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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3


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LEVITICUS — 21:1 defile

An important--perhaps the most important--consolation the Jewish tradition offers mourners is its belief in an afterlife. Hence, the advice recorded in the Talmud: "Weep for the mourners and not for their loss, for [the deceased] has gone to eternal rest, but we [the mourners] are suffering" (Mo'ed Kattan 25b). The traditional Jewish belief is that the soul survives and remains aware of those left behind. Many Jews are under the misconception that Judaism does not believe in an afterlife and are heartened to learn that it does. [I believe there is a connection between the Torah's non-discussion of an afterlife and the fact that the Torah was revealed after the long Jewish sojourn in Egypt. Egyptian society in which the ancient Israelites long resided was obsessed with death and afterlife, as reflected in the holiest of Egyptian literary works, The Book of The Dead. The major achievement of many Pharaohs was the erection of pyramids, which were giant tombs. In contrast, the Torah focuses on this world, so much so that it forbids Judaism's kohanim (priests) from having contact with dead bodies [this verse; in Egypt, the priests helped prepare the body for internment). Thus, the Torah may well have been silent about afterlife out of its desire to ensure the Judaism not evolve in the direction of Egyptian religion. Throughout history, religions that have assigned a major, and perhaps exaggerated, role to the afterlife often have permitted other religious and ethical values to become distorted. Thus, it was belief in an afterlife that motivated the Spanish Inquisition to torture innocent human beings; the inquisitors believed it was morally right to torture people for a few days in this world until they repudiated their supposedly heresies and excepted Christ, and thereby save them from the internal torment of hell. In our own times, the strong belief of afterlife among Islamic terrorists enabled them to kill themselves while murdering innocent people--mainly non-Muslims--with whom they disagree. Thus, the nineteen Islamic terrorists who murdered 3,000 people on September 11, 2001 were convinced that after crashing their planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, they would immediately be granted heavenly reward. How much less evil might they--and, centuries earlier, the inquisitors--have done had they not believed in an afterlife.] Helping the mourner--if he is open to such a belief--to focus on the continuing existence of the soul of the one who died can help assuage his or her hurt and anger.

LEVITICUS — 21:5 gashes

No one has the right to injure his own or anyone else's body, except for therapeutic purposes. Judaism regards the human body as Divine property (Maimonides, Hil. Roze'ah, 1:4) surrendered merely to man's custody and protection. It is an offense, therefore, to make any incisions [this verse and commentaries] or to inflict any injuries on the body, whether one's own or another person's (Hoshen Mishpat, 420:1 ff, 31). One may not as much as strike a person, even with his permission, since the body is not owned by him (Tanya, Shulhan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat, Hil. Nizkei ha-Guf, 4.) Such injuries, including even amputations (Maimonides, Hil. Mamrim, 2:4) can be sanctioned only for the overriding good of the body as a whole, i.e., the superior value of life and health.

LEVITICUS — 21:8 kohen

It is a positive commandment to accord honor to a kohen: [a direct mail descendent of Aaron] since Scripture says, You shall hallow him [this verse] – – which means to make him holy and prepare him, that he should be fit and ready to offer up sacrifices [at the Sanctuary], and also to treat him with honor, making him first in every matter of holiness: to begin as the first at the reading of the Torah, to be the first to say the benediction at a meal, and to take a fine portion at the start. We are duty-bound to hallow him [thus] even against his will if he does not wish it, since Scripture states, You shall hallow him--even against his will. Even if a kohen has a disfiguring defect, and thus is not fit for Temple service, we are obligated to honor him.

LEVITICUS — 21:10 superior

Priests, the living symbols of a functioning religion, were are also under orders to present a handsome appearance. The high priest is described in the Bible as "the priest who is superior among his brethren" [this verse]. His superiority must be manifested, according to the Talmud, in his "strength, comeliness, and wisdom" (Yoma 18a). Yet men in the public eye quickly discover that strength and comeliness, qualities visible to all, are central to early impressions and evaluation of a leader.

LEVITICUS — 21:17 defect

There are numerous sources that seem to show that a deformity is considered something negative in Judaism. A deformed Kohen (priest) cannot serve in the Temple [this verse]. A deformed animal could not be brought as a sacrifice on the altar (Leviticus 22:20). The Sefer Hachinuch (Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #275) believes that a Jewish leader cannot be physically deformed, since people would concentrate on his deformity rather than on the job he should be doing. However, all these examples analyze deformity in public or in the Temple, which is the symbol of perfection. However, on a more private level, the attitude toward deformity seems very different. The Mishnah (Avot 4:20) exhorts the Jew not to judge anything or anyone based on his outward appearance, but on its content. Based on this Mishnah, it should not make any difference how a person looks on the outside, but how a person behaves and thinks on the inside. Certainly, this is the crucial factor in Judaism. What makes man created in the "Image of G-d" (Genesis 1:27) is not his outward form, since G-d Himself has no outward form (Deut. 4:12, 15). Therefore, in Judaism, the person's attractiveness or lack thereof is irrelevant to his value as a human being. It is through his or her actions by which a person is judged, irrespective of physical appearance. Western society, by placing such importance on physical attractiveness, is antithetical, in this instance, to Jewish belief. While physical attractiveness can be an added positive in a person, it is certainly not among the most important traits for a Jew to possess (See chapter on "Beauty"). On the other hand, physical attractiveness or even deformity is not a negative feature in evaluating a Jew and may even be a positive feature, according to Rabbi Joshua. Certainly, the status of a deformed person in Judaism is no less or no better than every other human being.

LEVITICUS — 21:19 cure

Dispensation to intervene in the natural order [i.e., to heal sickness or injury] is derived from Exodus 21:20 (sic 21:19); (but once such license is given, medical therapy is not simply elective but acquires the status of a positive obligation [footnote omitted]. As indicated by Sanhedrin 73a, this obligation mandates not only the rendering of personal assistance as is the case with regard to the restoration of lost property, but, by virtue of a negative commandment, “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:16), the obligation is expanded to encompass expenditure of financial resources for the sake of preserving the life of one’s fellow man. This seems to have been the interpretation given to Maimonides’ comments by Rabbi Joseph Caro who, in his code of Jewish law, combined both concepts in stating: “The Torah gave permission to the physician to heal; moreover, this is a religious precept and it is included in the category of saving life; and if the physician withholds his services it is considered as shedding blood.” Yoreh De’ah 336:1.

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