April 2009

Shabbat: Tazria-Metzora

Shabbat Shalom and welcome to Judeo Talk. The Torah portion for this week is Parsha Tazria-Metzora, Leviticus 12:1-15:33. Sometimes it's just as important to look at the arrangement of the Torah as it is to read the words themselves. Far too often those words are taken out of context merely to be used to justify a point of view. Such is the danger of faith. Taken piecemeal it can and will contradict the spirit in which it was first devised. Reading today's portion, it's difficult to see what exactly that spirit is without also seeing some intellectual speed bumps. A modern reader would likely hone in on the dual weights of ancient sexism and now-irrelevant rules, but that's not what we as 21st century students of Torah ought to take away from these passages. Tazria-Metzora is concerned with two topics. Most of it is devoted to how the presence of leprosy ought to be handled.

Shabbat: Parsha Shemini

Shabbat Shalom and welcome to Judeo Talk. The Torah portion for this week is parsha Shemini, Leviticus 9:1-11:47. For many non-Jews one of the most difficult things to understand about Judaism are its dietary restrictions. Known as kashrut or "Kosher Laws" these limitations almost all come out of Leviticus, many of them from this parsha. Without prompting or framing of any sort, God dictates a list to Moses of the animals people are allowed to eat and the things they are not, all based a series of seemingly arbitrary standards like the number of legs, the shape of a hoof and the eating habits of the creature in question. Because there is no explanation other than that "they are unclean" it is difficult for many to understand why these creatures were off-limits. Unlike the dietary laws of some other faiths which prohibit people from eating animals considered sacred, Judaism does not recognize any sacred animals. Rather, the restrictions have to do with health concerns.

Person of the Week: Issac Mayer Wise

The history of Judaism in America is a fascinating one filled with great innovations and more than a few colorful characters. The United States is the birthplace of the Reform movement, a mindset that has driven progressive thinking in the Western hemisphere for nearly 200 years. Without a doubt one of the most important people behind the Reform movement is Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise.

Shabbat: Parsha Tzav

Shabbat Shalom and welcome to Judeo Talk. The Torah portion for this week is Parsha Tzav, Leviticus 6-8. Much of the book of Leviticus is concerned with the proper procedures of sacrifice and other major rituals of the priestly caste. This parsha concerns itself with a reiteration of the laws of atonement sacrifices, guilt offerings, and others previously mentioned in abstract instructions. As always, by depicting the prominent individuals of this period in the Torah, namely Moses and Aaron, doing everything to the letter of God's instructions, it is meant to be proof of the righteous foundations of the first generation of Jews. In short, if it was good enough for Moses, it most certainly should be good enough for the rest of us. But that's just the sticking point. Though I've written it many times before, I can't help but wonder about the cessation of ritual sacrifice in the Jewish faith.

Person of the Week: Chana Senesh

The Jewish faith has a long history of well-regarded poets. From Ibn Ezra, a devotional symbolist from the Islam-dominated territories of the Middle Ages, to American modernist Ezra Pound, Jews have always been a people fascinated with the word's potential for beauty. But of all the poets in the history of Jewish culture, few ever get the honor of having their work elevated into the liturgy of the faith. One such poet was a Zionist and soldier named Hannah Szenes, or Chana Senesh as it is often transliterated. Chana was born in Hungary in 1921. Her family was ethnically Jewish but they did not practice any religious rituals of the faith. She would have been known as an "assimilated" Jew. Assimilated Jews in early 20th century Europe didn't get to enjoy the same benefits as secular-leaning individuals of Christian backgrounds. They were still branded as ethnic outsiders whether they practiced or not.