Letters Aug. 2007
Doug: Can you help us with two unrelated questions?
(1) We shared the recording of your Sunday class from two weeks back - the one on sexual laws - with Daniel and Aaron. During the course of it, a question arose. If I recall, the law clearly states that a Noahide cannot have sexual relations with his father's sister. At the same time, you mentioned the case of Amram and Jochebed - the parents of Moses, Miriam, and Aaron. If I recall correctly, you said that Amram married his aunt.
Now if he married his aunt, wouldn't that mean that she was his father's sister, and wouldn't that be a prohibition of the seven Noahide laws? The Torah had not yet been given at Mt. Sinai, but the seven Noahide laws were in effect at that time. So how is it that Amram was able to legally marry Jochebed?
(2) During the course of a class with Rabbi Weiss, he mentioned that the pagans used to cook a kid in its mother's milk in order to somehow influence fertility. Thus, I assume that the prohibition against cooking a kid in its mother's milk came about - at least in part - to prevent the Jewish people from becoming involved in what was then an idolatrous act.
Daniel raised this question, which relates to both this situation and probably others where the 613 commandments prohibit something that used to be idolatrous but no longer has that stigma. He asked, why is it that the Jewish people have to forever cease mixing meat and milk just because some pagans many hundreds of years ago used to do that? After all, no one who eats a cheeseburger these days thinks about influencing fertility. In other words, the possible "purpose" for that prohibition has long since gone away. So why does the prohibition remain in effect?
Thanks for any light you can shed on these questions.
Mesora: Good questions...
Marrying one's aunt from the mother was prohibited to Noachides. So Moses' father Amram who married his aunt from his father was allowed.
Regarding milk & meat: although the motive in specific may be gone, we must appreciate that this practice to induce fertility was generated from the human psyche, which never expires, or changes. So our observance today is a testimony to the very real and identical psyche that has the same potential to do exactly what those idolaters practiced.
We are guarding against the same tendencies that man always had, and always will have. Though fertility rites may seem old, they can reassert at anytime, since our emotional makeup is exactly what idolaters possessed 1000s of years ago. Just as they concocted foolish practices, without Torah and reason, we can too.