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Torah Sparks

PARASHAT SHEMINI
March 29, 2003 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Lev. 9:1 - 11:47 (Hertz, p. 443; Etz Hayim, p. 630)
Triennial Cycle II: Lev. 10:12 - 11:32 (Hertz, p. 447; Etz Hayim, p. 635)
Maftir: Exodus 12:1 - 20 (Hertz, p. 253; Etz Hayim, p. 380)
Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16 – 46:18 (Hertz, p. 1001; Etz Hayim, p. 1290)

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Torah Portion Summary

(9:1-24) Concluding the narrative of the ordination of Aaron and his sons as kohanim. 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. His sons offer a sin-offering on behalf of the people. Moses and Aaron bless the people. 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. (10:8-11) Kohanim are prohibited from drinking alcoholic beverages when they are to serve in the Tabernacle.

(10:12-20) Instructions to the kohanim 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.

(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.

Discussion Theme: Inreach and Outreach

“The following you shall abominate among the birds—they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination…..the stork; herons of every variety; the hoopoe, and the bat.” (Lev. 11:13, 19)

Commentary:

  1. There are no overall physical criteria by which to distinguish pure birds from impure birds. Rather a long list of prohibited birds is provided, the assumption being that all others would be permitted... The impure birds are virtually all birds of prey. (Baruch Levine, JPS Commentary on Lev. 11:13)
  2. Why is the stork called the “chasidah,” literally, “the kind one?” For it does kindness with is companions with food. (Rashi Lev. 11:19)
  3. If the “chasidah” is kind towards its kin, why is it unkosher? To be kosher one must be kind not only to one’s kin but to all. (Menachem Mendel of Kotsk, Hasidic Rebbe)
  4. Being a Jew is a verb. Jewish living means, how do you live?... We must develop a vibrant core of committed people who care about Judaism, who learn, who are enthusiastic, and who let that radiate. We always try to get the kid who doesn’t want to go to Jerusalem to go. We forget about what to do with the kid who does go. We try to attract new people to join a synagogue, but we don’t ask sufficiently what to do with the person who is already there….Let’s not always talk about all those Jews who are alienated; instead, let’s talk about the joys of Jews who celebrate their Jewishness, who love to visit Israel, who commit themselves to the UJA campaign, who want to line up with the Jewish people. Let’s nurture them, and let those nurturers give light and fire to the rest of the Jewish world. (David Hartman, Moment Magazine)
  5. We must train mitzvah missionaries dedicated to missionizing Jews and bringing them in touch with higher degrees of Jewish living. The Reform Movement’s call for proselytizing non-Jews is misdirected; rather we must convert Jews to Judaism... What we must do is develop an aggressive campaign of outreach to our fellow Jews. If we know individuals who are not members of a synagogue, we must consider it our personal mission to convince them to join. If we know individuals who do not come to synagogue, we must make it our personal mission to convince them to attend, even infrequently at first. If we know individuals who never study, we must encourage them to attend an adult education lecture, if not a series of classes. There will be discomfort in seeking to encourage others to become more committed to Judaism, and we will not always be successful; people will scoff at us and make us feel uncomfortable. Nevertheless, we have a job to do if we want Judaism to continue. We do not seek new adherents to Judaism; rather, we seek new commitment from those who are already Jews. (Jerome M. Epstein, “Mitzvah Missionaries”)
  6. The challenge is to create compelling communities, inspired and inspiring communities, that can “sear the soul,” communities that can beckon Jews—core Jews and marginal Jews—intermarried Jews and inmarrieds—on the basis of what these Jewish communities offer as vehicles for fulfillment, for a life of meaning, of purpose, of conviction, and commitment. Experiencing such vibrant communities, all Jews will be more likely to want to learn so they can become active community members. (John Ruskay, United Jewish Communities)
  7. The largest Jewish community in the world is betting its future not on generational transmission, not on recruiting the children of this generation’s committed Jews to be the next generation’s Jews, but on turning on the uncommitted or non-Jews. I doubt any Jewish community in history has attempted that feat. Moreover, this approach is based on defeatism: since we cannot rely on our strongly and moderately engaged Jews to replicate themselves, let us recruit the next generation of Jews from the periphery or even outside the Jewish community... A more sane and dignified approach would build outward from our strength. (Jack Wertheimer, Jewish Theological Seminary)

Sparks for Reflection/Discussion:

Commentators say that the reason the “chasidah” (stork) is “treif,” despite the connotation that it is kind (chasid), is that it only cares for its own kin. If we were to project the strategy of the chasidah onto the American Jewish community, to what extent is it “treif” to be concerned only with the affiliated? To what extent should we reach out to the unaffiliated? Are they not also our kin too?

Is “outreach” a successful strategy for combating intermarriage, for example, or does it send a mixed message about intermarriage? Outreach proponents argue that community energy and resources need to be directed toward enticing marginal Jews into the mainstream by gearing programs to their interests. Inreach proponents argue that it is better to devote community energy and funds to supporting people who are committed to Jewish beliefs and practices, and whose children will become the future standard bearers of Judaism.

How can outreach do more than validate what Jews do and instead challenge people to live Jewishly? How do we activate “keiruv,” outreach, that brings Jews closer to Judaism and, at the same time, take care not to transform and dilute the self-definition of Judaism and Jewish values so that they are completely palatable to the unaffiliated?


 
 
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