorable Lord Saks would, in his weekly torah thoughts; Covenant and Conversation, provide a blessing to William and Kate on their royal nuptials with the obligatory link to the weekly parsha.
Although the Chief Rabbi did post a blessing on the day of the marriage… and he did attend the wedding, there is alas, no tie-in to the weekly torah reading to be found.
It is left to me, a mere pageboy here in the suburbs (or is that colonies?) to shed some light on the subject of royal marriage and how it relates to the clarion call of our parsha… Kedoshim. You shall be Holy…
1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:
2 Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them: Ye shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy. (Leviticus 19: 1-2)
Chapter 19 of Leviticus has been characterized as a parallel to the Ten Commandments. Rav Hiyya explained that the reason it was to be read “unto all the congregation” is because most of the essential laws of the Torah can be derived from it. (Leviticus Rabba 24). I invite you to read it! It is in my humble opinion, far superior to the Ten Commandments. It’s lyrical in the way it seamlessly moves from the ethical to ritual. It calls the lie to anyone who would distinguish between ritual law and moral law…. As Everett Fox writes: “[It] is wide-ranging and rhetorically powerful. It extends holiness to virtually all areas of life – family, calendar, cult, business civil and criminal law, social relations, and sexuality.” (The Five Books of Moses, Everett Fox p. 600.)
What detracts from the breadth of vision, is the emphasis in the preceding and following chapters (Leviticus 18, also read at the afternoon service of Yom Kippur, and chapter 20) which seem to be fixated on sexual perversion of every kind.. and I mean every kind, including incest, bestiality and homosexuality.
I will argue below, that much of what the Torah detests about sexual perversion, has less to do with being puritanical and more to do with a rejection of the politics of the autocratic rule and tribal caste system of the Canaanites and the Ancient Near East. Stay with me…. It’s an interesting ride…
It will be no surprise to a reader of this blog, that when it comes to the Bible, I am not a monarchist… I believe that the Exodus Revolution was in large part, a rejection of the monarch and an embrace of the commoner; The Israelites were not to be ruled by any man.. but by God alone.
Ultimately, the Jewish people failed, and in Samuel I 8:5 ask Samuel: “make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” The embrace of a mortal King implied the divine right of that king and a divine lineage for our monarchy had to follow… and that lineage takes us back to creation itself.
The divine right of kings is really an extension of an earlier, more basic idea of the divinity of kings….
In the first account in Chapter 1 in Genesis, Adam was created God-like, in the image of God, as a unitary being and as such did not need to procreate… or at least did not need a mate to procreate. God as we know… is eternal and does not need to procreate. When we first meet Adam… either does he.
In Genesis 1:26-27 we read: “And God said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; …… And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.”
With the birth of feminism, we all learn of a Lilith interpretation, (which is the basis for a Feminist Magazine by that name), and in the first chapter of Genesis provides another independent female mate, created with (and not from) Adam, called Lilith. I will leave this Lilith narrative for later… for now I reference an alternative explanation of how Adam was created as a single being… but also male and female. The Midrash cited by the classical commentators, Rashi and Ibn Ezra, explains these words in the following manner: The Adam was created as an androgynous being with two sides, male and female; moreover, these two sides were later separated in order to form two separate beings – man and woman (Genesis Rabbah 8:1). The tradition that the first human being was created as an androgynous being is also cited in the Talmud (Berochot 61a, Eruvin 18a).
How man procreates defines whether he is an earthly parallel to God…or whether he, unlike God, cannot replicate Himself and is in need of an “other”.
An understanding of this premise explains the low Biblical regard of both royalty and incest (inbreeding) as well as ritualistic bestiality, harlotry and homosexuality all of which are laid out in detail in Leviticus 18 – 20.
In this context one can understand Genesis 1:18 “And the Lord God said: It is not good that the man should be alone: I will make a help meet for him.” Rashi quotes Genesis Rabba: “So that people should not say that there are two authorities. The Holy One Blessed Be He among the heavenly beings is single, and has no mate, and the other one, among earthly beings has no mate.”
The message here is that were a man to stay celibate, or be sexually self-sufficient (androgyny), or mate with a being with which he cannot reproduce; such as an animal, a goddess or another man.. he is in a way mimicking the divine, claiming divinity and thereby challenging God.
