Jubilee: Leviticus 25:

What if we did not live in a world of mortgages? What if homes were not commodities, but discounted in anticipation of a redistributive Jubilee always coming closer? We know how to price bonds issued in one economy and resold before maturity in a later boom or bust. Pension funds put poor pensioners in the position of owners demanding profits from businesses – is there a limit?

Was it ever the case that each clan had equal territory in Israel and Judah, or that Jubilee was ever practiced in history? It’s doubtful, any more than that the Queen ever took back all her land and then granted it out in land titles in England or Canada. It’s a morally normative statement, and a ‘what if’ challenge, in the face of statistically normal patterns of mal-distribution of wealth. (Revisit our reading of Joshua and Judges, ‘Settlers and Anarchists’, this Easter season)

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Imagine letting the land lie fallow – no owner with any greater claim to the volunteer crop than any poor person, production slowed to natural issue. Of course, tradition later qualified sabbatical to a month before Rosh Hashanah in each seven years – a Sabbath of the land.

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Booths: Leviticus 23:33f

OK, this reading of Leviticus overlapped with the High Holidays in 2018, and few of us in Kitchener even noticed our neighbours’ observances. Our live conversations revealed that ‘booths’ are invisible around here – unlike in Toronto, where the leafy huts and lean-tos are ubiquitous, from the steps of Old City Hall to backyards across the city. Are they here, and we didn’t notice?

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Trumpets & Atonement: Leviticus 23:23-32

This enumeration again omits the haggadah or narrative stories relating to the two festivals, which are either written elsewhere, or committed to tradition. Local, regional, and ethnic variations of these festivals are inevitable, given this skeletal outline.

For us Glib Liberals, trying to read this as our story, the piety of Day of Atonement perhaps fits better in Holy Week, when we stop on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, in the shadows of sin.

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First Fruits & Weeks: Leviticus 23:9-22

We’re doing this devotional, ‘Glib Liberals Reading Leviticus in Tory Times’, not as anthropological arms-length curiosity about our neighbours. Our culture says ‘pay yourself first’, and resist the claims of the commonwealth, in taxation or in charity. This culture says pay God and commonwealth first. What do you say?

What if we applied ‘gleanings’ to our own economy, so focused on ‘productivity’ and avoiding ‘waste’? If we only keep score by quarterly returns to shareholders, and ignore the externalized costs to the wider community and environment, the poor lose first and most, but also the workers.

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Parties: Leviticus 23-24

I am surprised again this year in Kitchener by the Oktoberfest phenomenon – and by the absence of signs of the High Holidays of Judaism, just ending.

The cycle of festivals in this part of Leviticus reflects an idealized annual routine of holy-days from harvest around to harvest again. You can certainly recognize the high holy days of the fall. What’s your annual cycle of marking the year and the seasons?

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Restricted Uses: Leviticus 22

In our days of cash economy, the issue of acceptable offerings is less pressing. A buck is a buck, unless you want to trace it to lottery winnings, or proceeds of crime. Leviticus began by demanding sacrifices of animals without blemish, and first fruits of the best of harvests. You can’t use donations to cull the herd, a sort of housecleaning to supply the church rummage sales.

This chapter continues the demands that only the best is good enough for God, in any kind of offering. The temptation would otherwise have been to give leftovers and wastage – sort of like food banks or second harvest food redistribution schemes.

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Disqualified: Leviticus 21:16-24

Other cultures are open to positive associations of physical irregularity with spiritual power. Not us.

Blind, lame, short or long limbs, broken legs or arms, hunchback, dwarf, growth in the eye, boil-scar, scurvy, or crushed testes, complies the lists of disqualifying disabilities, all physiological, some accidental. Apparently it’s OK to be quite mad, just not limping!

The consequences of disqualification follow. The disabled are not euthanized, or banished or exiled. They get a share of the priestly clan’s food, just doesn’t come inside the curtain of the holy of holies.

How do you read these prohibitions? Shocking as they are, they seem to promise economic equality for the disabled, just social inequality.

