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Childbirth

Inversion Tactics: Deciding How to Interpret Words and Actions

Elie Wiesel shared these words with the world for Holocaust Remembrance Day: “I still believe that one minute before one dies, there may be hope in his or her heart—one minute before one dies, he or she is still immortal... " Ours is a tradition that relishes in the inversion of the expected.

D'var Torah By: 
Moving Past Discomfort to Delve into Difficult Texts
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Daniel Utley

Rabbi Spratt makes a valuable point suggesting that we invert this text of illness and affliction and find instead lessons that help us recognize blessings, in his words, “to invert labels of disparagement into monikers of might.” His teaching about viewing differences in our abilities and identities as positive aspects of who we are as human beings is both timely and profound.

Power to the People: Relying on a Collective Authority

Priest as physician. Spiritual blight as medical malady. Simmering beneath the descriptions of scaly skin and malignant discolorations in Parashat Tazria is a mode of power that challenges the modern mindset. A dominant few of paternal priestly lineage hold the knowledge and authority to diagnose, isolate, and adjudicate regarding leprous eruptions. The fate of those afflicted rests solely in the proclamations of the priests, who deem whether people are labeled “clean” or “unclean.”

D'var Torah By: 
Grappling with the Differentiations Between Female and Male that Are Embedded in the Text
Davar Acher By: 
Judith R. Baskin, Ph.D.

It is difficult to enter the world of Leviticus. It is a realm preoccupied with ritual purity and impurity, and a priestly space sanctified through sacrificial offerings and atonements. This foreign domain is ordered by hierarchical dualities that separate the divine and the created, the holy and the unholy, the human and other created beings, the clean and the unclean, the Israelite and the non-Israelite, the priest and the ordinary Israelite, the able-bodied and the disabled, the free and the enslaved, the adult and the child, and the male and the female. We see this in Parashat Tazria.

Finding Unique Blessings in Every One of Us

In the double portion, Tazria/M’tzora, we have the responsibility, even if it isn’t our pleasure, to investigate texts on birth and its aftermath, bodily afflictions and emissions, skin ailments, and leprosy. They were once taboos that raised fears in the community and turned priests of their day into guardians of purity.

D'var Torah By: 
Separation as a Path to Holiness
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Baht Weiss

A country road splits into two roadsRabbi Lyon begins

Judaism, Medical Science, and Spirituality: A Brief History

The double portion, Tazria/M'tzora, discusses the priests' treatment of various skin ailments. It demonstrates a positive relationship between Judaism and medicine that has developed throughout the centuries.

D'var Torah By: 
The Priest as a Social Worker
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Cookie Lea Olshein

While Tazria/M'tzora introduces the role of priests as medical healers, it also suggests that priests served as social workers and spiritual healers, helping make both human beings, and by extension, the community, whole again.

Bringing New Meaning to the Status of a Menstruating Woman

Theologian Elizabeth Dodson Gray notes: "Women's bodies may be the hardest place for women to find sacredness" ( Sacred Dimensions of Women's Experience, 1988, p. 197). Our society sends negative messages to women from earliest childhood about the expected perfection of their physiques and the disappointments of any flaws in the female form. Parashat M'tzora, then, with its focus on menstrual impurity (15:19-24), seems to impart the same kind of unfavorable sense. Rejecting our own received biases and patriarchal assumptions about menstruation, however, can help us form a contemporary view of these so-called taboos.

D'var Torah By: 
Power and Autonomy in the Menstruation Taboo
Davar Acher By: 
Suzanne Singer

Rabbi Goldstein elegantly turns the traditional notion of nidah, menstruation, on its head: from a condition conveying impurity or even uncleanness, to one of sacredness and power. In a similar reconception, the author Judith S. Antonelli points out that since, "procreation, bodily secretions, and death all convey tumah . . . it is inaccurate to categorize tumah as 'death' and taharah [purity] as 'life,' for tumah itself comprises both life and death"1

Antonelli traces the negative connotations associated with menstruation to the rabbis of our tradition. The Babylonian Talmud, for example, states: "If a menstruating woman passes between two [men], if it is at the beginning of her period she will kill one of them, and if is at the end of her period she will cause strife between them" (P'sachim 111a, in Antonelli, p. 279). The medieval philosopher and physician, Nachmanides, believed that the child was formed from the woman's blood, but not out of her menstrual blood: "How could a fetus be formed out of that, since it is a deadly poison, causing the death of any creature that drinks it or eats it!" (ibid.)

On Illness and Separation from the Community

In his book The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, and the Human Condition,1 Dr. Arthur Kleinman makes an important distinction between illness and disease. He writes:

Illness refers to how the sick person and the members of the family or wider social network perceive, live with, and respond to symptoms and disability. . . . Disease, however, is what the practitioner creates in the recasting of illness in terms of theories of disorder.

We see this distinction between illness and disease clearly in Parashat Tazria in the laws concerning tzaraat,— a skin ailment sometimes translated as "leprosy," its diagnosis, and the treatment of those afflicted with it.

The priests are practitioners. They want to know exactly what disease this person with a skin rash has, what are its symptoms, and — most important — what the person did to "get" the disease. In Leviticus 13:2-3 we read:

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. . . . when the priest sees it, he shall pronounce the person unclean.

D'var Torah By: 
A Change of Perspective Makes a World of Difference
Davar Acher By: 
Ron Segal

When I was fourteen and in the eighth grade, one of my great uncles died. In his will, he bequeathed his car to my parents. Oh, what a car it was — an immense, hideous 1960 Oldsmobile, solid steel, tail fins, and in a putrid shade of brown one would be hard-pressed to find even in the largest box of crayons. I will never forget the horrified expression on the face of the girl with whom I carpooled to school when she opened her front door that spring morning and beheld the brown chariot in which she would now be riding to school. I remember we made my father drop us a block from the school to avoid the humiliation of being seen emerging from that dreaded Oldsmobile. But, a few years passed and then, something remarkable happened — I got my driver's license. Amazingly, my perspective about the car instantaneously changed: "Oh big, beautiful, brown Oldsmobile . . . how I love you so."

I often reflect upon this bit of personal history when we come to these words of Parashat Tazria.

The Skin (Deep) Disease

Parashat Tazria/M'tzora is concerned with skin diseases and the procedures involved in checking for them, assessing them, declaring the sufferers healed, and reintegrating the latter

D'var Torah By: 
The "Magic" of Ritual
Davar Acher By: 
Kim S. Geringer

In this week's double parashah, Tazria/M'tzora, we learn more than anybody would ever want to know about a skin condition called tzaraat, an apparently serious collection of skin

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