Saturday, February 10, 2007

Seltzer for mere Shekels

Usually I get kind of a kick out of products that are marketed for Jews. My friend D and I spent a long while laughing over an email I got once describing a contraption that would "make seltzer", was perfect for taking with you and your family when you were going to the Catskills and very, very cheap. The image that comes to mind is the perfect East-coast American Jewish family in the 60's going to the type of "resort" shown in Dirty Dancing. And it's probably not so far from reality - my grandfather, though he was an Israeli Jew rather than an American one of course, had a seltzer maker of his own in the fridge at all times.

Last night on Marketplace, Shia Levitt did reported from Jerusalem about products made specifically for religious Jews. The report wasn't particularly well done because she bungled the way she described the connection between the two products, but it was interesting. She talked about two items - one that takes a regular fridge and converts it to prevent it from being used accidentally on Shabbat (the Hebrew word for the Sabbath, when religious Jews interpret the Torah's instruction not to work into: don't turn on and off lights, don't write with a permanent pen, don't drive etc.) and one that modifies a phone so you can use it on Shabbat without breaking the rules.

The former seems silly but fine to me. If you're really going to be hard core about following the rules, then you don't want to inadvertently break them. Makes sense. The second one is the type of thing I have a problem with. There are other examples, like lights that are always on but have a special turning cover so that you can twist the cover on and off to "turn on and off" the light without actually changing the state of the light - I hear they're great when you want to read your kids a nighttime story on Shabbat. But really, they just seem like cheating to me. The Rabbi institute that created the phone claims that it's only to be used in emergencies even though using it doesn't break any rules (you can read the Marketplace transcript find out how they've engineered that). But Jewish law is very clear that in case of life or death you can break any rule at all with no problems. So really this is for people who want to use these products through a technicality.

Ultimately, I guess I feel like if you're going to follow any religion, you should be sticking with the spirit of the laws rather than the fine print. The sprit of Shabbat is one I admire, and even try to follow despite my agnostic beliefs - it's a day of rest. To me that means that I can read, relax, but also drive to the snow and go skiing or whatever else means rest to me. But when religion is just about following the letter of a book written thousands of years ago and interpreted by a bunch of men, that's when I can't understand it anymore. And that's when I get scared, because the next step is for people to start strapping bombs to themselves to kill all others who don't share their beliefs.

Wow that turned pretty depressing, didn't it?

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