Kingdom of Priests

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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