Monday, April 15, 2024

Jewish Health Advisory- Reflections on Leviticus portions of Tazria and Metzoranecology, Dermatology, and Epidemology


For a link to the video:

Jewish Health Advisory



We have a discussion in the Talmud about best professions:

Rabbi Yehuda says in Abba Gurya’s name: Most donkey drivers are wicked( they let their animals graze and damage others property), and most camel drivers, are of fit character( the dangers of the desert make them pray very well). Most sailors are pious ( when the ship is about to sink, they, too, pray very well—see Jonah).


And then

 The best of doctors is to Gehenna, and even the fittest of butchers is a partner of Amalek.


Doctors and butchers??? Well, the butcher may not give you the choice cut of beef, but the Doctors?


Rashi explains, maybe from his own experience:


The best of doctors is to gehenna - They do not fear disease. They eat the food of the healthy, and they do not act humbly before God. Sometimes they kill, and sometimes they are able to heal a poor person but do not do so.


So why are so many Jews doctors? 14% of US doctors are Jewish ( out of 2% population).


Part of it is recent history—Jews in Europe went in to medicine because it was one of the few professions open to them—it was not consider prestigious in its day.

But much of it may come from the general Jewish attitude to protecting health.




Our Portion for this week and next week, Tazria and Metzora== may read as a Jewish guide to Gynecology, Dermatology, and Epidemology.

Tazria- opening Lev 12 : Speak to the Israelite people thus: When a woman at childbirth bears a male, she shall be impure seven days; she shall be impure as at the time of her condition of menstrual separation.

—Which leads to a Rabbinic discourse on how to guarantee male children by satisfying the woman first, and how the husband has to let his wife alone long enough for her to recover fully. It leads to the Samaritans, who share our Torah, giving the wives full vacation during the week of impurity- so that the women party among themselves and the husband has to clean and cook!

In Yemen, it led to special treatment for the birthing mother for a month, as she sits on her throne and is catered to!


By the way, when it comes to childbirth, Jews and Vatican are miles apart. The Vatican just condemned surrogacy because it exploits women as a child bearing machine—but just the same can be said of adoption. In both cases, there can be abuse, but in both cases, it enables someone who desires a child to have one—and we have in our extended family, adopted children and children from surrogacy. Then, IVF—again, in Jewish practice, it is approved for the same reason-to have a child is a mitzvah, and to make that possible, is a mitzvah.

By the way, as for surrogacy- well, Abraham did it at Sarah’s request, and a third of Jacob’s son’s were from surrogate mothers as well.


Then, we get to Dermatology: Lev 13

When a person has on the skin of the body a swelling, a rash, or a discoloration, and it develops into a scaly affection on the skin of the body, it shall be reported to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons, the priests.

The priest shall examine the affection on the skin of the body: if hair in the affected patch has turned white and the affection appears to be deeper than the skin of the body, it is a leprous affection; .. impure.

But if it is a white discoloration on the skin of the body which does not appear to be deeper than the skin and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest shall isolate the affected person for seven days.  …And another seven days, and then…

On the seventh day the priest shall again conduct an examination: if the affection has faded and has not spread on the skin, the priest shall pronounce the person pure. It is a rash; after washing those clothes, that person shall be pure.

The disease is translated a “leprosy” but it, more correctly ,a kind of Psoriasis.


Epidemology: Lev 13:45

As for the person with a leprous affection: the clothes shall be rent, the head shall be left bare, and the upper lip shall be covered over; and that person shall call out, “Impure! Impure!”

The person shall be impure as long as the disease is present. Being impure, that person shall dwell apart—in a dwelling outside the camp.


Isolation, but note--  it is a temporary condition.


So, maybe from these, we get a Jewish interest in medicine.



There are elements of the Torah that speak to cleanliness, as well as spiritual cleaning, and issues of personal hygiene.

So here are some random examples of Jewish approaches to health.

One of the important actions of  Aaron and his sons is to wash hands and feet in a copper basin before they enter the Mishkan to offer incense - so that they do not die!(Ex 30:17-21)

 An example of washing for purity in the Torah  . Did they know something about copper that we don’t? Viruses last the shortest time on copper. … ( Always, fresh, flowing water, not from a standing pool)

*Which brings us to the idea of Netilat Yadayim: Hand washing. Why the hands?

