Saturday, July 14, 2018

Going Down the Rabbit Hole

Rabbit in the headlights

Six thoughts resulting from today’s torah study.

At Torah study this morning, the portion was about vows and oaths.  Through our discussion, we came upon this tidbit from the Talmud involving Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Babylonians who destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BCE, and King Zedekiah, king of the Jews who was taken into exile.

The consequences of not keeping an oath are suggested by the following story involving King Zedekiah and Nebuchadnezzar.*  Zedekiah once saw Nebuchadnezzar eating a live rabbit and was asked to swear that he would not mention it to anyone.  Zedekiah swore but later regretted he had done so.  He had his oath annulled and told others what he had seen Nebuchadnezzar do.  When Nebuchadnezzar found out that people were scorning him, he assembled the Great Sanhedrin and charged Zedekiah with having broken his oath.  Zedekiah replied that the oath had been annulled, whereupon Nebuchadnezzar asked whether an oath can be annulled in the absence of the one concerned by the oath.  When told that the presence of the affected party was necessary, Nebuchadnezzar rebuked the sages of the Sanhedrin for not informing Zedekiah of that.  Nebuchadnezzar then forced the sages to descend from their golden thrones and sit upon the ground in silence.  They were made to cast dust upon their heads and gird themselves with sackcloths.

Ran defends the Sanhedrin in its dealing with Zedekiah.  They point out that the rule of annulling an oath only in the presence of the one concerned is not absolute.  In this case it was not really a requirement because Zedekiah was very preoccupied regarding this oath, to the point that it interfered with his religious obligations.  Also, the fact that Zedekiah was the king justified the Sanhedrin in giving him special consideration.  Lastly, he points out that the Sanhedrin’s decision was subject to the royal command of the king of the Jews.

- The Call of the Torah, by Rabbi Elie Munk

*(Nedarim 65a, Eichah Rabbah, 2:10).  I’m not sure, but I think this shows you where to find the original story in the Talmud.


1. When you google “King Nebuchadnezzar eating a live rabbit” here are the top hits.  Veggie Tales is still at the top!  Please click on the image to embiggen.

2.  It is not that easy to type ‘Nebuchadnezzar.’

3. I thought that the Veggie Tales creators used a chocolate bunny as a substitute for the statue of gold (see Daniel 3).  It turns out that the Veggie Tales creators had read this story in Talmud.  As proof, here are the lyrics to The Bunny Song:  

The Bunny, the bunny, whoa, I love the bunny
I don't want my soup or my bread, just the bunny.

I don't want no health food when it's time to feed.
A big bag o' bunnies is all that I need
I don't want no buddies to come out and play
I'll sit on my sofa, eat bunnies all day
I don’t want no pickles, I don’t want no honey,
I just want a plate and a fork and a bunny
I don’t want a tissue when my nose is runny,
I just want a plate and a fork and a bunny
I don’t want to tell you a joke that is funny,
I just want a plate and a fork and a bunny
I don’t want to play on a day that is sunny,
I just want a plate and a fork and a bunny

4.     How could anyone even actually eat a live rabbit?  All that fur.  And why is Nebuchadnezzar embarrassed by the word getting out that he did this?  He doesn’t keep kosher.  He seems like a leader who is willing to dish it out but can’t take it.  He is quite fine with mocking and embarrassing others, but if someone dares to mock him, his fragile ego is wounded and he feels unwelcome.  

5.     Several commentators go on to discuss that last sentence of Rabbi Munk's, on whether and how much the king gets to command the assembly (the Sanhedrin) that is passing judgment on the king. Is the highest decision-making body in the land beholden to the person who has appointed them?

6.     It’s also an appropriate passage for today, Bastille Day, and yesterday, when six protesters were arrested for going to my state representative’s house to try to talk to him about legislation for an independent citizen’s commission to draw district lines (i.e. ending gerrymandering).  I and many other constituents have repeatedly requested some, any, communication with him over the past 18 months.  No answer, except that finally, last month he gutted and poisoned the existing legislation.  

Were the protesters justified in taking the extreme action of going to State Rep Turzai’s house to request an audience with His Highness? This brings us to the writing of French Protestant Theodore Beza (1519 – 1605) following the French king’s slaughter of Huguenots.

Beza claimed that all monarchs were created for the sake of their subjects. …. those who wielded their power tyrannically forfeited their right to be obeyed.    Rebellion was the last resort of a cornered people, and Zedekiah was far from finding himself in that situation.  According to Beza, not only had Zedekiah willfully subjected himself to the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar had given Zedekiah ample opportunities to honor his sworn obligations.  Citizens were equally obligated to honor oaths under these circumstances.  When subjects rebel against a tyrant, however, they have not violated any pledge.  Rather, it is the tyrant who has done so, and his perjury renders all promises and commitments to him null and void (Beza 1574: 70-71). 
                        -  Chronicles Through the Centuries, by Blaire A. French. © 2016.

Rabbits, beware