A few verses latter, after woman has been created from Adam’s rib, the Bible writes: “And the man said: This now, bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh, to this shall be called Woman, because out of Man was this one taken.” Rashi is struck by “this now” and writes: “This teaches that Adam came to each animal and beast in quest of a mate and he found no satisfaction in them (Babylonian Talmud, Yebamoth 63a). (Don’t you love Rashi!)
Having created Mankind from a split pair, there was no way to escape initial inbreeding, but at least Eve is characterized as an opposite being, and Eve, unlike the animals enables mankind to reproduce an “other”.
“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh” Genesis 2:24 Rashi comments: “The Holy Spirit says this to forbid to the “children of Noah” unchaste behavior (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 57b)” in other words, the source of unchaste sexual behavior (“Arayot” in Hebrew) is when a man does not leave his father and mother… sister, brother etc. but mates with them!
So how did the next generation procreate with such a small gene pool? The most straightforward response, is that just as Adam had no choice but to mate with Eve.. who was after all, flesh of his flesh… so too Cain had to mate with a sister.
In Leviticus 20:17 the Bible writes: “And if a man shall take his sister, his father’s daughter or his mother’s daughter, and see her nakedness, and she see his nakedness, it is a shameful thing (Hebrew: “Chesed).
Rashi comments: “In the Aramaic language “shame” is “Hasuda”. And it’s Midrashic interpretation (of Hesed lit. kindness): If you say, “Cain married his sister, there the Omnipresent performed a kindness to build the world from him, as it is said (Psalms 89:3) The world is built (through) kindness” Siphra; Sanhedrin 58).
One wonders… whether both explanations complement each other… “the world is built on shame….
In any case, the biblical premise remains… inbreeding is a rejection of God and a rejection of God’s role as man’s only ruler. Royalty wants to mix and re-mix it’s blood to protect their superior “blue” blood and to justify the subjugation of the commoner and stranger. God wants us, wherever possible, to leave our father and mother and create our bloodline with our fellow human commoners.
Getting back to Genesis… the other solution to the shallow gene pool problem was to marry the gods:
And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of the gods saw the daughters of man that they were fair; and they took for themselves wives, whomsoever they chose.” (Genesis 6:1-2)
Rashi comments on the troubling “sons of gods”: “The sons of the rulers and magistrates.”
Whether the “sons of gods” are divine beings or human rulers, the breeding of such beings with the daughters of man was the source of all evil.. three verses later God confronts the wickedness of man and the story of the Flood and Tower of Babel follow without interruption.
The rest of the Bible is a dynamic tension between ridding man of earthly rulers while recognizing that mankind is tragically susceptible to the worship of the divine in human form.
Of course the belief in a divine child is the core of the Jesus myth and we Jews like to think that it is totally alien to Judaism, but the truth is that not only was the child of god fairly common in ancient lore but as we have just seen.. it appears in the earliest chapters of Genesis. … it doesn’t stop there…
The barren matriarch is a common Biblical theme, followed by a miraculous birth. Since any miraculous birth is by definition a divine birth we have to admit that the notion of a son of God is hardly unique to Christianity.
Sarah, our first matriarch, is a woman of 90 and barren. Her husband, Abraham at 99, is no youngster. Miraculously Sarah gives birth… but was it Abraham’s child or God’s?
1 And the LORD remembered Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as He had spoken. 2 And Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. (Genesis 21: 1-2)
The word for “remembered” (Hebrew “pakad”) is a euphemism for having marital connection with… (see Jastrow Dictionary p1206) and see Babylonian Talmud, Yebamot 62b:
Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: Whosoever knows his wife to be a God-fearing woman and does not duly visit her (in a conjugal sense – pakad) is called a sinner; for it is said: “And thou shalt know that thy tent is in peace; and thou shalt visit thy habitation, and shalt miss nothing.” (Job 5:24)
Rabbi Joshua ben Levi further stated: “It is a man’s duty to pay a (conjugal) visit to his wife before he departs on a journey; for it is said: “And thou shalt know that thy tent is in peace; and thou shalt visit thy habitation, and shalt miss nothing.”
(For this interpretation of a Divine conjugal visit to Sarah see also The logic of incest: a structuralist analysis of Hebrew mythology By Seth Daniel p. 78 and 97 … but I read it first many years ago somewhere else…. but can’t remember the source…)
It would appear that for all of its distaste for the divine right of rulers, and by extension, the tribalism and caste system that royal lineage induces.. it was hard for the Bible to fully wean itself from the allure of being genetically special and being the progeny of a human-divine pairing.
