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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Parshat Emor

Posted by rabbiart on May 8, 2008

As we continue our reading of Vayikra (“He called” aka Leviticus) we are receiving a major dose of the traditional 613 mitzvot. In parshat Emor we have over 60 mitzvot. The first set has to do with the conduct of a kohen (priest who served when the 1st and 2nd Temples were operating). In particular, who a Kohen may not marry, and under what circumstances a kohen cannot serve in the Temple. These are followed by some particulars regarding animals to be sacrificed, and finally be prohibitions from work and commands to offer the musaf offering on the High Holidays and the Pilgrimmage Festivals (Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuot).

The last commandment derived from this parshah is that the Israelites should dwell in sukkot (booths). This is based on Vayikra 23:42-43, where the Torah says the “you shall dwell in booths seven days, all that are home-born in Israel shall dwell in booths; that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your G-d.

מב בַּסֻּכֹּת תֵּשְׁבוּ, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים; כָּל-הָאֶזְרָח, בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, יֵשְׁבוּ, בַּסֻּכֹּת. מג לְמַעַן, יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם, כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּהוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם: אֲנִי, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.

This is in surprising contrast to the more inclusive reach of the verse that concludes the final episode of this parshah; the punishment for cursing the divine Name. Unlike the mitzvah of dwelling in Sukkot, the prohibitions of cursing, maiming or killing apply to both home-born and foreigner alike. “Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for the home-born; for I am the LORD your God.

מִשְׁפַּט אֶחָד יִהְיֶה לָכֶם, כַּגֵּר כָּאֶזְרָח יִהְיֶה: כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה, אֱלֹהֵיכֶם

Why are gerim not included in the commandment to dwell in Sukkot? They are explicitly mentioned in the “criminal law” provisions of Chapter 24? Rabbinic Judaism does not want them to be excluded from the mitzvah of Sukkot, so it reads the next word “in Israel” to include those who have converted.

When we read the Torah without reference to later rabbinic commentary it appears that gerim have a status of their own which is not identical to born-Jews. Rabbinic tradition interprets ger as referring to someone who has joined the Jewish people. But when we consider the admonitions on treating the ger (stranger) with compassion because we were gerim in Mitzrayim we can easily read the text as saying that ger means stranger, as “we were strangers in the land of Egypt” since we certainly did not convert to the Egyptian religions.

Careful reading of this parshah and knowledge of later tradition shows how our practices and even the understanding of words in the Torah can change and evolve over time. With respect to the ger who has become a Jew by choice, is there any part of Judaism in which she or he should not be included?

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2 Responses to “Parshat Emor”

  1. SGould said

    Haven’t we been taught that a convert, a “ger” who has accepted Judaism, is to be treated exactly as if s/he had been born a Jew? Why do we even think about making distinctions between those who happened to be born to a Jewish mother and those who have chosen to join us?

  2. rabbiart said

    According to this snippet from the Jewish Encyclopedia (online), there is a period of time in our history where multiple classes of people have identity as members of that class. Not only that, but a clear order of precedence is recited.

    Order of precedence according to the baraita runs as follows: (1) one anointed with the sacred oil (king); (2) the high priest; (3) one anointed for battle (field-commander); (4) the substitute high priest; (5) the chief of the guard (of the Temple “ma’amad”); (6) the chief of the bet din; (7) the trustee of the Temple; (8) the treasurer of the Temple; (9) the ordinary priest; (10) the Levite; (11) the Israelite; (12) the bastard; (13) the Nethinite (see Josh. ix. 27); (14) the “ger” or proselyte; (15) the released slave (who has embraced Judaism). This order holds good only where there is equality in learning; otherwise the learned bastard precedes the ignorant high priest (Tosef., Hor. ii. [ed. Zuckermandl, p. 476]; comp. Yer. Hor. iii. 5). “The ḥakam precedes the unlearned king because when a ḥakam dies he leaves a vacancy; but when a king dies any Israelite is fit to succeed him. . . . The king precedes the high priest; the high priest precedes the prophet” (Hor. 13a).

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