[JOI Word of Torah] Big Tent Judaism: Chukat
Kerry M. Olitzky
KOlitzky at joi.org
Wed Jul 2 18:02:34 GMT 2008
"Big Tent Judaism" Word of Torah
July 5, 2008 / 2 Tamuz, 5768
The red heifer, which is featured at the beginning of this week's Torah
portion, is the only real sacrifice in the Torah. While people usually think
of sacrifices as animals consumed by fire on the altar, most of the
sacrifices look more like a bar-b-que picnic than they do a religious event.
In most cases, the animal's meat is shared among the priests and only its
inedible parts are transformed into smoke and fumes on the altar. But the
red heifer is sacrificed wholly. Add to it that it is such a biological
rarity, and this law stands as a mysterious ritual practice. No wonder it
has not been reintroduced into mainstream Jewish practice-even if there are
small groups interested in reclaiming it as a ritual.
So, is this an example of a ritual that is difficult to understand and
should be left aside or an example of something that we have to pursue
further in order to understand and glean a lesson that can be applied to
current spiritual practice? This is particularly important, I believe, as we
consider how to reach those on the periphery of the Jewish community. If it
is something worth pursuing, how do we share such obscure practices? Are
they relevant to share at all? And why should we work so hard to figure them
out when the basics have to be taught, as well? oHow Can they ever fall into
the category of "Why be Jewish," the question that everyone seems to be
asking these days?
Admittedly, I don't have an answer to these questions. But I do think that
they are the right questions to ask, nonetheless, if we are reach those on
the periphery of the Jewish community.
Rabbi Kerry Olitzky is the author of many inspiring books that bring the
Jewish wisdom tradition into everyday life, and is, among other books, the
author of Introducing My Faith and My Community: The Jewish Outreach
Institute Guide for the Christian in a Jewish Interfaith Relationship
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You are welcome to use these ideas in your own work and writings as long as
you would be so kind as to credit Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and the Jewish
Outreach Institute, thank you.
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