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Torah Sparks

SHEMINI
April 21, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Lev. 9:1-11:47; Hertz Chumash, p. 443
Triennial Cycle III: Lev. 11:1-47; Hertz Chumash, 449
Haftarah: II Samuel 6:1-7:17; Hertz Chumash, 454

(9:1-24) Concluding the narrative of the ordination of Aaron and his sonsas priests. On the eighth and final day of ceremonies, Moses instructs Aaron and the Israelites in the proper rituals of consecration. Aaron offers a sin- offering for himself, then Aaron and his sons offer a sin-offering on behalf of the people. Moses and Aaron bless the people, and the Kavod (glory) of God descends upon the Tabernacle.

(10:1-7) Nadav and Avihu, Aaron's sons, offer "strange fire" which God had not told them to offer, and they die by fire that comes forth from before God.

(10:12-20) Instructions to the priests regarding the various portions of the offerings that they may eat. Moses finds that Aaron and his sons are not eating the portions of the sacrifices that belong to them, and he instructs them to do so. Moses and Aaron discuss what Aaron should do, in light of the death of his sons.

(11:1-12) The signs of kashrut for land animals, and sea creatures.

(11:13-23) A list of forbidden birds and forbidden and permitted insects.

(11:24-47) A list of animals whose dead carcasses can cause ritual defilement, and the laws regarding ritual impurity and defilement from carcasses of animals and from reptiles. A general warning to guard against defilement and to be concerned about ritual purity.

Theme 1: The G-d Diet

These are the instructions concerning animals, birds, all living creatures that move in water, and all creatures that swarm on earth, for distinguishing between the unclean and the clean, between the living things that may be eaten and the living things that may not be eaten. (Lev. 11:46-7)

  1. I maintain that the food which is forbidden by the Law is unwholesome. There is nothing among the forbidden kinds of food whose injurious character is doubted, except pork and fat. But also in these cases the doubt is not justified. For pork contains more moisture than necessary (for human food), and too much of superfluous matter. The principal reason why the Law forbids swine flesh is to be found in the circumstance that its habits and its food are very dirty and loathsome. It has already been pointed out how emphatically the Law enjoins the removal of the sight of loathsome objects, even in the field and in the camp; how much more objectionable is such a sight in towns. But if it were allowed to eat swine's flesh, the streets and houses would be more dirty than any cesspool. As may be seen at present in the country of the Franks. (Moses Maimonides; Guide for The Perplexed; Part 3 Chapter 68)
  2. The reason the Torah forbade us these animals is that... in the future, the Holy One, blessed is He, will speak with each person of Israel as it says, "Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy" (Joel 3:1) From this we learn that, since G-d is destined to speak with the Jews, it is not fitting that the mouth which will speak with Him should now eat forbidden foods. This is the meaning of "saying to them" that I shall one day "say" to each of them,... therefore, they shall not now eat any forbidden food. (Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev; in D. Blumenthal; God At The Center; p. 81)
  3. The animals are discussed in categories that are reminiscent of the (priestly) creation story of Genesis 1; note the refrain in both passages of (each animal) "according to its kind." Lev. 11 makes distinctions, and scholars have sought to understand them according to a number of possible criteria: ease/clarity of classification (anomalies, especially as regards locomotion, tend to be prohibited), whether or not the animal is carnivorous (those that are, are prohibited), and wild or domestic status of the animal (the former are frequently prohibited). The message that emerges from the scheme is multifaceted. It would appear to hold that 1. Human activity is to reflect the inherent orderliness of creation, a kind of imitation of G-d (namely, as He kept things clear at the beginning, you should do the same with what enters your body). 2. The ideal state, already portrayed in the Garden of Eden story, is vegetarianism - where no animal life need be taken by humans... 3. Animals permitted for consumption, among them those fit for sacrifice, are by and large those which are familiar to the Israelites in daily life through domestication... (E. Fox; The Schocken Bible: Vol. 1 The Five Books of Moses; p.554-555)
  4. Limitations of animals to be eaten. Because we are permitted to eat meat only as a compromise, a divine concession to human weakness and need, animals which are n'velah (that which dieth of itself) or t'refah (that which is killed by another animal) are forbidden. Such animals have not been killed according to the Law, which procedure alone renders them permissible for food, since it alone attempts to reverence the life it takes. And only animals so treated may be eaten. Animals found to be diseased upon examination by the Shochet are declared t'refah. Furthermore, only tame domestic animals which are herbivorous can be eaten. The especially fierce species of carnivorous fowl, such as the hawk and eagle, are forbidden. (S. Dresner, The Jewish Dietary Laws: Their Meaning For Our Time; p. 29-30)
  5. Our daughters ask: What's the point of all these laws that regulate what Jews can and can't eat? Are they still relevant today? Maybe it's time we all became vegetarian!... Miriam the Prophet answers: G-d has bound us to this demanding discipline so that we can sanctify our community... Lilith the Rebel counters: I'm not satisfied with this answer! For centuries, both scholars and skeptics have made repeated attempts to rationalize these laws, but they've all failed. Esther the Hidden One Proposes: That is because the main purpose of these laws is spiritual: to sensitize our hearts, not our minds. Kashrut's taboos teach us how to conduct our lives. So, for instance, we are not to behave like the forbidden animals - pigs, which wallow in filth, and eat refuse; shellfish, which scavenge for their food; birds of prey, which attack those weaker than themselves; amphibious and land creatures like reptiles, rodents, and insects, which swarm upon their bellies. And Blood too is forbidden, because it is a symbol of life, which we must hallow. ... We are not only what we eat, but also how we eat and how we harvest life. (E. Frankel; The Five Books of Miriam; p. 161-2)

Discussion Sparks:

How would you go about explaining Kashrut to a person who is not of the Jewish Faith? Where would you start? Would you use a hygienic, health-related reason for its observance?

Given that so many products today have a kosher label, and there are so many ways to prepare food that are "trefah style" (if that's what a person really wants) than why aren't there more people who keep kosher? Could it be that there is a problem convincing people that what you eat has something to do with religion in a significant way?


 
 
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