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Separated: Leviticus 20:17-27

The argument is now tied to the land. God gives the promised land, and allows the Hebrew people to displace the Canaanites, on condition that they keep the land holy and keep themselves as a people holy, apart from the other peoples. They are to separate the clean and unclean beasts and birds, and keep holy, or the land will spew them out.

I am more struck this time through Leviticus with the ecological understanding of the land. It is to be given Sabbath rest, and sabbatical, and jubilee relief – not just the people, but the land itself is given the benefit of this covenant. Watch for the threats in a couple of weeks, at the end of Leviticus, about exile of the people from the land, giving it Sabbath rest that they failed to provide.

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Capital Crimes: Leviticus 20:1-16

What does it mean, for a people without the agencies to impose capital punishment, to prescribe it? Since at least the Babylonian exile 6 centuries before Jesus, and for most Jewish people most of the time before that, there was no authority which could implement these penalties.

Shunning from the community, strong taboos of exclusion and opprobrium, are within the power of a minority community in diaspora. Not capital trials and execution. That person should die, that person is dead to me, is a statement of extreme condemnation, not of policy.

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Routines & Rituals: Leviticus 19

The most quoted half-verse of Leviticus is here: 19:18b “Love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord”. Rabbi Hillel cited it as essential to Torah, and soon after, Jesus is said to have done the same – as does Paul in Romans. This is the Golden Rule. Did you feel like you had to dig a lot for that kernel?

The ‘Ten Commandments’ are here, too. We know the Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 6 versions, but the Decalogue is here, too: I/v4b, II/v4a, III/v12, IV/v3, V/v3, VI/v6, VII/v29, VIII/v11, IX/v16, X/v18. But removed from Moses’ two tablets, the skeleton gets flesh.

Laws of gleaning are a challenge to our economy: v9 says you always leave the edges and a corner of each field un-harvested, for the poor to forage, and v10 says you don’t pick all the grapes, but leave some for the poor. This is prior to the charitable gifts from the harvest.

Theft is amplified in v13 to include fraud, and delayed wages. Savour this text a moment, as it relates to white-collar crimes rather than smash-and-grab stealing. The tradition is already midrashic, intertextual conversation.

Abuse of power, complicity and collusion in injustice, and bias and prejudice are challenged in the remaining verses approaching the ‘Golden Rule’. For me, there’s a lot of fruit around that kernel of truth, and a beauty beyond reduction to immanent ethics apart from transcendence.

The second half of this chapter seems less sublime, and easier to ridicule. Prohibitions of cross-breeding cattle, or mixing two types of fabric seem indefensible from our perspective, the point of the rules lost in history, and maintained as ‘we’ve always done it this way’ routines. Yet the whole practice of Torah is to distinguish ‘this’ from ‘that’, from the first creation story in the Priestly voice in Genesis.

The law assumes social norms of slavery and patriarchy. It assumes that slaves have one set of rules to ensure social order by restraining who sleeps with whom, and who takes responsibility for children, and that those married and free have another set of rules. This boundary case beats death for adultery, but does provide a deterrent price for the man.

Restraint in early harvest of fruit trees, and restraint in eating anything with its blood, appears to repeat the rationales of sacrifice from earlier chapters. There is a rhythm, a routine, and rituals of norms around the basics of producing and eating food. We are not here to maximize production, but to live in relationship with the land, which will yield enough if we trust.

The prohibitions of divination or soothsaying remind me of the truisms that ‘my faith is your superstition’, ‘my mysticism is your magic’, ‘my religion is your cult’. Clearly, there were always competing traditions. Verses about shaving and tattoos are signs of those choices, ‘gang colours’.

Some readers link the ‘don’t make your daughter a prostitute’ to the prior verses about signs of choosing other cults, or intermarriage. I prefer the rabbinic traditions that deny parental rights to betroth daughters to old rich men without their consent. They are not to treat their persons as subject to use or abuse, sale or consumption – but as gifts to be shared, celebrated, and sacrificed.

Concerns for ethical and numinous, routine and ritual, are intertwined – with explosive implications in the coming weeks for politics and economics!

The concluding bits remind us to treat noncitizens, ‘ger’ among us, as if we remembered Egypt – and to use fair measures in trade – because, after all, God is God.