Talmud Shabbat 14a וְהַיָּדַיִם — מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהַיָּדַיִם עַסְקָנִיּוֹת הֵן

 And the hands; hands are busy. A person’s hands tend to touch dirty or impure objects.  inappropriate for holy food to be touched by dirty hands, the Sages decreed impurity. ( Translation and explanation from


What did your mother teach you?- Wash your hands!


What about bodily waste? I once read a text from a medieval European work, complaining about “ supersticio judeorum”—Jewish superstitions- such as not praying near a spot where there is urination. There is the direct Biblical imperative to bury bodily waste and not leave it in the open. Deut 23:14


Let’s look at some other Jewish health directives:


Our Torah is life oriented, so that life takes precedence over other obligations:

 Yoma 85b

  Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Yehuda “But keep my Shabbatot” (Exodus 31:13). to everyone in all circumstances?; therefore, the verse states “but,” there are circumstances where one must keep Shabbat and circumstances where one must desecrate it, i.e., to save a life. Rabbi Yonatan ben Yosef says that it is stated: “For it is sacred to you” (Exodus 31:14). This implies that Shabbat is given into your hands, and you are not given to  Shabbat.

…. Rav Yehuda said that Shmuel said: If I would have been there among those Sages who debated this question, I would have said that my proof is preferable to theirs, as it states: “You shall keep My statutes and My ordinances, which a person shall do and live by them” (Leviticus 18:5), and not that he should die by them. In all circumstances, one must take care not to die as a result of fulfilling the mitzvot.

How was that employed during the time of plagues>

From  The Rabbi Who Ate on Yom Kippur:Israel Salanter and the Cholera Epidemic of 1848-Ira Taub

Despite the prohibition against doing work on Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath), Rabbi Salanter set an example for the Lithuanian Jewish community during the cholera epidemic of 1848. He ensured that any necessary relief work on Shabbat for Jews was done by Jews. Although some wanted such work to be done on Shabbat by non-Jews, Rabbi Salanter held that both Jewish ethics and law mandated that the obligation to save lives took priority over other laws. During Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), Rabbi Salanter ordered that Jews that year must not abide by the traditional fast, but instead must eat in order to maintain their health, again for emergency health reasons.[9] Some claim that, to allay any doubts, he himself went up to the synagogue pulpit on that holy day, recited the Kiddush prayer, drank and ate - as a public example for others to do the same.

Then , another example:

1836 responsum R. Moses Sofer ( Chatam Sofer) (Schreiber) Father of the Orthodx resistance to modernity. He argued that, when faced with the danger posed by cholera, the prohibition against eating on Yom Kippur could be suspended even for a healthy person, and even where the mere possibility exists that such an action could be life-saving. However, he prefers that less extreme measures be taken where possible, even to the point of avoiding any public prayer on Yom Kippur, rather than suspending the fast.


What about active intervention? Am I meddling in an act of God? Some Christian groups, like Christian Scientists, see illness as something to be dealt with spiritually, for example.

From my colleague: Rabbi Noah Golinkin (3 Shevat 5766)

Question: It says in the Torah “for I the Lord am your healer” (Exodus 15:26). If so, why do Jews practice medicine and consult doctors? Why don’t we simply pray to God to heal us like Christian Scientists?

I) We Should Pray to God and Not Use Doctors

A snake says: “If I was not told by Heaven to bite, I would not bite” (Yerushalmi Peah, Chapter 1, 16a bottom). Hanina ben Dosa, a talmudic wonder-worker said: “The snake does not kill; sin kills” (Berakhot 33a and parallels). A few statements opposed to medicine can also be found in rabbinic literature. The Mishnah (Kiddushin 4:14) says “tov shebarofim l’gehinom” – “the best of physicians to hell” while Avot D’rabi Natan (Version A, Chapter 36, ed. Schechter p. 108) says that “Seven do not have a place in the world to come: a clerk, a scribe, tov shebarofim – the best of physicians, a judge in his city, a magician, a hazzan, and a butcher”.  ( But see item VI below!) [ Again, the poor doctor and butcher are in the same boat!]

