Moral State of Emergency (Beyond 34)

“God has declared a state of moral emergency,” writes Rabbi David Kasher in his commentary on this week’s Torah portion. Kasher points out that a command to care for the poor suddenly appears in the midst of a portion otherwise dedicated to ritual matters stressing holiday observances, and comments: Mind you, everybody agrees that charity […]

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And He Called: Stop Street Harrassment

(And) he called [va-yikira]… (Lev. 1:1) “I don’t care how she’s dressed, it’s not OK!” “I don’t care how she’s walking, it’s not OK!” “It’s not a compliment…It’s street harassment” “Vayikra” is a singular masculine verb (all action in Hebrew is gendered). These are the first words, and the Hebrew name, of the Bible book […]

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Bechukotai: A Path to Follow

“Clearing Out the Old” You shall eat old grain long stored, and you shall have to clear out the old to make room for the new. — Leviticus/Vayikra 26:10 Meant to suggest plenty lasting from one harvest to the next, perhaps to connect with the promise of a sufficiency for the sabbatical year. But also, […]

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Bechukotai: Something to Notice

“To the last, Parashat Bechukotai challenges us,” writes R. Elizabeth Bolton in “Mir Zaynen Do — We Are Here,” an essay in the The Women’s Torah Commentary:* If the text excludes us when we are not named, then should we include ourselves in such passages as blessings and curses? Surely contemporary Jewish praxis would look […]

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Behar: A Path to Follow

“Proclaiming Liberty throughout the Land,” an essay on the portion Behar by then rabbinical students Sharon Brous and Jill Hammer,* includes a section entitled “The meaning of Ge’ulah for feminists.” (See p. 242ff in The Women’s Torah Commentary.*) They ask Jews to consider their responsibility to help free agunot, women chained to marriage by husbands […]

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Bechukotai: Great Source(s)

“…if you reject My laws and spurn My rules, so that you do not observe all My commandments and you break My covenant, I in turn will do this to you…”–Leviticus/Vayikra 26:15-16 “…You shall not prolong Your anger with Your sorrowing people to all generations…,” an anonymous author — dated somewhere between the 9th and […]

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Emor: Language and Translation

Leviticus/Vayikra 23:32 in three translations: It is a day of complete rest for you [shabbat shabbaton hu lachem] and you shall afflict yourselves; on the ninth of the month in the evening — from evening to evening — shall you rest on your rest day [tishb’tu shabbatechem].

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Emor: A Path to Follow

The story [of the blasphemer, Leviticus/Vayikra 24:10-23] is noteworthy in that it is one of only four incidents in the Torah in which Moses is shown asking God how to decide an issue (the others are Numbers 9:6ff, 15:32ff, and 27:1ff). Moses sought God’s judgment because the punishment for blasphemy had not yet been detailed. […]

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Kedoshim: A Path to Follow

A college friend and sailing fan once told me a story about a sailor who was about to win a ’round-the-world-solo race when he tacked away from harbor and, returning to open ocean, headed around again. On May 20, 2009, I had a kind of fit and decided to launch “Torah: Opening the Book” on […]

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Kedoshim: Something to Notice

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 […]

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