Tazria

“Parsha and Purpose” – Tazria 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“When Creativity Is Lost: Understanding Ritual Impurity”

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Parshat Tazria (Leviticus 12:1 -13:59

“When Creativity Is Lost: Understanding Ritual Impurity

Ritual impurity, the topic discussed in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, is one of the most complicated subjects in Jewish tradition.

However, perhaps the guiding light to understanding ritual impurity is the recognition of the fact that any time an object loses creativity, it becomes a vessel that emits ritual impurity.

For example, the “avi avot hatum’ah”, the most intense ritually impure object, is the object that represents the most creative entity in the world: a human being when he or she passes away. [Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Defilement by a Corpse, Chapter 1]

The most creative object in the world, when it can no longer function, becomes the greatest source of ritual impurity. And so in other instances, as well. For example, a deceased animal, which is creative, emits ritual impurity when it passes away (although it does not emit the same level of ritual impurity as a human being when he or she passes away).

In other words, ritual impurity highlights the idea of the loss of creativity.

In this week’s Torah portion, Tazria, we are introduced to the idea of ritual impurity in the context of childbirth: “אישה כי תזריע”, when a woman conceives, “וילדה זכר”, and gives birth to a male, she is ritually impure for a whole period of time, “שבעה ימים”, seven complete days. [Leviticus 12:2]

This is because when the woman becomes pregnant, she is actualizing her potential to produce life. So when she gives birth, she loses the creativity she had been carrying in her womb, and therefore, ritual impurity setas in.

And three verses later, the Torah states: “ואם נקבה תלד”, and if she gives birth to a female human being, “וטמאה”, she is ritually impure not for one cycle of time, not for seven days, but “שבועיים”, two weeks. [Leviticus 12:5]

And that’s because when a woman is carrying a female, she is not simply developing a fetus that represents a human life, she is carrying a fetus that has the potential to also create life. Thus, when she gives birth to a female, she is now emitting a dual level of impurity, because her level of creativity rose twofold when she was pregnant.

Ritual impurity reminds us that our responsibility in this world is to create “taharah”, purity. We create purity in this world when we are creative beings that can change the world, when we respond to “tum’ah”, ritual impurity, with “taharah”, by engaging and doing magnificent things in this world.

And therefore, this Torah portion is read before the holiday of Pesach, which reminds us that with freedom comes responsibility. With freedom comes the capacity to create purity in the world, to be creative beings in this world, to change our destiny, the destiny of our families, the destiny of our people and that of society.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Tazria (Leviticus 12:1-13:59) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – The major subject of this week’s as well as next week’s Torah portion is ritual purity and impurity (tuma and tahara) – to the modern mind, one of the most esoteric and puzzling aspects of our Scriptures. What is even more disturbing …

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The Lessons of Leprosy Avi Ganz is the director of the Elaine and Norm Brodsky Yeshivat Darkaynu Program “תניא ארבעה חשובים כמת: עני ומצורע, וסומא ומי שאין לו בנים וכו’  מצורע דכתיב (במדבר י”ב, י”ב): ‘אל נא תהי כמת’.”  (נדרים ס”ד:ב) The Gemara (in Arachin and other places) tells us that Tzoraat was a sort …

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Tazria-Metzora

“Parsha and Purpose” – Tazria-Metzora 5781 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Things We Should Not Learn From “Shtisel”: Fertility and Jewish Law”

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Parshat Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12:1-15:33)

“Things We Should Not Learn From “Shtisel”: Fertility and Jewish Law”

The much-anticipated third season of “Shtisel” was finally released by Netflix a few weeks ago, and once again people around the world are glued to the screen, waiting to see what happens to this Israeli ultra-Orthodox family. One of the things that makes Shtisel such an appealing international phenomenon is that it offers a nuanced glimpse into an insular lifestyle and society that is usually obscured to outsiders, exposing the everyday dramas, romances, tragedies, and struggles with faith that resonate within us all.

