After this post which discussed several Christian themes in Fullmetal Alchemist, I made a comment about how different it looks from a Jewish perspective. megkips convinced me to write something from a Jewish perspective, and so I did, and I have to say that I was really surprised at some of the conclusions I came to.
I'm posting it here for anybody who might be interested.
Dealing with fun stuff like the definition of a sinner, why Roy is definitely worse than Ed in that sense, why bringing back your mother is dangerous but there's nothing else wrong with it, why happy endings are educational, etc. XD like I said, fun stuff.
For starters, a short explanation about sinning. The commandments in the Torah are split into two types: Thou Shalt, and Thou Shalt Not. Not fulfilling a Thou Shalt commandment is not a sin- it is simply abstinence from doing a good thing. A sin would technically be crossing a Thou Shalt Not. Meaning, you can only sin against something that is expressly forbidden.
So what's wrong with Human Transmutation, again?
From a purely Jewish point of view, it would actually seem 'nothing'. There is really nothing wrong with raising the dead. An argument against it could be that it involves witchcraft, which is expressly forbidden (and associated with Idolatry), but since they make such a point about alchemy being a science I would say that cancels it out.
In short, Ed and Al did not sin in any way by trying to resurrect their mother.
One could argue that the sin was not the actual physical act of transmutation, but the arrogance that led them to believe they could do it. I will discuss that topic when I deal with the Seven Deadly Sins.
Other aspects of human transmutation though, such as the creation of chimeras, are a completely different story.
In terms of transmutation in general, the aspects of human transmutation which involve chimeras (actually, any transmutation involving two types of creatures) would be strictly forbidden. That is because of a law called 'Kilayim', which forbids any kind of grafting together of plants in addition to 'marrying' two types of animals (such as a horse and a donkey to create a mule), or even using a horse and an ox tied to the same plow at the same time. Meaning, any transmutation of two different living things (be they plants or animals) would be a sin.
However, transmuting an animate with an inanimate (such as fusing metal with flesh) even with a human would be perfectly fine. It would also be perfectly permissible to transmute a human by adding on arms or giving them talons or something, as long as no fusion with another life was involved.
However, I'm going to start from the point of 'Human transmutation is a sin' because that's what the series gives us.
So: Edward and Alphonse commit a sin by trying to resurrect their mother. Then, Ed sacrifices his arm in order to save Al's life.
Was that sacrifice a sin too since it also involved human transmutation?
Once again, a clear-cut 'no'. Al's life was in danger. Had Ed not attempted to save him, he would have crossed "Thou shalt not stand on thy brother's blood", which basically forbids a human to stand by idly when another person is in danger. In addition, when a person saves another's life it is counted for them as if they had saved an entire world. Since there was no threat to Ed's life from the second transmutation (he only lost an arm), it would have been a sin for him not to seal Al's soul in the armor.
There are only three sins which it says a person must die rather than commit them- Idolatry, certain forms of incest, and bloodshed. (And even bloodshed has it's exceptions).
Since human transmutation would fall under none of these categories, even if it were a sin, Pikuach Nefesh (the technical term for a life being in danger) would cancel it out, making what Ed did completely necessary.
This far, Ed is pretty much in the green. Moreso, a person who is willing to endanger themselves in order to save a life is regarded as exceptionally righteous, beyond the call of duty. I would say that Ed's sacrifice for Al falls into that category.
The Long Road to Repentance
The theme of the other post was the reflections of the idea of Original Sin in FMA. Ed having committed a sin, and spending the rest of the series trying to make up for what he did- and ultimately failing, because humankind cannot ever be completely pure.
None of this stands from a Jewish point of view.
When a person sins, there are several stages they must go through, and then they can get a clean slate. A completely clean slate.
The first step in Return is Accepting the Sin. Basically, realizing that you did something wrong. I would say Ed has done plenty of that.
The second step is Regret. Once again, I think Ed feels quite sorry for ever trying to resurrect his mom.
Step three is Acceptance for the Future: promising yourself you will never do that again. Ed certainly isn't planning on trying human transmutation again any time soon.
Some say that the final stage is when you are in the same situation again, and behave differently. Now that is rather problematic, given what happens at the end of the series. Still, up until that point (which I will touch on more later) Ed is overall a pretty darn righteous guy, hardly the damned sinner he considers himself.
Now, a problem with this may be that Edward is not a terribly religious guy and really wasn't looking for forgiveness from some higher authority, but since religion (and monotheism) is not very well entrenched in the FMA universe I'm going to ignore that issue.
I swear, I didn't know…!
There are basically two types of sins: Intentional, and Non-intentional.
