Thursday, March 14, 2013

Reuven Hammer on Vayikra

I found the following comments on Vayikra by Reuven Hammer in The Daily Rabbi, an online pluralistic Jewish magazine:

The reputation of the Book of Leviticus, which we begin to read this Shabbat, has suffered from ups and downs in the public eye. In traditional Judaism it was considered so important that the education of little children began with the study of Leviticus. “Let those who are pure come and study the laws of purity” was the common saying. In the nineteenth century, however, Leviticus was severely criticized by non-Jewish Biblical critics, who considered it to be a primitive book, concerned only with dry ritual, far from the high ideals of the prophets. 
Fortunately the reputation of Leviticus has recently been restored by the work of two outstanding individuals: Rabbi Jacob Milgrom and the late Prof. Mary Douglas.. Rabbi Milgrom has written a magnificent commentary that has revealed the religious concepts that underlie the book. Prof. Douglas, a devout English Christian anthropologist, viewed the book from a unique perspective. In Leviticus As Literature she explained the purpose of Leviticus as follows: 
Read in the perspective of anthropology the food laws of Moses are not expressions of squeamishness about dirty animals and invasive insects. The purity rules for sex and leprosy are not examples of priestly prurience. The religion of Leviticus turns out to be not very different from that of the prophets which demanded humble and contrite hearts, or from the psalmists’ love of God….The more closely the text is studied, the more clearly Leviticus reveals itself as a modern religion, legislating for justice between persons and persons, between God and His people, and between people and animals. (Pages 1-2)

We often distinguish Messianic Jewish theology from historic Christian theology by emphasizing our approach to the Torah. But as I read through Leviticus, I wonder if we Messianic Jews don't also struggle to discern the relevance of the forms of worship described in this central book of the Torah. I wonder if what makes it seem dry to us isn't a nagging feeling that these rituals depend on a metaphysics that is strikingly different from our own? The idea of God being worshipped through animal sacrifice is itself a difficult one which Jewish thinkers have been wrestling with since the medieval period.

Currently I am reading a book which includes insights from the other scholar mentioned by Dr. Hammer, Jacob Milgrom. Yeshua Our Atonement, the newest effort from R. Derek Leman, offers a Messianic Jewish synthesis of Milgrom's work on Leviticus and Christian thinker Scot McKnight's work on atonement. Derek's book is the only book I know of which does this. So far I am finding it very helpful for working out a Messianic Jewish theology of Leviticus and of atonement.

This is a particularly timely study since we've reached Leviticus in the Torah cycle and we're drawing near to Passover. I hope to review further insights derived from Derek's book in the weeks to come. If you want to join me in learning about these topics, you can order a copy of Yeshua Our Atonement here.

'via Blog this'

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Leviticus! the game?

(Godcast, via Tablet)
Apple's app store has a new offering just in time for the beginning of Leviticus in this year's Torah reading cycle. From Tablet Magazine:

As the game begins, cartoon animals go flying in the air, and players must slash their throats by swiping a finger across the screen. Like many similar video games designed for the iPhone and the iPad—most notably the ubiquitous Fruit Ninja—this new game, too, is fast, fun, and unremitting: one misguided touch and it’s all over. But play for a moment or two, and you realize that the game’s rules—blemished animals must be spared, doves must be sacrificed by the pair—were set in place by the grandest designer of them all: The game you’re playing is based on the Bible’s most intricately detailed book. 
Titled Leviticus!, the game, as its title suggests, is both irreverent and deeply faithful to the source text—all that business about doves and cows and purity is right there in the book. But whereas Leviticus is too thick with rules to make for a very compelling read, it’s perfect when played.

The game's author explains:
“The whole book is a series of rules,” she said. “It’s all about how the priest should do this but shouldn’t do that, and if he did something a certain way, something will happen, and if he didn’t, it won’t. It’s just a bunch of rules with rewards and punishment, and that’s what games are.”
Interesting. The following comment about trivial personal choices and identity is also interesting:
When players of Leviticus! learn, for example, that swiping at that pig casually making its way across the screen means an automatic game over, this question of belonging arises in full force: Nothing delineates the boundaries of identity more sharply than being forced to make rapid, personal choices, even seemingly trivial and symbolic ones like whether or not to sacrifice a virtual pig in a video game. Put simply, to keep the game going, the player chooses not to touch that pig, and, by doing so, recalls that we’re the people who find pigs impure. This is how ritual works; it’s also the fundamental structure of good education. this a brilliant way to help kids (and adults) learn the laws of Leviticus Torah? Sacrilege? Ethically troubling? (What if kids start imitating the behaviors in the game?) Regardless, it sure gives new meaning to the term 'angry birds'...

'via Blog this'