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!

 

 

Does Leviticus 18 Forbid Same Sex Marriage?

You shall not lie with man as with woman. It is a toh-eh-vah. – Leviticus 18:22

We read this verse in this week’s Torah portion, Acharei Mot. It is usually quoted and interpreted out of its context. When LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage are in the news, we tend to hear it quoted often and unwisely.

The context was set in verse 3-4:

You will not do according to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you will not do according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I will bring you, nor shall you walk in their laws. You will do my doings, and you will keep my laws to walk in them. I am the Eternal your God.

Verses 6-19 then go through a long list of people whose nakedness should not be uncovered, some discussions of defiling (including land and beasts.) Something to note: the verb l’da-at, “to know,” does not appear in this chapter. Instead we get a series of other verbs, “uncover nakedness,” “lie with,” “defile.”

And yet l’da-at is the verb the Bible generally uses for loving sex. Adam “knows” Eve in Genesis 4:1. Sometimes, as with Jacob and his wives, the verb is “he went in,” vayavo elecha. But the verbs from Chapter 18 of Leviticus, the verbs “uncover nakedness”  or “lie with” are used. What do they denote, precisely? We see them elsewhere in Torah  in the descriptions of Lot’s daughters having sex with Lot, and in the rape of Dinah, to name just two examples.

The practices forbidden in chapter 18 of Leviticus may be sexual on the surface, but they are not what goes on between two consenting people. The verbs used are the verbs used elsewhere to denote rape and incest. Even in translation, they are different: “uncovered his nakedness” and “lie with.”

Chapter 18 of Leviticus is saying that it is forbidden to copy the religious practices of the Egyptians and the Canaanites. Then it gets specific, listing sexual practices that, judging from the way the verbs are used elsewhere in the text, suggest incest and/or rape.

Just because a thirteen year old might read all of these translated verbs as euphemisms for sex doesn’t mean that they are the same thing as sex between a happy couple. If the parallels to Dinah and Lot apply, those apparent euphemisms may have more to do with rape, or incest, or ignorance or foreign religious practices, or some combination of them.

And as for the word toh-eh-vah, which has often been translated as “abomination,” it’s the word Torah applies to the practices of the Egyptians and the Canaanites. (Apparently one or the other group was fond of shellfish: eating it is toh-eh-vah, too.)  The word denotes a particular type of transgression – anything else is an addition in the translation.

The moral of this story is that there is more to understanding a text than simply matching the words up with literal meanings. Also, that a poorly interpreted text can cause profound hurt. I am glad that newer editions of Plaut and other commentaries have seen fit to drop the “abomination” translation.

(P.S. – And seriously, folks, if you are going to scarf down shrimp cocktail, I don’t want to hear this nonsense about abominations in the Bible. Enough, already.)