Torah Schedule Mysteries Revealed!

Some of you have noticed that there is disagreement at the moment about which is the proper Torah reading for the week right now. The calendar from the Jewish funeral home says one thing, the weekly email from a Reform synagogue says another! Let me try and unravel this for you.

The Torah is divided into 54 parshiot [weekly readings.] The Mamre Institute website has an excellent table listing all the regular weekly Torah readings, along with their haftarah readings and the special holiday Torah readings. (Their website is also my go-to Hebrew Bible online. The translation is a bit archaic in some ways, but you can set it up so that both the Hebrew and English are visible at the same time.)

 

Every year, we read the Torah once through, beginning and ending on Simchat Torah. On leap years, like this year, we adjust the calendar by adding an additional month of Adar – four more weeks! In those years, every Torah portion gets a Shabbat all to itself.

On “regular” years, when there is only one month of Adar, some of the portions are doubled onto a single Shabbat. In those years, you get combined portions, like Veyakhel-Pekudei, Tazria-Metzora, or Acharei Mot-Kedoshim.

Add to that that sometimes a holiday falls on Shabbat, crowding the Torah portion onto another week. Again, when that happens, we normally double things up with another portion.

All of this is generally transparent to most Jews, because we just look at the calendar and it tells us what to do. “Read Parashat Behar this week!” or “Read the Torah portion for Shabbat during Passover this week!”

Yes, that’s complicated. But that’s not all. Jews have historically followed a practice in which chagim (holidays mandating no work) are observed for one day inside the Land of Israel and for two days outside the Land of Israel, in the Diaspora. The reason for this was communication technology: when holidays were set by moon observations from the Temple Mount, and word of them was communicated by signal fires, Diaspora communities had to estimate the day of the holiday and then adjust when they finally received the word. To safeguard against mistakes, they took to observing all the chagim for TWO days (for instance, the first and last days of Passover are a single day inside Israel, but are doubled in the Diaspora.)  Holidays that aren’t work-is-forbidden days (Chanukah, the middle days of Sukkot, etc.) were never doubled.

Many Reform congregations in the United States follow the Israeli calendar, because Hillel II came up with a calendar in the 4th century that made worries about communication obsolete. Reform Jews observe one day of each chag, just as Israeli Jews do. Rather, I should say some Reform Jews do – some Reform synagogues observe only one day of chagim but follow the Diaspora calendar of Torah readings.

This year (5776) (aka 2015-2016) we have a leap year, so no combined parashiot. However, in the Diaspora calendar, the second day of the end of Passover fell on Shabbat, so that had a Passover reading instead of Acharei Mot, which Israeli and some Reform Jews were reading. The two schedules will not come back together until the Diaspora calendar doubles a Torah portion on August 6, Matot-Masei. Then the discrepancy will end.

I wish I could have made this simpler for you. The real rule, as with so many other things, is to follow the minhag [custom] of your community. If your rabbi is following a particular schedule of Torah readings, that’s the right one for your synagogue.

In my weekly listings, I’m following the Diaspora schedule of readings, even though I’m a Reform rabbi who doesn’t celebrate double chagim. Or, if you prefer, because I decided to do it that way!

SIMPLE SUMMARY: The schedule for reading Torah portions is the subject of disagreement at the moment. Consult your rabbi for what to read this week. Whatever’s going on, it will resolve itself after August 6, 2016. Welcome to Judaism!

 

Shabbat Shalom! – Behar

Parashat Behar* is the next-to-last reading in the Book of Leviticus. It deals with the law of the Sabbatical Year (shmittah) and the Jubilee Year (yuval) among other topics. It’s one of the portions that on first blush makes for rather dry reading, but when you start digging into it, complexities emerge and things get very interesting.

Some of the divrei Torah from online darshanim this week:

Land, Labor, Liberty by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

To Treat With Respect is the Essence of Holiness by Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Seasons in the Sun by Rabbi Ari Kahn

Trekking to Holiness by Hanna Perlberger

Real Estate – Do Market Forces Rule? by Rabbi Melanie Aron

Conditional Covenant by Rabbi Ron Kronish

Turning to the Land by Rabbi Seth Goldstein

*This year there are differences of opinion about the calendar this year (5776.) If your congregation is following a different schedule, know that we’ll all be back together again before too long. 

 

Shabbat Shalom! – Emor

Like most of the Torah portions in Leviticus Parashat Emor (Leviticus 21:1 – 24:3) is packed with information and mitzvot.

The first aliyah has to do with laws for the priests, and commandments that would come to shape Jewish tradition about the care for the dead.

The second aliyah includes a passage forbidding priests with deformities to serve in the Temple sacrifices. That passage has caused a lot of trouble for people with disabilities. I address that trouble – and a more accurate reading of the passage – in my d’var Torah below.

Most of the rest of the Torah portion teaches us about the yearly cycle of holidays, when and how to celebrate them. Then the maftir – the final section – reminds us that there is one law for all – Jew and visitor alike. Finally a man who had cursed the camp was stoned to death. It’s an unusually grim end to a Torah portion.

There is much to ponder in Parashat Emor. Thank goodness many darshanim post divrei Torah online to help us understand it!

Is Time Ours or is it God’s? by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein

The Imperfection of Perfection by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

The Virtue of Worry by Rabbi David Kasher (ParshaNut)

Lighten Up! by Hannah Perlberger (Positive Parshah)

Leading Off! by Rabbi Harry Rothenburg (VIDEO) A baseball d’var Torah!

