Shemini (Lev. 9:1 – 11:47)

Previously in Leviticus…

The holidays are over.  We’re still counting the omer until Shavuot, and there are still a few leftover Pesach things to pack or unpack, but the daffodils and hyacinths and trees are blooming and it’s time to pause and take a deep breath (unless the pollen gets to you and you’re not on an antihistamine).

When we left Moses et al., the priests had been dressed and anointed, and Moses had offered the prescribed sacrifices.  The seven days during which the priests were to remain at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting are now complete, and it is now the eighth day, whence the name of this portion, Shemini, since “Shemini” means eighth.  It is time for the completion of the ordination process, and Aaron and his sons duly take charge, flawlessly following the intricate procedures for the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the offering of well-being.   Aaron blesses the people, he and Moses go inside the Tent of Meeting, return to bless the people one more, “and the Presence of the Lord appeared to all the people. 24 Fire came forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the altar. And all the people saw, and shouted, and fell on their faces.” (9:23-24) Theatrics!  Fireworks! Wow!

And then – tragedy. Two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, stop following the script and offer “alien fire” (topped with incense.  They are immediately consumed by fire from heaven.  [I keep waiting for someone to produce a sci-fi novel incorporating advanced alien technology for the Urim v’Thumim, the deaths of Nadav and Avihu and the guy who touches the Ark in transit, trying to steady it.  But I digress.]  Why do they die?  Most commentary falls into two camps:  1) They were overly disrespectful, maybe drunk, and did not take the very specific instruction sufficiently seriously.  2) They had attained such heights of ecstasy that they could no longer be part of this world.  Or, giving in to the ecstasy and ad libbing in an attempt to get closer to the Lord was too disrespectful.  At any rate, Aaron is silent, stunned.  Perhaps his silence and ability to maintain self-control helps the easily excitable people remain calm as well.

The other big topic in Shemini is found in Chapter 11, kosher and unkosher animals.  1) Any land animal “that has true hoofs, with clefts through the hoofs, and that chews the cud” is permitted. 2) Any water animal that has fins and scales is permitted. 3) Certain birds (listed) are not to be eaten. 4) These winged swarming things are permitted: locusts, bald locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers. “23 But all other winged swarming things that have four legs shall be an abomination for you.”  5) Things that swarm upon the earth (any “creepy crawly” that crawls on its belly, or anything that walks on fours, or anything that has many legs) are not only not permitted as food, but they can make people and things ritually “unclean.” Eating a permitted animal that died naturally also makes one unclean.

I really do not want to get into “uncleanness” here.  But this whole business of kosher (“fit”) and unkosher animals for food calls for comment (sources below are cited in Studies in Vayikra by Nehama Leibowitz, vol. 1, pp. 144-155).  In practice, kashrut regulations may have prevented some health problems (e.g., trichinosis via pigs, who-knows-what from carrion) and helped keep the Israelites, and later, Jews, separate from other peoples.  Indeed, Maimonides accepts the “hygienic motivation” position, calling pigs “filthy.”  But Abravanel objects, noting that there are many poisonous creatures not specifically mentioned as forbidden, nor are poisonous plants included.  A further objection by Isaac ben Moses Arama (Akedat Yitzhak) is that plenty of non-Jews eat non-kosher animals with no adverse physical effects.

Therefore, others focus on identifying a motivation of spiritual well-being in these laws.  For example, Nachmanides notes that the forbidden birds are predators, not really spiritually edifying to eat.  Abravanel writes, regarding unkosher animals, “Scripture does not call them poisonous or harmful, but unclean and abominable, stressing the spiritual rather than physical source of their prohibition.”  Sforno further elaborates that the restrictions on animals as food, especially the swarming things, are intended to aid the Israelites in becoming a holy people (cf. 11:44, “For I the Lord am your God: you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy”).  As for kashrut as a social barrier, there is no mention here of that as a motivation, while there are plenty of texts elsewhere limiting interaction with non-Israelites without reference to food.  But kashrut, along with circumcision, did become a major factor in distinguishing Jews from other peoples.

Shabbat shalom,


Getting No Respect – Rodney Dangerfield Jokes

Last week I told my psychiatrist, “I keep thinking about suicide.” He told me from now on I have to pay in advance.

I tell ya when I was a kid, all I knew was rejection. My yo-yo, it never came back!

When I was a kid I got no respect. The time I was kidnapped, and the kidnappers sent my parents a note they said, “We want five thousand dollars or you’ll see your kid again.”

With my dog I don’t get no respect. He keeps barking at the front door. He don’t want to go out. He wants me to leave.

Last week I saw my psychiatrist. I told him, “Doc, I keep thinking I’m a dog.” He told me to get off his couch.

My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.

