Meet Ken Lane – Creator of Okie Hebrew

Because most of the people who read posts to this website or listen to the podcasts are in far-away places and have never met me, I made this very short video as a tiny glimpse into my day-to-day world. Though we’re still a community, sometimes we have trouble putting faces/personalities with names and articles we see online. It’s also just another excuse for me to brag on Tulsa, Oklahoma. Enjoy!

Just a Simple Hebrew Okie

As I try and help shed some light on the spiritual wisdom found in the Torah to the masses, I have a confession to make to all of you: I’m kind of an idiot. While I’ve studied Torah and have read multiple volumes of different holy books, much of my perspective comes from being a perpetual student who is constantly learning; but the more I learn, the more I find out how little I know.
Some of you might be disappointed to find out that I’m no Torah genius, but rather a simple Okie Hebrew who studies the Torah for the simple nuggets of wisdom and truth. Actually, if any of my Torah observance seems more rigid than the popular interpretation, it’s usually because of my own ignorance in the reason why certain mitzvot (commandments) exist. My aim is not to wow people with my intellect; a task which I think I would continually fail to be successful at performing. My aim is to be able to provide just a dash of peculiar perspective on the Hebrew Scriptures, those who have been inspired by them, and what relevance the Hebrew Scriptures have with our modern society.  
I find it’s important to celebrate how little I know and use it as a constant motivation to never stop learning. 
“When you’re through learning, you’re through.” 
– Will Rogers
World Famous Okie Philosopher
If you have any topics that you’d like to see discussed on this blog or that you’d like this simple Okie Hebrew to address, feel free to submit them to me and I’ll do my best to address them.

A Kosher Tattoo?

There was a post on Facebook today being spread around by some friends that sparked a little bit of conservation between a fellow Karaite brother and myself. First off, here is the picture: 

While I agree that getting a tattoo about the abominable nature of homosexual bedroom behavior is hilarious because tattoos themselves are forbidden by the same book of the Bible, the discussion that my dear Karaite brother brought up was of the issue of the complete prohibition of tattoos. Does the Torah ban all tattoos or markings on the flesh outright or are their certain scenarios when tattoos are permissible? Before I address this specific dilemma, let’s back up a bit and attempt to put things into context here a little bit. After all, context is everything; right?

The book of ויקרא (“va-yi-kraw”), or in English, Leviticus, is mainly known to be a book of specific instruction. Though the entire Torah can be called a book of instructions, some instructions from other books of the Torah are commands learned by studying the character traits of some of the main tzadikim (righteous ones) of the Torah. Leviticus, however, is very concise and to the point. There are a lot of “don’t do this”, “do do this” (yes, I wrote “do do”) and the like. Leviticus 19 pretty much reads like a grocery list. 

  • Obey your parents
  • Keep the Sabbath 
  • Don’t make idols
  • Offer sacrifices where they are accepted
  • You may eat sacrifices, but leftovers to the third day are to be burned
  • Leave the corners of your field for the poor
  • Don’t steal from each other
  • Don’t lie from each other
  • Pay your workers aptly 
  • Treat the disabled nicely….
I was paraphrasing, but you get the picture. 

Now, some of these commands can filed together while others are fairly random in their order (well, I’m sure they’re not random; it’s just that I certainly don’t know the method to the seeming-madness). Some of these commands, such as not mixing your herds, your seeds, or your clothing (verse 19) flow very nicely together and stay on track. Others, like the command to only offer a sacrifice where it is accepted, not leaving any of it for more than three days directly followed by leaving the corners of your field unharvested for the poor to come a glean from (verses 5-9) don’t seem to go together as much. 

There has become a method of lumping together the meaning for doing commands. Sometimes, this works. Other times, this method can get a little hairy. Here’s the verse we’re discussing in this post: 

ושרט לנפש לא תתנו בבשרכם וכתבת קעקע לא תתנו בכם אני יהוה
“You shall not put any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves; I am the LORD” 
-Leviticus 19:28

Let us attempt to gain some context by reading some of the verses before and after this to see if we can tell exactly why God is instructing Israel to not cut themselves for the dead or put tattoos on themselves. 

Here are the verses directly before and after this verse:
“You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.” – Leviticus 19:27
“Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, lest the land fall into prostitution and the land become full of depravity.”  – Leviticus 19:29

Even if one was to expand beyond this sphere, the verse before 27 is relating to agriculture in the Holy Land and the verse after 29 is about putting trust in fortune tellers.

