The most elaborate, comprehensive and effective system for the prevention of animal cruelty was not invented by the FDA or even PETA; it was devised by the Book of Leviticus. This may seem a strange idea. Without question, it swims rather roughly against that trusty river of intuition. Pigeon slaughter is rarely good for pigeons. Bull offerings are not something cows easily stomach. As far as “becoming a sacrificial lamb,” I have it on good authority that this is not what most sheep dream about when they are kids.
Leviticus is the biblical book rabbis do not want you to read. Saturated with sacrificial minutiae and unsettling descriptions of ritual impurity, its countless sheep and goat offerings seem a more effective salve for insomnia than any woe that pains the heart. After all, what do wave offerings or incense recipes have in common with more substantive things, like wireless Internet or the smell of freshly brewed java in the morning?
Growing up, I related to the book of Leviticus and its sacrificial cult with indifference (what’s this got to do with me?) or embarrassment (does God really need us to kill animals, sprinkle their blood and burn their carcasses for ritual purposes?). But over time, I’ve learned to love the middle book of the Torah. Here are two strategies that have made living with Leviticus a rich experience.
At the ripe age of 8, I learned the Peter Allen song “Everything Old Is New Again.” It may have been an unusual choice for an 8-year-old to crave hearing over and over. But for me, this song was synonymous with dance class, doing the soft shoe that landed me on stage for the annual spring recital: “Don’t throw the past away, you might need it some rainy day, dreams can come true again, when everything old is new again.”
In 2008, the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed written by Marisol Leon, a young woman who graduated from Yale in 2007 and returned to teach in the same public middle school she had attended:
Author Hillel Halkin, reviewing the Koren Sacks Siddur in the spring 2010 Jewish Review of Books, recounts a charming story that he heard from his father:
Jewish tradition instructs that young children should begin their Jewish education by studying the book of Leviticus. Even a cursory reading of the blood and gore that make up the sacrificial rites described in the third book of the Torah would lead most teachers to conclude that these verses would likely be the beginning of the end for a child’s Jewish education.
A number of years ago, when my two daughters were 8 and 6, we had the pleasure of spending a family summer vacation in Israel. We stayed at my mother-in-law’s home right near Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan. One day while eating breakfast we heard a truck pass outside with a loudspeaker making announcements. At first the words from the loudspeaker didn’t make any sense to us.
The theme of Parshat Tzav is korbanot, the animal sacrifices brought in the Tabernacle and, later, in the Temple.
My wife met a pastor’s wife on a plane. Every few months now, we have Darren, an evangelical pastor, and his wife, Amy, over to our Shabbat lunch table.
Proposition 8 is California ballot initiative that legally restricts marriage to only a relationship between a man and a woman, depriving gays and lesbians a state mandated constitutional civil right. In opposing this ballot-measure, I know I am optimistically standing on firm religious ground.
Revering Goddess is something we literally cannot stress about. We need only let Her be -- within and without. And through our retreat, Her beloved, protective mate will shower His grateful providence into our relinquishment that we too may return to the peace we have co-created.
Not all of us realize it, but Parshat Emor is one of the most frequently read Torah portions we encounter. We typically read it in May, and again on Passover's second day and on the first two days of Sukkot. It is read on these two festivals because, like D'varim (Deuteronomy) chapter 16 in Parshat Re'eh, it sets forth critical details that define the Torah observances' unique requirements for us.
Kedoshim is a lofty and powerful parsha, known as the holiness code, which the Talmud and Midrash understood to be rav gufei Torah, or encompassing the majority of the Torah, namely that this chapter is a summation of the entire Torah itself.
There are some fascinating prayers that we say at a baby boy's brit milah (ritual circumcision ceremony), a mitzvah that is highlighted in this week's Torah reading.
Religious zeal is on the rise around the world. It can be a wonderful blessing, and it can be a horrible curse. It all depends on how humans with free will manage it.
Has the Passover seder become a glorified Jewish meal or rote obligatory ritual, and is there a message here? Even in the realm of traditional recipes, too many of our young have not been taught to create the Passover experience or replicate the foods of past generations. The next generation needs to accept the responsibility of passing on the lesson or it dies with us.
Living a life of dual identity is no simple task. On one hand, my peers and I are told to live up to the expectations of being Modern Orthodox teens, but on the other side of the spectrum we are tempted by the culture of the secular world on an everyday basis.
In this week's double Torah portion, Tazria-Metzorah (Leviticus 13, in particular), God instructs Moses and Aaron on the role of priests when people take ill.
Today, Judaism is undergoing a transformation, as we seek to embody the words of Rav Kook, who said we must make the old new and the new holy. Prayer must be made spiritually meaningful, whereby it becomes what Heschel described as the language of the soul, not just the language of the past.
I remember visiting Harvard Square in Cambridge 30 years ago when I was a rabbi in Brookline, Mass. Among all the curious-looking people, myriad bookstores and Harvard University buildings was a huge bin of clothes, furniture cast-offs and other items.
The message is a universal one and it is directed to all mankind. How much better would the world be if we looked at people and thought first of what we have in common with us instead of analyzing how they differ from and are therefore inferior to us?
Natan Sharansky's attitude is as old as the Bible. This week's Torah portion began with a description of the olah, the obligatory burnt offering that was brought twice a day -- morning and afternoon -- to the Holy Temple.
On the first of May, at his bar mitzvah at University Synagogue, my son, Danny, received the Torah, passed down from his grandparents to my husband, Larry, and me to him.
For The Kids
The midrash in the Yalkut Shimoni uses this insight to provide a beautiful homily. The midrash points out that the one who flees from positions of honor and authority, achieves honor and authority.
On our trip we took the students to the city of Lublin, and we visited the once-famous and beautiful yeshiva, Hachmei Lublin, founded by Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the renowned pre-Holocaust spiritual leader.
What do cloven-hoofed cud-chewers have to do with ritual purity, much less holiness? In what way do fins and scales on a fish acknowledge God as the One who redeemed us from slavery? The "explanation" for kashrut demands further explanation.
Would any principal ever consider changing the Bible curriculum from Genesis to Leviticus? Genesis to Leviticus? You mean the Book of Leviticus, including this week's Torah portion Parshat Tzav, which deals with animal sacrifices and burnt offerings?
Today we start the third book of the Torah -- Leviticus.
Honesty, morality and ethical behavior -- these are the calling cards of Leviticus, and they are the centerpieces of Jewish behavior and identity. Amongst the mitzvot enumerated in Leviticus 19 (known by some scholars as the "Holiness Code") are respect for parents, charity for the poor, prohibitions against stealing and lying, a reminder to pay an employee's wages on time, the moral obligation not to take advantage of the deaf or blind, honesty and fairness in justice, prohibitions against holding grudges or exacting revenge, and the famous mitzvah to "love your neighbor as yourself."
A few summers ago, we went on a driving trip tothe Grand Canyon. I remember one particular day, as I stood near sometourists high up on the edge of the canyon, and looked down into adeep and beautiful gorge that seemed to stretch on forever. Amid allthe "Oohs" and "Aahs," I overheard one of the tourists remark to hisguide, "Wow, I sure would have liked to be here when this was beingmade." The park ranger turned to the man and quietly replied, "Youare."
In Leviticus, male sexual relations are considered an abomination,punishable by death. "A man shall not be with another man as if with a woman. It is an abomination," reads one passage. But, as with all things biblical and Jewish, the Torah passages are open to interpretation. And interpret they did last week at University Synagogue at a panel discussion on Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist views on homosexuality and bisexuality.