The Washing of Hands
By Barbara Crafton
For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it.
-- Mark 7:3-4
Often, people who want our religion to be more logical than it is will maintain that the dietary laws and cleanliness codes of ancient Israel were about sanitation. They try to argue that shellfish were forbidden to the Hebrews because they are dangerous without refrigeration, or that the injunction against boiling a kid in its mother's milk was really a practical response to the problem of unpasteurised dairy products.
This is unlikely. They were a means of maintaining Israel's separateness, not her cleanliness. To this very day, observant Jews and Muslims shape their daily life around their strictures. Most will tell you that they do not find the rules onerous: rather, they find them reassuring. Through them, they connect with the past of their people, and they connect to God through them, as well. Whatever their orgins, rules can help people to be who they are.
So the Israelites' handwashing was not primarily about sanitation. But we do now know, as they could not know then, that simply washing one's hands is one of the largest factors in the prevention of disease. Worldwide, diarrhea kills more children under the age of five than any other cause -- ten million will die of it before the year is over, the vast majority of them in developing countries. Children's bodies are small: it doesn't take long for an infection to overwhelm them. But educating mothers and village leaders in developing countries in very simple practices -- washing hands thoroughly before food preparation, before eating, after using the the toilet. Along with mosquito netting and medicine, Episcopal Relief & Development trains village volunteers to educate each mother in a village in this simple thing -- the washing of hands, to save her children's lives.
To learn more about ER&D or to make a donation, visit www.er-d.org or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext 5219.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
The Washing of Hands
Barbara Crafton is back from her year in Italy, and she has not missed a beat in her daily meditations from her "Geranium Farm." She sent this one Saturday, meant to go along with today's biblical readings. Have a look, and you can sign up for her "almost daily" emails by clicking HERE. And here is her meditation for today...