~*~ Rose-Colored Glosses ~*~

hovering between the quest for absolute truth and the pursuit of utter nonsense
gloss, n.
  1. A brief explanatory note usually inserted in the margin or between lines of a text.
  2. An extensive commentary, often accompanying a text or publication.
  3. A purposefully misleading interpretation or explanation.
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"The limits of my language means the limits of my world."
-Ludwig Wittgenstein
"An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it."
-Mahatma Gandhi
Segal's Law:
A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.
"Well, art is art, isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water! And East is East and West is West and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste more like prunes than a rhubarb does. Now, uh... Now you tell me what you know."
-Groucho Marx

~ Wednesday, January 30, 2008 ~

Traveling to most of my students' houses requires between one and three hours on trains (that's one way, not round trip--yeah, I do a lot of reading), but a week ago I started working with a student who is within walking distance of my apartment. First time in over a year I've had a student right here in Brooklyn.

If there's any quality that's common to all my students' parents, it's that they are all exceedingly wealthy, and they all care deeply about their child's education. So I meet a lot of people who have both good values and the means to act in accordance with those values. It's a nice business.

The students themselves are more varied, but most of them are taking their SATs, which means they are somewhere between 10th and 12th grade. In general, the girls seem to know who they are by this point, or at least they seem to have reached a stable state, while the boys seem to be on the brink of figuring it out. It's a sweet age. They all have an earnestness and an energy which is lovely to be around--they're privileged kids who've nevertheless been raised to work hard, and they do, and having never yet been burned by unassailable defeat, they are confident in their beliefs that they will one day conquer the world, if they can only master the skill of taking standardized tests.

On Sunday evening I called up a new student about whom my (fantastic, brilliant, awesome) manager had just written to me, and his mother answered. She started out by grilling me about my qualifications and success rate, which put me on my guard (I never know what to say to questions like that...how effective is my tutoring? Well, how hard is your child going to work?) but I answered her with a less flippant version of that and we moved on to logistics like day and time and place and duration of lesson. Then she told me something about why her son is so busy--he's on his high school's fencing team--and I mentioned that I'd taken some fencing classes in college, and from there the conversation leapt and bounded from fencing to California's schools to New York's CUNY system to bioethics to Jewish day schools to Californian vs. New York Judaism to interfaith marriages, and nearly an hour later, she told me she'd like to introduce me to a widowed (widowered?) friend of hers if only he weren't too old for me (twice my age, in fact), so I was saved from having to respond to that potentially awkward invitation, but at any rate, she seems to have decided I'll do, and I'll be meeting the fencer in a few days.

But I brought the Brooklyn student up for a reason. Today was my second meeting with him. Last week when we were talking about how to write an effective 25-minute essay, I assigned him the same prompt he'd already used to write his first essay, only this time I told him to argue the opposite viewpoint. The prompt was "Are things always what they seem?" and his first essay had taken the easy view, saying that things often aren't at all what they seem to be. This one, then, was harder, and he struggled with trying to find examples to support the idea that things are always what they seem, but he ended up finding some interesting examples and writing quite a sophisticated essay.

His handwriting, though, is rather chicken-scratchy, and I had to squint a bit to make out his words sometimes. One of the examples he chose was a chair: he argued that something that looks like a chair really is a chair (he's gonna love Plato), and if we're not sure we can trust our eyesight, we can certainly trust our sense of touch that will tell us it's a chair once we're sitting upon it. He then pointed out that this would not be the case if the chair had a trick seat, the kind that makes you fall through as soon as you put your weight on the seat. What he actually wrote, as best I can remember, was,

"An exception to this would be a gag chair, whose bottom would open up as soon as you sit down on it."

Only there's that handwriting of his, and in this case it made the second g of 'gag' look like a y.

It's a good thing he's got a sense of humor, because I was so seized by the visual that I just about lost it, forehead on the table and tears and everything.

~ prattled by Miriam at 12:00 a.m. [+] ~ 1 comment

* * *
~ Tuesday, January 15, 2008 ~
Dueling Exegetes
The Saint proposes that my interpretation of vs. 64-65 stems from a reading that is wrong on two counts.

