Parashat Sh’mini-- Leviticus 9:1-11:47
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Questions for Young Children
• Why do you think it’s important to follow directions if they’re from your mom and dad? Who else's directions are important to follow?
• Are there some foods that you can’t eat? Why not?
• Why can’t Israelites eat the foods listed in this parasha?
• What are some animals that people are allowed to eat?

Questions for Older Children
• What is the reason that Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu died? Does it seem like an accidental death or like a punishment? Why?
• What’s Aaron’s reaction to his sons’ deaths? Does it surprise you?
• Can you see any pattern in the list of animals that are considered to be kosher and not kosher?
• What reason does God give for commanding B'nei Yisrael to only eat certain animals and not others? Are there any animals listed as kosher that you’d rather not eat?

Questions for Teens and Adults
• Are you troubled by the account of Nadab and Abihu’s deaths? Why? Why not?
• Does it surprise you that Aaron is silent when he hears of his sons’ deaths?
• What is the reason offered for kashrut? How do you understand this?
• If you keep kosher, what are some of the reasons you do? If your family does not keep kosher, what are some reasons your family made that choice?

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Any kosher meal!

Since this parasha relates some of the laws of kashrut, anything kosher is fit for this Shabbat dinner.  

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All is now in readiness for worship in the Tabernacle and Parashat Sh'mini describes the first time the altar is used. The sacrifices are offered in view of the Israelites.  Aharon blesses the congregation. Fire then emanates from God and consumes the offerings, the Israelites shout and fall prostrate. This peak experience is followed by the strange account of Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aharon, who offer alien fire, aish zarah. Fire then consumes Aharon’s two sons. Aharon is silent. Moshe instructs Aharon in the burial and mourning for his sons as well as in the laws that apply to the kohanim. Aharon’s other sons, Eleazar and Ithamar did not follow the laws of the sacrifice and Moshe reprimands them. Aaron intervenes on his sons’ behalf in this case. The remainder of the parasha focuses on all the Israelites and delineates which animals may be eaten and which are forbidden.

Find the food connection

וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ, מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה, וַתֹּאכַל עַל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ, אֶת-הָעֹלָה וְאֶת-הַחֲלָבִים

Fire came forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the altar.

--Leviticus 9:24a

Fiery food!

The Side Dish

Although this parasha doesn't seem to brook jokes, this story from our family memory trove always accompanies the notion of fiery food for me.

Our dad and his younger brother were renowned for their jokes and stories. We six cousins would laugh uproariously at their stories. Even our grandmother was ready to be the object of the joke if it kept the family together at the table. My grandmother’s standard ingredients for all savory dishes was a heaping amount of fried onions and garlic. My uncle’s monologue (connected to fire) began like this: “I went to sick call my first week in the Navy and complained that my stomach felt strange.” The doctor asked, “What’s wrong?” I told him, ”My fire went out!” Dad explained. “Eating the bland meals in the Navy mess cured the permanent heartburn Syd suffered from Grandma’s food.” We later heard this same joke from a Borscht belt comedian. I still believe Uncle Syd said it first. 

When we leave our family traditions for the wider world, we may suffer some cultural dissonance. In this parasha Moshe is asking his brother and his nephews to assume a sacred duty and it’s frightening. The consequence for disobedience is dire. Later in the parasha Moshe will demand of all the Israelites that they obey a new set of dietary laws to set themselves apart, to be holy. All B’nei Yisrael will have to learn to distinguish between clean and unclean, pure and impure to be God’s people. One of the tasks of the Israelites is to develop yir'at ha-shem, fear of God.  At first as befits a newly freed people,  it is a primal fear, like the fear of fire. But perhaps the goal is that through ritual, learning, and spiritual growth, fear of God will be translated "awe of God."  




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A Dash of Ornithology
One of the non-kosher birds listed is the hoopoe bird, in Hebrew, dukhifat (Lev. 11:19). In 2008 the dukhifat was named the national bird of Israel. If you see the bird when in Israel, you’ll be impressed by its stunning looks and its unique song. The hoopoe has a rich symbolism in many religions. To read a tale by Hayim Nahman Bialik about the hoopoe bird, see The article also includes the lyrics to a song about the hoopoe.

A Dash of Comparative Torah
This parasha is not the only place in the Torah where the dietary laws are listed. For another version, check Deuteronomy, chapter 14. The two versions align although there are more specific prohibitions in this parasha than Deuteronomy. The major difference is context. In Parashat Sh’mini the dietary laws are given as part of the purity laws.

A Dash of Hebrew

Vayidom Aharon--Aharon was silent. I can feel his silence when I read the section about the death of Nadav and Abihu. During Hallel you may have noticed the same root used as a noun in Psalm 115-- 

.לֹא הַמֵּתִים, יְהַלְלוּ-יָהּ;    וְלֹא, כָּל-יֹרְדֵי דוּמָה

The dead do not praise you; neither do they who have descended into silence.

The parallel structure of the psalm makes me ask who are those who have descended into silence?  When I first asked the question, my dad was suffering from the final stages of Alzheimer's.  He had become almost completely mute.  One of the last of his words to leave him was the Kiddush.  Watching my dad who loved raising his kiddush cup and chanting kiddush in his own special fashion descend into silence at the Shabbat table was a moment of complete sadness for me.   The Hebrew root even reminds me of the way my dad pushed his lips together in silence--dom. Aharon had to move past his absolute shock and mourning to bury his sons and then continue to praise God and serve as the kohen gadol.  The pslamist tells us immediately following this verse, "And we will praise You from now until forever..."  We, too, can be witnesses to death, to silence and then must find our voice and lift it in praise.

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Spicy, Fiery Turnips
Pareve, vegan, and gluten free--serves 4

Ingredients rsz 03 shmini turnip copy

  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. melted margarine or canola oil
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. ground ginger
  • dash of allspice
  • *18 oz. of turnips—peeled and cut into 8 wedges


  1. Preheat oven to 400º.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a plastic bag and shake to coat the turnips.
  3. Place turnips on a greased shallow roasting pan or cookie sheet.
  4. Bake @ 400º 30-35 min. or until tender.
  5. Stir every 10 minutes.

*Since the name of the parasha, Sh’mini, is derived from shmoneh (eight), the turnips are cut into eight sections.

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