B’Haalot’cha Numeri 8:1 – 12:16 בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ

English: Moses Prays for Miriam To Be Healed, ...

Caught in the limitations of the mid-ages! It seemed hard for Hesdin of Amiens, the creator of this depiction, to imagine a scene where the characters are Middle Eastern and Sudanese.  Instead they all look like mid-age Europeans.  “Moses Prays for Miriam To Be Healed, circa 1450-1455 by from a Biblia pauperum, at the Museum Meermanno Westreenianum, The Hague. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)”

Complaints and Moses the Man:  I’d rather go home!  At the beginning Moses’ father Law Reuel the (Sudan) is saying he is not coming along Moses and the Israelites, but rather returns to his country (Artzi) and birth-land (Moladeti).  This is possibly the first warning of things not being so great.  Moses asks him to come along to share the riches of the promised land, but we lack Reuel’s response.

After after a long walk through the desert (three days) the people complain.  A fire breaks out “ravaging at the outskirts of the camp” and the reason for that is assigned to be a punishment of God for rebelling and the place named Taberah.

Perhaps the people do not accept the explanation that the fire was cause by God, we do not know, but we read, that the complaints or whining continues.  The dietary riches of the Egyptian days are recalled with the words:  “If only we had meat!  We remember the fish that we used to eat freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, melons, leeks onions and the garlic.”

What follows is a moment of resignation of Moses. We get an admission of his inability to cope at this moment to lead the people through the desert:  11:11-15:

11. Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill your servant? Why have I not enjoyed your favour you placed the burden of all these  people upon me? יא. וַיֹּאמֶר משֶׁה אֶל יְהֹוָה לָמָה הֲרֵעֹתָ לְעַבְדֶּךָ וְלָמָּה לֹא מָצָתִי חסר א’ חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ לָשׂוּם אֶת מַשָּׂא כָּל הָעָם הַזֶּה עָלָי:
12. Did I produce all these people? Did I give birth to them, that you would say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a caretaker carries an infant,’ to the land you promised their forefathers? יב. הֶאָנֹכִי הָרִיתִי אֵת כָּל הָעָם הַזֶּה אִם אָנֹכִי יְלִדְתִּיהוּ כִּי תֹאמַר אֵלַי שָׂאֵהוּ בְחֵיקֶךָ כַּאֲשֶׁר יִשָּׂא הָאֹמֵן אֶת הַיֹּנֵק עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתָּ לַאֲבֹתָיו:
13. Where can I get meat to give to all these people? For they are whining at me, saying, ‘Give us meat to eat.’ יג. מֵאַיִן לִי בָּשָׂר לָתֵת לְכָל הָעָם הַזֶּה כִּי יִבְכּוּ עָלַי לֵאמֹר תְּנָה לָּנוּ בָשָׂר וְנֹאכֵלָה:
14. Alone I cannot carry this entire people for it is too hard for me. יד. לֹא אוּכַל אָנֹכִי לְבַדִּי לָשֵׂאת אֶת כָּל הָעָם הַזֶּה כִּי כָבֵד מִמֶּנִּי:
15. If this is the way you treat me,  kill me rather, I beg you, so that I do not see any more of this wretchedness.” טו. וְאִם כָּכָה | אַתְּ עֹשֶׂה לִּי הָרְגֵנִי נָא הָרֹג אִם מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ וְאַל אֶרְאֶה בְּרָעָתִי:

Following instructions to gather the elders and a promise of  meat, migrating birds arrive in great numbers (a natural occurrence rather than a metaphysical occurrence) and the Israelites “are fed.”  Presumably some of the animals were ill, carried salmonella or any other type of disease, and given the apparent hunger, it is possible that there was not enough care taken in preparing them. .  We read God put a plague upon the Israelites (a punishment for doubting the lord) as some died “with the meat still between their teeth.”