I had a lot of pimples too. One day I fell asleep in a library. I woke up and a blind man was reading my face.
(Seven of the) Top Ten Signs Your Kosher Butcher May Be Treif (i.e., unkosher) 

10. “100% kosher beef” stamp suddenly changed to  “73.5% kosher beef”
9.   Big sale sign outside reads: “Glatt Kosher Prosciutto”
7.   Swears he checks each individual cow for both fins and scales
5.   When asking to see the Kosher symbol, he points to the circle R
4.   Quietly mumbles the word “style” to himself each time he says “kosher”
3.   Thought Kosher was just Hebrew for “wrapping it in loads of tin foil”
2.   Store named “Goldberg’s Finest Hallal Meats”
Kosher Isn’t Just for Real Animals Anymore
By Dan Friedman  Published December 23, 2009, issue of January 01, 2010.

For dungeon masters who have conquered real-world kashrut “The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals: The Evil Monkey Dialogues,” coming in early 2010 from Tachyon Publications, explores the possibilities of koshering fictional and fantastical creatures. Examining animals from a variety of world mythologies, married co-authors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer consider the unnatural history and edible properties of 34 potentially edible beasts (from the Abumi-Guchi to the Ziz).

Each entry describes the animal’s appearance: “According to Enoch, the Phoenix has the head of a crocodile and the feet of a lion.” Or, its origins and characteristics: “Taken from Brazilian folklore, the headless mule is a fire-spewing spectral quadruped with no head.” And then, as per the subtitle, each entry has a short, combative dialogue between the authors about whether Jews would be within their dietary rights to eat the said entry. The two writers — respected editors and authors of science fiction and fantasy books — adopt their characters: Evil Monkey, Jeff, wishes to eat everything; Ann represents the dietary superego.

Ann: No! And don’t even start. Because the mule itself, even if it weren’t fire-breathing, isn’t kosher. The fire doesn’t cleanse it.
Evil Monkey: But it’s self-cooking!

The criticism that there aren’t enough recipes in this book is mitigated by drafting in Duff Goldman (star of the Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes”) to discuss the pros and cons of cooking Tribbles, testicles, Mongolian Death Worms and Wookiees. Although his bona fides as an authority on kashrut are in question (“Anything that’s served in a Chinese restaurant is kosher, even pork”), his culinary suggestions are delicious: “If you’re going to eat an angel, I’d eat a cherub…. Cherubs are the veal of the angelic world.”

Of course, once we colonize distant planets, these sorts of conversations will no longer be flights of fancy, but instead will be undertaken in earnest. Will Alpha Centauri Cucumber Fish be kosher? Will Betelgeuse Chicken Beetles be fleyshik (meat)? Until then, the VanderMeers’ discussions will remain dragon’s tongue in jackalope cheek.


The Kosher Song

A must-see rap song about keeping kosher.

by Ari Lesser

2 min 28 sec

Five Ways to Cook a Cricket (abridged) by Daniella Martin

Posted: 08/08/2011 6:36 pm EDT Updated: 10/08/2011 5:12 am EDT

(Hey, they’re kosher.  IGP)
Crickets, on average, taste vaguely like a cross between a shrimp and an almond, and are highly nutritious: when dried, they rival beef pound-for-pound when it comes to protein, and far exceed it in calcium and iron. Meanwhile, they are remarkably sustainable to raise, requiring so many times fewer resources than most livestock that it’s like comparing an S.U.V. to a bicycle.

  1. Sauteed Scourge

In my opinion, the best way to cook a cricket is to saute it with garlic, olive oil and salt. Begin by sauteing crickets in olive oil. Once they start to become a little golden and crispy-looking, you can add in the garlic (crushed or chopped) and salt. This is a fantastic topping for salsa, guacamole or tacos – seriously, when I serve any of these at events, a line forms and it all gets gobbled up.

  1. Baked Bugs

David George Gordon, in his excellent bug-ginner guide, The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook, suggests roasting crickets in the oven, on a lightly oiled baking sheet, at about 225 for about 20 minutes.  Try mixing them with garlic or sprinkling them with salt and spices before baking.

  1. Ground Gryllidae

Roasted crickets can be ground to a fine, nutritious powder in a blender or coffee grinder. This nutty-tasting meal can be added like a flour to baked goods, stirred into smoothies and pesto, or sprinkled on salads, soups, and even ice cream!

  1. Shish Ke-Bug

The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook offers an excellent recipe for a honey-ginger sauce in which to marinate the little leapers overnight. Gordon advises skewering with pineapple and peppers, wrapping the odd bug in bacon (NO! NOT KOSHER!), and broiling for around 8 minutes.

  1. Tempura TemPest

Anything tastes good fried, right? Crickets are no different. Simply dunk them in tempura batter or dredge them in cornmeal, and then drop them in hot oil. When they turn golden, your “Cricket McBuggets” are ready to dip in your favorite sauce.

(No, I haven’t tried any of these recipes, nor do I ever intend to.  IGP)

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1 Response to Shemini (Lev. 9:1 – 11:47)

  1. Pingback: Tazria-Metzora (Lev. 12:1 – 15:33) | Torah Portion Humor Weekly

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