Shemini (Lev. 9:1 – 11:47)

I am still foggily transitioning from Passover.  The boxes are packed but have not yet been moved to the basement.  And it’s a rainy day.  I remember a Sesame Street song from a few decades ago, It’s a Rainy Day, and I enjoy the song more than the rain.  Anyhow, here are comments from 2012, with a few typos corrected and a paragraph from 2016:

“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, and bless the people. The ‘Presence of the Lord’ 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.”

Insert from 2016, Mary Douglas’s analysis re: why an animal is kosher or not: “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.”

Back to 2012: “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 arm 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 assume nowadays the only blood spilled in the industry is from animals.”

Shabbat shalom,


Moshe goes to see his Rabbi. “Rabbi, last week I missed saying grace after meals.” 
“Why,” asked the Rabbi. 
“Because I forgot to wash my hands before the meal.” 
“That’s twice you’ve broken the law but you still haven’t told me why.” 
“The food wasn’t kosher.” 
“You ate non-kosher food?” asked the Rabbi. 
“It wasn’t a Jewish restaurant.” 
“That makes it even worse,” said the now angry Rabbi. “Couldn’t you have eaten in a kosher one?” 
“What, on Yom Kippur?”


Oldie but goodie, last sent out in 2013. I wrote it around 2000 in response to a suggestion that maybe Conservative Jewish synagogue board members should be required to keep at least somewhat kosher, at least in public. “Treif” (Hebrew,
“torn”) = unkosher. So, here are:

Levels of Treif When Eating Out

  1. Mini-treif: baked goods whose ingredients are unknown to you.
    2. Minor treif: grilled cheese sandwich, where the grill is also used for
    3. Treif: hamburger made from unkosher ground beef.
    4. Major treif: cheeseburger.
    5. Super deluxe treif: bacon cheeseburger
    6. Adding-insult-to-injury treif: bacon cheeseburger made with Glatt
    kosher ground beef and Orthodox union supervised cheese.

I hope you have found this helpful…


Medical Marijuana May Soon Get Kosher Stamp of Approval (excerpts)

Paul Berger February 23, 2015 Anya Ulinich

Kosher marijuana could soon be available to Orthodox Jews in New York State — but only on doctor’s orders.

Rabbi Moshe Elefant, COO of the Orthodox Union’s kosher certification agency, said he has held “preliminary discussions” with several companies interested in obtaining a kosher seal of approval for medical marijuana….

Although Orthodox rabbis appear to have accepted the medical benefits of cannabis, they remain much more cautious about recreational marijuana. Most Orthodox rabbis say it’s strictly prohibited.

Such a view marks a clear divide between Orthodox Jewry and progressive Jews who support across-the-board regulation of pot.

Cannabis has been shown to alleviate pain, anxiety, appetite loss and nausea in patients suffering from a range of diseases including HIV/AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis. In Israel, which is a world leader in medical marijuana, with more than 11,000 people licensed to receive the medicinal form of the drug, patients can already buy kosher-certified products.

Because of marijuana’s clear medical benefits, the Orthodox Union, which has rejected kosher certification requests from cigarette and e-cigarette manufacturers on health grounds, “would not have a problem certifying” medical marijuana, Elefant said.

Marijuana is a plant and therefore kosher certification is not necessary for the cannabis itself. But in New York State, where companies are vying for up to five licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana, patients will not be allowed to smoke pot, so they will have to ingest it in other ways — such as capsules, food or drinks, which will require kosher certification for Orthodox patients.


A girl is overweight, so her doctor puts her on a diet.

“I want you to eat regularly for two days, then skip a day, and repeat the procedure for two weeks.  The next time I see you, you’ll have lost at least five pounds.”

When the girl returns, she’s lost nearly 20 pounds.

“Why, that’s amazing!” the doctor says.  “Did you follow my instructions?”

The girl nods.  “I’ll tell you though, I thought I was going to drop dead that third day.”

“From hunger, you mean?” said the doctor.

“No, from skipping,” replied the girl.


tph men instructions

Quotes about Awe

He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.
Albert Einstein

For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.
Carl Sagan

Two things fill the mind with ever increasing wonder and awe. The more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. Morality is not properly the doctrine of how we may make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness.
Immanuel Kant

Nothing is more contagious than genuine love and genuine care. Nothing is more exhilarating than authentic awe and wonder. Nothing is more exciting than to witness people having the courage to fight for their highest vision.
Michael Lerner




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