Posts Tagged ‘Leviticus’

The Levity in Leviticus

Posted in General on April 14th, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 5 Comments

Each week of the year a specified portion of the Torah is read in synagogues. Saturday, at bar mitzvahs around the world, the congregations heard Leviticus’ strictures on treating leprosy. If you weren’t invited to the ceremony, let me summarize the prescription.

First, wait to see if God bothers to cure the leper. If the leper seems cured, the following rituals are to be performed. The former leper cannot enter his tent for seven days, but must sleep outside it. The leper is to shave his head and eyebrows (and beards where applicable). To thank God, the recovering leper must prepare two lambs for sacrifice. If, however, the leper is poor (leprosy can effect your income–especially if you are a pianist or waiter), two pigeons are an acceptable substitute.

Blessed is the Lord our God for not being a status-conscious materialist.

During the service, the Rabbi must have felt like a leper trying to explain the relevance and profundity of this Torah passage. What did he say? There is not much conviction when a sermon begins “Some scholars think that it means this….” According to these scholars, if your eyebrow is sinful and impure, you would want to shave it, too.

Of course, Rabbi Eugene has a different interpretation. I have long suspected that the Book of Leviticus was the first example of Jewish humor. Yes, the Greeks introduced burlesque (The Trojan Horse was anatomically correct) but Leviticus proves that we pioneered irony. “Let’s insist that a fingerless leper shave.”

No doubt out of guilt, however, Rabbis will not admit that Leviticus is a practical joke. (Of course, you can eat shrimp. What else are they going to serve at Jewish weddings?) But–unlikely as it is–if the bedouin barbarism of Leviticus is intended to be serious, then perhaps the Torah should be revised with more contemporary (less embarrassing) but equally revered Jewish texts.

Suitable alternatives would be the works of Philip Roth, George Gershwin or the scripts from any old television sit-coms. “And God did command Alan, Mel and Buddy to suffer the foreskinned Rob among them, saying ‘If I can make a funny Gentile, I must really be God.”