Leviti­cus made ac­ces­si­ble

En­gel­berg brings a mod­ern view to the an­cient world of an­i­mal sac­ri­fice, lep­rosy

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - BOOKS - • ABI­GAIL KLEIN LE­ICH­MAN

Ihad the plea­sure of re­view­ing Rabbi Dr. Abba En­gel­berg’s two pre­vi­ous books in this se­ries, The Ethics of Ge­n­e­sis and The Ethics of Ex­o­dus. This tril­ogy reviews a va­ri­ety of clas­si­cal and mod­ern com­men­ta­tors’ ap­proaches to eth­i­cal is­sues raised in the To­rah.

Pre­sent­ing the cho­sen source ma­te­rial in English pro­vides max­i­mum ac­ces­si­bil­ity for the English speaker. Those who are able and in­ter­ested may delve into the orig­i­nal He­brew sources pro­vided in the foot­notes.

The au­thor lists more than 50 source works and more than 60 in­di­vid­ual com­men­ta­tors span­ning from the first cen­tury CE to the 21st cen­tury. That is quite a feat to ac­com­plish in one vol­ume.

En­gel­berg is well suited for this task. He grad­u­ated from the Telshe Yeshiva and earned his un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree and rab­binic or­di­na­tion at Yeshiva Univer­sity as well as a doc­tor­ate in op­er­a­tions re­search from New York Univer­sity. He was a re­serve chap­lain in the United States Air Force. He was a pro­fes­sor at the Jerusalem Col­lege of Tech­nol­ogy for 47 years and was the found­ing direc­tor of its women’s divi­sion, Ma­chon Tal, un­til his re­tire­ment in 2012.

As in the two pre­vi­ous books, En­gel­berg ar­ranges the ma­te­rial in a well-or­ga­nized fash­ion. In those books, he iden­ti­fied eth­i­cal questions in the verses and pro­vided a range of an­swers. Here, apart from a ques­tion-and-an­swer sec­tion in parashat Sh­mini re­gard­ing the sin and pun­ish­ment of Aaron’s sons, he in­stead reviews com­men­taries on key themes within each parasha (por­tion) of Leviti­cus.

The ba­sic laws per­tain­ing to sac­ri­fices oc­cupy the first two por­tions of Leviti­cus. En­gel­berg there­fore be­gins with the well-known de­bate be­tween Mai­monides (Ram­bam) and Nah­manides (Ram­ban) about the rea­son for an­i­mal sac­ri­fices.

Whereas Ram­bam in the Guide for the Per­plexed ar­gues that “bring­ing sac­ri­fices is not seen as ser­vice to God, hav­ing in­trin­sic value, but rather as a rem­edy for a his­tor­i­cally rooted mal­ady,” Ram­ban in­sists they do have “in­trin­sic, and not merely his­tor­i­cal, value,” pro­vid­ing “a means for hu­man be­ings to come close to God.”

In his sum­mary of this com­plex topic, En­gel­berg writes: “Many peo­ple view sac­ri­fices as an an­cient means of ap­peas­ing the gods. In Ju­daism, their pur­pose is quite dif­fer­ent. Most of the per­sonal sac­ri­fices are as­so­ci­ated with the con­cept of teshu­vah (re­pen­tance), and they serve as a means of aton­ing for var­i­ous types of sins. Oth­ers are used as a means of thank­ing God for mem­o­rable events in the sup­pli­cant’s life. Still oth­ers are used to help gen­er­ate an en­vi­ron­ment of hap­pi­ness and joy on the Jewish hol­i­days. In ad­di­tion to all of these pur­poses, many sac­ri­fices were par­tially eaten by the priests, and thus served as an in­te­gral el­e­ment of sus­te­nance for those priests who were ac­tive in the Tem­ple .... ”

In his dis­cus­sion on the skin af­flic­tion called tzara’at in parashat Met­zora, En­gel­berg writes that this term is “com­monly trans­lated as lep­rosy,” which is true. How­ever, he does not men­tion that this is al­most cer­tainly a mis­trans­la­tion.

The sec­tion on Met­zora also in­cludes this well-worded ob­ser­va­tion on the dif­fi­culty of re­frain­ing from speak­ing gos­sip or slan­der: “The Tal­mud metaphor­i­cally de­scribes God as mak­ing ev­ery ef­fort to limit man’s abil­ity to slan­der, but to no avail .... Ap­par­ently, even God is at a loss as to how to con­trol the tongue.”

In the chap­ter on Aharei Mot, in which the To­rah out­lines for­bid­den sex­ual re­la­tion­ships, En­gel­berg in­cludes a thought­ful dis­cus­sion on ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, draw­ing on a wide range of Ortho­dox view­points and not­ing how such view­points have evolved. The over­all tenor of this dis­cus­sion is re­mark­ably re­spect­ful of gay in­di­vid­u­als and at the same time re­spect­ful of Halacha.

He notes that the To­rah’s “pro­hi­bi­tions re­late to per­form­ing ho­mo­sex­ual acts, not to be­ing ho­mo­sex­ual, just as there is a pro­hi­bi­tion to en­gage in an il­le­git­i­mate mar­riage, but not to be the prod­uct of such. The To­rah does not con­demn peo­ple for be­ing in a sit­u­a­tion which is be­yond their con­trol.”

En­gel­berg’s main area of in­ter­est, eth­i­cal be­hav­ior, is the fo­cus of par­shat Ke­doshim. An out­line of the To­rah’s pre­scrip­tion for achiev­ing per­sonal and na­tional ho­li­ness is de­tailed from pages 194 to 229, end­ing with this suc­cinct sum­mary: “one may achieve ho­li­ness by ob­serv­ing the law, mak­ing log­i­cal and rea­son­able ex­ten­sions which do not in­volve self-de­nial, en­joy­ing the plea­sures of life, and do­ing all of this in a com­mu­nal con­text.”

The value of this ex­cel­lent book is fur­ther en­hanced by ap­pen­dices on, for ex­am­ple, the dif­fer­ent types of sac­ri­fices; the mitz­vah of lov­ing one’s neigh­bor (in­clud­ing nonob­ser­vant Jews and gen­tiles); and the ba­sics of Jewish his­tory.

The lat­ter in­cludes a ta­ble of tra­di­tional and mod­ern the­o­ries on dat­ing his­tor­i­cal events, cit­ing fel­low Kodesh Press au­thor Mitchell First’s 2011 es­say, “The Date of the Ex­o­dus: A Guide to the Ortho­dox Per­plexed.” This is one of many in­stances where the au­thor ex­poses read­ers to the re­mark­able breadth of con­tem­po­rary schol­ar­ship.

The Ethics of Leviti­cus is a wor­thy ad­di­tion to the grow­ing body of English-lan­guage in­sights into the weekly To­rah por­tion.

(Amir Co­hen/Reuters)

IS­RAELIS WATCH a reen­act­ment cer­e­mony of the Passover sac­ri­fice in Jerusalem in 2015. Much of Leviti­cus deals with an­i­mal sac­ri­fice.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Israel

© PressReader. All rights reserved.