Moses, confronted about his Cushite wife

Moses, confronted about his Cushite wife (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Against prejudice on grounds of skin colour:  In the end Aaron and Miriam, Moses brother and sister, rebel “because of Moses’s wife being a Cushite (Ibn Ezra says it was Ziporah, others talk of a second wife, in any case Ziporah or the other woman were likely of North East African background (Sudan / Eritrea)”:

1. Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses regarding the Cushite woman he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. א. וַתְּדַבֵּר מִרְיָם וְאַהֲרֹן בְּמשֶׁה עַל אֹדוֹת הָאִשָּׁה הַכֻּשִׁית אֲשֶׁר לָקָח כִּי אִשָּׁה כֻשִׁית לָקָח:
2 They said, “Has the Lord spoken only to Moses? Hasn’t He spoken to us too?” And the Lord heard. ב. וַיֹּאמְרוּ הֲרַק אַךְ בְּמשֶׁה דִּבֶּר יְהֹוָה הֲלֹא גַּם בָּנוּ דִבֵּר וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהֹוָה:
3. Now this man Moses was exceedingly humble, more so than any person on the face of the earth. ג. וְהָאִישׁ משֶׁה עָנָיו מְאֹד מִכֹּל הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה:
4. The Lord suddenly said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Go out, all three of you, to the Tent of Meeting!” And all three went out. ד. וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה פִּתְאֹם אֶל משֶׁה וְאֶל אַהֲרֹן וְאֶל מִרְיָם צְאוּ שְׁלָשְׁתְּכֶם אֶל אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וַיֵּצְאוּ שְׁלָשְׁתָּם:
5. The Lord descended in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the Tent. He called to Aaron and Miriam, and they both went out. ה. וַיֵּרֶד יְהֹוָה בְּעַמּוּד עָנָן וַיַּעֲמֹד פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל וַיִּקְרָא אַהֲרֹן וּמִרְיָם וַיֵּצְאוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם:
6. He said, “Listen to my words. If there be prophets among you, [I] the Lord will make myself known to them in a vision; I will speak to them in a dream. ו. וַיֹּאמֶר שִׁמְעוּ נָא דְבָרָי אִם יִהְיֶה נְבִיאֲכֶם יְהֹוָה בַּמַּרְאָה אֵלָיו אֶתְוַדָּע בַּחֲלוֹם אֲדַבֶּר בּוֹ:
7. Not so is my servant Moses; he is trusted throughout my household. ז. לֹא כֵן עַבְדִּי משֶׁה בְּכָל בֵּיתִי נֶאֱמָן הוּא:
8. With him I speak mouth to mouth; in a vision and not in riddles, and he beholds the image of the Lord. So why were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses ? ח. פֶּה אֶל פֶּה אֲדַבֶּר בּוֹ וּמַרְאֶה וְלֹא בְחִידֹת וּתְמֻנַת יְהֹוָה יַבִּיט וּמַדּוּעַ לֹא יְרֵאתֶם לְדַבֵּר בְּעַבְדִּי בְמשֶׁה:
9. Still incensed with them of the Lord flared against them and He left. ט. וַיִּחַר אַף יְהֹוָה בָּם וַיֵּלַךְ:
10. The cloud departed from above the Tent, and behold, Miriam was stricken with tzara’ath (scales as white] as snow. Then Aaron turned to Miriam and behold, she was stricken with tzara’ath. י. וְהֶעָנָן סָר מֵעַל הָאֹהֶל וְהִנֵּה מִרְיָם מְצֹרַעַת כַּשָּׁלֶג וַיִּפֶן אַהֲרֹן אֶל מִרְיָם וְהִנֵּה מְצֹרָעַת:
11. Aaron said to Moses, “O my lord do not put sin upon us for acting foolishly in your folly. יא. וַיֹּאמֶר אַהֲרֹן אֶל משֶׁה בִּי אֲדֹנִי אַל נָא תָשֵׁת עָלֵינוּ חַטָּאת אֲשֶׁר נוֹאַלְנוּ וַאֲשֶׁר חָטָאנוּ:
12. Let her not be as a stillbirth, which comes out of his mother’s womb with half his flesh eaten away!” יב. אַל נָא תְהִי כַּמֵּת אֲשֶׁר בְּצֵאתוֹ מֵרֶחֶם אִמּוֹ וַיֵּאָכֵל חֲצִי בְשָׂרוֹ:
13. Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “I beseech you, God, please heal her.” יג. וַיִּצְעַק משֶׁה אֶל יְהֹוָה לֵאמֹר אֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ:
14. The Lord replied to Moses, “If her father were to spit in her face, would she not bear the same for seven days? She shall be confined for seven days outside the camp, and afterwards she may enter. יד. וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֶל משֶׁה וְאָבִיהָ יָרֹק יָרַק בְּפָנֶיהָ הֲלֹא תִכָּלֵם שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תִּסָּגֵר שִׁבְעַת יָמִים מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה וְאַחַר תֵּאָסֵף:
15. So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not travel until Miriam had entered. טו. וַתִּסָּגֵר מִרְיָם מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים וְהָעָם לֹא נָסַע עַד הֵאָסֵף מִרְיָם:
Mapa de Kush al 400 a.C.

