Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Leviticus 11:1-13:59


Leviticus 11 contains instructions for distinguishing between clean and unclean foods. In this context the terms clean and unclean refer neither to hygiene nor morality, though they may overlap those categories. What they refer to is holiness, that is, a sense that the Isaraelites are set apart as God's special people.

For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall be holy, for I am holy. (Leviticus 11:45).

That which is clean is acceptable to be brought into the presence of God. We are reminded in this chapter that uncleanness is a kind of contagion. It is spread by contact.

Clean animals, suitable for eating, are those that chew cud and have divided hooves. Clean fish have scales and fins (No shellfish). Clean insects are the ones that fly and/or hop. I've read that cleanness has to do with things being "properly ordered" or "in their appropriate place." What is soil in the garden is dirt in the kitchen.

Chapter 11 treats us to some of the misconceptions of ancient zoology. Rock badgers chew cud. Bats are birds. Insects walk on "all fours."

In chapter 12 we learn that childbirth renders a woman temporarily unclean. The length of that impurity is doubled if she has a girl. Return to a state of cleanness requires a sacrifice.

Chapter 13 tells, in exacting detail, how the priests of ancient Israel were to diagnose leprosy, a term that refers to several diseases of the skin and also, apparently, to molds that might infect houses and fabrics. All of these things are unclean. People with leprosy are isolated from their neighbors, not to prevent the spread of disease so much as the spread of uncleanness.

I remember, many years ago, attending a friend's Bar Mitzvah. the Torah portion that day was from Leviticus 13. The rabbi spoke about leprosy infecting houses. I don't remember what he said but I was impressed that he found something in this passage about which to speak meaningfully.

Next: Leviticus 14-15

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