Last week we read the revelation at Sinai and the Ten Commandments: the sweeping, lofty ideals of Judaism. This week we turn to mishpatim, the day-to -ay implementation of those commandments. It reads like case law, one example after another of the practical application of the law, dealing with diverse subjects from the way we treat our slaves, to our obligations to our neighbors for their safety and well-being. Amongst these rules is the phrase: “You must not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” This has long been the basis for the extensive rules of kashrut prohibiting the mixing of meat and dairy in our food. However Ibn Ezra, one of the great Torah commentators, offers a completely different understanding of this verse. He says the word for kid (g’di) has the same root as the word for delicacies (meged). Following on from this, Torah commentator Nahum Sarna refers to an older commentator who said it should be translated as “berries”. Nahum argued that “mother’s milk” refers to the juice of the unripe berry. This interpretation then suggests that the ruling is that a person must not bring their first fruits to the priest before they are ripe.
Rabbi Sheldon Marder brings these commentaries in his Torah discussion of this parasha and he says: “why rescue these little-known commentaries from their obscurity? To dramatize one important point: at one time in Jewish history there existed an exegetical open mindedness and creativity that virtually disappeared after the Middle Ages — an open mindedness that allowed commentators to reinterpret, and in effect challenge, a verse that is the cornerstone of kashrut.” (Voices of Torah p. 210). Rabbi Marder draws attention to the fact that Judaism is a religion which questions assumptions — it debates and discusses issues and nothing is off the table. Everything is open to new interpretations and understandings. The tradition says that Torah is like a jewel with 70 facets, “turn it turn it and turn it again, for everything is in it,” (Ben Bag Bag, Pirkei Avot). We are to analyze and find the 70 meanings, the different interpretations and explore them all.
This week we celebrated the breaking down of some of the rigidity with which we have seen the Torah interpreted, with the Israeli government’s decision about the Kotel. After 37 years of challenging and fighting against discrimination, Anat Hoffman and her group Women at the Wall have finally celebrated a victory. After intense lobbying from Women at the Wall, the Reform and Conservative movements and the Jewish Federations of North America, the Israeli cabinet has decreed that henceforth there should be three sections at the kotel: one for men, one for women and one egalitarian, mixed section. This decision, when affirmed by the Kenesset, will remove the authority for the kotel from the Orthodox and Ultra Orthodox and place it in the hands of the secular authorities. Then, the wall will truly be a place where all Jews can pray. Families will be able to stand together at the ancient stones and pray side by side, mothers and fathers can be with their children as they celebrate bar or bat mitzvah, and women will now be permitted to read from the Torah at this holy, sacred site.
Anat Hoffman said: “This is a groundbreaking agreement. After years and years of insisting that we have an equal place for prayer, after enduring campaigns of abuse against us, and being encouraged by a wave of Jewish support from across the globe, we have accomplished this extraordinary first step. We will be able to stand as part of living history, read the Torah, and pray in the spirit of pluralism and equality that we believe is critical to a vibrant Judaism.”
We look forward to celebrating many more victories in the struggle to bring equality and pluralism of religious practice to Israel and the Jewish world.