Death Becomes It: Shmini 2021

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Note: I didn’t publish the previous two weeks due to my need to send different kinds of posts to my congregation on those Fridays. Welcome back!

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever shied away from someone simply because you didn’t wish to be associated with that person? When are such precautions necessary? Are there times when doing so is unfair to the other person?

As the Torah begins to explore the concept of ritual cleanliness, we learn of the consequences of coming into literal contact with a deceased animal:

The Pitch: “Anything on which one of them falls when dead shall be unclean: be it any article of wood, or a cloth, or a skin, or a sack – any such article that can be put to use shall be dipped in water, and it shall remain unclean until evening; then it shall be clean.” – Leviticus 11:32

Swing #1: “Objects like containers, tools, and musical instruments that come into contact with the carcass of these animals must be washed. The prohibition does not apply to surfaces like floors or tables.” – The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, Tamara Cohn Eskenazi & Andrea L. Weiss, ed.

Swing #2: “I might think that flesh which separates from a living creature confers tumah. It is, therefore, written ‘in their death.’ Just as death has no ‘replacement,’ so, a limb from a living creature has no replacement, (to exclude flesh, which does replace itself.) These are the words of R. Yossi Haglili. R. Akiva says: Just as death (involves) sinews and bones, so ever min hechai (to confer tumah, must involve) sinews and bones. Rebbi says: Just as a sheretz is flesh, sinews, and bones, so ever min hechai (must be) flesh, sinews, and bones.” – Sifra

Swing #3: “According to the plain meaning of the text it would appear that the words מהם במותם, ‘of them when they are dead,’ refer to what the Torah had written earlier in the context of בהמה טמאה, חיה, שרץ, mammals and all land based animals which are ritually unclean and cannot serve as food for Israelites, for why would the Torah mention ritual impurity affecting clothing as a separate subject, seeing that the same rules of impurity also apply to cadavers. Similarly, they all require the same qualifying symptoms in order to potentially be fit for consumption by Israelites. The Torah therefore is presumed to speak of all of these categories here.” – Tur HaAroch

Late-Inning Questions: What is the purpose of temporarily changing the status of something that comes into contact of certain dead animals? How should we evaluate a system that renders certain objects as “unclean”? Should we consider anything to be untouchable?

On-Deck at TBT: I hope you’ll join me in watching the Holocaust Resource Center’s Yom HaShoah remembrance program this Sunday at 11:00 a.m. You can still register here.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of refusing to associate with someone suspicious, there is still controversy whether Buck Weaver, one of the eight Chicago White Sox players permanently banned from baseball as a result of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, should have been punished, since Weaver met with gamblers but (unlike the other seven players) never agreed to take their money. Still, Major League Baseball still ruled that Weaver’s mere association with the gamblers justified his downfall.

Shabbat Shalom!