Torah Reading for Week of May 12-18, 2013
“In or Out of the Camp: A Reflection”
By Rabbi Cheryl Weiner, PhD, ’07, AJRCA Director of Placement
In this week’s parasha, among all of the detailed instructions for determining whether your wife may be a sotah, an adulteress, and how to become a nazir, a Jewish monk, there are verses regarding tzara’ath, eruptions of the skin, and tum’ah, ritual impurity due to contact with a dead body. Each of the discussions, of sotah, the nazir, tum’ah, and tzara’ath, includes the themes of sustaining the purity of the community through isolation from the camp.
The vast rabbinic commentary regarding tzara’ath did not assume that these ailments were medically induced. Rather, they were seen as physical manifestations of a moral turpitude that was being punished, ranging from an evil tongue, murder, a vain oath, illicit sexual intercourse, pride, theft, and miserly behavior (T.Bavli Arachin 16a) Cures would be affected by repentance and forgiveness. Only separation protected the community from infection from whatever it was that caused the tzara’ath.
At dinner with two adult students of mine, both working in the medical industry, one as a neurologist, the other as an AIDS health administrator, I discovered that those afflicted with AIDS are still treated as social pariahs in many communities. Often families do not support treatment regimens due to their fears of ostracism. If you fill a prescription, you might be “outed” by your neighbors as having AIDS, considered as a sign of moral turpitude rather than as a disease. In many communities, those with AIDS are forced to stay outside the camp.
At a recent family gathering, I discovered that a number of years ago, a family member was told that her new husband was not allowed to walk down the aisle with her at her son’s wedding, because he was not Jewish. Today, who gets to stand under a chuppah or who gets to have any aliyah or who gets to be buried next to a loved one can be challenged by laws established to set up boundaries. These boundaries were established to maintain the sanctity of the community. While we often struggle with the inclusion of those who are not Jewish, how does exclusion protect the sanctity of the community especially when these are beloved individuals within families as well as congregations?
How do our sensibilities and values related to issues of inclusion vs. exclusion define our personal and collective version of Judaism? We need only look at the landmark legislations issuing forth from Israel regarding Women of the Wall to recognize that we still struggle as a people to understand how to distinguish who belongs in the camp and who does not. What constitutes moral turpitude and who undermines the sanctity of the tradition? According to a whole segment of the Jewish tradition, a female wearing a tallit and wrapped in tefillin or raising her voice in prayer should be kept outside the camp. In gratitude, I can report that with pressure from the Jewish mixed multitude and G-d’s grace, this concept has been challenged and women have been invited to come back into the camp at the Kotel, the Western Wall.
This week, as we continue to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, we can bring into consciousness how we want to sanctify the mishkan,the divine tabernacle of our souls. We can contemplate who we want to include or exclude from the camp and what the consequences are for these actions. We can also examine who we are as a collective and what our goals are for our rituals and relationship to G-d as we stand again at Sinai and enter into Shabbat. May we raise all of our voices in prayer as we sanctify these and those, the words of the living G-d.