The Blasphemer in Leviticus: A Marginal Figure 

By :  Alan Cooper Elaine Ravich Professor of Jewish Studies Posted On Apr 24, 2023 / 5783 | Monday Webinar The Space In Between

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Part of the series, The Space in Between: Thresholds and Borders in Jewish Life and Thought 

With Dr. Alan Cooper, Elaine Ravich Professor of Jewish Studies, JTS 

The Bible abounds with characters who transgress boundaries, for better and for worse. One of these characters who comes to a bad end is the half-Israelite, half-Egyptian blasphemer in Leviticus 24:10-16, 23. It’s clear that the Bible wants this story to show the dire consequences for blasphemy, but why is the identity of the blasphemer so specific, and how does this story relate to other laws outlined in the same chapter of the Torah? We explore these issues with the aid of both traditional and modern critical commentary. 

Lecture Notes

  • Dr. Alan Cooper introduced the marginal figure of the blasphemer from Leviticus, calling into question whether he blasphemed at all. The story in Leviticus introduces a man whose mother is an Israelite and his father is an Egyptian. He gets into a fight with another Israelite and invokes/uses/curses using the ineffable name of God and is subsequently stoned.
  • Cooper utilizes commentary from people who were expelled from Spain to explore this text. In particular, the sources Abraham Saba (1440-1508) develop a backstory establishing the taskmaster who Moses kills in Exodus is the father of the Blasphemer. Moses killed this man by invoking God’s name, so the blasphemer is enacting revenge by invoking the name of God.
  • The status of the “blasphemer” and the approach the commentators take in exploring this story is connected to their own concerns about who is in or out of the Jewish community in their time frame and points to the specific challenges that they were facing around identity.

About the Series

We are living in an undefined time: our daily existence is no longer dominated by the pandemic, yet neither have we settled into a new normal. This sense of being in transition—neither here nor there—  can feel destabilizing; but is the time in between really temporary, or are we always living in between moments, identities, and phases of life?  

In this series, JTS scholars will delve into the idea of liminality—the time or space in between—which we encounter often in Jewish ritual, identity, law, and life. Join us to consider what these many manifestations of “in-between-ness” can teach us about ourselves and about Judaism, and to explore how we might find strength and meaning in an orientation not of “either/or” but of “both/and.” 

We will explore themes of borders, thresholds and transitions as they pertain to the story of Creation, gender, conversion, birth and death, the duality of living as a Jew in America, and more.


This session was sponsored by Yale Asbell.

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