Saturday, June 11, 2005

Ariel and the police

On Friday I heard a new Israeli song on Galgalatz called "To sleep without dreaming". It's by Metropolin and continues the recent trend of including soundbites in foreign languages. In this case, they're recordings of foreign workers in Tel Aviv, explaining why they left the Phillipines and what life is like for them in Israel.

Which reminded me of the ignominy of Israel's Immigration Police. You would have thought that, in a country constantly battling terrorism, eaten away by organized crime and institutional corruption, plagued by an astronomically high road toll, the police would have their hands full. But no. Those problems can wait. First we have to make sure there aren't any unregistered caregivers.

And it's not as if they focus on the horrifying conditions these foreign workers are subjected to by their Israeli employers, not to mention the flourishing sex trade.

It is heartening that the liberal Orthodox community is responding to aspects of this travesty. On Friday night I came across a copy of the Pesach issue of Ma'agalei Tzedek. The issue was dedicated to contemporary applications of biblical ideals of freedom. The articles are here, in Hebrew.

Not that this is something that requires much textual support, since it seems self-evident (to me). But I thought of a Tosafot I came across years ago. Now that I look at it again, it doesn't quite say what I remembered, but maybe it is implied.

Talmud Bavli, Avoda Zara 57b discusses whether a newborn gentile who touches wine causes it to be forbidden, as a full-grown gentile would. The Tosafot, s.v. La'apuke, mention the Ashkenazic custom that "the slaves touch wine immediately after being circumcised and ritually immersed".

It was something of a revelation for me that, not only did Ashkenazic medieval Jews own slaves, but that their ownership was so deep that they circumcised them. For more information see Ra'avya ad loc (p. 21); Simcha Assaf, Zion 4 (1939), 91-125; Carmel Moskin, Tura 1 (1989), pp. 235-245; Michael Toch, Zion 64 (1999), pp. 39-63.

The point is this. Why would these slaves be touching wine immediately after their conversion? I assume (you can argue, but it's a nice idea) that their master had a l'chayim with them to celebrate. Yes, this is a slave, whose body is at the disposal of his owner. But that is no reason for him not to be treated with respect.

Which is a trivial but representative example of the kind of relationship Jewish sources expect between employer and employee. Which, one would hope, would be more respectful than that of a master towards a slave.

The Tannaitic sources are better known. How, if there is only one pillow, then the master must give it to his slave. Things in that vein. Where can you see Jewish values like that in practice today, in Israel?


Anonymous francine marino said...

Could be the wine was given to dull the post-circumcision pain the way the mohel gives the baby his wine-coated finger to suck after the brit.

2:18 AM  
Anonymous Lia said...

It's a very sad situation when people get so wrapped in up their own troubles that they can't see anyone else's. Especially since sometimes, helping others can bring out a part of a person that wasn't so prominent before, and it might be a healing thing. It seems to me that if there is resentment in that siutation, it has to come along with some measure of pity or compassion. How sad it is to be unable to see the healing right in front of us, and to be unable to appreciate the aspects of our situation that are relatively blessed. And how admirable it is when anyone in that situation is able nevertheless to try, so how much moreso should Ma'agalei Tzedek be commended.

Great post (as always).

7:02 AM  

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