Thousands of years ago, Judaism recognized the essential significance of food in the Jewish and human experience. Originally, without explaining “why” we should eat some, but not all types of different foods, the Torah in this week’s portion, Sh’mini (Leviticus 11), laid down a lengthy list of culinary dos and don’ts, the textual foundation of kashrut, Jewish dietary practice and law. The Rabbis greatly expanded on this topic and today there are a variety of expressions of kashrut.
The double portion, Tazria/M'tzora, discusses the priests' treatment of various skin ailments. It demonstrates a positive relationship between Judaism and medicine that has developed throughout the centuries.
For the last few years, I have been a member of a local hospital’s ethics committee. The hospital is part of a university-based system and the committee’s chair is a scholarly pulmonologist with a propensity to pick cases involving life and death choices.
In Parashat Emor, the Torah reports that a man born of mixed Israelite-Egyptian descent “blasphemed the Name [of God],” was placed on trial, and was stoned to death. A law was then enacted that anyone, Jewish or gentile, who blasphemes the name of God shall be put to death. Over time, in communities throughout the world, laws against blasphemy were put in place to address curses leveled at God as well as perceived slights against some religions.
As I started reading this week's portion, Parashat B'shalach, I could not believe its implication for what is currently happening in Israel.
"Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts (t'rumah); you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved." (Exodus 25:2)
Hardly a day goes by that we don't see, hear, or read about the Ten Commandments. Actually, we have grown so accustomed to their being tossed about on the Internet, on television, in the newspaper, or in our places of worship that when we speak of them they no longer speak to us.
The American and Canadian federal elections were held in autumn, and the Israel elections to choose a new government have just concluded.
In its brief 40 verses, Parashat Nitzavim immediately presents us with tensions between confidence and condemnation, promise and punishment, and ultimately, between humility and hubris. Throughout the text of these two compact chapters—Deuteronomy 29 and 30—Moses consistently oscillates between inspiring the Israelites toward their future and forewarning them about their inherent (and perhaps inevitable) flaws.
In the story of Elijah, this classic text describes the prophet’s encounter with God: “... the Eternal was not in the fire. And after the fire—a soft murmuring sound [kol d’mamah dakah]” (I Kings 19:11-12). The sound of silence—or close to it. The power of the soft whisper, the energy of the absence of sound. Jewish tradition, and the Torah specifically, uses many examples of the drama that can be achieved with sound,