An Eye for an Eye by Rabbi Jeremy Simons

Ableism in the Torah? Say It Ain’t So! by Rabbi Ruth Adar

 

 

Shabbat Shalom! Acharei Mot

Acharei Mot, “After the death,” is the name of this week’s Torah portion. It picks up just following the death of Aaron’s two eldest sons in a terrible burst of fire from the Tabernacle. We read this portion in the late spring, as we are doing now. Many congregations also read it on Yom Kippur as well. It covers a wide range of topics, so there’s plenty for our darshanim to cover:

In Defense of Cultural Judaism by Rabbi David Kasher

Bringing the Entire Community Together by Rabbi Michael Safra

The Mothers of the Priests by Rabbi Lev Meirowitz Nelson

Acharei Mot by Rabbi Amitai Adler

Parenting by the Parsha: Acharei Mot by Rabbi Eve Posen (VIDEO)

The Land of Israel: Holy or Not? by Rabbi Neal Gold

On Loving Our Neighbors by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Pesach and the Calendar

Some of you may have noticed that this week there is a discrepancy between the calendar for Jews in the Diaspora, and the calendar for Israel and for Reform Jews in Diaspora (who follow the Israel calendar.)  For an explanation of why there’s a difference, check out this article by Ben Dreyfus.

If you are wondering what YOU should read, the easy answer is “ask your rabbi.” The senior rabbi of your congregation is the “Marah d’atrah,” the final word on the schedule and practice in your shul. If you don’t have a rabbi, well, get one!

So this week’s drashot are all over the map. Some are for the eighth day of Pesach, and some look ahead past Pesach to Acharei Mot. All are Torah, though, so it’s all good!

Crossing the Reed Sea by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

On Loving Our Neighbors by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

You Are What You Wear by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein

Whatever you learn this week, I wish you a Shabbat shalom!

 

 

Shabbat Shalom! Metzora

This week’s Torah portion is called Metzora, meaning “one who has tzara’at.” Tzara’at is described in the portion as a disease, and it usually translated “leprosy,” although there is near-universal agreement that it is NOT Hansen’s Disease, which is what moderns usually mean by “leprosy.”

Tzara’at (tzah-RAH-aht) is something that affects human skin, houses, or fabric. It is diagnosed by the kohen, the priest, and treatment involves sacrifices and procedure that are oddly similar to those required for ordaining priests in Leviticus 8-10.

The parashah concludes with a discussion of bodily discharges and the problems of ritual purity that result.

What does all of this mean? I’ll leave that up to the writers of this week’s divrei Torah:

Plagues, cleansing, and Pesach House-cleaning by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

A Plague on Your House by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

An Object Lesson in Convalescence by Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Attitude Shows What is Happening Inside by Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses

Doing the next right thing, with humble and positive attitude by Rabbi Mark Borovitz (VIDEO)

Shabbat Hagadol by Rabbi Amitai Adler

Metzora by Chazan Jaclyn Chernett

Shabbat Shalom! Tazria

Parashat Tazria, Leviticus 12 and 13, is sometimes billed as one of the “worst” parshiot for bar and bat mitzvah students. Certainly it covers some very earthy territory: women’s ritual purity and skin eruptions, and many people are “grossed out” when first they read it.

As with everything in Torah, there are important lessons here. The first lesson for modern Jews is that Torah is not limited to “lofty” matters. We do not make a dichotomy between “things of the body” and “things of the spirit” that some religions do.

More profoundly, the body is holy. It is the handiwork of God and as such has the dignity of holiness. It may do things that are messy or smell bad or are embarrassing, but they are not beyond the province of Torah.

I remember the first time I read Leviticus 12. I was a pre-teen, very conscious of my own body, and I read it as saying some very negative things about women and women’s bodies. Why would a mother be “impure” for longer after having a baby girl, than after giving birth to a baby boy, if girls were not somehow “dirtier” than boys?

As an adult woman, I continued to glower when I read Leviticus 12. How dare they?! How could such words be Torah?

As a rabbinical student, I learned that “clean” and “unclean” are very poor translations for the Hebrew terms tahor and tamei. Ritual purity is a fleeting state for fitness to enter the holy of holies – it isn’t something that anyone can maintain constantly in daily life. Moreover it is a completely unattainable state ever since the year 70, since we have no Temple and no mechanism for complete ritual purity. Most of all, taharah and tumah  don’t have anything to do with “dirt” or “germs.” (For more about this, see Rabbi Barenblat’s d’var Torah below.)

Then in 2008 I read an article by Beth Alpert Nakhai in the Women’s Torah Commentary  (p. 650) about the mothers in Leviticus 12. She pointed out that the longer period of ritual impurity for the mother of a girl meant that baby girls got additional time secluded with their mothers, who were freed from the burdens of daily life for that time. In a world where baby girls were less valued than boys, that time was golden, extra insurance that the girls would get enough to eat and grow strong before mom had to go back to her chores.

That lesson completely transformed Parashat Tazria for me.

Here are some online divrei Torah.  I hope somewhere in there is something transformative for you!

What Do You See? by Student Rabbi Robyn Ashworth-Steen

One Flesh by Rabbi David Kasher

Rx For the Human Spirit by Rabbi Ruth Adar

Tricky Torah: Taharah and Tumah by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

The Woman’s Seed by Rabbi Sylvia Rothchild

R. Shimon’s Thinking is Alive and Well by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Think Before You Tweet! by Rabbi David Ross Senter (VIDEO)