We have come to Shabbat HaChodesh (Sabbath of THE Month, i.e., the month of Nisan), the fourth and final special Sabbath before Passover with a second scroll reading and a special haftarah. The second scroll reading, Exodus 12:1-20, contains instructions for the first Passover and future observances. Analogously, the haftarah (Ezekiel 45:16-46:18, 45:18-46:13 for Sephardim), is a vision of Passover observance in messianic times.
I’ve just come from the third of three funerals I’ve attended this week. Lil, in her mid-80’s, was my brother’s mother-in-law. Helen, 61, was a regular at my current shul, particularly its chorus and women’s prayer group, and had just been tapped to be the synagogue’s president last spring when her illness was diagnosed. And Molly, 99, had often told me she enjoyed sitting in front of me during services at my former synagogue. Three vibrant, energetic women. I saw all of them in the last year or so. Molly, whom I’d used to run into at Shop Rite, had become very frail; I last saw in our local Jewish nursing home when I led services there a couple times. I think I last saw Lil in connection with my mother’s passing last year. And I had a final conversation Helen just a few weeks ago at kiddush, a nice, normal chat about choral singing, during which her increasing disability was not in evidence. They leave behind families, friends, and many memories. They will rest in peace.
This week, we continue learning about ritual impurity (tumah). I found an interesting essay written by David Silverberg for the Maimonides Heritage Center, at http://www.mhcny.org/parasha/1171.pdf , mainly on Maimonides’ view of tumah as set forth in his Guide for the Perplexed. There are five types of tumah in the Torah resulting from 1) animal remains, 2) childbirth, 3) tzara’at, 4) bodily discharge, and 5) contact with a human corpse. We saw 1) last week. Tazria includes 2) and 3). [Next week: 3) and 4). We don’t get to 5) for a while, in Numbers 19.] But why does a system of purity laws exist at all? Maimonides opines that this was a type of system familiar to the Israelites from pagan rituals, thus readily accepted, but actually less (!) onerous. For example, the “impure” person could often go about his daily business, just not enter the Sanctuary (later, Temple) or eat from the sacrificial offerings (tzara’at, however, does result in isolation). And a menstruating woman in other cultures was physically isolated from the community, which was not the case under the Torah (Yes, I read The Red Tent. It’s fiction.). Tumah is regarded simply as a condition which happens, sometimes under highly approved, even holy, circumstances, such as giving birth and burying the dead. So why is the affected person barred from the Sanctuary (or Temple) and sacrificial food? Maimonides’ position is that the Sanctuary must be approached with great reverence, and having no restrictions on who can participate there diminishes that reverence, making it ordinary. Maimonides also identifies a sanitation function, since the generators of tumah tend to be sources of “dirt and filth.”
Fittingly for a week filled with mourning the dead and celebrating their lives, Tazria (or Thazria) brushes against notions of life and death in its consideration of tumah occasioned by childbirth (Chapter 12:1-8). My detailed thoughts on Chapter 12 are available at https://igplotzk.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/comments-on-leviticus-12-1997/ . Basically, childbirth, places in opposition miracle and filth, heaven and earthiness, purity (the baby) and impurity (the woman, as she recovers), life and death, resulting in the strongly positive and strongly negative vibes that come through in the rabbinical texts. The other topic in Tazria is tzara’at, a skin affliction that used to be incorrectly identified with leprosy (Hansen’s disease). It must be diagnosed by a priest and is regarded as a punishment for slander. It can also show up as red or green streaks in cloth or leather, and, as we’ll read next week, in buildings. Tazria contains rules for diagnosing tzara’at, but not the subsequent purification requirements. That’s next week.
Random phobias, pertinent to Tazria (from 2011)
Leprosy- Leprophobia (yes, I know “tzara’at”, often mistranslated as “leprosy” , is some skin malady other than Hansen’s Disease)
Skin Disease- Dermatosiophobia
Surgical Operations- Ergasiophobia (well, if it’s childbirth by Caesarian section)
This information came over the internet some years ago. It purports to be the answers given by students in science exams around the world.
“The body consists of three parts – the brainium, the borax, and the abominable cavity. The brainium contains the brain; the borax, the heart and lungs; and the abominable cavity, the bowls, of which there are five – a, e, i, o, and u.”
“The three kinds of blood vessels are arteries, veins, and caterpillars.”
“Artificial insemination is when the farmer does it to the cow instead of the bull.”
“To prevent contraception, wear a condominium.”
“Many women believe that an alcoholic binge will have no effects on the unborn fetus, but that is a large misconception.”
“Before giving a blood transfusion, find out if the blood is affirmative or negative.”
Since Shakespeare’s 450th birthday is coming up next month…
SKIN DISEASES IN SHAKESPEARE’S WORKS (excerpt, lightly edited for clarity)
J. GOENS – P. GHEERAERT
Brussels – Belgium
Shakespeare frequently chose dermatologic terms; let’s mention words like measles, scurvy, tetter, serpigo, hoar, scab, lousy, plague, pestilence, leprosy, mole, wart, itch, boil, blister, blain, sore, ulcer, pox, carbuncle … These diseases were semantically associated to the worse malediction; i.e., the characters hoped thereby to conjure or provoke bad fortune.
To illustrate this one can mention several categories of examples:
- The plain swear-word: “Scurvy knave!” (Romeo and Juliet).
- The direct insult: “Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an unbossed carbuncle (King Lear).
- The indirect insult: “The rascally, scald, beggarly, lowsy pragging knave pistol “(Henry V).
- The curse on a person: “All the contagions of the south lie on thou “(Coriolanus).
- “I would make thou the loathsomest scab in Greece “(Troïlus and Cressida).
- The curse on an object or a concept: “The dry serpigo on the subject “(Troïlus and Cressida).
- “A pox on/of: Your love letter, this joke, your throath, the devil, your bottle, the wrinkles, this gut, her green-sickness … “.
- Offensive imprecation: “Plague all … is general leprosy “(Timon of Athens).
- Defensive imprecation: “If I prove honey mouthed let my tongue blister” – this example, taken from “A Winter’s Tale” is of course an allusion to herpes. Finally, conjuration can be illustrated by the end of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, when Oberon wishes to the young-married “Never mole, hare-lip nor scar, shall upon their children be”.
(This kind of reminds me of a high school English assignment I had, finding all the mentions of and allusions to blood in Macbeth. There were a lot. IGP)
- She has had no rigors or shaking chills, but her husband states she was very hot in bed last night.
- Patient has left his white blood cells at another hospital.
- Between you and me, we ought to be able to get this lady pregnant.
- Since she can’t get pregnant with her husband, I thought you might like to work her up.
- The skin was moist and dry.
- Rectal exam revealed a normal size thyroid.
- Exam of genitalia reveals that he is circus sized.
- The lab test indicated abnormal lover function.
- The patient was to have a bowel resection. However, he took a job as a stockbroker instead.
- Skin: Somewhat pale but present.
- The pelvic examination will be done later on the floor.
- Patient has two teenage children, but no other abnormalities.
Funny Childbirth Quotes
When I was born I was so surprised I didn’t talk for a year and a half.
~ Gracie Allen
Somewhere on this globe, every ten seconds, there is a woman giving birth to a child. She must be found and stopped.
~ Sam Levenson
I was born at the age of twelve on a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lot.
~ Judy Garland
To heir is human.
~ Dolores E. McGuire
Socialite: “Whatever possessed you to be born in a place like Lowell, Massachusetts?” Whistler: “I wished to be near my mother.”
~ James Whistler