The most popular interpretation makes marring one’s beard, shaving one’s temples, cutting one’s flesh, and getting tattoos permissible as long as it is not as a form of idolatrous worship or in mourning over the loss of the dead. In actuality, all of these practices that are not simply common sense (not mistreating the disabled, being charitable to the poor, etc.) were widely practiced in other cultures; especially by those who were inhabiting the Holy Land before Israel showed up on the scene. Men shaved th
eir beards and displayed tribal affiliation with tattooed markings and designs shaved into the sides of their heads. Prostitution, “the world’s oldest profession”, was widely practiced and many men sold their daughters into the business. It was the natural thing. What was God getting at by making these commands? 

Israel was to be different. Though a beard might not make anyone necessarily better, in a clean-shaven society, it definitely makes one different. All of these commands were so that Israel would be different. “Holy” does not “better”, but merely “set apart” and Israel was called to be a set-apart nation.  

As for tattooing; the term in the Torah does not specifically refer to the procedure of injecting ink under the skin, but is referring to any markings on the skin and is not directly tied to the act of mourning the way that making cuts in the skin is in verse 27. The ESV version does a decent job of expressing the Hebrew’s specifications on the making cuts in the flesh for the dead, as the literal Hebrew would read like this: 

Cuts the dead nor make your body marks, marks nor make. I am the LORD.” 

The two “marks” are two different words. One being “u’ketobet” more of the verb sense of making the mark the way “marking” would be in English. The other is “ka’aka” being more of the noun side of a “mark.” I would need to do more research on this, but it does seem close to “kara”, as in “Karaim” which means “readers of Hebrew Scriptures.” This is the Hebrew term for the Karaites; those who not believe in the divine nature of any extra-Biblical works.

Also, notice in the verse where it clarifies that it is cuts for the dead, as a mourning ritual, that are forbidden, but the prohibition against tattoos remains broad. I personally believe this is to allow for certain medical procedures or instances when the cutting of the flesh is actually beneficial; such as in surgical procedures or in draining harmful materials from the body. 

The beauty of Karaite Judaism is that disagreements are actually celebrated because we believe we are free to interpret the Scriptures for ourselves. While I don’t fully agree with my Karaite brother who says that tattoos are fine unless they are in mourning or are part of worshiping an idol, we embrace our ability to disagree. 

Don’t get me wrong; I think tattoos neat. Some of the most fantastic works of art I’ve seen are tattoos and when someone shows me their tattoo, I can appreciate the artistry and the hard work that went into its design and creation. Still, I am a Hebrew and getting tattoos is not a part of my spiritual culture. When God called Israel out to be a “holy nation”, that does not necessarily mean a “better nation.” Rather, this means that we are a “set-apart nation.” 
I could have written a post using anti-tattooing cliches like “tattoos are like graffiti on the temple” and the like, but really, I can honestly say the only reason I don’t have tattoos is because the Torah commands me not to. We can rationalize away the commands of Torah and say that “those commands against eating pigs was to protect against trichinosis, but modern-day pork is clean”, but the command still remains and Torah is forever no matter which way we attempt to worm our way out.   


I Don't Eat Kosher. I Eat Food.

While I was in college, I held many part-time jobs that allowed me to come in contact with many people I normally would not have come in contact with. While I was working at a printer cartridge re-manufacturing store, around the same time I was really shifting away from Christian thought and more into a Hebraic perspective of the Scriptures, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation one day with a certain customer who really shined new light on eating kosher. Interestingly enough, this man was a Christian. By Christian, I mean he probably believed that his salvation came from Jesus, but other than that, I bet this guy had been kicked out of a couple churches just by the way he spoke. 

At this point in my conversion, I did not consider myself B’nai Yisrael, but rather since I kept many of the tenants of the Torah, I considered myself a “weird Christian.” That was the best way I knew how to explain it to anyone who asked by I was wearing blue-accented fringes and didn’t cut my beard. 

I think the customer was waiting on some of his printer cartridges to be refilled and he asked me about my fringes and beard. I explained to him where I was, spiritually, and didn’t really know what to expect in reply. He gave me an approving “hmmp” with “will ya look at that?” happy frown and raised slightly surprised raised eyebrows. 

“Well, ya know, Jesus kept kosher. So did all the disciples; even after Jesus’ resurrection. No, I betcha money even Paul never touched a ham sandwich. The Bible plainly says eating certain things is forbidden and there’s no getting around it.”

