Thursday, July 2, 2009

I'm still alive

Comming of age, as I did, in the "Grunge Era" there is a certain nostalgia such music brings me. although I was never a fan myself.

One particular song, it would seem to me, has a pretty deep philosophical question at it's core which I think sheds light on one of the more difficult concepts in halachah.

I have always been interested in lyrics, an interest encouraged by occasionally being caught using the wrong ones (and duly ridiculed). But lyrics do not always tell the whole story and occasionally an artist will provide a little background which illuminates the song's narrative. The popular grunge song "Alive" written and sung by Eddie Vedder is an account of a mother revealing to her son that he had a different father than he had known growing up. Although not explicit in the words, interviews indicate that the boy had been conceived in an inappropriate relationship with a relative. The song climaxes with the following exchange between mother and son:
"Is something wrong?", she said
"Well of course there is."
"You're still alive" she said
"Oh, and do I deserve to be?
Is that the question?
And if so, if so, who answers?...Who answers?"

Halachah prohibits a mamzer (someone born as a result of certain relationships of inconceivable propriety) from intermarrying with most other Jews. And any children born to a mamzer, even while married to someone he is allowed to, are likewise mamzerim and share his status.

This is a very difficult notion insofar as the individual in question committed no wrong doing but merely happened to be born as a result of serious transgression.

While it is not up to us to decide who "deserves" to be "alive" most of us recognize that certain relationships are harmful and children should not be born into such circumstances. While we may all have different definitions of inappropriate relationships most of us can agree that morally and/or genetically it is inappropriate for siblings or parents/children to procreate together.

Yet no one (who has any ounce of decency) wants to look at someone else and say, "You are a mistake" or "You should not have been born." Certainly it is difficult for a loving parent to look at their child and say (or even think) that the world would be better without them.

Yet Teshuvah, repentance, requires real regret of the past. While with other transgressions which result in offspring one can regret that they failed to take appropriate steps to permit their actions, this is not the case when the entire relationship is inconceivable. The severe status of a mamzer merely reflects the severe gravity of the relationship which produced him, and the manifestation of that severity, it seems to me, provides the real opportunity for the transgressors to have real regret for their actions.

Furthermore it safeguards society from complacency which can make the inconceivable seem acceptable. The inability to fully integrate into the community prevents the unfortunate individuals situation from gaining any perceived normalcy.

The mamzer's status is not a pleasant one, but the legal status is merely a reflection of the fact that while he has done nothing wrong, he (inherently not circumstantially) should not have been born.

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