Whether Ed and Al were completely aware of the severity of what they were doing is arguable. They were mostly lacking in proper parental guidance, and had a certain lack of trust towards parent figures.
You may say that this really doesn't matter when it comes to sins.
However, even if they were completely aware of what they were doing, they still wouldn't be the ones to pay for their sins. Until the age of thirteen all the sins fall on the parents –meaning, the one to pay the price for the transmutation would be Hohenheim, and not Ed nor Al.
The Seven Mostly Undesirable Traits
As I said before, it is thought that it is the human arrogance that leads to the human transmutation which is the actual sin. In Judaism, arrogance, or Pride, is not a sin.
First of all, if the act itself is not forbidden, a person would hardly be punished for their thoughts. There are very, very, few instances in Judaism where a person is punished for a thought and not a deed. Overall, thoughts are meaningless in that sense; what matters is the action. People are both punished and rewarded according to their actions.
The Seven Deadly Sins, from a Jewish standpoint, are really not so deadly at all.
Pride: It is frowned upon, true. It can lead a person to sin. But it is not punishable in and of itself, nor is it expressly forbidden anywhere. It's just a bad trait to have.
Lust: Lust is actually a very good thing, under the right circumstances. Since procreation is a Thou Shalt, and lust is a very important component of that, there is little to frown on, except for misplaced lust and lust in the wrong time and place.
Actually, in the Talmud (one of the main collections of Jewish law) in the sections of dream interpretation they deal with men who dream of having sex with their sisters, mothers, and such. They say it is actually a good sign, for great learning ahead.
Wrath: It's not forbidden anywhere. It's not good to have a temper, but it's not a sin.
Envy: This is pretty much the only one of the Sins that is also a sin in Judaism. Covetousness is forbidden in the Ten Commandments, and is one of the few times that the commandment is against thought as well as deed. Envy gets to stay a sin, at least…
Sloth: Fine, so a person is lazy. Bad trait to have, work on it.
Gluttony: Gluttony is semi-comparable to the concept of Zolel V'soveh (I really don’t know how to translate that). Basically, if a child steals a certain amount of money from his parents and uses it to buy a certain amount of meat and wine, and eats and drinks it all in one sitting and eats the meat raw and drinks the wine undiluted, then that child is considered Zolel V'soveh and is put to death. The amount of food involved is almost ridiculously large, so much so that some say there never existed such a thing (since it's practically physically impossible). Some say there was one, and they stood at their grave.
[Mind you, whenever I mention 'some' I'm talking about 'some of the Sages', as read in the Talmud]
In short, gluttony is also not good, but not such a terrible sin.
Greed: Greed, just like the others, is not a sin in and of itself. It's what you do about the greed that makes a difference. But even then, you're not punished for the greed itself, but for whatever else it was you did.
Judaism doesn't really deal much with the human/not human idea. There are four categories of existence: Inanimate, Plant, Non-speaking Animate, and Speaking Animate. The homunculi are obviously Speaking Animate, and as such have free choice, and are responsible for their actions, and will be due punishment for their actions.
Oh my God, I killed Greed!
From the Jewish point of view, there was nothing wrong with killing Greed. There would have been nothing wrong with killing any of the other homunculi either, probably. Killing Scar would be fine, same for Kimbley, Cornello, Dante…
Provided they tried to kill Ed first.
If someone is trying to kill you, we are told to kill them first- that's known as the Law of the Pursuer. (Actually, if somebody is coming to kill you; you don't have to wait until you have the knife in your ribs.)
Ed really doesn't even need to feel remorse over what he did, much less think of himself as sinning further or anything like that.
There's plenty of gray before we'd call him a 'sinner'
There are three types of people: Righteous (Tzaddik, or possibly a 'saint'), Middling, and Unrighteous (Rasha, or 'sinner'). Most people are not Righteous, and in fact have no chance of ever being Righteous, and there's really nothing wrong with that. A person should not aspire to be something they aren't.
The average person is Middling. Meaning, the Good and Bad inside them is in a constant state of battle, and they have to fight their bad side again and again every step of the way, every day of their life. A good person is a person in which the Good wins more often than the Bad, but it doesn't mean they never sin.
A sinner would be someone who unfailingly allows the bad in him to win.
In no way, shape or form does Ed even remotely fit that criterion. One bad sin does not a sinner make.
Sins of the 'Flesh'
One might argue that in terms of righteousness, Al is in a very good state. Since he no longer has a physical body, he is unsusceptible to the sins of the flesh. He's spared lust and gluttony, and doesn't even have to eat or sleep. He has nothing to distract him from the spiritual side of things. Since Christianity supports abstinence of various sorts, this would probably be a good thing.
