Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Tzaria/Mitzora Blogging

I don't have much to say (or maybe, judging by the length of this post, I do -- but I, follow the lead of my wife's Rabbi from his sermon last Shabbos, am not talking so much about Tzaria per se as using the Holiness Code as a synecdoche for Leviticus and talking about that ... although I'm going in a somewhat different direction here than he went), so I'll pretend it's not a leap year and that this week's and last week's parshioth were combined. Moreover, one of the advantages of this blog being over a year old is that not only do I not have much to say, but I've said most of it before, so I'll just link to it.

One thing additionally to note is that we often consider the priestly tradition as being focused on purity whilst we consider the prophetic tradition to be focused on mussar. And we think "the priestly code" is not only "out of date" but also too harsh and difficult. However, it is the words of the Prophets that we de facto treat as being out of date by not realizing what they had to say politically (look at the furor over what Rev. Wright said -- could you imagine what people would say about the words of a modern day Isaiah? or Jeremiah?) and it is their moral exhortations that are the hardest to live up to. OTOH, the priests, rather than exhorting people and nations to live up to their moral potential, came to where the people were (even if they were "lepers" or otherwise unclean) and helped them take baby steps, via rituals, toward a better life.

It's no wonder then, that the purveyors of cheap religiosity often try to enforce (misinterpretations) of the Holiness Code legislatively, and to claim that the Holiness Code is the end-all of morality, at the expense of Prophetic teaching. Their version of the Holiness Code not only appeals to our prurient interests but is easier to live by (all you need to do is avoid teh hawt gay sex ... or place in the Frum Olympics ... and you are a moral person, as far as they are concerned). Heeding the words of the Prophets involves an awful lot of self-criticism, at which we are all, at some level, loath to engage (and when we do engage in it, it is typically as part of a pity-party designed to get others to boost our spirits by telling us we don't suck as much as we are claiming we do).

This is not to say that the priestly tradition has no place in our religious lives. We need both the priestly tradition to help us to return to God (and the moral discipline instilled by the Holiness Code -- and when we view the Holiness Code as something to help us be holy unto God, perhaps we can better reinterpret it as a positive document to deal with today's modern understandings of sexuality, etc., rather than condemning behaviors the Holiness Code really did not seek to condemn nor would it have condemned them in today's context) as well as the Prophetic tradition to set lofty goals for us as well as to tell us of our need to return (which we hate getting told -- c.f. the controversy about Rev. Wright).

Indeed, liberal Christians tend to view Jesus' message as rejecting the priestly-code aspects of Judaism while keeping the Prophetic ideals. However, outside of the Sermon on the Mount and a few other speeches like that, nothing could be further from what the Christian Bible presents about Jesus. He may be presented as of the tribe of Judah, but his message is clearly Levitical (in fact, I seem to remember reading somewhere some sort of evidence that Jesus was not of the tribe of Judah but was in fact a Zadokite Priest): as a Priest, he reaches out to the lepers, to the sinners to bring them back into society ... and he certainly was no Navi (conta Islam). That Christianity "rejected" Jewish notions of "purity" does not bespeak a rejection of the Priestly tradition, but rather a rejection of anything but the Priestly tradition -- in imitation of a priests who sought to purify the sinner, the liberal Christian tradition often seems, from a Jewish perspective, to forget about the purification aspect, but still to focus on reintegration of sinners rather than exhortation ... meanwhile the socially conservative Christians do focus on "purity", even if they tend to be misguided about what really is involved in distinguishing between tahor and tamey.

Perhaps reading closely what the Priests had to do -- from changing their clothes and mucking out ashes, to having to examine potentially highly contagious sick people ... and considering the lineages of the Priestly caste in the Hebraic religion (from Levi being punished for his actions with the Shechemites to Phinchas -- ironically for the white-supremicist types who view Pinchas as being exalted for his actions which they are in racial terms, Jewish tradition sometimes sees Pinchas as being given the priesthood as a means of controlling his dangerous zeal and moreover the name Pinchas means pretty much "the Nubian" indicating an African origin) -- we can better understand the Holiness Code (which we will start reading in a few weeks) not as an esoteric set of rules designed to stifle our sexuality and such, but as a set of loving guidelines to help us approach God. And with this understanding, perhaps we can remember to reinterpret the Holiness Code in light of today's social situation and realize that, as a document to help us approach God -- to be holy for God is holy, the important part of the code is not to regulate who can sleep with whom ...

I guess I should probably revise this and continue this when I am more awake (it's been a long day, and I'm currently still in lab waiting for certain e-mails to come my way) ... but I suspect I'll just leave this as it is. Hopefully it's understandable!

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