Columns - 1998

    Literally absurd

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Shofar Columnist

    Have you ever wondered why there are so many stupid people in the world? Sure you have. Every time you get cut off while illegally merging on the highway or in the produce aisle, you marvel at the stupidity exhibited by your fellow humans.

    Before you start blaming this on the government for allowing people who watch reruns of "Three's Company" to breed, let's remember one important fact: Without stupid people, us smart people wouldn't look so smart.

    Or, to paraphrase the infamous contemporary Jewish musician William Martin Joel, "I'm merely competent. But in an age of extreme incompetence, that makes me extraordinary."

    Whether due to stupidity or not, people can get very bogged down by people. One minute people won't take you at your word, the next minute they're picking away at every word you say, making each word seem like it was handed down at Sinai, and that it can be held against you.

    This month, we look at two extremes: Taking things literally, and endless interpretation. Perhaps, in evaluating these extremes, we'll find truth in the observation of one fabled military leader, "Reality is somewhere in between."

    Let's look at the literal origin of one of the most fundamental tenets of Kashrut ("keeping Kosher," for our Jewish readers). It is twice stated in the Torah, first in the upcoming portion Ki Tisa in the book of Shemot (which is not even remotely Hebrew for "Exodus"): "don't cook a kid in its mother's milk."

    First, let's establish that in the original Hebrew it is quite clear that The Big He is talking about a kid goat, not a kid who won't stop playing Sega and clean his room when you tell him to for the tenth time.

    Let's say you read this quote in the Saturday edition of The Birmingham Post-Herald. The first question is, why are you reading the newspaper instead of getting dressed for services?

    But about the quote, what does it tell you? Don't cook goat veal in goat milk. Make sense? Sure. Good cooking tip. One anonymous source said, "It probably wouldn't taste good, anyway."

    Taking the aesthetic one step further, one can probably rule out using any goat milk products. Do you think goat veal and goat cheese would be a pleasant, romantic meal for an anniversary? (Do not answer this question out loud if your spouse is present. You never know how well you really know someone...)

    Now come the Rabbis, saying you can't mix any milk products with any meat products. Just to make sure you don't, you can't use the same dishes/tables/cuisinarts/chopsticks for both, and you have to wait a few hours between meals and thirty minutes before swimming. And you can forget that turkey and swiss on a sesame seed bagel at Bruegger's. All of that was originally derived from "don't cook a kid in its mother's milk."

    Neat, huh? And we wonder how people can possibly read different things into simple statements like "Green Bay's recent Super Bowl loss really cheesed the cheeseheads," or "Read my lips: No new taxes," or "I was actually amused."

    A halachic question: "Can a Green Bay Packers fan eat a hot dog at a game while wearing a cheesehead hat?" The Mishna tractate Baba Gump actually predicted this very question, and states "Yes. For a fan loyal (Yiddish for "meshugena") enough to sit on a cold metal plank for three hours when it's twenty below outside, we can make an exception."

    Before you put my address on the letterbomb, let me clarify something. I'm a longtime Green Bay Packers fan.

    Now that you've licked the stamp, let me clarify something else. It's a self-adhesive stamp. You didn't have to lick it.

    While I'm at it, let me clarify one more thing. Am I saying kashrut is ridiculous? No. Am I saying this part of kashrut is an extreme exercise of poetic license? Sure. Am I saying that's a bad thing? No. Who am I to say? And, while I'm at it, who are you? You pay your dues (or don't), you make your choice. Or, by not bothering to choose, your choice in life is made by your own ambivalence, without your input.

    But most people don't mind when they have no input into their own lives. Or do they?

    Am I being sacriligious? Disrespectful? That depends on how many stupid people you cut off on the highway today.

    All I'm saying is, next time your kid won't stop playing Sega to clean his room, feel free to toss him into a cauldron of boiling milk.

    Or at least make him practice for his bar mitzvah like a responsible parent is supposed to.

    Doug Brook is a technical writer in Silicon Valley whose mother's cauldron is simmering as she places an extra order with the milkman, since she already made him practice for his bar mitzvah.

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.