Living in a Time of Leprosy

I’m giving up.

I’ve been a good soldier all these years, doing my very best to be creative, putting my Brandeis liberal arts education to good use. I’m finally just tired of trying.

I’m done trying to put a modern face on most of Leviticus, and in particular the Torah portions that we are currently reading–yes, that’s right, the infamous and dreaded portions which deal with leprosy and skin disease and which are the bane of all the poor b’nei mitzvah kids and their families whose dates fall on these weeks each year. (“Not fair! Jessica had the Ten Commandments!”)

I have given many divrei Torah (here’s one) and written numerous articles (and here’s another) about these parshiyot, usually explaining that the text is an extended riff on holiness, on creating boundaries, of looking for some kind of control when everything in one’s life seems to be out of control. I’ve suggested that the Kohen Gadol–the High Priest–was the catalyst to bring people who had been ostracized because of physical or mental disabilities back into the fold. I’ve drawn a parallel between tzara’at (leprosy) and tzarot (misfortune) and suggested that the Torah is giving us a roadmap on how to reach out to those in need. See? I really have tried.

But this time around I’m just not able to find any redeeming material in this text. Now, as I read the words of the Torah–translating in my head as I go along–I am astounded and repulsed at the primitive, misogynistic, and cringe-worthy words describing oozing pustules and blemishes, and I am angered at the outright revulsion and abject fear that our (male) ancestors felt towards anything having to do with menstruation.

If we have to work this hard to make the text mean anything to modern readers, is it even worth it?

So here’s my d’var Torah on Parshiyot Tazria and Metzora–put the Chumash down, take a break, and read something more worthwhile. I’ll let you know when we get to Bilaam and the talking donkey.

Cantor Matt Axelrod has served Congregation Beth Israel of Scotch Plains, NJ since 1990. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and a national officer of the Cantors Assembly. Cantor Axelrod is the author of Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider's Guide, and Your Guide to the Jewish Holidays: From Shofar to Seder.

1 comment on “Living in a Time of Leprosy

  1. You know, I love the honesty. I find this very refreshing

    Liked by 1 person

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