How about a mule?
Question of the Week:
Dear Susan and Rabbi Daniel,
I was listening to Wallbuilders and you made a comment about the liger (cross between a lion and a tiger) at the zoo and how that was not how God intended for things to be so your dad was sad. Can you please go into more detail about that?
I have a puggel, a pug and a beagle mixed. Would you say that this dog is going against God’s design, even though in the wild dogs could breed? With that same notion, would the mule be against God’s design?
I would really appreciate any more clarification. I always enjoy listening to your wisdom.
Chef Brian S.
Dear Chef Brian,
We don’t have the exact text of the RDL talk you heard, but we can still address the topic. The Torah (5 books of Moses) contains a variety of instructions. Some, like “Do not commit adultery” or “Do not steal,” seem readily understandable. These are the rules that we humans logically might have thought up on our own. Amazingly, nowadays, even they are increasingly questioned.
Other directives, such as observing the Sabbath, might seem even less obvious to people. Then, there are those rules known in Hebrew as chukim that ancient Jewish wisdom suggests people would never have come to see as necessary on our own, and we have little chance of comprehending. God spoke and we follow is all we can say. We may well attempt to draw lessons from them, but these are above our understanding.
Among these chukim are those found in Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:9-11. To this day, Torah-observant Jews check our clothing to ensure we aren’t mixing linen and wool and do not graft different species of fruit or plow with two different species. Fascinatingly, the verse in Leviticus comes immediately after the one ordering, “Love your friend as yourself.” That section of Leviticus in general, seems to be a mixture of commandments to which we say, “Of course, duh,” and commandments that have us scratching our scalps. The bottom line is that only God can understand what we need to do to make human society function durably at its best.
Regarding your puggel, the prohibition is inter-species so would refer to mating a cat and a dog, for example, not two different breeds of dogs. However, as the result of mating a horse and a donkey, the mule does fall under this category. Discussing this in depth would take thousands of words and hours of time. We are going to make only a few points that we hope you will ponder.
- Mules are incredibly useful animals, but they are sterile. Most species cannot interbreed, but horses and donkeys can, resulting in the mule. However, the result is the end of the line. It cannot reproduce.
- In the 3rd day of Creation, there is a very strong emphasis on the creation being “according to its species.” We emphasized this in Scrolling through Scripture, Unit One, but the point we want to make here is that God seems to create the world with a strong emphasis on things belonging to different categories.
- Mules are mentioned in an easily overlooked verse, Genesis 36:24. In the midst of giving the genealogy of Esau’s descendants, we find a man called Anah who “discovered the Yaymim —*הימם —when he was shepherding his father’s donkeys in the desert. Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that this refers to his breeding the first mules. (This reference is not given as a compliment to his ingenuity, but to his doing something wrong.)
One possible lesson we could derive from this prohibition is that God intends each of us to live our lives by one coherent set of values rather than by trying to blend two perhaps incompatible value systems. For instance, someone might insist that he appreciates the value and benefits of stable, traditional families but he also believes that we can redefine family to mean whatever we want. Another set of incompatible values might be believing in the free market while also demanding that government regulations be applied with a heavy hand. Not only does this not provide a coherent framework for life but even if one were to inconsistently try to live by competing value systems, the likelihood of being able to reproduce and transmit the same bizarre salad of values to one’s children is zero. We have from time to time met interfaith couples who have found a way to function by respecting each other’s paths and meshing traditions. We smile sadly when we hear them explain to us how they are going to raise their children in the same way, with appreciation for and continuation of the ‘best’ of both faiths. We can’t think of a time when we’ve seen that same practice transmit to the following generations. The best thing is to seek and find one coherent system of values and beliefs by which you can guide your life.
In conclusion, at the zoo our father was reacting to what he saw as an abuse of animals being coerced to mate in an unnatural way. His response was certainly emotionally strengthened by his internalization of the Biblical prohibition.
Hope this provides a little illumination,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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