II) People Do Not Have the Right to Heal, But it is Their Custom to Do So

Berakhot (fol. 60a at bottom):A person who goes in to bloodlet says: “May it be your will Oh Lord my God that this procedure cure me, for you are a loyal healer and your healing is true, for people do not have the right to heal but it is their custom to do so”

III) A Combination of Prayer, Sacrifices and Doctors

The third approach is found in the book of Ben Sira ,Chapter 38 (verses 1-15, ed. M. Z. Segal, p. 243) that people should honor doctors because God gave them wisdom and they should not refuse medicines which come from the earth and exhibit God’s power. When a person gets sick he should “pray to God for he will heal”, offer sacrifices “and also give a place to the physician for there is need of him too” and one should not oppose him.

IV) ” From Here We Derive That a Physician Has Permission to Heal”

In two places in the Talmud ( Berakhot 60a and Bava Kamma 85a), we find the following passage: It was taught in a baraita in the academy of Rabbi Yishmael: ” Verapo yerapeh – and he shall verily cure him”. [Why the double verb?] From here we derive that a physician has permission to heal. Tosafot comment- this includes injury inflicted by humans and injury inflicted by disease.

V) “Permission to Do a Mitzvah”

In the Shulhan Arukh ( Yoreh Deah 336:1) written in Safed ca. 1550, Rabbi Yosef Karo rules as follows:The Torah gave the doctor permission to heal, and it is a mitzvah , and it is part of pikuah nefesh , and if he avoids healing, he is spilling blood [=a murderer].

VI) A Sage May Not Live in a City Without a Doctor

  A Baraita in Sanhedrin (17b) states: Any city lacking these ten things, a Sage may not live there: a Bet Din. a basket for tzedakah .a synagogue, a bath house, a latrine, a doctor, a bloodletter, a clerk, a butcher, an elementary school teacher.[Now the doctor and the butcher are in a good place together!]

VII) A Doctor Helps God Heal the Sick –

Midrash Shmuel :It happened that Rabbi Ishmael and Rabbi Akiba were strolling in the streets of Jerusalem with another man. They encountered a sick person who said to them, “My Masters, tell me with what should I be healed?”

 They told him: “Take such-and such until you are cured”. The person who was with them said to them:

“Who afflicted this man with sickness”?

They said: “The Holy-One-blessed-be-He.”

 He said to them: “And you interfered in an area which is not yours! He afflicted and you heal?”

They said to him: “What is your occupation?”

He said to them: “I am a farmer, as you can see by the sickle in my hands.” They said to him : “Who created the field and the vineyard?” He said: “The Holy-One-blessed-be-He.” They said to him: “And you interfered in an area not yours? He created these and you eat their fruit?

”He said: “Don’t you see the sickle in my hand? If I did not go out and plow the field, cover it, fertilize it, and weed it, nothing would grow!”

They said to him: “Fool! Could you not infer from your occupation that which is written, ‘as for man, his days are as grass’ (Psalms 103:15). Just as with a tree, if it is not fertilized, plowed, and weeded, it does not grow, and if it already grew but then is not watered, it dies; so the body is the tree, the fertilizer is the medicine, and the farmer is the doctor.” ( Midrash Shmuel 4:1).

VIII) A Sick Person Must Call a Doctor, But He Should Continue to Trust in God

Rabbi Hayyim Yosef David Azulay (the Hida, 1724-1806) ruled that today, a sick person may not rely [on] miracles and must follow the way of the world and call a doctor to heal him. And it is not in his power. to say that he is greater than the pious ones throughout the generations who were healed by doctors, and it is almost forbidden [not to call a doctor] either because of yohara [haughtiness] or because of relying on a miracle. Rather he should follow the common custom of being healed by a doctor, but he should not rely on the doctor but pray to God with all his heart and trust in Him.


