Telephone Torah Study: Tazria
On this week Telephone Torah Study (Thursday, 3/27 4-5pm), we’ll discuss torah portion Tazria (Leviticus 14:1–15:33). The Parshah of Tazria continues the discussion of the laws of tumah v’taharah, ritual impurity and purity. To join in on the conference call, please dial 702-851-4044, when prompted punch in 2, then our pass code 22252#.
Parashat Tazria opens with a passage that makes many contemporary readers bristle at its seemingly obvious gender discrimination. Describing a woman who has just given birth, the text relates that not only is she impure, but the length of her impurity doubles for a daughter in contrast to a son. While the gender-based distinctions in the text may arouse anger or confusion, they provide an opportunity to reflect on the topic of gender and they may also offer insights into how gender plays a role in our own lives and in the lives of people around the world.
This week we’ll examine AJWS’s suggested questions below on women and gender:
- Why do you think a woman who just participated in the most life-affirming act of birth was deemed “unclean” or “impure” and prohibited from entering the Sanctuary?
- Why do you think the length of impurity is twice as long for the birth of a daughter as for a son?
MyJewishLearning.com commentator Rabbi Roderick Young argues that Tazria teaches us that understanding God’s presence in disease reveals illness not as punishment, but an opportunity to treat others as the image of God in his short article ‘A Gay Perspective on Punishment and Disease’:
Every June, as thousands of people march down New York’s Fifth Avenue to celebrate Gay Pride, four or five individuals stand on the sidewalk proclaiming that AIDS is a punishment from God.
Sometimes, a few of them are Jews, and I always wonder what kind of God they think would use disease as a punishment.
During festival days, one way in which our liturgy seeks to describe God is by taking a part of Exodus 34: 6-7 and inserting it into the Torah service: “Adonai, Adonai, God merciful and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, and granting pardon.”
The end of verse 7, which tells how the sins of the parents are visited upon the children, is deliberately omitted.The message of the liturgy is clear–as Jews we must seek out the compassionate side of God and not the punitive one. Ours is not a God who gives people polio, cancer, or AIDS as punishment.
And yet at first glance this week’s portion, Tazria (“she gives birth”), might seem to suggest just such a vindictive God. Tazria is largely concerned with discovering and interpreting marks upon the skin (tzara’at). The exact meaning of this word is unclear; traditionally it has been translated as “leprosy,” although it probably included many different skin conditions.
1. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. (Lev.12:3)
2. When a person has on the skin of the body a swelling, a rash, or a discoloration, and it develops into a scaly affectation on the skin of the body, it shall be reported to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons, the priests. (Lev. 13:2)
3. If a man loses the hair of his head and becomes bald, he is pure. (Lev.13:40)