I was at a good friend's son's Bar Mitzvah tonight when another friend of mine told the following joke:
Moses is up on the mountain receiving the Torah. God is dictating the commandments to him and he is faithfully writing them down to disseminate them to the Children of Israel. Then the Lord says:
"THOU SHALT NOT BOIL A KID IN ITS MOTHER'S MILK."
"God," starts Moses, "does that mean that we can't eat milk and meat together?"
'THOU SHALT NOT BOIL A KID IN ITS MOTHER'S MILK," booms the Lord again.
"Lord," asks Moses, "does this mean that we have to have two separate sets of dishes?"
"THOU SHALT NOT BOIL A KID IN ITS MOTHER'S MILK," thunders the Almighty again.
"God," entreats Moses again "does this mean we have to wait six hours after meat before we eat milk again?"
A exasperated voice comes down from the heavens: "DO WHAT YOU WANT!"
Humor aside, I've always wondered what biblical figures would think of Judaism if they could be here in this day and age. Would Moshe think that we were off the wall when we told him that we don't eat corn or legumes on Pesach? Would Shmuel think that his religion has been turned on its head when he hears that there are towns where men and women are required to walk on opposite sides of the streets? Would Yishaya think the world was turned upside down when he's informed that, for many, what one is wearing on his head during davening is more important than what one has in one's heart?
Of course, this isn't a line of thought that's unique to Judaism. You can apply it to other areas as well. One could wonder what the Founding Fathers would think of the federal (and state) governments today and how their words have laid the foundation for a Consitution (and the Supreme Court decisions that interpret the Constitution) that would probably surprise and shock many of them.
But there is a major difference between the United States Consitution and the Torah. There is no place in the Consitution where it makes the claim that it applies to all times. Indeed, the Founding Fathers were well aware that the world changes and that the Constitution may well need amending in the future. You can argue that they may or may not have agreed with those future changes, but they did forsee the need for change.
The Torah, on the other hand, makes the point that its statutes and teachings apply to the Jews for all time. Yes, parts of the Torah may only be functionally operative under certain circumstances, but the teachings contained in the Torah are meant to be forever. And, in truth, one could easily support that by stating that, unlike the United States Consitution, the Torah is not the work of a fallible being. A Divine Being (unlike even the greatest of humans) is capable of creating a document which is relevant at all times -- despite how the world around it changes.
But one has to ask -- if the Torah is so immutable, then where did all this extra "baggage*" come from? If Moshe, Yehoshua, Shmuel, the Tana'aim and Amoraim all ate kitniyos on Pesach, then how on earth did it reach the point where the vast majority of Jews in the world today consider it verbotten? If the Torah is so constant, then from whence springs the entire Chassidic movement? Aside from a very few diehards, no one seriously believes that Moshe was a Lubavitcher, or a Satmar. No one imagines that Mordechai was a Belz or Ger chosid -- or any other sect. I highly doubt that any seriously believes that Shmuel's wife shaved her head after her marriage or that Gideon put on two sets of tefillin every day. If the Torah is so unchanging and eternal, then from whence come many of the practices that Orthodox Jews of all stripes practice and consider binding in our everyday lives?
Of course, the fact of the matter is that the Torah (or, perhaps more correctly, our observance of the Torah) *has* changed over the years. In some ways, it probably changed for the better, but you could probably just as easily make the argument that in some ways it has changed for the worse. Despite what some people will tell you, the Torah is not immutable or sacrosanct - its practice has evolved over the years to the point where -- even allowing for the loss of the sacrificial service -- people who lived in biblical times would be hard pressed to recognize it today.
* I don't mean to use the term "baggage" in a derogatory manner. However, it's the best word that I could come up with at the moment.