1. Keyholders are always male.

His first point is that the word "key" is a technical term, and that only men hold keys, so every time the text refers to someone who holds keys of any power whatever, it must necessarily mean a man and not a woman holding those keys. Thus, when v. 64 says, "If any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power..." the "who" refers not to the wife but to the man.

Go ahead and reread it that way with the new meaning in mind.

"If any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power..."

Can't do it, can you? Neither can I. The "who" so forcibly makes me want to refer to the wife that it seems impossible that it could refer to the husband. It's like saying, "When he visited his girlfriend, who lives on Cherry Tree Lane..." and expecting the reader to understand that it's he and not his girlfriend who lives on Cherry Tree Lane. If they wanted to refer back to the guy, they could easily have used "and he" instead of "who".

Besides, even though the keyholders are male every other time the term "key" is used, we can still imagine that this instance is an exception to that rule. Remember that v. 61 tells us that wife #1 holds the power of granting or withholding consent, so it's she who can open or close the door separating her husband from his prospective additional wives.

2. Administration to one's husband means fidelity, not consent to polygamy.

The Saint's other correction is the more interesting one. He proposes that in v. 64, where it says that the wife should administer unto her husband, the emphasis goes on "unto her husband" rather than on "administer"; that is, instead of meaning that she's going and getting additional wives for him, it really means she's refraining from sleeping with other men. She administers unto him, and not unto others. This would make her commandment to believe/administer unto him refer not to the part in v. 61 where it says "and the first give her consent" but rather to the part in v. 63 where it teaches that her being with another man automatically constitutes adultery. Her transgression would become infidelity rather than rejection of polygamy, and the punishment for her infidelity, if not utter destruction, would be that her husband becomes free to take another wife.

Now, I agree that it's generally more plausible for one verse to refer to something in a previous verse than to refer to something that was mentioned briefly three verses ago, so the Saint does have proximity on his side, but on the other hand, "administration" should, because of the nature of the word, refer to action instead of inaction. No one would call standing still and doing nothing an act of administration, regardless of whether or not my very refraining has a positive effect upon you.

Besides, at the end of v. 65, we are virtually told how 'administration' is being used in this sense: "Sarah...administered unto Abraham according to the law when I commanded Abraham to take Hagar to wife." What does it mean to administer? It means to do what Sarah did when Abraham was commanded to take Hagar to wife. What was it Sarah did? She sent Hagar to Abraham.

But could it possibly mean, instead, that at the moment when Abraham was taking Hagar, Sarah happened to not be sleeping with anyone else? I don't see how. Sarah administered unto Abraham not only at the moment when Abraham took Hagar as a wife, but also because of God's commandment that he do so. That's the sense of the verse. Abraham couldn't have taken Hagar unless Sarah had given Hagar to him, and realizing this, and not wanting to get in the way of his obedience, Sarah administered to her husband by doing exactly that. (Although I should note that in Genesis's account, Abraham's sleeping with Hagar is Sarah's idea, not God's, and afterward she's pretty sorry she did it.)

And on top of that, there just isn't any other man present in the story to tempt Sarah away from Abraham, so it doesn't make any sense to be making such a big deal about her fidelity. She does have a little infidelity issue with the Pharaoh in Genesis 12, four chapters earlier, at Abraham's misguided (though understandable) behest, but I'm not sure that's significant, except that it makes her look even less like the sort of person you'd want to hold up as a paragon of fidelity.

Anyway, it seems clear to me that it was precisely by facilitating Abraham's acquisition of Hagar that Sarah was administering unto him; had she not facilitated it, he wouldn't have been able to impregnate Hagar, because it was up to Sarah to permit or prohibit it.

So those are his two points. If he were right, then the meaning of the text would indeed change dramatically--it would go from "she refused to assent to polygamy, so she loses her right to control whether he takes another wife" to something like "she was unfaithful to him, so he was no longer bound to be faithful to her" which actually would have been something I could have stomached.

