Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Real Thing

With a bit of creativity, one can easily think of reasons why a person might assume a new identity. Sometimes it is a need for safety, such as those who enter the Witness Protection Program. Sometimes it is for more nefarious reasons, such as the fugitive criminal who took on a false identity and moved into the Orthodox community of Lakewood, New Jersey, observing Jewish law and custom even though he was not actually Jewish. (He was arrested in 2008.)

As strange as it may sound, this type of identity theft is even mentioned in the Talmud: A certain [non-Jew] used to go and partake of the Passover sacrifices in Jerusalem, boasting: “It is written (Exodus 12:43, 48), ‘There shall no stranger eat thereof. . . no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof,’ yet I eat of the very best” (Talmud Pesachim 3b).

He mentioned this to Rabbi Judah ben Batyra, who was upset that this scoundrel was violating the sanctity of the Temple. Rabbi Judah told the [man] that the next time he should request the best part, the “fat-tail.” Since this part of the sacrifice is always burnt on the altar and never eaten, the man's request to eat the fat-tail aroused the suspicion of the priests, and “they investigated his pedigree and discovered that he was a [non-Jew] and killed him” (ibid.)

In an era that values experimenting with the cultures of others, it may seem shocking that the man was killed for this trespass. But there is also a reminder here that some things, such as the Passover offering, are particularly sanctified for the Jewish people, and no one else.

However, it is also interesting to note how very inclusive the right to eat of the Passover offering is. Exodus 12 declares that while no alien may eat of it, every person who is part of the household, even non-Jewish servants (as long as the males are circumcised) has the possibility of being included.  “One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourns among you” (Exodus 12:49).

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