Finally, back to our quote about the Jewish doctor going to Gehenna:

IX) It is a Mitzvah for a Doctor to Heal People

This is the approach of Maimonides which he states in at least four places in his writings. He first addressed the issue in his commentary to the Mishnah ( Nedarim 4:4) which he completed in 1168 at the age of 30. The Mishnah says there that if Reuven took a vow that he will not derive any benefit from Shimon, Shimon may still heal him. Maimonides explains that this is “because it is a mitzvah , that the doctor is required by law to heal Jewish patients [as the Sages said] ‘and you shall return it to him’ (Deut. 22:2) – this comes to include his body” (Also see Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Nedarim 6:8; Commentary to Mishnah Pesahim 4:10; Shemonah Perakim, Chapter 5).

As a doctor once told me, avoid going to doctors, but I don’t think he took it literally  himself. Then, another doctor told me, the worst patients were his Jewish ones== each one had a cousin who is a doctor, and suddenly, they , too, were experts!!

So, above all else, may you be blessed not to have to go to the doctor’s office, and if you do, it should be short, sweet, and productive for good health.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Animal Rights, Jewish Rights and Kashrut


Animal Rights, Jewish Rights and Kashrut

For the video discussion:


This portion, Shmini ( Leviticus 11), includes in it some of the key principals of kashrut, so it gives us an opportunity to explore how and why it is such a controversial topic:


For centuries, kashrut was a way of distinguishing Jews from their neighbors, even from their Muslim neighbors who observed some variation on the method of Shechitah, or slaughtering of the animal.


Right now- it is a critical matter in Europe, where countries are pushing a ban on both Jewish and Muslim kosher & halal slaughter.

Thus, the European Union Court in effect allowed the banning of kosher meat by requiring stunning before Shechita, a method which has been proven by animal rights activists, such as Temple Grandin, to be ineffective and often itself, an act of painful cruelty.


Elliot Abrams, one of America’s most senior foreign policy experts, now on the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.


We saw another form on Feb. 13, 2024, when the so-called European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Belgium was entirely free to ban kosher slaughter.

In regards to freedom of religion, the court reduced it in the context of animal rights:

 “The Court considered that the protection of public morals, to which Article 9 of the Convention referred, could not be understood as being intended solely to protect human dignity in the sphere of inter-personal relations. The Convention was not indifferent to the living environment of individuals covered by its protection and in particular to animals, whose protection had already been considered by the Court. Accordingly, the Convention could not be interpreted as promoting the absolute upholding of the rights and freedoms it enshrined without regard to animal suffering.”


The writer comments:

Let’s be clear: The court found that the practice of Judaism endangered “public morals.” This, on the continent where the very existence of Jews was not so long ago considered a threat to public morals. Nor is Belgium alone; kosher slaughter is also banned in Sweden, Iceland, Norway, and Slovenia. So far. The president of the European Jewish Congress, Ariel Muzicant, said after the February ruling that “We are already seeing attempts across Europe to follow this Belgian ban, now sadly legitimised by the ECHR.”



Europe’s hypocrisy is visible to all:

Ira Rifkin


If easing animal cruelty is the motivation, why are factory farming, the isolation and confining of veal calves, the cutting of hens’ beaks, the production of foie gras and the endless pregnancies that dairy cows are forced to endure also not outlawed? Then there is the continued use of animals for human medical research and the legality of hunting strictly for sport.


But there is nothing new under the sun. It is not an attempt to put Muslims in  their place( politely pushing them back to North Africa and the Middle East) with Jews as an incidental target. .

Jews have been targeted all along.

Here is a document, from my father’s archives. Of the same law being pushed in post-Holocaust Germany:


To make it short and simple, the same law was being promulgated in July 6 1951 news article., Allgemeine:


New “Animal Protection” in Bavaria:

The limitation on the killing of animals:The demand for a ban on kosher slaughter


He calls this proposed law the height of hypocrisy, a shameless attempt to gain votes in an election.

. A few months ago, the new head of the Bavarian State Compensation Office described the reparations as a crime against the Bavarian people; Now people in the same city are declaring that slaughtering must be banned for reasons of humanity. In a country where the cry of pain of countless murdered Jews went almost unheard, it must be more than strange to display excessive love for animals by accusing Jews of crimes against humanity for slaughtering them.


