Restricted Uses: Leviticus 22

The rounds of sacrifices described at the beginning of Leviticus generally have portions, which are reserved for the priests’ use. These donations are the remuneration and stipends of the priests. Whether in the conceit of a desert camp, or a first or second temple, or in any subsequent religious community, part of the donations feed the clergy. How much, to be shared with whom?

The first set of restrictions says that those who are unclean do not eat of the donations. Many of these irregularities are addressed by waiting till the day is over. But if you do eat while unclean, you are cut off. The priesthood has to keep a clean house, and this lets them starve out the disobedient among them.

The next set of restrictions says which of the household members close to a priest can share the food. How wide is the net of ‘dependants’ a priest is responsible to feed from the donations? An employee doesn’t get fed, but a slave does. A daughter married of doesn’t, but if she is widowed or divorced and childless, she does.

Lay folk may not eat the donations. There is a steady traffic of charitable tithes flowing through similar and same agencies of temples, priests, and in turn synagogues, but while those gifts are shared with the poor and needy, these donations are subject to a more restricted trust and cannot be shared by the priests.

This appeals to me, as a guy working in the dynamics of religious charities. It is always tempting to make the clergy compete with the needy for miserly shares of small donations of outdated stuff, too good for garbage, but not good enough for resale. It is equally offensive if money intended to feed the poor lards clergy savings accounts. How about separating these trusts?

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.

The exception to the rule in v.23 is important: you may offer an animal as a freewill offering with a bad limb, but not for other offerings. The rabbis also note that it does not say to be burnt on the altar, implying that it might have been sold for cash income for the priests.

The further restrictions on defective sacrifices are reminiscent of the prohibitions of disabled priests. Further, newborns are not eligible for sacrifice until they live a week, and can’t be sacrificed the same day as their mothers.

The final exhortation to obey the commands and not profane the name has a great history in Judaism as a text for martyrs. Those who refuse to recant or renounce their faith are held up as heroes, sanctified by God.

What kinds of offerings are acceptable in our world? First-fruits, or left-overs? Time after we’ve done all the more important stuff, effort if we have energy left from other pursuits?

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Leviticus 22

The LORD spoke to Moses,


2 Direct Aaron and his sons to deal carefully with the sacred donations of the people of Israel, which they dedicate to me, so that they may not profane my holy name; I am the LORD.

3 Say to them: If anyone among all your offspring throughout your generations comes near the sacred donations, which the people of Israel dedicate to the LORD, while he is in a state of uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from my presence: I am the LORD.

4 No one of Aaron’s offspring who has a leprous disease or suffers a discharge may eat of the sacred donations until he is clean. Whoever touches anything made unclean by a corpse or a man who has had an emission of semen,

5 and whoever touches any swarming thing by which he may be made unclean or any human being by whom he may be made unclean—whatever his uncleanness may be—

6 the person who touches any such shall be unclean until evening and shall not eat of the sacred donations unless he has washed his body in water.

7 When the sun sets he shall be clean; and afterwards he may eat of the sacred donations, for they are his food.

8 That which died or was torn by wild animals he shall not eat, becoming unclean by it: I am the LORD.

9 They shall keep my charge, so that they may not incur guilt and die in the sanctuary for having profaned it:I am the LORD; I sanctify them.

10 No lay person shall eat of the sacred donations. No bound or hired servant of the priest shall eat of the sacred donations;

11 but if a priest acquires anyone by purchase, the person may eat of them; and those that are born in his house may eat of his food.

12 If a priest’s daughter marries a layman, she shall not eat of the offering of the sacred donations;

13but if a priest’s daughter is widowed or divorced, without offspring, and returns to her father’s house, as in her youth, she may eat of her father’s food. No lay person shall eat of it.

14 If a man eats of the sacred donation unintentionally, he shall add one-fifth of its value to it, and give the sacred donation to the priest.

15 No one shall profane the sacred donations of the people of Israel, which they offer to the LORD,

16 causing them to bear guilt requiring a guilt-offering, by eating their sacred donations: for I am the LORD; I sanctify them.

17 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

18Speak to Aaron and his sons and all the people of Israel and say to them: When anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens residing in Israel presents an offering, whether in payment of a vow or as a freewill-offering that is offered to the LORD as a burnt-offering,

19 to be acceptable in your behalf it shall be a male without blemish, of the cattle or the sheep or the goats.

20 You shall not offer anything that has a blemish, for it will not be acceptable in your behalf.

21 When anyone offers a sacrifice of well-being to the LORD, in fulfilment of a vow or as a freewill-offering, from the herd or from the flock, to be acceptable it must be perfect; there shall be no blemish in it.

22 Anything blind, or injured, or maimed, or having a discharge or an itch or scabs—these you shall not offer to the LORD or put any of them on the altar as offerings by fire to the LORD.

23 An ox or a lamb that has a limb too long or too short you may present for a freewill-offering; but it will not be accepted for a vow.

24 Any animal that has its testicles bruised or crushed or torn or cut, you shall not offer to the LORD; such you shall not do within your land,

25 nor shall you accept any such animals from a foreigner to offer as food to your God; since they are mutilated, with a blemish in them, they shall not be accepted in your behalf.

26 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

27 When an ox or a sheep or a goat is born, it shall remain for seven days with its mother, and from the eighth day onwards it shall be acceptable as the LORD’s offering by fire.

28 But you shall not slaughter, from the herd or the flock, an animal with its young on the same day.

29 When you sacrifice a thanksgiving-offering to the LORD, you shall sacrifice it so that it may be acceptable in your behalf.

30 It shall be eaten on the same day; you shall not leave any of it until morning: I am the LORD.

31 Thus you shall keep my commandments and observe them: I am the LORD.

32 You shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel: I am the LORD; I sanctify you,

33 I who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the LORD.