Haftarat Acharey Mot—Ezekiel: Abomination

May 4, 2016 at 3:54 pm | Posted in Acharey Mot, Ezekiel | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , ,
Every week of the year has its own Torah portion (a reading from the first five books of the Bible) and its own haftarah (an accompanying reading from the books of the prophets). This week the Torah portion is Acharey Mot (Leviticus 16:1-18:30) and the most common haftarah is Ezekiel 22:1-19.

The Torah frowns on some actions because they are ra (רַע) = bad or immoral; some because they are tamei (טָמֵא) = not pure for religious purposes; and some because they are to-eivah (תּוֹעֵבָה) = abominable, disgusting, offensive. This week’s Torah portion and haftarah reveal two different views of what should be to-eivah to the god of Israel.disgust 1

The authors of both Leviticus and Ezekiel knew that societies in the ancient Near East had different opinions on what was abominable. The first two books of the Bible, Genesis/Bereishit and Exodus/Shemot, use the word to-eivah only to describe what the Egyptians abhor: eating at the same table with Canaanites (Genesis 43:32), and the slaughter of sheep (Genesis 26:34, Exodus 8:22).

This week’s portion in Leviticus/Vayikra declares that some of the practices that Canaanites permit are off-limits to Israelites.

You must keep My decrees and My rules, and you must not do any of these to-eivot, [neither] the native-born nor the resident alien among you. Because the men who were on the land before you did all these to-eivot, and they made the land tamei. (Leviticus/Vayikra 18:26-27)

to-eivot (תּוֹעֵוֹת) = plural of to-eivah.

The passage leading up to this statement lists 17 acts that are both tamei and to-eivot for Israelite men: twelve kinds of sex involving relatives, sex with a menstruating woman, sex with your comrade’s wife, giving your child to the god Molekh, sex with another male, and sex with a beast.

Two of these acts are labelled tamei within the list, perhaps to emphasize that they cause religion impurity: sex with a comrade’s wife and sex with a beast. Another act is specifically labeled to-eivah:

And you must not lie down with a male as in lying down with a woman; it is to-eivah. (Leviticus 18:22)

The book of Leviticus might have emphasized that this homosexual act was to-eivah for the ancient Israelites because it was accepted as normal among other peoples in the region, including the Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Philistines. These societies had laws against specific deeds such as father-son incest and homosexual rape, but treated sex between consenting males (and even boys) as a normal part of life.

But for the priests who wrote Leviticus, all sex between males was as abominable as raping your mother or giving your child to the foreign god Molekh.

The prophet Ezekiel was a priest deported to Babylon when Jerusalem fell, and he shared some of the opinions of the priests who wrote the book of Leviticus. But he took a broader view of what was to-eivah to the god of Israel. The haftarah from the book of Ezekiel denounces the residents of Jerusalem for recklessly committing deeds that are to-eivah. God asks Ezekiel:

And you, son of humankind, will you judge, will you judge the city of bloodshed and inform her of all her to-eivot? (Ezekiel 22:2)

Then God tells Ezekiel what to say. The first eight  to-eivot God says the citizens of Jerusalem have committed are: making idols, belittling their own parents, practicing extortion on resident aliens, oppressing widows and orphans, despising God’s holy things, profaning the sabbath, speaking slander, and eating sacrifices on mountaintops (where there were altars to other gods).

Next God mentions a few of the sex acts men are also forbidden to do in this week’s Torah portion: sex with their fathers’ wives, with menstruating women, with their comrades’ wives, with their daughters-in-law, and with their own sisters. Neither sex with other males nor sex with beasts is mentioned in this haftarah.

In the haftarah it is sex with another man’s wife that is explicitly labeled to-eivah.

And a man does a to-eivah with the wife of his comrade, and another man makes his daughter-in-law outrageously tamei, and another man rapes his sister, his father’s daughter. (Ezekiel 22:11)

The list is wrapped up with three more non-sexual to-eivot: taking bribes, charging extra interest, and damaging friends through extortion.

Ezekiel’s point may be that we should feel the same knee-jerk, visceral disgust that we feel in the face of incest and rape when we see our fellow citizens worship other gods or injure people through extortion, slander, and perversion of justice.

Can we change our gut reactions? Yes, over time. When I had my first period it seemed like an abomination, but eventually I accepted menstruation as a mere nuisance. On the other hand, when I was very young it did not bother me at all to trade my little sister a penny for a dime. After a few years I developed enough empathy so that the idea of deliberately cheating anyone seemed repulsive.

The Bible is right that we must pay attention and choose what is truly to-eivah to our god. But we can do better than the priests who wrote Leviticus. Modern commentators suggest that the incest rules in that book were designed to protect girls and women from the men living in the same household compound. Today we take the idea of protection farther by considering all acts of rape and all sex with children as to-eivah.

On the other hand, more and more of us smile when we see two men fall in love and go home together. I believe that today many people are more kind and fair than the Israelite authorities were 2,500 years ago.

Yet alas, too many individuals today still deserve Ezekiel’s denunciations in this week’s haftarah. Human beings cannot all have perfect empathy. But what if we all had a gut reaction to slander, bribery, and extortion, finding these deeds to-eivot? How would the world change?

