Thursday, August 21, 2014

Upon the Neck of a Calf: A Dystopic Future Fantasy, Based on Torah Portion Shoftim


Scene: Torah-State of Israel, 2035:

Holy City Office of Traditional Rabbinical Calf-Acquisitions
3618 Rechov Lieberman
Bennett Municipality, Jerusalem
Torah-State of Israel

When I opened the office this morning, I was not surprised to find Rabbi Ben Zakkai there.
            “You know what I’m here for,” he said. “They found another Death-Warning this morning. Do you have any to go in the back? I’m in kind of a hurry.”
            He meant a calf; he meant, for an eglah arufah—the “decapitated calf” ceremony from the Torah, from Deuteronomy 21:1-9. I have it by heart:

If one be found slain in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it, lying in the field, and it be not known who hath slain him: 2Then thy elders and thy judges shall come forth, and they shall measure unto the cities which are round about him that is slain: 3And it shall be, that the city which is next unto the slain man, even the elders of that city shall take an heifer, which hath not been wrought with, and which hath not drawn in the yoke; 4And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley, which is neither eared nor sown, and shall strike off the heifer's neck there in the valley: 5And the priests the sons of Levi shall come near; for them the LORD thy God hath chosen to minister unto him, and to bless in the name of the LORD; and by their word shall every controversy and every stroke be tried: 6And all the elders of that city, that are next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley: 7And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it. 8Be merciful, O LORD, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel's charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them. 9So shalt thou put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the LORD.