Strutting around in the toga of animal friendliness has long been a well-known

anti-Semitic practice. It's always the same circles: they preach love for

animals and trample on charity. We remember the Nazis, who banned slaughter

and practiced the mass slaughter of entire groups of people


He then went on to list the many exceptionally cruel methods of slaughter that were standard:

Should we also point out the cruel method of killing crabs, eels or rabbits? Compare also the ritual killing of poultry and the tearing off of the heads of pigeons and chickens, which is common in non-Jewish households, as well as the slaughter of geese and ducks with blunt or jagged knives, which is carried out by unprofessional people. These domestic slaughters fly in the face of all humanity.


The great irony, he pointed out, that it was the German Military ,in 1894 ,that had determined that :


On the basis of this report, the army administration made killing by cutting the neck compulsory in the meat canning factories that worked for the army. The same thing had been ordered at that time by the Dutch War Ministry for similar considerations.


Going back to Dr. Temple Grandin, one of the foremost experts on animal care, she is working with Rabbinic authorities to introduce methods that are effective, work with rules of kashrut, to everyone’s benefit, and not grandstanding while there are greater cruelty issues abounding.


So, let’s take a quick glance at some principals of kashrut, based on the text of the Torah



The right to eat meat is given to the descendants of Noah after the flood, a concession to humanity, which has become violent, with the limitation that the blood must be poured out. The killing of animals is put on a lower level than that of the killing of man, yet there is a recognition of the concession to human appetite, not a whole sale blessing (This is different from the attitude to sex--in Christian scriptures, it is a concession to human passion- Paul -Better to marry than burn in hell, Identification of the fruit of the garden with sexuality. It is missing in main Jewish sources, though it may have been in the sects that left us the Dead Sea scroll, and are , since then, dead themselves.


In Rabbinic law, this concession is also basis for universal prohibition of " Ever Min HaChay"- the limb of a living being.


This is a minimum moral standard for all humanity. For example.a Bedouin custom( recorded in ancient documents also)- a pre-Moslem practice--cutting a live camel and eating it in pieces. Till today, in China- brain of live monkeys. Modern version--Oyster on the half-shell, the lobster boiled alive.


These two principles become one of the pillars of kashrut:

1)    Ever min ha hay-- The animal must be killed before eaten. This is expanded upon in Lev. 17:15 “That which dies by itself or torn of beasts-- the word: terefah.Torn by wild beasts; Man is distinguished from the wild animal. That is basis for act of killing which minimizes injury and torment to the animal.

2) Dam-Life blood= also backed explicitly in Lev 17; the blood must be spilled out.. . This is basis for shechitah, as the methiod of killing which combines least pain with the immediate loss of blood.( followed up by salting or broiling to remove most blood).


Very clear that one of the very central functions of kashrut is to recognize that the cruel and savage act of eating meat is a concession to our weaknesses, and perhaps our physical needs, with the attempt to  minimize pain & cruelty and to sensitize us to suffering, the very broad category of Tsaar Baalei Chayim.


By the way, many of the very great Rabbis were vegetarian. Rav kook., David Hakohen, Shaar Yashuv Kohen, Rabbi Sacks, Rabbi Wolpe.


          What other value goes into the component of kashrut?

          There is the aspect of health, which is incorporated into the rules of examination of the animal, which exclude diseased animals,”A danger is more forbidden than that which is forbidden. “ Sakana hamira me isura.

          There is the aspects of national distinction, which separates the Jew from gentile ( as it separates Egyptian from Hebrew). This is basis for exclusion of certain animals, such as pig, or horse, or camel.


     2) Other animal rights issues in kashrut:


          a) The limitation of permitted land animals : Lev 11,.

to those w/ split hoof-chew cud-, permitted birds limited to chicken, duck, pigeon, goose families. Elimination of beast of prey-- to prevent identification with violence ( common practice--eating tiger heart to gain courage of tiger).

          b )Restriction of the boiling of calf with mother's milk. Mentioned three times, in relation to festivals. Extended to not cooking together, separate dishes, waiting 24 hours after meat.

Implicit -Emotional sympathy with the cow as a mother with feelings.