When it came to the Davidic monarchy, the references to inbreeding and divination are less esoteric.
On one side of his lineage, David came from Ruth the Moabite. The name Moab means literally “from the father” which is because the progenitor of Moab is the issue of Moab’s mother and grandfather Lot.
31 And the first-born said unto the younger: ‘Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth.
32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.’
33 And they made their father drink wine that night. And the first-born went in, and lay with her father; and he knew not when she lay down, nor when she arose….
37 And the first-born bore a son, and called his name Moab–the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day.
On the other side of his royal lineage, David comes from the tribe of Judah. Judah’s son Peretz was the issue of a union between himself and his daughter-in-law who he took to be a temple prostitute.
15 When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot (Hebrew: “zonah”); for she had covered her face. (Genesis 38: 15)
Tamar provides her services on credit…. And when Judah looks to make payment he talks to the locals:
21 Then he asked the men of her place, saying: ‘Where is the harlot, (Hebrew: Kadesha”) that was at Enaim by the wayside?’ And they said: ‘There hath been no harlot (Hebrew: Kadesha”) here.’
I had always been fascinated how the lineage of the Davidic monarchy is so full of sin and had always assumed that there was a deep message here… along the lines of “strange are the ways of the Lord” and “The world is built on Hesed (kindness/shame), etc. which all boils down to Shlomo Carlebach’s line… “You never know!”.
Clearly the Bible is intent on having David’s line emanate from incest on one side and breaking the law of lying with a daughter-in-law (Leviticus 20:12), and/or harlot on the other.
But within the context of the dynamic of royal inbreeding, with relatives and gods, the details of Judah and Tamar take on a new nuance.
Kadesha (from Hebrew: Holy one, feminine) was a sacred/cultic prostitute. According to some scholars, such as Samuel Noah Kramer in The Sacred Marriage Rite, in late Sumerian history kings established their legitimacy by taking part in the ceremony in the temple for one night, on the tenth day of the New Year festival Akitu. It is a general belief among scholars that a form of “Sacred Marriage” ritual or Hieros gamos was staged between the king of a Sumerian city-state and the High Priestess of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of sexual love, fertility, and warfare. Along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers there were many shrines and temples dedicated to Inanna. The temple housed priestesses of the goddess. In Mesopotamian mythology, Lilitû is called the handmaiden of the goddess Inanna or “hand of Inanna.” Babylonian texts depict Lilith as the sacred prostitute of the goddess Ishtar, the Assyrian and Babylonian counterpart to the Sumerian Inanna. (see Wikipedia: Sacred Prostitution)
We can suggest that Judah, the forbearer of King David, like Tamar, was trying to insure a heir, and with his son’s having failed to provide, he attempted, in Ancient Near Eastern Kingly fashion; a sacred marriage with a Kadesha – a sacred prostitute – a handmaiden of God.
Returning with this new understanding of the sexual tension between Divine Royal breeding on the one hand and the alternative of leaving one’s gene pool and loving the “other”.. we can now make sense of the exhausting descriptions and proscriptions against prohibited sexual activity in Leviticus 18 -20…
The Biblical sense of Kedusha-Holiness is truly lyrical. God exhorts his people not to try to be holy like He is holy in the Ancient Near Eastern sense that man should compete with God by appointing human gods as leaders, and by building castes and tribes dedicated to protecting a holy blood lineage, but rather the Biblical invitation to be Holy as God is Holy is to act like God, in his most human form… Mah hu rachum, af ata rachum… Just as He is merciful, so shall you be merciful… (Talmud expounding on the Yom Kippur liturgy). The seamless transistions the ethical and ritual is an invitation to imitate God… Just as He is merciful and embraces the stranger and the common wage earner and just as He is honorable in business dealings.. so should you too …. It is a rejection of the stratification of divine rulers and common subjects.
So as we are captivated by the pomp and circumstance of the marriage of William and Kate, we need to also congratulate William, (whose mother, Diana… the People’s Princess, was a commoner) for his choice to leave his bloodline and cleave unto Kate… a commoner. The British throne is pointing in a new direction and in the opionion of this lowly pageboy, William and Kate deserve our thanks and best wishes or as they say in Old English: Mazel Tov!