Shemini (Lev. 9:1 – 11:47), Shabbat Parah (Num. 19:1-22)

From 2016, edited a bit.

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 for use 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 (as well as in the readings for Shabbat Parah this week), so this week let’s consider kosher and unkosher animals.

There have been lots of suggestions over the millennia as to the sources 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. DouglasClean and Unclean Animals by Emil G. Hirsch et al., 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 … whose flesh is the finest and fattest, like that of pigs and scaleless fish, knowing that they produced gluttony. And we’ve all heard about pigs and trichinosis.  However, Abravanel objects that many poisonous creatures are not explicitly forbidden, and  Isaac ben Moses Arama (Akedat Yitzhak) notes 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 calls unkosher animals “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 kashrut laws of food enforced separation of Jews and non-Jews socially.
  4. Local non-Hebrew influences.Schechter et al. ( cit.) write about the similarity of unkosher animals to animals prohibited to priests in ancient Hindu, Babylonian, and Egyptian laws.  Zaehner suggests that the Jewish abomination of creeping things may have been taken over from Zoroastrianism.  However, those unclean animals were to be hunted down and destroyed, an approach not found in Leviticus.

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.  She rejects these and goes back to square one: The Biblical texts (p. 50-58).  The laws are intended to bring order to chaos and, particularly in Leviticus to 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.”  There are three basic elements: earth, the waters, and the firmament.  In Leviticus, proper (“clean”) animals are basically those that live and move about in one of these elements.  “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,


Sometimes, it’s good to ad lib.

50 Famous Movie Lines That Were Ad-Libbed (selections)

“I’m king of the world”
The most famous like from Titanic wasn’t even in the script. When Leonardo DiCaprio got on the ship for the first time, he shouted the phrase, and James Cameron liked it so much that he put it in the movie.

“Here’s looking at you, kid”
This classic line from Casablanca wasn’t in the original script. Rather, it was something Humphrey Bogart said to Ingrid Bergman when he was teaching her how to play poker offscreen, and he brought it into the film.

“Are you talking to me?”
Robert DeNiro‘s famous scene with himself in Taxi Driver was entirely improvised. The script merely said that he “speaks to himself in the mirror.”

 “And what did that produce? The cuckoo clock”
Orson Welles made up this little speech in The Third Man,which kind of makes sense. After all, you’d basically have to be Orson Welles to have the courage to mess with a script written by Graham Greene, who is widely considered one of the great writers of the 20th century.

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli”
Actor Richard Castellano‘s original line in The Godfather was simply “leave the gun.” Castellano decided to have a little fun and added on “take the cannoli,” and in doing so, he created one of the most popular lines from the film.

“I didn’t know you could read” 
Tom Felton made up this little insult in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and it stayed in the final cut, helping to paint a picture of Draco Malfoy as a little bully.


Quotes about Silence

Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph. Haile Selassie

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Elie Wiesel

Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content. Helen Keller

Much talking is the cause of danger. Silence is the means of avoiding misfortune. The talkative parrot is shut up in a cage. Other birds, without speech, fly freely about. Saskya Pandita

In human intercourse the tragedy begins, not when there is misunderstanding about words, but when silence is not understood. Henry David Thoreau


(12 of) 30 Things Only Redheads Will Understand

By Grace Noles – 26 Mar 2018

We’re here to educate everyone who may not know on the daily ups and downs of living on the “strawberry blonde” side of life.

2.Every time you meet someone new you get asked if your hair is “real?”

3.“You’re good looking for a ginger” is the easiest way to spot a douchebag.

8.Making sure you’re clothed head-to-toe whenever you step into the sunlight.

9.Being covered head-to-toe in sunburn and freckles despite #8.

10.Being asked if you’re a Weasley whenever any Harry Potter movie is mentioned.

16.People constantly say you look like Lindsay Lohan/Prince Harry/Amy Adams/literally any other redheaded celebrity.

18.Bees love you.

20.People mistaking you for other redheads they know. This is weird. I don’t mistake you for another brunette person who looks nothing like you whatsoever.

23.People keep tagging you in those “gingers are going extinct” Facebook articles.

25.You were stoked when you found out gingers have genetic super powers. (Creating our own vitamin D? Having a higher pain tolerance? Just being funnier and more popular overall? That’s us!)

26.Making eye contact with another red head in public and feeling a sense of comradery.

30.Hating your hair as a child but now that you’ve grown up and ~matured~ you can appreciate how awesome and unique your hair colour is.


Why Eating Meat Was Banned in Japan for Centuries (abridged as noted)

The reasons were both religious and practical.


ON FEBRUARY 18, 1872, A group of Japanese Buddhist monks broke into the Imperial Palace to seek an audience with the emperor. In the ensuing fight with the guards, half of them were killed. … A few weeks earlier, the emperor had eaten beef, effectively repealing a 1,200-year-old ban on consuming animals. The monks believed the new trend of eating meat was “destroying the soul of the Japanese people.”

…(T)he Japanese mostly avoided eating meat for more than 12 centuries. Beef was especially taboo…Japan’s shift away from meat began with the arrival of Buddhism from Korea in the 6th century… Buddhism teaches that humans can be reincarnated into other living beings, including animals. Meat eaters run the risk of consuming their own reincarnated ancestors: not a very palatable thought. …

In 675 A.D., Emperor Tenmu issued the first official decree banning consumption of beef, horse, dog, chicken, and monkey…from April to September.  As time went on, the practice would be … expanded into a year-round taboo against all meat eating.

But the meat ban also had secular roots. … Japan has always relied on fish and seafood as staples. Additionally, writes historian Naomishi Ishige, “protein was ingested from rice rather than from meat or milk.” …

(E)ating wild animals wasn’t completely unheard of. Plus, the Japanese aristocracy never completely gave up the practice. … Meat … was often treated as a special food with medicinal properties. … In the 18th century, the Hikone Clan sent their annual gift of beef pickled in sake to the shogun in packages labeled as medicine.

Some mammals were more forbidden than others. According to Ishige, “the Buddhist concept of the transmigration of souls and the taboo on mammal meat became linked, and the belief spread that a person who ate the flesh of a four-legged animal would after death be reincarnated as a four-legged animal.” …

Portuguese missionaries …in Japan in the early 16th century were able to spread some of their cuisine to the locals, including… beef…Dietary customs began to change faster in the late 19th century. …(M)any believed “that one reason why the Japanese had poor physiques compared to Westerners was that they did not eat meat or dairy products,” writes Ishige.

In the end, the wishes of the Emperor prevailed. …Today, the Japanese eat almost as much meat as they do seafood… (M)eat is now as much a part of Japanese cuisine as sushi.

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