Tag Archives: Guria

Shabbat Tazria Metzora: Tzaraat and Sex Trafficking

The double parashah of Tazria-Metzorah this Shabbat draws us into the strange realm of negaim, blemishes of the body, clothing and even homes that signal impurity and require urgent attention. This topic was considered to be one of the most complicated areas of Jewish law in antiquity, and it remains challenging for us today. We often associate this material with contemporary issues of illness and healing. It teaches the responsibility of religious leaders to visit the afflicted and assist them on their journey back to health. (If you are interested, listen to my podcast about Ketubot 77, which features the heroic Rabbi Yehoshua b. Levi’s care for those afflicted by the dread disease “ra’atan.”)

In the parashah there is an arresting image at 14:33-38 in which a homeowner reports that something “like negaim” has appeared in his house. The Mishnah (Negaim 12:5) derives that even if the homeowner is a great sage, he should not condemn his own house as afflicted, but rather should report that the mark “looks like” a nega—so that the relevant authority, the priest, can determine the diagnosis. Moreover, the Mishnah notices that the Torah instructs that the house should be emptied before the priest’s visit. Why? According to this Mishnah, the Torah was “concerned” (hasah) about the financial loss that would result from the priest declaring the entire contents of the house to be impure. 

In an unusual homiletical flourish, the Mishnah concludes that if the Torah was concerned with even inexpensive items, all the more so with expensive items. And if the Torah sought to minimize the designation of property as impure, how much  more so with the people in the home—that they should be spared the diagnosis of impurity. And if the Torah was concerned with any householder—even a wicked one—then all the more so with the righteous. Thus the sages of the Mishnah teach that the Torah wants its representatives to administer ritual matters with compassion and leniency. This beautiful teaching never ceases to be relevant. Continue reading

Hayei Sarah 5774: Who Decides for the Girl?

A strange man comes to town, bearing heavy gold jewels, looking to “acquire” a wife for his master’s son. He sees a pretty young woman, finds the responsible man, and they set terms, agreeing that the girl will be sent off with this stranger to a foreign land. That is one way to tell the story of Abraham’s servant and his quest to find a wife for Isaac. I have left out the context deliberately in order to highlight the inherent drama and even terror of this incident.

Guria girlHarold Bloom taught many years ago that we cannot read familiar texts like the Bible and even Shakespeare with fresh eyes, because we already “know” them before we have read them. We know that this transaction is benign and all within a family; and that it is indeed divinely ordained that Rebecca will become a matriarch, literally, the mother of Israel. We also know that Rebecca is no weakling—she controls her own destiny from the moment the stranger enters town, and she will exert control over all of the men of her family—Laban, Isaac, Esau and Jacob—even when ceding to them formal power.  Continue reading