Leviticus – Fairness, Separateness, and Cleanliness

Leviticus is that book that I always have to just get through. Long lists of laws and regulations that are ancient, taken wildly out of context, and profoundly Other, despite their relative familiarity next to, say, the Code of Hammurabi. Not that there isn’t some really valuable stuff in there (see my notes on the Year of Jubilee – totally brilliant provision for economic equality), but it’s nearly impossible to feel like I have the whole picture when there are also strict regulations for the buying and selling of slaves, preparing animals for sacrifice, and all the things I’m not allowed to touch if I’m on my period. I feel like the image of life Leviticus paints is fragmented and distorted, not because it was that way originally, but because I am so far removed from its original context, I can’t see the pieces as a whole, I can only see them in individual bits, some of them bright and clear, and others cloudy or muddled. With Leviticus I get a mosaic but not a picture. I’m sure someone with more imagination/a graduate degree in ancient Israeli culture/experience in a traditional Orthodox community would have a different experience with this book, but that’s where I’m at.

For whatever reason, I didn’t feel moved to take notes on Leviticus until Chapter 14, so that’s where we begin:

Chapter 14 is so tactile. Lots of smearing and sprinkling and dipping of blood and oil.

Chapter 15: regulations for a bleeding woman. All this washing and refraining from touching sounds like the kind of precautions you take with an infectious disease outbreak or hazmat spill. While I’m a little miffed that my natural body processes were considered so suspect, as a general practice, it would have made the Israelites more endurable during plagues.

Chapter 16: The Day of Atonement is so very solemn. Double sacrifice, first for the priest’s  personal sin (a bull no less) just to be able to approach to offer the sin offering for Israel. And the other two men involved in transporting the animal parts have to wash their clothes before they can reenter the community. And during all this solemn sacrificing and cleansing, the Israelites are to be fasting and observing full Sabbath restrictions. Created an atmosphere where everyone would be hyper-aware of what was going on spiritually in the community. Not a holiday you could brush off or take casually. I believe to this day, Yom Kippur is the most serious of the Jewish holidays.

Ch 21: The high priest must marry a virgin, not a widow or a prostitute. Exactly the opposite of what God asked of Hosea (a prophet, not a priest).

Ch. 22: Women really were only counted based on who was responsible for them. An unmarried priest’s daughter may eat a priest’s holy food, but if she marries a nonpriest, she’s no longer allowed. She has no priestly status of her own, only in relation to her father or husband.

Ch. 25: The Year of Jubilee. Radical redistribution of property every 50 years. It wasn’t redistributed randomly – every family was given an original inheritance, and in the Year of Jubilee, all plots were to be restored to the families who had original ownership. 50 years was a span of time that would mean that if you were lazy or otherwise irresponsible, you became poor for much of your lifetime, but your children wouldn’t be permanently disadvantaged. If you were greedy, you couldn’t accumulate property indefinitely. A countering to the inertia of privilege and income inequality

v. 35-37 – “If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you…you must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit.” – What a very different dynamic from the culture of predatory creditors and anti-food stamps.

Ch. 26 v. 9-13: One of the few places where God’s warmth and fondness come through – “I really really want to be friends with you, I just really need you to not be evil.” (Revised Meghan Version).

In reviewing my notes, apparently I did not feel particularly moved to make any notations on the most famous and contentious of Levitical passages today, the ones concerning a man lying with a man. I’ve written about this in personal notes to friends and somewhat over at Soulation, but here I think I’ll just link you to some other people who have said it more eloquently than I.



Filed under religion, reviews

3 responses to “Leviticus – Fairness, Separateness, and Cleanliness

  1. Surely ‘a man lying with a man’ is the definition of ‘politician’?

  2. Some Jews had given up on all those sacrifices even before the temple was destroyed in 70AD.

    I think of Nadab and Abihu, who made a sacrifice which they were not commanded to do. God blasted them with fire, and commanded their father not to mourn them. God being “Our Father” or “abba”, we have moved on a bit from Leviticus.

    Onywye. Please write more.

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