The Rev. Know-it-all’s “Young Christian’s Guide to Halakhic Law”, finally terminated.
In my previous ravings, patient reader, I explained that among the 613 commandments of the Law of Moses there are 365 don’ts and 248 do’s. Among these commandments there are commandments, witnesses, and rules that have no apparent reason. If Jesus says that “until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is fulfilled.” (Matt 5:18), how, pray tell, does Jesus fulfill something like the law prohibiting Shatnez? Allow me to explain.
Shatnez is cloth containing both wool and linen which Torah prohibits. Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:9–11 prohibit an individual from wearing wool and linen fabrics in one garment, the interbreeding of different species of animals, and the planting different kinds of seeds together. My suspicion is that the prohibition against these inter-mixings is a reminder of the wall of separation between Israel and the nations that surrounded them. The law requiring circumcision and much of the dietary law had the same function. I remember inviting Rabbi Lefkowitz to dinner at my rectory with the alderman. It was a Chicago kind of thing. It had to be a kosher catered meal served on sealed, disposable plates, glasses and flatware. An observant Jew cannot eat in a Gentile home except with great difficulty. We are unclean. If that does not put a damper on chumminess, what will? Mixture is discouraged at every turn, and this is reasonable.
The Canaanites among whom Israel found itself living practiced abominations like religious prostitution and child sacrifice. An invitation to dinner might involve who knows what? As the Yiddishe bubbi (grandmother, for us goyim) says, “It’s better vee shouldn’t mix in!” This is a huge biblical principle, not just the worries of a nervous grandmother. Why should they mix in? Simple.
The idea of a moral and righteous God was new to the world. Religion had almost nothing to do with what we think of as morality among the nations of the ancient world. It was more a kind of practical voodoo about how to get what you wanted and how to keep the gods from squashing you like a bug. This whole Israelite thing about a righteous God who loves humanity with a passionate and jealous love was unheard of in the ancient world. If you think about it, that sort of thing really doesn’t come naturally to us humans. We are far more interested in the voodoo that allows us to do pretty much what we please.
In the law, God created a people set apart. By the time of the Roman Empire about two thousand years ago, the concepts of the religion of Israel were pretty well known and fairly respected. The nation of Israel had prospered and the books of Moses were known throughout out the Persian and Roman empires. The Roman Empire was about ten percent Jewish. Jews had trading colonies as far away as India and Spain. They filled the Greek speaking world and the Roman Empire. Separation had done its job. The God of Israel, the Righteous One, was poised to replace the innumerable capricious gods of the pagans. The wall of separation would come crashing down in the teachings of the Messiah Jesus, in His sacrificial death for all mankind and in His miraculous resurrection.
Paul of Tarsus the Pharisee talmid (student) would explain this fulfillment in his many letters. We fulfill the commandment by doing more than the law requires. Not only do we refrain from adultery, but we love our spouses as we love our own bodies, St. Paul explains. We fulfill the commandments of witness by living and dying for the Lord. We are allowed to trim the corners of our beards if we live in such charity that the world can see the law fulfilled in our love and kindness for those around us be they pagan or believer.
The first Christians fulfilled the witness commandments by their deaths in the Roman amphitheaters. The witness commandments are fulfilled every time a Middle Eastern Christian has his head lopped off by one of the enemies of God. But Shatnez? How does Jesus and how do we fulfill this prohibition and those like it, such as circumcision and the refusal to eat lobster? The key lies in one Torah text. (Hang on. This will be obscure.) I refer you to Exodus 39:29:
“…and (you shall make) the belt (for the high priest) of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, the work of the weaver in colors, as the Lord commanded Moses.”
Rabbinic Judaism maintains that Shatnez, mixture, was mandated in the case of the high priest’s belt, in which fine white linen was interwoven with purple, blue, and scarlet material. According to the sages, the purple, blue, and scarlet were made from wool and interwoven with the fine linen. The high priest wore a symbolic word around his waist that one day Shatnez would be allowed.
If Jesus is the great high priest – the fulfillment of the priesthood of the temple – he fulfills this prophecy made in fabric and the prohibitions against Shatnez are no longer necessary. Go, enjoy a ham sandwich. Just make sure you honor the image of God in every human being you meet but without submitting the immoral practices of the nations such as abortion and promiscuity.
I think I am about finished with this whole thing about the law.