Ever since our Modern-Day Traditional Rabbis—the High Israelite Rabbinical Council, I mean—ruled that Torah Law is paramount; ever since we Israelis switched from being a Democratic State to a Fully-Jewish-Torah-Law-State, and—what shall I say?—invited the Israeli Arabs and the half-Jews, quarter-Jews, intermarried-Jews, and Pro-Peaceniks to our newly-established State of PaliIsrastan, next door, things have changed. Greatly. Well, they’ve mostly quieted down, but there are a number of Part-Jews and Pro-Peaceniks left here, living Underground, and the “Mifleget Kanfay Nisharim Ha-Y’minit,” the Political Party of RightWinged Eagles (RightWings for short), became very good at finding them out—I don’t know how they did it without being caught, but it seemed as though, every morning, there was another dead body turning up on one’s doorstep.
            I understand that the RightWings had an offshoot—they called themselves Kana’im, Zealots, and, among those Zealots, there were these Sicarii, “dagger-men,” they called themselves, after a mob of Talmudic-day freedom fighters from about, say, 66 Common Era—what shall I call them—citizen-vigilantes, perhaps?—who went after suspect Jews, and folks whose—political views?—did not, shall we say, match the Norm. These (drops voice to a whisper) maniacs, these assassins, I say, had taken it upon themselves to eliminate all the part-Jews from our midst, and the ones who dared to suggest we call for Peace with our neighbors. I don’t hold with Vigilante Justice, myself, but I’m only one man. This went on for a number of years; the Cabinet, y’see, was so far Right Wing themselves, they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, stop the bloodletting, and the Borders getting so noisy—what were we to do?
            So the rabbis, as I say, came up with this solution. The police, the Mishtara, were flummoxed; couldn’t come up with a clue. The Dagger-men had the ordinary folks so terrorized—is that a good word to use?—anyway, it just got to be so commonplace, and the police unable to enforce the law, and no one really certain what the law had to be, since the Law had become the law—Torah law, that is, halakha, or, at least, the Traditional law—the Rabbis came up with this calf-thing.
The rabbis—I say, the rabbis, went back to the Holy Books, and studied them for weeks, all the Codes, and the Commentaries, and the Commentaries, and Super-commentaries, and Super-Super-commentaries (that’s commentaries on commentaries, don’tcha know), and decided the following: since the Police could not stop the killers, these Sicarii, there was to be a Compromise (There might have been Informants amid the Police, who knows? Everything is Politics, nowadays). Henceforth, and from that day on, any RightWing Sicarius who believed that his neighbor was a turncoat informer, or a Peacenik (being made a Lawbreaker by High Council Dictum, since the Kipa Plasteeq, the Plastic Dome, was erected, which I will come to, presently), he was—encouraged not to?—no, prohibited!—from laying “hands of wrath” on that Person, but was, rather, to secretly contact the Rabbinical High Council, which would place an Eglah Arufah, a Decapitated Calf, on the front doorstep of the Suspected Peacenik or Part-Jew.
There, now. “To preserve life,” they said it was. And to prevent any more shadowy murders, by the Sicarii. The idea was that, once the Suspect, be he or they Part-Jewish, or Pro-Peacenik, they would see and heed the Warning, and immediately get out of town, to save their lives from the Wrath of the RightWing. Well, you can imagine the results: people were rushing off in droves. No need for talk of Peace here; no, indeed.
            Which is where I come in. I, Itamar, the cattle-driver. I was living on my place, by the stalls and corrals, out there on Kibbutz Mishmar Nevucha—it was a quiet life. The Kibbutz was lo-dati, secular, as it was, back in the Good Old Days, though most of the folks were packing their bags—when was this, the Great Overturn of 2025? Yes, that was it, when the Army first drove the Spikes into the ground, and the Engineerion/Bet Mehandess Geek-Engineers were first working on Kipa-Plasteeq, the Plastic Dome—but I’m going off on a tangent, there; spending one’s days with cattle will do that to a man….
            The rabbis decided, you see, that instead of trying to solve the Problem of all those dead bodies, to simply modify the Eglah Arufah Ceremony of the Decapitated Calf, as in the bit of Torah I quoted above (though I’m no scholar, not me; far from it; I’ve been known to sneak a cheeseburger, now and again, at that little Greasy Spoon pundak falafel n’ shwarma joint, ‘back of the Jerusalem Bus Station), to give an incentive to prevent any more murders by night, and thereby, the rabbis could, in effect, wipe their hands of it.
Things had gotten pretty scary here, since the Pro-Occupation Party occupied the Government, and most of the Livni-Lapidaries went abroad—I hear that most of them settled in Germany, or America—quite a load of them, now, in Dresden and New York City; more than a few in Florida, I understand… well, it’s all for the good. The Pro-Peaceniks who stayed, as I said before, moved off to PaliIsrastan, where they live, I assume, in peace with one another, and with the Israeli Arabs. Good for them; I’m content here, and don’t much care Who’s In Charge (I’m secular, but I’d appreciate it if you’d keep that under your kipa, if you don’t mind.)
            Kipa Plasteeq? I must thank the Engineerione/Bet Mehandess Institute Boys for that one: years ago, when the US President—I believe it was Rick Perry, that Texas cowboy fellow—under pressure from his own Texas Tea Party folks, doncha’ know, to cut budgetary costs for foreign aid, stopped funding Iron Dome, the Techies came up with this idea—just melt down the plastic parts of our outdated US jets, add some “secret sauce” (they won’t give out the formula; very hush-hush, y’see), and it resulted in a superstrong, clear plastic alloy which they simply cast into a monstrously-huge dome, and stretched it over the Entire Country. No way any Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, or even this new outfit, Ormuzd’s Revenge (Iranian, I think they are), can lob a rocket through it, even one of those new Plutonium-tipped jobs that come rolling off the assembly line in Tehran, using parts built in North Korea.
            Tunnels from Gaza? Oh, well—Schwarzmann Institute helped us out, this time. One of their agronomists, doing irrigation research in the Negev Desert, happened on a way of building indestructible steel pipes which would never rust out—blended with plastic again, taken from Mitz Tapoozim, old Orange Squash bottles—Lord knows, we have plenty of them. The Army used Merkavah tanks fitted with power drivers to push ‘em into the surface of the earth, about forty kilometers down, can you believe it? Miracle of engineering, it was. Things are quiet, now.
So now, we have a plastic wall up top, and a steel-and-plastic barrier below. The folks in the West Bank and Gaza—excuse me, what’s left of Yehuda v’Shomron and Gassy (we call ‘em that, ‘cuz all they do is yell at us on the TV and Web), since we carved off substantial chunks for IsraPalistan, which we include under a Sub-Dome, reachable only via our own, IDF-enforced-and-protected, blast-wall surrounded, broken-glass-and-barbed-wire-topped, security-camera-bristling,  Danzig Corridor—the Official Name is Derech Netanyahu, Netanyahu’s Highway, but most of us call it Bibigrad, in his honor—kind of leave us alone; they have no choice. All’s quiet, under the Dome. (Some days, I can’t help but remember the Gerbil I kept as a Pet, when I was little. He used to run all around the plastic tubing that my father built for him: happy as could be, but then, he was just a Gerbil. Ah, well….)

            And now, Friend, you’ll have to excuse me: Rabbi Ben Zakkai needs his calf, and another suspected Part-Jew or Peacenik their Eglah Arufah Ceremony. All’s right in our world. Shalom, Shalom—have a peaceful day!