Now, today, we have a new option, one which goes around any bans on kashrut by hypocrites:




There are great debates going on now in the kosher world:


With DNA replicated meats, grown from a lab sample of a strand of meat:

1)    Is it kosher if the donor animal was still alive?

2)    Must the donor animal be kosher slaughtered?

3)    What if the donor animal was itself not a kosher animal?

4)    Is that meat now fleishig? Or Parve?

Finally, once the whole world has gone over to veggie burgers, what happens to Jewish distinctiveness?

Also, for all who think vegetarianism is a solution for animal cruelty, what will happen to the billions of domestic chickens and turkeys and cows that will be unemployed and no longer edible. What happens as they are released to the wild to fend on their own? Will they be left to starve to death slowly on the farm as the farmer has no money to feed and care for them?

It will be fascinating to see how this plays out.


Sunday, March 31, 2024

Holy Cow- on the Golden Calf and the Red Heifer


Holy Cow- on the Golden Calf and the Red Heifer

March 30,2024

For the video presentation

Last week-  special Torah reading Ki Tisa- directed at fund-raising, in particular, the poll tax of half shekel per adult male. The intention to provide a fund, obviously, for the regular maintenance of the new Tabernacle, but also later, the Temple.

However, in the very same portion, which we actually read 4 weeks ago, the main thrust is the story of the Golden Calf- egal ha Zahav. Suffice it to say that the declaration of reconciliation between God & Moses, becomes the core theme of Yom Kippur. Adonay, Adonay- The Lord, The Lord, is a compassionate God.

One element of the reconciliation with the people, is this strange ceremony:

Ex 32:20

וַיִּקַּ֞ח אֶת־הָעֵ֨גֶל אֲשֶׁ֤ר עָשׂוּ֙ וַיִּשְׂרֹ֣ף בָּאֵ֔שׁ וַיִּטְחַ֖ן עַ֣ד אֲשֶׁר־דָּ֑ק וַיִּ֙זֶר֙ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י הַמַּ֔יִם וַיַּ֖שְׁקְ אֶת־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

He took the calf that they had made and burned it; he ground it to powder and strewed it upon the water and so made the Israelites drink it.


When else do we have ceremony involving drinking something that is dissolved in the water?

Numbers 5:14

but a fit of jealousy comes over him and he is wrought up about the wife who has defiled herself—or if a fit of jealousy comes over him and he is wrought up about his wife although she has not defiled herself



The priest shall put these curses down in writing and rub it off into the water of bitterness.

He is to make the woman drink the water of bitterness that induces the spell, so that the spell-inducing water may enter into her to bring on bitterness.


If she is innocent, the waters do her no harm. The upshot is that the  husband and the wife, now that the fit of jealousy has gone, can reconcile and continue to build their lives together.


Can you see the parallel here:

The prophets saw the relation of the children of Israel as that of two lovers:

Hosea, for example, takes a wife who is unfaithful, and he then understands God’s problem with the people of Israel- an unrequited love, but the goal is a reunion of the two lovers:


And I will espouse you forever:
I will espouse you with righteousness and justice,
And with goodness and mercy,

And I will espouse you with faithfulness;
Then you shall be devoted to GOD.

Hosea 2:21

This is what we say when we wrap the tefillin around the hand:

אֵרַשְׂתִּ֥יךְ לִ֖י לְעוֹלָ֑ם וְאֵרַשְׂתִּ֥יךְ לִי֙ בְּצֶ֣דֶק וּבְמִשְׁפָּ֔ט וּבְחֶ֖סֶד וּֽבְרַחֲמִֽים׃

וְאֵרַשְׂתִּ֥יךְ לִ֖י בֶּאֱמוּנָ֑ה וְיָדַ֖עַתְּ אֶת־יְהֹוָֽה׃ {פ}

Erastich—is the term for a legal engagement, essentially, a marriage.


So, we can see the burnt waters of the Golden Calf as a test of loyalty of the beloved to the lover. An appropriate parallel.


