This classic old George Carlin bit sums up one of the things I love most about both Catholicism and Judaism: both have a concern with rules that gives them a huge capacity for generating convoluted questions and answers. They approach questions with very different methods, and take them in different directions, but Thomists and Talmudists both make a meal of them.
A rare case where both took a similar approach to a very stupid question is, of course, the barnacle goose, whose medieval legend reads like a version of the famous Canadian house hippo PSA: the Irish felt that since the birds grew from barnacles or maybe from trees (seems legit) they were technically fish, and therefore okay to eat on Fridays. Sed contra est:
…Bishops and religious men (viri religiosi) in some parts of Ireland do not scruple to dine off these birds at the time of fasting, because they are not flesh nor born of flesh…. But in so doing they are led into sin. For if anyone were to eat of the leg of our first parent (Adam) although he was not born of flesh, that person could not be adjudged innocent of eating meat.
I admire this effort, but it’s only partially convincing. Rabbis, meanwhile, were trying to determine if the birds were kosher. From what I read it seems like there was some appropriate scepticism: “birds growing on trees, if it be true they grow on trees, are not forbidden food.” Another rabbi declared that since they grew from barnacles they were shellfish and therefore treif, thus agreeing with the categorization of the Irish clerics.
I guess I could draw some larger epistemological point from all this (perhaps that legal reasoning isn’t very useful when your science is shit) but really I just find the barnacle goose delightful.
I’m unemployed right now and looking for work, and in fact I’m pretty desperate. If I can’t find something this month I’ll have to leave my apartment and the city and move back in with my parents. I love my parents and I can deal with living there if I have to, but (among other problems) I’d have to cut down my halakhic observance by a lot: no kosher meat, having to announce to my Maritimer mother that I don’t eat shellfish anymore, and observing Shabbos would require Big Discussions even though I’m still in the baby steps stage of exploring. I’ll have those talks in due time, of course, but I’d feel like a jerk by inconveniencing my family when I haven’t even spoken to a rabbi yet, which I also wouldn’t be able to do at home. It would just be easier and a lot nicer to stay here, is what I’m saying. So I’m applying for every job I can, no matter how grim.
I’m also in the position for the first time of having to think about not working Saturdays. So far the jobs I’ve interviewed for offered flexible schedules, but at the interview before last I was asked, “Are there any days you wouldn’t be able to work?” and for the first time I said yeah, Saturdays are out. And then when I didn’t get the job I got to wonder WAS IT THE SATURDAYS, IS THAT WHAT IT WAS?
Despite the element of worrying (I always worry), it’s still cool to bring mitzvot from the realm of “yeah, that’s a nice idea” to the realm of “no seriously, I do this now.” This process always reminds me of the Louis CK bit from the Beacon Theatre set:
“Every time I see a soldier on a plane, I always think: ‘You know what? I should give him my seat [in first class]. It would be the right thing to do, it would be easy to do, and it would mean a lot to him…I should trade with him.’ I never have, let me make that clear. I’ve never done it once. I’ve had sooo many opportunities. I never even really seriously came close. And here’s the worst part: I still just enjoy the fantasy – for myself to enjoy. I was actually proud of myself…for having thought of it! I was proud! ‘Oh, I am such a sweet man. That is so nice of me! To think of doing that, and then totally never do it.’” [*]
This kind of thinking can get ass-chompingly out of control in the Christian mindset, to the point where you feel like anything good you do gets cancelled out by the pleasure you take in thinking about it, or the resentment you feel about doing it. Sometimes I would (semi-unconsciously) start to avoid opportunities to do things just because of the maelstrom of annoying thoughts it would cause–like I would take alternate routes while walking downtown just to avoid homeless people. Not because I begrudged them my change, because I didn’t. Because I got sick of listening to my own brain congratulate myself for thinking of giving them the change. Maladaptive. Proper motivation is important, no question, but it’s a lot better for my mental health to focus on identifying stuff I can do and then doing it regardless of motivation rather than getting up myself about thought processes.