Shoftim: Abominable

August 18, 2015 at 11:14 pm | Posted in Shoftim | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , ,

by Melissa Carpenter, Maggidah

lamb 2You shall not slaughter for God, your god, an ox or a lamb or kid that has a defect in it, any bad thing, because it is toeivah to God, your god.  (Deuteronomy/Devarim 17:1)

toeivah (תּוֹעֵבָה) = repugnant, causing visceral disgust; taboo; an abomination.

This is only the first of five times the word toeivah appears in this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim (“Judges”). This emotionally loaded word appears as a noun or adjective 117 times in the Hebrew Bible, and its verb form (תעב) appears 23 times.

An object or action can be toeivah to a class of human beings, or to God.  The first three times the word toeivah appears in the Bible, it describes what disgusts Egyptians.

Toeivah to Egyptians

The book of Genesis/Bereishit says that Egyptians find eating at the same table with Hebrews toeivah (Genesis 43:32).  We do not know whether Egyptians considered the manners or the diet of the Hebrews abominable.

Next Joseph tells his brothers that shepherds are toeivah to Egyptians (Genesis 46:34), meaning that Egyptians shun that occupation.  Then in the book of Exodus/Shemot, Moses tells the Pharaoh that the Hebrews must travel some distance to make sacrifices to God because their animal offerings are toeivah to Egyptians (Exodus 8:22).

Toeivah to God

The first thing considered toeivah to God, rather than to a group of humans, is in the book of Leviticus:

With a male you shall not lie down as one lies down with a woman; it is toeivah. (Leviticus/Vayikra 18:22)

This infamous line (misused by fundamentalists to claim that all homosexuality is an “abomination”) occurs in the middle of a list of sexual prohibitions God tells Moses to issue to the Israelites.

disgust 1The first verse to use the word toeivah in this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, specifies that an animal offering with a defect is toeivah to God.

Attributing visceral disgust to God is an anthropomorphization.  God, unlike Egyptians or other humans, has no viscera.

Immediately after warning that God is revolted by offerings with physical defects, this week’s Torah portion says that for Israelites to worship other gods  is toeivah, and anyone who does “this evil thing within your gates” must be stoned to death.  (Deuteronomy 17:4-5)  Furthermore,

Carved images of their gods you shall burn in the fire.  You must not covet the silver and gold upon them and take it for yourself, lest you be snared by it, for it is toeivah to God, your god. (Deuteronomy 7:25)

Toeivah deeds in this week’s Torah portion include not only offering defective animals and worshiping other gods, but also practicing magic.

When you come into the land that God, your god, is giving to you, you must not learn to do as the toavot of those nations. There must not be found among you one who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, a caster of cast lots, a cloud-reader, or a snake-diviner, or a sorcerer, or one who casts spells with a familiar, or a woman who inquires of the dead, or a man who consults ghosts, or a medium for the dead.  Because everyone who does these things is toavot, and on account of these toeivot, God, your god, is dispossessing them [the Canaanite nations] before you.  (Deuteronomy 18:9-12)

toavot, toeivot  (תּוֹעֵבֹת, תּוֹעֲוֹת) = plural of toeivah.

(See my blog post Shoftim: Taboo Magic.)

Toeivah to incite murder

The word toeivah appears one more time in this week’s Torah portion.  Moses tells the Israelites that when they conquer any Canaanite town in the land designated for Israel, they must kill all the inhabitants, men, women, and children.

Only from the towns of these people, [the towns] that God, your God, is giving to you as a possession, you must not let any soul live … so that they will not teach you to do like any of their toavot that they do for their gods; then you would do wrong for God, your god. (Deuteronomy 20:16,18)

Here Moses appears to assume that since the Israelites are so easily tempted, they are not responsible for their own actions.  He orders them to murder all of the potential tempters, as if genocide were a mere peccadillo compared to conversion to a different religion.

Which comes first, visceral disgust or the decision to commit genocide?

Required identification

The most famous example of modern genocide is the Nazi round-up and slaughter of Jews and members of other minorities, including homosexual men, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and blacks.

When Hitler came to power, Germany was suffering from a long economic depression.  Hitler wanted to make Germany great again.  His government intensified pre-existing prejudices, and used the perception of minorities as “inferior races” or abominations as an excuse to confiscate Jewish wealth, which funded 3-5% of the national budget and perhaps a third of the German war effort.

Then the Nazi government doomed Jewish men, women, and children, as well as the members of other minorities, to slavery and death in concentration camps.

Increasing visceral disgust for Jews enabled the government to improve the German economy, and treating the Jews as toeivah led to and justified genocide.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses wants to inspire the Israelites to conquer Canaan and secure it as an Israelite land, without any future assimilation or retaliation.  The most certain way to accomplish this would be to murder every Canaanite in every captured village or town.

Is the purpose of the proposed genocide to ensure Israelite ownership of the land?  Or to eliminate religious freedom and enforce the worship of one God?  Either way, labeling the Canaanites as toeivah justifies Moses’ call for genocide.

*

When we feel repugnance, our impulse is to get rid of whatever is disgusting us.  Personally, I find okra disgusting.  I believe that no moral issue is involved if someone gives me a bowl of gumbo with okra and I quietly dispose of it.

But what if we find a class of human beings disgusting and believe that they are even toeivah to God?  Can we just get rid of them?  No.  Genocide is never justified.

Moses underestimates the need for human responsibility in this week’s Torah portion.  He should be preaching that we are responsible for our own  religious worship—and that we must avoid doing abominable deeds in the name of God.

 

Blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.