Tag archive for "Leviticus"

Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly parasha: A Holy Code for 2017

No Comments 29 March 2017

The Book of Leviticus, with its chapters upon chapters of intricate laws and rituals,  clearly lays out a code of the permitted and the forbidden. In this week’s dvar Torah to Parashat Vayikrah, Rabbi Naamah Kelman challenges us establish a similar code of ethics and morality, as relevant to our current day and age. How does our Holy Code for 2017 instruct us to live?


Priests offering a sacrifice by Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing, CC BY-SA 3.0

By Rabbi Naamah Kelman

The book of Leviticus/Vayikrah is often called the “Priestly Code” — over 27 chapters, the intricate and detailed laws and functions pertaining to the Priests’ duties are set out. Laws relating to the system of sacrifices brought to the Tabernacle in the wilderness and then the Temple in Jerusalem are described in chapter after chapter. Sacrifices, animal, foul, and grain, are brought for the entire spectrum of the human condition: Sacrifices for forgiveness, expiation, absolution, healing, thanksgiving, criminal offences, and ritual offences.  No less detailed are the laws specifying rites of purification from diseases and other forms of impurity including menstruation, contact with the dead, and other bodily dysfunctions.

Leviticus contains laws of purity and purification for a myriad of afflictions and conditions. Laws pertaining to forbidden foods are part and parcel of these laws of sanctification.  The priest serves as intermediary, vessel, bridge to God. The Hebrew word korban sacrifice, literally means “to get closer.” These rites are intended to bring the Children of Israel closer to God. Unlike other Near Eastern traditions, the Israelite priest worked among the people for all to see. Their duties were for the people and among the people. Yet despite this emphasis on ritual and rites, there is an undergirding of spiritual significance to these rites.

According to Professor Jacob Milgrom (Fortress press, 2004):

“Values is what the book of Leviticus is all about…The book of Leviticus and many of its sometimes contradictory laws can be understood as the various manifestations of the Ten Commandments or Decalogue. The kernel of the Decalogue is terse. Without penalties, it reads more like directions or principles than laws; Do not murder, Honor your mother and father. Do not steal. On the other hand the quotidian details about how life should be lived-like many laws that fill the book of Leviticus- are nowhere found in the commandments at Sinai. They must be derived from the broad principles of the Decalogue, but delicately, so that the core of the Ten Commandments is respected, even as new laws emerge.”

Holiness according to many traditional Jewish sources is concerned with ritual and sexual purity. Kadosh is often understood as separate. In traditional readings this is the separation of pure from impure, and indeed Jew from idolater, men from impure women. In our reading we focus on the idea of ethical purity and responsibility. As Milgrom says: “ethical prescriptions alongside ritual as determinants of holiness.” This is the underpinning of the commandments and regulations. Holiness, then in the Israelite tradition, is this fusion of ritual and ethics. In other words, we observe the Sabbath for its ritual implications as well as the ethical. We rest, we refrain from using fire (ritual) but we make sure our servants rest too (ethical).

We must ask ourselves today what ethical principles need to be reinforced through ritual. With racism and xenophobia rampant in our society, along with misogyny and homophobia, it is time to make the rites on our lives reflect our battle with these impurities, diseases and profanities in our midst. What sacrifice will we bring tomorrow to fight hatred, what offering to combat humiliation of the other? Our Holiness Code must be a daily reminder to act against today’s chilul ha’shem, the desecration of God’s presence in the world.

According to Vayikra Rabba 2:7: When a “man” (adam) presents an offering, may one be like the first Adam, even though everything “belonged” to him, Adam only offered what was his, what he toiled for and what he rightfully possesses. And the Midrash emphasizes what it means to be an “Adam”:

“Be a mensch a good person, meaning, as defined by care and unity and friendship. As God said to Ezekiel, be a ben-adam, a person amongst the righteous, those who act in ways of  lovingkindness; be among those who humble themselves for God and the People Israel.

Our Holiness Code of 2017 is clear as always: Fight what degrades the other; what repossesses the other, what humiliates the other. Spread holiness, each person was created in God’s image, act to affirm and empower those who are hurt, marginalized and discriminated against; otherwise our offerings will be empty rites.

Kelman, NaamahRabbi Naamah Kelman is a member of Rabbis for Human Rights and a descendent of ten generations of rabbis, becoming the first woman to be ordained by the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem in 1992, where she is currently the Dean.

