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 who refuse them divorce; women bound by addiction; women “enslaved by society’s views of their roles and bodies”; and women forced into prostitution or sold into slavery.

“This parashah reminds us how much our kinfolk need us to further their redemption,” Brous and Hammer write.

To learn more about agunot and related advocacy, visit the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance agunot page.

To learn more about modern slavery and what can be done about it, visit Not for Sale and Truah on slavery.
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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 11th centuries CE — replies, presenting God with 22 commandments, from aleph to tav:

You shall not withhold [t’acher (aleph)] Your answer from him who cries to You with all his heart. You shall not despise [t’vzeh (bet)] the afflicted wretch when he implores You for mercy. You shall not berate [tig’ar (gimmel)] the poor and downtrodden, when he appears before You. You shall not turn Your creature away from Your door empty-handed. You shall not grieve him or shame him for his sin and guilt. You shal not rebuke him in Your anger once he forsakes his ways. You shall not remember against him his early sins, buried in his bosom. You shall not take his pledge in pawn for having defiled himself with crime. You shall not banish him who strays afar, but shall draw him near when he returns…You shall not prolong Your anger with Your sorrowing people to all generations….You shall not hide Yourself [titaleim (tav)] when I beseech You: let my sighs come before You!
–translated by T. Carmi. The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse*

Anonymous 9th-11th Century CE poem

* Please see Source Materials for full citation and additional information.

The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued 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.

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. More significant, however, is the placement of this story. It is, in effect, a cautionary tale, coming as it does on the heels of the sections demanding holiness and morality from the Israelites. Continue Reading

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 this blog. I began the four-posts/portion series with “Bamidbar,” the first portion in the book of Numbers/Bamidbar. At a number of points in the last year [2009-10], I have looked forward to completing the task I so impetuously established for myself. However, I recently looked at a calendar and realized that there are only three more portions — two more weeks in this non-leap-year reading cycle — before we complete the book of Leviticus/Vayikra. So…

…Pull into harbor? Continue around? Sail a different sea?
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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 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.

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The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued 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.

Kedoshim: Language and Translation

Three versions of Leviticus/Vayikra verse 19:4:

Do not turn [al-tafnu] to the idols [el-ha-elilim] nor make molten gods [elohei masechahfor yourself. I am the LORD your God. (Alter*)

Do not turn-your-faces [al-tafnu] to no-gods [el-ha-elilim],
and molten gods [elohei masechah] you are not to make yourselves,
I am YHVH your God! (Fox*)

Do not turn aside [al-tafnu] to false gods [el-ha-elilim], and do not make yourselves gods out of cast metal [elohei masechah. I am God your Lord. (www.Bible.ort*)

Alter adds: The Hebrew ‘elilim refers not to the carved likenesses of divinities but to the nonentity of the pagan gods. Its most plausible derivation is from ‘al, “not,” and hence would suggest falsity or lack of being, but the term probably also puns on ‘el, “god” using a diminutive and pejorative form that could mean something like “godlet.”

Fox says: Heb. elilim, a popular play on el/elohim (“God”/”gods”) and al, “nothing.” Greenstein personal communication) suggests “little-gods” as another possibility.

(ORT has no comment on this verse)

Plaut* — commenting on the JPS* translation, which differs from Alter’s only in omitting “the” before “idols” — notes: Hebrew elilim. A variety of words are used in the Hebrew Bible to designate idols. This is one of the most contemptuous of them. Perhaps it was chosen just because it sounds like the legitimate words for “God,” El and Elohim. In other connections, the same word is used for “worthlessness” (Zech. 11:17; Job 13:4).

* Please see Source Materials for full citations and additional information.

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The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued 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.