After the Bible adjures us to be Holy…. as God is Holy, pay the laborer on time and embrace the stranger, we can be forgiven if we are disappointed that when it comes to leadership positions, the Bible exhibits such a Neanderthal bias against the less-than-perfect. When it comes to serving God, the Bible excludes the handicapped explicitly, and women, without even the courtesy of honorable mention.
18 For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath anything maimed, or anything too long,
19 or a man that is broken-footed, or broken-handed,
20 or crook-backed, or a dwarf, or that hath his eye overspread, or is scabbed, or scurvy, or hath his stones crushed;
21 no man of the seed of Aaron the priest, that hath a blemish, shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the LORD made by fire; he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God.
22 He may eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy, and of the holy.
23 Only he shall not go in unto the veil, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not My holy places; for I am the LORD who sanctify them. (Leviticus 21: 18-23)
כִּי כָל-אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ מוּם, לֹא יִקְרָב: אִישׁ עִוֵּר אוֹ פִסֵּחַ, אוֹ חָרֻם אוֹ שָׂרוּעַ.
אוֹ אִישׁ, אֲשֶׁר-יִהְיֶה בוֹ שֶׁבֶר רָגֶל, אוֹ, שֶׁבֶר יָד.
אוֹ-גִבֵּן אוֹ-דַק, אוֹ תְּבַלֻּל בְּעֵינוֹ, אוֹ גָרָב אוֹ יַלֶּפֶת, אוֹ מְרוֹחַ אָשֶׁךְ.
כָּל-אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ מוּם, מִזֶּרַע אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן–לֹא יִגַּשׁ, לְהַקְרִיב אֶת-אִשֵּׁי יְהוָה: מוּם בּוֹ–אֵת לֶחֶם אֱלֹהָיו, לֹא יִגַּשׁ לְהַקְרִיב.
לֶחֶם אֱלֹהָיו, מִקָּדְשֵׁי הַקֳּדָשִׁים, וּמִן-הַקֳּדָשִׁים, יֹאכֵל.
אַךְ אֶל-הַפָּרֹכֶת לֹא יָבֹא, וְאֶל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ לֹא יִגַּשׁ–כִּי-מוּם בּוֹ; וְלֹא יְחַלֵּל אֶת-מִקְדָּשַׁי, כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה מְקַדְּשָׁם.
If we ever needed proof that the Torah is a product of it’s time, it is here. I do not believe that it detracts from the value or holiness of Scripture if it speaks in the language of it’s time. The onus is on us; the student, to separate the chaff from the grain. We modernists are open to the claim that we are arbitrary and carry our own bias as we pick and choose what stands the test of time and what is dated.
The counter argument is clear. If you accept and rationalize a woman’s second class status with:
“the glory of the King’s daughter is within” Psalms 45:14
Then you must also rationalize the Torah’s depreciation of the handicapped, the deaf, and the blind etc.
And these politically incorrect prejudices do not stop with the tribe of Levi and the High Priest… take a look at Maimonides Code, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Witness – Edut Chapter 9 . These and more are disqualified to give testimony in a court of law or sign a contract.
This week, I was privileged to hear a speech from a young woman. It was a thoughtful and emotional speech that one would expect from a graduate student in a top university, except that this young woman was deaf and was speaking (and hearing) without an impediment because she had a Cochlear implant … so that, thanks to science and some great doctors… she was not deaf or mute.
So, even the great Maimonides is wrong on this one….
A deaf-mute is equivalent to a mentally unstable person, for he is not of sound mind and is therefore not obligated in the observance of the mitzvot. Both a deaf person who can speak and a person who can hear, but is mute is unacceptable to serve as a witness. Even though he sees excellently and his mind is sound, he must deliver testimony orally in court or be fit to deliver testimony orally and must be fit to hear the judges and the warning they administer to him.
A lot has been written to rationalize these arcane biases. The take-away for me is that we are now free…. Or better yet, obligated, to update biblical law based on it’s context and intent. We neither need to apologize for the Torah’s bias, nor do we need to change the text and pretend that the Bible did not share opinions that were common in the age it was written. HaTorah dibra b’loshon benei adam. The Torah speaks in the language of people …..at the time it was written…
Once we accept this bias we can handicap the bible and say it like it is. We can stop wasting our time splitting hairs, justifying but ultimately delegitimizing whole segments of our population, whether by gender, sexual preference or physical or intellectual handicap and begin to tackle the really big, profound issues…
How to be holy…..