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Parshah Metzorah

Last week, in Parshah Tazria, most of the laws about skin disease, quarantine, and ritual purity were laid down. This week is Parshah Metzorah (Leviticus 14:1-15:33), which finishes up about the disease stuff, including the ritual return to the community of the former leper, and what you do when the house is infected. Chapter fifteen then deals with “issues from the flesh”, both from men and women, and what the rule is for men who sleep with women during menstruation (which is not allowed, by the way). Anyway, it’s more about cleanliness, and the circumstances under which people can take part in the ritual life of the community.

Now, there isn’t much of a counterfactual, here, I’m afraid. I don’t really have a topic. Any help y’all can offer in the next twelve hours or so would be ... helpful. The only thing I have in mind is that is seems odd to me that it’s the priest that makes the decisions. That is, if there’s a plague in the house, the householder sends for a priest, not for a judge. The priest has no latitude in decision-making, mind you; as with the skin lesions, it’s a simple matter of applying the rule. In this case, if “the plague [be] in the walls of the house with hollow strakes, greenish or reddish, which in sight [are] lower than the wall;” and after a week the streaks are bigger, then the stones must be removed. The priest is neither seeking divine guidance nor assessing the moral (or ritual) character of the person involved, but examining evidence. That’s the sort of thing I would give to a judge, not a priest. I mean, yes, at heart it’s about the ritual, which is the priest’s domain, but why make the priest examine the thing in the first place?

I think, on the whole, this is more about what it means to be a priest, and why actually “priest” is a terrible translation of cohen. The cohen is the man responsible for the ritual, and that is part of the job of the priest, but the cohen is not the moral leader, nor is the cohen responsible for pastoral care, as we think of it. So, given that, what does it mean that we are a nation of priests?

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,


On cohen v. priest:

Sounds a lot like what I teach my students about Greek & Roman priests. They don't do instruction, moral oversight, or pastoral care, either. They're ritual overseers with a lot of (to our eyes) political functions; depending on the priesthood, they also sometimes represent the gods before the people or the people before the gods. I'm starting to think that it's our modern, Christianizing, model of priesthood that's the historical anomaly.

Interesting. It makes me wonder about Greek or Roman (or Egyptian) community practices. So much of what the cohen does is related to declaring someone eligible or ineligible to take part in one or another particular community ritual, which is something for which we don't have any counterpart. Reading Leviticus, I get the sense that this eligibility was something terribly important to individuals, and that ruling on those matters is central to both an individual's sense of self and his place in other's eyes.

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