Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Why God is Not a Liberal: The View from Leviticus

Jews read the Torah in a yearly cycle, one portion per Sabbath. Now that Passover is past, we’re back to the regular schedule. This week’s reading is Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12:1-15:33), and it’s not an easy read. Not only because the subject matter is displeasing — a kind of skin disease, not leprosy but that’s often the loose translation, that imparts ritual impurity — but because the contemporary application is not at all obvious.

Those Jews and Christians who don’t joyfully accept the Oral Torah, the oral tradition that explains the written Torah, have a devil of a time explaining what all this stuff is doing in the Hebrew Bible. If you include all the other passages in the Torah that deal with additional sources of impurity (tumah), they add up to huge swaths of text. To say this material is obscure is an understatement. What’s it all about?
I tried to explain in an essay for Jewcy, that took a political angle though there are certainly others. 



Liberal views, far from being random, actually form the political expression of a comprehensive worldview–in Biblical terms, tumah-thinking. It was to counteract this perspective that the Bible proposed its system of ritual contamination and purification.

Notwithstanding the Jewish identification with liberalism, God established us as a people to make exactly the kinds of distinctions I’ve tried to highlight here. “For I, God, am He that brings you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God,…to distinguish between the pure and the impure” (Leviticus 11:45-46).


While of course I have simplified a bit, liberalism is the ideological faction that, of the two philosophies in American political life, is easily the more identifiable with tumah.

Please don’t jump on me till you’ve read the whole thing. Needless to say, this doesn’t exhaust the meaning of Biblical “leprosy.” But it sure brings it a little more up to date, no?
One thing you cannot do is try to tell me that, “Oh, it’s primitive, barbaric folk medicine.” I repeat that the skin disease in question is often called leprosy but its symptoms do not match that of any known natural disorder. So again, if you want to take a naturalistic perspective, what’s all this stuff doing there?
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Bill from Up on the Hill

posted April 21, 2009 at 11:29 am

Hi David, I read the essay from ’07. Interesting. I do like the way you write and the depth of thinking it represents. Your essay crystallizes for me the difference between conservative and liberal thinking. But here’s the way I see it:
Conservatism sees everything in a dichotomy. It sees matter and spirit as oppositional forces. It sees liberalism, like materialism, as a contaminant, something to be cleansed. Therefore, it can only conceive of a world in which the opposing force is ultimately defeated and vanquished. And then, supposedly, the world will live happily ever after with only one point of view.
Liberalism in it’s truest sense, sees the world in terms of complementary forces. Yin and Yang is the best analogy. Things working from different perspectives that ultimately achieve common ends. Matter and spirit are really two sides of the same coin. One really can’t do without the other. So a true liberal would see the conservative as a necessary partner and would never work to vanquish the other’s point of view. Rather, he or she would try to honor and understand that point of view and see how it fits into the whole.
Have a blessed Day!

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Adam H

posted April 21, 2009 at 12:23 pm

Dave, I printed off that essay of yours from Jewcy a couple years ago, and I still have it and re-read it often. I have brought it up during some dvar Torah discussions at shul during this parshah.
Your insight to this matter has brought an enormous amount of modern-day significance to my morning hand-washing (or -elevation).

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Your Name

posted April 21, 2009 at 2:46 pm

The title of this posting and the statement that “Liberal views, far from being random, actually form the political expression of a comprehensive worldview–in Biblical terms, tumah-thinking” is absolutely unacceptable, and in rabbinic terms constitutes what is known as motzi shem ra’. This is NOT Torah teaching but outright slander and a Chillul haShem (blasphemous desecration of G-d’s Holy Name). Such rank politicization may very well have a place elsewhere -such as in an Ann Coulter column- but not in Beliefnet.
Who does Klinghoffer think he is, arrogantly CLAIMING TO SPEAK FOR G-D- Pat Robertson? James Dobson? Jack Abramoff’s ‘spiritual advisor’ Daniel Lapin?

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posted April 21, 2009 at 4:11 pm

Your linked essay makes it clear that your politics is guiding your understanding of Torah. If you take Jewish tradition as seriously as you claim you do, it should work the other way around.
Your attempt at equating Judaism with conservatism is as laughable the earlier generation’s attempt to make Judaism equal to liberalism. The Torah is bigger than either category.

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