Talmud vs. Torture

I noted yesterday that religious voices against torture have not been clearly heard in the public conversation. That’s in part the fault of a media that tends to “get” religion only when expressed as either innocuous spirituality — the stuff of inspirational tales in the Saturday paper — or dangerous fanaticism, perfume or mustard gas. But it’s also in part the fault of religious leaders who’ve failed to draw a bright and shining line between their faiths and torture — that is, who’ve been too timid to ask their congregations, often split between supporters and opponents of U.S. policy, “Which side are you on?”

That’s why Rabbi Ben Weiner’s article for Religion Dispatches, “Talmud vs. Torture,” is so important. Torture isn’t a matter of opinion and personal feeling, he writes; within Judaism, it’s a legal question.

Jewish legalism, at its best, is a means of actualizing the dictates of the prophetic voice through a regimented system of behavior: a code of conduct thoroughly imbued with an ethos and a morality. The most articulate condemnations of torture that Judaism has to offer are therefore presented most effectively as deeply spiritual legal analyses.

Read the whole article. If you’re talmudically inclined, follow Weiner’s lead to an important series of essays on torture and Jewish law by Rabbi Melissa Weintraub. And, last and in this instance only least, revisit Weiner’s work for Killing the Buddha.

Jeff Sharlet is a founding editor of Killing the Buddha, coauthor with Peter Manseau of Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible (2004) and co-editor of Believer, Beware (2009). Sharlet is also the author of Sweet Heaven When I Die, (2011), C Street, (2010), and the New York Times bestseller The Family (2008).