Everyone Gets Equal Treatment

Torah-Inspired, Reflection of The Day…it’s back, after the High Holy Day hiatus.

Today we look at Emor, Leviticus 21:1 – 24:23 – rules about relationships, for priests, including an ostensibly offensive rule for the priesthood, quoted here:

Lev. 21:17 Speak to Aaron, saying: A man of your seed, throughout their generations, who has in him a defect is not to come-near to bring-near the food of his God.

This limits the participation of the Levites to those who are born with no defects whatsoever. A student from our synagogue who only has nine toes read this section for his Bar Mitzvah, and started out understandably outraged.

Reading on, we discovered a way, perhaps to rehabilitate the text, in a small way:

Lev. 21:22 The food-offerings of his God from the holiest holy-portions, or from the holy-portions, he may eat;

Allowing Levites who are prohibited from participating in Levitical work, namely the maintenance of the Temple and the sacrificial system, to nonetheless eat from the food that the Levites receive as their donation shows the inherent concern for fairness even in ancient Israelite society. After all, these disabled Levites were also barred from other employment in the community, just like any other Levite, and so they needed to receive sustenance from somewhere.

While physical limitations may make certain jobs unavailable, no one should be left out of the basic needs of social welfare.

Thank you to Benjamin Meyerson, the Bar Mitzvah student, who helped come up with this insight.

3 thoughts on “Everyone Gets Equal Treatment

  1. David E. Powers

    There’s one fine insight from a young person. I’m pretty sure I could not, at that age, have overcome the outrage.

    However, while it might *mitigate* the text, I do not see the text as rehabilitated. While it is rational, for example, to prohibit the blind from driving, at least at our current level of technology, it is not rational to prohibit the blind from teaching. Nevertheless, the text makes the prerational (and irrational) assumption that minor deviance from common or expected physical attributes disqualifies from full participation in the community.

    I do not believe that it is critical to try to rehabilitate a text that clearly is premodern. The Torah contains many fine insights and many serious problems. I’m comfortable that my heritage includes some morally upsetting traditions and events. I just attribute them to human fraility and ignorance. It is only if we believe that Torah is wholly, directly, and really the divine word of a perfect deity that we need to find justification for troublesome texts. If one does not believe in a supernatural text or a supernatural deity, no such urge exists.

    It is noteworthy, by the way, that nowhere in the Hebrew Bible can we find the claim that all of it is the word of a perfect God.

    1. torahbuzz

      I agree David – the better choice of words would be “mitigate”.

      Recognizing that physical “perfection” requirements to serve as a priest exhibit an emotional stance is important as well. Nonetheless, we still struggle with issues of physical “imperfections” when considering our public leaders. Appearances do count, and they count in an entirely irrational way.

      The Torah helps us raise difficult issues that still apply. The irrationality present in the text is still with us today.

      1. David E. Powers

        Lincoln today would be unelectable. Not only was he a significant deviation from handsome, but he had a high-pitched screechy voice and a strong Indiana/Illinois accent. Although his Cooper Union speech was a gem, New Yorkers ridiculed what they considered his country bumpkin accent.What a loss he would have been if never elected.

        I almost feel grief over the geniuses and leaders we do not have today because they are unqualified to be our modern day priests: homely, difficult to understand, untelegenic, unable or unlikely to reduce ideas to 140 characters. Sigh!

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