Monday, April 15, 2013

Jewish Communal Purity

Acharei Mot- KedoshimVayikrah 16:1-20:2710 Iyar 5773 / April 12-!3, 2013

Jewish Communal Purity
by Joel Kramer, MH San Diego
This week we read two separate parshiot which are linked by the concept of the purity of the Jewish nation. The teaching begins as G-d demonstrated the repercussion for becoming impure, as Aaron's two sons are punished with death. However, this soon follows with a method for renewal, through sacrifice, bathing, and other rituals. Through a series of commandments and anecdotes, the portion ensures that the land, people, and laws of Israel will remain pure.
While the Israelites have left the terrors of Egypt behind them, their current conditions in the desert are dire. In comparison, they approach the land of Israel, a bountiful land of milk and honey (20:24) which can sustain the Hebrew Nation. By sustaining the teachings of the torah and remaining morally forthright, the land will continue to provide for the people. However, the parsha warns that by defiling oneself, one defiles the land.
In a land parched with thirst, water is the element which best represents sustenance. In the parsha, it cleanses and purifies after wrongdoing. Without water there is no life, and for people and animals, blood carries that essential water. Blood serves as the natural connection that binds the people of Israel to one another, and to the land. By remaining loyal to one another, Jews maintain the purity of their connection. A theme of blood flows throughout these parshiot, as referenced in laws of kashrut, sexual relations, and the concept of bloodguilt. Kosher animals must be drained of blood, while consuming blood is related to superstition and self-mutilation. Disrespect to one's parents, adultery, and theft (19:16) are even defined as "bloodguilt".
The same sex marriage debate finds relevance in Aharei Mot. If purity is meant to keep the nation of Israel strong, then one would imagine that members of the society would be encouraged to contribute and partake equally. However, parts of the parsha seem to be extreme against certain members of society, especially in regard to sexuality. For example, having sex while one’s own wife is menstruating was cause for the couple to excommunicated (20:18). Similarly, homosexual relations are described as an abhorrence and are outlawed.
I will not attempt to judge whether homosexual activity was inappropriate for the Jewish people as they redefined themselves during their struggle for survival through the desert. However today, our situation is not as dire. Including all members of our society strengthens our future. In today's democracy, giving someone a place at the table and equal treatment also expects them to contribute equally. Rather than comparing homosexuality to having sex with beasts, as the Torah does, we should appreciate that Jewish LGBT's and other minorities have more to contribute as fully accepted members of the Jewish people to which they belong. The parsha reminds us that to be hospitable to strangers because we were mistreated in Egypt, but estranging members of our own community seems to me impure and sinful.
We can see that by providing a framework of laws to protect the Jewish people and their connection to G-d, the Nation of Israel is better equipped to care for the land of Israel which sustains them. However, how do the laws affect people who live outside of the land of Israel, as most Jews do today? The parsha relates that peoples' sins are given to an Azazel goat which is sent away, into the desert. The people of Israel were granted the land of Canaan, but today the Negev includes parts of Edom, where such a sin-adorned goat may have wandered. Is that land impure? And is the diaspora a dartboard for disrespect, without need for any moral standing simply because it is not the Land of Israel? Ultimately, poor choices degrade the morality of the people who live there, and so the land itself. And as G-d warns, the consequences for the Canaanites for treating the land irresponsibly was eviction and slaughter. By caring for the people around us and the land upon which we reside, we carry the Torah forward and maintain its purity in new realms.


Post a Comment