In the biblical world, there was no separation of ethical and ritual behaviors. Purity, in the physical sense, was inseparable from morality, for both the individual and the group. Holiness presumed a special state of being that included both symbolic purification through ritual and ethical behavior. In addition to its lengthy regulations about purification, Leviticus also presents moral instructions as intrinsic to holiness. Leviticus 19, known as the “holiness code,” charges the community with its ethical responsibilities, including respect for parents, truthfulness, care for the needy, and regard for the disabled. It preaches: “Love your neighbor as yourself. I am God” (Lev. 19:17). Just as there is an order to food, sexuality, and sacrifice that must be preserved, so there is a God-given moral order to the world. In both ethics and rituals, order is created by making distinctions. Blessing follow from respecting order and the commandments that uphold it. Curses follow from ignoring or violating the order (Lev. 26:3ff).
— Jane Rachel Litman, p.144 IN Lifecycles: v.2*
This note is from the book‘s introduction to “Themes of Leviticus/Vayikra RabbahThe Sacred Body of Israel.” Litman also notes:
Women’s lives are collections of little details. We spend our days focused as much on the small items as on the sweeping vistas of human endeavor. Cleaning, cooking, mending clothes, making beds, these traditionally been the concerns of women. The writer Tillie Olsen perfectly captures this feature of female self-understanding in her story, “I Stand Here Ironing,” in which the entire account of a woman’s life is set against the backdrop of this simple repetitive task. Beyond the home as well, women are generally the social workers of culture, tending to the poor, the sick, the aged, and the young.
The “female” attention to minutia is most evident in the Torah in the book of Leviticus….Leviticus is the recipe book, the operating manual, for a complex and finely drawn system of communal holiness…–p.134-135
* Please see Source Materials for full citation and additional information.
Click on the “WeeklyTorah” tag for more resources on the weekly portion throughout the year, or on a portion name for parashah-specific notes. (The series began with Numbers; posts for Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus are being drafted, week-by-week.) You can also zero-in on particular types of “Opening the Book” posts by clicking Language and Translation, Something to Notice, a Path to Follow, or Great Source in the tag cloud.
The “Opening the Book” series is presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group pursuing spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.