Monday, September 10, 2012

What's the Deal, Mark?

In Mark 7:3-4, the author (Mark) seems to call into question the tradition of kashering utensils:

Mark 7:3-4
"(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches."

And yet this tradition is deemed by Scripture to have originated from Moses:

Numbers 31:21-24
21 Then Eleazar the priest said to the soldiers who had gone into battle, “This is what is required by the law that the Lord gave Moses: 22 Gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, lead 23 and anything else that can withstand fire must be put through the fire, and then it will be clean. But it must also be purified with the water of cleansing. And whatever cannot withstand fire must be put through that water. 24 On the seventh day wash your clothes and you will be clean. Then you may come into the camp.”

Question 39:

How do we reconcile Mark's apparent words with Torah?  Is this a variant or is Mark merely trying to give some halachic background without necessarily making a value judgment?  


  1. "Is this a variant or is Mark merely trying to give some halachic background without necessarily making a value judgment?"

    Mark, as well other gospels (except probably for Matthew), were written for Gentile congregations (hence explanations that would not be needed for Jews). That said, I think that some of purity stringencies (washings) that the Pharisees were practicing, while based on Torah, went above the "letter of the Law." (similar to their tithing of spices, which Yeshua didn't condemn).

    1. Gene,

      Thank you for your comment. If you are comfortable answering, I would also like to ask you: do you think some of the Pharisaic traditions conflicted with the "spirit or letter of the Law"? For example, Yeshua says: "Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition." And what examples might there be of such UnConstitutional traditions in modern Rabbinic Judaism? Again, if you don't feel comfortable answering then I really will understand.



    2. I think that the behavior of those Pharisees who tried to trap Yeshua was hypocritical and their use of halacha self-serving. Rabbinic writing condemns these types of Pharisees. Aside from that, on the whole, the Pharisaic movement taught the right things. This is why Apostle Saul spoke of himself as a Pharisee (instead of a "former" Pharisee). There was no moral conflict between being a Pharisee and being a follower of Yeshua in his mind.

      Pharisees criticized those within their own ranks. Talmud lists 7 types of Pharisees:

      In Ṣota 22b seven types of Pharisees are described. The first five are hypocritical: (1) the “shoulder” Pharisee, who wears his good actions on his shoulder for all to see; (2) the “wait-a-little” Pharisee, who finds excuses for putting off a good deed; (3) the “bruised” Pharisee, who to avoid looking at a woman runs into walls; (4) the “pestle” or hunched-over Pharisee, who walks bent over in pretended humility; and (5) the “ever-reckoning” Pharisee, who is always weighing his good deeds against his bad. But also mentioned are (6) the “G-d-fearing” Pharisee, who lives in holy awe and the fear of G-d, and (7) the “G-d-loving” Pharisee, who loves God from his heart. (Summary by Robert Stein)

    3. Thanks, Gene. Yes, it's important to remember that Paul was simultaneously a Pharisee and a follower of Yeshua. The summary by Stein helps explain how this dynamic was possible and why it is unfair to stereotype the Pharisees.

  2. Coming from the point of view of a warrior, I think it's interesting that something Moses commanded to be done only upon return from battle became something that had to be done daily.

    The idea was to keep contamination from other groups of people to a minimum, something the native Americans could have used when encountering the white invaders. They did not observe this practice and thousands died as a result.

    But what does that say to your family, friends and neighbors when you act as though everything they touch is impure? It's like saying "everyone's a leper but me"!

  3. The Gospel of Mark isn't dealing with the kashering of utensils, but with the ritual immersion of utensils in a mikvah.

    The kashering of utensils is the ritual cleansing of it in the domain of the opposition of kosher and treif. It is a procedure that can be applied to some types of treif utensils. Dependent on the level of contamination these are to be cleansed by fire, by immersion into boiling water, or by washing. After being cleansed in the prescribed manner they are kosher and parve.

    The immersion in a mikvah is not about the opposition between kosher and treif, but about the rabbinic distinction between clean and unclean for Jewish use. This immersion applies mainly to new utensils and to Gentile utensils. A new utensil, or a utensil that was bought from a Gentile, must be ritually immersed to be fit to be used by a Jew. If this utensil happens to be treif, it should be kashered first and then immersed in a mikvah.

    The context of the discussion in Mark about the hand-washing procedure (N'tilat Yadayim) is about this ritual immersion in a mikvah, which for utensils is the rabbinic equivalent of 'conversion'. The utensil is 'converted' from Gentile use to Jewish use.