Map of estimated Kush region c.a. 400 a.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These are powerful word that both deal with prejudice, and for speaking out against the leader Moses in jealousy.  The punishment of being prejudiced against the darker skinned woman Moses married, is a skin disease with white flakes.  Interesting the prescribed cure is separation from the camp, which we read about in Exodus as one of the ways of dealing with that, possibly also not to spread the disease.  After seven days the disease is cured.  The story wants us to believe it was because of Moses prayers.

Metaphysical references:  There is continued appearance of the God’s presence inside the cloud.  I have dealt at length already with the fire and smoke cult that is central to the claim that God rises in the cloud, yet we know that the cloud is most often create by the burning of substances through the priests and Moses himself.  Thus as master of smoke Moses is in charge of when the people move (no cloud) and when they remain encamped.

Use of Trumpets.  Interesting in context of Yom Kippur.  We read that long blows meant that the military force ought to gather, and that short bursts meant to get active.

Haftarah (Zehariah 2:14 -4:7): This is basically a long winded text praising the menorah, but it contains the much used sentence:

Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit (ruahi)!”

Zechariah 4:6

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Naso נָשׂא Numbers 4:21-7:89,Judges 13. 2-25 שֹׁפְטִים and Shavuot

The priests good life. 

 

 

In previous chapters where the sacrifice procedures are  describes it is evident that the priests are benefiting from their service.  Some of the servings are explicitly to be eaten by them fully or in part, others burned.  It ensures that priests will always have to eat.  Now we read that compensation that can not be given to the party afflicted because he or she may be dead and there are no relatives ought be given to the priests and that these possessions are to be considered theirs (the priests);

 

 

 

Tell the children of Israel: When a man or woman commits any of the sins against man to act treacherously against God, and that person is  guilty, ו. דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אִישׁ אוֹ אִשָּׁה כִּי יַעֲשׂוּ מִכָּל חַטֹּאת הָאָדָם לִמְעֹל מַעַל בַּיהוָֹה וְאָשְׁמָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא:
7. they shall confess the sin they committed, and make restitution for the principal amount of his guilt, add its fifth to it, and give it to the one against whom he was guilty. ז. וְהִתְוַדּוּ אֶת חַטָּאתָם אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ וְהֵשִׁיב אֶת אֲשָׁמוֹ בְּרֹאשׁוֹ וַחֲמִישִׁתוֹ יֹסֵף עָלָיו וְנָתַן לַאֲשֶׁר אָשַׁם לוֹ:
8. But if the man has no kinsman to whom to make restitution, the debt which is restored to the Lord, [is to be given] to the kohen. [This is] besides the atonement ram through which expiation is made for him. ח. וְאִם אֵין לָאִישׁ גֹּאֵל לְהָשִׁיב הָאָשָׁם אֵלָיו הָאָשָׁם הַמּוּשָׁב לַיהוָֹה לַכֹּהֵן מִלְּבַד אֵיל הַכִּפֻּרִים אֲשֶׁר יְכַפֶּר בּוֹ עָלָיו:
9. Every offering of all the children of Israel’s holy things which is brought to the kohen, shall be his. ט. וְכָל תְּרוּמָה לְכָל קָדְשֵׁי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר יַקְרִיבוּ לַכֹּהֵן לוֹ יִהְיֶה:
10. Everyone’s holy things shall belong to him; whatever a man gives to the kohen shall be his.

 

Also much of chapter 6 and 7 talks about the many offerings handed over to the priests including gold and silver.

