Here I Am, <em>Tzara’at</em> and All

Here I Am, Tzara’at and All

Apr 1, 2022 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Tazria | Shabbat Hahodesh

When I was 12, a few weeks before my bat mitzvah I went in to meet with one of the rabbis of my synagogue. At the time, the synagogue newsletter included a “pasuk of the week,” a verse from that week’s Torah portion that was particularly interesting or thought provoking. However, as the rabbi confessed to […]

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The Values of a Jewish Home

The Values of a Jewish Home

Apr 16, 2021 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Metzora | Tazria | Yom Hazikaron-Yom Ha'atzma'ut

In the precious days “Before the Coronavirus Era” (B.C.E.), the parshiyot of Tazria-Metzora seemed wholly disconnected from our lives, presenting the perennial challenge of relevance (or irrelevance) to even the most talented darshan (sermonizer). How are we to connect leprous plagues attacking both body and abode to our daily lives? And to what extent does the experience of quarantine resonate with our modern reality? These are only two of the many questions that we would have posed in a pre-Covid world.

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Living Outside the Camp

Living Outside the Camp

Apr 24, 2020 By Jason Rogoff | Commentary | Metzora | Tazria

For many of us, the Torah portions of Tazria and Metzora have never felt so relevant. While in years past there was a great sense of distance from the confusing descriptions of biblical skin afflictions, the quarantine of afflicted Israelites, and the complex post-illness purification process, it feels difficult to escape their prescience during our current global pandemic. As we all struggle with the challenges of social distancing and the uncertainty of the future, I believe that insights into the details of our parshiyot can provide us with points of reflection for our present reality.

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How to Approach God

How to Approach God

Apr 5, 2019 By Benjamin D. Sommer | Commentary | Tazria

There are probably no Torah readings as widely misunderstood as the Torah readings for this week and next week, Parashat Tazria and Parashat Metzora. These parshiyot are devoted entirely to the subject of ritual purity. They discuss what causes people to become ritually impure, how they can become ritually pure again, and what the effects of this state are. For many modern readers, this topic is off-putting. It seems primitive and far removed from the real concerns of an ethical and monotheistic religion.

And yet to the authors of the Bible, these laws were of paramount importance. They were seamlessly intertwined with the idea of monotheism.

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It Passes and We Stay

It Passes and We Stay

Apr 20, 2018 By Jan Uhrbach | Commentary | Metzora | Tazria

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period—
When March is scarcely here

The double parashiyot of Tazria and Metzora are devoted in their entireties to the Biblical notion of tumah, usually translated as “impurity.” In them, we learn three of the major sources of tumah: childbirth (Lev. 12); a condition known as tzara’at, which can manifest on skin, clothing, or the walls of one’s house (Lev. 13–14); and bodily secretions (Lev. 15). The two other primary sources of tumah are touching or carrying the carcasses of certain animals (Lev. 11) and contact with a human corpse (Num. 19).

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Gender Inside and Outside the Camp

Gender Inside and Outside the Camp

Apr 28, 2017 By Joy Ladin | Commentary | Metzora | Tazria

The idea that others would examine and report on intimate details of our bodies—that such things would be of communal concern, and subject us to institutional regulation—may seem archaic. But as transgender people know, when it comes to gender, this kind of surveillance is alive and well.

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Guarding Our Tongues

Guarding Our Tongues

Apr 28, 2017 By Abigail Uhrman | Commentary | Metzora | Tazria

Becoming is better than being.

—Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

This week’s parashah discusses tzara’at, a skin disease understood in rabbinic tradition as punishment for lashon hara, evil speech. The public castigation that the metzora suffers is a powerful warning for us to “guard our tongues.” It was with words that God created the world, and our words have potential to build, create, and sustain life and human dignity, or to be a source of pain and destruction.

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Here I Am, <em>Tzara’at</em> and All

Here I Am, Tzara’at and All

Apr 8, 2016 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Tazria

When I was 12, a few weeks before my bat mitzvah I went in to meet with one of the rabbis of my synagogue. At the time, the synagogue newsletter included a “pasuk of the week,” a verse from that week’s Torah portion that was particularly interesting or thought provoking. However, as the rabbi confessed to me, the week of my bat mitzvah was to be the end of that custom. He just couldn’t find anything that fit the bill. That week’s parashah? Tazria.

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Keep Calm and Consult a Priest

Keep Calm and Consult a Priest

Apr 8, 2016 By Hillel Gruenberg | Commentary | Tazria

Tazria begins with a discussion of the ritual purity of a woman following childbirth and goes on to relate the treatment of leprosy. Reflecting on this juxtaposition of topics, my thoughts turned to the Zika virus, which has garnered global attention because of evidence it may cause birth defects in the children of mothers infected while pregnant. 

