Sedra of the week: Shemini

Sedra of the week: Shemini

Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

By Rabbi Ariel Abel Sedra-of-the-week-300x208

The third word in this week’s reading is “shemini” which created the concept of an “eighth day” beyond the seven-day week, indicating a higher realm, something supernatural.

It is this supernatural spirit which we experience as simcha – spiritual joy.

The highest form of spiritual joy descended to earth the day Aaron completed his task training as a high priest. Thus, the Midrash claims that the completion of his priestly training was a joy greater even than the completion of seven days of Creation.

Then tragedy struck and two of Aaron’s sons died in the process of offering a “strange fire” before God, a form of worship forbidden to enter into at their discretion, Aaron was silent.

Aaron observed a level of private mourning for his loss, abstaining from eating his share of the meat of the sin offering of that day, but kept very quiet, showing no distress so as not to disturb the sense of joy in achieving the consecration of the Sanctuary.

However, Moses lost his temper with Aaron, rebuking him for leaving uneaten meat in spite of his earlier instruction to Aaron and his sons to partake of it. Aaron replied that had he done so, God would not have thought it fitting, as he was in a state of bereavement.

In modern communities, it is crucial that there is a large pool of expert practitioners, to know how to offer sessions on dealing with tragedy of this kind.

Rabbis should be well trained in this area, to deal sensitively and appropriately with victims of grief.

This week’s reading also contains the first of two listings of kosher and non-kosher species.

Camels, hares and pigs are unfit for consumption, while ruminant ungulates – animals which have entirely split hooves and which chew the cud – are permitted.

Fish with fins and scales are kosher, and rabbinic tradition insists that the scales must be easily removable. Kosher laws were devised to encourage Jews to share company and facilitate a healthy family and communal life.

The price of certain key kosher products, combined with a ‘holier than thou’ approach and commercialisation has contributed to the opposite of the original intention of kosher laws.

The last section in the reading is about the system of ritual purity of objects. Over time, Jews have all but abandoned the primacy of Priesthood in society; in mainstream Judaism, rabbis have replaced priests in their roles.

Rabbi Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Princes Road Synagogue, Liverpool. For more details, visit

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