 

 

 

Ch 5 11-31

 

 

 

Hocus-pocus in the tabernacle for jealous men

 

 

 

This is a rather odd passage.  A man is jealous or suspects a wife to have an affair but has no witnesses.  If so he is to make an offering and bring it together with his wife to the priests. They will perform an oracular ceremony where bitter water will either give her pain (then she is guilty) or absolve her of her sin. Clearly it is the man who has the problem of suspecting something or being insecure, and yet it is the woman who is subjected to a procedure.  There is no counselling and reflective practice helping the couple  to deal with their problem, nor is there a procedure interrogating the man.  In a world where the tabernacle and God are the centre of life, it is the priest who has the magic power to judge.

 

 

 

6.1-27 describes a form of abstinence and spiritual withdrawal tied in with sacrifices towards the end of the period.

 

 

 

The Haftarah I rather like, it contains this passage:

 

 

 

“And the woman came and said to her husband, saying, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of an angel of God, very awesome; and I did not ask him from where he was and his name he did not tell me.”

 

The story starts telling us the woman is barren.  She sees an angel and gets pregnant.  Perhaps it was after all the man who was infertile, but the patriarchal world did not have the language for that, it was the woman’s fault if no child came in a relationship.

The story is the ultimate way out for women in superstitious families to have an affair with a man who looks like an angel.  It goes on how the husband Manoah confronts the angel and asks his name.  He then offers him food and the angel declines and takes the food as an offering and disappears in the flames.  The boy that is born thereafter is Samson.

 

 

 

Interesting are the regulations towards the pregnant woman, not much different from advise to women today though it is wrapped up as if it is only a law for people performing the withdrawal.  In a nutshell don’t drink alcohol and don’t eat dirty or soiled food.

 

 

 

“From all that comes out of the grapevine she shall not eat, and wine or strong drink she may not drink, and any unclean (thing) she may not eat; all that I commanded her, shall she observe.”

 

Bikkurim offerings on Shavuot holiday in Nahalal

Bikkurim offerings on Shavuot holiday in Nahalal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Non religious reasons behind shavuot.

 

 

 

Shavuot has a backgrounds relating to the harvesting cycles, tied in in a religious wrapping.  The grain harvest lasted about seven weeks. The first crops were harvesting of barley during the Pesach time and ended with the yielding of wheat during the Shavuot season.  Shavuot symbolizes the end of season festival (and of grain harvesting), and relates in this sense to Shavuot and Sukkot.

 

 

 

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The Bride and the Maniac: Hosea 2:1-22 B’Midbar בְּמִדְבַּר – Numeri 1:1 – 4:20

The Prophet Hosea, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, i...

The Prophet Hosea, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, in the Siena Cathedral (c. 1309-1311) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

It is refreshing that after all the laws and prescriptions the first chapters of B’Midbar bring us back to more mundane matters, namely the counting of the men of fighting age.  Very interesting is the interpretation of the word elef, which means in contemporary Hebrew 1000.  However it is said that in ancient Hebrew it may have meant something like units or contingents.   Why is this significant?  Because it reduces an unimaginable number of people in the Wilderness, 2 million with 10s of thousand fighting men.  However using units we arrive at less than 6000 men which is much more in accordance to what is known of this time and age (The Torah, A Modern Commentary p. 912).

 

Haftarah: Hosea 2:1-22

 

This is the love story between God and his bride the Israelites.  The Israelites betray God.  God deprives his bride of all he gave her, and lets her stand naked and without possessions.  Now she comes to her senses and comes back to him.  I find it curious how the convincing argument is one of deprivation and punishment.  It is the negative that is to lead to God rather than a positive. It is not that nobody is as kind,  enriching and good as he, but he is “putting thorns in her way,” starves her, takes away her clothing, show her children no love,  so she says “I was better off than now.”  The man is omnipotent and the bride has no right.  Why would she have an affair in the first place one wonders, is it because he acts like a complete maniac, according to the imagination of this prophet.  He is God, no it must be rather Hosea’s rather abusive way of thinking about male / female relations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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B’Har Lev. 25:1-26:2 and Bechukotai Lev.26:3-27:34

These sections include laws on redeeming land and property, as well as prescribing that each 7th and each 50th year be a rest year for the fields.  We read that Jewish people are allowed to purchase slaves and own them, but elsewhere they are given limited rights, such as the Sabbath  Whilst in B’chukotai there are 5 paragraphs that tell the Israelites about promised strength and protection, there are over six times as many promises on how God will destroy and punish the Israelites if they do not follow Gods rule.  These passages are part of the reason why some orthodox people claimed that pogroms and the shoa are part of Gods divine punishment of not following the Law.

