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Showing posts from March, 2014

Tazria, Calendars and Slander

Two weeks about leprosy! We continue our journey through Leviticus and the minutia of priestly concerns as we read Parashat Tazria this week and next week Metzora. Both portions focus on the disfiguring disease of leprosy. Most years, however, it is not two weeks, but only one week about such details. Why this year are we subjected to two weeks? It is because this year is a leap year according to the Jewish calendar. In such a year we add an additional month. This added month of Adar, called Adar I, helps to reorient the calendar. The Jewish calendar is a combination of a lunar and solar calendar. The months are dictated by the cycle of the moon. The new moon begins the start of the month. The full moon indicates the middle. By the way it is not an accident that many of our holidays begin on the fourteenth of the month when there is a full moon in the sky. Imagine the days when there was only the moon and stars to guide our calendar and not today’s computers. We could th

Shemini, Taboos and Shouts of Mazel Tov

When Susie and I were married, now over 25 years ago, Susie and I each broke a glass to conclude the ceremony.  The reactions this elicited from our guests were telling.  While we thought it was perfectly in keeping with our commitment to an egalitarian relationship, others were perplexed by this gesture and wondered (aloud) if we broke some ancient tradition.  Our arguments that the breaking of a glass at a Jewish wedding is only a custom and not law did not mitigate these concerns.  Our addition to the Jewish ceremony people had come to know and love was met with comments of “interesting” at best and “radical” at worst.  We had, in the eyes of many, broken some sacred taboo. I have been thinking about taboos.  Not the game of course and not the breaking of anything more radical than a ceremonial glass, but instead the religious concept.  In any introduction to Religious Studies one learns that a taboo (and I quote from the Encyclopedia ) is the prohibition of an action based on

Tzav, Purim and Jewish Power

This week we read more laws about sacrifices in Parshat Tzav. For the ancients the sacrificing of animals and the offering of grains was how they prayed. They brought to God physical gifts. While we find these details foreign, and even disgusting, they did provide what today’s services lack. You could literally hold your prayer in your hands. Sacrifice was as well an attempt to reorder the chaos of the world. Life’s vicissitudes can often be frightening. Offer a sacrifice. And some counsel, Say a prayer. Gain power over your life. And thus sacrifices, and prayers, can be seen as an attempt to address these feelings of powerlessness. So too is the story of Purim, the holiday which begins on Saturday evening. In the beginning the Jews, and women, are powerless. Queen Vashti is kicked out of the palace by the drunken king. Our heroine Esther gains entry to the palace by hiding her Jewish identity and then winning a beauty pageant. She gains power by concealing her Jewishne

Vayikra and First Tastes

This commentary marks the beginning of our fifth year studying the weekly portion together via the internet. As you know I have faithfully written a commentary each and every week for the past four years. I hope some of my words and interpretations have found their way into your hearts and minds. The effort remains the same as it has been for thousands of years. We continue to ask how the Torah can provide meaning and guidance for our world. As always I welcome your thoughts and responses, and even disagreements. Torah is given renewed life through our discussions and debates. May our conversations continue to be lively and thoughtful. And so today we begin again, and we begin anew. This week we open the book of Vayikra, Leviticus. Its relevance for our present world appears distant and remote. The book is filled with details about sacrifices. Do you want to thank God? Offer a sacrifice. Such is the counsel of Vayikra. “The bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord; and