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Ritual

The Jewish People Comes of Age

The author Anita Diamant boldly pronounced, "This is a generation who have no use for the closeted Jew; the polite, blandly American and only privately Jewish Jews. No more Seinfeld; this bunch is Jewish inside and out" ("Minhag America," HUC-JIR graduation ceremony, April 30, 2008). Her words have not lost any of their resonance in the intervening years.

Alongside her words, we might place those of Rashi, as our Torah commentator of record, on this week's Torah reading, Parashat ChukatChukat begins with an explanation of the parah adumah, "red heifer," ritual. In short, the Israelites are commanded to produce a "red cow without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which no yoke has been laid" (Numbers 19:2), slaughter it, burn it, and transform the ashes into a special "water of lustration" (19:9), used to render what has become impure, pure again.

D'var Torah By: 
Growing Up Means Taking Responsibility for Our Mistakes
Davar Acher By: 
Amy Schwartzman

Rabbi Skloot's reflections on Parashat Chukat are wonderfully insightful and inspiring. Indeed, this is a great time to be Jewish in America. Yes, we have traveled a long path to find the sense of security and self-confidence that allows us as individuals and as communities to openly practice our tradition, express our beliefs and just be ourselves. The example of the parah adumah (red heifer), along with Rashi and Rabbi Skloot's comments, hit home the idea of the importance of "owning" who we are and what we stand for.

Bringing New Meaning to the Status of a Menstruating Woman

Theologian Elizabeth Dodson Gray notes: "Women's bodies may be the hardest place for women to find sacredness" ( Sacred Dimensions of Women's Experience, 1988, p. 197). Our society sends negative messages to women from earliest childhood about the expected perfection of their physiques and the disappointments of any flaws in the female form. Parashat M'tzora, then, with its focus on menstrual impurity (15:19-24), seems to impart the same kind of unfavorable sense. Rejecting our own received biases and patriarchal assumptions about menstruation, however, can help us form a contemporary view of these so-called taboos.

D'var Torah By: 
Power and Autonomy in the Menstruation Taboo
Davar Acher By: 
Suzanne Singer

Rabbi Goldstein elegantly turns the traditional notion of nidah, menstruation, on its head: from a condition conveying impurity or even uncleanness, to one of sacredness and power. In a similar reconception, the author Judith S. Antonelli points out that since, "procreation, bodily secretions, and death all convey tumah . . . it is inaccurate to categorize tumah as 'death' and taharah [purity] as 'life,' for tumah itself comprises both life and death"1

Antonelli traces the negative connotations associated with menstruation to the rabbis of our tradition. The Babylonian Talmud, for example, states: "If a menstruating woman passes between two [men], if it is at the beginning of her period she will kill one of them, and if is at the end of her period she will cause strife between them" (P'sachim 111a, in Antonelli, p. 279). The medieval philosopher and physician, Nachmanides, believed that the child was formed from the woman's blood, but not out of her menstrual blood: "How could a fetus be formed out of that, since it is a deadly poison, causing the death of any creature that drinks it or eats it!" (ibid.)

Holy Cow

It is the most enigmatic mitzvah in all of Torah: the parah adumah, the "red heifer." If a person comes in contact with a human corpse, she or he must go for ritual cleansing.

D'var Torah By: 
The Paradoxical Effect of the Red Heifer
Davar Acher By: 
Barry Block

Rabbi Kushner elucidates a great irony: those who prepare the ritual for purification are rendered impure by doing so!

There's More Than One Kind of Magic!

I do "magic" for preschoolers at our Kabbalat Shabbat. I make a Kiddush cup drink the wine. I fill a blank coloring book with colored pictures.

D'var Torah By: 
It Cuts Both Ways
Davar Acher By: 
Ira J. Wise

midrash says that there are four laws in the Torah that defy reason yet must be obeyed because they are divinely commanded.

A Thin Line Between Passion and Zealotry

The final nine verses of Parashat Balak, the second parashah in this week's double portion, tell the story of Zimri, who brings a Midianite woman into the Israelite camp for the p

D'var Torah By: 
The New Generation: Thirsting Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Davar Acher By: 
Sheva Locke and Ron Avi Astor

In the first half of this week's double portion, Parashat Chukat/Balak, the Israelites are caught between a rock and a hard place.

The Skin (Deep) Disease

Parashat Tazria/M'tzora is concerned with skin diseases and the procedures involved in checking for them, assessing them, declaring the sufferers healed, and reintegrating the latter

D'var Torah By: 
The "Magic" of Ritual
Davar Acher By: 
Kim S. Geringer

In this week's double parashah, Tazria/M'tzora, we learn more than anybody would ever want to know about a skin condition called tzaraat, an apparently serious collection of skin

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