His reply surprised me. All the other Christians I knew had quoted the classic “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?” line from Matthew 17; which goes on to say “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” as well as “…to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” What most Christians will claim is Jesus’ way of abolishing the laws of eating kosher in the Torah (which doesn’t make sense because the rest of the Bible says that if anyone comes claiming to be Messiah, but teaches against the Torah, cannot not possibly Messiah) is actually a teaching against speaking evil and also enforcing man-made laws as though they are in the Torah. Though washing one’s hands before eating might be a good idea, the command to wash one’s hands before eating bread isn’t found anywhere in the Torah. 

The customer didn’t quote that famous Matthew 17 verse, instead he started to speak about Torah by quoting verses from Leviticus 11. According to the Torah, Israel is forbidden to eat: 
  • Mammals that don’t both have a cloven hoof AND chew their cud 
  • Fish that don’t have both scales and fins 
  • Birds of prey
  • Winged insects that go on all four besides those that have jointed legs above the feet for hopping
  • Any reptiles or amphibians 
  • Pretty much any animals that eat other animals
This man did not bring the usual argument about these creatures being disgusting or cursed or anything. He made it even more simple than that:

“These animals were not designed to be food. Animals that die in the wilderness are eaten by scavengers; wild pigs, vultures, wolves, some tinier than you can see, and the like. When fish die, they fall to the lake bottom or ocean floor and are eaten by bottom-feeders like crabs, lobsters, and catfish. You wouldn’t try and eat the garbage truck, would you? I wouldn’t eat these creatures any sooner than I’d eat my own shoe. It’s not because I consider my shoe to be cursed, but simply because I need my shoe. God designed these creatures to take care of the earth by keeping it clean.” 

It was very bizarre that this Christian was bringing a very Jewish perspective to eating clean foods, but he was absolutely right. These animals are not necessarily non-kosher food, but they simply weren’t meant to be food anymore than my shoe is meant to be food. 

When I look at a big piece of ham, I don’t really think “Oh, disgusting! That’s sick!” After my chat with that guy one day at work, I see a big sizzling sneaker on a plate and that bacon hidden in the salad is more like little pieces of rubber. 

So, I’m not really against eating non-kosher, but more about eating what the Torah considers to be food.  

God is One. I Am Not.

It is common for people, especially Americans, to sell short the Oneness of our Creator. At face value, the concept doesn’t seem all that exciting. There is only one God; big whoop, right? It is with this grade-school mindset of God’s Oneness that I would like to tackle and dismantle this description of God that has most likely made you bored of this post already. 

I came from Christianity, which does say that God is One, but that also that God is three. Because of this, I could never quite grab a hold of the magnitude of what it means that God is, in fact, One. I also think part of this is because of Christianity’s need to have pictures of images of God; which are really images of us because, supposedly, the “image of God” is meant to mean that He probably had one head, two arms, two legs, a torso, etc.. 

The other reason why I was never able to fully grasp the weight of the Oneness of God is because I was reading it all wrong; literally. Understanding what the Torah meant in Deuteronomy 6:4 cannot be understood with the common understanding of the English translation. Most people are used to this thought pattern which is expressed in the “God’s Word” translation of the Bible: 

“Listen, Israel; The LORD is our God. The LORD is the only God.” 

Sounds good, right? Did it wake you up at all? Me neither. I started nodding off in my chair just reading it. Why? This isn’t what the Torah says! 

The Torah says this: 
שמע ישראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה ׀ אחד
“Hear, O Israel. The LORD is our God. The LORD is One.” 

What is the difference? Here is the difference: 

You see, having a single God is nothing new and doesn’t expand our minds at all. We have one President, nations have one king, we each have one father, and having One God is nothing new. But the fact that God is One changes everything. 

You see the sky? The God is the sky. You see the ground? That’s God, too. Look at your own hand. God. Look at your lunch. God. Even when you look at suffering, pain, evil, and depression, that is all God. God is laughter. God is sorrow. God is…you get the picture.

Now, when you speak to your fellow man, recognize that he is, in essence, part of God’s Oneness; so speak respectfully. When you talk to your wife, to your children, to your husband, your mom, your dad, they are also a part of God’s Oneness. The words you’re putting out there are part of God’s Oneness, so don’t borrow part of God’s Oneness to tell a lie or insult someone.  

Now that we know that God is One and that everything is part of His Oneness, what do we do with that Oneness? 

– Ken