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The Torah given out from darkness: Dvar Torah – Parashat “Ki Tavo”

No Comments 04 September 2012

Tents Protest in Tel_Aviv 25.7.2011 | cc: wikipedia

By Rabbi Kobi Weiss

The prophetic great light of the end of days is kept for those who succeed in finding light in the darkness of our existence, in the miserable protest tents, in the periphery, among the weak and vulnerable, where there is no light, and for those who do not give up on light in spite of the darkness and continue to look for it, like the cockerel. Continue Reading

General, Justice in Israel

The Dark Side of the Labor Market

5 Comments 06 September 2011

Did you work in a place where you have not been paid? Or have you been abused and/or humiliated? Or your rights have been broken? Join the project of workers testimonies on exploitation, abuse and humiliation in the labor market. Continue Reading


Rewards and Punishments

1 Comment 17 May 2011


This week I have many more questions than answers.

Parashat BeKhukotai closes out the book of Leviticus.  It contains a list of the good things that will befall us if we obey God’s commandments, and the punishments that will come about if we are not faithful.  The portion continues with rules for various vows and regulations for consecrating a house to God.  There are a number of disturbing and difficult questions that arise from this portion: Continue Reading


Remember Shmita

3 Comments 12 May 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshahat Behar

“And the LORD spoke unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the LORD.(Leviticus 25:1-2)

It seems that these are the most suitable verses for the parasha that we read on the Shabbat immediately after the 63rd Yom Haatzmaut of the State of Israel. The two first verses express some tension,  but there is beauty in the command of the third to work the land, that gives us a sense of belonging and the awareness of God’s presence showing us where to  go. This beauty is linked to the difficulties of having to struggle against limits. Often the Torah sets limits with the Divine command to live with the knowledge that we are not rulers of the nature He gave us. For example, we have to keep kosher and may not eat all that nature provides. The saying in  our parasha is- I give you the land and you can work it and enjoy it, but you have to remember that the land is mine and there are limitations. The parasha describes the limits regarding the land and regarding the people with whom we share the same land and who do not belong to the People of Israel – those who live with us and are our neighbors and share the same open sky and the same Divine spirit with us. Continue Reading


Promoting Enduring Peace

2 Comments 05 May 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of Promoting Enduring Peace, dear friends, From the Bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for the great honour which you have bestowed upon me, upon my friend Rabbi Asherman and upon all our colleagues in Israel, members of Rabbis for Human Rights. We are proud and humbled to receive this prestigious award and to join the list of such distinguished people, past recipients of this outstanding award. Today’s ceremony falls on a most significant date in both the civil and the Jewish calendar. Today is May Day – a day which symbolizes the solidarity with the workers and standing for their rights. However, according to the Jewish calendar, today is also the Eve of Yom HaShoah – the Annual Memorial Day for the six million Jews, who were murdered in the Holocaust. I am a second generation. My father is a holocaust survivor. His entire family was murdered in Auschwitz. Therefore, for me, in particular, this is a most significant day and receiving the Gandhi Peace Award today makes it an exceptional unique and moving experience.

As a second generation, what is the lesson that I take with me from this tragic past? I think the most important lesson that we should all take from the Shoah is summed up in the famous words “Never Again”. We are bound to ensure that it will never happen again. However, the lesson of “Never Again” is twofold: firstly, there is the lesson which most Jews, particularly Israeli Jews take and that is: Never again will Jews be led to slaughter without being able to defend themselves. Indeed, it is a worthy lesson and for this reason, I have always taken a great pride in my military service as a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Force, continuing to serve until the age of 45 when I was released from my reserve duty. However, alongside this particularistic lesson there is also a universal one which is no less and perhaps today even more important and that is: Never again will people – any people, suffer from persecution, oppression, humiliation de-humanization and denial of their basic human rights. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting in any way any comparison between the Shoah and the situation between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East.

What I am suggesting however, is that we should always remember that no one is immune from racism and xenophobia. Therefore, we need to be constantly on guard less anyone, including ourselves, fall into the deadly trap of bigotry and hate. That is the reason why Rabbi David Forman Z”L, the one who really should have stand here today, decided in 1988 to establish the Rabbinic Human Rights Watch later known as Rabbis for Human Rights. Unfortunately, David passed away exactly a year ago, and so it is me – a co-founder of the organization and its first Executive Director that humbly stand before you today. Allow me to say a few words about the early days of Rabbis for Human Rights: 1988, the year our organization was founded, was the year in which the first Intifada – the Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories – took place. For me personally, it was a most significant year in my life.

