A load of dog crap

There has been long running criticism about the malicious publications of Ken Arkwright, including a recent comment to this blog.However, as an interested blogger, I am now indebted to Mr Arkwright. In an attempt to further discredit Judaism he made reference to a text in his letter to the editor. His target was Perek Shira, where there is apparently an esoteric reference to the use of dog excrement for the tanning the hides used for writing holy scriptures.

As a Yeshivah student, with the textual learning skills to access references at source, I spent some time researching this pasuk and various interpretive references. Having not had the privilege of reading the Perek Shira before, I was delighted to learn about this text and some of its indepth meaning.

The Perek Shira itself is a song that links Torah to nature. The text of Perk Shira predates the Mishna (it is referenced within) and is at least 2,000 years old. In the chapter cited, a number of animals are referenced, alongside their qualities and purpose within the scheme of creation. However the variety of interpretive trajectories arising from each animal reference becomes comprehensible only when seriously considering the historical and cultural context within which this text was written. There are thousands of midrashic texts that deliver seemingly incomprehensible, cryptic, mystical, and even distasteful ideas. There is little benefit in attempting to apply a literal meaning to this. Ken Arkwright makes a complete fool of himself by trying to do so.

The commentary that our “scholar” Ken references is Yalkut. There are in fact several rabbinical works that bear the title “Yalkut” (a work that means literary collection, or anthology), including Yalkut Shimoni, Yalkut Makiri, Yalkut Reuveni. One assumes that the partial reference provided is the Yalkut Shimoni, which links that Pasuk to Tehillim 95:6.  That reads “Come, let us prostrate ourselves and bow, let us kneel before Hashem our Maker.”

 Incidentally, King David is the probable author of both the Psalm and the Pirkei Shira.

The end of the Pirkei Shira references its midrashic statement to the following textual sources:

“And the dogs are brazen of spirit that do not know satiation” (Isaiah 56:11)

“But against the Children of Israel, no dog shall whet its tongue” (Exodus 11:7).

“He who guards his mouth and tongue, guards from afflictions of his soul” (Proverbs 21:23)

Some of the ideas that result from the citations are embedded into kabbalah, and way beyond my comprehension. For example, according to the Arizal, every kosher animal gets its lifeline from the first letters of the Tetragrammaton, while the lives of non-Kosher animals are sustained through the latter two letters of HaShem’s name. The insight reveals that every non-kosher animal has a kosher equivalent. Perhaps the text is demonstrating that the dog is the non-kosher equivalent to the deer or cow whose parchment may be used to prepare a Torah scroll?

Another commentary based on these psukim shows that the Hebrew word for dog (kelev) is made up of two words; Kol (all) and Lev (heart). There are references to the idea that the dog can be mans best friend and protector, or it can be a vicious killer.  This links back to the ethical and moral principles of how to apply character attributes, and to develop nature for good. 

With reference to various aspects of reincarnation, the referenced text brings out some very important Jewish concepts for contemplation, inlcuding the soul of every living creature and the essence of the purpose of creation itself.

These few examples of insight are designed to show that behind a seemingly absurd text, rests a series of ideas and values that we probe the text in order to derive. Not everybody has an appetite for this, however at the very least it is unbecoming behavior to use our ancient texts as a tool to discredit and mock Judaism.

Sadly the Jewish people have too many problems to deal with than the need to fight within. Mr Arkwright concludes by noting that there is more than one way to be Jewish. If the Jewish population of the world is 14 million, then I would suggest that there are in fact 14 million ways to be Jewish. No doubt he is as Jewish as I am, as is any other Jew born to a Jewish mother. However there are legitimate and non-legitimate ways to be Jewish. The framework of Jewish law was placed into the hands of the Rabbis to determine, in order to protect the integrity and sanctity of the Torah.

The blatant disregard and respect of Jewish unity damages our people in ways that we fail to see. Perth is similar to many other Jewish communities, particularly small Diaspora communities that are struggling to deliver a future for themselves. This is due to a lack of Jewish literacy and a lack of commitment to Jewish observance. Jewish newspapers, including Perth’s Maccabean and the Australian Jewish News, do little to support interest and growth through chinuch.  Quite the converse, they publish viewpoints that discredit the very texts of Judaism that have sustained our existence for thousands of years. They also deliver legitimacy to assimilation by wishing people Mazaltov when they marry out, by advertising non-kosher restaurants, by encouraging chillul Shabbat, by creating controversy through the creation of news that is nothing more than lahshon hara.

Sadly, those who are charged with the mantle of Jewish leadership, both lay leadership and Rabbinic leadership, consistently fail to take a stand against the abuse of Judaism by tacitly sanctioning such conduct within Jewish community through their silence. As Rabbi Manis Freidman asks, “Do we have no shame?”

There is so much to be positive about, but yet the fabric of our community gets ripped apart by people with important communal roles that demonstrate though their lifestyles a lack of respect for Jewish tradition.

On this occasion, I was delighted to take some genuine Torah learning and significant insight into textual reference that was cited in an effort to achieve the opposite. However, little is to be gained by using this material to discredit Judasim. Sadly most of the community that is not Torah literate will have no regard whatsoever for the reason by which this obscure text is constructed, or how the text itself provides a learning technique for linking complex Jewish ideas.

At the end of it all, I guess that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.