Thursday, June 21, 2007

Welcome back, Chavi.

Ian has started school, and that gives me two nights out of the week to devote to Torah. Because of my sad dedication to Fox's "Hell's Kitchen," that knocks Monday night out. So Wednesday is now Torah Thyme (his slogan, not mine!). In the past three months I've neglected to read 3 or 4 of the parshah, which has given me this gigantic guilt complex. I loathe going to shul on Friday and not being previously knowledgeable on the topic at hand. I prefer to be prepared!

This week's Torah portion is Chukkat (חקת), and includes the dreaded moment when G-d tells Moses and Aaron that they won't enter the land, following the water/rock fiasco. I found a couple of interesting points and commentaries in Etz Chayim this week, including what could be construed as an allusion or validation of Christ in Christianity. But first, I have to mention an article I read in "Reform Judaism," the URJ's publication, regarding kashrut and an interesting take on the text.

In the summer issue, in "The Civilized Diet" -- a conversation with Rabbi Simeon Maslin -- the origins of kashrut are discussed and the text is addressed in a most interesting way. According to Rabbi Maslin, the instances of the law to "not boil a kid in its mother's milk" appear in relation to pagan sacrificial rituals, suggesting that such acts were forbidden to Israel so as to avoid practicing pagan rituals. He points out that the three times it appears in Torah, not once does it appear within the exhaustive list of dietary laws in Leviticus 11. The article is mostly dedicated to the idea of eco-Kosher, or "keeping with the spirit and intent of Torah." Eating, as it were, is an act that should receive much more attention than it does (i.e. appreciate and understand what you are eating prior to consuming it, appreciate the animal that died and where it derived). But his point about the appearance of this key component of kashrut is particularly interesting. He says he appreciates that many avoid mixing milk and meat as a respect for thousands of years of history or the idea of avoiding the food of persecution (pork, for example, because it was an identifier of Jews during the Inquisition), but for him the milk/meat "law has nothing to do with the prohibition against eating." There are a few thoughts here. In fact, Maimonides also suggested that in biblical times there were pagan cult rituals which involved the cooking of a kid in its mother's milk (Guide of the Perplexed, III-48).

On to Chukkat! I have just a few things I'd like to mention and a few questions I'd like to pose.

+ There are plenty, PLENTY of citations of ways to become unclean in the Torah. One, cited in this parshah, is dealing with corpses. Torah cites that one is unclean for seven days upon touch a corpse, but what I wonder is whether ... and perhaps this is a stupid question ... the number of days one remains unclean varies by the number of corpses one touches ...?

+ In Num 20:1-13 is the explanation of using the ashes of a brown (red) cow to atone for sins. The comments listed in Etz Chayim says something interesting: "Just as the ashes of the brown cow atone for sin, the death of a righteous person does the same (BT MK 28a)." The first thing I thought of when I read that was the concept of Christ and the basis for Christianity. I think it's interesting that the Talmud says such a thing about the death of a righteous person being akin to atoning for sin ... am I crazy here? Or could this be a valid citation for a Christian theologian to say "See! See! The Talmud says so!!! Jews for Jesus!"

+ I had another query, but then I Googled it and "Judaism 101" ( had the answer! I think it's quite interesting, and I hadn't a clue. Num. 20:29 has a notation that although the mourning period of losing a parent is 12 months, Kaddish is only recited for 11 months. I thought this was a *little* strange, but alas! Here's the explanation from the Web site:
According to Jewish tradition, the soul must spend some time purifying itself before it can enter the World to Come. The maximum time required for purification is 12 months, for the most evil person. To recite Kaddish for 12 months would imply that the parent was the type who needed 12 months of purification! To avoid this implication, the Sages decreed that a son should recite Kaddish for only eleven months.
Brilliant! Thanks Judaism 101!

+ I have to make a note about this appearance of "Oi!" in this parshah. I don't know if I've missed it before, but this is the first time I've seen it in Torah. In Num. 21:29, there's sort of a "woe unto you" spiel that says: "Woe unto you, O Moab!" and in Hebrew is אוי לך מואב! or "Oi-l'cha Moab!" Beautiful, nu?

And that's it for this week. I'm trying to get better about my studies, so here's to hoping for more regular posting, more Torah thought, and more Judaism, darn't! On that note, Ian and I are officially becoming members of Temple Sholom here in Chicago. It's the first time in my life I've paid "dues" to be a part of a religious organization (in Lincoln my monthly bulletin duties and the fact that I was a poor student got me by for temple dues). In the coming months, hopefully I'll be able to plan on participating in many of the synagogue's committees, activities, and perhaps what I'm most excited about -- Adult Education courses! Hoorah!

Here's to the weekend, and a relaxing Shabbos to my friends and readers!