Get ye outside the camp!
Ah, leprosy! This week, in the portion Tazria, we explore creepy yucky crud (tzara’at), the kind that affects humans, clothing, household items, and the very walls of our homes. There are red discolorations and scaly patches, yellow sores and black eruptions all outlined in gross detail (see for yourself), along with specific rules for intervention.
Step 1: call a priest. Clearly, this affliction is not purely physical or there would be a healer on our doorstep. Something has gone awry in the natural order of things.
Step 2: Try this and that. Keep a watchful eye. Depending on the symptoms, clothes are to be rent, heads left bare, quarantines imposed, walls scrubbed, and sleeping arrangements outside the camp made until the person is once again declared “pure.” There’s not much room for cheating here, or misinterpretation — you’re either dermatologically correct or you’re not. And once recovered, it is expected that you will re-enter normal life. Hey, this could happen to anyone, the text seems to say. Come back and join us: inside the camp, outside the camp, life is a permeable boundary….
Unlike our modern world, where shouts of unclean! are leveled at every opportunity. Don’t like my opinion? Get outside the camp. Don’t like who I love? Outside the camp. Don’t like my take on the truth? Out, out, out! And don’t come back.
In this world of death panels and threats to American democracy everywhere, I am — to be blunt — often unclean.
For starters, I a proud member of J Street. Because I believe that a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is essential to Israel’s survival, I was unceremoniously plopped outside the camp last week by Israeli politicians. They, the pure of heart, sponsored Knesset hearings so as to prove that the organization I support is anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and (gasp!) pro-Palestinian. Worse than Israel’s worst enemies (yes, one member of the committee said that). It’s not enough to disagree — committee hearings must be held on whether an American organization with 170,000 supporters is good enough for the big fat tent of the Jewish people.
Also I’m a baby-killer for supporting Planned Parenthood, anti-American for favoring the construction of an Islamic center in lower Manhattan, anti-family (gay marriage), anti-Christian (separation of Church & state), self-hating and a delegitimizer (oppose settlement expansion in the West Bank and adore the work of Breaking the Silence), and a socialist (okay, maybe that’s on target, but not because I support health care reform). I have been called so many names for simply opining, it makes my head spin — or maybe that’s just the leprosy.
Perhaps I should mention here (at the almost 500-word mark) that the #1 reason why tzara’at struck its sufferers & their belongings was believed to be… malicious gossip! Evil speech! You needed a priest because this was essentially an existential and/or spiritual problem. The original text doesn’t mention it, but the Talmudists and those who came after them made it quite clear that bad behavior leads to bad things. Follow the impulse to malign your neighbor for no good reason? Blotches. Steal someone’s reputation? Dry rot.
The irony is not lost on me, sitting in my little chair outside the perimeter of Don’t-you-know-there’s-only-one-truth Land?