Religious Lunacy

כִּי אֵין בָּֽנוּ מַעֲשִׂים — תפילות יומיות, נוּסח ספרד

For are these deeds not ours to act upon?! (Daily Siddur, Nusakh Sfard)

I subscribe to the perspective that religion is for those afraid of going to Hell — and spirituality is for those who have been to Hell!

The Talmud Bavli (Sotah 21b) records an interesting act that would horrify most of us: a woman bathing in the river calls for help. A nearby “religious” man heard her plea but refused to save her because it’s immodest for a man to gaze upon a naked woman. The Talmud Yerushalmi (Sota 3:4) records similar but different perspectives. A “religious” man sees a child drowning and waits to rescue the child until after he has removed his tefilin — or, a  “religious” man refuses to save a girl from being raped because he does not want to commit murder.

The Talmuds call this man “chasid shoteh” — חסיד שוֹטה — literally, “stupidly pious”. In modern Hebrew, it means “religious lunatic”. I prefer the modern Hebrew idea.

There is no Hebrew word for “religion”. The closest word, “daht” — דת — is actually a Persian loan-word and means something close to edict; it bears no relation whatever to the similar-sounding Hebrew word “da’at” — דעת — know.


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