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Regulation of self-mutilation and wailing
February 23rd, 2013 by strachaa

In Fred Astren’s article, I observed that religious leaders would try to regulate the actions of its people by putting a religious banning of practices and support it with a religious punishment.  The banning of these practices supported with religious texts required people of the faith to rely on their God for comfort and deliverance through their hardships.

The Astren article discusses the issue of excessive expression of grief in Judaism and rabbis wanting to step away from self-mutilation.
After the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE by the Romans, the Jewish population saw this destruction as the sign of the end times. Jews would continually mourn by refraining from eating and drinking because they felt the destruction of the Temple was a sign of God punishing them. Astren writes that excessive wailing and self-mutilation “were not conducive to building, a working society or carrying on a fruitful and meaningful existence… (Astren, 186).” I think one must understand the seriousness of the destruction of the second Temple. The Jews felt the Romans conquering meant the end of their identity and showed God turning from his people. The Rabbis needed the Jewish people to move on so the Jewish identity could continue past the destruction. A way the Rabbis tried to promote progression was to limit excessive mourning through laws in the holy texts and combining it with religious punishment. For example, the Talmud states after three days of weeping, seven days of mourning, and thirty days of other proscriptions…God says ‘You are not more compassionate towards him than I.’ (Astren, 187).”

In Islam, the Qur’an does not indicate any limitations on the practice of wailing and mourning, however in the hadith; there are writings on the practice of mourning and other forms of excessive expression. In the hadith, it portrays the act of tearing the clothes, slapping the cheeks, throwing ashes on one’s head and wailing as idolatrous behavior (Astren, 188). The prohibition of self-mutilation and wailing allows both religions to distinguish themselves from Paganism. The banning and regulation of these practices forced people to engage in a different form of psychological thinking to be loyal to their faith.

I think the regulation of self-mutilation and excessive wailing in both Judaism and Islam impacts a person of the faith at their core to the point where a person would still engage in these practices regardless of what a Rabbi or text would tell them. The regulations seem more of a way to try and control the actions of people that became of hindrance or annoyance to the religious leaders. I think it is hard to regulate/ban a person’s basic form of expression.


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