This month (October 2005), Rabbi Rafael Cohen condemned Madonna for singing a song containing a reference to the name of 16th Century Kabbalah scholar Yitzhak Luria.
Rabbi Cohen proclaimed, “Jewish law forbids the use of the name of the holy rabbi for profit. Her act is just simply unacceptable and I can only sympathize for her because of the punishment that she is going to receive from the heavens.”
Of course, anybody has the right to tell anyone that she or he doesn’t LIKE what Madonna’s done, and I support that right. I also support the freedom of people to practice whatever religion they choose, so long as they don’t hurt anybody else in the practice of that religion. You want to believe the tale Rabbi Cohen’s spinning? Fine, go ahead. Do you expect me to buy his line? That’s a wholly different ball of wax.
The thing is, others’ freedom of religion doesn’t preclude my freedom of speech, which includes the right to call other people’s religious beliefs silly. Oh, don’t be shocked. Put away the offended face. Let’s admit it: beneath the veneer of loveyness, Sikhs think Christianity is silly, Christians think Hinduism is silly, Hindus think Islam is silly, and Muslims think followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster are silly. That’s what most world religions are about: taking what you believe very seriously and regarding what others believe as silly. And yes, I think Rabbi Cohen has said a very silly thing. A person will receive punishment from the heavens for using someone’s name in pursuit of profit? Silly, silly, silly. Come now, Rabbi Cohen; we both know this claim’s a fiction, a fanciful bit of theater made up as part of a broader effort to make sense of things. Don’t we?
In our culture, calling someone’s religious fiction a religious fiction, calling it made up… well, them’s fighting words! Usually, this would devolve into a he-said, he-said battle: Silly! Not silly! Silly! Not silly! Oh, the offense! Oh, the drama! But what’s interesting to me in this case is that the silliness of Rabbi Cohen’s claim is empirically testable. If it’s true that a person will receive punishment from the heavens for using the name of Yitzhak Luria for profit, then one should be able to observe a person’s life falling apart as a result of the act.
I offer myself up as a test case. I’ve opened a shop on the web selling items with the name of Yitzhak Luria on it. I hereby declare that I intend to make a profit from selling them thar items.
There: I’ve satisfied the conditions. And now, I’m waiting for the heavenly punishment. Check back here regularly as I let you know how the retribution’s going. Lightning strikes? Meteorites through the roof? Lumbago acting up? Eczema? Check back here. I promise to keep you posted.
If I get that promised retribution, then I’ve got nothing to complain about; it’s all my fault.
If that retribution doesn’t come…