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Outside the Camp

Outside the Camp

Apr 24, 2015 By Julia Andelman | Commentary | Metzora | Tazria

The double parashah of Tazria-Metzora ranks at the top of the list of parshiyot to avoid for a bar or bat mitzvah. Its detailed lists of bodily ailments—rashes, colorations, emissions, and secretions—associated with ritual impurity are not the stuff of religious inspiration in contemporary times. I confess to having once colluded with congregants to subtly move the date of their daughter’s bat mitzvah celebration slightly further away from her Hebrew birthday, in order to provide her with a more palatable Torah reading  to chant and speak about than Tazria-Metzora. But this year—the year of #BlackLivesMatter—has caused me to read Tazria-Metzora through a new and painfully relevant lens. 

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Deeper Than the Skin

Deeper Than the Skin

Apr 24, 2015 By Yitzhak Lewis | Commentary | Metzora | Tazria

Your body is a map of roads
To be taken,
And not taken
Alone.

Your skin enfolds what
Your eyes shut behind them,

All your past is bored into it
Every day with the awl of time.

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Parashat Tazria and Circumcision

Parashat Tazria and Circumcision

Mar 26, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Tazria

Parashat Tazria, at the heart of the book of Leviticus, presents a challenge of almost epic proportions in the search for modern, practical relevance.

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Land, Language, and Leprosy

Land, Language, and Leprosy

Apr 10, 2013 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Metzora | Tazria

The second of this week’s parashiyot, Metzora, is an enigma on so many levels.

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The Torah’s Prescription for Healing

The Torah’s Prescription for Healing

Apr 9, 2013 By Alan Cooper | Commentary | Metzora | Tazria

At a glance, the opening chapters of Parashat Metzora seem like a biblical antecedent of WebMD. Leviticus 13 describes the disfiguring symptoms of צרעת/tzara`at, starting with “a swelling, a rash, or a discoloration” that “develops into a scaly affection” (Lev. 13:1).

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Authentic Judaism

Authentic Judaism

Apr 28, 2012 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Text Study | Metzora | Tazria

Many modern Jews have declared the opening verses of this week’s Torah portion not just arcane, but misogynist. Indeed, the laws regarding postpartum impurity emerge from a priestly world of sacrifices and distinctions that seems distant today. Our ancient Sages, however, radically reinterpreted that passage and the creation of humanity in Genesis with playful translations that provide an opening for insights into the origins of gender.

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Birth, Both Spiritual and Physical

Birth, Both Spiritual and Physical

Apr 2, 2011 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Text Study | Tazria

How can men understand something like pregnancy, which is so fundamentally foreign to the male experience? As contemporary Jews, we often raise questions about how our classical sources, compiled by men, portray “the other,” in this case, child-bearing women. We find in the midrash above an ancient rabbi’s attempt to understand childbirth, the opening subject of this week’s Torah portion, and identify men’s role in it.

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Between Tum’ah and Tohorah

Between Tum’ah and Tohorah

Apr 2, 2011 By Marc Wolf | Commentary | Tazria | Shabbat Hahodesh

It seems more than kismet that Passover falls when it does, following on the heels of the parashiyot of Leviticus in which we discuss the most base of subjects. In fact, rabbis and commentators through the ages have found the laws of tum’ah and tohorah (ritual impurity and purity) covered in these weeks before Passover so unsettling that, presumably in reaction, they have enthusiastically embraced the following statement from the Talmud: “Questions are asked and lectures are given on the laws of Passover beginning thirty days before” (BT Pesachim 6a). Surely, this is an avoidance tactic on the part of rabbis, but maybe it is also for the sake of the community—to save them from many discussions that would make them lose their appetites for the kiddush that follows services.

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Healing of Body and Mind

Healing of Body and Mind

Apr 16, 2010 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Metzora | Tazria

The Baal Shem Tov, seeking the sort of symbolic meaning in this week’s section of Leviticus that we too search out, found the laws of scaling and scalding, bodily discharge, and fungus in the warp and woof of fabric suggestive of the need for repentance and humility.

 

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Realizing Our Human Potential

Realizing Our Human Potential

Apr 25, 2009 By Alan Cooper | Commentary | Metzora | Tazria

This week’s double dose of purity laws is unlikely to top anyone’s list of favorite Torah portions. While the laws may be discomfiting and obscure, however, they also are fundamental to an understanding of biblical theology and anthropology, and they convey a message that transcends their particular details.

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Completing Creation

Completing Creation

Apr 17, 2009 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Metzora | Tazria

One of the better known rabbinic midrashim connects the disease of leprosy with the sin of slandering: that is, God afflicts the slanderer with leprosy (B.T. Arakhin 15b). Underlying the connection is the close resemblance in the Hebrew words for each. According to Resh Lakish, who authored this midrash in the third century long after the Temple had been leveled, the biblical term for leprosy, metzora (Leviticus 14:1), is but a compressed form of the rabbinic term for slandering, motzi shem ra (literally, to give someone a bad name). Even to an ear untrained in Hebrew, the similarity in sounds of this clever identification is apparent.

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