Tazria-Metzora – on the Bar Mitzvah, on the body, and on biblical reimagination

The double parshah for this week deals with the impure and unclean. From a biblical perspective, this includes menstruation and leprosy. Some joke that this is the most dreaded week to have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah because writing a Dvar Torah on these subjects is tricky for anyone, much less an adolescent. In my movement of Humanistic Judaism, we do not require that Bar and Bat Mitzvahs read the Torah portion for their birthday or the date of the ceremony. We encourage them to choose projects of relevance to them to research and write about, we offer Torah readings that inspire them and challenge them to enter into the conversations about biblical interpretation that have excited Jews for centuries, and we ask them to complete Tzedakah work in their community to emphasize the “mitzvah” in Bar/Bat Mitzvah. We have changed some of the tradition around the Bar Mitzvah (Bat Mitzvahs are themselves a change from tradition) in order that they be relevant and meaningful. I have a friend who jokes that when he did his Bar Mitzvah it was on the “leprosy one.” He can’t remember anything else. I want more than that for our youngsters. Of course, change and tradition are constantly in tension in Judaism. Some change is necessary; no one does things the way they did in biblical times as we do not have a temple. Most Jews do not attempt or wish to follow all or most of the Halachah. But that doesn’t mean Jewish law, text, and tradition are irrelevant. For many of us, tradition gets a vote but not a veto. But we must carefully consider how and why we create change. Judaism continues to undergo evolution and revolution. It makes us nervous, but also excites us to be part of its ever-changing landscape.

In Metzora, it is menstruation which is the subject of the rule-making. The text is 

very clear that the menstruating woman is “impure” that the Priest should offer a sin-

offering (and a burnt offering) on her behalf, and that separation is necessary. It is not 

like the “red tent” was such a bad place to be; separation had its advantages. And we can 

understand these rules as evidence for the fear (and loathing) of women’s bodies and 

cycles on the part of the male authorities of the time, their power subverted somewhat by 

their fear of the power of the female body and cycle. But we do not have to celebrate the 

parts of the bible that remind us that sexism is endemic to the Jewish religion. We 

continue to work to extricate the sexism from Judaism. 


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