The Torah also banned Jewish priests from coming into contact with corpses. I know of no other religious system that banned its holiest members from any contact with the dead. This, too, was to separate life -- the role of the priest was to consecrate life -- from death; and most of all, to separate Israelite values from those of Egypt, where priests were regularly involved in religious activities revolving around death.
The Torah's ban on sexual intercourse during menstruation is also a separation of that which represents life (intercourse) from that which represents death (menstruation). Biblically, menstruation had nothing to do with women being "unclean." In fact, nearly the entire body of Torah instruction (found especially in Leviticus, the least known of the Five Books) concerning what is incorrectly translated as "unclean" or "impure" is actually about that which is touched by death. Substitute "touched by death" for "impure" or "unclean," and you will have a far better understanding of the text.
The somewhat better known ban on eating meat together with milk, emanating from the law in the Torah -- stated three times -- that prohibits the boiling of a kid in its mother's milk, is another example of separating life and death. Meat (i.e., a dead mammal) represents death; and milk, the life-giving food of mammals, represents life. (Jewish tradition only later added chicken, a non-mammal, to the list of mammals not to be eaten with milk; and major Talmudic rabbis did eat chicken with milk.)
The biblical and Judeo-Christian transformation of human thinking from death- to life-orientation has been a staggering accomplishment -- even though it has obviously not been entirely successful even in the contemporary Western world. The cavalier attitude about human life expressed among the leading opponents of Judeo-Christian values -- such as PETA, which equates barbecuing chickens with cremating Jews; the Princeton ethicist who believes that parents can commit infanticide under various conditions; those in the non Judeo-Christian West who lack a moral problem with abortion for whatever reason; modern film and art that portray death as kitsch; and the secular culture's contempt for those who call themselves 'pro-life' or believe that Terri Schiavo had a right to live -- are all examples of the contemporary attempt to undo the life wish of Judeo-Christian values and affirm the natural death wish that resides in the human soul.
Dennis Prager is a SRN radio show host, contributing columnist for Townhall.com and author of his newest book, “The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code.”
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