Shemini (Lev. 9:1 – 11:47), Shabbat Parah

This week: a stupendous ceremony that ends tragically, clean and unclean animals, and an extra portion about a red-haired young cow.

We begin with the ending.  Tomorrow is Shabbat Parah, the third of four Shabbatot before Passover on which we read from a second scroll.  This reading is Numbers 19:1-22, about the totally red heifer that is sacrificed and burned with a few added ingredients to make ashes that are dispersed in water and sprinkled used in ritual purification.  The special haftarah , Ezekiel 36:16-38, uses this sprinkling as an analogy for the Lord’s purification of Israel.

Back to the weekly reading.  As Shemini  begins, it is the eighth day of the ordination period, Aaron’s debut  as High Priest.  He offers a series of sacrifices, performing flawlessly.  There’s a spectacular finish:

9:23 And Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting. Then they came out and blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. 24And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fats upon the altar, and all the people saw, sang praises, and fell upon their faces.


In the very next verse, Aaron’s two sons, Nadab and Abihu deviate from the script, make their own offering of incense, and are consumed by fire.  Aaron is stunned into silence while Moses does damage control.  Tradition has it that either the sons were disrespectful and maybe drunk or they were overcome by ecstasy and couldn’t help themselves.    I think they were a little let down by their minor role, giving Aaron blood to dash against the altar and decided to throw in a little incense.  They clearly didn’t get the importance of following the Lord’s detailed instructions precisely as given.

The rest of Shemini is taken up with clean and unclean animals and the concepts of purity and impurity.  Purity and impurity figure greatly in the next couple of portions, so this week let’s consider kosher and unkosher animals.

There have been lots of suggestions over the millennia as to the sources and effects of the laws of kashrut (“kosher-ness,” if you will).  A few of the summaries of various approaches include Chapter 3 of Purity and Danger by Mary T. Douglas, Clean and Unclean Animals by Emil G. Hirsch et al., and Dietary Laws by Solomon Schechter et al., and Studies in Vayikra by Nehama Leibowitz, vol. 1, pp. 144-155.   Here are a few:

  1. Physical health. Maimonides likes this one.  And Philo writes (Douglas, op. cit., p. 45), ‘The lawgiver sternly forbade all animals of land, sea or air whose flesh is the finest and fattest, like that of pigs and scaleless fish, knowing that they set a trap for the most slavish of senses, the taste, and that they produced gluttony’ which also leads to health issues. And we’ve all heard about pigs and trichinosis.  However, Abravanel objects that there are many poisonous creatures that are not explicitly forbidden, and  Isaac ben Moses Arama (Akedat Yitzhak) notes that plenty of non-Jews eat non-kosher animals with no adverse physical effects.
  2. Spiritual health. Nachmanides: predators are not spiritually good to eat.  Abravanel stresses that the Torah identifies unkosher animals as unclean, not poisonous or harmful, pointing to a spiritually-based prohibition.
  3. Separation from idolaters and idolatry. Some outlawed animals figured in idolatrous practices, and certainly laws of food eventually served as a major distinguishing practice to separate Jews and non-Jews socially.
  4. Local non-Hebrew influences. Schechter et al. (op. cit.) write, “Really, the animals forbidden in the Mosaic law are almost the same as are prohibited to the priests or saints in the ancient Hindu, Babylonian, and Egyptian laws.”  Douglas writes (p. 50), “The Israelites absorbed freely from their neighbours, but not quite freely. Some elements of foreign culture were incompatible with the principles of patterning on which they were constructing their universe; others were compatible. For instance, Zaehner suggests that the Jewish abomination of creeping things may have been taken over from Zoroastrianism.  ”In Zoroastrianism, animals are designated “clean” and “unclean”; but that religion is based on dual gods, Ormuzd, god of light and good, and Ahriman, god of darkness and evil.  Animals created by Ormuzd are clean, those by Ahruman, unclean.  The unclean animals are to be hunted down and destroyed., an approach not found in Leviticus. 
  5. Mary Douglas notes (p. 44) that most interpretations “fall into one of two groups: either the rules are meaningless, arbitrary because their intent is disciplinary and not doctrinal, or they are allegories of virtues and vices.