From a Jewish point of view, Al is frozen. He cannot fulfill most of the Thou Shalts, since he doesn't have a body, and a good part of the Thou Shalt Nots are meaningless to him as well. In that state, his existence is really not so good. In fact, he might even be considered dead (which is bad in the sense that the dead can no longer fulfill commandments).
I'll Save You, Al!
Only in the very last episode does Ed do something that is unquestionably a sin. Though, to be fair, Al does it first.
Under no circumstances is a person allowed to sacrifice their lives in order to save somebody else (at least, not in a premeditated way. If they believe that there is little danger and there turns out to be much more, then it's a different story)
When Ed died, Al should not have sacrificed himself to save him. Then, when Ed woke up, he should not have sacrificed himself for Al.
The thing is, there isn't really a punishment for suicide since most people don't survive it…
However, what they did was not straight suicide. A person is allowed to sacrifice their own life if by that sacrifice they are saving at least two people. I would probably have to consult a rabbi for the specifics of the law concerning what they did.
Can the Gate be compared to a God?
No. It is an arbitrary entity which leeches human life whenever it can. The fact that it has great power is circumstantial. Bypassing the 'payment' to the Gatelings is a purely technical issue, as we saw in the movie.
Unlike in the manga, where the concept of Equivalent Trade actually exists, in the anime the Gate is in no way comparable to a god, nor is what it does punishment. It's collateral damage.
"I Deserved It"
Actually, no. The ending of the series, from a Jewish point of view, should not have happened. If it's some kind of punishment, it's undeserved, being that Ed really didn't do anything all that bad. If the whole process Ed undergoes in the series is caused by his Original Sin, then that wouldn't have happened either.
He may, however, be paying for his sin at the end of the series, though in that case Al would be paying as well.
[This is probably arguable, and feel free to argue with me. However we do believe that God is merciful, and people are given many, many opportunities to fix what they have done. Also, once a person is punished for their sin, the sin is erased.]
Which brings us to the movie. After Ed comes through to Amestris, he should not have gone back to the other world. Even if all of Amestris was being threatened, there was a danger to the life of whoever would go through. As such, Ed is forbidden to do. In a situation like that, only if Ed is the absolute only one who can avert the danger (as in, they are all in danger because of Ed) is Ed allowed to sacrifice himself for everybody else, or if he's the only one that can fix it and there's no other solution that doesn't involve danger of death. They should've thrown a bomb through, and shut it on their side and been done with the issue.
Mustang the Sinner
In terms of sins, Roy would actually end up much worse than Ed.
During the Ishvar war, he killed Winry's parents. They were not threatening his life; he killed them on orders. There is absolutely nothing to condone that act.
Murder is a sin which a person must die rather than commit, and this is a clear-cut case. Even if a person stood with a gun to Roy's head and told him 'You, or them' he would still have to die rather than kill them.
And They Lived Happily Ever After
So, from the Jewish point of view, what would be considered a 'good' or 'educational' ending?
Actually, it would be a happy one. Ed restoring Al, and them both living happily and not sinning any more.
It says that God does not want the death of the Unrighteous, but for them to return from their evil ways and live. Moreover, there is a strong belief that the good people will get what they deserve, as will the bad people. Good is rewarded, and bad is punished.
It is also believed that God will never challenge a person in a way that they cannot succeed in the challenge. Given what we know of Ed and Al, it is inconceivable that either one of them would stand by idly while the other died…That's why I would say that the ending would have finished differently (Though I do not presume to know what God might think. I'm simply working on conjecture from what we've learned from the sages).
Ideally, Ed would have defeated the homunculi (who are quite definitely evil), succeeded in restoring Al, and then they both would have gone on to live out their lives without any more human transmutation.
Maybe that sounds kitschy and unrealistic, but in a sense that reflects the Messianic ideas of Judaism. We believe that the Messiah will come (not necessarily through an outside source, though, but through our own hard work and perseverance, and probably a lot of suffering), and will make the world a better place.
The destruction of Lior could probably be loosely compared do the battle of Gog and Magog, or the period of destruction said to come before the Messiah. It is definitely accepted that it will get worse before it gets better.
But once again, the destruction should have led to something better, to a 'Paradise on Earth'.
The ending of the series can in no way be regarded as being even close to an ideal, for anybody really.
In conclusion, Fullmetal Alchemist is the story of two boys who really didn't do much of anything wrong, and put up with a whole lot of crap and angst they wouldn't have had to if they had only been living by Jewish law...
If I've made any mistakes, please point them out to me, and feel free to disagree with me on any point I made.