The Dog Days of Summer: Ki Tetze 2021

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: What is the worst insult you’ve ever been called? What’s the worst insult you’ve called someone else? To what extent are insults comedic, and to what extent are they simply cruel?

In a Torah portion filled with laws, one such rule seems to be highly and unnecessarily insulting:

The Pitch: “You shall not bring the fee of a whore or the pay of a dog into the house of the Lord your God in fulfillment of any vow, for both are abhorrent to the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 23:19

Swing #1: “The expression ‘the wages of a dog’ is probably not to be understood in a derogatory sense, as has usually been thought. Outside Israel, too, ‘dog’ is used to indicate a cult individual dedicated to a deity. Deuteronomy is particularly harsh in attacking these Canaanite cultic practices, which had penetrated into Israel as well during the period of the monarchy.” – Gerhard von Rad, Deuteronomy

Swing #2: “‘Dog’ is clearly a term of derision for a pagan priest. The verse comes to teach that tainted money is not acceptable in payment of a vow, which is, after all, a religious matter.” – Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses

Swing #3: “Harlots are wont to do good deeds with their hire, thinking thereby to atone for their sins. … Therefore the Torah prohibited a harlot’s gift to be brought for any vow. … Similarly the matter of the price of the dog is that hunters using dogs and watchmen of walls raise brazen dogs that harm the public, and the owners vow [to contribute] their value [to a cause which they consider sacred], as an atonement for their soul. Such is still the custom among men who ride to the hunts that they place the waxen image of their dogs before an idol that they may be successful with them. And the commentators [as mentioned by Ibn Ezra] have said [that the reason for the prohibition is] because they [i.e., these payments] came about in a contemptible manner.” – Nahmanides 

Late-Inning Questions: In what ways do our commentators disagree about how hurtful this verse is? Do you agree more with one particular view? Can we look past someone’s cruelty to understand when they have a legitimate perspective?

On-Deck at TBT: We hope you’ll be able to join us for High Holiday services in-person, but if it’s impossible for you to do so, we hope you’ll drive up to the shul and pick up a mahzor Sunday, August 22nd, between 10:00-11:30 a.m. You’ll receive a goody bag for your efforts, and hopefully you’ll drop off some non-perishable food for those in need.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of insults, there are numerous nicknames of baseball players that point out their least appealing qualities, but perhaps no moniker cut as deeply as Hugh “Losing Pitcher” Mulcahy, who pitched in the 1930s and 1940s. At least the nickname wasn’t wrong; he lost more games than he won every year in the big leagues. Still … let’s be kinder with our nicknames going forward, please?

Shabbat Shalom!