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Home » Family Life, Questions of Ethics, Vayechi

Vayechi: Let’s Stand Up For Eternal values

Submitted by on December 15, 2010 – 8:06 pmNo Comment | 2,854 views

The Oldest Trade

A 2011 case in the Ontario Superior Court has attracted media attention. Practitioners of the oldest trade known to man argued in court that laws prohibiting their trade place them in harm’s way and are unconstitutional. A lower Ontario court agreed and struck down these laws, effectively decriminalizing the trade. The Ontario superior court recently extended a stay of these laws, giving the government time to prepare an appeal.

This controversy sparked a lively debate on Ontario’s air waves about legalizing this immoral trade.  As a rabbi, I am decidedly against decriminalization. I am sure you can surmise why a rabbi might oppose decriminalization; there is no need to write an entire essay to explain it. I write this essay, however, because I was surprised by the arguments put forth on the other side.courts-permit-prostitution-innerstream

Three Arguments

Proponents of decriminalization put forth the following arguments. It would provide safety for the practitioners of the trade. It would save the province millions of dollars that are currently expended on policing the trade and, further, establishing legal brothels would create a new tax base for the province.

I was appalled at the shallow argumentation. Should we legalize all illegal behavior to save money and provide safety for its practitioners? Should we for example provide pardons for pyromaniacs that are engulfed by the fires they ignite so they would not be afraid to call 911? Should we also legalize theft in the interest of freeing up our jails and easing the burden on Ontario police departments?

As to generating a new tax base, perhaps we should establish suicide clinics where clients seeking to end their lives can be painlessly murdered for a taxable fee. The victims would be spared the needless exertion of finding a clandestine location to end their lives. The police would be spared from expending time and money to find the missing victims and it would generate income for the province.

Is this a ridiculous and callous suggestion? Is this insensitive to the families of suicide victims? Of course it is and the suggestion of legal brothels is no less callous. Are proponents of such arguments prepared to face the wives of men who have betrayed them because the province has made it easy, respectable and legal to do so? Are such proponents prepared to comfort the tears of little children whose broken families are torn apart on account of these brothels?

It Can’t Be Stopped

Ah, but proponents have a pat answer for this too. They argue that this kind of behavior is happening already and it can’t be stopped; we are foolish to believe differently.

This might be true, but the following story might lend insight. A friend of mine came home to find the garage door wide open exposing his new Harley Davidson to every potential thief. His wife dismissed his concern saying that if the bike was meant to be stolen it would be stolen; an open door would not deter an experienced thief. My friend called the police and had them inform his wife that statistically burglars attack the easy target; homes that are left unlocked are the ones most often burglarized.

The same applies here. Surely there are many marital indiscretions underway today, but if the door is thrown open, if such opportunities are made easily available and painted with a veneer of legitimacy there will be more indiscretions, more betrayed spouses and more broken families. Those who cry for the safety of the trade’s practitioners might do well to think about those, who are hurt by it.

The Moral Argument

To me this thinking is so obvious that I wonder why anyone would think different. But then I heard one more argument in favor of decriminalization that put it all into perspective. One man argued that the moralist’s aversion to this trade is a product of ignorance. Twenty years ago society was repulsed by the idea of alternative marriage, but today we have been enlightened on that score. It won’t be long now before we wake up to the enlightened truth on this subject too.

When I heard this it all began to make sense. No one wants to legalize the oldest trade in the world to protect its practitioners or to generate a tax base. Proponents of decriminalization want this because they really believe it is proper and moral to do so.
To this I say thank G-d we have the Torah to teach us right from wrong. Can you imagine relying on something as fickle as cultural mores to dictate morality?

Why less than a hundred years ago respected physicists, philosophers and physicians believed in the practice of Eugenics and advocated compulsory sterilization at best and elimination at worst of genetically diseased or mentally ill patients. It was not only in Germany where such humans were treated as vermin, many elite, progressive thinkers in the United States staunchly supported this practice. (1)

Can you imagine drafting a law today that purports the wholesale slaughter of the mentally challenged? You would be repulsed by the immorality of such thinking; enraged by the very suggestion. Yet not so long ago such thinking was in vogue. Should such cultural norms serve as anchor for our moral values?

A Higher Authority

Manasseh was the elder of Joseph’s two sons. Yet When Jacob blessed his grandsons he placed Ephraim, the younger brother, ahead of Manasseh. (2) It has been argued that Jacob was sending a message to his son Joseph, the viceroy of Egypt and through him to us, that eternal values must guide public policy.

Ephraim was Jacob’s dedicated disciple and an accomplished Torah scholar. Manasseh was a seasoned government official – his father’s right hand man. (3) It is easy to argue that Torah values should have no bearing on the real world.

Torah theology is good for the ivory tower, but judges and politicians must deal with the issues of realpolitik. Comes Jacob and declares no! Ephraim must come before Manasseh if Manasseh is to have any hope of success. To succeed beyond the tent of study, we must take direction from that tent.

Societal mores and cultural values are popular today and run stale tomorrow. If you build a castle on such quicksand it will be quick to fall. But policies built on unchanging values and inspired by a supreme authority will lead to a sure footed path. Their success will be enduring and bring relief at long last. (4)


  1. Laws against racial intermarriage and bans on
    immigration in the US were largely influenced by Eugenics. Though calls
    for outright extermination of inferior races were few and far between in
    the US it must be noted that they were not absent from the discussion.
    In fact during the Nuremburg trials Nazis claimed that Hitler’s racial
    purification laws were inspired and supported by American Eugenicists.
    They justified their program of mass sterilization (450,000 in a single
    decade) by citing the US as their inspiration. For more information see
    Wikipedia on Eugenics.
  2. Genesis 48: 14
  3. For sources on the nature of the two brothers see
    Bereshis Rabbah 91: 6 that it was Manasseh who helped his father
    imprison Simon against whom the Egyptian guards we powerless. See
    Midrash Tanchumah, Miketz 10 that it was Manasseh whom the Torah calls
    supervisor of Joseph’s home in Genesis 43: 1 and 4. See Rashi on Genesis
    42: 43 that Manasseh was the interpreter between Joseph and his
    brothers. For sources that Ephraim was a Torah scholar and faithful
    disciple of Jacob see Rashi on Genesis 48: 1.
  4. This essay is based on commentary by Ktav Sofer
    (Reb Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer) on Genesis 48:

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