Torah Study Notes 4-5-14

April 5, 2014

p. 753

We are in the middle of a discussion of ritual purity. The key is to think about this in the abstract – not from the perspective of material. The rabbinic focus is on the underlying cause of illness and to some extent presages the work of Sigmond Freud.

14:1 “This shall be the ritual for a leper at the time of being purified…” Note that none of this has anything to do with medicine. This is a priestly text. There were separate physicians who addressed the physical needs of the people. CL: Historically the role of the doctors before the 17th C. was very minor as compared to the role of spiritual advisors. PG: The role of doctors was circumscribed through the 19th C.  because of the limits of medical knowledge. This has to be considered metaphorically. Here, illness is considered a manifestation of spiritual unease – hence the need for spiritual purification. This addresses the disruptions that can infect a community – such as evil thoughts or fear. A deep and pernicious guilt occupies a person that expresses itself superficially. AF: How can one person handle the multiple instances of sin that would be expressed in such of a large community? How is the determination made as to who should be treated? PG: We know that this is all unrealistic in terms of a large population. This is “idealist” literature and assumes that all of this could happen. LL: Is one person singled out to suffer for the sins of others? PG: That concept of vicarious victimhood does not appear in the Torah. There is a discussion of suffering for the sins  of one’s parents or grandparents. This poses the question as to how we should expect atonement for one’s sins. Is a bank robber who has served his time still a bank robber?  Note that the monarchy could not be re-established after the return from the Babylonian captivity and the priests then became the cohesive presence in the community. DC: Read: The New Jim Crow – Incarceration and Color-Blindness:  which emphasizes how convicts are branded for life in our society and kept from participating in it. SF: We have no process in our larger society in which an offender can be cleansed of their sins. See the work of Emil Fackenheim and his discussion of the 614th commandment. See:,10,0,0,1,0

He argues that one must avoid otherworldliness or “magical thinking” and despair. There are both Israeli’s and Palestinians who believe that the others will magically disappear. AF: In Catholicism one is cleansed of sins by confession. PG: But that is a personal cleansing. Yom Kippur is designed to promote communal order – starting again – not a place in heaven. SF: I studied with a rabbi in Jerusalem who gave me a way, via a series of exercises, to focus on God’s presence but fewer than 1% have this knowledge or capacity. PG: Franz Rosenzweig argued for “infinite responsibility.”” Our responsibility is not only to Jews.  Look at the beginning Ch 13 in Exodus where a lamb is sacrificed prior to the 14th plague – there are echoes here of that procedure. Note the common use of hyssop. KB: This promotes a lovely “us-ness” in which a community is established.

14:12 We shall take one of the male lambs… as an elevation offering. A detailed description of what the priest must do to achieve expiation of sins and achieve ritual purity.  There are two things gong on here: two steps to purification. Ritual purity must be achieved before entering the community but then there is a second level for reintegration into the community.  Note that the priest is putting blood and oil on himself – as a community representative he is accepting the atonement and signaling forgiveness. Imagine all of this as a tableau in the presence of the people. What are they feeling and reacting and understanding? SF: Isn’t this the primary challenge of the modern era? We now are each expected to have a direct personal link with God without an intermediary representing the community. PG: Jeremiah addresses this. He assails what might become pure theatre and urges a return to the real world and a commitment of the individual. The priest can become like Dumbo’s feather. Dumbo could fly without the feather. The great insight of rabbinic literature is that we do not need priests. We need dynamism and creativity more than ritual. By the time of 1st C. the people were going through the motions and had lost the significance and personal investment. LL: The priesthood had failed.

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