Once again whilst there is a small reward indicated at the beginning the overemphasis of punishment is curious, to say the least.  It is still the cult of fear instilled since the exodus began, rather than a cult of sweets.

The Haftarah of Jeremiah 16:19-17:14 corresponds to this.

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Emor, Lev. 21:1-24:23

The passage includes a few paragraphs that once again seem rather a reflection of an ancient not too cosy world.  Once again one has to take a distance from these texts, for any literal take would put Jewish customs quite next to the rule of the Taliban, that are so bedevilled in contemporary days.   The penalty for blasphemy is curious, especially because it is followed straight after by the penalty for murder.  One can not help but concluding that for the people who thought out this law the proclamation of the death of the Israelite God was equivalent to the murder of a person.

  • Death by Fire:  the daughter of a priest who has been engaged in illicit sexual activity (literally a graded down woman) is to be put to death by fire.
  • A priest may not wash or handle the corpse of his wife.
  • Dirty Divorcees and widows: A priest may only marry a virgin. Widows, and divorcees are counted next to women who conducted illicit sex (graded down) as not suitable.
  • Disabled people are not good enough to be priests:  Priests with visual impairment, mobility disablements (blind, lame or limping), people with discrepancies in leg length, scoliosis, or little people, people with growths in their eye or a boil scar, even people with a broken leg or arms, scurvy or broken testicles may not make food offerings to God, neither may animals with these conditions be offered as a sacrifice.
  • Those who give death to God by denying his existence are to suffer the same faith as those who murder.  In the case of  blasphemy the death is specified:  death by stoning, by especially all who head the blasphemous remarks.
  • If one kills an animal a restitution shall be given, life for life
  • For injuries return fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth

There are a few less controversial laws and obligations in the code here:

  • No animal from a herd shall be slaughtered on the same day as its young.
  • Request once again to work for six days and keep the Sabbath
  • Request to keep passover as a festival of unleavened bread, counting the omer and lag b’omer, Yom Kippur, Sukkot
  • The same Laws apply for Israelites as for non-Israelites (strangers)
  • Obligation to leave edges of harvest for the poor

As said at the beginning it is important to consider that most Jewish people have not chosen to live strictly by the penal code given here, especially in its application of the death penalties. However excommunication was quite possibly the most common form of penalty, in line with the law “he shall be cut off.”  

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Kdoshim (Leviticus 19 and 20) Death for adulterers?

The good news is, one should be kind to strangers, pay one’s workers before the next morning starts, one should not take down all the crops and leave the left overs for the poor. One  should not lie, and not favour the poor over the rich or the rich over the poor but make balanced judgement. One  should not lie, or treat people unfairly, nor should one cause bad rumours, especially to “your people (amcha).”  Neither must not curse one’s parents.

One must not tattoo oneself or inscribe the names of loved ones onto one’s skin.  Nor should one talk to ghosts or make human sacrifices to Moloch, the Amorite people, who supposedly held such customs.

If a man has sexual relations with a slave, he must compensate for his action, though the scripture remains silent on what is to happen with the woman.

The bad news is, here is a code that is so brutal in its prescribed punishment, that it can hardly count for a text of higher authority or morality for any contemporary reader.

Adulterers to be put to death!

A man who commits adultery with another man’s wife is  guilty of the death penalty, as is the woman.  The same is to happen with various sexual offences within the family, including with in-laws and those who have sexual relations with animals (men or women).

A man shall be cut off from his people if he sleeps with a woman during her seeing her period.

A man having sexual relations with another like with a woman, we read, ought to be also penalized with the death penalty.

These days we rarely read about the Jewish faith as a narrowly defined and fundamentalist religion.  Most Jewish people live their lives without taking these laws too serious, just as most Muslims do the same with the Quran.  Just a minority takes the scripture literally.

Still the possibility for strict interpretation does exist  within this text.  I read that throughout the ages Jewish religious authorities sought reason not to carry out these laws.  This included to state that the punishments are meant to be implemented by God alone, or that no valid Jewish court could be held in the diaspora.

