1/3/09

Keeping Two Sets of Books - Essential to both Jews and Christians


The scandals of Madoff and Merkin have hit us hard in the Jewish community and in the worldwide investment community. And we hear now, and will undoubtedly continue to hear, a lot about how Bernie Madoff kept two sets of books to pull off his great ponzi scheme.

I know that means he kept two sets of financial records in order to deceive his gullible investors.

But I cannot help but look around my library here in my den and say to myself that I in fact, a teacher of religious studies, and a scholar of early rabbinic Judaism, have way more than two sets of books. I keep fifteen bookshelves full of books and 40 cartons more out in the garage. But please don't come to arrest me.

In fact let's step back for a minute to think Talmudically about this characteristic of our faiths.

Our two great Western religions are built on the primary notion of keeping two sets of books.

The Christian Bible is in fact two sets of books - the Old Testament and the New Testament. That Bible takes our Jewish Tanakh where it says for example, no shellfish permitted, as its first set. And it takes the later canonical Christian writings as its second set of books, which say by the way, wait a minute we don't keep those laws of the Torah of Moses anymore.

Now what kind of lesson might that teach a potential financial felon?

And more. All of us agree that the whole Jewish Torah is in fact two sets of books. Again, we have our Torah and Neviim and Ketuvim, our Tanakh. That's one set, where it says for example that punishment for damages can be meted out physically - an eye for an eye.

And then we have our second set of books, which we call the Oral Torah, the Mishnah and the Talmud, where it says on the subject of an eye for an eye that all retaliation for damages is judged for punishment and for compensation solely in terms of monetary fines.

Point being: at the heart of our Judeo-Christian culture all religious teachers agree that there is nothing at all wrong with the idea that we keep two sets of contradictory books.

Yes, it is essential to Western religion that we accept the notion that our faiths are built on the keeping of two sets of books.

Any wonder that an anti-social criminal with devious evil intent might get confused and find some solace or personal justification in the core religious idea that there is nothing wrong with multiple conflicting sets of records?

Just kidding, of course.

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