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Haftarah Parshat Emor

Haftarah Parshat Emor (Ezekiel 34:15-31)
May 13, 2017 / 17 Iyar 5777

The first part of Parshat Emor in the Torah contains laws ostensibly aimed at the Kohanim (Priests). It contains special laws regarding ritual impurity especially aimed at the priests as well as marital proscriptions. The prophet Ezekiel, a priest himself, recounts further regulations for priests in his prophecy concerning the future Temple. Some of these regulations proved problematic to the rabbinic sages because they seemingly contradicted laws of the Torah. One, in particular, the last verse of the haftarah was especially surprising: “Priests shall not eat anything, whether bird or animal, that died (nevelah) or was torn by beasts (terefah).” (34:31)

This verse reproduces laws found in the Torah: 1. “You shall not eat anything that has died a natural death; give it to the stranger in your community to eat or you may sell it to a foreigner. For you are a people consecrated to the Lord your God.” (Deut. 14:21); 2. “You shall be a holy people to Me: you must not eat flesh torn by beasts in the field; you shall cast it to the dogs.” (Exodus 22:30) Ezekiel’s legislative decree confounded the rabbinic sages who wondered why Ezekiel would legislate a law already in the Torah using language which might indicate that it was intended exclusively for priests.

The sages responded to this discrepancy in the following discussion: “’Priests shall not eat anything, whether bird or animal, that died (nevelah) or was torn by beasts (terefah).’ Is it only the priests who may not eat [such things] but the regular Jews can? Rabbi Yohanan responded: ‘This passage will be interpreted by Elijah in the future.’ Ravina demurred: ‘It was necessary [to repeat this prohibition] for the priests, for I might have thought that since priests are permitted [to eat] a bird-offering of which the head had been nipped off at the neck (the method of preparing a bird for sacrifice which would otherwise render an animal not kosher), they are also permitted to eat nevelah and trefah; we are therefore told [that it is not so].’” (Menahot 45a)

Rabbi Yohanan assumes that Ezekiel’s law is irreconcilable with the Torah’s account and that only divine revelation will resolve the discrepancy. Ravina, however, finds his solution in certain practices which were particular to the priests. Medieval commentators followed a similar approach. Rabbi David Kimche asserts that Ezekiel restated this legislation for priests since both nevelah and terafah also render those who eat and handle them ritually impure, a state which priests had an obligation to avoid. Rabbi Eliezer from Beaugancy, on the other hand, builds his explanation on context. Immediately preceding this verse, Ezekiel outlines laws regarding gifts to priests. This final law, according to Rabbi Eliezer, was intended for those who donated animals to the priests that they must not be nevelah or terafah.

Modern commentators seem to side with Rabbi David Kimche’s explanation, noting that the prohibition was not intended exclusively for priests; rather, it was brought by Ezekiel, in particular, to emphasize the prohibition for them on account of ritual purity. (Rimon Kasher, Ezekiel, Mikra L’Yisrael, p. 869) Ezekiel envisioned leadership which held itself to a higher standard. Perhaps he presupposed that, at least, in part, acting as a model for others was what leadership is all about.

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

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