Shemini (Lev. 9:1-11:47)

This week’s Torah portion is neatly divided into three parts: Chapter 9, priestly triumph; Chapter 10, disaster; and Chapter 11, kosher and unkosher animals. It is the eighth day of the ordination week for Aaron and his sons. Aaron and his sons flawlessly offer the various sacrifices . Aaron and Moses go inside the Tent of Meeting, come out, bless the people. The Presence of the Lord’ presence appears to all the people and fire comes forth and consumes the offering. The people are suitably impressed. Then disaster inexplicably strikes. Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu break from the strictly detailed instructions and offer incense-containing “alien fire” to the Lord. They are promptly consumed by fire. Aaron stands silent, in shock, while Moses does damage control that won’t get anyone else killed. Why did Nadav and Avihu make that fatal offering? This section is followed by a command that the priests must not drink any intoxicant prior to performing their duties, since they have to be able to distinguish between sacred and profane and between clean and unclean. From this juxtaposition of verses, the rabbis conclude that Nadav and Avihu acted as they did because they were drunk. Perhaps they were nervous before their first priestly gig and overindulged? Perhaps the drinking showed they really didn’t take this seriously? Another interpretation is that they were overcome with spiritual ecstasy and their souls were taken up to heaven. Rav Gedaliah Schorr has an interesting take along those lines (A Daily Dose of Torah, Kleinman Edition, Y. Weiss, ed., (2007), vol. 7, pp. 78-79). Generally, love of the Lord impels performing the commandments (mitzvot) and fear (awe) of the Lord promotes abstention from sin. The two emotions must be kept in perfect balance, Nadav and Avihu felt a great excess of love and insufficient fear (awe).

Anyhow, the rest of the portion concerns kosher and nonkosher animals. The kosher ones are listed first (the good news), then the unkosher ones (the bad news), which are called “abominations”. Touching the carcasses of the unkosher ones results in a short spell of ritual impurity. Dead creepy crawly things that have fallen into a vessel transmit impurity to that vessel; there’s a whole tractate of Mishnah (Kelim) devoted to that.

How the laws of kashrut are followed or not can be a wonderful vehicle for studying the history of a Jewish community. I recently started reading Kosher Nation by Sue Fishkoff and was startled by the shenanigans surrounding kosher meat in the US in the first half of the 20th century: riots over suspected price fixing, racketeering and violence in the kosher poultry business, possible organized crime involvement, corruption, and scandal. Consider this little incident related on pp. 62-63: “In 1914, Barnett Baff, owner of several wholesale and retail poultry markets in New York, was suspected of price-fixing and of underselling his rivals. He was shot and killed on the street, as were two eyewitnesses to his murder who had offered to testify in court. One of Baff’s shooters later confessed that one hundred kosher poultry retailers in the city raised $4,200 to pay for the murders. Strong am tactics prevailed for decades and turned particularly ugly…” Turned particularly ugly?!! Kosher poultry retailers hiring hit men to do away with someone doesn’t count as “particularly ugly”?!! Sheesh. I haven’t finished the book yet, but I assume nowadays the only blood spilled in the industry is from animals.

Shabbat shalom,



Quotes on Excess

“Every reform, however necessary, will by weak minds be carried to an excess, that itself will need reforming.”   Samuel Coleridge

“Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.”   Oscar Wilde

“Ours is a culture based on excess, on overproduction; the result is a steady loss of sharpness in our sensory experience. All the conditions of modern life — its material plenitude, its sheer crowdedness — conjoin to dull our sensory faculties.”    Susan Sontag

“Witticisms please as long as we keep them within boundaries, but pushed to excess they cause offense.”    Phaedrus Phaedrus

“The passions are like fire, useful in a thousand ways and dangerous only in one, through their excess.”    Christian Nevell Bovee


Kosher Pork Discovered in Queens

Oded Hirsch Uri Friedman 1,507 Views Jul 28, 2011

For anyone out there who keeps kosher but has always wondered what pork tastes like, you had an hours-long window yesterday to find out. The New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch wrote about how Israeli artist Oded Hirsch stumbled on pork chops, cutlets, spare ribs, and stew bone while shopping at the Associated Supermarket in Sunnyside, Queens, all in packages with Hebrew labels suggesting that the meat had been kosher slaughtered. Gourevitch eventually learned from New York’s Kashrut chief that the pork appeared because Associated was using a label machine that it had purchased from a Kosher market. Hirsch’s cell phone managed to capture the mislabeled meat before it was hastily pulled from Associated’s shelves:


 Kosher Green Eggs and Ham

How would Dr. Seuss have written ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ if he had been Jewish?

I will not eat green eggs and ham.

I will not eat them Sam-I-am.

I’ll eat green eggs with a biscuit.

Or I will try them with some brisket.

I’ll eat green eggs in a box.

If you serve them with some lox.

And those green eggs are worth a try

Scrambled up inside some matzoh brie!

And in a boat upon the river,

I’ll eat green eggs with chopped liver!

Oy Sam! Will you never see?

They are not kosher—let me be!

So if you’re a Jewish Dr. Seuss fan,

But troubled by green eggs and ham.

Let your friends in on the scoop:

Green eggs taste best with chicken soup!



The following is supposedly an actual excerpt from a Forbes Magazine article:

A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo, and when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole is maintained or even improved by the regular culling of the weakest members.

In much the same way, the human brain can operate only as fast as the slowest brain cells through which the electrical signals pass. Recent epidemiological studies have shown that while excessive intake of alcohol kills off brain cells, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. Thus, regular consumption of beer, wine etc., helps eliminate the weaker cells, constantly making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. The result of this in-depth study verifies and validates the causal link between all-weekend parties and job related performance. It also explains why, after a few short years of leaving a university and getting married, most professionals cannot keep up with the performance of the new graduates. Only those few that stick to the strict regimen of voracious alcoholic consumption can maintain the intellectual levels that they achieve during their college years.

So, this is a call to arms. As our country is losing its technological edge, we cannot shudder in our homes. Get back into the bars. Quaff that pint. Your company and country need you to be at your peak, and you shouldn’t deny yourself the career that you could have. Take life by the bottle and be all that you can be. Forward this to all of your friends, acquaintances and co-workers that may be in danger of losing their edge.


First Confessions

Young Father O’Reilly, newly ordained, was to hear his first confessions. Anxious to get his ministry off on the right foot, he asked the experienced Father McMartin to sit in and critique his handling of the assignment.

At the end of the day the two clergymen sat in the rectory and reviewed O’Reilly’s performance.

“Not bad,” McMartin said, with a catch in his voice. Weighing his words with care, he went on, “But there is one thing. In the future, I think you should make an effort to say ‘I understand’ instead of ‘Oh, wow!’ ”


 Top 10 reasons to think the Restaurant you are eating in is probably not kosher [lightly edited]

10. Instead of free pickles and cole slaw appetizers, the waiter brings out an assorted mix of cheese nachos and Buffalo wings

9. Kosher certification certificate is dated 1984 and is signed “So long suckers!”… In Yiddish

8. The restaurant hours say, “closed on the Sabbath”; but have Friday night “extended” hours special

7. The food is really, really good …as is the service.

6. When asking for “Fake crab meat” waiter looks to decorative fish-tank in front to see what’s in stock

5. Menu is missing default hamburger option and Dr. Brown’s CelRay soda

4. The waiter giggles devilishly at every mention of the word “Pareve”

3. The location of kosher supervision offices is a PO Box address in Brooklyn, NJ

2. Gentiles frequent the restaurant daily and tolerate the exorbitant prices

1. Two words: Kosher Style

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