Posts Tagged 'Elie Wiesel'

Painfully Parve: The Moral Challenge of Adiaphorous

In Mishpatim, this week’s Torah portion we learn about many laws. Some of them deal with kashrut, food taboos. One of the laws states, ” You shall be holy people to Me: you must not eat flesh torn by beasts in the field; you shall cast it to the dogs.” (Exodus 22:30) Clearly eating without thinking about the experience of the animal is to be like an animal. Our holiness is connected to our being conscious consumers.

Another law states, “The choice first fruits of your soil you shall bring to the house of your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”(Exodus 23:19) At first glance it might seem that this prohibition falls in line with other taboos in Judaism of mixing things, I think that is an over simplification. Just as in the previous case, this is an argument for conscious moral living. Cooking a kid in it’s mother milk is an obvious case of cruelty. Not doing mixing milk and meat is not moral stance, but an occasion to be mindful in life and to strive not to be cruel.

This also creates categories of trief (not kosher), milk, meat, and “parve”. Pronounced PAH-riv or pahr-veh, “parve” is a Yiddish (and by extension, Hebrew) term for something that is neither meat nor dairy. Examples would be water, eggs, fish, and anything that is plant-derived, such as fruit, nuts and veggies. Thus, a cookie labeled as “parve” can be eaten together with cream-laden coffee, or after a steak dinner. Since meat and dairy utensils are also kept separate, dishes that are used for neither meat nor dairy are also known as “parve.” The origin of this word is unknowm. Perhaps it is from Middle High German bar (“bare, naked”), from Proto-Germanic bazaz (“bare, naked”), from Proto-Indo-European bosós, from bos- (“bare, barefoot”), and thus cognate with English bare. Or perhaps from a West Slavic source such as Czech párový (“occurring in pairs”), because it is something that can be paired with either meat or milk.

In a more general context, being “parve” can also mean being neutral, unremarkable, or lacking in distinctive qualities or characteristics. To be “painfully parve” would mean to be frustratingly neutral or unremarkable in a way that causes discomfort or dissatisfaction. This could refer to a person, an experience, or anything that is perceived as being uninteresting or bland. It suggests a sense of disappointment or a desire for more excitement or stimulation.

Similarly I just learned a new vocabular work, adiaphorous. Based on the ancient Greek “ἀδιάφορος” (“adiáphoros”), meaning “indifferent.” The idea of adiaphorous concepts is associated with the ancient Greek Stoic philosophers, who split human life into categories of good, bad, and indifferent. The term for “indifferent” was “adiaphora,” and they used it to describe activities that were neither essentially good nor essentially bad. An early example of something adiaphorous is the pursuit of fame, which is neither bad in nature, nor necessarily a good thing. Stoics believed adiaphorous actions were decided as good or bad by the way one carried them out.

There is something painfully parve about moral indifference. I am interested in Jewish law being an expression of our values. When it come to food there is no problem being parve, but in life we need to pick teams. Being adiaphorous is trief. As Elie Wiesel wisely said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

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