PREPENT DAY 13
Elul 13 5775 – August 28 2015
I broke the law yesterday and got away with it.
Nothing major or harmful. Say cheese.
Unpasteurised, fresh from the corner fromagerie on my way to the airport, as a gift to friends for whom I’ll host a little tea party Paris style this wknd. I wasn’t thinking too much about the illegal aspect or possible consequences, just packed it in my handbag, carefully wrapped, with love. And yet, illegal. And now I’m feeling guilty about it, just a bit. Are there times when it’s ok to break the law? Am I making too much of a fuss about it?
Once on the line for security I realized that despite the tight wrapping it was the stronger smelling kind. I wrapped it with another plastic bag inside a side pocket zipped up which only helped a bit.
And by the time we got to New York and I walked, briskly, through customs, I was hoping hard that no dogs and no sniffing officers would come by, my heart beating with that extra thump of illicit activity, adrenalin rush. When did I become a small time smuggler. And what if I had been caught? I know I’m not alone and I don’t know if there’s a fine and surely it’s not a big crime against humanity or the government, I mean it’s not like I’m smuggling cocaine or God-forbid smuggling migrants and leaving them to die a terrible death.
But still, this morning, as I sit back in my backyard on this Elul journey, prepent day 13, glad to be home, I think about crossing boundaries and borders and when breaking laws is concession to desire and greed that could be better handled by us.
And when is it ok to defy legal systems that are sometimes too rigid or no longer useful or in fact are harmful to a better way of life.
Better gun laws anyone? To prevent another needless murder like this last one in Virginia? Or the recent rentboy.com shut-down and arrests story, much closer to home, bringing up a serious conversation about the need to re-examine the laws around sex-work and how much more beneficial it would be to decriminailze it and work on risk-reduction? (a great read about this story from my friend Jay Michaelson writing about the ‘absurdity and tragedy of the current legal regime’ in the new stonewall.)
I know I’m lumping a lot of different questions about law-abiding-needs-and-reforms all together.
In the context of this Prepent journey, as we take each day to think and feel my way through ways with which to live our life in ways more healthy, honest, helpful, this issue of living by the law is one that merits focus. When is there room to make my own decisions? When does saying no to law the right thing to do, if ever? How to navigate the grey zone if at all?
When it comes to Jewish law, I have long ago embarked on the path that, as in Kaplan’s view, sees the law as ‘one with vote, but not a veto’. A process of interpretive adaptation renders our ancient legal system useful for today, with some serious changes when required. Not everybody likes this approach and it is without doubt a slippery slope that can lead to mixed dancing or worse, but I am solidly in favor of this flexidox approach to Jewish living, with all the hard work it requires to balance order and creativity. There are consequences to keeping to the law as is as well as to finding ways to redefine it but they don’t involve incarceration or financial fines.
When it comes to the legalities of the land I am pretty much a lawful, fear-based, nerdy citizen. Occasional tickets for minor traffic violations, and once for public urination (on the far edge of a beach, I really had to, why was there a cop?) is really all I’ve got. In Israel I once smuggled (!) a prayer shawl into the Western Wall to enable my sisters, the Women of the Wall, the right to pray with one. And I took part in a few political actions against the occupation, some of them without permits and in defiance of the law. But these seem like defensible civic disobedience actions more than outright breakings of law. And then there’s cheese.
On this day I pause to ponder when and why I push the limits of some of the laws I usually live by and what are the factors that encourage me to do it or stop me in my tracks.
How do I take hold of all my inner wisdom and live life without the fear of wrongdoing but also with permission to sometimes paint outside the box?
Where do these questions meet you today?
Food for thought to go with cheese and wine for Shabbat. Don’t tell the FDA please. Thank you. May as well enjoy it to the very last bite. Good to be back.
PS: Now that i’m back in NYC – tomorrow’s prepent will come out after three stars shine in the Manhattan sky and Shabbat is out. Some laws I’m sticking to. Sometimes.