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Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim (Leviticus 16:1-20:27)

“You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or
show deference to the rich; judge your kinsman fairly.” (Leviticus 19:15)

We read two parashot (portions) this week because of how the Jewish calendar is calculated. Months are determined by the moon’s cycle, but the year is determined by the sun’s. Therefore, a Jewish year can have from 50 to 55 weeks. Since the number of parashot doesn’t change, some years require certain parashot to “double up” on a given Shabbat.

Nehama Leibowitz (1905-1997; a scholar who revolutionized the teaching of the weekly Torah portion) teaches: look at the world through your parashat hashvuah, or weekly Torah portion, glasses. This week Acharei Mot defines forbidden sexual relationships including, “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence.” (Lev. 18:22) And this week the US Supreme Court begins hearing arguments regarding same-sex marriage. How does one inform the other?

Constitutional “originalists” believe its meaning is fixed as of the time of enactment and they presume the ability to determine this meaning. So, opponents of same-sex marriage likely read Acharei Mot literally, as in the Biblical era. Ironically, though, the Jewish legal tradition assumes God’s will is inscrutable relies (heavily) on going beyond the literal meaning of the text for applicable interpretations. Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson (1959- ; Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University) reads this verse through a contemporary lens as an injunction to see people for who they are, and not to pretend they are something they are not. Proponents of same-sex marriage likely read Acharei Mot metaphorically.

The US Constitution defines rights; the Torah defines obligations. The Constitution aspires to “a more perfect union;” the Torah commands us to be a “holy people.” While the words in each remain fixed, they are relevant today because of the evolving meanings we read out of those words.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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