Intermountain Jewish News

Aug 22nd
Home Columns View from Denver Denial and the demonic

Denial and the demonic

E-mail Print PDF

On its face, this portion is Leviticus at its most inaccessible. Ugly lesions and discolorations appear on a person’s body. The victim turns to the priest. Based on the criteria laid down in last week’s portion, the priest knows whether this disfigurement is a sign of disease, requiring medical treatment, or a sign of ritual impurity. If the latter, the priest banishes the victim from all contact with society.

Depending on various changes in the victim’s physical condition, he remains in enforced isolation for up to two weeks. Then he goes through a mortifying purification ritual. Finally, he is is readmitted to society.

What can this possibly mean?

We have here a graphic picture of the powerful grip of denial. Only a psychological framework brings coherence to the extremes of cosmetic chaos, social stigma, and ritual mortification. Only hammer blows to the body and the spirit alike elicit that most simple and most difficult of human responses, the opposite of denial: self-knowledge. I see myself. I erred. Disfigurement and isolation — lesions, discoloration, ostracism — plague this portion’s primary actor, the victim of all this physical and spiritual pain, the metzora.

For centuries, the metzora was commonly translated “the leper” and his ostracism was conceived to be medical quarantine. Rabbi Samson R. Hirsch notices that by conventional wisdom and translation, the symptoms of the metzora and the conditions of the leper do not jibe.

For example, upon evidence of true leprosy, a leper is medically quarantined to prevent contagion, but Leviticus’ metzora, with the spread of symptoms over his entire body, is freed from isolation; and with the healing of certain symptoms, is subjected to isolation (13:12-14). Clearly, the enforced isolation of the metzora is not due to contagion.

Rabbi Hirsch devotes several pages to a detailed analysis of the differences between leprosy and the Levitical debility.

The metzora, therefore, is not a leper. The physical symptoms of the metzora result from a spiritual disease, not a physical one. The metzora is bodily punished for sins of the soul; his enforced solitude is a spiritual solution to sin and its markings.

In a phrase: the metzora’s disease is punishment. With this, the inaccessibility of Leviticus reaches its climax. Even those who regard disease as a punishment from G-d for a spiritual failing do not generally link a specific disease to a specific failing. But Leviticus asserts a one-on-one linkage. The metzora has a specific disease, which is G-d’s punishment for his specific failing.

What can this possibly mean?

The rest of this article is available in the April 4, 2014 IJN print and digital edition only. Contact Carol to order your copy at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or subscribe to our new online e-Edition.


IJN e-Edition

This is only a taste! Get full access to the IJN via our e-Edition, only $14.04 for IJN Print subscribers.

E-Edition subscribers get access to a complete digital replica of the IJN, which includes all special sections.

Get the IJN's free newsletter!

Shabbat Times

JTA News

Elsewhere: The end of liberal Zionism, Jewish sperm, Russell Brand vs. Anti-Semitism

Talia Lavin JTA rounds up noteworthy items from the Web. ... [Link]

In shadow of Ferguson, group builds ties across racial, cultural lines

Anthony Weiss In St. Louis, the organization Cultural Leadership has focused on Jewish and African-American experiences to teach high schoolers to fight for social justice. ... [Link]

Vandals target Jewish school in Denmark

Gabrielle Birkner A Jewish school in Denmark’s capital city was vandalized this week — its windows broken and anti-Semitic graffiti spray-painted on the building. ... [Link]

Boy killed by rocket fire; synagogue struck, injuring 3

Julie Wiener An Ashdod synagogue was hit by a rocket Friday afternoon, injuring three people lightly. ... [Link]

This Week in Jewish Farming: The high cost of cheap vegetables

Ben Harris Even those of us selling fancy heirloom tomatoes and freshly harvested kale are at the mercy of a market that has conditioned consumers to pay low prices for their vegetables. ... [Link]

David Gregory’s Jewish book plans

Anthony Weiss Recently fired from “Meet the Press,” David Gregory plans to bare his Jewish soul. ... [Link]

CBS to adapt British sitcom about Jewish family

Ben Sales CBS will adapt a British sitcom about a Jewish family, called “Friday Night Dinner.” ... [Link]

British Jewish human rights activist Helen Bamber dies

Ben Sales Jewish human rights activist Helen Bamber, who founded organizations to help victims of torture and violence, has died at 89. ... [Link]

Intermountain Jewish News • 1177 Grant Street • Denver, CO 80203 • 303 861 2234 • FAX 303 832 6942 • •