Columns - 1998

    A little shopping

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Shofar Columnist

    Cannibalism. Does Judaism allow it?

    Sure, you've wrestled with this issue before. You think you know the answer. You lulled yourself into the false security that this question would never cross your mind for the rest of your life if I hadn't brought it up. But you can never really know anything for sure, can you?

    So here we are, with the question that you've been avoiding for far too long. Cannibalism Allowed, or halachically unpalatable. Let's look it up.

    We'll start by venturing to an obscure Alabama circuit courtroom to review the Ten Commandments. Interestingly, there is nothing in them about cannibalism. Or cannabis, for that matter. Not even for medicinal purposes. But that's a subject we'll light up on another day.

    Personally, I would have expected cannibalism to be unappealing enough that it would have made the original Top Ten list that started it all. Perhaps there's something lost in the translation.

    After further research, I'm sure you will find as I have, that cannibalism is staunchly forbidden by Jewish law. Where? In the laws for keeping kosher, of course, which specifically indicate that you cannot eat any other person unless he hath "split hooves and chews his cud, hath fins and scales, or hath a species classification as a bird of prey." With few exceptions, I've never met anyone like this. And, frankly, the few I've run across did nothing for my appetite.

    It should be noted, however, that some respected rabbinic sources contend that the note about hathing fins and scales does leave plenty of room for weight-conscious scuba divers.

    "Why the interest in cannibalism?", I hear escaping the lips of both of you who are still reading. (And thank you, mother, for your continued support and readership.) Is it because we don't really know what's in the meatloaf the cafeteria serves at work? Are people thinking of cannabis and just confused?

    Or perhaps it's because we are looking at the halachic implications of that great piece of Judaic theatre, "Little Shop of Horrors", the musical that has more Yiddish throw-aways in the lyrics than conversations at High Holy Day lunches.

    Few people are aware of the source of the musical "Little Shop of Horrors". True, the musical premiered in the 1980s and was also made into a movie in that decade, complete with a vastly Hollywoodized ending and without several of the best songs. On the bright side, it also gave us a rare view of Steve Martin with dark hair.

    This musical was loosely based on a horror movie of the same name that came out in the 1950s. There are those who would have you believe this is the whole story. Never since an historic boxing film and the horror genre were merged to give us "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" in the 1970s had we been forced to ask, "who in their right mind would want to make a musical out of a horror movie?"

    Well, the little known truth is that there's a second source for this popular modern musical. A little known dance revue from the old Yiddish Theatre, "Little Shop of Horas". The connection is especially obvious if you ask anyone of whom it is audibly apparent they are from New York what their favorite musical with a talking plant is.

    Let's look at the main character, Seymour Krelborn, that twerp of a klutz. He discovers a strange and interesting plant which he later discovers only feeds off blood. If only Seymour had been taught to keep kosher by his boss and adopted father, the ever-stereotypically Jewish Mr. Mushnik, perhaps Seymour would have known that something was up with a plant that wanted to eat treyf.

    Seymour is interested in Mushnik's other worker, Audrey, who is as Jewish as any stereotypical tall, blonde bombshell. But she is dating a nogoodnik who hits her, makes her ride on the back of his motorcycle without a helmet, and think that having a 12-inch TV is something to fantasize about. The plant persuades Seymour to feed it Audrey's boyfriend, thus freeing her from abuse and her social ties that would prevent her from falling for him in act two.

    In a move that many of us would applaud under less horticultural circumstances, Seymour goes after the dentist with a gun. But Seymour doesn't have to kill him, he turns out to be a moron, making Seymour guilty of nothing more than violating Vermont's good Samaritan law by letting the dentist die. After serving a year in a Vermont jail with Kramer, George and Elaine, Seymour takes the body of the self-defeated dentist and has him posthumously check the plant's molars from the inside.

    Later when Mushnik becomes aware of what's happened, Seymour leads him to the plant. Mushnik is gone faster than matzah in a school cafeteria on Passover. However, while "leads" rhymes with "feeds", close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and slow dancing.

    So, the question remains, is Seymour a hero or criminal? He didn't kill anyone, he just fed them to the plant. Is that bad enough?

    What's the answer? You know as well as I do that somewhere in the Talmud there are no less than three answers to this: "It is bad enough", "it isn't bad enough", and "why are you having performances on Friday nights?"

    Our answer can be summed up anecdotally. There is an old saying that a truly wise person is someone who has more questions than answers. This columnist further believes that a truly wise person is someone who lets certain questions go without bothering to answer them.

    So, as you go through your days, and even as you go through your evenings, your life will be richer and far more rewarding if you remember one simple rule: Don't feed the plants.

    Doug Brook is a technical writer in Silicon Valley and, this month, is lighting designer for "Little Shop of Horrors" at This Side of The Hill Players in Half Moon Bay, and assistant director and stage manager for the world premiere of "Doubles A History of Men and Women", covering 10,000 years and the true origins of Yiddish, at Santa Clara Players. If you're in the neighborhood, catch a show.

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.