Now, this Shabbat, we have a special additional reading, Shabbat Parah- the Shabbat of the Heifer, specifically, the Red Heifer. It appears only a few chapters after our ordeal of the jealous husband. Numbers 19

זֹ֚את חֻקַּ֣ת הַתּוֹרָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֥ה יְהוָ֖ה לֵאמֹ֑ר דַּבֵּ֣ר ׀ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְיִקְח֣וּ אֵלֶיךָ֩ פָרָ֨ה אֲדֻמָּ֜ה תְּמִימָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר אֵֽין־בָּהּ֙ מ֔וּם אֲשֶׁ֛ר לֹא־עָלָ֥ה עָלֶ֖יהָ עֹֽל׃

This is the ritual law that יהוה has commanded: Instruct the Israelite people to bring you a red cow without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which no yoke has been laid.


The red heifer is slaughtered, burned to ashes, and the ashes then mixed with water and sprinkled on someone who has been defiled ,  impure.



This leads into a question that disturbed the Rabbis for centuries, but I will get to that next. For now= I have had a Golden Calf, an ordeal of jealousy, and now ashes from a read heifer—all are actions that are intended to lead to a reconciliation. The children of Israel look for a physical tangible God in the golden calf so to say that their invisible lover is not enough for them and by this ordeal of the dust of the golden calf in the water they find some kind of reconciliation. In the case of the ordeal of jealousy the water of bitterness into which the name of God has been dissolved becomes a tool to bring the two closer together. And now with the red heifer the dust of the red heifer becomes a tool to eliminate the alienation and distancing from God that comes with feeling impure.


Why red heifer. Well we may want to ask first about the golden calf, what color is gold? You know we have white gold are we have rose gold and we have the old gold also sometimes called Mexican gold which is a strong red tinge to it. So when we say a Red heifer we may mean a cow that has a reddish tone to a blonde hair there, could be like a rose gold or the red gold. Now maybe we have a connection?


Rashi comments from a Midrashic source:


Why this rite was performed with a cow may be exemplified by a parable. It may be compared to the case of a handmaid’s child that defiled the king’s palace. They said: Let the mother come and wipe up the excrement. Similarly here: since they became defiled by a calf, let its mother (a cow) come and atone for the calf (cf. Midrash Tanchuma, Chukat 8).


now you can see the connection that the red heifer becomes a reminder that there's always a source for purification and reconciliation when we have gone astray as happened at the golden calf, the mother cleaning up the mess of the baby.


This in turn actually leads to a much more complicated question and it perturbs the rabbis:


 That the whole element of a red heifer and the dust and ashes and purifying and impurifying are a very odd and irrational command. One of the things the rabbis did not like was irrationality. They wanted to believe that everything could be proved logically from the clear language of the text without resorting to too much invention. So all of the Bible in their thinking, all of the commands had to have some grounding, some basis in actual fact ,in actual reality in practical application , and that's how they interpreted the Torah's laws. As far as they were concerned when it came to faith , faith was discovered out of an experience with reality, an experience with history, and these were things that could be proven and verified. It's a very different perspective from the classic Christian perspective which puts everything on the concept of blind faith or as one of the church fathers stated “I believe because it is absurd”.

We can agree or disagree if the Rabbi’s logic was really correct ,really founded in fact but certainly that's what they were looking for. Therefore this particular observance perturbed them very much. How could you have a ruling that did not have an explanation to it, that has no proof behind it or reason behind it.

The Rabbis commented that even King Solomon, the wisest man, gave up trying to understand it.

 So there is this rabbinic discussion:


A certain stranger questioned Rabban Johanan ben Zakkay, “These things which you do seem like a kind of sorcery. You bring a heifer, burn it, pound it, and take its ashes. Then [when] one of you is defiled by a corpse, they sprinkle two or three drops on him, and you say to him, ‘You are clean.’”

 He said to him, “Have you ever had a bad spirit of madness enter you?” He told him, “No.” He said to him, “Perhaps you have seen someone into whom a bad spirit has entered?” He told him, “Yes.” He said to him,

“So what did you do for him?” He said to him, “They bring roots and burn them beneath him. Then they sprinkle water on [the spirit], and it flees.”

 He said to him, “Let your ears hear what you are uttering with your mouth. Similarly is this spirit an unclean spirit. Thus it is stated (in Zech. 13:2), ‘and I will also remove the ‘prophets’ and the unclean spirit from the land.’ They sprinkle the purifying water upon him, and he flees.”


