Defilement and Blasphemy Parsha Emor: Leviticus 21: 1-24:23. 26.04.13

Defilement and Blasphemy Parsha Emor: Leviticus 21: 1-24:23. 26.04.13
Howard Adelman
Emor means speech. Some of the specific laws applying to the Koanim, the priests, are about protecting those priests from defilement. Marrying someone who is not a virgin is defilement for a high priest. Marrying a divorcee is defilement for any priest. But since the punishment simply bans the priest from entering the holy of holies, and since the Temple has been destroyed and there is no holy of holies, one might be led to believe that a Cohen or a Katz suffers no real consequences from such harsh bans if those bans are broken. But what if the rabbis say the laws still do apply to the Koanim and it does not matter if the Temple no longer exists, then the rabbis will simply refuse to marry a Cohen or a Katz if he wants to marry a divorcee.
What about a daughter of a priest? After all, these priests were not celibates. “If a kohen’s daughter becomes desecrated through adultery she desecrates her father; she shall be burned in fire.” (21:9) A little harsh, I would suggest. Further, it is quite inequitable. The old priest just cannot participate in the sacraments. The young teenage girl gets burned to death.
The women are not the only ones who are discriminated against, and quite ruthlessly. So are the defective ones. It is one thing to say the people with puss running out of their wounds or who were in contact with dead bodies and had not washed themselves, should not come near the place of sacrifice, but what about those with deformities, including a broken arm? What about those with long eyebrows (21:20); they are defined as “deformed”.
Squeezed between defilements of Koanim and laws about blasphemy come the list of the Holy Days, including the 49-day counting of the Omer, a period in which we are now in the midst of, which begins on Passover and culminates in the festival of Shavuot on the fiftieth day. But then comes the laws against not only murder and injury of one’s fellow man (an eye for an eye), or for destruction of property, but for blasphemy. The portion named “speech” bans free speech.“And one who blasphemously pronounces the Name of the Lord, shall be put to death; the entire community shall stone him; convert and resident alike if he pronounces the [Divine] Name, he shall be put to death.”(24:16) The law is carried out. “And Moses told [all this] to the children of Israel. So they took the blasphemer outside the camp and stoned him, and the children of Israel did just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” (24:23)
Thomas Aquinas wrote that blasphemy was a worse sin than murder since the action targeted God, but the action was miniscule compared to murder given the consequences of murder, whereas words could not hurt God. Thus, in spite of the unequivocal wording of the text, there is a way out; since no one was hurt, and since blasphemy is a sin only against God, then one can leave the punishment up to God. In the West, anti-blaspheny laws are no longer enforced. However, many individuals and states do not leave enforcement up to God. The vast majority of Islamic countries not only have laws forbidding blasphemy, but they enforce them. As in the case of Salman Rushdie for publishing The Satanic Verses, an imam can issue a fatwa condemning a person for blasphemy.
So what do we make of a section on speech that inhibits and even prohibits free speech. Last night we watched Jon Stewart and his guest, the Jon Stewart of Egypt, Bassem Youssef. Youssef Has been arrested in Cairo and questioned for hours about insulting both President Morsi and Islam. Subsequently, Egyptian authorities threatened to revoke the license of the station that airs Youssef’s program, though they evidently laughed uproariously when Youssef mocked Mubarak. Stewart subsequently mocked Morsi himself in a hilarious episode that I never saw. There were two subsequent official responses, one from the United States embassy in Egypt. The embassy had tweeted the Stewart monologue and, then deleted the tweet first totally and then restored it but without the Stewart monologue presumably as a result of pressure from the Egyptian government on the American government. “Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s office called the tweet ‘inappropriate’ and unbecoming of a diplomatic mission, while the State Department said the unusual affair was the result of ‘glitches’ in the embassy’s social media policies that are now being corrected.”
If you think the whole affair was not getting funnier by the moment, The American Cairo Embassy “came to the conclusion that the decision to tweet it in the first place didn’t accord with post management of the site. Next, the Egyptian government charged Jon Stewart with defamation and gave him 30 days to surrender to the Egyptian authorities. If he did not surrender, they would try him in absentia and then apply to have him extradited.
.”This conspiracy to defame the Egyptian government violates our laws and will be prosecuted fully. Mr. Stewart may think he’s funny. But in reality he is destroying the moral fiber of Egypt with his numerous references to penises and openly flamboyant homosexuals like Larry Craig, Marcus Bachmann, and Lindsey Graham.” As the Egyptian government stated, there is nothing more important than defending Egypt’s honor against the United States’ most prominent political comedian.
If such religious text portions did not have such drastic consequences for some directly affected, we should all applaud them as excellent sources of humour.


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