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Davar Torah for Parashat Emor: Rabbi Ruti Baidatz “After the Death (of) a Person, Speak"

I received the sad news of former Member of Knesset. Ilan Gilon's passing away as I prepared to write this text. Ilan fearlessly fought for human rights. Ilan Gilon, whose legs were struck by polio as a child, was forced to struggle with his handicap for his whole life. Parashat Emor deals with the laws of the Kohanim (Priests), the descendants of Aaron, who offered the sacrifices in the Temple. One of those laws says: “No man among the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a defect shall be qualified to offer God’s offering…for he has a defect. He shall not profane these places sacred to Me.” (Leviticus 21:21, 23) The Parasha opens with a collection of laws protecting the holiness of the Kohanim. “When the daughter of a priest defiles herself through harlotry, it is her father whom she defiles; she shall be burnt in fire.” (Leviticus 21:9) She defiled her father’s holiness. A priest may not marry a divorcee, and a priest with a physical defect may not serve in the Temple.

In the laws of the priests in the parasha, there is hidden the immanent holiness which sanctifies the wholeness of the body. Any defect in the body is a defect in the levels of holiness. It is possible to reinterpret these laws as referring to the laws of the soul, the striving for spiritual perfection in order to be able to enter the domain of the holy. But, since this conception of holiness, which applies to a specific group and which is symbolized by bodily purity and wholeness, is a conception which is alive in reality, I believe that we must look at it directly. And I believe we must struggle with it, and with those who seek to implement it today in different ways.

There is a huge gap between the laws of the priests in Parashat Emor, according to which holiness requires separation, exclusion, and even death for those who with their bodies have violated holiness, even through no fault of their own, such as a woman who was ”defiled”, or a person who was stricken by a disease, and the holiness of last week’s Parashat Kedoshim. “You shall be holy, for I, your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2). In this chapter there is an extensive description of moral laws which protect the weak, the handicapped, and the poor laborers.

This gap, between the laws of holiness pertaining to the priests in the Temple, and those laws that find holiness in the merciful acts of righteousness among people, activated the prophets of Israel throughout the generations:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying:
2. Stand in the gate of the house of the Lord, and proclaim there this word, and say; Hearken to the word of the Lord, all Judah who come into these gates to prostrate yourselves before the Lord.
3. So said the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel; Improve your ways and your deeds, I will allow you to dwell in this place.
4. Do not rely on false words, saying: The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord are they.
5. For if you improve your ways and your deeds, if you perform judgment between one man and his fellowman,
6. [if] you do not oppress a stranger, an orphan, or a widow, and you do not shed innocent blood in this place.

(Jeremiah 7:1-6)

Returning to Ilan Gilon, a person from Hashomer Ha-Tza’ir who grew up, amongst other things, with the Bible. In an article 2 years ago in “Ha’aretz” he said that he attributes his political philosophy to the three prophets Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. “Amos spoke about the distribution of the national wealth, Isaiah about the distribution of the land. Jeremiah called out to everyone to become decent people. Anyone who is in favor of these 3 positions, I will gladly establish with them a political party. Anyone who is in favor of two of them, I will join him/her in forming a government.” (Ha’aretz, March 3, 2020).

But also Parashat Emor, which focuses on the holiness that causes separation between people, concludes by speaking about justice. There we can find one of the most important and enlightening verses from then until now, within Judaism and the entire world: “You shall have one standard for stranger and citizen alike.” (Leviticus 24:22) A person is a person, and his/her right to compassion and justice does not depend on his/her national status.

Therefore, the usual expression (composed of the names of the three consecutive Parshiyot we read in Leviticus): “After the death of the holy, speak”; is appropriate for Ilan Gilon z”l, if we relate to his activism on behalf of those who need protection. But I prefer: “After the death of the person, speak”.

May his memory be a blessing.

Rabbi Baidatz is a Secular Rabbi and a member of RHR's BOD

Translated from the Hebrew by Rabbi Mordechai Goldberg
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RHR Mourns the Passing of former MK Ilan Gilon

Ilan Gilon was a true friend and partner of those fighting for human rights and social justice, inside the Knesset and from outside of those walls. His passing comes too soon, but his legacy will be hugely felt. We especially note his long time struggle for rights of persons with disabilities. This struggle bore fruit while he served in the Knesset. His door was always open and his presence always there, in the committee room and on the picket line! May his memory be for a blessing to his family, his friends and to the communities he served.
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Bearing the Torch for Economic Justice

RHR’s Social Justice Department, Adv. Becky Cohen Keshet was honored by being invited to light a flame at the Alternative Independence Day Torch Lighting Ceremony run by Yesh Gvul and held in Jerusalem on Independence Day eve. Adv. Cohen Keshet has worked with RHR for 15 years, a champion of the rights for people living with poverty, and tireless advocate in the struggle against food insecurity and the struggle for economic justice. As she lit this flame she did so in her own name, in honor of the staff of RHR’s social justice department and for those experiencing the daily struggle of poverty and food insecurity.
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Standing with Members of the Hebrew Israelite Community Facing Deportation

Standing with the Hebrew Israelite Community in the face of deportation orders!
In September 51 members of the community were served deportation orders. From the moment that RHR’s executive director, Avi Dabush, was informed of this egregious decision RHR and its Rabbis declared that we stand by this community and their right for fairness, due process and for their members to remain. Organizing a rabbinic visit by RHR members to the community, writing opinion pieces and participating in demonstrations was a small way for us to join the struggle. This week a community leader visited RHR in order to present us with a certificate of appreciation. As much as they appreciate us we appreciate them more, we see them as our siblings and call on Israeli society to fully accept and appreciate this small but important community.
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Update from the Field – RHR OPT Department Director Dani Brodsky Reports:

RHR continues to increase our presence in the field, from working with Palestinian olive farmers, to shepherds in the Jordan valley and solidarity work in East Jerusalem. This week, as we were accompanying farmers, in Area B, which is supposed to be under Palestinian Civil Rule, soldiers interfered with our work and the rights of the farmers to access their land. Such instances are all too common. The army is not supposed to interfere with the farmers, yet they do, and when farmers are harassed or attacked by settlers the army all too often is hard to find and fails to protect the Palestinian shepherds or farmers. We will continue our solidarity work and call for the army to do its job and prevent settler violence and terror.
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