promoting enduring peace logo

Firstly, it was the year I was ordained as a Rabbi – the first native Israeli to graduate the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem. But in addition, it was also a year during which I served for nearly sixty days as a reserve duty soldier in the Khan Yunis, refugee camp near Gaza. This was the first time for me to see from close the living conditions in the Palestinian refugee camps and it was an eye opening experience. During my regular military service as paratrooper I had many opportunities to serve in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but it was always within confined military bases or driving on the main roads. Only during the Intifada, when we had to chase after little children into the narrow allies of the refugee camp and into the poor homes in which they lived, that I could see the reality and get a new perspective. Upon my return home, I felt I must do something as a Jew and as a rabbi to try to change things, to show the concern for human rights and the sanctity of human lives from a Jewish religious perspective. 1988 was also the year in which the big controversy regarding the validity of non-Orthodox conversions in Israel had reawakened. A political controversy that was entitled “The Who is a Jew Question”. For David Forman as a Reform Rabbi, for me as Conservative Rabbi as well as for our Orthodox colleagues such as Rabbi David Rosen or Rabbi Max Warshawsky Z”L it was no doubt a most important question, however, with all its importance, we thought that there is even more important question and that is not “who is a Jew?” but rather “What is a Jew?” and how therefore a Jew is to behave. Dear friends, yesterday we read in the synagogue the weekly Torah portion of Kedoshim from Leviticus 19:” You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy”.

In this Torah portion we find among other things the famous words:” You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. But not only that, in the same portion we also read: “And if a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. But the stranger who dwells with you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Time and again the Torah warns us: “You shall not wrong a stranger, nor oppress him; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”. “For you know the heart of a stranger, seeing you were strangers in the land of Egypt”. We, who suffered for 2000 years from oppression, persecution, expulsion, humiliation and denial of our basic rights, should be more sensitive than any other people to the suffering of others. What is the essence of Judaism? When Hillel the elder in the 1st Century CE was asked to sum up the entire Torah while standing on one foot he said: “What is hateful to you do not do unto others”. Or to put it in a positive way: Treat others the way you would have liked to be treated by them. This is the message of Rabbis for Human Rights. Every human being is created in God’s image and we must respect that image and try to see God in the face of our neighbor, in the face of the other.

How shall we promote an enduring peace? By trying to see every person as family member, as a brother or sister, by following in the footsteps of our common father Abraham who was the model for justice, righteousness and the pursuit of peace. The book of Genesis tells us the following story about Abraham and his nephew Lot: “And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle…Then Abram said to Lot, Let there be no strife between me and you, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers.Isn’t the whole land before you? Please separate yourself from me. If you go to the left hand, then I will go to the right. Or if you go to the right hand, then I will go to the left.” Two conflicting values we find here: On the one hand the love of the land – the land that was promised to Abraham, not to Lot, and on the other hand the pursuit of peace. For the sake of peace Abraham is willing to even give up parts of the land promised to him and his seed. Before I introduce to you my friend and colleague Rabbi Arik Asherman, allow me to conclude with a wonderful poem written by the late Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, called Tourists: Once I sat on the steps by agate at David’s Tower, I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists was standing around their guide and I became their target marker. “You see that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there’s an arch from the Roman period. Just right of his head.” “But he’s moving, he’s moving!” I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them, “You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”

I pray for the day when we shall all come to recognize that the man who bought fruit and vegetables is more important than Roman arches; that human lives are more important than marble and stone, shrines and temples; that Adam – a human being is more important than Adama – earth. Bayom hahu yehiyeh Adonai ehad ushemo ehad. On that day, the Lord shall be one and His name one.


The Origin of the Minyan

2 Comments 03 May 2011

Dvar Torah – Parashat Emor

”VeNikdashti beTokh Bnei Israel – I will be hallowed/sanctified among the children of Israel” Leviticus 22:32  These words seem to complete two concentric circles which revolve around one Hebrew stem K-D-Sh in its many forms (nouns, verbs, adjectives)- The external one is that of the entire people and the internal one is of the priests –the Kohnim.  Much has been written about the difference between the classic Catholic concept of ‘holiness’ which is attained outside of the main stream of social life, somewhat secluded in abbeys and monasteries, in contrast with the Jewish concept of holiness which must be achieved through establishing a family, bringing up children and being active within the congregation and the community.

I wish to concentrate on how the rabbis employed these four words to establish an important concept in our tradition: the concept of the Minyan – the quorum of ten adults which is required by rabbinic tradition for any sacred ritual. Which of these four words was the midrashic grounds or proof-text for the minyan?

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Magic and Human Rights

2 Comments 21 April 2011

Tell an Evangelical Christian that you are reading a book about Harry Potter and the magical world of Hogwarts and he will visibly shudder. Jews don’t go that far, but we are forbidden from performing magic. The prohibition appears in this week’s parasha of Kedoshim which principally deals with the obligation to be a holy people; You shall not eat anything over blood, neither shall you divine, nor observe the clouds. (Leviticus 19: 26) What’s wrong with magic and what does it have to do with this week’s festival of Passover and the world of human rights? Continue Reading

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