Curiously, The Saint doesn't dispute my interpretation of the "Law of Sarah" as being a law that requires the husbands to obtain their additional wives as freely-given gifts from their first wives; I would have thought that'd be the weakest point in my interpretation, because the text is so vague regarding it, but I guess that point was obvious enough to him.

Incidentally, since asking him about it and hearing his answer, I've gone to visit Mormon.org (on Science Ninja's recommendation), where you can now sit down and have a real live chat with a real live missionary. I was passed around to a total of three different missionaries (as one person's shift ended, he or she passed me to the next) which meant I had to go through and explain the problem to each one of them (none of them had ever noticed the significance of this passage before...what gives??) and while their answers were as different as they were unsatisfying, none of them challenged my interpretation the way The Saint's did. Actually, none of them challenged it at all.

The first one, who really seemed to know what she was talking about, pointed out that if I did indeed know that the law came from God, I'd have an interesting decision before me about whether to follow it. I was just about to tell her that the source doesn't always matter, because I have my own standards regarding what sort of laws I'd be willing to obey (e.g. if God commanded me to torture puppies, I would not be into it), when she had to go.

The next one took the "No human can understand everything, but I know the Church is true" approach, which doesn't really help me, because I don't know that it's true, and even if I were absolutely sure about the rest, this issue would still strike me as Definitely Not From God, or at least not from the kind of god I'd want to worship.

The third insisted that the harder the commandment is to keep, the greater the blessing for keeping it, but honestly, I can't imagine any blessing so great that it would balance out the pain of sharing my husband with sister-wives. I told her that, and she said she wasn't really sure how to help me, but she recommended I pray to God for the answer. Oh well.

Kol hakavod, The Saint. Of all the answers I've heard, yours is the only one I'd find acceptable. If only it worked.

~ prattled by Miriam at 1:59 a.m. [+] ~ 0 comment

* * *
~ Friday, January 04, 2008 ~
The Latest Stoker of My Wrath
It is probably not healthy for me to be getting so angry over this, but nothing infuriates me like a bad law.

61 And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse aanother, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.
62 And if he have aten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.
63 But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed; for they are given unto him to amultiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be bglorified.
64 And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, if any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood, as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her; for I will magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide in my law.
65 Therefore, it shall be lawful in me, if she receive not this law, for him to receive all things whatsoever I, the Lord his God, will give unto him, because she did not believe and administer unto him according to my word; and she then becomes the transgressor; and he is exempt from the law of Sarah, who administered unto Abraham according to the law when I commanded Abraham to take aHagar to wife.

So first of all, he can have multiple wives as long as he hasn't vowed otherwise, but she may not have multiple husbands under any circumstances. And worse, once having heard about the "law of my priesthood as pertaining to these things" the first wife, the one who "holds the keys of this power" (i.e. who has final say over who else, if anyone, her husband marries), has the delectable choice of either willingly receiving this law, in which case she must be the designer of her own misery, or refusing it, in which case she is labeled a trangressor, and her husband is freed to design her misery himself.

It's been said that some women in polygynous marriages were quite content with their situation, but I'd feign contentment too if I thought the only alternative were to lose all negotiating power, period. First of all, if your partner's told you he or she wants someone else, and your primary goal is to hold onto that partner's love, the last thing you'll do is stand in the way. And secondly, if something bad is bound to happen to you, it's slightly less bad if you can decide to do it to yourself, thereby protecting your own sense of being in control. That's preferable to fighting it all the way and finding out, when you are utterly defeated, how truly powerless you are. It's not too different from quitting your job because you heard they're going to fire you, or from killing yourself because you know you're going to die anyway. It's a very human response, and justified, I think, but what a pity these women had no other options than to either accept it willingly or have it done to them unwillingly.

Well, they had children, maybe, and probably no source of independent income, but I hope that had I been in that situation, I'd have had the fortitude to get up and leave.

The Saint is diligently seeking an alternative interpretation of this passage. I don't see how there can be one, but I hope he finds it anyway.

~ prattled by Miriam at 1:19 p.m. [+] ~ 0 comment

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