Here continues clear prejudice in terms of what we would call a prohibited ground of discrimination. Priesthood is limited to male children of the lineage of Aaron. But one bunch of even those guys is excluded: the disabled.
Why can’t a defective body present an effective offering? How does the organism relate to the shamanic role? 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.
In our ethos of meritocracy, it’s hard to appreciate a hereditary priesthood. We make more sense of moral standards about association with sex and death for priests, but we run off the rails again on issues of disability. What if we are not the ultimate judges of this torah? What truth does it present to us?
In Victorian days, there was talk in some classes in families with lots of kids to give one to the church, another to the army – eventually the riff raff were flushed out of the gutters as ‘white trash’ to populate the colonies. Robert Service even wrote a poem about ‘the younger son’ banished to the Klondike. At least here, priestly service was ranked more highly for the tribe of Levi.
16 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
17 Speak to Aaron and say: No one of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God.
18 For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long,
19 or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand,
20 or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles.
21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the LORD’s offerings by fire; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the food of his God.
22 He may eat the food of his God, of the most holy as well as of the holy.
23 But he shall not come near the curtain or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries; for I am the LORD; I sanctify them.
24 Thus Moses spoke to Aaron and to his sons and to all the people of Israel.