But, were people killed for these offenses 2000-3000 years ago and even thereafter?  We know that there are places where homosexuals are mistreated and  killed because of these passages today, strangely one section taken out of context even though the same code exists for the far more common incidence of adultery.

Even though there are some of the sexual relations described within the code, we would regard today also as inappropriate – especially those inside the family – as I wrote in the previous passage, abuse through imbalanced power relations is still the most concerning issue.   Modern law has a far better defined and worked out code on this, and with far greater sense of balance, sense of justice and understanding of human sexuality and society.  The Tanach can not be taken as a work of definite order, at best as a resource what people thought many years ago in one specific location.

Whilst the bits on leaving crops for the poor are signs of quite good progressive thought, the sexual code especially in its suggested penalties and in the prohibition of homosexuality is highly troublesome.

It is to be celebrated that today Tel Aviv is the Middle East most gay friendly and LGBT tolerant city.  We also know today, that homosexuality has no negative bearing on society whatsoever, the call  for the death penalty in Leviticus being as outdated and brutal as the human sacrifices made once to the Moloch in biblical times.  The Laws should not be enforced onto contemporary society, but be a reflection of an age that was still limited in parts of its code and deliberations, perhaps due to its patriarchal structure

Uncovering “homosexuality” in the Bible: Deuteronomy and 1 Kings reference to male shrine prostitution in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 (moanti.wordpress.com)

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Homosexuality: Acharei Mot Leviticus 16:1-18:30 אַחֲרֵי מוֹת

English: Sending Out the Scapegoat, by William...

English: Sending Out the Scapegoat, by William James Webb (1830—1904) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Within The Jewhu Blog considerations are made to the usefulness of the Torah texts in their applicability to contemporary society, examining many claims to metaphysical intervention to more sober examination of how passages may be explained from an anthropological, sociological and medical perspective, taking the existence of a God outside the equation.
In Parashat Acharei Mot we have one of the most contagious passages of biblical texts of current times or be it one that was played up to be so by repressive and homophobic faith groups: Leviticus 18:22

“We aet sahar lo tishkav mishekavei isha toeva hu.”
Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman it is an abhorrence

The passage appears  after several other laws of forbidden sexual acts, including sex with a neighbour’s wife, and with family members (including in-laws and stepmother/father,  stepdaughter and half-siblings ), but crucially not mentioning explicitly father-daughter sexual acts (though it does so indirectly) nor rape on its own.  It is followed by forbidding sex with animals, but fails to state paedophilia.  Also it does not mention relations between cousins, a practise still known to be common in the Middle East and amongst Orthodox Jewish communities, which still carries some risks of genetic problems occurring in off-spring.

Further within the text and in passages before and after  there are  passages on issues regarding bodily fluids, such as blood, seminal fluid and vaginal excretions and sex during the menstrual cycle.

We are entering the world of  people many 1000 years ago.  Semen is life giving.  Blood is the source of life, its loss affiliated with death.  Many of the sacrifices deal with blood.  Semen should neither be mixed through intercourse with a woman during her menstrual period, nor through anal (?) intercourse with a man, “like with a woman (but what about anal intercourse with a woman?)”

There are other laws in Leviticus concerning the tabernacle and purification that today hardly anyone would keep.  Only in the last parasha we read about the  temporary uncleanliness of people who engaged in sexual acts as well as the items they were performed on / in.  Hardly do the proponents of 18:22 withstand from human contact because they engaged in sexual acts, or stay apart from society for prescribed periods of time because they have given birth, another law mentioned.

Many contemporary societies and countries engaged in immense debates concerning homosexuality.  Most decided that homosexuality is simply another version of being human, it being part of  a spectrum of acceptable natural forms of sexualities.    Ever more societies, including Great Britain, USA,  France and others decide also that homosexual marriage are right and  constitutional.

Part of these debates concern reasoning on grounds of morality and crime. Once thought to be criminal and wrong, homosexuality has no more relationship to immorality and crime as does heterosexuality.  It probably was always so.  How one human treats another is much more guided through respect, love and above all free consent at the age of maturity.

It is rather sexual abuse through unequal power relations and lack of consent that most informed human societies today regard as truly criminal.  Rape, paedophilia, involuntary prostitution, and all types of involuntary abuse are part of this.