Leviticus 19

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

3 You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.

4 Do not turn to idols or make cast images for yourselves: I am the LORD your God.

5 When you offer a sacrifice of well-being to the LORD, offer it in such a way that it is acceptable in your behalf.

6 It shall be eaten on the same day you offer it, or on the next day; and anything left over until the third day shall be consumed in fire.

7 If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is an abomination; it will not be acceptable.

8 All who eat it shall be subject to punishment, because they have profaned what is holy to the LORD; and any such person shall be cut off from the people.

9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.

10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.

11 You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another.

12 And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD.

13 You shall not defraud your neighbour; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a labourer until morning.

14 You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling-block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.

15 You shall not render an unjust judgement; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbour.

16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbour: I am the LORD.

17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt yourself.

18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD.

19 You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your animals breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials.

20 If a man has sexual relations with a woman who is a slave, designated for another man but not ransomed or given her freedom, an inquiry shall be held. They shall not be put to death, since she has not been freed;

21 but he shall bring a guilt-offering for himself to the LORD, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, a ram as guilt-offering.

22 And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of guilt-offering before the LORD for his sin that he committed; and the sin he committed shall be forgiven him.

23 When you come into the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall regard their fruit as forbidden; for three years it shall be forbidden to you; it must not be eaten.

24 In the fourth year all their fruit shall be set apart for rejoicing in the LORD.

25 But in the fifth year you may eat of their fruit, that their yield may be increased for you: I am the LORD your God.

26 You shall not eat anything with its blood. You shall not practise augury or witchcraft.

27 You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.

28 You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the LORD.

29 Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, so that the land may not become prostituted and full of depravity.

30 You shall keep my sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD.

31 Do not turn to mediums or wizards; do not seek them out, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.

32 You shall rise before the aged, and defer to the old; and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.

33 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.

34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

35 You shall not cheat in measuring length, weight, or quantity.

36 You shall have honest balances, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.

37 You shall keep all my statutes and all my ordinances, and observe them: I am the LORD.

RIGHTS & RITES: Leviticus 19-25

For the last couple of thousand years, Leviticus’ code has been treated more seriously, and interpreted and applied to the point of death and banishment and exclusion. Rites and rituals, forms and formalities, honours and offices, heroes and hero-worship, have ruled the day, in cultures of honour and shame, rather than utilitarian calculation of how we use and abuse one another in production and consumption.

Have we evolved to something so much higher or better? Who are our heroes? Who are our demonized and excluded categories of humans? What if we just learned the laws of gleaning, for instance, instead of maximizing production at all costs?

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Stuff That Matters: Leviticus18:19-

Men are being told to restrain themselves, to respect the integrity of women, who can say no to sexual approaches, citing their menstruation. The rule is there because people do both initiate and resist sexual intimacy, even within socially sanctioned marriage. The penalty clause is silent, but millennia of domestic conversations have been shaped by the text.

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Modesty: Leviticus 18:1-18

The first 18 verses of chapter 18 are about variations on the theme of incest taboos. In our law, they include rules of consanguinity, and of prohibited degrees or relation for potential marriages. They are not limited to eugenic breeding concerns, or to public health concerns. They go to dimensions of social stability: seducing in-laws, across generations. Go ahead and read the rules. Prudery?

Certainly, this social ordering of gender, sexual and family roles is a patriarchal ordering. It honours the integrity of an individual against those who might cross lines, abusing power including patriarchal power. It honours the integrity of family roles and relations, making taboo many familiar abuses most common among men against women and children. Patriarchy has restraints for patriarchs. Do we?

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Indulge: Leviticus 17:10-16

The code recognizes that sometimes you come in contact with a traif thing, something torn or dead. But you wash your clothes, and bathe yourself, and remain impure, or unclean, until evening, or know you are not at one. Indulge, be in the world, but not of the world.

Do you hear any echoes of Christian tradition, in particular ways of talking about blood poured out, and sacrifice, in relation to Jesus Christ, and understanding his death, and sharing in the benefits of his passion? How about ‘washed in the blood’? Our low protestant and high liturgical cousins get this better than we do!

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