And yet, I was disappointed by one of this season’s storylines, one that relates to the first verse in this week’s parsha, Tazria-Metzora: “when a woman conceives (tazria) and gives birth” (Vayikra 12:2).  

For five years, the young couple Ruchami and Hanina have been trying to have a baby. After a series of devastating disappointments they understand that another pregnancy would put the fetus and, more importantly, Ruchami at life-threatening risk.

Unlike the nuanced portrayal of other aspects of Haredi living, the show doesn’t incorporate the fact that halakha, Jewish law, has welcomed new technologies relating to surrogacy and egg donation. The very word ‘halakha’ comes from the root ‘lalechet,’ meaning ‘to go forward’, highlighting to us that it is not a collection of fossilized edicts but rather a way of life which is meant to address and incorporate new realities arising from contemporary living. 

I don’t want to give away too many spoilers for those of you who haven’t yet seen this season, but suffice it to say that Shtisel’s portrayal of the couple’s infertility is not reflective of the normative Orthodox approach. 

The Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 31b) shares that after 120 years, when we arrive at the Heavenly Court, we will be asked a series of questions:

Among others, we will be asked, עסקת בפריה ורביה?

The expression pirya v’revaya refers to reproduction. But what is the verb עסקת referring to?

The writers of Shtisel interpret the word עסקת through a narrow lens: “Did you successfully fulfill the commandment of reproduction?” But the word עסקת literally means “to deal with” or “to work at” something. Jewish tradition interprets the Talmudic question as “Did you try to procreate?”

Heroic measures are not required to fulfill any positive Biblical commandment; in fact, when they threaten our physical or psychological well-being, they are even discouraged.

Already in the 11th-12th century R. Menachem ben Solomon Meiri acknowledged that when science will achieve the capacity to help produce human beings without the natural intimate act, the achievement should be embraced. 

Mainstream halakhic literature discusses artificial insemination, IVF, posthumous paternity, and even the idea of “four-parent” babies born from a gestational carrier, a mother who donates the genetic nucleus of the egg, a female who donates the healthy mitochondria of the egg, and a sperm donor.  And while there is not complete unanimity on these issues – as is true in so many areas – the great Torah scholars of this generation and of the past generation have embraced the advances of science and technology to enable couples to advance their dreams of having a family. 

It is unfortunate that in Shtisel’s effort to introduce us to the Haredi community, it missed an opportunity to communicate the insightful, wise and compassionate attempts of so many great Jewish leaders and thinkers to link contemporary medical advances to the eternal values of the Torah and rabbinic literature regarding childbirth. 

We should remember and reinforce that the strength of Jewish tradition is its  capacity to deal with contemporary realities, opportunities and challenges through the prism of Jewish values and rooted in Jewish laws such as the ones we will read this week. 

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Parshat Tazria: Leprosy – A Gift from God Rabbi Pesach Wolicki, Associate Director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC)  The majority of this week’s parsha is devoted to the plague of Tzara’at. The Torah relates detailed descriptions of different types of leprous spots, discolorations, and several other skin ailments. These ailments are …

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Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Tazria (Leviticus 12:1-13:59) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “If a woman has conceived seed and born a male child: then she shall be unclean for seven days; as in the days of her menstrual sickness shall she be unclean.” (Leviticus 12:2) One of the greatest miracles of life is that …

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Parshat Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12:1-15:33) Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “Then he shall sprinkle [the mixture] seven times upon the person being purified from the tzara’at; he shall purify him and set the live bird free upon the open field” (Leviticus 14:7). One of the strangest and most primitive-sounding rituals of the Bible surrounds the …

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Tazria-Metzora 5778 (Leviticus 12:1-15:33)  Rabbi David Stav This Shabbat, we will read the double-parsha of Tazri’a–Metzora in our synagogues. Dozens of verses outline the symptoms of various skin diseases that appear on people’s heads, in their beards, in their clothes and in their homes. Suffice it to say that nowhere else in the Torah can we …

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