Religion of Exceptions

Exodus: Terumah


Religion of Exceptions

I have a theory of Judaism, and specifically Jewish law. Jewish law has copious, endless rules. Rules about basically every imaginable aspect of life. The rules are regularly stringent, difficult to understand, and often very arcane-seeming. However, one interesting aspect that I found is that there always seem to be exceptions to the rules.

Some are more blatant than others.

One of the Ten Commandments includes:

“Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Exodus 20:3

However, just a few chapters later, God also commands:

“And thou shalt make two cherubim of gold; of beaten work shalt thou make them, at the two ends of the ark-cover.” Exodus 25:18


Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) explains that this is one of many exceptions in Jewish law. God not only allows, but commands the creation of graven images in this unique circumstance (to see one reason, look at last year’s Sforno piece). Hizkuni then goes on to list several other exceptions in Jewish law, as well as the Rabbinically supported rationales.

I am not saying that one should start searching for ways out of, or loopholes to laws that are inconvenient. However, it seems that God designed throughout the Torah and its Rabbinic interpretation a variety of exceptions that in cases of great need justify or even call for ignoring or contravening the otherwise firm laws.

Some popular examples include the exception to desecrate the Sabbath for life-threatening situations. However, threats to life do not trump all laws (there are exceptions). One must submit themselves to death rather than commit murder, idolatry or illicit relations.

We should always pay attention to the exceptions. They can often teach more about the rules.

Shabbat Shalom,



To Rabbi Avi Baumol on the launch of his first book, Poetry of Prayer, an exceptional analysis of the Psalms of King David that are part of our liturgy. Congratulations as well on the starting of his new girl’s seminary in Jerusalem (see ad).

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