Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Parshat Emor

Priestly Defects

Just as the animal that may be used a sacrifice to God, must be perfect without blemish, so too, the Kohen who performs the service must be a well formed person without any major handicaps or disabilities.

Some of the defects include: "A blind man or a lame one, or one with a sunken nose or with mismatching limbs; or a man who has a broken leg or a broken arm" (VaYikra 21:18-19).

This portion of Torah is not very politically correct. Indeed, modern governmental legislation would probably outlaw this rule and would require that the Temple be an equal opportunities employer, as well as ensuring that it grants access for people with disabilities!!

I am not going to justify this legislation but if we accept the principle that the handicapped kohen is ineligible to perform the Temple tasks, we must still ask why a broken leg or arm would prohibit the Kohen from participating. Obviously this rule does not apply to the kohen whose leg or arm is presently broken as he obviously cannot perform the service. This rule applies to the kohen whose leg or arm was once broken. Why would the kohen not be allowed to perform the service once his arm healed?

The answer to this lies to understanding a small amount of ancient medicine – broken limbs rarely healed properly in the ancient world. Modern medicine enables us to set the broken limb and fix it in a cast so that that it does not move. This allows the bone to grow and heal in the position it is meant to be. Therefore, when the limb heals it is as good as new.

However, in the ancient world, this medical procedure was not available. When a broken bone began to heal and grow, it rarely returned to its original position. Therefore, when someone broke a limb in the ancient world, they would almost certainly join the ranks of the disabled – disqualifying them from resuming their Temple service.

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat Emor, entitled: "Say it with love" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Emor, entitled: "The Tale of the Blasphemer" appears at

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