After the gentile had left, [R. Johanan's] disciples said to him, “Our master, you repelled this one with a [mere] reed [of an answer]. What have you to say to us?” He said to them, “By your lives, a corpse does not defile, nor does a heifer purify, nor does water purify. Rather, the Holy One, blessed be He, has said, ‘I have enacted a statute for you. I have issued a decree, [and] you are not allowed to transgress against my decree.’” Thus it is written (in Numb. 19:2), “This is the statute of the Torah.”


The Hebrew word here is Hukkah—an ordinance, as opposed to Mishpatim, judicial decisions. Mishpatim, like the law against stealing or murder, are grounded in human logic and experience.

A Hok-or Hukkah- in Biblical Hebrew-is , we might say, something axiomatic—a given, a foundation.


We might say, that as rational or analytical as the Rabbis wanted to be, they express something here that is a deeper philosophical issue, that is that there is a point beyond which pure logic can not go, an event horizon. For example, pure logic, reiniges Vernunft, can clarify our positions, but it can not tell us what is the value of a human being. It cannot tell us what life means. It can not tell us what is our goal for existence as a human being.


So, I think we can summarize that a Hukkah, like the Red Heifer, helps us face those things for which we have no easy answers. As Rabbi Ben Zakkai stated, its function is to remind us that our goal is to carry out the demands of that which is greater than any one of us, alone, or combined.


So what now, when there is no red heifer, no Temple, and no sacrifice?

Christians claim that it was solved by Jesus ( a propos of Easter) as the ultimate Korban, replacing all others once and for all.


But we have a better answer:

About this, from Midrash Tanchuma has this to say about the portion:

“Israel said in front of the Holy One, blessed be He, Master of the world, You command that we bring all of these sacrifices. But now that the Temple was destroyed, where can we bring our sacrifices to atone for our sins?”


So the Holy One, blessed be He, said to them, “If you want that they should be atoned for you, keep my laws. How?

God said to them, “Keep my Torah. And how do we know this?”

זֹ֣את הַתּוֹרָ֗ה לָֽעֹלָה֙ לַמִּנְחָ֔ה וְלַֽחַטָּ֖את וְלָאָשָׁ֑ם וְלַ֨מִּלּוּאִ֔ים וּלְזֶ֖בַח הַשְּׁלָמִֽים׃

Such are the rituals of the burnt offering, the meal offering, the sin offering, the guilt offering, the offering of ordination, and the sacrifice of well-being,


אֲשֶׁ֨ר צִוָּ֧ה יְהֹוָ֛ה אֶת־מֹשֶׁ֖ה בְּהַ֣ר סִינָ֑י בְּי֨וֹם צַוֺּת֜וֹ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל לְהַקְרִ֧יב אֶת־קׇרְבְּנֵיהֶ֛ם לַיהֹוָ֖ה בְּמִדְבַּ֥ר סִינָֽי׃ {פ}

with which יהוה charged Moses on Mount Sinai, when commanding that the Israelites present their offerings to יהוה, in the wilderness of Sinai.


“This is the Torah of [the Hebrew letter used here Is “La”-about-]- the burnt offering, the meal offering, the sin offering, the guilt offering, the offering of ordination, and the sacrifice of well-being,” do not read it ‘rather’ as such “ La” about, but “La” ‘not’(in Aramaic the word לא  is read like the letters LA) these are the teachings (Torah): not the burnt offering, not the meal offering, not the sin offering, not the guilt offering, not the offering of ordination, and not the sacrifice of well-being. Rather you should be busy learning Torah and it should be important to you more as if you were making an offering equal to all of the offerings.” (Tanhuma, Tzav portion, Siman (section)14 – Warsaw edition)


Finally, let’s keep in mind- the nature of the Korban= to the most part, eaten by the worshipper in the presence of God—Who eats together?

Not peasants and Lords, not ruler and ruled, but only trusted close friends and family, as in the word “companion”- with whom we share “pan”- our bread.

In the future, maybe we will have once again, a Temple feast, human in the presence of God—and we can use lab grown meat for the ox!