Finally, Douglas goes back to square one: The only sound approach is to forget hygiene, aesthetics, morals and instinctive revulsion, even to forget the Canaanites and the Zoroastrian Magi, and start with the texts (p. 50).  The purpose of all of the laws in Leviticus is promote holiness: To be holy is to be whole, to be one; holiness is unity, integrity, perfection of the individual and of the kind. The dietary rules merely develop the metaphor of holiness on the same lines… To grasp this scheme we need to go back to Genesis and the creation.Here a three-fold classification unfolds, divided between the earth, the waters and the firmament. Leviticus takes up this scheme and allots to each element its proper kind of animal life. In the firmament two-legged fowls fly with wings. In the water scaly fish swim with fins. On the earth four-legged animals hop, jump or walk. Any class of creatures which is not equipped for the right kind of locomotion in its element is contrary to holiness.”

I think that’s more than  enough food for thought for you for now.

Shabbat shalom,


Following Instructions?

Please read all of the instructions before doing anything, you are allowed 10 minutes to complete this task.Find a pen and paper.

  1. Write your name at the top of the paper.
  2. Write the numbers 1 to 5, one per line.
  3. Draw five small circles beside #1.
  4. Put an “X” in the second and fourth circles next to #1.
  5. Write the word ‘encyclopedia’ beside #3.
  6. On the back of the paper multiply 7 x 9.
  7. Put an X in the lower right-hand corner of the paper.
  8. Draw a circle around the X you just made.
  9. Underline your name.
  10. Say your name out loud.
  11. Draw a circle around #4.
  12. Count the number of words in this sentence and write the answer beside #2 on your paper.
  13. Put a square around #1 and #5.
  14. Punch 3 small holes anywhere in the paper.
  15. Write your first name beside #4.
  16. Write today’s date beside #5 on your paper.
  17. Circle every letter ‘E’ you have written.
  18. Stand up and say ‘I HAVE FINISHED FIRST’ if you were first, else say ‘I HAVE FINISHED’ out loud, then sit down.

Now that you read all of the instructions, skip all of them except the first two! If you have followed the instructions correctly, you should only have your name on the paper!


Famous Last Words

  • Oh, we don’t need to follow the instruction manual. It all looks quite obvious.
  • No free will? Snort! Would a man who has no free will do THIS?
  • Pull the pin and count to what?


Who’s the Mashgiach (kashrut supervisor)?

A distinguished Orthodox rabbi arrived in heaven and was greeted by an angel.
“Rabbi, we’ve prepared a special feast in your honor, with the best meats, fish and cakes.”
“Who may I ask, prepared the meat?” asked the Rabbi.
“Our finest chef, Elijah Manoshevksy.”
”And who is the Mashgiach?”
“Why, God himself,” replied the angel.
“Thanks very much,” said the Rabbi, “but I’ll just stick with the fish.”



An elderly rabbi, having just retired from his duties in the congregation, finally decides to fulfill his lifelong fantasy–to taste pork. He goes to a hotel in the Catskills in the off-season (not his usual one, mind you), enters the empty dining hall and sits down at a table far in the corner.  The waiter arrives, and the rabbi orders roast suckling pig.

As the rabbi is waiting, struggling with his conscience, a family from his congregation walks in!  They immediately see the rabbi and, since no one should eat alone, they join him.

Shocked, the rabbi begins to sweat.  At last, the waiter arrives with a huge domed platter. He lifts the lid to reveal-what else?–roast suckling pig, complete with an apple in its mouth.

The family gasp in shock and disgust, and quickly turn to the rabbi for an explanation.

“This place is amazing!” cries the rabbi. “You order a baked apple, and look what you get!”


Kosher Green Eggs and Ham

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!


Where do redhead babies come from? (Charles Oakes)

After their baby was born, the panicked father went to see the Obstetrician. “Doctor,” the man said, “I don’t mind telling you, but I’m a little upset because my daughter has red hair. She can’t possibly be mine.”

“Nonsense,” the doctor said. “Even though you and your wife both have black hair, one of your ancestors may have contributed red hair to the gene pool.”

“It isn’t possible,” the man insisted. “This can’t be, our families on both sides had jet-black hair for generations.”

“Well,” said the doctor, “let me ask you this. How often do you have sex?” The man seemed a bit ashamed. “I’ve been working very hard for the past year. We only made love once or twice every few months.”

“Well, there you have it!” the doctor said. “It’s rust.”

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3 Responses to Shemini (Lev. 9:1 – 11:47), Shabbat Parah

  1. Pingback: Shemini (Lev. 9:1 – 11:47) | Torah Portion Humor Weekly

  2. Pingback: Shemini (Lev. 9:1 – 11:47) | Torah Portion Humor Weekly

  3. Pingback: Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17), Shabbat Rosh Chodesh (Numbers 28:9-15) | Torah Portion Humor Weekly

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