A man engaging in sexual relations with another consenting man can not be deemed to be as problematic.  A man in a position of power, such as a teacher or man of the clergy forcing himself upon non-consenting women, girls or boys, or even men, has huge implications.

Even in the most strict sense, 18:22 is fair play to interpretation. How does a man lie with a woman anyway? There are many ways. Is sex between a man and a woman only to be limited to a procreative act alone, even in a married man-woman couple? Many would reject this notion.

And if procreation was to be the central act, than surely a woman lying with another woman would be problematic too, but it is given no mentioning here.  What is clear though is that men are addressed.  Sexual prohibition are gendered here.  This is not completely true de facto, as women can be abusive, but in the majority of abuse cases it is men who are the key violators in human society.
Hence, it makes much more sense to take this passage as an encouragement to think through sexual impulse, and the possibility to cause destruction, violence and fight between neighbours and family members.

Other sections:

SMOKE CLOUD AND EXCLUSION OF AARON

At the beginning we read instructions to Aaron.  He is not to enter the most inner tabernacle at his own will.  Only Moses is supposed to do that, for God appears supposedly in the cloud to him alone.  Ibn Ezra and Nachmanides stand on opposite sides to Rashi and Rashbam here.  The later see the cloud as divine, the same pillar that let out the Israelites out of Egypt, the former two understand from it, the act of placing incense on coals to create smoke.  The secular reading thereof is clearly that the cloud of incense is man made (it is even admitted that such smoke is created by the priests), and it seems that Moses is the one who makes the smoke that contains God.  In the age of fear from metaphysical forces and superstition, Moses is successful in making all believe that the smoke contains the God that instructs him.

On a quite modern interpretation one could go to the extreme of citing that the source of life, the mixture of gases in the universe is like a smoke cloud.  But this is rather far fetched.

Perhaps because Aaron’s sons have perished and it was justified by Moses as their own fault, having offended God, Aaron is perhaps slightly seen as a threat.  Moses wants to ensure he remains the highest priests of all,  the one prophet of God.  Aaron should not claim that God speaks to him, as he as no access to the most inner shrine the Kodesh where God appears.  He is hence unable to declare laws in the name of God, as Moses can.

SCAPEGOAT
The “scapegoat” appears as an animal that shall take on all sins of the people and then should be released in the wilderness to Azazel.  Azazel according to mythical believes at the time was one of two troubled fallen angels who were overcome by lust by encountering beautiful women. The regulations of putting the sins on a goat (one of the other one being killed) compares with the rite of the two birds from the that are used to atone after getting healthy from skin diseases in the previous parasha. Union of Reform Judaism commentary on this states that “it has the character of a magical act, the defilement transferred onto a bird is allowed to fly away” (the Torah, a Modern Commentary, p. 750). This is an explicit admission that this is symbolic man-made hocus-pocus. A goat nor a bird can clearly take away one’s wrong doing.  Why should God need a goat to walk away in the wilderness to forgive?  It means only something to humans, like a train that departs with all one’s worries on it, if only this could happen.

Essential though is the act of admitting to wrongdoing.

YOM KIPPUR
We then read about the law of one day of self denial, which is known to have meant fasting. known as Yom Kippur, to be kept on the 10th day of the 7th month .  Anyone is requested to withhold from work and one should atone from one’s wrong doing. It is in this relation the scape goat appears a little later.  Today it is the collective admission of wrong doing reflecting on the last year that acts as the modern form of scapegoat during Yom Kippur, an act I find much more liberating than the empty common New Year’s celebrations.  One week of reflection is followed by the new year. Rather than a half hearted plan of what one does next year, known as new year’s resolutions.  Also the fact that one should ask for forgiveness or apologise, or ask for an apology in reality and one should not carry over bad feelings and indebtedness into the next year are useful contemporary tools.

BLOOD
Anyone spilling blood of any living creature unnecessarily, or consuming it is regarded as having engaged in a forbidden act. The penalty is to be cut off from the people.

In that sense anyone eating a bloody steak (Leviticus 17) is just as wrong as the one who engages in the acts of Leviticus 18.  It shows clearly that the emphasis on 18:22 is artificial and based more on homophobia than on concerns for the scripture.

Haftara: Ezekiel 22 1-19 underlines this passage.

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